Outing: Republic Restoratives Distillery Tour and Tasting

I’m back from my whirlwind wedding weekend, and I thought I’d share my fun, post-wedding outing with you. The day after the wedding, Mr. Tweed and I started out the day at our favorite coffee shop to have a little breakfast and see a few of our guests who stuck around town overnight. Then, we ran some errands, including a trip downtown to gather last-minute necessities for our upcoming honeymoon. While we were downtown, my sister (in from Australia for the wedding!) mentioned that she was going to tour a local distillery later that afternoon. So we stayed downtown and met her.

The first thing to understand is that my sister is a bit of a whiz when it comes to whiskeys of all kinds. She runs a sort of educational and networking group that introduces different kinds of whiskeys to a wide audience. As a lover of brown spirits myself, I heartily approve. So when she mentioned a drinks-related outing, I leapt at the opportunity.

Republic Restoratives is a distillery and tasting room in the heart of Northeast D. C., where, because of the peculiarities of D. C. law, they can ferment, distill, age, bottle, sell, and taste their own small-batch spirits. Currently, the only entirely-in-house spirit is their Civic vodka, because they are only about a year old. But give it a year or so, and there will be in-house bourbon and rye. Currently, they offer a bourbon and a rye that they blend and finish themselves, as well. The tour and tasting gives you a glimpse into the process, from fermentation to barrel-aging, as well as a taste of each of the three spirits they currently offer. And off to one side is the tasting room, where bartenders whip up cocktails based on each of their spirits. The only rule is that each cocktail must have at least one of their in-house spirits. But apart from that, the bartenders are perfectly willing to get creative.

The tour itself was not only entertaining, as our guide had the personality to make the chemistry involved in brewing interesting to a wide audience, but educational. I had no idea the stringent requirements needed to call something “bourbon” versus other kinds of American whiskey. And I found their Rodham Rye to be particularly enjoyable, both in the Sazerac that I brought with me on the tour, and alone as part of the tasting.

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After the tour and tasting, we reconvened to the tasting room, where we partook of another round of cocktails. This time, I went for a Boulevardier, which is perfect for a warm spring day. Their bourbon was the perfect match against the vermouth and Campari, but I would be curious to try it again with their rye. It was a perfect way to decompress after the hectic wedding days, and enjoy the company of family I don’t get to see often. Plus, a tour and a tasting for the price of a D. C. cocktail isn’t bad.

Today Is a Very Special Day

I may not be on social media much today. You see, today I am getting married. It’s been exciting and stressful and wonderful planning this wedding. And I will share details soon, I promise (although not until after our honeymoon). But for today, I thought I’d leave you with my pre-wedding thoughts.

Despite the fact that I’ve been with Fiancé for over five years, and the fact that I’ve been married before, the reality of this wedding really sunk in this weekend, when I put together my bouquet. Something about seeing that little finished bundle of flowers really symbolized all the preparation, mental and physical, that has gone into both this event and this marriage. As I pushed the last pearl-headed pin into the ribbon covering the stems, it hit me. This is it. I’m really doing this.

I’m really doing this again.

When I first got divorced, and even for a while after Fiancé and I started dating, I was adamant that I might never want to get married again. I had already failed at that once, why would I try again? But sometimes the old proverb is right. Although, I should hope that I will follow W. C. Fields this time and only try again once.

And so today will be a flurry of photographs, family, and a very special moment between Fiancé and me, where we take this step together. I can’t wait.

Beauty Review: Innisfree Jeju Lava Seawater Boosting Ampoule (with Wrinkle and Pore Effectors)

Say that one five times fast. Despite a mouthful of a name, the ampoule alone isn’t much to write home about. But I was intrigued when I learned about the concept. You buy the base ampoule, and then you buy tubes of “effectors,” which are concentrated shots of ingredients targeted at one concern. You can then add the effectors into the base ampoule to create a custom ampoule for your skin concerns.

