Makeovers, Wrinkles and Emus

Cosmetician applies makeup during makeover.

The painful process of ‘beauty.’

I went with a friend to a local makeup emporium last week. She was having a makeover. I was her support person.

It was her makeover but it turns out I’m the one who needed the support.

While schmearing green goo on my friend’s cheeks, (“this corrective concealer will camouflage those broken capillaries. Trust me, no one will  know you’re green”) the dewy-skinned twenty-something cosmetician looked over her shoulder.

Because someone in the immediate area might have been snickering. Just a bit.

Looking straight at me, Twenty-something said, “You could use this face primer. It’s great for older skin.”

“‘Primer?’” I said, “Isn’t that for walls?” Heh heh heh.

I was the only one laughing.

“It’s our poor solutions kit.”

I was getting into deep waters now. “Why do I need to buy the whole kit if it’s only a poor solution?”

“Not ‘poor,’ ‘pore,’” Twenty-something corrected me. With great patience and no detectable rolling of her eyes.

‘You’re only as old as you feel’ has been my excuse—er, motto but the cosmetics industry seems intent on disabusing me of that idea. I believe they’re going for the one that ends, ‘…and leave a good-looking corpse.’

Back at home I searched ‘best for aging skin.’

Except I really only had to type in the ‘best’ and the ‘aging’ because the search algorithm supplied the rest.

Top of the results was a site calledWrinkle Review. I’d like to make believe it’s a site for judging really outstanding wrinkles (‘Dave, she’s got the most outstanding crows feet formation I’ve ever seen, I give her a 9.5, she must be smiling overtime to get those,’) it’s a review site for anti aging products.

The cheapest on their list, by the way, was Aquallure at $59.95 but it’s currently on a half-off promotion, so with $4.95 in shipping it only cost me $34.90. Even better, buying the first pot enters me into the club so I guess the stuff just keeps coming. Still at that same great half-off price.

The most expensive on their list is ‘Life Cell’ at $189.95 by South Beach Skin Care. I’m sure it’s great stuff: the next time I need ‘intensive and fast acting’ cream, say I’m on my way to meet someone who’s only seen my thumbnail photo (‘chin up and to the side, dear, lengthens the double chin and the eye bags slide back and away.’)

My personal favorite is No Wrinkles Now! I like the positive message behind that exclamation point.

The Strixaderm people must really think the world of their product. I’m a little concerned that the photo shows I only get a slender, wand like item for my $79.00, but, hey, it’s got Emu Oil! (See? They’ve got me doing it now.) Must be powerful stuff! Because if there’s one bird that’s associated with youth and beauty, it’s the Emu!

Picture of Emu bird.

The beauteous Emu. (Photo credit

Of course, having wrinkles and being alive to spread Emu oil

(exactly what part of the bird does the oil come from, by the way? If you know, please don’t tell me)

on them certainly beats the alternative.

Yesterday I heard a radio ad for a company touting its customer support by ‘live humans.’ If I follow their reasoning, their rascally competitors may be cutting costs by staffing their support lines with dead humans. Who would certainly offer extremely poor customer support, if any at all, of course through no fault of their own.

(Although I had occasion to call a certain television cable provider’s ‘customer service’ line recently. I have a strong suspicion their management is not using the services of the company staffed by ‘live humans.’)

As the perfect start to my morning following my makeover experience, Yahoo Ads offered me the following ‘Ad Topics That Might Interest You.’

Yahoo suggested Ad Topics.

Products and services I need, according to Yahoo.

The topics were probably compiled by the same Faustian algorithm that brought me ‘Wrinkle Review.’

I emailed a complaint to Customer Service.

I haven’t heard back. They’re probably not staffed by ‘live humans.’

Pass me the Emu oil. I have time to slather while I wait.

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What Would Jane Austen Eat? Lemon Curd!

Tea table set for two.

Tea table set for two. On the menu? Regency era lemon curd tarts. (Photo by author)

What’s a girl to do when her generous neighbor gifts her with a sack of homegrown lemons?

She makes Regency-era lemon curd and invites an Austen-loving friend over for tea, that’s what.

But was lemon curd known in Jane Austen’s day?

Definitely yes, judging by the many recipes for lemon and other fruit curds–or creams as they were often called– in the famed A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy: and Adapted to the Use of Private Families by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell.

Published in 1806 by John Murray (who would later publish Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and a new edition of Mansfield Park), the book familiarly known as ‘Mrs. Rundell’ was an immediate success and continued as the most widely read cookbook in the first half of the century.1

Mrs. Rundell’s recipe for Lemon Cream calls for a ‘pint of rich cream, two beaten egg yolks, four ounces of sugar’ and the finely peeled zest of one lemon.

