For Making Me a Mother

I made you with my body
Before you, it had only recently occurred to me that my body was capable of things that were good and useful
I was still getting used to that idea when you appeared;
Just a little pink line, barely there at all. I needed visual confirmation from a colleague to even believe it
She said, “oh yeah. that person is pregnant as heck”.
And I was.

I felt my hands sweat and my heart race as I held that little plastic cartridge, just one of many strewn about the lab at work, thinking
Ohhhh man your dad is gonna be so scared and so overwhelmed and so happy
And he was.

I tucked it in my pocket, and presented it as a very early Christmas gift.
Your dad said, “2 lines is good, right?”
And it was.

You grew your own prehensile limbs and organs with very little input from me
Which was nice, because I was so tired.

The first time I saw your little heart blip, it was so tiny, barely there at all
And 4 weeks later when I saw you moving and dancing and flailing your tiny limbs I wondered
What made you so busy.
I never wanted anything more than for your heart to keep beating and those limbs to keep growing
And they did.

You grew so fast, and so did I.
Sometimes you pressed on my ribs so hard I thought they would break.
I tried to move your foot away, but you would just put it back.
People said I should be so proud of my body’s hard work.
And I was.

You came all at once in a rush of blood, sweat and tears. Suddenly my beating, bleeding heart was outside my body.
I was not ready for the gaping wound it left in my ribcage that I could not seem to close, for weeks.
Everything felt so big, too big, I was drowning. Too much love, too much fear, too much change.
And it was!

Now, 4.5 months in, your chubby, drool-soaked little hands press the wound closed every time you smile at me or laugh or touch my face.
When you pull open my sweater collar and yell down into the abyss.
Every time I see you looking up at your dad with obvious delight at 7am.

And I can’t help but gaze at you in wonder.  Because you are wonderful.

I made you with my body.
For Eamon G A Sun, born December 26, 2016
Mother’s Day 2017

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Newborns for Noobs Part I: New Parent Stuff

So I had a baby! Nearly 10 weeks ago now. What a whirlwind. No one can truly prepare you for what it’s like, though many will try, bless their hearts. They’re right though – it’s both the hardest and best time of your life so far.

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Please note: this blog post will be written from the perspective of someone who chose to breastfeed exclusively, because that is what I have chosen to do, that is what suits me and my lifestyle and my baby. I respect any and all choices that others make to feed their babies adequately, I truly believe that fed is best. Breastfeeding is what I chose.

Let me get this out of the way: breastfeeding is not easy. It is kind of a bastard of a thing in the beginning. You’ve just done this intensely difficult thing (whether you have a natural birth or a C-section, the act and the recovery are bloody hard in different measures) and now you and your broken body and tired, hormonally charged brain have to try to learn this intensely difficult skill that is SO, SO important literally to the survival of your baby. Ha! What a monster of a thing to inflict on a suffering mother. As much as childbirth and finally meeting your baby is so magical and wonderful, it’s also so hard.

Eamon had a period of ill health not long after his birth, which was extremely scary, but it also meant we missed some key breastfeeding time. As such, and just because of the inherently difficult nature of breastfeeding, we had a tricky time latching him and getting things working in that way. I’ll never forget when Ray had gone out to get me some lunch on day 3 in hospital (we stayed an extra day because of the health issues and latching issues, he lost a good amount of weight) and one of the wonderful RNs was trying to help me get him to latch in side-lying position so I could get some rest (carefully monitored) and I just lost it. He was crying, I was crying, poor Ray comes back in the room laden with sandwiches to me sobbing “I just need to not hear him crying right now, I can’t take it, he needs to leave for awhile or I do” and the kindly nurse saying “got it”, bundling him up and taking him for a little while to the nursery. I cried in Ray’s arms for quite a long time. It was so bloody hard and I felt like a failure and a monster.

Luckily he was fine and was back at his birth weight not long after we left the hospital. A week or so maybe. But those first few days at home were so hard too. We were trying to get him to sleep in a bassinet and he may as well have been on the moon, according to him. Poor little mite. NONE of us were getting any proper rest. We absolutely DREADED the nights. The sun would go down and our spirits would too, and as soon as we spotted light leaking through the windows in the morning (because of course we were, or at least I was awake for that. Of course.) things would feel a bit less scary and impossible. So we started co-sleeping (safely and with purpose, as a friend recommended, rather than in frustration and desperation which is what leads to SIDS issues) and things improved DRAMATICALLY. Side-lying is now my go-to bedtime position, and I enjoy it immensely, it’s so snuggly and I can read a book or whatever while he nurses and smooshes his little feet into my belly, just like he did when he was inside. It’s great.

Anyway, on to the point of the post. I wanted to write up some info on things that I found incredibly useful in the first few weeks. I’m sure there are tonnes of posts out here on similar things but these are what worked best for me and Eamon.

Breastfeeding Pillow

ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL as far as I’m concerned! I got the Boppy from lovely Corinne (you may remember her from such posts as the first preggo roundup!), it was on my registry, and it’s what we used in hospital. I still use it in bed, it is our bedroom pillow, and it’s great for multiple reasons – it’s quite snuggly, it’s the right height, it comes in awesome prints, cover is removable for washing and it can be used for tummy time when baby is a little bigger (not to mention to help them learn to sit up etc as well!). But the one that gets a bit more use when sitting on the couch is this one – the My Brest Friend pillow. I think because it’s flatter, it makes bub easier to position and means he doesn’t sink into the space between the pillow and my tummy (especially when he was really little). It’s nice and firm, and it actually secures around you with a buckle so you don’t have to hold it to you. I’ve even stood up while feeding him on it and gone to the bathroom or got myself a drink.  I do not recommend this. It’s hard. But you do what you gotta do in the moment.

