10.12.2016

Japanese Sunscreens that Doubles as Makeup Primer for Wedding (Flash) Photography



All links are non-affiliate, they are provided for your convenience.

During this past Summer, I traveled to Asia to attend a few special functions: a day-time wedding in a resort and an unrelated formal banquet in an air-conditioned restaurant. Each time I travel to Asia, I am reminded of how unsuitable my current Western skin care is under the sweltering heat and humidity. To add to the complexity, I needed to look decent under flash photography.

I picked up these Japanese sunscreens before I left (they are all readily available from Amazon.com) to try and see how compatible they are under makeup. I read a few blogs here and there and found that, for example, the Biore one is almost a "dupe" for Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer that has been hailed as the best primer for photography/weddings.

Note all these sunscreens contain alcohol. Combined with film former, alcohol (mostly ethyl alcohol) simply help disperse the chemical sunscreens (and other ingredients) on the skin. As the sunscreen is applied, the film former creates a net over the skin and alcohol evaporates, which can leave the skin feeling dry. I do have dry skin, but I found this not to be an issue when worn in such humid climate, and with the addition of moisturizer underneath. YMMV, but when put under makeup, you'll have enough emollients pilled on the skin that the effect should be minimum.

Finally, for consistency, I applied a full teaspoon (5 mL) of sunscreen on each test. I am a preacher of wearing enough sunscreen: no matter how good is the sunscreen if you don't wear enough of it, you won't get a full protection. Five mL of sunscreen is quite a lot of sunscreen to pile on the face, so I made up the rule of "5-peas" : apply a pea-sized amount of sunscreen (approx 1 mL each) onto each areas: left cheek, right cheek, forehead, nose and chin, and neck. Rub them until all is gone. Easy, peasy!

Shiseido SENKA Mineral Water UV Essence Aging Care, SPF 50+, PA++++
Shiseido SENKA line has a few sunscreen offering, they all have different textures. The one I tried was the "Aging Care" one in the orange squeeze-tube above. The creamy-gel texture squeezes out as cream but melts like water when applied. It contains 100% chemical screens, unscented and a joy to use. It dries to slightly tacky, silicony-smooth finish. The tacky finish helped my foundation glides but I found that it perform somewhat mediocre as primer as I did notice breaking of coverage on fine-lines, around the nose and forehead areas. As it is a 100% chemical screen, I did not get any flashback on photography. I thought it was a decent sunscreen for everyday use, but it may not hold as makeup primer under very humid/very hot weather.

Biore UV-Perfect Face Milk, SPF, 50+ PA++++ (new formulation)
I had high hopes for this one: it is marketed as sebum and sweat resistant, and a makeup primer. I can tell you that it did deliver! In fact, it was the sunscreen that I brought and used to the events. This sunscreen contains physical block of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, along with other chemical screens. I can tell you right away that I did not get any flashback on photography, despite of the physical screens, but it does go on somewhat white initially.
It has the consistency of liquid silicone -- be sure to shake vigorously before use. Application can be a bit messy, since it is very fluid, and can be hard to apply a full 5 mL on face and neck without the greasy-silicone feeling. I waited a good 5-10 minutes before layering foundation on top. I did not experience any balling-up of foundation despite of the high amount of silicone in this sunscreen (I tested application with brush, fingers, and sponge), but I think it's safe, when wearing any sunscreen, to wait the sunscreen is set and dried well on the skin before applying makeup.
It performed beautifully: on the sweltering outdoor wedding (it was not as hot but the humidity was probably close to 100%), my foundation looked perfect with minimal powdering, and it didn't break as much around the nose and fine lines. For the indoor dinner, it kept my makeup pristine all night long. An overall winner, I highly recommend this for sunscreen as makeup primer.

Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel Super SPF50 PA+++
Among the three, I thought this Nivea sunscreen would perform best as makeup primer. It uses 100% chemical screen, marketed as a makeup base that is suitable for face and body.
It has the consistency of creamy gel, but more of a gel than a cream (not as creamy as the Shiseido one). It spreads nicely and dries beautifully to an even, smooth finish that I found drying. So drying, in fact, that I felt my skin taut even with the lotion and foundations I layered. As makeup primer, it does a great job preserving the longevity of my foundation. I found this as a great option for those with oily skins. Like all of the chemical sunscreen, I did not notice any flashback in photography.

Finally, here is a list of foundations that I tested with these sunscreens, and my brief thoughts on them. They are not my everyday foundations: they are long-wearing and contains no SPF (for photography):

  • Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
    This foundation is supposedly a holy-grail for red carpet and such. It applied incredibly smoothly over all of the sunscreens I tested but but it broke around skin folds after a few hours. I was quite surprised by this as I have dry skin, but I figure, if the foundation broke during low-humidity Seattle summer weather, it probably wouldn't hold up in a sweltering Asian summer. It has a lovely satin finish with medium coverage (I did need to top-up coverage with concealer around the cheeks). I would use this for shorter, maybe indoor events, but the foundation I planed to bring on my trip has to perform well both indoor and outdoor.
  • Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24 H (non-cushion version)
    This was my foundation of choice. It comes in a huge array of skin tone so you'll more likely to find your perfect match than the GA. It definitely lasted until the end of the outdoor wedding (a good 4-5 hours under intense humidity), and the indoor dinner. It leaves a satin finish that is not too matte, medium-heavy build-able coverage. I've forgotten how good Lancome foundation can be, do give this a try!
  • Too Faced Born This Way Foundation
    I would not have picked up this foundation had it not for the event: I have dry skin and this foundation is catered to oily skins. It has the most coverage of the foundations that I tested, so much so that I thought it went on quite chalky. I didn't find the finish to be radiant at all, but it stayed on quite well under the sunscreens I tested. The lack of color option steered me to another brands.
  • Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
    BB Foundation sticks is the go-to foundation for weddings. It has high coverage and no SPF, so high, in fact, that I can buff a bit over areas I need more coverage instead of using concealer. Win-win? Although I love the versatility of it, on close-up view BB stick foundation tends to accentuate my fine-lines and pores. Granted, nobody will take a close-up picture of me during someone else's wedding, but still. Even with powder on top, it creased ever so slightly around my mouth and forehead, or wherever I have fine lines. 
Edited to add: honorable mention to Estee Lauder Double Wear foundation (the original, full-coverage formula). This foundation clung on all of the above-mentioned sunscreens like there's no tomorrow but I found no suitable color match for my skin (as many of EL foundations), so I fell back on the Teinte Idole.


