Brand Spotlight: Jordan Samuel Skin

So I’m doing something a bit different today, but I wanted to talk about a brand I’ve really been liking these days. Usually when I think about a brand I like, it’s mostly about the products, and since I have virtually no actual brand loyalty, that changes as often as my routine. But lately, I’ve settled into a kind of set routine, where I love all the products I’m currently using, and I don’t feel any need to explore for the time being. And two of those products (one of the two brands that boast two items in my routine from the same brand) come from Jordan Samuel Skin.

Jordan Samuel Skin is the labor of love of founder Jordan Pacitti, a former corps de ballet dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, though its various incarnations, you may remember that I returned to ballet at age 30 after not dancing since the age of 7. I’ve always loved ballet and part of me wonders what could have been if I’d had a more supportive teacher when I was a child. So of course, I was immediately drawn to the aesthetic of a brand developed by a ballet dancer for the challenges that a dancer faces. Incidentally, the issues of late nights, lots of makeup, and sweating under stage lights also apply to actors! I also found Jordan’s YouTube videos “Jordan Samuels Skin Talks” and found his personality engaging and fun. He just seems like such a nice guy (and he has cats, so how could that be bad?).

So I splurged and bought myself a bottle of his Etoile facial oil, a blend of luxurious plant oils with a price tag that is actually less than a lot of the blended facial oils on the market. He also doesn’t put any fragrance or essential oils in his products, which my finicky skin appreciates. From the time you receive your package, you feel the care that goes into each order. No, Jordan doesn’t personally write the note in each package, but the printed handwriting suggests a level of intimacy, like a friend just sent you a gift. The packaging is understated and elegant. The whole experience is highly Instagram-able, which I imagine is part of his strategy.

Oh, and he does social media so well. While I don’t flatter myself that Jordan himself responds to every YouTube comment and Instagram message, every comment and message does get a response. When I tag the brand on Instagram, I get a comment or a response (if it’s a Story). I even got a completely-unrelated compliment on my hair after tagging the brand in a Story! And they’re highly receptive to questions about products on Instagram messages. I feel a connection. They’re social media game is on point, which is so important, particularly when other brands can either feel disconnected or unwilling to engage constructively.

But what about the products? Well, I’ve tried two products from Jordan Samuel — the aforementioned Etoile Facial Oil, and his Hydrate Serum — and I love them both. They’re kind of like your favorite pair of ballet tights — a good pair should be almost unnoticeable, but they give your legs a smooth line and subtly lifted look to help you see your muscles work. In the same way, both of these products are go-to for one simple reason: my skin looks better when I use them than when I don’t.

The Etoile Facial Oil is a blend of plant oils with a balanced fatty acid profile. It’s a beautiful amber color from the natural unrefined oils, and it has no scent. It goes on with a noticeable slip, and I find it a bit oily for daytime use, most of the time, but it’s lovely at night. I pat on 5-7 drops every night after my hydrating steps and before my final cream layer, and I find I wake up with a refreshed glow. When the weather is warmer, I can even use Etoile as my final nighttime step. When it’s very cold outside, I’ll use 3 drops of Etoile in the morning to supplement my daytime routine, or as a protective layer before exercising outside in the cold. There’s also a version with retinol, which I’m going to try once I’ve figured this whole conception/pregnancy thing out and don’t feel conflicted about retinol.

The Hydrate Serum is just that: a fairly basic hydrating serum. It has hyaluronic acid and glycerin, some soothing plant extracts, a touch of stable vitamin C (not enough to replace a dedicated antioxidant serum), and a peptide for skin health. It has no fragrance ingredients, but it does have a light powdery-natural scent from the plant extracts. It’s a thin gel that goes on very juicy onto the skin, and absorbs without stickiness. My skin drinks this up, morning and night, and looks plump and refreshed. Again, I feel like I have a glow with this serum that I don’t notice with other, supposedly similar, products. I’m about 3/4 of the way through my first bottle and I’m definitely springing for the 4-oz. bottle when I need a refill. I like to slather. I use about a pearl-sized amount in the morning before cream and sunscreen, and a slightly larger amount in the evening before facial oil and cream.

So I’ve definitely been enjoying these two products. Given that I’ve spent the last several months paring down my routine, keeping two things from the same brand is high praise. I hope you’ll check it out. I get nothing out of it, other than appreciating that a brand I like is doing well!

NB: This is not a sponsored post.

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Quick Update: Something New

Hello! I just wanted to quickly post to let everyone know that I’ve decided to start trying out a new format. I made my first YouTube video this weekend. In it, I brew and taste a Silver Needle white tea at sunrise in my back yard. It was the first weekend of spring and the birds were chirping, even though it was cold and there was still some snow on the ground. Hopefully the weather gets a little warmer so I can continue sharing these tea sessions with you in person.

If you’d like to watch the video, here’s the link. I hope you enjoy it!

