Empties: June to August 2018

Posted on September 07, 2018 under Empties

Yay, empties! True to form, I never threw out the very dirty One Direction fragrance set box I’ve been housing my empties in for years even though I totally said I was going to. So today I am clearing out that dirty box to make room for more stuff to make it even more dirty.

Skincare

Vichy Idéal Soleil Ultra-Fluid SPF50: I really liked this. It’s a solid lightweight facial sunscreen that does its job. It’s about $25, which is kind of expensive, but I can also duck into my local drugstore and buy it, so convenience wins. (I do want to try the much-lauded Bioré sunscreen, but it’s not readily-available and I don’t know if I want to commit to such a complicated relationship with an essential step of my routine.)

La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL SPF60 Lotion: I did not care for this. I mean, it protected me from the sun pretty well, but it also pilled on my skin if I sweat. And, the thing is, in summer, when I am most likely to take the time to apply body sunscreen, it is hot. And when it is hot, I sweat. So… yeah. Good thing I got this as gratis, because I’d have been annoyed to spend thirty bucks on this.

La Roche-Posay Respectissime Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover: I have lost count of how many of these I’ve used up. You know the drill – as effective as Lancôme Bi-Facil (and without the cloying fragrance), half the price. (Actually, I’m using up a bottle of Bi-Facil that someone gave me right now, and I think the LRP is a bit better.)

Biotherm Homme Aquapower Eye De-Puffer: I got this as gratis at a Biotherm training and I kept it for myself because I know zero men who would use an eye cream, let alone appreciate an expensive one. This is definitely not worth $31, but I did really enjoy its light gel texture and cooling sensation first thing in the morning.

The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%: This product has been called the Granactive Retinoid for like 95 years now, so that shows you how long I’ve had this. Anyway, I really, really liked it and have actually ordered a new one. I remember when this product first came out and I was blown away that you could buy any type of vitamin A derivative for under $40, let alone its price of $9.80. And it’s truly both gentle and effective.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5: This is maybe my fourth or fifth bottle of this. It’s a great, super cheap hydrating serum. Currently I’m using The Ordinary’s Marine Hyaluronics, which is basically the same thing but with a thin, watery texture and none of the stickiness of the 2%. (The texture never bothered me, anyway, so I don’t have a strong preference between the two.)

Lancôme Absolue Night Precious Cells Recovery Night Cream: Do you think I would ever in a million years tell you guys that a $205 night cream is in any way worth it? No I would not. And I will not. This is a thick, nourishing moisturizer. I will save $170 and keep buying my Origins overnight mask. (Obviously, I received this product as gratis.)

Nuxe Rêve de Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm: This is just one of those indulgences that I don’t feel bad about anymore. As my mom said to me one day while on vacation, “Thank you for introducing me to this overpriced bougie bullshit.” But, truly, is $17 too much to ask for months of hydrated lips? I don’t think so. (One pot of this usually lasts me about 8-10 months, so I really can’t complain.)

Vaseline Lip Therapy – Aloe: I thought the taste of this was gross. It was also kind of slippery and not that effective.

Nivea Hydro Care Lip Balm: This is still my favourite standard stick lip balm. It’s effective and it layers nicely under lipstick.

Haircare

One lone product in this category today, and though it’s a boring (and standard) one, it’s also a milestone. I truly could not tell you how many tubes of John Frieda Sheer Blonde Tone Correcting Shampoo I went through over my four-year stint as a blonde. However, those days are (almost) over. I’ve almost grown my hair out enough to hack off the last of the blonde, so I’m now trying to find a haircare routine that works for my natural, non-blonde, non-bleach-damaged hair. This is the last tube of purple shampoo I’ll use for the foreseeable future, though it’s certainly a good option within that category.

Makeup

Random unmarked loose powder: There is truly nothing identifying about this packaging. I don’t know what it is. It was a good loose powder. To replace it I bought the Marcelle one, which is huge and will legit last me a decade. (This little tub lasted about three years.)

