Saturday, February 22, 2014

Embracing My Natural Hair Texture

It's a well-known generalization that curly girls wish for straight hair and straight haired girls wish for curls. Now that I am embracing my natural hair color, it makes sense to lay off the heat tools and embrace my actual hair texture, which is really neither curly nor straight.

This is the hair texture I wished I had from the time I was a teenager:

Which is really, really strange, because I was a teenager smack-dab in the 1980s, when huge hair was "in." While women used orange juice cans and irons to straighten their hair in the 1970s, I was too young for any of that. No one was trying to accomplish a straight-haired look in the mid 1980s. But even while I was setting my hair in hot rollers and using gallons of hairspray (and waking up an extra hour early to get to school on time) to create the big 80s hair, I always thought that some day I'd accomplish this sleek bob. So, have I indeed accomplished this sleek bob? Despite this photo, no, not really. My expert stylist can (and did) achieve this look on me, but I literally can not do it myself, even with a rather expensive flat iron.

So, can I do curly?

Sure. If I "plop" it (the short definition of plopping: scrunching wet hair with product upside down and carefully placing it into a microfiber turban, then air-drying) and don't touch or comb or brush it. It really didn't look as good in real life as in this photo, since the other side didn't curl as nicely. Because my hair isn't TRULY curly, it's just a bit wavy. But not being able to comb or brush it drives me nuts. Not to mention, in the winter-time, air-drying isn't always ideal. So this isn't a great everyday 'do for me.

So I've decided to embrace is my natural waviness, such as it is:

It looks different every day, and as you can see from the photos, the left and right sides actually look different on the same day. But I can partially blow dry it (just for about two minutes to get some moisture out of the underneath layers that touch my neck) on cold days, or simply let it air dry. Styling is easy: comb in a little leave-in conditioner, a wee bit of gel, and gently scrunch for a few seconds. And, once it's dry, I can brush it. As often as I like. Ease in styling isn't about laziness; it's about going along with what my hair actually wants instead of fighting it. I feel like I'm inducing far less damage to it by obeying its commands. ;) As I get older, I feel the need to baby my hair, as it's thinner and more delicate than it used to be. So this is my natural texture. I still let my stylist do the sleek look for special occasions, and on some hot, humid days, I'll probably plop for that big curly look. But on an everyday basis, the irregular, slightly wavy look just feels like ME.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Coconut Oil: Healthy Dessert Ingredient or Beauty Treatment?

I doubt you'll be surprised to hear that my answer is, "both." If you google coconut oil, you can find dozens and dozens of uses for this wonder stuff. When shopping for coconut oil, look for virgin, organic, and cold-pressed. Here is an article with more detail on how to choose a coconut oil.

One of my favorite uses is this easy, healthy, hearty, satisfying dessert recipe. It's got no added sugar (outside of the chocolate, which you COULD skip, if you're crazy, that is) and no artificial sweeteners. It's gluten-free, and if you use a non-dairy milk, it's vegan too. I found this simple recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie, an awesome healthy/chocolate recipe blog. Here is the original recipe: Banana Bread Baked Oatmeal, but I have tweaked it to my own tastes and I call it Banana-Oat Bread Pudding. Because I love bread pudding, but that's not exactly known for its health properties. Katie offers a lot of variations, and here is what I've settled on for my own tastes:

Banana-Oat Bread Pudding:

1/2 cup oats
a little over 1/16 tsp salt
1 small, very ripe, mashed banana
3 tbps milk (I use 1%)
1/2 tbps coconut oil
splash of vanilla (optional)
dash of cinnamon (optional)
1 tbsp (or so) of dark chocolate chips (optional, I SUPPOSE)

Preheat oven to 380 degrees. Combine the oats and salt, then mix in the wet ingredients.  Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into small greased (I use coconut oil and give it a thick coat) baking pan and bake for 20 minutes (or until edges are golden brown). This makes one very generous portion. You'll want to eat it hot out of the oven, of course.

