Sunday, November 6, 2016

SPF moisturizers giant roundup

I decided to chronicle my experience with various SPF moisturizers, since I started using an SPF product almost daily around 2013 or so. There's so much to learn about them! It's actually so overwhelming. But a great distraction from current US politics!

I used Aveeno "Active Naturals" Protect and Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion in two samples without any lost love. 

Active Ingredients: Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (8%), Octisalate (4%), Octocrylene (4%), Oxybenzone (5%). Purpose: Sunscreen. Inactive Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Silica, Cetyl Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Ethylhexylglycerin, Beeswax, Benzyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Behenyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Caprylyl Methicone, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Propylene Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Arachidyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Diethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate, Sodium Hydroxide, Stearyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Cetyl Alcohol, Lignoceryl Alcohol, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, Codium Tomentosum Extract, Potassium Palmitoyl Hydrolyzed Oat Protein, Hydrolyzed Oat Protein.

  • According to EWG, "Oxybenzone is a common UV filter in sunscreen. It is a hormone disruptor and allergen. Sampling by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has detected it in the urine of 97 percent of Americans. Despite emerging concerns, the sunscreen industry continues to rely heavily on oxybenzone as an active ingredient."

Aveeno does test on animals

Before that, I used Yes to Carrots Nourishing Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15. It's active sunscreen ingredients are Zinc Oxide 3.2% and Titanium Dioxide 2.9%. Other ingredients are: Water,Ethylhexyl Palmitate,Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Certified Organic Ingredient),Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil,Glycerin,Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride,Cetearyl Alcohol,Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil,Magnesium Aluminum Silicate,Coco-Glucoside,Phenoxyethanol,Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Root Extract (Certified Organic Ingredient),Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Oil (Certified Organic Ingredient),Butyrospermum Parkii Butter,Cetyl Alcohol,Xanthan Gum,Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba (Guar) Gum (Certified Organic Ingredient),Maris Limus Extract,Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil,Tocopherol,Aluminum Hydroxide,Gluconolactone,Glyceryl Isostearate,Hydrated Silica,Polyhydroxystearic Acid,Sodium Benzoate,Triethoxycaprylylsilane,Calcium Gluconate,Citric Acid,Potassium Hydroxide.

Yes To (Carrots, Cucumber, Tomatoes, whatever) is, like Ahava, an Israeli company, however, since about 2010 they moved to the US. There's some controversy about whether they are hiding Israeli roots and potential use of Israeli Dead Sea mud in order to avoid boycott from people who believe that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal and therefore products made from ingredients taken from these occupied territories are also morally and legally unacceptable. However they now say that they are completely made in the US and removed any connection to Israel or use of Dead Sea mud from Israel (or Israeli-occupied territory) from their marketing.
   Yes To does not test on animals 


I also used up 3 partial bottles of Mary Kay Time Wise Day solution in various versions. In one Mary Kay formulation, the SPF actives are Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 5%, Zinc Oxide 3.88%, Oxybenzone 3%.

Mary Kay does test on animals  


Right now, my sunscreen is Ahava Time to Smooth Age Control Even Tone Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20 which my friend who lives in Israel gave me as a present at my wedding in a cute little set. I like it ok. For sunscreen actives it has Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 7%, Octisalate 5%, and Octocrylene 2.7%. With the exception of the Homosalate, this is exactly what the Estee Lauder cream that I believe led to breakouts used, which makes me now think that the sunscreen actives were NOT what were breaking me out because I haven't noticed any issues with this. It's a bit greasy, and it came in jar packaging, so I decanted most of it into an old, well-cleaned out Mary Kay pump bottle, after I finished the last of the Mary Kay SPF lotions (this took years). The Mary Kay lotion was much thinner so the pump tube was too small to work, I had to use the pump from an old serum, and even that didn't work until the thick lotion settled. I still use the jar in my gym bag and I'm not sure it's really getting the job done in terms of SPF, so I've been layering with a BB cream type product, which I prefer to use anyway when my skin is less than ideal.

Tested on animals -? This story says that their website claims they don't, though I didn't find that on their website. This list states they are a company that does not test on animals. However, Beautypedia says they do. Beautypedia doesn't have a review of this exact product, just an SPF 15 version which didn't have the sunscreen ingredients listed as actives, this was from 2012 so I'm guessing they have improved on the formula, and hopefully reformed the testing process.

There's also the controversy surrounding Ahava, which is planning to move it's headquarters and main factory out of a town that is in the Israel-occupied West Bank. They've said they are going to move after some international pressure/ boycott, but I don't know if they have yet. The activists say they are still using product (including the dead sea mud) which they excavate from occupied territory. A Chinese company Fosun bought them earlier this year, so maybe that is why I am seeing more and more Ahava products showing up on the shelves, like at Ulta. This is a seriously messy situation that I didn't intend to get into while reviewing sunscreen! Nothing in this life is simple.

For BB creams, a couple months ago I finished up a bottle of Maybelline Dream Fresh. This is marketed to teenagers but honestly I had no complaints with it.  
Maybelline tests on animals 

Active: Titanium Dioxide (1.15%), Other: Water, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Octyldodecanol, Silica, Pentylene Glycol, Octyldodecyl Xyloside, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Isohexadecane, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Caprylyl Glycol, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 80, Potassium Sorbate, Propylene Glycol, Methylisothiazolinone, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract. May Contain: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides

  • Methylisothiazolinone: generally not recommended in leave-on products due to its sensitizing effect (from Beautypedia)


Now I'm using Sarah McNamara Miracle Skin Transformer SPF 20 Face. It's a very similar product in terms of color and coverage. The Sarah McNamara product is a little bit thicker and less liquidy. 
Not tested on animals. 

