Sunday, November 23, 2014

Just a Few of My Favorite (and Not-So-Favorite) Things

I love to try new products and hot products. Newness always attracts me. Some of the products below are new and some are just new-to-me. I hope my experiences will help you figure out if theses products are right for you.

Stuff That's Great:

I jumped on the bandwagon at my last outing to Sephora and picked up some of these BeautyBlender brand make-up sponges. They are not very new, but for the longest time, I was hesitant because I thought, "How are they any better than the cheap drugstore make-up sponges?" But I now use them every day and wouldn't want to be without them. You can buy the large (or original size) in pink, black, (which is called the BeautyBlender Pro), or white, (which is called BeautyBlender Pure). You can also purchase a pair of small ones, called Micro Mini. The larger size is really all you need. It has the pointed end that fits perfectly in the corners of your eyes, nose, etc, so the small ones are really not necessary and in fact, are harder to use because they are so tiny and "fiddly." The large pink one is better than the drugstore cheapies because it is more dense and holds up better. It can be washed many times over and still retain its shape and use-ability. It's less floppy, so it's easier to handle and manipulate. Oh, and it's cuter, which to me is important in a beauty product. I don't wear make-up to please other people; I wear it because it's fun and playful and colorful, so that whole experience, and the appeal to all my senses, is important to me in making purchase decisions.

Another product I'm addicted to is Marula Oil. Face oils are all the rage, and I'm a big fan. I prefer them to face creams because, especially under the eyes, they improve the look of skin instantly, and don't contribute to puffiness. Not all face oils are created equal, of course, but Marula Oil stands out for me, for a few reasons. First, the smell is amazing! It's warm and spicy-smelling. I just love it. The consistency is lovely, as well. It absorbs very nicely, and I have not had any breakouts from it. The container holds a lot, (at least as far as face oils go), and the dispenser (like an eye dropper) works well, too. It is pricey like most face oils, at around $78 a bottle, but you only use a tiny bit at a time, so it lasts a long time, and doesn't go rancid.

Stuff to Skip:

Oscar Blandi Pronto Colore Root Touch-up and Highlighting Pen is a waste of money. I am always trying to figure out a way to deal with my grey roots. There's always that period of time, about 2 weeks after my last coloring, where the roots are definitely distinct but I don't really want to color again. I mean, who wants to color their hair more than once a month? So, yeah, grey roots! Ugh. Anyway, this product is a bust. It goes on like shoe polish: dull in finish, fakey color that would fool no one, and a pasty texture. I'm also kind of bummed by how much money I spent on it ($23) and how it immediately went in the trash. So keep looking - this is not the product to save those grey roots.

And speaking of expensive, another bummer is Oribe Supershine Light Moisturing Cream. I actually purchased this from Amazon by mistake, (and then used it by mistake - so I couldn't return it!). I meant to buy more of the Conditioner for Brilliance and Shine, which you use in the shower and rinse out, and to which I am absolutely devoted. But the Moisturizing Cream is a leave-in conditioner, and while it wasn't horrible, it just wasn't anything. It did absolutely nothing for my hair: no shine added, not anymore manageable than without it; just nothing.... By contrast, the Oribe Shampoo for Brilliance and Shine and Oribe Conditioner for Brilliance and Shine are absolutely worth the money. They actually change my hair in a way that is phenomenal. They make it more silky and better behaved. They are pretty pricey, though, so I actually save them for when I really want to look my best.

On to sneakers: I have feet issues. My "issues" are that I am middle-aged, heavyset, have fallen arches, Achilles tendonitis, and heel spurs. In my effort to be active with bad feet, I buy and try a lot of sneakers. You have to buy them because just slipping them on and taking a few steps in the store tells you very little about how your feet will react to the shoes after spending all day in them. I currently have a pair of sneakers that I love: the Nike Air Pegasus 30. They are like walking on clouds! Very cushy and supportive. Of course, they are discontinued! So in a few months when I need to replace them .... well, the search goes on...