9.30.2016

DIY Natural Deodorant without Baking Soda

Freshly-concocted deodorant cooling in ex-Aesop jar. The carrot is the Tod's experiment.

I have been using natural deodorant for some time now, and I am a convert! As an added bonus, I can tell that I am less stinky than when I used anti-perspirant! Why? I really don't know, but maybe it is true that our body tends to regulate itself and the normal bacteria in my body got "flushed" out by the natural sweat... Totally my own conjecture, no scientific backing whatsoever.

Baking soda, which is a very common ingredient for natural deodorant, gives me burning 'pits (I'm talking to you Lush!). So, in the past, I've avoided them and to be frank, besides Tom's of Maine and LaVanilla, the choices are quite limited. Plus, my experiment with zero-waste household has pushed me toward making many of skincare products of my own. This recipe is the least greasy, least irritating, and easiest recipe I came up with. There are tweaks and suggestions below so you can make it to your own.



For a 2 oz (ex-Aesop) jar that usually lasts me a few months, you'll need:
  • 30 grams of solid-at-room-temperature butter/oils.
    I use a combination of coconut and shea butter. Coconut tends to be on the greasy side, but nicely absorbed, shea butter feels less greasy on, but lingers a while. You can also use cocoa butter, avocado butter, mango butter, or even stearic acid (which is the least greasy-feeling but has zero glide). Experiment with what you like/dislike or with whatever is available at your grocery store.
  • 5 grams beeswax.
    Beeswax is added for extra stiffness, you can certainly omit this and up your butter another 5 grams. 
  • 15 grams corn starch or arrowroot powder.
  • 15 grams diatomaceous earth, food grade.
    What is this and where the heck can I find it? DE and starch will help absorbed some of the sweat and stink (google DE and you'll find loads of info). DE is readily available at any pet store or grocery's pet section.
  • 10 drops of vitamin E.
    Be sure to get liquid vitamin E, which is readily available at grocery's vitamin/supplement section. You can use capsules of vitamin E supplements if you want. The amount does not matter that much. Vitamin E will prevent the butter/oils from turning rancid.
  • 20 drops of essential oil of choice.
Set aside EO. Dump the rest of the ingredients into a small ceramic/pyrex ramekin (the one used for making creme brulee works well). Mix gently over simmering water until all the butter melts and powder thoroughly combined. Pour into container of choice, mix in the EO, and cool.

Smear a small pinch on each armpits and enjoy your good-smelling self! Let me know if you try this recipe and how it works out for you.

7.05.2016

Gâteau Basque



It goes without saying that having children takes a lot of sacrifice. One of them is financial. In our household, we loose one income to feed an extra mouth -- which I happily do, but still, the numbers do not lie. Finances do add up, and we could no longer spend any money buying pastries without some kind of planning, the way I usually would in a whim, without second thought, when we used to be DINKs.

That's what happened when I came across a glorious slice of Gâteau Basque at a beautiful place called The London Plane during an outing with the Tod. At $5.50 a piece, it was eye-wateringly expensive, at least for us. But that's when the adventure took a turn for the better.

I read up all I could about Gâteau Basque: how it is a cake, a pie, and a cookie rolled in one, how the pattern on the top crust gives a hint to the filling inside, where there is a museum dedicated entirely to Gâteau Basque. I even read about the whole history of the Basque region, the nationalism, the language, the people. After much reading, I came out feeling somewhat smarter than shelling out the $5.50.

Far from the smug-sounding name, making Gâteau Basque is really quite easy and fool-proof. All one need is two components: the crust (which is a version of pâte sablée) and the filling (which can be frangipane/almond pastry cream, plain pastry cream, black cherry jam, or combination of the above).

I happened to have a handful of overripe black cherries at home (about 2 cups), which I turned into jam by adding sugar (about 80% of weight) and the juice of one lemon. I pitted the cherries using the chopstick method and cooked until the jam reduces down to about half. Easy peasy. Next, I prepared the pastry cream, perhaps the most complicated component of the gâteau. If one fancies frangipane, all one needs to do is to add ground almond. Finally, the crust was the easiest. I didn't even have to use the mixer. I simply beat the butter and sugar by hand, added the rest of the ingredients, and rolled it into disks. The next day, I assembled all the components (the top crust actually broke apart, but in the picture you really can't tell, because the dough was so soft and easy to pinch together).

So forgiving, so humble, so satisfyingly delicious. I hope you will give this a try!

Gâteau Basque 

(recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan, who seems to know everything there is to know about this cake)

Equipment:
1 8-inch round cake pan with 2-inch side, buttered generously (I made this using a springform pan, but if you have regular pan, line it with parchment and butter it generously).

Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter, light brown sugar and sugar until pale and fluffy, a good 5 minutes or so, by hand or with mixer. Add egg and beat some more. It will look quite lumpy but that's ok.
Add the sifted flour mixture into the butter mixture, drizzle in the vanilla. I found using wooden spoon is the best at this point. Mix just enough until a soft, cookie-like dough forms.
Divide the dough in half. Roll each into slightly larger than 8-inch disk in diameter, in between two sheets of parchment papers (or cling wrap). Chill the dough at least 3 hours or overnight. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead).

