A Walk ‘Round the Lake

The other day it was grey and cool, but not too cold, and I decided to take a walk around the lake near me. It’s something I do often on weekends and days off. The sky was lovely and dramatic, but without any rain, and the weather was just nice enough that I could get away wearing a light jacket.

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I first got to the lake and saw this archway of fluff. I’m not certain what type of tree it is, but the effect was rather striking.

There were other trees around the lake, mostly evergreens. Some were cut off at a point, the work of our resident beaver. The lake itself was covered in ducks and geese, and it was quiet. There were not a whole lot of people around, despite what I thought was nice weather. I suppose most don’t consider a cool, grey day to be the perfect weather for an outing.

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As I made my way around the path, I heard strains of music wafting over from a nearby chapel. Their belltower plays a concert every afternoon. There was a light breeze, but I found myself growing warm. By the time I got home I was rosy-cheeked and invigorated. It was a lovely walk.

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Gardener’s Herbal Tea

Yesterday it was lovely and grey with a dramatic cloudy sky. After going out for lunch, I decided to stop off at my favorite little herb shop to get provisions and then went home to make up a new batch of my personal herbal tea blend, which I like to call gardener’s herbal tea.

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It’s made up of nettles, oat straw, red raspberry leaf, and rose hips, all of which could be grown in the garden, although I purchase mine these days. One of these days, I’ll have my own little yard and garden and perhaps will be able to grow the herbs myself. It makes a nice cup of morning tea. I brew it for an hour in the mornings to really get the essence out of the herbs. The nettles give it body, while the raspberry leaf offers tannin, the oatstraw mellows the cup, and the rose hips give it a bright tart note that really brings the flavors together.

I like to start the day with an herbal cup when I know I shall be drinking cup after cup of caffeinated tea at work. The herbs are supporting to the body in general, and I find my skin looks clearer and my demeanor is brighter. Nettles are packed full of good minerals, although they do taste a bit like strong spinach. Oat straw is supposed to be mellowing and calming. Rose hips are a great source of vitamin C, and red raspberry leaf is good in general for women’s concerns.

Each morning, while Boyfriend showers, I go down to boil a kettle and start my tea. I use my tea cozy to keep the brew warm while I then start my day, shower, dress, and make breakfast. It’s usually been almost an hour before I sit down to my pot of tea. It looks lovely, the rose hips tinting it a litle rose color. I sit and sip my tea and then am ready to start my day properly.

To mix the tea, I gather my herbs. I eyeball the mix by volume, using probably an ounce or two each of nettles, oat straw, and raspberry leaf, and then pouring the rose hips, about four ounces, on top. I can either shake them up in the jar to mix, or mix it up in a bowl. I use about a quarter cup of herb for a pot of tea. I hope you will give my herb blend a try!

Vintage Pastime: Radio Plays

When I was a girl, I would occasionally spend days with my grandparents while my parents were away or when I was sick and had to come home from school. One of my favorite things was when my grandmother would bring out her recordings of old episodes of The Green Hornet radio show. There was something so different about listening to a story rather than watching it on TV.

These days, radio shows are mostly podcasts, about non-fictional topics, but they can become massively popular. Boyfriend and I just started listening to Serial while driving home from his family’s home several hours from where we live. It’s so absorbing to listen to these people, but also fun to imagine what they actually look like. I’ve definitely been sucked in and we’ll have to set aside some time to finish it rather than watching TV at night.

But I love a good fictional radio play. On Christmas Day, we listened to two special Christmas radio plays on two separate public radio stations. They were both really silly, and not the best written, but they were fun. And listening to the actors try to differentiate characters through voice alone leads to some fun variation.

On Sunday nights, my NPR station airs The Big Broadcast. I used to only hear it when we drove to a Sunday night swing dance years ago, but it’s a lot of the same old radio shows that my grandmother used to share with me. Listening to it reminded me not only of a bygone era, but also of sharing time with her.

A Day at the Opera

Yesterday I had a treat. Boyfriend’s family friend has a box at the Metropolitan Opera and invited us to join her at a matinee of La Traviata. Although I’d seen teaser performances as a child and went to a performance of La Boheme at my university, I’d never been to a full-length, professional opera, much less at the Met. I was extremely excited.

IMG_0143I was certainly excited to dress up for the opera. I had found a great late-50s green brocade jacket the week before while out shopping, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring it out. We had lunch at the opera house restaurant first, which was delicious. I had a lobster pasta dish, and shared some of Boyfriend’s octopus starter, and the plate of cookies the table ordered. The waiter did try to mess with my tea (Earl Grey) before it was done steeping, but I fixed it.

