Thoughts on My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

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Today is my birthday. Now, I’ve never actually posted on my birthday on this blog, in the roughly five years that I’ve been writing in this space, merely alluded to previous celebrations. And this time last year, I was on an extended hiatus as I rediscovered my own self after giving birth. So I thought in lieu of a Tuesday Tasting, I would ramble a bit about this birthday, previous birthdays, and some things I’ve been thinking about as I get older.

Two years ago, less than a month after my 35th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. By the time I turned 36, I was mother to a two-month-old baby and trying to figure out who I wanted to be. The aftermath of my postpartum experience upended a lot of things I thought about myself. I could barely move for a month (and when I did, it hurt). I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I was depressed and anxious in ways I’d never experienced. I lived in robes and nightgowns, with the occasional soft maxi dress when I had to go out. And I had a small being whose every need depended largely on me. When I say becoming a mother was an ordeal, I mean that in the sense of a time when I was physically and emotionally dismantled and then redistilled into a truer form of myself.

I started this blog with a vague idea that it would be about vintage-inspired lifestyle and beauty, with a strong affinity for tea because, well, I have a strong affinity for tea. Eventually, I discovered both Korean skin care and gongfucha, which split the blog further into two seemingly-dichotomous paths. Since then, I’ve found myself converging on a tea-focused, historically-inspired lifestyle. I’ve learned about history bounding and started dressing in a way that can only be described as Edwardian hobbit witch. I’ve started mixing my gongfucha accessories with my vintage tea cups. In fact, one of my first comments on YouTube was from a semi-famous tea personality saying that he enjoyed my mixing of teaware styles and I’ve taken that to heart. I’ve come to realize that, once you find yourself responsible for the continued existence of a helpless tiny human, it doesn’t really bother you as much to think that someone might think you look odd on public transportation or sniff derisively at the “impurity” of your tea practice.

And then I’ve gone further. I’ve deepened the link between my tea practice and my love of all things historical by starting my historical tea sessions. I find it endlessly fascinating to research the sources I need to learn about how tea practice has grown, changed, and maintained its identity through the ages (kind of like me). I’ve also returned to a somewhat more minimalist, historically-inspired beauty routine. I like to think I’ve gone from VIB Rouge to VIB (very important¬†buveur) Rou Gui ūüėČ

As I’ve more thoroughly committed my blog to being first and foremost a tea blog, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking down some of my old posts, particularly beauty product reviews that have little to no bearing on my current beauty routine. But ultimately, these posts reflect how I’ve grown through the years, and deserve a place in my archives. Perhaps eventually my reviews of Deciem products will no longer vastly outperform literally everything else I write, but until then, if people are finding my blog because they’re curious about inexpensive Canadian skin care, so be it.

And anyway, I’ve maintained and cultivated friendships on social media with many of the beauty influencers whose blogs and Instagram feeds I read and love as a way to learn about new beauty products. Some of them have even applauded what they see as me finding my true niche in my tea nerdery. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but they’re truly friends of mine now. And I’m starting to cultivate similar friendships in the tea community. Among the tea-lovers, the tea-growers, and the tea-sellers, I’m learning more and meeting more amazing people to help increase my feeling of connectedness to the world without having to venture out of my introvert bubble (much).

At thirty-seven, I am weirder and more fulfilled than ever before in my life, and I have my wonderful blog community to thank for it.

On Affiliate Links, Collaborations, Sponsorship, and Making Money as a Blogger

So this comes up more often in the beauty community, but every review blogging niche has some sort of relationship with brands and affiliate networks. While I’m a relatively small-time blogger, especially by beauty-and-lifestyle measures, I’ve accepted products in exchange for review and used referral links in the past. I’ve never done a fully sponsored post and video, but I would be open to it, and my contact information gives the guidelines I set out for such a collaboration. But I see people all the time either belittling bloggers and social media users who accept sponsorship or review samples, or else proudly proclaiming that they don’t accept products for review or sponsorship, and I thought I’d share some thoughts I have on the subject.

On the face of it, it seems like refusing to accept any compensation, whether in product or currency, for your blogging is admirable. You can’t be bought, and there’s no worry that you’ll give a product a good review because you feel bad criticizing it when you got it for free. Well, Tracy at Fanserviced talked about that a while ago, and, as she points out, concrete “stuff” is not the only “compensation” bloggers and social media users get for mentioning products in their spaces. It can feel warm and fuzzy when a seemingly-unapproachable brand notices you because you said something nice about their product. Getting mentioned by a brand can be a fantastic way to increase your visibility on some channels, and mentioning their products is a good way to do that.