Pastry Cream Filling:
(this recipe makes 2 cups, you only need one cup for the cake, save the rest for another cake or better yet, eat them as pudding)

2 cups whole milk
1 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped out
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch, sifted
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Whisk yolk, sugar, and sifted corn starch. Set aside.
Scald the milk over medium-high heat until little bubbles start to form.
Take the pot off the stove. Ladle a bit of the hot milk into the yolk mixture and stir. Add more milk, bit by bit (a process called tempering) until the yolk mixture feels warm to the touch. When that happen, it is safe to add the yolk mixture into the rest of the scalding milk in a thin, steady stream, stirring the milk constantly.
Put the mixture back onto the stove. Switch to a whisk, over medium heat, whisk the mixture until it boils and thickens. It will really thicken to the consistency of pudding. When that happens, I'd back off from stirring for a second and see if there's a puff of steam coming out from the "pudding," which means the whole thing is really boiling.
Take off from heat, and plunk the cold butter onto the hot mixture. Stir quickly until all the butter is melted and incorporated. Cool the pastry cream down completely before using.

Cherry Jam Filling:
(my own rendition, feel free to use store-bought)



2 cups of pitted black cherries or other ripe cherries
1 cup of sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
A splash of almond extract (optional)

Cut cherries in half or quarter, if they are big. Put cherries and lemon juice into a pan and set them into boiling over medium-high heat. When the cherries are wilted and juice starts to come out, add sugar. Continue cooking until the mixture bubbles big bubbles (rather than small, frothy bubbles), and reduced to about 1/2, stirring occasionally. The big bubbles signifies that the mixture has cooked down enough to the gelling point (you can do the frozen-plate testing at this point: drizzle some jam onto frozen plate, and stick into the fridge for a few minutes. Then the jam looks like jello, the jam is done). Pour into container and cool down completely before using.

Assembly:
1 egg beaten with a bit of water, for glazing

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Set crusts aside on the kitchen countertop for a few minutes until it is pliable but still cold.
Put one crust on the bottom of the pan. Make a plate-shape with the dough with the sides about 1 1/2 inches high.



Pile in pastry cream and/or jam, as much as it can fit. I started with pastry cream on the bottom and simply dotted the top with a few chunky cherries from the jam here and there.



Top the cake with another piece of dough, pinch the sides together and make it as nice as you could (I promise, it will look good no matter what). Score the crust or decorate as you wish, and glaze it with egg.



Bake about 40-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cool completely in a rack before attempting to dismount, least the whole thing cracked.
Nurse a slice with a cup of tea or coffee.



5.25.2016

Things that are so easy to make, I wonder why I bother buying them..


I was just chatting with a fellow mom about our children's school lunches and snacks that we ended up bantering about things we make at home. It dawned on me that there are so many things that we have prepared at home lately that we never have bothered buying them at the stores. 

Preparing food from home saves money, eliminates the bad stuff, and is just plain fun (especially if you can get your children involved). See if you agree or can add more to my list (many are posted on my Instagram account):

  • Yogurt.
    Yogurt is one of those food item that can be deceptively unhealthy, especially if you have small children. One pot of yogurt can contain as much sugar as a can of soda (gasp!). But making yogurt at home is super easy. You can even "copy" the type of yogurt you like (mine is the French/European style yogurt that tastes a bit like cheese & raw). Once you have a yogurt maker, it is the real Ron Popeil's set-it-and-forget-it type of food! I just warm up the milk the night before, mix it with a jar of the previous batch, and set it on my machine. Voila, fresh yogurt in the morning.
    But, wait! There is more!! Even if you don't have the equipment, you can still make yogurt using any container you have and use the oven or slow-cooker to make yogurt. Many tutorials for these are available online. Google them up to your heart's content.
  • Granola.
    O.M.G. why do I keep buying this thing when I can make them, a whole bunch of them, for a fraction of the price, and for not much effort at all!! Plus, the little helper in the kitchen is super happy to stir up a big bowl of gooey granola, mixed with honey and oil. Choose your own recipe, and if I may suggest, add a sprinkling of salt to it. Yum!
  • Salad Dressing.
    Ditto all of the above, my go-to recipe is the French-style vinaigrette: 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil, 1 teaspoon or so of mustard. All into a used jam jar with lid tightly screwed, and shake. Want more fancy? Add chopped shallots, ginger, a bit of spices and seasonings, use fancy vinegars or oils. The sky is the limit.
  • Hummus.
    Hummus is the staple snack for the Tod at school. It is ridiculously easy to make, yield a lot when made at home, and tastes so fresh, it beats anything in the grocery store. Our favorite recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi here.

Are there any food items that you make at home regularly that you never have to purchase them made from the store?

4.25.2016

Menstrual Cups (featuring Lena and Sckoon)



I am lucky to never had any traumatic, embarrassing stories from the youth about menstruation, disabling PMS, horrible acne or bloating, carb-craving or binge, etc. I've been using tampons and pads without any cancer or ill-effect. Occasional migraine is my only complaint. However, after the birth of my son, my period suddenly got significantly heavier and longer. My Ob suggested that I use SoftCup (used to be called Instead) and I used it with much success. The downside is, SoftCup is disposable and around that time, I started to explore about waste-less living and came across a whole range of reusable menstrual products (RUMPs).

It's been said that an average woman will generate about 250-300 lbs in menstrual product waste in her lifetime, not to mention other environmental cost of producing these products. Now that I've been using menstrual cup and cloth pads for almost a year, I wish I have known and use them sooner! That is pretty much the sentiment of most women I came across who are using RUMPs.

This post is for you, who are thinking about making that jump to using RUMPs for whatever reason. I will focus on menstrual cup, but if you have any interest in knowing more about other RUMPs, please leave me a comment below. No, they are not gross and not the least bit cumbersome. On contrary, using them are quite empowering and certainly waste-free.

