Living Below Our Means: Three Tales about Relationship with Things

This series is titled "Living Below Our Means" first and foremost because it implies that we all have the means (limited, though it may be, even the seemingly unlimited means are limited to the realms of this world) to spend on things. The means could be tangible (money, possessions), or intangible (connection, opportunities).

In addition to having the means, we also have the freedom to choose to spend it on things according to our values. The title does not imply living with a limited amount of stuffs (as many would assume in minimalism). The set point of living within/below/above one's means runs the spectrum.

My personal goal, if you ask, is simply to decide mindfully on possessions that enhance the quality of my life, and with which I have a good relationship. Relationship with things, as I found out, is intricately related to that set point. Below are three tales about relationship with things. All of these are based on my personal experience.


Possessions can create a sense of calm, security, and help create a meaningful life. Think of a car, for example: it makes travel convenient, it provides a secure home-away-from-home respite, and for many of us, a necessity. My car, Skittles (yes, I do name my car), is the hardest working 1997 Honda Civic in the world. Blue Book value? I'd be lucky if I can get $500 for her, but I drive her like wearing a badge of honor. I paid my car outright a few years after I graduated from college, and I have traveled many miles with her ever since. 
When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing I thought was to buy a  safer, better, more modern car. Makes sense, but did I actually do that? No, because there are far better use of my money (my means) than getting a new car (a decision proven to be prudent, considering we were downsizing to a one-income household). And my relationship with my current car is that of gratitude: I am utterly thankful that she always works when I need her to work (except for that one time, in Whole Foods... which is about the best place to get stranded if you ever got stranded with your car broken, and the fix was a little jiggle on the battery connection, no tow truck needed!), and never needs much maintenance, either. No, my friend, this is not a woo-woo, sentimental, new-age thankfulness to an inanimate object. This is a straight-forward gratitude from repeated experience of satisfaction of using a product. If Honda is ever sold in Amazon, I'd give this Civic model a thousand stars. I wouldn't trade Skittles for a shiny new Volvo even though she is the oldest grandma on the school run. My reliable car truly enhances the quality of my life and allows me to live below my means.


To the rest of the world outside the U.S., the practice of returning products after they are purchased is quite a peculiar phenomenon. Take the money (aka risk) out of the equation and you have the "Buy now, think later, it's ok to change you mind!" 
It comes in many flavors. There's the legitimate return of defective/unsafe products, thank goodness for this! Or, the often-justified practice of returning things with tags still attached (not used, not altered, etc.). Or, the sorry-but-not-sorry-I'm-glad-I-can-still-return-it returns of consumable items -- items that will inevitably be thrown away once returned (e.g. cosmetics).
For the sake of sales drive, companies are essentially rewarding consumers for their change of hearts, impulse buys, regrets, all-around "bad" consumption behaviors. When rewarded again and again, a behavior will turn into a habit, a cycle, an addiction. The cycle of buying and returning goods is an equivalent of "stuff bulimia" -- hauling and purging of things partly drives the economy. The more turnover, the more products are moved, the more profits are generated. 
I do understand the appeal of returns/money back guarantee. After all, I'm not attached to my things, or do I? Somewhere along the cycle, I found that repeated buying and returning creates a feeling of unease, an anxiety with possessions I do own, "Should I keep this item, knowing that if I return it in the future, I will get my money back to get a newer, better thing?" I found myself keep finding "the wrong" in the things I have just purchased: too similar, not glossy enough, too shiny, not shiny enough, not different enough, do they just change the formula recently? I over-analyzed my purchases, I over-purchased things. Before long, I have spent much of my mental energy thinking and planning: planning my returns, thinking about what to do with the credit from my returns, plotting my future purchases, stalking for LE products. All the while, those items were sitting in my drawer, unused, or half-used half-heartedly. Yes, I used to have piles of unused makeup, waiting to decide whether I really wanted to use them or not. Who owns what now?


Shortly after my mother passed away, I was bequeathed with a not-so-small task of sorting her belongings, mostly her academic papers, journals, and books. It was excruciating, to say the least, to face the mountains upon mountains of papers, all of which meant a lot to my mom. It is her life's work. If you have been following me, I have been exercising the Marie Kondo method since the beginning of this year. Surely, my journey has lead me to this occasion; if I am KonMari-ing my own home, I should be up to this task. My siblings did agree.
A few weeks after I came back home from my mom's funeral, I found myself in mountains upon mountains of my own papers: my own old dissertation, thesis, projects, old textbooks, lecture notes, papers, journals. All of them which has nothing to do with my life now, as a stay-at-home mom. Day and night, I pored myself over these papers, trying to find the best way possible to weed them out, which stays? which goes? which sparks joy? I found myself researching the internet, joining KonMari facebook groups, lighting candles, all in the name of reducing belongings to those which spark joy
Honestly, the joy is no longer there. I don't even know what spark joy in facing my own anxiety of impermanence. I can't find joy in things, period. They are all so joy-less. These papers, which represent my hard work and best effort for most years of my adulthood, are joyless. Soon, these papers, too, won't be able to speak to the kind of person that I am, just like those of my mother's. If I am not these papers, or the thing that they represent, then who am I? Shouldn't things liberate us to see what's truly matter? Instead, I am buried in thoughts of despair and worthlessness. Just when I thought I'm at peace with my belongings, I found yet clutter upon clutter in both physical and psychological world. 

Can you relate to any of these tales? Have you find the right relationship with your stuffs/possessions? Do you own your possessions or have your possessions consume you, more than what you are willing to admit?

The opposite of materialism/consumerism is actually over-preoccupation of what to do with possessions (and some may argue that this is the definition of minimalism).


Simple Gift

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."

The events in the world lately hardly inspires any gratitude -- a sentiment I shared with many around me, real or virtual, most of them parents.

The truth is, when time is hard, I am most thankful for what I already have. I usually start small; food on my table, warm blanket on my bed, roof above my head, my son giggling (despite his froggy, throat-y, wet cough), time for silence and solitude.

Then I am thankful for so many people like you and me. People who, despite their worries, discouragement, fear, failure, still wake up in the morning and decide to make the best of their days by doing the right thing, by honoring each other's presence. Parents who rushed home to dinner, despite being late so many times before. Children who are hoping for their parents for dinner. Bus drivers who stop a few seconds longer so those who are running can come aboard from the pouring rain. Pharmacists who take that one last prescription a few minutes after closing time, knowing that the child need it that night. Grocery clerks who said thank you with a smile. Neighbors who asked, "Oh!! Do you want some of my basil?"

I am thankful for each and every one of you who makes this world simply work. When I witness these act of love and kindness, they restore my faith in goodness, in the universal bond that tie all of us as one human family, in something bigger than us. This is what gives me hope for a better future for me and my family and for all of us. Each one of us is a simple gift to one another.

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving. May your home filled with love and gratitude.