But that discounts something even more insidious about blogging, particularly review blogging: it can be a really expensive hobby. I mean, if I still reviewed beauty products, how much readership would I still have, given that I haven’t really added a new product to my routine in months? I certainly wouldn’t be able to post every week, since I just don’t buy that much new product. And if I did, even if it were a moderately-priced range like The Ordinary, I would still probably be spending at least $100 per month to keep posting twice a week, if I were just reviewing products. Even as a tea blogger, I spend a lot of money on tea, but I’m fortunate enough to consider that “fun money” rather than something I need to do (I have plenty of fodder for Tasting Tuesday from my own stash and haven’t bought anything special for it yet). But someone who doesn’t have as much disposable income as I do wouldn’t necessarily be able to showcase as many things on a blog. And that means they wouldn’t get much traffic.

Now, as I said when I talked about switching from reviewing to tasting notes on teas, taste is subjective, just as beauty products are often intensely personal. So I’m not here to tell anyone they should or shouldn’t buy a specific tea. But because I spend my own money on tea, I’m looking at things like “value” from the perspective of my personal budget. So while I might not be willing to spend $150 on a cake of raw puerh, I would be perfectly willing to spend $65 on the same size cake of aged white tea. But let’s be honest with ourselves: these are luxuries. And $65 is solidly out of the budget of plenty of people. So me saying that a $65 cake is “worth the money” doesn’t mean much to someone with $5 a week to spend on nonessentials. And my honesty that I loved the $150 cake, but it’s too expensive to repurchase if I hadn’t gotten a sample for review, might actually be more applicable to more of my readers, especially since it leads me to talk about ways to try the tea for less money (i.e., samples).

So given that review blogging can be an expensive hobby, do we really want to make income a barrier to entry for the people we trust as “more authentic” sources of reviews? Would you rather read a review of a $100 face cream from someone who has hundreds of dollars of discretionary income to spend on luxuries each month, or a review of a sample of a $200 face cream that someone got for free and wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise? Do you want to limit blogging to a hobby for relatively wealthy people, or would you rather support bloggers who try to earn some income from their blogging so that there is more socioeconomic diversity in the field? These aren’t questions I can answer for anyone but myself, and it bears thinking about all sides of this. But, given that there is already a recognized correlation between financial wealth and good skin, I’m concerned that limiting beauty blogging, in particular, to those with the independent means to support it will limit reviews to those who might already have good skin to begin with (or at the very least, more access to other ways to improve their skin besides over-the-counter products).

And then, for me, there is the fact that not everyone who reads this blog has my exact tastes in tea, and I’m not¬†only¬†writing this blog for myself. Let’s be honest, if I were only writing for myself, I would keep it as a private journal, not a public blog. And as I dive deeper into the tea community, I’ve realized that the snobbery that sometimes underscores a lot of specialty tea writing doesn’t do us any favors. So why not feature some products that offer convenience or variety to those of my readers who aren’t looking for the funkiest puerh or the most obscure yancha? Which is part of the reason I accepted my recent review samples from Tea Sparrow — as a North American-based company that offers high-quality flavored teas, they’re poised to appeal to a larger variety of people and can help me bring quality loose leaf tea to more of my friends and family (I have already gotten my mother and my coworker hooked on their teas). Would I buy myself a box from them? No. I am not generally a fan of flavored teas. But was it probably helpful for some of my readers who enjoy flavored teas? Hopefully. And apart from that, I hope that sharing notes from teas like that helps foster a sense that there isn’t a hierarchy of tea purity where you’re not a “real tea lover” if you’re not drinking a specific level of tea. I’m not a fan of that attitude. If you want to drink pina colada tea with sugar and milk (coconut milk might be fun), you do you.

Plus, there is the idea of compensating creators for what they create. Apart from the monetary outlay of purchasing products for review posts, writing takes time. I’m fortunate to have a reasonable amount of free time and a talent for writing quickly, but I still probably spend at least a few hours every week writing content (and that’s not even getting into the time I spend on my YouTube channel) and promoting it on various social media channels so people actually see it. Yes, I write because I love it, but it still takes time, and I’m a firm believer that if you appreciate the work a creator makes, you should support it monetarily, either by donating to them (as I do to my favorite podcast and my favorite radio station) or by supporting their efforts to monetize their work through ads and affiliate links. You wouldn’t expect an artist to give you their art for free (don’t answer that; I know many people do), so why is a blogger less worthy of receiving compensation for their time, effort, and talent?

