The Angst of Buying a Blender

Daily married life, thus far, hasn’t proved to be an entirely different experience than when my husband and I were just “boyfriend-girlfriend.” I take comfort in that.

However, one subtle shift has taken place: buying things for the home. Unless I purchase something completely personal to me that doesn’t wipe out our savings, everything else is a “joint purchase.” There are those little words again: we…us…ours.

Something that has been on my list for some time now is a blender. We have an outdated crappy one, albeit with a glass carafe. That was about its only redeeming quality.

The hubs could not understand why we needed one. He kept insisting that our old one worked just fine, despite the fact that anytime he even wanted to make a protein shake, of which the ingredients are powder, ice, and milk, he would have to physically shake the blender while it was on to assist in shifting the ingredients around in the pitcher. Not ideal.

In researching blenders, I came to find out that along the blending spectrum, there is a sharp increase in price as blending technology improves. You’ve got your $30-40 Cheapo brands, which means purchasing one equates to throwing one’s money in the garbage, your mid-priced brands with name recognition–and decent-but-not-great blending functionality–in the $70-150 range, and then you immediately surge up to the $400-600 blenders that promise to change your life FOREVER, which of course means it’s a VitaMix, the Holy Grail of blenders. Not sure what the issues are in blending technology that it takes making a blender that costs someone upwards of $600, but apparently only the wealthy (or irresponsible spenders) are allowed to benefit from it.

It looks like a regular blender, right? But....$500?

It looks like a regular blender, right? But….$500?

As I had no desire to spend an entire year of my life saving up for a blender, we did what most people do: scrounge around for a 20% off coupon from Bed Bath & Beyond and hope they have something decent in the mid-priced range that will do what it’s supposed to do.

Aside from being slightly disappointed at the lack of inventory in stock (and then remembering that, including myself, most people are buying items online nowadays), what surprised me was that blenders with glass pitchers have now gone the way of the black rhino–only a few are in existence.

The only one I saw was a $40 crappy one that I staunchly avoided. Sadly, everything is plastic now, even when you are willing to spend $100 or more on an appliance. I am sure the savings are passed on to the consumer but if I had my druthers, I prefer glass and would pay a little more for it. Aside: my dear father, who is rather old-fashioned, was aghast at this plastic-carafe news when I told him about it. He suggested I try finding a replacement glass pitcher for the Ninja Professional 1000. I love that guy.Ninja_zoesays

Moving along. We had done our proper reviews research (promptly ignoring the one-star reviews from those people who don’t know how a blender works or were mad that the box was dented when it arrived) and with a little leap of faith, we invested in a Ninja–the Professional 1000, to be exact. A Ninja blender sounds straight out of SNL or Made-for-TV Land, but it is, in fact, a legit brand. This thing has three tiers on the blade and when it’s on, there is no doubt that something is being pulverized. Admittedly, it’s loud, but it works.

After the first go around with the blender, in which my dear husband overfilled it and we had a near disaster on our hands, I took over the smoothie-making in the household and lovingly demonstrated the proper proportion of fruit to protein powder to ice to liquid.

Result:

Ned Ryerson

Since the implementation of successful blended drinks has taken place, we are blending fools, making one healthy smoothie after another. Our little Ninja is proving itself to be quite the decent purchase, thank me very much.

I am sure we will eventually find our way to discovering other uses for the blender….perhaps we’ll get creative and make Adult Smoothies when we want fruit and a relaxing drink. (I believe they’re called “daiquiris.”)

booze

A successful foray into Joint Married Purchases, if I do say so myself.

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Wed

Happy New Year, friends!

I took a little sabbatical from posting in the latter part of 2014 and there is good reason for that.

On October 25, 2014, I married my best friend and the most wonderful man I know. After almost two whole years of engagement, planning a wedding, and designing a honeymoon that we hoped would work out (and it did!), the misty ethereal imaginings of our ceremony and fancy party became a reality.

In terms of anticipation, my wedding day was my entire lifetime of Christmases combined. I just could not fathom how it would all be on the day of until I was experiencing it. And every person who gave me the advice that there would be things happening that were completely out of my control was absolutely right.

  • My dress wasn’t perfectly pin straight after being pressed.
  • We ended up taking a cab from the reception to our hotel because of a SNAFU with the limo company. It was late, it began to rain, and we were hauling all of our wedding paraphernalia into and out of a minivan taxi. Fun times.
  • I found out way later that someone had broken into our car the night before the wedding, something my very wise husband kept from me on the wedding day, as nothing was broken or taken. (My decision to not keep anything of value in our car paid off, at least.)

And you know what?

Courtesy of NBC Universal

In fact, it was the journey leading up to the wedding day that held a number of surprises I didn’t expect–many more than any small things that took place the day of.

