My Soothing Nighttime Routine

In my recent post about rediscovering my meditation routine, I mentioned a bit of trouble I’ve been having getting to sleep. It’s actually not a terribly new problem. My generalized anxiety and OCD has always flared up right as I’m trying to fall asleep. It comes and goes, but lately, with late rehearsals and other excuses to stay up late, I found myself staying away into the wee hours and then dragging the next day, so I decided to make some changes.

First, I already had Night Shift enabled on my phone and F.lux on my laptop computer, but I made sure Night Shift was enabled on my iPad as well. That way, at least my evening viewing wouldn’t be as bad for my sleep habits. But lately, I’ve been trying hard not to mindlessly scroll through my phone when I’m supposed to be going to bed. For one, it’s very easy to get caught up scrolling through Instagram or reading an article and not do the things I need to do before bed (skin care, tooth care, etc.). Then, when I’m in bed, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to “read one more thing” and then look up and realize it’s over an hour past my sleep time. So when I get into bed, I put the phone to the side and read an actual book.

As far as my nighttime beauty routines, those are generally set more by my body’s needs than my sleep needs, but lately I’ve been enjoying aromatherapy before bed. So I might reach for my Klairs toner or my Midnight Shift oil for a little relaxation boost from their lavender-based scents during my nighttime routine. Also, while I bought it for its skin and hair benefits, my mulberry silk pillowcase has proven a boon to my sleeping as well. I find it delicious to sink into when I go to bed, and when I sweat at night, the pillowcase wicks it away and dries quickly so I don’t feel as gross in the morning.

Getting into the more heavy-duty relaxation techniques, I’ve written before about how I brew herbal teas for various ailments, and sleep is no exception. While I can break out a more potent brew with valerian and other more powerful sedating herbs, I tend to stick to a simpler concoction for regular nightly use. I was going through so many Traditional Medicinals Chamomile with Lavender tea bags that I finally decided to just buy some bulk lavender and chamomile blossoms from Mountain Rose Herbs and mix my own nighttime tea. I store them separately and add two teaspoons of chamomile flowers to one scant teaspoon of lavender in a mug of hot water. I let that infuse while I’m doing my skin care, and then strain it and bring it to bed with my book.

Then, when I’m finally ready to turn off the light and sink into sleep, if I don’t feel completely exhausted from my day, I’ll take a little extra help from my Insight Timer app’s guided meditations. The app has a pretty good selection of guided meditations for sleep that I’ve been checking out. I tend to use the ones that are around 20 minutes long, although I’ve used longer ones for evenings when I’m in bed earlier. I generally don’t end up hearing the end of most of the apps. And then if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can remove my earbuds and let them hang to the ground, to be gathered up in the morning.

I hope hearing about my own nighttime routine can help my readers build their own routine. And I would always love hearing how you wind down for the day and go to bed.

NB: All products mentioned in this post are favorites of mine and I have not been given any incentive to mention them. All links are non-affiliate.

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A Day Going Back In Time

As longtime readers of this blog may know, one of my interests is vintage lifestyle, especially vintage style from the U.K. Well, this weekend’s excursion goes back pretty far, even for my tastes. This weekend, I paid a visit to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, a living history festival that presents a themed fair revolving around the court of King Henry VIII. While there are all the typical food stalls, vendors, and shows, the main cast of the festival is the Royal Court and the villagers. The faire itself is held in its own, permanent structure, called the Tudor Village, which is used solely for the faire and its rehearsals. It’s a fantastic experience, and somehow even better when you come back over the years. I typically go one or two times per season, which runs from late August to mid-October. And I know enough people involved in the faire that I often can get discounted tickets!

This year, we decided to go on opening day to see the King approach, the village gates open, and the cannons sound. They’re not kidding when they say to cover your ears! Immediately inside the gates is the fountain and the Gatehouse Stage, where you can learn about the plot of the year when they present the Royal Welcome every morning. This year’s plot involves King Henry’s desire to divorce Queen Katharine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. They brought back an Anne Boleyn storyline last year for the first time in years, and it seems they’re sticking with it for a while. Of course, both the other courtiers and the common folk have their own dramas outside of the Royal family. The whole thing makes a complex tapestry of performance and history, which would be impossible to catch with even just one day’s visit to the faire.

That said, one of my favorite parts of faire was also one of my first stops of the morning: Scotch Eggs! I love this supremely unhealthy faire staple that takes a boiled egg, wraps it in sausage, and deep fries it to perfection. I managed to show up the first time just as they’d run out, but that meant that when I came back ten minute later, I got a fresh-out-of-the-fryer Scotch egg. Yum. I offset the Scotch egg with a fresh pressed beet-carrot-apple-ginger juice from the adorable juice vendors.