I suppose all of this rambling is also a bit of an introduction to my own affiliate practices. While I’ve used referral links in the past (for Glossier, most notably), I’ve recently decided to start using some affiliate links to see if I could offset a little of the cost of running this blog. I currently make exactly zero money from blogging, and even if I could start making enough money to support my half of the bread that I currently win for my family, I probably wouldn’t quit my job. I like my day job. But I still sometimes feel compelled to buy things specifically for a blog or YouTube idea I have, and this might help offset that (especially with my historical videos). And, at the end of the day, I don’t really think that having the money to spend on a blog should be a badge of honor.

New Year, Old Me: 2019 in Review and Resolutions for a New Year

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This was the year that everything changed for me, again.

Last year, I had been home less than two days after giving birth to Elliot and had started learning how to be a parent. Over the last year, I’ve seen my entire world dismantled and put back together. I think that the experience of becoming a parent has distilled my personality, rather than changing it at all. I find that I care less about what other people think of me and more about what I want in my life. And part of that was a reinvigoration of my tea blogging activities after a break.

I started researching historical tea practices and discovered a passion for history. I’ve also started taking more of an interest in my tea tasting experience and connected with people on social media and in person to share tea. Plus, I got my first traditional clay pot and discovered a deep love of yancha.

With all of this change and personal discovery and growth, it feels less like I’ve found a “new me” and more like I’ve come to settle in with my old self. Free of the insecurities of youth, I’m moving closer each day to the real me, and learning what is truly important to me. Of course, my first resolution for a new year is to continue this movement toward my own personal center.

But part of reflecting on a past year is looking forward to the new one, and like most people, there are things I would like to do better. I’m very proud of myself for spending the last year not trying at all to lose any weight after giving birth. In the same way that I’ve learned to accept my personality, I’m trying to accept my body for where it is in the moment, and I don’t intend to change that. That said, there is one resolution related to eating that I do have.

I have a rather large collection of gorgeous cookbooks, both gifted and purchased for myself. As we went through this year raising Elliot, Dan and I have started trying to make more of our food at home. Since Elliot started eating solid food, we eat most of our dinners at the table as a family, rather than in front of the television, which is a wonderful start at mindful eating. But I find myself using the same “recipes” over and over again, using a method that I like to call “put things in a pan and cook it until it’s food” to make our dinners. There is only so much bean chili, hash, and vague stir fry that we can eat.

So my resolution for 2020 is to cook from the cookbooks I own. I’m starting with the conservative goal of one dinner per week from a cookbook I have. This week, I went to my cookbooks on food from Ikaria in Greece and my two books of Japanese recipes to cook while I was mostly on vacation, and it’s been lovely to have the variety.

Other than that, I resolve to add more to my life, rather than giving anything up: eat more plants, drink more water, go on more walks, do more yoga, be more present with my family. How are you celebrating a new year?

Finding Solitude When You Don’t Live Alone

The inimitable Cathy Hay posted her Costume College vlog/recap last week and it was, of course, unique and brilliant. In it, she talks about attending large conventions as an introvert, someone who finds large groups of people exhausting and needs time alone to recharge. One of the things that stood out to me was when she referenced that fact that she lives alone in the country. I remember my own days living alone with some fondness, particularly when I was in college in a small upstate-NY city, but of course, I no longer live alone.

Anyone who knows me personally probably knows that I am an introvert. This may come as a surprise to people who only know me when I’m “on” — in stage shows or at work in my networking-heavy job — but I thrive on alone time. Of course, I’ve been married twice now and even have a child (plus I had to live with housemates most of the time I spent before moving in with Dan after my divorce), so I no longer live alone and have to find ways to get the solitude I crave. This has been particularly challenging since having Elliot, but it is still possible.

That said, I do think that any commentary on my solitary tendencies would not be complete without my waxing rhapsodic about the solo apartment of my later two years of college. I lived in a town where I could get a large one-bedroom apartment for less than a studio in the area where I currently live, so when my friend was trying to get out of his lease, I jumped at it. I had a large bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen all to myself, along with a giant arched window to let in glorious amounts of natural light. And it was far enough away from campus to avoid much of the weekend partier traffic, while being close enough that walking to class wasn’t onerous. Of course, when finals weeks made my solitude even more profound (I would often go days without speaking), I would occasionally make a point to get breakfast in a cafe to have some interaction, but I was largely happy to exist alone.

Moving for graduate school made living alone financially impossible, and then I eventually moved in with my first husband. Then, the divorce again made living alone impossible, and the apartment I was finally able to rent on my own after that ended up being a poor fit for me. And then, I moved in with Dan, and eventually, we married and had our son.

