Support the USO

Ever since I can remember, I have been a proud American. I will always be a proud American. America provides endless opportunities for people, it is viewed as a land of freedom and opportunity for a reason. However, this land of ‘anything is possible’ comes at a price. Our service members sometimes give their lives to their country in dedication to our country’s mission and vision. We can never forget that kind of selfless dedication to country and we must also remember that now, more than ever, we must continue supporting veterans and current service members in our military. I have the utmost respect for those who serve in our military and support the USO’s mission.

According to the USO, since 1941, the USO has been the nation’s leading organization to serve the men and women in the U.S. military, and their families, throughout their time in uniform. From the moment they join, through their assignments and deployments, and as they transition back to their communities, the USO is always by their side.

Today’s USO continuously adapts to the needs of our men and women in uniform and their families, so they can focus on their very important mission. The USO operates centers at or near military installations across the United States and throughout the world, including in combat zones, and even un-staffed USO service sites in places too dangerous for anyone but combat troops to occupy. The USO is not part of the federal government. A congressionally chartered, private organization, the USO relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to support its activities, and is powered by a family of volunteers to accomplish our mission of connection.

Just prior to the onset of America’s involvement in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to unite several service associations into one organization to lift the morale of our military and nourish support on the home front. Those entities – the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board – became the United Service Organizations or, the USO.

USO Tours

A hallmark of the USO is its famous USO tours, bringing celebrities to entertain the troops. Perhaps most iconic was the dedication in which Bob Hope had to serving tours. Marilyn Monroe was also an iconic entertainer to sing to the troops in Korea in 1954. USO tours technically launched the career of Anita Ekberg, who had been invited to replace Marilyn by Bob Hope. This gave Anita the press needed to launch an entertainment career. While the USO serves troops, it has also launched careers!

The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation.

Thank a military member you know and support your troops!

Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic

Jessica Simpson’s Beverly Hills home was designed by Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture.
Pamela Anderson’s waterfront Malibu home is also decorated with Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture.

A distinct ‘lived in’ quality with a mantra of beauty, comfort, and function is what distinguishes the iconic brand Shabby Chic Couture by Rachel Ashwell. Celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Pamela Anderson have devoted entire homes in Los Angeles to this aesthetic and have allowed Ms. Ashwell to bring her design movement into their homes. Shabby Chic style has become an aesthetic movement. Most recently, it’s been punctuated by “Cottagecore” style, but shabby chic has been around for a long time, and it is Rachel Ashwell’s brand which has brought the joy of beauty and imperfection into the homes of so many since 1989.

Shabby Chic style is well worth studying because it brings us back to basics! Ms. Ashwell has written numerous books (below), most recently the adorable “Rachel Ashwell’s Painted Stories: Vintage, decorating, thoughts, and whimsy” released in April 2021. The images that she presents are a wonderful inspiration for how you can begin to think about where shabby chic style fits into your life. There are layers to this style and there are ways to personalize the aesthetic to lean into your favorite look! For example, I adore the color pink, so I would lean into shades of pink and anything that reminds me of ballet. Whereas, you could lean into pale blue instead if you prefer shades of pale blue to be the dominant color. In this way, you could add shells and have more of a nautical theme. You can also do this for different areas of your home or do themed rooms. Pinterest has unending ideas for DIY shabby chic decorations which can complement pieces you purchase.

There are no real rules to shabby chic, aside from the general vintage aesthetic melting well together. Something I find particularly appealing about the brand is the fact that it’s a merging together of proper British style with laidback California style. Ms. Ashwell’s upbringing is fascinating: her father was an antique books dealer and her mother was an antique doll seller. She grew up a Bohemian childhood in London. Her extensive experience with maneuvering flee markets was essential in recognizing value in certain pieces and moving quickly when you know that a piece is special or fits the aesthetic that you are building in your home. To me, shabby chic style is all about aesthetic appeal combined with functionality. First and foremost, you are living in your home! Make the most out of how it looks with a whimsical, fairytale appeal (even if you are on a budget) and maximize function at the same time.