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I was tempted enough to buy it. It’s just such a cool idea, plus I’ve been curious to try more Innisfree products, despite their fondness for filling a product with more fragrance than substance. Well, this seems like a bit of an exception. While the base ampoule itself is relatively simple (solvents, humectants, penetration-enhancers, etc.), the effectors had some interesting ingredients (although full ingredients lists don’t seem to be available). I went with the Wrinkle effector, which boasts a blend of peptides and adenosine, as well as the Pore effector, whose star ingredient is catechin, one of the antioxidants in tea. Seems like a fated match, right? I ordered the product from the company Jolse, where the ampoule and two effectors cost about $25 when various, publicly-available discounts are taken into account. It got to me in just under three weeks. I started testing it on April 8th and have been using it for about a month now to gauge results.

The first thing I noticed upon opening it was that there is absolutely no scent at all. For those who are familiar with Innisfree products, this is kind of a big deal. Innisfree has released some new products recently with a focus on less fragrance and sensitive skin types, so perhaps this is going to become a new direction for the company. Neither the base ampoule nor either of the effectors had any detectable scent, and I really sniffed hard to try to find something.

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The base ampoule is 25 ml of product in a 40-ml bottle, to allow for the extra volume of the effectors (so don’t be surprised if your bottle only looks just over half full), and each effector is 7 ml, so two effectors is probably the most you should add, for space reasons. It’s likely that Innisfree designed the products to work well with the base ampoule and two effectors, so that’s what I did. The base ampoule is a clear liquid that’s a bit more viscous than water. The Wrinkle effector is a thin, creamy liquid, and the Pore effector is a clear gel. I did find that the effector formulas were thick enough to get stuck in the neck of the ampoule bottle when I tried to add them in, but I think I could avoid this next time by making sure to use the pointy end of the effector tube to poke down beyond the neck of the bottle. The ampoule bottle has a dropper top and a mechanism to wipe off drips from the dropper.

I used this product at least once a day, often twice a day, at a rate of 4-5 drops per application. At this rate, I have used just over half the bottle, so I think that with daily usage, you would likely get over two months out of a bottle, and with twice daily usage, just over a month. I found that for the first few days to a week, my skin really soaked up the serum and it was easiest to apply drops directly to my face and spread it with two fingers to minimize hand absorption. Later on, however, I felt like I could get even coverage by dispensing into the palm of my hand and pressing the serum into my face. This was the only serum I used during the testing period, other than my vitamin C in the mornings.

As far as effects go, I didn’t notice any miracles, but then I wasn’t expecting any. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the effects I did notice. The product is at least as effective at keeping my forehead line at bay as my Hylamide SubQ, for a significant financial savings. It also seemed like my clogged pores diminished, although not to the point where it showed up on camera. I did take before and after photos, but I noticed no difference between them, so the positive effects were subtle. I’m curious to see how my skin reacts to stopping using this, as that’s often the only test that will tell you what subtle results a product is having.

I would say that if you’re interested in this product and the price doesn’t seem dear to you, it’s a nice product for the cost. It won’t work anti-aging miracles, but it is a nice booster to a good anti-aging regime.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have not received any incentive to review it. All thoughts are my own.

In my Queue: Z: The Beginning of Everything

Recently, I heard an interview with Cristina Ricci on NPR about her new series following the life of Zelda Fitzgerald (née Sayre). The show is called Z: The Beginning of Everything and it is at least loosely based on the novel Z: A Novel of Selda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Now, as a lover of the cultural and fashion history of the 1920s, Zelda Fitzgerald has come up in my wanderings around the internet. She is often treated as an idolized figure of glamour and a kind of hedonistic debauchery, which is somewhat missing the point. Rather like a Great Gatsby themed wedding.

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I had originally picked up the book for some light reading during a trip to Fiance’s parents’ lake house, but never really got very far in it. After watching the series, I picked it back up again, but was mildly struck with the inconsistencies between the two. Because the two works cannot be separated, I thought I ought to comment on both of them, though I’m focusing on the show, as I still haven’t finished the book.

