Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Visiting Beautylish Headquarters // Chikuhodo Brushes // The Superior Quality of Japanese Brushes

If France is the first place you think of when searching for the world's best wine, allow Japan to be your first thought when you're in the market for makeup brushes.

Japanese makeup brushes are the best of the best, and the brand Chikuhodo is among those ranks. Based in Kumano, Japan, the company was founded in 1971 by master brush maker, Tesshu Takemori, who got his start making calligraphy brushes at age 18 to follow in his parents' footsteps. Today, Chikuhodo employs 100 people including 3 generations of Takemori family members. This New York Times article profiles Mr. Takemori and is a detailed portrait of the high level of craftsmanship that goes into a single Chikuhodo brush. 

A few weeks ago I took Beautylish headquarters up on their offer to see their brush inventory in person. Knowing that I was about to view some of the finest Japanese brushes on the market, I went with a plan in mind. I was to merely browse their Chikuhodo stock and stick to rounding out my collection of Wayne Goss (swoon!) brushes.

Wayne Goss brushes are sourced from the same region in Japan as Chikuhodo. Mr. Goss, the God of YouTube, has made his line of luxury brushes approachable by marketing them via his YouTube channel where he rose to internet fame. I gifted myself the Goss brushes last Christmas, and I so cherish them that I practically handle them with white gloves. They are kept in their own separate holder, away from my cheap and mid-range brushes. We're not worthy, Wayne. They were my first and only foray into serious brushes and since then have been the only luxury brushes I've allowed myself to purchase. If these Goss brushes were any indication of what Japanese brushes are like across the board, my pocketbook and I dared not explore further.

Because Chikuhodos are prized by serious makeup artists, are made by Japanese artisans with an impeccable eye for detail, and come with the promise of a flawless application, they were already calling a siren sound my ears were struggling to ignore. Of course, I failed miserably to ignore it once I arrived at Beautylish. Once I laid my hands on the superior quality of their line, I was forever changed. Ever since that day, no seemingly decent brush I've stroked has lived up to my expectations. I have recoiled in horror after touching brushes in Sephora. Brushes I've long lusted for, like the NARS Yachiyo, fail to compare to what I experienced that day at Beautylish. I fear this is going to become an even more expensive habit.

The display of brushes
Dear Santa, Bring them all.
(Front and top two with black handles - Wayne Goss; third from left with black handles - Z-Series; pink handles - Passion series, white handles - GSN series.)
Beautylish founder Nils set up a lovely display for me to peruse the best of their offerings. Laid out for me were the Wayne Goss line, as well as Chikuhodo's Z, GSN, and Passion series. If there were a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (minus snobby salespeople) moment for makeup, this was it. There I was, a comparatively cheap brush tramp, sitting in front of the Rodeo Drive of brushes in a personal shopping dream come true. I made a mental note to ditch the ELF brush I had hurriedly used to powder my nose that morning, as there would be no coming back from this moment.

To my delight, Trisha (the artist who did my makeup at the Charlotte Tilbury launch) was there to help me shop. Since the launch, I have been a frequent visitor to Trisha's YouTube channel, A Glittery Life. Though getting to know her via her channel is a one-sided relationship, she did recognize me. It was nice to have a familiar face there to help me, especially when that familiar face can help you navigate some seriously intimidating brushes.

Close up of GSN Series

Trisha likened the three series of Chikuhodo brushes before me to cars: the Z series are the Bentleys, the GSN your Jaguars, and the Passion series a Mercedes Benz. While Chikuhodo is a pricey brand, this analogy is a great reference point to indicate their price and quality. All are luxurious brushes of impeccable quality and are handmade. It takes about a week to make a single brush, and each one passes through the hands of several brush makers, each an expert at their place on the assembly line. While all are made from soft, natural animal hairs that are always hand picked and never cut, the GSN and Z series use animal hairs of an even softer grade than the Passion series. The culmination of this is with the Z series which is made entirely (less one brush) of gray squirrel, the softest (and priciest) hair available. This also makes it great for sensitive skin.  The Chikuhodo line has something for everyone looking to make an investment in their brush collection.

As I perused the brush smorgasbord, 2 in particular from the GSN series caught my eye: the GSN-2 Powder brush and the GSN-6 Liquid Foundation brush. While I'm generally not a fan of liquid foundation brushes, the GSN-6 stood out to me. Trisha noted that it is particularly useful for serum foundations. Where most foundation brushes are nothing more than a flat, flimsy paddle shape, the GSN-6 has more bristles giving it a sturdier feel and leading me to believe it will blend product with great ease. The GSN-2 Powder brush has to be one of the most beautiful powder brushes I've seen. Incredibly dense with a perfectly round shape, it looks to be the perfect buffing brush. Made from weasel and goat hair respectively, they are easily the softest brushes I've ever gotten my hands on. Because, weeks later, I can still do nothing but stare at these on my vanity, a review of their performance is forthcoming. Given all that goes into making these products though, I think it's safe to say I made a great investment.

In addition to being kind enough to let me come by the offices, Nils took the time to give me some great advice for my trip to NYC and some previews of what's to come on Beautylish. While I am of course sworn to secrecy about what is forthcoming, what I can say about one of the things I saw is that I've never in my life seen a beauty product quite this exquisite. Furthermore, you'll want to stay tuned to this blog in the new year, as something special might be going on! (And I just might get the guts to actually use the brushes I bought on my face.)

I still have love for my less expensive brushes, and some perform despite their price point. But since visiting Beautylish headquarters, my acquisition of the low-end (and even mid-range) brush has slowed considerably. Beware! Once you've tried a fine wine, it's pretty hard to go back to the boxed version.

