Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mastering the Art of Cooking (so that you can master the art of eating)

I'm taking this week between Christmas and New Year's off from work, and I am very, very happy. I think that one of the things that contributes most to one's quality of life is the ability to sleep until one naturally wakes up, as well as not having to scream at people to brush their teeth and comb their hair and eat breakfast while packing their lunches in order to get them sent off to two different schools. It's times like these that I fantasize about moving to a cozy mountain cabin, free of television, where we'd subsist on the land and the land alone. With my stamina for physical labor we'd surely starve, but what is food when you have love? (As a side note, for Christmas my very kind husband (who apparently does read my blog after all) surprised me with the LV Tivoli PM...spectacular! So even though the mountain life might be quiet, the deer probably couldn't fully appreciate the Louis, so maybe we're better off being part of society after all.)

This week I've been thinking that although I wouldn't make a very good stay-at-home mom, I would indeed make quite a good stay at home person. There would be thousands of activities I could explore, none of which need to be revenue-generating: I could paint movie sets, knit hats and experiment with butter all to my heart's content. This week, I did something that I never usually get to do: watched movies. I watched The Devil Wears Prada (I told you, it's been a long time since I've watched a movie), which was basically like my experience on Wall Street but with more attractive people and nicer clothes, and Julie and Julia, which I really didn't think I'd like but which I found quite entertaining. I love to cook. And even more, I love to eat. But lately I'd been feeling like all the new cookbooks I'd seen were recycled variations on everything I've already tried. The best go-to cookbook I have is The New Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, which, aside from providing the best recipe for cooking well-known recipes, gives you scientific detail, and results of kitchen testing, resulting in a fascinating course on cooking. For entertaining, I love Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home from which all my dinner party greatest hits are spawned. But after watching Julie and Julia, being properly and overtly influenced by the media, I flipped through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and it's far flung from the cookbooks of today -- no pictures, just recipes. But in looking through it, it did pique my interest -- Julia (and Simone and Lisette) did do her own kitchen testing a la America's Test Kitchen, and it can't hurt to have the classics. She also provides helpful and effective substitutes for French ingredients that can be found in American grocery stores. I've linked above to Amazon, which currently has a great deal going -- a 2-volume set, hardcover, for $39.98 (56% off list price). So at that price, the risk is pretty low, and should pay for itself with a single use (think at least $100 for a party of two to dine on anything close), so go ahead -- follow my lead --and buy lots of butter.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Skinny Jeans

I have discovered one thing more humiliating than trying one swimwear. And that would be shopping for a pair of skinny jeans. Not only painful, but physically exhausting as I breathed irregularly and wrestled myself into these vacuum-sealed contraptions. You can see at right what they're supposed to look like. Cute with pumps and boots, right? Totally not cute on me. Today I tried on some Paige Petites (which I was sure would fit me but didn't), some J Brands, and a number of others I can't recall, all of which resulted in an unsightly bunched-at-the-knees and horizontal lines on the back-of-the-thigh-look. It did not look like the picture to the right nor like the woman who was helping at the school morning drop-off who had the perfect skinnies with gorgeous boots, who inspired me to start this painful quest. I can't quite figure out the problem -- is my butt too small or too big? Do I need to have bigger hips? Thanks to my friend Nina, I have been on a handbag-leggings-skinny jeans rampage. The bags always work; the leggings look fine, but the skinnies -- can't seem to get them to work. Are they really that different from leggings anyway -- and will my life be incomplete without them?

I was with my 4-year-old daughter, who accompanied me to the Komen Race for the Cure this morning (and we Sat in the Park and Ate Cookies for the Cure because we had to park so far away that she was spent by the time we got to our team tent), and she was able to pick out 6 outfits, all of which looked good on her, even with the Princess Leia double-buns she had requested as a hairstyle this morning. She even did a 3/4 pivot while checking herself out in the mirror for full effect. So maybe I should give up on the skinnies and just focus my energies on clothing my kids.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Handbag Emergency

