Usually when I write these letters, they’re about how shitty my year was and how next year will be better, but you got me, 2015, you were pretty damn good. My biopsies were cancer-free all year. I made pretty good money at a job I only hate about 30% of the time. I found aquacise aka exercise that doesn’t bring rage from my soul like lava from the crust of the earth. I bought/watched/read/listened to a bunch of good shit. I went on a bunch of pretty good trips. Oh, and I married my favorite person in the entire world. To be honest, 2015 will probably be hard to beat.
YOU GUYS, I spent so much money on crap this year! I don’t even want to think about it, tbh, but I do want to share the best of the good stuff I bought with you so that you can buy things less indiscriminately than I did and, you know, end up with really good stuff that you like and is mostly worth the money.
Shopping is hell and shopping while fat is hell with the bonus of added expense, limited availability, and ugly garbage. Target’s plus lines have never been a particular exception to this with an even more irritating gift of being sized completely illogically. Ava & Viv is not free of these issues — they make some ugly and boring garbage and their sizing is wildly off (I wear a 2/2X/XXL in all other plus size retailers, but a 4 in Ava & Viv. Perfect!) and they, like Old Navy, seem to think everyone shopping their plus sizes is 5’11” or so, BUT I bought jeans and a jacket in an honest-to-god brick and mortar store for the first time in at least a dozen years, so I’m giving them at least a few points. I mean, the jeans are like six inches too long for me, but I’ll survive. I even just re-bought the same jeans (And the same pair for Crystal…) because I needed to change sizes. That’s pretty good as far as recommendations go.
ModCloth has been around for so long that it’s honestly super weird that I hadn’t ordered from them before this year, but considering Crystal and I both got our weddingdresses through them, I’m glad I finally did! I’ve bought a couple of dresses that I’ve been extremely happy with (Aside from the wedding one, which I obvs love!) and we tried a bunch of shoes for the wedding without having to worry about whether they fit or not because the best part of ModCloth aside from their selection is their awesome return policy.
4. NEO SMARTPEN N2: Okay, this is only as low on this list as it is because Crystal gave me this for Christmas and that’s just not long enough to declare something your new number one favorite thing over the course of an entire year. I am always always alwaaaaays searching for something to take my handwriting and turn it into text and had yet to find a conversion system that actually works and isn’t a huge hassle, but Crystal found it! It’s not perfect — the translation of the text above: 12128/15 ruuules! Yo! this shit tello, friends! You’re the best!! — but it is totally adequate for letting me take notes, scribbling story ideas, working through blog posts, etc etc. I thought getting used to the pen would be hard because I am hugely fussy and it needs to be in a semi-specific position to work, but it actually fits really naturally into my grip and it hasn’t failed to read yet. I mean, if I needed more proof that I married the right woman, this is it.
3. AQUACISE: We’ve had a membership to the fancy new gym pretty much since it opened, but had never bothered to take a class in anything since we’re both uncoordinated and thought it would be embarrassing and terrible, but then we showed up to the new lap swim evening hours and a lady talked up her aquacise class to us so hard that we finally decided to shake off our idiot fears and give it a shot. Now it’s pretty much all we do for exercise and one of my favorite things to do, period. I love being in the water at all times and water aerobics is basically an organized form of the dumbass stuff I did in the pool as a kid growing up. It can be surprisingly intense and I always leave feeling awesome and limber and fit.
after an hour of aquacising with 9 round middle aged ladies and my gf, i left feeling like a beautiful and empowered lady dragon
2. SKINCARE: Because I got married this year and also because I turned thirty, I got super into taking care of my skin and smeared a whole bunch of fancy garbage all over myself in attempt to stem the tide of mortality! I tried (And returned! For the first time ever! Bless Sephora’s return policy!) way more stuff than I even want to remember, honestly.