Active Ingredients: Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 5.0%, Oxybenzone 2.0%, Zinc Oxide 1.5%. Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Caprylyl Methicone, Cyclohexasiloxane, Water, Dicaprylyl Ether, Boron Nitride, Octyldodecanol, Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil, Glycerin, Dimethiconol, Ubiquinone, Tapioca Starch, Mica, Physalis Angulata Extract, Phenoxyethanol, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Caprylyl Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Polysorbate 80, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Potassium Sorbate, Hydrated Silica, Serenoa Serrulata Fruit Extract, Hexylene Glycol, Silica, Isoceteth-10, Retinyl Palmitate, Benzyl Alcohol, Phytonadione, Cholecalciferol, Tocopherol, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides.

Beautypedia says the mica adds a subtle glow, the silicones give it the silky, velvety texture.

Beautypedia also says "The original formula was called out due to a low amount of zinc oxide. This sunscreen active is the only ingredient present that is able to cover the entire spectrum of the sun’s UVA (think aging) rays, and the previous version contained a paltry 0.85%. The current formula contains 1.5%, which is better and enough to propel this product to “Best” status." Unfortunately I think I might have the old formula :(

Interestingly, Beautypedia doesn't mention the problem with oxybenzone that Environmental Working Group does.

I've started to notice a bit of a yogurty smell, I hope it's not going off. I bought this at Sephora after I think getting a tiny sample of it.  The salesperson suggested that it wasn't a very popular product, which surprised me a bit considering they had given so many people a free sample and that I had liked it so much. I've never worn foundation and don't want to, so I may be in the minority in my love for extremely subtle coverage. I have the hardest time matching a concealer to my skin -- they are almost all too yellow -- so it's just nice that it disappears, leaving my skin looking marginally better but not like I have a layer of makeup on. It evens out redness from old acne scars or other blotchiness, leaves a nice velvety finish, and also makes concealer stay on better and blend better with my skin. It seems that you can get it at Ulta now, but not Sephora, or online maybe in some kind of informercial shady-sounding scheme.

Next up in my larder is a small sample of Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Sunscreen Broad Spectrum 15 Brightening and Smoothing Daily Moisturizer
extra marketing hype: Antioxidant Complex Vitamin C + LHA; Oil-Free

Active ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 5%
We shall see. I'd prefer to try more physical/mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) but at least this doesn't have oxybenzone in it. 
Tested on animals 
Low SPF, though, and high fragrance. Beautypedia says the LHA is a derivative of salicyclic acid, also known as BHA, however, the pH is too high for it to be of exfoliating use.

After that, I also bought (because it was on sale): CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30
Marketing hype: For normal to dry skin, MVE delivery technology, invisible zinc, non-comodogenic, non-irritating, with ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid

Actives: homosalate 10%, meradimate 5%, octinoxate 5%, octocrylene 2%, zinc oxide 6.3%
I bought this becuase of the zinc oxide, niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid, seems like a great moisturizer! Beautypedia LOVES it, however it gets some bad user reviews for poor application and/or irritation, so I'll just have to try it myself.
Not tested on animals. 

Estee Lauder creme gives me breakouts

On our honeymoon, I started to get a few small spots, which was disappointing because I had basically perfect skin at the wedding. I had only some very faded scars from spots past. I got very lucky because I was getting a tiny bit sick and pretty stressed what with getting married and all the work, decisions and pressure of a DIY destination wedding with people coming from multiple continents. Anyway it's not surprising that my perfect skin didn't last, since sometimes things like stress and illness take a little bit to show up on one's skin, and our honeymoon was a lot of "glamping" and hiking, and I was only using honey as a cleanser. I just want to have it on the record that our honeymoon was one of the one of the most fun, relaxing, beautiful times of my life and I would go back to that yurt in North Carolina in a heartbeat.

Anyway, I lost faith in that routine when it stopped working perfectly and started to experiment again with products that needed using up or that I couldn't resist not buying. At some point I started using another product swiped from my grandma's house, Estee Lauder Resilience Life Firming/Sculpting Face and Neck Creme SPF 15. I was alternating it with whatever was in my gym bag, probably Mary Kay, but used it exclusively when we were on vacation in May, and broke out terribly. Usually on vacation I have nice skin, I think because I don't pick and I'm not stressed and not exposed to pollution. But I experimented by taking breaks from the Estee Lauder and eventually used a lot of it up on my body, and now that it's finally finished, I think it was the cause of my breakouts. They were mostly closed comedones, small hard skin-colored or whiteish spots, and some more infected/inflamed spots.

