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Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

Last fall, on a whim and a discount code, I decided to try Birchbox, one of those seemingly ubiquitous beauty-subscription boxes. (This post is not sponsored or perked – I don’t even subscribe anymore. I’m simply musing about my experience.)

At the time, I was still in the throes of my divorce and my move to East Boston, and in stereotypically American-female fashion, I thought a little pampering might help. (Though I wasn’t sure it would, honestly. I’m hardly a beauty-product junkie; I dye my own hair from a box every few weeks, and I haven’t had a manicure since 2011. But I love a good lip gloss and I adore getting fun mail.)

I went online, filled out the quiz with details about my hair type, skin type, preferences, etc., and waited for my first box to arrive. When it did, I was charmed by the colorful packaging, breezy info card detailing how to use each product, and the fun array of samples: lip gloss, highlighter (what is that?), moisturizer, mascara. I was surprised, in fact, by how delighted I was.

As a lifelong bookworm, an English major and a feminist who grew up in Texas, I embody a few contradictions: I want people to love me for my brain and heart before my body, and I’d rather browse a bookstore than Sephora any day. But I was raised by a mother who never leaves the house without makeup, and I believe in the importance of both self-care and looking put together. Even during quarantine, I’ve been blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup most days: both routines help signal that I’m ready for whatever the day brings.

As I played around with Birchbox samples of eye cream, lipstick, primer (which I had never used before) and a gold-foil face mask that made me look like Iron Man, I realized something else: I had internalized some serious snobbery about women who self-soothe with beauty products. I still reach for a book and a cup of tea first when I’m stressed or sad, but I had discounted the fun of sticking on sparkly eye pads or trying a new shade of blush. Sometimes, frankly, pampering does nothing at all – but sometimes it helps me see myself a little differently, or just adds a shot of whimsy to the day.

The products didn’t all feel like me, and I ended up passing on a few extras to my mom, sister and girlfriends. (I haven’t used mousse since the eighties, and I’m not sorry about it.) But I found a few favorites that I still use, and several more that I enjoyed trying out on a limited basis. I’ve got a stockpile of still others in the bathroom, waiting for the day I need a pick-me-up and decide to try out that shade of eyeshadow or new face scrub. (Bonus: I haven’t had to buy mascara in months.)

This isn’t quite the because-you’re-worth-it narrative familiar to any woman who’s ever watched a L’Oreal commercial (though I am worth it, in case you were wondering). It’s more about trying something just because I wanted to, and being surprised and delighted by it. Birchbox even made it onto one of my lifesaving lists, because the boxes and their contents were sources of joy. I eventually stopped my subscription because I had enough products for now, but I’m still glad I tried it out. (And I am now a serious fan of Kiehl’s moisturizer and Dr. Lipp lip gloss.)

Have you tried Birchbox or something similar – and/or been forced to confront your own snobbery about makeup? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Lilac time

lilacs flowers bush

This April was an unusually rainy one – even my favorite weather guy commented on it, more than once. The grey skies didn’t help my spirits much, but I have to say, the lilacs have loved it. (That adage about April showers and May flowers rings especially true in years like these.)

A friend sent me pictures of fragrant white lilacs before I saw any in flower. But by early May, the towering lilac across the street from my house was in full, perfect bloom. I stood under it after a Saturday run, sniffing ecstatically, and thinking about the line from that (insanely long) Alfred Noyes poem: “Come down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac time.”

lilacs yellow house blue sky

I’m dog-sitting again in East Boston, and one day after work, the neighbor kids were selling fistfuls of branches from their grandfather’s lilac for $3. I bought a bunch – a steal if I’ve ever seen one! – and enjoyed them in the kitchen for several days. They’re the same deep, rich color as these lovelies from Back Bay, below.

dark purple lilacs

Earlier this week, I stopped to sniff a tall lilac on my lunch break, and a woman walked up to join me. “They’re my favorite,” she said. We wished each other a good day, and then she turned, walked a few paces away, and called, “Oh, you have to come stand right here!” I walked over and was hit by a wave of lilac scent. The whole exchange, and the moment of connection, was a gift.

lilacs back bay blue sky

Cambridge has any number of old, beautiful lilacs, and I was afraid I’d miss them this spring. But I did sneak over one evening last week, and got to sniff the lilacs on a side street near Darwin’s (below), and the hedge of them near the Longfellow House garden.

lilacs white fence

This year’s lilac time is nearly over: the azaleas are blazing out, and the rhododendrons are coming. But it has been glorious, in all my neighborhoods (old and new). And I’m so grateful.

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forsythia gold flowers blue sky

I’m back home after two weeks dog- and house-sitting in East Boston, watching spring emerge in a new neighborhood as Phoenix the pup and I walked the streets and ran the Harborwalk together. Not surprisingly, one of the things I missed most about Dorchester was my river trail. I came home after work midweek, suitcase in tow, and immediately laced up my running shoes and headed out there. It, too, is growing greener (and bluer).