The mixture is boiled then allowed to cool, when the juice of the lemon is beaten in.2

Variations such as Raspberry, Coffee, Orange and Apple creams are listed.3 Her Snow and Almond creams sound more like syllabubs, light and frothy sweet thickened liquids.

Now that I had a confirmed genuine Austen-era sweet, which recipe would I use to make it? Recipes of the time, or receipts as they were often called, are far more rudimentary than the detailed ones we use today. Remember, in effect these books were written for professional cooks so basic techniques and vocabulary were assumed to be known already by any competent cook. I’m decently skilled but hardly a chef, let alone a food historian. I needed a modern recipe for my first go at lemon curd.

After an internet search, I chose Alton Brown’s recipe courtesy of the Food Network. It looked simple and was highly rated by readers.4 It took me approximately forty five minutes start to finish with most of the time devoted to prep work, especially zesting the lemons carefully to avoid even a hint of bitter white pith.

The kitchen smelled heavenly and there was something soothing, almost hypnotic about stirring the mixture until it thickened.

The recipe produced two cups of fragrant, sunshine bright, tangy-sweet curd.

Best of all was watching the delight and hearing the yummy-sounds made by my tea guest as she sampled the fruit of my labor. It might not have been formal etiquette but it was music to my ears.

My first foray into capturing the feel of the Regency era through cooking was such a success, I’m looking for my next ‘receipt’ to make soon.

Hot cross buns, anyone?

Two lemon curd tarts.

The results: lemon curd tarts similar to those that might have graced Jane Austen’s tea table. (Photo by author)





3 ibid



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Getting to the Bottom of Regency Laxatives

Photograph of Regency Era clyster syringe and bedpan. (Image courtesy Wikipedia.)

Photograph of Regency Era clyster syringe and bedpan. (Image courtesy Wikipedia)


Photo of Oski, Morale Officer at, in his 'Cone of Shame'

Photograph of Oski, Morale Officer at, in his ‘Cone of Shame’


Oski, the Morale Officer here at, had surgery Monday.

As a result, he has been sentenced to wear the ‘Cone of Shame’ (hereafter known as the COS) until the stitches are removed two years from now.

(It’s actually only two weeks, but he’s a ninety-pound Labrador wearing a stiff plastic collar in the house. It already seems like it’s been years and we’re only in the waning hours of day two.)

I tell you this because it really is germane to today’s topic.

In fact, Oski’s convalescence from his surgery is what inspired me to delve into laxatives and their history.

((I’ll sketch it for you: post-anesthetic digestive slowdown, coupled with sluggish appetite equals a constipated dog. Unstopping him involved several bowls of broth for liquid and a serving of pumpkin puree. This is a reliable and fairly benign treatment, but the digestive process in the Labrador usually resembles a freight train. When you add ‘aides’ you step up the daily mail to express speed. I’ve never watched my dog’s every expression so closely in order to get him outside in time.))

When the desired goal was achieved I was probably as relieved as Oski was, albeit in a different sense. But the relief was real and got me wondering what people did to treat this ubiquitous problem in earlier times.

The herbal stimulant Senna, or Cassia Officinalis, has been in demand since the days of the Pharaohs. The ground pods or a tisane (tea) made of the herb has been one of mankind’s most reliable laxatives, hence its being sold literally worth its weight in gold.1

In the Middle Ages, purgatives or laxatives were known as ‘physicks’ (as in ‘physician’) and were commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, not just constipation. In fact, fever was a standard indication for the use of physick.2

The ‘Clyster,’ or enema, was a popular mechanism for colonic relief from the Middle Ages well into the 19th century.

Think of a plunger, similar to the pre-loaded shower caulking product of today and you will have a good idea of what a clyster looked like.

The photograph at the head of this post is an example.

Texts of the medieval period into the early nineteenth century tell us that well-informed members of the middle and upper classes considered the clyster to be an important part of maintaining health, preventing and treating disease, much as we might consider tooth brushing and dental cleanings today. They were usually administered by apothecaries. For the insistently modest, ‘self-administering’ models were developed.3

Clysters were also important in the new field of emergency or trauma medicine. A tobacco-smoke clyster or ‘tobacco insufflation’ was a commonly recommended treatment for drowning.The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal of 1831 contains multiple papers addressing this technique.4

According to, in the 1780s the Royal Humane Society installed “resuscitation kits, including smoke enemas, at various points along the Thames.”

