Thursday, January 18, 2018

**Book REVIEW** The Demon Within by Josh Gagnier

This book takes such a novel approach to themes of Good, Evil, and Judgement. While reading the story, I was fascinated not just with the characters and plot, but with the author's unique approach to the subject matter.

My limited edition advanced copy on the right!
This book by Josh Gagnier is The Demon Within. It's Book One in his The Last War series.

This novel has everything - angels and demons and the battle for a soul - but with the feel of a war game.

Here is how the plot is summarized:
Joe grew up listening to the voice in his head. It helped him through school, helped him gain wealth in his career. 
The final temptation of power was too much. He hadn't considered the cost. 
Now he must find a way to defeat The Demon Within. 
Little does he know, his every move is being recorded. Every misstep is being judged. As he gets ever closer to winning over his demon, heavenly eyes watch from above. Some root for his success while others hope he'll fail. 
While Joe fights his demon on the battlefront, the angel Michael fights for his Soul.
Doesn't that make you think of the crisis we all face? Well, don't be fooled. This is not the typical take on the angelic-vs-demonic warfare theme. You can tell from the first pages that you're in for some twists on the usual perspective. 

While the plot is really good and I like the creative way the author thinks, there are a couple of rough patches. In more than one place, I found myself jarred by the change in scene or point of view. Because the story is interesting, it was easy to get back into it without much difficulty. I raced through the first pages as the plot was being set up, but then I had to slow down and pay more attention. The story is deliciously complex and tricked me into thinking I might have figured it all out.

I love when a story catches me off guard and veers away from my expectations of the plot. I don't want to give away spoilers, but I will warn that there will be more than one surprise as you read this story.  And the ending is... not really an ending because you will be waiting for Book Two. 

Usually, I gulp down books in large bites. With this story, I found myself having to stop at various points so that I could give some serious thought to an idea presented. It was like the difference between fast food and a thoughtfully prepared meal meant to be savored and discussed. That's the best way I can describe the experience.

This story resonated with me because of my religious beliefs about life (and the afterlife). I think that there will be readers who connect with the characters on different levels. If you check out the author's bio, you will understand what I mean. He's writing not just from a place of creativity but from insight into himself. I found this very interesting. Make sure to go over and check out the author's Facebook page.

Remember when I said that there were some rough patches? Let me add this: this is a work put forth by an author without the aid of a publishing house. I'm glad to see writers breaking the traditional mold of exposing their talent. I really liked this story and am looking forward to Book Two in the series.


Friday, January 12, 2018

**REVIEW** CloSYS Dental Hygiene Care

This is a review for people who, like myself, might suffer from some oral ailments. I have dry mouth that is, I'm sure, due to the medications I take. I used to have horrible halitosis (surprisingly, the treatment of my sarcoidosis solved that), but am always conscious of my breath.

I tell you all that to tell you about this:

This is the trial-sized intro kit to CloSYS, a brand which is described as being "gentle oral care". It's certainly should be gentle since it's touted as being:

  • Alcohol-Free
  • Sulfate Free
  • Non-Burning 
  • Triclosan Free
  • Gluten Free

Initially, I was only looking for a toothpaste and I wasn't even thinking about this particular brand. I had never even heard of ClosSYS. What got me to order this instead of the Manuka paste I was checking on, was the price. Also, the Closys is Prime shipping and the Manuka was not. (This is so irritating. Toothpaste was already expensive, then they add a shipping charge? No, thanks.)

I'm glad I got this. One complaint: the "trial" size is smaller than most and this toothpaste won't last long at all. Hotels leave bigger tubes for a 1- or 2-night stay. On the other hand, it is all TSA-compliant. ~sigh~ The world we now live in, right?

Anyway, there was not only a trial of the toothpaste, as you can see. There's the pastes, mouthwash (sorry, I mean oral rinse), some freshening drops and breath spray.

