Category Archives: holidays

Interfaith group giving holiday kits to homeless


It’s hard to realize that all year around there are hungry and homeless Chicagoans in the city.  In the colder months, people build temporary structures across the city in an attempt to stay warm and safe in the harsh wintery conditions. These, our not-so-fortunate neighbors, are more at-risk and in danger in these cold months and need additional warm clothes and blankets to survive.   

Sunday, December 24 at 10am, Forward Humanity will pack and distribute 100 sleeping bags, hats, gloves, socks, scarfs, a hygiene kit, and a thermal blanket to gift to their neighbors across the city.  It’s never too late to donate to this commendable effort.

Volunteers will gather at the Downtown Islamic Center (231 S State St.) to make 100 healthy lunches and pack holiday gift bags full of warm winter items and hygiene kits which have been donated through a social media and an online campaign.

Distribution will take place throughout the city at known underpasses, viaducts, and other noticeable temporary housing areas.

Forward Humanity is an Illinois not-for-profit organization that began as an outlet to show Muslims as present, active, and positive members of their community.  Forward Humanity is now a collective comprised of over 200 volunteers of all faiths who initiate and organize activities, events and projects in support of organizations and social causes. They aim to provide a platform where people can come together, whether for short-term or long-term initiatives, to serve their community.


Holiday gift guide 2017 – 3 personal items, 2 wine accessories and 5 books

So hard to buy gifts for some people. And many of us don’t have the imagination or that special gift-choosing gene that makes a person especially talented at finding gifts that are just right for others. So if you’re among the gift-buying-impaired, you probably like to look through gift guides. Never know when you’ll hit on something you wouldn’t have thought of but that seems just right for your dad, your adult offspring, best friend, grandkid or whoever.
Spoonful of Comfort soup

If you have a sick friend – or just one who loves homemade soup – consider Spoonful of Comfort. They deliver handcrafted soups in four classic versions: chicken noodle, butternut squash, tomato basil, and vegetable. Plus, the 64-ounce jar of soup comes complete with rolls and a cute ladle that’s good for serving and also as a keepsake. The promo material seems to indicate you can send just soup, but we weren’t able to get the website to accept an order that did not also include cookies. The company, featured on Shark Tank, also has gluten free soups. Unique gift for someone you care about and is perfect for the man/woman who has everything. Prices for soup and cookie packages start at $69.99.

Extra emollient, moisture-repairing lip balm epiCeram-L

Winter = dry, cracked lips for many of us. When invited to test a product that promises to heal – rather than mask – that condition, we were enthusiastic. EpiCeram-L Lip Care, which says it is different, does indeed feel different from our usual Chapstick routine. This lip balm actually made our lips feel noticeably better after only 30 minutes. This lip-care product’s claim to therapeutic ability is based on its being lipid-based (meaning it contains three of the body’s natural fats – ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol). These lipids are said to literally replenish lost moisture to rejuvenate and repair cracked lips. Happily, the product is steroid-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, petrolatum-free, fragrance-free, color-free, and lanolin-free. The promo says to expect significant results within one week of use. At $44.95 for a 3-pack, this is not a cheap product. But if you tend to have serious issues with keeping your lips moist, it is definitely worth a try. And could make a truly appreciated gift to a loved one – especially one you like to kiss. We’ll keep testing as winter progresses and update you.

Itzy expandable bag

Itzy. Imagine a shopping bag so tiny it fits in the palm of your hand – but that easily expands to many square inches to hold almost anything you need to carry. Keep a few in your pocket or in your big bag so when you go to the grocery or wherever, here in Chicago you don’t have to pay the 7-cents-per-bag tax for store-provided bags. And you’ll be truly helping the environment. Use it for shopping, laundry, shoes, the beach, toys, and more. And happily, when the carrying task is done, the Itzy shrinks back to its Itzy size. . . over. . . and over again. A win-win all around. A set of three for $20 – black, purple or white. Fun gift for your busy friends, too. Get ’em here. Also available for purchase on Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, The Grommet, Catalog companies, and online at Coming soon to Walmart.

Fun holiday or hostess gift – design your own wine label

Wine is almost always a welcome gift for the holiday season and how about this idea: custom bottle labels from OnlineLabels. They come in standard white matte material as well as some waterproof options that don’t smear (one specifically for inkjet printers, another for laser printers). The waterproof labels work even for white wines that may be chilled in the fridge or placed in an ice bucket.