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, tobacco smoke enemas were an established practice in Western medicine. 5

Herbal products for bowel regulation and treatments for constipation were still popular in the Regency. An April 1815 edition of ‘The European’ magazine reports a treatment for gout, including raisins, senna, fennel seeds, rhubarb and licorice root, all infused in ’best French brandy.’ These are known for their laxative qualities; together they doubtless formed a powerful purgative, and if naught else was accomplished, there was always the brandy for consolation. 6

Even the beloved rose became involved in treating digestive woes. The English rose was popular for ornament and perfume, but the Provence Rose or Rosa Gallica was preferred for medicinal uses. According to Amy Corwin’s Regency Rose Receipts,

“a small dose of powder strengthens the stomach and adds digestion, but prolonged use can cause slight constipation while strong doses act as a purgative.”7

But why the abiding interest in, and need for, colonic consolation and clearouts? A look at the typical menu of the day gives some clues. Socially active men and women could consume thousands of calories per day, and they did not expend calories performing the typical tasks of household or even personal maintenance we take for granted today.

Breakfast consisted of coffee, chocolate and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and toast. Women frequently ate in bed or in their rooms.

Lunch, or luncheon as we know it, was uncommon. A light ‘nuncheon’ or refreshments could be served to tide people over until dinner, the main meal of the day.8

Dinner could last several hours. The cooking of the day was quite rich, involving much butter, cream, eggs and beef.

England’s justly famed cheeses, including Cheddar and Stilton, were eaten not only on their own but as ingredients of other dishes. Vegetables were eaten sparingly.

Foods were highly spiced, thanks to the riches of the Empire brought Home to England. Peppers of various kinds, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, were all used liberally. Portions were small and no one was expected to eat all the dishes offered, but dyspepsia and overweight were ubiquitous problems, not helped by the liberal ingestion of many types of liquors by both genders. 9

Daniel Poole cites a simple country home dinner of the period as described in Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her: ‘Soup, fish, a cutlet, a roast fowl, and some game.’

A more modish dinner for a party of ten or twelve could run to ten courses, without counting dessert and coffee. 10

While Jane Austen was too discreet (and too practical) to describe any digestive upset suffered by Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliot, constipation is a common condition of human life and history.  With the dining habits of Regency society, we can imagine that our heroines, used to a simpler, more modest way of life at home, might well have sought a remedy for tummy trouble at least once or twice.

Thanks to Oski and his post-surgical  ‘stoppage,’ for showing how even our lowliest daily events can have a Regency echo!




2 Wikipedia








10 Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

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Regency Depilation: A Prickly Problem


Since yet another of the joys and indignities of aging is a prickly new growth forest of hairs decorating my chin and upper lip, I’ve been looking around for solutions.

Naturally, my research led me back through history to my spiritual home, the Regency Era.

Image courtesy,

Image courtesy,

We think of Regency Era beauty as a look of simplicity and naturalness. The style had its roots in the French revolution of 1789 as a reaction against the artificiality of the bewigged and face patched aristocracy.

So were Eleanor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse above these petty concerns?

Perhaps any ‘natural’ but excess facial hair didn’t bother Austen or her heroines?

Hah. Beauty manuals and periodicals of the time express the fixation on having a ‘brilliant’ or ‘blooming’ complexion. In other words, the purity of the feminine face was key. In Jane Austen’s Emma, Mrs. Weston describes Emma as having, ‘regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health…’1

In Persuasion, we can tell Anne Elliot is in love by the recovered bloom of her complexion. Her father notices, ‘her skin, her complexion, greatly improved: clearer, fresher.’2

It is hardly a leap to guess that a bristly mustache or wiry chin hairs would be inconsistent with the fresh blooming look.

Even in the preceding Georgian period of white lead face paint, facial hair was not appreciated. It was said that the Duke of Newcastle paid exorbitant sums to have his wife’s facial hair permanently removed. In 1755 the acerbic Horace Walpole, speaking of the Duke’s retirement from government affairs,

imagines the Duke will now ‘let his beard grow as long as his Duchess’s.’3

Hair removal is divided between epilation and depilation. Both methods date as least as far back as the Pharaohs of Egypt. 4

Depilation is the removal of the hair above the surface of the skin. The most common historic methods were shaving or cutting, but also included chemical depilatories.5

The safety razor was first described by Jean Jacques Perret, a French barber, in 1770 as using a metal guard along one edge of the blade to keep the blade from slicing the skin.6

I do not find any period references to women such as Austen heroines using a razor, either straight or safety, on their faces. Even if Perret’s invention was readily available,I cannot see Mr. Darcy enjoying the feel of stubble on Elizabeth’s upper lip.

Chemical depilatories were common.

A mixture of cat feces and vinegar, with or without pounded eggshells, is cited in numerous sources from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries as both a hair remover, and a hair growth inhibiter.7

These irritant (and irritating) methods do not accord with the genteel way of life we associate with tonnish Regency women.