These shoes, Asics Gel-Venture 4, however, were a disappointment. This shoe was reasonably cute, with a sporty black, grey, silver and hot pink design.
And it received a respectable 4 out of 5 stars on Zappos. But they just did not work for me, and I am sending them off to Goodwill. I bought them at the end of June, and I had high hopes. They feel sturdy and heavy on my feet, and fit snugly. The shoelaces are super short though, which is always annoying. I can just barely make a bow with them. What's the deal, Asics? I have only worn these shoes for running errands, and they have always let me down. Several times, at the end of running errands, which usually only lasts 3 -4 hours, and much of it sitting in my car, my feet are invariably tired and aching. Not Good! That's not even really exercise! Imagine if I had used them for a fitness walk or sightseeing, which may last 7 - 8 hours. In short, these bad boys don't have the necessary cushioning and support. I don't really understand why that is the case. Looking at the sole, it seems plenty thick, but no luck. Buh-bye, Asics!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sew Cute! Sew Comfy! Foxy Mini Dress (or Tunic)

I just can't get enough of cute fabric, and when I saw this fox print knit, (in either grey or blue background, from, I knew I had to have it asap! I find sewing with knits both easy and challenging at the same time. They are easy because you don't have to worry about finishing seams or any unraveling, but they are hard because the fabric can stretch out of shape so easily, both when cutting and when stitching them up. Because of that, I try to keep the lines of any garment I sew with knits very simple and plain. Lots of straight-line sewing.
Beautiful medium-weight cotton jersey and adorable foxes!

When I received this fabric in the mail, I washed it up in hot water and dried it on "normal" setting to get as much shrinkage out before I cut it. I was a little nervous to cut into it because I liked it so much, and there is always that fear in the back of my mind that I might make a mistake while sewing, and "ruin" it. But with a deep breath, I forged ahead and decided to use this Burda Style pattern 7354 from my stash. I actually created a "Frankenpattern" by using the higher-waisted design of View B, but adding a casing like in View A. I look best in high or empire waistlines, and look dreadful in low or dropped-waist designs. But I didn't want to use a straight View B because it doesn't really have a waist: that's just a self-fabric belt tied under the bust, which looks sloppy to me. And View A has the casing on the inside of the garment, and then you create buttonholes in the top and the drawstring is threaded out through the buttonholes. Well, I hate making buttonholes, so I switched that up, too.

I don't know what it is, but I love designs with fabric gathered by drawstrings. I decided to make it tunic length. I wear yoga pants or leggings constantly and am always in need of tunic length tops to go with them. It is long enough, though, that if I wore opaque tights, it could also be a mini dress (because I am that short).

This is the first double-needle hem that I have ever tried on knitwear.
I did not have to do my normal Full Bust Adjustment with this pattern because of the large amount of design ease built in to the top, so I went with my high bust measurement of 40" and made it a size 18. Another alteration I did to the pattern was to make the skirt part of the tunic an A-line shape by pivoting the pattern outward from the waist. I do this to almost all skirt patterns I work with because I am so pear shaped, with a waist that is usually 3-4 sizes smaller than my hips.

The double-needle stitching on the hem makes it look really professional!

Here is the gathering on the shoulder seam, using a self-fabric drawstring that I made.

Here is the casing that I created and sewed to the waistline.

Another pattern change I made was to creating a casing with the fabric, and pin it to the waistline on the outside. This was tricky because since there was no waist seam, figuring out exactly where to pin the casing was challenging. I tried measuring up from the hem to keep it consistent, and then tried it on and adjusted it a little bit to suit my body shape. 
In my messy sewing room. This even fits my size 12 dress form! The drawstrings make it very size-adjustable.

