Topped up for Fourth of July at my favorite binge shopping place

A trip to TJ Maxx for a one-stop shopping spree for everything Fourth of July

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As I loaded up for Independence Day festivities at my secret place, before I noticed two hours had passed. I wondered how the time had gotten away from me, as it always does when I go there; and more broadly, I wondered how my TJ Maxx compulsion had started.

It began innocently, many years ago.  I wandered into TJ Maxx.  I wondered, “What is this odd place; a sort of no-frills mini department store?” I discovered, it is just that.  Officially, TJ Maxx is considered a department store, but sans the helpful sales associates to bring you different sizes in the dressing room. I have come to peace with my TJ Maxx habit, because if you are going to have a shopping problem, or more positively referred to as retail therapy, at least TJ’s is affordable.

I have found some great deals, like 50 percent-off prices on designer clothes that are currently in other stores.  How do they do it?  Well, for starters, its doubtful you’ll find too many of the same thing at TJ’s, such as a rack of the same white blouse in six sizes. They get the leftovers, but remember, last does not mean least, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man’s trash…you get the point.  There’s great stuff there, but you do have to really look.

Much of the merchandize is one-offs, end-of-season or last season or slow sellers at other stores. Rarely do I see an irregular item, though if so, those items are marked as such and usually deeply discounted. There’s also an awesome clearance section in each department, where you can find a set of three dishes or an item out of a box or in a banged-up box for a fraction of the regular retail price.

So, for the Forth, here’s a sampling of the great stuff I found, all for under $100.  Talk about a celebration.

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A cooler that will make you feel like a star when you stroll into a party, of course more so if it is filled with adult beverages

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Can ever have enough of these decorative glass sets, and they make great hostess gifts

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Cute overload. Get them to wear these while they are young , before they want piercings

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Not sure if I will ever use these cupcake cases and toppers, but I knew if I didn’t grab them, they would be gone

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Even Fido can get into the spirit with this patriotic chew toy

A little off the top

Solutions for when you are at a loss about hair loss

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A beauty issue that many women don’t want to talk about, or even acknowledge, is thinning hair and balding; and because so many sufferers keep this problem under their caps, the beauty industry has been slow to find solutions. Women usually will only wear wigs and hair pieces or turn to prescription remedies as a last resort and in the case of extreme hair loss, but for those who have a mild to moderate hair shedding, which can be due to age, medications, hormone levels, genetics, and other health or lifestyle issues, fill-in powders may be a suitable option.

Products like Fill-in Powder from Cover Your Gray can help reduce the appearance of thinning hair.  The matte powder can be dusted on with a brush to conceal thinning around the temples and cover graying or balding spots. Cover Your Gray’s formula contains Procapil, a natural botanical that promotes hair growth and prevents hair loss, so while camouflaging thinning areas it can help thicken hair and protect against further loss. The powder comes in four shades for matching, and it stays on through rain, sweat and normal daily activities.

fill in powder

While many other similar cover-up hair products are designed for touching up hair color between highlights or color styling, they can also be used to cover thinning hair and boost volume, such as sprays to cover thinning spots; permanent or wash-out root touch up designed to cover grey close to the scalp; touch-up sticks for around the hairline, side burns and roots; and brush-in wants for broader cover-up for scattered gray hairs throughout the head.

These are all affordable options, usually around $6 to $16. Look for brands that are waterproof, do not flake or rub off, and in shades that match as closely as possible to the rest of the hair, or slightly lighter. Powders and other topical solutions for thinning hair are generally the most efficient way to treat this beauty concern, and they are the safest and most economical, not to mention they can help extend time between salon visits.

Mom wears the pants

Wear these pants wherever

There are a lot of crop pants out there, but SlimSation pants by Multiples are not your garden-variety pants. This slimming pant, as the name implies, is designed to slim your figure, and make you look your sensational best.

The pants feature a flexible tummy control panel that smooths and holds in the tummy, thighs and rear. SlimSation states you can drop one size instantly and look and feel 10 pounds lighter wearing their Spanx-on-the-outside pants (obligatory disclaimer: Slimsation is not associated with the actual Spanx brand). The Bottom line (pun intended) is, with a $69 price tag (prices vary depending on style), you might expect something more from these pants, and in my estimation, they deliver. 

