Thursday, November 12, 2015

Happy Holidays // Diwali

Yesterday our family celebrated Diwali, a five-day festival with yesterday being the main day of celebration. One of the major holidays in India, it is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists the world over, and has a different significance for each. Specifically for Hindus, it marks the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita after their 14-year exile and celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, hence Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights.

As it falls between mid-October and mid-November depending upon the Hindu calendar, Diwali marks the beginning of our holiday season. Each year we travel to Minneapolis (where my mother- and brother-in law live) to celebrate. While of course every family has their own traditions, our Diwali traditions are quite typical of how most Indians celebrate, even for being in Minnesota!

This year, I came to the Twin Cities a few days early to spend some time with my mother-in-law and start the Diwali celebrations early. My first few days here, MIL and I did a lot of shopping. Much like Christmas, shopping is actually part of Diwali preparations, so I had to participate, you see! Getting new clothes is a Diwali tradition, and a new outfit is always worn on Diwali day. Each year we make the annual pilgrimage to Macy's to find new threads.

The "twins" in their matching shirts.
Another Diwali preparation is making the rangoli on your doorstep, which is a decorative colorful pattern made with colored powders. While P's mom is great at freehand, this year we had new stencils which made our designs much more crisp. Unfortunately, right before our guests were due to arrive a thunderstorm began and washed away our rangoli. Luckily we had decorated on Monday and had a few days to enjoy it. Rangoli is a beautiful but fleeting art, especially in the Midwest.

Up Close Rangoli


Porch with Rangoli

Rangoli Powders

Rangoli Stencil


The first official day of Diwali is called Dhanteras. It is typical to buy gold or silver on this day to ensure prosperity, so my MIL bought a silver ring while shopping. The second day is called Choti Diwali. It is spent resting or doing beautifying rituals to prepare for the big celebrations the next day. My MIL and I went to a new salon to get our hair done, and that evening we all had a family dinner at a new Indian restaurant in town, Blue Fox. I wore a new shawl thanks to my mother-in-law's keen eye at Von Maur. As a note, we don't do much on the fourth and fifth days of Diwali. Many people do a prayer, which my MIL does, and often people go to their relative's houses to visit. (The majority of P's extended family is in India.) On the fifth day, Bhai Duj, sisters invite brothers to their house, and many sweets (mithai) are consumed.

The majority of the holiday happenings are on the third day of Diwali, which is the beginning of the new year of the Hindu calendar. Yesterday, November 11, marked this day. I wore a new sari, which I borrowed from MIL. I don't always wear a sari on Diwali, it varies from year to year. This year, I wanted to see how well I would do with a sari and crutches. #accessiblefashion. Saris are not as difficult to wear as you might think. A petticoat is worn underneath the sari, and all of the excess fabric is gathered at the waist and tucked into the petticoat. From there, it is draped over the shoulder. It can be pinned at the waist and shoulder, which we did, and I moved around fairly easily on my crutches with the only obstacle being if I caught some of the excess of the skirt under my crutches. The sari I wore this year was black with a border in bright yellow, green, and pink.

Me in Sari

Diwali is both colorful and bright. Small candles in clay holders known as diyas are lit throughout the home as a literal representation of light's triumph over darkness. We light traditional diyas, and use modern flameless candles throughout the home as well. In addition, we put a string of Christmas lights out on the deck. Certainly the neighbors must think we are ahead of the holiday decorating game.

Our flameless candle "diyas".
It's not all fun and games--cleaning your house is also part of the ritual. Hopefully I am keeping up with my responsibilities in this department, but with so many trips to the mall, you can imagine a corner of my MIL's house is looking like Sephora. Cleaning one's home is done to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, into your home. You will remember I mentioned earlier that Diwali celebrates the homecoming of Rama and his wife Sita. Lakshmi was incarnated as Sita.