Cleansers: I don’t like to cleanse heavily in the morning because I’ve pretty much only had time to accumulate pillow dirt and sweat, so I’ve been using First Aid Beauty’s Face Cleanser which is gentle, non-stripping, and doesn’t have any texture or weird smells. I also love Murad’s Essential C Cleanser and Time Release Acne Cleanser which are both powerful without being harsh and also don’t smell or feel weird. I also had a huge fight with like, four different kinds of make-up remover this year because I wear waterproof mascara most of the time and it’s just such a pain in the ass to get off and I hated all of them because they’re either oil-based and they make my eyes foggy and blurry which is exceptionally unsettling to me, since I’m constantly convinced my vision is getting worse by the second or they’re painful and sting a lot. ANYWAY, I recently grabbed Simple’s Micellar Water while we were at Walmart looking for the Garnier version. It’s great! It takes off all my make-up with a single cotton pad and it doesn’t burn or sting or blur my vision or my make my skin feel sticky or slimy! It’s like magic, honestly. When I do cleanse more heavily, I almost always use my Clarisonic Mia 2 with a mix of the First Aid Beauty and one of the Murad cleansers. I hate that I spent $150 for a glorified washcloth, but I love what this stupid, unnecessary thing has done for my skin. When I’m using it consistently — once a day works best for me — my skin feels softer and smoother and my skin tone seems more even and less weird and patchy. I also feel like I’m slightly less prone to breakouts, which is awesome.
Masks: I really just went for it this year and finally tried some GlamGlow products even though they’re really a level of expensive I’m not super comfortable with and I liked some of them! Flashmud is great and really brightens my skin, but is probably not for the faint of heart (Very tingly!) and Youthmud is also pretty potent, though I can’t say that my repeated applications have brought me back any youthful attributes. My favorite Glamglow, by far, is Powermud which I actually use sometimes in the morning if my skin is feeling particularly gross or dull. It is definitely the one I would recommend to Glamglow noobs because it is unbeatable in the noticeable difference department. It takes about ten minutes to dry and then with the addition of wet fingers, it turns into a deep cleansing oil that somehow manages to deep clean and exfoliate my face without making it red or abraded. My skin always feels insanely soft and supple (God, I hate that word.) after I’ve done it. I also grabbed the Peter Thomas Roth Mask-a-Holic Kit when the 20% off VIB sale was going on because you get so much expensive product to try out! And I’ve used the Cucumber Gel Mask before and really liked it, but really because I wanted to try this 24K Gold nonsense and, tragedy or stupid tragedies, it’s actually great. It really does make my skin look and feel firmer, which is infuriating, and it also makes it feel super soft which is 100% the most important aspect of any mask I buy. I don’t know that I’ll ever be willing to pay 80 bucks for the full-size, but I am def going to enjoy what I have.
Moisturizers: I figured out this year that even though the skin on my body is dry enough to catch fire if exposed to flame, it turns out that my face is actually pretty greasy? And that I usually hate the way my skin looks because I’m over-moisturizing? Crazy! I grabbed Fresh’s Rose Hydrating Gel Cream right before the wedding and I love it. The smell is a little intense for me, but I love the way it makes my skin feel – smooth and even and a little like I’m wearing a primer – without making me feel greasy or sticky. Even more recently, I tested Boscia’s Sake Balm on the back of my hand when I walked into Sephora and had to go grab it before I left because my hand looked like a teenager again. J/K, but my skin looked amazing and it’s doing the same thing to my face. It has glycolic acid in it which is supposed to help with aging and dark spots and all that, but I just love how incredibly smooth and glowy it makes me look. I also found Clinique’s Custom Repair Eye Treatment which is the first eye cream that doesn’t turn my eyelids into an oil slick. I also can’t forget Sugar’s Advanced Therapy Lip Treatment which is amaaaaaaazing for the super dry winters here on the tundra. It’s really moisturizing without being either sticky or greasy and it smells good without having a discernible taste. It’s expensive (So expensive!) for what is basically high quality chapstick, but it’s lasting me forever and I’ll probably repurchase it with a suitable amount of shame.
I have loved make-up for basically my whole life, but I have never been interested in anything other than eyes and blush because 1. Base/foundation kind of makes me feel like I’m suffocating and 2. I’m super lazy. So when I decided that I wanted to do my own make-up for the wedding and that I’d want to do a full face that hopefully still looked like me, I knew I was going to have to spend some actual, serious time figuring out what would work on my face and not make me miserable. Cut to six months of buying crap and smearing it on my flesh while screaming until I figured out what I liked. What I like, mostly, is to not wear base make-up, but also somehow have flawless, clear skin that holds all my other make-up in place. This is not possible, sadly, but I did find some stuff I could tolerate/learn to love.
