In My Queue: Penny Dreadful

It’s Halloween, so I thought this would be a good time to write a bit about a show that I recently finished on Netflix. In honor of all things spooky and scary, these are my thoughts on the acclaimed show Penny Dreadful.

Image Source: http://gothiccharmschool.tumblr.com/post/93755419985/yes-im-finally-watching-penny-dreadful-and

Penny Dreadful opens with a mysterious woman meeting with a Western show performer to hire him for some “night work.” They go on to meet with her equally mysterious, though more aristocratic, employer and take their new compatriot down into a den of horrors. They slay a monster and take him to a mysterious doctor.

The woman is Vanessa Ives, played by Eva Green, clairvoyant and frequent victim of various possessions. The Western performer is the American Ethan Chandler, played by Josh Hartnett, and he definitely has a secret. But then, who doesn’t in this show? The aristocratic leader is Sir Malcolm Murray, played by Timothy Dalton, a former explorer who just wants to find his daughter, who has been abducted by monsters.

Now, if the name Murray rings a bell, congratulations, you’ve kept up to date on your vampire lore. Yes, Sir Malcolm’s daughter is Mina Murray of Dracula infamy. The show brings in various “penny dreadful” tales, from Dr. Frankenstein to werewolves to some that stretch the meaning of “penny dreadful.” I certainly wouldn’t consider Oscar Wilde such a thing. But that is rather besides the point.

The show is dark and fun at first, though it suffers a bit from trying to smush all the plots together at once, rather than treating the premise as a sort of monster-of-the-week. Instead, there is one major monster in each of the three seasons, and then side plots that allow various peripheral characters to shine. As the show progresses, however, it becomes clear that the main plot will always revolve around Miss Ives and her dark secrets.

Despite Eva Green’s brilliant performance as the troubled and tortured Miss Ives, I think this is the major weakness of the show. Without giving anything away terribly, the show ends at the end of the third season when the story of Miss Ives comes to a satisfactory conclusion. I liked that they concluded the story the way that they did, as it fit such a dark show. But I disagree with the showrunners that the story is entirely about Vanessa.

We come to care about almost every character that is in the show for more than one episode. Most notable to me is the character of “The Creature,” or Frankensteins (first) monster, played by Rory Kinnear. The Creature gains revenge on Dr. Frankenstein in a way, but learns that revenge is rather hollow and that he must now make a life of this half-life he has been granted by the good doctor. He adopts the name of John Clare, an homage to his love of great literature and the feeling he has that books are the only things that will not shun him. Except Vanessa Ives, though that is merely a wistful subplot that was never destined for fruition.

Clare goes from shadow to shadow, trying to find his place in the world, even finding that he can access old memories from before his death and resurrection. He struck me as a beautifully tragic character, neither too good nor too bad, and always tugging at my conscience and emotion. I would have loved to have continued to see what he made of the existence he’s been thrown. While the other characters are similarly nuanced and compelling, that is the biggest reason I found it disappointing that the show ended when Vanessa’s story ended.

But I wholeheartedly recommend Penny Dreadful for anyone with a love of old monster stories. It’s not terribly scary, though there is a fair amount of blood, and as much horror as you’d expect in a story about all social classes in Victorian England. It’s not a large time commitment, and it can be both quite fun at times and emotionally wrenching (and later cathartic) at others.

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A Quick Review: Deciem’s Hylamide Booster C25

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve used Deciem’s Hylamide Booster C25 for a while now and that I’d post a review soon. Since it’s not an involved review, I thought I’d just do a quickie here on a Saturday. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I like it and I’ve repurchased it for when I run out, but I’m not asking a lot of it.

First of all, I think I should say a bit about why I use Vitamin C serum. A lot of people are looking for heavy duty anti-aging or brightening function from their Vitamin C serum. If that were my goal, I would certainly go for a proper L-Ascorbic Acid serum with Ferulic and Vitamin E for stability. Personally, a use Vitamin C in the mornings to give my skin a bit of an antioxidant boost and help my sunscreen along. Any brightening is purely icing on the cake.

