Life with Cat

It has been over two months since the lovely people at the local rescue brought TweedCat to our house. She’s certainly settling in nicely. And so are we. It’s made me realize just how different living with one’s own cat is. I’ve had dogs in the past, and I’ve lived with other people’s cats in the past, but I’ve never had a cat of my own.

I am a determined cat person. I’ve wanted a cat since I was a small child. My mother taught me that I couldn’t have a cat while I was at home because everyone else in my family is allergic. But she would asked me “When can you have a kitty?” from the time I was small, and I would answer “When I have a place of my own.” And that’s how it always was. When I had my own place, I would have a cat. That was always assumed. I even included my hypothetical future cat when I wrote an essay in the fifth grade about what I thought my life would be like when I was thirty (NB: I was an anthropologist living alone in an apartment with a cat).

And then, I went away to college. But even though I had a place of my own, I knew it was temporary. I wasn’t planning on staying in my college town past graduation, and most of the local rescues wouldn’t adopt pets to college students anyway. A wise choice, in my book. So I had the place, but not the cat. And then, in graduate school, I first lived with a woman who had her own cat. From there, I moved in with the man who would become my first husband. And who is allergic to cats. So we got a dog. And I thought for a while that maybe I was actually a dog person.

After my divorce, I lived in a string of shared housing again. And finally, I settled in a house with Fiancé. Of course, the lease on the house stated no pets. So when we were considering moving, we talked about it with our landlady and she gladly amended it.

Again, we looked at getting a dog. But dogs require time that we don’t necessarily have to give. And cats are a little more solitary. So I broached the subject with Fiancé: Why don’t we go look at cats. And we did. And I met TweedCat. And completely fell in love, and the rest is history.

Now, my mornings are different than they were. I still wake up early, before Fiancé, and make my cup of tea. But now, I also feed TweedCat. She certainly makes sure I know that’s part of the routine. And when I get home, I have a sweet kitty who’s happy to see me. And sometimes, especially early in the morning, when I’m sitting quietly, usually on my computer or maybe watching TV, drinking a cup of tea, I’ll look down, and there will be a little face staring up at me from the floor at the foot of my seat. I’ll pat the chair and she’ll hop up. And then she’ll curl up in my lap and purr. And it’s very nice.

Cats that aren’t your cat don’t necessarily do that. I had plenty of my housemates’ cats jump up and sit next to me or let me pet them or beg me for food. But none of them ever treated me like their person. Because I wasn’t. Now, I have a cat of my own. And I’ve become somecat’s person. And it’s lovely.

Autumn 2016 Teas I’ve Been Loving

Good morning. As my blog name implies, I am an avowed tea-drinker. And I haven’t done a tea review in a while now. Lately, as the weather cools down, I find myself reaching for more rich black teas, sometimes with milk and a touch of sugar, or else a more-oxidized oolong tea. So I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve been drinking that I rather enjoy in the chilly weather.

Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company Asian Beauty Oolong: This was my autumn transition tea. It is a large-leafed, moderately-oxidized oolong that gives a robust, amber-colored cup of tea. It does tend towards bitterness if brewed too hot or for too long, and I find this is one of the few oolongs I actually prefer brewed Western-style than in a gaiwan. And, of course, given my love of Asian beauty products, I couldn’t resist the name.

Harney and Sons Black Tea Sampler: As I’ve mentioned before, when the weather gets cold, I turn to rich black teas. The thing is, I tend to drink a lot of breakfast tea with milk and occasionally sugar, and then a lot of Earl Grey. Not a lot of variety. So I decided to get myself a four-tin sampler set of black teas from H&S this autumn. It includes teas from China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, which is a nice assortment and goes beyond the standard Assam and Darjeeling teas I know and love. I believe my favorite is the Kenilworth Sri Lankan tea, but all of them are distinctive and have their appeal. If you’re looking to expand your black tea horizons, these samples are varied and generous for the price.

