Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Few Good Deals

It's been a while since I've gone shopping (at least in stores). I've needed a few basics; the ones in my wardrobe are tired and I don't have much time to sew right now. So I decided to take a Friday lunch (rare treat) to hit up Winners (Cdn version of Marshall's).

I'm not usually as lucky as I was this time around. Must have arrived along with new stock and I could easily have continued my excursion, to good effect, if time hadn't precluded it.

I got this adorable jersey top, which feels very luxe and fits perfectly in the shoulders. And it's animal print. Need I say more? What I particularly like about it is the (hard to see) collar knot. It's also drapey and not fitted below the bust. Totally strange line for me. But flattering, for all that. And these days I'm disinclined to highlight my midsection...

Not bad for 25 bucks.

This T shirt was, like, 15 bucks and, sadly, it's nicer fabric than anything I've ever been able to purchase in our garment district, or online - and many of those yardages cost more than this completed top. The periwinkle is totally cheerful and, again, flattering. The shoulders are another perfect fit. You know they say if it doesn't fit in the shoulders, walk on. Can't tell you how much I subscribe to this philosophy. If those seams are falling toward the arms (or are too snug and pulling towards the neck), the outcome is just shoddy seeming.

I'm amazed to have found this large, rectangular scarf (really substantial) for $30.00. The pattern is beautiful - interesting without being loud - and it feels terrific. It's an excellent evening scarf for spring and summer, cuz it does cool down here after dinner.

These jeans are the exciting purchase. They're 3x1 and they'd have been 250USD had I got them in the actual NYC store. I do like that they were made in the US (nice to see a bit of manufacturing persists in the first world), hence the list price. I got them for 80.00.

The wash is awesome. There's a ton of stretch in these and they are quite snug, but so comfortable with the amount of natural give.

Best of all - they are truly high-waisted. None of this mid-rise stupidity masquerading as high. It's delightful to feel contained by jeans and not as if they're sliding away from one's muffiny parts.

You know that I wear jeans, like, constantly. I chic them up with good accessories, cute shoes (at work, anyway) and high-quality knits.

This over-exposed shot shows the imperfect placement of the pockets. You can't see it when these jeans are on. I mean, you'd have to stare at my ass for 5 minutes while I pointed it out, but I do find it interesting that they charge 250 bucks for workmanship I'd be dissatisfied to have produced myself.

Given how this denim fits, I'm willing to overlook it.

I also got a black waterfall cardigan - my others are really long in the tooth. It too fits perfectly in the shoulders. It's terrific in terms of the amount of fabric that falls over the full-bust and really interestingly knit (there's a sort of peacock or fan pattern on the back torso panel). Alas, black cardigans photo like shit, so I've opted to leave that one out.

All in, I spent $215.00 including tax. On the one hand, it's disturbing that I can buy so many things at such a low cost. If there's one thing I've learned over the past few months (well, I've been learning it for years), it's that quality costs. If you're going to pay people, presumably you have to charge. That's what the US-made jeans corroborate. On the other hand, I managed to score some very wearable, and useful basics at a price I can get with. And really, how is this any different from buying anything at the Gap or Banana Republic.

What's your take on this? Exploitative or smart shopping? Let's talk.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bar Raval

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nicole and I went for dinner at Woodlot. They kicked us out at 8, cuz we didn't have a reservation and that's how provincial this town is, whereupon Nic suggested that we head next door to Bar Raval, latest plaything of uber chef Grant van Gameren (he of the Black Hoof). At first, the guy who guards the door (and I'm not overstating this) advised us that we could not enter. The wait time had been 2 hours, since 6 pm. But when we reacted with good-humour, he invited us in. Just remember Ladies, good manners will get you everywhere. Especially if you're wearing heels and you have boobs.

Lord, the crowd. You know I don't love crazy lights when mixed with noise and wall-to-wall people. I had to suck in my stomach just to avoid the guy next to on top of me. Oh, it's scenester in a way the 45 year old in me finds utterly hilarious. The bartenders are fucking serious. Like, performance art, waxed moustache/neck tattoos/top knot/ TO hipster serious. One doesn't sit at Bar Raval. That's so North American. No, here we stand - as if we're at a pintxo joint in Barcelona. Alas, the awesome food costs about 8000 times as much as it would there. The drinks are awesome. They have 12 kinds of vermouth. One of the cocktails is a mixup of gin and turmeric - a collusion of plant and dirt (according to my husband).

