Wednesday, August 8, 2012

the best beauty products in my closet at this very moment are ...

I have an obsession with make-up.  And shoes.  And hair products.  And clothes.  

And make-up.

I named this blog entry "the best beauty products in my closet", because my loving husband gave me the sole rights to the huge walk-in closet in our apartment.  What a sweetheart.  I house my clothes, shoes, and makeup in there.  I listen to my girly music from GLEE and singalong to Darren Criss all by myself without disturbing ... ahem ... anyone.

So why blog about my current favorite make-up?  I've been reading a few beauty blogs recently.  I love following 2 beauty blogs in particular:  Jen from frmheadtotoe is completely adorable.  She does a lot of tutorial videos and they are somehow strangely addictive.  She focuses on make-up & hair how-to's as well as clothing, make-up brushes, bra fitting, and all kinds of fun girly things.  I particularly like the ones where she compares make-up products and brands.  

My other go-to is Juli & her alter ego Bun Bun.  I enjoy her writing, especially her series on how to apply eye makeup and the shapes of Asian eyes versus Caucasian eyes.  Click here for her interesting pics and explanation of how to make the most of your eye shape.  She also does a whole series on makeup for Asian eyes, including a blended look for monolid eyes (typical hooded Asian eye lids).  Gorgeous.  And the big key is blending blending blending.

Back to a few of my favorite things.... It was Jen from frmheadtotoe that introduced me to a mascara brand called Fairydrops.  <-- click here to see her full explanation of them.

Fairydrops mascara:  orignal formula on the LEFT in pink,
newer formula called Scandal Queen on RIGHT in gold
 Interestingly enough, the 2 formulas are very different.  I like the Original version for the top lashes because it holds a curl, lengthens and volumizes.  I'll use the newer Scandal Queen version for what-little-lower-lashes I have.  The newer version is much easier to take off than the original, just wet and gently 'pull'.  It's very similar to the 'tubing' mascara brand called blinc which I used and loved about 12 years ago (yikes!).  Some people are afraid that you will damage your lashes or pull them out by using this kind of mascara but rest assured, there is no losing of the lashes.  I have so little lashes to work with, I certainly wouldn't use anything that would pull the few I have out.

Fairydrops mascara brush has changed from wavy (original) to curved (new)
My obsession with mascara is due to my continued effort to plump up my sad little lashes.  I dream of big full, luscious lashes to frame my eyes.  A few times I splurged on eyelash extensions.  It takes a day to get used to them, but I found I wore very little makeup when I had a full set of lashes.  I just didn't need to!!    *sigh*    Unfortunately, you have to keep replacing them (which costs $$) and repeated use just murders your lashes.

Lash extensions for my wedding

So after a few lash extension treatments for a special occasion (like my recent wedding and honeymoon!), I gave my lashes a rest and started using a product called RapidLash.  I've also tried Revitalash, and that also works.  But, at the time, I was getting Revitalash at cost through a friend who no longer can get it for me.  This brand works just as well -- better maybe? -- and costs much less.  $30.00 on Amazon.  Also available for $29.99 at Walgreens.

love this stuff!

One of the things I learned from my wedding make-up artist was that the makeup sponge you use makes a difference!  I usually use my fingers, a triangular sponge, or a foundation brush (I have a good one from Smashbox), but these egg shaped sponges are awesome.  I don't know why, but they blend really well.  It is called the "beautyblender" after all.  I bought 2 sponges and a cleanser on Amazon.  One negative:  the tip of one of sponges just ripped off when cleaning it.  Odd.

Ahhhhh, this eyeshadow palette is a no brainer.  Jenn from frmheadtotoe has a whole blog about it here.  The pigmentation is great, easily blendable, and I find myself using 9 of the 12 colors fairly regularly.

totally worth $50.  

as you can see from the indentations, i found myself loving the sparkly shadows,
which I usually don't trend towards.  'half baked' is great to highlight under your eyes.

smog is one of my unexpected favs.  and creep and gunmetal are perfect for a deep smoky look.