Here are the ingredients:
Avobenzone 3%
Octisalate 5%
Octocrylene 2.7%
Water, Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate, Cetyl Alcohol, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, Glycerin, Polyethylene, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Di-C12-15 Alkyl Fumarate, Petrolatum, Butylene Glycol, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Propanediol, Octyldodecyl Myristate, Hexyldecyl Stearate, Dimethicone, Laminaria Saccharina Extract , Algae Extract, Mimosa Tenuiflora Bark Extract, Plankton Extract, Artemia Extract, Laminaria Digitata Extract, Linoleic Acid, Malachite, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria), Saccharomyces Ferment Lysate Filtrate, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Glyceryl Stearate, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Yeast Extract\Faex\Extrait De Levure, C12-16 Alcohols, Ethylhexylglycerin, PEG-100 Stearate, Whey Protein\Lactis Protein\Proteine Du Petit-Lait, Trehalose, Thermus Thermophillus Ferment, Ergothioneine, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Acetyl Glucosamine, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile), Glucose Oxidase, Lactoperoxidase, Caffeine, Cholesterol, Sorbitol, Palmitic Acid, Decarboxy Carnosine HCL, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols, Polysilicone-11, Caprylyl Glycol, Isohexadecane, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Glucose, Zinc PCA, Tocopheryl Acetate, Behenyl Alcohol, Citric Acid , Sodium Hyaluronate , Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate , Polysorbate 80 , Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Sorbate, Maltodextrin, Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer, Lecithin, Potato Starch Modified, Hexylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Yellow 5 (Ci 19140), Red 4 (Ci 14700), Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891), Mica

Holy shit, that's a lot of ingredients. This little jar costs $52-82, which is an interesting thing to know about my late grandma, that she was willing to spend that. It could have broken me out because it was well past it's expiration date, or because of any number of those ingredients. I wondered if it might be one of the chemical sunscreen ingredients? Many people can find them irritating and prefer a "physical" sunscreen like zinc oxide. 

On second thought, I wonder if it was the yeast extract? I tend to have allergy issues with yeast.

Anyway, I'm on the way to healing my skin again. Things were looking really good until I got impatient and ordered an ultrasonic spatula skin "scrubber" which I had read good things about. It did appear to get out some oil or sebum, but it led to lots of obsessive picking which of course led to irritation and breakouts. It was also defective (the power button only worked sometimes) so I'm returning it. Prior to the Estee Lauder I don't remember closed comedones really being a problem, and they are the devil! I try to be patient and use salicylic acid daily (I'm using Paula's Choice), but eventually I pick them which of course makes things worse. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Shampoo & Conditioner Empties!

My reviews of skin and hair care products continue! This time I collected a bunch of shampoo & conditioner products that I finished over the past few months.

First up! Moroccan Oil Hydrating Shampoo. This is a fancier salon product, which obviously I did not buy, but I stole from my cousin, probably when she left it behind at my grandma's house. There wasn't a ton left but I used it up. This was nice shampoo but I think knowing it was fancy made me like it more? It's sulfate free which is something I'm thinking about getting into, but you want sulfates to clean the silicones out of your hair and I love the silicone laden conditioners & leave-in products that beat my hair into submission leave my hair tangle-free.

LUSH Big Shampoo sample, and not pictured, Rehab shampoo sample. I got this when I was on my quest to deal with the patches of dry & flakey scalp that weren't responding to dandruff shampoo and I eventually cured with a visit to dermatologist and rx-strength shampoo & steroid treatment. Anyway. Big is a weird shampoo with large sea salt grains in it, it's supposed to exfoliate your scalp or something. It was fun to use, if awkward, smelled great, sudsy as all get out, but really, kind of a gimmick? I was sad to find out that Lush hair products have SLS (see: sudsy) so I don't think they are worth the price. I mean, it made my hair feel light & fluffy but also dried it out a bit. As for the Rehab shampoo, at least I think it was Rehab because the label wore off, I kept the sample so long it started to separate so it couldn't have been that good. Personally I love the strong smell of most Lush products but I know they are not everyone's cup of tea.

It's a 10 Miracle Hair Mask sample. I love a hair mask, I love a free sample, I love It's a 10 leave-in spray, so I loved this. Similar to Aussie's 3-minute Miracle this is a heavy, creamy hair mask that you can use while in the shower shaving your legs or whatever. I got two uses out of this packet even on my long thick hair. Makes my hair silky soft. Win.

John Frieda Root Awakening shampoo - I could not WAIT to be done with this shampoo, I probably had it for 5 years! Longer? The bottle was literally disintegrating by the time I finally finished it. Side note: the bottle is super annoying because of the cap at the bottom, which allows water to pool up in there and grow slime. This did not cause problems with my hair but it didn't do anything either. I was probably on my endless quest for products that will keep my super-thick and fine hair from just lying there heavily and limply, dragged down by its own weight, and keep my problematically dry & flaky scalp happy. This didn't deliver. 
I have nothing to say about this hotel conditioner except it was fine for travel but not memorable.

Not sure why I took this picture in front of the toaster. 
Herbal Essences Long Term Relationship Shampoo, and, not pictured, Conditioner - This name is accurate because I bought this when I started spending a lot of nights at my then-boyfriend's house, and now we're married, and I finally finished the products, like 5 years later. Why does it take me so long?? I have too many products in use at the same time, and I wash my hair only twice a week. I used the conditioner first because I use a ton of conditioner (thick hair) and it was pretty serviceable, not super thick. The shampoo was also fine. I started to hate them before I was finished.