Yesterday my friend Nina called me with a handbag emergency. With YSL Downtown Tote in hand, should her next purchase be a Bottega Veneta hobo, YSL The Muse, or a Valentino Nappa 360 Hobo?
It's only in dire times sometimes that we take time to assess our priorities. What is the right portfolio of handbags right now? Which best hedges against drastic changes in the fashion climate, and is best suited to protect the interests of you and your family? I'm giving that some hard thought.
I was pretty committed to the LV Tivoli as a classic addition to my portfolio, but I'm having second thoughts. First of all, when have I ever been a classic kind of person? Second, am I adding an LV just because I feel I should have one in the portfolio -- and would it be equally effective to add, say, a Valentino Petale Satchel to the collection? Third, won't I eventually bore of it anyway -- eliminating the point of being classic?
In addition to the Tivoli, which is still in the running despite being a canvas bag for $1,000, are the above: from left to right: Valentino Rose Vertigo Hobo ($2,395), Coach New Annie ($798), J. Crew Campo ($298). If we assume the Tivoli goes into the portfolio, the likely complements would be the lower-priced Annie or Campo. Annie has the advantage of over-the-shoulder-carryability, but overweights my portfolio on metallic bags; Campo is a practical, functional bag with a classic appearance and an over-the-arm portability, but makes less of a statement. Valentinos are certainly statement bags, and for the price point, would trump the Tivoli in the blue chip spot. I also really like the Valentino Petale Satchel which has been controversial in the handbag addict circles -- but I think the leather petals are gorgeous.
Another option would be to forego the Tivoli, and fill the LV void instead with the LV Vernis wallet (in the deep aubergine shade I love). Anchor then with a Valentino, supplement with an Annie or a Campo, and revisit the Botkier selection (I am clearly overweighted on Botkiers, despite having sold a red Bianca this season).
Portfolio strategy. It ain't for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Louis Vuitton Tivoli PM and No I Don't Have a Brain Tumor

To your right is the Louis Vuitton Tivoli PM bag. It will be the next handbag I purchase, especially since I apparently missed the boat already on the Kooba bag that was specially designed for an HSN segment co-promoted by Lucky magazine. The TV event starts on Friday but it looks like it's already sold out online...(sigh) if only everyone else had bad taste.

Speaking of bad taste, I noticed today that everything I ate today left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth (Cheerios -- bitter. Strawberries -- bitter.). I was getting worried since I recall hearing (from a marketing person, not a doctor) that one sign of brain tumor is altered taste perception (although I think she said something like you could taste colors, or maybe she was talking about a different experience altogether). Anyway, I went to my Primary Care Physician (the Internet), and found a forum where people posted about the same symptom -- and they had all eaten large quantities of pine nuts! Flashback to Monday night -- my daughter and I chowed down on a bag of Costco brand pine nuts after dinner, squirrel-style. Apparently this can last for days -- like possibly five or so days.

Back to the Tivoli. I actually went to the LV store to try it on, and I LOVE it (especially after my friends were selling me on how practical it is -- "I spilled a Tall Latte on it and it wiped right off" or "Your kids can drop an ice cream cone on it and it comes right off") except that you can't put it over your shoulder. Well, here's the screwy part: I LOVE how bags look when you can't put them over your shoulder, because I like the look of satchels, but I always try to put a bag over my shoulder (two kids), so I fear its impracticality. However, I tried on the GM version which you can put over the shoulder, and it's not quite as cute and is a tiny bit too ginormous for me. This is why I don't yet own a Tivoli. Or do I need both?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Angry Little Girls

Now that summer's officially over, I'm dealing with the new two-kids-at-two-different-schools-that-start-at-the-same-time-but-are-20-minutes-apart-oh-and-my-husband-is-out-of-town-all-the-time-lifestyle. Add to that having to get people to do homework (as well as dealing with my own homework, which is of course work I take home), doing the cooking, cleaning and general herding of children, and it's all enough to make me an Angry Little Asian Girl. As if she knew, my friend Sandra got me some Angry Little Asian Girl (ALAG) spirit gear, my favorite of which is pictured at the right: it happens to be a great little wallet, with lots of practical zippered compartments and enough slots to hold my incredible number of credit cards, and it also has one of my favorite comics on it:

Kim (Angry Little Asian Girl): I got you a gift.
Mom: Why you waste money?!?

My favorite part is the mom, who has what my friend so aptly named AMH (Asian Mom Hair) -- the short hair with a perm. It's probably the most unnatural state for Asian hair but strangely the most common configuration for Asian moms. I have on several instances begged my mom not to get a perm.

I also received a tote bag, which is well made and has really good compartments, including one of which all sensible Asian moms would approve: a hidden zippered compartment for your wallet! It really is hidden -- you can't even see it from the inside of your bag. Perfect for the paranoid, and a good fit for those who avoid being blown by the wind at all times (if you have an Asian mom you'll know what I mean).

But Lela Lee, the creator of the ALAG, doesn't stop with angry Asians. She's got a whole slew of angry little girls, one to suit every haircolor and personality type. Check out the online store -- plenty of cute things to be had. Be forewarned on the T-shirts though -- they run REALLY small. I usually wear a small in most things and had to move up to a large in the ALAG shirts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tea Collection

Today is my birthday (the best 26th birthday ever...this is, like, the twelvth one...?) , and I've really noticed a change this year. For one, if I'm ever seen without makeup, people ask me if I'm feeling okay (actually, people have been doing that now for about ten years). In pictures, I exhibit a trademark appearance of perpetual exhaustion (I also learned this year not to be photographed with your reports at work who are 10-15 years your junior with long blond hair, perfect teeth and skin) . I observe a sort of conservation-of-beauty-effect: I watch my daughters blossom while my own looks fade. I'm focusing on the parts that are still good: I still have pretty decent fingernails and my calves are still bearable in public. Palms of hands also still acceptable. Brain still mostly functioning.