Tools: The key to me loving full face make-up is one word: beautyblender. Nothing has ever made face make-up sit on my skin in a way that didn’t feel gross or weird or thick or suffocating before I bought a beautyblender. It makes the entire process of putting on make-up feel faster, less frustrating, and more fool-proof. I am also obsessed with Sephora’s Classic Multitasker Powder Brush #45 which I have bought more than once and use for pretty much everything. It’s an awesome blush brush, great for a dense swipe of highlighter, perfect for buffing and blending, and precisely applies setting powder. It’s dense and soft and is the first time I have ever understood why people pay a lot of money for brushes. In addition to marrying Crystal, I am also now married to Urban Decay’s All Nighter Setting Spray because my wedding make-up stayed from about 4pm to about 2am without cracking, settling, smearing, fading, or STICKING TO MY GLASSES through my entire wedding and reception, sweat and camera flash and laughter and smiling and screaming included. And it didn’t make my skin feel weird at all!
Primer: I L-O-V-E primer. I really do. I am so grateful that I got some Nanoblur in an Influenster box earlier in the year so that I could become properly obsessed with them. I wear this one pretty frequently alone, when I don’t want a bunch of make-up on my face. It really does even my skin out and it helps keep my blush and highlighter in place. (I do not wear Nanoblur with foundation, so it’s really a ~base product, but I DO WHAT I WANT.) I also like the Hard Candy Sheer Envy Illuminating Primer which is super cheap and gives a nice glow-y finish under foundation or alone. For the wedding and any day I’m really going FULL FACE, I use Make Up Forever’s Skin Equalizer in Smoothing and Mattifying and they are amazing at making my make-up really stick and last.
Foundation: Cover FX’s Total Cover Cream Foundation is what I ended up using for the wedding and what I reach for most often when I’m doing a full face. The coverage is great and the finish is the most human-flesh-like I’ve ever managed with foundation, as long as I use one of my trusty beautyblenders. It also helps to have a great setting powder and after trying the Make Up Forever HD Pressed Powder, I returned the other one I had bought to try unopened because I knew it wasn’t going to be better than this stuff. So, so good. I also have a love-hate with BB creams because I’m neutral-yellow pale and they always want me to turn BRIGHT ORANGE, but I recently snagged the Rimmel Wake Me Up Radiance and it’s got nice coverage and finish and is really affordable! I also like Tarte’s Amazonian Clay Tinted Moisturizer when I just want my skin to not look like I just crawled my way from the grave. I also just ~splurged on the Marc Jacobs Re(marc)able Full Coverage Foundation Concentrate because I tried it recently at Sephora and LOST MY SHIT at the coverage, but they were out of my color (This happens 100% of the time in North Dakota/Montana because I am the same color as every Norse-ass Scandinavian in this part of the country…) so I used the very generous Christmas gift card I got to grab it. I am way too excited to wear it, so I’m making it a preemptive (and bananas expensive!) fave.
Highlighter: So on my quest to figure out the Wedding Full Face, I also learned that what I really want make-up-wise is to SPARKLE LIKE THE SUN, despite the stupid, misguided, nonsense common belief that women over 30 shouldn’t. I love shimmer. I love sparkle. I love straight-up GLITTER.
So, thanks to the wisdom of some youtube beauty ~gurus, I went hard for highlighter this year. I cannot even begin to count the number of minutes I have spent wandering around Sephora swatching highlighters and trying to decide if it’s too bronze or copper or pink for my corpse-colored skin. I love Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed in Moonstone and Poured in Moonstone, which, YES, are the same color, but the powder is for FULL FACE days and the cream is for when I am feeling low-key/lazy and just want to rub color and shimmer on to my bare skin so that I look a little more alive and “radiant” as I was told on one of those low-key days. I also love Benefit’s Girl Meets Pearl on days where I don’t wear base and it just adds the most pretty, glowy touch to my face and it’s super fast and foolproof to apply. I also recently grabbed the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette because I’m a sucker and had a $20 off code and I do love it. I have not yet mastered using Dim Light as an all over setting powder (I end up VERY SHINY regardless of how lightly I apply it, which is really just a testament to it’s INCREDIBLE POWER) but the Incandescent Light is suuuuuuch a pretty and ~refined highlight and Radiant Light is the first almost-bronzer that is neither too dark nor too orange for my colorless flesh.