From there, it was time to wander. We met up with friends, saw a couple shows, and did some shopping. Oh, the shopping. Despite having attended faire since I was in high school, I’ve never actually had my own proper Renaissance Festival garb before. I always put something together that looked suitably “Renaissance” out of my closet, usually just involving a long skirt and some layered tops and jewelry. But I wanted to go legit, so one of our stops was to Moresca, where I got a cropped corest top, a flowy split blouse, and some harem pants to make the perfect warm-weather outfit for a day at the faire. And of course this means that I have to come back this season to get more use out of it! I also managed to find a new matcha bowl at a pottery vendor, which will definitely be getting some Instagram time this week.

After a day of shopping, walking, mingling, and eating, Mr. Tweed and I were pretty exhausted, so we decided to head home after about five hours at the faire. But the nice thing about faire is that whenever you leave, it’s always going to be a temporary parting!

Beauty Review: A’pieu Madecassoside Cream

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have been provided no incentive to review it. All opinions are my own.

I mentioned this in my recent round-up of things that I’ve been enjoying, but I thought I’d take some time to share more thoughts on this little cream. Like many things, I bought this after an enabling review by Tracy at Fanserviced-B. I liked the idea of a moisturizer that was hydrating, soothing, dried matte, didn’t have any potential acne triggers, and was around $12 for a tube.

I found it on Jolse with free shipping and ordered it along with a couple other things I’d been eyeing. It took a few weeks to arrive from Korea. When it arrived, I immediately opened it to smell it because isn’t that what everyone does with new skin care? Squirt it on your hand, rub it around, and sniff?

Anyway, the smell is fresh, clean, slightly herbal-medicinal, and thoroughly inoffensive. The texture was thicker than I expected for a cream free of emollients and doesn’t have the “water drop” effect of many gel-creams. It spreads easily, sinks in quickly, and dries down to a semi-matte finish, but without any hint of dry feeling on the skin. It’s brilliant under sunscreen because the ever-so-slightly moist feeling it leaves plays well with lightweight, alcohol-containing sunscreens. But I’ve used it under my alcohol-free Canmake Mermaid UV Skin Gel with great success, too.

I also find it mildly soothing, although at the end of the day, it shines as a simple, inexpensive hydrating cream. I mostly use it during the day over hydrating toner and under sunscreen and makeup, but I’ve also used it as a final nighttime step on the few really sticky nights this summer. I even find that the finish is non-greasy enough that COSRX Master Patches will stick over it. And finally, I’ve been using it for over a month now with no indication that it has any negative effects. I’m definitely planning to repurchase this, as I’m curious how it will hold up over the winter.

On Why I No Longer Make Soap

I’ve blogged before about making homemade soap. I used to make it both for my own use and as gifts. I even started making homemade soaps for gifts for the casts of various shows I’ve been in. Those who know me in real life will know that I haven’t been making soap lately, and readers of the blog might have noticed that I suddenly stopped posting about soap updates and new recipe ideas.

So, on a related note, recently another beauty Instagrammer and blogger, Goals to Get Glowing, posted on her Instagram about some pH tests she’d done of a couple cleansers she’d been trying. One of the cleansers had a pH of 9.5, which is quite high for a balanced facial cleanser. The brand attacked her for revealing this and claimed that their cleanser was fine because it was the same pH as soap.

Well, that’s not surprising because it *is* soap. The first ingredients after water are saponified oils. So, yes, it will have a pH similar to soap. But do we want to wash our faces with soap?

Well, when I first started making my own soap, it was part of my efforts to make my skin care routine as natural, traditional, and homemade as possible. So I would remove makeup with an oil-based cleanser, like my homemade cleansing balm, and then follow it with my own homemade soap. I found information about how using soap on your skin wouldn’t disrupt the balance of your skin if you used a pH-balancing toner, which I made out of diluted vinegar.

The problem with that, however, is that my skin apparently didn’t get that memo. I began to go from having relatively clear, easy-to-deal-with skin, to getting a lot of spots, along with dryness and redness in other parts of my face. I tried eliminating comedogenic oils and butters that I thought were the problem. And then, I found this post about pH in cleansers. So I went and bought a bottle of the natural, pH-5 cleanser that I’d been using before trying to switch to homemade products.

And it was like night and day. I didn’t have immediate results, but right away, my skin was less irritated. My active breakouts started going down and I had fewer spots to replace them. And my skin just felt nicer in the morning, less dry. I eventually picked up a few more tricks, such as using multiple layers of watery hydration instead of one heavy cream, and using occlusives when it’s dry out, but the first and biggest improvement I had was from changing to a low-pH cleanser.