The first thing that struck me about the show is that it opened up, in the pilot episode, on a shot of the burned-out hospital where Zelda met her untimely and tragic end. This is not taken from the book, though I appreciate how it highlights Zelda as a tragic figure rather than an aspirational one. But for the most part, the show glosses over the darker aspects of Zelda’s early life. For one, there are references to the abuse she suffered at Scott’s hands in the novelization, but those are absent from the first season of the show. The show also seems to suggest that Scott’s infidelity, shown only as a one-off, impulsive act on screen, is somehow partially Zelda’s fault for fueling his jealousy through her close relationship with his friend.

That bothered me a bit because history has made clear that Scott repeatedly and shamelessly cheated on his wife, as she did on him. I wonder how the show will treat her affairs in later seasons. And to bring in the figure of Scott’s friend, whose relationship with Zelda acts as the primary conflict between the two in the first season, and who did not seem to exist in history, somewhat lets him off the hook. And, of course, the glossing over of the physical abuse that Zelda endured at his hands paints less of a complete picture of the domestic life that led her to a series of stays in sanitoriums.

The one place the show does try to add drama is in the relationship between Zelda and her family. Unfortunately, the show injects drama where none exists in the book, which seems odd considering that they delete drama elsewhere. The show also gives Zelda somewhat more agency, moving the revelation that Scott has been using her diary for “inspiration” to an earlier point their lives. It almost seems like the show’s creators wanted to apologetically give her more agency than she ended up having in a life where a jealous, bitter, and abusive husband thwarted her attempts to make more of her life than being a society wife.

That said, I found the show enjoyable. The episodes are short, easily-digested bits of fluff, and the acting and characterization is superb. I was impressed with Ricci’s ability to communicate the naivete of a teenage and early-20s woman in the first season and I look forward to seeing what they do with the later seasons. I just wouldn’t recommend necessarily reading the book and expecting the series to follow it very closely at all.

On My Bookshelf: The Woman on the Orient Express

I posted a cryptic Instagram post about this book a few weeks ago, but I thought I’d share a full review. The Woman on the Orient Express, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was a book I purchased on a whim for my Kindle. I liked the premise of an historical fiction book about Agatha Christie, whose work I enjoy and whose life I wish I knew more about. Of course, the book is entirely fictionalized, if based on real people, but it is an interesting look at characters based at least in part in history.

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The story itself is not serious literature or high art. It has intrigue, action, and plot twists, but nothing ground-breaking. Of course, because it was about Christie, I assumed the story would be a mystery, which it isn’t really. But for some reason, most of the book felt like the setup of an Agatha Christie mystery. In each chapter, something is mentioned or set up that, in one of Christie’s works, would be a clue for a diminutive Belgian detective. Likewise, this book is full of Chekhov’s guns, sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

The plot begins with Agatha Christie planning a trip to the Middle East in an attempt to escape the publicity surrounding her mysterious temporary disappearance and her divorce. She is not only hurting from being left for another woman, but she is trying to balance recovery from a breakdown that has put her in the public eye. Ashford’s picture of Christie as a character is actually quite relatable, although she is sometimes a bit thick. However, whether the Christie of the book is just too stupid to see what’s in front of her or purposely turning a blind eye because she subconsciously wishes it weren’t so isn’t so apparent.

The other main characters are Nancy, based in part on Christie’s husband’s mistress, and the archaeologist Katherine Keeling, who was based on Katharine Woolley, a noted archaeologist of the time. I like how Ashford weaves the other two women into the story, although sometimes the particular plot choices are a bit soap-opera in their dramatism. That said, the characters themselves are well-enough written that they can handle their respective overly-dramatic subplots. If anything, the male characters tend to be one-dimensional, which is perhaps a welcome change in literature, in some light.

The plot does meander a bit, but it does eventually get to the point, with a rather unsatisfying climax, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole. There is a bit of romance, but the central focus seems to be the relationship among the three women. And it certainly doesn’t ever get boring.