Trader Joe's Nourish Spa Conditioner - this used to be a bit of a cult product for curly-haired people, but I heard they changed the formula. It's super cheap, like $4 or something, and it's a nice, light, I think silicone free conditioner. I got it when I used to dye my hair with henna and needed copious amounts of cheap conditioner to wash out the henna paste. But it also lasted forever. I really prefer super thick conditioners but this did a good job despite being thin.

also pictured: an empty jar which held homemade shaving cream, which wasn't that impressive and I went back to using soap and/or BioOil or homemade sugar scrub when I'm feeling fancy, and a small jar that held homemade salt & oil exfoliating scrub which was fun but honestly, most homemade products like that go bad before you can use them up, especially living in the humid environment of the shower, and especially things you dip your wet paws into. Hence the tiny containers, but still I didn't use this very fast as the salt was pretty abrasive and the oil made the bath surface slippery.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Flooring Update

As you remember, last time I blathered on and on about the ugly carpeting in our bedrooms and the horrors that likely lie beneath. I thought we maybe had linoleum based on the age of the house but after further research, and talking to someone at Home Depot, I now think I was wrong. It does happen.

1880s-1890s linoleum would actually be super awesome looking, likely highly patterned like in this historic home:
This post suggests sheet linoleum in a marbled or swirled pattern would be authentic, not the checkerboard tiles that most people think of. Sheet lino is that stuff you sometimes think of in schools or hospitals that curls up the wall forming the baseboard. It's cool too. Here's some modern examples. As discussed previously, it's a natural material, made of a canvas backing and linseed oil mixed with powdered cork and other things. That's what makes it kinda squishy and comfortable underfoot. A lot of times when people have cheapo sheet vinyl, like my mom does in her kitchen, they say linoleum, but that is inaccurate. This is the stuff that is like plastic contact paper, and easily gets holes if you drop a knife. You can repair a knife cut in linoleum, it's like a starfish (not really but you can fix).

However, everybody says that if you have 9"x9" tiles that are rigid, it's probably vinyl tile. Vinyl tile has a lot of names, VCT for vinyl composition tile which has more limestone in it, luxury vinyl tile, or LVT, etc. A lot of the cheaper fake stone and wood-look tile I saw at Home Depot are vinyl tile. LVT is totally waterproof, made of polyvinyl choride or PVC, and is pretty new. There's also laminate flooring, which is basically a layer printed to look like wood glued to high density fiberboard. It is similar to IKEA particleboard furniture except high density instead of medium density fiberboard (MDF). At least in MDF there is a concern about formaldehyde, I'm not quite sure about HDF. Laminate is generally cheap and kindof crap.

Anyway, I have 9x9 tile, in a weird off-set grid pattern in black and white streaks. Much like this:
This is straight-up VCT. You can still buy tiles like this, but according to a comment on this post, most 9x9 tile is VAT: vinyl asbestos tile. Asbestos is a naturally-occuring mined substance used to make things stronger, heat-resistant, etc. It's a big business removing it but it's my understanding that it only really causes health problems when it become particulate and is inhaled in large quantities over a long period of time, mostly in an industrial or work setting. However, I'd prefer not to take too many risks, especially for my little cat who never leaves the house and has a small body. So after doing some research on local companies, I decided to take a sample and send it out to a lab to get tested! Wish me luck. If we do have asbestos, I might take the cat to a friend's house during demo and then get the air tested.

As you can see in the top photo, under the tile, and the paper or cloth backing, there's wood!

Angels sing.

AND we pulled up a corner in the bedroom and there's wood floors underneath and no tile! Thank you, floor gods!

This makes me think that the back spare room might have been used as a kitchen, once upon a time. That would explain why you would put vinyl tile (or whatever it is) in a bedroom, and I also learned that it is directly above the upstairs neighbor's kitchen so the plumbing may have been aligned at one point in time. The kitchen we have now looks pretty 90s, so if it was moved out there say, 20 years or more after the kitchen in the back room was built, that makes the likelihood of my tiles being in the asbestos era even higher. But still, there's hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dimmer Switch

After my last super long post about the house, where I admitted I'd been putting off installing the dimmer switch in the kitchen overhead light fixture, I got a Monday off and decided to just go for it. It was really easy! I think anything electrical can be intimidating for a lot of people, but it's not hard. You just need to have access to your breaker switch and make sure it's turned off!

When I first took the cover off the old switch I was most intimidated, as the screws in my new plate would in no way be able to attach to the wall or the current regular switch box. I shouldn't have fretted because the friendly guy at Ace had already been through this with me twice, and because the new light switch box has differently placed screw holes.

The interior of the wall is, as expected in this house, truly horrible. The wires are wrapped in this gross dusty cloth. I ignored that. Basically you unscrew the original switch in it's little plate, which is easy, pull it gently a little out of the wall so you can get at the screws. In my case the screws were on the side of the original switch and the wires that came out of the wall were pretty thick and substantial, and they just bent around screws coming in the side of the switch box and the screws had been tightened over them to make the electric connection. This is much like the inside of a light socket, how the wires connect. The new switch had an easier kind of connection, where you twist a more flexible multi-strand copper wire around the thicker wall wire, making sure they are making a solid connection, and then you place the little orange plastic wire cap on the connected wires and twist it on.