Tea Review: Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix Pearls

Earlier this month I had a birthday and one thing that people know I will always appreciate for my birthday is tea. Because my mother knows me very well, she got me a pack of jasmine tea because I love jasmine. I don’t tend to drink a lot of flavored teas, with the notable exception of traditional flavors — so Earl Grey, the occasional masala chai, and floral-scented green and oolong teas. And rolled jasmine green tea is a particular favorite.

Adagio Teas is probably the way I first got really into loose-leaf tea. I do remember visiting Teavana when one opened in a nearby shopping mall, but instead of buying there, I went home and opened up our newfangled internet machine to search “The ‘Web” for a way to find even more high-quality teas. I stumbled upon Adagio and first learned the joys of loose leaf tea. These Jasmine Phoenix-Dragon Pearls might have even been in my first order because I found the name romantic and lovely, and even as a teenager preferred deep floral scents to the typical light scents favored by my peers.

But since then, I’ve moved beyond the one-stop shopping experience of Adagio Teas, so they don’t often feature in my rotation when I decide what to review. So because it seems appropriate for early spring, I thought I’d add some florals to my tea reviews. You know, for spring.

The Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix (also called Dragon) Pearls are described as hand-rolled young tea leaves and buds, scented with jasmine. They are delicate and pretty to look at, with some variation in the color of the leaf, as well as a few white jasmine buds sprinkled in to enhance the look of the dry tea. When they steep, you can watch them unfurl into small leaves. The jasmine scent, particularly of the first infusion, is heady, and I find that it does best when it’s steeped for about a minute at first, and then as little as possible on subsequent infusions, until the strength of the tea settles down a bit.

The brewed tea, if not allowed to oversteep, is luscious and almost sweet-tasting. It smells heavily of jasmine, but also of the vegetal notes of good-quality Chinese green tea. While the first steeping will always have the strongest flavoring for any scented tea, this tea maintains a respectable jasmine punch for several steepings, although as you go on, you’ll find the qualities of the green tea coming through more and more. While Chinese green teas are not my favorite, this is a lovely example of one.

Adagio Teas is known in the tea community for being a bit overpriced for their quality, but there are a great place for someone who is new to tea to go and learn a bit about loose leaf teas before diving into sourcing teas more directly. Their website is visually pleasing and provides good information and reviews to help you choose a tea. And the fact that they offer small samples of almost all their teas is a fantastic bonus.

NB: I was not paid or encouraged to write this review. While the tea in question was a gift, it was not a gift from the company. All thoughts are my own. Read more about my sponsorship and review policies here.

Beauty Review: Products I Like More Than the Things from Deciem Brands that I Have Liked in the Past

So most of my traffic comes from a handful of posts, specifically my posts reviewing products from the brand Deciem. Unfortunately, in light of overwhelming evidence that the owner of the company is not someone I want to support, I’ve finally decided to stop patronizing the brand. But, honestly, I don’t really have any current favorites from Deciem anymore anyway, so it’s not such a hardship, so rather than just adding to the rhetoric against the brand (better writers than I have written about it), I’m going to share some of the products I’ve been using that are either replacements or even upgrades to previously-reviewed Deciem products.

Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate Serum:

The first post on Deciem I ever wrote was a review of their Hyaluronic Acid serum. A little while after that, I wrote a post called “Battle of the Deciem Brands” where I faced off The Ordinary’s Buffet serum with Hylamide’s SubQ Anti-Age serum, which are both ultimately hydrating serums with peptides added. I came out on the side of the Hylamide serum, but I haven’t actually used either of these in over a year.  Since then, I’ve discovered one of my favorite new-to-me brands: Jordan Samuel Skin. Jordan is a joy to watch on YouTube, and an absolute doll to interact with on social media. He’s responsive, supportive, and just plain nice. AND he has a small-but-thoughtful line of products that are natural-led without neglecting science, and free of fragrance and essential oils. I’ve been using his Hydrate serum, which is a hydrating serum with peptides and a bit of stable vitamin C, for over three weeks now and I’m reasonably certain I can give it credit for how amazing my skin looks lately.

Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin Mist:

Another product I reviewed positively from Deciem is their Hylamide Hydra-Density Mist, which is hydrating and soothing, but is ultimately a hydration step. Since then, I’ve stopped spending money on in-between steps meant to either hydrate or seal in hydration. So instead of buying expensive watery toners or mists, I go between steps with several sprays of Heritage Store Lavender Water and Glycerin. It has water and glycerin to grab hydration, and a light lavender scent. They also make a rose version. If you absolutely cannot handle scent of any kind, this isn’t for you, but my fragrance-sensitive skin loves it and it’s cheap at my local natural foods store.

Stratia Liquid Gold:

This isn’t a straight replacement, but that first Deciem review also included a review of The Ordinary’s Niacinamide serum. I’ve since stopped focusing much on niacinamide as a mainstay of my routine, but the 4% niacinamide in my favorite midweight moisturizer is plenty to keep my skin happy. As a bonus, the Liquid Gold also has ceramides and some lovely plant oils. And Alli is just so sweet a person. She also has a small but thoughtful line of products that are firmly science-led, and is highly responsive on Instagram.