Huge-ass Drink Bottle

It is absolutely unbelievable how thirsty you get while breastfeeding. And I mean “while”, literally. The letdown reflex (ie the time when your milk starts coming out) triggers a feeling of thirst like no other. I bought this awesome adult sized sippy cup with a straw as recommended on another blog. It is the best. I love how the silicone straw is really wide, enabling me to suck down a bunch of water really fast, which is a weirdly essential feature for this to have. The thirst cannot be underestimated. Nowadays, I have this one beside the bed and my daytime water containers are six quart-sized Gatorade bottles (btw, Gatorade is great in the beginning when you’re building milk supply!) because they’re really sturdy. I drink all six in a day. Sometimes more. It’s madness.

Silicone Bulb Pump

I couldn’t think of a better way to describe this weird silicone thing. It’s called the Haakaa (there are many knockoffs also) and what it does is collect the letdown on the other breast than what you’re feeding on. So it’s not a pump as such, it applies some suction just to draw out what is already being released by your natural letdown reflex. Please note – don’t make the mistake that I did and assume this won’t work for you if you don’t leak much if any breast milk. I never really leaked much and I still get around an ounce, sometimes two, each time I use this. So even if you’re not pumping, doing that a couple of times a day will allow you to build a little tiny bit of a stash in your freezer for in case you want to, oh, leave the house or go on a date or if you are on a medication that doesn’t allow for breastfeeding (these are few and far between, mind you, always check with a pediatrician you trust before you take advice to pump and dump from anyone else including pharmacists and other doctors. Sometimes they say that just to cover their butts. Same with drinking. If you can safely pick up bub to nurse, if you can drive, you’re probably fine to nurse. Not much booze gets in breast milk). Anyway, you just squeeze the bulb, suction it to your boob and you’re golden. You can’t dance a jig or go for a run with it on, but it has enough suction to stay on if you’re still. It’s an NZ product so Aussies might have an easier time getting it from a local source rather than Amazon.

Grass Draining Rack

If you are pumping or bottle feeding, you’re going to have a million tiny parts and drying them is a bastard. You need this product. Trust me. We had this on our registry because it was a recommended registry item and I totally get why. There are a few other interesting little pumping things like microwave steam sterilizing bags that I find handy but I don’t want this post to just be about pumping because I know not everyone does that. Plus, things like milk storage bags, bottles etc are really personal choice (your baby’s choice, tbh) so giving my opinion is kinda moot anyway.

Disposable Changing Pad Covers

We bought some of these based on a recommendation from my friend Leah. They have really come in handy. We use them when we go out, but their handiest use so far has been for when Eamon pees or poops on the existing changing pad cover which then has to be removed from the changing pad lest he roll around in it, but I don’t have enough hands to hold a baby AND put a new cover on it. I just grab one of these from the convenient packet, toss it over the pad and I’m good to go.

Diaper Disposal Unit

This is a bloody godsend, you guys. It not only keeps the odor (not that there is much odor at the moment, breastfeeding newborn poop doesn’t really smell IMO) enclosed, it gives you a way to secure dirty diaps from enterprising dogs for whom the smell might be just way too tempting. Gross I know but hey. Plus when you change the bag, you get this awesome diaper log that’s very satisfying to tie off and toss in the garbage. We are weird people, I realise this. We went with the Diaper Genie and we could not be happier. The refills are easy to install and it’s easy to set up and use.

Nursing Tanks

I love these! So handy for a bottom layer, especially the ones with a decent shelf like these from H&M. H&M nursing gear is honestly great and so is their babywear. They’re also great for wearing to bed if you (like me) find that most sleeping bras are not quite enough to contain The Ladies, especially when they’re full of milk. Which is pretty often. The Old Navy ones I bought are rubbish – the straps are too long (who the fuck has shoulders that tall!). These ones are great. Lots of people also swear by the “two shirt method” for going out and about and nursing without showing too much skin (and I’m not talking about “OOOH I WOULDNT WANT ANYONE TO SEE AN INCH OF MY BREAST” fuck that shit, I mean having to basically remove all your clothes to get to the boob). The two shirt method is pretty basic. Tank underneath, shirt on top. Pull shirt up, pull tank down or unclip, boom. Boobs. Baby. Put ’em together and everyone’s happy (especially the baby).

Bathrobe

I don’t have a preference here. I had one from H&M, and a fuzzy one from Target, they both do the job. Get whatever as long as it’s soft and comfy. It’s just great to wander around the house in a robe when your baby is cluster feeding and you don’t want to have to keep getting your boobs out. Just open up the robe, stick the baby on and you’re golden.

I am probably leaving out some stuff. Partly because I’m still pretty sleep deprived and partly because I didn’t need some things that others might find essential. For example I never really suffered from any nipple damage or leakage, so things like nipple balms and breast pads aren’t things I have strong opinions about. I got a sweet diaper bag but I’ve gone back to using my precious JW Hulme bag anyway. I didn’t have a lot of “downstairs damage” so apart from the first couple of weeks I wasn’t really in pain and during that time a squirty bottle of warm water to rinse with when I peed, and some numbing wound care spray were all I used and I got both of those from the hospital.

The next post will be more about things baby needs (needs is always subjective, you understand!). To tide you over, here’s some pics of my beautiful little bundle!

 

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

 

The First Pregnancy Roundup

Wow so yeah. Sorry. I really let things go by the wayside the last like 9 months or so. I’m nearly 39 weeks pregnant now and this pregnancy has really been characterised by one thing: exhaustion. It came in waves, but it was never not there. I’ve been super tired the whole time. It’s a symptom I’ll take over some less-pleasant others (nausea for example, from which I only suffered for about 4 weeks), but it has still been varying levels of debilitating and blogging just wasn’t a priority. I didn’t even post much on instagram. Turns out growing a human is hard, and with working up to 37 weeks I had stuff to do.