Autumn/Fall Favorite Tag

Autumn Favorite

Fall is my favorite season of the year. The Tod and I would often sit together in the park bench, waiting for the chestnut tree to go "POP!" and for the chestnuts to fall down, or he would often chase squirrels to no end. And since the rainy days are here and I can't take good pictures, I dust up my Polyvore and make a good use of it. All links are non-affiliate, so click away!
  1. Favorite Candle
    It's a tie between Diptyque Figuier and Mariage Freres Darjeeling candle. I'm not sure if Mariage Freres still carries candles, but theirs are some of the best-smelling yet underrated. If you got a chance to go to Mariage Freres boutique, you will know what I mean -- Mariage Freres shops smell of heaven! Mariage Freres also sells incenses which smells equally heavenly.
  2. Favorite Lip Color
    Aerin Mini Lipstick in Dahlia (discontinue) -- a sheer, blackened berry that is great as a stain or full-on. Aerin came up with a new line of lipstick that is worth checking out.
  3. Favorite Drink
    Blue Lotus Chai. I love this steeped in almond milk or whole milk if I feel particularly indulgent (almond milk can be quite rich by itself, too). This is not a tea, per-se, rather it comes in the form of powder and you mix in with milk/water. Very potent, yet very comforting and full-on delicious.
  4. Favorite Blush
    Charlotte Tilbury Breakfast at Tiffany's is the buttery, biscuity peach flush that I yearn every Fall (here she is in action with my version of Tom Ford's biscuity makeup). It goes with any lip color (including the clashing color of Aerin Dahlia above) and so very easy to blend.
  5. Favorite Clothing Item
    A thick, wooly, camel-colored infinity scarf (like above from J.Crew).
  6. Favorite Fall Movie
    Back-to-school movies remind me of Fall. I'm particularly fond of Les Quatre Cents Coups by François Truffaut. Having a son myself, I find the movie more charming each time I watch Antoine Doinel fends off the daily beatings of ordinary life.
  7. Favorite Fall TV Show
    Downton Abbey. Yeah, looking forward to their last season.
  8. Favorite Thanksgiving Food
    This has to be PapaLorp's legendary sausage stuffing with mushroom. He cooks the entire Thanksgiving all by himself many, many times and while his turkey often hit/miss, his stuffing never disappoints.
    Yet another one of PapaLorp's speciality is green bean casserole. His secret? He follows the recipe printed on the Frenchy's Onion. Oldies but goodies!
  9. Favorite Halloween Costume
    I'm not a big costume-wearer but now that the Tod is here, I make one every other year (so I won't have to sew every year). This year, he is Qiao Hu or Shimajiro (depending on which country you watch it -- it is basically the same tiger). This is the equivalent of Daniel Tiger for preschoolers in China/Taiwan/Japan.
  10. Favorite Perfume
    I always pull out the classic combo of Jo Malone Nutmeg Ginger + Grapefruit cologne. Nothing better than a slight edge of spice, tempered with a little zing-sweetness of grapefruit. 
Thanks for the tag, Monika, and Happy Fall to everyone.


Living Below Our Means: Simplify

A valuable lesson I learned from using up what I have is simplifying my routines. It's a no brainer. Less product = less money spent to buy products = less time to get ready = less waste. First, let's assess the situation.

As it turned out, skincare is not only my sore point of product accumulation. Haircare products are also piling up!! Notice this particularly crowded area of the cabinet.

My hair is shoulder-length and I occasionally style it. At the very least, I blow dry it straight every 2-3 days or so. Do I really need this much product? Many of them are already sample/travel size (in fact, almost all of them are), I have yet to use any of them up since at least a year.

So, here's the process that I went through to weed out unnecessary products, which are often disguised as must-haves.

First I grouped these products in terms of their functions.

As you can see, some of the products such as the Spice Sister Wax or Living Proof Styler can multitask. Right there and then, I can already spot some potential items to keep.

In the thickening group, I thought of the differences between these three products. Well, the Bumble and Bumble is used when the hair is damp, but it gives somewhat tacky finish. Ditto with Kevin Murphy, this one gives even more thickening power. I found that Percy & Reed Bodifying Cream gives the best of both worlds: thickening yet not too tacky. So this is the one that I keep.

The redundancy in the heat protector group is massive! Most of them are a variation of leave-in conditioner with perhaps some added benefit like tacky/grippy finish, glossy finish, etc. Kerastase Nectar Thermique is bar none the best product I've tried that gives my hair a silky smooth, glossy finish, whereas the Spice Sister Wax actually doubles as curl enhancer. So I keep these two.

In the texturizing group, the Spice Sister is already in (surviving the previous elimination). I use Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray and blowpro faux dry to give some grip to next-day hair, in case I want to braid or do the bun. The Oribe, although nice-smelling and really works, is honestly too overpriced (and overhyped) for the function; whereas blowpro sounds like a good overall texturizer/dry shampoo-in-one (did I mention that blowpro is unscented, too?). 

In the end, I kept only four: Percy & Reed Bodifying Cream, Kerastase Nectar Thermique, Spice Sister Wax and blowpro. 

... aah.. they do spark joy!
I used up the rest of the products and won't repurchase them anymore in the future (well.. except maybe for the Oribe if I run out of the blowpro).

Other examples of simplification that I've used for skin care:
  • Core routine of acid toner + retinol/retinoids + sunscreen.
    Inevitably, moisturizer and anti-oxidants will have sneaked in as vehicle of one of these, eliminating the need for separate moisturizer all together.
  • Nice-to-haves are non-foaming cleanser and serum.
    I think I'm done with expensive cleanser or cleanser obsession of sort. My goal is to use less commercial cleanser in lieu of bulk common products. For example, I've been using coconut oil with great result as makeup remover/first cleanse (I have dry skin -- probably not for those with oily or combo skin, unless you double cleanse and rinse using cloth). I also grew fond of cleansing with clay (just simply mix a bit water with clay as second cleanse or morning cleanse). Both coconut oil and clay can be bought in bulk for not much money at all.
    Serum is no longer a must-have for me as many of the formulation of good products would have already contained some antioxidants, humectants, etc. A serum worth buying for me would be something that has a good concentration of vitamin C (with appropriate pH) with loads of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, in a packaging that protect the potency of the product.
  • Splurges would be facial oils for massage and masks.
  • Doing away with cotton buds/pads and switched to all cloth.
    I found cloth to be superior to disposable cotton in terms of cleaning surface (it is gentle and cleans well at the same time) and product absorption (I use so much less product because the cloth retain products so well than the product-waster, thirsty cotton pads). Sadly, I saw reusable cloth rounds sold for ridiculously expensive price, which makes me think of opening up my own business of sewing cloth pads and muslins.
... and here are a list of skincare items that I do not need:
  • Eye cream
  • Foaming cleanser
  • Facial mist, essence, etc.
  • Mechanical exfoliant
  • Lip scrub, mask, treatment, cleanser whatever (a dab of lanolin will do it all)
  • Cleansing device (Clarisonic, Foreo, etc.)
  • Cleansing wipe (actually, I do still use it for the Tod, but we keep these in the car)
  • Primer of any kind

Finally, I must admit that these products still have utility in my makeup cabinet:

  • Dual-phasic eye makeup remover, for those stubborn waterproof mascara
  • Cleansing oil (the kind that has petrolatum in it)
    As much as I want my coconut oil to dissolve all my makeup, I found cleansing oil is particularly effective in dissolving high-silicone content base products (including sunscreen). With that said, I have not replaced the gigantic Shu Uemura bottle that I finished this summer and have not missed it since.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
    For sanitizing and cleaning makeup tools like eyelash curler, to other general use. I always keep a big bottle.

For more inspiration, check out this post from Monika or for those who like to shoot for the stars, check out the Zero Waste Home. Using less products = producing less waste of packaging.

How do you make your decision to simplify your routine?


Coq au Vin

It was a drizzly, chilly early Autumn evening when I arrived in Paris, red-eyed from the long flight. The cobbled pavements were glistening under the street lamps. With a hazy head and restless legs, I hurried and huddled into a no-named bistro on rue de la Gaité, just a few blocks from an apartment which would be my home for the next two years. Inside, the steamy air filled with cigarette fume invited me to my first Parisian eating experience. After settling down with a glass of vin de maison, rouge, naturellement, came the humble dish of Coq au Vin before me.

Wait a minute! I think I'm in the wrong story -- my first meal in Paris was an overcooked burger at the airport because I was too darn hungry and the cobbled pavement? They were littered with les crottes de toutouTant pis.. but Coq au Vin is what we cooked today.

The truth is, just as I am turned-off by glorification of anything Parisian/Parisienne -- I'm not an old cynics yet, the city is magical but not the sort of instagram-kind of way -- I got turned-off by recipes that aim to recreates masterpieces of Michelin-studded restaurants. Recipes that read:
1 tablespoon of chopped cornichon, drained
2/3 of a cup finely julienned carrots
1/8 of a teaspoon minced garlic
just screams "Oh I'm so precise, I'm scaling it down for you, people at home." I'm cutting a whole carrot, or two, whatever, and if I'm only needing 2/3 cup of it, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of them?

In fact, the best recipes are those that are truly authentic, born out of necessities from normal, ordinary, muggle households all around the world, using accessible ingredients to make ends meet. The recipes may spell as, "Oh, yay-big of a carrot, a smidgen of herb, a glug of wine, yeah.. something like that!" Such is, what I believe, the spirit of Coq au Vin: a drunken rooster stew, using an old, tough rooster because a plump, fat hen coûte les yeux de la tête.

The proportion below is the result of trial-and-error chez moi. It is the friendly version for modern home-cooks, using items that you can easily find at your normal, modern grocery stores aka the plump, fat hen. This stew can be done in a dutch oven or slow cooker. Either way, do what's best for your family and I'm sure they'll appreciate it quand même.