Though the toothpaste is all I wanted, I went ahead and tried everything in the kit, so let's take a look.

That's the toothpaste on the top...

I've been using Colgate Optic White for the past couple of months. Before that, I was using some Rembrandt that the rest of the family had gotten in bulk from Costco. Both those brands are good for cleaning and whitening my teeth and I never thought anything more about either of them. You know, they are tubes of paste and they clean the teeth. Period. Right?

Now, here is what's awesome about this CloSYS toothpaste. First off, it's so non-drying. Not only does it not dry out my mouth, but it seems to help my glands balance the saliva I need. That sounds kind of icky, but, hey.

The one thing that took some getting used to is that there is zero flavor to this paste. And I mean, NONE. It's labeled as "Gentle Mint" and it's so freaking gentle that I missed it. I'm so used to getting a hint of mint or a bite of peppermint that I thought I wasn't using enough of this. Once I got past that, I loved the clean feeling of the paste in my mouth. No after coating of anything and none of the flavor remnants from other brands. Another thing is that there is no foaming action with this toothpaste. Basically, the overall brushing left my mouth feeling very pure and clean.

After the brushing left my mouth feeling so unassaulted with foam and flavor, I didn't feel the need to use the mouthwash - sorry, oral rinse - but this is all for the review so...

See? "Oral Rinse"

The rinse is just as flavor-free as the toothpaste. It reminds me of a watered down hydrogen peroxide. Wait. What?

Yeah. I almost didn't see that note about adding the flavor stuff.

Thing is, I didn't like the too-concentrated, hot kind of taste of the flavor drops right out of the bottle, but just one full drop did help that mout-, I mean oral rinse. Otherwise, the rinse was too bland. I suppose I can add the rest of the flavoring to some water when I'm out and need to do a quick, after-meal rinse. You can see how tiny that bottle is. It will fit perfectly into the smallest wallet or even the coin-pocket of some jeans.

The breath spray is probably my least favorite of this kit.

Not that there's anything monstrous about it and it's not even as strong as nasty as most breath sprays. I'm just not a fan of breath sprays. Usually, I end up aiming badly and spraying the outside of my mouth. When I do use it correctly, I end up wanting to rinse it out of my mouth anyway. So ~shrug~ I will probably just save this for emergencies. Probably when I'm in danger of dragon-breathing some garlic into someone's face.

Bottom line: the toothpaste is awesome and I will be getting a full-size tube of it. I might see if Costco has better pricing but, if not, Amazon has it as a Subscribe and Save item at a very reasonable price.

After several uses, I can tell that my breath stays fresher longer after brushing. Morning breath isn't as dragon-ish as usual. I bet if I start back on my daily half-gallon water routine, I can get rid of that morning breath for good. Okay - if I quit eating garlic burgers for dinner...

I might still try the manuka toothpaste if I can find it anywhere else (and will review it if I do), but this CloSYS is working out just fine.


Monday, January 08, 2018

*REVIEW** GGMM D6 True 360 Speaker

I'm loving my Echo Dot more and more each day. I still call it the perfect roommate! One of the things that makes me love it so is having a speaker that amps the sound and acts as a charger. Being able to move the Echo to wherever I am in the apartment is a big part of its appeal.

You all might remember that I was able to try the VAUX speaker. Guess what? I was able to try another speaker too. This one is just as nice as the VAUX. Seriously. 

I'm laughing a little bit right now because whenever I play that video, Alexa turns into that nosy chick who hears her name and wants to know what's going on! So funny.

As you can see, this speaker looks great. I wasn't sure about the light color because I usually go for muted or very dark hues. I've seen another one in black and it's nice, but the white one is kinda cute to me.

This one looks really good in the living room and I like the contrast to the rest of my decor. It looked great against the dark setting, but it also looked nice against a friend's lighter furnishings and with their wooden floors. 