Check out the pre-designed templates to use with the labels. The company says more will be added soon. Below are a few creative ways blank wine bottle labels can be used to add a personal touch to any holiday party or family gathering.
  • Print-and-go wine bottle labels – these are perfect for wrapping up and taking with you to parties as host/hostess gifts.
  • Better-than-holiday-card wine bottle labels – instead of handing printed holiday cards to everyone, give them the same message on a bottle of their favorite wine!
  • Office party favor wine bottle labels- impress your employees and their guests with branded wine bottles as the office holiday party favor.
Choose from a variety of sizes for the most popular wine bottles on the market. So pick a wine, choose a template, and design a cool gift.
Coravin Wine Preservation Opener

Coravin Wine Systems. Do you love good wines but like to savor them one glass at a time or even one sip at a time? Consider Coravin’s unique Wine Preservation Opener for tapping any bottle of wine – even screwtops – for just a sip or a glass at a time while perfectly preserving the remainder of the bottle. Read our review of Coravin Wine Preservation Opener here. $200 and up for systems with varying accessories.

Cooking with Booze – cool ideas for using up leftover liquor

Cooking with Booze by George Harvey Bone. For your spirit-loving chef-wannabe friends, this book is affordable and charming, A great way to make a dent in those bottles of tequila or rum or other spirit you bought to make one cocktail recipe and haven’t touched since. Imagine: Watercress Salad with Tequila Tangerine Dressing (p. 120). Or Mushrooms a le Carré (butter-sautéed with onion, garlic, lemon double cream and brandy p. 111 – yum!). Wild Turkey Wild Turkey (turkey breast strips marinated in honey, Worcestershire, Dijon and Wild Turkey bourbon, fried and broiled with cheese p. 78). Fun cookbook by a Britisher with both British and American measurements. Get it on Amazon for under 2 bucks.

111 places in Chicago

111 Places in Chicago that You Must Not Miss, by Amy Bizzarri with photos by Susie Inverso. Bizzarri has done her research with duly creative diligence. Her book spotlights unusual or little-known locations all over the city and gives a little history about each as well as all pertinent information like website, hours, and interesting tidbits. A few notable spots we hadn’t heard of: Optimo Hats, 51 W. Jackson Blvd., historic home of classic and custom made hats.  Magic, Inc., 1838 W. Lawrence Ave., supplier to magicians and mentalists. Kusanya Cafe & Roastery, 825 W. 69th St., offers a cup of Joe with a side of community – a far cry from Starbucks. MSRP for the book ~$20 but available at Target for $13.53.

Start to Finish Chicago!

Start to Finish Chicago! – Meticulously handmade line drawings of iconic Chicago buildings, statues and more that include complex maze paths throughout each picture. Fun for kids or grownups who love Chicago and want to know more about famous landmarks. Unique gift for young and old giftees who love the challenge of navigating the pathways.

Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and In the Wild, by Demet Güzey, PhD, who writes about food and culture and, for fun, climbs mountains. Part of the Food on the Go series, this is definitely a history book and has an academic feel to it, so it’s not for everyone. But if you’re into culinary history, this is a perfect book to peruse on, say, a dark, chilly winter day when you have nothing else pressing. Light a candle and imagine yourself in the shoes of the pilgrims, pioneers, soldiers and explorers she writes about – making their way in every kind of environment, from desert to polar.  How did they store food? What tools did they use for preparing? What kinds of food did they manage to acquire and preserve while traveling? Based on historical facts – like how German soldiers drugged with meth were able to fight longer, and how Marco Polo crossed the Gobi Desert at age 21. Extensive bibliography suggests lots of further reading. MSRP $38.
Expressive Nature Photography

Expressive Nature Photography: Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery, by Brenda Tharp, naturalist, teacher and photographer. The book is full of expert tips for mid-level photographers on topics like shooting at night, using filters to create long exposure, creating natural effects using light painting, controlling visual flow, successfully breaking rules of composition, and finding story in a landscape. Written in clear, informative style, the author offers insights on learning to see, woring with color, and other techniques to help even seasoned nature photographers hone their artistic skill. And even if you’re just a wannabe photographer, you can enjoy the beautiful pictures and learning about how they were selected, positioned and framed by the artist/author. Tharp’s excitement and creativity shine forth from the book’s images and its prose. MSRP ~$30 but available on Amazon for ~$18 and in Kindle for $11.