A less objectionable formula published in Lemery’s Curiosa Arcana of 1711 calls for, ‘the shells of 52 eggs, beat them small and distill them with a good fire.’ Then, with the water, ‘Anoint yourself where you would have the Hair off.’ Strong vinegar and even quick-lime are also recommended.8

The other class of hair removal is epilation. Epilation means the removal of the entire hair from the follicle. Historic methods included waxing or sugaring, threading or plucking and their use appears to reach back to the dawn of history.9

Based on the simplicity of epilation and ready access to its methods, it seems more likely that Austen, and her heroines, would have used one or more of these treatments for unwanted hair growth.

Tweezers, for example, are a truly ancient tool and replicate the plucking gesture of the fingertips with greater precision. For brows these would have been the obvious and simple solution.

For larger areas such as lip and chin furring, sugaring or waxing would be more efficient. These are related methods, in that a sticky paste is spread onto the skin. When the paste is pulled away, it brings the hair with it. It is thought that sugaring, which can also use molasses or honey as the adhering agent, was a refinement of waxing. The sugaring formula can be used at room or body temperature hence the danger of skin burns was eliminated. 10

Demonstrating how easily a sugaring formula can be created at home is this recipe:

2 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Combine the ingredients and bring to a boil, then allow to cool in an airtight container.11

There is an intriguing potential connection between Jane Austen and our final method.

The ancient practice of threading, khite’ in Arabic or ‘fatlah’ is thought to have originated in India. A cat’s cradle of cotton thread is twisted and rolled to grip and remove unwanted hair. In the hands of an experienced practitioner, it is very precise and quick.12, 13

India was the birthplace of Jane Austen’s favorite cousin, and later sister-in-law, Eliza Hancock de Feuillide.

The daughter of Austen’s Aunt Philadelphia, Eliza was rumored to have been the natural daughter of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India.

After marrying a French aristocrat who was guillotined in the French Revolution, Eliza married Jane’s brother Henry. 14

Jane and Eliza were very close during Eliza’s years in England. Eliza died in 1813 with Jane at her bedside.15

Eliza’s paternity has been much debated, but she did name her only son Hastings and received a legacy in Warren Hastings’s will. The Austen family felt not only admiration but kinship for Warren Hastings and Jane sent him a copy of Pride and Prejudice. 16

Is it so farfetched to imagine that cosmopolitan Eliza, the world traveler and sophisticate, might have learned of khite, threading, through her Indian experience and later passed on this beauty technique to cousin Jane?

Austen’s inquiring mind, curiosity and powers of observation all predispose her to be an early adopter of new ideas and techniques. As does her reputation for attractiveness. Her brother Henry spoke of her complexion as being, ‘of the finest texture.’ Her nephew James Austen-Leigh remembered, ‘her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour…’17

As for me? Of course I followed my Regency muse.

The simplicity brought tears to my eyes. As did the effect of having dozens of hairs yanked out of their sockets at the same time. But—it was quick, and no redness, no worry about reused product or unsterilized equipment.

All I had to do was lean back in the chair, let Tammy work her magic, and dream of Regency elegance.

Tammy of Queen's Nails, Turlock CA demonstrating threading. Photo by the author.

Tammy of Queen’s Nails, Turlock CA demonstrating threading. Photo by the author.


1 Austen, Jane. Emma. London, John Murray.1815 (dated 1816).

2 Austen, Jane. Persuasion. London, John Murray. 1817 (dated 1818).


4, 5, 9


10, 11



14, 15



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Happy Anniversary, Lord Byron?

Happy 198th anniversary, Lord and Lady Byron!

Image Courtesy Wikipedia: Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips,

Image Courtesy Wikipedia: Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips,



Image courtesy Wikipedia: Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1812 by Sir George Hayter,

Image courtesy Wikipedia: Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1812 by Sir George Hayter,














Of course, George Gordon, Lord Byron and Anna Isabella Milbanke, Lady Byron are no longer alive and able to enjoy marital bliss.

But did they ever?

After all, Lord Byron is considered by many to be the ideal romantic hero. His marriage, then, must have been ideal, too. Right?

Oh, so wrong.

Byron’s first and only  marriage was likely motivated by that infamous killer of romance, debt: he had them, she had expectations of a fortune to inherit. They  separated only fifty four weeks later, after the birth of both a daughter and a scandal that rocked even the notoriously relaxed morals of Regency London’s ton.

In one way, then, the marriage could be called a success: it is still discussed, studied, argued about, nearly two hundred years later.