They have a slightly higher waistline, which helps reduce tummy bulge and the dreaded muffin top of low rise waistbands. They hug the body like Lycra leggings, but because the fabric is heavier and thicker, the wearer feels more contained rather than exposed.

 

 

SlimSation pants come in many styles, from walking shorts and skirts, capris and crops, to ankle-length pants and jean styles, including the skinny Boyfriend Crop, Knit Ankle Legging, Lace Print Crop Legging and styles in solid colors and patterns. The brand also carries a number of figure-flattering tops, such as tanks and knit tops that hang longer at the bottom to cover the tummy and are flowy rather than clingy.

The line was designed by fashion designer John Bourgeois, who endeavored to create the perfect fitting pant that would be a woman’s essential staple piece to wear and enjoy every day, for business or casual looks. After extensive wear-testing, and re-designing, he designed the SlimSation collection, using fabrics that are comfortable and move with you while having a slimming effect, without compromising style.

SlimSation apparel can be found with hundreds of specialty retailers across the United States.

Get ready to hit the road for summer road tripping

Protect your vehicle’s paint and interior and keep all systems go

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Just like your Mom told you, even if the sun is behind the clouds, UV rays can be damaging to your skin; but bet she didn’t mention what those rays can do to your vehicle.  Sun, heat, salty sea air and other harsh environmental elements can take a serious toll on your car or truck, inside and out, and under the hood.  Get your car ready for summer vacation with these DIY maintenance tips.

  • Check your tires. There’s nothing worse than a flat tire on your road trip. Be sure to check for proper inflation pressure, especially since under-inflated tires consume more energy, therefor giving you poorer gas mileage.
  • Protect your car from the sun. Similar to protecting your skin with sun tan lotion, it’s important to shield vinyl, plastic and rubber surfaces on your car from the sun’s harsh UV rays. You can use a product like Meguiar’s Ultimate Protectant, which creates a rich shine & darkness on interior surfaces, while bringing new life to exterior trim, moldings & tires.

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  • Wash and wax your car. Your car’s finish can easily fade and rust from the salty air and sunshine. Be sure to give your car a solid wash and don’t forget to wax before heading toward the shore. You can use Meguiar’s Ultimate Fast Finish, the easiest and fastest way to wax your vehicle in just 10 minutes. Simply spray and wipe with a microfiber towel and your vehicle will have a slick, protective top coat that will deliver up to one full year of water beading protection—no buffing required.

  • Clean the underside of the hood. Any salt and grime build-up remaining from the winter months along with added beach salt could harm electrical connections and fuel and brake lines. Spray Nine Heavy-Duty Cleaner/Degreaser can help wipe away bugs, tar and other unwanted hitchhikers on surfaces and can also help control mold and mildews as well as fungicidal growth.

  • It’s hot out there…don’t forget about your cooling system. The last thing you need on your relaxing trip is a problem under the hood. It’s important to inspect your antifreeze/coolant to make sure it’s free of debris and contaminants. If you notice an issue, flush and fill your system with a mixture of 50 percent concentrated antifreeze and 50 percent distilled water. If your reservoir is low, you can easily top off with Prestone® 50/50 Prediluted Antifreeze/Coolant with patented Cor-Guard® corrosion inhibitors.

Prestone AMAM 5050 with Superiority Claim

  • Wipers! Even if you have not used your windshield wipers in a while, they need regular replacing due to dry rot that can make them ineffective when you need them.  Rain-X Arch beam blade wipers are a step up from standard wipers as they have a curved design engineered to improve pressure distribution on the windshield and a graphite coating, so that they wipe smoothly and chatter-free, plus they are simple to install with nearly all wiper arm styles.

The REVOQ non-stop spinner for fidget aficionados

REVOQ creators dazzle with fully loaded fidget spinner that just won’t stop


The hot new fidget spinner REVOQ from WeFidget is the best thing I’ve seen since the faux Cartier diamond encrusted solid gold spinner on SNL. https://youtu.be/iN6df0twmJQ

Though I’m not a connoisseur of fidget spinner’s, my nine-year-old son he is. He and his friends are so addicted to them that they got banned from using them at school.

