A step towards natural

This year I made some big decisions when it came to skincare. There has been a lot of chatter out there about the products we use and the chemicals in them and how they affect our bodies and our overall health.

I want to believe that science has reached a point where we can create things that are useful and harmless to our bodies, but with the growing number of cases out there that show the long term effect of certain chemicals – and because I was just generally curious about a what it would take to use less chemicals and make my own things – I decided to take a step towards the natural, starting with the products I use for my body.

Now, before you go any further there are a few things you should know:

  1. This is not a post to convince you to stop using chemical products. Do what you think is best for you.
  2. I came to this decision because I wanted to be more informed about the things I put in and on my body. It’s a slow process.
  3. Every body is different and products react differently to those bodies. So what I might be doing might work for me, but might have to be tweaked to work for you.

Dealing with all this hair

This was the biggest one. Over a period of five years I have been slowly learning to appreciate the curly, frizzy, messy locks that grow on my head. I got tired of spending many hours a week straightening it, or buying the expensive no-frizz products that are supposed to leave your hair silky and smooth. No shampoo worked for me, no amount of leave in conditioner fixed the issue and if I did use a styling product it left my hair feeling messy the next day and I do not wash my hair every day.

So, the first step was to straighten my hair less. The next step was to cut out all the extra products that I was buying for the sake of taming my messy tresses and to let my hair be.

The next step was to move towards a more natural shampoo/conditioner combo, and this year I decided to join the “no poo” movement and do the whole baking soda and apple cider vinegar rinse. For me, finding the right ratio of baking soda to water for my hair was a pretty harrowing experience, and I spent months trying to figure it out. So now I use a shampoo bar that’s all natural (and vegan). It’s been working out great and I still use the ACV rinse with it from time to time.

Then, because the ends of my hair tend to be dry and since I’m not using a fancy smelly shampoo, I use essential oils (with a carrier oil) to add some moisture to my ends and roots.

I’ve also recently started using Henna, once a month. I though about the henna+indigo process, but I really do not want to spend a lot of hours dying my hair so I use a premixed version from Whole Foods.

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my hair. It’s still a curly, frizzy, mess but it doesn’t feel brittle, it doesn’t fall out as much (just the usual when brushing) and it doesn’t break as much either. Overall if feels healthier.

Interestingly enough, there was a time during my baking soda phase where my hair felt really oily and I caved in and used shampoo. As soon as I put the shampoo in and rinsed it out my hair felt dry and brittle. That little episode reminded me of why I left shampoo in the first place.

I don’t think I’m 100% at the point I want to be with my hair, but so far I’m happy with the way things are going.

Making my own deodorant

Earlier this year I got a deodorant recipe from a friend, who saw very good results. I wanted to move away from regular deodorant so I decided to try it out. I’m still using it today and I absolutely love it!

I put in too much of the coconut oil so in the summer it was almost liquid, but not to a point where it made my skin feel oily. Of course, it’s now hard in the winter, so I let it sit in a warm bath while I’m taking my shower so I can use it. Perhaps I’ll try make it more stick-like next time around so that I can put it in an old deodorant tube.

Making my own body wash

This recipe I also got from my friend, when I visited her this past October I noticed that my hands were not as dry when I washed them using her hand soap. Usually my hands get really dry after washing them. The hand soap used part of the ingredients for the body wash so I decided I’d try it – since my skin is so very dry.

I tired it for the first time this week and it was divine. I loved it. The smell is amazing, and I loved that when I hopped out of the shower my skin wasn’t as dry as it usually is. I will give it some time before tweaking it, but right now it’s perfect for me.

Moving off of Proactiv

First let me say, Proactiv was wonderful for me. I was having some serious problems with acne in my late twenties and I couldn’t get rid of it, no matter what I tried. I stepped up to the advance formula for Proactiv and in a few months I was acne free.

I started stepping down from the advance formula to the regular this year and now, at the end of the year, I’m finally going to make the leap to come off of it altogether. It does help that lately I feel my face getting itchy whenever I use the product, so I am guessing it’s about time.

