2018 has been a weird year. I’m not talking geopolitically for the world at large (though I could be talking geopolitically for the world at large), but for me, personally. I’ve done a lot this year – got a job, moved out, realized that living in a house with eight other strangers, seven of whom were dudes, was less like the fun parts of The Real World and more like the boring and unshown parts of The Real World where the kitchen’s always too small and no one else agrees with you that keeping toilet paper (and backup rolls of toilet paper) in the house is important, moved back home, completed tons of college classes, babysat too much, petsat too much (can you really do either, though?), and generally did and experienced so much that fitting it even in this run-on disaster of a sentence is impossible.
I also, in the course of these events, did not have any time to write anything that wasn’t an academic paper, but I did need a lot and buy a lot. And since people so enjoyed reading about stuff I enjoyed last year (or, more accurately, I enjoyed writing about it), I figured why not make you all read about the favorite things I’ve bought this year? I obviously didn’t get this done in time for Christmas (see: I got a job), but let’s just pretend this was on purpose so I could look more holistically at truly all of 2018 and my purchases. Here, in no particular order, are the top five best purchases I made:
This summer, I “moved out” of my parent’s house.
I put “moved out” in quotes because while I moved all my stuff, I never really moved out. Instead, for several months I went through a prolonged and agonized effort to move out, while realizing that the situation I had found, while it featured a very nice landlord and a very nice room, was not a good one for me and all the effort I put into making myself spend time at a place I hated was probably effort better spent elsewhere. I was in a boarding house, I was one of nine people. and seven of those people were men. We had one tiny kitchen with one refrigerator that was smaller than the refrigerator we have at my parent’s for three people. Also, no one was interested in cleaning the kitchen, so they did not. It was very sticky. When I was there, all I did was sit in my room. Granted, I all I do at home is sit in my room, but no one’s making me. I could come down and hang out with my parents, and sometimes I do. I didn’t have any of the perks of living alone (getting to do things my own way, having my own space where no one was around to bother me), but I didn’t have any of the perks of living with other people, either (sharing in household tasks, company). Luckily, boarding houses are places with month-to-month leases, and so back home I went.
In the process of doing all this, it became very clear very quickly that while I had lots of totes suitable for day outings, or taking the stuff I needed back and forth to work, I didn’t have what my mom calls a “schlepper bag”. My choice in schlepper bag was much better than my initial choice in place to move out to: this bag from Blue Q.
There’s never a day outing this bag isn’t good for. Currently, this bag earns its keep as my nephew babysitting bag. It can hold my absurdly heavy laptop, phone and laptop charging cords, a change of clothes, and a meal no problem. It’s cute, very true to my personal feelings on dogs, people, and meeting both of them, it’s durable, and my nephew likes it. His review of this bag is “Juju bag! Juju bag DOGS. Dump it!! Juju, dump it!!! OPEN.”
I thought a lot of things when I started as a barista that turned out to be incorrect, like that we would sell more decaf coffee in the afternoon (we sell almost none), that the caramel syrup went in a caramel macchiato (it’s vanilla, the caramel is the drizzle on top), and that my shoes needed to be maximally supportive with thick, thick soles. So many baristas swear by Dansko clogs, after all. Those were clearly too heavy for my aesthetics if nothing else, but ample research showed that shoes for people on their feet all day were, by in large, heavy. So I got a pair of Emeril Lagasse brand shoes (with BAM! Patented technology in the soles!) and, as a bonus, threw in a pair of leather Keds, because they were cheap and because I’d also read that the key to not tired feet is switching out pairs regularly.
What I learned, oddly enough, is that either I’m weird, or work shoe companies are idiots. For me, at least, the mother of all foot problems was the “support”. A supportive shoe is a heavy shoe. If you don’t mind heavy shoes or have foot problems (my biggest one is that my feet are shaped like Kermit the Frog’s), I’m sure the weight is not a problem. But I hate shoes. I would prefer not to even wear shoes and instead just have a big protective pair of stockings I pad around in. Since that isn’t a thing, for barista-ing I like shoes that are fashionable and durable, cheap enough that I don’t feel bad that I’ll wear through any pair, no matter how expensive, in 4-6 months, and not canvas because technically that’s not allowed. The only thing keeping the Keds from being, in my humble opinion, the perfect barista shoe is that their soles are decidedly slippy. I have fallen in them multiple times and quite embarrassingly. My solution has been that eventually I have both learned to mind wet floors and also stepped in enough spilled syrup to make them sticky, like I’m a particularly health code violating gecko. If you preferred to be, you know, a functional adult, you could always spray the bottoms with hairspray. I, despite doing an excellent functional adult cosplay, am apparently not a functional adult. Also I’ve gotten really good at spotting wet floors and doing that penguin shuffle.