NIOD Photography Foundation, Opacity 12% (sample): This is very much not a foundation, but rather a liquid illuminator. It’s super pretty under makeup. It’s also $30, so… you know. (I will say, out of all the illuminating primers I’ve tried I do like this one the best. Although I’m a primer skeptic so take that potentially faint praise as you will.)

Maybelline Master Conceal Camoflage Concealer in Fair: I don’t think this product ever really caught on in the wider beauty world, but I liked it pretty well for both blemishes and under the eyes. Honestly, there’s still a lot of product in this tube, which is probably because it’s an outrageously generous 12mL/0.4 fl oz. (That’s 40% of a standard foundation size.) But it is very old, and its time on is up.

Essence Lash and Brow Gel: Yes, this crusty tube once contained clear brow gel. I don’t know why I keep buying this product when I’m feeling too cheap for L’Oréal – it truly has almost no effect. Yes, L’Oréal is audacious for charging $15.99 for a clear brow gel, but it’s also really good. I think it’s time to just accept that (and stock up when it’s on sale).

L’Oréal Paradise Extatic Mascara: I hate to be a Negative Nancy, but this much-lauded mascara (which, in case it wasn’t obvious, is the UK version of Lash Paradise) didn’t do much for me. I mean, it wasn’t awful. I thought it was decent as I was using it. But as soon as I switched back to Clarins Truly Waterproof, I was like, “Oh yeah, this mascara is it.” L’Oréal is not.

Quo Blending Sponge: This was my favourite Beauty Blender dupe for years and years and years, but I think they’ve reformulated them. The one pictured was great, as always, but the one I bought to replace it is a lot denser and soaks up so much product. So now the one good product Quo made also sucks.

Nail Care

Quo 100% Acetone: I used this up over many years. I don’t know why I bought it or even why I didn’t just take the $3 loss instead of stubbornly deciding to use it up. I will not buy 100% acetone ever again.

Quickies Nail Varnish Remover Pads: I honestly bought these because I was like £1 off Superdrug’s free shipping threshold. They’re not very good pads; it takes a lot of elbow grease to get anything off.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Top Coat: I have used up many, many bottles of this top coat (over all brands of nail polish) over the past four years. I’m trying out one of Sally’s other top coats right now, but I always seem to go back to this one.

Miscellaneous

Here are some items which are not empty but which are now unusable.

Rimmel Stay Matte Powder: The lid for this powder shattered in my move from Glasgow to Toronto, which is fine because I never use pressed powder. Anyway, this remains one of the most poorly-packaged products ever to torment this sacred Earth.

Sally Hansen Hard As Nails in White On: A leakage caused this bottle to fuse shut; I could probably get into it if I tried, but it’s pretty old and it’ll only cost me like $4 to replace.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in All Chalked Up: This nail polish became gloopy and unusable super quickly, which is honestly a huge bummer because 1) I absolutely adore the colour, and 2) it’s been discontinued so I can’t replace it. Maybe this is what will finally make me buy nail polish thinner.

… and that is everything I used up over the summer!

Books read: July and August 2018

Posted on September 02, 2018 under Books

I was silent on my blog in the month of August because I was working on my dissertation, which is now finished and handed in. That means I’m officially done my Master’s! Anyway, I’m back with one of my favourite types of posts: a book roundup.

I read my thirtieth book in July, thus making my yearly goal less than 60% of the way through the year. Now I’d officially like to match last year’s count of 51 books, though of course if I could get to an even 52 – one per week – I’d be especially thrilled. (Okay, secretly my stretch goal is 60, so let’s say somewhere between 52 and 60 by December 31.) I read 11 books in July and August, bringing my total count to 36 so far.

Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! by Kurt Vonnegut

I have now read nine of Vonnegut’s fourteen novels, so I’m making pretty good progress at getting through his catalogue. I also have a good idea of where different things fall in my personal ranking, and while Slaughterhouse-Five, Mother Night, and Bluebeard still remain my top three, Slapstick is certainly a wonderful demonstration of everything I love about Vonnegut’s writing. Nobody does absurdism better, but Vonnegut manages to retain such an urgent sense of humanity. Slapstick centers on twins Wilbur and Eliza, who were born with a birth defect and who, together, have a singular genius mind. Throughout their lives, they are isolated in various ways – due to their appearances and intellect; through literal exile; thanks to a flu that causes the apocalypse. This novel is much more sentimental than Vonnegut’s work usually is, though I suppose that’s not surprising given that the introduction is about his sister’s death. I will say that this probably isn’t a fantastic entry point for those unfamiliar with Vonnegut’s work, but I certainly enjoyed it. I might even like it better than his best-known absurdist work, Breakfast of Champions.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

I genuinely thought this was going to be a good book and now I’m happy that I only paid a few bucks for it on the Kindle store. Reading this novel, I could clearly picture Albom congratulating himself on producing heavy-handed saccharine drivel masquerading as something heartfelt and inspirational. It’s as though he crammed every sad thing he could think of into one story: war, car accidents, infertility, unresolved parental tensions, children dying… and yet all of it is surface-level, there only to impress upon the reader how profound this book is without ever truly engaging with any of these themes. All of the “deep” “inspiring” “beautiful” life lessons are delivered via dialogue; the reader is not left any room for personal interpretation or revelation but simply force-fed sappy tripe. The section on war was at first promising, but instead of concluding that war is destructive and violent and life-ruining, Albom ended up with a watery version of “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, a sentiment that was passé by the end of WWI. Throw in advocating for forgiving rapists and child abusers and you’ve got a book that certainly sets my own political consciousness on edge. Regardless, though, I think this is a poorly-written, clumsy novel and I have no idea how it has managed to capture so much attention.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Longtime readers will know that historical fiction pre-1900 isn’t a genre that I dabble in frequently. The era of Napoleon’s reign is very far outside of my fictional interests. But for Jeanette Winterson, I can make an exception – especially if the book includes a lesbian romance. Winterson’s writing is exquisitely atmospheric, and she packs in the most gorgeous magical realism. (You may know that while I stay even further away from high fantasy than historical fiction, I am very into magical realism.) It’s a rumination on the human effects of war and the strength of love, and above all a very evocative tale about the ability of passion to both create and destroy.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

Academically, I have always been interested in the study of popular culture. (My undergrad was basically in pop culture studies, and my graduate work has focused primarily on reality television.) Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays so beautifully illuminate why: because popular culture tells us so much about the quotidian, about the personal, about how mass-produced art touches us in profound ways. Abdurraqib does not simply write about music or sports; he writes about being Black and Muslim in America, about love, about loss, about growing up. Pop culture is how he, like so many of us, makes sense of the world and his position in it. He mediates his complex thoughts, his heartbreaks and victories, through pop culture, or perhaps it’s the other way around. It’s no surprise that he’s a poet, though his lyrical prose remains clear and insightful. He just has such a masterful command of language, and so it’s not only a joy to read his thoughts on Fall Out Boy or Serena Williams, it is delightful to marvel at his technical ability. Though he grapples with many unpleasant truths – about premature deaths, about police brutality, about the insidiousness of racism and Islamophobia in their many forms – there is something life-affirming about his writing. He searches for the good while remaining aware of the presence of the bad. It’s exactly the collection of essays that needed to be written in this hellish Trumpian era, and that demands to be felt deeply when we are close to losing hope.

