Music by the Espiritu Ensembles

Today I would like to “tip my hat” to a longtime collaborator who has become very dear to me over the years, cellist Suellen Primost, leader of the Espiritu Ensembles.

Suellen is not only a talented musician, through and through and an expert in non-Western music with an extensive repertoire – I admire her as much for who she is as a person. Always in harmony and at peace with herself, she creates an atmosphere of quiet joy for all around her, and that is truly a rare gift. When she fell seriously ill, she accepted it with her usual grace and composure – and then, by a sheer miracle, she recovered, and lately she has even gotten back to playing her beloved cello. I have learned a lot from her, and now I would like to share with you all a sample of her music. Enjoy!

Photobooth fun. All virtual!

Hard to believe, but one company here in the Bay Area has found a way to take photobooth fun “all virtual!” – Giggle & Riot. Here is how it works.

Want to book? Contact studio@giggleandriot.com!

OR would you rather go for some simple, informal fun? That works, too. Make a DIY backdrop (e.g. paper flowers strung on fishing line)

… craft a few fun props…

… and take selfies! That’s it – then share online or on a photo sharing app. So easy these days! Have fun!

Dessert for Father’s Day (or any day…)

As promised, here come more ideas for a leisurely Father’s Day meal (or Fourth of July brunch, or BBQ, or or or…) – super easy to make and great to prepare beforehand!

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No-bake personal cheesecakes

Need: muffin tin with 8oz cups – lined with plastic wrap.

Finely grind 13 Graham crackers (7oz) with 3 tbsp sugar in a food processor, mix with ½ stick of melted unsalted butter. Distribute mixture between 6 of the prepared muffin cups, press firmly into bottom and place muffin tray in freezer.

With electric mixer, beat 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks, set aside. Mix 10 oz of softened cream cheese with 6 oz of crème fraiche and 2/3 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar; carefully fold in the whipped heavy cream and distribute among the prepared muffin cups. Freeze until firm (at least 30 min).

When ready to serve, lift cheesecakes out of the muffin cups (using the plastic wrap), set on plates and top with fruit or preserves of your choosing.

Get perfect skin – now!

A guest post by Tiffany Chiang, founder and owner of Design Her Image, bridal hair and makeup design

I’d love to share with you these easy ways to get gorgeous skin – perfect Beauty Tips for At-Home Skin Care!

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Use a Sheet Mask Before Bed
Sheet masks are great for skin hydration. I like to layer on a serum before a sheet mask to help double the absorption and for extra moisture. My favorite is the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask, which contains Pitera™: a combination of over 50 micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and natural acids to condition skin. Another great product with 2X Hyaluronic Acid will give you a glowing, dewy appearance – Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery PowerFoil Mask.  Try it! 

Best time to use Vitamin C Serum 
Also, apply Vitamin C both in the AM and PM to renew your skin – especially around the eyes. Vitamin C brightens dark under-eye circles while improving the look of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. This is the product for brighter, healthier-looking skin that I recommend:  MURAD Vitamin C Glycolic Brightening Serum.
Hope everyone is safe and healthy! Looking forward to accentuating your natural beauty!!! 

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The fascination of vintage scarves

Today I would like to share with you my fascination with vintage scarves – Hermes scarves, to be precise. I know, I know – they are considered a bit conservative these days… but I love them for their beautiful motifs and colors and for the effortless elegance they lend to any outfit. Here I am wearing one of my favorites, a maritime motif in shades of white and blue, with jeans and a shirt:

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I have to admit, I have collected a few over many years, and I’d like to give you an idea why (and maybe get you enthusiastic as well!). Each of these scarves is a little piece of art, printed on silk twill in a step-wise process. The most intricate patterns ever made by Hermes show Native American scenes and contain 140 colors which are printed one after the other! Amazingly, the print lines are 100% sharp and crisp. No wonder these scarves are so expensive! I do not own any one of this collection, but I’d like to share a sample:

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It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? And from a practical standpoint – look at how these colors work with each other, allowing to wear this scarf with so many outfits – ivory, navy blue and black; natural tones, even red. So versatile! Given that the House of Hermes originated as a saddlemaker, many of their classical motifs are equestrian-themed:

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Unsure how to wear such a scarf, how to tie it, how to style it? Here are some examples – get inspired!