How does my husband know what the cocktails taste like? Well, I made him go there for dinner with me on Friday night. Spur of the moment-like. I arrived at 5:30 to secure our standing zone. By 6, I was a chic sardine. But I was also 2 drinks in, so I didn't much care.

The food is freakin' terrific. Little mini-plates of delicious beef tenderloin and whole peppers, classic ham and bechamel croquettes, shrimp prepared with roe (how I don't exactly know - it's inside the exoskeleton), "kitchen bread" (whatever the fuck that means), perfectly-rendered squid in pork fat. Let's just say the eating was easy.

After 75 minutes, I could no longer stand (the fullness of my tummy might have had something to do with this) and we got the bill. In truth, I couldn't stand the crowd any longer. (Crazily, an exhausted couple, no doubt still in parenting denial, stood next to us with their infant in a carrier. They needed our square footage.) I knew it wouldn't be cheap - I mean, I'd read the menu and all of the reviews - but somehow I was still shocked that I'd spent 240 bucks on a meal for 2, that was gone in less than an hour and a half. (Yeah, half of it was the cost of the booze.)

I wish I could tell you I won't do it again. But there are some patio tables with chairs, peeps. I bet if I arrive at 5, I might just get one of those. Oh, who am I kidding? I'll stand.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Curio (Potions For Skeptics): Lip Balm A

I'm a lip balm connoisseur. I've been buying it in bulk since I was 13. Ok, I've been stashing it in bulk. Without it, I am insecure. Can't tell you how thrilled I am to be making my own. I now have a container in every room, every bag and just about every drawer. (What? That stuff likes to walk.)

No one's ever going to call it fancy. It is a staple, after all. Lip Balm A is a glidey, glossy potion, full of emollients. It wears well, lasts long, and it smells subtly minty delish.

Ingredient List:

Organic Beeswax, Organic Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil, Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil,  Organic Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Peppermint Essential Oil

It takes few ingredients to make a great lip balm, which is why I'm always surprised by the unpronounceable crap that goes into most every drug store offering. Lip Balm A is a great base coat for your lipstick. It's terrific if you're out in the cold. I've been known to apply it to my wind-burnt cheeks in a pinch.

If you're interested to learn more about it, please check out my Etsy shop. Kisses.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Behind the Times

I estimate that spring is three weeks late this year, a very hard delay given that we've gone through two freakin' winters from hell. Mind you, I'm no longer skeptical that the summer may one day arrive, even if we're still wearing light coats in May.

My garden, finally, is making an appearance:

My dwarf lilac tree - a week from bloom (I hope!)
This is one of my OTG Krissie-planted house hyacinths. It's the only one that the squirrels haven't eaten!
My rose bushes LIVED! Given that they were planted last summer - and that so many plants died over the winter - this is a good sign...
For those of you in, well, anywhere else in the world, I realize this progress is small-time, but please join me in celebrating this profound turn of events.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Curio (Potions for Skeptics): Deodorant A

I've been a proponent of "natural deodorant" for many years. My latest foray has been with an "award-winning" Swiss product (Dr. Mist), which most definitely would have worked if the power of my will had anything to do with it. Alas, I was disappointed, bottle after bottle. The time was nigh to try a new brand, whereupon my mother just happened to call me up and say: Since you're doing skin care, would you make me some deodorant please? 

Part of me want to respond, exasperatedly, that one doesn't just make deodorant. Like, it's serious stuff. And then I thought about how much money I'd save (you know, over the course of the rest of my life), if I could produce it for myself. How I'd never have to recycle another container. And how utterly impressive I'd be at dinner parties. As you can imagine, that sealed the deal.