Here is a list of some of my favorite items with whimsy that Shabby Chic is currently selling:

Books by Rachel Ashwell

Marie Taglioni: The First Ballerina En Pointe

Marie Taglioni, the Comtesse de Voisins, lived from 1804-1884. She was the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe. She was Swedish born and spent the majority of her life in the Austrian Empire and France, which were the origins of ballet (especially regarding ballet’s early Italian origins). Her father, Italian Filipo Taglioni, was a choreographer and her mother was a Swedish ballet dancer, Sophie Karsten. Her brother was also a dancer and choreographer. This family was dedicated to an incredible art form a very long time ago. Her father was the ballet master of the court opera in Vienna, where she began her dancing career. She spent four hours each day dancing ballet – two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.

When her father created the ballet, La Sylphide (1832), it was the first ballet to be danced en pointe and had integrated a range of arm motions, as well. She danced for numerous ballet companies (the early origins), including Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and the Paris Opera Ballet. Her personal life beyond her dancing career is fascinating. In 1835, she married Comte Auguste Gilbert de Voisins, but they separated in 1836. She later fell in love with a loyal fan who defended her honor in a duel. She gave birth the following year to a child with her fan, Eugene Desmares. The following year, he died in a hunting accident. By 1842, Taglioni gave birth to a second child. The father is unknown, though the birth certificate states her first husband as the father (out of formality). She retired from dancing in 1847 and she settled in Venice, Italy at the Palazzo Santa Sofia on the Grand Canal. She also spent time teaching dance in England – she resided in London from 1875-1876. In 1884, Taglioni passed away in Marseille the day before her 80th birthday. Local dancers left pointe shoes in her honor on Montmartre (where she is supposedly buried as it is speculated that may not be her burial site).

Marie played an integral role in the development of ballet. What would ballet be without pointe shoes?

The Palazzo Santa Sofia, the home of Marie Taglioni in Venice.

My Ballet Journey

For 11 years growing up, I danced ballet. When I say I danced ballet, I danced ballet. Between the ages of 3 and 14, I was trained pre-professionally in a well respected school, attending classes up to five days a week for a few hours a day (when I was an advanced dancer and reached pointe shoes). I was on the precipice of taking my dancing to the ‘final level’ at my ballet school if I were to have auditioned to join the ‘company.’ I loved ballet and I still love ballet, but it’s a new kind of love. For a variety of reasons, that were ultimately for the best, I stopped dancing when I was 14. It was an emotional crossroads to be at, since so much of my life had been spent dancing. I danced seasonally in The Nutcracker, which was eight productions over the span of four days for five straight years each Christmas. My last role (and favorite role) was being one of the ‘party girls,’ dancing with a doll underneath the Christmas tree. I was constantly in rehearsals for it every Fall, and much of my life became very routine, but it was a routine that I lived for and I was lucky to have support for. My mother waited endless hours for me to finish ballet class. When I stopped, it was an awakening of sorts to shift gears and find new interests and passions that were outside of my studies in school. Since I had spent so much of my life dancing, I had excitement back then to find new passions. Ultimately, it was a good time for me to stop dancing at the pace I was dancing. The ways in which ballet shaped me by ingraining qualities of dedication, discipline, athleticism and also establishing a strong work ethic and openness to feedback and growth, have all been catalysts for the good in my life.