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And lastly, given that with hair salons closed, we are all having more-than-average bad hair days, it might be time to bring back this timeless style from the fifties and sixties:

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Start experimenting!!

Working at home – with our beloved pets!

All of us pet lovers have always been wishing to spend more time with our “fur babies,” and for many of us this wish has suddenly come true as we are working from home. But – since we are home all day, our cats and dogs expect us to focus on THEM, so that arrangement turns out to be trickier than we had thought. How to keep Fido or Kitty entertained and happy while getting some serious work done? Because if they get bored, they might find “entertainment” themselves – and not necessarily the type we like…

The key is providing mental, physical and emotional stimulation, for example through “enrichment toys” that require a certain mental effort – preferably, in order to get treats!

You can also make your own simple toys, e.g. for tug-of-war (a tennis ball in an old sock, tie a knot – done); a rattle bottle (empty water bottle with a few small rocks or pennies); a little bundle of feathers or a ball of yarn for your kitty.

Also, consider adding a game into your work schedule. Take a few minutes and play hide and seek with your furry friend; you can also incorporate their favorite toy or a treat into the game. And – most importantly, at least for doggie parents: take them out in the yard,

on a walk or to a dog park (with proper distancing, of course).

Dogs have a natural need for running (most of them at least), so allow them that big joy at least once a day. It’s good for you, too; and once puppy is happy and tired, you will get in those necessary hours of work. Win-win!

The most beloved wedding songs of all time

Call me old-fashioned – but when it comes to the wedding ceremony I always recommend “classics.” And the most beloved ones of them all are – Canon in D (chosen by at least 80% of all my brides for their processional), Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (a favorite for their recessional) and “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles.

Here they are!

The oldest one of them all is Pachelbel’s Canon. Johann Pachelbel was a German Baroque composer and organist who enjoyed tremendous popularity in his lifetime (1653 to 1706). Most of his extensive body of work is nowadays forgotten outside of musicologist circles – some of you may know his Chaconne in F minor and his Toccata in E minor for organ – but the one piece of music that has survived is his Canon in D – it has literally become synonymous with wedding music.

Here comes the bride – Frank Lee Photography

For the recessional, the “classic” choice is Felix Mendelssohn’s Bartholdy’s Wedding March (from his incidental music to Shakespeare’s play A Midsummernight’s Dream).

Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. A true prodigy, he performed as a pianist at the age of nine, and he wrote his first symphony at the age of 15!! Mendelssohn’s compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music and chamber music which are all still part of the standard concert repertoire; but even those without ties to classical music love the Wedding March! Here it is, played by the Berlin Philharmonic.

And for those who’d rather go a little more contemporary – but still stick with a timeless classic – for their wedding music, there is the last word on love from The Beatles, here played for us by our own Synchronicity Strings!

The Fairmont – an icon of San Francisco history

Everybody knows “The Fairmont,” right? It’s one of those truly iconic San Francisco landmarks. But do you know where it got its name? And who built it?

I was curious, and here is what I found out (courtesy of Wikipedia and my personal contacts).

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The hotel was named after mining magnate and U.S. Senator James Graham Fair (1831–94) by his daughters, who built the hotel in his honor.

The hotel was nearly completed before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Although the structure survived, the interior was heavily damaged by fire, and opening was delayed until 1907. Architect and engineer Julia Morgan was hired to repair the building because of her then innovative use of reinforced concrete, which could produce buildings capable of withstanding earthquakes and other disasters.