I wanted to see this against a neighbor's lighter decor

 Here is what you need to know (including some technical details):
hooking up to Echo is super easy

  • Has 360-degree portable speaker (if you couldn't tell from the name)
  • Works with the Echo Dot - of course!
  • 20 watts power; 3-inch (80mm) driver and amp; 1.2-inch (30mm) dome tweeter with dual passive radiator boost. (That one hurt my brain but, bottom line is, the sound is awesome.)
  • You get up to 8 hours play time in Dot mode (37 hours in Aux mode - 37!) from the rechargeable lithium battery. And isn't that battery the thing we all love most?! Oh, and switching between Dot to Aux is easy because there's a button.
  • There additional Aux input (3.5mm) for external mobile devices.
  • The LEd automatically twinkles when the batter gets to less than 20%
  • IMO, hooking this up to the Echo was SO much easier than it was with the VAUX speaker. 

Much easier than having separate connectors!

Pretty nice, aye? 

I will be updating this post when I have the link for this item in case you want to pick up one for yourself. I'm glad I got to check it out though. Echo Dot was a hot seller this holiday so it's nice that there are choices when it comes to speakers for it.

My decor is darker

This item is not posted for sale yet, but as soon as it is, I will be back with the link and more info. I cannot wait to let you know the when-and-where details!

Keep watching this space.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Perfume Soothes Me

So. Everybody who knows me well knows I love perfume. I always have. When I was teenybopper, I learned to use baby powder and vanilla extract. Then came Love's Baby Soft, Heaven Sent, Emeraude, and others. Then I discovered Shalimar. Oh my.

These days, I've experimented with several fragrances. Whatever I can afford and whatever family and friends gift to me on special occasions. This is great because I often end up falling in love with a scent I would never have tried.

For Christmas this year, my family got me 2 new fragrances. This one is Shi by Alfred Sung. I had never heard of it before but I mentioned that I liked his Sung for Women scent. This one is really nice. It's soft and feminine and nice for everyday wear.

And doesn't that bottle remind you a little bit of a gnome?

The other fragrance really surprised me. For one thing, I'm only vaguely familiar with Micheal Buble and I didn't know he had a fragrance branded to him. For another thing... Wow. Totally knocked flat by how much I like this.

The bottle is gorgeous. The USPS must have knocked the package around because the tip broke off the top. This is what an undamaged (and better photographed) bottle looks like:

Notice that the little circular piece is not missing from the top of the bottle... The glass part holding the perfume is sort of floating inside the metal outer ring. Very classy looking.

The scent is a smoky, Oriental type of fragrance. Before applying it, I was thinking that it smells a lot like Rhianna's fragrance, Reb'L Fleur:

I have a bottle but my lid went missing during the move from Alaska.
However, when this is applied to my skin and mixes with my chemistry, it's just glorious. Reminds me of a darker, smokier version of Opium if Opium was married to Shalimar. This is the kind of fragrance that will make someone want to nuzzle your neck. Another plus is that it takes very little to get a full effect, and the scent actually lasts for quite a while.

Now, you all remeber my beloved Shalimar that a niece gifted to me before I left Alaska:

Yeah, you guys have probably seen that pic before. I post it so much! I think I mentioned that Shalimar no longer lingers well on my skin. I've been using its brother fragrance, Habit Rouge. It's marketed to men but smells wonderful on females who like Opium and Shalimar.

The perfumes I've gotten are my favorite gifts this past year. I guess it's been about four or five years since I discovered Viva la Juicy. Man, I love that scent. It has been my go-to fragrance for a while now. I've used up most of my supply and am down to the little collection type bottles.

So glad for those miniatures!

Now, if some of you were wondering as I have exactly how those celebrity fragrances come to be, then this article thoroughly explains the process.

The only thing I hate about perfume is that they are kind of unreliable. Either a scent you love will start to hate your body chemistry and just stop working or - and this is what I really hate - a scent will just be discontinued. Ugh! That's the worst. That happened with Flori Robert's Gold. Also, whatever happened to Cher's fragrance? It was pretty nice.