Anyway, I’m nearly at the end now (please god let it be over soon, kid is wrecking my shit) and I thought I’d run through a few things that I’ve found to be quite useful throughout the last three-quarters-of-a-year, in no particular order.

Pregnancy Pillow

I bought the LeachCo Snoogle Pillow. It’s great. I think I got it when I was about 12 weeks along, because my back and hips were already a little janky (though nothing like the absolute mess and tangle of bone and sinew that they are now, ugh) and the first time I laid myself down in its loving embrace, I was sold. It’s really great. It has a couple of drawbacks. One is that if you run hot throughout your pregnancy, as I did, you might find yourself being very comfortable but a little overheated, and you’ll kick it out of the bed anyway. Another is that it takes up quite a bit of room and if you have a queen sized bed or less, your partner may have a severely restricted amount of room. The last is something that I’ve just come across recently and that is that I can really only lie on one side for so long, so I want to turn over a lot (like, a lot, and seeing as how it requires a business case and strategic planning meetings to do that, it’s really annoying) and that is next to impossible with the Snoogle. So next time around I might go for something simpler like one of the bean-shaped pillows that just support your back and belly. But in saying that, the fact that you can really tuck yourself in to this pillow is lovely, and it does have the section that goes between your legs to help with hip discomfort. So I have no regrets. It’s even great for propping up a baby etc after it arrives, or so I’m told!

Maternity Bras

My boobs have cycled through various levels of intense discomfort. Sometimes they feel normal (they look huge but feel normal). I was recommended the Bravado Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra and well let’s just say I now own four of them. Yes they’re expensive,  but worth the investment, I truly feel. Super soft, easy to put on, easy to un-snap for nursing (I’ve been practicing), nice and stretchy, all that good stuff. Are they the best support you’ll ever have? No obv, they have no underwire, but what are you gonna do in it, go for a run or something? Get over yourself.

Belly Band

These are a lifesaver for when you really want to wear something that still mostly fits, apart from the gaping hole at your abdomen because you are starting to show and that’s how physics works. My amazing friend Corinne actually gave me mine, but I’ve heard great things about this one. I really liked it and wore it all the time, particularly over shorts during summer. Gosh those days seem so far away now that it’s December in Vermont and below freezing. But anyway, grab yourself one of these. They even feel good with their support and their holding you in and whatnot.

A No-Bullshit Book

I absolutely loved Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong, and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster, who is an economist at the University of Chicago. The beauty of Emily is that she’s not a midwife or a doctor (and she makes this very clear throughout the book) but she is someone who deals with numbers and statistics as part of her job and so what she does is takes what research and studies there are on things related to pregnancy (caffeine intake, alcohol intake, labor outcomes etc) and sees what they’re really saying. Of course, as she points out, it’s very hard to get definitively accurate information on pregnancy because performing studies on pregnant women is, at best, unethical (can you imagine? “Ok so you guys are gonna have 10 alcoholic drinks every single day and you guys are gonna have none. Cool?”). But she does her best with what there is, and the book really calmed my anxious brain. Well, a little.

Preggie Pop Drops

Ok it sounds silly because technically it’s just candy but for some reason these really worked for reducing nausea for me. They were another gift from Corinne and let’s be real she’s just the ultimate pregnancy fairy godmother and I can’t thank her enough for the box of goodies she sent me early in my pregnancy. Speaking of which!

Stretch Mark Cream

Everybody has different preferences, scent/packaging etc, but I really loved the bottle that Corinne sent me which was Palmers Cocoa Butter Stretch Mark Massage Lotion. Let me be clear: I fully understand that you can’t really prevent stretch marks in the vast majority of cases. If they’re coming, they’re coming, and it’s mostly genetic. BUT! I have a tonne of stretch marks from my previous life as a teenager whose boobs and curves exploded out all at once and since I used this stuff from very early in pregnancy I don’t have a single one. In saying that, a lot of people say that they appear right at the end. I feel like I’m right at the end now and I still haven’t seen a sign of one. If I get them I don’t care a single bit – the ones I have already on other parts of my body are super faded and silvery so it’s no biggie. Midwives and my doula have all commented on the fact that I don’t have any. Is it because of the cream? I honestly have no idea. What I’ve been doing is squirting out one pump of this and one pump of a little bottle of Palmer’s Skin Therapy Oil with Vitamin E that my friend Jaime sent me along with about a thousand onesies from my favorite brands in Australia. Then I mix those together between my palms and give my belly and sides a good rub. If nothing else, it feels good when the skin gets a bit itchy and dry, and it’s nice bonding time too. I often take that time to have a little chat to LB (our nickname for the baby) about whatever I want, this week’s subject has been “what if you didn’t mash your skull into my cervix or bladder at every opportunity though? Just work with me here.”

There are a few other things that are less tangible. An incredibly supportive partner who never judges you when you tell him you ate 4 packets of ramen, or who holds you when you cry hysterically about the fact that your landlord mowed the lawn so the woodchucks who lived under the patio now have to re-make their protective tunnels. Bonus if he agrees to read something like The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin and it totally changes his perspective on labor and suddenly you have your own built in at home prenatal doula.

Oh and that reminds me – a doula (if it is in your budget or covered by your insurance). A lot of people in my life will laugh at this because I was always a bit disparaging about doulas but you know what? I was wrong. Everyone needs a little extra help. Especially since my mum can’t be with me for the birth. It helps so much to know that she’ll be on my side, advocating for me, cajoling me when I need it and bossing me (and Ray) around when I need that too, because that’s bound to happen.