So over the last more than 10 years since college, I’ve learned how to live with people and still maintain a sense of solitude. I now live in a suburb of a major city and work in the city, so I am almost never alone. Couple that with the fact that a new baby means lots of visitors, and I’ve had to hone my skills at finding alone time.

I think the cornerstone of my solitude practice is rising early. When I went back to work, I started rising between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to shower before Dan woke up, and try to make a cup of tea (or chocolate) and have some time to read before anyone else woke up. This time in the early morning is the only time that I feel truly alone sometimes. And it is especially nice on the weekends, when Dan sleeps in rather late (sometimes until 8am!) and I have a longer time to myself. Those who met me in the last ten years may be surprised to learn that I have not always been a morning person. I forced myself to start rising earlier when I started running in grad school so that I could take advantage of my time before classes started (and cooler weather in the summer). And I will say that training my body to rise earlier has been one of the single best ways for me to retain a sense of solitude, even while growing our family.

This weekend, for example, I woke up naturally around 5:30 a.m., and decided that, rather than trying to go back to sleep, I’d rather make myself some tea and have a quiet morning to myself while Dan slept in with Elliot. I wrote some letters, sipped my tea, and walked to the post box just before Dan and Elliot woke up. It was lovely and calm and let me reconnect with myself and my own interests before jumping into a day of family togetherness.

Where I’ve Been Lately (TW: Miscarriage)

NB: The short answer to the question “Where’ve you been the last month?” is that I’ve been dealing with a miscarriage. So fair warning — that is what I’m going to talk about. I’ll try not to be too graphic, but if you’re not up to hearing about pregnancy, miscarriage, and general health/mental health ickiness, you’ll probably want to just enjoy this adorable picture of my cat and not read any further:

So, hi. It’s been a while since I’ve had a regular posting schedule over here. I got going on my new segment and then stopped updating that, too. I haven’t even been able to put out a beauty or tea review in a while. And the reason for that is that I was pregnant and feeling crappy. And then, well, I wasn’t pregnant anymore, and feeling even crappier.

Miscarriage isn’t really something people talk about in normal, everyday life. Since I found out about my pregnancy and even more after my miscarriage, I’ve found this amazing group of women who have come to me and shared their experiences and that, yes, they know what I’m going through, and that, no, I’m not alone. So if you’re currently going through a miscarriage, you’re really, really not alone. So many people have been there and come out the other side. I’m not sure I’m entirely the best example because, even though I feel like I’m on the upswing, I haven’t even started trying to get pregnant again yet.

Alright, let’s back up to September. Mr. Tweed and I had been trying for a few months, and I was pretty sure this month would be more of the same. Until I got up early, peed on a little white stick, and there it was. Another line. I said something entirely unladylike and called the husband into the bathroom. We were thrilled. I called the doctor and made my appointment for when I would be eight weeks along, and then settled in for an excruciating four week wait. I started feeling occasional nausea around week six, and for some reason I completely lost my taste for tea and developed a wicked craving for coffee. My skin also freaked out and became very dry and sensitive.

Then, we got to the doctor and I got up on the table for the ultrasound tech and she put the transducer on my stomach. We watched as the monitor in front of us started showing images. And then we saw the sac inside my uterus… and not much else. The ultrasound tech made a somewhat disappointed comment, but said we should wait to see what the doctor said. But I knew what it meant. We sat in the waiting room for an excruciating half hour until the doctor was ready to see us. She confirmed the bad news: It didn’t look like much, if anything, was growing in my uterus. We decided to wait a week and come back to double-check. I cried a fair amount that week. After a week, it was more of the same. I got a packet of misoprostol and a prescription for strong pain meds, and went home to miscarry my pregnancy.

My experience with misoprostol was… anti-climactic. I had some cramping and some bleeding and some upset stomach, but nothing even as bad as my period usually is. I was confused and thought about calling the doctor, but opted to wait a couple of weeks. I mean, all my hormonal symptoms had gone away, and I had passed something. I spotted for the entire two weeks. Then, the night before it would be two weeks since taking the pills, I was having some weird cramping, so I put on a pad, just to be safe. Well, it was a good thing because at about 4 a.m., I was hit with a terrible wave of cramping and got up just in time to go to the bathroom before the flow hit. I called the emergency line for my doctor, where I was told to call back if things got worse. Things got worse. They squeezed me in for a same-day ultrasound and exam and the doctor discovered that I had not fully passed the pregnancy and scheduled me for a D&C the next day.