So. This serum. This is a very light, watery-textured serum. It feels like a dry oil going onto the skin. It smells chemical-y, but not overwhelmingly so, with a slight hint of something fresh. It’s not fragrance, so they must just use a slightly fruity smelling solvent. It’s not unpleasant, though I have gotten used to it. I use 4 drops on clean, patted-dry skin in the morning. I let it sit for as long as I have to let it sink in, and then apply hydrating layers and sunscreen. It dries down quickly and leaves my skin feeling like skin so I don’t feel like I’m really layering a bunch of gunk on my face, which is how I like it in the morning (at night, however, gunk me up!).

And… that’s really about it. I mean, the main thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t break me out or irritate me. I’ve maybe seen a bit of lessening of the residual spots and pigmentation on my chin, but I have heavier-hitters in my routine that are more noticeable. But C25 is pretty consistent in my routine and I don’t care to see what happens if I remove it. It’s $33 for a 1-oz. bottle and I’m a bit more than halfway through it after 3 months of daily use. And I really use this every day unless I literally don’t get out of bed. And even then, if I get up for 5 minutes to make a cup of tea because Fiancé has abandoned me on my sickbed, I’ll swipe with some micellar water and pop into the vanity room to slap a little of this on. It’s that easy and makes me feel infinitesimally more human.

So that’s my review. Yes, there are ingredients with better research associated with them, but I like that I don’t have to keep this in the fridge or anything. It’s not exciting but it’s not going anywhere from my vanity any time soon.

NB: I purchased this product myself and was provided no incentive to review it.

Beauty Product Review: Deciem’s The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide Serums

Deciem is a company that has been on my beauty radar for a while. When I was dealing with the personal implications of my heavily-Asian-product-based skin care routine, I thought perhaps their Hylamide HA Booster could take the place of some of the products that had to traverse the Pacific. Of course, I am a slatherer of product, so the price point was still just over what I could justify when I could get more product for less from Japan. I do use their Booster C25 as my daily shot of vitamin C and couldn’t be happier. I’ll probably review it in the future, but it keeps slipping my mind because it’s become a bit of a given in my morning routine.

Then, they introduced a new line: The Ordinary. The Ordinary is a line of products with simple ingredients formulated to be inexpensive, yet effective. In interviews, their founder Brandon Truaxe has said that they keep the prices low through the formulations and that the business model is sustainable at those prices. Serums are generally about $6-15 for a 1-oz. bottle and feature single or dual-ingredient formulas targeted to a consumer to know what they want and are willing to do the research to choose the right formulation.

Well, good. After being generally dissatisfied with my Curology experience, I decided to start looking around at their formulas to see if I could roughly match what was helping me in my Curology medication. Of course, I was most interested in their upcoming Azelaic Acid suspension, but they haven’t released it yet and Deciem tends to like to keep consumers in suspense about release dates. In fact, I ended up having a bottle of their other brand’s hydrating mist thrown into an order I’d made a day earlier because they released it suddenly and I couldn’t plan to place the order one day later to add the mist. It would be nice to get a rough idea of when something plans to release, like a month or even a season. But that’s besides the point.

The point is that the first two products I purchased from The Ordinary were the 2% Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin B5 serum and the 10% Niacinamide and Zinc PCA serum. I’ve used the HA serum for over a month and added the Niacinamide serum about two weeks ago. And I have to say, I’m impressed.

The HA serum is no-frills and not terribly exciting, but it does hydrate my skin. It has totally replaced my Hada Labo lotion and I find that my lingering comedonal bumps on my forehead seem to be clearing up as well. The formula is a runny gel consistency and dries down to a slightly sticky finish at first, but this disappears as soon as I put another moisturizer on top of it. I use it every night, but I’ve thought about using it in the morning as well as soon as another product runs out. My test of any hyaluronic product is my one deep-ish forehead line and this seems to keep it plumped and softened.