So as long as you have the coconut oil in the house, try experimenting with some of its other uses. Personally, I use it as a cuticle conditioner at night. I use it as a body lotion on my legs after shaving. I also deep condition my hair with it, pre-shampoo, a couple of times a month. The most effective way to do this is to apply some heat, so I work a handful into my hair before my workout and cover my hair with plastic wrap. The heat from my exertions does the trick. I wouldn't recommend this at the gym, however, unless you enjoy weird stares from your fellow gym denizens. ;) You could simply wave a hairdryer at it for a while once you have the plastic wrap in place, or sit under a hood dryer if you own one. Just be sure to wash the coconut oil out thoroughly. It also makes a nice hairdressing; simply rub the tiniest bit between your hands and gently skim it over your hair to tame flyaways and impart softness. An added bonus to using coconut oil as a beauty treatment? You will smell ever so slightly like a tropical beach vacation. :)

Have you discovered any fabulous ways to use coconut oil?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Healthy and Delicious and Possibly Green Smoothie Recipe

I have struggled with my weight since high school. I love to eat, and I have a major sweet tooth. But lately, I have stopped struggling and just calmed down about the whole thing. I exercise, I eat a lot of healthy foods, and I still eat some not-so-healthy foods - a girl's gotta have her chocolate (every day). I try to follow two very basic premises: eat when you're hungry (and don't eat when you're not); and fuel your body primarily with real food. And my weight has settled in a comfortable place. Not skinny, not fat, but I am fitter than I was in my 20s. And I can live with that.

So I wanted to share a recipe I made up. It's nothing revolutionary, just a basic smoothie that can be whipped up in a few minutes for a quick and healthy meal or snack. I don't really measure the ingredients; I only did so for the purposes of writing it out here. Every ingredient can be changed to suit your tastes, but this is a good jumping off point if you're looking to get into smoothies.

This recipe makes a BIG smoothie, plenty enough to hold me until lunch. I drink it out of a 24 oz tumbler myself; it won't fit into anything smaller in one pour. I really don't count calories, but I did a rough count here and if you follow it as written originally, it'll be under 300 calories. And it tastes like a delicious, sweet treat.

Possibly Green Smoothie:
1/2 cup unflavored non-fat Greek yogurt (If you want it sweeter, use flavored yogurt of your choice. But try to stick to Greek; just a half cup has about 11 grams of protein. Use more yogurt if you want more protein or if you like a yogurt-y taste. At this amount, you can hardly tell there is yogurt in the smoothie.)
1/2 cup blueberries (Or literally any fruit you like. Blueberries and other dark berries make the smoothie purple. If you want your smoothie to be an attractive bright GREEN, then use a yellowish fruit, like pineapple, pear, peach, mango, apple, cantaloupe, honeydew, or mandarin oranges. Those little individual fruit cups they sell for kids' lunches are perfectly sized; I buy the no-added-sugar-or-sweetener kind and throw the whole cup in, juice and all.)
1/2 banana (Even if you're not a huge banana fan - I'm not - but half a banana is just enough to add sweetness and creaminess.)
1-2 cups fresh kale - (Do not pack it in. If you use frozen, which is already condensed, I'd use a lot less; maybe half a cup. You can also use any other sort of green: spinach, chard, or whatever floats your boat.)
1/2 cup seedless grapes (You may want to use red if your other fruit is a berry of some kind - they tend to be sweeter and offset the berries' tartness. You can use green grapes if you're going for a really green smoothie.)
1/2 cup ice and/or water (If you're using all frozen fruit, you can use little to no ice; if you're using fresh, then make it all ice.)
Have water (or milk/juice of your choice) handy to pour in if your smoothie is too thick.

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed. I like my Vitamix but you certainly don't need such an expensive blender for a smoothie. I like that it totally pulverizes the ice, makes the kale invisible (I don't find green flecks appealing) and gives me a really smooth texture.
The green version, with mango instead of berries

Sorry, I'm not a food photographer - this does taste better than it looks!
I drink this for breakfast all year round, even in the winter. I alternate with sips of coffee (I know, I know - but it really does taste fine) to avoid getting chilled. Ha!

Edited to add: A friend pointed out that the latest research indicates that eating too much raw kale may interfere with thyroid function. Just in case, I've stopped using raw kale every day. I generally either cook the kale first, or use another green like spinach.

Do you have any favorite, tried and true, healthy and totally delicious recipes?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Liners and Primers and Brows, Oh My!

Though I can't claim to be a wizard with makeup, there are three big ways I've changed my makeup routine for the better in recent years. I'll go through them one at a time, and I'll link to some of the products I like. I'll link to stores where I shop personally, but I don't have any sort of affiliation with any of the linked companies.