Ok, now this is where I differ from some of the 'real' online bueaty blogger gurus.  Everyone raves about Urban Decay's eyeshadow primer.  But for me, this NARS Pro-Prime Smudge Proof eyeshadow base works best.  I don't consider myself to have greasy or oily skin.  I've never needed to oil blotter papers and will usually buy combination, normal or dry-normal face products.  But I guess my eyes have some oils that absorb eyeshadow and eyeliner because I'll apply it in the morning (or afternoon), and within a few hours, it's gone.  But when I use this stuff?  It lasts ALL DAY.  *just to state what may already be obvious but, I'm certainly not paid to say any of this.  This blog is pure enjoyment for me.  =)

Anyway, try this stuff out.  I got a small sample at Sephora and couldn't believe that a crayon eyeliner on my lower lash line could last all day long.  This is the only product that as worked for me.

Primers:  what an important step.  It may feel like you are just slapping something greasy or 'extra' on your face before foundation or tinted moisturizer but this stuff really gives your makeup a smoothness.  Makeup glides on.  And then-- glides off when you wash your face.  Yay!  It doesn't sink into your skin, and thus doesn't fade.

I really like Smashbox Photo Finish primer, although there are now so many different kinds of Smashbox primers, I can only comment on the original primer.  I really liked it, but found it it to be a tad bit heavy.  I will say that your makeup certainly glides on and it works like magic for photo ops.  
hourglass Veil prime

The primer I use now, hourglass veil mineral primer, feels very light.  It glides onto your skin, fills out any pores or unevenness, and makes foundation application super easy.  As of right now, my favorite foundation is Make Up Forever HD.  It is so light and blends perfectly.  I was introduced to the brand (and the correct color) by my wedding makeup artist Jane Kim of The Glamourist.  She is truly talented.  And truly expensive.  But I have to say that I felt like a complete babe on my wedding day!  The best compliment ever was after our make-up trial, my (now) husband had to be prompted to comment and he said, "Oh yeah ... I thought you looked especially pretty today, but I didn't know why!"  With every other makeup trial I had, he would immediately hem and haw and say, " ... how come they always use so much makeup?"  Enough said.  I'm SOLD.

be sure to rub for at least 30 seconds!
One of the things that always deterred me from using foundation was the increased risk of PIMPLES.  But aha!  I think I have found a pretty reliable solution.  Neutrogena's Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Gel works IF I catch the inflammation early AND IF I rub the gel in for at least 30 seconds.  60 seconds is even better.  I've tried the minute-rub-in with other products and it didn't do the trick.  So try this one out, hopefully it'll work!  I admit that I also indulge in the most amazing facials at Neva's Beauty in San Francisco, every 1-2 months.  She is just amazing and my face feels 90-95% clearer, brighter, and smoother after one of her facials.  I figure spending a few $$ on facials is not so bad when I am using such an inexpensive drugstore acne gel!

This brings me to 2 other drugstore brand items:  lipstick.  I was introduced to the Revlon Lip Butters on the frmheadtotoe blog. Jen was a big big fan and so I tried them.  Pretty smooth.  My preferred color is the Peach Parfait.  But then I found L'oreal Colour Riche Balm.  I don't go for drugstore brand makeup that often, but I'm finding that less expensive lip colors don't differ as much as foundations, or eyeshadows where pigmentation and blendability is important.  Sometimes drugstore lip glosses can be sticky, but most drugstore and department store lipsticks rub off fairly quickly, especially if you are like me and always have water or tea throughout the day.  I don't love the 12 hour stay-on lip stains or tacky-to-dry-feeling lipsticks, but please do comment and let me know if you've found a good one!!