This is going to be the scariest part for me because I know I will probably break out again until my face gets accustomed to this new regiment, but hopefully I’ll be able to make a smooth transition. I’m also worried because my skin leans towards dryness, and I’m trying to do a baking soda scrub with almond oil as a moisturizer. We’ll see how that turns out!

The next step would be coming up with a lotion that I can use for my dry skin, that’s completely natural.

The Great Dumpling Showdown*

This week, a workmate (who shares my love of dumplings) and I decided to have dumpling taste test for lunch. There were three places that we heard of that were all referred to as “the best dumplings in the city”, but we were skeptical, we had to stack them up against each other to see who really deserved the title.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House on Eldridge Street was my secret favourite. I have been dropping by there at least once a week for a month now and I absolutely love their dumplings.

Prosperity Dumpling on Clinton Street was recently featured in the Gothamist’s The 10 Best Cheap Eats in NYC and tried it but couldn’t really decide if it unseated my favourite.

And finally, late entry to our showdown was, Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle on East Broadway. We were going to this one on the good word of a friend; I had no idea it existed1 until the previous week when I was told this was the best dumplings he ever had.

Any good showdown needed a report card, so we came up with four categories that were important to us, each category graded out of 5:

  1. Quality of Meat
  2. Quality of Wrapper
  3. Meat to Wrapper Ratio
  4. Holdability2

So it began; with metro card in hand, we rode the orange line to East Broadway and found ourselves at Lam Zhou.

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There was no counter, you sorta ordered by this little passage-way into their kitchen3, there were no stuffing options, it was just fried or boiled. Since we both liked the fried better we decided to judge on that.

For $3 you got 11 dumplings, which sounded a little overwhelming at first. They came out and the first thing we noticed was that the wrapper was thin, so that made eating eleven dumplings not seem as bad after all. However, while thin, it wasn’t flimsy and allowed you to enjoy the stuffing which was really good! Quality of Wrapper: 5

Of the three we tasted, Lam Zhou’s stuffing had the most unique flavour, while Vanessa’s and Prosperity were very similar in taste there seemed to be more chives in Lam Zhou’s. Quality of Meat: 5

Being so thin-skinned, the meat was not lost within the wrapper which was great, but that did cause some of the meat to slip out of the wrapper a little too easily (and on to the counter) so we had to take a mark off for that. Meat to Wrapper Ratio: 5; Holdability: 4

Lam Zhou received a 19/20.

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Next we took a walk up to Vanessa’s where we ordered the Chives & Pork dumplings at their long counter. You get 4 fried dumplings for $1.25 here. I was looking forward to this one, but what I noticed right away was that Vanessa’s wrapper was very thick. Next to Lam Zhou it was a lot of wrapper. However, it was not overwhelming, which we appreciated, and we liked the crunchiness the thickness added.  Quality of Wrapper: 5;  Meat to Wrapper Ratio: 5

Now, it could have been that Lam Zhou’s flavourful stuffing was still in our mouths, but we found that Vanessa’s was slightly less outstanding when compared to the other two and meat is important to making a dumpling, so we had to lower its grade. Quality of Meat: 4

Finally, for some reason none of the meat wanted to stay in the wrapper so we ended up eating half of the dumpling together and the other half having to place the meat on top of the wrapper. Holdability: 3

Now, I still love Vanessa’s but when you stack them up with the other two their overall grade was 17/20.

20141112_134940A short walk later found us at Prosperity where we ordered 4 Chives & Pork dumplings for $1.25 (and a bottle of water for $1 each).

Prosperity and Vanessa’s meat are similar, but I thought that Vanessa’s was just slightly bland when compared to Prosperity. Quality of Meat: 5

I also noticed that while their wrapper was also on the thick side, it was slightly thinner than Vanessa’s and I appreciated that quality of thickness, but it was a little too crispy. While Vanessa’s had the perfect crispy for its thickness I felt that Prosperity’s was very crunchy. Quality of Wrapper: 4

However, leaving crunchy aside, it held up the best of the three dumpling places and they were not shy on their stuffing. Meat to Wrapper Ratio: 5; Holdability: 5

On a whole this gave them a 19/20.

And the Winner is4

It was a tie between Lam Zhou and Prosperity, but in the end it all comes down to your preference. If you like the thin wrappers and can have 11 dumplings in one sitting, then go with Lam Zhou. If you like slightly thicker wrappers then head on over to Prosperity.