Ours was a little more complex because it was a three-way switch, meaning there is another switch on the other end of the room that also connects to the overhead light. I didn't realize this the first time I bought a dimmer switch so that's why I had to go back to Ace. Basically in the three-way box, there's a black wire that was also labelled "common." This connects to the black wire from your switch box. The two other wires go to either of the two red wires. It doesn't matter which is which. I didn't have a ground wire which made me nervous, but also, whatever. Anyway after all the wires are connected you just shove them all back there in the box, carefully, not tearing out your connections, and then screw the switchplate back into the wall. Then the cover fits nicely with it's tiny little screws.

Here's the finished product! So neat and tidy. I tried taking a photo of the difference when it's dimmed but it's hard to tell, and the kitchen is super messy since I also just rearranged the stuff in the cabinets, so it's not worth showing. But you know what a dimmer does! I'm excited to have a nice dinner with less harsh, more romantic lighting. The whole project cost about $35 including the fancy 100W equivalent dimmable LED bulb. Not all LED or CFL bulbs are dimmable, so you have to make sure everything is going to work together. Old-school incandescents are of course dimmable but this is the 21st century so that wasn't an option for me. LEDs (and CFLs) do have a bit more blue light, which is less mellow, but you can get them pretty warm, just look for a K around 2700-3000K. These pictures are taken with flash so they don't represent the color of light at all, obviously the light was out while I was poking around the live wires.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Flooring Sadness

One of the bigger and more intimidating tasks on our list of things to do to improve the house is to rip out the carpets in the spare and bedroom. Both small rooms have this horrible tan carpet which is super dirty, stained, and dusty around the edges. Also after my bookshelf crashed down and some of my nail polish smashed, it has some stains of dark green nail polish. We both have allergies, and the carpet is just the absolute worst and needs to go. I'm sure you would agree if you saw it.

Most of the house except the bathroom has seriously decent wood floors. I don't know if they are hardwood or engineered, or original to the house. There are cracks between the boards that dirt gets stuck in, and some boards are slightly cracked or dinged, but on the whole they are in great condition. There isn't the thick layer of varnish you see in a lot of rentals. There are, notably, no nails visible. Also the boards are on the same level as the carpets. Anyway here's a corner in "my room" showing our great (dirty) baseboards, and the hideous carpet. That trim on the left is the same pukey brown that all the kitchen trim used to be, ew ew ew. Sadly we don't have any original doors, they are all kinda cheap-looking plain hollow-looking wood. Lame.

Ok. I decided I'd take the plunge and see what's below the carpet. Maybe it was hardwood floor?? I really hoped. I mean, maybe the house originally had wood floors? I just used some pliers to grab the carpet and ripped it up, it was easy. The wood around the edge has nails sticking out, it's this trim that keeps it down. The blue stuff is the top end of this padding that goes under the carpet. The whole thing smells kindof bad. I was really afraid this thing has been peed and vomited on by pets and there would be a horrible mildew situation but this was more of a chemically stale smell?

Gross. The specked stuff, which I love the look of whenever I see it in giant rolls, because it looks like these bowls, lifts up to reveal a paint-spattered linoleum floor. WOMP WOMP.

It kinda looks like it might be linoleum tile, based on the black and white sections. Although it's hard to tell having only looked at the corner. Real linoleum is supposed to have a unique smell, maybe that's the smell?

Here's a closer, nastier look. You can see the furring strips, but also that the baseboard looks like there might have been a higher floor at some point? See how the paint is kinda chipped away in the corner close to the furring strips, and it's like, grayer in a strip close to the ground? I don't know. That could just be from the carpet. God, it looks disgusting.

Linoleum might actually be the original flooring. Linoleum has been around since 1860 and was widespread in 1880s/1890s in the US. It's made of natural materials, unlike vinyl flooring, which it is sometimes confused for, which wasn't introduced in US until 1933 Chicago World's Fair. I think in art class in high school we used tiles of linoleum to carve and print with, because it's pretty soft and bouncy. Wood flooring, according to this source, was likely still a luxury (and it kindof still is). Houses might have a pine subfloor and then they'd paint it, cover in parquet or a "wood carpet" or cover in linoleum or oilcloth. Or carpet.

There is the possibility that this is a later addition, maybe vinyl flooring. I need expert advice, or even an uncle in construction. Anything. If it's vinyl, it could have asbestos which would make it a seriously more heinous undertaking. However it's unclear to me if real linoleum, assuming that's what this is, would contain asbestos.

Anyway a comment on this blog and all over, really, suggest that it's possible, though painful, to remove all the linoleum and find wood subflooring, which you can then refinish and they can be beautiful. Another worry is that the subflooring could be gappy and uninsulated to the basement. Pulling it up, putting down plywood, and putting it back in would be the recommended, and terrible, best solution then. The subflooring could look gorgeous if it's wide-plank pine, I would want to keep it light and natural, maybe a soap finish. We could, instead, just paint the linoleum? It's unclear since a lot of people talk about painting vinyl but call it linoleum. Or try to clean it up? 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Vintage House Quirks

Hi! Welcome to our house! This is the view from the front window where the cat likes to watch the world go by. When I was writing this post about our house, I had a lot more to write but blogger somehow crashed and I lost a lot of work. 

When I first realized I'd probably be moving in here (March, almost a year ago) I got interested in the history of the house. I read this blog a lot and was super impressed by how Daniel tried to keep his (extensive, insane) home renovations true to the historic character of his 1865 house, and the other properties he worked on (because one home reno isn't enough?) Plus I like watching a lot of HGTV when I'm on vacation.