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France

It is only natural that the LGBTQ community and movement have changed so much since the early days. But it’s also a bit sad that so much history has been forgotten, AIDS only a footnote to so many. This can’t necessarily be attributed to wilful ignorance; of course, the disease decimated a generation of gay men, so many of them incredibly young, and many stories died along with them. This book obviously deals with the unthinkable magnitude of loss; the complicity of the government and scientific community in ignoring, commodifying, and amplifying the crisis; the brutal homophobic rhetoric that the crisis engendered. But it’s also a hopeful book, because it shows us what activism can do. No, HIV/AIDS should not be thought of as something of the past, but it is undeniably true that thanks to the tireless work of scientists and activists – many of whom, it must be recognized, were gay people with AIDS – the life expectancy and quality of life for those with HIV/AIDS have improved dramatically since the early days of the crisis. And so in such a dark and horrible time, I think this book is a necessary reminder of what we can accomplish through meaningful grassroots activism, and that marginalized communities absolutely can advocate for themselves to create change. This book deals with an expansive and emotional topic, and it demands delicate treatment: it must be both meticulously-researched and deeply compassionate. David France, a gay journalist who was involved in early AIDS activism and who personally knew many of the key players, is the perfect author. His writing is packed with information but so engaging, and his ability to personalize the stories of the people who tamed the disease is incredible. This book contains so much humanity within its 515 pages. It’s an important, stunningly-written history.

France directed a 2012 documentary of the same name, which is also great (though far narrower in scope). I also highly recommend the short documentary When AIDS Was Funny, about the Reagan administration’s deafening silence on the crisis as it claimed thousands of bodies.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

I’ve enjoyed Koul’s Twitter presence and longform content for several years now, and her book is just as funny as I would have expected. Her essays (mostly) center around womanhood and being the first-generation Canadian daughter of Indian immigrants, and her exploration of the complexity of her family dynamics is wonderful. I just wanted there to be a bit more of a wow factor than I found – though perhaps that’s because I read it immediately following two incredible, substantive, emotionally-powerful non-fiction books. I’d still totally recommend this – it’s just not as good as, say, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple, predictable, and repetitive life, but when she witnesses an accident on her way home from work, everything changes and she is forced to confront her loneliness (and her childhood trauma). Eleanor is a hilarious character, with the running gag of the novel being that she is quick to chastise others for their poor social skills even though she is the one behaving in an unusual way. I don’t often come across novels set in Glasgow, and the friendliness and warmth of the supporting characters is very much in line with my experience of Scottish people. (By the way, I have done some calculations and determined that, given that Eleanor lives in the West End and there is only one Tesco Extra in the West End, the book must be referring to the Maryhill Tesco where I did all my shopping.) I think Eleanor’s various eccentricities require a slight suspension of disbelief, and the big reveal at the end was (mostly) easy to piece together – though there is a substantial twist which is then bizarrely not fully explored. It’s a very enjoyable read which strikes a good balance between dark and fluffy, but it’s not without its flaws.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy and Celestial have only been married for a year and a half when Roy is convicted of a crime that he did not commit. At first, they try to make their marriage work while he is in prison – but as time goes on, they grow apart, up-and-coming artist Celestial’s cerebral world so far removed from Roy’s reality. But when Roy’s conviction is overturned, he wants to return to their marriage, though Celestial has moved on. Though I wished at times that the book explored the political aspect of the story, Jones’ portrayal of the human cost of racialized unjust incarceration was poignant and believable. All sides were sympathetic, the conclusion realistic and satisfying.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I picked this up thanks to Elena‘s recommendation, and I’m very glad I did! This novel follows four generations of a Korean family who are displaced to Japan. It spans the better part of the 20th century, and it is clearly meticulously-researched. Above all, this is a novel about the strength and importance of family, particularly in the face of challenges (discrimination, immigration, war, loss). The writing is beautiful; Lee’s ability to capture a particular setting – whether urban or rural, the 1930s or 1980s – is wonderful. I loved the characters; each was distinct and sympathetic though flawed. I think the book tends a bit towards melodrama in certain areas, and I wished that some of the characters’ storylines hadn’t been tied up as an afterthought. But I think that this is an ambitious and beautifully-written book which so evocatively portrays the struggles and triumphs of a single family in a fraught sociopolitical climate.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was the inaugural work book club selection. It’s a very quick read and it makes a compelling spectacle, though it’s not particularly well-written. It was pretty clearly written by a man; the descriptions of the female characters were just… very male-gaze-y, and so many of the female characters are vapid, bitchy, class-conscious gossips. I imagine the movie is a lot better: all the joy is in witnessing extreme opulence, and surely a visual medium has the upper hand there. And you don’t even have to slog through sloppy writing to get to it!