And here is the finished tunic! I am in love with how it has turned out and I have worn it several times already, though it probably won't get much wear this winter. The sleeve and shoulder gathering make it only a three-season (spring, summer, fall) top because it is basically sleeveless, and the voluminous fabric would not fit, or be all bunched up, if I tried to wear a cardigan with it. Regardless, I am really pleased with how this turned out.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

A quick trip to Long Island

Before my September trip to Long Island, I created a long list of to-dos for the area, based on recommendations and reviews from TripAdvisor and Fodor's. Well, "the best laid plans...." as they say. I didn't get to much on my list, for various reasons, but here's what I did get to do:

1. Brooklyn Flea Market (see this post).

2. The Big Duck
The Big Duck, a National Landmark, in Flanders, NY

This is a local landmark featuring a giant fiberglass duck that used to be the sign for a Long Island duck farm, of which there used to be many, but now there is only one. Currently, it is part of a growing museum project and houses a very nicely-stocked, but tiny, gift shop. It is right by the side of the road in the town of Flanders, and very easy to find. There is a renovated barn which houses a variety of events, along with an old wishing well. I went with my Aunt and her granddaughter, and everyone loved it. Worth a stop, just for the photo ops alone.

3. Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven, Fire Island
Sailors Haven was on my list because of the rare type of forest there, and the solitude of one of the less-built-up areas on the island. I had gone to Fire Island for a cousin's wedding a few years ago and thought it was so beautiful, I couldn't wait to get back. After September 5th, the ferry only runs on weekends. My aunt and I took a short ferry ride from the town of Sayville.

Resting shore birds seen on the ferry ride to Fire Island

Wild nature on the barrier islands.

I was a little disappointed that there was no seating on the deck of the ferry. Below deck was a dingy seating area with mostly closed, dirty windows. There were only about six other riders! Once it's off-season, apparently visitors to this part of the island are dramatically reduced. In my opinion, this would be the best time for a visit, but that's just me ...

The little concession stand on the dock at Sailors Haven, closing down for the season.

Anyway, we arrived at the dock and saw a covered, cedar deck area, which housed the concession stand and gift shop. Both places were out of almost everything. I fantasized about how I would expand the gift shop and concession area and really make them snazzy, to entice visitors to Sailors Haven all year long. But the concessioners considered this the end of the season, and would not restock until late spring of next year.

Heading into the Sunken Forest.
 My aunt and I had hot dogs and fries, and bottled water, then went on a leisurely walk along a boardwalk that twisted through the maritime ivy forest, one of only five existing in the world.
The boardwalk brings you into the dunes.
That took us to the edge of the dunes, and out to the beach. The beach was deserted, except for one young couple, even though it was a hot Friday afternoon. It was very clean. The surf was moderately strong, churning up stoney grey-blue waves and white froth onto the shore.

The Beach at Sailors Haven
The water was brisk. I believe I saw lots of clear blobs of gelatinous stuff on the sand - jellyfish? After a quick dip, we walked back to the dock to catch the ferry back to Sayville.
Mosquitoes swarmed the path which lies in a valley between the dunes.
On the walk back, we stayed parallel to the shore on a cement path. This was a mistake because the mosquitoes were swarming something fierce in this hot, humid valley of sand between the dunes - a swarm like I've never experienced before! Worse than summer in the Everglades, or the boat ride through the bayou outside of New Orleans. It was crazy bad.
The boardwalk, coming back to the dock.

But we finally made it back to the grey, cedar plank bathrooms and showers, set a little ways away from the dock. I wish I'd had more time here. Away from the towns, the natural setting is just gorgeous, and (apart from the mosquitoes) so relaxing.