L'oreal Colour Riche Balm (819) Caramel Comfort on LEFT.
Revlon Colorburst Lip Butter (025) Peach Parfait on RIGHT

The L'oreal Balm lipsticks are so incredibly smooth.  Much more so than the Lip Butters (what a great name though!).  And I like the L'oreal colors more as well.  I found 2 great neutrals (whereas I found the Revlon Lip Butters colors to trend more towards pink): Nourishing Nude & Caramel Comfort.

These colors are very neutral -- I remember being in high school in the early '90s and going for the dark dark colors.  How times have changed....

Below are the 2 lip color swatches on my arm (my skin is a bit tanned -- now sure how?  It can't possibly be from this foggy San Francisco summer ....  oh yes!  It was from my recent backpacking adventure in Tahoe.  What great fun.  No makeup necessary out in Desolation Wilderness.  Just toilet paper and a head lamp!)

L'oreal Balm on the Left, Revlon Lip Butters on the Right

L'oreal Caramel Comfort BALM 

Revlon Peach Parfait Lip Butter
  Up next:  I'd like to expand with this "favorite products" theme and show you some of the great finds in my bathroom cabinet.  Please share any of your favorite makeup finds!  Thanks for reading!!  

**professional photos are by my fantastic wedding photographer Kristy Ahumada of Volatile Photography.  Check out the link to see more of our wedding photos that are featured on the wedding website Style Me Pretty.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Backpacking 101: Desolation Wilderness

TO ...


Desolation wilderness!  Yikes.  Um, not exactly the most welcoming of signs.  But take a look at what you just might see when you are far away from the urban concrete and hoards of people ...

This is Echo Lake (Lower in the background and Upper in the foreground), south of Lake Tahoe.  It is pristine and beautiful. And only about a 3 hour (or so) drive from San Francisco.  

This is my second backpacking trip.  The first was with my husband on our honeymoon just 2 months prior.  He took me on an 11 mile hike to Kalalau Beach in Kauai.  After I did this hike (and it was truly amazing), I read that it was one of America's top 10 most dangerous hikes.  Thanks a bunch New Husband.  But I made it through alive and I must have been an okay backpacking partner because this weekend, we set out again.  That particular hike was a grueling 11 miles UP giant boulders and red dirt, winding around curvy dangerous cliffs, and ended at a beautiful beach.  Totally worth it.  But it's not exactly a "starter hike".  

The adventure we had this past weekend was much easier than the Na Pali coast trail to Kalalau Beach. We drove to the bottom of Lower Echo Lake, took a $12 per person boat ride across the entire length of Echo Lake (approximately 2.7 miles), and then hiked about 4 miles to Lake Aloha.  Echo Lake to Lake Aloha map
I am only a newbie at this backpacking thing.  And this blog is NOT meant to cover everything about backpacking.  I'll just tell you what I brought & a few lessons learned along the way. 

The #1 Rule:  go with someone who knows what they are doing!!!  They can tell you what to bring (from clothing to equipment) and even better -- they will likely have many of the gadgets that you need for a backpacking trip.  

Let me back up here for a second and explain something that is common sense for those in the backpacking community but not so much for the rest of us.  

Backpacking = hiking with a heavy backpack full of junk to a far away distance and camping overnight.  Whereas just Hiking = walking in the woods or other natural terrain with a day's supply of water, sunscreen, and snacks.  And Camping = sleeping in a sleeping bag and tent.  This can be broken down into Car Camping = driving to a destination, unloading the car with fun gear, and setting up a tent VERSUS Back Country Camping = backpacking.  And we are back where we started.

Some key items for backpacking are seen in the picture below.  For a good backpack, go to a reputable place that can fit you for a backpack, like REI or Sports Basement.  I got mine from a friend who just had a baby and has put her backpacking days on hiatus for a while.  Backpacks can be pricey so ... go me.  

my backpack and a few key items
Other essentials are (going in a loopy sort of clockwise order here) a headlamp, water bottle, hand sanitizer, bug repellent (also shown is a green plastic bracelet impregnated with citronella), NuSkin, lip balm, and toilet paper in a Ziplock.