COSRX Triple C Lightening Liquid:

Another of my early reviews was the Hylamide C25 Booster vitamin C serum. I liked that it was easy to use, cosmetically elegant, and seemed to give my skin a nice glow while still being shelf-stable and free of worries about oxidation. Well, I’ve done some research and there’s not a whole lot of evidence that ethyl-ascorbic acid is as effective as l-ascorbic acid, so I started investigating L-AA serums. I settled on the COSRX collaboration with Charlotte Cho of Soko Glam. This serum is a 20.5% L-AA serum with black chokeberry to help prevent oxidation. I do keep mine in the fridge and check the color regularly, but after two to three months of use, I haven’t seen it turn more than a pale champagne color. And it feels like water on the face. It is acidic, so there is a slight sting if you apply it on broken skin (i.e., a spot that might have mysteriously popped while you were doing your routine), but other than that, it’s benign and just serves to keep my old hyperpigmentation fading and my skin bright. I’ve actually done a full review here.

Innersense Beauty Hydrating Hairbath:

I’ve spoken in the past about my hair care routine and how some of my favorite products were the Hair is Fabric foaming conditioners. They’re basically an upgraded version of conditioning shampoo. Well, although I liked the way they made my hair feel, they all have unbearably strong scents, even after a supposed reformulation a while back. So I started experimenting with hair care again. And I landed on a winner: Innersense Beauty. I’ve started using their Hydrating Hair Bath during the week in a similar way to the HIF cleansing conditioners — as a moisturizing one-step cleanse in the shower, with a leave-in conditioner for extra nourishment. I also use their Hydrating Cream Conditioner as a deep conditioner once a week after a more clarifying shampoo, and I love their Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner and Quiet Calm Curl Control Creme as leave-in treatments. The scents are all natural and the perfect balance of a pleasant shower experience without a lasting cloud of scent on my person. Also, they sell minis so you can try the products without a huge initial financial outlay!

Bonus: Stratia Soft Touch AHA:

Just before the most recent stuff hit the most recent fan for Deciem, I was testing The Ordinary’s 10% Lactic Acid serum as my thrice weekly chemical exfoliant. It’s cheaper than my previous serum and a similar potency. When I decided I definitely needed to try to move away from Deciem, I brought out a bottle of Stratia Soft Touch AHA 10% mandelic acid gel that I had (probably unfairly) tested and abandoned around the time I was recovering from my miscarriage. As I love the Stratia brand and I wanted to give it a fair shake AND I didn’t want to buy a new product after developing uncomfortable feelings about my remaining half-bottle of The Ordinary LA, I decided to try it again. And I’m so glad I did. It does the same job of keeping clogs at bay on my chin, it’s a similar price point to The Ordinary (it’s 2/3 more product), and it’s in an airless pump instead of a fiddly dropper. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, gentle AHA, give it a try.

NB: I was not paid to review any of the products mentioned here and purchased all of them at full price with my own money. See more about my policy around accepting products for review here.

Tea Review: Brief Reviews of Everything Made by Pique Tea (plus a bonus recipe!)

NB: I purchased everything reviewed here for full price with my own money directly from Pique Tea. Pique Tea did offer me a discount code after my initial post on Instagram about their Jasmine tea, but I had already ordered all of this and didn’t use it.

Pique Tea is an interesting company. They claim their product has the same health benefits as high-quality, brewed loose-leaf tea, but in a powdered product. I first saw them at a local herb store and was intrigued. I figured if it wasn’t terrible, it would be a great way to take tea to conferences without having to worry about bags and steeping times and water temperature. When I tried the flavor I first got (Jasmine), I was so impressed, I decided to buy everything and review it all in one go.

Since I love Tracy’s mega-review of Glossier over at Fanserviced-B, I thought I’d do my review in a similar style. I should probably give a little info about my likes and dislikes and how I do tea. First of all, I love the ritual of tea, so something like this is never going to fully replace my tea leaves. But two things have come up for me recently. First of all, I travel semi-regularly and never know what the situation is going to be in terms of tea availability at conferences. Since I’m supposed to be a representative of my organization, I strive not to appear too eccentric or high-maintenance when I travel, which means that loose-leaf tea is pretty much out. I’m stuck with tea bags, and I have to worry that I’ll get caught up in a conversation and forget how long I’ve steeped my tea. These tea crystals definitely work great for travel, and I even convinced a researcher at a recent conference to try them for her field expeditions!

Second is that my husband and I have been trying to have a baby, and one of the things to worry about is caffeine intake. Because most of the information about caffeine in tea out there is pretty much wrong, and it varies so much due to factors such as brewing parameters, using a product like Pique helps me get a better handle on how much caffeine I’m consuming. They not only test their products and post the caffeine range on each product’s page, they also report numbers that I find believable and not just taken from old estimates of caffeine in general tea types. For example, they report that their Jasmine Green Tea has a higher level of caffeine than their Earl Grey Black Tea, which goes contrary to the conventional thought that green tea has less caffeine than black tea, but is more in line with more accurate research that suggests that processing doesn’t affect caffeine levels as much as previously thought.