Coq au Vin

Serves at least 4

A whole chicken, cut up into your preferred size, about 4-5 lbs, including bone, skin, neck and back (giblets can be included as well)

4 oz of bacon -- uncured/unsmoked would be nice, peppered variety is great, chopped

1 whole onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

4 carrots, peeled and largely diced, divided

8 oz button mushrooms, quartered or halved

2 cups of dry red wine (like Burgundy)

Approximately 2 cups of chicken broth (water + bouillon cubes will work in a pinch)

Dried herbs of choice such as thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, sage, or even Herbes de Provence, amount approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon total. The classic ones are thyme and bay leaves, but I like the fragrant twist of marjoram and sage just goes so well with poultry.

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste (a trick I learned from Julia Child's rendition. It adds a nice acidity and sweetness to the sauce. I have also used tomato ketchup in a pinch and it worked! Julia may approved, being the home-cook and all)

Few knobs of butter, reserved bacon fat, or olive oil, pick your poisson.

Fresh parsley, if you have some. Crusty bread, buttered potato, rice or pasta to serve.

I like to marinade the chicken using about 1 c of wine while preparing the rest of the ingredients. The wine steeps a layer of flavor into the chicken. If you wish, you can put the chicken on the kitchen counter but the safest way is to pop them back into the fridge while marinading.

In a heavy-bottomed pan or a dutch oven, render the bacon nice and crispy, about 8-10 minutes on medium-high heat. Reserve bacon using slotted spoon, and fat, if you wish.

Drain chicken pieces, reserving the wine. Pat dry, season each with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in batches, about 5-8 per side until skin is crispy and golden brown. Set chicken aside.

Add a drizzle of bacon fat/olive oil or a knob of butter. Reserve about a handful of chopped carrot and set them aside with the onion and garlic (I call this sacrificial carrots -- for this carrots will be used to flavor the sauce). Sauteé the rest of the carrots with mushrooms 5-10 minutes or until half-way cooked. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add yet another drizzle of oil into your pan. Sauteé the reserved, sacrificial carrots, onion and garlic until translucent, about 10 minutes, scrapping the pan of the brown bits. Deglaze the pan with wine and the reserve wine marinade, continue scrapping. Add the dried herbs, bacon (I usually reserve some because the boys like to crumble them on top for extra crunch), and tomato paste, stir and bring to boil.

At this time, if you are using slow cooker, you can move the content of the pan into the slow cooker. Adjust your slow cooking timer to manufacturer's suggestion for poultry dishes. Mine would be about 4-6 hours long. Continue on until the part where you take the chicken pieces out and reduce the sauce.

Arrange chicken pieces in single layer, preferably, with chicken breasts right on the very top, skin side up. The reason I do this is because I like my chicken breast nice and tender, instead of tough and overcooked. They are the first to be taken out, just as soon as they are done, falling off the bones yet still juicy inside, about 45 minutes of cooking/slow simmer. The rest can simmer much much longer. I even added the chicken breast bone & skin back into the pot to further infuse the sauce with the rich collagen.

Put everything in a gentle simmer for at least 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken.

Take out chicken pieces, set aside -- at this point, I usually go ahead and de-bone and de-skin them for easy eating.

Skim as much fat and sacrificial vegetables off the sauce as you wish (sometimes I leave them if I'm too lazy). Continue reducing the liquid in half, another 10-15 minutes over high heat. At this point, you can thicken the sauce using flour slurry (1:1 ratio of flour and melted/softened butter, kneaded together, about 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of liquid), or just leave it as is. Yet another version is to use immersion blender to blend the chunky vegetables into the sauce. Either way, don't forget to fish out your bay leaves before doing so. Tip the sauteéd carrots and mushrooms into the sauce to reheat them. Throw in chopped parsley and stir.

Plate buttered potato, rice or pasta. Pile the tender chicken pieces on top. Drizzle with sauce and imagine yourself sitting in some un-named bistro somewhere in Paris. Or on your own dining table with your loved one. Bon Appétit!


Thankful Tuesday: Fruits of Gratitude

"You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, & allowing it to emerge" - Eckhart Tolle
Many people would identify themselves as "not religious but spiritual." To me, being spiritual means devoting life of daily spiritual "exercises." Like muscle, these virtues will strengthen over time when exercised, but not to be fooled by the competitiveness that is of-this-world, as these virtues are already within us at all times. All I need to do is to bring it out more and more into my way of life.

Such spiritual exercises are daily gratitude journal and meditation. These are exercises that I do daily to "remind" myself of who I really am: not my role as a mother, daughter, wife, employee, parent, or others. These exercises can seem mundane -- what's the point of giving thanks over and over and over again, or sitting quietly while watching mind chattering like bantering Minions.

What makes these exercises far from mundane is the fruit that I reap every now and then. Just like an apple fell suddenly from the tree, hitting Issac Newton's head, the fruit of spiritual practices are sudden yet bright moment of enlightenment. Issac could easily curse at the apple for giving him the goose egg, or, instead, he discovered one of the most fundamental theory of Physics.

Some may call this grace. In Zen Buddhism, this is called Satori. These fruits are but a moment, but when come, they are sweet as heaven itself. Pretty soon, the sweetness lingers and starts to permeate everything that I do. This is how transformation starts: some worries slowly disappear, some solutions find themselves out of problems, petty nuisances become reminder of how good life really is.

Here are some fruits that I reaped this week:

  • A surge of patience when the Tod was especially testy -- somehow I found it within me not to yell at him, yet redirecting him patiently, avoiding saying things that I would later regret.
  • Blessings that comes in the form of opportunities to exercise my creativity.
  • A sudden burst of appreciation of people around me, even those who I don't know personally yet contribute to making my daily life a more enjoyable one: friends who introduced us to yet another friends, bus driver who said hi to the Tod, the grocery clerk who asked if the Tod has had his choice of free fruit of the day, Tod's preschool teacher who asked me, "How are you doing? No, really, how are you?" 
  • I used to be able to paralyze myself to sleepless nights, thinking and worrying about things I've said and done to some people. Now I found myself doing it less and less.
  • A realization that lessons in life do not have to be "bad" lessons or wake up calls. Life gets really friendly when I go with the flow and noticing the little stuff, rather than choosing to indulge in "unconsciousness" of it.

Maybe the gift comes in a form of a taxi when you need it, or your being ok waiting for it. Maybe the gift comes from the green light so you won't have to hit the break. Maybe the gift comes from noticing the small gifts along the way. Isn't life a great adventure? 

Sending you all many blessings for this week. Please come back and share with us your discovery of the fruits of gratitude.


Remembering My Mother

Kamila - Kahlil Gibran's mother

Almost a month ago, my mother passed away peacefully. You may have remember a tribute to my mom on this post here. In the many days, weeks and months to come, I will continue my journey on this Earth while forging a new relationship with my mom in Spirit. I know that death is not the end of a relationship, it is just a journey to another adventure.

I think of the love we shared, yet so many times misunderstood. Now, without her physical body and mind, I am bestowed with a gift of my mom's pure love and presence -- the only "thing" that is left of her. There is a reason why she was my mother on this Earth, a reason I have yet and will continue to discover.

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: 
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. 
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully."
-- Kahlil Gibran on Love


#BBlogers: PR Relationship, Sponsored Posts, Native Posts, Monetization. Let's talk!

First of all, if you have not followed the Periscope of Jane from @britbeautyblog, you must. Even if you never have thought of doing anything remotely related to money with your blog, if you are following Beauty Blogs, it is quite an eye opener -- or maybe I'm just naive.

Second, I am never against anyone who are making money off their own blogs, ever. There are lots of blogs I follow that make money from sponsored post/advertisement/affiliate links -- same also true with Vloggers, YouTubers, etc. They are all fine by me. When I read blogs, I read for content -- I do read sponsored posts, advertisement, native posts, anything. In fact, I quite admire those who walk the fine line between maintaining credibility and trust with readers and working business relationships with Brands/PRs. Adopting holier-than-thou attitude to those who will and can make money out of doing what they love will only limit my own exposures of blogs that are available out there. My readership never will solely based on whether a blog is commercial or not. I have commented, bought things, blogged/tweeted about things that I read from blogs and I truly appreciate the diversity of bloggers out there.