Brushes on table

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Traveling in Pain // Thank You For Being a Friend

Another day, another set of health challenges. Lately, my right leg (supposed to be my "good" leg) has been the source of severe pain and weakness. I am back to using 2 crutches. Of course, this couldn't come at a better time: we are currently on a 2-week trip to the east coast and midwest. One of our destinations was none other than one of the world's most inaccessible cities (in my opinion), NYC. As always, I was determined not to let the setback ruin my fun, even if it killed me.

I do not take kindly to limits, especially when they are set for me. Limits set off my inner control freak. My family can attest that I push myself to the limit, simply just to spite the situation. However, as I slowly learn to "take the help", I've learned a couple of things about myself and the people I call my friends.

First, I am discovering the lengths my friends will go to in order to both protect me, even when I will not protect myself, and to allow me to participate to the fullest extent. This is something I come to expect and take for granted from family members. (Logic: they have to help me.) When a friend does it for you, it is touching. Being in a less-than-optimal physical situation, one learns quickly that a true friend walks with you and not ahead of you, even when you will not admit your desire to walk beside them. My friend in New Jersey, P, intervened twice on my trip. First, she insisted on getting me a wheelchair at the mall so that we could BOTH enjoy ourselves (and she could benefit from my sage wisdom at Sephora). Second, she pointed out that even she herself does not run to all ends of Manhattan in one day, and that my Manhattan wish list needed to be whittled down not just for the sake of my health, but for the sake of sanity.

Second, I learned just how much I internalize. Today, I went out with my old college friend, D, who noted how much she's been learning about me through my blog and writing. Because D was one of the people I was closest to in college, I was a bit surprised about how much I kept her in the dark about my health...until I really thought about it. As a young adult, I only shared things about my health when it was absolutely necessary. In fact, when at D's house for Thanksgiving during my freshman year of college, I barricaded D from the room when her father (a doctor) was helping me take care of my foot. At that age, I was embarrassed about my health. I was afraid people would perceive me as "lazy" or a "hypochondriac" if I asked for help or discussed my issues. As pride starts to give way to age and experience, I am more open about not just what I'm going through physically, but emotionally as well. I had a good cry on D's shoulder today about my disappointment in how fast my physical state is deteriorating in my 30s and my resentment for the seemingly effortless way my peers are living life and starting their own families. While others sign up for subscriptions to mommy blogs and parenting magazines, I search for assistive walking devices and feel more like a subscriber to AARP.

And because they're my friends, they know to tread lightly when trying to help me. P later asked if her insistence at renting a wheelchair was an insult to me, knowing my fierce independence. D scolded me for my insistence on taking the "shortcut" to the restaurant, which included a near roll down a hill, and made sure I was taking proper breaks while shopping. In actuality, when I let go of my pride, my heart swells with gratitude when my friends will go to such lengths for me, even when my attitude is the biggest obstacle. I should be the one to teach people that shame is not a necessary emotion for my physical situation, but my friends are the ones teaching me this lesson.

I've been holding in a lot of emotion and disappointment this month as I battle with my right leg. Having to limit myself even further as I try to travel and enjoy myself was, if I'm being honest, horribly depressing. Being embraced, physical limits, emotions and all, by true friends lightened my emotional load more than they could possibly know. Many friends have walked beside me over the years, but this week I learned to accept it for the sign of friendship that it is, and not for the "but they have to" lie I told myself over the years. Letting go of the fears I have about how others will percieve me because I have been in the company of genuine and true friends has felt like an exhale of the breath I have been holding unnecessarily for decades. Thank you to these 2 wonderful women that stood at my side this week. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pratik's Birthday // Kayaking in Sausalito

This week was my husband's birthday. I generally celebrate his birthday by taking him on an outing that he's been asking me to go on, but that I've dragged my feet about. Since marriage is about compromise, I've found myself renting convertibles, camping, fishing, and engaging in other outdoor activities that I would not otherwise partake in willingly. This weekend was no exception.

For the past few months, every time we've been by the coastline Pratik has asked me to rent a kayak. After months of asking, today he got his wish. We took our friends Josh and Lauren, Pratik's visiting mom, and Molly to Sausalito to fulfill Pratik's kayaking dreams. Though Molly jumped out of the kayak at the last minute to stay on land with Pratik's mom, I have to admit that today was one of the more enjoyable "compromise" birthday gifts. I was pretty surprised at the amount of water we covered. We were having such an amazing time that we neglected to take photos of our fellow kayaking friends. The views of the San Francisco Bay, the surrounding boats, and the wildlife were quite amazing. I took my old point-and-shoot camera (for fear of capsizing with my big camera), but the pictures still speak for themselves. Happy Birthday, Pratik!

House boats in Sausalito
We saw several seals, including this nearby swimmer.
Boats anchored in the SF Bay
Pratik paddling, having more fun than his facial expressions allowed for this photo.
Perhaps if I rowed instead of taking selfies, he'd have a better time. 
Boats and fellow kayakers in the bay
Kayak paddle

My favorite boat, called the Hindeloopen, looked like something out of a fairy tale.

This is my second favorite boat. Yosemite Sam on the stern, parked next to a yacht. 
Yosemite Sam's neighboring yacht. 

my feet in the kayak

Thursday, September 11, 2014

25 // 16 // 13

Twenty-five years ago today, my father took his own life. Consequently, September 11 was already a glaring date on my calendar long before 2001. In the decades since, many things have happened on or around this date that have made it less the day of patriotism it is for my compatriots, and more of a day about the human experience. Though my emotions run the gamut today, September 11 marks a day in which, through trials, my relationships with certain people have deepened and have been a source of comfort for me on an otherwise bleak day.

