On Slowing Down

Has rushing become your default state of being?
The modern world has a way of doing that to people, with its constant pressures to do more, do it faster, and do it better. Immersed in that environment, it's all the more powerful and important to learn to take your time. Quality of life is made in the small moments you savour. Hurry has a way of squeezing the joy out of everyday living.

Maybe instead of resolving to do more this year, resolve to do less. Resolve to give yourself some breathing room. A few simple ways to get started:

Simplify Your Life
As a teenager, I attended a few services at a friend's church. While the pastor and I disagreed on many things, one simple bit of wisdom from his sermon on stress has stuck with me through the years: if you are consistently stressed out, worn out, and overwhelmed, do some soul searching and consider whether everything you've taken on is truly right for you. Choose a small handful of goals and priorities that really mean something to you, and let go of everything else you can.

Get a Head Start
This especially applies to mornings, which are a hectic time for lots of people. A simple way to make things run a little smoother is to do everything you can the night before. Lay out tomorrow's clothes, make tomorrow's lunches, pack your work bag and/or your children's backpacks with everything you'll need for the next day. This can give you time in the morning to start your day gently. Taming the morning frenzy is just the beginning; applied widely, the do-ahead habit can make all kinds of potentially stressful events easier.

Be Present
Make a conscious effort to focus on the moment at hand, whatever it might be. The truth is we're all pretty bad at multitasking, and being preoccupied with everything else you need to do can make it harder to tackle the task you're working on. If you find the rest of your to-do list is blaring in your head, take a deep breath and imagine exhaling all those racing thoughts. If needed, tell yourself kindly but firmly "my only job right now is to do X. Everything else can wait until that's done." I find this particularly helpful when I'm trying to get to sleep; there's something immensely satisfying about telling yourself "my only job right now is to relax and a get a good rest. Everything else can wait until tomorrow."

Learn to enjoy the "business of living"
"Ain't nobody got time for that" can be an empowering mantra (see above about simplifying your life!), but it's possible to take it too far. Learn to take your time with the day to day business of life - getting ready, getting where you need to go, having your morning tea or coffee. Even commuting can be converted to quality time if you use it to listen to the news, or an audio book, or anything that adds something to your day. Don't wait to enjoy your life until everything is done - learn to savour it while going about your daily living.

Here's to a more serene, more purposeful, more enjoyable new year! xoxo

Finding Your Formula

Want to make it easier to get dressed in the morning?

Most of the best-dressed women I know have some kind of signature style. It might be a particular colour palette, silhouette or type of clothing, but whatever it is, they've found a formula that works for them and they put it to work. Some of this is probably unconscious (we're all drawn more to some things than others) but if you can find a way to articulate what you like, it makes building and using your wardrobe much simpler.

That's not to say your signature style won't evolve over time - of course it will! But having a foundation to work from at any given time is one of the most useful style tricks I've learned so far. The end goal is to identify exactly what you like about what you like, so you can come up with variations on the theme that all make you feel your best. Does that sound good to you? If so, here's how to get started:

1. Look at your closet.
Pull together everything you know you feel great wearing and lay it all out in front of you. Look for common themes: colours, patterns, shapes, whatever stands out as a recurring element. Write these things down.

2. Look at your dream closet.
Pinterest and Polyvore are nice tools to use for this. Using the common themes you found in step one as a guide, have a look around and save the things you'd like to wear in your everyday life, if you had carte blanche to buy a new wardrobe. Hint: although you probably can't shell out for everything you save all at once, you can start collecting the things you really love a little bit at a time.

3. Identify holes.
Once you have a good idea of what outfits you like to wear, decide what you have enough of, what you could use one or two more of, and what you'd like to wear that you don't have. Make a list and let it guide you next time you decide to go shopping.

4. Build your formulas.
Pick 1-4 types of outfits you know you love and break them down into their ingredients. This is the basis of your personal style formula(s).