What is it and how it works

Menstrual cup collects menstrual blood and fluid while worn inside the vagina. The cup is first folded and then inserted into the vagina, just like using a tampon. The base of the cup sits clear past the pelvic bone with the rim below the cervix to properly collect the fluid. Once properly inserted, you should not feel the cup. The elastic vaginal wall hugs the cup in place and forms a suction so no blood can leak outside the rim. I found the diagram below (snatched from Reddit with some modification of my own) very useful as a mental tool on where the cup is supposed to sit, especially when I have to trouble-shoot some leaking.

I added the ugly grey ovals as representation of where the pelvic bone should be. Notice the body of the cup sits past the pelvic bone.

In order for the cup to work properly:
  1. The rim should be positioned below the cervix. If the cup's rim is positioned beyond the cervix (as in the wrong diagram above),  the blood dribbles around, and not into the cup. 
  2. The cup should be fully opened properly to collect the fluid (aka no folds on the wall). Popping open a cup is indeed the most important step to ensure that the cup won't leak. 
Keep these two simple ideas in mind -- most leaks and cup problems can be solved by applying these two principles.

If you have never seen one before, reusable cups are mostly made out of silicones. They have similar feel and pliability to the nipples of baby bottles or the silicone muffin cups. Some has smooth surface like baby bottle nipples, or fuzzy-satin surface like the silicone baking cups and the Lena cup, below. They are roughly about the size of a shot glass (approximately 30 ml or 1 fl.oz.).

Cup anatomy


I wish there are more stores out there where women can actually see, touch, feel, and play around with menstrual cups. For the most part, the cups are available for sale online. Even the ones that are readily available in store, such as Diva Cup, are usually sold sealed inside a box.

Usually the cup height is given in terms of measurement from base to rim. Keep in mind, when you research about cup sizes, the differences are minuscule (aka in millimeters) and while it seems like a big difference, it is mostly no big deal once worn/inserted. Also, take cup capacity with a grain of salt: I do found that even when I'm using size 2 (the larger size) I still have to empty my cup every 2-3 hours during my heaviest flow.

The stem is there to aid retrieval. It can be trimmed to fit. Be sure to wear the cup for a few days/cycle before trimming the stem as there is no going back once trimmed. Not all stems are made equal. Some are sturdy tabs like Lena cup above, some are stretchy, rat-tails like Sckoon, which does not help with retrieval (in fact, I have accidentally pulled the stem and it snapped inside me, OUCH!!). Some company like Meluna offered different stem styles which can be helpful.

Lena and Sckoon cups -- cups usually come with cotton pouch to store them in between usage.

Consideration to choose the first cup

  • Know that this is an investment: time, money and skill. It takes time and trial and error to use menstrual cup comfortably. Give it a few cycles before deciding to quit. It took me around three cycles to get the cup to work, and I still have to trouble-shoot every now and then. I didn't mind it, the benefit way outweighs the cost and the hassle.
  • Know your anatomy and your period. Forget about cup sizes based on whether or not you have given birth, etc. and focus on your body. How heavy is your flow? How many days do they last? Do you have low or high cervix? Do you have a touchy bladder? Toned pelvic floor? Learn and find out -- the only shame is the shame of not knowing yourself and your body. Knowing your body is empowerment and freedom. 
  • Familiarized yourself of the different style of cups, but don't get too hang up on it. These companies design the cups with the majority of women in mind, in terms of sizes, shapes, and material. You will never know right away whether the cup is right for you without first investing time and skill to use it (the first bullet point). 
  • Where the cup is made. I have nothing against China -- my better half and thus half of my family came from there, but I do not purchase the generic Made-in-China cups for a variety of reasons. I do, however, chose to support U.S. made cups. Both Lena and Sckoon have excellent customer service, per my experience, and they ship very fast.
Let's apply those ideas to my situation:
I have a high cervix and my flow is heavy for the first two-three days of the cycle, then tapered down toward the end. Despite having a vaginal birth, I do have a good tone on my pelvic floor (I rarely experienced incontinence, for example). With these information and without knowing how it will work on my body, I decided to try out two different cups: ones that are softer (Sckoon) and ones that are firmer (Lena). I ordered each in both sizes to accommodate the variable flow throughout my cycle. While in theory one only need one cup, having several cups on hands turned out to be a good decision.


What to do before first time use:

  • Clean the cup.
    You can either boil them or rinse them. I didn't do much other than washing with regular, unscented hand-soap (I use Dr. Bronner Castile soap for hand wash at home).
  • Check that the air holes/vents are opened and punched out.
    The air holes are there to help open the cup and to displace air when menstrual blood flows into the cup. It is important to keep these holes clean and open.
    I found that the Sckoon cups have little film of silicone covering the air holes that I needed to poke them through (using a clean toothpick or such). And to ensure that holes are open when cleaning, fill cup with water, put the cup face down on the palm and pfft! push out the water out of the holes while holding it tight on the palm. Shake the cup dry, then cover with the palm of the hands and pfft! push cup again to clean out residues. Some suggest cleaning interdental brushes (tiny brush that looks like a short pipe cleaner, available in the pharmacy).
  • Do a dry run.
    Before your period, watch a few videos (resources below) and do a trial run. Try out different folds of the cup and find out which one fits you and your cup. Use water-based lubricants (such as K-Y) to help with insertion. Find out ways to check whether or not the cup is open and stays in the right place.
    While doing a trial run, don't forget to practice retrieving a cup. I found that cup retrieval is more troublesome, at least in the beginning, than insertion. Just imagine that when your actual period started, things can be quite slippery and trying to dig around and grip for the cup can be quite painful. Finding a comfortable way to retrieve the cup is as important as making sure the cup is inserted properly.


Most Helpful hints

Before giving up on the cup or deciding to purchase a different cup all together, I found that with these few hints I was able to make my cup work all the time.