I do not hear the same siren call of patriotism that others feel at this time of year. To me, the commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has often times felt like a contrived way to drum up votes and feelings of nationalism on the backs of those who really suffered that day. Rather, I remember the victims as people, not a platform or a cause. I remember that on that day, many spouses and children were forced into the type of family mine had become 12 years earlier: single-parent. I also remember that for the first time in my life, cracks were made into the surface of my self-imposed isolation.

In the days leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center, I had already begun my annual ritual of retreating into my own isolated world of self-pity. When the attacks occurred and the nation was bombarded with images of people leaping to their own deaths (my father's mode of exit), it was difficult not to feel like the world was purposefully imposing its cruelty on me once more. It was even more difficult to convince myself of this when, 2 days later, my friend's father died in a car accident. It was at this point that all of my energy was expended trying to separate the 3 issues and not feel like a victim where it was not my place to do so. Though the terrorist attacks at first felt like a violation of my pity-party, my friend's loss turned this on its head. It was the first time I had something concrete to offer with my experience in losing a parent. I had to model for her that though it wouldn't be the same, it would eventually be OK.

For as much as I tried to lead by example, this is a storm that often winds up being weathered together in a mutually beneficial fashion. Perhaps at times it was like the blind leading the blind, but as we navigated the loss of a parent together, I was no longer alone in the situation. The first cracks in my isolation were made, allowing the light from an event 3 years prior into my heart.

Sixteen years ago today, my best friend came out to me as a gay man. Though it only confirmed what I already knew about him deep down, my response was one of fear. He had already experienced peer cruelty based upon what others assumed about him. If he confirmed their assumptions, would the attacks escalate from verbal to physical? Considering that the world came to know the name Matthew Shepherd a month later, my fears were not coming from a place of ignorance.

Much like my friends and family do for me, I often (out of love) overstep when acting as an advocate for him. Though I do not assume he needs my advocacy, as a human being we are wont to connect our life experiences. Much like the way in which I linked my father's death to the 9/11 victims, I link my own life struggles to his coming out experience. When we were young, ignorance about my physical disability made me the brunt of taunts from my peers. As we grew older, the negative attention shifted from me to him. Years later as an adult, I found myself angry about the way I was treated, but downright bitter about the way my friend was treated. Neither of us made choices about who we are, and our roads are already difficult enough to traverse without "help" from outsiders. In addition to learning to be who we are, we were also saddled with the responsibility of sloughing off the hurt left by others. It was easier to shed the hurt from my own experience than it was to put out the torch of bitterness I was carrying for his experience, under the false assumption that I was helping him. It was only recently that he pointed out to me that if he wasn't going to carry that torch, I shouldn't either.

As if he hasn't taken enough time with me to teach me about his experience, he has given me the gift of having something to celebrate on an otherwise difficult day. September 11 marks the day our relationship took a turn. Though it was never anything more than platonic, the relationship between us deepened the day my friend bravely put his confidence in me and told me who he was. His foresight on the cusp of adulthood and bravery in a time, place, and climate that would cause most people to deny their identity brought light to an otherwise dark place in my heart...even if it took years for me to compartmentalize the sadness September 11 brings me and properly commemorate this milestone in my friend's life with the recognition it deserved. He shared with me more than just his identity. He shared the limelight of a day that should be his and his alone to celebrate by understanding that I benefited from his journey.

The word "indebted" seems an understatement when trying to convey how grateful I am for those along the way that have helped me navigate each difficult September 11. Today I hold in my heart those families who were altered 13 years ago. I mourn my father, and share my friend's mourning for her father. I am grateful to have a friend to navigate the experience with as we carry on our fathers' legacies. I also treasure the role my friend's coming out has played in my life. Leading by example, he has taught me how to let go of anger. Though I will probably never get a satisfactory explanation for my father's death or forget every name on my list of people that threw a slur in my friend's direction, he has held my hand as I have taken baby steps on the lifelong path to healing. Healing does not mean forgetting. It does not mean denying the rough situations that have shaped our existence. It means putting down the angry torches we've carried for far too long so that we may live life. September 11, to be sure, is a dark place for me, but "there is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in."

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Wait is Over // Beautylish Charlotte Tilbury Preview Party

For the beauty-obsessed in the United States, this week marked another British Invasion as Charlotte Tilbury, British makeup artist to the stars, officially launched her cosmetics brand stateside. Now celebrating its 1-year anniversary after launching in the UK last year, the brand was previously only available to US customers via the internet through UK-based retailers. In the year since the brand launched, the products have risen to cult-status for American beauty lovers eager to get their hands on the elusive products. On September 2nd, the wait was over. Those crimson-and-rose-gold compacts can now be purchased with our hard-earned greenbacks, no conversion required. The wait was worth it!
My dog with Charlotte Tilbury preview postcard.
She's thrilled.