The Niacinamide serum is a whole ‘nother beast. I made a foolish choice and used a poor cleanser for a few weeks this September, culminating in a gigantic spot on my right temple. It not only took a few weeks to clear but it left an angry red spot that seemed like it intended to stick around for a while. I decided to add the Niacinamide serum about a week or so after it became obvious this big red spot was attempting to make me decide on Jupiter as a Halloween costume. I mix the HA serum with the Niacinamide serum in a 1:1 ratio each time I apply (3 drops of each serum in the palm of my hand, swiped together and applied) at night. Their textures are almost identical so they mix easily. Please note that I mix the dose I’m applying nightly. Don’t mix and store skincare because you might disrupt the preservative system.

I swear, within 3 days the redness started to fade. I don’t think I’ve actually been this amazed by a non-active product ever. So color me impressed. Honestly, I wish I’d thought to take before-and-after pictures, but I really didn’t expect results like this and seriously why else would I take a photo of such a massive face eruption?

So there you have it. I heartily enjoy what I’ve seen from Deciem’s The Ordinary. I’ve purchased one more serum to try, their “Buffet” serum, which I hope will replace the plain HA serum. And I definitely plan to review more of Deciem’s products in the future.

NB: I purchased all products myself and was not provided any incentive to review them.

Autumnal Frolicking: Apple Picking and Apple Baking

This past weekend, a few of my coworkers and I decided to drive out to a farm a little ways out of town for an autumnal treat: apple picking. Sadly, it’s the very end of the season, so pickings were slim (or rather, split and attacked by birds), but it was still a lovely outing. We were treated to stunning views of the countryside in an area where the mountains start to roll a bit and the weather was sunny and yet crisp.

We arrived at the farm in the late morning to a bustling scene of fall fun. A few children and a few more dogs joined in as we gathered our peck bags and headed up the hill. The best apples were at the very top of the hill, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone and take in the views as well. After a little time scouring the trees for apples that were ripe but not overripe, we adjourned to the bins of harvested apples at the ends of the rows of trees to fill out our bags. As I knew most of my apples would be used for baking, I erred on the side of taking a few of the greener apples from the trees. And Fiancé had joined us as well, making it easier to get some of the higher-up apples.

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In addition to gathering apples, we also bonded socially, which is something I’ve lacked with my new coworkers, even after being almost a year into my new job. We carried our apples back down the hill and paid for them, along with some cider. After that, we took ourselves to a nearby town for a sandwich lunch and dessert at an adorable bakery. And then home again to consider our spoils.

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Back home, I found myself tired and busy, so I had limited time to bake this weekend. But I found myself awake on Sunday morning with a desire for something baked and no desire to go out. So I had Fiancé grate some apples and set to work baking a batch of Apple Pecan Muffins.

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Now, I always grate the apples in my apple muffins because I don’t like biting into big chunks of cooked apple and I find it gives them a nice apple flavor and a moist texture. You can feel free to dice them if you like, though you may need to add a bit more liquid to make up for the juices that won’t release.

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I added pecans to my muffins, as well as more spices than just cinnamon. I have a love-hate relationship with cinnamon. Fiancé likes to quote The Hangover and call me a tiger whenever the subject of cinnamon comes up, which is cute, sort of. But I find that the oft-neglected other fall spices add an almost savory-spice to the mixture. It’s a rather old-fashioned flavor and brings to mind spiced mixtures from the Middle Ages, at least to me.

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Finally, if you can find the If You Care muffin liners, try them. They are the only muffin liners I’ve found that the muffins truly release from, no spraying needed. They’re probably easier to find at a hippie natural foods store, which happens to be where I do most of my shopping, but they’re so worth it if you hate having a quarter of your muffin stick to the paper.