Things like:

An imminent wedding brings out ALL the feels in everybody.
There is something about the acts of booking a reception hall, picking out invitations, dress shopping, cake tasting, photographer interviewing, and a million other details in this process that makes anyone who has ever gotten married much more emotional–and I mean every emotion on the spectrum. To be sure, it is a thrilling time. I had a ball during the major part of the last two years and have been touched beyond measure by people’s thoughtfulness and generosity.

But man alive, not only will you go from manic to drop-dead exhausted all in the course of minutes or hours, but anybody involved in the planning will also add his or her feelings into the mix, causing quite the Feels Party. It could be about an accessory, the location of a hotel, what kinds of favors to include in hotel welcome bags, or any number of issues a person has about the Wedding Day Schedule. The fact that my husband and I had two solid months of 2014 that weren’t devoted to wedding planning was the greatest gift of all, quite honestly. The relief that comes with not planning All the Things is indescribable.

The mother/daughter relationship in particular during wedding planning is one that goes through a special time. I won’t delve deeply on this particular topic but I will say that wedding planning can damage a relationship if it’s not a strong one. Let’s just say I am grateful that my mom and I emerged with lots of love, even if there were a few bumps along the way.

You try strange things you might never have otherwise.
As the weeks dwindled down, all kinds of thoughts entered my mind about my skincare regime. Since I no longer possess the youth of my twenties to afford me automatic dewy fresh skin on the day of my wedding, I was examining each pore, line, and freckle on my mug.  I have my usual daytime and nighttime routines but like anyone with their looks on their mind, I was paying attention to things that normally I would pass on by. Case in point: I read something about taking coffee grounds and using them as an exfoliant on one’s scalp and face. This struck me as a brilliant thing to try out.

Since we had just brewed some coffee not too much earlier in the morning, I piled some fresh coffee grounds into a bowl and placed it on the edge of the tub. I dumped a bunch of coffee grounds all over my scalp and began rubbing them in. I discovered that sure enough, they exfoliate. Boy, do they. However. The mess that coffee grounds make in the shower is shocking. They go ev-er-y-where. The entire shower from top to bottom was coated in little black flecks. Half the shower was spent chasing these little buggers down the drain and then making sure they were rinsed off my person and then I would have to start all over again with rinsing the tub.

I’m not sure I would keep this up on a regular basis since the clean-up is so time-consuming. I can say that after using a very small amount on my face, that it was extremely smooth after sloughing off the surface cells. As far as cheap scrubs go, I can’t really complain. I would probably caution against using coffee grounds in one’s hair, however, no matter what the experts say it’ll do.

In the end, I did not use coffee grounds on my face or scalp prior to the wedding. Oh and airbrush foundation and having someone do your full hair and makeup is absolutely fantastic. Oprah knows what she’s talking about when she says it’s one of the best experiences money can buy on a regular basis.

Despite the excitement, you can’t invite everyone you know, and those who fall into your Made It and Didn’t Make It lists will surprise you.
Both Kevin and I had some strong disappointments that certain folks couldn’t attend our wedding for one various reason or another. (Our wedding coincided with a TON of babies being born, for starters.) Nevertheless, we had the time of our lives, and the joy of the day dominated any lingering regrets we had about those who couldn’t be with us. One aspect of the wedding that I loved was hearing all the individual stories from people later about their personal experiences having attended. Stories would interweave with one another and I slowly put together this puzzle of what it was like to be one of our guests.

Another favorite was seeing how much fun people had and hearing it was an amazing time for them. As a person who takes pride in her hostessing, nothing makes me happier than hearing that all of the time and energy I spent on the details of this elaborate, expensive party didn’t go unnoticed, and in fact, were ultra appreciated. Never have my organizational and coordination skills served us better. Which brings me to….

Get used to “we” and “us.”
Despite having been in a relationship for years with the man I now call my husband, I’m much more conscientious of using the pronouns “we” and “us.” When I became married, I also became ultra conscientious of being one of an official couple and losing a little of the “I” in my identity. I now represent a family of two people, as does my husband. I find myself having to revert my pronouns when I get onto a “we” streak, because sometimes it doesn’t apply. It’s like, oh yeah, sometimes I’m just me.

Being super "we" and "us" makes me feel like Meg and Hamilton Swan sometimes.

Being super “we” and “us” makes me feel like Meg and Hamilton Swan sometimes.

The whole thing about wedding planning is, and it’s HARD to remember throughout, as long as you’re having fun and you are looking forward to seeing all of the details you’ve planned come to life, you will have a fantastic day. It’s been almost three months already since our day came and went, which amazes me, and I’m still processing and reliving one of the happiest times of my life.

If any of you out there are planning your own nuptials, all I can say is: savor, savor, savor.

ZK

Letting Go, Letting In

Recently, mid-week insomnia led me to my computer to write on something more personal and that which has sat in my heart and my Drafts for months. Truthfully, I have been mulling over this particular topic as a post for so long I can’t remember when it actually germinated.