5. Write out your style formulas/profile.
Here's mine, as an example:

Favourite Colours:
Black, brown, burgundy, white, grey

Favourite Fabrics:
Wool, cashmere, tweed, ponte, jersey

1. Fitted sweater + high-waisted skirt + skinny belt + tights + scarf/necklace
2. Loose sweater + leggings or jeans + scarf/necklace
3. Fitted sweater or cardigan + jeans + scarf/necklace
4. Knee-length dress + tights + scarf/necklace

Note that there's lots of room for variation within the formulas - you can get quite a few outfits, for various types of occasions, from each one. But they still provide a loose structure or foundation for putting things together in ways that work for me, and I find that very useful. In a future post I'll show you what some of these outfits look like... stay tuned!

On Shame: When Enough is Enough

Me five years ago, just after finishing my first degree

This November, it was five years since I finished my bachelor's degree. Also this November, I applied to grad school for the first time. That might not seem like a big deal, but to me it was, because I'd spent five years wanting to go but not applying because I was afraid I wasn't good enough.

Ironically, my research interests are based in the self-conscious emotions, of which shame is one of the most widely recognized and researched. On the whole, that research paints a pretty disturbing picture; shame is highly correlated with everything from depression to recidivism. And I am what is known as a shame-prone person.

Shame is different from guilt, which is arguably a more adaptive emotion in the modern world. Guilt is "I did something wrong, I'm going to do my best to fix it, and I won't do it again." Shame is "of course I did something wrong, because I'm a horrible person, and no matter how hard I try that's never going to change."

I started working on my application to grad school last winter. I wanted to take the time to do it right, and by right, I mean perfectly. For the most part, that strategy worked pretty well; right up until the last minute, everything had gone about as well as I could hope. I studied hard for the required exams and I got the scores to show for it. I wrote a research proposal that I think is pretty decent. I took a research apprenticeship, at which I did very well, and I got in touch with old professors who were willing to write me letters of recommendation. And then, right at the end, I mixed up a deadline on my optional-but-recommended funding proposal, for which I then had to scramble to get references at the last minute. I got the references in, but one of my referees didn't have time to get extra information she needed from me and so I have (at least) one relatively weak reference on my funding application.

And I thought, well isn't that just like me? I spend a year bending over backwards to do this right and manage to screw it all up anyway. Isn't that just like me?

In our time, we seem to have a problem with the concept of "enough." The environment we live in makes it easy to believe that we'll never do enough, or do it all well enough, or be capable enough or strong enough or beautiful enough. I think this is especially true for modern women, who are surrounded by competing standards from all different areas of their lives. The "gotta have it all" mentality, where you have to be the perfect employee and wife and mother and who knows what else, is a surefire recipe for shame.

If I had made that mistake on my funding application even last year, I would have buckled completely and withdrawn my whole application for fear of being turned down. Whenever I imagine the pool of applicants I'm up against, I envision perfect people; people who have already published academic articles, who not only did an honours degree but did it flawlessly, who never struggled with their statistics courses or had to work almost full-time while they studied just to pay next term's tuition. People who scored in the upper part of the 99th percentile on their GRE exams, whereas I scored in the lower part of 99th percentile. That kind of thing. People who would never in a million years do something as boneheaded as mixing up one deadline with another.

The thing is, I've never actually met such a person. They must exist, but they're so much the exception to the rule that I've never yet encountered one. When I evaluate my chances of being accepted to grad school, I'm mentally competing against the human equivalent of unicorns.

What unicorns are you competing with?

I might not get into grad school this year. I might not have gotten into grad school even if I hadn't messed up that funding deadline. Maybe there really are enough unicorns out there that they'll take all the spots and there won't be one left for my sorry human self. And that will be heartbreaking.

But spending years not applying, when all the while I knew that becoming a scientist was what I most wanted to do with my life, was heartbreaking too. And eventually something has to give. If I don't get in this year, I'll try again. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that. Eventually, the things you miss out on because of shame become more painful than whatever outcome your shame might make you most afraid of.

What are you afraid of? What would you do if you weren't?

The Winter Survival Kit

Hello, dear readers!