I cannot recommend buying something super sparkly and smearing it all over your face enough, really. My wonderful friends took Crystal and I to Zumanity (Also a fave from this year, tbh! Sometimes problematic, but incredibly fun and actually pretty sexy! Lots of hot people doing circus is basically my Life Favorite, so.) the night after our wedding as a post-wedding bachelorette type situation and I literally just smeared cream glitter on my cheek and brow bones and eyelids and called it a damn LOOK. (I used a NYX Glitter Cream Palette for this which are sort of terrible, but did the job since I was going for ~flirty, not precise. SPARKLE ON.
5. We saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the fanciest theater I have set foot in since moving to North Dakota — leather seats that slightly reclined, an actually huge screen, the whole deal — and it was packed with excited people, which is always the best way to see any movie. It was a super responsive crowd from the start, so I knew we were going to have a good time and we did! We laughed and we gasped and we cried. No, like, cried a lot because despite some issues, it was a really good, well-paced package with a lot of heart. I was crying into my popcorn because GROOT, of course, and heard heavy sniffing behind me and turned to find the three teenage boys behind us fully wet-faced. Such a joy. I loved everyone in this and I really appreciated its existence as more of a standalone from The Avengers. Well, I’m also excited to see all the connections play out, but I would have loved it even if it were a truly separate universe. So fun and so good-looking and exciting and fun and funny.
4. I’m, like, 99% certain that the only reason Dope is this far down the list is because I only watched it a couple of days ago. Dope was so, so good. Crystal and I both thought it was a 90s period piece (Can you say period piece when it’s not set in like, 1863 or whatever?) until we actually started watching it and at first I thought I wouldn’t like that as much, but I ended up loving that they were able to do things with nostalgia for things from my childhood (I’m a sucker!) while also integrating new technology and the complexities of high school life in 2015. All these youths were so good! And the story was engaging and hard without being miserable. The image of Malcolm holding a gun in his shaking hands is going to stay with me for a long, long time (Give Shameik Moore 1000000000 awards!!!) but so is “How am I supposed to eat my pound cake?” Also, the music is SO GOOD. The 90s hip hop is great, but the songs from the in-movie band Awreeoh are AMAZING. Like, have been on repeat since I watched amazing. Can’t decide between sharing “It’s My Turn Now” and “Don’t Get Deleted” because they’re TOO GOOD.
3. I also saw Spy in a nice, packed theater full of responsive, laughing people and it was so fun and so entertaining, but I also rewatched it just about a week ago and it was just as funny and I loved it just as much. I love Melissa McCarthy so, so much and she and Paul Feig have really found a good rhythm together and I think their comedies are a nice mix of smart and stupid comedy. I love her physical humor, especially because it exploits her weight rather than blames it, and her delivery of those long, expletive-filled diatribes is always so damn on point. I was so excited to see Miranda Hart in a big movie and I really liked Rose Byrne a lot too. No one in this was disappointing and I laughed a lot through the entire movie, even when I was frustrated for Susan, which can be suuuuuch a hard line to walk. And, not only was it funny, but it was a good-ass action movie too!
2.20 Feet from Stardom was recommended in one of Kimmie’s documentary round-up posts and it’s the first documentary I’ve really enjoyed in years. Some of the stories were heartbreaking, some delightful, and all of them were actually interesting enough to merit their inclusion in a documentary. I’ve loved Darlene Love for a long time and it was nice to hear her tell her own story. I was also SO GLAD to hear so much of the music they were talking about, including some of the raw session recordings. Have you ever watched a music documentary that couldn’t get music clearances? I have and it’s hell. This is the documentary that convinced me that I could watch documentaries and enjoy them, which I didn’t really think was possible.
1.Grace & Frankie was pretty much the only new TV I watched this year and I am so, so glad that we made the time for it because it is funny and adorable and moving and I cannot wait for the next season. I love both Grace and Frankie and their husbands and kids. I like that the characters make mistakes and bad decisions. I like that the leads are Older! Women! And that they address age! I will admit to being bored of rich white people stories in general, but I still really like this one, partially because I love all of the actors involved (Sam Waterston! Lily Tomlin! Jane Fonda! Martin Sheen! Ethan Embry! June Diane Raphael! Ernie Hudson!) and partially because I feel like the people in the story care about each other and the life they share and that’s extremely important to me. And also it’s funny and makes me laugh a lot.
I read fifty books this year! 53 of my 50 book goal, actually! Joining GoodReads (PS: BE MY FRIEND!) was super good for me! Even though I haven’t finished a book in… a while. But I am reading! Inching away at A Little Life day by day.
