Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Life Changing" Products

I wanted to give you a break from skincare products and list some of the best things I've ever spent my money on, in any category. These are things I constantly talk up to everyone and would be the company spokesperson if they wanted to pay me / had any idea I exist.

1. Uniqlo leggings-pants. These are basically jeggings, but they are just thick enough and non-shiny, and they have real back pockets and fake front pockets and fly. In my opinion, they pass as pants. I wear these to work, on vacation, and I have basically forgotten to wear real jeans ever. I got my coworker hooked on them too. They are the ultimate bottom for a long plane ride in the history of travel outfits, ever. I have them in the dark green, shown above, a dark blue, and lavender (I wear these the least, they might have been a mistake but at least I got to try out the colored skinnies trend for cheap?). Next I want them in a dark wine color and my wardrobe will be complete. In the winter, I wear them over fleece leggings, and their tightness balances out big sweaters and coats. They are amazing. Being comfortable is the best.

2. Uniqlo Heattech anything, but particularly long-sleeve scoopneck shirts. I am not exaggerating when I say these are the reason I can still spend winters in Chicago and haven't moved yet. They are very thin and tight and look sexy, but they magically keep you warmer in a way a cotton long-sleeve shirt doesn't even come close. The scoopneck is low enough that your vneck sweaters don't look dorky. I basically wear one of these every day all winter long. I also have socks and a tank top, and I am always on the lookout for more. They don't feel *warm* like fresh-out-the-dryer clothes, but when those get invented trust me I will be first in line to drop all the $$$. However they wick sweat and keep you insulated.

3. Expensive shoes. This encompasses everything from buying a second pair of waterproof winter boots (similar) when the first ones weren't really cutting it, to fancy Tevas, to Croc flats. Having comfortable, walkable footwear that keeps your feet dry and at an optimal temperature cannot be overhyped. I used to think that Target and Payless shoes would work fine and I suffered through years of unhappy feet. Now I have a job, so never. again.

4. The Seven Year Pen. I actually have two of these because I lost the first, and then my friend found it and mailed it to me. This has now happened twice as this pen was the pen to sign the guestbook at two different weddings including my own. It lasts forever (7 years is the claim, if you write one meter every day), it looks cute, and writes really smoothly and nicely. It's a small thing, but it's a joy to have a nice pen if you've had pen ink leaking situations or run out of ink one time too many.

5. Dear Kates underwear. This is about to get personal about periods, so men, feel free to look away now. I can't remember where I heard about these but I am now practically evangelical about them. They have a really amazing absorbent-yet-dry fabric layer that replaces the need for pantyliners and catches any leaks when you're on your period (or any other time). Never wash your sheets or pants again, especially never in the middle of the night while camping, not that that has happened to me. They are machine washable and do not stain, magically. They are also quite cute, they have lacy and sporty and plain versions. They also have yoga pants which are mostly good just because of the revolutionary fabric (it is revolutionary!), and they have made a new version hopefully working out some of the not-ideal fit issues (too-low rise in back). The company has great customer service. As it's a fairly new product they had some kinks to work out, namely, not the best construction on seams, and when I complained, they sent me another, for free. They did it a second time when I realized I'd ordered the wrong size. They really promote heavily on Instagram and blogs so if you watch out you can almost always get a discount of some kind. I WISH they would pay me to say this, but they aren't. Also, made in USA, company owned and started by a woman chemical engineer, and body-positive advertising and marketing.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How to wake up early and go to the gym

Somehow, although I don't even recognize myself, I have become the kind of person who goes to an hour-long barre class before work almost every day. Before that, I wasn't a total sloth, but I didn't really ever work out for the sake of working out, except for a 6 month-1 year stint of Core Power Yoga a couple years back which hurt my knees. When I started this class in the spring, they have you fill out a little intro with how often you exercise and at that point all I was doing was the odd weekend hike, bike ride, or xc ski, and in the warmer months biking around the city a couple times a week. I have been going pretty religiously for about 9 months now. For awhile now I've been going only to the 7 am classes on weekdays. Not going to lie, it's rough getting up, especially after daylight savings as it gets darker and colder every morning. Here's how I am doing it:

1. Find a workout that is tough enough that you can brag about it a little, but not so tough that you won't go. This is the secret, I think. If it's spin classes or P90x or something called Sweat, I'm scared and disgusted and won't go, but I also want to feel like I pushed myself and got more fit. Bonus points for being able to see myself look more fit, and have other people see it too. If I don't have some trouble walking down the stairs afterwards, it's like, what was the point. Also, find a place with some kind of rewards program since getting fit is nice and everything but saving money is much more motivating. My friend said she used to go to a lunch-hour class where the instructor was particularly attractive as an added motivation.

2. Prepare everything the night before. I have the world's longest before-bed routine. I pick out my clothes and earrings and put them in my gigantic purse, along with any products I'll need the next morning to get ready. I grind my coffee beans and set my timer coffee maker with milk already in the cup and put it by my bed so I can grab it right after waking up. I prep whatever breakfast and lunch (leftovers) I'm lucky enough to be taking with me the next day. I have workout clothes already hanging up to put on. I hang them over a floor heat vent, so if I'm lucky they are warm when I put them on. I do my skincare routine at night and I don't even splash water on my face in the morning. This way, in the morning, I lie in bed, drinking coffee, looking at my phone, and cuddling my cat and husband for 30 minutes, then I throw on my workout clothes, brush teeth, put in contacts, and leave in 10 minutes.

3. Soften the blow of getting up in the cold and dark. I recently put a star-shaped lantern in the living room and put it on a light timer so as soon as I open the bedroom door to let the cat in, I can see it's nice soft glow. Hanging star lanterns were popular in Iceland in January when we visited, and I think they are big in Scandinavian winter/Christmas decor because they really help with the long dark winters. I also surround the bed with soft plush things like a faux sheepskin rug and my slippers so exiting the warm bed is slightly less painful. The next step is to get a gradual light alarm clock!

4. Minimal morning routine. After my class, I always shower. Quite frankly I am confused and disgusted by the girls who don't, which is 90% of them. Who are you, non-sweating people? Anyway I really only have 15 minutes from end of class to when I should head out to the train. So I don't wash my hair, I just leave it up, sometimes I wash my hairline/scalp around the bun which, you know, don't knock it until you try it. I've been using DIY deodorant; it's been an adventure. I used to use this spray moisturizer, or the regular lotion version which is provided by the locker room, but usually this step takes too long. If I'm in a hurry I do makeup on the train, but usually I do it there. I mix some SPF lotion with BB cream, or just do the SPF lotion if my skin is even. Sometimes I use some concealer, and/or mascara. Boom, done, out. The endorphin boost from the workout helps me to feel like I look great even if my hair is a mess or I didn't put on as much makeup as carefully as I would for a special event or night out.

5. Second cup of coffee. Eat breakfast once at work. Congratulate self.

*terrible phone picture is from my office window around 4:45 pm, to illustrate early sunsets and late sunrises.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Another new apartment for me, this time it's old

The apartment we live in now was built in 1887. The page on Trulia says 1889 but I'm pretty sure I found a record from 1887. When it was built, the neighborhood we are in now wasn't part of Chicago, but it's own town, Lakeview. Lakeview was annexed to Chicago in 1889 so maybe that's where the incorrect record came from? Chicago, always thinking nothing exists until they acknowledge it. So bossy.

Anyway I did a good bit of research into the history of the house, back in March when I realized I'd be moving in here, and recently as we've attempted some home improvements.  So this picture is from March, sorry about the view of the nasty snow. I am not happy about winter coming. You can kinda see our Scottish flag on the front porch -- it's blue and white.

Our apartment is actually a condo, it's us on the first floor, the upstairs people have the 2nd and 3rd floors, and another couple lives in the coach house. According to census records of 1900, there were about 17 people living on this lot which was laid out the same exact way it is now, including a lot of children, so I think it was even then divided into 3 family homes. I found a really interesting old fire insurance map from 1894 and the whole block was basically laid out in the same way it is now, lots of small narrow houses with coach houses in the back. Fun fact, in 1909, Chicago decided to just renumber a lot of streets. So I had to keep that in mind when looking up early records.