And then, the opera. It was not a traditional staging, but a new one, first premiered in 2010. The stage is almost completely blank, with a huge clock that serves as a focal point, and a man who started the performance sitting on the stage the whole time we took our seats. Boyfriend and I spent a little time with the opera glasses trying to decide if he was real. He was. He was ostensibly the performer who sang the role of the doctor, but he stayed on stage silent throughout most of the play, to represent death. The clock and the death character highlighted that the play is not really about a romance, but about a death.

The singing was amazing. Obviously, I’d never seen a full-length professional opera before, but I was amazed at how pure Marina Rebeka, the soprano playing the role of Violetta, sounded. And the baritone Quinn Kelsey as Germont was fantastic as well. And Rebeka’s acting was great as well. I saw that the director really wanted to bring out the pain she was in from the beginning, to make both her facade as a courtesan and her seeming-recovery while in love with Alfredo more poignant.

The technical aspect of the play really drove home the vision. Above the curving upper level of the plain white set was a black screen that was replaced with a cheerful floral pattern at the beginning of the second act. When Giorgio Germont comes in to tell Violetta that she must give up Alfredo, and she realizes that he is right, the floral pattern’s colors started to fade to almost completely black and white, highlighting the third-act line about the flowers fading from her cheeks toward the end of her illness. The floral returns again at the end of the third act, as Alfredo returns and she has her illusion, but goes completely red just as she dies at the end of the show. It was very moving.

All in all, I so enjoyed my first excursion to the opera. It was a wonderful show, and a fantastic experience. I might have liked to have seen a more traditionally staged opera, but hopefully I will have my chance in years to come!

 

Winter Mornings

“In winter I get up at night / And dress by yellow candle-light.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

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Most mornings in the winter we wake up before dawn and I find myself making my way downstairs as the sun is just coming over the horizon. In the summer, it would be light for hours, but the dim light of winter lends a solitude to the early hours. It’s a bit dark and cool. I have to shower this morning, because I’m leaving early and have to be dressed and made up. I shower and dry off, and then dress casually to have my breakfast. I set the kettle to boil and get the tea out. Earl Grey this morning. Two slices of thick handmade bread go in the toaster and butter and a plate are at the ready. A glass of milk finishes off a nice light breakfast.

Sitting in the early morning is the best time to sit and think. It’s quiet. Even when Boyfriend is up, he’s sipping his coffee contemplatively. We have our time together without speaking too much because we don’t want to wake anyone else, but we just enjoy the silent company. And soon the world wakes up and things warm and brighten and become louder and the day starts in earnest. But I enjoy my early morning sanctuary while I can.

Christmas Festivities

My Christmas was lovely. It started the evening before, with dinner at my grandparents’ home. Classic appetizers of summer sausage, cheese, crackers, and a platter of shrimp cocktail led into a lovely traditional dinner of roast beef, scalloped potatoes, and a homemade pie for dessert.

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My grandmother had received a some lovely flowers and put them in her sun room, along with all her other flowers. The whole effect was lovely and reminded me of old British TV shows where there are always flowers.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9d0/80693568/files/2014/12/img_0132.jpgThe next morning, we rose late for us, though still early by many standards. Boyfriend and my mother made coffee while I made a cup of tea. Earl Grey with lemon, in a mug my mother was given by a friend who went for a trip on the Queen Elizabeth II.

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We opened our gifts and enjoyed the displays of thoughtful generosity. I appreciate that my family does not offer excessive amounts of gifts. It’s just enough for each person to feel thought-of, without too much clutter. After opening gifts, I made scones while my mother cleaned fruit and cooked bacon.

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We had a lovely breakfast of fruit, bacon, and scones with cream, jam, and lemon curd. By noon, we were ready to get cleaned up and go visiting. We stopped at a dear friend’s house, where she and her family were opening their gifts. After that stop, Boyfriend and I made the trip up to his family’s house in another city. On the trip, we had the chance to listen to two Christmas radio plays airing on the various local stations we passed along the drive. We arrived, tired but still feeling festive, and wrapped up our Christmas day with a pot roast dinner with his family.

 

Christmas Memories

Merry Christmas!

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When I was a child, my mother and father would wait until we had gone to bed, and then transform the living room, where we had our tree. They would set out packages, wrapped in brightly colored paper, and fill the stockings. My father would rise early to turn on the lights on the tree so that when we came downstairs, it really seemed magical.

The whole room looked different, as though Santa really had visited and brought Christmas with him. And we would spend the morning opening packages and spending time together as a family. One of us always had to make a cup of tea for my mother, Earl Grey with just a pinch of sugar. It was tradition.