Since then, I tried to relegate my homemade soap to being a body cleanser. But eventually, I noticed that I was having similar problems on the rest of my skin. Irritation in my armpits. Small bumps and spots on my legs. And even a fairly raging fungal infection that was probably at least helped along by having sensitized skin. So I switched to a low-pH body wash. I already use low-pH shampoos because my hair absolutely rebels when I use something alkaline.

So that really leaves my homemade soap somewhat neglected. And because I wasn’t using it myself and I noticed that I had so many skin problems that went away when I stopped using it, well, I find myself not feeling right giving it as gifts. It’s been months (possibly even over a year) since I’ve made a bar of soap, and I’m seriously considering giving away my soapy equipment. It is sad to lose a loved hobby, but I certainly have other pastimes to fill the empty space.

Eclipse Viewing

Yesterday, the US experienced a total solar eclipse. While I was not in the path of totality, my little city was fortunate enough to be in the path of a partial eclipse where 84% of the sun was shaded, so I made plans to watch the eclipse with my coworkers in the middle of the day.

I was able to procure eclipse glasses from our office, and I made myself a pinhole projector with a couple business cards. Duly armed, we gathered to watch the eclipse. The first hour we spent inside, watching out the south-facing window in our office, waiting until we were within a half an hour of maximum before going outside.

Outside, we watched as tourists and office workers alike trickled out onto the National Mall and our own building’s lawn. People with glasses watched the skies, while others watched the shadows. We saw the light begin to make crescents as it streamed through the leaves of the trees, the gaps in the leaves making little pinhole projectors of their own. One woman brought a colander to project an array of little crescents onto the ground.

Eventually, the eclipse reached its peak. We were a bit underwhelmed, as it did not get darker or feel any different to us, out of the path of totality. But considering that even 16% of the sun’s light is still much, much more than what reflects off the moon, that wasn’t surprising. But with eclipse glasses, we could still watch the sun narrow to a tiny sliver in the sky, and watch the shadows warp and then return to normal. Perhaps not the once-in-a-lifetime event that others experienced, but still something.

And perhaps in seven years, I’ll make more of an effort to make it to the path of totality.

On Rediscovering Stillness

I’ve started up my meditation practice again. I was having more and more trouble with sleeplessness and anxiety at night and it culminated in a few nights in a row of getting just a few hours’ sleep because I stayed awake for so long.

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And so I’ve found myself returning to my long-neglected meditation cushion. I should say, neglected by me, for it has become one of TweedCat’s favorite places to lounge on lazy days. I rise in the morning and make my way downstairs in the dim summer morning’s light, find a seat on the cushion, and start my practice. My legs are stiff, but eventually they find their familiar cross-legged position. Every so often, TweedCat comes over, as if to wonder at me stealing her seat. She has even hunkered down to sit next to me for a while.

I set my timer, or else choose a guided meditation. I love Insight Timer for this. The bells for the timer are the perfect way to go in and out of meditation. But lately, I’ve also been investigating the guided meditations. The meditations can be a nice way to get into meditation when you need a bit more help, or when you want to focus on a particular thing, rather than the Zen-instilled breath focus that is my default.

And the guided meditations have served me well for nights when I have trouble making it to sleep. I find that I can make myself relinquish social media in order to open up a guided meditation. I bid Mr. Tweed good night, and then put in my earbuds to listen while I drift off. The mark of a good meditation is that I never hear the end.

So that is how I’ve found myself returning to the practices of stillness that were such a regular part of my life years ago.

On Fragrance, Memory, and Beauty

NB: I purchased these products with my own money and was provided no incentive to review them. All thoughts are my own. Post contains no affiliate links.

As I’ve written in the past, I’m a lover of perfumes, although I’m also highly sensitive to unpleasant scents. I find my enthusiasm dampens when I discover a scent I loved in the morning has morphed into something unpleasant by afternoon, or has started to give me a headache. I’ve actually had to discontinue beloved scents upon realizing that they are a headache trigger.

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But lately, I’ve found myself drawn to an unexpected brand: Atelier Cologne. This French brand creates perfumes that are centered around a single note idea, but that are much more complex and rounded than a single-note perfume. As someone who gravitates towards single-note, floral perfumes, Atelier’s collection of primarily fruity and complex scents was an odd fit.

I found the brand when one of their perfumes, Orange Sanguine, came in a boxed set I purchased from Sephora. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the scent, but I didn’t hate it, so I decided to slip it into my gym bag. The first day I put it on, I remember thinking that it was sexy for a citrus scent. Then, as the day wore on, I realized that I was not getting my typical perfume-induced headache in the mid-afternoon.

