‘Drug store skin care’ revisited

Yesterday I found myself cleaning out what I referred to in one of my early posts as “the graveyard under the sink”—that Netherland in the vanity where all of the once-tried and subsequently rejected hair care products, body lotions, nail polish, and so forth find their home.

I purge the vanity every three months or so, when the impulse strikes, even if it happens to be midnight. If I don’t act then, the job won’t get done till the next wave of motivation hits. I pitch the expired product samples, wash and repack the bin that contains my travel-size stash, and drain any expired bottles of hair product that hadn’t lived up to my expectations.

Just as I had when I cleaned out the pantry after Christmas, I felt virtuous. Such “cleansing” chores that make sense when the sky is gray and the wind is howling. Who wants to clean out a cabinet  when the air is balmy, the sky is bright blue, and the daffodils are poking through the mulch? Which, now that it’s February, is not really that far away.

By the way, last year around this time, I wrote a post that I called “Drug Store Skin Care.” I’ve been with the L’Oréal products since then and have to say that I find them every bit as good as all of the significantly higher priced brands I’ve tried. I used the Revitalift line first, then switched to Age Perfect. I confess that I can’t see a huge difference in effectiveness between the two. My face feels soft and supple, and my daughter, who can always be counted on for directness in matters of hair, make-up, and apparel (“Don’t get too matchy-matchy!”), has said several times that my skin looks great. Perhaps the greatest advantage, though, is the economy of these products. I usually buy cosmetics at Ulta* and often find that both of these lines are full-price for the first item and 50% off the second. Since the line’s top price point is around $25, that’s a steal any way you look at it. Compare that to Philosophy or Lançome (which, incidentally, is owned by L’Oréal) or Clarins. I’ve also bought the products at the drug store and the grocery store—if I see a deep discount, I take advantage of it.

This sounds like a commercial endorsement, which it really isn’t. I’d heard so many friends complaining about the price of high-end skin care that I thought I’d experiment myself and share the results. So far, so good.

*One GREAT thing about Ulta… if you buy something, try it, and don’t like it, you can return it within 60 days—opened and used—without a fuss. I don’t do so often but always appreciate the fact that I can if I want to. The last thing I returned was a green (yes, green) tube of Lipstick Queen that was supposed to become that elusive perfect shade once applied. It was awful, but thanks to Ulta’s policy, it cost me nothing. Sephora has a similar policy.

 

 

 

Open concept

If you’re anything like me, you fairly gag at the monotonous “one script is all” banter that occurs on House Hunters and all of its variations:

“It’s a good size.”
“I love the granite counter tops.”
“It’s pretty small for a master.” (What would you expect in a house built in 1920, folks?)
“This would fit my furniture.” (One of the most offensive and awkward misconstructions I have ever heard. The furniture fits into the room, House Hunters, not vice versa.)
“I could see myself sitting here, having coffee.”
“This would be great for entertaining.”

“I wanted open concept.” 

It’s the last that’s on my mind right now, as I sit here surrounded by a pre-holiday mess. “Open concept” is an invention of the last 30 years. There was virtually no “open concept” until roughly the last decade of the 20th Century. The point was to HIDE the mess in the kitchen. And for the cook to be able to concentrate while making the soufflé or Beef Wellington—or tuna noodle casserole, for that matter—without the distractions of a blaring television or bickering siblings.

Now, everyone on House Hunters, and, apparently, everywhere else, prefers not to be isolated from the rest of the household while working in the kitchen. That’s a nice idea in theory; it’s true that an open concept living area allows you to keep an eye on the kids, participate in family discussions, and enjoy your guests. But unless you are one of those people who thinks the only real dream kitchen is an unused one,  an “open concept” living area also means a mess for all to see. And while the perfume of bread in the oven may be pleasant and comforting, it is not necessarily pleasant or comforting to get a whiff of the sausage and peppers—or worse, fish—that you made for dinner when you’ve settled down for the evening in the den. Trust me—you can’t open a window when it’s 20 degrees, and the fan on full force and the candles don’t always do the trick.

I like living on one floor. I really do. And I love my house. But do not expect to see kitchen counters cleared of clutter and punctuated with fascinating decorative items à la Joanna Gaines (of whom, incidentally, I’m a committed fan). That’s fine for people who don’t really cook in a big way. And since Christmas is an especially messy time of year, you will at any given time this week find, in our lovely little home, not only a floury mess in the kitchen, but also a tangle of gift wrapping in progress on the dining room table—wide open to all who cross the threshold. Some time between now and Christmas Eve, all will be put in order. But until then, let’s just say we have that “lived in” look, right out there in the open.