The last thing is, a sense of humour and a backbone. People are gonna ask stupid fucking questions, constantly. Your body is gonna do some weird shit. Some of it will be embarrassing. Some of it will be scary, and it’s ok to be scared. People who had perfect pregnancies or people who forget what it was like to be pregnant AND ESPECIALLY people who have never been pregnant love to tell you that whatever’s meant to be will be, that all you have to do is relax and enjoy the pregnancy, and that pregnancy is beautiful and wonderful and magical and natural. Those people appear whenever you have the AUDACITY to complain about some of the extreme discomfort, illness, fear, anxiety, body image issues that come with pregnancy. Where do they even come from!? Nobody  knows. Feel free to tell them to shut up. Other people who can shut up: people who tell you their horrible birth stories totally unprompted. People who act entitled to information about your baby, pregnancy, birth etc. People who tell you to get plenty of sleep now because you’ll LITERALLY NEVER SLEEP AGAIN EVER after the baby comes. People who tell you that if you don’t give birth exactly how they did you’re totally DOING IT WRONG. But there are people you should keep around, too. There are wonderful people who will help you every step of the way, who will never judge you, who will answer your stupidest questions, who will bring you your weird food cravings right when you need them the most, who will be there for you when you’re scared and sad and sick. There are people who have no idea what you’re going through but who will be there for you anyway. You keep those people close! Hold them tight and never let them go. Those people are golden. And so are you. You got this.

I think I’ll write another blog post about some cool but not totally necessary luxuries I’ve found useful as well so stand by for that. But this one is long enough, I think!

 

Winter Essentials – A Noob’s Guide to Survival in the North

Well, honestly, I feel like a bit of a fraud writing this. What the hell do I know about winter? Even my first winter in Vermont had the training wheels firmly in place. Only one or two days below 0F, hardly any snow accumulation ever, wind mostly behaving. But still – it’s more winter than I’ve ever experienced so far, and as such, my skincare and wardrobe needed some adjusting. So I thought I’d share with you guys a few things that saved my bacon over the last few months.

First, let’s talk wardrobe.

Right up until late November, my light North Face mid-layer jacket mostly did the job. But by the time December came along, it was time for the big guns.

The North Face Women’s Arctic Down Parka – $299

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I got this in navy. I tossed up between navy and teal, and the strangest thing happened while this was in the cupboard unseen between August and December – I forgot completely that I bought navy, and pictured it in teal in my head. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out. I shhould have bought teal, but navy is one of My Colors and so I guess I just went with what I always buy. Big mistake! Anyway, it’s an absolutely excellent parka. It’s exactly what I wanted – waterproof, windproof, a big (faux)furry hood, deep pockets and long enough to hit me at about knee level. Worth every penny.

Uniqlo HEATTECH thermal underlayers – approx $20 a piece

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I LOVE this range. Honestly, next year I’ll buy even more of it, because there were weeks when I needed a pair for every day of the week. These are so soft and warm and not bulky at all, really thin and just perfect under any items of clothing including skinny jeans. Most importantly, they were absolutely perfect under scrubs, which is what I wear 5 days out of 7. Absolute winners in my book!

Uniqlo Women’s Extra-Fine Merino Sweaters – $30

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I actually got these in Australia, on the day of my ill-fated visa interview. It was a defiance purchase. “TELL ME I CAN’T GO TO AMERICA, WILL YOU?! JUST WATCH ME BUY THE MOST INAPPROPRIATE-FOR-AUSTRALIA THING I CAN FIND!” I bought three of them – one in black, one in red and one in teal. I have worn these ALL WINTER. They’re perfect as under-layers on especially cold days, and as mid-layers as well. On more spring/fall temp days they’re fine as outer layers. They’re soft, not cashmere soft (I wouldn’t wear this straight over a bra, for example) but soft enough for comfortable wear over a tank top, and thin enough fabric to wear, you guessed it: under scrubs.

Hunter Side Adjustable “Norris Field” Tall Rain Boots – $160

I was lucky enough to receive this as a gift for Christmas from my mother, who lives in the UK and knows a Hunter rep! As such, I’m not 100% sure that the ones in the link are the ones I have. But anyway – I. Love. Them. They’re so easy to wear – which sounds silly, but my other tall winter boots are fiddly and hard work to put on. These ones are just step-in, adjust the strap then go. I got some boot socks too which are really helpful when it’s very cold. I love that these boots are wide enough to not be tight on my large calves, and classy enough to be worn with nice jeans to a decent restaurant, for example. Huge fan!

As for skincare, well, I didn’t change too much. Maybe I should’ve – I’d love to hear if you guys have any must-haves for winter skin.

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The biggest problem for me in cold, dry weather is my lips. They are kinda wrinkly and weird anyway and they seem to chap and flake so fast. The only thing I’ve ever found to both effectively treat and prevent this is the Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask. It’s pricey but it’s worth it, 100%. It’s honestly amazing. I sometimes switch to other things and the change is immediately noticeable. The only complaint I have about this product is that the product is extremely thick, so if it gets cold, it’s basically impossible to squeeze it out of the tube. But you only need a tiny bit, so the tube goes a long way.

I don’t like to put moisturizer or serum onto a completely dry face so I’ve been using the La Roche Posay Serozinc facial mist / toner to moisten my skin after the shower. It contains zinc sulfate so it’s great for combating spots as well as being a hydrating agent that’s perfect for prepping skin for treatments. The mist is super fine so it doesn’t feel like a jet of water in your face – bonus! The bottle is pretty big and I’m nowhere near finishing the one I got in early December – pretty longlasting for a mist!