Father’s Day gift idea – High-end 1MORE Quad-Driver In-Ear Headphones


Who doesn’t want really good sound in their headphones? Whether you love music or conduct business on the phone or listen to movies or love the sounds of your video games – or all of the above – headphones are a critical investment item for the modern audiophile. And if your dad’s one, too,  what a great Father’s Day gift idea. And in case he’s never actually had good headphones, it might come as a nice surprise for him.

There’s a consumer electronics audio company out there called 1MORE – we wrote last year about some of their high-quality headphone models – that’s all about sound quality and innovative
design. They’re also dedicated to the idea that you ought to be able to get great sound no matter what your budget is, starting as low as $20 and all the way up to their newest innovation, the Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones for $200.

1MORE quad-driver in-ear headphones

The company has just put this new model on the market as a followup to their success last year with the Triple Driver headphone. You can pre-order this new flagship headphone from and, like all orders placed on their website, it comes with free shipping and the 1MORE 30-day money-back guarantee.  Nothing to lose.  Great sound to gain.


Finally! Activity tracker dress-ups for less

Fitbit Flex in its original rubbery band

OK. I’ll start with a bit of a rant about how much I love my activity tracker, the Fitbit Flex. It has changed my life. I’m healthier, fitter, and 30 pounds lighter – a goal that had been receding further and further with every passing year until this tracker came along. It has amazing capabilities for such a small device. But truth be told, it’s not the most stylish thing to wear on your arm, especially if you’re going somewhere dressed up. I accidentally found a way to hide my tracker on dressier occasions by fastening it a little looser and then slipping it inside a big black plastic bangle bracelet. No one has ever been the wiser. And that bracelet looks at least business-casual dressy but doesn’t work well for fancier occasions.

I had seen last year some classy-looking ornaments and covers and bands for activity trackers, but the prices were outrageous and some of the bracelet covers extremely heavy. Now, to the rescue comes They’ve got a wide variety of beautifully designed charms, bands and actual jewelry pieces that don’t just disguise your tracker; instead they make a serious fashion statement. Whether you like like your look flashy, bold or simple, you’re bound to find a design that calls your name. For those of us already dedicated to tracking our steps and so on, this is fabulously exciting news.
If you own and wear an activity tracker – or want to but never wanted something that ugly on your arm – I seriously urge you to visit FunktionalWearables and take your time looking over the merchandise. Affordable beautiful and fun. Would make a fabulous gift for someone who has a tracker or for whom you want to buy one. This line of products includes – mirabile dictu! – even stylish necklaces that hold and conceal that little smart thing that counts your steps. Absolute genius at affordable prices. They start at around $15 for a simple charm or enhancement and go up to maybe $50-ish for a gorgeous engraved silver necklace and earring set. Unbelievable.
Transform your activity tracker! Looks even better without the bandage on the finger.

Take a look. Choose a style or two (after all, they are affordable) that makes you feel good and buy. Then walk – even if it’s on a pad in your living room (which works well if you listen to your favorite rockin’ music ). You will be the happier – and the more stylish – for it, I promise.

You guys are offering some sure-fire-win products. Thank you – and congratulations!

Gift guide 2016 – consumables and more

Gifts can be so hard to choose.  Especially as we grow older, many of us don’t need any more tsatskes (pronounced in some circles choch-kees, it’s a Yiddish expression for “stuff”), so we tend to go for consumables – and most of us do enjoy receiving such things as candy, coffee, popcorn, etc. So let’s start with a few suggestions for unique wines and spirits and places to treat your friends/family to dinner on Christmas/Eve.
Sparkle the holidays with Segura Viudas

For sparkling-wine-loving friends. Segura Viudas Brut (SRP $10) or Freixenet Cordon Negro (in the sexy black bottle – SRP $9), both Spanish cavas that bring full, elegant flavor for value prices. Wonderful with food. Perfect for toasting. And just plain fun to enjoy in front of the fireplace (or a video of a burning fireplace).  Or give them a fireplace DVD for their VCR ($10).

For luxury wine-loving friends. Check out the reviews here, here, here and here for ideas for luxurious wines that are sure to make your friends feel truly appreciated if they love full, rich wines with their special meals. SRP $20 up to $100-plus.
HIbiki Harmony Suntory Whisky

For whiskey-loving friends. Japanese Hibiki Harmony Suntory whisky – floral notes play just a small part in this elegant, smooth, balanced and subtly sweet blend of whiskies. Plus it comes in a beautiful bottle. SRP ~$70.