As I think about youth, I find myself more and more wishing I could fit into my kids' clothes -- or at the very least that they made clothes like that in my size. One of my favorite purveyors of childrens' fine clothing is Tea Collection, a San-Francisco-based line with global influence. My daughter has a purple tank-and-capri combo that is just to die for. They change their international theme seasonally, which keeps the collection interesting, and the clothes are really well-made: high quality materials, elegant cuts with simple but sophisticated drape. If you hurry , they're having a Tea Collection sale on Gilt today. Tea offers kids' sizes up to 8, so my children only have a few more years to enjoy this experience. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Followers Gadget

Third day of school for my kids, and thus I'm reminded of the social anarchy involved at the beginning of the school year -- where, like a group of betta fish who've been introduced into a new tank with some new fish, the social pecking order (or in their case, fin-ripping and attacking order) needs to be re-established. My oldest daughter just started first grade at a new school, and I've been observing this hierarchical process. Suffice it to say that I am not looking forward to another fourteen years of reliving through my kids the pain and humiliation involved in growing up. I just hope they're better at kickball than I was.

In solidarity to the kids and public humiliation, I've added the Followers gadget on my page (see left-hand side of the page, just below the Subscribe To My Blog Via Reader gadget). From what I can tell, its primary purpose is to prove to site visitors that other people like me. It doesn't even mean that they read the blog. Worse yet, the subscribers I currently have (thank you, those of you who subscribe via email or feed, so that I'm not talking to myself 100% of the time) don't show up, so the prominently centered copy proclaiming "There are no followers yet. Be the first!" cheerfully alerts the public that no one, NOT ONE person, is following this blog, in case you were wondering. It's actually worse than having no Facebook friends -- usually that only happens if you're new -- but based on the dates and volume of posts I've produced, I'm clearly not new.

So why do this? I'm really not sure. I think it's related to the fact that I have generally put in 50-75% more than that for what I'm paid; call it need for approval, or stupidity. Or maybe I just really want the profile of some guy in a black turtleneck with black-rimmed glasses laughing like he's having a blast at a poetry reading to show up in one of those little cubes. Or maybe it's curiosity on what this social experiment might produce. In any case, if you find it in your heart, appease me, and follow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Marukai and the Magic Mandoline

Should I move to Japan?

I finally made it over to Marukai Daiso on the way back from dropping my parents off a the airport today. The Marukai complex has three shops: Marukai Market, a Japanese grocery store which I discovered has the most amazing instant udon noodles in a bowl for 87 cents; Marukai Living, which is sort of like Target; and Marukai Daiso, which is like the best dollar store in the entire world (my daughter came away with a Barbie like doll, with higher quality hair than the spider-web like material used in the Mattel Barbies, for $1.65. And they had bowls and other tableware that looked suspiciously Crate-and-Barrel-like for, yes, $1.65.). I hyperlink Daiso only because it is really worth making a trip if you have party favor needs for a birthday party, need plastic storage containers, or happen to be in the market for an afro wig. They pretty much have everything, addressing needs ranging from fake nail appliques to Hello Kitty toilet seat covers.

But the real score I got today was from Marukai Living. I used to have the MIU Stainless-Steel Professional Mandoline Slicer, which, despite its fancy name, carrying case and price tag (retail value: $119.99), delivered only on being stainless steel. It included a set of instructions warning me to be careful of the ultra-sharp blade, but in reality, I would have been at greater risk with a butter knife. Needless to say, it did a poor job of making perfectly even slices, and required quite a bit of elbow grease to get things cut. It didn't handle things with tougher outer skins like bell peppers, eggplant or tomatoes well at all.

Cue "Dreamweaver" music. I spotted at Marukai Living the simple plastic mandoline pictured here. No fancy carrying case, but clearly a very sharp blade. On the back, and adjustable knob that allows you to vary the thickness of the slices. I recalled reading reviews of slicers and hearing that the simple Japanese varieties were the best. Eager to test it, I went home and tried a variety of veggies: cabbage -- no problem. Red bell pepper -- it sliced so easily I wasn't even sure the slicing was happening. Then I tried making paper-thin slices of scallion. I used a back-and-forth motion, akin to the type you would use if you were gently painting a watercolor onto paper -- and with equal (non) effort. Unbelievable. With no effort, beautiful even slices were flying off of the blade. I was consciously careful to avoid adding even slices of fingertip to the salad.