Liners: In this context I mean lip liner, not eye liner (I'll save eye liner for another post). I've noticed recently that my lipstick tends to run off my lips and into the fine lines around my lips. Yuck. I mean, I don't even have any fine lines around my lips (yet) that are visible to the naked eye. But, lipstick somehow manages to find those tiny fine lines and illuminate them. I've been wearing much bolder lipstick of late; having less pigment in my hair warrants more pigment on my lips, in my opinion. And while bright, bold lipstick is very fun ON the lips, it's not so fun OFF the lips. So this is why I started using lip liner. I was reluctant at first, because who wants to buy a lip liner to match each and every lipstick in one's wardrobe? And then I discovered CLEAR LIP LINER. Readers, it was a revelation. And while there are many places that I will recommend a splurge, this is something you can definitely cheap out on. I have two in very different price ranges, and they both work equally well. The two I have and like are Urban Decay's Glide-On Lip Pencil in Ozone, and Sally Hansen's Invisible Lip Liner. I'd venture to say that you could probably pick up any brand in any drugstore and have the same success with it. I use it just around the edges of my lips and it does the job. If you wanted a primer effect, you could fill in the entire lip with it. It's impossible to make a mistake, as you could with colored lip liner. And one product will work with every color lipstick in your arsenal. Win-win.

Primers: There are many different primers (lip, face, eye), and while I do like face primer, it's specifically eyelid primer that I'll be discussing here. This stuff is life-changing, it really is. I have fairly oily lids, and my eyeliner and eyeshadow used to slide right off and/or smear around within hours of application, no matter how high end the makeup was. Now I have to have a pretty good cry to make my eye makeup slide around at all. It lasts ALL day long. I don't even have to touch up to go out in the evening. I've tried two different higher end brands of eye lid primer, Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion and Too Faced's Shadow Insurance. They are similarly priced, but the formulas are different. UD's is dryer and thicker than TF's, but not in a bad way. I don't have a preference between the two, but there are plenty of faithful devotees of each. There are also some very inexpensive drug store brands that are probably worth a try, i.e. e.l.f. Eyelid Primer which costs a whole buck, but I haven't used them myself.

Brows: I could easily do a whole post just on brows, many bloggers have. In fact, some have done a whole series on brows. There's a real art to doing gorgeous brows. But I'm pretty simple when it comes to my brows. I just need a little definition. This becomes especially important when a) your hair gets lighter and b) your brows get sparser with age. Brows truly do frame your face: don't ignore them! There is a lot of information out there on how to shape your brows, and how to fill them in with real snazziness. However, I keep my brow routine very basic. I do no special shaping, just a basic stray-removal every couple of days, keeping the front end of my brow directly above the inside of my tear duct. But I do need to define them. I tried a ton of pencils and powders and even a mascara-like liquid gel trying to find just the right cool shade of taupe or ash brown. I look like a clown if there is any hint of red or yellow in my brow makeup, but your mileage with vary with this. Your brow product needs to match you. 

My holy grail eyebrow makeup: Clinique Brow Shaper in Charcoaled. I use the included angled brow brush and dip it in the powder. I start at the arch and brush my way out toward the ear. Then I go back to the front of my brow (over the tear duct) and use whatever powder is left on the brush to work back towards the middle. This prevents the front of the brow from being too dark; that would give a harsh look. And that's it! If it looks a little overdone, I use a spoolie brush (yes, you can just use an old cleaned mascara wand) and brush though the brows. This removes any excess and gives a natural look. If you prefer using pencil, or want a dirt cheap product that's still quite good, I used Wet n Wild Color Icon Liner Brow & Eye Pencil in Taupe for a while. I switched to the Clinique because this pencil is so soft that it has to be sharpened after every use. This can be offset somewhat by keeping it in the freezer, but unless your makeup station is near your freezer (mine isn't) that's sort of a pain. I justify the higher price of the Clinique because I use so little each day; I've been using it for months and hardly made a visible dent in the product. 

Do you have any favorite beauty products that have made a real difference in your makeup routine?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Authentically Me, or Why Go Gray?

This blog post title is a two-fer; it's the answer and the question. So the question is, "Why go gray?" It's been posed to me several times. After all, I'm only 43. Sure, I found my first gray hairs at the age of 11 and started graying for real in my 20s. But hair dye can cover all that, right? And it did, for over 20 years. But I decided enough is enough.

Because I want to be authentically me. My youthful days of pretending to be someone else, someone better, someone different, are over. I don't desire that anymore.

Maybe that's not a good enough reason to take this "drastic" step. After all, I still happily apply plenty of makeup every day. And makeup is an artifice! (An artifice I happen to adore) But I have more.