With that said, my issue is credibility -- and I think I am not alone. I am sad to see that credible, respectable, big, popular bbloggers are now becoming harder to come by. I saw one by one succumb to, not monetization per se, monetization and misleading readers about the content of the post, or by featuring products that do not align with their blogging style, DNA, philosophy, etc. What I will share here are purely my own experiences, in hope that we can have a frank discussion as readers and consumers of bblogs.

Where and when did I become aware of the blurring commercialism of blogs?

It all started with this beauty blog that I'm sure everybody knows by now. This beauty blog is huge, I mean, mega. The writer's stats are listed proudly on the "About Me" page and rightly so -- the writing is catchy and the pet is super cute (who can resist a cute pet??). I used to follow this blog until a little, peculiar "incident" happened: the writer mistakenly misspelled the name of the product and I kindly pointed out the correct spelling -- based on the actual product that I actually owned, like right in front of me. The writer denied/dismissed that it was the right name -- even when I sent a snapshot picture of the product's name, with the product on my hand. It wasn't until a fellow reader of the website pointed out that the writer might not have the actual product/product name featured on this post because perhaps all she got at that time was just a PR info. Well, talking about me all green behind the ears! First of all, I should have read the the FAQ of this blog, where the writer wrote verbatim that this blog is a "business with an advertising model." Whatever's left to finish the sentence just went over my head. From that point on, I regard this so-called blog as just that, a business and advertisement, for readers to see what's coming up with certain Brands (and only certain Brands are prominently featured on this website).

Looking back, there are a few things about this website that misled me. The title of the website contains the word "blog" prominently. I don't know about you, but to me, a blog implies some of the content that are independently written. If the content is commercial in any way, it is now required to be clearly marked (Temptalia is the excellent example of this, all credits to Christine!). With this particular website, it was -- and is still -- never clear to me if a post is an advertisement, or a "blog" post-- whatever it means by now. What's more misleading: this website "rates" products but I've never seen rating lower than a C. C'mon.. even my 4-year-old knows there are more letters than just A, B, and C.

Lesson learned, I moved on. I followed yet another bblog, of respectable followers. Along the way, I started to notice that the blog would feature a particular Brand more and more often, to the point where only this brand was written for quite sometime and nothing else. When I posted a comment about a negative experience of the Brand in general (it is a Brand that I rarely use, and for a good reason -- I thought -- the reason I shared in my comment. People do appreciate negative review, right?), I didn't get the usual reply from the author; yet, those who commented on the Brand more positively were replied by the author. Later on, I found out that these posts were likely to be sponsored or instances when PR samples were given, but nothing were disclosed on the write up. To my defense and the defense of the author, this happened before such commercial post should be declared as such. Yet another lesson learned, and I moved on.

Finally, a big bblogger that I followed, up to very recently. I know the author was monetizing the blog in various ways (affiliate links, sponsored posts, PR samples, etc.) and I know the author always discloses. The content of the blog is well-written, detail-oriented, albeit heavy on swatches (and to be honest, I only go there to see swatches). One post did it for me, sadly. It featured a product that is not "in the DNA" of the blog. The author wrote, "I've always been a fan of..." when a simple search through the blog returns one other post featuring products from this particular brand. It was a sponsored post, and disclosed as such. Writing a sponsored post for a product that has been true staples (this would be if Wondegondigo, my old friend Belly and her love for Suqqu, were to write a sponsored post for Suqqu, for example) will only be natural -- in fact, a Brand would be nuts not to take on such opportunity to compensate such blog! But taking on a sponsored post for a product that one has not really blogged in the past (well, does one post count?) or does not really believe in, or not in-line with the rest of the products featured (say.. posting a drug-store fragrance as "I've always been a fan of.." when most of the coverage on the fragrance posts are those sold at exclusive Barney's) only screams (or whispers) money.

All I can say is that, the line between commercial and true un-commercialized posts is getting blurrier and blurrier. In some cases, it is no better than a beauty magazine. Let's talk and open the mic! What have your experiences been with bblogs? Whom would you follow and for what (no need to name names if you don't want to)? Educate me about all these stuffs, please, are there things that I misunderstood?


Birthday Suit

The Tod recently celebrated his birthday and I thought that I'd start a tradition for him to sew him a birthday (suit)set for him.

I remember growing up with my Oma sewing me dresses for my birthdays. It was the most special gift that I treasure. She would start a week before by taking my measurements, then she would hand-draw the pattern out of proper Swedish parchment -- not newspapers as she would normally do for "regular" clothes. After she finished sewing, she would sign my name and the date on each of the patterns and put them all in an envelope. It was as close to a couture as I could ever get.

My Oma managed to sew me a set for the Tod long before he was born; a shirt and a matching pants. It was to me, a perfection. She sew the button holes by hand, each one of them. She did a few piped pockets, from a bias tape that she would, no doubt, made herself. The inside is all French-seamed -- a kind of invisible seam, the best there is and the most time-consuming. I will treasure this piece forever.

This amount of detail is probably rarely done anymore. The buttonholes were hand-sewn one by one, so was the seam around the arm and the bias tape. French seams were used on this shirt and the matching pants.

The pattern I use for this set is from Sew Chic Kids, the Japanese book I used to make the Tod's hoodie here. Japanese pattern books are, in general, very diagrammatic with a few written directions. This means one must pay keen attention to every symbols, arrows, and sequences -- they are there for a reason and not by mistake.

The pants feature an elasticized waist, a mock fly and functional front and back pockets. Functional for little people and cute, too!

For example, the waistband for the pants were drawn using dashed lines on two of the four sides. This means one needs to fold the tracing paper into quarter (half, and half again) and line each folded side on the dashed line before tracing the pattern. The result should be twice the length and twice the width of the pattern drawn on the diagram. Pretty confusing -- this is where experience will help you decipher things that are otherwise not mentioned.

Fold tracing paper in quarter, place each fold on the dashed lines (see arrows above) and trace pattern.

It has been a while since I sew a proper shirt, but this one I found to be a breeze to follow. It features fully-finished yoke. Instead of following their direction, I found this nifty YouTube tutorial of sewing finished yoke featuring a "jelly-roll" maneuver. Again, this is where experience will help decide whether to follow direction verbatim or go with easier technique.

Sewing the collar to the perfect rounded shape was quite a challenge. I'm sure with practice I can perfect this... or maybe with just a change of a fresh, sharp needle.

The shirt features fully-seamed yoke, shirt tail and Mandarin collar, draper enough for a man.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the project. It took me almost a month to complete this from start-to-finish, but I really like the challenge and the patterns are just super cute for a little boy. The shirt is made from a quilting-weight cotton for that extra crisp look. The pants are from medium-weight cotton chino. These fabrics were found in my own stash.

I hope your Summer has been great! Blogging will continue to be quite slow until I've got a regularly scheduled child care (i.e. the Tod is back in school!).


Summer Songs

Every summer inevitably discussions of "the" summer song arise. I can think of a few seasonal/trendy ones, like Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl," or ones I'd like to forget, like Nelly's "Hot in Here." Or ones from High School, like like Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love" from the "Pretty Woman" era.

My earliest memories of music were oddly those of ABBA and The Beatles. Oh yeah, I was belting out, "Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight" when I was five not knowing what it all means, to the delight of everyone in my family (ah, a budding superstar!), but those songs are memories of endless hours in the beach or swimming pool, sands in between my toes and swimsuit, getting the skin crispy tan, and chasing them all with a tall glass of cold drink (sans-alcohol, obvi).

Then there were endless bossa nova and samba from the likes of Astrud Gilberto and Jobim. The bossa nova is my gateway music-drug to some of the modern artists like Diana Krall. Oddly enough, I listened to Diana Krall when I was in Paris, and when I came back to the U.S., I craved that melancholy French-Gypsy-"Hot Club de France" that actually was rarely played in any Parisian cafes.

Lately, my summer music is whatever the Tod likes to hear -- we listen to all genre of music from many different countries: classical, popular, jazz, African folk/storytelling, hymns, etc. This week, we are talking about fireworks and Tanabata festival comes to mind. I'm hoping that he'll go to create his own list of summer songs someday -- and maybe some of my favorite songs will be his, too.

What is your summer song?



Sunscreen Primer

Sunscreen is my pet topic. So much have been written about sunscreen, so many experts, so many articles, it's hard not to get too technical, even for my taste. However, when I think of sunscreen, I try to distill it to things that matters.