I recently started dancing again for myself (very lightly) and have found so much joy in this. I can’t pinpoint the exact thing that prompted me to, but I was reflecting to myself how dance was always a great form of exercise for me and also a way to destress as I focused my mind on improving positions and taking my technique to new levels. I still have so much of the basic framework of my ballet technique to this day and I am now an adult. I am proud that I have finally reached a point in my life where I can have a balanced relationship with ballet, where I am not pressuring myself to always go further and further in my technique, but to enjoy the movements and also gain back a lot of my ballet strength, flexibility and balance in the process. I often think about how George Balanchine’s method shaped me. Balanchine was one of the great ballet masters… I think that much of my experience pushing myself to improve in my dancing was shaped by the Balanchine method, which I highly recommend if you are interested in studying the various styles and methods. American ballet has been greatly shaped by him. His method is utilized at the New York City Ballet (opened 1948) and School of American Ballet (opened 1934), schools that he founded. He also influenced the San Francisco Ballet, which was the first ballet school in the country (opened in 1933).

The Balanchine style is characterized by the following qualities:

  • extreme speed and very deep plié
  • emphasis on line, with use of unconventional, asymmetrical, abstract arm and hand placement
  • pirouettes en dehors taken from a lunge in fourth position rather than the conventional plié in fourth
  • distinctive arabesque line with the hip open to the audience and the side arm pressed back
  • athletic dance quality
The great ballet master, George Balanchine.

Ballet dancers, on an existential level, all ‘serve a higher purpose.’ There is nothing more gratifying in this life than to find a deeper meaning than the shallow and egoistic traps that society sets forth for so many. I have found that was ultimately what kept driving me forward as a dancer in my adolescence, whether I was consciously aware of it or not. I certainly am now. I can take this awareness and enjoy dancing in its recreational form (without the hopes and dreams of dancers who, often like Olympians, live for a few short moments on stage which can be shattered by a slight shift in the body that did not allow the movement to reach aesthetic perfection or an injury that happened in the blink of an eye). Support the arts by attending a ballet if you can, the amount of passion and love that people share in ballet goes deep.

Edelweiss: The Flower of Dedication

Edelweiss is a wonderful and unique flower – it is a mountain flower belonging to the daisy family… The flower prefers rocky terrain to inhabit (which makes it even more special!). The flower is a national symbol in Austria and also appears in Switzerland, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Mongolia. When given to a loved one, the flower symbolizes dedication to your romantic partner. The story is quite simple why. In order to find an edelweiss, one must look hard and climb high mountains (it is work to find one of these lovely flowers), thus when given to your love, it is a symbol of your dedication to that person. However, it is worth noting that the flower has declined due to overcollection (and is now protected by laws), so perhaps if you find one in the alpine mountains you hike, it might be best to symbolically share that you found this for your lover… and there are plenty of souvenirs representing this flower, rather than picking it from the wild.

The Sound of Music famously has a song for it… the lyrics go like this:

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever.

The charm and national symbolism of this flower gives me so much nostalgia for my second homeland, Austria. Also, given the rarity of this flower (which gives it a certain magic), there are easy comparisons to the magic of Christmas, which is described beautifully in this hymn above by English poet Frances Ridley Havergal in 1877. In whichever capacity you choose to enjoy the presence of edelweiss, make sure to honor it when you encounter it. This flower is incredibly special for a reason.

Mangroves and Climate Change

Mangroves store 50 times more carbon in their soils by surface area compared to tropical forests, and ten times more than temperate forests. This phenomenon makes the conservation of these coastal trees imperative in the bid to combat global warming and climate change.

What are mangroves? What effect do they have on our climate and biodiversity? These two questions have lengthy answers… The answers to these questions are more complex than one might initially think of trees that grow out of the water. These trees are quite magical, though. Mangroves, by definition, are small trees which grow in saline or brackish water (water with high salinity rates). They mostly appear in Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Australia. They also appear in Africa, as you will read later. These trees help fight climate change. That is tremendously important, and yet, these trees are disappearing.