Vanessa’s isn’t without its good points though. If you have a larger group, they have more seating and more choices of the three.

My preference is thinner skinned so I think Lam Zhou has become my new favourite dumpling place!

—–##—–

* Well, the showdown only happened between three dumpling places because we had limited time. They were also within walking/subway distance from the office.
1. We also had no idea where it was and it was quite an adventure finding it. Keep your eyes peeled because you might walk right by it!
2. The ability to hold a half bitten dumpling, for the final bite, without everything falling apart.
3. while we were waiting, one guy who was seated for lunch yelled back to the kitchen that he wanted some more dumplings, a few minutes later they brought some out.
4. AKA the TL;DR for those who just want to get to the point.

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November’s Dottie Box

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November’s Dottie Box came this weekend and I felt a little surge of excitement as I opened it up. I was enjoying things from the previous month’s box and I kept thinking about the fact that I would probably never have heard about them or even think to use them if it hadn’t been for this box.

After briefly admiring the packaging I opened up the box to find this month’s haul.

20141108_092759The first thing I opened up was the Lillian Eve Royal Affair nail polish. On the site it says it’s a blue hue but this looked greenish blue to me when I put it on my nail. I don’t usually use nail polish, except once in a while on my toes, so I gave this one to my sister.

According to their website, “Lillian Eve was born from a simple love of color and a desire for that color to have as little impact on our health as possible. It’s what drives each creative individual who makes up our little family.”  I thought it was nice that they are 100% American made and practice buying local.

Each polish costs $12.00, which I’m guessing is a bit on the pricey side for a nail polish. But, if you’re conscious of the things they stand for then it might be worth it.

20141108_092843Next in the box was a Crocheted Coffee Cozy from The Cozy Project, one of those things that I’d probably never buy for myself but that I could find use for. Now that it’s cold and I’m driving to the train station instead of biking, I try to take a cup of tea with me for my train ride, so this will come in handy. It has a very fall look to it, I’ll be sure to enjoy :)

I haven’t tried it yet (at the time of this writing), but there was chocolate from Cacao 7, a company that prides itself in making organic, nutritive, diet and diabetic friendly chocolates. I’m skeptical, but I have decided that I would keep it as a prize – hopefully it’s a good one – for when I double up my NaNoWriMo word count (which means 15k words more at the time of this writing).

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Finally, I opened up the Warm Vanilla Sugar Body Butter by Botanical Bars. I am not certain that this is a 100% homemade product – it seems to be made with lotion (from their etsy shop), and on the site it does have a list that looks like the ingredients found in the lotion in my bathroom right now – but since I use regular lotion I do want to give this one a try, see how different it is.

Did I mention that the smell is wonderful? The vanilla is strong with this one. I sort of want to spoon it out for eating.

If they are anything to write home about, I’ll be talking about them again in a month like I did with the last.

 

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One month later …

Last month I got my very first subscription box! It was a box of handpicked, homemade, delights and as a person who likes supporting artists and their works I thought that I might enjoy the monthly goodies.

Now it’s one month after my first box, one month to use the products and form my opinions and I have to say, surprisingly, I still love pretty much everything!

20141016_211120I’m still using my Voodoo Colour Balm from Black Widow Balm. I did notice that, since the weather got colder, it’s a little harder – most likely due to the ingredients in the lip balm, but a few rubs and it’s back to a nice consistency. I love the colour and I love that it seems to stay on – something other colour lip balms haven’t been doing for me. I have really dry skin and when the weather turns it gets worse, however, I have found that if I am consistent with using this balm that it soothes the cracks.

Surprisingly I’m still using the Lip Balm Holder from Gabriel’s Good Tidings. This isn’t something I’d purchase for myself – I still don’t feel like I would if I ever lost it or had to replace it, but time will tell. However, having received it in the box along with lip balm I find that I’m using it more that I would have thought. Often it’s easy to clip onto my bag strap for easy access and because mine is so bright if I leave it in my bag it’s easy to spot it between the other things I carry around all day. I can see this and the lip balm making really cute stocking stuffers this year.

