Smoke and Spirits Evoke Downton Abbey, for a Date Night of Drama

What happens here, only happens here

Just in Time for the movie premiere, Downton Abbey inspired wine, gin and cigars

Ladies, are you swooning in anticipation of the Downton Abbey movie? Guys, are you dreading sitting through this period piece chick flick? Now both the gentler sex and gents can enjoy everything aristocratic and be immersed in the ultimate masterpiece theatre experience, with vintage vino and inspired spirits and cigars.

The Downton Abbey Wine Collection features two enticing blends from the Bordeaux region of France: a “Blanc” white wine and a “Claret” red wine. Downton Abbey Blanc is a light and crisp white blend, while Downton Abbey Claret is medium-bodied red with bright fruit and a silky finish.

Made by the Grands Vins de Bordeaux, a family-owned Winery with more than 130 years of winemaking experience in the prized Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux, France, both blends authentically recreate the finely balanced, elegant wines that were produced in…

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I love my little Lenovo!

Awesome things some in thin packages

lenovo-flex-7-14-amd-black-gallery-7When UPS delivered my Lenovo IdeaPad Flex-14API ($679), I lifted the package and wondered if they made a mistake. It was so light, I wondered if they sent me an empty box.

There was no mistake.  Inside was an adorable 3.65-lb. compact laptop, with a decent sized keyboard — without the number pad that I never use anyway — and an AC adapter plug no bigger than a ring box. I questioned if something so tiny could have the capacity to meet my demanding needs as a writer and blogger who is on my computer a minimum of 12 hours a day, often working with a lot of images, and receiving and sending hundreds of emails per day, so I immediately put it to the test.

To start, I simply pressed the power button; and it was pretty exciting. As someone who has not gotten…

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Elevate your style on your next alpine excursion

Get mountain chic with these nine essentials for performance and style

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Head to the hills in fashion, equipped with attire and gear that will outfit you for the outdoors.

A little ditty

Basic economy air travel can save you a few bucks if you pack right, or it will cost you an arm and a leg if you exceed the stringent airline requirements for a “personal item.” Sling the Eagle Creek 15L National Geographic Adventure Series ($24) backpack over your shoulder, and tote along all the essentials you need while you’re in the air and on the ground. It features a 15-inch laptop sleeve, a top zip pocket for quick access items, internal zip and slip pockets, and a padded moisture-wicking back panel, and durable and wipeable bottom. Plus, this handy bag gives back, as a portion of each purchase funds the work of scientists, explorers, and educators around…

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Blue Wolf Ears campaign at Great Wolf Lodge supports Autism Speaks

Indoor water parks and resorts partner with Autism Speaks to help people with sensory differences and other autism-related challenges to enjoy experiences with their families at the parks

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The indoor water park resort brand that brings together families to play and make memories is helping to support those with autism, through a fundraising campaign and efforts to make their activities more autism-aware. Great Wolf Lodge’s 16 locations across the US and Canada will donate $5 to Autism Speaks for every pair of Blue Wolf Ears sold throughout the month of April. The resort is also partnering with experts at Autism Speaks to explore ways to make the resorts more welcoming for people with sensory differences and other autism-related challenges.

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The limited-edition version of the resort’s signature wolf ear headbands are part of a “go blue” campaign to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder. All proceeds from the Blue Wolf Ears campaign go directly to Autism Speaks, with a goal of raising $50,000 to support its mission of enhancing lives across the spectrum at every stage of life. Last year alone, the non-profit aided more than 1 million people through Autism Speaks-funded programs and resources.

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The Blue Wolf ears effort includes a social media campaign in which Great Wolf Lodge guests to post a photo on social media of themselves or a family member wearing their blue wolf ears, using #GreatWolfCares. For each post using this special hashtag, Great Wolf Lodge will make an additional $5 donation to Autism Speaks, up to $20,000.