The D&C was almost worse in the hours leading up to it than the actual procedure. I’d never been under anaesthesia before, so I was nervous. But everyone at the surgery center was fantastic and I had no problem going under, or waking back up. I kind of wanted to go back to sleep after they woke me up, but Mr. Tweed was in the recovery room and got me up and talking while the nurse brought me water and ginger ale. After the anaesthesia wore off the next day, I got a bit more sore, but I never had to take any of the prescription pain pills. I was back at work the next Monday (although I had some pain the afternoon and opted to telework the next day), and I made it through Thanksgiving. I had some spotting for the next two weeks, to varying degrees, but almost exactly two weeks after the surgery, the spotting stopped. I had my post-op appointment and the doctor said everything looked fine. Four weeks and a day after my surgery, I got my period again.

And, well, that’s where I am now. At least, that’s what happened. You might notice that I haven’t talked a lot about how I feel about this whole thing. I mean, the short answer is “not great,” but miscarriage is so much more nuanced than that. I’ve been grieving, angry, sad, kind of secretly glad I got to have something to drink at Thanksgiving and Christmas, worried for the future, and absolutely terrified of trying to get pregnant again in case this happens again. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

And, yeah, it hasn’t helped that the whole process has stretched out for longer than a month. I pretty much didn’t go into the office for about half of November. I’m just now starting to feel like life is getting back to normal. But I haven’t really been up to doing most things that aren’t absolutely necessary. I did get all my gift shopping done, but I’m not really feeling in the holiday spirit. I never put out my Christmas tree (all decorated, but still wrapped up in our storage room). It’s just… really not how I thought this holiday would be this year.

But I’m climbing out, slowly but surely. Exercise has helped a lot, as has giving myself permission to skip things that I don’t feel up to doing. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix when I’m not either exercising or at work. But I read a book earlier this week, which was nice. And I’ve been reading some stories for a new¬†“Tea and a Story” segment, hopefully later this month. And Mr. Tweed and I have gone to a couple new restaurants for our food blog. Like I said, it’s a slow and steady return to normalcy.

I wish I could finish this up with some sort of advice, either for people who are going through this, or people who want to support people who are going through this. But I guess the only thing that I can say is: Be patient. With yourself. With your friend who is grieving. It’s kind of lame advice, but really, every person is different. Some people want to talk about it; others don’t. Some people want to have a ritual or some sort of keepsake. Others really, really don’t. It’s not about specific acts of sympathy or acts of self-care — it’s about listening to yourself and your own needs, or listening to your friend and what they want. I guess that’s really all I can offer.

So that’s really where I am. Hopefully, my regular posting schedule will start back up soon, but it might be a little different. I haven’t been tasting many new teas or trying new beauty products. But I still have life thoughts to share from my quiet little corner of the sofa.

Five Things for which I’m Thankful During a Rough Month

So I’ve made some vague, cryptic allusions to having a “tough time” lately. I’m not really ready to talk about it more concretely than that, but suffice to say, I’ve had a bit more than the normal amount of both physical and emotional hardships for the last month or so. As things (I hope!) start to ease up, I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve really leaned on to help brighten my days, and thought it would be an appropriate post for today.

Multi-functional beauty products: I’ve been having a hard time either working up the motivation to do a skin care routine or finding the physical stamina to take long showers, so I’ve been leaning heavily on my Stratia Liquid Gold and HIF cleansing conditioners the past few weeks. When I don’t feel like doing a full routine, I can ask my husband to bring up the bottle of Liquid Gold (it’s distinctive color makes it easy for him to pick out on my vanity). Then, I just need to make it to the bathroom long enough to brush my teeth and doing at least one cleanse, and I can slather on a few pumps of Liquid Gold right before my head hits the pillow. And now that my hair is a bit shorter, a single wash with the HIF cleansing conditioner is enough to keep my hair happy for a bit. I choose Intensive Detox or Hydration Support based on how long it’s been since my last shower. I really wish they would get their 1-L bottles back in stock.

Trader Joe’s: We don’t shop at TJ’s often because the closest one is still not terribly convenient. But we’ve found ourselves in the neighborhood lately and have stocked up, particularly on their frozen food. It’s nice that for $40 or so, we can have almost a week’s worth of food that is easy to prepare and doesn’t contain the ingredients that tend to give me migraines, which are in a lot of prepared foods. And I’m not spending all our money on Seamless. My particular favorites are the frozen croissants, orange chicken, and tamales.

My 25-oz. Camelbak water bottle: I drink a lot of water throughout the day, and when I’m at home, that means getting up every hour or so to refill my glass. Since I’ve been spending more time resting on the sofa, I just fill up the bottle and save a few trips. I can also bring it with me when I’m going to be out for an unknown amount of time.

Leggings and thick socks: I’m not really a fan of socks usually, but it’s been cold. My standard uniform lately has been an oversize sweatshirt or tunic worn over leggings with a thick pair of socks. Sometimes I swap the top out for a tunic t-shirt and a long cardigan.