I’ll start with this:

If you Google “friendship,” you come up with a ton of photos with inspirational quotes on them. Here is one such quote:

A Friend

It’s a really nice sentiment–at least I tend to favor this particular one.

Lately, I have begun to question whether I’ve ever had that kind of friendship in another person who wasn’t a significant other. I read and hear all the time about friends who are as close as siblings, who can be their total messy selves with one another, and I think, “What must that be like?”

My recent experiences with certain friendships have bestowed upon me a few layers of cynicism–several more than I care for. That cynicism rendered me unsure of what a “real” friend is supposed to be or do for someone. I began to believe that the notions I’ve held somewhere in my mind, perhaps some might call them fantasies, created a set of ideals to which no one can be upheld. As I continued to find myself healing from some wound or another, I began asking myself, “What was my part in all this?” lest I completely victimize myself and throw a pity party to which no one would want to come, not even me.

I have been fortunate to have had a handful of friendships with people whom I thought would be by my side for a lifetime. It just turns out that those lifetimes were much more quantifiable. They have all since faded from active existence in one way or another and while I’m okay with that now, it has taken me a while to grasp the lessons from each and be at peace about their current stasis.

Grieving a friendship has its own peculiar flavor for each particular person, I find.

In one instance, I lost one of the closest friends I had in the world. My heart was broken for a very long time. I dreamt about this friend and our relationship on a regular basis for years. I would cry at random intervals. My soul ached for some kind of closure. Eventually, we were able to put some things to rest after what felt like an era had passed, though the damage that had been done affected the friendship permanently. The grieving dreams have ceased but occasionally, I have a happy one and I reflect on the friendship and the person with nostalgia and tenderness.

In another, the friendship simply faded away of its own accord. We didn’t have anything in common anymore, despite being long-time childhood friends. At least from my perspective, it felt mutual. No words were ever exchanged, no acknowledgement of the end of the friendship occurred. It was a natural drift. Because that drift happened when I was in my late teens, it turned out to be easier to accept the gift of that person in my life for a specific period of time and move on.

Most recently, a friendship of mine ended on such a strange and abrupt note that I still have to remind myself of it. This person was a part of my life for close to twenty years, though the last three to four were plagued with issues that we attempted to work out. Suddenly, though, I had to shift my thinking from present tense to the past. The loss hurt primarily because I had believed we were making progress at finding our way back to the foundation of the friendship to reclaim what once was lost. Alas, the falsehood of this belief revealed itself, and I was left to make sense of the sudden rejection. What struck me most was that I did not wail or fall to pieces for this relationship that disintegrated into nothingness with a singular piece of correspondence. All of my anger, grief, and a multitude of other (caring) feelings for this person had already come and gone over the course of several years. Poof! I simply had to reconcile that the end had come without my knowing it; until she told me, that is.

There will always be a part of me who wants to go back and pick things apart, convince myself that if I can find out where things went wrong, or apologize just one more time for my role in the mess, that the friendship has a chance.

Old habits die hard.

And while I muse on these heretofore vital friends and relationships, I continually remind myself that letting go of something means I also have room to let something–or someone–in. The journey continues, and who knows whom I’ll pick up on the way?

Maybe they’re already here.

Maybe they’d like to learn a new song.

I know I would.

 

Thoughts on a Birthday

Birthday Candles

Courtesy of Cade Buchanan on Flickr–“Birthday Candles”

I don’t always do a post on or around my birthday, but this year–today–I felt compelled to.

I woke up from having one of those dreams that feels endless and like it must be taking up at least an hour of my sleep, when in reality, it was probably five or ten minutes at most. Lockers the color blue, like the ones from my high school, were present. The locker number I kept going to or trying to find had the number 30 on it. (Perhaps I wish I were only turning 30?) When I opened said locker towards what felt like the end of the dream, I found bags with scribbled notes on them in my best friend’s handwriting. Some of the notes were sad.

I kept trying to find out what time the train was going to be leaving. Sometimes I was already on the train, speeding towards someplace (Washington, DC kept running through my head) and other times, I was in a station, waiting and trying to make the connection. Anxiety was there; my old friend and as of late, a more constant companion.

I woke up begrudgingly when the alarm went off and realized I took the day off from work. I got to do what I always want to do when the alarm is going off–turn it off and go back to sleep, without a care in the world! My first gift to myself: an entire day to do whatever I want without worrying about work–or that it’s Monday. Today, Monday is meaningless to me. It’s just a day in time. It is my birthday.

Despite that gift, my internal body clock would not let me sleep past 6:45, the time when I’m usually up and downstairs, waiting for breakfast. So I sat on the couch in my zucchini-colored robe, patiently waiting, while my dearest made me a delicious hot breakfast. And not just because it’s my birthday. Just because he’s wonderful like that, as he makes a hot breakfast at least three days of the work week. Another gift, and one that could be taken for granted over time, which is why I make sure to thank him for breakfast when he makes it, because it is not something I would readily do for myself.