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It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

Moodo smart-release fragrance diffuser spruces up your home, apartment, or office

Add some atmosphere to your holidays with Moodo, the first smart-home aroma diffuser. This room-freshening device sends scents into air with the touch of a button, using an app on your phone, or on the device itself. You can even link it to Alexa or Google Home and control the fragrance with voice commands. The small plug-in warmer device contains cubbies to drop in four pod-like capsules of fragrance, like Floral Musk, Spice Market or Eucalyptus Nights.

The capsules come in four-pod collections of complementary scents for mixing, for up to 400 combinations. Using the app, you can blend the fragrances to the scent you like, and you can turn up or down the intensity of the fragrance to suit your senses.

You can customize your fragrance mix, or you can use pre-set blends such as Alpine Wood or Holiday Spirit, which releases more of some scents and less of others to give just the right aroma you want. The diffuser can be left on all day or only when you want fragrance; and the scents are safe and clean-releasing, without any residue on furnishings.

 

For the holidays, the Winter Scent package contains Xmas Cookies, Xmas Tree, Snow Angels and Fireplace capsules. So even if you have an eco-tree (fake), you can pump up Xmas Tree for a journey to a Canadian Forest in winter, with the soothing scent of Fir needle, Fir balsam and Cedar tree oil.

12 gifts for the woman who has it all (almost)

Gift ideas for the hard-to-shop-for woman on your holiday gift list

Forever Flowers

She loves flowers, but she wishes they would stay fresh and beautiful forever. Venus et Fleur eternity roses are her bouquet dreams come true.  These preserved and perfectly formed roses last a year or longer, displayed elegantly in their special vase containers, such as crystal clear acrylic or luxurious leather boxes. Also available in custom collections, these exquisite and fragrant blooms can be exhibited like a museum treasure. From single minis ($39) to abundance bouquets of dozens ($499 and up).

Down Matters

With a uber warm cost by Helley Hansen, like the stylish Svalbard 2 Parka, ($325), your favorite outdoorsy gal can get down and get warm, literally. The difference in this jacket is the quality of its ALLIED Feather & Down insulation. This legendary fill is the industry gold standard, with superior loft, proprietary multi-wash cleaning and drying process for freshness allergen-free comfort and certified as sourced ethically and responsibly.

The clog she’ll love

When she’ stepping out, for a fast jaunt to the mailbox, to walk the dog, pick up a few groceries, or joining her buds for après ski, her tootsies will be toasty in Stegmann wool clogs ($125). These comfy clogs wear like winter flip flops. They slip on quickly and are easier than pulling on her boots, perfect for around the house, or out running errands. These quality crafted sustainably manufactured classic clogs have earned their workhorse reputation as the timeless slip-on show that has been keeping feet luxuriously warm and comfy for decades.

Luxurious linens

Give her sweet dreams, pampered in stylish luxury bedding from Loomstead. The lavish and unique designs of these fine yet affordable bed linens complement the high-quality sustainably sourced Belgian flax and Egyptian cotton fabrics, offering a soft, crisp and comfortable experience. The simple and modern Cotton Coverlet ($200) will freshen up her bedroom and the natural linen materials will keep her warm in winter and cool in summer.

Smooth operator

Make her feel good all over, free of stubble on her legs, underarms and bikini area, with the Luminess Silk and Smooth Body, a gentle shaver that removes unwanted hair anywhere, by lifting hair off skin and cutting if at the root – with zero cuts, shaving bumps, or skin irritations. This compact, battery powered girls’ best friend uses sonic technology to sheer unwanted hair wither wet or dry, and its gentle enough for daily use.  $49 at luminesscosmetics.com

Smart stuff

She will never again have that unfulfilling feeling when she goes to get her favorite snack, and the box is empty with Weplenish ($39.99, Amazon) . This amazing smart endless snack dispenser takes count of your snacks and automatically re-orders them when the container is running low. Weplenish Also holds her favorite k-cup brands like Starbucks, Green Mountain, Nespresso, Dunkin Donut etc., and is compatible with a variety of snacks like KIND Bars, RXBARs, GoMacro Bars, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, and Keebler’s Cookie Variety Pack.