In addition to welcoming Lakshmi into your home by cleaning, a pooja (or prayer) is also done in her honor on Diwali. To prepare for the pooja, we wash our hands. Sweets and fruit are placed on the altar as an offering to her, and candles (diyas) are lit. (My MIL simply fashions the wick of the diya from a cotton ball soaked in clarified butter known as ghee.) We each receive a tika (a red dot on the forehead.) We chant the same refrain to Lakshmi for about 45 minutes, counting it out on a set of prayer beads. Similar to praying with a rosary, one bead represents one chant of the prayer. A single rose petal is placed on the altar to Lakshmi for each line of the prayer. A bell is rung during the last verses of the prayer, and a candle is waved in a circular fashion (called the aarathi). When we are finished, we eat some of the foods that were placed on the altar. This is called prasad.

Cotton wicks soaked in ghee.


After the pooja at home, the Diwali meal is consumed. The Diwali meal is always vegetarian. This year our meal consisted of garbanzo beans (chana), matar paneer (cheese cubes and peas in a tomato sauce), rice, naan, and potato patties. The potato patty recipe was based on one from a famous dish from P's hometown. In addition, sweets are a Diwali must. I helped my MIL make a few of these snacks, and some are store-bought. We made kakua together, and we bought milk cake and gulab jamun. MIL also made kheer (rice pudding) in the crock pot. We always invite our friends to enjoy the dinner with us. It's a great chance for us to catch up with friends from college/high school.

Molly "helped" me run the cookie press.
Milk cake (left) and gulab jamun (right).
Marcy, Molly & I

Dinner is served!

I would be remiss to not mention the part about Diwali I dislike the most: fireworks. They are a huge part of the Diwali celebrations, but I am scared of loud noises. We don't do fireworks every year, but when we do I just watch from indoors. (We don't get anything terribly loud anyway.) While we weren't able to find fireworks at the store this year, it was just as well due to the rain. However, when P was on a business call with people in India a few days ago, he had to reassure the American counterparts on the phone that the background noise on the India call was Diwali celebrations in the streets, and not gunshots.

Our dog, Molly, is not exactly a fan of Diwali fireworks either. She usually sits in the house with me if the family lights crackers. However, she is a full Diwali participant; she does an excellent job of cleaning (crumbs off the floor) and begging visitors for sweets. She is also very familiar with the ritual pooja. While we were preparing for the prayer, she came into the room and sat on the rug that we had laid out as if she was called to prayer. We brought in her dog bed, and she laid quietly for the entire 45 minute prayer. She noses from afar at the scents emanating from the altar, but knows that it is not for her. Molly has inspired us to borrow a Diwali tradition from Nepal, where dogs are celebrated on the second day of Diwali (known as Kukur Tihar in Nepali). (Check out this great article on Kukur Tihar.) As she is treated as part of the family, she receives a tika for the prayer and of course gets extra treats and nibbles for the holiday.

Molly came to the pooja.

Molly receives her tika.

Molly's tika.
Molly near the altar.
As a relative newcomer to celebrating Diwali, I can't help but compare it to Christmas. This is the closest comparison I can give my Western readers because of the magnitude and significance of the holiday for those who celebrate it, and many of our traditions overlap: food, family, prayer...and a bit of shopping. For this reason, I have a unique perspective on the "Happy Holidays" debate that flares up each year. My family celebrates 3 holidays from October-December, and Diwali is five mini holidays wrapped into one. I don't view "Happy Holidays" as a secular statement, but rather an inclusion of all that people celebrate at this time of year. Diwali ushers in our extended holiday season with a literal bang and and is one of the ways we are more alike than we are different.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

I Left My Underwear in Kansas.

I've often been told I should write a book about my husband and his crazy hijinks. It's one of those things I've been meaning to do, but I inevitably get too distracted by other things. Things like, as is currently happening: a microwave that has been alerting him for the past five minutes that his food is ready, a woofing dog who doesn't understand why she can't have said food, and the constant drone of The Big Bang Theory on our television, a show that too closely mirrors our real life. 

"Are you writing a blog post about me?" he just asked.

"You bet I am." I responded. I informed him that tonight's happenings were so over the top, that I didn't care if I had his permission or not to retell the story to EVERYONE. 