That said, the thing that really grabbed me about this book was the afterwards, in which the author explains what inspired her to write this story. You see, the story is, in some way, an imagining of how Christie met her second husband. And the author calls Christie “the patron saint of second marriages,” which spoke to me on a personal level as I prepare myself to get married for the second time.

In the time in which Christie lived, it was considered a deep failing of a woman to end up divorced, and indeed it was sometimes catastrophic to end up without a husband and without the social dignity of widowhood. But the book goes further than this, bringing up the timeless issues of personal self-doubt, children’s lack of understanding, and the feelings of helplessness that accompany a divorce. Because Christie was fortunate enough to have an independent income in her writing, Ashford can treat her as a somewhat more modern-style divorcee, which helps the story reach a modern audience.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book for what I intended it: a piece of light reading in between other works. But I found a surprising depth of insight in the words of the author about Christie and her divorce and remarriage.

Beauty Reviews: Base Products

As an occasional amateur stage actress and an office worker in my daily life, I have a love-hate relationship with base products. Part of me wishes I still worked in an environment where it was more odd if I wore makeup than if I didn’t. But the realities of my life is that I probably do need to wear a little makeup on a daily basis. I personally try to get away with as little as possible, but sometimes my skin needs a little boost.

I gravitate towards sheer, lightweight base products, and then pin my coverage hopes and dreams on concealers, especially for my hereditary dark circles and the occasional spot. But I hate the feeling of makeup on my face. So here are some of the products I’ve tried recently, which ones I like, and which ones were a bit of a miss for me.

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Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer in Nude: This one was a bit of a miss for me. I tried the “Sand” color first, but found it a bit dark. My main two issues are that it tends to oxidize on me and look orange, and I find that my face feels sticky when I use this. It was not horrible enough to return, and I still like it for very, very cold days, but it still spends more time alone on my vanity than carted around for touch-ups.

Klairs Illuminating Supple Blemish Balm: I haven’t actually used a lot of Asian BB creams lately because I find it hard to find ones that don’t go grey on my skin tone, but this one is advertised specifically to have a yellow undertone and no grey cast. So I gave it a try. It’s an interesting texture, and perhaps a touch too light for me, but it’s a nice option for days when I’m not necessarily going to be out all day.

Cover Girl Clean Matte BB Cream in Light-Medium: This is actually my current go-to for the stage. I don’t need a lot of coverage, and I don’t subscribe to the practice of wearing a darker base than my skin tone on stage. And I find that when I wear this, I can get away with skipping setting powder without the director noticing. I also wore it for my most recent head shots because it plays well under lights. It’s fantastic for humid days when I feel as though I’ve been through a bowl of soup after my 30- minute walk from the train station. It’s a bit matte for the winter and days when I’m mostly going from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building, but it will probably be the base I use for my upcoming wedding, as it is good at withstanding the day.

Pixi H2O Skin Tint in Nude: Oh my, this is one of my favorite base products. It’s sheer, but gives a little boost in terms of evening out my skin. It feels moist (almost wet) when you apply it and is quite cooling, but sets down to feel like almost nothing. And it wears beautifully, never becoming patchy. It does fade, like any makeup, but it fades evenly and doesn’t go all greasy-looking like many bases do, especially those with as natural and satiny a finish as this. It may not hold up to D.C. summer, or very long days, but for everything up to that, it’s my favorite.

Pre-Wedding Beauty: How I Am Preparing for the Big Day

As readers of my blog probably know, I’m in the process of planning a wedding. It’s coming up, too! Of course, every bride I’ve ever seen has looked radiant and beautiful on her wedding day, but I definitely want to do everything I can to help the “wedding glow.” As an avid follower of skin care technologies, I’m constantly seeing people talk about pre-wedding beauty and ask what skin care products they should be using to get their skin ready for a wedding. So I thought I’d take a bit of time to talk a bit about my beauty treatments leading up to the wedding, and why I’ve chosen what I’ve chosen. Here are my top seven strategies for preparing for my wedding.