My son’s collection of fidget spinners is vast, including one constructed from a recycled motorcycle chain, custom spinners with Batman style wings, several cheapies purchased at Wegman’s and a few homemade devices, including a couple he fashioned from the bearings of a salvaged old skateboard. He has watched countless YouTube videos on spinners and how to make them, such as instructional videos on making edible fidget spinners. He also has fidget cubes and a fidget stick, or “roll-over toy.”

So now that we have established his qualifications, here is what he has to say about REVOQ’s premium spinner.

“This is the best spinner in the whole world.”

For boys and spinners, faster and longer matters, and this one spun nonstop for over five minutes. The website for REVOQ says it can go up to seven minutes, which perhaps was initiated by more forceful spin, in perfect conditions.

The only people other than my son and his friends I have seen more passionate and serious about spinners are developers from WeFidget, who on their Kickstarter page have a mini documentary featuring a number of grown adults explaining how the fidget spinner will replace rattling keys in their pockets or twirling hair or other compulsive fidgeting acts.

While teachers and developmental specialists have pretty much debunked the idea that fidget spinners are actually helpful in increasing attention span, the folks from WeFidget and their followers still believe that this true, at least for them. for most fidgetier, spinners are pure fun, and a competitive challenge to make faster and better and to perform tricks. There are even books like Fun with Fidget Spinners: 50 Super Cool Tricks and Activities to help guide users in making the most of their spinners.

For my son, the spinners have become like Pokémon cards, something to collect, compare, share and trade. This one he won’t be trading though.

What he likes about it: among other thigs, its weight. This is one heavy fidget spinner. Its solid metal construction gives it a satisfying heft to hold. It is also loaded with bells and whistles – or rather switches and levers to feel and flick. In addition to simply spinning, this fidget device has buttons and balls that click and roll to occupy the user’s hands.

My son likes these extras, thought he did note that the levers could be rounded, so they were smoother and more tactfully pleasing. Keep in mind, his is a prototype, and our feedback hopefully be used to improve later productions.

While he liked the balls embedded on one side, that he can roll with his fingers, the protrusion of these balls keep the fidget spinner from lying flat on one side. For avid fidget spinners, laying the spinner on its side to measure its speed and length of spin is important. While one side was impeded by the balls, by placing the spinner on a flat surface on the other side, the spinner did indeed spin freely.
For added tactile interest, one side the spinner has an oblong groove that feels good when the user places their finger in it or rubs across it. It also has jagged sunburst-style grooves around the center button on one side, to provide some tactile stimulation.

Of course, looks are important too. And this regard that we fidget excels. Its shiny beauty and its sleek two-wing styling makes it stand out from the typical three-prong colored-plastic spinners.

One aesthetic that my son objected to was the exposed screw heads on one side, but this was a double edge sword, because while he would like a more finished appearance, he also likes access to the inner workings of his spinners, so that he can disassemble, examine and cannibalize them if he wishes, but this is one he will be displaying, and not dissecting.

The REVOQ will retail for $45

A family snowy summer vacation in Lake Tahoe

Forget the beach, time to hit the slopes this summer as Tahoe resorts make history by extending ski season to July Fourth

A beach vacation for Angeleno families is standard, but why not mix it up this summer with a ski vacation.  Not water skiing.  Snow skiing.  Or boarding.  That’s right, the slopes are still covered with the white stuff, and they are open for business for spring … er, I mean summer skiing.

Careful what you wish for

For the first time in history, mountain resorts in Lake Tahoe have officially extended their ski season through July 4th weekend. After several dry winters, the Lake Tahoe resorts saw their snowiest season on record, reporting 700 inches of snow, approximately 300 percent more snow than a normal season. While the Reno-Tahoe area has always attracted many year-round visitors, for art and culture events and outdoor activities on the mountains and Lake Tahoe, this year visitors will enjoy an epic après ski.