Yesterday, San Francisco-based retailer Beautylish held their Charlotte Tilbury preview party. Like many other attendees, this was the first time I've ever seen a Charlotte Tilbury product in person. This was also the first time I have taken part in a launch party for a luxury cosmetics brand, an opportunity that doesn't present itself often. To put it into context, the last time the beauty world has seen the birth of a brand of this magnitude was the launch of Kevyn Aucoin's line in 2001. Though he passed in 2002, his brand lived on and his products are still coveted by makeup lovers the world over. To attend a launch party for a brand that is sure to remain iconic for years to come felt like taking part in beauty history.
Charlotte Tilbury products on table.
Beautylish director's chair.
Fittingly, Tilbury's inspiration for her product packaging came from the past: "I was inspired by the cigarette cases of the 1920s, the beautiful cut-glass perfume bottles of the 1950s and the timeless allure of Paloma Picasso's lipstick." (Source) What resulted was a line of products so beautifully packaged, it felt like being at an exhibit showcasing vintage beauty products. With crimson boxes with rose gold trim, lipsticks in metal tubes, and the line's pièce de résistance - a compact made to resemble an art deco cigarette case, Tilbury isn't just selling makeup. She's resurrecting the glamour and allure of an era. Perhaps that's why one of her collections (sadly, still only available through the UK site) is called "The Future Vintage", a "great investment in future vintage beauty pieces".
Charlotte Tilbury products
Close up of vintage inspired lipstick case
Close up of chandelier, Clift Hotel
Charlotte Tilbury products
For as much as I can wax poetic about packaging, beauty is, after all, on the inside. What's on the inside of these compacts definitely counts. While I wait for the products I ordered online to arrive, the party was an opportunity for me to try...what I've already bought. (Makeup lover logic.) And for reasons I can't explain (the intoxicating packaging? the cheeky color names?) I've found myself attracted to products in the range that I normally overlook: blushes and highlighters. I have a reasonably tame amount of blushes (a handful) and highlighters (ONE!) in my collection. "It's because I flush so easily," I whined to the makeup artist, Trish, about my face's pale-or-overflushed appearance. She immediately reached for the Cheek to Chic blush in "First Love". A peachy-brown shade with no pink undertones, it will lift and add light when my face is pale, and counteract redness when I flush. And though I've only experienced it once, it blended like a dream. I've already ordered 2 other cheek products from the lineup, but "First Love" is shooting straight to the top of the wish list. I have a feeling that my long-neglected cheekbones are going to be getting the full Tilbury on a regular basis!

Using my powers of logic once more, I headed to the bar immediately after having my face done. Beautylish knows my idea of a good time: makeup, champagne, and desserts. While I reasoned that the blush would probably do a great job of counteracting champagne flush, I would probably have to touch up the lipstick after smearing my lips on a champagne flute and nibbling macaroons. Because cookie eating is part of my daily routine, I've resorted to having to touch up my lipstick regularly. I don't mind, but I also don't put much stock in lip liners or long wear claims. To my amazement, the lip look held up through my dessert table pillaging. (In fact, the swatches I drew on my hand yesterday with the "Lip Cheat" lip liner -though slightly faded- are still there.) Any lip product that can stand up to me hoovering a cupcake deserves to come home with me.
Cupcake, macaroons
Macaroons, lemon tarts
Chocolate torte
Bar area, view of San Francisco
Conveniently, the party was held near Beautylish headquarters at the Clift Hotel which meant that orders could be placed on site and delivered into our hot little hands. While the blush I wanted was already sold out, the lip liner had just been restocked and was available for me to take home. In fact, it was hand-delivered to me by Nils, a Beautylish co-founder, in a beautiful shopping bag with a handwritten note thanking me for my order. This kind of service isn't just reserved for parties, mind you. My orders have always been accompanied by a handwritten note and are always beautifully wrapped. This level of service was especially nice when I ordered myself the Wayne Goss brush set last Christmas and shipped it to my mom's house (which is why my thank you note says "Gail") so that I could open it on Christmas morning. It arrived so beautifully wrapped that I felt like I was truly gifting myself. When the UPS man drops off a box at my house, it feels like Christmas. When it's a box from Beautylish, it feels like Christmas morning. Beautylish has mastered bringing the boutique experience to your doorstep.
Beautylish packaging, handwritten note
Lip Cheat lip liner in Pillow Talk

Beautylish has been dubbed a "social commerce" site that acts as both a social media platform and an e-tailer. At the preview party, they created an atmosphere in which we could experience the products and communicate with other like-minded individuals about our thoughts on the line. By the end of the evening, most of the attendees were on a first-name basis with each other. Many of us remarked that we couldn't believe we'd stayed the whole allotted time, but we had bonded over the products and our mutual interest in cosmetics. Some had recognized each other from previous product launches. This is the genius of Beautylish; socializing, even with friends we just met an hour ago, has a strong influence on our purchases. We convinced one woman that she should definitely get the red lipstick she couldn't take her eyes off of, despite the fact that her husband doesn't like red lipstick. The positive experience I had in testing the lip products as well as the positive response I got from other women about my look convinced me that the lip liner might actually be worth its salt. But perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was co-founder Nils, a self-professed brush junkie, held court around the Charlotte Tilbury brush line as we pawed at the soft bristles. Brush-loving is a whole separate level of makeup fanaticism, and in that circle I found my people.
Preview party and guests
In her 20+ year career, Charlotte Tilbury has become an industry favorite, working with the likes of Penelope Cruz, Gisele Bündchen, Rihanna, and Kate Moss. But yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting and mingling with real-life product lovers who had been waiting with bated breath for as long as I have to try her beautiful products. In addition to having the opportunity to see firsthand the birth of a brand, we also had the rare chance to experience social commerce in the flesh. The essence of what Beautylish is as a brand was brought offline and made tangible at the Charlotte Tilbury preview party, and I was honored to be a part of it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Flower Beauty Fridays #5 // Flower Nail'd It Nail Lacquer

In the fifth and final installment in the Flower Beauty Fridays series, I'm tackling part of my beauty routine that I often neglect: my nails. I would be remiss if I did a Flower Beauty series and did not mention the Nail'd It Nail Lacquers. Priced at $4.98 for each eye-catching colorful bottle, who can resist these little gems?
Budding Romance, I Lavendare You!, April Showers
Budding Romance, I Lavendare You!, April Showers
My nails are very brittle, thin, and break off easily. They grow to a respectable length, but I am forever snagging and breaking them. Polish does help, but I have a difficult time getting it to stay on unless I have a professional manicure done. (Even then, I never get the length of time others seem to get out of their manicures.) More often than not, I walk around with bare nails that are so weak, they are practically transparent. With that full disclosure, I can't speak to the lastingness of the Flower nail polishes.