But how do they taste? I tested all of the flavors I received, using Pique’s preparation guidelines, and then tweaking it for myself, and I’ve come to a ranking of the Good, the Okay, and the Not-so-Good. Are these going to have the same delicate nuance as a session with a high-grade loose-leaf, carefully selected, and brewed precisely in the perfect teaware for the leaf? No. Do they offer oolong tea? No (darn). But compared to the kinds of mid-range teas you can get from companies like Teavana, Adagio, and Rishi Tea, they hold their own. Here are the details:

The Good:

Jasmine Green Tea: This was the first one I tried and I was impressed. This tastes exactly like a brewed cup of Rishi Tea full-leaf Jasmine Green Tea. Plus, I just love jasmine tea.

Sencha Green Tea: This has that classic Japanese restaurant tea taste. It doesn’t have the ocean notes of really good sencha tea, but it’s a solid Japanese green tea.

Mint Sencha Green Tea: This brings back memories of Teavana Moroccan Mint tea. I like it in the afternoons after a snack or right after lunch to cleanse my palate and keep me from snacking more.

Peach Ginger Black Tea: This is a weird choice for me to like, but it tastes like exactly what I wish Republic of Tea’s Peach Ginger Black Tea tasted like. A great ginger kick, subtly peachy, but not cloying. I haven’t tried this iced, but I imagine it will be great that way, too.

The Okay:

English Breakfast Black Tea: I find the other two Pique black teas to be a bit harsh drunk plain. So this is just okay, but it really makes a fantastic morning cuppa with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar or honey. I actually drink a sweet milky cup of this before going to the gym in the early morning.

Earl Grey Black Tea: Again, too harsh on its own, but it has some really interesting honey notes to it, if you can get past the bitterness. But it does make a really amazing Earl Grey Latte (recipe at the end of this post!)

Passion Fruit Green Tea: It isn’t really this tea’s fault that I don’t think it’s great. I really don’t prefer nontraditional fruity teas. But it’s a great representation of a not-too-cloying fruity green tea. Again, probably would be great iced.

The Pique Cup: I couldn’t call this great because, well, it’s just a cup. But it’s attractive, has a sort of millennial-minimalist flair, and the double-walled construction does a great job of insulating your hands from the hot beverage. It’s not my style, but if you’re into it, it’s sturdy but not clunky and holds the perfect cup of tea.

The Bad:

Hibiscus Mint Herbal Tea: I hate stevia. I hate all non-nutritive sweeteners, so I don’t really single out stevia. But stevia has crept into “healthy” foods and beverages and to my taste, has ruined them. And it’s a shame, because once my taste buds started saturating a little to the stevia taste, I could detect some really nice tart and herbal notes in this tea. But I haven’t had more than my first cup because I really hate stevia. If they ever decided to try a non-sweetened version of this, I’d be first in line to try it again.

So there are my thoughts. Most of the teas are not bad and worth buying again. I know I’ll almost certainly buy the three non-fruity green teas again, and possibly the English Breakfast, for the ease of my pre-gym cuppa (seriously, I go from bed to car in 15 minutes when I’m going to the gym, so five minutes to steep a cup of tea counts). And now, as promised, my recipe for a Lavender Honey Earl Grey Tea Latte:

Ingredients:

1 packet of Pique Earl Grey Black Tea
1 cup of milk (I used full-fat goat’s milk)
1 tsp. dried lavender buds
1-2 tsp. honey (to taste)

Add the packet of Earl Grey tea crystals to your cup. Add the lavender, honey, and milk to a small saucepan and put over medium-low heat. Heat over the course of 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the honey has dissolved and it reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (no more than 180 degrees). Strain into the cup with the tea crystals, making sure your strainer does not touch the surface of the liquid in the cup. Froth with an electric hand frother for a few seconds, until a little foam forms. Drink as soon as it’s cooled off enough.

Tea and a Story: Floods

I’m back again! I’ve resolved to try to post at least once a week for a while. And I thought, since I’m still recovering after my own personal hardship, I would offer something a bit more uplifting: A “Tea and a Story” post about natural disasters!

Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown. NZ

Seriously though, I have always been fascinated by the prevalence of flood stories across cultures. Whether this is some primordial memory of a great global flood, or simply a disaster that a lot of locations have in common, stories about the floods are always stories of renewal and transition. So that’s how stories about natural disasters and the near-elimination of humans as a whole count as uplifting.

Of course, the story that those of us in the Christian world grew up with was the story of Noah and his ark. In that story, God (the god of the Abrahamic religions) decides that human beings are too wicked and he’s going to destroy them all in a flood. All except for Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” So God instructs Noah to build an ark and take a mating pair of every animal and his family and ride out the flood. Eventually, the flood waters recede enough that the ark comes to rest on the top of a mountain and Noah sends out birds to see if the waters have receded, with the final sign of land being the dove returning with an olive leaf.

The most fascinating thing about this story, to me, is that is is actually incredibly similar to an ancient Babylonian story, one version of which is recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, even down to the birds and the fact that the Hebrew Bible uses a similar word for “pitch” to the original Babylonian story. It’s widely accepted that the Noah story is actually based on the older story from Babylonian mythology.

