The New Domesticity: More Choices

I read Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity shortly after it came out. Of course I did; I’m interested in urban homesteading and had just opened a store along these lines. Soon after though, I came to the realization that I couldn’t continue working on the store – it just wasn’t compatible with my home life with young kids.

This work snapshot, though it involved challenges, still encapsulates to me a lot of positives. I was able to choose to try a venture, and I was able to choose to stop. I think about this when I hear the term women (and sometimes men) “opting out” which has negative connotations. I like to focus on the “opting” part, which means there is a choice or options, which I see as a good thing.

I’ve chosen to stay home for a few years while my kids are young; I’m choosing to return to my paid work as a lawyer when they are in school. Maybe you are making similar choices; maybe yours are opposite. I appreciate the frankness of my work colleague who once said of my decision to stay home: “I don’t know how you do it. I’m never happier than on Sunday night, when I know I can have a break from home and go to work.” We shared a laugh and that was it. No drama. She knows I know she loves her kids and is raising them well with a knowledge of herself; I hope I am doing the same.

I like being at home. I like doing things with my hands as well as my head, so I often make things: bodycare products, arts and crafts, toys, gifts, dinner. Making do is also something I do well. The “new domesticity”, as Matchar calls it, makes staying at home more interesting for me – often making something, with its space for creativity and a personal touch, is more fun and satisfying than buying it.

But not always. Sometimes making something is actually quite hard, or too time-consuming, or just not fun. In these cases, I either go without it, or if I need it, I relish being able to go online or to the store and employ cash or plastic to buy it. Ah, the luxury of choice.

I’m also not sure I agree that women (and some men) who are opting for the new domesticity somehow become detached from the collective action that makes the world a better place. Does knitting your own scarf or chopping wood for your own heat really mean that you can’t join a protest or attend a meeting or sign a petition, especially in the world of online communication?

I’ve met many people who are staying at home for various reasons, and these people are at least as active, and often more active, in their involvement in the causes that are close to them than they would be if they were working full-time. They are advocating for changes in their children’s schools, to protect the environment, for a wide range of the social issues that they believe in. I really am not persuaded that choosing the new domesticity equates with civil irrelevance.

The emergence of the new domesticity, or any unconventional path for that matter, is a good thing insofar as it’s a manifestation of greater choices. I understand that if workplaces offered greater options for its workers that these alternatives might be less attractive or necessary. But while we work toward those changes in the future, it’s good to have greater options for the present. The traction of the new domesticity seems to show that these options are sorely needed.

Naturally Dyeing Easter Eggs With Kids

2011_04 - various 487I love colouring Easter eggs with the kids, and we do this naturally with items out of our pantry.  The kids love it too.  When I last asked the kids if they wanted to dye eggs, my eldest immediately set himself at the counter and said, “Let’s get out the turmeric!”  So we headed to the cupboard and fridge and retrieved our dye sources: turmeric, onion skins, beets, and purple cabbage.

Making the dyes is quick and easy.  Just add equal parts of the dye source and water into a pot and add a splash of vinegar (about a tablespoon for each cup of water). The vinegar helps to set the dye, so don’t skip it. And don’t worry too much about quantities here, which will result is slight variations of colour, but it will all work.  Then boil the contents of the pots for 15 to 20 minutes, let cool, and strain.  And just like that, you’ve got your natural dyes!

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Playing with the natural colours is fun, but here’s a partial code when using white eggs (using brown eggs will create different colour tones):

– purple cabbage makes light blue tones

– beets makes pink tones

– turmeric makes yellow tones

– onion skins makes red tones

We got additional dyes by colour mixing.

I do this activity with my boys, so we dyed pre-boiled eggs in the cooled dyes in order that they can participate more fully in the process.  But you can get different and usually deeper colour tones by boiling eggs directly in the pots of dye.  I’d love to have green eggs this year, and read that red cabbage will transfer green dye on brown eggs, so that’s on our “to try” list.

There was almost no waste from the dyeing process, as we ate both the boiled beets (peeled and sprinkled with a little red wine vinegar) and the boiled cabbage (plain! the boys pulled it out of the pot and ate all of it without a word from me).

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There are lots of ways to decorate the eggs.  We’ve experimented with tying elastics around the eggs or applying stickers (paper hole reinforcements are fun) before dyeing.  But our favourite for hands-on fun is to draw on still-warm freshly boiled eggs with beeswax crayons.  The heat melts the wax and the crayons just slide on – it’s a lovely sensory experience. When the eggs were too hot to hold at first, the boys drew on them while they perched in a paper carton; later they could hold them in their hands.

If you’d like a sheen on the eggs, rub a little oil on them after dyeing. I usually present our eggs out on our playsilks so I haven’t applied the oil before.  But it is pretty and I think the boys would enjoy the process so this year I’ll probably use paper instead of the silks to cushion the eggs.