I had a terrible cold for the last few weeks, it’s finally kicking the bucket now (thanks at least in part to a z-pack I was prescribed after finally going to the doctor) but while I was blowing my nose every 8 seconds, the skin around my nostrils and upper lip area was cracked and red. It was horrible. It was so tender and painful, my life was hell! At least until I grabbed a little travel size tube of Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Skin Therapy “Aloe” cream. It really seemed to heal and treat the skin so fast! I applied it a couple of times a day and used a balm at night to lock it in (I just used the Bite Beauty balm), and my tender, cracked skin cleared up really quickly. So this is a very specific thing to talk about but it was such a relief that it immediately jumped to mind when I decided to do this post! It’s readily available at all drugstores in both travel size and full size.

You all know I adore my oil cleansers and my latest favorite is no exception. The Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel Illuminating Vitamin Facial Cleanser (phew!) has a pretty big following in the UK and since some of my favorite bloggers are British, it had been on my wishlist for awhile. Americans (and Australians) can pick it up from BeautyBay. It’s kinda pricey, but the container is large and the pump is fantastic. Its name is misleading – it’s really more of a balm/oil hybrid than a gel. It’s absolutely fabulous for getting rid of all traces of makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day, and it smells nice too.

Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid is one I think I’ve talked about before. It’s basically a liquid hydration booster that I like to add to my skincare at night. Specifically, I like to mix it in with my CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion. The latter is one of my absolute favorite skincare items of late. It’s super affordable and packed full of hard-working ingredients – namely niacinamide and ceramides – to keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated. I actually use this in the morning too (minus the Ceramidin Liquid).

Finally, lemme admit something: my trend of being SO BAD at putting body lotion on has not gotten better but when I have remembered to use it, I’ve been reaching for the Nivea Cocoa Butter Body Lotion. I love the convenient pump pack, and I love the cheap-as-chips price. Lately my husband has had really dry skin too so I’ve been smearing this all over his arms and legs and it’s been working a treat to make him feel more comfortable. It’s a winner. It smells delicious too!

Thanks for reading, and like I said, feel free to share your winter products or purchases! Looking outside today you’d be hard pressed to believe that winter is over – it’s below freezing, windy as hell and this morning it snowed. What the heck, Vermont?!

Now that I’m working full time I don’t expect to be posting more than once a week. The days are longggg. But I’m gonna do my best to post regularly! I promise!

Love+++
F&V

Style: New Vanity Pieces (Getting Back in the Game)

Recently I was feeling really overwhelmed and just not in the groove with makeup. Overwhelmed because my life was busy I guess, and being out of the groove because I didn’t have room in my life for makeup. Unfortunately that is a good signal that I was ignoring some important self care, so after a decent wake up call I decided to try to do a little revamp of my makeup area to get myself back on track.

First up, I bought a new lamp. One of my main reasons for not doing my makeup in the last few months has been that the light in my corner of the room is bad. I was lighting the area with some string-lights around the mirror, but it just wasn’t enough. In the summer, the outside light coming in through a nearby window really helped but since I feel like I live in perpetual darkness at the moment (especially in December, peak not-doing-makeup time) that hasn’t been helping at all.

I decided to pull the trigger on a lamp that had been in my Amazon wishlist for awhile. It’s the LAMPAT Dimmable LED Desk Lamp.

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This was decidedly hard to get a good picture of, sorry!

It has four different modes, which consist of different color “temperatures” – cool white, warm white, cool yellow and warm yellow (though the description refers to activities such as studying, reading, relaxing etc). I thought it would be perfect for makeup. It also has a USB charging point which is cool. When it arrived, I was impressed by its appearance, BUT! I realized that the upper “arm” of the lamp that contains the lights wasn’t able to be moved any lower. I thought it would, for some reason, and that’s kind of a pain because the light now comes from a little too high. It was disappointing but when I turned the light on and used it, I realized that it actually didn’t matter because the quality of the light is awesome and really projects well. Being able to sit the base of it a little lower would be ideal, but you can’t always have what you want. So apart from having to sit at an angle to get the light on my face, it’s great! I’m hoping at the next place we move, I’ll be able to have my vanity in front of a window or something super luxurious like that! Baller.

The following weekend I went on a rather delightful trip to the next town north of us with a friend. I had an eyebrow wax and a hair blowout and we also decided to explore the INSANELY overpriced but nevertheless adorable antique store next door to the hair salon. I grabbed a couple of zinc trays that caught my eye last time I was there.

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Featuring my Sephora birthday gift – Marc Jacobs mini eyeliner & lipstick

I didn’t buy them then and regretted it so I didn’t let them pass me by this time. I like the way they look and they’re perfect for blog pictures, don’t you think?

That same day my friend and I indulged our TJ Maxx habit. I was looking for a shallow tray, box or something similar to act as a catch-all for my vanity. One reason I think it gets untidy is that I’m kinda bad at putting things back where they are meant to go. The theory behind the catch-all is that when I’m done with a product or brush I toss it in there. That hasn’t really come into fruition; since I tidied up I’ve been putting things away better. But the catch-all I bought is the perfect size for my Sharpies (my Passion Planner is very colorful this year, ok?) and my insane box of samples that I’m trying to get through.

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I know, I know. I have a problem. Someone stop me NO DON’T..

So that’s what I used it for, and it’s actually great, it’s keeping the samples in my line of vision.

An older but still new piece (bought from TJ Maxx before Christmas) is this lipstick holder.

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So satisfying to look at. Sooooo satisfying…

I like this for similar reasons to above – it keeps my lipstick collection (well, about half of it I guess) in my line of sight so I don’t just go for the same colors all the time. That’s the theory, anyway! It’s working well so far.

The final piece is probably my favorite. I wasn’t looking for new brush holders, but when I saw this I fell in love.

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Lids included in pic but sadly stored in a drawer most of the time!

Unfortunately, the only brush types that would fit in the little spaces in the lids were eye brushes, but that’s ok, I just removed the lids from the other jars. I love this aesthetic. It also forced me to reduce my displayed brush collection (the secondary / less used brushes went into a drawer), a sorely needed exercise.