The most famous version of the Babylonian myth is actually the one from Gilgamesh. In the story, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who is the survivor of this ancient great flood. Utnapishtim recounts his experience of the great flood. In it, the gods decide to destroy humanity, but because the god of wisdom, Ea, likes Utnapishtim, he finds a way to tell the man about the impending flood and instruct him on how to build an ark and save his life and the lives of his family members, along with animals, craftsmen, and grains. After riding out the flood, he comes to rest on a mountain, and like Noah, sends out birds to check if the waters have receded. First he sends out a dove, which returns because it has found nowhere to alight, then a swallow, which also returns. Finally, he sends out a raven, which finds dry land and doesn’t return. After that, he sets everyone free and sacrifices to the gods. After discovering that a mortal survived, the gods discover Ea’s betrayal and are angry, but ultimately decide to bestow immortality upon Utnapishtim and his wife and have them live far away from humanity.

Of course, this isn’t the only flood narrative. My favorite of the narratives comes from Greek mythology and is the story of Deucalion, the son of Prometheus. Once again, Zeus decides that humans have become too wicked. This may or may not have something to do with the woman bearing a jar full of evils that he sent down in a fit of pique after Prometheus not only steals fire, but also teaches men how to cheat the gods when choosing sacrifices. But never mind that. Ultimately, Zeus decides to drown everyone in a great flood. Prometheus tells his son, Deucalion, how to save himself and his wife, Pyrrha, by building a “chest” and provisioning it (in this story, there’s no mention of saving animals, so presumably ancient Greek animals were all strong swimmers) to ride out the deluge.

Once the flood recedes, Deucalion and Pyrrha make a sacrifice and ask the goddess Themis (or Zeus, depending on the story) how to repopulate the earth. They are told to cover their heads and cast behind them the stones of their mother. Naturally, good Greeks that they are, they’re aghast at such desecration of an ancestor. But eventually, they figure out that the “mother” Themis means is the great mother of all life, Gaia, and her bones are stones. So they cover their heads and cast stones behind them. The stones that Deucalion throws become men and the stones Pyrrha throws become women.

I liked this myth growing up for two reasons: one, I loved Greek mythology and for some reason I found it easier to swallow a capricious god like Zeus because his overall characterization is not an omnipotent, infallible deity; and two, I liked the detail at the end of repopulating the earth from the original creative matter of life, Gaia (plus, as I got older, I realized it helped do away with some of the weird, incestuous overtones of stories that just have a family do all the repopulating). But now, the most striking part of this set of stories is how the stories that include a pantheon of gods include some dissent, whereas the Judeo-Christian story has god make a decision and then second-guess himself by finding someone he wants to save. Instances like these in the Bible intrigue me because they show the complex nature of God and suggest that he is perhaps an amalgamation of past pantheons.

Theological discussions aside, it’s interesting that the idea of a great, world-ending flood has persisted throughout so many cultures’ folklores. Stories of great floods exist in stories from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Oceanic islands, and are generally among the oldest stories from those traditions. Whether this is because of some collectively remembered event in prehistoric times, or for thematic reasons, something about this story seems to speak to all of us, as humans. Water is an interesting thing in human history, as it is both vital for life and extremely dangerous. The idea of a hero triumphing over the elements itself is kind of an analogy for much of human existence in general.

So that’s my discussion of uplifting, hopeful floods. I find these stories fascinating and would love to hear about any of your favorite folk tales of great floods.

Sources:

The King James Bible, Genesis 6-9 (link)

The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Gerald J. Davis, Tablet XI (link)

Ovid, The Metamorphoses, translated by Henry T. Riley, Book I (link)

Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard (link)

[Image Source]

 

Beauty Round-up: Inorganic Sunscreens

So I mentioned a few months ago that when I first found out I was pregnant, my first sign that something was up was that my skin freaked out. Now, so much skincare advice for pregnant women suggests using “mineral” sunscreen filters instead of organic “chemical” filters for various reasons, of varying levels of validity. But the primary reason I decided was because of the increased risk of skin sensitivity. And when my skin broke out in a rash, I decided to go to only inorganic filters (i.e., zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). But inorganic filters come with drawbacks: a thick feel, white cast, etc.

So anyway, I started looking for inorganic sunscreens. There are plenty of recommendations out there. In fact, one of my favorite YouTubers, Renee at Gothamista, did a video about her favorite ones recently. And they’re also pretty easy to find at the store where we shop. After a few months of trial and error, I thought I’d share some of the formulations that I found myself reaching for over and over again.

Now, one of the main issues I’ve had with inorganic sunscreens is that the formulations are not usually very cosmetically elegant. A lot of companies that make them focus on “natural” ingredient standards, which means they use a lot of plant oils and butters, leading to a thick product. Ironically, because the inorganic filters ingredients themselves are white powders, they can also make a product drying or mattifying. So plenty of the products I tried were too thick or too drying or both. And some products were great in the summer but to dry for winter. I’ve put together some of my favorites for both situations.

