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.

Beauty Review: Moonlit Skincare Midnight Shift Facial Oil

So I have a bit of a backlog of beauty products that I’ve tested and thought I’d make this week a bit of a Beauty Week on the blog. Come back later this week for more beauty reviews!

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have been provided no incentive to affect my review. All opinions are my own. All links are non-affiliate links.

I mentioned this oil in my recent round-up of skincare things I’ve been loving, but I thought it merited a deeper review. I first saw Moonlit Skincare on Instagram and loved their peaceful photo aesthetic, but was a bit concerned about the ingredients in their star product, the Midnight Shift Facial Oil. I’m very wary about olive oil in products because it’s caused breakouts for me in the past. But I was in the market for a new facial oil after realizing that I prefer facial oil to watery serums after my hydrating toner, and wanting to find something a bit less dear to use when my Herbivore Phoenix Oil runs out. So I went conservative and bought the 14-day trial kit.

This kit comes with two 5-ml vials of the facial oil. Each one is supposed to last a week, but I got two full weeks’ worth of use out of one vial, and was so hooked that I decided to save my second vial for an upcoming trip and go ahead and buy a full-sized bottle. I used the oil as directed, dispensing about a dime-sized amount into the palm of my hand, spreading it quickly over my palms, and pressing it into my skin after using my watery hydrating products at night. I sometimes tent my hands over my nose and just inhale the beautiful, relaxing scent. It smells a bit like lavender Earl Grey tea, which you know I love. The oil absorbs fairly quickly, but still provides enough slip for a little jade rolling after application.

Since it’s been so humid, I find that this oil is all I need for a last step to seal in hydration and moisturize my skin at night, but if I need a bit more oomph, I will follow it with a cream. I find the scent fades quickly once I’ve put it on my skin, so I don’t know how much the aromatherapy helps me fall asleep, but the ritual of applying it is relaxing and helps me unwind.

All in all, this is a beautiful facial oil, at a fantastic price for a blended oil, with a lovely scent. I’ve already repurchased it since my first purchase, and will continue doing so in the future!

Tea Review: Matchaeologist Meiko Matcha

NB: I purchased this product without any review discount, and while I am a Matchaeologist affiliate, all links in this review are non-affiliate links. If you would like to support this blog by buying through my affiliate link, click here.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram have probably noticed that I’ve become very enamoured of the matcha latte as of late. When I decided to try to cut down on my sugar intake in June, that meant finding a recipe for an unsweetened matcha latte that still gave me the satisfaction of the sweet version. Of course, it also meant that I couldn’t get by with low-quality matcha powder and rely on the sugar to cover off flavors. So I went back to Matchaeologist to try more of their matchas. I’d previously reviewed the Matsu matcha, which is like their some what “standard” ceremonial grade matcha. But at $24 for 20g, it would be an expensive latte matcha. So I went back and purchased their Meiko ceremonial-grade matcha and Midori culinary-grade matcha.

I found the Meiko matcha delightful in an unsweetened matcha latte made with local goat’s milk, but found that when I tried to make a non-dairy matcha latte, I still needed the sweetener to cover the odd flavor of the non-dairy milk, so I opted for the less expensive Midori. But, still having some of the Meiko around, and not wanting to waste, I decided to try it straight for a bowl of thin matcha. It is, after all, still a ceremonial-grade matcha.

The matcha is the same intense green color and smooth texture of other Matchaeologist matchas. I do sift it, though I doubt I need to. It whisks up into a beautiful, stable foam in my ceramic matcha bowl. I used two chashaku scoops to about 2 fl. oz. of hot water to make my morning bowl.

The flavor and aroma are markedly different from the Matsu. While Matsu smells of vegetables and the sea, Meiko is subtler, more delicate, and lighter. Meiko still has the smoothness of Matsu, but without the thick mouthfeel. And the flavors are more floral than vegetal. I actually find it an absolutely lovely morning bowl of matcha, and for $14 for 20g, I will absolutely be buying this again.

Stay tuned because I will soon be reviewing the Midori culinary grade matcha, and sharing my recipes for perfect matcha lattes.

Skincare Things I’m Trying and Kind of Loving Right Now

So, I haven’t done a real skin care review in a while, and part of that is that, yes, I’ve been writing about my Scottish honeymoon, but I’ve also been feeling a bit uninspired with skin care lately. But I have been using a few new things that have helped keep the love alive, so I thought I’d share a brief overview of some of the things in my testing routine right now.