We had just run out of coffee by yesterday morning. I remembered that the coffee I had ordered might have arrived on Saturday and perhaps the mailman tried putting it in our tiny mailbox. Lo and behold, he had. So we were able to have our favorite fresh coffee this morning without having to run out and get something separately. Happy birthday to meee. In lieu of birthday candles, a spoon stirred the cream into my coffee.

When I was a kid, things were the name of the game. Especially if they were pink. My Little Pony, Care Bears, Barbie, Sylvanian Families, Sweet Secrets, Popples…these all inhabited my existence. I screamed the house down the day I received a Funshine Care Bear. I don’t remember the last time I screamed upon opening a present.

sweet secrets collection

A bevy of Sweet Secrets

Now, I squeal inwardly when I receive a book on spirituality that I’ve been wanting to read, or a gift certificate to Sephora, my favorite mecca of beauty products.

As a child, I fretted over who might not show up to my birthday party and being so happy when people came. (“You really like me!”) I remember ripping through the wrapping paper of all the presents, feeling impatient to get to the next THING, while my mother chided me to slow down, show my guests what I had received, and loudly chant, “THANK YOU!”

Today, I take more time to appreciate the real cards sent in the mail and the handwritten sentiments inside. I sit and actively cherish the people in my life who remind me I matter to them, that I am valued, that I bring something special to the table. I struggle with my self-worth, so the best thing I can bestow upon myself is kindness; letting myself feel truly loved; seeing that I have qualities which are considered wonderful to others; allowing the sentiments to settle in my soul without naysaying, ridiculing, or devaluing those statements with self-derision. I channel my inner Stuart Smalley.

smalley

I sit here basking in the knowledge that I have hours ahead of me to do whatever I want. Whatever I want. I’m almost paralyzed with this notion. What do I do first? (I’ll tell you, my first desire wasn’t to get all dolled up like the ladies of Golden Girls did. Even lounging, they were always dressed to the nines.)

The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. A lawn mower chugs in the distance, a sound that has always soothed me. I have a lunch date with a dear friend. My phone chimes occasionally with birthday texts.

It is otherwise quiet.

I feel loved.

I am thirty-four.

 

 

 

The Best Blog Post You’ll Ever Read. Period.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hyperbolic headlines. They plague even the most banal of stories these days.

I can’t scroll through nary a social media feed without reading grabbers similar to these (totally made up by me):

“This puppy walked by a church….and what this grandmother did next will blow your mind.”
“The Ten Most Amazing Habits You Should Always Do for the Rest of Your Life.”
“Five Post-It Note Colors You MUST Have in Your Office Drawer at Work RIGHT NOW.”

I wish I were exaggerating but here is a screen shot pulled from today’s headlines from one of the worst offenders:

upworthy-zoesays

Really? Things I should “NEVER, EVER” say to a teacher? There are “NO” jobs? You want to applaud “for days?”

Words like “always,” “never,” “only, “best,” worst,” and loads of other superlatives pepper hundreds of thousands of posts each and every day, all screaming for clicks and attention. At first, it was kind of novel. The too long headlines, reminiscent of people who write an entire email in the subject line, appeared quirky and stood out.

Then everyone in the free world caught on and instead of being funny or inviting me to click on the article, the tactic simply makes me hate reading anything on the internet. And that sucks, because I love reading, and I enjoy scanning headlines to see what’s actually going on in the world. Don’t make me want to quit you, interwebs. (Which we all know I can’t.)

Look, we all have to make a living, but the creation of these sensationalized headlines for mundane everyday occurrences has become telemarketing for our eyeballs. Can we leave yellow journalism where it belongs–a hundred years in the past?

There is a glimmer of hope. The folks at Google have begun working on this issue; a programmer has created a plugin for Chrome called Downworthy, which takes hyperbolic headlines and translates them into more realistic language.

Examples include “Will Blow Your Mind” converting to “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment”, “Can’t Even Handle” becoming “Can Totally Handle Without Any Significant Issue”, “Literally” becoming “Figuratively” and “Right Now” becoming “Eventually”.

I can’t say I won’t be downloading that plugin. It’s one creative solution to this pervasive problem, short of authors (“authors”) actually coming up with headlines that are relevant and non-irritating. (You can read more about the plugin on CNET.)

On the other hand, if you’re not completely sick of clickbait, you can take part in this guy’s competition to create the best, most hyperbolic headline: see markpollard.net.

Since I am one of the ones who is completely worn out by the boy-who-cried-wolf compulsive-liar syndrome that is passing for journalism, my plea is simply….STOP IT!

Sitting Down in the Gown

Aurora in White

Didn’t we all want to see Sleeping Beauty’s wedding dress? I did.

Last week, I traversed the plains of Illinois and arrived at the threshold (or “Gateway”) of the west in my fair hometown of St. Louis to shop for a wedding dress.

Due to some circumstances not under my control, I was not able to choose to have my wedding in St. Louis, so the next best thing was being able to dress shop there in order to have my little piece of the Lou with me on my special day.