Anyhow I wondered how to identify the age of the house and the general architectural style. I looked at some books and pamphlets about Chicago architectural styles - Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, bungalow, American Four Square, Dutch Colonial, etc. This article pretty clearly describes the "frame two-flat" but said the era varies from 1900 - 1920 and could be in a variety of architectural styles. Ours looked similar-ish to the illustrated Victorian, with the bay windows and dormered little front porch off to one side. But the descriptions of other architectural styles seemed to sometimes fit too. The exterior of our house has been covered in vinyl siding like most old houses around here, making it a bit harder to really tell what it used to look like. Then I remembered that our moldings around the windows and doors looked a lot like the windows in Daniel's old Brooklyn apartment, and he had said they were original and 120 years old, and that was in 2011. So I googled around trying to describe them correctly until I found some images of molding that looked just like ours with the date of the house they were found in. That confirmed the general ballpark era, and I was able to search around more effectively. I decided on 1887 although never could find the original building permit.

Here's the first picture I took of the moldings, you can kindof see here where I think someone sawed off (?!) the top bit which is like a little crown. I remember reading somewhere that back in period the house was built the moldings likely would have been painted white with patterened wallpaper on the plaster walls. The walls are still plaster but full of cracks, so many cracks. I am afraid fixing them is going to end up really expensive.

If you look closely in this picture, you can see the little crown. Sorry about the poor contrast in the photo, white on white was hard to capture well. First of all, I don't know why some of the trim has no crown and others do. The kitchen only has basic, boring trim around its three doors and two windows but it does have the super tall grooved baseboards the rest of the house is #blessed with. Second of all, look even more closely at the picture above and notice how the trim on the right side of the closet (that's my closet, you can see my striped dress poking out of the darkness) just disappears into the wall. WTF. This really gave me pause, because I was so convinced that the trim and walls were original and I couldn't imagine why they would have just designed it like this. It just looks so much like an afterthought, like they wanted a closet and put it in and then they were like oh, crap, the trim doesn't fit here, let's just cut it off, no one will notice. 

By the way, see how narrow this closet is? There was a folding door in there (you can see the tracks for it) but when folded, it took up precious inches and wall space, so I took it off. We don't use this room as a bedroom so it's ok with me to have it open (you know if you have your closet door open at night that's how the monsters get you). I'll show you my closet some time, it is a work of art how I squeezed everything in this tiny narrow space.

Back to the topic at hand, which is the crazy things going on with the trim in this house. Ok, this is basically my view right now, lying in bed, except we now have an IKEA light fixture instead of this broken sad thing. The acoustic tile drop ceiling is horrifying and I hate it. I especially hate the parts that are coming loose. But I can't do anything about it, and that's not the point of the picture. The point is where the diagonal line of the bottom of the staircase that that leads up into the neighbor's place cuts off the window trim. Daniel, my hero from Manhattan Nest, dealt with a similar situation on the outside of his house, and concluded that the windows were added later, disrupting the trim line, and so I wanted to conclude that the plastering over of the stairwell bottom was a later addition, but after noticing the closet trim abnormality in the spare room, I am wondering if the original builders were just not as detail-orientated as they should could have been.  I mean, it was a working class dwelling, built probably pretty quickly in a subdivided urban lot with a lot of basically identical working-class dwellings. I was raised in the 1990s version of this, and let me tell you that the builders are not always perfect artisans. However, the tract home nature of the house makes me think, wouldn't they have worked out the kinks if they were working on a plan that they did over and over again? But then again, I think that the original owner was a carpenter. Maybe, just maybe, he decided to take the plans into his own hands, but messed up a few details. I really like this idea. I now have a whole personality in my head for him (basically the dad from Home Improvements).

Now that I showed you the terrible ceiling in my bedroom, I might as well show you the even darker underbelly of it, as a further example of the madness that went into the multiple renovations of this old house. The light fixture that was here when my husband moved in (before I met him) was an ugly frosted glass dome with flowers etched on it that was held flush to the horrible ceiling with the three hook looking things you can see in the picture. One day the bulb blew out and I discovered it was a weird-looking tiny halogen tube. We didn't replace it for, like, a month. I went to Ace Hardware (which is located next to an Ulta, Kinko's, Pizza Hut, my phone carrier, and a coffee shop and across the street from Binny's making it basically the most amazing shopping strip ever) and found the bulb but it was kinda pricey and I hate the light fixture anyway, so I convinced husband we could replace the whole fixture, no problem. I wanted to install in the bedroom the chandelier which I had gotten him to help me install in the kitchen, and in the kitchen I would put a globe light I'd been carrying around for years since I found it in a dumpster. This is making me sound crazy and kind of awful, I know.

However, that plan was not to be. We took down the ceiling tile to assess how possible it would be to install the chandelier and found the scene above. The yellow line of wire comes from the light box, which is sensibly mounted into the ceiling, travels about a foot or so horizontally, and then goes through the foam-board ceiling tile to attach to the light fixture. The whole weight of the fixture is just hanging on the quarter-inch or less of foam tile that hangs on the cross-bars, which as you saw are not all attached to the wall and basically falling down. I reassessed my plan and decided to get something extremely lightweight and something that would detract attention from the ceiling instead of attract it, which in retrospect was a way better plan and a chandelier would have been a terrible mistake.