A’pieu Madecassoside Cream: I got this on a whim based on Tracy’s glowing review of it over at Fanserviced-B. Did I really need another cream? Not really. I’m pretty ride-or-die for Stratia Liquid Gold. But… it’s been really hot and humid and I wondered if maybe something lighter would be nice for the mornings, particularly under my more mattifying sunscreen. So I grabbed a tube from Jolse. It smells like herbal lemony goodness and goes on feather-light. So far I’m definitely finding reasons to use it. Full review will be forthcoming, and barring any unforeseen breakouts, it’s going to be glowing.

Moonlit Skincare Midnight Shift Facial Oil: I keep seeing this on Instagram. I’m intrigued by the concept. And I can always use a little help getting to sleep, particularly on those nights when I’m in bed before 10 because I know my alarm is going off before 6am the next day. Well, I bought the 14-day trial kit and before I was even halfway through, I ordered the full size. It smells like lavender Earl Grey tea, goes on like a dream, and so far has not given me any problems. Expect another glowing review forthcoming.

COSRX One-Step Moisture-Up Kit: My original thought with these was that they would be great for travel, particularly when we go and spend a weekend at my in-laws’ place. But of course I need to test them a bit first, and I’m finding them fantastic for days when I’m working from home but I go for a morning run. I get back, shower, wash up with the foaming cleanser, apply the Moisture-Up pad, and then slap on the sheet mask until my face goes from beet-red to magenta (I tend to go all splotchy when I exercise, especially outside in the heat). Very nice and relaxed and I don’t actually have to faff about with bottles and things at my vanity. But let’s see how they do for travel as well…

Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Toner: I bought this because the scent of the Blossom Jeju masks were like my favorite thing ever. And I wanted to bottle that and be able to slap it on my face whenever I want. But of course it’s $45 for a pretty small bottle, so I don’t tend to use it as often as I do my other toners. But for days when I need a pick-me-up more than a deep hydration treatment? It’s amazing. Not sure I’ll splurge on it again, though.

So that’s about it for now. This is kind of half a preview of reviews to come and half a ramble about what I like for my face right now. If anyone’s curious about my further thoughts, ask, and if anyone has any suggestions for anything inspiring, I’m open to suggestions.

Tea Review: White2Tea Reviews Part Three, the Pu-erhs

NB: These teas were sent to me for review, but all opinions are my own. For more about my review policies, click here.

Months ago, when I received an incredibly generous package from Paul at White2Tea, I knew it would take me a while to get through all of it, even just for review. Add into that a honeymoon and two business trips, and, well, here we are. I’ve finally gotten through the last three samples. This is kind of the main event for White2Tea: Pu-erh. Pu-erh, which is a kind of fermented tea, falls into two main categories: sheng (or raw), and shou (or ripe). White2Tea went ahead and sent me 25g samples of two of their raw and one ripe pu-erh. I brewed all of these teas according to White2Tea’s guidelines, and experimented further where noted.

2016 Daily Drinker:

You may remember this photo from Instagram a last week, when I commented that this tea does not work grandpa- or farmer-style. But it is a delightful raw pu-erh. My previous experience with pu-erhs were entirely of the funky, ripe variety, and it was novel to try this style. This tea starts out with a very light color, body, and scent, which intensifies to its peak around the 5th steeping. I noticed a characteristic anise scent and flavor and a sweet taste that, despite my general dislike for anise and licorice, was not unpleasant. I also tried it steeped in 15-second intervals in my fish gongfu set and enjoyed it very much. It tends to get too bitter steeped grandpa-style. At $19 for a 200g cake, I will almost certainly buy this again (although I may try the 2017 instead).

2016 We Go High:

This is a blended raw pu-erh that confused me slightly. The web listing shows a quite light brew color, but this brewed up amber from the first steeping for me. The leaves themselves have a delightful visual variety, and has the earthy aromas I associate with a ripe pu-erh mixed with the fruitiness of a raw one. The flavor is enjoyable, with an almost mineral edge to it and a creamy mouthfeel. This tea also has the strongest “tea drunkenness” effect I’ve ever noticed from a tea. I was buzzing around all day at work on this and found myself both productive and happy, although it became a bit much after a few cups. This is a wonderful tea, but all that said, I almost certainly will not purchase it again myself, as it is $139 for a 200g cake, or $18.50 for a 25g sample, and I’m not sure I got that much out of it.