It is estimated that roughly half of all mangroves in the world have been removed. According to The Washington Post, in the 1980s and 1990s, coastal mangrove forests were “obliterated by industrial agriculture, aquaculture and harvesting of wood for housing and charcoal… tens of millions of tons of the carbon that was once locked away in these forests’… is now in the atmosphere.” Troublingly enough, their removal goes back to the 1980s, which certainly raises questions regarding the rate of carbon emissions and how there are natural ways of sequestering those emissions, which mangroves do beautifully. Mangroves are some of our planet’s guardians. They truly are. Mangroves are an ecological habitat as well (think along the lines of what coral reefs do). According to The Economist, they have been referred to as “evolutionary marvels and they are a critical part of most tropical oceanic ecosystems… but they are rapidly disappearing.” However, there are ways to protect mangroves and I believe spreading awareness about that is important. At the rate of loss we are looking at currently, all mangroves would disappear in the next 100 years. We cannot allow that to happen.

In Kenya, the world’s first mangrove conservation project “Mikoko Pamoja,” (in Swahili means “Mangroves Together”) is funded by the sale of carbon credits. This is a revolutionary project which started in 2014. According to the organization’s website, “The key to unlocking an intervention that would reverse the loss of mangroves and resuscitate the livelihoods of the Gazi Bay Community was the villagers’ realization that the mangrove forest do not belong to the government and that they couldn’t wait for someone else to save the mangroves. This important realization initiated the need for community involvement in the conservation of their mangroves, and the quest to improve their livelihoods through natural solutions.” This project was revolutionary in its effort to combat multiple issues at once – by the villages working together to protect the mangroves, they also found a solution to improve economic outcomes and fund access to clean water and education. I do believe that mangroves are endangered, but I also have hope that projects like Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya are scalable solutions and I truly hope the future of mangroves lies within that truth. Long live the mangrove tree!

Fashion Forward

Are you ready to step into Fall 2021 in tip top shape? I know I am… These are my top fashion picks for wardrobe ideas for your Fall looks.

Clothing by Musier Paris

Cardigans and sweaters from Musier Paris are a unique and fashionable spin on classics… The pearl button detail on some of their cardigans is so classy and adds a nice touch to a classic look. Similarly, the Giovana sweater (right) has a different, edgier look to it with the cropped bottom and string tie. Either way, you will look like a smoke show in either of these and if you are looking for a fresh spin on a classic look, these are Fall 2021 tops for you.

Shoes by Nodaleto

Nodaleto shoes are designed by Julia Toledano, daughter of LVMH CEO, Sidney Toledano. These shoes are made in a family-run factory in Venice, Italy. You can find them at Bergdorf Goodman and Dover Street Market. The brand is described as “playful rebellion and radical femininity.” Need I say more?

Handbags by Lulu Guinness

Miniature sized handbags are high fashion at its finest. You can fit a lip gloss and your keys inside, and otherwise, the purpose of these bags is to enjoy its aesthetic appeal. I have been a long time fan of British designer Lulu Guinness (my first eBay purchase when I was younger was for a one of a kind Lulu Guinness bag) and she continues to have fresh and innovative designs to this day.

Accessories by Versace & STUDS

What is more classic than a cat shaped pair of sunglasses? Combining the cat eye shape with tortoise print of course. The tortoise print combined with the cat eye is a great look for Fall and any season really. These Versace Greca sunglasses are perfectly stylish, especially with the glamorous chain detailing on the side. Naturally, you should pair your sunglasses with a complementary earring style. I am loving the STUDS Medium Drip hoop earrings (I have a similar pair in silver). The medium size is perfect (they have small and large if there is another size you fancy), but I think the medium is ideal for a glamorous look without being too flashy. This look is a winning combination.

Cosmetics by Valentino Beauty

Valentino is the latest high end fashion company to enter into the beauty space and may we say, where were you? The beauty industry is robust, to say the least, and there is still room for the classic sensibilities of the Valentino brand (red and pink shades are the classics that I always look for). Also noteworthy and innovative… the refillable lipstick cartridges are a nod to recognizing our environmental impact. Refillable and reusable? That is definitely a novel approach.