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

This is a very difficult book to write about. It’s allegedly about a college student named Phoebe Lin, who in failing to process her recent trauma joins a cult. It’s narrated by her boyfriend, Will, who has recently left his zealous faith. But really this book is mainly about an emotionally-scarred, hot young woman and the boyfriend who is obsessed with the idea of her. It’s almost disappointing that this was written by a woman, as if men haven’t forced this tired narrative on us enough. The book isn’t all bad; it’s thought-provoking and I really can’t fault Kwon for how well she evoked such a dark, uneasy atmosphere throughout. But the explorations of religion and grief seemed quite surface to me, and there were almost no actual details about the cult. I mean, surely we’re all in it for the probing psychological profile of cult members, the tales of scandal that happen within. (I personally find cults second only to serial killers on the morbid fascination scale, so you know I was waiting for it to get juicy.) Maybe I wanted it to be a book that it just wasn’t. That’s also kind of how I felt about Donna Tartt’s A Little Friend. But this book sort of does a similar thing to that one: its summary is a bait-and-switch. If you accept that and take the book for what it actually is, maybe it’s better. Another Donna Tartt reference: the unrealistically pretentious, sinister small-town college student thing does beg comparison to The Secret History, though it’s certainly not at that level. It’s a strange one. Maybe you should read it and make up your own mind.

I predict my next post will feature quite a few books as well, as I recently started a new job with an hour’s commute each way – prime reading time! I have a big stack waiting for me, too.

Summer 2018 Favourites

Posted on July 30, 2018 under Favourites

I hardly ever do favourites posts, mostly because I don’t try nearly the volume of products necessary to make that tenable on a regular basis. I think occasional seasonal roundups work for my purposes, though the last one I did was back in the fall of 2016. Here is the warm-weather answer to that, then!

Like many others, in the summer months I opt for a lighter base. This is now my second summer regularly using The Ordinary Serum Foundation in 1.1N, which doesn’t work too well for my skin in winter but looks beautifully natural in summer. To pair with this lighter base, I’ve really been enjoying Bourjois Radiance Reveal Concealer in Ivory. True to its name, it has a natural, radiant finish, but its peachy undertone does wonders in brightening up my dark undereye area. To give it a bit more coverage and lasting-power (and to make it a tad lighter), I usually mix in a little bit of Makeup Revolution Conceal and Define Concealer in C1. Mixing concealers is a new and slightly finnicky trick in my repertoire, but I can’t fault the results.

Here’s the Bourjois concealer on its own (on the right, obviously) for comparison’s sake:

When mixed with the Makeup Revolution concealer, it’s not quite as dewy as it appears in this picture. I do prefer that look slightly, but I think the results of Radiance Reveal on its own are lovely: natural, luminous, and surprisingly effective for such a comfortable, emollient, lightweight formula.

Back in May I used some Optimum points to pick up the Clinique Blush Pop in Peach Pop, my first taste of this well-loved formula. Though I find the clear plastic packaging a bit cheap-looking, I can’t deny that this is a beautiful buildable, long-lasting blush. Like a basic bitch, I love peach in the summer, so I’ve used this very frequently over the past few months. When I want a more vibrant blush, I use my trusty Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush in Diffused Heat, a lovely red-coral. Between those two blushes (well, and the always-appropriate Hourglass Mood Exposure, of course), I’ve scarcely touched anything else.

My eyelids eat cream formulas after the six-hour mark, and I always have the best results with powder shadow over a good primer. So colour me surprised that the Stila Shimmer and Glow Liquid Eyeshadows truly stay put on my eyes all day. In the heat of a humid Toronto summer, these shadows are quick and easy to apply and completely bulletproof. I picked up the shades Kitten (Stila’s classic champagne) and Jezebel (a rose gold) in May, and I’ve been using them… basically all the time. I do really like the Glitter and Glow shadows, too, but they’re a bit prone to fallout, while the high-impact, metallic Shimmer and Glows are not.