Lakeview was basically farmland from when the first white settler, Conrad Sulzer, arrived in 1837. Some brickyards provided jobs starting in 1863 and really hit their stride as Chicago had to rebuild after the Great Fire in 1871. Settlers arrived from Germany, Scotland, and Scandinavia. Around 1865 or so, land started getting sold off in big packages to developers who divided it into neat tiny lots, instead of plots getting sold here and there to individual small farmers and homeowners. Our house is on one of these subdivided plots. Around the time that this house was built, the transformation was basically complete from farmland/small town to densely inhabited housing for workers at the new industrial plants, factories, and other businesses. Some people still worked at vegetable farms near what is now Western Ave. A lot of the new immigrants opened small businesses, some of which are still in operation. It was pretty middle-class for the time. Some people who lived in this building between 1887 and 1900 were a carpenter (possibly the original builder??), a tailor who lived in the rear apartment, an iron worker, and a "filer." 

Our house is built on the model of the "worker's cottage" which was a common type of modest home, but was usually one-story while ours is basically 2 1/2 stories. A lot of these workers cottages were built in various parts of the city but most have been torn down, as they are tiny and Chicagoans in these fancy northside neighborhoods are terrible and hate history and want big new homes. Anyway ours was always a 2-flat, as far as I can tell which is fascinating because people often assume it was once a single-family home. Some research says that the 2-flats were often occupied by the owner on the first floor and renters on the top floors. But the floor plan follows that of the typical worker's cottage, which had steps going up to the front door, a front parlor often with a bay window, a hall or kitchen behind that, and two little tiny bedrooms off to the side usually with small closets. You'll note there is no bathroom included in the typical worker's cottage plan. I also read in some places there wasn't really a kitchen, but it was just like a shed off the back with a stove. I believe they used outhouses, even in the winter, which, ugh. This would explain why our bathroom is raised several inches higher than the rest of the floors and is poorly insulated, like it was kinda tacked on the back later. The kitchen is also clearly a late remodel so it's really hard to know how it was originally laid out, if it was part of the house at all.

I've been making myself crazy trying to find an image I remember from my early research. I was trying to figure out the style and general age of the house, and I came across a floor plan of a worker's cottage and it was identical to our floor plan. Then I was confused because actually we are in a two-flat, I think that was just a typical layout for the narrow subdivided lots of that time period. I have seen over and over that this type of building went up in that 1870-1900 time period. However, I can't find one with the same bathroom and kitchen layout that I'm expecting! They all have a bathroom in the middle of the house, which I guess could be possible? But I think it's more likely there was no bathroom at all originally. Where did people bathe though? More research is needed.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Vitamin E cream & DIY masks

This not-so-lovely picture is actually a two-fer of empty finished products. First, a long time ago I finished the original Puritan's Pride Vitamin E Cream. I got it from, you guessed it, my grandma's house. It was amazing! A really thick, lovely simple cream that kept my face soft and smooth through a harsh Chicago winter. I definitely planned to buy it again but haven't yet as I'm a product junkie and like trying new things. Vitamin E is a famous antioxidant and has moisturizing properties, so I was right to love this cream.

After I finished this jar, I cleaned it out and hoarded it, then later on I made a mask from activated charcoal, bentonite clay, coconut oil, aloe vera gel, chamomile tea, and peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils. The recipe can be found here. It made quite a lot-- I filled up three similarly-sized recycled containers. I didn't use it super often, and a little lasts a long time, so by the time I was finishing the last one the consistency had lost it's light fluffy texture, but it still seemed to work fine. The idea is that activated charcoal draws out dirt and oil out of your skin, and bentonite clay does as well. If I were to make it again I think I'd leave out the essential oils. I think they were in there as they have antimicrobial qualities, but Paula and others think they can be irritating to the skin, especially peppermint and eucalyptus. They did give it a really nice smell, though. I've already talked about how menthol is supposedly irritating even though I've never felt or seen any negative effects. Paula hates on all the "natural" plant-based ingredients that feel and smell "clean" to us, and she scares me by saying things like "skin can be very good at concealing it's being irritated." It seems counterintuitive to think that even if you don't notice irritation, somehow essential oils are damaging your skin anyway. She gives them some credit saying in low enough concentrations they are ok and they do have some benefits.