The Four Sunscreen Commandments

  1. Use it.
    If you don't use it, you won't get protection. Duh! That means using it daily, even though it is cloudy or you are just driving and getting in-out of indoor places (more about this later). I think formulating sunscreen must be a feat of cosmetic formulation --  a balance between fulfilling all regulatory requirements while making sure the product has elegant feel and finish to it. Choose a texture and formulation that you like that you will want to use it daily.
  2. Use enough of it.
    All sunscreen measurement of protection is based on the amount applied per area of the skin (it is 2mg/cm2 to be exact). Using enough mean a full shot-glass for the whole body, which comes down to a teaspoonful (5 milliliter) for the face and neck. Go ahead and measure it! A teaspoonful is quite a lot to spread over your face and neck. If you use less, you won't get the stated-protection, you may not even get any protection.
  3. Reapply.
    All sunscreens degrade. If you don't reapply, you won't get enough protection. This is especially important on all-chemical sunscreen. Physical block may degrade less than chemical sunscreen but skin's own sweat and sebum can still break through the barrier that the sunscreen provides.
  4. Don't rely on sunscreen alone.
    Especially for those sunscreens marketed in the U.S., the very definition of sunscreen protection per FDA is,".... sunscreen products meeting modern standards for effectiveness may be labeled with new information to help consumers find products that, when used with other sun protection measures, reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, as well as help prevent sunburn."
    If the FDA won't rely on sunscreen alone, I sure won't, either. I use hats and UV-block clothing on regular basis when I'm outdoor. This also means, to avoid burns, I stay under the shades whenever possible. Do what you have to do to avoid sun exposure.
Notice there is no mention of sunscreen ratings on my "Four Commandments" -- the reason why we shall explore below.

Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) -- Not another Tom Ford's Eau de Perfume

O.k. I'm thinking about Violet Blonde (or as I may want to say Violent Blond) -- never-mind the lame joke. Which one cause burns? Which one cause aging? Which one cause cancer? Easy.

UV-A = Ageing
UV-B = Burn
UV-C = Can't reach the Earth

All UVR causes cancer, some wavelength more/less to a certain degree.

Of the total UVR to which we are exposed, 95% consist of UVA, only 5% of UVB. UVC basically is scattered in the stratosphere/dispersed in the ozone layer.

Moreover, UVA penetrates through glass (that includes the windshield and side-windows of cars) and clouds. I am a textbook example of that. Most of my adult life, I drive a car almost daily, and most of my sunspots are on the left hand side of my face, down my left shoulder and arms, aka the side of the driver seat, aka the side that I got the most sun exposure. I've got 3-4 biopsy sites on my left-hand side and none of my right-hand side. Coincidence?

Sunscreens in the market, thus far, have done good job in UVB protection. One can even get under the shade to avoid burning, right? UVA, however, is another story. This, and the fact that the majority of UVR is UVA, and that UVA goes through practically everything should make one think that UVA protection should be paramount in any sunscreen formula.


When I think of SPF, I think of UVB (Burn). It is a measure of protection against burn. There are so many definitions out there, but one that helps me is this:

"If I burn within 10 minutes without sunscreen, with an SPF of 15 I can stay as long as 10 minutes times 15 (150 minutes) before I got burned."

SPF is quite an arbitrary measure of burn protection, because each person burns in a different rate. Papalorp actually rarely burns, he just tan. The Tod also tans straight on his limbs but not on his face and scalp -- he burns on those areas. I practically just burn, never tan (to tan, I need suntan lotion -- more of this below).

It would be ideal to match one's skin tendency to tan with the SPF rating, right? But who wants to check how long one got burned and choose the SPF accordingly? Pas moi.. This is yet another reason why SPF rating can be deceitful: technically for someone like Papalorp, any SPF rating would do -- he can even use SPF 2, but for me, I need choose as high as possible since I got burned easily. How high? Some regulations actually cap the highest SPF rating at 50 (FDA included) as to not give an illusion of impenetrable protection.

A little anecdote that I hope will make sense to you once you understand what SPF means: way back when, sunscreens are not really called sun-screen. They are called sun-tan lotion. Why? Because with SPF 2-4, you can sit in the sun as long as you can, achieving the glowing tan while skipping the burn. Tan, as we learn, is part of persistent pigment darkening, the product of UVA. Devilish, eh?

Ahh.. the scent of summer. Image from bananboat.com

SPF is not a measure of duration of sunscreen's protection. A product with SPF 15 does not last longer than a product with SPF 50; both products should be reapplied every 2 hours -- commandment no. 3. On the above example of staying in the sun for 150 minutes? Well, that rating will only hold if I reapply every 2 hours (120 minutes), so, if I only apply once, I can be sure I'll get burned.

Finally, SPF is measured in-vitro, with in-vivo as control/comparison. They measure this by shining artificial light (with calibrated wavelength and so on) through the tested product, and see how much light can go through the layer of sunscreen (remember the 2 mg/cm2, commandment no. 2). Why does this matter? Because sometimes in-vitro measurement is not a good representation of in-vivo, actual-human-usage of sunscreen.

PPD and PA

Both PPD and PA are a measure of protection against UVA. In short, a rating of PPD 5 allows five times increased of UVA exposure before a persistent pigment darkening occur compared to unprotected skin. Again, what does this mean? Whose unprotected skin?

Another problem: none of these tests and values are internationally standardized. PPD testing, for example, uses human volunteers (in-vivo), but recently European Cosmetic Industry Association (COLIPA) has adopted an in-vitro equivalent of PPD testing. So confusing.

Even more confusing, most European sunscreens, which are subject to PPD testing, do not actually specify the PPD rating on the bottle, unlike the easily-spotted SPF value. The bottle of La Roche Posay Anthelios only mentioned "SPF 50+, UVB + UVA."

Then, there's the PA rating. PA rating is only used in Japan. The majority of web sources I found translates PA rating as direct interpretation of PPD rating. For example, PA+ = PPD 2-4, PA++ = PPD 4-8, and so on.

How to interpret sunscreen ratings?

Granted, sunscreen rating, SPF or PPD or PA, are not perfect, but all of them are intended for consumers to make a better, informed decision about the product. I pay attention to them and I rely on the product's website for this information (e.g. La Roche Posay's website is quite helpful with this. They also state the full ingredient list on each one of their products). Japanese sunscreens are more "consumer friendly" with the PA rating printed on the bottle.

Without getting too technical, the equation that describes the SPF protection (transmission of UVB = 1/SPF) has an asymptote at around SPF 30, which means, a protection of SPF 30 and SPF above 30 is practically indistinguishable. For this reason, I always choose my sunscreen to be at least SPF 30 or above (above most commonly comes as SPF 50). I definitely would not hesitate using an SPF rating of 30 on my son (most environmentally-friendly, kid-friendly sunscreen rarely goes above 30 anyway).

Finally, let's talk about the term "Broad Spectrum" used in sunscreens in the U.S. market. You can read the original FDA press release here. "Broad Spectrum" is FDA's catch-all phrase to certify that a certain product has "..pass(ed) the FDA’s test for protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays." In addition to the term "Broad Spectrum," a manufacturer can state a claim that the product, "... reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, when used as directed," if the product is of SPF 15 and above. Example, a sunscreen with SPF 4 can carry the term "Broad Spectrum" so long as the manufacturer pass this FDA-required test, but it cannot carry the "reduce the risk of skin cancer..." claim.

The take home message is choose the sunscreen that is labeled "Broad Spectrum" with at least SPF 30. If there is a PPD or PA rating stated, I prioritize on choosing the highest PPD/PA rating, without sacrificing the Suncreen Commandments.

Are sunscreen ingredients and formulation safe?

Being a mom, I tend to be more careful lately with product safety. There actually has been a call to reexamine the safety of sunscreen, especially on skins of elderly, children, people with some skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or other type that makes the skin more susceptible to increased sunscreen topical absorption. Nothing has been decided yet -- at least from what I read so far. Again, commandment no 1 is the key: in my case, it takes numerous trial-and-error to find a good sunscreen that I equally feel good using.

Another impact of sunscreen is to the ecosystem, particularly on body of water that drains to the sea (like the lakes that are here in Seattle). Again, I am extra careful on researching that the sunscreens we use while we are playing in the open water is also environmentally friendly.

Will frequent use of sunscreen cause vitamin D deficiency?