From within the Sunken Forest, looking out to the dock.
4. Heckscher Park, Huntington
This was on my list of places to visit because it was a favorite haunt from my childhood. I have, in particular, one really strong sense/memory of the smell of pine trees, that I associate with happy days playing in the sun at this park. My memories include a HUGE pond where my family would feed a variety of species of ducks, gorgeous and giant weeping willow trees surrounding the pond, large expanses of lawn to run free on, lots of aromatic pine trees, and a picturesque, old building where I took a children's art class one summer. My aunt and I visited the park September 4th and I was a little heartbroken to see the disrepair the park was in. Gone were the ducks. Like so many other places, the Canada geese have completely taken over. No ducks, anywhere in sight, but you couldn't take a step without meeting a goose, and worse - the goose's poop. The shabby, sparse grass around the pond was crusty with goose droppings, embedded with lost feathers. The water of the pond was green with sludgy murk and foam, looking stagnant and uncared for. There was a tiny art museum on the property (three small rooms), which we enjoyed visiting, and some playground equipment toward one end. But the majesty and beauty I remember were gone. Litter and disrepair made the whole park seem rundown and forgotten. Made me wonder if there was a "Friends of Heckscher Park" association, and if I could donate money to them. Sometimes, I guess it's better to let fond childhood memories lie, undisturbed in your recollections by modern day reality.
(public domain photo - I didn't take this one.) It looks beautiful in this photo!
5. Good restaurants
While I was there, my relatives treated me to several wonderful lunches and dinners. Places I can definitely recommend for delicious food and nice atmosphere include:
Branchinelli's in Hauppauge (delicious Italian food, great family restaurant, takeout counter)
Tony's Sushi in East Moriches (table top grilling, Japanese-style, good for families)
The View in Oakdale (beautiful waterside location, yummy food)
LaTavola in Sayville (a really cute town to browse around in)

All in all, my trip to Long Island was lovely, but it left me wanting to go back and check off a few more things off my travel to-do list.
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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Treasures Purchased at the Brooklyn Flea and That Too-Small Vintage Skirt

I didn't purchase too many things at the Brooklyn Flea market, mostly because I was concerned about getting them home in my luggage, but also because the prices seemed a little high. But I did come away with a few treasures:
Native American Print Prairie Skirt
From a vintage clothing booth, I picked out this fantastic maxi skirt. On me, it comes to just above my ankles and has three gathered tiers, plus it opens with buttons down one side. The generous elastic waist means it fits me just fine, even though it is not a plus size. It's made from a medium weight quilting cotton, and has fantastic colors. I am a sucker for full red maxi skirts. They just seem so romantic. I've already worn this skirt several times. Love! Talked the seller down from $20 to $18 for this skirt.

From the same seller, I also picked out this handmade A-line skirt with a fantastic 70s or 60s style print in psychedelic colors. I think the fabric is polyester or a blend, which I usually shy away from, but it feels nice and not tacky.
Fantastic colors!
The only problem with this skirt is the tiny 26" waist. Amazingly, I used to have a 26" waist, but that was MANY years ago. But fortunately, this skirt was apparently made for a slim and VERY tall lady. On me, it came to the floor, so I bought it anyway even though it was too small, knowing that I could alter it to fit. Once I got home, I removed the waist band, and down from the waist about 3"  to get a new waistline that would fit me.
Slightly sloppy hand stitching told me this was homemade long ago.

This photo shows the zipper and waistband removed.

I measured down from the waist about 3" all the way around and marked my new cutting line.
I also had to remove the zipper, then reinstall it lower on the skirt, starting at my new, larger waist opening. Then using some scraps of lime green cotton fabric that I had laying around, I traced the new waist opening and created facings. I decided to face the waist opening instead of adding a new waistband to make the skirt more modern and sleek, with less bulk at the waist.
New waist facings created out of scrap cotton fabric.
After reinstalling the old zipper, I attached the new facings (to which I had ironed on some lightweight interfacing) and voila! I now have a really cool, really colorful, retro-look A-line maxi skirt (the length now comes to my lower calf). Cost was $18.
Shown on my dress form. (She is taller and slimmer than me - that's why the waist is a bit low on her).