"Hey, I'm your creative muse!" He exclaims as he finally retrieves the food from the microwave, his first meal after getting home from the airport tonight.

"P" travels frequently for work. He is out of town at a minimum of once a month. When he's not out of town, he's going full tilt at work here in California. He is the very definition of a workaholic, but one who has a one-track mind for only high-level tasks. (Example: he received his PhD in chemistry from Stanford, but doesn't understand why Dawn dish soap cannot be used in the dishwasher.) Despite that we are in an interracial relationship, our biggest cultural rift is his larger-than-life brain. I think he often feels that I am "making fun of him" when I scoff at his lack of knowledge of dish soaps, when really, I am equal parts in disbelief and astounded that so much of his brain is taken up by useful information and heady topics, rather than practical information. I marvel at his high-level knowledge, and his lack of general knowledge. And, truth be told, I'm a bit jealous. I wish my brain had the automatic disposal button that his does, getting rid of "common" knowledge in favor of academic knowledge with the bat of an eye.

Because he's so busy with work, I generally try to pack his suitcase for him when he has a business trip. I also travel frequently, so I know what a bothersome task packing is. I like to think I'm being helpful, but knowing men, throwing some underwear, a suit, and a toothbrush into a suitcase isn't the anxiety-inducing to-do list item it is for women. What he did today proves this theory.

I picked him up from the airport tonight as usual, and reached to open the back end of my car so he could throw his carry-on bag in. Before I hit the button, he jumped in the car, closed the door and exclaimed "SO, FUNNY STORY!" 

"Hold on," I cut him short. I fear I have grown too accustomed to interrupting him in order to make him focus on the task at hand. "Where is your suitcase?" It wouldn't be a stretch to assume he had left it sitting there on the curb like a homeland security false alarm waiting to happen. 

"Yeah...funny story. So, good news and bad news. The good news is the trip was really successful. The bad news is I forgot my bag." he explained.

"Well, I'm sure they'll let you retrieve it," I said. I wasn't about to leave the airport and have to spend my Saturday waiting for the airport lost luggage van to deliver it.

"I left it in Kansas." 

As he tells it, he checked his bag at the front desk of the hotel upon checkout this morning. Because he met up with his coworker (who had the rental car) later in the day, and raced to a meeting with him, he forgot his suitcase at the hotel and didn't realize it until he got to the airport with only 20 minutes to make his flight. 

"When I realized I forgot it, I had a choice to make. I could either stay in Kansas, or make my flight." he rationalized as only a PhD could do as I stared at him with my mouth agape. I wasn't taken aback for long though. The thought of "forgetting" luggage is such a foreign concept to me, but is such an unsurprising thing for him to do. His bag wasn't lost at the hands of the airline. In fact, it wasn't checked baggage at all. He straight up fucking forgot that he had luggage, and his brain is so full of other thoughts that nothing felt strange about not pulling a carry-on behind him until they were at the airport. It all makes sense in the context of my husband, and my subsequent response was a fit of the crazy giggles--the giggles you get when life has forced you to accept that "fuck it" is your only option. "Of course you did," I roared, tears of laughter streaming down my face. I briefly contemplated pulling over for our safety, as my laughter was making me swerve over highway 101. Even now, I hardly have the words.

It was such a "P" thing to do, after all. This is the man who left the metal rim of the tire on the side of the road when he got a flat, and drove for several hours on a donut. (A story which, to his chagrin, he has never lived down at my family gatherings.) This is the guy wore his glasses while surfing in the ocean, lost them...and later forgot his contact lenses on a work trip to New York City, leaving me to scramble to get a last minute optometrist appointment so he could see. It's not the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last.

"My coworker was wondering at what point I was going to tell you! I briefly contemplated not telling you--" he began, a bit relieved at my reaction.

"Not only did I pack the bag for you, but my first words to you were 'where is your suitcase?'" I interrupted. "You were screwed either way." 

"Hey, at least I don't bring much baggage to the relationship. Ha, get it?!" he quipped when we got home. 