Harney and Sons Earl Grey: Of course, I couldn’t go all autumn and winter without a nice Earl Grey. So I bought a four-ounce tin of H&S Earl Grey. It’s a rather large amount of tea, which is perfect for everyday tea drinking. If I’m not in the mood for something specific, I generally turn to the Earl. This is a nice blend, not too bergamot-y, and not too bitter. It handles oversteeping when I occasionally forget about my tea on a busy morning. And it doesn’t send me bouncing off the walls with caffeine, but it’s a proper morning pick-me-up. A solid Earl Grey offering.

Disclaimer: I purchased all products described and was provided no incentive for review. I have not used any affiliate links.

Holiday Recipe: Maple Pecan Pie

Yesterday, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. Now, being the technically-Southern woman that I am, one of my favorite Thanksgiving treats is pecan pie. Of course, the traditional version is mostly corn syrup and sugar, with eggs for body, and some pecans. Apparently, one of my uncles loves pecan pie, but when he eats it, he picks off the pecans, which invariably float to the top of the filling, and then just eats the sugar-corn-syrup goo underneath.

Appetizing, no? Well, I’m not a fan of corn syrup goo, so when I was developing my own recipe, in addition to adding many more pecans than my traditional family recipe, I also decided to swap out corn syrup for maple syrup. Because even though I’m technically in the South, I’m a Northern lady at heart, right? Anyway, maple syrup also lends a delicious flavor and richness that blends beautifully with the pecans. Here’s my recipe, if you’re in the mood for an American holiday treat.

Maple Pecan Pie
serves 8-12

Crust:

1 cup flour
1 stick butter, cold
1 pinch salt
1/8-1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

2 cups chopped pecans, plus more for the top
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 eggs
good pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Make the crust by blitzing together the flour, salt, and butter in the food processor until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water a little at a time until a dough just forms. Squeeze together into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least half an hour.
  2. When the dough is chilled, roll it out into a large disk and place in the bottom of a 9″ pie pan. Trim and crimp the edges. Pop back in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Scatter the pecans in the pie crust and top with the filling. Arrange more pecan halves on top to make it look pretty. Bake for an hour or so, or until the filling is just set. Cool completely before eating. Can be made a day ahead, chilled overnight, and brought to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!

Beauty Review: Glossier’s Rose Balm Dotcom

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So I teased a photo a month ago of some recent purchases from Deciem and Glossier. Now, I still have yet to finish testing all the products thoroughly, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the one with the easiest testing process: Glossier’s Rose Balm Dotcom. I threw this rose-scented balm into my Glossier order to get free shipping and also because I love anything scented with rose (at least if it really smells like a rose). And it delivers on that.

Okay, now I really feel like I should share my reservations on the Glossier brand. Tracy at Fanserviced-B has commented on it in the past, and Caroline Hirons makes a hilarious analogy to Mean Girls in a recent review. And I have to say, I’m kind of on board with that. I definitely don’t feel cool enough to be a Glossier girl. First of all, I’m probably too old at 33, which irks me. Then, of course, I don’t live in New York City, in a spacious, minimalist apartment filled with luxury beauty products and scented candles. I basically never worry about what products will help me get over a hangover. In fact, I generally get a hangover from staying up past 10:30 p.m. more often than I get one from actually drinking too much alcohol (which for me is more than two drinks). I am not a cool girl. I am neither cool, nor a girl (I am a woman. Roar.).

And, frankly, I can’t or won’t use plenty of Glossier’s products. Their moisturizer “for all skin types?” Yeah, it contains an ingredient that breaks me out 100% of the time I’ve tried it. Same with their moisturizing mask. And I don’t need to pay over $20 for a jar of mud mask when I can get a French pharmacy brand mud mask for less money. Nor do I need to pay what they charge for a serum when I can get something really similar for much, much less money from Deciem’s The Ordinary brand (a brand that takes minimalist cool and actually charges a minimalist price for it).

Okay, that’s my rant. And I have to say, that aside, the two things I’ve tried from Glossier, I actually kind of love. My full review of the Milky Jelly Cleanser will come soon, once I’ve really put it through its paces as a cleanser, but for now: The Balm Dotcom.