I wasn’t sure how indecisive I was going to be throughout this process. I had given myself only one long weekend in the middle of one of the coldest winters in twenty years to find my dress. I had done some research with magazines, of course, and Pinterest, and The Knot, and speaking with friends who are also planning weddings. But I hadn’t gone anywhere in person yet and had no idea if I was going to have a Say Yes to the Dress bridezilla meltdown or whether it would be whimsical and practically effortless.

Let me just put this out there right now: the women who go on TV shows to try on bridal gowns are brave! As giddy as I was to go to a few shops and try on dresses, I would have felt twenty times more anxious if I knew my experience were being filmed and eventually televised. Props to you, Regular Ladies of America who appear on TLC.

I had lined up three appointments for the long weekend and given myself enough time to go to a shop on impulse, should the need arise if I wasn’t finding anything.

As fortune would have it, I only had to go to two shops and try on six dresses before I found The One. (I was told later that this was very Zoe-efficient of me.)

Prior to my second day of shopping, I was given some solid advice by the daughter of a close family friend. She told me to try on serious contenders twice. I kept that little nugget stored away until the time came for me to make a decision. It came in handy, since I ended up loving my dress but came back later to try it on a second time before going forward with my purchase.

For anyone who will be dress shopping in the near future, here is some insight I thought I could share on this whole process that may help you out:

  1. Customer service at bridal boutiques is key and will make or break the shopping experience. While there are plenty of do-it-yourself places out there (and are more budget friendly, certainly), if you are able to afford going to a place with reputable customer service, I highly recommend doing so. I gave both shops I tried positive reviews on Yelp, even though I only ended up buying from one place.
  2. Bring or wear a bra that will look good in low cut and/or strapless gowns. Even if a gown has sleeves, it’s probably going to be sheer up top, and bra straps can take away some of the illusion you’re trying to create.
  3. Unless it’s summertime and unbearably hot, pantyhose isn’t a bad idea. It helps slide you into dresses more easily. This was one thing I wish I had done, though I was shopping in the middle of winter, so it wasn’t a nightmare.
  4. Dresses get HOT once you put them on. The sheer tonnage of material and being under hot lights gets you warm really quickly. To prepare, use a little of this ingenious powder gel on yourself. For those who aren’t aware, that powder gel also contains the same active ingredient as the fancy foundation primer out there, so you can use it on your face if ya want!
  5. Dresses you don’t like hanging up might look stunning on, so keep an open mind. Such was the case with the one I eventually chose. I saw it hanging up and pooh-poohed it. Then I got it on and was in awe.
  6. If you’re absolutely unsure if you like a dress after you’ve been wearing it a while, you probably don’t. And pay attention to details that bother you, e.g. a corset back vs. a zipper vs. buttons. They can be surprising dealbreakers.
  7. Accessories can make all the difference in the world.
  8. Be prepared to have your consultant see a lot of you (definitely shave and get yourself all tidy). If she’s doing her job well, you will feel relatively comfortable throughout, despite someone you never met getting all up in your business.
  9. Take lots of pictures from different angles in case you can’t decide right away. Thank goodness for cell phone cameras.
  10. Sit down in the gown before you say yes to the dress! This was one of the key things one of my relatives made me do before going forward with my purchase. She wanted to be sure I would feel comfortable sitting and moving around in it. After all, I’m going to be in this thing for twelve hours or so. Sitting proved to be fine, though I won’t be able to slouch at all. I’ll have lovely posture on the big day.
  11. Pace yourself and have fun!

Realizing how fun–and to some extent comfortable–it was to wear the gown made me laugh. I don’t wear fancy stuff on a regular basis, so I felt like the gals on Friends when they wore the wedding gowns because it made them feel good. I totally get it now! It’s hard to go back to jeans and sweaters once you’ve had a wedding dress on.

And aren’t they totally rocking sitting down in those gowns?

friends

New Goals, New Projects, and a Big Old Tangent

Why hello! Happy 2014!

I hope you all had lovely holiday seasons. I sure did. Believe it or not, I have done a lot of contemplating about writing in the last two months, though it hasn’t (yet) translated to more posts.

Here’s a quick recap on what 2013 ended up being for me:

  • A less hectic and draining year than 2012.
  • A year with no major health setbacks: YAY!
  • Made major advancements in wedding planning. (2014 is The Year of the Wedding!)
  • New or strengthened friendships–awesome!
  • Learned the value of setting goals or resolutions for oneself. I did not set any for 2013 so by the end of the year, I didn’t feel as accomplished as I might have had I written some things down. Ergo, I came up with eleven goals/resolutions for 2014.
  • Took up a new hobby: re-learning crochet and making amigurumi. Yeah, I had never heard that word before, either, but apparently the only way to refer to small, crocheted/knitted animals is through this word. Thank you, Japanese language!