Katie silhouette trail river blue sky

I’ve been for a few runs since coming home, and on Easter Sunday, I finally ran all the way out to Port Norfolk and the second pier where that part of the trail ends. I was tired, but the sun had broken through after days of thick clouds, and I snapped a few photos of the blue water and a few wild patches of daffodils.

I remembered seeing a particular forsythia bush last spring, between the pier and the house that faces it, and so I jogged over to see if it was in bloom. (They’re late again this year – so late that they’re blooming alongside the magnolias and early tulips.)

As you can see above, that bush is in full glorious flower. There was no rainbow that day, but it felt like finding a pot of gold. And I remembered: it’s always worth looking (especially if you know where to look).

If it’s spring where you live, I hope it’s showing up in delightful and unexpected ways.

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What Bears the Light

What bears light best is broken—
sea-glass, sand-scattered,
mica fleck-pressed into stone,
tessera tile bits glinting under plaster.
The shattered mirror throws a thousand
faces through the air.
What bears best is broken—
Light spills, splinters, wanders
through wave-crest, in ripple-riven
surfaces of lakes disturbed by wind.
What bears best is broken—
the heart, broken. The bread.
The robin-blue shell and crocus bulb
bear beauties, and every spring renew
their breaking open.

—————————-

Found via my friend Kari, who shared this poem on Instagram. It seems particularly fitting for this Good Friday.

You can listen to the poet reading this poem aloud, or read more of her work at her website.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.

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harvard yard snow blue sky

The air bit her cheeks and scorched the inside of her nose with cold. The sky was coldly blue and the whole world was white. Every blade of grass was furry with frost, the path was frosted, the boards of the well were streaked with thick frost, and frost had crept up the walls of the shanty, along the narrow battens that held the black tar-paper on.

Then the sun peeped over the edge of the prairie and the whole world glittered. Every tiniest thing glowed rosy toward the sun and pale blue toward the sky, and all along every blade of grass ran rainbow sparkles.

Laura loved the beautiful world.

—The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

I reread this book every winter, when the snow comes and we settle in for the long, hard slog before spring. I love Laura’s stick-to-it pioneer spirit and Pa’s fiddle music, and the depictions of that terrible winter in De Smet remind me that it could always be worse. (Though after three feet of snow in the past week, I am dying for a getaway to somewhere warm – an option the Ingalls family certainly didn’t have.)

This scene comes before the hard winter begins, when Laura goes to draw water from the well on the morning of the first frost. Even though the frost has killed the garden, and Laura knows that prairie winters are long and dark, she can’t help but catch her breath at its beauty.

As I fight my way through the ice and slush over here, I’m taking every glimpse of beauty I can get – including the glint of sunlight on snow. Even though it’s frigid today, scraps of blue sky like the ones above (spotted in Harvard Yard last week) are saving my life.

Like Laura, I love the beautiful world. (Though I’m ready for it to be a little warmer.)

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What a busily productive day! Interviews, writing profiles, proofreading, catching up on blogs, and sending a HUGE email to my friend Jenny in China with the latest roundup of our Oxford family. I really just want to keep everyone updated on each other forever. Honestly, that would be the best job!

Confession: I am addicted to InStyle magazine (there are four issues littering my room right now). I hate most fashion magazines because they’re trashy and over-the-top trendy (and absolutely sex-saturated), but InStyle has clean lines, makeup tips that actually work, fun articles on trends, and lots of cute clothes to drool over. In the back of every issue, they quiz a celebrity on her “guilty pleasures.” In the spirit of totally celebrating girliness, I’m going to use their categories and offer my favorites…

Beauty binge: Recently it’s been fun eyeliner. I now own it in four colors…it always reminds me so pleasantly of stage makeup. I feel like a diva when I swipe it on in the morning. Traditionally, though, it’s lip gloss…I must have seven different kinds in my purse.

Cheesy movie: For total chick flick, it’s You’ve Got Mail or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. For campy and hilarious, it’s Clue or Tommy Boy. “Shut up, Richard!”

Cocktail: I usually don’t drink, but if I do, it’s going to be sangria. Preferably at a tapas bar in Spain…but I’ll take it in the States too.

Fashion addiction: Mossimo tank tops from Target. I have seven of them, and I looove them. They’re soft and casual and cute. And long enough…they don’t require constant tugging.

Fast food: Rosa’s chicken fajitas with queso…the BEST. I think I eat them three times a week. At least.

Karaoke song: Don McLean’s “American Pie”…yes, all seven-ish minutes of it. My dad and I know EVERY word. (He likes the part where the marching band refused to yield, since I was in band in high school.) Oh, and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

Midnight snack: Dark chocolate. Or ice cream, if we have it. Or both.

How about y’all? Guilty pleasures? I’m curious. (But please not too guilty…keep it PG-rated! And guys, if you’re weearing lip gloss and eyeliner…well, I really don’t want to know.)

Happy Monday!

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