I'm on the fence about essential oils in general. Some people are really ALL ABOUT essential oils. There's a whole community of people online who are like snake-oil salesmen and swear by them for everything. This sounds mean but it's often the same people who live in Utah and are gluten-free even though they aren't celiac. Some of the essential oil hype I sortof buy and want to try: Lavender oil in your mascara for longer lashes! Essential oils as a bug repellant! DIY clove perfume! A subset of those people really caution you against putting them undiluted on the skin, but then you get others who are like, go ahead! As a teen, I used to get a cotton ball wet with water, drip a couple drops of tea tree oil on it, and use it on my face to treat acne. Now I think diluting it with oil would have been smarter. I still love my oils in steams for congestion, or in my winter humidifier, or I put my oil-cleaning mix in an old tea tree oil bottle so it has trace amounts of it and smells of it. More on that later. How do you find this shit, Amy? Pinterest. The answer is Pinterest. And Mormon bloggers. Enjoy that last link, I really am fascinated.

Right, but did the mask work? It was supposed to be a DIY version of the super popular and super expensive Glam Glow mask. I didn't feel like spending money on activated charcoal but found it was the main ingredient in some anti-gas capsules I had lying around (TMI??) and also I had some old Indian charcoal tooth powder, which although I couldn't confirm this, I suspect was made of activated charcoal. I just used a combination of those instead. Now that I finished it all, I think I'll just go with an easier version, which is Bentonite Clay mixed with apple cider vinegar. My bentonite clay is the brand Aztec Secret and I got it at Whole Foods. Because this mask is simple I can make it in one-dose batches and it has the same face-clearing effects. I don't have raw apple cider vinegar anymore but I have a load of regular kind, so I just use that, and it's nbd. It's better to use vinegar than water or the tea/oil mix in the charcoal recipe because it balances the pH making it gentler on your skin. It does smell funny but it helps to keep acne at bay and my face feels smoother afterwards. The charcoal one worked about the same, it helps dry up any pimples and to keep breakouts from getting started. I'm not great about regularly using a mask unless I have current breakouts, but my current skincare regime of oil-cleansing and the odd mask seems to be working for the time being.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dry Shampoo

I use a lot of dry shampoo because I only wash my hair about once a week. It does get pretty greasy by the end, especially when I'm working out, or biking, or it's summer. So by the end of the week it's usually about 50% dry shampoo. I've tried Klorane since it came highly reviewed by every blogger and magazine and website, but to be honest it didn't seem anything special, and the bottle went super fast. I felt I only got a few uses out of it, and for the cost, it was not worth it. 

I got a three-pack of these batiste dry shampoos at Ulta on sale. They have horrible scents, like "sassy and striking mamba." I have no idea what these smelled like besides artificial. However. They soak up oil like a boss and make my hair magically look clean and fluffy again, which is the job of dry shampoo. They also barely leave any white residue and I can just fluff and go rather than rubbing it in a lot and brushing. Despite being tiny, I feel like they lasted longer than the Klorane, and they were super cheap. Batiste in general is cheap and I would buy it again, in an unscented version.

Except, I've been using plain cornstarch and it actually works fine. It's much messier and takes longer to apply, and it doesn't make the hair as fluffy as an aerosol can of dry shampoo does, but it works. I either keep it in an Altoids tin, where I just put my fingers in there and pick some up sticking to my fingers, then work it into my hair and repeat and repeat, or in an old cleaned out spice container with the little holes so I can sprinkle it in my hair. But cornstarch is kinda clumpy and it tends to not come out and then dump a ton out. The cornstarch also tends to really need a lot so it builds up if you are using it a few days in a row. However it is basically free, and it's travel-friendly as it is not a liquid, gel or aerosol. The internet also suggests using arrowroot powder which I also purchased fairly recently, and might try out. I think the same issues would apply. Although it's cool to go DIY, save money, and reduce the waste and chemicals associated with aerosol and packaging, though they no longer destroy the ozone layer, sprays tend to work better for me. I'm still looking though, and might try the Bumble and bumble Prêt-à-Powder.