2017 Old Reliable:

This is exactly what I think of when I think of pu-erh tea. It’s deep, dark, almost coffee-like in its thickness and intensity, but with absolutely no tannic edge to dry my mouth out and sour my stomach like strong black/red tea. This has notes of earth, mushrooms, and leather. In fact, I have a coworker who refers to pu-erh as “shoe tea” based on a previous experience. I found that funny, since this actually is shou pu-erh. Anyway, I got a solid ten steepings out of this before it started to diminish, but noticed a sweetness coming through at the ninth steeping, so this tea is definitely in it for the duration. At $14.50 for a 200g cake, how could I not repurchase this?

Beauty Review: Glossier Generation G Lipstick vs. Colourpop Blotted Lip

NB: I purchased these with my own money and all links in this review are non-affiliate. If you would like to support this blog by using an affiliate link to shop at Glossier (or other stores), please see this page.

Last month, I posted on my Instagram about receiving two different lip products that are often compared to one another. I did a little unboxing and first impressions, and even shared some swatches. You see, I’ve been curious about the “blotted lip” idea for a while. The basic idea is that it’s a sheer lipcolor, but it has a matte finish instead of being creamy or glossy like most tinted balms. It’s an interesting idea, particularly for someone who always feels the need to have some color on her lips, but doesn’t necessarily want to deal with the upkeep of a full-on saturated lipcolor every day. So when I splurged on Glossier’s Birthday Balm, I also got one of their Generation G lipsticks. Then, I decided, hey, why not do a little comparison, so I hopped on over to Colourpop’s website and got two of their Blotted Lip lipsticks.

I got the Glossier lipstick in the color Zip, which is a warm red color, and the Colourpop lipsticks in Lolly, which is a berry-wine color, and Lexi, which is a neutral-cool red. They’re not color dupes, although Lexi and Zip are quite similar. Lolly seems like it might be similar to the Glossier Jam color. In terms of value, I got the Glossier lipstick for $18, and got free shipping because I bought it with the Birthday Balm. The Colourpop lipsticks were $5 each, but I had to pay shipping, so both Colourpop lipsticks cost $15 with shipping. Still, I got two Colourpop lipsticks for less than the cost of one Glossier. If you find friends to go in on a Colourpop order, you could probably get free shipping without buying ridiculous amounts of makeup. Even though the Glossier lipstick is 2g of product to the Colourpop 1g, the Colourpop is still the clear winner in terms of amount-for-the-money.

So, are they formula dupes? I had high hopes. I love to hate on Glossier, despite the fact that they make the only cleanser that I love. And the Generation G lipstick is so easy to rag on. I mean, it looks so cheap. When I first opened them, I already thought the Colourpop tube felt heavier and more expensive than the Glossier. And they’re basically the same product, in concept. How hard could it be to make a cheap, low-pigment lipstick?

Pretty hard, apparently. Despite my high hopes, I have to say, I definitively prefer the Glossier formula to the Colourpop. Actually, one of the reasons this review has taken so long to write is because I really didn’t want that to be true. But I took the two Colourpop lipsticks to a conference and wore them every day for a week. I found them difficult, patchy, and dry to apply, not great-feeling on the lips, and patchy when they wore off. There’s just enough pigment to highlight dry lip areas, but not enough to cover any lip variations. It’s like the worst of both worlds. Add in that the formula itself dries your lips out, and I actually went bare-lipped on evening rather than try to reapply. You can’t apply them if you have too much lip balm on already, but if you haven’t moisturized your lips, they drag and catch. It’s not fun and it’s really fussy for what is supposed to be a low-maintenance product.

Irritatingly, the Glossier formula lives up to their cool girl, effortless beauty aesthetic. Like the Colourpop, it doesn’t give much color if you apply it directly on top of lip balm, but it goes onto dry lips with a satisfying glide. It doesn’t add moisture of its own, but it doesn’t steal it from your lips. I never tested it out over a consistent week like the Colourpop ones, but it’s the lip product I find myself reaching for when I’m going out somewhere and don’t want to look too “done,” but want to look nice. I wore it to a baby shower this weekend. I threw it in my purse to wear after the gym. I actually felt a little bit like a cool-girl Glossier model when I finished my barre class, washed my face, threw my hair into a messy braid, and applied just sunscreen, concealer, mascara, and Zip before going to work. I mean, I’m about 10 years too old, and wasn’t wearing a minimalist-chic outfit, but you get the idea.

So the bottom line is that in a battle of Colourpop vs. Glossier in blotted lip products, I found Glossier to be the winner. That said, I probably wouldn’t rebuy the Glossier lipstick if only because I would rather take a little extra time and sheer out an existing lipstick of mine than spend $18 on unpigmented lipstick again.