UVB is the UV spectrum that initiates the first step of vitamin D conversion in the skin. Subsequent transformation happen in kidney and liver. Remember that of the total UVR, UVB only comprises 5% of it.

There are theories in regards to the duration of UVB exposure needed to supply the body with vitamin D's daily value, the optimal wavelength of UVB, the latitude/area on Earth that receives optimal wavelength of UVB, seasonal variation of UVB wavelength received on particular place on Earth, etc. Sufficed to say, under this condition, frequent sunscreen use will not result in vitamin D deficiency. I mean, just think about it, there are so many factors involved than just the ones mentioned above -- sunscreen reapplication (how many of us remember to re-apply?), the percentage of skin surface actually covered with sunscreen, etc.

The British Journal of Dermatology. 2009;161(4):732-736. 

Which sunscreen to use and when?

I rarely stray from my regular skin care but when it comes to sunscreen, it's good to have a few sunscreen on rotation and it's good to experiment. Even the most low-tech sunscreen can fill a niche. Finding sunscreen has mostly been a trial-and-error process for me, but no sunscreen is wasted at the Land: we use those which does not work on our bodies.

  • Under Makeup
    I trust most Japanese sunscreens with their elegant, high-tech formulation to perform very well under makeup and give adequate protection. There are many variations, including those which contain ingredients to prevent sebum breakthrough. My favorite so far is Hada Labo (the slim tube, not the squeeze tube which contains alcohol), and Sunplay. Other sunscreens that perform well under makeup are EltaMD and Bobbi Brown Protective Face SPF 50. Another promising candidate is LRP Pigmentclar UV SPF 30 (only tried samples, yet to purchase a full-size). It has nice hydrating ingredients, niacinamide and broad spectrum SPF 30 chemical screens.
  • Extended Outdoor Use (such as a picnic day at the park, or summer days with the Tod)
    On my face and body, I normally use La Roche Posay due to its high PPD rating (see the gigantic tube of Anthelios XL). Commandment no 4: I always seek shades anyway but there is no reliable filtering UVA. I even put LRP sunscreen on my face for re-application.
  • Water Sport (our-kind of water sport consists of wadding pool, lake, and beach)
    Nothing is more tenacious than the low-tech Badger Sunscreen. It is quite badass; so white, so tenacious, it takes either Clinique Balm Cleanser or a bit of coconut oil on the Tod to remove. It protects well and I feel good using it since it is biodegradable and friendly to the water ecosystem. 
  • For the Tod
    Goddess Garden, hands down, has a great, non-sticky yet spreadable texture that is nicely scented with lavender. I slather this sunscreen regularly on the Tod and he does not mind a bit. This one is also biodegradable.
  • Lips
    Don't forget the lips! My stapple is Shiseido Water-In-Lip UV Care SPF 18. I found the formula very emollient but not greasy, without any detectable sunscreen taste (in fact, it taste like cool menthol). Jack Black would do in a pinch, but the Shiseido is notches above any lip sunscreen I've came across. I do not use anything that contain oxybenzone for the lips, and that includes balms by Bite Beauty and Fresh.

Physical v.s. chemical screen, nano v.s. non-nano, critical wavelength, sunscreen stability, etc. etc. are topics that are beyond the scope of this measly blog post. I don't claim to be an expert, but I use, read, buy, and experiment with sunscreen enough that I hope this has been helpful. Please leave a comment with your opinion on sunscreen, your favorite sunscreen for you or your children, or even sunscreen for lips!


Living Below Our Means: Use What You Have

I have lots of ideas brimming and swimming in my head about the way we have been living lately. If you remember at the beginning of the year, I jumped in and started the year with decluttering my wardrobe. It inevitably spread into other things in my home: my son's clothing, my books, my digital documents. When it comes to toiletries and makeup, I got stuck.

Here's how my medicine cabinet looked like at the beginning of the year.

Is this a poster child of minimalism or what? I am paralyzed, absolutely paralyzed. Then I mulled things over again and again, and something becomes clearer to me: these purchases were loved when I got it. I mean, let's face it, who does not get a kick out of purchasing that new lipstick or new skincare from Sephora? And every single one of these items serve a purpose, downright to that 70% rubbing alcohol in the gigantic bottle. 

So, I have decided to use what I have. 

Most of using-up project has self-imposed rules: only buying staples are allowed, X number of new items per months are ok, etc. etc. but who am I kidding? I am, after all, a recovering makeup and skin care junky. I thought this time, just to humor myself, I'll see how far I can "survive" with only using the ones what I have without buying anymore items, not even staples, sales, whatever! Just use it up, period. No excuses. 

Then I thought about blogging this journey, you know, sort of when you are on diet, you'd tell everyone you know so you won't be tempted and be accountable and such. But then, I've always been an introvert; my motivation would often stem from the inside, not outside rewards. I decided that I will only blog about this if I have learned something worthy of sharing, and this lead me to the following:

  • I don't die without my staple products.
    I've rarely strayed from my skin care routine, which consists of acid toner/exfoliant, serum (vitamin C + antioxidant), retin A, and a good sunscreen. Masks, sprays, toners, creams, eye creams are all extras. Most of my skin care products are either from Paula's Choice or Skinceuticals. They are the ones to run out first, yet I still found things in my cabinet that can serve the purpose of these cant-live-withouts.
    More over, my skin looks and feels the same. There are several reasons why this is true. I rarely purchase products that does not agree with my skin to begin with, and if I feel like "experimenting" with my skin care, I usually get samples first (thanks Sephora and Nordie!). Now that I ran out my PC's BHA, for example, I fall back on PC's AHA. When I ran out of the serums, I use Sunday Riley Juno. I learn that the products I deemed as staples only pretend to be necessary. Look, I'm still alive!

  • Using up what I have made me appreciate the value of each item.
    Cliche but true. This is something I have to experience in order to understand. Not having anything else to use makes me appreciate every drop of the things that I do have. Sort of like, if you are a coffee drinker and almost ran out of coffee, but can't buy some until payday, you will start nursing and using up your coffee to last you until you can purchase it again.
    This is also the more reason that when I do have the means to spend for an item, I would rather spend it in something of high-quality and well-thought, just to be absolutely sure that I will use this product and continue using it.
    On the flip side, having too much things too easily will "cheapen" the value of each item. I just thought of the items I donated/got rid of quickly: they were either bought thoughtlessly or in the manner that was easily obtainable to me (price-wise, availability-wise, etc.). The value of an item has nothing to do with its price. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for affordable, low-priced items (in fact, most of my much-loved makeup brush collections are super affordable from Sonia Kashuk). Buying thoughtlessly is the point. Ditto with buying obsessively -- obsession is never a good thing when buying because buying based on such fleeing feelings is well.. fleeting. Obsessions come and go, and what's left after that is nothing but guilt, and regret, and the cycle begins again.
    Using up what I have actually is a joy and an exercise in appreciation.

  • Using things up liberates me.
    A common theme that comes after true appreciation is freedom. I realize that there are very few things I truly need to take care of myself. Sometimes basic things are more than sufficient. Moreover, I know in my mind that I do not tie up my time, energy (mental or physical), and money to any particular item. There is something very liberating in this realization. I started to see that these "things" are things which help me to get from point A to point B in life, whatever that may be, and without them, I will still get from A to B.
    Freedom is also knowing that I am ok not having a certain things (see the last point below).

  • Using things up does not deprive me.
    On contrary, I feel more "satisfied" using things I already have, similar to the above-point that I mentioned. I think a sense of deprivation is just my fear speaking: will my skin be full of zits or worse, fall to the ground? will I be bored using the same things over and over again? will I feel "empty" inside? what will happen if my obsession really cease at some point? who am I without all these products??
    And when I see this clearly in my own pattern of consumption, I see it more clearly in the external forces that govern patterns of consumptions: ads, subtle commercial blog posts, YouTubes, TV, etc. They do, like they said, prey on that sense of vulnerability and fear.

With all that song and dance, here's how my medicine cabinet looks like now (aka six months later):

Aren't you glad to see it is not even half-empty? What do you expect? I have lots of things to use up! But, there is another unexpected side-effect of this experiment: I have not thrown or donated a single product. I probably won't hesitate doing so anyway, but in reality, I've actually keep on using them. After all, this is not a "project purge," this is all about using what I have, and that means, I will nurse and squeeze every one of those bottles till the last drop if I have to. This medicine cabinet can last me several years if I am really that frugal (which I'm not!). Let's just say I am still a work in progress.