Though I am a novice with my poor nails, I still collect polish even though I have no business doing so. Something about them is still irresistible to me: the colors, the packaging, the way they could compliment an outfit if I would just get around to painting my nails, and the promise I make to myself that I will paint my nails more if I just had this one last color. I swear, it's the last bottle I'll buy until I make my nails a routine!

Routine yet? Not so much. Still, 3 Flower Nail Lacquers managed to find their way home with me. Though I am not qualified to give an opinion on durability, chipping, or longevity, what I can attest to is that these polishes are of great quality in other areas that I look for in a nail polish. They are easy to apply, and the vibrant color you see in the packaging translates to the nail in 2 coats without a streaky application.

There are 16 tempting shades total in the Flower lineup. I have 3 very different colors, I Lavendare You! (pastel purple), Budding Romance (a shimmery ruby red), and April Showers (a dark teal cream). The purple shade needed an extra coat for a boost, but they all read very true to the color shown in the bottle. They are "3-free" which means they are free of DBP (dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer), toluene, and camphor.
I Lavendare You! (pastel purple)
I Lavendare You! (pastel purple)
Budding Romance (a shimmery ruby red)
Budding Romance (a shimmery ruby red)
April Showers (a dark teal cream)
April Showers (a dark teal cream)
The Flower Beauty line has really changed my perspective on drugstore cosmetics. Quality makeup can be found at a drugstore price because of companies like Flower Beauty who care about churning out products that can stand up to department store brands. I might not be cured from perusing the counters at Nordstrom, but learning about the quality and the detail that has gone into Flower's products rather than into its marketing budget has given me a new perspective on the cosmetics industry. We aren't just paying higher price tags for the ingredients in high end cosmetics, we're paying for the brand name as well. And in some instances when all is said and done, sometimes a lipstick is just a lipstick.

Flower Nail'd It Nail Lacquer - $4.98

Links provided are not affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

12 // Happy Birthday, Molly!

Molly with cupcake
Yesterday, our sweet girl turned 12. We can't believe that we have already spent 7 wonderful years with her.

At 12, Molly's motto is eat, sleep, and be merry...and take a nap. She is a California girl through and through who lives to sunbathe on the deck. She lies in the sun until she pants and drools, comes inside for a short break, and repeats the cycle. She plays with toys less frequently, but dad can get her riled up running around the house with a squeaky toy (usually Ducky).With me, she is content to cuddle. She still knows that she can badger dad into table scraps and cookies, though.

Molly was very timid when she first came to live with us, but her shyness has gone by the wayside. Each year that passes she becomes a more vocal curmudgeon. If she is not getting the attention (or amount of food) she thinks that she deserves that very second, she will "fake bark" at us. It's not a full bark, but a muted one that is very direct and annoying. This manipulation technique works with dad, who is usually on his laptop when she does this. He quiets her with a trip to the cookie jar. I am usually manipulated into cuddles.

Whatever she wriggles out of us is more than well deserved. She is a wonderful dog that rarely causes trouble. She only barks when she hears a big noise (or a smoke alarm, which she gets a treat for), never takes anything that doesn't belong to her, and doesn't mess in the house unless it's an emergency. She is a content dog that doesn't ask for much...just her weight in cookies and a soft spot to nap. On top of being an angel, she takes amazing care of both of us. She barks at dad when she thinks he needs to shut the laptop and go to sleep, and she saw me through another round of PICC line treatments this past spring. When my nurse would come to change the dressings, or when I would do my daily treatments, she would hop up on the living room chair and watch carefully (or sometimes fall asleep and snore.) Having "Nurse Molly" around to keep the routine was the best medicine I could have received. 
Molly with her cupcake.
Still a frequent traveler, Molly's most recent trip to Michigan was this past July. Ever the jet setter, she was elated to be bumped to first class on one of our flights. She enjoyed grandma's yard and time with Gracie. She has taught Gracie that each time a dog comes in from outside "business", they get a treat. Gracie now waits expectantly at the cookie jar each time she enters the house. Molly will enjoy her usual holiday season travel again this fall and winter for Diwali and Christmas. 
Because she tires of toys so quickly, we were at a loss for what to get her for her birthday. She received much quality cuddle time, a trip to the park, and the usual Sprinkles doggy cupcake. Her age makes me nervous, so we wished for her to someday become the world's oldest dog as this title is usually held by a dachshund. A lifetime with her would be too short. We are so in love with her and to us, she is the perfect dog.
Molly eating her cupcake.
We love you, Molly.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flower Beauty Fridays #4 // Kiss Stick Velvet Lip Color

Lipsticks are like pieces of chocolate: nobody stops at just one.