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1. I’m not using anything new less than one month before the wedding:

This is rule one, guys. Nothing new, less chance for an unexpected reaction that I’m frantically trying to deal with the week before the wedding. I have made minor exceptions for one-time-use products that I’ve checked ingredients very carefully, but I added my last long-term-use product one month before the big day.

2. I have a strong skin care foundation:

If you’re not like me and have over a year to prepare, start as soon as possible to get a good skin care foundation. I’ve written a bit about it here, but this post is also a great treatment of the hierarchy of what to worry about when you first start overhauling your skin care. Personally, I started my most recent skin care journey over a year ago, and one year is about when I started seeing a major difference in the resilience of my skin.

3. I focused on brightening and exfoliation:

While I’ve been using chemical exfoliants for a while, I had stopped using much in the way of physical exfoliation since I started down my science-based skin care road. But lately, I’ve found that my skin gets a little… off-feeling at times. So I started experimenting with physical exfoliation for times when I wanted my skin to be an extra-nice canvas for makeup. I also still use my azelaic acid three times a week. Plus, I’ve been loving Pixi Glow Tonic, a gentle glycolic acid toner that also has ginseng and horse chestnut extracts, which are both shown to improve skin brightness.

4. I kept up my healthy skin habits:

I drink lots of water and I use sunscreen every day, rain or shine. You know what’s a good way to avoid wonky tan lines? Sunscreen. A good way to avoid dehydrating your skin and looking dull on your wedding day? Sunscreen. Sunscreen is the best aging preventative and the best skin damage preventative, so, yeah, I use sunscreen every day. Plus, I’m using exfoliants, so it’s extra-necessary. And drinking plenty of water and trying to keep up a healthy lifestyle helps keep stress in check, which in turn comes full circle to prevent stress-induced breakouts.

5. I’m thinking outside the face box:

By this, I mean, remember that your body and your smile need love, too. I realized that my love of tea has left me with a decidedly British tooth shade, so I bought a tube of whitening, strengthening toothpaste to try to remove some of the stains. For my body, since my dress has a low back, I’m making sure to use moisturizing and exfoliating lotions there, too (as well as regular sunscreen!). I’ve also started working on taking better care of my nails, keeping them trimmed and filed, moisturizing them, and using a strengthening treatment to seal in moisture and prevent splitting.

6. I practiced my hair and makeup a couple months ahead of time:

I am doing my own hair and makeup because I’m having a low-key wedding, but even if you’re not, it’s not a bad idea to make sure you know what your face looks like with slightly heavier makeup. It’s good to go into an event knowing what you like yourself to look like. I’m actually doing a slightly heavier version of my head shot makeup look for the wedding, since I know what it looks like on me and I’ll still feel like myself. I also practiced my hair so I would know what to tell the woman making my custom birdcage veil.

7. I consulted a professional to guide my efforts:

Right after I got engaged, I realized I was still struggling with breakouts more than I wished I was, so I joined Curology. There, I learned about my personal skin care game-changers and had the benefit of some professional advice. While I haven’t felt it useful to continue my subscription, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

So there you have it, my seven strategies for preparing for a day when I will be gawked at and photographed more than probably any other day in my life (and certainly from closer up than when I’m on stage!). I hope some of my efforts will help inspire you to make your own plan of attack for big-day beauty.

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!

Tea Tasting: Matsu Matcha and the Matcha Brewing Kit from Matchaeologist

NB: These products were provided to me at a discount in return for this review, but all opinions are my own. If you would like to support this blog, please use my affiliate link to access the store here. It has also been added to my Affiliate and Referral Links page. For more information about sponsorship at Tea Leaves and Tweed, click here.

Last week, I wrote about my experience tasting a Korean matcha that suggested to me that I had not perhaps exhausted the higher end of quality in my previous matcha tastings. I decided to expand my matcha horizons, and to that end, I contacted Matchaeologist to see if they were interested in working with me on a review. They were very helpful and suggested I use the discount they offered me to purchase their Matcha Brewing Kit.