Pat McGrath LuxeTrance lipstick in “Beautiful Creature”: I bought this as a bit of a retail therapy back when this whole thing started at the end of October. I haven’t been wearing a lot of makeup lately, but when I feel really crappy, but I have to go out and I want to feel a bit more put-together, a swipe of really nice lipstick can go a long way. And this is¬†really nice lipstick. The color is a deep rose pink that looks neutral enough not to look “dolled up,” but is dark enough to add a bit of contrast to my face. It’s a great autumn color. And the formula is amazing. It’s creamy going on, but sets to an almost-matte finish that does transfer, but also leaves enough color on your lips to not need a touch-up after drinking or light eating. Seriously, I wore this to the doctor’s office and it helped.

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.

A Week in the Life of a Non-Influencer

Or “Blogging for the Small Potato.”

Inspired by Tracy’s recent post at Fanserviced-B, I’ve been thinking a bit about what blogging means to me and what advice I would give to someone who was thinking about starting a blog. Because, you see, I’m a lot closer to where you would be than someone like Tracy is. While I have almost ten years’ worth of defunct blogs under my belt, I’ve only been at this space for a little over two years and have therefore built up two years’ worth of audience and “influence.”

And I’m just now starting to feel like a “blogger” rather than a person who happens to have a blog. That said, I don’t neglect much of my daily life in favor of blogging or social media. I don’t spend money on the blog, other than what I would already spend to “treat myself.” Because this isn’t strictly a beauty blog, I don’t have to keep a constant influx of product to maintain a review schedule. Honestly, I feel like I’m posting more beauty reviews that I would really like lately because I have a backlog of things I want to share with you because I’ve enjoyed them or because I have other opinions on them. And then there’s always tea. My goal is to post three posts a week, which has lately been one beauty review, one tea post, and one wildcard, but that has been known to change. Basically, I’m not making any money off this, not even to cover my costs, so I don’t feel terrible letting it fall by the wayside on weeks when life picks up.

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Here, I’ve decided to share what a week’s worth of blogging activities looks like for me, a small-time blogger. I have a full-time job and commute 2+ hours each day as well. After my week, I’ll also share some tips for the new blogger, from someone who hasn’t made it big.

Thursday:

On Thursdays, I telework, which means I wake up at 6-6:30 a.m. like normal, but I have¬†a couple extra hours in the morning that I don’t spend commuting. I usually use this time for blog-related activities (although wedding planning has crept in at the edges sometimes).

Blogging: I usually try to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I looked at my blogging drafts and the photos I had and planned what I was going to post on Friday. I wrote the post reviewing my favorite deep conditioners and got it ready to post. I also took a bunch of photos while I had sun coming through the window.

Social Media: I actually joined an online course about increasing Instagram engagement since I’ve come to realize that Instagram is my preferred form of social media. But I need to be better about engaging with people myself.

Friday:

I managed to wake up on time and so I had some downtime in the morning before work to work on my blog post. In the evening, we took off to go to Philadelphia, which is halfway to New York City, where we planned to spend Saturday.

Blogging: I posted my review of hair masks.

Social Media: First Instagram lesson was optimizing your profile, so I updated my profile a bit. I also posted a bunch on my Story as we made our way up to Philly, plus my travel evening skin care routine.

Saturday:

Other than a few shares early in the morning (including a makeup routine selfie), I was largely radio silent on Saturday. We had our trip to the opera, which I talked about on Monday, but the main things were¬†that 1.) our hostess didn’t like it when anyone pulled out a device during lunch (heavens forbid I’m that person with a phone out during the opera!), and 2.) no one else had their phones out to take photos, other than one family at the restaurant taking a family photo. I just felt gauche taking photos, even though I kept seeing things I wanted to share.

Blogging: None

Social Media: Posted in the morning and evening on my Instagram Story, plus posts of my makeup and a philosophical post after finishing a book. Instagram lesson was about cohesion of my feed, so I thought about how to tighten the visual theme of my images. I also started trying to increase my commenting on Instagram.

Sunday:

We were up early and on the road before 9 a.m.,¬†getting home before noon, but we were supposed to help out a friend who’d recently moved, so my afternoon was filled with that. Plus I was just dying of allergies.

Blogging: Sketched out the posts I wanted to put up for the week, including starting to write my opera review. Too dark to take photos by the time I got to blogging in the evening, though.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about strategy, which I thought about. Decided to actually make an effort to post 1-3 times a day, spaced by at least eight hours.

