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. Looking dorky in v-neck sweaters was an issue for me pre-Uniqlo. 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.

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.

EDIT : I had a positive review for the Seven Year Pen, however mine just ran out, easily shy of 5 years in, and after some further research I found out these are just priced-up Swiss promotional pens, like the kind they give out for free with a pharmaceutical drug name on them. They are still pretty nice pens, but no longer worth of the "life changing" title.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How I 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

New apartment, Old house

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.