So run out to an Asian market and find yourself a Japanese mandoline slicer. $16 bucks later you'll want to chuck out all the expensive stuff you registered for at Williams-Sonoma.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Marc Jacobs Totally Turnlock

Will someone please talk me down from the ledge? After subscribing to a most dangerous service, which I'll write about some other time (it emails you things that are on sale, in your size, from designers you like, daily), I came up on this gorgeous bag: the Marc by Marc Jacobs Totally Turnlock Tobo bag. I do love most things Marc Jacobs, but this bag crept up on me like the Botkiers of yesteryear. With its perfect puffiness, casually latched top and part-hobo, part tote presentation, I felt like it was an old friend. Or a baby. I got the feeling I imagine some women have when they see a baby -- that irresistible urge to want to hold it. The simplicity of the design and the versatility of the white (I happen to believe in winter white) pushed me over the edge -- the elements that make this bag appealing are the same ones that make Hello Kitty universally cute -- not so much what is there but what isn't. I also have a weakness for buttery-soft leathers, and this one looks like it measures up pretty well.

I've heard that Jacobs bags weigh a ton. Would that be a deterrent for me? Or could I argue that carrying the bag would be the only exercise that I get -- and then perhaps that I should get two?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Asian Fit Sunglasses

A couple of years ago I took a trip to Taiwan that would change my life. Having spent months prior trying to find a good pair of over-sized sunglasses that fit (and by fit I mean that it needed to meet the following criteria: 1) it should not miss the bridge of my nose completely and have to be fully supported on my face by my cheeks; 2) it should not have so big a gap between my brow and the glasses that the full force of the sun would shine on my eyelids, thereby defeating the purpose of wearing sunglasses in the first place; 3) it should not project off of my face in a mysterious floating manner that would conjure up ideas of man-in-space programs), I finally settled on a $450 Chanel pair (yes, it really was the only pair that vaguely fit me) that was adequate. I'd say it met my criteria 75% -- gap was still there, but not so that I was completely blinded, and it looked mostly okay.

Enter trip to Asia. I ended up at various opticians because I was shopping for a good pair of regular glasses -- being blinder than most bats, I would benefit from the ultra-thin high-index lenses that are available in Asia (apparently, Americans are not blind enough to warrant a market here of this sort). Tried on a few frames. To my surprise, they all fit. Heart pounding, moved over to the sunglasses. Again, they fit. All of them. If I knew how to pass out I would have.

I bought a pair, and from then on, my life was different. I could see outside -- clearly. Nothing sat on my cheeks. I didn't have to squint while I wore sunglasses. It was marvellous, like being in a black-and-white film that just got Technicolor.

Then -- tragedy. A couple of weeks ago, my stomach fell as I reached into my bag (which at the time happened to be my Botkier Stirrup, in case you were curious), and it was gone. I searched frantically -- nowhere to be found. After a day of despair (and several days of mourning thereafter), with fingers crossed I went online and ordered a couple of pairs of Oakley Asian Fit Sunglasses. They arrived within a couple of days, and I hurriedly ripped open the box and pulled out the Script model (I'd ordered two of the same) -- and they didn't fit!!! I was aghast. They still sat on my cheeks. Now normally, I would be apt to believe that this was due to a personal deformity of some sort -- except that I had validation from my trip to Taiwan that most glasses sold overseas actually did fit me.

Which leads me to wonder if Oakley used actual Asians in creating the Asian Fit glasses? Or were they like some of the cosmetics companies who offered "ethnic" colors as they imagined "ethnic" people would be?

The story has a happy ending though. One of my kids had stuffed my sunglasses under the sofa in the family room (this is indicative of another problem that warrants a separate post altogether), and rediscovered them one day when I came home. I nearly cried.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

High School Reunion

If you're ever on the fence about going to your 20-year high school reunion, I have some advice for you: go. I wish I had. My high school reunion is taking place this weekend. I had planned to go all along but was defeated along the way by my brother's wedding being the next weekend, not wanting to take too much time off work given the aforementioned event requiring some time off work, and the logistics of managing a cross-country trek with or without kids and a husband traveling on business. So I resort to obsessively checking Facebook today, waiting eagerly for updates and reports from classmates, who politely say that they wish I were there, and who are having a great time. I think there's got to be some benefit to escaping once in a while to the past, imagining that you're young again, and reclaiming your pre-child-rearing identity. I don't remember too much about that identity except that I had longer hair and didn't have to worry about sucking in my gut on a regular basis. In any case, I'm wishing I were there.

Here's the report from my friend Richie:
Well, under normal circumstances I would ask you to kill me if you ever saw me in the lobby bar of a suburban DC hotel all alone at 12:30 a.m. eating chicken tenders BUT I am having the greatest time!
I met up with Yoonah at the hotel and we went to the Happy Hour at a bar in Rosslyn. I immediately felt like I was back in TJ (anxious), but everyone is so great. Hung out with Kristen Knipling for a while, but also had conversations with people who never spoke to me in school! So much fun... I wish you were here. Everyone looks exactly the same except a little rounder.
Tomorrow, TJ day and the dinner/dance. Will report in the evening.