PS That’s Adriana Trigiani’s delightful new edition of Cooking with My Sisters in the photo above.. The stories are wonderful, as you would expect.

It’s been a while

I’ve been “out of pocket,” as they used to say in the ’90s, for the last few weeks, recovering from a surgery that, while not extensive, pretty much knocked the wind out of me. Just to let you know how “zonked” I was (how’s that for a high-class word?), during the first ten days, I barely even opened a book, much less tried to blog.

I am happy to report and reaffirm, however, that the curative powers of the human  body are indeed miraculous. In the last week, I’ve perked up considerably and  can report with confidence that I am definitely on the mend. I can also say with confidence that healing is far more than physical. Being surrounded by people who care about you, who dispense dose after dose of love with every well-intended (but not always graciously received) direction—that makes the difference. That is what it means to feel truly blessed. Hubby and the kids were loving, patient, attentive, and comforting. I couldn’t have asked for better care. But they weren’t the only ones to be there when I needed them.*

Kindness counts. 

I’ve gotten good wishes and cards and flowers and phone calls and texts from so many—family, friends, neighbors—and I am grateful to every one of them, near and far, for wishing me well. I also received wonderfully nurturing gifts of pudding and soup to get me through the first and toughest patch.

So do cookies.

After days of soft food, though, I began positively yearning for texture. Watching one cooking show after another was probably not helpful, but one has to pass the time somehow. In a moment as delightful as the turning point in any of Shakespeare’s comedies, a grocery store rotisserie chicken finally set me back on the road to “normal” everyday life.

At about the same time I savored that tender white meat, I began fantasizing about old-fashioned soft sugar cookies. The only thing I can compare this fantasy with, from an intensity standpoint, is the wild craving of pregnancy—you know, the kind that would send your spouse out in the middle of an August night for a hot turkey sandwich.** Before long, my BFF and I were texting back and forth about each other’s sugar cookie recipes. My mother’s recipe had come from a Pennsylvania Dutch neighbor; we’ve referred to the big, luscious treats  as “Mrs. George’s Cookies”  since 1970. My BFF’s recipe came from her cousin’s Pennsylvania Dutch in-law. When we compared notes, the recipes were very similar, except that Mrs. George’s called for buttermilk and were dusted with a bit of cinnamon, while my BFF’s recipe called for sour cream and cream cheese icing.

A few days after the texting marathon, my BFF showed up at the door with a plateful of those pillowy cookies, freshly baked and iced.

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How did they taste?

Like a little bit of heaven on a plate, that’s how.

*What’s good for the gander is good for the goose. I tried to be a good, compliant patient and to practice what I preached in an earlier blog post on the idiosyncrasies of the male patient\. My lineage is Calabrese. That’s pretty much all I need to say about that.

**That particular craving was actually not my own, but my dear friend’s, who, on reporting it to me afterward, said with a sigh, “You can’t get a good hot turkey sandwich in this town.” Forty+ years ago, and the story still makes me smile.

 

Step on it… an update

Not long ago, I received a jauntily designed email informing me that I’d “won” another Fitbit badge. This time, I’ve walked the length of the Serengeti–500 miles since I started wearing the rubbery black “watch” (which, since it follows me wherever I go, turns out to be double entendre, doesn’t it?) I’d  sworn I’d never own.

The older one grows, it seems, the more one eat’s one’s words.

More than six months into the Fitbit shtick, I grudgingly confess that I’ve grown to like it. Yes, it’s a good motivator. Yes, I am definitely walking more and have lost a bit of weight. Yes, I feel more energetic. Yes, achieving little goals, one after the other, gives me satisfaction. And yes, I get mad on days when something, however, legitimate, interferes with my steps.

I have a long way to catch up with Hubby, who started a few months before me and has, per his Fitbit badge,  “walked” the entire Italian coast. Or with my other Fitbit friends. My belle soeur* invited me to join her Fitbit workweek challenge as soon as she learned I was stepping it up. There are four to six participants, and whoever logs the most steps in the Monday-to-Friday race wins.