  • Try out different folds that work for your body and your cup. Try facing the fold in different directions while inserting. Softer cups are harder to open, but with a little tweak it can definitely work.
  • When retrieving, bear down (as if you are pushing something out) as you grab the stem and wiggle the cup down to release the contact between the rim and the vaginal wall (some may refer to this "releasing the suction"). Never try to grab and pull the stem to retrieve without breaking the suction first -- it can be downright painful!! 
  • Do not rely on the stem alone to retrieve (stretchy stem can snap, read above). If possible, pinch the cup down by the base to release the rim contact. If that is not possible, hook the base of the cup against the vaginal wall while slowly dragging the cup out.
  • When trouble-shooting a leak, pay attention on how far you insert the cup (see diagram above) and whether the cup is fully open or not. Try out different fold, insert it a different way, or if you have more than one cup, try a different cup. There were days when one cup leaked on me no matter what I do, and the other did not.
  • Water-based lubricant is your friend, especially in the beginning. They key is to get the lubricants on your body and not to get it on the cup (because slippery cup = harder insertion).
  • Doing a few Kegles will position the cup on the right place.
  • Just because the cup can be worn for 12 hours does not mean it should be. I found out during the heaviest part of my flow, I needed to empty the cup every 2-3 hours (Hint: when the cup is almost full to the rim, it feels like something "burping" or air pushing out in the inside and I know I must empty the cup).

Resources

  • Precious Star Pads Youtube Channel is especially helpful for beginners. Briony/Bree is considered one of the leading voice in menstrual cup and RUMPs. She is explaining how to get the cup to open on this video, one of the most useful video in the beginning of my cup-wearing experience. 
  • Dirty Diaper Laundry does a lot of cup comparisons and videos on Youtube as well. She also has a site that is dedicated to menstrual cup here.
  • Amy Nix Holland's Youtube Channel is full of menstrual cup and cloth pads info, for those who are interested.
  • Your cup's brand/maker's website also provide useful information. Lena and Sckoon provided great customer service while I tried to trouble-shoot in the beginning. Take advantage by following them via Twitter/Facebook for sometimes they do giveaways or discounts.
  • Facebook groups Cup Love (a closed group -- you have to send a request and get approval) is very useful for real-time trouble-shooting. They also have a sister FB group of Cup Love B/S/T for buy/sale/trade of new and used menstrual cups.
  • Explore the resources above before you jump into the rabbit hole of Menstrual Cup Life Journal group -- I've only visited here a handful of time when I couldn't find any other solutions anywhere else.
I hope you have found this information useful. Have you used any alternative menstrual products? Feel free to share your experiences below!

3.21.2016

Minimalism with Children: Thoughts



We are a family living in an urban setting and we enjoy living where we are. We shop our share at big-box shops, drive daily to school. We watch cartoons. We love plastics. We own and consume our share of things to make our life possible. No, we don't dream of selling our possessions so we can travel the world.

Let's also be clear that I am not a perfect mom. On occasion, I have been known to: babysit or pacify the Tod with iPad, iPhone, toys, fed him junk food, let him cry-it-out, watch him fall from a place that is much higher than his height, cut his fingernails too short that it bleed, knock him to the ground while swinging the door open, do other horrendous things which resulted in the mommy guilt that keeps me awake at night.

In our household, minimalism is about living mindfully in the world that is not perfect, how we attempt to raise a child while we, ourselves, as parents are still struggling and finding our way to achieve the ideals that we have in mind. Growing up is a lifelong journey. And raising children by imperfect parents actually build resilience and character -- Of course, I am not talking about extreme case of parenting or abusive behavior toward children. Human being is extremely resilient. Just think of yourself and your own upbringing, most would say, "I turned out just fine. I turned out more than just fine because now I am a contributing member of the society despite my parents being x, y, z."

I hope my message to fellow parents come across as real -- life with children is often not-Instagram-able. You are tired, dinner is not made, children are not bathed, melt-downs are the norm at the end of the day. My posts in this series are the low-hanging fruits for anyone who would like to live more mindfully with children. Do small things often, as John Gottman would say.

These are my thoughts about minimalism with children. I am by no means an expert -- resources are included below. (I use the term parents and caregivers interchangeably because I realize some children spend the majority of their time with caregivers who are not necessarily their parents).

  • Minimalism and children are inherently compatible because what children need the most is attention and presence from their parents. The most useful parenting advice I've learned to this day is to place the relationship and connection with my child as the first priority. Everything else will fall into place when I follow this advice.
  • Activities and experiences can clutter true connection with children. Just like things, activities can be used as proxy of parents' attention or lack thereof. After-school activities can be taxing and cluttering to the family's dynamic and schedule. And how many of us are familiar with this picture: we go to the playground and witness caregivers siting on the perimeter, waiting and using their hand-held devices instead of actively making connections with each other? (But playground time is my break time! More about "taking a break" for parents and caregivers, below).
    Choosing activities mindfully is as important as limiting tangible things that clutter children space. I remember as a child craving a true moment of connection; a time when an adult listened to me, or just be there for me without any agenda or advice. 
  • Children are more capable than we think -- it is often not our job to entertain them. Children are, by nature, keen observers and curious experimenters. With limits and boundaries in place, children can and will entertain themselves. For example, when a safe play place is set up, babies can play on their own without much interference, eliminating the need for things to entertain them. I learned this valuable lesson from RIE teaching -- lots of parenting blogs are written with RIE philosophy that parents can ideas on how to accomplish this independent play time in different age range. 
  • Parent's own perceptions and attitude about material things matters. Just think for a second: when stuffs or gifts always present during "happy" times such as birthdays or celebrations, children will soon correlate the two together. Ditto with activities or experiences. We all grew up with less-than-perfect parent/s, but parenting a child can turn into a process of re-defining our attitude toward life and healing ourselves.
    Indeed, parenting, just like any other role we assume in our lifetime, can be an avenue for spiritual practice and personal development. One resource I use often is the book Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel (in fact, any book by Dan Siegel is my favorite). Another resource is online course Parenting as Spiritual Practice by Miriam Mason Martineau or similar (I will talk more about parenting resources in upcoming post).
  • Just like a baby can't skip rolling over before walking, in order to fully understand the cost of ownership, children need to experience ownership. Is it more important to own less things or to pass the lessons of healthy ownership of things? Lessons are often learned when mistakes are made. I prefer to have clutter than to declutter at the expense of valuable lessons of sharing, caring for things, etc. On the other hand, I proactively appeal to my child's developing reasons before bringing things home (such as new freebies, new toys, gifts, etc.). I continually educate myself on what my child is capable or not capable of doing developmentally (any book by Dan Siegel are especially helpful, so are many child development books out there).
  • In order to give, you have to have. Children are, by default, takers. They require so much of our energy and time. Parents who take care of themselves first are parents who can give more fully to their children. And taking care of self does not mean spending days in spas or nail parlors or shopping. To me, it is consciously and continuously doing things that fuel me intellectually and spiritually. To some, this includes pursuing highly rewarding careers and delegating child care to capable caregivers. Refueling can be a family event, too. Do whatever it takes so you can be fully present, the best version of yourself with your children when they are with you. Fuel yourself up so you won't have to steal mini breaks by looking at your phones/devices when you are with your children. 