Let me break these items down for you.

 Toilet paper is a must (for me).  It takes some getting used to peeing and pooping in the wild, but I refuse to wipe my bare bum with a leaf or grass or something crazy like that.  The Ziplock is not only to carry the toilet paper in but -- RULE #2:  you MUST "pack out what you pack in".  This means that whatever you bring into the backcountry, you MUST bring back out.  We took extra food that we didn't eat and had gone bad -- we "packed it out".  My bottle of insect repellent ran dry -- we "packed it out".  We put the used toilet paper in a Ziplock (different than the one holding the clean roll, or you can stuff the used toilet paper bits into the hollow of the cardboard tube), and we "packed it out".  This is a 'dirty' -- haha-- subject but a really important one.  Besides the fact that it is completely disgusting to walk around in the woods and see someone's used toilet paper sitting on the ground, it is terrible for the environment.  Things do not compost unless moist (or treated), and in Desolation Wilderness the air is very dry.  It would take several years (apparently) for simple toilet paper to become compost.

Speaking of Ziplocks -- these can be your best friend in a backpacking trip.  For instance, I put my phone in one (in case of water damage from rain or a creek or the ocean).  I can't recall other random things I used them for, but I do recall saying aloud, "Crap, what should I do with this?" and my husband whipping out a clean Ziplock as the perfect solution more than once.  So might I suggest to cram a bunch of Ziplocks in a Ziplock?  Bag in the bag?

Next items:  NuSkin which you can buy in any local pharmacy (e.g. Walgreens, CVS, or Amazon).  It is a "liquid bandaid" so as long as your cut or wound is fairly superficial, this stuff works great.  The warning is that it stings like a mutha, but after you blow on it and wave around your damaged appendage like crazy for a 10-15 seconds, the pain goes away and you are left with a waterproof, semi-permanant bandaid.  You can also use it preventatively for blisters in those brand new hiking boots.  Just put on a thin layer, let it dry, and you should be good to go.  Works for heels too.  =)

Purell.  This is essential for post-wilderness-bathroom-ing.  After I use it, I tend to rinse my hands in (sterilized) water if I have any to spare.  **Comments on water sterilization are below.

Moving on ... the green bracelet is from the company mosquitnoband.  It is one of those silicon "Lance Armstrong/breast cancer awareness-type" bracelets that is laced with citronella.  I found the scent to be a bit strong but I think it may have actually worked -- and it says Hey Don't bite me please which I thought was amusing.  I found these at Sports Basement but you can buy in other places, like Amazon.  If you want an official checklist for your backpacking trip, Sports Basement a good one.  In fact, Sports Basement has everything.  If you have one nearby, definitely go.

Another good bug repellant was Repel Sportsmen MAX formula spray pump.  I loved the long thin tube because it fit in the side pocket of my backpack wonderfully.   This formula has 40% deet which may not be suitable for everyone.  And the bottle will only last a few days with 2-3 applications a day.

Lip balm is an obvious one but you may forget.  Blistex Medicated is my favorite (for backpacking, daily and nightly use!).  It's SPF 15 & very moisturizing.  Other brands I find too waxy or it doesn't moisturize enough.  But this one only needs to be reapplied after several hours.  Comes in Regular or Mint.

Zipka 2 Petzl headlamp
My last 2 items:  the Petzl headlamp, and the Camelbak water bottle.

I have the Zipka 2 Petzl headlamp.  It's awesome.  I love how compact it is with the retractable elastic band.  When I first heard of a headlamp I thought of miners from California gold digging era, or perhaps a retro MD headlamp.  But these things are super handy when it is dark, and you are walking back to your tent.  Or when you have to get up in the middle of the night to pee.  Or when your apartment has a power outage and you're scrambling in the dark.  How convenient to have your hands free and your path illuminated.  Get one.