Regarding the last item there: while I really loved taking up crochet again, as I haven’t touched it since I was a kid, I became intensely aware that skills which appear to be simple are the exact opposite of that. Trying crochet again began with an impulse buy whilst Christmas shopping at Barnes & Noble. I picked up a kit called Teeny Tiny Animal Crochet. I’m putting a photo here, courtesy of Barnes & Noble, so you can see why I might have been drawn in:

Animal Crochet

The adorable animals, the words “teeny tiny,” and the cursive font all sucked me in.

Pretty cute, no? After exclaiming in my head how adorable these little creatures were, I immediately thought, “How hard can this be? I can make these.” It was probably more like, “I HAVE to make these!” But whatever.

Problem was, I assumed that the book clearly stating that it’s “even for beginners” actually meant that it would give some verrrrrry step-by-step instructions for those taking up the hook for the first time or starting over again, as I was. I was laughably wrong. The book does attempt to teach you how to read a pattern, which is a learning process in and of itself, and through its photos, tries to get you to understand slip knots and rings and all that.

The kit also gives you two small balls of different yarn (not even a whole skein) and a few more supplies to make “two projects,” that of the bunny and the koala bear. I was immediately drawn to the bunny. I have an affinity for bunnies and couldn’t wait to try and replicate the project on the cover of the book. The koala bear was just “eh” to me; in fact, I really thought I’d be able to make two different bunnies with the yarn.

If that notion were a crochet balloon, it didn’t merely pop–it was shot down.

Box ' Bunny Parts

Box o’ Bunny Parts

In addition to the photos in the book being largely unhelpful (not that photos can’t be helpful but this book shows the wrong part of the step to illustrate something, and what good does that do?), the patterns are inconsistent in terms of how thorough they are. The book is a compilation of patterns from crocheters around the country. Perhaps there was only so much editing that was allowed. Moreover, the yarn hook that was provided had an eye way too small to thread the yarn that comes in the kit. So that was some fun time spent trying to get that to work.

One of the patterns completely omits telling you to stuff the body parts, even though you need to. It also goes into ZERO detail on how to sew animal parts together, which is a pretty crucial part to making a successful stuffed animal together. It simply gives instructions like, “Sew the head onto the body.” Okay, HOW? What EXACTLY is the best way to do that? My dude can attest that there were a couple of times I simply sat and screamed at the book or my yarn in frustration, much to his consternation.

In the end, I did not manage to complete a project with the given supplies. I was able to make three-quarters of one bunny and half of another. The balls of yarn ended up just being practice for me. The irregular bunnies are now my dog’s playthings. I stayed up late on weeknights as I tried to master this craft in a short amount of time, but until you crochet a few thousand stitches and really grasp some crucial concepts, it’s just not going to gel quickly. So for anyone reading this who wants to take up crochet, just remember to be patient. Don’t be like me and through sheer hubris, assume you’ll master this within a few hours. Or even a few days.

There is a bright silver lining to this particular craft, and that is YouTube. YouTube gave me the much needed visuals in order to learn all the crucial basics, while other crochet bloggers out there wrote extensively on subjects like hook type and size, gauge (the G-word, in the crochet world; “Check your gauge!”), sewing (at last!), and everything in between.

I managed to teach myself some crochet basics and what I needed to know for amigurumi through watching dozens of video tutorials from experienced crochet gurus out there on the world wide web. I also researched decent free patterns but also purchased a few from Etsy. I went to several craft stores before and after Christmas to stock up–and I really stocked up–and now have a small yarn store plus essential amigurumi supplies sitting in my living room, which has become my temporary craft room.

Things that are pretty crucial, especially for a beginner, in crochet: large-eye yarn needles, a needle threader, stitch markers, and a row counter. I know the last one there may seem silly, but I just got one in the mail and it is a life saver when you are just monotonously working on a project. Crochet is all about counting and knowing your multiple tables. There is no way around it. The number of stitches in a round or a row or a particular type of stitch are crucial to the success of your projects. Once I accepted that, I armed myself with the aforementioned tools to help me. (Essentially, when I’m crocheting, I feel like I’m conducting my own Lumosity brain-training. Maybe crocheting will help me stave off dementia as I age. That’d be pretty neat.)

Basically, between December 23 and now, I have had some very nice successes and also some really terrible project outcomes. I grant that I may have picked this up more quickly than some might, but I attribute that to my grandmother, God bless her, who taught me and some of my cousins at a young age the art of crochet. Back then, though, we were making potholders and little things like that. So my little crochet muscle memory lay dormant for a couple decades.

At the bottom of this post are some photos of a few successfully made projects. And perhaps a photo or two of my Irregulars, as I’m calling them; those being projects that I either completed or had to abandon midway through due to irreparable screwed-up-ness.

After posting several photos on my personal Facebook page, a handful of people told me I should open an Etsy shop. I sat on that idea for a couple of weeks and then thought, why not? One of my resolutions was to simply be more in the present moment, and what better way to carpe diem than to just to try something for the fun of it? I only have a few listings up but I will continue to add to it.