I don’t always manage 10,000 steps. If I do, it’s often on the weekends, which doesn’t count in the challenge. I haven’t won this competition once. I’m a morning person; morning is the best time for me to do just about anything. I get my first few thousand steps doing the morning chores and walking Miss Puppy,  hopefully reaching my admittedly modest goal in the early afternoon. Then, depending on the length of our late afternoon constitutional, and whether I’ve done the grocery store (always good for a couple of thousand steps), I fill in during the evening hours. This often involves a kind of pacing from one end of the first floor to the other that makes Miss Pup, like the dogs in a James Thurber cartoon, regard me with utter disdain.**

This “morning person” almost never makes major progress, with steps or anything else, after 7 PM—especially with darkness arriving earlier each day. Whereas I am entirely diurnal, at nightfall, my belle soeur is just getting started. If I go to bed at 11, comfortably in second place, I will inevitably awaken the next morning to find that she has surged past me, like the near magical horse who flies into the lead in the last few furlongs of the derby.  I have affectionately referred to her as my “night stalker.” Still, I’m glad to be a part of this friendly competition, and I’m actually pretty happy with my overall performance. Every 10,000-step day is especially satisfying.

As I write this, early on a Wednesday morning, my belle soeur is about 1,000 steps behind me. Then again, it’s not even 9 AM.

*I refuse to use the phrase “in-law” for anyone I care about, much preferring the gentler French expression for the relationship.

**If Miss Pup could talk as I pace, she’d surely be saying, “Have you gone totally bonkers, and, if so, why are you taking me with you?”

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The pile on the closet floor

This post is not for the faint of heart. It is about that awful moment of reckoning, typically occurring as you face your closet, when you realize that everything has started to go irretrievably south.

Advancing age is not without its blessings, but appearance isn’t one of them. We droop. In multiple places. Even if our weight is reasonable and we exercise zealously, we droop.

It isn’t as much about weight (though it certainly can be) as it is about shape. My godmother, who is a pretty spiffy 94, petite, erect, and trim, has become downright phobic about clothes shopping because nothing fits her. That’s crazy, but I get it. Clothes shopping isn’t fun any more, and I’m a LOT younger than she is, as she graciously reminds me with some frequency.

I truly believe that I’ve become more patient and mellow with each passing year, but neither quality is likely to manifest when I’m trying to find something to wear. I’m recalling my old friend Cathy, in the comic strip of the same name. I couldn’t’ find the strip online, but I have a very vivid recollection of Cathy in a multi-mirrored dressing room, throwing a tantrum worthy of a two-year-old, shrieking and jumping up and down feverishly on the pile of rejected bathing suits she’s hurled to the floor.

I can relate. Cathy is all of us. Just ask me how many times I change clothes when I’m going out—to church, to a work appointment, to dinner, or—God forbid—to a high school reunion.

It’s almost worse when I’m forced to shop for something new. Although I adore dresses, I’ve pretty much given them up because what fits above the waist definitely does not fit below. I’ve tried A-lines and felt like one of those old-fashioned clothes pin bags: narrow at the top and wide at the bottom. [Does anyone remember clothespin bags? Or clothespins? Probably not.] I hold no hope of ever finding a dress I like that doesn’t require more than its weight in gold in alterations… and a capable tailor to do them, which seems like another thing of the past, at least in my neighborhood.

This sorry state of affairs, for all intents and purposes, leaves me pretty much up the creek (you know which one) without a paddle.

Yet I know there must be designers out there in the ether who know how to dress a woman who is not as lithe and willowy as she once was, in something that has neither elastic nor Velcro®, actually has a shape, and is definitely NOT Boho. Been there, done that, don’t want the T-shirt.

If that designer is YOU, hit me up, and let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping it up

Nobody talks about just going for a walk any more. Now, we talk about steps.

Early this afternoon, I set up the Fitbit my son gave me for my birthday, per my request. This after saying that I would NEVER, under any circumstances, wear “one of those things” that turn steps, and all that other stuff, like drinking water and how long you stand or sit, into a veritable obsession. Yes, I ate my words.

What pushed me over the edge was that the kids gave Hubby a Fitbit for Christmas, and he took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Before long, he was announcing the receipt of badges with silly names not for meeting the goals he’d set, but for far exceeding them. Months later, competitive fellow that he is, he’s still setting that gizmo on fire. I clearly had to “step” up to the plate. Why should he get all the attention?

I’d been using my phone to track steps for several years, but it’s a pain to carry the phone with you constantly, and beyond annoying if you forget it and then don’t get credit for your efforts. The last straw was the day I left the phone in my purse, put the purse in the grocery cart, then spent an hour tramping up and down the supermarket aisles, only to discover later that my phone was totally oblivious. It could almost hear it saying, “Sure, you walked 7,000 steps today. Where’s the proof?”

That’s when I crossed over and asked for the Fitbit. I’m happy to report that I exceeded my admittedly modest goal of 4000 steps today. I know that’s not nearly good enough. We’ll see.

 

Photo: My cousin Liz getting her steps in on Old Orchard Beach, ME.