Here’s the whole thing put together:

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Featuring my annoyingly-underused Passion Planner!

I think it’s looking ok. Hopefully when we move I’ll have a better arrangement, light-wise. But the good news is that it really has revitalized my makeup applying game. I’m back! And I have a few products to talk about and review for you guys, so stay tuned.

Love++
F&V

Style: My “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” Experience

That’s right, I jumped on the bandwagon. Sue me. Give it a go. I have a great lawyer.

But no really, when I first read about this book I was skeptical. From what I was reading, the author recommended a lot of purging. Like, a lot. And I’m by no means a hoarder but I am quite materialistic so that made me a little nervous.

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My husband and I come from different backgrounds and we hold onto things for different reasons. I was worried that her recommendations would be too much upheaval for our household. It was important to me that I was respectful to his feelings. But I also strongly felt that I had too much stuff to ever feel like I had a tidy home.

A note on our home: we live in around 270 square feet of apartment space. For you Aussies and Brits and every single other country on earth, that’s about 26 square metres. Yep. It is insanely small. When you live in a small space, untidiness is not only more noticeable, it is really in your face and I found myself constantly trying to tidy which subsequently made me feel quite stressed out.

So I decided to give this book a try. A lot of people I knew and trusted had followed it with great success and none of them seemed to be sobbing with regret, or missing discarded items terribly. In fact, they all sung its praises.

So, let’s talk about the premise. Marie (Kondo, author) is a tidying guru in Japan. Her seminars book out instantly. She has a 3-6 month waiting list of clients. She’s hardcore. She advocates having ONLY what you need and what “sparks joy”, and discarding everything that does not meet these criteria. She uses that phrase a lot – “spark joy”. I’m going to be really honest with you. I’m still not clear on what exactly that means. There are some things I own that are necessary to my life, that I use all the time, that would be a great hindrance if I lost them – that do not ~~spark joy~~ in my heart when I touch them. But I like them? I love some of them? I feel like this book likes to attribute characteristics to objects that, to me, they do not hold. But that’s okay – I get her point. Keep things that you feel good about. Don’t keep stuff just “because”. Sure, ok!

I started with clothes. I got rid of a tonne of things that I had either not worn ever, or hardly ever worn, or that didn’t fit. I didn’t think I had any “maybe one day” items but turns out I did. No. Stop that. You deserve all of your clothing to be able to fit you now (unless you are pregnant etc in which case of course your entire wardrobe should not consist of maternity wear, that shit’s gonna end one day) so get rid of anything that doesn’t fit right or that doesn’t suit you.

One of the main tips she gives is to “thank” each item before sending it on its way. I like this! Instead of just callously trashing an item, thank it for whatever role it fulfilled in your life for however long (even if it was just “thanks for teaching me what styles DONT suit me”) was something that made me feel better about ditching things. She also talks about treating your items kindly, for example, don’t ball up your socks – just fold them because they have been working very hard and it’s nice for them to have a rest in your drawers, not be balled up and stretched all the time. Ok, sure, that makes sense. And it looks attractive. Bonus!

However, here is where I want to start in on my first “con” of very few cons. Sometimes, feeling that way about things makes them harder to discard, not easier. If you anthropomorphize objects too much, you run the risk of feeling guilty for throwing them away. For example, she talks about gifts. If the gift itself is not something you see yourself using, then the purpose of the gift is in the giving, in the care that someone took whilst choosing it and wrapping it for you, yes? Sure. That was its original purpose. But then I would think about how the person who gave it to me might feel, depending on the item’s significance. And that made it harder to give things away. Thoughts like “just because this [item] has a hole in it / is missing is pair, or because I don’t use it, doesn’t mean I should just throw it away, it served me well!” began to permeate. But – yes it does. It does mean that. So the respect/love-for-items philosophy can be a double-edged sword.

Ultimately I felt like the winning strategy for me was to just think of the end result. Will I ever think of this item again? Will there come a time when I think “gosh, I know tossing that shirt out made my place tidier but AT WHAT COST? IF ONLY I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW ABOUT MY IMMEDIATE REQUIREMENT FOR THAT SHIRT AND NO OTHER SHIRT”? Almost certainly not was the answer in most cases.

The other great thing that I took from this book is how to fold things to be as neat and tidy, and, not gonna lie, aesthetically pleasing as possible. God, it’s so beautiful. She advocates the vertical storage method which is absolutely genius tbh. I had kind of done that with my t-shirts, because our set of drawers is not great and the drawers don’t really come out the whole way… that’s another story. But she said to store EVERYTHING this way, and I really see what she’s saying about this. It works great and looks really attractive and aesthetically pleasing on an organizational level. Let’s take a look at some highlights. I wish I had before pictures! But I don’t. So here we are.

IMG_0054Socks, tanks

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T-shirts

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Jeans, pants

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Pants, thermals, jarmie pants & sweats

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Hanging stuff – I tossed about half of this!

It was astonishing to me how much room I had left after I folded everything this way. I think that’s also because I got rid of a lot of things that I didn’t see myself wearing, and donated some warm stuff that I found I wasn’t wearing even though the weather was right for it. I took a large box of stuff to the local homeless shelter and threw out some stuff that wasn’t in great condition.

The rest of it didn’t hugely apply to me, honestly. We didn’t have a scrap of kitchenware (apart from a couple of very special pieces we got for our wedding which have not even been unpacked) so we bought or borrowed only EXACTLY what we needed and nothing more. We have two pasta bowls, four plates, four forks, four knives, three white wine glasses, etc etc. So not much work needed to be done there.