If I were in his situation, I would be so deep in the throws of a temper tantrum that I wouldn't be able to muster a joke. Maybe he would be too if he had also forgotten his laptop (I daresay he would never be without that) but generally, he takes everything in stride. I admire that about him, but our relationship works because we are tuned into different things. As such, I stand by my choice in partner because no one knows the true meaning of "never a dull moment" like we do. Even if in these moments he's proclaiming "it'll all be fine" as I reach for the Xanax. 

Because after all, his underwear is in Kansas, and no amount clicking our heels will bring them home tonight. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Collection Brush Set // A Review

When New York wasn't busy testing my patience like in my previous post, it was giving me the opportunity to test the travel-friendliness of my new Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Collection brush set. I'm a person that sometimes can't bring herself to use her nice things, so for this trip the Sakura Collection was the only brush set I took (save for one eye brush I will mention later). Suffice it to say that I had to use them. The seal has been broken.

As I mentioned previously, the set comes with a travel case, which has been a convenient storage option even at home, and 5 brushes: the powder brush, cheek brush, crease brush, shader brush, and detail brush. Though the name of each brush is the suggested function, they are all multi-functional in their own right.

I truly mean to post this sooner. However, in reviewing these brushes, I wanted to see how much better they performed (or didn't) in comparison to inexpensive, synthetic brushes you could purchase from a discount store. Thus, I took some extra time with these to compare them, and then began writing a blue streak about their performance. For the comparison, I was able to find 4 comparable synthetic brushes already in my collection and 1 natural-synthetic hair brush from a set I purchased from a European website. (In the photos, all Sakura brushes are on the left and have a black ferrule.)

Because all of the brushes in the Sakura Collection are made from natural (animal) hair, they are all incredibly soft. As such, Japanese brushes are often marketed as a great option for those with sensitive skin. I wrote this off until I compared these side-by-side during application. While my skin isn't so sensitive that synthetic brushes irritate it, there was a definite extra level of comfort that I preferred in using the natural bristle Japanese brushes. As a result of being so soft, they pick up just the right amount of product, making application easier to navigate, and diffuse and blend makeup with ease. When I first purchased the brushes, my mother-in-law, a talented sumi-e painter who knows a good brush, remarked that the natural hair Sakura brushes were likely to blend product better. This was true for all of the brushes, and the powder and cheek brushes were a stand out representation.

The Powder Brush
Made of grey squirrel and goat, the powder brush does the function its name suggests, but it also worked well to apply bronzer. What struck me most about this brush is how soft it is, especially in comparison to my inexpensive brush, the Real Techniques blush brush. Though marketed for blush, I've tended to use the Real Techniques for powder and bronzer in the past due to its sheer size. (I tend to like a smaller blush brush, which I'll detail later.) The Real Techniques brush not only kicked up way more product when dipping it into the compact, but as a result of that it took more blending. The Sakura brush picked up a smaller, more appropriate amount of product, and blended with much more ease.

Sakura Powder Brush & Real Techniques Blush Brush


The Cheek Brush
Because this is easily my favorite brush in the collection, I have plenty to say about it. The cheek brush does not at first look like your average blush brush. It is smaller than most of those you can find on the western market, and also has a flatter shape. During the pre-sale conference call Beautylish held for customers, they explained that this is because Japanese women often prefer a flatter brush to apply blush. Because I find blush application to be tricky, this piqued my interest. Wayne Goss's #2 brush, though rounded, was also made smaller than the average blush brush because Goss feels that they are often over sized and apply too much color than is necessary for a small area of the face. Goss also prefers to put cheek color farther back on the face rather than on the apple of the cheek, eschewing the technique of applying color to the apples of the cheek while smiling. Utilizing a smaller brush and putting color farther back on the cheekbone are 2 tips that have helped me feel a bit more confident and less like a clown in my blush application. The flat shape of the Sakura Collection cheek brush lends itself well to this non-traditional application of color. As well, while visiting the Charlotte Tilbury counter in Bergdorf Goodman during my travels, the artist at the counter used a shade of blush that I had previously tried, but I thought it too red for my coloring at the time. She demonstrated how she applied the color, picking up way less product than I used when sampling the color before. I'm not exactly sure where along the line I lost the "less is more" common sense approach to blush, but I have a feeling it was a habit created by years of synthetic brush use. As a result, I tended to remain very neutral in blush selection. Because of its softness and ability to pick up just the right amount of product, the Sakura Collection cheek brush has helped me come back to my senses. I'm a little more confident in wearing pinker shades, rather than just my standard peachy browns. In comparing it to a less expensive brush, the best thing I had to compare it to in my collection was the Real Techniques contour brush. Of course, as is the theme, the Sakura collection's cheek brush was much softer, it also blended like a dream with its grey squirrel bristles. Blush is, as I've realized, where you want to use a light hand and build from there. The Sakura brush helps make that light hand less of a conscious effort, and blends easier and much more effortlessly than my Real Techniques contour brush.