Photo above is from the 10-year reunion. Although I enjoyed it (of particular note is that Richie attended that one in drag), 10 years isn't such a long time. Most people hadn't had kids yet, and people looked generally the same, if only a bit worse for wear from steady beer consumption. After 20 years, stuff happens. People's lives take drastically different courses, and I think at this age for the most part you are who you are -- for the most part more mature, humbled by life, and able to look back and high school and laugh (and looking back at the hair in the pictures people are posting from high school, there's a lot to laugh at). I've been enjoying the pre-reunion postings online ("Michael Kirkland wants to make sure all his classmates at the TJHSS&T reunion know that he invented Post-It Notes"; "Lorelei Brown Experiencing huge life changes all at once. Feeling trepidacious about HS Reunion - I'm fat and don't think I'm going to lose 30 pounds by 8 o'clock."; "Mike Benton is going to my 20-year HS reunion tomorrow dressed as my day job. Secret Agent Astronaut Millionaire Cowboy."). And when do people officially start looking old? 50? I'll be cutting it close for the next reunion.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Envirosax Market Bags

As a bring-your-own-bagger, I used to alternate between bringing paper Trader Joe’s bags from previous trips (for whatever reason they seem the sturdiest – and most cheerful – of the paper bag types) and a bunch of canvas tote bags. Both required space and thought, two things of which I seem to be in limited supply nowadays.

Enter Envirosax market bags! On a particularly good day at the office, my team surprised me with a green botanical-printed Envirosax stuffed with a candle gift set (I am thinking of investing in risky derivatives sometime in the near future, because shortly thereafter, I also won a Garmin navigation system in a random drawing). Requiring neither space nor thought, the bags roll themselves into a teeny-tiny size and have fasteners to keep them shut. They’re super lightweight, and as small as they look, they expand into a roomy, sturdy bag. The empty, rolled up bags are great tucked into your purse, or kept in the car (which is what I do). And of course the bag isn't limited to shopping purposes -- the lightweight polyester material can be hosed down and is a roomy bag for the beach or pool, and the print is so cute that I'm sure at some point I'll be telling you that I made one into a skirt.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I walked into my friend Carol's house -- she has kids roughly the same age as mine -- and was struck by how grown-up her house looked. It was spotless. Her sofas looked normal, as if no one had ever puked on / spilled milk on / mashed food into / used them as a trampoline. The overall effect of walking into a clean, puke-free house was magical...and serene. When I walked back into my own house, the saggy, stained sofas that sit in our family room made me glum.

Though I entertained fantasies of a new beige-colored microfiber sectional with leather trim, that was out of the question. I asked the kids if they would continue to jump on / step over, build forts with / color near / sneak food on said hypothetical sofa and they answered yes. So, I set out to refurbish! A cursory call to reupholsterers, who would re-stuff my formerly down-filled cushions, yielded a quote of roughly a thousand dollars for the sofa. That included a wait time of a couple of weeks while the special feathers were ordered, and a period of time during which I'd have no cushions upon which to sit. Not good enough for my need for immediate gratification.

So I ended up shoving old, flat pillows of yore into my cushions. See the picture above -- the cushion closest to us has been restored using my free-but-effective pillow stuffing method (I stuffed them into the bottom-facing part of the cushion so the unusual lumps wouldn't show as much); the depressed cushion further away is the "before" sample. I happened to have a lot of old flat pillows, which included a variety of out-of-commission-bed pillows and accent pillows, all shoved breast-implant-style into any space I could find in the cushions (which were zippered, making things a lot easier than they might have been). I then set about removing stains by using a spray bottle filled with water and blottting with a cloth; grease stains I was able to get out by sprinkling corn starch over stains and letting sit for a couple of hours before vacuuming up. The result? To the right. Puke-free puffy sofa! (Well, mostly. I wasn't able to get out the residue from a particular incident involving pink silly putty. Silly putty is the enemy. Don't let it into your house.)

This transformation inspired me to look for other low-cost ways to reduce the offensiveness of my family room. Here's what the wall opposite my sofa used to look like -- it was basically a mishmash of cheap furniture that somehow migrated down from the playroom.
A visit to IKEA and investment in Expedit bookshelves, filled in with baskets I'd gotten from Target for the play room a couple of years ago, plus a coffee table spruced up the room in a remarkably low-risk fashion. While I'd like to be able to say that my house looks like this all the time, and not just every other Tuesday when a certain cleaning crew rolls in to save the day, I can't. But it does look less bad.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fragrance fix

I'm not good with fragrance. Having worked in the beauty industry, I'm fully aware that they're selling an aspiration, but I really want to believe what they're trying to sell. Problem is, even if I read "sophisticated and sexy" in the copy I still smell "flowers and lemons". And if I were a celebrity my branded fragrances would be called "Garlic Sauteeing in Olive Oil"or "Retail" which would be the smell of clothes when I first get them home from Nordstrom.