Here’s how Kitten looks on my eye, with a matte brown powder shadow in the crease:

And Jezebel, with some similar crease shadow action (and mascara smudges):

And a swatch gif, so you can see how beautiful these guys really are:

In the summer I gravitate towards my impossibly bright lipsticks, all of which are in the same basic colour family. Marc Jacobs So Sofia, a purchase made almost exactly a year ago as summer wound to a close, has seen a lot of use. So has Revlon Fire and Ice, a truly classic shade which lives its best life in the summer months. New-to-me is NARS Satin Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl, a shade popularized by Taylor Swift several years ago. In the wake of 1989 (which was a damn catchy pop album, sue me), I coveted the colour but could never pull the trigger; when a family friend gifted it to me last month, I was predictably ecstatic. On Swift, Dragon Girl is a bright, fiery red; on me, it’s noticeably more pink, though still as delightfully vibrant. Revlon ColorBurst Balm Stain in Romantic is a long, long, longtime favourite – it’s a beautiful sheer, warm red that’s never too much. (They still make this shade, too, though most of the Balm Stains are long gone.) After a long period of gravitating more towards neutral lipsticks, I’m back to my best self with my bold colours.

L-R: Marc Jacobs So Sofia, Revlon Fire and Ice, NARS Dragon Girl, Revlon Romantic

I arrived back in Canada at the end of May after eight months in the UK, and I found that my hands were suddenly very dry in this climate. Though I have a pretty dry face and very dry arms and legs, my hands have always self-regulated pretty well. But apparently the change in climate was too much, so I had to turn to The Chemistry Brand HA3 Hand Hydrator. This is a super effective, hyaluronic-based hand cream with a light whipped texture. The reason I like it enough to talk about on my blog is that it sinks in incredibly quickly without compromising its efficacy. I cannot stand feeling like there’s anything on my hands; I want to wash them immediately. A lot of hand creams are like nails on a chalkboard to me, but not this one. It also has a very peppy zesty scent which I enjoy.

I also really enjoy The Chemistry Brand Hyaluronic Body Mist for a hit of moisture between body lotion applications. It’s especially nice to have something so quick and easy to apply in the summer, when the heat can induce lethargy. Sometimes it seems altogether too much to rub cream all over my body, but a quick mist is within my capability. This product definitely isn’t a substitute for an actual body lotion (at least not for my dry skin!), but it’s a great interim product.

In the non-makeup realm, I would probably be dead without the Invisibobble knockoffs I got at Primark back in the winter. I’m growing out my blonde (as you have no doubt been able to surmise from my photos over the past year and a half), and I have a few months to go before I can chop it all off. My hair is longer than I like it, and since it’s very thick and abundant it’s just far too much to have on my neck in the summer. I’ve been putting it up in a high ponytail or topknot almost every day, and these little coiled hair ties do an amazing job at keeping my hair comfortably in place. I definitely don’t think you should pay for the brand name version, but if you can find cheap knockoffs they are great for keeping thick, unruly hair at bay.

And, before I go, one summery miss: Avène High Protection SPF50+ Emulsion. This sunscreen has a pleasant texture (if a bit thicker than other facial sunscreens by brands like La Roche-Posay and Vichy) and user-friendly packaging, and seems truly effective if my perpetually-fair face is anything to go by. Unfortunately, it leaves such a white cast. When I’m going to work this isn’t an issue as I put foundation on top anyway, but I often leave my house without makeup but still want to be protected from the sun. It’s a bummer, because I do like the product otherwise, and the pump/squeeze-tube hybrid packaging is always welcome in my home. When I’m out of this I’ll be looking to another brand for my face sunscreen needs.

And that’s what I’ve been putting on my face this summer! It’s a nice mixture of new discoveries and old favourites.