One thing that I wasn’t sure I’d use but I am absolutely loving is, Not A Dirty Hippie’s Chamomile and Lemongrass Shampoo Bar. First of all, the smell of this bar makes me think of carefree summer days and beautiful blue skies. It’s super easy to use and leaves my hair feeling clean. I use an apple cider vinegar rinse afterwards and I absolutely love the way it makes my curls look. I’m glad I used this, I will be frequenting this store a lot in the future.

Finally, Plain J Body and Home’s Soy Candle, I rarely use candles, but when I do I like them to leave the air with a lasting, but not overwhelming, scent. I used this for the first time a few days ago and I love it! Definitely a great gift for any candle loving friend of yours.

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October’s Loot Crate!

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When I was thinking about what sort of boxes I should sign up for, Loot Crate was one of my top picks. My first one came yesterday and it had quite a few great things inside, just in time for Halloween.

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The first thing I pulled out was this skull t-shirt, but look carefully and you’ll see that it’s really a bunch of kittens.

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The next thing I was How to Survive a Sharknado. I haven’t seen this show but this book looks like it contains some funny anecdotes.

Seeing as I just started watching The Walking Dead, I’m curious to see what the comic book is all about.

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Probably my favourite item in the box, this chainsaw/sledge hammer pen will be a great Halloween kind of pen!

There were a few more things but these were all the pictures I took. I’m actually very pleased with this box, looking forward to November’s!

A box a month …

I’ve been eyeing the subscription boxes for a while now and recently I took the plunge. This month I got my first box!

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The Dottiebox came beautifully wrapped with handmade goodies from independent vendors that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise.

The first thing I opened was the Black Widow Tinted Balm, which is made with familiar ingredients whose names I can pronounce. I like that it’s a little on the dark side, it goes well with my lips.

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The next thing to open was Gabriel’s Good Tiding’s Lip Balm Holder – the lip balm fit perfectly. I didn’t know I needed one until I opened this up. For me this makes perfect sense as I never find my lip balms and I have very dry skin and lips all year round. I can’t tell you how many lip gloss/balms I’ve bought only to find two stashed away at the bottom of my purse afterwards.

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Also in the box were Not a Dirty Hippie’s solid shampoo bar. I didn’t open this up because I’m doing the no-poo thing, but reading the ingredients on the site I might use it. The reason I stopped using shampoo was because of the chemicals, and since all the ingredients in this bar looks familiar to me, I think it would be OK to use.

There was also an Apples and Maple Bourbon Soy candle from Plain J Body and Home which smells delicious.

It’s only one box but I really like it so far. I’m excited to see what they will send in November!

I Am Eleven

I am a summer baby, so eleven found me looking forward to school. I had a little over a month before school started again, but I was looking forward to it because I was starting secondary school that September – I was finally a high schooler. I was a little nervous as well. They randomly assigned classes so I was also worried that I might not be in the same class as the few St. Margaret’s friends that were attending Queen’s College with me that year. And there were ten houses and I chose Austin (C) house, what if none of my other friends chose that house? Then of course there were the classes, what if I couldn’t cut it at this school?

But, mostly I was looking forward to the new school. It was an exciting year, eleven.

I’m not randomly thinking about eleven, there is a reason. I watched a film yesterday called I Am Eleven where filmmaker Genevieve Bailey traveled to fifteen countries and interviewed different eleven year olds asking them questions about life, love and other mysteries. It both extremely funny and insightful, I enjoyed it and it really causes you to think about life and how we live.

I think the most eye-opening piece of the film for me was when the kids were asked what they would change if they could. One girl wanted longer weekends and another wanted a home. A lot of children around the world (and in America) face different challenges and some are fortunate to live a life where the only thing they have to worry about is getting up for school and hanging with friends on the weekends, I wish all kids could experience that, but that’s just not the case. This is something that will stay with me, that I will need to think about and consider a bit more. How can I help those less fortunate? How can I bring awareness of the issues? I think this film really encourages that sort of thinking and I think it’s important for children to be exposed to the differences in the world around us. 

Check out the trailer below and if it’s showing in a theater near you, I do hope you to go! 

Do you remember when you were eleven?

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