Anyway, I'm still trying. I regularly spritz myself with testers when I see a pretty bottle, and maybe there's an issue with the way my brain is mapped, but the smell for me never matches the bottle. For instance, I feel like perfumes in purple bottles should smell purple. But they don't. Sometimes they smell like apples.

I do have a small collection of perfumes, from impulse purchases and gifts. Last time I was at an airport overseas I spritzed myself with Chanel Chance Eau Fraiche, which I liked. Trouble is, I tire of fragrances pretty quickly. Which is where eBay comes in: I discovered that you can actually buy samples of perfumes on eBay. Often they're bundled with 2 or 3 samples. The beauty of this is that for ten bucks you can wear an expensive perfume, but not feel so bad once you tire of it. About 7 years ago I fell in love with the Kate Spade perfume, which is now mentally linked for me with the basic black bags of the '90s, and as a result I can't bring myself to wear it anymore. I still have 3/4 of a bottle left. Shoulda gone to eBay.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back to the Basics

My latest haircare discovery costs $1.29. Pictured to the right is the upscale version of it. Yep, you got it -- corn starch. If you want to trace back the blame for this idea (and you should always assign blame), I'd say it goes back circa 1995 when some Allure editor started to slip in advice from haircare gurus that washing your hair daily strips it of its natural oils and to keep it healthy, you should wait a few days between shampoos. Over the seven years following that I made at least ten failed attempts to convert from daily hair-washing, all thwarted by the fact that I could smell my hair. I really didn't want to smell like hair.

It wasn't til I had kids that I successfully made the transition -- driven mostly by fatigue and a general loss of will (this was also around the time I started driving a mini-van and favoring elastic waistbands). Still, I was really turned off by the hair smell -- I just feel like we're beyond the evolutionary stage where it's necessary to smell distinctly human. So I experimented with multitudes of dry shampoos, all of which were either too medicinal (some actually had copy that read "For hospital patients who can't get out of bed"), too disgusting or had faulty packaging (the Oscar Blandi spray shampoo was the best of the bunch, but the nozzle never failed to get stuck and let all the aerosol out). I eventually moved over to baby powder, which worked just as well, but left me smelling a little too babyish and, at worst, like a baby that smelled like hair (plus, isn't talc a carcinogen when inhaled?). I'm thinking fragrances + hair smell just don't cancel each other out.

So a few weeks ago I tried the corn starch. And yes, the stuff right off the grocery store shelf, and the same stuff I use to thicken up gravy in the kitchen. It was good. It didn't result in a sickening medieval-era effect of covering a bad smell with a perfume; it just neutralized the smell. It can be a bit tricky to get onto the scalp without also getting all over my clothes, but I'm sure I'll master that at some point. Perhaps Eddie, who just moved to Oregon, might have time now to experiment in that regard and advise me on the best dispensing method?

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Alexander the Great wanted to conquer the world. Barack Obama wants to save the world. I have always wanted to have hair with volume.

If you've seen my hair, you know that I have stick-straight Asian hair with a predisposition to kick out at the bottom in the exact opposite direction from what is desired (it's like it knows...and then does whatever I don't want it to do just to tick me off). It is also really heavy, and I'm pretty sure that at least 20% of my brain power is dedicated to instructing my head to remain upright despite the gravitational pull from the hanks of hair. If I wanted really serious volume, I'd have to get a cut where my hair was no more than 1.5 inches all around -- but it'd be the wrong kind of volume (think porcupine after electric shock). I also sleep on my hair, which doesn't help, and I'm growing out my bangs, which, though not relevant to the volume issue, really doesn't help in general.

Part of having good volume (and the right kind of volume) is of course having the right cut. But my hair can't have decent volume without additional intervention. For this I have two products in the arsenal. I really like these MOP products because I'm a fan of the fresh lemongrass scent, and the products hold.

  • MOP Form Foaming Gel with Light Hold. I usually put this on near the scalp where I want volume and then blowdry my hair upside down. Pro: this has given me more volume than any other product I've ever tried, and I've tried a lot of products. Con: I should probably put in for a Prozac prescription right now, because I just found out that it's been discontinued! Why do they forsake me?!?
  • MOP Glisten Organic Volumizing Spray. If I want major volume, I'll put this on over the Forming Gel before blowdrying. In between washes, I spritz it at the roots and then blowdry upside down -- it neutralizes grease and gives a (heat-activated) lift. And I love the lemongrass-y freshness.

Try these recommendations if you have hair like mine. Send me yours. The quest continues.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poof and Pearl

For her birthday, my 6-year-old wanted to get a pet fish. Not being much of a pet person, much less a fish one, I started off my setting up a set of seemingly unattainable hurdles ("Collect enough small, yet unbroken, shells from the beach to fill the bottom of a tank!") to buy myself some time. Finally, though, I relented, and for her birthday my parents covered the cost of turning us into a fish household.