My next purchases that day were from a great booth that had a variety of vintage items and reasonable prices. They were very busy and doing great business. For no reason other than it was cool, (and I really don't know what I will do with it), I bought this pair of vintage pinkers.
"The Florian Pinker Pinks As It Rolls"
Aren't they the coolest? I seriously had never seen anything like them before. I guess they are the precursor to today's pinking sheers, and are used to finish hems after sewing so that the fabric doesn't fray. I love the box design, as well. It says they never need sharpening, and sure enough, they do still work. They are a bit heavy and stiffer to use than my modern shears, but are so neat, nonetheless.

When I got home, I did some quick internet research and these have been reintroduced and are currently being manufactured by the Overall Company in Oregon! The new version costs $77.50. I love it when things are actually made in the U.S. It's so rare these days. I also saw several vintage ones that have sold on ebay for between $7 and $40. I paid $18, so I guess it was a fair price, but I could have gotten them for less. Of course, it was not the sort of thing you go looking on ebay for because I didn't even know I wanted it until I saw it.

Finally, my last purchase of the day from the Brooklyn Flea Market was from that same great booth. Again, I didn't really NEED this item, but I love it anyway. I have a small collection of brass animals on my fireplace mantel and this one was a nice bargain (also $18! Everything I bought that day was $18). And it was unique and pretty. Brass animals are trendy right now. I used to think they were tacky but now I love them!
Pretty brass birdies.
I love the rocky stand that the branch is stemming from. I love the smoothness of the brass on the birds' bodies. It's just very nice, overall. One of my favorite brass animal statuettes that I own, and a real bargain. They are selling for much more on etsy right now.

Overall, a modest but nice haul of treasures from the Brooklyn Flea. I highly recommend that you experience it if in the neighborhood. A great outing!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sunday at the Brooklyn Flea Market

I've been wanting to go to the Brooklyn Flea Market for quite some time. It is always mentioned in articles about the best flea markets in the country, and it has been featured a few times on Lara Spencer's shows about flea market flips. I love flea markets: the food, the people-watching, the idea of finding a treasure for pennies (or at least, a good deal). And I have read recently about a resurgence in Brooklyn and how it is becoming cool and trendy.
The train station at Ronkonkoma.

Recently I took a mini vacation to visit my family on Long Island, so I thought this would be the perfect time to visit the "flea," as it's affectionately called. I took the train from Ronkonkoma (love those Long Island Native American place names!) to the Staples Center stop in Brooklyn, and then from there, took a taxi to the flea market. There are two locations for the Brooklyn Flea: Williamsburg and Fort Greene. I chose the Williamsburg Flea because I'd read online that the location was on the water and really pretty. This turned out to not be true. At least, I saw no water while I was there, and the location seemed to be surrounded by derelict, graffiti-covered warehouses. (By the way, I recommend following the Brooklyn Flea on Instagram. Awesome and inspiring photos).
Glassware displayed on a glass table.
 When I first arrived at the flea market, I was surprised by how small it was. I somehow expected rows upon rows of vendors, stretching as far as the eye could see. But in reality, the market only occupied on square city block, and the last two rows of booths were for the food vendors. I was able to see all of the booths in just one hour. I walked through the whole market, making a mental note of the items I was most interested in, had a snack, then walked through the whole thing again to finalize my purchases.
The grounds of the flea on a Sunday morning in September.
 Speaking of snacks, I had the MOST AMAZING DONUTS IN THE WHOLE WORLD while at the flea. They were created by a bakery called Dough Brooklyn, and it breaks my heart to know that you can only get them in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and they don't ship! Believe me, I asked. These donuts are big - enough for two people to share (but you won't want to!). They are the fluffy and light, yeast-raised type (as opposed to the denser, cake-type). And they are covered in delicious, gourmet glaze flavors. I got two to share: Passion Fruit Cacao Nib, and Chocolate Salted Caramel. Even though the day got pretty hot, and the glaze got pretty melty and messy, I loved every bit of them. If you are in the area, you have got to try them!
Fab Mid-Century Modern sofa, an industrial-style lamp, vintage bowling pins.
 I only purchased four items at the market - (which I will show off in my next post) - even though I wanted many more things. One, I was worried about fitting more stuff in to my already overstuffed luggage, and two, a lot of the prices were kind of high. This was especially true with the vintage clothing sellers. While I was there, I saw so many funky and fashionably dressed people shopping there that I suspect it is a favorite haunt of fashion students and fashion junkies. Regardless, even though I fell in love with several pieces, and bargaining was obviously the norm, I couldn't justify the high prices, especially since I don't even need anymore clothes!
Shabby chic white-washed dressers ...
 There were a lot of mid-century modern furnishings and home accessories, which is really a hot style right now. And there were a lot of shabby chic and industrial style items, as well. Along with the vintage sellers, there were almost an equal amount of artisans and craftpersons. Lots of handmade jewelry, some handmade furniture, some ceramics, etc.
... plus matching chairs, end tables, and shelving.
 Trolling the booths was very inspiring. I wanted to get back home and create. I had my sketchbook with me, and every once in a while, jotted down a quick sketch of some detail or idea I didn't want to forget. One thing I wished is that there were more places to sit. It was a very hot, sunny day, and the seating was limited to a handful of picnic tables in the sun, which were all filled with snackers and lunchers.
Loved his display: muslin ribbons
 Sometimes the designs of the booths were inspiring too. For instance, the guy above is selling handmade jewelry, which I didn't find that interesting, but I loved the curtain behind him, made up of strips of muslin, hand-dyed in indigo blue. So bohemian and crafty!