 

For anyone who didn’t make it yet to Tahoe for the 2016-17 ski season, or for those who didn’t get enough, excellent powder and no crowds make it a perfect time to visit. And that’s just what a couple of my besties and I did, on a blizzard of a vacay of skiing, dining and lounging, hitting five resorts, in five days.

Parking it at Parc Foret

Our posse met up in Reno, where we enjoyed ultra-luxurious accommodations at the Parc Foret at Montreux. If you haven’t heard of it, this enclave of the Montreux master-planned development of luxury homes, about 30 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe airport, is a high desert oasis with year-round appeal, known for its 300 days of sunshine, world-class golfing, nearby casinos and nightlife, and of course, its proximity to the mountain resorts.

As we arrived at Parc Foret and got directions from the guard at the gatehouse to our abode, we kept looking for the landmark of the clubhouse, but we got confused, because we mistook every gigantor eight-bedroom manse on the street as the clubhouse.  “Oh, there it is; no, that’s a house. Now I see it, oops, that’s another house…”

 

 

The custom-built homes in the Montreux development impressed us with both their grandeur and design. We were lucky enough to experience the Stay and Play package, whereby potential homeowners are invited to reside a few days in the community – a clever marketing tactic, as its pretty impossible not to fall in love with the place.

Our modest 7200-square-foot house featured an open floor plan on the first level with a full kitchen and marble bar that opened into an enormous family room with a long, wall-to-wall gas fireplace, a perfect for gathering place to hang after a day on the mountain.

Each of us had our own grand master bedroom and bath, and there was plenty of space to spread out, from the downstairs game room and bar to the sunny deck overlooking the snowy woods. We also enjoyed lounging around our outdoor fireplace, right outside the front door.

We felt very at home at Montreux, where we were taken in at the clubhouse by the residents with whom we made fast friends, dancing the night away at a private party, as the DJ played surprisingly current rap and hip-hop. We were tempted to hang out there all day and skip the skiing, but the mountains kept calling our names.

Looking at the slopes through Mt. Rose-colored goggles

Our first stop was Mt. Rose, which is so close to the airport – about a 25-minute drive – that the resort offers discounted lift tickets for those who show their same-day airline boarding passes.

The resort is known for its spectacular views and its mellow attitude.  The resort features terrain for all levels as well as the longest continuous vertical in North America; and at 8,260 feet elevation, Mt. Rose is Tahoe’s highest base resort, which means the resort often has the best conditions even on the warmest spring days. As far as amenities, Mt. Rose is pretty much hard-core skiing, with not a lot of frills, but this may all change soon as the owners plan to develop it soon into a luxury resort.

Skiing large at Squaw Alpine

Our second day we spent at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadow, now known as Squaw Alpine since the two neighboring resorts merged in 2012.  The resort is massive in size, boasting a combined 6,200 acres and 43 lifts and 270 trails, attracting 6000,000 skiers a year. Although lift tickets and amenities are interchangeable, the two resorts feature distinctly different feels to visitors.

Squaw, famed as the site for the 1960 Olympics and recently voted as the top resort in North America by USA Today, is a high-energy resort that attracts many professional skiers, though it has a variety of terrain, including 25 percent beginner’s slopes. Alpine Meadows is known for its down-home and approachable hospitality and its easy-riding progression parks and wide-open bowls, with terrain for all levels of skiers.

Because of Squaw Alpine’s size and resources, it has amazing offerings. From tubing and snowmobiling, to dog sledding and ice-skating, there’s just about no snow sport you can’t do there. There is also a lovely village at Squaw with terrific dining and shopping and generally except for holiday weekends, it’s not too crowded.

Wishing upon Northstar

On day three we hit Northstar California, aptly named for its location on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. The resort is part of the Vail Group which also includes the Tahoe resorts of Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood, which all have the reputation as resorts dedicated to a premier visitor experience.

It was a bit of a drive from Parc Foret, about an hour and half, but we were glad to make a day of our venture to this luxury destination. Northstar features a Ritz-Carlton and other upscale accommodations and dining for visitors who like their skiing experience made easy. On-mountain dining includes the popular Zephyr Lodge, accessible by tram for pedestrians, which makes mincemeat of the standard chili and hot cocoa lodge fare with gourmet cuisine, which of course comes at a cost, but the typical Northstar clientele are not too concerned about a $25 lunch.