There are other crochet kits like this out there, including a Wizard of Oz themed set, which seem absolutely amazing on the surface, except that the reviews on Amazon from experienced crocheters say the patterns aren’t fantastic. So, word to the wise, folks. Teach yourself crochet/making amigurumi prior to buying any kind of kit. Once you have mastered reading a pattern and executing stitches, go back and try a few projects that at first seemed intimidating. The book in the kit I bought does have some cute animal patterns, so some good did come out of it, even if it did take me three tries to successfully make a bunny. (See below.)

Despite some initial setbacks, they did not deter me from having an all-consuming passion for crochet. In fact, I have to pace myself at it and force myself to take breaks and do other things so I can have a normal life, in addition to giving my hands and arm muscles a break. If you crochet enough, it will cause some serious joint pain and nearsightedness. Good times.

I’d love to hear if any of you took up a new hobby so far in 2014 or are already experienced in the Ways of Yarn. More to come from my end, I can promise you that!

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Thirties Equals Skin Changes. Apparently.

Welcome to another edition of The Thirties Series, as I’m haphazardly calling it.

I’ve previously written about my reactions to being in my thirties here and here, in case you want to catch up. I’ve even written about a previous epiphany I thought I’d had about the right skincare products for me.

As evidenced by this update, I’m still adjusting three years in. And if someone had told me when I was in my late twenties that I would experience a major skin change by the fair age of 33, I would have scoffed and laughed in her face.

I have had oily, acne prone skin since….forever. I became aware of my skin type probably around the time I was in junior high. I didn’t know back then to buy products based on skin type; I merely bought for symptom treatment purposes.

In response to the ads screaming, “Keep your filthy teenaged zits at bay!” I would haul myself off to the drugstore to plunk down my little allowance on what I thought would work.

Back then, the types of products I purchased were Clearasil, Clean & Clear anything, foul-smelling Noxzema, and Oxy Pads. I never assumed they wouldn’t work exactly as advertised. I mean, YM and Seventeen magazines wouldn’t lie to me, right?

For the occasional splurge, I’d get my mom to buy me the Clinique Clarifying Lotionastringent, also known as “Clarifying Lotion,” which only came in one type back then, and it was pretty much just pure alcohol. I firmly believed that a stinging sensation must be a good thing. Fun times.

I grew tired of it, though, as I realized it definitely did not help keep the oil away. Of course I didn’t know that my skin was overcompensating being dried out by producing ever more oil.

When I was 25, however, I resorted to getting a set of Proactiv, since I was going through some kind of quarter-life adult acne flare-up that was not being kept at bay with traditional methods. It worked for the time I needed it and thankfully, I was able to move on from using it long-term. (I think it’s safe to say that it works by drying out your skin as if you’re in a tannery.)

This year has brought with it better physical health (I have no more gallbladders to suddenly crap out on me) but also a major change in skin type, something I clearly wasn’t anticipating.

I noticed it earlier in the year when my usual foaming cleansers began drying out my face really badly. I’d get out of the shower and my skin would be tight, red, dry, and flaky. Completely the opposite of what I’ve been accustomed to the last twenty years. The cleanser I was in love with, one by La Roche-Posay, was suddenly too strong and drying. I switched to Purpose by Johnson & Johnson, one of the mildest foaming cleansers you can buy. It’s basically baby shampoo for the face. I didn’t think I would need anything gentler.

Yet my face continued to kick and scream with tight, red, dry skin. At this point, I was blaming the water, thinking we had way too hard water or something. But we actually have pretty great tap water here in central Illinois and I needed to face facts and keep experimenting.

I finally tried the Oil Cleansing Method, which for a brief shining moment, I believed to be the answer to my problems. (I highly recommend trying it if you want to get away from traditional cleansers and you don’t have “problem” skin. Crunchy Betty really knows her stuff!) I was using pure Castor and Sweet Almond oils on my face each night and my skin was definitely moisturized and soft. I firmly believed that I would be “washing” my face with oil until I was a little old lady.

But it didn’t take long for my face to become irritated once again. Despite my oil method at night and rinsing only with water and/or a teensy fraction of a teaspoon of Purpose cleanser in the shower, I could not seem to emerge without having inflamed skin that was throwing a temper tantrum, begging for cooling moisturizer. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that moisturizer didn’t automatically calm my skin down. I began wondering if I was allergic to the SPF, which would have been a living nightmare for me, since I need to protect my fair skin. Even the “Ultra Calming” moisturizer I had bought wasn’t helping. (Can you tell I’ve spent quite a bit of money so far?)

It got to the point where my skin began feeling stinging and inflamed even if it wasn’t red (we’re up to August now). I’m sure feeling stressed about my skin wasn’t helping, either.