On January 2, 1815, Byron married Anna Isabella Milbanke.1

Though legally separated in 1816, Byron and Annabella remained married until Byron’s death in Greece on April 19, 1824. 2, 3

Annabella, as she was called, was the cousin of Lady Caroline Lamb, with whom Byron had conducted a notorious affair in 1812-1813. Byron broke off the affair with little consideration, repelled by Lady Caroline’s growing possessiveness.4

Lady Caroline famously described Byron as, ‘bad, mad and dangerous to know.’5

Byron retaliated with his poem ‘Remember Thee! Remember Thee!’ whose last line refers to Lady Caroline as, ‘Thou false to him, thou fiend to me.’6

The ever-short-of-funds Byron began to court Lady Caroline’s cousin Anne Isabella Milbanke (“Annabella”) who was heiress to a large estate. Annabella was a highly intelligent and moral woman who refused Byron’s first proposal of marriage but later relented. Her mathematical genius led Byron to call her his ‘Princess of Parallelograms.’ 7,8

Upon her marriage, Annabella became Anne Isabella, Lady Byron or Baroness Byron.

However, Annabella’s mother disliked Byron so much that she requested the Prince Regent give Annabella the title ‘Lady Wentworth’ so that her parents would not have to call her ‘Byron.’

When Annabella’s mother died, in order to inherit the large estate, Annabella changed her surname to Noel, a condition of her mother’s will. 9,10

The marriage proved unhappy almost immediately. Byron’s best man, John Cam Hobhouse, alleged Byron had written but failed to send a letter calling the wedding off. Another rumor is that Hobhouse himself tried to convince the vicar to refuse to perform the ceremony because Byron was, ‘a monster of cruelty.’ 11

They moved to a London townhome where Byron behaved badly from the start.

He was frequently drunk, entered into affairs, fired pistols into the ceiling, spoke viciously to Annabella, and in general made his friends fear for his sanity.12, 13

Annabella became pregnant almost immediately. Byron noted that the naïve Annabella, ‘could always be caressed into tractability.’14 Their daughter, Augusta Ada, was born on December 10, 1815, and on 16 January 16,1816, Lady Byron left him, taking Ada with her. 15, 16

On 21 April, 1816 Byron signed the Deed of Separation. Rumors of domestic violence, sodomy, and incest with Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh, began making the rounds of London society, likely assisted by a jealous Lady Caroline. 17, 18

Of the rumors, Byron noted, “Even to have such a thing said is utter destruction and ruin to a man from which he can never recover.”19, 20

Though he had long delighted Society with his outrageous behavior, delicious scandals and brilliant poetry, such accusations put him beyond the pale and he found most doors closed to him.

Byron left England, never to return.21

Byron and Annabella’s daughter, Ada Augusta, inherited the best of both her parents. She was a brilliant mathematician, collaborated with Charles Babbage on his analytical engine, a predecessor to modern computers, and has been called the world’s first computer programmer.22,23


1, 2, 6, 9, 15, 17, 19,_6th_Baron_Byron

3, 10, 16, 23,_Baroness_Byron

4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 20



7, 8



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Top New (and a few Old) Bizarre Products of 2012

The EarVac (image courtesy, url

The EarVac (image courtesy, url

This is the time of year when pundits and news outlets create year-end lists of—well, anything and everying.

Twenty best Neurosurgeons in Yreka, CA. Ten best vegan barbeque restaurants. Top five plastic surgery treatments for pets. You get the idea.

My list of odd, bizarre or downright dangerous-at least to your chances of ever receiving another invitation from anyone for anything-is news you can use. I found these in just the last three months and

on the Jeff Foxworthy principle of men sharing raunchy smells, thought you might enjoy them, too.

In no particular order, because weird is an absolute value, it either is or it ain’t, are my ‘Last Quarter of 2012 Truly Odd Products that Someone Was Willing To Waste Good Money Advertising:

Most Questionable Fashion Statement: ‘Meggings:’

Meggings: If Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz and Russell Brand are your man’s fashion inspirations, then he’s in luck. And you are not. CNN quotes UniGlo saying their leggings for men, called meggings (you know, as in ‘murse,’ the man-purse) are the hit of this fall’s fashion debuts for men.

The Uniglo site was coy about providing information for purchase, and even the UnJeans site only provided a single, chaste view of a  floating pair of man legs in black UnJeans, minus torso, a head or feet or any suggestion human men have been seen in the wild actually wearing meggings.

To my surprise their site claims the products have been in production since 2000. I suspect that means they made one set in 2000 and are still trying to shift them.

Worst Televised Pharmaceutical Side Effect: ‘Alli’ and A.S.

Of the many contenders in this category, diet aid ‘Alli’ streaked to the front. Courtesy of the streaks it promises to users, known as anal seepage, leakage, or as the Mayo Clinic on line calls the effect, ‘oily spotting.’

The product site is silent about the dreaded ‘A.S.,’ instead calling it ‘bowel changes.’ I tip my hat to their public relations prowess, as they rebrand A.S. ‘helpful,’ just a cheery reminder from your colon that you’ve overindulged in fats.

I’m just not that positive. Anyone or thing who wants to be my ally can’t give me the trots. That’s really my minimum basic requirement of friendship and I’m going to stand firm on that.