So we went to IKEA. It was amazing as it always is. I drank a bunch of coffee and bounced off the walls but managed to choose this funny paper lamp. Husband said he thinks his parents had a similar one in a different shape in the 80s, and it does have a sort of retro-futuristic style that I don't hate. Its a very different style from the classic 1880s/90s style that I was going for, but it gets the job done, weighs basically nothing, and has a lasts-forever LED lightbulb. I actually like how the dots on it mirror the dots in the ceiling tile pattern. Since we aren't going to remove and replace the drop ceiling anytime soon if ever, it seems a decent compromise. Once I saw what lies beneath the drop ceiling, which is open ductwork and pipes and a horrific collection of dusty wiring, I see why there is a drop ceiling, and lost interest in trying to tear it down. And after a month of crashing into stuff in the dark trying to get to the bedside lamps, having an overhead light is amazing.

 Here's some more pictures of the living room windows to apologize for making you look at the atrocities behind the ceiling tile. You can get a shot of our bay window, which is a pretty cool thing to have, actually. We are about half-a-story above street level, so we don't get a lot of light, but this window really maximizes what we do get. It's kinda messy; we've made some changes recently since we got terrariums for a wedding present! The cat and his paraphernalia get pride of place. You can see in the top photo the white globe on the floor. Around the time I was in grad school I walked past a dumpster outside one of the 1960s era buildings that was getting some mild renovations and they had tossed out some glass dome light shades. I took three -- two like this white one and one really huge, beautiful gray smokey glass. One white one broke almost immediately, all over my former roommate's apartment building lobby. The gray one went with me to several more apartments, used as a vase, a source of Darth Vader voices, and eventually I dropped something on it and it cracked. However, I knew I could use this globe and it would be worth it, but I needed lamp parts. I tried a lot of places: Ace, Home Depot, and a lighting store. I was finally directed to Midwest Lamp Parts, which is in a giant warehouse in a random part of town. We went over one day only to learn they are only open 9-5 Monday-Friday unless they feel like closing up for a few days randomly. Finally, ages later, I was sick enough to stay home from work but well enough to get in the car and drive over there. I was a little shaky and felt weak and feverish but I am very committed to this project.

It was amazing, dusty, jam-packed with light fixtures and well, lamp parts. I was helped by a Russian-sounding Orthodox Jewish man who at first seemed grumpy and was annoyed with me for not knowing the names of the parts I was looking for, but turned out to be awesome and nice once he realized I was planning to do all this myself. He made me an honorary construction company when he wrote up my invoice on a carbon copy machine. Cash only, of course. At this point I was still planning to put the chandelier in the bedroom so I got a whole new chain, ceiling mounting hardware, etc.

Putting this light fixture in was... difficult. Husband was not happy with me, because I can't reach the ceiling even on the ladder so he had to do all the hard work... four times because we couldn't get it right. It took hours, with lots of going down to the basement and back up to flip the breaker switch. There were a LOT of parts to get in the right order, and at the right height, and get the wires to connect. He is now officially done with DIY and I'm on my own, but all the ceiling-height work is done so I think I'm fine. Anyhow, we had bought the little (plastic!) ceiling medallion when we put up the chandelier, but forgot to put it up. It is necessary because there's a big ugly hole in the ceiling tile (this place and the ceiling tile!) that isn't fully covered by the light ceiling mounting plate thing (edit: canopy. See above where I don't know lighting terminology). I know it looks really tilted in the photo but it's not nearly so bad in real life. I bought the brightest dimmable LED lightbulb I could find, because the original light fixture (pre-blingy-chandelier) had 3-4 bulbs and the kitchen needs as much light as it can get. I haven't installed the dimmer switch yet mostly because I think the heat went off when I switched the breaker and it's just too cold to risk that. But it'll look so great on a dimmer when we have a meal at the table, or if we have people over! And I can crank it up to 11 when I cook, as I require professional-kitchen level lighting or I get grumpy.

In this photo you can also see the boring nondescript trim in the kitchen. The tiny bathroom is on the left, the two windows are on the wall to the left of that, and next to them is the sink and some cabinets. The door to the basement stairs and back porch is in the back. The door to "my room," aka the spare room, is in the right hand corner, and next to it is a strange piece of furniture we use to store liquor and spare glassware (we have SO MUCH glassware), and then cabinets on that wall include the stove and fridge. I want to replace the strange liquor cabinet with a nicer one, that doesn't have ugly faux-rustic metal scrolls on it. Maybe I could use one of our two identical leaning bookshelves, as husband and I both owned one before I moved in.

Here's the living room couch, which is a gigantic dark brown suede-like sectional. I was looking through my phone for photos of the apartment and there is a massive collection of photos of us and/or the cat on this couch, so it is basically where we spend 95% of our time. It is a little bit ugly but extremely comfortable. I got a lot of light-colored pillows to try to make it look better. I also put up one more painting on the wall as I thought this looked like there's a gap. I bought the map of the world that looks like a strange geometric shape for $20 at Brown Elephant thrift store. It's a Buckminister Fuller projection showing ocean temperatures, and it's awesome. Previously he (husband, not Buckminister Fuller) had a non-working weird modern clock there, and while I see (kindof) where he was going with the asymmetry, it just wasn't working for me. I don't want to hear that we hang the art too high-- we are both tall and the ceilings are tall and just let us live, ok? The tall bookshelf on the left has been mine since the apartment after college. It's a Billy and it's much more stable than the wider standard-sized Billys. My wide Billy fell down spontaneously in a giant crash on New Years Eve, after listing to the right dangerously for months, so I'm on the hunt for a replacement. The nice solid wood bookshelf on the right has been his since he bought it at a proper furniture store in New York. I tried to get him to let me spray paint the oval-with-cut-out wood lamp base gold but he said no. I just think there's too much dark brown going on in here.