I hope you all have your own holiday traditions and are enjoying the day!

Homemade Beeswax Balm for Lips and Cuticles

In my post on skincare, I mentioned my homemade beeswax balm that I keep by my bedside to protect lips and cuticles while I sleep. I’ve always found beeswax has provided a superior balm for my lips. I lick and bite my lips and drink often, so I sometimes find it hard to keep my lips from getting chapped. Add the cold weather to that, and you have a recipe for flaky, sore lips. This does not give a nice canvas for lipstick, one of my favorite makeup items, so I generally have close to a half a dozen little tubes of lip balm around me in purses and drawers and makeup bags. But I’m so picky about the balms I like that I decided to make my own.

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I based this balm in on recipes I found online, but adjusted it for my own preferences. Many recipes include shea butter, which is a wonderful butter for a lot of people. The problem is that I find it makes me break out, and because I wanted this to be a sort of all-purpose balm, I needed all the ingredients to be friendly to my entire person. I chose avocado oil because it’s full of good fats, but doesn’t have as strong a smell as olive oil, and I’m planning on giving this batch away as gifts. Any other neutral oil would probably work, or you can try olive oil and see if the smell bothers you. And unrefined, yellow beeswax, gives it a lovely faint honey scent. I include a bit of Vitamin E as a preservative.

This is really an all-purpose balm, meant to protect any skin that is feeling dry or chapped. I mostly use it on lips and fingers. I keep a tin of it next to my bed, and a tube of it in each of my purses. Before I go to bed, I scratch out maybe the tip of my thumbnail’s worth and rub that on my lips, and then use a whole thumbnail’s worth to dab onto each fingernail so I can massage it into my cuticles.

This is a very waxy, rich balm, so feel free to increase the oil to 2 oz. if you want something a little softer. I like the firmer balm, especially in the winter because it really protects skin from the elements. I’ve been known to put a little on my nose when I’m out on a cold, windy day. You can also make substitutions for the oil and butter. A lot of recipes use coconut oil and shea butter. While there are vegan substitutes for beeswax, I’ve never found them equal in quality, so your mileage may vary there.

I got my ingredients and the lip balm tubes from Wild Herb Soap Co. on Etsy, and my tins thrown into a random order of herbs from another source. To make the rig for holding my little lip balm containers, I used an old egg carton flipped upside-down. I plunged my sharpest paring knife into the center of each cup in an X, and then turned the knife around and used the knob on the handle to open up each X to fit a tube. It’s really quite a handy way to keep the little guys steady while filling them and cost me nothing beyond the eggs, which I would have eaten anyway.

Homemade Lip and Cuticle Balm

1 oz. unrefined beeswax
1 oz. raw mango butter
1.5 oz. cold-pressed avocado oil
~1/16 oz. liquid Vitamin E

Heat the wax, butter, and oil just until everything melts, stirring often. Add the Vitamin E and stir in. Fill containers. Makes about 1/2 cup of liquid, by volume.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine, Part 2: Body

The second part in my series on my beauty routine is my body care routine. My body routine is actually quite minimal, but I use natural products that smell and feel luxurious, so my shower every day is like a mini spa getaway.

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My body care routine is minimal because I try to make sure my lifestyle is conducive to beauty. I eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. I find that eating enough fat is key to having soft skin and shiny hair. It’s a trick I learned in high school when I worked for a chocolatier.

I also keep active. This is an important beauty trick, as I find my skin is clearer when I’m active, in addition to my body looking and feeling better. Brisk walks (especially when it’s chilly!) leave me with a renewed sense of energy and a rosy glow. I try to take one nice walk each weekend, and get in bits of walking where I can during the week. I also perform my yoga and dance stretches several times a week to keep my limbs limber. It helps me carry my body more easily.

You see, a lot of beauty, especially vintage beauty, focuses on comportment as much as lotions and potions. Victorian women had their corsets to help them maintain erect posture, but I’ve cultivated it on my own. Over the summer, I was cast in a play where I played a character from 1905, and was able to get away without being corseted because my posture was sufficient to give the illusion of corseting.

But of course, most people read “beauty” and want to know about the lotions and potions. So I’ll go through my daily body beauty routine.

First, I drink a glass of water upon rising. This really should have gone in the skincare post because it’s made all the difference in the world with my complexion. I don’t add anything to it, just a glass of room-temperature water (I keep it by my bedside table all night so I don’t even have to go to the kitchen to get it). After that, I might get up and do some light stretches. Boyfriend takes the first shower most mornings, so I can plan my day, perhaps write a little, and choose my wardrobe. Then, I’m in the shower.