It's that time of year again. We got our first real snowfall on Sunday and this time it's probably here to stay. So, it's time to break out the winter survival kit:

1. Winter Dresses
Of course you can wear dresses through winter. With the right accessories you can winterize some of your lighter ones, but soft sweater dresses meant for cold weather are one of the pleasures of the season too.

2. Faux Fur
Not only is it pretty, it's warm. Guaranteed. I swear by my faux-fur stole, and it never lets me down even when it's 20 below outside (-4 F, for my friends down in America). If you like the look, you can always go for a good faux-fur coat, too!

3. Cosy Sweaters
This pretty much goes without saying. Who doesn't love cuddling up in a nice, soft sweater when it's cold out? Cashmere is always a good choice if you want to splurge on something you'll have forever.

4. High Wool Socks
For maximum warmth, pick up a pair of these. They layer well with tights to keep you cosy when you're "baring" your legs, and they're equally pleasant as an extra layer of warmth under your favourite jeans.

5. Fleece-Lined Tights
An absolute must, especially if you're like me and refuse to stop wearing skirts and dresses just because it's freezing out.

6. Muff/Handwarmer
These may have gone by the wayside but I honestly can't imagine why. Especially effective in combination with gloves for especially cold days, and you can also tuck a DIY handwarmer in there (just cotton fabric filled with rice, like a beanbag, which you heat up in the microwave. Easy!).

7. The Basic Accessory Set
Hat, headband or earmuffs, gloves and boots. Keeping them all within the same colour palette makes for an elegant look, though mixing and matching can be cute too.

8. Leggings
Especially if the holidays mean travel for you, a long sweater and fleecy leggings is just as comfy as your PJ pants, only it's a lot harder to look like a million bucks in your PJs.

I actually really like winter, at least until about mid-January, when the snow's still new and I'm not sick and tired of how it hurts to breathe. I haven't found a solution for that one yet... I sometimes wonder why I keep living in a place where it's so cold it hurts to breathe. In any case, I hope that's not something you have to contend with - have fun and stay warm!

The Fall Survival Kit

Of all seasons, fall is my favourite by far. I find this is the time of year when it's most comfortable to be outside - not too hot, not to cold, and not too slushy (spring where I come from is a messy affair). It's also the time of year when I get to bring out a bunch of my favourite things at once! Such as...

1. The Classic Camel Coat
This can be worn with everything from jeans to dresses, and it's a timeless staple that will keep its place in your closet for years to come - so it's worth investing in the best quality possible. Great for spring, too.

2. Black Tights
Along with scarves, the easiest way to adapt your warm-weather wardrobe for cooler temperatures. Opt for a fleece-lined pair for extra warmth on especially chilly days.

3. A Blanket Scarf
Ever wished you could bring your warm, comfy blanket with you when you leave home? A soft, oversized scarf is the answer. Classic patterns like stripes, dots or tartan will always serve you well.

4. Riding Boots
Comfortable, stylish and versatile, a good pair of boots can carry you all the way through fall and winter. This is another piece that pairs just as easily with your little black dress as with comfy leggings or your favourite jeans.

5. The Black Clutch
Nothing conveys elegance like a small, structured bag to carry your daily essentials (and ideally, nothing more). A must for day-to-night looks.

6. Fall Makeup
Usually I'm all for the airy, all-natural look, but sometimes rich, bold colours feel good to wear as the weather changes. A gold or bronze eyeshadow will instantly warm up your look with an autumnal glow, and pairs perfectly with burgundy lips and nails.

7. Fragrance
Deep woody scents and spicy orientals are the perfect companion for chilly weather. My personal favourite is Tokyomilk's Bittersweet (cocoa, cake flower and bronzed musk).

8. The Travel Mug
With this, you'll always have your favourite tea, hot chocolate or latte to keep you cozy. Nothing like a nice hot drink on a walk through the park in fall.

Wherever your adventures take you this fall, I hope it's a season of joy and discovery. I'm looking forward to spending part of October in Paris this year - only three weeks to go!