Anyway! Among those fifty books, I read several I loved! A lot! Because books are one of the things I love most in the entire world and you should all listen to me when I recommend them because I have impeccable reading taste.
5. Courtney Milan, The Duchess War – As part of my 2015 “Be more open-minded and less of a dick” campaign, I also decided to try out some romance novels! I read somereallyverybadones, but I also got introduced to Courtney Milan because I am friends with people with very good taste! I can’t express how much joy this book brought me and how unbelievably good (and hot! and playful! and fun!) it is. Such a good surprise! The sex scenes are great (SO GREAT!) and the characters are engaging and likable and interesting and you fully believe that they are attracted to each other which is preeeeeeetty important for a romance. Also, it doesn’t fall into that trap where the conflict exists solely because two people won’t just TALK TO EACH OTHER which is one of the things I find most infuriating in romance-y type stories. I mean, there’s some of it, but you also kind of understand why these two wouldn’t just talk to each other already. I also really liked the prequel novella The Governess Affair and I will definitely read the rest in the series. I love that the non-romance stories are just as interesting as the romance and that the romance is funny and sexy and kind. Consent and tenderness are so, so key to her sex scenes and I live for them. Too good.
4. Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves – The first book in this series, The Raven Boys, was my very favorite book I read last year and I loved the follow-up as much, if not even more. The placemaking is phenomenal, the characters are awesome (Even the new ones! That can be so rare for a series!), the mythology is fun and expensive, and the characters and the relationships between the characters continue to develop in ways that are engaging and exciting. Stiefvater is a pro at exploiting the female gaze which is not only enjoyable, but refreshing, and writes dialogue that sounds real without actually emulating how teenagers talk. (Have you actually listened to teenagers talk? It’s mostly a nightmare.) I love everyone in these books, even when I don’t love them the way the author wants me to. I love the tension and the magic and the physical agony of anticipation. I love the villains in these damn books! I didn’t love the third book quite as much as the first two, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the series or make me any less overly amped for the next one. I love these books and I cannot wait until they get made into a terribly-casted monstrosity of a movie that I can scream about on the internet.
3. I finally read Bossypants this year and then I also read Yes Please! And Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and I really, really loved all three. I made a conscious decision to try to read more books written by women and people of color this year and it has 1. introduced me to a ton of really good books and 2. probably made me a better person tbh. I thought I was going to love Yes Please more than I did and I don’t normally love Mindy Kaling, so I expected to not like it, but I actually think I loved her book the most. Surprises! All three kept me engaged (often while stationary biking which is a hard place to keep me interested!) and laughing and even moved and I’m so glad that, even with the things I didn’t love (Comedians love problematic garbage sometimes! It’s awful! Do better, guys!) I took the time to read all three of them this year. I also read Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me? which I also loved and regularly quote. I read Kelly Oxford’s book too (Women! Comedians! I was having a time.) but it was awful, so.
2. Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me – This book emotionally devastated me and I had to curl up in the fetal position and cry for like a half-hour after I finished reading it. Everything about it just felt so true and authentic and real, characters and setting, and it is so, so important to have that grounding in something science fiction like this. I have a hard time articulating why I loved this book so much, but I think it’s really because the entire time I was reading the story, I was just entirely inside of it. The world was so real and so emotionally resonant that it was almost overwhelmingly absorbing. This book not only made me want to write (always a sign of a really good book) but also made me miserably jealous that I didn’t write this actual book. Let me be Rebecca Stead! I read one of her other books this year as well and didn’t love it like When You Reach Me, but her writing was still wonderful and I will seek out lots more of her work in the future!
1. Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – I absolutely lovedThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and though I loved When You Reach Me pretty much just as much, I did not expect to end up liking Fikry at all, so it gets the edge. When I say “didn’t expect to like” what I really mean is, “REALLY ABSOLUTELY HATED A LOT FROM THE JUMP” but then it just… It course-corrected in all the right ways without invalidating the things I didn’t like and it was just so good. I don’t ever enjoy media about unlikable characters and I was really worried that this book would end up as just another on a pile of books I ultimately felt were a waste of time because I couldn’t connect to their protagonists, but Zevin did some masterful character evolution in this without it ever seeming unjustified or forced. There are great secondary and tertiary characters in this (Lambiase!!!!!) and women who are awesome and real and fleshed. When we were considering having a reading for our wedding (We did not, ultimately.) a passage from this is the only thing that came up for serious consideration. So, so good.
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