Did you know you can get acne when you have dry skin? I did not. I figured that since I usually had, at any given time, either one giant, throbbing, deep-skin eruption of a pimple or the aftermath of it, that meant I could not have dry skin. What I did not know was that I very much could.
What I get is called cystic acne. People with oily skin will often get rashes of acne at the surface of their skin that’s smaller, but lucky lucky me, I’ll get these monsters under all that dryness, where the oil and dirt and clogging junk is a lot harder to fix. What’s even harder to contend with is that most acne washes strip the surface of the skin of junk, which makes sense if you have oily skin but only exacerbates the problem if you have dry skin. For years, I, a sweet simple child lead wrong by teen magazines, exacerbated the problem. When I stopped doing this, of course my skin got better, which caused me to conclude that skincare was a bunk science and that the best thing you could do for your skin was to wipe off your makeup at the end of the night but otherwise not touch it. Don’t even look at it. Don’t breathe too hard. Again, dumb, but slightly less dumb because at least this conclusion was based on actual fact-based results. I tended to still at all times be covering up one catastrophic pimple, but at least it was only one.
Enter this cleanser, which I got last year in a free Ipsy bag, promptly fell in love with, and then promptly tried to convince myself I was not in love with because a full bottle was $25.00 plus shipping. The thing is, though, if I use this every time I shower, it works. My skin is moisturized, but also free from cystic acne. If it weren’t for the two or three hormonal pimples/sentient red creatures growing on my face that my period throws at me a year, I would be completely pimple free. I use this absurdly good result to negotiate with myself that the price is worth it, and paired with the fact that a) one bottle lasts me about four months, and b) I wait until two for the price of one sales, it makes the price about the same as that of a bargain brand dupe.
I’m not what anyone would call a breakfast person. It’s not that I don’t like breakfast food – though most of it I find too heavy – it’s that I’m not a morning person, and my stomach is particularly not a morning stomach. Even if I get up early, I’m rarely hungry until noon. If it weren’t necessary for me to choke down food in order to take my medications, I probably wouldn’t eat breakfast at all. And I know, I know, blah blah most important meal of the day, but I’m suspicious of that. Considering how much doctors have been up my butt my whole life about how I’m too thin or too fat or too this or too that, how often I’ve heard “xyz food will KILL YOU” followed by “just kidding, xyz food will SAVE YOUR LIFE”, and how really in the end none of that mattered to my weight or general wellness, I generally believe next to nothing doctors tell me about food and my weight. My philosophy, in general, is that you should eat when you are hungry until you are full, and then you should stop. Every meal should have protein, carbs, and fruits or vegetables. I try to eat about equal amounts of all three food groups. I think dessert once a day is fine.. I find I am at my happiest and healthiest when that’s about as deeply as I ever think about my diet.
I struggle with following this philosophy in two places. The first is that I always want dessert, and, failing dessert, carbs. This is not really a solvable problem, and it will probably always be a thing I struggle with because dessert is great and also very healthy for me on an emotional level. The second is that I hate protein, and I especially hate protein in the mornings. My limited lactose tolerance means any dairy products are out, and my normal sources of protein – nuts, meat, eggs – tend to sit in my stomach like lead. But I also know that if I don’t eat protein in the morning, instead of just being normal hungry when lunch time rolls around, I will be really, really cranky. The question of “is it better to feel like I swallowed a tennis ball and be cranky because of that, or not eat protein and be cranky because of low blood sugar” is the devil’s bargain I have struggled with most of my adult life.
Then, this year, a new man came into my life. His name is ABC Bars from Trader Joe’s, and nothing has been the same ever since. These are now my go-to breakfast, along with a piece of fruit like a banana or pear or handful of raspberries. There was a few weeks where Trader Joe’s was out of these in the fall, and it was a dark, hangry time for me. I ask that we not speak of it. It was traumatic for everyone involved.