Some Homemade Beauty Recipes (and my troubled beauty history)

Hello, ladies!

I've taken my first little ride on the homemade/all natural beauty wagon, and I have a couple of favourite recipes to share. First though, a little preamble, for context.

Like a lot of women, over the years I've amassed an embarrassingly large collection of health and beauty products, found everywhere from the drugstore to department stores to expensive specialty boutiques, all bearing promises to correct/perfect one thing or another. I was recently forced to confront the sheer quantity of this stuff I have, when we had to clear everything out from our bathroom cabinets to perform some maintenance on the sinks. The whole exercise made me a little sad and a little ashamed; so much of this stuff, purchased during some half-forgotten fit of insecurity, has just sat there so long I forgot all about it.

As a teenager I always felt awkward, out of place, and generally not good enough when it came to how I looked. It wasn't my face or body that I felt self-conscious about, but my lack of the right makeup, the right clothes, the right trappings of beauty that other girls seemed to have at their disposal. I grew up before the age of Instagram, but all the same I found plenty of people to compare myself to, from seemingly perfect girls at school to my four glamorous stepsisters, whose mother not only let them wear eyeliner (gasp!) but whose bathrooms contained a treasure trove of the professional-grade skin care and cosmetics that I could only gaze at longingly from the other side of the department store beauty counter. 

Unfortunately, I carried my self-consciousness right with me into adulthood, when I started to have disposable income, and a significant portion of that income was converted into the horde of products that are now languishing in the corners of my cupboards. Maybe because we hadn't had lot of money when I was growing up, and anything out of reach tends to seem more important, my first impulse was to hit up all the stores I'd previously been embarrassed to enter and drop enough money to show even the snootiest saleswoman that I could belong there, damnit. I was going to have all the right things and do all the right things and confidence would finally radiate from every pore of my being and make me beautiful.

Only, it didn't. Big surprise. And so I would go out and buy something else. The next thing I picked up was always going to be the magical potion that made me feel like I was finally good enough. Only, funny enough, it never was.

Eventually, something did sink in and my steady accumulation of creams and cleansers and acne gels and facial masks ground to a halt. The guilt I inevitably felt after shelling out for something new only to feel no different than before became untenable, and I settled into an uncomfortable acceptance of being a beauty less-than. I maintained a basic makeup routine so that I wouldn't look like a complete troll (in my mind), but it was a joyless exercise, one more chore to cross off the list every morning. It was one more thing I did for everyone else, living out the myth that at least trying to look pretty is, as someone whose name I don't know once put it, the rent women pay for taking up space in the world.

I'm not sure what changed exactly, but it happened fairly recently. I started to think about beauty differently. The things I read about the idealized French woman, for example, whose goal was never to eliminate her imperfections but to feel beautiful imperfections and all, started to resonate with me in a way they never had. One day I realized that I no longer spent my time wishing I looked like this person or that person - I looked like me, and I had actually started to like it. 

I'm not a size four (or even a size six) - so what? When I was, I wasn't any happier. I have a little spray of freckles just below the corner of my right eye, only on the one side of my face. Fine! If I didn't, would it really make a difference in my life? When I look in the mirror, I see the body that's been with me every step of my life, the same face that's looked back at me year after year after year of good times and bad times and everything in between. When I look at myself, I see my story. Would I really want to see something different?

Those thoughts began to shape a different philosophy of beauty, based less on trying to approximate an ideal and more on rituals of care and self-love. Just very recently, making some of my own beauty and skin products has developed as an offshoot of that mindset. I look at my face or touch my skin and think, you know what? I'm going to make something nice for you.   

With that little meander out of the way, here are three of my new homemade beauty standbys. I'd like to invent my own as I get a better sense of how all this works, but for now it's just some favourites I've found around the internet. I hope that you can enjoy making something nice for yourself (or someone else) as an act of love.