Monday:

Teleworking again because of subway construction, so I had extra time to devote during the day.

Blogging: I used my extra time to finish my opera post and write a post for Wednesday. I also took photos while I had morning light.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about focus, which I lack, both in my blog and my Instagram feed. I actually made the decision to write a general lifestyle/personal blog, rather than just writing a beauty blog or just writing a tea blog because this blog is a personal labor of love, not an attempt at starting a business. So I guess a little lack of focus is to be expected. But I’m hoping I can try to tie things together a little neater.

Tuesday:

Slept in because seasonal allergies are the pits. But I had some free time later in the day after work.

Blogging: Polished my Matchaeologist review and did some blog housekeeping. The Matchaeologist review made me break the seal on affiliate links, so I added an Affiliate and Referrals page and put up some referral links from other places that I frequent.

Social Media: Instagram lesson today was about using Instagram to sell products, which isn’t really useful to me right now. But hey, if there are any brands itching to do a collaboration, I put up a contact page so you know where to find me. Most of my progress was just keeping up the engagement. I should do an “Instagram Engagement for Introverts” post because I find it really hard to comment on other people’s posts because I get into my head and worry that no one cares what I have to say. Maybe they don’t, but it’s nice to get comment replies. I also discovered that standing on the platform waiting for the train is a great time to fit in some Instagram commenting. I also shared my blog page on my personal (i.e., non-pseudonymed) Facebook page, which was actually a big step. So now at least I know my mom reads my blog. After more than two years.

Wednesday:

Wednesday was a particularly big blog post day because I was posting a review of something I got at a discount in exchange for a review. Now, I’m a small-time blogger. I don’t get brands knocking on my email to offer my promotional products. Every free or discounted item I have ever gotten to review I have gotten by asking the brand’s PR team if they would send me something. This is a touchy subject among bloggers, so I’ll say this: The trick to asking for free stuff is to be gracious and accepting no matter what the response is. When I asked Matchaeologist, they said they could offer me a deep discount, but not something for free. And you know what? I probably would have bought something anyway because it was a thing I was interested in.

Blogging: Published my Matchaeologist review.

Social Media: Wednesday is the day when I get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to barre class, so I posted my early morning on my Story. Instagram lesson was about sounding like an authority, which I’m oddly good at, considering I’m not much of an authority about anything I blog about.

So that was my week. It’s far less exciting than an actual influencer, but it gives a little idea about what blogging is like for mere mortals. This will probably never be a career for me, and I don’t expect it to, but I’ve seen a creep in my traffic over the last two years, without really doing much of anything but write about what interests me. So I guess I’ll leave you with my tips for novice bloggers:

  1. Remember that the bloggers that inspire you have been at this for a while. It’ll probably take two to five years build the following they have, unless you want to play games with clickbait titles and topics.
  2. Do this because you enjoy it, at least at first. Especially since it’s going to be costing you way more money than it makes you.
  3. Use what you already have and supplement sparingly. Instead of buying a DSLR right away, see where your iPhone will get you. Or try to find an inexpensive camera to get started. When I started thinking about doing more videos, I bought a tripod for my phone, rather than a new video camera. It’s not the absolute best quality, but I’d rather spend $14 to see if I enjoy something rather than $600 to discover that I hate it.
  4. If you’re planning on doing reviews, make a plan for the products you review. Know how long you’re going to test them and when the review will come out. That way you’ll avoid having a backlog to work through and can try to budget your beauty purchases.
  5. Give it some time to figure out your voice. Things will change. You will look back on old posts and cringe. We all go through it.

So I guess that’s what I have to say about blogging, as a small-time blogger. I think it’s important to see both sides, especially when you’re starting a new blog, because chances are you’ll be a lot more like me than like someone like Tracy, at least at first. Good luck!

Weekend Wanderings

If you follow my Instagram, you may have noticed that this weekend was my birthday. It was a lovely weekend, full of celebrating with family and friends. My mother took me out to afternoon tea at our favorite tiny tea shop on Friday afternoon and Fianc√© took me out for soup dumplings and noodles Saturday night. I even had a little celebration during my Saturday morning rehearsal with the cast of the show I’m currently in. And the director gave me a lovely little potted plant a card because she’s a dear friend of mine as well.

But by Sunday, most of the festivities were over and things were quiet. It was a lovely day and I had nothing planned after getting coffee with Fiancé at our favorite little shop. So I decided to go to a barre class downtown.

Now, the last couple of weeks have been an upheaval in my barre schedule because my regular instructor is out of town and the gym seemed to have trouble getting a substitute for my normal early-morning Tuesday time slot. So I had actually gone more two weeks without a barre class. Needless to say, I was missing it, so it didn’t seem a hardship to take some time out of a Sunday and squeeze a class in.