For now, I'm happy to have my gifts so THANK YOU, fam. I'm tightening up my already squeaking budget and perfume is the first casualty. What you want to bet I can make my current supplies last for at least a year?


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

**RECIPE** Heavenly Cloud Bread

In the past 5 weeks, I have lost just a little over 9 pounds. I wasn't really trying. I just didn't feel good, but when I went to see the fam in Arizona, I got more exercise than normal. I'm paying for that now, but I want to keep up the weight loss. My plan? Lots of water and a lot less carbs.

Bread is probably the hardest thing to give up - or even slow down on! Also, snacks. I remembered hearing about cloud bread when I first learned about the Keto diet. What I didn't know is how easy it is to make and how freaking delicious it can be. I say can be because you have to play with the recipe a bit.

Here's the basic recipe I gathered from several different sources (including this one):

2 Eggs - yolks and whites separated
2 Tbl (or 1oz) Cream cheese - softened (and cooled) so it's blendable
1/4 tsp Baking powder

I made my first batch and it was good. Instead of individual clouds, I did a cake-style batch and sliced it afterward. I used it to sandwich my burger patty. This is it turned out:

Like I said, it was just okay. That's because it was before I had a better batch. The bread came out a little eggy tasting and soft. I should have baked it longer than the 12 minutes. I was too worried I would burn it.

So. Time to give it another try, right?

This is how I have modified the recipe (and tripled it) so that it is slap-yo-mama delicious:

Cream cheese
Baking powder
Vanilla Extract (just a 1/4 tsp)
Sweetener (I used a full Tbls of table sugar this time)

The extract and sweetener made all the difference between "This is good and I can use it every now and then" to "This is amazing and I can give up bread and cookies ".

Beautiful. Notice how clean the pan is. That's because the batter didn't stick to it. I use a Wilton Perfect Results pan because it's cheap and sturdy. This bread was firmer and had a much better taste. I'm sure that the sugar helped with the browning and texture.

Now, there are a couple of things I learned that I'll pass on:

  • If you don't have parchment paper, use a metal baking sheet (lightly oiled)
  • Make sure to whip the egg whites to very stiff peaks (use metal or glass bowl for this)
  • For bread, bake about 15 minutes on 300. For cookie/snack, bake an additional 10 minutes on 200. Check often so the batter doesn't burn. 
  • You may need to rotate the pan once during baking so that batter cooks evenly. 
  • Let the bread cool completely before removing from the pan. I waited 20 minutes.
This is why I said to use a metal pan if you don't have parchment paper:

Yeah. Look at that. Just a  hot funky mess. ~sigh~

Notice how the batter didn't even cook the same. The bread came out so thin and fragile that all I could use it for was snacking. Also, you can see that it didn't brown as well as the bread that was done in the metal pan.

Left = Metal pan perfection
Right = Whatever the hell...

The biggest thing I love about the modified recipe is that I can make smaller pieces, brown the bread darker, then broil for a moment to get something that will make substitutes for cookies. If I need to, I can always check out these other recipes for cookies and treats:

Obviously, you can get creative and do a lot with the basic cloud bread recipe. For now, I am happy enough with the batch I made.


Monday, January 01, 2018

**UPDATE** REVIEW Echo Dot (2nd Gen)

Okay, for those of you who read the original review, I wanted to come back and update you on what I call The Best of Echo Dot. I've had time to play around and use the device more, so here goes a bullet list of the best stuff:


  • Rain, thunder, forest, wind chimes - there are so many ambient sounds to choose from. I've used probably 20 so far. There are the ones I use for when I am writing and need to concentrate, then there are others I like to use for falling asleep. You can also request that Alexa play something specific, like "study music". (You can specifically ask that the device to "Play some music to help me sleep.")
  • You can set the sounds and music to play for a certain amount of time. For music, it's great to be able to play a song on repeat.
  • Alexa/Echo lets you voice command the device to turn the volume up or down, skip a song, pause/resume, etc. 
  • If you are listening to a random playlist (my favorite command is, "Alexa, play the Temptations"), you can ask the device what song is playing. You can also tell it to play more songs like the one you are listening to.
  • "Alexa, call -----" Device uses your contact list.
  • Calls are over wi-fi and don't use your cellular minutes. And... hands-free!
  • Think about being able to call for help from family or your doctor if you can't get to your phone! Seriously. Think about that.
  • Call a particular number ("Alexa, call 123-456-7891") *except for 911*
  • I have not explored how to send messages but, apparently, that's possible.
  • You can instruct the device to make a list for you - grocery, to-do, etc.
  • "Alexa, add a 1 pm meeting to my calendar."
  • "Alexa, when is my next appointment?"
  • "Alexa, what time is it?" and "What time is it in *city or country*"
  • "Alexa, how many days until summer?"
  • You can ask Alexa math questions (i.e.: What's 4859 divided by 8)
  • For writing, I love that I can ask things like: "What's another word for ---" and "What's the definition of ---"
  • "Tell me a recipe for---"
  • You can control a Bluetooth-connected device: "Restart" or "Disconnect"
  • "What's the status of  Delta flight 213?"
  • "Alexa, tell me a joke." (Most are corny but cute!)
  • Try asking the device this if you want a little giggle: "Alexa, who you gonna call?"
  • You can request that it tells you a story, sing to you, or chat with you. (The chatbot feature is fun but it's also collecting information.)
  • "What's the difference between Ice Ice Baby and Under Pressure?
  • "How many people live in Barrow, Alaska?"

Find your phone. If you download the TrackR app, Alexa will use it to ring your phone so that you can locate it. Here's the best part: it will ring the phone full volume even if you have silenced your ringer. Nice, right?

Find just about any other object - which is even better (or scarier). There are little tracking "pixels" you can buy and attach to things like your car keys, purse/wallet, or lover who is trying to hide from your stalker ass! These devices then work with Alexa to help you locate the item. (Not sure how I feel about this one, guys. There are some shady people in the world and they will find shady uses for the best of things...)

"Drop in" on family and friends. This is another feature I'm not sure the world is ready for. I know I'm not! This Basically, this one will let you and other device owners use Alexa as an intercom system. For example, I could "drop in" on my brother and his family and they could do the same with me. Off the top of my head, I could only think of one reason I would ever want to use this feature. Let's say I am home alone and am expecting a repairman. I might want to let my family hear what's going on just in case the repairman is a serial killer. Thankfully, there are a lot of permissions that have to be agreed upon between users. 

Smart Home Controls. I have a dumb apartment that I love so I have no use for these features. However, I did try out a complimentary smart light bulb that didn't work so... You have to read up on some of this stuff for yourself but you can control lighting, temperature, appliances, etc - as long as they are smart-enabled, I guess.

Check for hacks & email breaches. This one requires adding one of the skills in Alexa. One app lets you check whether you have been hacked (you need an account with a specific site). The other checks for email breaches (you will need to link your Amazon account).

In Summary

Again, this thing is an awesome addition to my life. With my cognitive problems, the device is not just fun but really useful. I think I've just about worn out the Timer feature!

It's very nice to use the VAUX (or just Echo) speaker to listen to music from my Bluetooth-connected phone or computer. And, for people using a limited minutes cell phone plan, the calling feature is awesome. 

I noticed that some people own the Echo Spot and Echo Show. They can have those. I'm perfectly happy with my $40 Echo Dot. Matter of fact, Turbo Future ranks the Dot higher than the other Echo devices. 

Just for giggles, I am including a video of me hanging out with my new favorite roommate:

Ding ding ding dinga ding ding