I wanted hearty fish, so we got two betta. I was told by the PetSmart salesperson that though you can't put two male betta together, it was fine to put two females in the same tank. I have two female kids, so that made enough sense to me, and I thought it would be nice for them each to feel like they had a special pet, and for the bettas to be friends. So, off we went with Poof and Pearl in their betta store containers, traipsing through Trader Joe's so that I could complete a last-minute errand, and then back home where we began to set up their habitat. Which I really enjoyed --I think I'll be adding "undersea decor" to my hobby list.

Once we added both fish into the tank, it was clear that there was some type of interaction going on. Poof (bigger, and pink) was frequently chasing Pearl (smaller, and bluish green). Poof would also eat any food that was dropped in, before Pearl could get to it. And when Pearl finally did get to a betta bit, it was too big for her mouth. Trouble.

I ended up staying up late reading up on female bettas. The frustrating part of it was that most of the available information was wiki-style, meaning that random people just posted information or answers to question (and I mean random -- there is no filter against people who can't spell or who write "yo yo yo" in their responses). I didn't feel like there was a real, definitive betta authority out there, but here is a collection of what I found out about female bettas:

  • They can live together in a tank.
  • But why would you force them to do that? It's stressful and against their nature.
  • No, they can't live together.
  • Well, they can, but you can't have just two. One will bully the other til the other dies.
  • It's best to have three females so they can form a hierarchy.
  • It's best to have at least four females so they can form a hierarchy.
  • Females can be aggressive and territorial.
  • Some betta bits are too big for some bettas.
  • Chasing is ok as long as the fish aren't nipping each other's fins off.
  • Horizontal stripes mean the fish are distressed.
  • If you see horizontal stripes, the fish are healthy.

See what I mean? Ok, so this is the worst part -- now that I was feeling like God of the Bettas and had personal responsibility for them, I had a sleepless night wondering if Poof was going to kill Pearl, if Poof was just showing dominance over Pearl, if Pearl was ever going to eat, and why I was up at night thinking about Poof and Pearl in the first place (didn't help that that afternoon some guy on NPR was talking about how fish have feelings and feel pain). I have enough things in my life that cause me to lose sleep, and I really don't like to lose sleep.

So the next day I ended up putting up a divider between Poof and Pearl, just to ensure that Poof didn't kill Pearl, that Pearl could have something to eat once in a while (we have to manually crush her pellets to make them small enough) and so that they could get used to the sight of one another. Now I'm obsessively researching whether I can remove the divider once they're used to one another -- seems that it would be nicer for them to have more swimming space. No matter -- last night my overly excited daughter fed Poof five pellets (she's supposed to have one a day) so this all could be moot soon.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cable Knit Pom Pom Hat

This entry is going to be about knitting. If you don't care about knitting, stop reading. If you don't care about knitting but do want to learn about how to make pom poms, you can keep reading, but I'm just going to redirect you someone who can explain it better than I can.

My job's been a little demanding lately, so I've been trying to unwind before going to bed by knitting a few rows every night. I started off doing pretty basic things, like 2x2 rib hats on straight needles, but eventually became obsessed with questions like "What if I don't want any seams on my hats?" and "How do you make those twisty designs?", and before I knew it I was knitting bad hats using 4-5 needles concurrently, cursing myself all the way. I am pretty sure that if I stayed at home full time I would be equally capable of finding things that would stress me out. Needless to say, this idea of unwinding using knitting only resulted in me staying up later than planned, determined to be able to do what seems to be somehow innate for little old ladies.

The good news is that I've been making progress. The hat to the right is the first one that I've knitted that is of my own design, without using a pattern. Except that this was supposed to be an adult hat, and as you can tell by the picture, it is being worn by a doll that is roughly 10% the size of an average adult. So I present to you: Cable Knit Pom Pom Hat for Toddlers! Nevermind the fact that my children are no longer toddlers...um, yeah, I meant to knit a hat for this knitted doll (which by the way was actually knitted by someone in England whose knitting skills are vastly superior to mine). Here's how to make this hat:

I used:
Valley Yarns Berkshire (85% Wool, 15% Alpaca); wt 100 grams, in Lt. Blue

US Size 10 double-pointed needles (set of 4)

Cable needle (I just used a dpn from another set as the cable needle, with a rubber stopper on one end)

CO 60

Rows 1-6: *k1, p1, rep from * to end

Rows 7-9: *p4, k6, rep from * to end

Rows 10: *p4, CF6, rep from *to end

Rows 11-13: knit the knits and purl the purls

Repeat Rows 7-13 until total rows = 26

Shape crown:

Row 1:
X= if the next stitch is a knit, use K2tog; if it is a purl, use SSK
Y= if the next stitch is a knit, k; if it is a purl, p

*X, Y2 rep from * to end

Row 2: X, Y

Row 3: *k1, p1; rep from * to end

Row 4: *k1; rep from * to end

Row 5-6: *k2tog; rep from * to end

Break off yarn, thread through yarn needle and through live sts, drawing tight and sliding off knitting needle. Secure and weave off.