Sakura Cheek Brush & Real Techniques Contour Brush


The Crease Brush
Crease brushes are something I've written off in the past. They always seemed to be too soft, too large, or any other Goldilocks and the Three Bears adjective. Never "just right". Consequently, I've just grabbed whatever brush was within reach that looked like it might work. I was skeptical when I saw this brush. How is a pointed crease brush supposed to work? But its shape is what actually makes it work. With this crease brush, also made of grey squirrel, I actually feel like my blending game has been stepped up a notch. Soft? Of course, and as such it blurs the harsh lines of eye color well and gives crease color a softer and more diffused look. It was difficult to find anything like it in my collection to compare it to, obviously as it is so unique, but the closest I had was the Zoeva 224 Luxe Defined Crease brush. While the Zoeva brush is a slightly higher price point than the Real Techniques brushes (around $10) and available to US customers online only, it was the closest I came to the unique pointed shape of the Sakura collection brush. The Zoeva brush is also a blended natural-synthetic bristle brush, putting it on a different playing field than the previous synthetic model comparisons I'd been using. Given that it's blended, it's softer than the Real Techniques brushes, but not as soft as the Sakura brush. Even so, where the Sakura brush really wins is its pointed shape. I don't think I've ever seen a pointed crease brush before, and I'm wondering where its been all my life. Where other crease brushes splay no matter how narrow they're made, the Sakura brush maintains a precise point to get into the socket. It's so genius, I wish I'd thought of it.

Sakura Crease Brush & Zoeva Luxe Defined Crease Brush


The Shader Brush
Eye brushes are my vice. Simply put, I collect them all. Because I'm so used to having many at my disposal, littered around me as I do my eye makeup, just having two eye brushes on hand while on my trip was a little like tying one hand behind my back. As well, because these brushes are so soft, it's like having a light-handed autopilot on. While that was GREAT for the face brushes, I tend to pack on eye color like Mimi on the Drew Carey show, so this brush was a bit of a change from how I normally apply eyeshadow. That said, it can build up shadow intensity, it just does so at a more gradual pace than I generally work at. Given my comparison to Mimi, this is probably a good skill to re-learn: less is more. Though it builds up color gradually, the grey squirrel bristles blend and diffuses faster than a synthetic brush, which was a definite plus. I compared this to my Real Techniques Domed Shadow Brush. Slightly larger than the Sakura brush, its synthetic bristles definitely pick up a ton of color at once. And while I don't mind that, it definitely requires another brush for a softer blend. The recommended method to keep the Sakura brushes clean was just to simply wipe them off and deep clean them once/month. I was skeptical once more, but this method proved to work. I can wipe the Sakura brush clean and move on to another color with ease, while my synthetic brush tends to hold remnants of other colors. While I still like to utilize a variety of brushes while doing my eye makeup, this one has proven to be a workhorse that I reach for daily.