Okay, so first of all, this is strictly a lip balm for me. It contains shea butter, which is that 100% will break me out ingredient. I find that I’m fine if it stays on my lips. But of course, I keep an eye on things to make sure I’m not letting it stray past the lip line. But as a lip balm, it’s top-notch. I mean, it gets a lot of hate for basically being fancied-up Vaseline, but that’s not really true. First of all, there is nothing wrong with Vaseline. It’s a lovely occlusive. Petrolatum is my best friend in dry weather for sealing in my evening skin care before I go to bed. Aside from that, The Balm Dotcom contains plenty of things besides petrolatum. Most excitingly for me, it contains lanolin, which is what my standard bedtime lip balm is: pure lanolin. But it also contains other goodies that manage to give the balm a thick texture, good slip, but not be shiny on my lips. It doesn’t look like a gloss. It just looks like moisturized lips. It’s much less sticky than either my go-to Lansinoh or the Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask (which has some similar ingredients). And it’s actually less expensive than the Bite Beauty.

And, oh my, the scent. This is a really old-fashioned true rose scent. This smells like rose-scented powder or rosewater. And it’s very lightly pink, which shows up a shade on a hand swatch, but doesn’t show up as any tint whatsoever on my lips. This excels in my mind as a purse balm. It makes me feel like a fancy cool girl when I pull out that little iconically-pink tube, it smells lovely, and I just use a dab to prep my lips if I need to reapply lipstick mid-day, or if it’s the weekend and I’m wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt and want to make it look like that’s actually style and not just laziness. I wouldn’t use this as an every-night lip mask. I’ll save it and use my $6 mega-tube of lanolin nipple balm for that. But as a high-end lip balm? It’s wonderful. I almost wish they made a rose-scented version of the cherry-red balm because that looks like it would leave more of a tint, but I’m not a big cherry lip balm person.

So if you have the budget for it and you like scented lip balm (and especially if you like roses), give it a try.

Disclaimer: I purchased this product myself with my own money and was not given any incentive to review this product positively or negatively. Links are not affiliate links. Glossier doesn’t even know I’m writing this review or who I am. I’m definitely not cool enough to sit with them.

A Writer’s Retreat

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As you know from my previous post, I’m working on a novel for NaNoWriMo. What you don’t know is that this year, my story is set in a place inspired by the area around Fiancé’s parents’ lake house in the Poconos. When I mentioned to him that it would be nice to be able to write in the setting that is my inspiration, he immediately suggested we take a little weekend retreat up to the house so I could write and we could rather get away from it all. It’s a beautiful place, set back in the woods, right on the shore of a small lake. Now, in November, it’s much too cold to go swimming, but I enjoy the mornings and the chill in the air. And it is very peaceful for a writer.

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With nothing else to do, I spent the weekend writing, eating delicious hearty food, drinking plenty of tea and whisky, and just generally enjoying the peace, quiet, and beautiful surroundings. I shared a little bit of it on my Instagram story. And then, Sunday morning, we woke up to this.

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The beautiful autumnal landscape had transformed overnight into a magical winter snowscape. A thick blanket of snow covered everything, making this beautiful place even more peaceful, and it inspired me to bring winter to my novel. I’d never seen the lake in the winter before, so it was even a new experience in my inspiring setting. I continued to write, and then we called a plow to dig us out, so we could head back to our daily lives. I managed to write 10,000 words over a single weekend and figure out where I was actually going with the story, so it was overall a fantastic success. I hope the other WriMos out there are enjoying their November and finding their inspiration!

I Will Return, but Not Yet

I do have more things to say, I promise. I have topics lined up to write about for weeks to come. But right now, I’m still sorting through my feelings after last week’s Presidential election, and it will be a while before I’m operating at 100%. For now, I’m prioritizing writing my novel, as NaNoWriMo is only one month out of the year, but I try to keep this blog going year-round. But I will be back, with reviews and thoughts. See you all here again soon.

On Writing and NaNoWriMo

It’s November, and that means it’s once again time for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge to writers of all kinds to sit down and type out a 50,000-word first draft of a novel-length work of fiction. The concept was started to try to encourage people to listen more to the little creative voice in their head than to the little critical voice in their head for just a month. Just long enough to get that first draft down on paper. Or pixels.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times over the years. I’ve finished my 50,000 words three times and failed twice. I’ve even edited and polished one of the manuscripts and tried sending it to an agent (no dice). And now I’ve decided to try again this year. I have a story idea that’s rattled about in the back of my head for years now and that I’ve started and let lapse enough times that I think it will take the focused motivation of NaNoWriMo to get me through it.