Avene Mineral Ultra-light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion: This was the first suggestion from Renee that I tried. And, wow, is it hydrating. Unfortunately, this was a bit too much for me in the summer when I first tried it, but I found it was great for the weekend when we went up to the Pocanos for the weekend in the early fall. It does leave a bit of white residue, but it’s great for lazy days. Just cleanse and slap it on. So this isn’t my favorite, but I do use it regularly.

Mychelle Unscented Sun Shield: This is one I used frequently when I still sought out natural skin care products. It’s thick and white, but still manages to dry down to a nice texture. It does leave a little white residue in my eyebrows. And it’s dry in the winter. But for summer? Love it.

Mychelle Sun Shield Liquid Tint: This was an impulse buy at the natural foods store, but I still use it every week. It’s tinted, but sheer enough that I can use a lot of it without looking like a mask. It just gives a little light coverage. This pretty much stays in my gym bag and I use it as a one-step sunscreen and makeup step when I’m rushing to get ready after barre class.

Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Cream: This is an interesting one. I don’t love this sunscreen, but I love the fact that I get only minimal white residue around my eyebrows even though it has SPF50. It’s a bit dry of a finish for winter, but I can see myself reaching for it more when the weather warms up.

Mychelle Replenishing Solar Defense: And this is my current favorite. It’s lightweight, spreads easily, doesn’t leave a white cast on my skin, and feels lightly moisturizing (over a serum and cream, but hey, the East Coast has been going through some rough weather). I hope this will still work in the summer with fewer moisturizing layers underneath, but even if it doesn’t, it’s a great winter sunscreen for me.

So that’s my roundup. If anyone has any other suggestions, let me know in the comments.

Where I’ve Been Lately (TW: Miscarriage)

NB: The short answer to the question “Where’ve you been the last month?” is that I’ve been dealing with a miscarriage. So fair warning — that is what I’m going to talk about. I’ll try not to be too graphic, but if you’re not up to hearing about pregnancy, miscarriage, and general health/mental health ickiness, you’ll probably want to just enjoy this adorable picture of my cat and not read any further:

So, hi. It’s been a while since I’ve had a regular posting schedule over here. I got going on my new segment and then stopped updating that, too. I haven’t even been able to put out a beauty or tea review in a while. And the reason for that is that I was pregnant and feeling crappy. And then, well, I wasn’t pregnant anymore, and feeling even crappier.

Miscarriage isn’t really something people talk about in normal, everyday life. Since I found out about my pregnancy and even more after my miscarriage, I’ve found this amazing group of women who have come to me and shared their experiences and that, yes, they know what I’m going through, and that, no, I’m not alone. So if you’re currently going through a miscarriage, you’re really, really not alone. So many people have been there and come out the other side. I’m not sure I’m entirely the best example because, even though I feel like I’m on the upswing, I haven’t even started trying to get pregnant again yet.

Alright, let’s back up to September. Mr. Tweed and I had been trying for a few months, and I was pretty sure this month would be more of the same. Until I got up early, peed on a little white stick, and there it was. Another line. I said something entirely unladylike and called the husband into the bathroom. We were thrilled. I called the doctor and made my appointment for when I would be eight weeks along, and then settled in for an excruciating four week wait. I started feeling occasional nausea around week six, and for some reason I completely lost my taste for tea and developed a wicked craving for coffee. My skin also freaked out and became very dry and sensitive.

Then, we got to the doctor and I got up on the table for the ultrasound tech and she put the transducer on my stomach. We watched as the monitor in front of us started showing images. And then we saw the sac inside my uterus… and not much else. The ultrasound tech made a somewhat disappointed comment, but said we should wait to see what the doctor said. But I knew what it meant. We sat in the waiting room for an excruciating half hour until the doctor was ready to see us. She confirmed the bad news: It didn’t look like much, if anything, was growing in my uterus. We decided to wait a week and come back to double-check. I cried a fair amount that week. After a week, it was more of the same. I got a packet of misoprostol and a prescription for strong pain meds, and went home to miscarry my pregnancy.

My experience with misoprostol was… anti-climactic. I had some cramping and some bleeding and some upset stomach, but nothing even as bad as my period usually is. I was confused and thought about calling the doctor, but opted to wait a couple of weeks. I mean, all my hormonal symptoms had gone away, and I had passed something. I spotted for the entire two weeks. Then, the night before it would be two weeks since taking the pills, I was having some weird cramping, so I put on a pad, just to be safe. Well, it was a good thing because at about 4 a.m., I was hit with a terrible wave of cramping and got up just in time to go to the bathroom before the flow hit. I called the emergency line for my doctor, where I was told to call back if things got worse. Things got worse. They squeezed me in for a same-day ultrasound and exam and the doctor discovered that I had not fully passed the pregnancy and scheduled me for a D&C the next day.