From there, I decided I wanted to try more. I bought their eight-piece discovery set from Sephora, which included only one of my favored floral scents, and at least one version of my arch nemesis: vanilla. I’ve always hated scents that have any vanilla in them at all, but I was told that Atelier’s Vanille Insensée was vanilla for people who hate vanilla.

A few of the scents smell decidedly androgynous to me, which I love. I once stole my boyfriend’s Acqua di Gio because it went well with my body chemistry. Some days, I feel like wearing Cèdre Atlas because its clean cedar-and-citrus notes fit my mood. Other days, I’ll blossom into my femininity with Sud Magnolia, a floral that is typical of my own classic tastes.

But most other days, I choose one of the citruses: clementine, pomelo, orange, bergamot, or mandarine. All are fresh, with their own complexity and charm. Each evokes a subtly different mood. The more masculine notes of Clémentine California reminds me of a young man with whom I danced at a middle school mixer, while Pomelo Paradis reminds me of pink grapefruit juice and, oddly, of eating breakfast with my father when I was a child.

Because scent is a powerful evoker of memory and emotion. Smelling the grapefruit-like notes of the pomelo transports me to my childhood dining table where I watched in rapt horror as my father spooned yogurt over his bran flakes and mixed them into a chunk mass. While the green-toned citrus of Clémentine California brings me back to that moment at a dance when a boy asked me to dance with him. I never knew his name or even saw him after that dance, but for those three minutes, I was a regular kid, and not a weird misfit.

Even just writing this post, I could choose a scent at random and the depth of character of each perfume would bring up something different. Which is why I love perfume and will always try to find ones I can use, despite the fact that it often ends in a headache. At least I’ve found my Atelier Colognes. And in the future, I hope to even try their rose or jasmine scents, which promise to be something sublime to my tastes.

The Summer Afternoon Cuppa

Every so often, I will share my weekend cups of tea on Instagram and one thing may have become a bit apparent: I’m trying to drink less caffeine on the weekends, particularly in the afternoon. So I’ve started creating some lovely non-tea herbal and fruit infusion on the weekends.

One of my favorite herbs for an iced tea is red raspberry leaf. Long lauded as a remedy for all manner of “women’s trouble,” I like it for it’s dark, tannic bite that is reminiscent of black tea, without the caffeine. Mixed with a sweeter herb, like peppermint, and served over ice with a touch of local honey, this makes a lovely afternoon infusion.

I’ve also found a fondness for flower-based infusions. Red clovers have a grassy flavor and impart a pink color to an infusion. Mixed with lavender, the herbal-floral quality of the lavender mixes with the clover and makes a delightful infusion, particularly with a bit of honey and lemon.

Finally, sometimes I take my afternoon infusion hot. One of my favorite simple cups is an infusion of fresh mint leaves from my garden, steeped for a five to ten minutes, and served simply in a tea cup, with no additions. The brightness of the mint and the warmth of the water are perfectly comforting and invigorating, without being overly stimulating.

Of course, all of these are best enjoyed outdoors, if the weather permits, or else curled up next to a sunny window with a good book.

My Current Hair Care Routine

To finish off this “Beauty Week,” I thought I’d talk a little bit about my updated hair care routine. Last time I talked hair, I was telling you all about the pretty major haircut I got after my wedding. Well, of course, since then, my hair care routine has changed a bit. I no longer need to worry quite so much about hydrating my ends, as they are younger and have loss less moisture. But I still keep to heart the lessons I’ve learned caring for long hair.

I still use my hair multi-masking technique on Sundays to both clarify my scalp and moisturize my length at one time. This still helps me lose fewer strands when I rinse because I can rinse once. Despite having a rather lukewarm first impression of it, the Deciem Hair is Fabric Intensive Detox is my scalp mask of choice for this, with my favorite Klorane Mask with Desert Date on my length. Because my hair is no longer long enough to be held with my acrylic hair fork, I use a claw clip to twist it up and out of my way while the two masks work, and do other shower things (like shave my legs).

The rest of the week, I actually don’t condition my hair. I wash my hair twice besides my weekly deep treatment. Lately, I’ve been using the Phytoelixir Intensive Nutrition Shampoo for my mid-week washes. It’s cleansing enough to keep my scalp happy, but it has a bit of conditioning action so my hair doesn’t get tangly. That said, while I love the scent and it makes me feel fancy, I’m not sold on it as a go-to, so I would be open to further suggestions of gentle, rich shampoos.