Sakura Shader Brush & Real Techniques Domed Shadow Brush


The Detail Brush
Last, smallest, but not least is the detail brush. Made of fitch (distant ancestor of the ferret) and horse, this brush lives up to its name and does jobs that need precision. Pinpoint concealing, lip color, and eyeliner are all made easier with this brush. I mentioned before that I took one extra brush along on my trip. I also packed the Zoeva 317 Wing Liner brush, thinking that there was nothing in this set that could do eyeliner. After my trip, I noticed that its description on the Beautylish website indicates this brush can actually be used for kohl liner. Up until that point, I had only used it for pinpoint concealing. True, this brush does a good job with eyeliner, but definitely gives it a kohl/smoky look as indicated in the description, and less of a "precise" line. If you're looking for precision, try it with lipstick. When I used this brush for lipstick, I was surprised at how it muted the color a bit. (This set has taught me that subtlety is perhaps not my forte.) I'm generally a straight-from-the-tube gal, even when using less than subtle red shades, so I don't often use a lip brush. Even if you prefer straight from the tube, this brush will help clean the edges for a more precise application. The smallest brush I had to compare this to was the lip/concealer brush from the Body Shop. Both brushes do all of the functions listed. The edge the Sakura brush has is its smaller size, and the ease of cleaning waxy products like concealer and lipstick from its natural bristles.

Sakura Detail Brush & Body Shop Lip/Concealer Brush


As you can imagine, a handcrafted set of brushes from Japan does not disappoint. After using these brushes almost daily for several weeks, I can definitely say that the quality is impeccable and the set is worth every penny. (Though brush enthusiasts will agree, the price point for the set is very competitive compared to the per-brush cost of a single handmade Japanese brush.) Given the variety of brushes in the set and their broad range of applicable uses, this collection would be great for someone looking to explore Japanese brushes...if you can get your hands on it. The set is currently sold out on the site and interested parties can join their email wait list.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Traveling While Disabled // New York City

My husband's greatest dream is to live in New York City. He travels there often for work, and takes great pleasure in wandering the neighborhoods, block after block, with no real plan when his meetings are through. He'd love to live there someday "in a third-floor, walk-up apartment." Sadly, his disabled wife derails this plan for the "true New York experience."

He's not wrong: walking up the stairs and everywhere else you need to go is the true New York experience. Last week when my own plans took me to New York, he got to see New York through the disabled lens when we had some evenings free to "wander" the city together, which consisted of me on my crutches at a snail's pace, and him walking somewhat patiently behind me. Even my Sheldon Cooper-like husband knows that to express his impatience would be socially unacceptable. But I let him have a moment.

"This is annoying the shit out of you, isn't it?" I asked, sweat dripping down my face. Between the humidity, the crowds, and the constant shooting pain in my right leg, I felt like Mama June in a marathon.

"...yup." He replied somewhat sheepishly, but mostly with the candor I've come to know and love/hate about him. Beyond this, he doesn't complain. In part knowing better, and in part knowing I'd have something to say about it if he did. This is the real picture of marriage: standing by your partner, but wishing you could walk at your own pace...fifty blocks ahead. Since he is familiar with the "in sickness" part of the vows on a daily basis, I'd say he's entitled to it. After all, who was carrying my shopping bags?

Bite Beauty Lipstick Lab, my crutches, and a door with no stairs.
The one place that got it right was the Bite Beauty Lip Lab. Coincidence? I think not.
This was my third trip to New York, and I'm in worse condition than I ever have been. I am now walking with crutches permanently, dealing with pain daily, and I'm in some sort of purgatory between crutches and a wheelchair. I would have chosen the wheelchair option, but my previous trips to New York were a clue as to how accessible the city is. (Read: it isn't.) Instead, I opted to walk through the pain as best as possible, because there might not be a "next time" that I can get into that rooftop bar with no elevator.

It is extremely frustrating that New York is regarded by some as the greatest city in the world, yet it is so far behind in terms of accessibility. Nowhere was this truer for me than in the subway system, the most inaccessible part of my trip. Despite my need to prove myself, my body could only stand to take the subway twice. During the second trip my husband and friend had to call a cab after we emerged from the subway station because the trip up the stairs had left me unable to go on. Though I traveled to/from major parts of the city (Times Square and Soho), I only found ONE elevator and I couldn't even use it because it was on the wrong side of the platform. My friend surmised that because it was beneath Barclay's, they likely paid for it. And the city isn't entirely to blame, he noted, as the subway system is chartered by the state of New York.