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Apple Pecan Muffins
(makes 12 muffins)

Ingredients:

The Dry:

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking steel-cut oats
1/2 cup or so of pecans, chopped
1/3 cup of dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. of baking powder
2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of ground ginger
1/2 tsp. of ground allspice
A pinch of salt

The Wet:

1/2 stick of salted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup of fresh sweet apple cider
1-2 apples, grated (I used one large and one small)

The Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray the liners if you are not confident they will not stick. Or use my favorite liners.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients, making sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar.
  3. In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, 1/2 a cup of the cider, and the eggs. Really whisk it together to form an emulsion between the cider and butter.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, along with the grated apple, and mix gently. If the batter is a little dry, add the rest of the cider until it’s a good consistency. Make sure you moisten all the little pockets of flour.
  5. Spoon into the muffin papers. Your cups will be rather full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until quite brown and springy. Cool as long as you can bear it in the pan and then eat, slathered in butter, preferably alongside a cup of tea or a mug of hot cider.

On Acting One’s Age

I posted on Friday about looking one’s age and about how I don’t, apparently, though I think I do and I think I’d really rather look my age than not have it show how much life I’ve lived. I thought I’d do a companion piece in a similar vein about acting one’s age.

First of all, what does that even mean, acting your age? When I was a kid, my dad would say “Act your age, not your shoe size,” which I suppose meant that I was being particularly immature. And I suppose that’s a bit of it. I mean, we all have a pretty clear idea of what a child should act like as opposed to an adult. But it’s all rather vague and imprecise.

I mean, when you’re a teenager, where does that leave you? I suppose if one really wanted to act like a teenager, one would affect a rebellious and surly attitude (I don’t mock; I was a moderately surly teenager myself).

But what does “acting your age” mean when you’re an adult? What does it mean to act like a 20-year-old vs. a 30-year-old? Or a 40-year-old? Does it keep going? Is there a standard of comportment throughout the decades?

I really think not. And this is what I consider when I think about acting my age. The single biggest thing that has happened with how I act as I’ve gotten older is my increase in confidence. I’ve heard older women talk about it all the time, how they wish they had the confidence that they have now when they were as young as they wish they looked. But really, part of it for me is accepting my looks, accepting compliments, and accepting that people who decide to react negatively to my appearance are probably not worth my time.

For me, acting my age is about asserting myself for myself and for others who aren’t as assertive. It’s being able to get noticed to be served at a bar, but to point out others near me who haven’t been noticed despite being their longer.

Most of all, acting my age has involved a certain development of personal style. I call this “acting my age” and not “looking my age” because the confidence that comes with getting older is how I’ve found the self-awareness to know what is really my preference, versus someone else telling me what’s chic, as well as the necessary stylish elan to carry it off and look creative and personal rather than just odd. Although a certain amount of odd does belong in my personal style.

So I suppose, in short, acting my age has meant coming into my own and as I get older, acting like myself.

On Looking One’s Age

Hello. I’m thirty-three, although apparently I don’t look it.

A couple of weeks ago, I showed up to a rehearsal and saw a friend I haven’t seen in a while. I was wearing my hair parted in the middle such that my ever-growing grey streak showed clearly. He happens to be quite a bit taller than I am, so he noticed and asked “Oh, are you going for an older look now?” I had to laugh because 1.) it was such a typically clueless comment from him, and 2.) I’ve had that grey streak for at least 10 years and it just shows in varying degrees depending on how I wear my hair.

But it got me thinking about aging and looking one’s age. When I was younger, I looked older. In fact, I never got carded for R-rated movies, and by the time I was in college, I was routinely mistaken for over 21. It’s a fun thing when you’re a young woman, to be thought to be an older, sophisticated woman. The young woman I knew as a teenager loved to pretend to be older than they were. Then, around the time I was graduating from college, I had an acquaintance give me the standard line about being surprised I was a college student and that I looked old. I coyly responded, “You know, I’m getting to the age where I’m not sure that’s a compliment anymore,” to which he responded hurriedly, “Twenty-five. You look twenty-five.”