What are your thoughts about minimalism with children? What resource/s have been helpful for you? What are your low-hanging fruits in achieving a more intentional life with your children? 


3.15.2016

momofuku milk bar birthday (cup)cake


The Tod and I have been drooling over cakes from Momofuku Milk Bar; but, judging from the complaints of several baking/cooking blogs out there, Momofuku recipes seem notoriously involved and touchy (recipes can be found here on Milk Bar's own website or on their recipe books).

To our surprise, the birthday cake was incredibly child-friendly. It is easy and quite forgiving, especially baked and measured with an accuracy of a four-year-old, and super, duper, quad-duper sweet (we will include our tweak to tone down the sweetness level). What's not to like?

I think the key to our success is making it in a cupcake instead of the regular cake form (which requires a ton of extra tools we don't want to buy). We follow the following sequence and by the end of the afternoon, we ended up with 2 dozen yummy, yet cloyingly sweet cakes (even with our tweaks):
  1. Make the cake crumb
  2. Make the cake, let it cool down
  3. Make the cake soak (the cakes are individually basted with vanilla-flavored milk, similar to making Tres Leches Cake) and soak the cakes
  4. Make the frosting
  5. Assemble (if there are still some of the above left)
To make it even more child-friendlier, here's a few note about ingredients: 
  • Clear Vanilla Extract. The idea of this cake is to mimic the white boxed cake mix from scratch, so clear vanilla extract is a must, said Christina Tosi herself. And surprisingly, yet another surprise, they are easy to find! Just go to big-box stores like Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart (we found ours just 1/2 a block away at local Safeway) and they often stock McCormick Artificial Vanilla flavoring. Yeah, don't use the organic good stuff, we want the white, artificial, vanillin kind. 
  • Glucose. Nah.. we don't use such thing nor we want to haul across town to buy it. We simply use extra corn syrup that is more readily available. 
  • Citric Acid. What? Is this a chemical experiment? No, we also omit this. Some bloggers use a wee bit of lemon juice to impart the nice, tangy taste to the frosting. You can use that if you like.
  • Grapeseed Oil. Surprisingly more available than we thought. We bought ours bulk from local co-op store, but they are also available at Whole Foods, Safeway, Albertson, QFC, etc. on the salad dressing aisle.

All recipes are from Momofuku Milk Bar's website, our modification explained or in bold face.


Cake Crumb


50 g granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
25 g light brown sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons, tightly packed)
90 g cake flour (3/4 cup)
2 g baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
1 g kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon) --> we decrease the salt as we decrease the sugar
20 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons)
40 g grapeseed oil (1/4 cup)
12 g clear vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Mix everything together until clumpy -- yes, in fact we dumped everything in the same bowl, both wet and dry ingredients, and mix it with a wooden spoon. Bake clumps in the oven for 15 minutes until crunchy but slightly colored. Cool them down before using.



Birthday (Cup)Cake

The cake + the soak = a very moist, buttery cake. This recipe makes 2 dozen cupcakes

55 g butter, at room temperature (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick)
60 g vegetable shortening (1/3 cup)
200 g granulated sugar (1 cup)
50 g light brown sugar (3 tablespoons, tightly packed)
3 eggs
110 g buttermilk (1/2 cup)
65 g grapeseed oil (1/3 cup)
8 g clear vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
245 g cake flour (2 cups)
6 g baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 g kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon)
50 g rainbow sprinkles (1/4 cup)
plus
25 g rainbow sprinkles (2 tablespoons) we omit this

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for ... forever (at least 2-5 minutes). Then add eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. 

On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Crank up the speed to medium-high and mix for at least 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture.... etc. etc. and yes, mix this batter for a long time. Mix it well. Literally, this is the way to entertain a kid in the afternoon. 

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and rainbow sprinkles. Mix briefly and scrape the bowl.

Plop batter 2/3-full into prepared muffin tins lined with paper and bake for 20 minutes, rotating half-way. We found better overall cake browning using metal muffin tins than silicone ones -- if you do use silicone muffin tins, line them with foil muffin cups for the same, even browning. Let the cakes cool on the rack while making the soak and frosting below.

Birthday Cake Soak

55 g milk (1/4 cup)
4 g clear vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)

Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl. Then the cakes are completely cooled, poke a few holes and baste them with the milk soak. Yum....


Birthday Cake Frosting

We make 1 1/2 times of the original recipe, enough to frost 24 cupcakes and a bit extra leftover. The following recipe has been edited to adjust both the amount and the sugar level, sorry for the mish-mash units. Don't be discouraged with all the quirkiness of the ingredients, we omitted a lot but this frosting still tasted buttery smooth (unlike the gritty butter + powder sugar American-style frosting) and delicious!