The other quite challenging part was my makeup. Now, you wouldn’t think having moved here in April would mean I had accumulated a tonne more makeup but you would be so wrong. Where have you been?! Anyway, there was a fair bit. There were a lot of items I’d purchased from the drugstore to “do dupe reviews” but that kinda never happened and I didn’t love them so they all went into the giveaway box. Same with things that were expired, and there was a decent amount of that too (sob, bye Chanel foundation). I had a kitchen-sized trash can full of stuff to throw out, and an overflowing shoebox to give away.

If I’m really real, I probably still have too much. But I’m only human.

I feel like this post ended up quite a bit longer than I planned (of course), so I will end it here. I also picked up Kondo’s new book, the “sequel” if you will, Spark Joy – An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I haven’t read a lot of it yet, but it appears to be a little bit of repetition of the first book, honestly. It DOES however have some illustrations for some of the more complex folding techniques she recommends which I have found VERY helpful!

So all in all, this was an extremely positive experience and I feel that I will really continue to utilize these techniques and hone them as I build a home for my family.

Would anyone be interested in a blog post that goes into any more detail than this one, on any particular subject? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Love++
F&V

Life Stuff: The Role of New Friends in Reducing Homesickness

A few months ago, I wrote a post about being unbelievably homesick. I was in a pretty bad place. But all the incredible support I got following that post made me feel so much better. I got a few messages of solidarity that honestly were so touching and so affirming, like my feelings weren’t unreasonable and like the depth of my loss was not as outrageous as I secretly hoped it wasn’t. Phew!

So I’m insanely happy to tell you guys that I am doing way better. Life is feeling pretty good right now. And the major thing that changed is that we, and more importantly, I, made some fantastic friends.

When Ray started his job, we arranged a gathering of a bunch of the other law clerks and their partners. I worried that they wouldn’t like me, or that I was boring and that I wouldn’t fit in. But I needn’t have worried – they were so welcoming and as eager to make friends as Ray and I were, so that is what happened.

We started going to pub trivia every week and we have been moderately successful. Each night has a theme and some themes are more to our collective (or, indeed, individual, I’m looking at you on 90s boyband night LK & HR) strengths than others, but really that’s not the point. It gets us out of our apartment to somewhere that isn’t our respective places of employment.  We look forward to it so much. Our group is funny, smart and so much fun.

And that’s not to say that our jobs suck, either. I feel so fulfilled by my work, I truly love it. And I work with some incredible people who inspire me, crack me up, support me and teach me new things every day. The only reason we don’t hang out more after work is that they all have lil families they need to get home to, or second jobs. But I adore them so much.

The true nugget of this post though that I really want to dig down to, is how much I value the three girlfriends I have made within the group that started with Ray’s colleagues. The four of us all come from fairly different backgrounds, and have different jobs (even within the same vocation), and I love it. I love the intellectual stimulation, I love the hilarious stories about our families and the time to have, as cheesy as it is, girl-talk without partners around. I love the lack of pretense and the fact that we have all come to rely on each other for ways to stay sane in this small town.

I miss my girlfriends back home absolutely no less. I miss them like a big ol’ hole in my heart (… ahem.. excuse me while I pull myself together after typing that, it is unseemly to cry at the laundromat). But having a new group has been absolutely thoroughly crucial, absolutely key, to my (and our) newfound happiness in this sleepy little town in Vermont. It’s amazing how much more tolerable a previously intolerable situation becomes with some good, real friends around you. It turns out everyone was right: finding awesome friends DOES just take time. But even with that, I’m not sure everyone gets as lucky as I have been in this particular instance.

So in saying all that, this post is for you, CC. You know who you are. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything. You saved my sanity, and you brought the four of us together, and I may never be able to repay you. You opened my eyes and my mind to a lot of things I had never considered before (you Vermontified me a little bit!). And to the other 2 corners of our now-triangle: here’s to a 2016 of girls’ dinners, wine nights at Brix, maybe some snowshoeing? What even is that.. Tennis racquet shoes?! Hmmm. Anyway – I’m so excited and so grateful. Let’s do this.

Love+++
F&V

 

Rant: Pushing ~Natural~ Skincare – Can You Please Just Not.

It’s time we had a talk, guys. It’s about “natural skincare”. Wayne Goss, whom I usually LOVE SO MUCH, recently posted this on his blog and I was devastated. He also recommended putting Milk of Magnesia, straight, on your face on the reg (it is ok in very small doses, very irregularly – thanks Chanelle). Sure, it makes your skin look a little better (debatable) in the short term, but with long term, frequent use it can cause major bacterial proliferation. Jaclyn Hill recommends using sugar to scrub your face. Come ON guys! I don’t want to go on and on about this, so I’ll try to keep this short (spoiler alert: I failed). I also don’t want to tell people to stop doing what works for them. But this is a dangerous trend that I want to put in my US$0.02 about.

Look, everyone wants to be closer to nature, right? Everyone wants to save some money, everyone wants to seek out multi-use items. I get it. I really do. But some things can be as natural as hell, but still not great for your skin. In fact, some people can react really badly to natural ingredients. Sure, they can also react badly to synthetic ingredients, but those are often formulated to be less likely to make people’s skin fall off.

The bottom line is, not everything that is natural is good for your skin. Take oft-touted lemon juice for example. Your skin’s natural pH is somewhere between 4 and 5. It already HAS a natural acid mantle and this acid mantle is INCREDIBLY important. Lemon juice is extremely acidic – it has a pH of 2 (approx. 6% citric acid) – and can burn your skin. Some people manage to use it JUST fine. But I would suggest that those people are in the minority, and most people’s delicate facial skin will be irritated by this. Irritation can show up in a myriad of ways – it can be redness, small whitehead bumps, cystic pimples, dryness and even sores/blisters or burns. Same goes for baking soda. Baking soda + vinegar (also acidic, pH 2.4ish) is the kind of thing you clean stubborn stains from pans, sinks, drains and cooktops with. Do you really think you should put that on your face!? No. Stop it.