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First I should make a note about preparing matcha. Traditionally, match is prepared in a special bowl, called a chawan, whisked with a traditional handmade bamboo whisk, called a chasen. The Matchaeologist kit includes both of these things, along with a bamboo measuring spoon (“chashaku”), although the chawan is a more modern, double-walled clear glass bowl. That said, I have never owned any of these things before. I made my matcha in a mug or tea cup, using a handheld electric milk frother to create the foam and blend the matcha. And it works well, for less money than purchasing a full matcha setup. I did use this method to brew the matcha from Matchaeologist at least once to see how it held up, and it produced a nice cup of matcha. I do prefer the whisk because I can make a cup of matcha without sifting the powder, but matcha novices should consider getting an inexpensive electric frother if the traditional setup seems a bit expensive, although the kit does provide a slight discount from the pieces purchased individually.

Now, on to the matcha. Matchaeologist includes a tin of their mid-range Matsu matcha in the brewing kit. It is a ceremonial grade matcha, with a price on par with most high-quality matcha I’ve seen elsewhere. The powder is silky smooth and very bright green, and the vegetal smell hits you as soon as you add the first bit of water to mix it. I mixed two measuring spoons (about one teaspoon) of powder with about two ounces of water to make usucha for my morning cup. It blends easily and whisks up to a nice stable froth (in the photo above, the usucha had cooled considerably by the time I got that photo, and yet the foam remained).

Upon tasting, it is a much more intense flavor than the delicate Wooree Korean matcha I reviewed last week. The flavor is powerfully of green, leafy vegetables. It tastes of cooked spinach and chard, although not unpleasantly. It tastes of bright green cooked vegetables, not overcooked vegetables, and it lacks almost any bitterness or pronounced acidity. It has a smooth mouthfeel and an almost creamy undertone to the flavor that makes it quite easy to drink, almost like the feel of a matcha latte without actually having sugar or milk. I can feel an immediate physical effect: that particular matcha buzz that makes me feel I could take on the world with a smile and a whistle. And even when I drink it on an empty stomach, it does not upset it.

It was, in fact, such a lovely experience, that I am now excited to go back and buy the three more grades of matcha that Matchaeologist offers. There are two ceremonial grades, one more and one less expensive than Matsu, plus a culinary grade that looks quite intriguing. I’m curious to see if Matchaeologist’s Midori culinary grade matcha could make a matcha latte without any sweetener that still satisfies that craving. If their other grades are anything like their Matsu matcha, I expect to be impressed.

Readers of this blog are invited to use the code “tealeavesandtweed” to get 15% off a purchase at Matchaeologist (expiring 31 July 2017), and again, if you would like to support this blog, please use the affiliate link at the top of this post to go to the store. It’s likely any affiliate income will simply go into purchasing more matcha to share with you!

Outings: A Trip to the Metropolitan Opera and Eugene Onegin

This weekend, I had a bit of a treat: it was my yearly trip to the Metropolitan Opera with Fiancé’s family friend. It’s always something I look forward to, since we started doing it a couple years back, because it’s both a fun thing for someone with theater and voice training to experience, as well as a glimpse into a kind of old-fashioned lifestyle that I wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Our weekend always starts with a drive up to Fiancé’s parents’ house the night before. They live at approximately the halfway point between our house and New York City, so it makes sense to drive up that evening, sleep there, and drive to New York City in the morning, where the closer proximity makes it an easier day trip. The next morning, we leave bright and early, stopping for Starbucks at our usual stop, and then arriving in the city just before noon.

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This time, we ate at the Opera house restaurant, which is an exercise in luxury and service. The gentleman who served us seemed like an old pro, like those old steak houses where the waiters seem like they’ve been serving ladies and gentlemen steaks as a career for the last 40 years. It was early in the day, so we had a choice of lunch or brunch. Fiancé’s friend and her friend chose lunch; we chose brunch. Fiancé chose one of the most decadent French toasts I’ve ever had. And of course, prosecco to accompany.