1 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature (12 tablespoons)
75 g vegetable shortening (1/4 c + 2 tablespoons)
3 oz cream cheese 
25 g glucose (1 tablespoon) --> we omit this
3 T corn syrup 
2 T clear vanilla extract 
200 g confectioners’ sugar (1 1/4 cups) --> we keep this amount the same despite increasing everything else, seriously, it is plenty sweet!
2 g kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
.25 g baking powder (pinch) --> we omit this
.25 g citric acid (pinch) --> we omit this

Cream butter, shortening, and cream cheese on medium-high for at least 2 to 3 minutes.

With the mixer on its lowest speed, trickle in the corn syrup and vanilla. Beat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, at least, or until your kid can no longer stand looking at the beating paddle. Don't forget to scrape down the bowl. 

Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt in a few batches, and crank up the mixer again until the frosting is smooth, fluffy, and super white.



Assemble the cake as you wish and enjoy!

Have you tried any Momofuku Milk Bar recipes before?


3.10.2016

Found! Sunscreen that feels like a moisturizer: Paula's Choice Calm SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen


It's true, I am loyal to my beloved Hada Labo sunscreen. The problem is, I never stock-pile (for maximum freshness) and it ships from Japan, which can take as long as a month and a half.

After using up the entire gigantic tube of LRP Anthelios, I decided to shop locally, and Paula's Choice is a local vendor, at least here where I live! I've been truly spoiled. I ordered the sunscreen late evening on Saturday, and it was on my doorstep by Monday afternoon. Talk about pre-drone instant delivery!!

Paula's Choice Calm Redness Relief SPF 30 Mineral Moisturizer is identical to her Skin Recovery SPF 30 Lotion (identical ingredients and price as well -- no particular reason why I bought this version v.s. the Skin Recovery version). It is an all-mineral sunscreen, a combo of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (Paula is serious about her sunscreens, unlike some physical block that only contains zinc oxide, which is not broad spectrum --> I'm talking to you, The Honest Company!).

When I think about an all-mineral sunscreen, I think of a goopy, white, pasty paste, but not so with this one. It has a whipped-cream texture that glides over the skin, leaving it moist but not oily. The slight white cast rubs down completely to almost nothing. I think even ladies with normal-oily combo skin can enjoy this. In fact, just like a good moisturizer, it makes for a good foundation base, too. It contains minimal silicone that I can use it with silicone-heavy foundation like Armani Maestro without balling up. The only downside is the SPF 30 rating, but I try not to fret: with texture so light, it is a joy to reapply. I can't say enough good things about this, I think it has replaced Elta MD sunscreen for me as a locally resourced sunscreen for the foreseeable future.

This sunscreen is fragrance-free, although it smells a bit like cucumber (it has cucumber extract as one of the ingredients) which dissipates quickly and completely. As an added bonus, the sunscreen is loaded with bonafide anti-oxidants, I can truly skip a moisturizer if I want to.

The complete ingredient list is always available at Paula's Choice website. Have you tried other PC's sunscreen?


3.08.2016

Thankful Tuesday: Moving On


Recently I read an article about The Selfish Side of Gratitude by Barbara Ehrenreich (click on the title for link). How can gratitude and selfish be in the same sentence? After all, we all believe that the practice of gratitude is the antidote of selfishness. She made a few good points and I can't help but to feel a bit uneasy.

For as long as I can remember, my deadly sin of choice is envy. It is never about the thing or the experience itself -- it is always about what the other have, or experience, or... (insert the comparison object du jour). Envy reinforces the other-ness, the idea that I am not them and therefore they are not me. My relationships are tinged purple with jealousy and never feel 100% authentic. Can I ever feel genuine happiness over others' success and good fortune? I'm sure I'm not alone; just think about the problems of the world, aren't they variations of "us v.s. them?" This poison is truly deadly.

The need to compare has, apparently, created enough suffering for me and I found a glimmer of hope through gratitude. Therefore, one can argue that my whole gratitude journey is about finding a relief from my own suffering. I also know that it does not matter where one starts in this journey, even if every single entry in the gratitude journal reeks with selfishness like, "I am thankful that I have home/food/car/X, not like others who do not have home/food/car/X," the journey will undoubtedly lead somewhere. If you have been following me, you know that I have been pondering a lot about consuming less and possessing mindfully. Along with this urge, I also feel a quiet knowing that, although I may not have what I want in my lifetime, I will be fine: I may never tick-off every items in my bucket list, or vacation in places I want to, or for my child to have experiences his classmates have, or my family to have the latest cars, or move to a bigger home, etc, etc. And more than just fine, I will thrive.

What Ehrenreich missed is the long term, unexpected gain of practicing gratitude. My journey in gratitude started from selfish reasons but it has shortened the gap between me and the other. I understand how it feels to be thankful to have a home in rainy days, and to have other things that make life less miserable. I understand how it feels to accept a not-so-perfect life situation and at the same time not giving up for better things. I understand how it feels to be in the mental rabbit hole of wanting, brokenness, against-ness and the gratitude when I rediscovered a glimpse of my own wholeness. If these experiences are possible for me, they are possible for everyone.

Gratitude is not all about sharing and giving and thankfulness -- it is also about moving on past my other-ness, "Yeah, I know how that feels. I have been there." You and I, we are more alike than different. Just as my gratitude muscle enables me to look at pretty things sold in stores and not feel the urge to buy them, it helps me to say, "A promotion? Congratulations, I'm so excited for you!" with more ease, joy, authenticity, and less envy and selfishness.

Have you embarked on a journey of gratitude or other spiritual practices? Where have your practices lead you?