The only thing that was remotely working on my skin was Philosophy’s Miracle Anti-Aging Moisturizer, which I was using at night but began putting on before my SPF moisturizer in the morning, thinking that it would prevent my skin from breaking out and/or getting inflamed. To make matters worse, if my skin wasn’t inflamed, I was experiencing chronic acne on my chin, something I had never dealt with previously. I was getting desperate.

I began to do more skin research and landed on a website where I’d purchased a few treatment products previously but hadn’t invested in an entire line or anything. That website was Mario Badescu.

The information on the MB website is thorough and incredibly helpful. I suspected I was in the couperose/rosacea/combination skin categories and short of going to a dermatologist (something I could not afford at this point in time, so please consult one if you have the resources!), I decided to take one last stab and self-diagnose and treat my strong suspicions. I was still reeling from this new change but ready to plow forward.

Overall, here is what I have invested in. From left to right: Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, Keratoplast Cream Soap, Enzyme Cleansing Gel, Kera Moisturizer, Collagen Moisturizer SPF 15, and Silver Powder (the last being a gift).

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Some of the miracle workers.

The Glycolic Foaming Cleanser has been with me since before this problem arose. It is meant to be used twice a week in place of your regular cleanser, as the ingredients naturally exfoliate the skin. It smells great, is quite gentle, and really works. Even going through The Change, I have still used it sporadically since exfoliation is still important.

The next product is the one that has absolutely saved my skin: Keratoplast Cream Soap. This baby not only smells amazing but does exactly what it promises: calms red, blotchy, inflamed skin. It is non-foaming and rinses in a breeze. It leaves my skin feeling soft, smelling lovely, and most importantly: keeps the skin temper tantrums at bay! I can use this twice a day if necessary, since it doesn’t dry my skin out and gently prepares my skin for moisturizer.

Next up we have the Enzyme Cleansing Gel. This is also a non-foaming cleanser that I thought would be terrific because it’s designed for “All” skin types. HOWEVER: the fruit acid in this cleanser over-tightened my pores and I have found I can not use this one regularly. Oh well. It also smells really “green” and fresh.

The next two items are also part of my new miracle regimen:

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Hello, loves.

After trying samples of the above two moisturizers based on the MB recommendations and reviews, I bought the full-sized bottles.

The Collagen Moisturizer is lightweight and absolutely perfect for combination skin. I had tried a different SPF moisturizer from MB previously for oily skin and ended up throwing it away. This one will remain as my go-to until my skin inevitably changes again. The Kera Moisturizer is meant for dry skin that also gets inflamed. I take a teensy amount of this stuff and pat it on my cheeks, chin, and forehead. I find that it adds a little boost of moisture where I need it most and keeps my skin from stinging later in the day. I can’t go full Kera because otherwise my skin overproduces oil and then I’m blotting it like crazy midday. My skin is feisty like that.

Last up, there’s the Silver Powder. This is excellent for people like me who have pores the size of Jupiter. It unclogs and tightens them right up. A friend of mine uses this with her Clarisonic brush and swears by it. It has excellent reviews on the MB website.IMG_9881-Edit

I have kept away from using it as my skin adjusts to its new routine but I will be re-incorporating it eventually.

Summation points:

Based on my being a skincare product junkie for a long time now, I have bought all manner of things. One product I knew that might work in lieu of toner is La Roche-Posay’s Thermal Spring Water.

I know. It almost seems like it could be a scam but it really does work. It is not just water in a spray can. Its active ingredient is Selenium, which soothes red/inflamed skin. I have been using this stuff right before I moisturize and it locks in the moisture, keeping my skin dewy and happy. If my skin starts feeling remotely sting-y, I spritz myself with a travel can I bought and keep at work. And…it works!

La-Roche-Posay-Thermal-Spring-WaterSo, here’s a final rundown. This post is entirely too long but I really wanted to share all this in case anyone else is desperately seeking some skincare help.

  • Cleanse with Keratoplast (1-2 times a day); occasionally use Glycolic Foaming Cleanser for exfoliation.
  • Tone/refresh with La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water.
  • Moisturize with Kera Moisturizer and Collagen Moisturizer SPF 15.
  • Night creams/moisturizer: Philosophy Miracle Anti-Aging Moisturizer, Mario Badescu Chamomile Night Cream (only have a sample right now–gentle and REALLY moisturizing), Mario Badescu Honey Moisturizer (working with a sample, has a floral scent and is wonderful for combination skin).

The best parts about MB products: they’re not tested on animals, they utilize pure ingredients, they smell fabulous, they’re extremely reasonably priced, and they really work. It doesn’t get much better than that. They also have shampoos and conditioners and a men’s shaving line of products. I can’t talk up this company enough.

I feel incredibly grateful to have found a product line that does what it says it will and is keeping me from being a guinea pig at the dermatologist’s.

Mario Badescu….to the rescue!

Note: I applaud you if you read this entire post. It’s very TL;DR but it couldn’t be helped this time around. Gold star for you!