Oh, and here’s a cool new book about whiskey – Whiskey: A spirited Story with 75 Classic and Original Cocktails by Michael Dietsch. It just happens to be written by a pal I met during our Freixenet trip to Spain. He’s very entertaining and knows a lot about whiskey. Great gift for one who loves whiskey, making cocktails with whiskey and enjoys a good read.

Cool recipes for Jack Daniels seasonal whiskies

And if you want to offer something really unique, Jack Daniels has a whole line of whiskies, including Gentleman Jack (sweet vanilla, citrus, spice), Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire (red hot cinnamon and a touch of sweetness, and a seasonal release called Winter Jack. It’s a mixture of apple cider liqueur and JD whiskey with holiday spices. It’s  very light – not serious sippin’ whiskey – but it makes some fun cocktails. Magnify the image to get the ingredients and instructions. Ah, I can feel myself in front of a fire sipping one of these homey concoctions, can’t you?

For after dinner. Amaro is the name the Italians give to the herbal-infused liqueurs they serve after their fabulous many-course Italian meals. Chicago’s own maker right here in the city makes Cinpatrazzo with a secret herbal potion that truly settles the stomach after a big meal – and tastes delicious while doing so. This locally made amaro will impress your giftee with your good taste – and let her/him know how much you care. And, oh, enjoy the beautiful Cinpatrazzo websiteSRP ~$35
MAGNUM bottle with Santa hat

And then there’s MAGNUM™ Highland Cream Liqueur, a silky smooth blend of Scotch whisky and pure cream that brims with tastes of chocolate, caramel and rich toffee. What a fabulous dessert drink to serve with your holiday cookie tray. Or try these scrumptious Magnum drink recipes.

For your pizza-loving friends/family – Brunch!  Who’d a thunk you could turn pizza into a fabulous brunch menu? Robert’s Pizza Company, has done it in style. Take your gang between 11:30am and 3 pm and check out the mouth-watering-sounding LOXZA PIZZA (with lox, double cream  cheese, chives, red onion, chopped egg, dill and capers) or a cool sweet treat like Robert’s very own ‘ZA DOUGH CINNAMON BUN. ‘Za Dough is their own recipe that was 15 years in the making. Oh, and try their new brunch cocktails like the BRUNCH MONEY COCKTAIL, made with Patron XO Café liqueur, hot coffee and heavy cream.
And speaking of meals, how about taking your giftee out for a holiday meal? Check out some Chicago restaurants open for Christmas/Eve.
While it’s always best if you can figure out something a particular individual is likely to enjoy, you might be one of us who is not blessed with gift-choosing acumen. Or if you’re blessed with lots of friends/family who have everything – or almost – here’s a brief random assortment of product reviews you that might fit as gifts.
For your grandchildren – give twice. From Cricket Media comes a collection of ad-free kids’ magazines for all ages. I took the samples they sent on a visit to my grandkids – ages 9, 7 and 4 – and they all immediately got lost inside the pages of their very own age-appropriate publication. I call that a very positive reaction to the material. Games, puzzles, stories and more. Check ’em out: BABYBUG (6 mos to 3 yrs), LADYBUG (3 to 6 yrs), SPIDER (6 to 9 yrs), and CRICKET (9 to 14 yrs). Hey, something besides digital screens to keep them interested and challenged! On sale for the month of December, subscriptions are $29.95 (regular $33.95) and when you subcribe they will also give a subscription to your choice of one of two charitable organizations. Visit them at
Bil-Jac apple Dessert Jacs – yes, dogs love ’em

For your dog. Ever feel sorry for your dog because all s/he ever gets to eat is dry brown nuggets? How about a dog dessert for the holidays!? Bil-Jac is offering this year Apple Caramel dog treats – with real chicken as the #1 ingredient. My daughters’ dogs LOVE the taste. And it’s just fun to treat your dog to something special during the holidays – oh, alright, any time at all. Look for the brand at your Chicago neighborhood PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, and Petco locations, plus some private pet stores like Let’s Pet, Ruff ‘N’ Stuff Pet Center and others. Anyway, don’t dogs just love anything you get for them?