Another similar product I've tried is Sally Hershberger Caffeine for Major Body 3-in-1 Volumnizing Spray. I read this review and went to a bunch of shops until I found it at CVS. At first I really thought it was working, but recently I've noticed if I spray it on hair that maybe already had some dry shampoo in it, it leaves this horrible sticky white residue. So, I no longer recommend. Maybe it's best to add volume to clean hair but that's not why I need dry shampoo.

tl;dr Dry shampoo is a life-changer.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Skincare Empties & Blue Lagoon

Good for me, I have been using up more products! It drives me crazy having four shampoos with half an ounce left in each, but that's where I am, so hopefully I can finish those soon. Here are some that I finished while on vacation in UK & Paris, because I'm fabulous.
Clinique Comforting Cream Cleanser - good but kinda greasy. I have had this for ages, I think it was another product I got from my grandma's house. I have never bought a Clinique product in my life and I don't think I will, I'm too snobby and they come from the mall. Turns out this product has been discontinued, so, it was pretty old. However, for my dry skin this was a pretty good cleanser, but it didn't make my skin feel clean. It is like putting on a thick lotion and then rinsing it off, with the residue you'd expect. The residue wasn't there if I wiped it off with a cloth but I'm not a huge fan of using a cloth, I feel it makes my skin a bit red and irritated. Started to smell funny by the end of the bottle which was probably about 5 years past its expiration date but don't judge me. I really do recommend a cream cleanser for the super dry-skinned like myself, maybe a cold cream?
Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion: My mom left this at my apartment when she visited, and then she didn't want it back. I realized why later when I was in Target and a nice lady was giving them out for free! So now I have another one. I like travel sizes for my daily products -- SPF face lotion, concealer, mascara -- so I can take them to the gym in the morning and not carry something big around all day, but, it makes my skin sting a little. I have no idea why, even the new one does. I'll finish it off since it's so tiny but, no thank you, lotion shouldn't hurt. I don't really have sensitive skin either, and I put it on in the morning when I don't even wash my face so it's not like it's getting into overly-exfoliated irritated skin or anything. I guess I could use it on my body but it would cover maybe one leg.
Blue Lagoon Algae and Mineral Body Lotion: this lotion was just OK despite the Blue Lagoon's status as the most magical, other-worldly, lunar landscape spa which is simultaneously bizarre, packed with people, relaxing, and good for your skin. Oh and also you can drink booze while in the pool/spa. The Blue Lagoon is a natural hot springs, the likes of which are everywhere in Iceland, and the water and the sediment in it (not sure how to describe this) is full of minerals like silica and algae that are really good for your skin and extra-relaxing. It has been turned into a huge super-modern spa and it is extremely popular. We only got to spend an hour or so in there due to arriving at the same time as about 5 other coach buses, long lines and somewhat poor planning by the travel company we booked with, but it was a magical hour. And then my brand-new-fiancé left his iPhone by the pool and I had to race back through the maze that is their locker rooms, fully clothed in my boots, to retrieve it minutes before the bus to the airport left. Anyway what was I saying... yeah, we got cheap flights to Iceland that included hotel, transport to and from the hotel via the Blue Lagoon, and while that was easy, really, the hotel left a lot to be desired and we didn't even stay there one night as most of the interesting bits of Iceland are more than a (5 hours of daylight in winter) day's drive away. But, I got engaged there! And Iceland is a fantastic, beautiful, near-perfect place. I think our travel package came with a coupon for $10 off something at the Blue Lagoon store so I got a small travel set which was $10.