Worst. Product. Name. Ever: BARF

I nearly ran into the car ahead of me when my radio commanded me to ‘Buy Barf Today.’

According to the equally gorge-raising, BARF refers to a ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw Food’ diet for dogs and cats. That only slightly clarified the mental picture their radio ad inflicted, as my own dogs have consumed their own regurgitated raw food many times.

I’m tempted to subscribe to their newsletter just to say my mail carrier leaves barf in my mailbox. Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

Note: There is also a Bay Area Riders Forum using the acronym, I choose and hope  to believe, in happy ignorance of the resolve it produces in me never to ride a bicycle again. Then there’s the folks at Barf-O-Rama; I’m fairly certain they know exactly what effect their novelty items produce, though I didn’t have the heart—or the stomach—to explore their site beyond the home page.

Most Disturbing Made-Up Personal Hygiene Problem: EarVac.

This is a tiny vacuum cleaner you stick in your ear to suck out the earwax. It comes with multiple heads to stick in the aural orifices of every member of your family that you can catch.

Until I saw the commercial late on a sleepless night, I had no idea we were suffering from a plague of overflowing earwax. If the wax is stuck inside your ears, isn’t that preferable to the alternative, walking around with earwax leaking out onto your shoulders?

Discouragingly, the Amazon reviews only showed two stars of five. The consensus seemed to be that the EarVac sucked, and not in the way you’d hope. Listed below it was the Oriental Ear Wax Remover with LED light.’ That one garnered three and a half stars but I’m hung up on why you’d be asking a friend to vacuum out your ear wax in the dark. Is there some new trend or amusement I’m missing out on?

Courtesy of GearLive, here’s the translated instructions to explain: “In the ear also being able to hurt, clear without either making the hand become tired the cleanliness!”

See? Makes perfect sense.

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Merry Christmas from the Fatally Fun Team

Merry Christmas from the Fatally Fun team at Left to right, Oski (Chief Morale Officer), Hillari (Author and Primary Pooper Scooper), and Edward the CritiCat (Quality Control Commissar).

Merry Christmas from the Fatally Fun team at Left to right, Oski (Chief Morale Officer), Hillari (Author and Primary Pooper Scooper), and Edward the CritiCat (Quality Control Commissar).

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Find Your New Favorite Author: ‘The Next Big Thing’ Blog Hop




I’m excited to introduce myself and my Fatally Fun novels of historical romantic suspense to you on week 26 of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.

Each week a new group of writers introduces themselves and tells you a little about their books.

We’re hoping you’ll find  some new authors and books to love—you might even discover the ‘Next Big Thing!’

If you love Regency romantic suspense, check out my new ‘Fatally Fun’ novel Lavender Close.

It’s serialized free at Curious? Read on!

1. Hillari, where did the idea come from?

Being inundated this year by promotions for ‘The Long Island Medium’ and similar shows planted the seed for Lavender Close.

I knew ‘professional mediums’ were in the profession of separating vulnerable people from their money. I had heard their tricks and techniques have been around since Bible times but I started doing research on exactly how they’re done.

That led me to fascinating exposes by Mark Edwards (Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium), William Lindsay Gresham (Nightmare Alley), and Houdini (yes, that Houdini).

Of course, as a writer of Regency romantic suspense, I saw everything through that lens.

‘What if—‘ this happened in the Regency era? ‘What if—‘ an enquiring and courageous woman set out to debunk popular mediums to keep others from being victimized? ‘What if—‘ my heroine was so successful that people started ascribing psychic and mystical powers to her? (It happened to Houdini!)

And the big ‘What if—‘our heroine becomes a popular—and murderous—medium’s next target?

Naturally, there’s a mysterious and fascinating man in the mix. His motives aren’t clear, and when our heroine discovers him in suspicious activity, she can’t be sure if he’s the friend she desperately needs, or the medium’s secret—and dangerous—confederate. She’ll have to risk her life as well as her heart, to find out.

Fair warning: since I’m the parent of two very special ‘fur children,’ there’s also a faithful, heroic (and very strong minded) animal character who plays a big part in the the plot.

You’ll love Nathan, I promise.

2. What actors would you chose to play the leads in a move rendition?

Actors—hmmm.  Hamilton (Ham), Lord Sandridge came to me in the guise of Mike Rowe, the ‘Dirty Jobs’ guy.

Good looking in a rugged way, with a wicked grin always lurking.

You could also cast Hugh Grant or Hugh Jackman (what is it about British ‘Hughs’?!) or for us classic movie lovers, a young David Niven or Gene Kelly, and I wouldn’t complain.