Snap Power faceplates with something extra

For your home. A nightlight that doesn’t stick out from the wall and/or look silly sounds good, doesn’t it? Snap Power makes one that’s totally integrated into an ordinary-looking dual-electrical-outlet faceplate. Some reviewers say they won’t shut off and that the electrical connection is iffy. And a hitch with this and with the USB-charger-equipped model (next paragraph) is that you can’t use them with those high-tech plates with the reset buttons that are now required by most cities to be installed anywhere near where there’s water – usually kitchens and bathrooms.

The Snap Power USB-charger-equipped faceplate is a great idea, in that you don’t have to dig out another USB-charging device and plug that in first. For those of us not too comfortable with messing with power sources, it’s a bit daunting to face turning off the power to your outlet before you install the new faceplates. These are both cool ideas and the products look nice. Just to be sure it’s right for you or your giftee, read the Amazon reviews before you make a purchase decision.

For your snoring spouse/SO.  In case you want to give something you believe might be helpful to a spouse who suffers – or makes you suffer – with snoring problems, only consider this if you’re pretty sure s/he won’t be insulted! Rest-Rite makes a back-sleeper’s aid that’s designed to gently remind you to sleep on your sides instead of your back – when snoring often kicks in. These are disposable (wish they were reusable) kinda big (about 4 inches in diameter) stick-on molded plastic bumps that stay in place and prevent you from rolling onto your back in the middle of the night. We were surprised to find that it really did stay in place, in spite of some tossing and turning – which we did carefully so as not to have to be reminded mid-turn that we were passing by our back-sleeping option. Gotta think this could help those who drift onto their backs and can’t help sawing logs. You can try a sample pack of 7 for ~$17. Even though that seems high, how can you put a price on your mental health? Let us know how it works for you.


Review – National Geographic guides to 100 years of national parks

Sequoia sempervirens in Redwood National Park
Sequoia sempervirens in Redwood National Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America’s 59 national parks are celebrating their 100th birthday this year. Even if you don’ think you’ll be able to visit one or more of these national treasures any time soon, you can have a virtual visit easily by looking at the official National Geographic Guide to National Parks 8th Edition just published recently. Gorgeous photos and clear directions for navigating your way through the parks make this book a must-have – even if you’re only visiting in your imagination. An enriching and relaxing way to while away an hour or two any time.

And if you’ve got grandkids, check out the National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA: Centennial Edition. They’ll see cool maps and amazing photos of wildlife; they’ll learn fun facts about forests and about conserving our natural resources. What a fun way to help kids open their eyes to how we can all preserve and protect our precious home planet. If the kids love outdoors, or if you’ll be taking them to a national park soon, they will love this book.

Imagine yourself there:

  • In the East, parks like Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah are among the most popular in the nation. They and six other parks showcase the subtle beauties of eastern scenery.
  • Midwest, we Chicagoans can experience national parks close to home or far out in the Dakotas. Environments both suburban and rugged/otherworldly await visitors to this, America’s heartland, where water plays a huge part in building and changing the landscape.
  • South Central hosts four parks – Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend and Hot Springs – with scenery ranging from historical and underground to high and rugged.
  • The Southwest’s 11 parks contain rivers and historical remains of America’s Wild West. The Grand Canyon is an emblem of American heritage and a natural wonder of the world. Mesa Verde preserves natural wonders and the history of a people.
  • The Alaska national parks protect and preserve more than 41 million acres of natural treasures like active volcanoes, glaciers, rugged mountains, giant brown bears, sea lions, whales and wild salmon.
  • The four Rocky Mountain parks feature craggy peaks capped by glimmering glaciers, fields bathed in wildflowers, and lakes as smooth and blue as a summer sky. These also include Southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes.
  • The Pacific Southwest parks stretch from American Samoa and the Hawaiian Islands to the snow-clad peaks of California. Visitors can discover everything from coral reefs to volcanic landscapes, and from deserts to monoliths and domes of granite.
  • In the Pacific Northwest parks you can hike the cathedral-like glades of Douglas fir, western red cedar and other conifers of Mount Rainier, and the Olympic and North Cascades mountain ranges in Washington state. Redwood National Park is home to 2,000-year-old trees – and some of the tallest on Earth!. In Olympic, enjoy the beauty of temperate rain forests that soar to the sky near some of the nation’s wildest coastline. Here and at Mount Rainier are the only places you can find such forests in the United States.

Thanks to National Geographic for keeping us all entertained, delighted and informed about the wonders of our country and the ways we can respect our natural world. Visit their website for more fascinating guides to our country’s national natural treasures. And very happy one-century birthday to our national parks!