I use my Camelbak daily.  It took a very short time getting used to biting and sucking on the silicon straw -- like reverting back to baby bottle days -- but I find it handy because you can bite it and have hands free (again!); you can be lying on your back and still drink from it without spills, and it's easy to clean because of the wider neck.  I've had a few different water bottles (Nalgene and Kleen Kanteen) and had chosen the narrow neck bottles because they are easier to swig out of, but they are more difficult to clean.  So I found the Camelbak to be the best.  So far.

** WATER STERILIZATION:  Dang it, I didn't take a pic of the SteriPEN, but I linked it to the exact one we have:   SteriPEN Freedom.  This thing is great.  We think it actually works too.  Heh heh.  For Hawaii we used iodine pills -- icky.  So we invested in the SteriPEN: Freedom.  I chose this slightly more expensive non-battery model because it weighs the least (2.6 oz).  It may only be a few ounces less than other models, but when you are backpacking every ounce counts (another lesson I learned as I trudged up the hill, all hot and sweaty with what felt like 500 pounds on my back).  It is rechargeable so it works the same as a cell phone -- plug it in to charge, and you are good to go.  It's small, light, and can sterilize 10 gallons per charge.  One minus is that if you are going for a long backpacking trip you will need to re-charge it (or you can buy a second SteriPEN).  You can get an iGo, a portable charger which weighs 3.7 ounces and can recharge items like a SteriPEN, iPhone, etc.

the lovely Karen with her hiking poles
My friend who devised this trip hikes with hiking poles.  She says they help most with going downhill to take some of the pressure off the knees.  I liked using them on the uphill.  If you get these, I suggest getting a brief tutorial on how to size and use them.  I had actually been using them backwards, and didn't like the straps because they just chained me to the poles.  Then Karen showed me the way -- and I realized that when you use the straps the correct way, it actually allows you to be almost hands-free (geez, this is the 3rd? time I've used the term 'hands free' in one blog post...) while using the poles because your wrists rests on the strap.  Difficult to put into words.  Look up a YouTube (I'm sure there's one) or ask someone who sells them or already uses them to show you.

AND NOW, back to the trip ....

After we hiked to Lake Aloha, we set up tent and relaxed.  I was able to sit at water level on a rock and dip my barking feet into the cold clean water while looking at the snow patches on the mountain ridge next to us.  It was pretty awesome.

my toes chillin' in Lake Aloha

We woke up the next day to the most quiet and calm morning I think I've ever experienced.  The stillness was so odd after living and working in the city for so long (NYC and now SF).  The still water became a perfect mirror for the grand background.  It was like taking abstract pictures -- except that it was actually nature at its finest!

A still Lake Aloha in the early morning mirrors the mountains

After our calm and peaceful morning, we decided on a leisurely hike back to Echo Lake.  We stopped at Lake of the Woods for lunch.  We swam, tried to catch some fish (no luck), fired up the camp stove for some really delightful re-hydrated food <--no sarcasm there, it was delish!  I bought Mary Jane's Farm Organic food at Sports Basement.  We had the Bare Burrito (which would was made more awesome with the leftover Doritos I had), and the ChiliMac.  Yum Yum Yum.  We then had Backpackers' Pantry Hawaiian Chicken and -- blech.  We may have put too much water in it, but it was just a bag of sweetened watery rice.  Mary Jane's Farm is Organic, mostly vegan or vegetarian, and cost twice as much.  But tasted about 300 times better.  Your call.

Let's end with a few of the beautiful sites along the way back to Echo Lake.

pine cones a -plenty

weird fluorescent yellow green covered branches

beautiful wildflowers were everywhere!!

And lastly, the VERY BEST part about backpacking (besides washing your hands in a sink and using an actual toilet) ... is your first hot non-dehydrated meal.  Double double with cheese, please.
Need I say more?