Northstar prides itself in its laid-back luxury, which is exactly what it sounds like. You’re treated like a VIP, but the tenor of the staff and the vibe in the village is definitely not uptight. The resort features amenities such as a valet who will carry your skis to the snow’s edge, though if you are staying in the luxury accommodations in the village, there’s hardly a reason for such a service, since the slopes are about 100 feet from your door step. In true ski-in-ski out fashion, one of the gondolas actually travels underneath the village condominiums.

Treasure of Sierra-at-Tahoe

As a storm came in, we rushed on our second to last day of vacation to Sierra at Tahoe. Unfortunately, the only road up to the mountain was bumper-to-bumper with other vacationers on the holiday weekend with the same idea. We spent more than 90 minutes edging up the hill for the last 7 miles to the top. The situation got a little desperate after morning coffee, forcing us to make an unscheduled stop behind a snow mound for a potty break.

The lumbering ride up to Sierra-at-Tahoe is worth the trip though. Having the only half-pipe on the south shore, Sierra is popular with snowboard riders, and because of its focus on value and affordable lift ticket packages, it draws many day users, making base camp a vibrant place to hang out. Being on the south shore, Sierra is also close to the night life and casinos, so it has become a favored resort of the party crowd.

In keeping with their theme of fun in the snow, Sierra’s kids lessons and the Smart Terrain classes for all ages are led by qualified instructors, upon whom the resort has bestowed the Certified Unserious badge, a designation that guarantees, among other things, that staff are dedicated to guests learning in a fun environment suited for their skill level.

 

Heavenly Can’t Wait

Our last day was at Heavenly Mountain Resort, which in my experience skiing there for more than 25 years has always lived up to its name. As the resort with the highest elevation of the Lake Tahoe area resorts, with a peak elevation of 10,067 feet, Heavenly has some of the most magnificent vistas. For skiers who like their terrain raw, Heavenly has no shortage of intense backcountry terrain, along with plenty of varied terrain from wide-open cruisers fo plunging 1,600-foot chutes. While they didn’t need it this year, Heavenly owns the largest snow-making system in the area, so even during dry years, they usually have decent conditions.

Our last journey down the mountain was on Roundabout, a winding narrow intermediate trail that traverses the mountain at a leisurely pace, sometimes where we had to use our poles to push ourselves. It’s a good thing the mellow terrain allowed us to catch our breath, as it would have been taken away by the spectacular views we got to enjoy all the way down.

Cool digs

We changed our accommodations our last two nights to the new Hotel Becket, a Joie de Vivre property.  It was quite a switch from our Parc Foret three-bedroom luxury home, but we expected and got a different experience at this uber cool millennial lodging spot. Directly across from the Heavenly Village of restaurants and bars, and sporting its own Ten Crows Restaurant, this happening hotspot is social central.

The hotel has everything a guest needs for a quick and comfortable slumber, wide screen TV, Wi-Fi, spa services, etc., and guests’ choice of rooms, either the rustic alpine charm of the Sierra-style Woods rooms, or the newly renovated and contemporary Village rooms, with architectural details such as reclaimed barn wood doors. But honestly, the target clientele of this hotel does not spend much time holed up in a hotel room, no matter how luxuriously appointed.

Rent-and-go

Hands down the most aggravating part of the skiing is returning rental equipment, but our newfound friends at Tahoe Dave’s made it a breeze.

Getting our gear there was much smarter than renting at each resort. We kept the gear overnight and saved ourselves the hassle of waiting in lines to rent and return gear each day. The folks at the shop were highly knowledgeable and helpful. They are also great salespeople, as they convinced us to buy the top-of-the-line ski goggles with chroma-pop lenses, which we were glad we did when we skied in blowing snow and the goggles did their job of amazingly sharpening the definition of the contours on the terrain.