You may know or recognize these ideas intellectually. However, if in reality you are, like I am, paralyzed to declutter, yet equally paralyzed to resist the temptation of spending, I invite you to an experiment similar to mine: just use up what you have for a week, a month, a year, and see where the experiment leads you. No fanfare, no big announcement, if you wish. And when you do, I invite you to share your experience with me. 



Summer is typically a slow blogging season for me, simply because I have less free, alone-time, and I prefer to spend my time with the Tod who is usually on Summer break. Do follow us on our adventure, though, on Instagram and Twitter -- I'll try my best to remember to share as well.

For now, here's what's happening lately at the Land.

Nothing's better than a pot of freshly made yogurt and homemade strawberry compote.

I am obsessed with yogurt. Yep, obsessed. It all started when I found the yogurt which reminds me of the one my uncle used to make when I grew up. Then a trip to the local Farmer's Market got me chatting with some of the dairy farmer about making yogurt at home. Finally I took the plunge -- first, I made several batched using the oven with pilot light on. Then, after a few failure, I tweaked the starter, the incubating temperature, even the depth of the pot that I was using.

This brand-new looking yogurt machine was probably a white elephant gift.. someone else's junk is my treasure!

A fateful trip to a Goodwill store sealed the deal: I found an almost brand new, perhaps never used, home yogurt machine for $10. I've been making batches of yogurt ever since. Last week, a small packet from my uncle arrived -- it was the yogurt starter blend that he used!

I still am not satisfied with my yogurt, I have a feeling this will be my summer project. Fortunately, this project is quite inexpensive and consumable by the whole family. In fact, I often found no yogurt left when I need a little snack in the afternoon.

I won't belabored on the process of yogurt making as many excellent resources are available on the web. Sufficed to say, here's a few that has helped me along the way:

  • Be gentle. Respect the culture. Stir the culture (or you can even use already-made, store-bought yogurt as your culture, I did that in the beginning) gently into the milk. 
  • Be patient. The bacteria needs to colonize and it takes time. I even let my yogurt "rest" for an hour or two after incubation period before putting them in the fridge.
  • Slow down. I scorched the milk a couple of times in the beginning, but now, I go slow and tend the milk all the way while it heats up. I even got hypnotized sometimes while stirring it.. zzzz..

A little word about shopping at Goodwill: I am a fan. Why purchase new things when you can purchase used and help people along the way? I've purchased many things from Goodwill, and I've also donated many things there. 'Nuff said..

Daisies that the Tod picked for me from the sidewalk, and the shell that he painted the colors of the sea.

Finally, these past few weeks have been weeks of "goodbyes" for the Tod. I'm not sure how much he realizes, but he finally graduated from the Early Intervention program. If you follow me on Facebook, you would probably have noticed that the Tod was born with a few developmental delays. My heart is brimming with pride of what he has achieved so far and I am thankful for the dedication and love of all his teachers and therapists.

The Tod will go to a typical school next year, a pre-K and we are in for yet another adventure and challenges. Along with graduation are goodbyes to all his friends and the parents I've made friend with for the past 2-3 years. Some of their children are in different situation than the Tod and I will miss their constant inspiration of courage, bravery, extreme commitment and radical love. Raising children with disabilities are not for the faint of hearts -- no words can describe the dedication of these fellow parents day in and day out. They keep my perspective of life and the many blessings I have enjoyed so far.

I am already mourning days I spend with the Tod at home, unscheduled and free. I will cherish this summer with him before he goes to school full-time in the Fall.

Wishing you all a blessed, happy, safe Summer ahead!


Thankful Tuesday

It's not even June yet my May has been super busy: travel, vacation, work, graduation, volunteering, new babies. Hellos and good-byes, milestones, heart swelling with pride and sadness at the same time. Such things are the joy of life, to be able to feel and experience it all.

I tend to think of joy or happiness as "something out there" or "in the future," usually starts with the word "when." When we move to a bigger house, when my house is organized, when I (or PapaLorp) get a promotion, when the Tod naps, when, when, when. Daily practice of gratitude counteract this when mentality, because one can only be thankful of what already is, as in the now. I imagine a world without ability to feel or experience would be incredibly flat and bland. Even sadness and good-byes are there to remind us that we can still feel. To feel is to notice the moment now, and for that I am utterly grateful. Grateful to be in this now with its ups and downs and adventures.

I am especially grateful for the sacrifice of men and women who have defended the freedom in this country. Memorial Day weekend was about all that, too.

How have your May been? Share with us your gratitude for the day!


A Recovering Mother

If you have been following my blog, you are familiar by now of my fondness of my Oma, my maternal grandmother, who is the main mother figure in my life.

However, I hardly talk about my own mother.

My relationship with my mother is your garden-variety mother-daughter relationship: rife with drama and love. My mom was an academic with her own private practice -- one of my memory of her was a throng of graduate students coming to her home office, working on their dissertations under mom's coaching. At a tender age of 35, my mom was (mis)diagnosed with colon cancer, and then later on Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Those led her though series of surgeries, radiations and chemotherapies. We were talking about mid 80s, when cancer treatment were very aggressive, toxic, and not as sophisticated as they are right now. I remember visiting my mom lying in the ICU, tubes and machines hooked form every orifice of her body, my 2-year-old brother screaming, too scared to see her. I went to school the next day, holding back tears, while my teachers (who surely knew what happened) acted like it was another day. That was the last time I saw my mom as she was transferred to another city for her treatment. A year later, she came back as a brand-new, healed person, but a person I hardly knew. I was ten years old.

She was dealing with the aftermath of her chemo and surgery while taking care of her family and rebuilding back her career with declining health. She would often be irate, irrational, impatience. She never showed up at any of my recitals, school events, birthdays. Once she asked me if I was going to perform again in this year's piano recital, I said, "No, maybe I am not good enough to be selected," -- haphazardly, half-testing her reaction. She picked up the phone and ranted for the next half-hour to my piano teacher of why I should be in the recital. She was never home to hear me practicing anyway, but she felt she had to do it, for me. The truth was, there was no recital planned that year. I made my mom humiliated herself. I never went back to the piano lesson.

In the few years before my son was born, my mom's health seems to decline precipitously. She suffered multiple strokes that left her bereft of the mind's agility. When I visited her at her home a few years ago, out of my sister's plea, I sorted out the regimen that she takes: synthetic thyroid and hormone replacement, bisphosphonate, anticoagulants, antiarrhythmics, analgesics, antidepressant, anxiolytics, and a whole host of others. She mistook my young son for my brother, calling him by my brother's name repeatedly in spite of my corrections. That was then, when the story comes full circle for me. She sees herself through my son's eyes and for a split second, I felt a kind of kinship to her unlike any other. This woman, whom I thought I have forgiven for a long time, is more than just any other woman. Her DNA runs in my blood, and she recognizes it as readily in my son, even with her frail mind and body. This seemingly broken and trouble-riddled woman is through which my son and I came alive.

My mom taught me many lessons, about fierce work ethics and determination, about forgiveness, about unconditional love that I found in me because of its absence. She taught me that my-seemingly-imperfect childhood leads to a resilient, compassionate me. Against all odds, when things could have taken a turn for the worse, she succeeded in raising a mother. Imperfection is, indeed, perfection -- perfection I desperately, imperfectly try to imprint on my son.

Once someone said that forgiveness is a conscious selective-memory, and I like the sound of it. A lot. While I will never forget the humiliation, guilt, sadness, and grieve, I can choose to remember the peaceful connection that we have made. Today, my memories of my mother are of those happy times, and more of those happy times to come.


A Mini Hiatus

Dear Friends,
The next few weeks (or months -- who knows?) will be quite busy ones for us at the Land, thus my posts will be very sporadic. I will try to sneak up on your blogs or other social media places as I am able.

Wishing you all blessings and peace.


Thankful Tuesday

On my way from a dental appointment this morning, I drove by a nearby Little Caesars pizza. In front, there's a moving mascot robot waving the pizza sign. The Tod and I would often guess if the robot is indeed a robot or if there's actually a person inside.