Most people are not redheads. In fact, almost no one is a redhead.
You would think this is an obvious fact that I, as a redhead, didn’t have to remind people of on a nearly constant basis. You would think the fact that we make up at most two percent of the world’s population would, like, give people a clue. This is not the case.
See, here’s the thing about redheads – white ladies fucking love redheads. I don’t know why. I don’t know why so many white ladies seems to hold this secret aspiration to be a redhead and at some point inadvisably dye their hair auburn or ginger or strawberry blonde. I don’t know why so many white ladies will then enthuse about how “natural” they look when they do this (they almost never do) or how no one can tell (they almost always can). Most of all, I don’t know why there is a large subset of white women who will come up to me and tell me “I’m a redhead too!” I can, however, tell you that 100% of the women who feel the need to inform me they are redheads are never actually redheads, because generally if you were, you wouldn’t need to tell anyone about it.
I have never not been a redhead, and the redness of my hair has barely diminished with age, the way most redheads do. Because my hair has spent its entire life a steady pumpkin pie color (or, as I will never let my best friend live down for once saying in what she in the sixth grade thought was a compliment, “the color of a really well-rotted carrot”), I can’t tell you if being a redhead is actually any different than being not a redhead. On a day-to-day basis, I suspect it’s not. The only ways I can tell that I differ from someone who is not a redhead are the following: I get maybe one compliment or weird comment on it a week (the most common one being “you have lovely hair”, to which I say at this point without even thinking about it “thanks, I grew it myself”), I’m very sensitive to pain and can’t eat anything with even the barest trace of capsaicin without crying (that might have nothing to do with my red hair, the science is out), and also makeup companies usually make a very, very limited amount of colors that look good on me, if they make any at all.
This mascara never would have made my list if it weren’t for someone on Twitter asking a question along the lines of “what, for you, is essential to your makeup routine?” As someone who has what I call “golden retriever eyelashes” (ie: the hair on my face – eyebrows and eyelashes – is long and plentiful, but white-blonde. Much like a golden retriever), I posted this product along with the brow pencil I use, with the caveat that the mascara was the real one, because there were a few brands of eyebrow pencil that worked equally well in a pinch. I also posted “I expect no one else will need this product besides me” because, well, redhead. Weirdly enough, this tweet EXPLODED. I had to mute the favorites and retweets because it got annoying. I got over a dozen women in my mentions instantly pledging to buy it, thanking me profusely for searching their whole lives for such a thing, and generally pledging their fealty to me, which was nice, I guess.
Oddly enough, the women who were so happy that I posted this recommendation? Almost none were redheads. Some, charitably, had red undertones. Some had dyed their hair red. Some may have been redheads as children. Most were the type of people who might be expected to tell me they were a redhead while not being a redhead because, again, a redhead never has to tell anyone they’re a redhead. Almost all of them I looked at their pictures and agreed, however, that yeah, black mascara probably wasn’t that flattering on them. Scrolling through these women’s avatars I realized something else that had been niggling at me for a while, which is this: we think of hair as a spectrum along a blonde to brown continuum, and it doesn’t. We think of skin as a two-dimensional matrix, from pale to dark on one axis and from cool to warm on another axis. I remember when makeup companies like Neutrogena started recognizing this when I was in high school, and everyone went “at last, a company that gets it!” But it turns out, they’re all wrong. None of them get it. Humans come in every shade of “flesh tone” possible, from blacks so deep they’re almost blue to people like me who are so pale you can see a hair growing half an inch under the surface of my skin. Humans also come in every range of tones, and it’s much more complex than the warm tone/cool tone dichotomy we were all taught as girls reading women’s magazines and testing swatches in drug stores. Redheads, and how I can usually spot someone who is really a redhead, not only rarely fit on this spectrum, but very obviously don’t fit on this spectrum. There’s no universal spectrum they DO fit on (some redheads look great in reds and pinks, for example, and some like me do not), but they for sure would have, in the seventies and eighties, be vaguely told by someone who was trying to be a color consultant that they were “an autumn” and given no further information. So when women were trying to tell me “I’m a redhead!”, what they meant was that this spectrum wasn’t working for them. Maybe they didn’t have naturally red hair, but they weren’t easily categorized, either, and they thought that maybe that meant they were just part of the obvious outlier group. They weren’t wrong they were outliers, just wrong they were in the same outlier group as I was.