 

She’s with the band

Active gals who work and play hard may love their betrothed but hate their uncomfortable wedding band, which is why Fixate created a variety of quality silicone rings ($8.95 – $24.95), ideal for the gym, outdoors, construction site, watersports, and just about everything she does on a daily basis. Made with premium medical-grade silicone in a variety of ring sizes, colors, shapes and designs, she can wear this band wherever.

Eyewear for life

When she wants to make a fashion statement and a statement about sustainability at the same time, she can frame her face in stylish Sunski sunglasses, the recycled plastic eyewear that supports the environment with every pair sold. Whether she’s at the beach or on the mountain, Sunski’s polarized lenses protect her eyes from harmful rays, and they stay put thanks to a fit for active lifestyles. Designed by San Francisco surfer dudes and tree huggers, Sunski frames, are quality crafted from industrial scraps and guaranteed forever.  Available at sunski.com. $55-$68, kids frames ($38) also available.

Second skin

Whether she’s out in the wilderness, on the slopes or out for run, she will feel comfortable and warm wearing a Kora ($160) base layer. This snug-fitting sweater, made of 100 percent pure Himalayan yak wool fabric, conforms to the body with an ergonomic 3D fit and insulates for an effect of 40 percent more warmth than comparable merino fabrics. Styled for maximum body coverage with and extra-long length and zip-up neck collar, the Kora can be worn in comfort all day.

Live by the knife

She can chop, dice and slice up a meal like a pro with Michelin-Star-Chef-approved Edge of Belgravia’s Galatine cutlery ($167 for the 7-piece set).The bold, sleek jet black knife collection gets its name from the magical sword that the Lady of the Lake gave to Sir Gawain. The blades can be stowed in their own unique holder, the Black Diamond Knife Block ($99), a half-utility, half-piece-of-art, in which the knives appear to magically float. Available online and in retailers nationwide including Bed Bath and Beyond.

Cable keeper

She loves to be plugged in, but her OCD makes her hate the tangle of cables on her desk or nightstand, she will love the Cable Wrangler ($19.99). Created by Austin-cool Silk, makers of a variety of unique smartphone cases, wallets and accessories, this upholstered magnetic mound will hold her cables with a satisfying “click.” For non-metal cables, the holder features tiny metal collars to place around the necks of those pesky errant cables.

Puff mommy

She can snuggle up by the campfire or on the sofa with the Rumpl Original Puffy Blanket ($159). Made with the same technical materials found in premium sleeping bags, this go-anywhere throw blanket will keep her cozy and warm in any environment. The latest design, a collaboration between artist and outdoor adventurer Stickfort and camping gear companies Rumpl and Yakima, is a beautifully printed blanket inspired by the Pacific Northwest sunset. A portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the environmental preservation non-profit group Friends of the Columbia River Gorge.

A mother of twins shares her near-death experience and helps change the conversation about high-risk pregnancy

When her high-risk pregnancy endangered her life and her babies’ lives, she used the experience to teach other moms how to better communicate with doctors

Crystal Duffy went into her high-risk pregnancy like many other mothers, trusting in her doctors and expecting the best outcome. As many expectant mothers learn, things don’t always go as planned. In Duffy’s case, at 21 weeks, she had a “gut” feeling something was wrong. She talked to her doctor and underwent tests that showed that her twin daughters shared a single placenta. Duffy never knew that the crucial information about one or two placentas could mean the difference between life or death, for her babies and herself.

Duffy, who was age 29 at the time, was experiencing an uncommon but serious complication of pregnancy called placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before delivery. If untreated, the condition could result in the babies not getting enough oxygen or nutrients, which could cause premature birth or stillbirth. For the mother, the risk is hemorrhaging and bleeding to death during delivery.

Duffy and her doctors collaborated and determined that she should undergo an in vitro surgery to correct the problem, and they decided she should deliver her babies early, at 30 weeks. Duffy’s delivery went as well as could be expected, though she spent two months on extended bed-reset and her premature infants spent 38 days in NICU. The traumatic experience of finding out about her life-threatening pregnancy complication and then having to make crucial decisions to save her life and the lives of her children proved a transformative experience for Duffy and her family.