Is me taking the subway twice a representative sample of the system at large? It would seem so. After hearing my frustration about my trip, this morning a friend of mine posted this article discussing New York's pubic transportation system. Only 21% of their subway system is accessible. This handy map gives a physical representation of that 21%, and notes that barely more than 100 stations out of 490 are accessible. (Not necessarily fully accessible, though.) And while many are quick to point out that the bus system is entirely accessible, the site also points out that it is hardly a sustainable method of controlling commuter patterns.

Cobblestone street hell.
Cobbledygook
Beyond that, why am I, on the 25th anniversary of the ADA, still having choose to sacrifice my health, or make alternate route plans? With a Master's degree in policy, I understand that change does not occur overnight. However, to be nearly 3 decades after the ADA and only 21% of the way in "the greatest city in the world" is not only a shame, it gives people like me little hope for an accessible New York in my lifetime. In a world where phone apps put out updates faster than the moon's orbit of the earth, I wonder how accepting of the status quo we would be if "the system is over 100 years old" was an excuse for the technology we use daily. Only, it is a choice to use technology. I, unfortunately, did not have a say in choosing my body's operating system.

As I clambered up the stairs to exit the subway, my husband pointed out a sign about ADA access improvements being made to the system. Ironic placement for such a sign, considering I was halfway up the stairs on a landing. In looking at the Capital Plan online, MTA states: "NYC Transit is on pace to make 100 stations fully accessible in accordance with ADA standards by 2020. With investments made through 2014, full ADA accessibility at 89 Key Stations will be complete or in progress." The Capital Plan seeks to make ADA compliant the final 11 stations, including a handful of others. This means that in five years, on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, the subway system will be about 22% compliant with ADA standards for those of its 10%+ disabled residents. 

And while you may argue that 10% may include people who are disabled, but not mobility impaired, the Capital Plan also mentions ADA compliance in terms of Braille signage and platform edge warning strips. Furthermore, as the NPR article I cited above mentions, this doesn't even take into account the scores of people who don't choose to identify themselves as disabled but have an impairment, those who are temporarily impaired, or senior citizens, nor does it take into account travelers with disabilities (in a city that sought $70 billion in tourist dollars), all of whom could benefit from an ADA compliant system. It was also brilliant of NPR to mention how the elevators in accessible stations were utilized by those carrying luggage and strollers, i.e., those most likely to take their abilities for granted. It painted a clear picture of the plague that is New York's able-bodied privilege: those with full ability taking advantage of the path laid for them by their disabled counterparts. Thank the Lord that elevator is there for your Bugaboo. At least, in 21% of your stations.

When people are in good health, it is so easy to take it for granted. Amazingly enough, for all I have been through medically, my current space is one I never even imagined I could be in. Just five years ago during my first trip to NYC, I could get up the subway stairs using the railing with just a bit more effort than the average person. It was a hit to my pride to see how much of my ability has slipped through my fingers. I grew up disabled, so I adapted to the challenges presented to me because my body didn't know any differently. To be in a state of regression is foreign and frightening. It is difficult to be kind to yourself when you feel your independence slipping away. To make myself walk up the stairs wasn't simply "foolish", it might very well have been the last time. I can at least walk away knowing that my body gave up, but I didn't. Until your own gives up, you can't fully comprehend that feeling of accomplishment.

As a person who loves and lives to travel, though this is immensely frustrating (and painful), I remain undeterred. Though my trip left me with a swollen shin and a possible need for X-rays, I refuse to stay away. It is a place near to my husband's heart, and I love to see his face light up in New York the way mine does on the west coast. But more than that, for me to return and to put my physical self in the space of an inaccessible world makes me an example. I hope that by making bar managers scramble to take me up the "easier" back set of stairs or the maĆ®tre d' get me a chair, I can make at least one person think about their "grandfathered in" space. It's a little easier to make people give a damn when you're in their face. Beyond the long shot of making people think, my words are a farther reaching and more permanent representation of what it is like to be a disabled traveler in New York.  It is difficult....but then again, so am I.