Sugar is jagged crystals. Same goes for anything like those awful apricot scrubs that are literally crushed apricot seeds.What! They’re sharp as hell. Sure, they’ll exfoliate the SHIT out of your face, but they’ll also create microtears around your pores and aggravate any problem areas you already have. Don’t do it. I’m a huge proponent for NEVER scrubbing your face with anything more abrasive than a muslin cloth. If you want to exfoliate, use something gentle that won’t mess around with your skin’s pH level. I personally use the Paula’s Choice AHA gel, because I find it works well for me, but if you are oily you might prefer the BHA. Dr Dennis Gross also does a wonderful exfoliant line. Don’t scrub your face! Microbeads, though smooth, are still not great for your skin, or necessary, and they’re REALLY bad for the environment (some States in the US are about to ban them). Body skin is different – it’s much tougher and thicker. Scrubs on the body are fine but I would still recommend doing this only once a week at MOST.

Things like bee pollen can also cause a huge allergic reaction. That’s a LOT of concentrated bee product to be putting on your face. Honey is much less concentrated in allergens but there isn’t very much health benefit in it – so eat it instead of wasting it by putting it on your face. It’s delicious.

Another common one is tea tree oil.  TTO does contain antiseptic, antibacterial properties, for sure. But please dilute it in another carrier oil like almond oil or another neutral oil before you dot it on your spots (DOT, people, don’t slather!). It’s REALLY strong!

Which brings me to the current wonder-product: coconut oil. I CONSTANTLY hear people say that this is all they use to remove makeup, wash their face or moisturize or whatever, any number of things. And it works brilliantly for them! Which is wonderful. Those people are probably not prone to acne though, because let me tell you something that is a scientific fact and not at all an opinion: coconut oil is EXTREMELY comedogenic (meaning that it blocks pores like a mofo). On a scale of 1 to 5, it is a 4. That’s basically just below … what is the most? Beef tallow? Engine oil? So please don’t put it on your face unless you have never had a pimple in your life. Or, by all means give it a red-hot go, but if you break out, don’t say I didn’t warn you! Put it in your food, use it for lube (seriously it’s great for that in my experience *eyebrow waggle*), but please be really careful using it on your face.

If you are still dead-set on using natural products, remember that science often loses to marketing. I dug up this great article on WebMD about things that actually probably/maybe do work, but note that even the “active soy” in one of the products mentioned has been altered in a lab to be more effective. Please also note “industry sponsored study” as a phrase to indicate taking results with a grain of salt.

Natural skincare doesn’t even necessarily save you money. Be very careful of expensive products containing cheap ingredients. It might be important to you that the ingredients in your skincare are sourced ethically, locally or organically, which is of course going to bump the price up. There is incredible, simple, cheap skincare available at the drugstore/pharmacy (Cetaphil, CeraVe etc) that works great for a lot of people. No need to spend an arm and a leg.

Finally: please remember that everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. Lemon juice is a chemical. Salt is a chemical. Stop talking about things being chemical-free. You are made up of chemicals. If you don’t want to put chemicals on your skin then enjoy never bathing, touching food, dressing or leaving the house ever again. Hooray!

To me, this is a bit like the great Tim Minchin line from his excellent anti-alternative medicine animation, Storm, “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proven to work? Medicine.” I feel the same way about skincare. Technology is so incredible these days, and skincare / beauty etc is at the forefront (because $). Why shouldn’t we take advantage of the benefits? It can even help the environment. Synthesized ingredients stop the destruction of habitats by mass farming, for example.

Really, I don’t care what people do in their own homes that works for them. The thing that upsets me is when people, particularly people in positions of authority like WG and JH, make dangerous, bad recommendations to their friends or followers that could be disastrous.

Be safe, be careful, do your unbiased research, but mostly – do you boo.

Love,
F&V

 

#MaskVember – A Different Sheet Mask Every Sunday: Week 3 – Dr Jart+ Cheek & Eye Lift

Dr Jart+ Cheek & Eye Lift Targeted Hydrogel Patch for the “Apple Zone”

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Skin status prior to application: clean, dry – no moisturizer.

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Current skin condition: normal for me – oily/combo, a touch dry because of the weather. I felt that it was important to take a pic this time since this is meant to make your skin feel “lifted and firm”.

Cost: $12 for one mask, but I got mine in the Dr Jart+ Book of Masks (below) which is $39 ($56 value). Not great value IMO, the result would have to be remarkable!

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To use: Very similar to the last Dr Jart+ one – in that it’s a dry mask that you peel the backing from to reveal a gel surface that you place down onto your skin, this one is just for the cheek and eye area so it goes across the nose onto the apple zone (use a mirror), leave for 30 mins, peel off gently.

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During the mask: Same comments as last time do apply here. It’s very easy to apply, there’s no product dripping everywhere, I really like that aspect of it. It was comfortable while it was on, especially since it is only on one section of your face.

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After: Sadly I do not feel like this did anything for me. My skin felt exactly the same as before. But in saying that; I have relatively young/firm skin anyway because I’m oily – sagging isn’t really something I’m experiencing yet! So if you have dry skin that’s losing some elasticity I’d be really interested in your opinion of this mask!

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2 hours later: I was at a party and didn’t notice anything different! Sorry!

Next day: Absolutely no change or difference in the next-day condition of my skin.

Final Verdict: Would not buy again. It just doesn’t do it for me – mostly because as I said, it treats a problem I don’t have!

Side by side comparison:

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Note: I think the main reason the after looks better is that I was looking up more, lol! I also got my eyebrows threaded right between taking this pic and putting the mask on. Worst experimenter ever!

See you next week for the final installment…

Love++
F&V