The D&C was almost worse in the hours leading up to it than the actual procedure. I’d never been under anaesthesia before, so I was nervous. But everyone at the surgery center was fantastic and I had no problem going under, or waking back up. I kind of wanted to go back to sleep after they woke me up, but Mr. Tweed was in the recovery room and got me up and talking while the nurse brought me water and ginger ale. After the anaesthesia wore off the next day, I got a bit more sore, but I never had to take any of the prescription pain pills. I was back at work the next Monday (although I had some pain the afternoon and opted to telework the next day), and I made it through Thanksgiving. I had some spotting for the next two weeks, to varying degrees, but almost exactly two weeks after the surgery, the spotting stopped. I had my post-op appointment and the doctor said everything looked fine. Four weeks and a day after my surgery, I got my period again.

And, well, that’s where I am now. At least, that’s what happened. You might notice that I haven’t talked a lot about how I feel about this whole thing. I mean, the short answer is “not great,” but miscarriage is so much more nuanced than that. I’ve been grieving, angry, sad, kind of secretly glad I got to have something to drink at Thanksgiving and Christmas, worried for the future, and absolutely terrified of trying to get pregnant again in case this happens again. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

And, yeah, it hasn’t helped that the whole process has stretched out for longer than a month. I pretty much didn’t go into the office for about half of November. I’m just now starting to feel like life is getting back to normal. But I haven’t really been up to doing most things that aren’t absolutely necessary. I did get all my gift shopping done, but I’m not really feeling in the holiday spirit. I never put out my Christmas tree (all decorated, but still wrapped up in our storage room). It’s just… really not how I thought this holiday would be this year.

But I’m climbing out, slowly but surely. Exercise has helped a lot, as has giving myself permission to skip things that I don’t feel up to doing. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix when I’m not either exercising or at work. But I read a book earlier this week, which was nice. And I’ve been reading some stories for a new “Tea and a Story” segment, hopefully later this month. And Mr. Tweed and I have gone to a couple new restaurants for our food blog. Like I said, it’s a slow and steady return to normalcy.

I wish I could finish this up with some sort of advice, either for people who are going through this, or people who want to support people who are going through this. But I guess the only thing that I can say is: Be patient. With yourself. With your friend who is grieving. It’s kind of lame advice, but really, every person is different. Some people want to talk about it; others don’t. Some people want to have a ritual or some sort of keepsake. Others really, really don’t. It’s not about specific acts of sympathy or acts of self-care — it’s about listening to yourself and your own needs, or listening to your friend and what they want. I guess that’s really all I can offer.

So that’s really where I am. Hopefully, my regular posting schedule will start back up soon, but it might be a little different. I haven’t been tasting many new teas or trying new beauty products. But I still have life thoughts to share from my quiet little corner of the sofa.

Five Things for which I’m Thankful During a Rough Month

So I’ve made some vague, cryptic allusions to having a “tough time” lately. I’m not really ready to talk about it more concretely than that, but suffice to say, I’ve had a bit more than the normal amount of both physical and emotional hardships for the last month or so. As things (I hope!) start to ease up, I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve really leaned on to help brighten my days, and thought it would be an appropriate post for today.

Multi-functional beauty products: I’ve been having a hard time either working up the motivation to do a skin care routine or finding the physical stamina to take long showers, so I’ve been leaning heavily on my Stratia Liquid Gold and HIF cleansing conditioners the past few weeks. When I don’t feel like doing a full routine, I can ask my husband to bring up the bottle of Liquid Gold (it’s distinctive color makes it easy for him to pick out on my vanity). Then, I just need to make it to the bathroom long enough to brush my teeth and doing at least one cleanse, and I can slather on a few pumps of Liquid Gold right before my head hits the pillow. And now that my hair is a bit shorter, a single wash with the HIF cleansing conditioner is enough to keep my hair happy for a bit. I choose Intensive Detox or Hydration Support based on how long it’s been since my last shower. I really wish they would get their 1-L bottles back in stock.

Trader Joe’s: We don’t shop at TJ’s often because the closest one is still not terribly convenient. But we’ve found ourselves in the neighborhood lately and have stocked up, particularly on their frozen food. It’s nice that for $40 or so, we can have almost a week’s worth of food that is easy to prepare and doesn’t contain the ingredients that tend to give me migraines, which are in a lot of prepared foods. And I’m not spending all our money on Seamless. My particular favorites are the frozen croissants, orange chicken, and tamales.

My 25-oz. Camelbak water bottle: I drink a lot of water throughout the day, and when I’m at home, that means getting up every hour or so to refill my glass. Since I’ve been spending more time resting on the sofa, I just fill up the bottle and save a few trips. I can also bring it with me when I’m going to be out for an unknown amount of time.

Leggings and thick socks: I’m not really a fan of socks usually, but it’s been cold. My standard uniform lately has been an oversize sweatshirt or tunic worn over leggings with a thick pair of socks. Sometimes I swap the top out for a tunic t-shirt and a long cardigan.