From there, we went to the box, where we watched the first act of Eugene Onegin, an opera that is unmistakably Tchaikovsky from its opening notes. It’s an interesting opera because the first of the three acts feels interminably long. It takes over an hour for our young heroine Tatiana to fall in love at first sight with her neighbor’s handsome friend, Onegin, for her to confess her love in a cringeworthy teenage love letter, and be (gently) rebuffed by him. Even the opera veterans with us complained a bit that they were ready for a break.

At intermission, we returned to the Opera House restaurant to find a pot of coffee waiting for us at our table for Fiancé. Upon our arrival, fresh chocolate soufflés were brought out, along with a little pitcher of crème Anglaise. They were delicious, though lighter in chocolate flavor than my absolute favorite chocolate soufflé. But a delightful interlude. The intermission lasted longer than it took to have soufflé and coffee, so Fiancé and I walked around and looked at the costumes on display on the Parterre level.

Act II picked up the pace considerably. A grand country house’s ball opened the scene, and I recognized a fair amount of music from barre exercises in my old ballet classes, which was fun. There was even a little section sung in French, which was a welcome contrast to Russian. And then, to end the act, a duel and what is probably the absolute swiftest operatic death scene I’ve ever seen.

The second scene of the second act is where the story starts taking a darker turn, with two friends dueling over a woman with whom the title character only flirts with out of his own misplaced sense of annoyance. And the scenery reflected that so beautifully. They used mirrors to give a sense that the barren wasteland of the set went on forever. It reminded me of something out of a Dali painting.

Act III was similarly paced, again opening with a ball scene. This act reinforced something that I had noticed from the beginning: the use of offstage singing to give a sense that the onstage character was somehow set apart from the rest of the world. In the first act, the women open the show onstage while villagers sing offstage, giving a quaint feeling of a stolen glance at private life. In the third act, Onegin sits in the periphery of a dazzling party. But they used the same wasteland set, with only the addition of columns to suggest the architecture of St. Petersburg. As Onegin sits miserably on the sidelines, he sees a vision of his past: Tatiana, the girl he spurned. Only now, she has blossomed into a self-confident woman, and of course he falls madly in love with her.

And she is not unaffected by him. But the highlight of the first scene is the beautiful basso aria sung by her husband, the Prince Gremin, about how much he loves her. I got a sense of a woman, spurned by her first love, meeting a man who showers her with all the affection she had hoped for from the other. But upon seeing Onegin again, she remembers what it is to feel that love herself.

In the final scene, the two of them meet and Onegin declares his love, begging her to run away with him. This is where the opera dazzled. Instead of spurning him right away, or falling desperately into his arms and a happy ending, Tatiana first rounds on him and asks him why now. Why is she good enough for his love now? It’s a brilliant sight, watching this grown woman throw a petulant and immature man’s declaration in his face. He himself had admitted only a scene earlier that he hasn’t made anything of himself, and yet she has gone from a clueless country girl to a princess.

Then, she turns to him and tells him that she loves him, too. He looks up, and you can see the hope and joy in him that his love loves him. He is going to get what he wants.

But, no. This is opera, after all, and a Russian one at that. Tatiana continues to say that although she still loves him, she is not going to forswear her marital oaths. She then tells him farewell forever (echoed from the second act when her sister’s ill-fated lover leaves her to duel his friend). And in a beautiful parallel, made all the more poignant by the complete silence of the orchestra, she walks to him, pulls him into a passionate kiss, as he had done in the first act when he spurned her. And then she turns and walks away, her heels echoing through the entire opera house.

And that’s it. Onegin falls to the ground, realizing what he’s lost and the curtain crashes down. It’s beautiful in its severity.

It almost took a moment to bring myself out of this lovely experience, but of course we had to drive back halfway home. But that is an opera I will keep with me for a while. Anyone who has the opportunity to see it should jump at it.