Pamela Barsky bag that reads "sure new york is difficult but then again so am i".

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

First Impressions // Chikuhodo x Beautylish The Sakura Collection

Confession time: the Chikuhodo brushes I purchased in a previous post are in a protective box, unused, like a grandma’s couch covered in plastic.

I know.

And would you shake your head at me even more vigorously if you knew that I just went ahead and bought myself an entire set of Chikuhodo brushes? 

I KNOW.

But hear me out! 

For one thing, my birthday is in sight, which is a self-bestowed carte blanche to treat myself. (Or, a convenient justification for things I was going to get anyway...) Second, San Francisco-based beauty retailer Beautylish recently teamed up with Japanese master brush makers Chikuhodo to release an exclusive collaboration brush set, the Sakura Collection. When two things I love are paired together, I am incapable of resisting.

The Brush Set

The response from customers was apparently overwhelming. Slated for an early July release to the public, the brushes were released in 3 pre-sale events due to demand with the first pre-sale shipping in late June. I managed to snag my set during the first pre-sale, and I'm so glad I did as all 3 pre-sales sold out immediately and there is currently a waitlist. The hype around these brushes was immense, and if the first impression is any indication, this set lives up to that hype.

I just received my brushes a few days ago, and while this is not yet a review of their performance, their exquisitely designed cherry blossom-print handles and soft goat and grey squirrel bristles are indicative of the high quality you would expect from a handmade Japanese brush. The price, however, was not as high as most were expecting for the set. Retailing at $215, the set is an excellent value for money for brushes of this caliber. During a conference call set up for those interested in the first round of pre-sales, Beautylish founder Nils divulged that the intended audience was not only brush fanatics, but also those who are wanting to dip their toe into the waters of high quality Japanese brushes, hence why they were sold as a set and not individually. Because of this, the collection makes a wonderful travel set and even comes with its own travel brush holder. As a set, it gives a well-rounded picture of Japanese brushes to a novice. 

Brush Set in Travel Case

Travel Case

Each set contains five brushes:

The Powder Brush
Powder Brush

Powder Brush Up Close

The Cheek Brush
Cheek Brush

Cheek Brush Up Close

The Crease Brush
Crease Brush

Crease Brush Up Close

The Shader Brush
Shader Brush

Shader Brush Up Close

The Detail Brush
Detail Brush Up Close

Detail Brush

Detail on the Brush Handles
Brush Handles with Chikuhodo/Beautylish Logo

Close Up of Brush Logo and Cherry Blossom Detail

Close Up of Brush Logo and Cherry Blossom Detail on Powder Brush

Close Up of Cherry Blossom Detail on Powder Brush

While not the most important feature of my order, I so appreciated the detail that went into the packaging. It is the mark of an authentic Japanese retail experience to have the product housed in exquisite and detailed packaging, and Beautylish delivered in true Japanese fashion. And in true Beautylish fashion, a handwritten note and brush care card are included. (Side note: I had the order shipped to my mother's while I'm here, which is why the card is written to Gail.) 

Order Packaging

Detail of San Francisco Stamp Inside of Shipping Box

Handwritten Card

Beautylish Zipper Bag

Product Box

Brushes Individually Wrapped

Individually Wrapped Powder Brush

Greeting Card Inside Order

Handwritten Card

Brush Care Card

This is Beautylish's first retail product, and it has set the bar high for future products from the retailer. It is hard to imagine a better collaboration partner than the masters at Chikuhodo. Even though they are tricky to get at this point, I assure you they will be worth the wait!

As luck would have it, I have the perfect opportunity in the near future to not only test the performance of these brushes, but their ease and convenience for travel as well. In other words, grandma’s about to take the plastic cover off the couch! Stay tuned for a proper review on 8/1/15. 

*Not an affiliate link