I discovered that the second location of my gym happens to be only a short walk from a train station that is closer to my home than the one I usually go to. So I took the opportunity to get in a little walk in the sunshine while I went to my class. I walked through a neighborhood I don’t usually see. After a few blocks of small restaurants and nail salons, I found myself on a block of row houses that was quiet. But nestled in with the homes, on the corner of one block, I found the most adorable little Japanese market.

It’s called “Hana” Japanese Market, which means flower, so I took that as a sign that it was meant for me to stop in on my walk. I was still a bit early for class and only had another five minutes on my walk, so I had the time to dawdle a bit and explore. Inside, it was cramped and amazing. Tall wire shelves held treasures of prepared foods, candies, and even a tiny section of beauty products. I explored some lotions and creams from a brand that uses fermented soy as a star ingredient, as well as some multi-packs of daily face masks. But it was at the back of the store that I found my true quarry: Green Tea KitKat.

Now green tea KitKat was something I resisted for a long time. Of course, I’ve never been to Japan, so it wasn’t readily available anyway, but apart from that, I had conflicted feelings about it. You see, as much as I love all things tea, I am a staunch believer in chocolate. Real chocolate. Proper chocolate. With actual cocoa in it. And white chocolate, to my mind, is not chocolate. So green tea KitKat combined one thing I love (green tea) and one thing I do not (white “chocolate”). And that left me very confused. I was perfectly happy not to seek them out and address that confusion.

Then, my future sister-in-law and her boyfriend went to Japan to visit his family and came back with treats for Christmas. And everyone got a green tea KitKat in their stockings. Of course, Fianc√© immediately turned his nose up at it, so I had two green tea KitKats! And they were glorious. Creamy and sweet, but with a pronounced green tea bitterness. Yum. Of course, they’re not easy to get if you don’t live near a Japanese market. I idly considered ordering some off Amazon, but I have a strange mental block about ordering food from Amazon (and the god-awful crumpets my mother ordered did nothing to dispel this).

So we return to the present scene: Lady Elizabeth on her quest, having found the display of green tea KitKat. Cue the triumphant music. I snagged two bags of the little green gems and paid, conversing lightly with the thoroughly pleasant woman running the cash register. Now that I know this market is here and so adorable, and now that I know the walk to this gym location is not only short, but enjoyable, I’m sure I shall return.

I hope everyone had happy weekends!

On Wedding Brain and Bridal Solidarity

Last week, I made more progress towards planning my wedding. I met with our caterer and his assistants at our venue and went through the logistics. And we got our license (less than six months away!). It was exciting to see things start coming together, and it gave me an excuse to take an entire day off work and think about nothing but wedding, which is important for a bride planning an event.

Then, I also learned that a coworker had gotten engaged, so of course, I went by her desk to congratulate her. But I also offered her the support of a sympathetic ear if she ever wants to obsess about wedding planning and it seems like everyone else around her is sick of it. Because this struggle is real.

I really never thought I would be *that* bride, the one who was obsessed with swatches and decorations and everything. But here we are. I’ve even planned a wedding before, but it was a much smaller event and took place rather quickly (four months from proposal to wedding). Plus, I was in school at the time, so I didn’t have as much mental free energy to waste.

This time around, I have all the mental energy to waste on it. And I’m planning a more elaborate event. And, of course, second-guessing every choice I make. For example: I recently decided what would actually be my “dream” wedding and it’s pretty far from what we’re planning.

My Dream: We wake up in the morning, put on nice clothes, and drive out to a little vintage chapel near our house, where we can have a simple, humanist ceremony, with whoever is up to join us. Then, we come back to the house and host a big luncheon/open house for friends and family, mostly in our back yard, with the option of squeezing inside if it rains. Simple, classic, and very old-fashioned.

Instead:¬†The only concrete input Fianc√© has given in terms of what he wants (it’s his first marriage) is that he wants to have a dance party for his friends. So dancing is a must. Given that, we have to rent a hall. And, honestly, we first met and became close going to dance lessons together, so it makes sense. We dance at everyone else’s weddings; of course we’re going to dance at our own.

So there I go again. Before I devolve into discussing caterers and music equipment, I’m going to stop myself. Wedding brain is real. It occupies prime mental real estate. And I know I’ve annoyed even the most wedding-obsessed of my non-planning friends.

So I’ve extended the branch of wedding brain acceptance to another woman going through it, in the hope that we can support each other. Forming a grand sisterhood of the wedding brain. And isn’t that what support is all about?