As for the actress to play Paris Pilkington—I’ll let you in on a little secret: all my heroines are actually me.  I should say, a better, smarter me. The me who doesn’t trip over her own feet while trying to make a great exit. Especially the me who can fire off a witty retort without having to go home and think about it first.

As for whom to play Paris? I’m open to suggestions! I’m thinking Kate Winslett, perhaps, Natasha Richardson, or the cool and witty heroine’s heroine, Diana Rigg. Except Paris always manages, somehow, to get herself into much more trouble than Diana Rigg (or Mrs. Peel) ever did.

Paris is whip smart and doesn’t hide it. In fact, sometimes she’s a little too smart for her own good! She looks like she’s got things under control, but she’s vulnerable, too: deep down inside, she’s wondering how she can keep things together,

and always—she has the ability to laugh at the ridiculous, which first and foremost includes herself.

3. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?

Love to!

‘Hauntings, hoodlums and house flips in Regency London! While unmasking a murderous medium, Paris Pilkington runs afoul of a traitorous spy ring. Is the compelling Lord Sandridge the answer to her prayers, or her worst nightmare?’

4. Who’s your publisher?

That would be me! I’ve brought out Lavender Close as a free weekly serial available at . I look at it like wine tasting, or those food booths at summer festivals: you don’t know my writing or me, or whether you want to risk the purchase price to find out.

So read Lavender Close for free, no risk. I think you’ll like it.

While you’re there, take a look around my website. There’s a new review each Monday and a blog post each Wednesday, as well as the next chapter of Lavender Close each  Friday.

5. Can you compare it to another book in the historical romantic suspense genre, to give us an idea of what  Lavender Close is like?

If you like Amanda Quick’s Regency romantic suspense, you’ll love Lavender Close. 

6. Who or what inspired you to write the book?

I was a reader of historical romance (of Amanda Quick, among others!) before I was a writer. I wanted all the mystery and romance of my favorite authors’ books, just not the clinical gynecology, as I call it. Believe me, there’s plenty of passion between Paris and Ham without the explicit ‘slot A and tab B’ parts.

7. What else can you tell us about the book that would pique a reader’s interest?

If you love books that whisk you away to another time and place, with smart, fun people doing interesting and daring things, who feud, fuss and fall in love in the process, give Lavender Close a try.

And please do drop me a line and tell me what you think. I write for you!

I love to talk with my readers, not just about my own writing but about romance novels in general. Reach me at

A big thanks to ‘Oddly Godly’ wordsmith and friend Cheri Williams who passed the torch to me.

Find out more about Cheri’s new release How to Castrate Your Man in Seven Simple Steps—she’ll make you wince, laugh and think, all at the same time—at her website. Or go straight to purchase here.

Next up on The Next Big Thing Tour are two writers you’re going to enjoy getting to know:

Rebecca Ondov, at writes of ‘Big Sky, Blazing Faith’ in her Authentic Western Horse Stories.

Her latest release is Heavenly Horse Sense: Inspirational Stories from Life in the Saddle. You’ll be inspired by Rebecca’s tales of the wisdom and faith, learned alongside some of God’s loveliest and most loving creatures.

‘Find Refuge’ with the Inspirational Historical Romance of Amanda Dykes You can enjoy Amanda’s book soundtrack and blog, as well as sign up for her newsletter. Or see her on Facebook:

(Illustration courtesy

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The Twelve Extreme Days of Christmas

The Twelve Extreme Days of Christmas, blog post

Illustration courtesy

In honor of today’s ‘triple dozen date,’ let’s look at another famous ‘twelve,’ the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas.’

What Exactly are those ‘Twelve Days of Christmas?’

And why on earth would anyone, let alone ‘My True Love’ send all those squawking, honking, leaping and drumming gifts?

The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany.

That is, December 25 to January 6. So you still have a few shopping days to get your ducks—er, partridges, calling birds and leaping lords in line.

As to the choice of gifts and their meaning, there’s some controversy here.

Although the popular song we’re so familiar with (or sick of) dates from relatively recent 1909, arranger Frederic Austin was actually setting a very old traditional verse to his updated version of a folk tune.1

The text of the song itself was first published in English in 1780 in the children’s book Mirth Without Mischief.2

It was probably an old ‘memory or forfeit’ game, which was a type of ‘round’ game.

Each player had to accurately repeat the verses before his turn then add an additional item. Players who bungled the verses had to provide a ‘forfeit.’

As the mistletoe ‘kissing bough’ or ‘kissing ball’ was prominently displayed in most English homes celebrating Christmas, it is not hard to guess what ‘forfeit’ a pretty girl or handsome boy would be asked to give.