But the Tod wasn't with me when I drove that morning, he was at his preschool. Suddenly, I miss him a lot and thought of the love that I've experienced with him. I thought of the various kinds of love I've experienced in my life: as a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a lover, a wife, and a mother. In fact, I realize at that very moment, my whole life is about love: receiving love, finding love, getting love, giving love. Love in people, in things, in plants and pets I cared for, in my job, in the chores that I do, the quest of finding love in all the right and the wrong thing.

They said that God is love, and that we are love. It is so, so cliche that I'm often cynical by the very notion of it -- sometimes, my whole day is not at all about love, love is the last thing in my mind. But love drives me so far in my life, whatever I do is out of love, out of seeking for love, or giving love, or finding love.

I am grateful for that glimpse of reminder once again -- for all the love I receive and give, and all the love that moves through me. Today, I invite you to take a notice throughout your day when you can feel love, or in the state of love -- it does not matter from where, what, or what kind. Take the time to notice that and give thanks. May the love you find today will be multiplied.

Share your love today, what do you give thanks for?


Addicted to Blush!

Totally, shamelessly... remember this from a while back? Yep, that's me. Still, when Monika from Rocaille Writes tagged me, I felt rather privileged and honored, I mean someone would actually listen to me yaks and yaks about blush?!?? Besides, I much rather talk and write about subjects I like than something dry like.. sunscreen (I have a post that has been brewing for months, ugh).

O.k. so blush, eh? I think the first makeup item I owned was an Elizabeth Arden lipstick from my Oma that I used mostly as blush and not as lipstick. Oma would use whatever lipstick she has on as a blush as well, that's how I learned about the pinched-cheeks look sans the pinching pain. But makeup was strictly a weekend thing, a visit-to-Oma's house thing. I went to an all-girl Catholic school from kindergarten all the way to high school and back then, the nuns were super serious about their business, namely absolutely no makeup in school, forever and ever!! But yes, I did wear a blush and a smidge of lipstick for my First Communion, thanks to Oma. The rest is history..

1. What color blush suits you the most?

I have three that are most used up: Stila Convertible Color in Lilium (old version) and Canmake Cream no 11 are pictured above. The third one is Becca Beach Tint in Guava, which is now rendered an ugly, half-cut-up tube in a zip-lock baggie that is almost completely used up. They are in the family of pinks but Lilium is a bit peachier, duskier, Canmake is cooler, leaning baby pink, and Becca is probably in between with the clearest tone among the three. 

In general, something of a light pink would suit my complexion best, something clear without much brown in it (albeit the photograph above). I think I can take colors leaning slightly warm/peachy-pink and slightly cool/baby-pink just fine, and I do like to tailor my blush to different eye look as well.

2. Pressed, cream, or loose blush?

I have it in my mind to convert my whole blush collection into creams, but alas, I think there is a virtue in any blush textures so I really can't pick just one. O.k., maybe I'm leaning more towards creams. Speaking of loose blush, I just can't get over how cute a blush packaging is sometimes. These two loose blushes from "vintage" Ettusais are all used up but I still keep them because they are sooo cute!

3. Favorite shimmery blush?

I tend to shy away from shimmery blush but I think these exemplifie shimmer done to perfection. Chanel just does the best shimmery blush, hands down. Charlotte Tilbury comes second to my mind, and by Terry Blush Cellularose Blush Glacé is, like I said many times before, good skin in a pot. They are all glowy, rather than shimmery.

4. Favorite matte blush?

Ugh, they are so dusty! All these pictures were taken in a hurry, as always.

For mattes, I tend to reach a lot for Burberry. I used to own a sizeable NYX blush collection before Burberrys -- don't get me wrong, I'm not at all a high-end snob, but I've owned those NYXs since forever that when Burberry came along, I thought it was time to overhaul my blush. Chanels also make some superb semi-matte/satin finish blushes (Rose Initale, Orchid Rose, Rose Ecrin to name a few).

Speaking of another good mattes, these are from Bourjois. I have had these for years and they are still every bit as lovely.

5. Favorite cream blush?

Oh my... I have lots. My definition of a good cream blush:
  • Has enough slip to be spread around
  • Is not too wet as to lift the foundation beneath it, or worse, to ball up with the foundation
  • Stays put for a while and not migrating around or sinking into pores
  • Has a glowy, dewy finish (because if I want matte, I'd go with powder)
Stila Convertible Color (the old formula -- I haven't tried the new Stila CC, yet, mine are all at least 5-10 years old, don't try this at home, kids!) ticks every single box, followed by Becca Beach Tint. Others that I have, such as Bobbi Brown Pot Rouge, Canmake, Aerin are also decent but they differ in blendability (Bobbi is on the waxy side, Canmake is on the powdery side, etc.). Le Metier de Beaute makes Creme Fresh blush which is a true cream. Although nice and dewy in finish, I found them to be slightly sinking into the pores, especially at the end of the day.

One formula that I don't like is cream-to-powder blush. Cream-to-powder blush is quite a conundrum to me: it does not synergized with my base as I have to rub it of somehow (instead of just patting it on) and it is not quite a powder as application with brush will also scratch the surface of the painstakingly-applied base. I found this kind of blush to be loaded with film-former, acrylics, and silicons that tends to just rub off the foundation that I wear underneath. Examples of these are the ones from Armani and Chanel (sad, because their colors are gorgeous). Mind you, I tend to wear quite moisturizing/emollient base makeup, thus I found oil-and-wax based, gel-based, or anything in softer texture to be better -- anything that can be just patted on and blended with minimal rubbing.

Finally, one non-blush items that doubles for very good cream blushes are Burberry Lip Glows (old formula). They truly have a nice, dewy/glowy finish and colors that flatter the skin!!

6. Favorite drugstore blush?

Definitely NYX. If I lost all my blush as it is right now, I can build quite a nice collection with just NYXs. 

Maybelline used to make liquid blush that rival Becca in terms of the refined shimmer, it has long gone been discontinued. Revlon Photoready also have great cream selection, like above. The texture is a bit on the harder-waxy side, but the colors are vibrant, transparent, and it stays put a looong time.

7. Favorite high end blush?

I really, really love Chanel Joues Contraste -- they are my unsung heros. If I ever got stranded somewhere and only have one shot to buy one blush from a department store, that would be from Chanel. Hmm... I just have an idea of doing various MOTW with all my Chanel JCs much like the Chanel Quad Series.

8. Favorite bright blush?

For bright blush, I much prefer cream, liquid (tint), or gel formula. Becca Beach Tint and Josie Maran Cheek Gelée are super blendable and transparent, suitable for many skin tone and oh, so easy to use. The middle one from RMK is another good option for powder. 

With that said, I never like Benefit Benetint that much. I don't know why, perhaps because, again, my base makeup is quite emollient and water does not really meld well with oil. The addition of silicone or a thicker-gel texture like the JM helps the blush adhere to the moist base.

9. Biggest blush disappointment?

I feel I've tried so many blushes in my life, I'm trying to think of brands whose blushes I have never owned. Just because they are not featured here, it does not mean I have not tried them in the past, e.g. I used to own a few MAC, Clinique, Laura Mercier, Paul & Joe, Shiseido, NYX, Maybelline, Revlon powder, etc. I mentioned above about Benefit Benetint. I also don't get NARS blushes, which are supposedly the star product of the line. I owned Orgasm/Laguna duo that I kept "just in case," well that just-in-case never came, so I happily gave that up and never missed it. 

Another blush line that I don't "get" is from Tom Ford, and not for a lack of trying. Somehow they are either too much or just so-so, or maybe my expectation is unreasonably high? Yet other disappointments are blush from Chantecaille, Hourglass and Jouer.

10. Best blush packaging?

I'm with Monika, I like compact blushes. RMK above is about perfect, so is other packaging that does not have a slot for the obligatory-but-useless brush.

11. Blush wishlist

With so many blush that I currently own, I have very little on my wishlist. I mean, there are always new brands & new things that I want to try, such as from Suqqu, Surratt, Charlotte Tilbury, new Clinique, new Armani, even new Bobbi Brown. I may purchase them when I either use up a blush or feel the need to revamp my collection, but for now, I am happy with what I have.

12. Number 1 Holy Grail blush

Whaaaatttt??? That's like picking favorites among your children, no good mom will ever commit such crime!! O.k... if I have to pick one.. just one? That would probably be Stila Lilium -- I look fifteen again when I wear this.

Thanks, Monika, for the fun tag! Now, I tag Gummy from Gummy Vision for the #blushfiends.