The Beauty of the Faroe Islands

Gasadalur is a must visit during a trip to The Faroe Islands.

The Faroe Islands is an autonomous territory which falls under the Kingdom of Denmark. The Faroes are not part of the European Union (EU) and this is worth noting if you are planning to travel there (i.e. be sure to have your passport ready). The Faroes are about halfway between Norway and Iceland. The islands are relatively small and very sparsely populated (as of 2020, their population is approximately 52,000). The rugged nature is perfect for hiking enthusiasts, however, the climate is unpredictable and it’s best to visit during the summer. The islands ask for fees to hike many parts and doing a decent amount of planning beforehand is a good way to prepare to make the most out of a trip to such a spectacular place. The must-visit of the islands is Gasadalur (above) and its famous waterfall, Múlafossur. Make sure to bring your hiking boots to these islands! Do not skip on this.

It is worth noting that climate change threatens all places around the globe. There is so much to enjoy about more remote places which are less touristy such as The Faroe Islands. Please, make sure to consider the carbon footprint that you are making while you travel. This is to say, there are ways to be conscientious of how you consume and what actions you take. This awareness and intentionality helps you actively work to be a part of protecting the environments you occupy. This is more important than ever as carbon emissions are a major issue.

A fun fact about the islands includes that the population has a greater number of men than there are women, which has been inspiring more women from around the world to go and live there. I have linked below a documentary about this topic which has been noteworthy recently.

The Faroe Islands are for nature lovers and these landscapes are some of the most breathtaking in the whole world.

Official website resource for hiking: www.hiking.fo

Official website resource for driving tolls: www.tunnil.fo

These islands are unforgettable, so make sure you make the most of a trip here!

Facts about the Faroes from the History of the Faroe Islands website:

Viking age settlers establish their free state
The name Føroyar (Faroe Islands) is derived from old Norse and means Sheep Islands, a name given by the Viking age settlers arriving from Norway in the 9th century. The medieval culture and organisation of the Faroe Islands was clearly Norse in origin and form, and they established their Althing (parliament), later named Løgting, at Tinganes in Tórshavn. Tórshavn still is the capital city of modern days Faroe Islands, and it claims to hold the oldest parliament in the world.

Special status under foreign Monarchs
Viking age Norwegian kings long aspired to gain control over the Faroe Islands, but for many years the Faroese managed to fight them off. However, by the latter half of the 12th century the Faroe Islands eventually became firmly attached to the Kingdom of Norway.

The Faroe Islands joined Norway into the dual monarchy with Denmark in the late 14th century. When this union was succeeded by a Norwegian-Swedish union in 1814 the former Norwegian territory of the Faroe Islands remained under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark. Due to, among other factors, remoteness vis-à-vis both Norway and Denmark, the Faroes Islands always maintained a special jurisdiction along with their distinct language and culture, guarded by the ancient Løgting.

The royal trade monopoly long stood in the way of development. When it was abolished in 1856 an export oriented commercial fishing industry rapidly developed in the Faroe Islands kickstarting the development of a modern market economy and population growth.

XOXO Bianca

How To Get My Favorite Makeup Look

XOXO Bianca

I like to have a polished and glamorous look most of the time. One secret I have learned over the years is that it does not take a lot of products nor does it need to take a lot of time to achieve this. As I have streamlined how I approach my makeup (when I wear it), I have learned what works best for me and I look forward to sharing some of those insights with you!

First off, I cannot reiterate enough: avoid foundation wherever you can. Ultimately, it can come off looking cakey and if it is not the exact color match for you, that makes it even less attractive. I have learned over the years to avoid foundation wherever possible and work on using concealer strategically. I use concealer under my eyes and on any red spots that I might have. I also use it as a base for my eyeshadow and apply a thin layer of it on my eyelids to prep them for eyeshadow.