Enter Deodorant A:

What ensued was weeks of reading everything that's ever been written on the internet about making one's own deodorant. You'd be amazed by how popular an undertaking this happens to be. You'd also be amazed by how suboptimal most of the handmade recipes are (at least from my perspective). I don't want to be sticking my hands into a jar and rubbing oily stuff on my armpits, even if it is good for the world. I don't want a roll-on product that requires refrigeration lest it melt. I don't want something that's 90 per cent baking soda (not that I have any sensitivity to it, but some people do). I don't want a roll on that's so much like a candle that it tugs mercilessly at the skin when applied.

Handmade deodorant is not a quick win. It's a delicious alchemy of ingredients which one must truly understand in order to corral. The ingredients are not inexpensive. It takes time. Seriously, this is mad science. Y'all know I happily suggest that everyone make everything - that's how I roll. I'll even provide links. But take it from me, deodorant is a labour of love.

Deodorant A ingredients:

Organic Beeswax, Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Organic / Social Enterprise Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Cetyl Alcohol (a fatty alcohol to improve glide), Olibanum (Frankincense) Essential Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Essential Oil

I use only the highest quality, unrefined shea butter, which is produced by a small collective in Ghana. Frankincense, a tree resin, is often lauded for its beautiful, clean scent (which isn't overly feminine) and lavender is an excellent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. The corn starch and baking soda do some heavy-lifting in this formula and I'm amazed to say they are very effective.

So while we're on the topic, let's have a moment to discuss effectiveness. We are all different people with different biochemistries. A propos of this, I have to assume that Dr. Mist is working well for many or it wouldn't have won an award (and cost so much freakin' money in the health food store). My version has been tested on, let's say, 25 people so far (a teensy weensy sample size) and I'm frankly surprised that every single user has proactively commented that it works excellently for him or her. Could they be telling me things I want to hear? I doubt it. I mean, I've given every tester carte blanche to be frank and I've received some good constructive criticism on a variety of  other products. (Interestingly, all the Deo testers have come back asking for more.) Is it possible that I chose the perfect test group to meet my ends? It is. But they're all different peeps with unique jobs and lifestyles. They're not all spending the day doing the same thing.

Sure, I didn't just pop stuff into a pot and cast a spell. I've done lots of research on which components yield the best results, but I'm still surprised because it sure as hell works better than any other natural deodorant I've tried - and I've bought those!

Do I recommend it for someone who's going to sweat at the gym, who won't reapply it after the fact (and better still, after having showered)? Not so much. My husband has tested it on this account and he doesn't think it's up to mega-sweating without reapplication. He does think it's up to all kinds of regular sweating, however - like biking twenty minutes to buy dinner. I walk miles a day - during which I often sweat - but I smell fresh when I get where I'm going.

For want of access to affordable push-up, cardboard containers, Deodorant A is presented in clear plastic - an elegant, simple container that allows one to observe the utter prettiness of this potion. There's a useful, up-and-down twist mechanism which releases the deodorant in two directions. (It's reusable, fyi.)

If you'd like to know more, please check out my Etsy shop.

PS: If you're wondering why every product is named "____ A", it's because these are my first viable prototypes. When I make another Serum, for example, presumably it will be called Serum B - unless I decide to get vaguely creative, which wouldn't be a bad idea!

PPS: While I feel that Deo A is entirely unisex, my dad's getting in on the request action - he wants a "distinctly manly" version for his birthday. As such, my intention is to produce this product with cedarwood essential oil, for the guys. So please stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Curio (Potions for Skeptics): Serum A

One of the more awesome things about being "hands-on creative" is the practical upside. A propos of this, Serum A was conceived on my way home from a lovely TO boutique (Cure Apothecary), after having just spent a mini-fortune on a restock of my fave face products. I don't know why it took me so long to finally say: I can make face serum. What I can tell you is that, the minute I made that decision, I knew I wouldn't stop there. 

It has been - and continues to be - a process, needless to say, to source the components that meet my ridiculous standards. As far as I'm concerned, if the end result isn't of exceptional quality (organic or sustainably-sourced) and gorgeously presented, why bother? I won't buy things that don't meet those qualifications. Why would I make them?

Serum A gave me the opportunity to explore all of the parameters that go into devising a product: constant research and development, sourcing stable base materials (used for their specific benefits), refining the essential oil therapy component (all of my products contain therapeutic-grade essential oils), sourcing appealing packaging to ensure the stability of the product (blue glass, in most instances) and, yeah, creating a brand.