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In 1945, the Fairmont hosted international statesmen for meetings which culminated in the creation of the United Nations. The United Nations Charter was finalized in the hotel’s Garden Room, and a plaque at the hotel memorializes the event.

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The Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel was where Tony Bennett first sang his famous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in December 1961.

The Fairmont has been “the stuff of legends” – especially surrounding its famed Penthouse suite where all presidents visiting San Francisco have stayed.

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The suite houses among other “follies” the Moroccan-themed Billiard Room – all walls adorned with artful mosaic.

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The 2-story suite also houses a double-height library with a secret passageway to the roof (hidden behind a swiveling bookshelf on the upper level) which used to serve as an emergency escape route for the dignitaries lodging in the suite.

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Rumor has it that the passageway was also used to smuggle President John F. Kennedy’s mistress, the actress Marilyn Monroe, in and out unseen when the president was in residence.

The Fairmont has been featured in many films, including The Rock, starring Sean Connery. My longtime friend and colleague, event planner Duncan Reyes, happened to be the Events Director at the Fairmont just then. I asked him what the most memorable event was when the movie was filmed. You will not believe this: for the escape scene (through the hotel kitchen) at the beginning of the movie, the entire hotel had to be shut down for a whole week!! Go watch the movie and enjoy!

Peonies…

Today the peony blooms in my garden opened – in glorious pink and in white, reminding me of the wonderful summer weddings of years gone by – when peonies were the stars of bridal bouquets and centerpieces …

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– and of the many brides of 2020, anxiously awaiting their postponed wedding celebrations – next year, maybe…?

Here is the first bloom of this summer on the peony bush I inherited with my garden…

… and here is the one I planted myself last year, unsure of whether it’d make it through the winter. Such beauty…

I read up a little on peonies and learned a few things I’d like to share you with you. Where did they get their name? In Greek mythology, actually. They are named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine who became deadly jealous of his talented student. Zeus, the supreme God, used his divine powers to save Paeon from his boss Asclepius by transforming him into – you guessed it – a beautiful flower. The peony!

Nowadays, the peony comes in 33 known species, mostly herbaceous plants up to 3 ft or shrubs up to 11 ft (!) tall, in colors ranging from white and yellow to pink to dark red. Peonies thrive in temperate regions of Asia, Europe and Western North America, and they bloom for only 7-10 days in early summer.

They have been prized for their beauty in many cultures for centuries – look at these examples:

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Botanical drawing, ca. 1809
Impressionist painting, Henri Fantin-Latour

They have become one of the most desired flowers for weddings – and once their blooming season in OUR area is over, we can still get them from (you would NEVER have guessed that!) Alaska – of all places – where unique growing conditions due to long hours of sunlight create availability when other sources have completed harvest. Late-summer brides, rejoice… we’ll get you your peonies!!

What’s the hype about Dalgona coffee?

And what IS it, after all? So, I did some research.

“Dalgona” is a caramel-colored crunchy sugar confection that became popular in Korea in the 1970s and 1980s as inexpensive street food – a whole generation grew up with it. Fast-forward to 2020, during the COVID-19 period: an easy-to-make creamy coffee concoction becomes all the rage – first in Korea, now worldwide – named after the beloved childhood candy for its caramel color and sweet-and-bitter taste.

I had to try it!!

For one serving, whip

2 tbsp instant coffee, 2 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp water with an electric mixer until it becomes airy, creamy and turns a light caramel color, forming stiff peaks (1 and a half minutes with an electric mixer or 400 turns with a whisk – don’t do that to yourself!).

Spoon over a half cup of chilled or hot milk, stir as desired.

It’s THAT easy!

And it’s actually really good. I have begun experimenting with the flavor – a little less sugar, or adding 1 tablespoon agave nectar for more (soft) sweetness; you can even give it a hint of spice with cinnamon or nutmeg. Koreans top it with crushed Dalgona candy for a sweet childhood memory…

ENJOY!