1. Honey Sugar Scrub (via Leaf)
I've always loved honey, and it has lots of benefits for your skin. It's antibacterial, soothing and moisturizing, and is full of antioxidants. Combined with sugar and a moisturizing oil, it makes a very easy, sweet-smelling homemade exfoliant. Mix one tablespoon of honey, one tablespoon of sugar (brown sugar is gentler than white because the crystals aren't as sharp), and one teaspoon of olive or coconut oil in a small bowl to make a nice face scrub. Put any leftover scrub in a sealed container in the fridge and you can use it later!

2. Soothing Milk Bath Melts (via Bren Did)
Legend has it Cleopatra bathed with milk, as she believed it made her skin softer. It seems she was onto something; the lactic acid in milk softens, soothes, tones and tightens skin. You can buy moisturizing bath melts at Lush, but you can also make them at home for a fraction of the price. Melt 1/3 cup mango butter (or shea butter, or coconut oil), 1/3 cup sweet almond oil, and 1/4 cup honey together in a bowl. Mix in 1 cup of powdered milk, roll the mixture into tight balls, and roll each ball in additional powdered milk to finish. Pop one of these in your bath to give your skin a treat.

3. Honey Coconut Oil Moisture Mask (via Mother's Niche)
Did I mention I love honey? I now use this every night before bed, and my super-sensitive, break-out prone skin seems to love it. Mix 1 tablespoon coconut oil, two teaspoons honey, and one teaspoon lemon juice in a small bowl. Apply a thin layer to your face (it's a very soft mask so too much will drip!) and leave on for twenty minutes or so. Then wash it off with warm water, pat your face dry, and apply your moisturizer. Again, you can keep any leftover mixture in an airtight container to use later. 

Happy pampering! And remember, beauty really is a matter of how you feel. Prefer no makeup at all? Just peachy. Adore your drugstore lipstick? Awesome. Have half the stock of Sephora in your bathroom? Great. Whatever makes you feel like a million bucks, keep doing that. Keep doing you. 

A Lady's Summer Survival Kit

Hello dear readers! Tomorrow is the official first day of summer, which is certainly welcome up here. Much as I look forward to summer, though, it's the season in which I've always found it hardest to feel elegant. It's just too darn hot!

A little preparation goes a long way. Here are the essentials to have on hand for the season:

1. A water bottle
This is important all year round, but especially when you're out in the sun, make sure your body gets the water it needs. Carrying a bottle of ice water (or iced tea) ensures you'll have something cool and refreshing when you need it, and there are plenty that don't look out of place outside the gym - clear glass is always understated and chic.

2. Sunscreen
You should really be wearing sunscreen every day of the year to protect your skin from sun damage, but a reminder never hurts. Also, contrary to popular belief, the key to good sun protection isn't to buy the highest SPF available, but to apply and reapply your sunscreen generously.

3. Dusting powder
Before you get dressed, use an after-bath powder like Yardley's. It'll help absorb moisture to prevent stickiness, and leave your skin silky and lightly scented. It also helps to keep some in your purse or desk to freshen up during the day.

4. A gorgeous swimsuit
A one piece in classic black and white is my personal favourite, but choose whatever makes you feel fabulous!

5. A sun hat.
On top of their vintage-starlet appeal, wide-brimmed hats keep the sun from beating down on your head, face and shoulders. Not only does this keep you cooler, it helps protect your skin from sun damage (though you should still wear sunscreen as well).

6. Spectator pumps
It used to be that fashionable ladies never wore black shoes during the summer months. That rule is no longer absolute, but if you want to add some old-fashioned sophistication to your wardrobe, spectator shoes are a great summer staple.

7. Beach shoes
Of course, a lady matches her attire to the occasion, and wearing heels on the beach just isn't practical. This is the only context in which you'll hear me recommend flip flops - that's what they're made for!

8. Powder foundation
Heavy makeup can impede your skin's natural cooling process, so keep your summer beauty routine light and simple. A powder foundation, worn alone or over a light liquid, will keep your face cool and matte.

9. Sunglasses
Whether you prefer classic wayfarers or sultry cat-eye frames, you're going to need a pair.

10. Pops of red
Scarlet lips and nails add glamour to lighter summer makeup and a neutral wardrobe.