Pat McGrath LuxeTrance lipstick in “Beautiful Creature”: I bought this as a bit of a retail therapy back when this whole thing started at the end of October. I haven’t been wearing a lot of makeup lately, but when I feel really crappy, but I have to go out and I want to feel a bit more put-together, a swipe of really nice lipstick can go a long way. And this is really nice lipstick. The color is a deep rose pink that looks neutral enough not to look “dolled up,” but is dark enough to add a bit of contrast to my face. It’s a great autumn color. And the formula is amazing. It’s creamy going on, but sets to an almost-matte finish that does transfer, but also leaves enough color on your lips to not need a touch-up after drinking or light eating. Seriously, I wore this to the doctor’s office and it helped.

Tea and a Story: Caught Red “Handed”

Today’s story is going to be the story of “Blue Beard” from Charles Perrault, along with a related story from the Brothers Grimm called “Fitcher’s Bird.” I’ve been catching up on back episodes of Myths and Legends and recently listened to the episode where he talks about “Blue Beard,” in addition to just having finished a Korean drama in which a play based (loosely) on the story features in the plot. But I found myself somewhat unsatisfied with the podcast’s analysis of the story, and I happen to have written a paper on this story when I was in school.

The story of Blue Beard is a story of a man with a blue beard who cannot find a wife who will stay with him, due to his strange facial hair. He visits a neighbor who has two beautiful daughters and chooses one of them to be his latest bride. About a month after they’re married, he leaves on a long journey and leaves his bride a ring of keys, but warns her not to go into one room in the house. She, of course, eventually falls victim to curiosity and looks in the room, only to find the dismembered corpses of all of his previous wives. In a fright from seeing this, she drops the key in the blood, and when her husband returns, he sees this and knows she has disobeyed him. Upon discovering her “crime,” he tells her he now has to kill her, too. She begs that he give her enough time to say her prayers before death, and in the time he gives her, she calls to her sister to looks for her brothers, who were supposed to be coming to visit, and manages to stall until her brothers are nearly there. They arrive in the nick of time and save her from her husband, who is killed, and all his lands passed to her.

One peculiarity of Charles Perrault is that he likes to include a little moral at the end of his stories, and this one is no different. But the moral, despite most modern readers’ assessment of the story as being about a cruel murderer who gets his just deserts, speaks to the crime of the wife as being to curious and being justly punished for it (although he does also admonish husbands not to punish their wives too viciously). But upon reading it more closely, it becomes painfully obvious that the “curiosity” he is condemning is not about going through your husband’s rooms. The line “For thou … A fleeting pleasure art, but lasting care, alas! too dear the prize, Which in the moment of possession, dies” doesn’t really seem to just be about curiosity. Indeed, the psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim suggests that this story is about female infidelity and loss of virginity to someone other than her husband. The moral certainly seems to me to agree with this assessment, particularly when it brings in the husband’s “wicked jealousy” when describing how modern husbands shouldn’t be as brutal as the husband in this story.

The main aspect of the story that Bettelheim points to as support for his theory that it is about virginity and infidelity is the key, which gets blood on it that cannot be washed off. His analysis says that this represents the virgin blood, which, once spilled, cannot be unspilled. Add onto that the fact that Blue Beard is considered hideous to others in this story’s world, and the fact that he leaves his young and beautiful wife merely a month after their marriage, at which time she invites all of her neighbors and good friends to the empty house, and it’s not a stretch to see the opportunity presented to the young wife. The admonishment from her husband that she can go in all of the room, except one, echos the stricture to indulge in life’s pleasures, except that which breaks the vows of marriage.

The other story, “Fitcher’s Bird” comes from the Brothers Grimm and is very similar in structure, except that the husband is an evil sorcerer, and he uses the forbidden room as a test to find a trustworthy wife. Another telling difference is that he gives each girl he tests a key to the room and an egg, and he inspects both for blood. Upon testing two daughters of a local man, they fail and are dismembered, but the third daughter brilliantly leaves the egg somewhere else when she goes to search the forbidden room. She is able to reconnect her sisters’ body parts and bring them back to life, all while keeping her precious egg free of damning blood. Then, when the sorcerer is making preparations for their wedding, she is able to disguise herself until her brothers can come to rescue her.

Now, of course I like this version better because the woman, though ultimately rescued by a deus ex machina in the form of her brothers, manages to avoid death through her own ingenuity. But even more than that is the addition of elements that support the idea that this story of a bloody husband and bloody retribution against a wife who breaks her husband’s command is actually about a husband who overreacts to the revelation of a wife’s infidelity. First, in this story, the man leaves the girls alone in his house as a test before marrying them. Only upon finding a “trustworthy” girl does he think he’s found a suitable bride. It’s no secret that virginity is highly prized in a society that decides lineage through the male line, so it’s less of a stretch to consider this a virginity test. Add to that the fact that the damning bloody object is not a key, but an egg, which is a common symbol of female fertility, and Bettelheim’s analysis starts to make even more sense.

Taking this into account, it now makes a bit more sense why Perrault’s moral focused almost entirely on what the bride had done wrong rather than condemning the obvious brutality of Blue Beard himself.

Sources:

“Blue Beard” from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault [link]

“Fitcher’s Bird” from The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales [link]

Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim [link]