A little bit pricey, but pretty cool.

Wooden drawers, luggage, mirrors
 It was a bit overwhelming at times. Even though the market was pretty small, most booths overflowed with a jumble of miscellany, and it was challenging to absorb it all.
Rusty letters

Burlap feed sack upholstered bench with hairpin legs.

Toy guns.
 The photos above (the toy guns) and below (creepy dolls) were part of a cool booth that had lots of vintage toys and collectables. There was a trio of petite, pastel, plastic toy phones just calling my name. I asked the price and the seller said $8 a piece. I hesitated, looked around a bit more, and then they were snatched away by another shopper!
Large jumble of creepy dolls.

Opening up my coconut. (MaryJane socks!)
 There were so many enticing food booths to choose from. Lots of ethnic foods: Indian, Thai, African, Hispanic, Greek, Soul food. Mid-morning, I got really thirsty and decided to get an "Ice Cold Fresh Coconut Water." The seller sliced off the top of the coconut with what looked like a machete, right after you bought it, then punctured it with a screwdriver, and stuck in a straw. It was not anywhere near "ice cold" unfortunately, but it was still delicious and fresh.
Business run from a vintage trailer!
 Another really cool booth was housed in this vintage trailer. One of the sellers sat inside at a little cash register, in the cool shade. There were more clothes for sale inside the trailer, but it was pretty tiny, and with the heat, I didn't think I could take the closeness. Still, I envied their life. This couple apparently travel around the country in this adorable trailer, selling vintage wares at flea markets. What a fantasy! (Sad note: I just visited their website and found out they were in Chicago today and today only! I missed them! They are on their way west for the winter...).
Cute vintage corduroy jumper.
 The photo of the corduroy jumper (above) does not quite do it justice. It was so cute (but alas, tiny). I want to recreate it for myself. Aside from the amber ale-colored main fabric, there are two small contrast cotton prints. The two prints are patchworked together on the hem, and the inset in the center of the empire waist. There are also the adorable tie closures at the center front. I am determined to make this to wear to school this fall.
Mid-century Modern Artwork. Only $60!
I almost bought this striking painting. It was well priced and the colors were amazing. The only things that stopped me were the thought of trying to get it back to Chicago, and the fact that I could recreate it for myself at home. And that's what I plan to do!

I highly recommend a visit to the Brooklyn Flea. They are open year-round, sometimes at indoor locations. Wear good walking shoes, bring a water bottle, lather on the sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring cash, because not all the merchandise booths, and none of the food vendors, take credit cards. Enjoy!