Here I am in the Blue Lagoon, with some white silica mud stuff on my face. You can kinda swim/wade up to areas with buckets full of it and you put it on your face, then it just goes back into the water, and you can feel it around your feet all squishy. It's very clean and white so it doesn't feel disgusting like you would think. Afterwards my skin was all soft and smooth and wonderful. However the packaged products do not deliver the same effect. You have to go to Iceland for that.

Gratuitous second picture of the Blue Lagoon lotion, and Jergens Natural Glow lotion: I had an old bottle of this from, you guessed it, my grandma's house. I don't think gma was the fake-bake type so some other female relative must have left it there. I used it up but didn't feel like it actually delivered any color, gradual or otherwise, to my super-pale skin. I chalked it up to an old bottle and irregular use, but I was disappointed. Later I tried Target-brand Up&Up gradual tanning lotion and I was very impressed, but that's a subject for later. I went to Austin for a friend's bachelorette weekend and I wanted to look tan, so all the outdoorsy fit tan Texans would accept me as one of their own. I fake-baked using a serious, all-at-once self-tanner, which turned out horribly splotchy. I had to soak most of it off and scrub some of it off, which led to skin abrasion disasters. I reapplied much more carefully using a lotion instead of a spray, which turned out less dark but more even. I saw this travel size at Walgreens before I left and decided to buy it to use in place of my normal body lotion to keep my tan topped off and keep it from fading too quickly if I was in the pool or shaving frequently. I felt it did a good job for that purpose but in my experience, this won't help you actually get darker over time, even with daily use. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Empties: Yes to Carrots, L'Occitane & Lanoline Beauty Product Reviews

I'm writing this while I make this carrot recipe, which uses 14 carrots (!) but I only have two, so this will have to substitute:
Yes to Carrots Nourishing daily facial moisturizer with SPF 15: I got this at Target when I ran out of my old SPF moisturizer, not remembering I have two or three more of the same thing in the cupboard. But I had it at my fiance's place where I spent most nights (now I've moved in and having all my stuff in one place is amazing) so I used it up pretty quick. It got good reviews on beautypedia/Paula's Choice and the price was right. At first I really liked it, it was light and had a nice texture, but it did take a long time to rub in and not have a white cast to my skin, so I probably won't repurchase it. There's really not that much in the little jar, but it has a great dispenser that pushes up from the bottom as you go.
L'Occitane en Provence Verbena Shower Gel: this was a hotel sample. I love L'Occitane because I love the south of France and I'm a sucker for nice smells. However this was just shower gel, really lemony smell, really annoying bottle. I like either a bar soap or a more moisturizing, creamier (gross?) shower gel.
Shine by Bliss body lotion: another hotel sample, way too thin and watery, I expected better out of a brand sold at Sephora? However I use body lotion every day, all over, and I am really tall so there's a lot of area to cover, and this got the job done.
Comfort Care ultra moisturizing lotion: even less memorable
Lanoliné Manuka Honey Skin Renew Firming Serum: I got this along with a Lanoliné moisturizer at TJ Maxx, my new favorite place for beauty product shopping because I see higher-end stuff for so cheap. I also wanted to try out something with manuka honey because it gets a lot of buzz (see what I did there) as well as collagen and vitamins, however I don't believe the latter ingredients did much at all. Also, it's from New Zealand, so that means it's good. Please, travel gods, I want to go to New Zealand! I used this through the colder months usually as a serum under my usual moisturizer. I think it helped keep my skin happy in the arctic desert that is winter in Chicago, but I went pretty heavy on the moisturizer too, so it's hard to know. It was a clear gel and went on a little tacky, and the bottle went really fast. Tactilely and aesthetically, I liked the heavy frosted glass bottle, but I suppose it isn't the best for active ingredient stability. Since I didn't see any major improvements in my skin I wouldn't repurchase. I know antioxidants are more a preventative measure to make up for sun damage now and hope things look good in a few years, but it felt like nothing and wasn't a real pleasure to use, so I'm moving on. Other reviews says this really tightened up wrinkles, so I probably shouldn't buy things made for people 20 years older than me.