See, he does love me! This was taken before the kitchen light installation, so I guess it actually proves nothing, except that we are weird adorable and I had just gotten a new phone to play with. This is taken from short end of the sectional couch. You can see the door to the bedroom and the cool archway opening into the kitchen with the spare room door open in the background. That's an IKEA rug and IKEA coffee table, and one of our two leaning bookshelves (the other is in the basement, awaiting its next role). See the strange underwater rippled effect on the blue wall of the kitchen? That's from the blingy chandelier! When I convinced my boyfriend or fiance at the time to buy it because it was on sale, he had a voucher, and it was fabulous,  I didn't realize it would do that, effectively dimming the light and generally just being Too Much. When I saw the same chandelier in multiples in a River North bar, I knew I had made a mistake. 

The blue walls with dark blue trim in the kitchen were another one of my ideas that I regret. Boyfriend did all the painting, but I gave him the idea, and now I feel guilty. You should have seen the walls before, though. They were tan with brown faux-aged sponging. I think the trim was a nondescript but beigeier tan. They were hideous. Together with the light brown wood floors, light brown wood cabinets, faux-aged metal chandelier, faux-aged metal liquor cabinet, and dark wood furniture, it was a brown abomination. However, white on white is what we should have chosen for the walls and likely will repaint. The apartment is too small for creative trim colors, in my opinion. 

Anyway, it's coming together, slowly. I try to get rid of things, style bits and pieces as I go. For example, I want get rid of a lot of glassware, which is so hard for me, and get some boxes or even shelves to contain the random mess on top of the cabinets, but more on that later. You can even see that I've improved the capacity of the spare room door to hold my entire 54 scarf collection. The issue with this apartment is that there are no closets besides the two tiny bedroom closets, so stuff that needs to be reasonably accessible (only long-term storage in the basement) has to be crammed in somewhere basically in full sight. I plan to address this partly with my larger, better, more sturdy shelving unit in the spare room. To be continued.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Alaffia Africa's Secret - my secret for dry but acne-prone skin

Alaffia Africa's Secret Multipurpose Skin Balm: As promised, this gets it's own post because it was so amazing. I bought it at Whole Foods because it looked like a much cheaper version of the cult-famous Egyptian Magic. It has a lot of the same active ingredients, behold: Egyptian Magic's ingredient list is: Olive Oil, Beeswax, Honey, Bee Pollen, Royal Jelly and Propolis extract; and Africa's Secret's is: shea butter, coconut oil, beeswax, wild honey, neem, baobab oil, sesame oil, royal jelly, pollen and propolis. So first off, Africa's Secret has more helpful ingredients including shea butter, which is luscious and amazing, and neem, which I'd really only heard of on this blog post but never tried the recommended product because it's too expensive. However, I think I might get into some neem oil in the future, maybe some DIY face oil or serum? Also, as detailed in this blog, Africa's Secret is Fair Trade and tries to help make a difference in the communities that produce the raw ingredients, so thumbs up for that.

I put this stuff directly on my face. Mine had these slightly annoying grains that disappeared into a smooth oil once I rubbed a bit in my hands; I don't know if that was because of the extreme heat in my old apartment and thus extreme temperature changes or just that batch. It smells basically like shea butter. It went on my face super shiny and oily, so this was strictly a before-bed treatment. The bottle says you can use it on hands or hair, and it's really the consistency of many of the multipurpose balms that are out there: Bag Balm, Aquaphor, Lucas's PawPaw Ointment, even Rosebud Salve, etc. However, I think that would be a waste as it wouldn't have time to sink in to your cuticles before being rubbed off and there's not much in the jar so it would be wasted on the vast expanse that is my hair. The important ingredients here are great for my skin and helped me to have soft, acne-free skin. I believe the honey and other bee-derived ingredients are great for my dry but somewhat acne-prone skin. I tend to have super dry, dehydrated skin, but have a few pimples a month, especially around my period / hormonal peaks. This is confusing skin, because most acne treatments dry my skin out further, and products designed not to clog pores often don't moisturize deeply enough. But when I take the plunge and smear this stuff on, I swear to you, pimples that were forming disappear. I feel like I've gone on and on about honey before, but I used it and the oil cleansing method, as well as 2-3 cups a day of Skin Detox tea, Biosil for a month, and this Alaffia stuff right before my August wedding and I had clear, glowing, beautiful skin if I do say so myself. I look a little evil in the picture below but this is no makeup. I'm bragging here but I really did work hard for this.

I have a bunch of other lotions that got left behind while I used up this whole jar, and now I'm going to try to force myself to finish them off before I go buy another one of these, but winter is setting in and this is especially good for winter! I just went and got the last tiny drops of this out and already my skin feels so much better.