A few years ago, my coworker (signature shade: NARS Cruella) convinced me that red lipstick would change my life. Up until that point I had only dared to wear anything that resembled my own natural lip color. I thought it couldn't hurt to heed her advice and get just one red lipstick to round out my collection. One tube of Make Up Forever Moulin Rouge later and my life was indeed if I needed another collection, I became a woman possessed with lipsticks. Mattes and satins and stains, oh my. If I could wear red, there weren't many colors I wouldn't dare to wear anymore. The reds collection alone, unable to be housed with my burgeoning array of lipsticks, has to be housed separately on top of my vanity. And each one is special. Among those overflowing drawers are the Flower Beauty Kiss Stick Velvet Lip Colors.
Flower Beauty Kiss Stick Velvet Lip Colors in Packaging
Housed in white and rose gold, these lipsticks tick the first box on a lipstick lover's list: packaging. True to the brand's promise of delivering a luxury feel at a Wal-Mart price point, the packaging of Flower Beauty's lipsticks feel both substantial and luxurious, much like the product it houses. The wear time of the product is on par with any department store brand, as is the color it delivers. Each shade is heavily pigmented and is as true-to-color on your lips as it is in the tube.
Petal Kiss, Get to the Poinsettia, Tender Tuberose
I have 3 shades: Get to the Poinsettia (an orangey red), Petal Kiss (a dusty mauve), and Tender Tuberose (a dark mauve). With a collection as vast as mine (said with a hint of shame) one is bound to find a lipstick "dupe": that awkward moment when you discover that you have purchased the same shade of lipstick but from different brands. Indeed finish, price, and quality can vary with dupes, but I daresay that Flower's Get to the Poinsettia gives MAC Lady Danger a run for her $16 price point. In the picture below, I am wearing Flower on one side of my lips, and MAC on the other. After a few hours of wear my $7 lipstick holds up just as strong as my $16 lipstick, to say nothing of the similarity in shade.
Get to the Poinsettia on lips
Get to the Poinsettia/Lady Danger
Tender Tuberose on Lips
Tender Tuberose
Petal Kiss on lips
Petal Kiss
At this point having tried everything from Dior to E.L.F., it's fair to say I know a good lipstick when I wear one. With as many choices as we have available to us in this day in age, it's not just about the color anymore. It's about the finish, the longevity, the packaging, the price, and above all it's about how we feel when we wear it. We turn to lipstick when we want to look as polished as possible. There is a glamorous feeling that lipstick brings, from the way its shiny packaging looks in our hands to the way it brightens up our face from the inside out. Lipstick is queen of the makeup bag. And while it can be a treat to have a Chanel or a Tom Ford, nobody can stop at just one tube. Brands like Flower narrow the gap between drugstore and luxury lipsticks, ensuring that the magic of lipstick is an affordable experience that we can collect in every shade.

Flower Beauty Kiss Stick Velvet Lip Colors - $6.98

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This morning, I took my Lexapro because of Robin Williams.

This morning, I took my Lexapro because of Robin Williams.

I had two small mental reminders to myself yesterday to get my week back on track: remember the dog's flea+heartworm pills, and get back on track with my own medication. Only one of those things happened...and it involves flea prevention. Like a lot of people, I "forgot" my own medication, thereby forgetting to prioritize myself. One of those "I'll get to it right after this" tasks that never come to fruition.

I had a hectic July. Unfortunately, like a dog or a child, whenever I get out of my routine I tend to let things slip, namely my health. Before I departed for my trip, I was proud that I refilled my prescription in a timely fashion. I was really going to stay on top of it this time. But like countless other times before, the refilled prescription never made it out of my suitcase. Several other events in July made the 5 seconds it would've taken to swallow a pill seem like it would've taken hours. I hate to start and stop medication (as I am wont to do when I am trying and failing to be a model patient), so instead I dream up the "perfect time" to start my medication again. For some reason, "now" never seems like a good idea.

On top of everything else wrong with my health, I have major depressive disorder. Both genetics and environmental factors are textbook guesses as to the cause of MDD, and I fall into this category. Given my father's own death by suicide and my struggles with my physical disability, I don't believe I had much of a fighting chance in avoiding such a diagnosis. What I do believe, however, is in my fighting chance not to meet such an undue fate. My fate is not sealed by depression or genetics, and I consider myself one of many in my family who will honor my father's legacy by living the life he was medically incapable of living.

I am not ashamed to admit my diagnosis. In fact, it came at a time when I was just starting to learn how to become an open book about my disability, which was a major step in me accepting myself. It sounds odd, but I spent a majority of my life not accepting the disability as part of my life. By owning it, I learned not to let it control me. Ironically, it's easier to wear the "badge of honor" from depression than it is from Spina Bifida. Society tells me Spina Bifida is not my fault. Only part of society tells me that depression is not my fault. And nothing makes my voice louder than the ignorant members of society who invalidate my father's memory or my own struggle by calling it a "choice".

Despite being unashamed, my health (physical and mental) is a battle that I liken to wrestling an alligator. Sometimes you're the alligator, and other days you're the human pinned to the floor. With the mental factor, and you have yourself a chicken-and-egg debacle: Am I depressed because of my father, or because of my disability? Am I sad about my mobility issues, or does my depression lead me to be sad about my mobility issues? Is it more like a Venn diagram? And in this over-complication of things is me "forgetting" to take my pills, waiting for the "perfect time" to restart.

The "perfect time" came yesterday as I drove home from the grocery store, hearing over the radio airwaves that a beloved actor had taken his own life. I pulled over and immediately dialed my mother, unable to relay more than just that he was dead, and suicide was suspected. At the point where the "suicide" bomb was dropped, I was unable to listen to further details. My family is all too familiar with the pain of losing a beloved man who appeared to be happy on the surface. My own father was a kind and well-liked man whose death by his own hand might never make sense in our lifetime.

In the absence of my own father, Robin Williams was one of those Hollywood dad characters from my childhood that always managed to strike a chord with me. One of the films I quote most, Mrs. Doubtfire, debuted a few years after my father's death at a time when I was just starting to think it might be OK to laugh again. I associate the film with a time in my life where any small fraction of happiness was clung to with desperation. I still quote the film regularly with friends I watched the movie with in junior high. In fact, four days before his death I was on Facebook making Mrs. Doubtfire jokes...yet again. 

I normally don't jump on the public grief bandwagon. I read the news, perhaps express my sympathies publicly once or twice, but I try to keep a respectable distance between myself and the story. At the root of it, in that gap between the public and "the story" is a person and their grieving family. To express more than just sympathy in divulging actual grief seems disingenuous to a person that I did not know personally. However, watching the world grieve for such a beloved man struck very close to home.