To help other mothers and families facing similar situations, Duffy wrote a book, Twin to Twin: From High-Risk Pregnancy to Happy Family. Duffy’s twin daughters are now four years old, and they are healthy and happy sisters to her oldest daughter, who is six, and Duffy feels her emotionally, physically and spiritually transformative experience has given her the strength, knowledge and inspiration to help others through their journey of a high-risk pregnancy.

Duffy’s book gives practical advise to mothers regarding how to communicate with their doctors and form a partnership with them. She also advises mothers to learn everything then can about their pregnancy and possible complications, so that they are prepared if something does go wrong. Duffy urges mothers to speak up, ask questions, and to trust their inner feelings about their pregnancy, since they know their bodies better than anyone else. Through the book, Duffy aims to equip mothers to handle all aspects of their pre- and post-natal self-care, from dealing with anxiety to finding creative outlets and otherwise staying mentally healthy while home caring for a newborn.

Taking a challenging episode of her life and making it into a positive is part of Duffy’s message to other mothers. She has become an advocate for mothers experiencing high-risk pregnancy, and she now dedicates herself to educating other mothers, by serving as a patient advocate on advisory boards at hospitals and through TV appearances and involvement in raising awareness for campaigns such as of Preemie awareness month in November and Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) Awareness Month in December. She is also a leader in a movement #ChangeTheConversation, which encourages doctors and mothers-to-be to communicate more effectively, to improve pregnancy and delivery outcomes.

Old Bust Head 5K Five Years and Still Running

Annual Benefit Supporting Finley’s Green Leap Forward Heralds in Halloween

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October 20 was the date of the Fifth Annual Old Bust Head Benefit 5K supporting Finley’s Green Leap Forward. The fun family race lead runners, joggers and walkers through a fast and rolling course around Vint Hill Virginia, starting and finishing at the namesake brewery.

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More than 300 participants came out to the event, many wearing their Halloween costumes, and many with their dogs on leashes running with them.

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Proceeds from the registration for the event and donations went to support Finley’s Green Leap Forward Fund, a foundation that supports clean air, clean water, and a sustainable planet, which was founded by 18-year-old Elizabeth Finley Broaddus in 2014, while she fought a five-month battle with Cholangiocarcinoma,  a rare and and curable cancer. Finley’s spirit  is memorialized by the annual event which inspires people across the Piedmont and beyond to care about local and global environment causes.

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EasyKicks offers click-and-pick shoes for kids

If the shoe fits, wear it; if it doesn’t click on another pair, with EasyKicks shoe club for kids

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Finally, a subscription service that is easy for me and a real kick for my kid. EasyKicks is a monthly service where subscribers pay a $20 monthly fee and get to pick and have shipped a new pair of Nike or Converse shoes, as they need them.

One of the most interesting elements of this subscription service is that the shoes come delivered to your door in a personalized box, decorated with kid-friendly graphics to boot, and when you take out the new pair of shoes, you put in an old pair of shoes and ship them back In a prepaid envelope for donation or recycling.

You can even put a couple pairs or more in the box, to go to a good cause. Either way, if your gently used shoes…

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Will it be Alexa, Siri or Google Home that answers the call of the future?

Voice-commanded devices and their apps are turning up the volume in the market, but who will get your ear?

When Apple finally entered the wireless speaker market with HomePod, which can be voice-controlled by Siri, its competitor Sonos, which now responds to voice commands via Amazon’s Alexa, took a swipe at the launch with a tongue-in-cheek playlist on Spotify, a service that the HomePod cannot access except through a workaround using other devices. While gags like this make the rivalry of these manufacturers sound like fun and games, the truth is that they are in a ruthless race to gain market share among literally dozens of new players in the space, from some you may have not yet heard of, like the TCL Xess video home hub ($499), to spin offs to the most popular devices, in different sizes and colors.

Some of these speaker systems and their attendant…

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