The story that the gifts represent a coded catechism from times of Catholic repression appear to be an urban legend. Wikipedia, and all date the legend’s first internet appearance to the 1990s. The lengthy discussion at Snopes provides additional evidence. 3

French tradition substitutes the fairly sensible ‘Cinq lapins courant par terre’ (five rabbits running on the ground) and ‘six running dogs’

before sheering off into lunacy with ‘seven windmills’ and ‘eight horned bulls.’4

My new favorite version of the Twelve Days song is the Australian take. Courtesy of the All Down Under travel and tourism site (, the list of gifts includes many of the fabled native creatures of the Land Down Under, beginning with the first day’s ‘kookaburra up a gum tree.’

The Aussie True Love then sends to his beloved: five kangaroos, eight dingos dancing, and ten wombats washing.5

Sending the object of your affections someone to help with the laundry? Marsupial or maid, that’s a gift I could get behind.

My True Love wouldn’t even need a ‘Kissing Bough’ to earn his reward.







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‘Bring Us a Figgy’–What?

Vintage engraving, family being served plum pudding

Period illustration courtesy Jane Austens World:

“Each year I tell my family I’m finally going to make a Figgy Pudding for Christmas. No one seems very enthusiastic.”—C. Williams.

“So bring us a Figgy pudding and bring it right now!”—Traditional carol.

Bring a what?

A Figgy Pudding is an early version of the Christmas Pudding. In this case, the most important ingredient would be rich, sweet figs, along with, “butter, sugar, eggs, milk, rum, apple, lemon and orange peel, nuts, cinnamon, cloves and ginger! Not dissimilar to the modern day Christmas Puddings!” 1

Last week we discussed ‘Stir Up Sunday,’November 25, the last Sunday before Advent and the traditional deadline for mixing up your family’s Christmas pudding so it will have time to mellow before its starring role as the flaming finale to the Christmas feast.

To review, ‘pudding’ is the British English term for dessert (as in, ‘hey mom, what’s for pud’?) The ‘Christmas Pudding’ is also known as a ‘Plum Pudding’ (as in Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol) or a ‘Figgie Pudding’ (as in the carol) and would be called a fruitcake in the States. In the case of the Christmas Pudding, the cake is boiled rather than baked.

(I know you’re making that face. Trust me. Make your own fruit cake, omit the nasty neon green citron, substitute roasted macadamias, pineapple and coconut then tell me you don’t like fruit cake. Feed it spiced rum and—you get the idea…)

In 1845 in her ‘Modern Cooking for Private Families,’ Eliza Acton is credited as being the first to christen the Figgy or Plum pudding as a Christmas Pudding. The UK’s Telegraph recently tested Mrs. Acton’s recipe against pudding recipes from four of the country’s most popular celebrity chefs. 2

The results? The 167-year-old recipe won the competition with a perfect five out of five. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of

Eliza Acton’s Traditional English Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

Miss Acton recommends this as a remarkably light, small, rich pudding to be boiled in a cloth in traditional style, though, she says, it can also be cooked in a bowl.

3 ounces plain all-purpose flour

3 ounces finely grated bread crumbs

6 ounces grated suet

6 ounces raisins

6 ounces currants

2 ounces candied peel

4 ounces grated apple

5 ounces brown sugar

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon grated mace or cinnamon

Small glass brandy

3 medium eggs

Pinch salt

Batter is much lighter when boiled in a cloth, and allowed full room to swell, than when confined in a mould [bowl]: it should be well beaten the instant before it is poured into it, and put into the water immediately after it is securely tied. The cloth should be moist and thickly floured, and the pudding should be sent to table as expeditiously as possible after it is done, as it will quickly become heavy.

Mix and beat all the ingredients together, tie them in a well-floured cloth (scald it first), push a wooden spoon through the loops of the cloth and suspend it in a full pan of boiling water. Bring the water back to the boil, turn down the heat a little, and lid. Boil the pudding for 3½ hours. Unwrap the pudding onto a warm plate and set in a medium oven for 10 minutes to form a rich dark skin.

If you prefer to boil the pudding in a bowl, butter it first. Drop in the batter: It should fill it nearly to the top. Lid with a circle of buttered kitchen paper. Tie a clean cloth over it, with a fold so that the pudding can expand. Boil for 3½ hours in a pan of water that comes three-quarters of the way up the bowl. Keep it loosely lidded, and take care to keep the level topped up with boiling water. After 3½ hours, when it is ready, let the pudding stand in its bowl for five minutes before it is dished, to prevent its breaking. You can store this pudding under a clean cloth. It will need 2 hours to reheat and lighten again. To flame it, make sure that the brandy is warmed before you pour it over and set it alight.

Finally, for you food historians, the Oxford Dictionaries Blog has an excellent entry entitled ‘The Christmas Table’ that delves into the history of this dessert.4

So who’s with me? Raise your pudding spoons high, and let’s serve up a Figgy Pudding this Christmas and revive a delicious tradition!






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