And that’s the real beauty of NaNoWriMo: the motivation. I can write. I can write quickly. I can come up with ideas. I can come up with lots of ideas. But when I try to force myself to sit down every day and type out 1,500-2,000 words to keep a story moving along, eventually I just… stop. I just skip a day. Or a couple days. And then it’s a week. And then I’ve forgotten about the story and if I try to come back to it, I don’t really remember what I was going for. I’ve found it’s important to keep a story in your head pretty much constantly until you’ve gotten it all out. At least for me.

With NaNoWriMo, you get constant reminders. There are emails. There is a website with statistics and a forum full of like-minded individuals to keep your mind on your writing. And that’s the other benefit I’ve found in participating in NaNoWriMo.

When my mind is entirely immersed in my writing, I find very little time to worry about other things that aren’t completely vital to my daily life. Sure, I get my work done and I cook food and take care of life things. But I don’t have time for anxiety. I find that instead of sitting in bed unable to sleep because of my anxious internal monologue, I’m thinking about future chapters. I’m drafting conversations between characters. Or I’m just mentally exhausted from a day of writing. And I drift off to sleep in blissful peace.

It’s like a kind of meditation. My mind is so focused on one goal that it empties of extraneous thought. Part of me wishes I could find a way to keep this focus the rest of the year but most of me is just happy that I have it for the month of November.

Happy writing, WriMos!

On Selfies, plus My Basic Makeup Routine

The other week, I did something I hadn’t done before: I posted an unobscured selfie on Instagram. This was actually a bit of a bold step for me. I’ve always been shy about showing my face on the Internet, and I’ve been insecure about how I look in photos in general. But I finally decided that if I’m going to write at all about beauty and aging, even a little, I should share my face so people can look at the person whose sharing beauty tips.

Selfies are a bit of a fraught subject in today’s world. There’s a camp of those who consider them purely narcissistic and vain. But I am uncomfortable with sweeping judgments and absolutes. Desiring to share one’s face is an intensely human thing. People have had their images taken for as long as history records. But for as long as history has recorded, there have been those who meet the recording of images with fear and suspicion. Now, I might not think that my phone has now captured my soul, but there is something intimate about capturing a picture of your face and giving it to another person.

Today, I wanted to talk about portraits in another light, too. As an actress, I have to have an up-to-date head shot to share with directors, either at an audition or before an audition. And as someone who was not considered a beautiful child and has an uncertain relationship with photography, head shots are near bikini waxing in levels of trust involved. So I’m happy that I have a friend who’s not only willing to do my head shot photography for free in exchange for my help where my talents lie, but also happens to be pretty damn good at getting pictures of my that look good.

So when he said he had equipment that needed testing and suggested I come by to get my head shot updated this week, I jumped at it. That it was a Tuesday evening after a full day’s work worried me, but I have my beauty routine down enough that I can do it quickly. This was a bit of an expanded beauty routine, as I shared on my Instagram story, because I was blow-drying my hair. I usually either air-dry or put my hair up damp on most days. But head shots require hair down and shiny and smooth, so I blow dry.

That, of course, left less time for makeup. No worries. I timed my makeup routine and it took six minutes. So I thought, in addition to sharing a selfie from the photographer’s studio, I’d also share my quick, 6-minute makeup routine.

First of all, my makeup always starts with good skin care. This isn’t counted in the six minutes, but it’s pretty necessary and not too involved. I started by washing my face with the Glossier Milky Jelly cleanser, which is my current morning cleanser. I’m still testing it, but you’ll get a review soon. Then, I did my hair. After doing my hair, I swiped with a cotton pad and some Thayer’s Rose Petal toner to remove any sweat. Blow-drying hair is hard work, after all, especially when you have a great deal of hair. From there, I used a dropperful of The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid serum to make sure my skin was hydrated and plumped up. Then, I topped with a dab of CeraVe Baby Moisturizing cream to prime my skin. I let that sink in for a couple minutes while I sipped some tea. After all, I’d woken up at 5:30 that morning and was starting to drag a bit by 7 p.m.