The fact of the matter is, whether you are a redhead or not, and no matter where you fall in the vast, complex matrix of possible human colorings, one of the variants is eyelash color, or what color is flattering to wear as mascara. Not all eyelashes are black. Also, not all eyelashes look good in black mascara. technically brown mascara “exists”, but it’s so dark it may as well be black. technically colored mascaras “exist”, but for the most part, they’re such a dark shade they show up as black with a colored tint.
The nice thing about this mascara is it’s actually brown. Not black-brown, not brownish black, actual brown. I, as a person who is actually a redhead, get “Genuine Ginger”, which is, as the name suggests, a very close match to my pumpkin pie/rotted carrot color. The Honest Auburn is good for people who dye their hair red, or henna-tint, or have red-red (as in the color red) undertones. And True Brown is what the name suggests. Really. Truly. Brown. Mascara.
It’s amazing what technology can bring us these days.
- Garnier Leave-In Conditioner – I have the world’s driest hair. Sometimes my hair is dry to an absurd degree, where I have to use multiple brands and types of conditioner to get it to not either feel squeaky, like dolphin skin, or look like a cinnamon broom when it dries. If this sounds like you, a very good friend that has helped me avoid having to shower every other day and dry myself out even more is this leave-in conditioner. I’m sure there are better solutions for this, but this solution is cheap and was the first one I tried at CVS and it’s working so far.
- You can’t recommend an entire store, but when I got my job as a barista, which came with a dress code, I had a prompt panic and realized that I did not have enough clothing that fit this dress code (and that I was comfortable ruining) to wear. I had always avoided Old Navy in the past because the quality used to be much, much lower, but I’ve been super impressed by everything I’ve purchased from them this year, and now my wardrobe breakdown, both on and off the job, is like, 30% Uniqlo, 30% Old Navy, 20% Loft because I can’t afford to have it be more than 20% Loft even though I wish I could, 20% other stores. I obviously can’t recommend an entire store and most of what I got is no longer on sale, but the best purchases I’ve made have been various different EveryWear tees and an extremely cute button down the front navy corduroy skirt that is now my go-to for when I actually have a social life. Also, these dope slippers.
- Speaking of “you can’t recommend an entire store”, my friend Kat introduced me to Miss A Beauty, which is a beauty store where all makeup and beauty products are one dollar. One. American. Dollar. What!!!! I worried deeply that this meant something sketchy was going on, but no! It appears to be that they just work with less well-known brands and use the Filene’s Basement model (a reference that only makes sense if you’re from Boston). This is a great, great store if you’re just getting into makeup and have no idea what works for you, or if you see something you want to try, but don’t want to spend actual money trying without getting a clear idea of what you like and don’t. Also, their lip products are pretty good, and as previously discussed, I wear lip product hard. Nothing I’ve tried from them compares to stuff designed to be longwear, but it’s a good few hours worth of color.
- While not transcendentally life-changing (is there such thing as a life-changing headphone?), I needed a new pair of headphones this fall and this pair has been very good. It says they’re kid’s headphones, but they definitely are too big to be kid’s headphones. The only “kids” thing about them, as far as I can tell, is that they come in fun colors and even I (and the best efforts of my gerbils) have not managed to get them to break or show any signs of wear. The real stamp of approval on these is my mom, the world’s pickiest person. She asked me for recommendations for cheap headphones for a long flight to visit my brother in Boulder, and she not only said these “did a good job” (high praise!) but still uses them when she needs headphones at home. (HIGHEST PRAISE!)
- Everyone’s skin is so different that a universally good moisturizer recommendation is impossible, but that being said, I discovered this one in a super-bougie gift store, enjoyed it so much I went online to buy my own without the exorbitant mark up, and then continued to enjoy it so much I just ordered myself a new one.
- I can’t paint my nails as a barista (saddest of sad trombones), but when I do get a few days off, I always paint them and then instantly feel more like myself. This year I bought from OPI Yank my Doodle and Freedom of Peach, which I’ve been lusting after for a while, and Anchors Down from Essie. All have been in my heavy rotation.