2.22.2016

Innisfree Capsule Recipe Packs

Two of my most treasured skin care routine are mask and facial massage. What if I can combine the two? Enter Innisfree Capsule Recipe Pack

Strawberry Yogurt and Bija & Aloe packs


These little pots, reminiscence of mustard and ketchup packs from Wendy's, are cropping up all over the place from Sephora to Origins. No doubt an imported trend from the East, each mask promised a certain benefit but for me, they are all the same.

Innisfree masks ingredients are derivatives of glycol-rich creams and/or gels, with additions of predictable yet minuscule "active" ingredients and fragrance to up the fun factor. I'd be happy without the extracts nor the fragrances, but hey, these are what makes these packs so adorable. E.g. the Strawberry Yogurt has the predictable strawberry extract along with strawberry fragrance. Many contains alcohol, so if your skin is dry, choose the Strawberry Yogurt, Apple Yogurt, or the glycerine-rich Canola Honey, which is practically a straight-up glycerine honey-like syrup with a scent to match. These recipe packs also come in sleeping pack variety. The two that I tried (Rice and Bija & Aloe) are quite tacky at first and required about 10-15 minutes "setting" time before going to bed. The next morning, I could feel my skin supple and soft from the overnight treatment. The complete ingredient lists are available at Innisfree's website.

Application with foundation brush (or fan brush) is a good idea for both hygiene and pleasure. Once the product is open and exposed, they need to be stored in the refrigerator (although there are plenty of preservatives thrown in for good measure). Besides, applying a cool mask with a brush is really luxurious.

And don't skip the massage. The mask is only part of the package, the massage is what brings the whole experience together. Massaging these masks into the skin is so gratifying, I simply cannot stop. Perfect for those times when I can sit down and watch Lisa Eldridge's facial massage routine or an episode of Downton Abbey.

At around USD$2 per pack, they are a steal (considering each pot lasts up to 4-5 applications), but they are decidedly not cheap if you ship direct from Innisfree's own website. So, be sure to buddy up with someone who are flying to the Far East and you'll be delightfully rewarded.

These packs are received as personal gifts from a friend.

1.27.2016

Update from the Medicine Cabinet

Hello back!

I've been tinkering and tinkering with different blogging platform and have decided to stick with this good 'ol blog for a while. As you can see, I cleaned up a bit and a few of old features were removed (accidentally or not-so-accidentally) from much tinkering. Oh well... there has been many things brewing in my cauldron and I thought why wait?! Please give me your feedback on the layout, or particularly on the installation of Disqus (which I am excited to have!).

So, for those who have been following me with my "use up the whole Medicine Cabinet" series, here's my final installment. For my past posts, please click here for the series of Living Below Our Means.



Let's start on the middle rack. I've only kept two toners (Hada Labo and Glossier) and an AHA exfoliant as my core skin care. I pair them with either Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream (on the bottom rack) or Cerave Moisturizing Cream (that I'd normally use for the body) as facial moisturizers.  The regular use of Retin-A keeps my skin in good shape as well. For sunscreen, I use the LRP Anthelios (the gigantic tube down below) with much success. Keep in mind, I have dry skin, and those with normal-oily or even slightly dry probably won't appreciate the thick texture of either Cerave or LRP. 
For hair care, I have now finished with both Bumble and Bumble sprays shown on the picture and continued using the core product I selected in my last post here
As for the rest, there are the nail necessities that I will always have (like Zoya nail polish remover, OPI dry oil, Sally Hansen cuticle remover), some makeup remover (Bioderma, L'Oreal biphasic in green bottle, and on the back, the pink liquid in spray bottle is actually MAC brush cleanser), eye drops, Zicam spray, etc.

On the top rack perched the Sisley mask that I've been savoring slowly to the last drop, and my beloved essential oils from Aura Cacia. You'd also notice the Lena and Sckoon menstrual cups. I'm in the process of writing about reusable menstrual products, so stay tuned for that.

On the bottom rack, there's La Vanilla deodorant (next to PapaLorp's Old Spice), which I use almost exclusively now in Winter and Summer. The key for me to not get stinky without commercial anti-prespirant is to take a shower (duh!). A big bottle of rubbing alcohol will also cut down the stink in a jiff, and is a great multi-tasking product in my household. Finally, the anti-lice spray of Fairy Tales and a big bottle of PapaLorp's beloved Lubriderm round up the group.

One big advantage that I gained from this experiment of no-buy is a new behavior of not buying anything that I don't need. It does not seem like much, and there is no sense of "I've arrived" with big "Pomp and Circumstance." It is just a general sense of all-rightness, like, yeah, this is where I want to be, living part of my life, no matter how small, according to my value.  Finally, no-buy means I have cultivated the habit of creativity and resourcefulness. For example, I am now cleansing my face with coconut oil (decanted into old Clinique Take The Day Off balm's purple container, on the bottom rack) and clay-water mixture as a second cleanse. They are super affordable and my skin feels the same as when I'm using commercial cleansers. I have also switched entirely to using flannel pads (piled next to the Sisley mask) and cloths to remove makeup instead of disposable cotton pads (I still use Q-tips, sadly). 

The journey continues. I hope this series have been useful to anyone out there who are thinking about using things up. It does get better, it will become your second nature, and in my experience, it spreads out to other areas of my life with most surprising result. 

1.04.2016

Hi/Bye


Fresh year, fresh start. Aahh.. what can be better? 

Life here at the Land is moving at a glacial pace to a new direction. I have been pondering less about blogging yet I still have lots of ideas to share and connect with like-minded souls out there. 

With the discussion part on Blogger being wonky at times, I've been toying the idea of moving the blog to Wordpress and I think I am ready for it. Wordpress supports Disqus platform and I intend to use the new site as a place for discussion and bantering of ideas. It is still under construction, but when it is ready, the site will be posted here.

For now, many blessings to you and yours for the New Year of 2016. May this year be the year when all of us take time to stop and smell the roses (or lick the snow!).