Of course, since I don’t use conditioner in the shower, I still rely on my leave-in treatments. For my shorter hair, I have to be judicious with my use of oil, since I don’t have a huge amount of distance between my ends and my scalp anymore (although most people would still call my hair “long”). But I do apply the occasional drop or two of Oshima Tsubaki oil. I also like to use this as a pre-shampoo treatment. But for daily use, I like my Phyto 9 Day Cream. It’s a lightweight, and yet still conditioning, cream that I can apply about a lentil-to-pea-sized dab to my damp length and it dries silky and shiny.

Beyond the actual products that I use, I still love my Eternally In Amber seamless cellulose acetate combs. I keep one in the shower to distribute and rinse products, one on my vanity to detangle my hair, and I was keeping one in my travel bag or purse, but I seem to have misplaced it. I also seem to have lost my mini purse comb. It seems it might be time for another order from EIA…

NB: I purchased all the products mentioned with my own money and have received no incentive to review them. All opinions are my own. All links are non-affiliate.

Beauty Review: COSRX x Charlotte Cho Triple C Lightning Liquid

So I actually forgot to mention this beauty in my recent round-up of skincare things I like for a very simple reason: it’s quite easy to forget. Despite the attempts at making the packaging look luxe, and the hype that was generated prior to its release, this is not a terribly glamorous or exciting product. It’s a vitamin C serum. Like dietary sources of vitamin C (i.e., fruits and vegetables), it’s rather something you use everyday because you know its good for you, but that you don’t necessarily expect rapid, earth-shattering results from. Oh, I know it’s an acid, so it can provide exfoliation, but honestly, I use vitamin C for the long game, not the short-term.

And yet, I realized the other day that for the last month, my skin has been particularly well-behaved. No major breakouts, just one hormonal spot at the expected time, and even that has healed up rather quickly, with the marks fading nicely. And, honestly, the last thing I added to my testing routine was this serum. So go figure.

Anyway, let us back up. I bought this because it’s a touch cheaper than my current vitamin C serum, and it’s actually a low-pH, L-AA serum, so it’s made with the stuff that has the studies behind it in terms of collagen-building. I was frankly dubious about its claims of stability, so I do keep mine in the fridge, but I’ve seen only a mild color change from completely clear to ever-so-slightly-champagne colored over the last month. It certainly has a long way to go before I would consider tossing it. Compare that to the mini Drunk Elephant serum that came the color of orange blossom honey, and I’m honestly impressed.

The bottle is quite pretty. It’s a very, very deep indigo color, almost black, but with just enough color that you can see it when the fridge light shines through it just so. The gold-rimmed dropper is a nice touch. It would look lovely sitting on my vanity, if I would dare leave it out of the fridge (not specific to this serum; I store any L-AA serum in the cold). My only complaint is that there is a bit of crystallization that happens in the dropper, which did start to clog it after a few weeks, but I poked it out with a clean pin and continued on my merry way. A minor annoyance at worst.

The product itself is very watery, with an ever-so-slight “chemical” smell to it (but of course, I’m not alarmed because everything is chemicals). It feels light and refreshing on the face, with a slight amount of “slip,” but I attribute that to the fact that it is quite acidic and I find acidic things feel lightly conditioning on the skin and hair. I felt a slight tingle the first few times I use it, and now if I use it after a breakout, I might feel one or two pricks, but nothing remotely resembling “stinging.” It dries down quickly and I don’t experience any stickiness. I find it comfortable enough to not put on hydrating toner right away, so I try to give this 10-20 minutes to sit before I continue with my routine in the morning.

A note about timing usage: Soko Glam recommends using this at night because it is acidic enough to exfoliate. The fact is that AHA exfoliants cause sun sensitivity for days after application, so your level of sun sensitivity will not change whether you use it in the morning or at night. I also use a 15% lactic acid three times a week at night, so I keep this in the morning. And I like the idea of putting on antioxidants early in the day so their activity is high during peak sun hours. But that’s your choice.

Anyway, I apply it directly after my morning cleanser, which is with a low-pH cleanser, so I don’t bother with pH-adjusting toner first. I let it sit while I meditate or make matcha or gather my lunch supplies. On days when I go to the gym, I might just walk out of the house with just this on my face (if it’s humid) because I go to the gym before sunrise. Otherwise, I give it maybe 15-20 minutes of wait time and then continue with the rest of my morning routine. And, yes, I always use sunscreen during the day.

So far, with relatively generous daily usage, I’ve made it through about a third of the bottle in a month, which is about right for vitamin C. And I definitely see myself repurchasing this when I finish the bottle.