When bad things happen, it can be difficult to turn to Facebook. None of us are immune to being hell-bent on ramming our opinions down the gullet of social media. However, the outpouring I saw yesterday, at least on my feed (thank you all), was a positive one. Suicide prevention hotline numbers, mental health awareness memes and articles. For once, it felt like the collective was taking a positive approach to our responsibilities as contributors to "the machine". While I don't have high hopes that this will continue, my real hope is that the loss of such a treasured person will educate the ignorant on the issue. If the funniest man on earth is not immune to the pain and despair that depression brings, no one is.

In an article by Forbes so well-timed it couldn't have been scripted, it was reported that researchers at Johns Hopkins may have identified a genetic biomarker that could indicate suicidal behavior. This gives me hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. This could give survivors of suicide a MEDICAL answer to their long-unanswered question: why? This could be the tangible response we are looking for to silence the ignorant who claim that suicide is a "choice". 

This morning, I drink to that with a gulp of water and my forgotten pill. Taking care of oneself is a learned skill. I do not come by it naturally. Nature, in fact, works against me on my quest for better physical and mental health. But before me are those who led by example, fallen heroes in their own wars, who remind me that tomorrow is, indeed, another day and that I can actually try again.

There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country - and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months... even years at a time. But if there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you're going to be all right... bye-bye. - Eugenia Doubtfire 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mascara // More Than You Wanted to Know

Women often deflect compliments with self-effacing rebuttals. I'm certainly not immune to this habit, but I do have features that I am proud of. My eyes are my most complimented feature, and when they are called "beautiful" or "pretty", I say a hearty thank you. I don't believe this makes me too proud or boastful. I believe that it's in a person's best interest to learn to take a compliment and to find something about themselves that they love.

Part of the reason why I love my eyes so much is because they make me the spitting image of my late father. It's nice to be reminded of him when I look in the mirror and to know that I might remind his friends and family of him. Seeing our features through the lenses of our loved ones gives us perspective.

It was requested that I do a post about my mascara. Eye makeup is my weakness. If I have time only to do the "five minute face", I just do my eyes and let any zits or facial imperfections go. When I do my eyes, I feel like I look more awake and polished. And even if I have zero time, it is rare for me to leave the house without mascara (or some form of it. See: Lash Tint).

I'll let you in on my biggest tip from the get-go: I have amazing eyelashes. Not sorry, I'm going to own that pride. That being said, they are straight and have blonde tips. Thus, I take action to give what I've got going for me a boost. 

Eyelash Curler
Lash curlers look scary, but when you get used to them, it's like riding a bike. I achieve a more wide-eyed look with a lash curler, an indispensable tool in my makeup bag. Since the departure of the Shu Uemura brand from US-based stores, my favorite has become the Sephora eyelash curler. What I like most about this is the rubber grips on the handle. I noticed just how accustomed to the grips I became when I hurriedly used an old eyelash curler without grips...and my fingers slipped. Ouch. The main point is to get an eyelash curler that fits your eyeshape. They all look like they're created equal, but they can have subtle differences in their shape. This linked article hits the nail on the head: you want a lash curler that is flatter and can encompass your entire lash line, rather than one that is too curved. I believe in spending just a bit more to get a quality one. You'll have it for a while, and it's important to get the shape right.

Last Tint
I've been getting my lashes tinted for over 2 years. You can see my previous post on last tints and their great results HERE. This semi-permanent dye darkens the ends of my lashes and renders mascara optional. When I've no time to do my face, I'm grateful to have had my lashes tinted so as to appear more fresh and awake. If I have a fraction of a second, I'll curl my lashes and throw on some clear mascara. While most days I still wear mascara, I like having the option of not doing so. I also like the fact that my lashes will stand out 24/7. I'm not so vanity obsessed that I sleep in my makeup (gross) but it's a nice bonus when I'm brushing my teeth at night to look in the mirror and see defined eyes. That small bonus aside, it's a real time saver for those mornings where I just don't have the time. Also, I find the need to use less product with my lashes already so dark. It's nice not to need heavy layers of products. Because my bill is lumped together with eyebrow wax and tint, I do not remember the exact price of this particular service. I had it done at a high end salon once (which charges $30) before my regular esthetician began offering the service. She charges about the same and the results last about a month and a half.

I know this is about mascara, but no one's going to be looking at your lashes if you've got Kahlo-brows (God love her). As I write this my esthetician is out of town, which is perfect timing to be taking photos of my eyes and waxing poetic to you all about the importance of decent brows as a frame for the eye. I did my own brows while I lived abroad in college...and it was not good. Therefore, I have revoked my tweezer privileges. I pay somebody to wax and tint these babies, and compliments abound. No need to futz with tweezers or eyebrow pencils. However you do it -tweezers, waxing, threading- just do it.

Darkening the lash line enhances your lashes. Eyeliner can be a scary prospect. I know it was the thing I feared most when I started with makeup. The good thing is in this day in age, smudgy and smoky is the liner look of our time. Find yourself a dark brown pencil (my recommended color for everyday) with a smudged attached to the other end, work it in as closely to the lash line as possible, and smudge it. No precision required, and your set of lashes will look fuller because of it. If you want to get brave and more subtle, consider learning the art of tightlining. Be warned: it takes practice. 

How to Find the Right Mascara
Now, on to what you're here for.