While I loathe the application of the term "brand" as it applies to the modern individual, there's no getting away from it as it applies to one's saleable product. I know, explicitly, what a skin care brand has to say in order to speak to me. It must be simple. Uncluttered. Clean. It must denote quality. The product must be devised with an achievable outcome. And, while its price must reflect those elements, I'm not into spending simply for spending's sake.

Enter Serum A:

It's made with these ingredients:

Organic Rosa Rubignosa (Rose Hip Seed) Oil, Organic Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Organic Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E) in sunflower oil,  Rosa Damascena (Rose) Essential Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Essential Oil, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Essential Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Essential Oil, 

And what's so cool about them? Well...
  • Rosehip seed oil, high in provitamin A (betacarotene), is a pressed seed oil from a varietal of wild rose. It's widely reputed to be excellent for dehydrated and/or mature skin. It's quite robust, so small volumes go a long way. It's got a beautiful pale orange/pink hue (like the colour of Aperol), it's scentless and it has a long shelf-life (up to 1 year). Stability is key! The reason that I include tocopherol (vitamin e) in all of my liquid, oil-based products is because it's an antioxidant that delays rancidity. (FYI: Oils don't go off the way lotions (oil and water emulsifications) do. An "off" oil will not develop a high-bacteria count, but instead will change in taste or smell due to its oxidation.)
  • Rice Bran oil is extremely high in naturally-occuring tocopherols (vitamin e) which is one of the reasons that it's so stable (upwards of a year). It's also replete with ferulic acid, an antioxidant in its own right, one of the reasons that it is often used in sera which promote youthfulness. Interestingly, ferulic acid has been shown to reduce hot flashes in perimenopausal women, when ingested.
  • As a side note: I have made and used this serum with organic jojoba oil in place of the rice bran oil. I can't decide which formula I prefer, though I am inclined to reach for a jojoba version as the weather heats up. Note: This is because my skin is very oily by nature. Jojoba is not an oil, but a fatty ester and it absorbs very quickly. For what it's worth, I'm happy to make this serum with either jojoba or rice bran oil, depending on user-preference. 
  • Apricot Kernel Oil is a dry-feeling, light oil that absorbs beautifully. I love it.
  • The essential oils I've chosen for this blend (rose absolute, rosewood, lavender and carrot seed) are widely used in face products because they're antibacterial and because they smell gorgeous. Carrot seed essential oil is particularly interesting because it's full of carotol, known for sunscreen properties. (Note: I am in NO way suggesting that this oil makes the serum a sunscreen.)
Brief word on essential oils: Essential oil therapy, an extension of herbalism, is the application of plant-derived oils to achieve "a healing outcome". The application of essential oils, in this fashion, might be construed to yield a medicinal rather than cosmetic end result, which isn't my goal. (Note that I am not a certified professional essential oil therapist.) What I will say is, on the basis of my having used dozens of EOs, thousands of times, in a variety of formats over the years, I absolutely believe in the ability of essential oils to reframe one's mood and perspective (profoundly, in some instances). The application of essential oils in my products is for the purposes of encouraging delight, calm, energy and groundedness via plant-based fragrance. Because I respect the potency of plants, I recommend that anyone who is pregnant or breast-feeding use all skin care products consciously.

Brief word on anti-aging claims: You will not find assertions that any product I produce will turn back the hands of time. Why? Well, I can't confirm that it's possible, for one thing. But more to the point, do you really want to turn back the hands of time? Really? Your face and body are a record of everything you've lived and experienced. They reflect your every joy and sorrow - all that you have accomplished, all the things you've seen. May I suggest that, perhaps, you simply want to look like the most rested, supple, hydrated version of your current self?

What I will assert is that my base ingredients are of the highest quality, that they are organic or produced under social enterprise conditions. I have chosen them to create a gentle but durable, natural product which wears well and nourishes the skin via moisture retention and absorption. I absolutely assert that these products smell fantastic. Yeah, we all have different tastes, but trust me on this. I package with glass, as frequently as possible, to avoid any product interaction with plastic. That glass is tinted, to delay oil oxidation. I use every potion that I sell, regularly, and I take pride when looking at the unadorned labels and simple packaging as I ready myself for work in the morning.