Alright, now it’s time for the makeup. I start with Cover Girl’s Clean Matte BB Cream in Light/Medium. I dot it on my face and then buff it in with a Real Techniques Face Brush. It gives light coverage and a matte finish for camera. With the weather cooling down, I’ll probably switch to something a bit more hydrating for every day, but the Clean Matte has been wonderful over the summer. Then, I conceal with some Maybelline Fit Me Concealer in Sand, under my eyes, around my nostrils, and on any lingering spots. From there, I pat some Nyx Rouge Cream Blush in Tea Rose on my cheeks.

Eyes are simple: I line my eyes with a dark brown liner, the Sephora Waterproof Retractable liner, and then soften the line with the built-in smudger tool. Then, I add a coat of Maybelline Great Lash waterproof mascara on my top and bottom lashes. A swipe of a neutral pink lipstick finishes the look, in this case Revlon Butter Lipstick in Berry Smoothie.

So there you have it: six makeup products and six minutes to head shot readiness. And the effect is basically “Me, but better.” Of course, the photographer edits his shots, but I thought the unedited selfie I shared above would give a good idea of the gentle evening and enhancing that I ask of this makeup routine than the final, retouched portrait.

A DIY Emulsifying Cleansing Balm: An Update

So lately I’ve noticed that my number one most popular post here is my recipe for a homemade emulsifying cleansing balm, which I posted at the beginning of this year. I started exploring DIY last year because I couldn’t find an emulsifying balm commercially that fit my needs. I needed something without shea butter (because it clogs my pores) and using primarily high-linoleic oils (because they help prevent spots for me). Most of the cleansing balms out there are targeted to dry, mature skins that would benefit from heavy butters and high-oleic oils. Or else they contain a lot of essential oils or fragrance, which I’ve found irritates my eyes when I use the balm to remove eye makeup. Or they’re designed to be steamed off with a washcloth rather than emulsified before being rinsed or wiped away, which would leave a residue that my skin can’t handle. I also suspect that beeswax is an ingredient that plays havoc with my skin, particularly in a cleanser.

So I decided to make my own with some oils, mango butter, and basically what amounts to a homemade emulsifying wax, which is a mix of polysorbate and a fatty alcohol. And it worked rather nicely. Of course, I later found a cleansing oil that was less expensive to buy, fragrance-free, and based on mineral oil, which doesn’t have either linoleic or oleic acid in it and is relatively neutral from an acne perspective. So I abandoned my DIY cleansing balm for a while.

And then my cleansing oil got reformulated. And now contains shea butter and high-oleic oils. Argh. I thought about trying another commercial cleansing oil, but the one I found that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, was fragrance-free, and based on a high-linoleic oil just didn’t thrill me. And it wasn’t exactly cheap for the amount you got anyway.

So back to my DIY. I’ve updated the recipe a bit. I’ve started to think that maybe all butters and hard oils will eventually clog my skin, and at the very least contribute to a balm feeling difficult to cleanse off my skin. So I put together a recipe with just liquid oil and a complete emulsifying wax. Since a complete emulsifying wax can emulsify a lotion on its own, I figured it would be a shortcut to an emulsifying balm. Sadly, while it did emulsify, it didn’t rinse cleanly without using a flannel. Now, I love my flannels, but some days I just don’t want to be fussed. So I popped in a little more polysorbate and it rinses cleanly with warm water.

Here’s my updated recipe:

Butter-Free Emulsifying Cleansing Balm

(makes 112 g, which fits in a 4-oz. jar)

20g emulsifying wax

30g jojoba oil

50g grapeseed oil

10g Polysorbate-20

2g Vitamin E liquid

Melt the emulsifying wax and liquid oils together and stir thoroughly. Add the PS-20 and Vitamin E and stir until they melt in. Pour into a sanitized jar. Allow to cool. To use, scoop an almond-sized blob into your hands and apply it to your face. It should melt into an oil from the heat of your hands. Then, add a little warm water to your oily hands and rub them together until the balm emulsifies into a milky consistency. Use this milk to emulsify the oil on your face and then rinse with water or remove with a damp flannel. I usually follow this with a second cleanse with a water-based cleanser.