Favorite concealer: Benefit Cosmetics Boi-Ing in Light 1

My next step is eyeshadow. Recently, I have been loving the Sephora Collection eyeshadows (Made in Italy!) and the amount is just enough for when you might run out, you are looking to find another color again or just want to replace. I think they are perfectly priced, too. In the photos above, I am wearing shade Twinkle Twinkle.

Favorite eyeshadow: Sephora Collection in Twinkle Twinkle

I usually apply mascara immediately following. For me, I have been a long time fan of L’Oreal’s Voluminous Original – I heard a celebrity once describe it as the “don’t fix what ain’t broke” of mascaras and it’s true. I have tried many different mascaras, and for the price range of what is out there, you get a great effect on your lashes. There is really no downside to this particular mascara. I just make sure that I clean the brush off occasionally so the product does not get too clumped on the brush. I focus on making my outer lashes stand out which gave the winged effect in my photos.

Favorite mascara: L’Oreal Paris Voluminous Original in Black

After I have my eyes all done, I move on to cheeks and use a pink lipstick (yes lipstick) or a cream blush on my cheekbones. I always smile when I apply so I am making sure that I am applying the product evenly across the apples of my cheeks. Currently, my favorite cream blush is Sephora Collection Flushed Blush in Cloudy Pink.

Favorite cream blush: Sephora Collection Flushed Blush in Cloudy Pink

The very last step (and perhaps most fun) is lining my lips and finishing with lipstick. I have many different shades of pinks and reds in my lipstick collection, so I like to mix together colors often. Sometimes, on the rare occasion, I find a shade of pink that I just find absolutely stunning and that shade right now is Milani Cosmetics lipstick in Rose Hip! This color has a vibrant quality without it being too neon. I also can downplay the brightness with a more mauve toned lip liner. The lip liner that I love the most right now with this lipstick is Sephora Collection in Rose. This lip liner has such a wonderful pigmentation and glides on perfectly.

Favorite lip liner: Sephora Collection in Rose

Favorite lipstick: Milani Cosmetics in Rose Hip

There you have it… not too many products and not too much time spent! Your makeup should be what you love to put on and wear, so make sure it works with your style and you’ll be good to go! I don’t focus too much on trends, I focus on what makes me feel my best.

xoxo Bianca

Beauty Icon: Monica Bellucci

Of all the beauty icons we have today, it is likely that Monica Bellucci is on par with being considered the “Anita Ekberg of our generation.” (This is because Ekberg was iconic for her bombshell role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.) Bellucci is undoubtedly one of the great Italian actresses of our time. Monica has appeared in films for decades and has been considered a fashion icon as well. Monica grew up in the region of Umbria in Italy. Her career start was modelling for fashion houses Dolce & Gabbana and Dior. As a young model, she was signed with Elite Models and lived in Milan.

Monica’s transition to film was natural and she has acted in many films over the years. Notably, she acted in The Passion of the Christ as Mary Magdalene. She has appeared in dozens of films beyond that – including in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bride of Dracula in 1992. In 2015, when she became a Bond girl in the James Bond film Spectre alongside Daniel Craig, she became the ‘oldest’ Bond girl in the franchise’s history, which allowed for a more inclusive perspective on who can be cast as a Bond girl… In her personal life, Bellucci’s boyfriend, Nicolas Lefebvre, is 18 years her junior. Age truly is just a number and hopefully the vivacious way Bellucci has lived her life continues to be an example of this to others. You can be sexy at any age!

Part of the grand allure of Bellucci’s style is how her style is elegant and simple. Often, she pairs a smokey eye with a black dress. This is her signature look and she has stuck to what works for her. Do what works for you and build on that! That is the core of what style is: leaning into what suits you and building on that. There is so much to learn from her demeanor as well. Bellucci is an icon for a reason. We can all learn a thing or two about how demeanor and style put together can generate the energy that we want to keep and how we present ourselves. Monica’s style is a good reminder to always show up as the best version of yourself.

Monica became a “Bond girl” alongside Daniel Craig in Spectre.