Making the pom pom:

Do it the cheap way:

Or do what I did if you're too lazy to cut your own template -- buy one:

Sew securely to the hat, and voila! Now find someone who's willing to wear it, preferably aged 1-2.

This is pattern is free for personal, non-commercial use. Further use requires permission from the designer (me). You may not sell or distribute the pattern in any form. You may not sell the any item or items made from this pattern without my permission. You may not use this pattern or items from the pattern for commercial use.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eugenia Kim

Since my hairdresser's been on maternity leave, and I've had two traumatic cuts that I've had to fix up by myself afterwards (my haircutting skills are pretty much on par with my knitting skills -- ok from afar, but a little scary up close), I've been a little obsessed with hats. I've noticed that even in winter here, I seem to be the only person wearing knit hats. Ok, nevermind the fact that it's 65 degrees and sunny on a cold day, or that I've been getting headaches from overheating my head, but hats are cute! And they look a lot better than my hair does nowadays.

I've always been an admirer of Eugenia Kim, the hat designer. I love the fact that her business started from an attempt to hide a bad haircut (yes, that in particular resonates with me), and that she's very accident-prone (see the Design Philosophy section). I have a particular affinity for knit hats, and of those in her collection, I'm a fan of the Heather cable knit hat. Being knitty myself, I love the chunkiness of it and the way she's able to put a little edge into cables, which can often come off as being a little too precious. I am also impressed with the fact that she can charge $190 for the hat, which is about as much as I would have to pay someone to wear one of mine. Here's more on Eugenia if you're interested. It's a good thing for us that she didn't become a doctor (nevermind the accident-prone thing).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Top Coat

What is it about a sunset that looks so '70s? They're beautiful, of course, but once you snap a picture you can't help but want to feather your hair with your portable butane curling iron. And then you start to think you need to print cursive writing Deep-Thoughts-style over it. Whatever. I just wanted to show you what we do in the winter in San Diego. This picture was from earlier this month. The alien-like figure on the right is my daughter.

So I've been sick now since December. Most recently, my doctor prescribed me a nasal spray called FloNase, which is just as sexy as it sounds. At first I didn't read the instructions that you were supposed to squirt and inhale at the same time and then breathe out of your mouth, so basically everything came right back out when I exhaled. I had seen the instructions but kind of thought, what kind of idiot needs instructions to use a nasal spray? And maybe it was not such a good idea to get in the ocean in the middle of winter.

On to more important things. I haven't done my fingernails in a long time, but living in an open-toed culture year-round, I do mostly make sure my toenails are painted. For the past 10 years I've been a Seche Vite type of top-coat girl, but it was always kind of a pain to get. Easier here in SoCal than in other places (we have a ton of beauty supply stores that stock them, but for me, that involves putting two kids into the car, doing four sets of buckles, driving them there, undoing four sets of buckles, dragging them out of the car and across the street, making sure they don't eat/break/pilfer the hair nets/wig glue/bobby pins at the beauty supply store, finding the Seche Vite, paying for it, dragging them back across the street to the car...you get it), but regardless I still have to go out of my way to get it. And it is wonderful -- long-lasting, salon-looking finish that's super duper shiny. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that at a fraction of the price, and available at your local [insert retail location where you go to buy food, toilet paper, contact lens solution], the Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat is a winner. Not as gloppy as Seche Vite, it dries in 30 seconds and keeps a solid, shiny finish for a long, long time. I've converted.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you inexplicably happy. For me, it was the discovery of Etsy, "your place to buy and sell everything handmade" (note it is not "the place where people buy the things from me that are handmade", because nobody seems to like the things I make). The product to the right is from a seller named yooboro who seems to specialize in plush not-scary-monsters. While I don't have anything against mass-production (see what happens when I get into an H&M store), I do have an appreciation for things that are handmade, and are less ugly than the things handmade by me.

Etsy has a lot more than colorful plush monsters. I'm amazed at the things people make -- from unraveling and re-knitting vintage sweaters to quilting enormous wall hangings. You can get cute handmade skirts for $15. My kids got a pair of the most exquisite Japanese-anime-sort of wool dolls from an Etsy seller for Christmas, and I just marvel at the maker's command of proportion and the magic elements of achieving ultimate cuteness.

Inspired (as I am, just once a year) to pick up my knitting needles again, I discovered this amazing craft blog called futuregirl.com (here, I was interested in how to sew a lining for the knit bag I will probably finish circa 2021: http://www.futuregirl.com/craft_blog/2008/1/tutorial-sew-lining-for-crocheted-bag.aspx . I did make my first hat, though. Which is really useful when it's 75 degrees and sunny year-round.