I have a lot of love for Serum A and it is my sincerest wish that you will too. If you'd like to learn more, check out the listing on my Etsy shop.*

*Please note: The shop is under development at the moment but, if I wait till it's perfect to send you there, I may never start this business :-) Please stay tuned for updates and new items, which will be added shortly.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bra Review: Charnos Cherub Full Cup

Charnos is a brand we hear little about in North America. It's from the UK and best known for bridal lingerie, but it does a couple of really nice basics, including the Cherub Full Cup (which comes in black, ivory, white and an occasional, additional colourway):

I really like the way the strap attaches to the upper cup, providing that modified sweetheart neckline. Of course, strap attachment at the upper cup isn't known for providing optimal lift, but it takes all kinds of bras.

The undies that used to match (which I own already, because I've owned this bra on a variety of occasions over the years) are actually super sexy but it doesn't appear that they make them any longer. The "now" version of the matching undies is also nice, but doesn't have the same lace-appeal.

Here's the thing about this bra: It's really reasonably priced and really easy to find. If you want it in all the colours and sizes, Figleaves always stocks it. If you want to dig around for a deal, there are many to be had on eBay. I got this for 35.00 CDN - including shipping. Furthermore, while the brand tops out at a G, the cup fit is generous and the band is very snug. It means that lots of women who wear a GG or H can still fit into it.

The cut is unusual for a UK brand. It's full-cup, for starters (not something you find outrageously frequently in broader-import UK market), and it's very "sophisticated". This is the lacy kind of bra one imagines a French woman would wear.

The shape is quite natural. It's not boobs on a plate, by a long-shot (see above about strap attachment). The support is actually very good but it doesn't provide excessive lift and "presentation" of the breasts. It's about coverage - though that coverage is by no means excessive.

The lace has a lot of give, though I wouldn't call it stretch. This makes it quite forgiving for breasts of different sizes and for full on bottom breasts. There's an elastic band that runs on the top cup, from wire to wire. It gives a bit of extra support - but wouldn't, I imagine, restrict full-on-top breasts unless they were exceedingly so.

The style is good for projected, narrow shapes - but not to the extent that Cleo or Empreinte manage to be. And, as mentioned above, it's always recommended to go up a band size - as these bands are super-snug - and down a cup size. BTW: I generally agree with that advice. The stretch-factor of the lace provides a bit of give you wouldn't get in your average Cleo, for example, given the relentless sturdiness of Cleo fabrics.

The wires aren't as strong as I prefer and the straps are narrow, but somehow the bra still stays in place and does its job. It provides excellent cleavage, if that's your thing, especially given that it's neither a plunge nor a push up. I believe this is because of the inherent softness of the fabric and overall construction.

I do find that this bra doesn't quite tack at the centre gore (on me), in the right size, because the materials and wires just don't hold, at the gore, the way all other brands (that I wear) do. This is in contrast, say, to the only other bra in my wardrobe, the gore of which doesn't quite tack: the Bravissimo Alana. That gore won't tack on me because the bra's just not immediately-projected enough at the centre-cup. If I push the gore of the Cherub lightly, it touches my sternum with no ill effects, fit-wise, elsewhere. But left to its own devices, it's just not structured enough to battle my natural nemesis - immediate, extreme centre projection.

Mind you, that makes it quite comfortable and less extreme than most bras I wear. It's subtle.

I think the issue here is that the bra was designed a long while ago, when another kind of shape and level of sturdiness was in vogue. Not to mention, that it isn't an expensive bra (though it doesn't feel cheap in any way). I mean, you don't get French engineering on a budget.

I totally recommend this Charnos style as a low-risk adventure purchase. I don't wear it continuously, but I've owned it in 2 colours, 3 times, over the last 8 years. When I re-housed one recently, now not my size, I remembered my fondness for the style. Repurchase was given an additional recent push as I'm in a serious black bra crisis - don't ask, subject of another post - so I had to re-add it. :-)

So that's the Cherub for you. Have you tried this bra? Do you like it? What do you know about the brand? You know I'm interested. Let's talk!