My shower is quite short. I will cover hair care in a later post. For my body, I wash with a cotton washcloth and some naturally-made soap with lots of lovely oils, and a light rose scent. Right now I’m using Good Soap from Whole Foods, but I’ve often used Mystic Water Soaps in the past. Most of my body care products are either rose or citrus scented. At the end, I turn the hot water down and rinse off with the coldest water I can stand. Then, I leap out and towel off.

I use my rose soap to shave my armpits when they need it, and I use either my soap or a bit of hair conditioner to shave my legs, about once a week. I shave my legs a bit more frequently when the weather and my schedule is conducive to showing a bit more leg, and less frequently in the dead of winter when my legs never see the light of day.

When I get out of the shower, I deodorize with a spritz of rosewater and a swipe from a crystal deodorant. I’m sometimes a little funky by the end of the day, but very few things will prevent that for me. So I stick with the natural stuff and try to change clothes or wash a bit if I feel myself getting stinky. Then, I apply lotion to my legs. I usually rub any excess into my elbows and hands. It was a trick to find a good body lotion because I have certain sensitivities, but this Acure lotion is my current favorite. Duly scrubbed and lotioned, I can head to the bedroom to dress!

In the bedroom, I finish off the one last step of my body care routine: fragrance. I had a bad skin reaction to some fragrance a few years back, so I’ve become very very careful about what I put on my skin. But I was fortunate to find Pacifica Beauty. All of their fragrances are derived naturally and have never caused a reaction, and their Persian Rose is a lovely pure rose scent, with just a hint of the warm undertone of myrrh to ground it. I dab it on at my pulse points. I also have a small vial of jasmine oil that I use for special evenings with Boyfriend. Every man I’ve ever met goes wild for the smell of jasmine.

Once in a while, maybe a couple times a month, I’ll give myself a real scrub-down with a pair of exfoliating gloves. I rinse with cold water, and apply rose-scented apricot kernel oil to my body. It leaves me smooth and glowing and just a little pink. This is particularly nice in conjunction with my weekly mask. I can apply my mask, and rinse it off under the warm showerhead. The steam helps soften the clay a bit before rinsing, so I don’t have to scrub my face too hard.

But for the most part, my body care ritual is simple and focuses first on best practices, and then on just a few good-quality ingredients. It’s just enough to keep me feeling feminine and clean without overdoing it.

In My Queue: Ripper Street

One of my guilty pleasures of TV are police procedurals. Ripper Street combines this with my love of British TV and historical drama. It’s like CSI: Victorian London. It’s quickly become one of my favorite weekend shows, not least because of the clever references to the modern world, along with the atmosphere created by the costumes and characters.

The show follows Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, the head of the Whitechapel police division during the time of Jack the Ripper. Whitechapel is not the nicest of places, and it turns out they have far more than the Ripper about which to worry. The show skews decidedly political, following revolutionaries and outsiders, and reminds me of a steampunk world, only it tries to be historically accurate rather than speculative.

One of my favorite things about the show is the characters. The show focuses on an Edmund Reid who is noble, kind, determined, and very, very honest. The show juxtaposes him both with the status quo of London police — who are as often as not corrupt and often in the loop with the wealthy and politically connected — as well as with the American character. While there is some vagueness about his specific politics, the American doctor Homer Jackson is the outsider for which much of the plot must be exposed. He also represents the march of progress, both politically with his socialist leanings, and physically, as he brings forensic science into the 20th century. His “dead room” is an autopsy room where he turns Ripper Street into CSI: Victorian London. Rounding out the main male cast is Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake, a traditional, former-military copper who uses his fists to talk and tends to stick to tradition, though he is ultimately an honest cop. His boundaries are challenged when he falls in love with a prostitute.

The female cast is led by Long Susan, who is a madame with a secret past. She is married to Jackson, and she runs her house of ill-repute with a firm but caring hand. The show focuses upon some of her girls more than others, but makes sure they are more than pretty stereotypes. In contrast to Long Susan, Reid’s wife is a progressive woman in a traditional role. Their marriage is strained due to a past tragedy that is revealed as the first series goes on.

My other favorite thing about the show are the costumes. I love the bold use of color, adding splashes of saturated jewel tones to Jackson’s costume and Long Susan’s girls, while keeping the gritty, slightly dingy look of 19th-century London. The costuming, coupled with the often-veiled political references actually remind me of Firefly. The repartee between the characters doesn’t hurt on that score, either. Here’s hoping it stays running for a long time yet.