Reapplying the dye every three weeks is a real PITA (Pain In The A**). That's time and money I can spend on something else.

Putting chemicals directly on my scalp and letting them sit for a half hour or so every few weeks can't possibly be good for me. I'm not exactly a health nut, but I try to live a pretty healthy lifestyle and dye flies in the face of that.

I'm a mother, and two of my three children are girls, and I want to set a example of self-acceptance for them.

Fighting a constant battle against my roots was depressing. I would leave the salon (or my bathroom) feeling like a million bucks, but each day, the color would be a little less shiny and less vivid. And I would find more of those pesky roots.

One day I had an epiphany. Those pesky roots? Are actually PRETTY. They are silver, like the jewelry I love. They are shiny, and they sparkle in the sun. It started to feel like a bummer to have to cover them over. I wanted to see what would happen if I just didn't apply the brown chemical paste one month. And then another.

And it turns out I love it. I LOVE it! I'm not quite fully natural yet; I still have a good six inches of leftover highlights/lowlights on my ends. I expect within a year or so I'll have that all cut off. But I am very much enjoying what I see so far.

So, how exactly did I go about it? I actually starting thinking about maybe doing this five years ago. I wasn't quite ready, and I let my hair stylist talk me right out of it. But the seed was planted. So I started coloring at home, and using only semi-permanent dye, the stuff that's supposed to last six weeks. Well, it doesn't really stay very brown that long, but it did last the 3.5 weeks I needed it to before my roots demanded a re-dye anyway. Still not fully decided to go natural, I asked my stylist to put in highlights and lowlights, and I stopped doing any sort of base color in December of 2012. When I'd had enough of the highlights/lowlights, I just went cold turkey; this was April 2013. So now, ten months with no dye, my base color has totally reverted to natural, but those highlights and lowlights were permanent, so they will have to be cut off eventually.

It's been quite a painless transition. I can't suggest everyone do it this way, since semi-permanent color really doesn't fade out for everyone. But if you have the time and you want to experiment, it's one way to go.

I don't ever try to "sell" anyone on quitting the dye. I don't make any judgements on anyone who wants to continue dyeing forever - at one point, I definitely thought I would. But if you are considering it, I highly suggest joining Cafe Gray - the beautiful and kind Silver Sisters over there have helped me on this journey immeasurably. If you think going gray will age you, a quick perusal of the many women who have transitioned will disabuse you of that notion. If you're not the message-board-joining sort, two books I read also helped me a great deal: Going Gray, Looking Great! by Diana Jewell, who also started and moderates Cafe Gray; and Going Gray by Anne Kreamer. If I can help you in any way, leave me a comment and I'll do my best!

Here are some photos of my journey so far:
Full dye (freshly done) - April 2012

Highlights and lowlights, base starting to fade - January 2013

Almost natural, highlights/lowlights relegated to bottom 6in - February 2014

"But I'm Not Dead Yet!"

"But I'm not dead yet!" This is one of my favorite scenes from Monty Python's "The Holy Grail." Well, I've mangled the quote a bit; actually, an old man presumed dead from the plague insists, "I'm not dead" when the dead collector comes to collect his body. They get into an argument, which ends with a whack on the head. The dead collector wins. Well, what on earth does this rather morbid bit of humor have to do with "beauty over forty," my blog's raison d'ĂȘtre? Simple: I'm over forty, but I'm not dead yet.

I'm not even close to dead, actually. If all goes well, and I'm one of the lucky ones, I'm barely halfway. But judging from what you see in the media, I may as well be dead, or nearly. I don't need to give you examples, dear readers, you know what I mean about that.

So why join the already crowded beauty blogosphere? Because most beauty blogs are aimed at women with unlined skin and taut eyelids. I'm not one of those women anymore. And I'm never going to be Scarlet Johanssen. I'm never even going to be Jennifer Aniston, who is actually a few years older than me. I don't claim to be a beauty or to have all the answers. I'm never going to be anyone more beautiful than me - but I still want to look and feel my very best. I love to share what I've learned about beauty. If I can help one woman become her own best version, then I've accomplished my goal here.

This space will contain my thoughts about beauty, and perhaps go a bit further than skin-deep. I'm going to talk about my silver hair, and why decided to go natural, and how I take care of it to help it look its best. I'll talk skin, beauty products, and makeup. I'll talk about color and "the seasons." I may share a few favorite healthy recipes. Plus, anything else that moves me to write.