From there, I went off to graduate school and paid little notice to my age, except occasionally to note that I was creeping closer to thirty all the while still in school. Occasionally I would be mistaken for an undergraduate on campus, but just as often I was mistaken for a new professor.

Then, I turned thirty.

When one turns twenty, it is exciting, almost. It’s not quite twenty-one. You feel like you’re getting there, but still, another year would be nice. One more year and you’ll be happy. But the years keep coming because that’s what time does. It moves. Constantly.

When one turns thirty, the fact that one is aging starts to hit home. I noticed aches and pains I didn’t have before. I would wake up creaky. I would feel “hungover” simply from staying up too late. Not to mention my alcohol tolerance started dropping. I felt my body becoming less resilient. I felt older. And when I looked in the mirror and then looked at the 18-year-old face on my old college ID, or the 25-year-old face on my graduate ID, I looked older, I thought. I was getting older.

I was also divorced, had finished three degrees, and had lost my father. I had lived a lot in those thirty years. I wore my age with a badge of honor.

And then, I started auditioning for theater roles again for the first time in almost ten years. When I was in college, I was the dark, severe, mature-looking woman. I was cast in roles that should rightly go to women in their late 30s at the youngest. So when I went to my first community theater audition, I started with roles for women in their 30s-40s. When I got into the audition room, I was asked why I wasn’t auditioning for the ingenue. It turns out, I still looked like a 20-something.

Since then, I get cast as characters in their 20s as often as characters that match my own age. Two years ago, I was cast as a 21-year-old (Personally, I thought I looked ludicrous in the role, particularly since a co-actor of mine was a pretty young woman who actually was 21 and the difference was stark, but the reviewers didn’t bat an eye). Now, I’m finally given more consideration for the more “mature” female roles (NB: women’s roles in theater are often either 20-year-olds or old women, with very little of interest in between).

I actually hope I am starting to look my age. I still get the compliments about how young I look, and I appreciate the thought. What I don’t appreciate is the idea that I want that as a compliment. I want to look my age. I don’t want to while away my life with a Dorian-Grey-esque false exterior while my life experiences are written somewhere hidden.

And to that end, while I love skin care, I focus on the health of my skin, not its youth. I don’t color my hair to cover grey (and indeed, I haven’t colored my hair at all in years). And I dress to accentuate my personality, not to make myself look either older or younger. I strive to look my age in that I strive to look like I’ve lived the life I’ve lived.

On Becoming the Zen Master of Wedding Planning

So I’m planning a wedding. This is not known for being one of the most meditative and relaxing practices. And I’ve been married before, so I have that minefield to walk. As a result, I’ve found myself reading my share of wedding planning websites and message boards. And I’ve noticed that when I respond to threads with advice, my voice is starting to sound more and more like some Jedi-Zen-monk-bride. While I can be a very perfectionist person in my day-to-day life, I’m turning out to be a surprisingly chill bride.

The starting point of my wedding planning philosophy is pretty well summed up in this article. No matter what you do or how much you try to please everyone, someone will be offended and complain about your wedding. So rather than waste energy trying to dance around potential offense, I’ve decided not to care. I’m having the wedding I’m having. I try not to be mean-spirited or deliberately exclusive, but other than that, I’m going to do what I’m going to do.

And that means saying no to things. No, we’re not sending announcements to people who aren’t invited. No, we’re not having a small gift registry just in case someone really can’t bring themselves to show up empty handed. No. Just no.

What I’ve learned from all this is that it is a lot easier to plan a wedding as a self-actualized thirty-something woman than as a mid-twenties student. I’m a lot more confident about saying no to things that I don’t want (or legitimately make me uncomfortable). And the flip side is that I’m finding it easier to say yes to things even though they’re expensive and frivolous. We have the money for it, so I’m going to have my vintage venue and catered brunch with staff to help set up and serve. And flowers. I love flowers. And a photographer to take amazing professional photos at a fair price for his skill and training.