You’ll be coming year-‘round the mountain

Even if you don’t want to hit the slopes for summer, there are plenty of warmer-weather attractions that will be in full swing during the overlap of spring skiing and summer season, such as scenic gondola rides and even a mountain coaster at Heavenly, as well as mountain biking, hiking, camping, ropes courses and ziplines, river boat tours, fishing adventures, water sports on the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe – and fun events like Squaw’s Peaks and Paws dog swim fest – bring a boon of year-round business.

While for ski resorts generally the rule is there can’t be enough snow, the 2016-17 season was a challenge. Some resorts brought in snow melting equipment from New York to clear parking lots. Also, because of the fierce storms and winds, many chairlifts were grounded and slopes opened late or not at all due to dangerous weather conditions.

The good news of course is that a more than 60 feet of snow is slow to melt, and for the first time ever, après ski will include Fourth of July fireworks.

Easy DIY home decor ideas to transform your living space

Bring out your inner interior decorator and give a room a new look, in a day, or minutes

Giving a living space a new look does not always require a major renovation, or a contractor.  Here are a few DIY ideas for refreshing and reviving a room with a fresh new style, no home improvement experience required.

Cut a rug

Do-it-yourself and rug are not usually terms that go together, but FLOR is changing that. This innovative flooring company allows anyone to design their own unique rug, one square at a time, using self-adhesive carpeted tiles that can be laid in custom sizes and shapes, using a huge variety of gorgeous patterns, styles and colors with many textures and piles.

The beauty of the system is that the options are limitless. FLOR tiles can be arranged to fit odd spaces, such as hallways or a room with a nook or a jagged floor plan, or the tiles can be placed to create an area rug or seamless-looking wall-to-wall rug to fit any room. Designing an inspired and creative custom rug is made easy with FLOR’s online Design Studio tool, or you can choose from a selection of pre-designed signature pieces.

For those who like to change up a room’s look often, the tiles can be taken up and moved much easier than an installed carpet; and in areas like kitchens or kids’ rooms, where floors suffer the most spills and stains, individual soiled tiles can be replaced, rather than an entire rug. Available at flor.com. Prices range from as low as $11.49 to $24 and up per square.

Throw some shade

Recessed lighting has its benefits, but it can lack variety and versatility. Make a room with recessed lighting stand out with EzClipse, stylish shades that fit around recessed lighting fixtures that can transform the look and feel of a room within minutes. A lackluster flat ceiling in any space can be instantly upgraded from traditional to modern.

The shades come in several styles, including metallic and fabric options, and in round and square shapes and several colors and profiles. The covers can be used on an entire ceiling, or only on selected lights or areas to add an element of style, draw attention to an area, highlight artwork or furniture, or give a feeling of separation between multiuse rooms, such as a living room that doubles as an office.

The inner fittings of the shades can be adjusted for the size of the recessed light opening, and even if the existing rims are plastic, self-adhesive magnetic holders can be installed without any tools. Installation is so easy that you can remove and change the covers whenever the mood strikes. EzClipse are available on Amazon or at EzClipse.com and also at Costco in Canada. Prices start at $13.99.

Launch pad-ding

There is another way, besides painting or adding artwork, to dress up plain walls. Vänt Wall Panels give an instant new look to a room with a wall décor system of padded panels that snap into a track that anyone can install, no special skills required.

Each wood-backed panel is 1.75” thick and either 30” or 39” long. The panels are filled with foam padding and batting for comfort, and covered with a variety of easy-care materials in a variety of collections of different colors and textures, such as Vintage Leather Finish in Black Coal, White Dove, Saddle Brown, Grey Pewter or Dusty Taupe; and Cotton Weave Finish in Black Denim, Midnight Blue, Toasted Wheat Ash Gray, and Gray Mist.

The panels are ideal as a back board for any size bed, or for use in living rooms to add an inviting softness to a room, in a dining room to add a sleek sophistication, in offices and dens to make a stylish statement, and in kitchens, kids’ playrooms or any room to cover an entire wall or as an accent to enhance the look of a room. The panels can be arranged in a solid-colored configuration, or colored panels can be mixed and matched to create unique, custom configurations to transform the style and ambiance of a room in minutes.