I think finding the right mascara for the look you're going for is a delicate job. First of all, unlike a bright lipstick or bold eye color, no one's really going to notice if your lashes look particularly volumized vs. lengthened. Lashes have a hard job. They don't stand out like a bold choice in lip color or winged liner. (Tammy Faye Bakker notwithstanding.) However, skip the mascara and there will be a noticeable "can't put my finger on what's missing" difference. Furthermore, no one's going to notice that you plopped down $25 on Diorshow vs. $10 on Loreal Voluminious. While I'm a pushover at a high end counter, and some of the favorites I call out below are high end, I'll be the first to admit you don't need to spend big bucks to get great lashes. If you have a high end favorite, by all means, but I've gotten as many compliments on my lashes wearing Maybelline mascara as I have wearing Bobbi Brown mascara.

Knowing your lashes is key. We've all got a skintype, but no one ever thinks about their "lash type". It's usually presented as what kind of mascara type you're going for: natural, volumizing or lengthening, or some combination of any of these. My hair is fine and this translates to my lashes: I don't have a lot of volume/thickness, but I have a lot of long lashes. And like my hair, my lashes need help in holding a curl. (Fortunately they can hold one longer than my hair.) As a result, I find that volumizing mascaras are usually too much for me. The way the wrong conditioner can weigh down my hair, a mascara that is too volumizing can weigh down my lashes. Though I've tried a few volumizing formulas I've liked and will wear heavier formulas for certain looks, on most days I'm looking for something in the lengthening category to enhance what I've got, or a hybrid length+volume formula. I think that's key to getting a great mascara: know what looks best on you. It's harder to copy your friend's awesome eyelashes than it is her trendy lip color. By choosing the right formula for your lashes, you'll frame your eyes in your own unique way.

That being said, here are my thoughts on a few mascaras I have in rotation.

Mascaras I Like
In this previous post I waxed poetic about my all-time favorite mascara. Clinique Naturally Glossy has been my stand-by since 1996. (We have an anniversary because we're in a serious, committed relationship.) This is a natural mascara. It won't give you any volume. Its function is merely to darken, slightly lengthen, and separate. I won't carry on, you can read my love letter to this product in my previous post. The point is that this mascara will enhance what you've already got going on. I always have one in my possession. At $16, it's a bit more than drugstore mascaras but considerably less than a high end brand.

Maybelline Full 'N Soft: A washable mascara that removes easily to prevent lash loss, it builds length and (some) volume making it true to its name. This is quickly becoming my drugstore favorite. It's perfect for everyday use and is pretty close to being (dare I say it) the drugstore equivalent to my beloved Clinique mascara.
Full 'N Soft Mascara on Lashes

Full 'N Soft Mascara in Tube
Maybelline Volum' Express The Rocket: This was the mascara I was wearing in the post that set off the requests for this post. I was discussing Mad Men in this post, so I was going for the full blown 60s lashes, heavy coating be damned. I bought this after hearing a lot of good things about it, but I was skeptical. The proof was in the application: it volumizes well and isn't clumpy thanks in part to its plastic brush.
Maybelline Volum' Express The Rocket on LashesMaybelline Volum' Express The Rocket with full face of makeup
Maybelline Volum' Express The Rocket in tube
CoverGirl Clump Crusher Mascara: Speaking of plastic brushes, the mascaras in the LashBlast line by CoverGirl are the first ones that come to mind. The Clump Crusher is the only one in the line that I've tried, but CG's plastic-brush mascaras are wildly popular. This is another volumizing mascara I enjoy because it lives up to its promises of being clump-free.
Clump Crusher on Lashes
Clump Crusher in Tube
Flower Beauty Zoom-In Ultimate Mascara: While it's pretty safe to say that plastic brushes have made volumizing mascaras more user-friendly for me, this one from Flower has a traditional-bristle brush yet still manages to coat my lashes without clumping. Read more about it in this post.

Flower Beauty Zoom-in Ultimate Mascara on Lashes

Flower Beauty Zoom-in Ultimate Mascara in Tube

Lancôme Hypnôse Doll Lashes: In glancing at the high end selection of mascaras in Sephora's lineup, I've tried many but few have knocked my socks off. Lancôme mascaras are popular, but this is the only one I've tried that I like. I can attest that the description is true: it lifts, extends, and thickens lashes without weighing them down.
Doll Lashes on Lashes

Doll Lashes in Tube

Bobbi Brown Extreme Party Mascara: I don't have any of this on hand currently, but this is one of the blackest mascaras I've tried and is a great option to use as directed: while partying.

Josie Maran Argan Black Oil Mascara: This is my most recent favorite after trying it in deluxe sample form from Sephora. It's another great example of my preferred level of volume: not too much. Blackened with iron mineral pigments, it has the bonus of added argan oil to condition lashes. It doesn't just perform as well as other products in its price bracket, it surpasses them, which is major considering it boasts a 91% natural formula.
Black Oil on Lashes

Black Oil in Tube

Expiration dates of cosmetics is a much-debated topic. The experts say to rotate your mascara every 3 months. They also say mascara is a product that is designed to break itself down so as to encourage you to keep your product fresh. Because it is a product that is in close proximity to your eyes, and its packaging can be a dark breeding ground for bacteria, it's a good idea to remember when you opened your tube. I usually have a few in rotation at at time, and since I don't use each one everyday, I sometimes use my product a little longer. You'll know when your mascara is up - it's formula goes flaky and begins to dry up in the tube. I just don't wait longer than 3-6 months. I also never try to extend the life of a dried up mascara that's on its last leg. I'm not willing to risk an eye infection for a few bucks.

Other Things to Consider
Wear contacts? Got watery eyes? Remember to take these things into account. Labels sometimes contain "ophthalmologist tested" or "safe for contact lens wearers" taglines to help your shopping. Personally, I've never had issues with mascara and my contacts, nor do I care if the formula is waterproof. The athletic and watery eyed among you may want to check into waterproof options, but I've never had an opinion one way or another on waterproof formulas.

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