And you know what? This philosophy might look different to you. Staying true to your vision might mean letting your mother have more say because it’s more important to you that she feels intimately involved than to have exactly the decorations you dreamed of. Or it might mean something else entirely. It might involve a church. And that’s okay. The only thing that’s not okay is expecting the world to share and approve of and fund your vision. Also, being mean to people for the sake of being mean kind of sucks. But the are plenty of situations where wedding compromises might come off as mean on the surface. Forgive yourself, move on, and have the event that will make you deliriously happy.

Just remember that at the end of the day, the most important thing is the person you are marrying and the fact that you’re planning on spending the rest of your life together. Just because you have a vision doesn’t mean everything will go to plan. It will rain. Someone you don’t expect may show up. A flight may get canceled. The dress might not come in time. But ultimately, none of that really matters if you love each other. You could get married in a refrigerator box and as long as it’s legal, your wedding was a success.

So for someone who has trouble doing just this, I’m finding it easier to relax about the wedding, comparatively. And I hope any soon-to-be-brides can join in as we Zen our way to our wedding days — bugs, rain, and all!

On Helping Friends in their Time of Need

One of my favorite bloggers and all-around lovely person is Jessica Cangiano of Chronically Vintage. I’ve written about her before because she was a wonderful guide when I first got started blogging about vintage-inspired style. She also has an Etsy store with the most fabulous variety of vintage baubles that I love to browse. In fact, my favorite necklace, the one that gains me the most compliments when I wear it, came from her shop.

It was this weekend that I was browsing said baubles, toying with making a little purchase of a gift for myself. And then I saw a post on Instagram saying that Jessica and her husband Tony lost their house and all their possessions and likely their cat. It was devastating. I’m not a crier, but I found tears in my eyes as I read about this tragedy that struck them. I saw that a friend of theirs has started a crowdfunding page to help them get back on their feet and I naturally went on to donate. After all, I was just about to give Jess money by making a purchase, so why not use that money to help her now that her business has had this setback?

Here is a link to the site, if you would like to help out this pillar of the vintage blogging community and wonderful, friendly woman who has been a bright spot in my life over the last year or so. I hope you will consider it. And Jess, I wish so much love and luck in rebuilding after this.

A Cocoon for Autumn

With the weather turning chillier and the nights getting colder, I’m finding myself gleefully returning to my beloved warm clothing, blankets, and shawls. I love being snuggled up under a blanket or shawl, or wearing a cozy sweater. In honor of the cooling weather, I thought I’d share one of my favorite ways to keep warm:

I call this my “house cocoon.” It came from Uniqlo and is ridiculously oversized, but so cozy, especially paired with fleece leggings and thick socks. When I come home on the weekend, I change into this and pretty much keep it as my uniform all weekend while I’m housebound. It’s long enough to come down to my knees, and the sleeves are a mid-length that’s perfect for lounging because I don’t have to worry about pushing them up before doing anything at the sink. I can make a snack, make some tea, or wash my hands without worrying about soggy cuffs. It’s not so heavy a material that I sweat, so I can even wear it to sleep. I may upgrade to something slightly heavier for the very depths of winter.

Of course with cool evenings come cool mornings, and my office is not the warmest space to begin with, I’m happy I was also able to find an “office cocoon:”

This sweater dress offers a nice balance of professionalism and coziness. I can wear it on my chilly autumn walks to work, and then sit in my office without resorting to wrapping up in a shawl. And with a pair of opaque tights and knee-high boots, it looks quite smart indeed. Fiance suggested wearing a belt to give more waist definition, but I like the clean minimalist line of it without the belt, and it avoids anything binding up around my waist on days when I’m feeling a little bloated. And somehow, the whole effect is stunningly simple and stylish, according to the compliments I got at the office.

So there is my homage to my favorite autumn fashion piece: the wearable cocoon. Go forth and be cozy!