As with all DIY projects with children, it’s important to focus on the process. My first time doing this with the children (who were obviously too young), I had their attention for 5 minutes and then basically dyed the eggs on my own which I enjoyed, but kind of missed the point.  Except that maybe it didn’t, because now the boys line up at the table when it’s time to dye our eggs, ready to chop cabbage or pour the vinegar or draw on the eggs.  It’s all part of the process, and has become one way in which we welcome the spring.

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Make Your Own Artisanal Natural Cold Pressed Soap

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I’m here to tell you that creating the best handmade soap suited specifically to your needs or those of the people you love is entirely within your power.

But first I’m going to tell you how I failed to accomplish this for many years.

One November ages ago, I rode my bike down Queen Street and saw a sign in a cute indie fashion shop that said “Soapmaking Workshop”.  And although it’s hard for me to imagine doing this for any other type of workshop, I got off my bike and without thinking about it laid my money down.

The workshop was held in the kind of creepy basement of this shop, and about 10 of us squished in there.  The facilitator was knowledgeable and methodical, and had the credibility that comes with having your soap being carried in various shops around the city.  I left with my bars of soap and then proceeded to not make any for six years.

Why?

One word: lye.  And maybe two more: sourcing ingredients.

These two things, but especially the first, means that making soap isn’t really beginner DIY bodycare.  Making soap depends upon a chemical reaction called saponification, and uses lye to get there.  Lye is a caustic alkali that reacts strongly with other materials, including skin – carelessness with lye can cause serious burns and other injuries.  It scared me, and it scared me off for a good while.

But then I recently opened a store that was all about handmaking things (and, because the world spins fast, I’m actually not involved in it anymore – more on this another time) and I decided to make soap already.  I gathered my materials (not much, really), bought the few inexpensive things I didn’t have from the dollar store (like safety goggles and rubber gloves), and then I researched it thoroughly online and in books, and researched it some more, until I had basically memorized the entire process.

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I am a beginner soapmaker and would not dream of telling you how to do it – there are many sites and books that do it far better than I could.  I have The Soapmaker’s Companion by my bedside, and the resource that gets recommended, all the time, for being both instructive and encouraging and down-to-earth about lye, is Anne Watson’s Smart SoapmakingIt’s making its way to me in the mail.)

What I can tell you as a beginner soapmaker is that if you are determined to avoid regular soap (check safety ratings of your products on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website) or relish the loveliness of artisanal handmade soap, or both – you can do it!  Especially if you like cooking, this will be a fun and easy extension of what you already do in your kitchen.  Don’t be cocky around the lye, but don’t let it boss you around either – a good respect for it will do. Educate yourself and then enjoy how widely it’s available now – several of my local hardware stores carry it.  As for the other ingredients, you can make very good soap (and better than almost everything at the store) from oils in your pantry.  If you want to get some extra nice carrier oils and essential oils, go to your local natural health food store or buy them conveniently (and often less expensively) online (here and here if you’re in Canada; if in the U.S., this company sounds quite amazing).

Then there’s a whole world of soapmaking to discover.  Read and watch how much fun soapmakers are having and the gorgeous soaps they’re making. Learn about the oils you’re using, as they have unique cleansing and healing properties, especially if you have sensitive skin. Look into the controversy around palm oil (more sustainable options are readily available). Inquire into whether you would consider using animal fats in your soap, as this post by a vegetarian is making me do. Think of who you’ll gift it to (I’m doing this to distraction, I’m afraid.)  Making soap at home offers a lot of creative license, and you can make anything from shampoo bars to shaving bars with minor adjustments.

I’ve only made two batches (more on the way), but they turned out perfectly. I don’t know what kind of DIYer you are, but the one writing this post can’t often boast of perfect outcome on a first try.  Once informed, it’s really not that hard.

For the record, the soap I photographed for this post is Calendula Soap.  I already have several other recipes in line.  Not everyone gets excited about handmade soap, but I do!  I love this soap and have been using it exclusively for years, but it’s expensive (and I’ve got three boys to wash!).  Making it at home means I can use high quality and organic ingredients for a small fraction of the cost, and I have the pleasure of creating something I think is really nice, and which I hope will be received well as gifts.

Want to try?

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Making Your Own Lotion Bars – Easy DIY Salve for Winter

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It’s been the perfect winter, has it not, to make a good hand salve?  The truth is, if you use your hands much at all (any gardeners amongst us?), a good hand salve is a year-round affair.

But it takes on an even more prominent place this time of year, and especially this year, with this winter being so tenacious. Skin throughout the land is taking more of a hit than usual, and it strikes me as a perfect time for making lotion bars.

So I made lotions bars, using this recipe, delightful as it was in its simplicity:  equal parts beeswax, coconut oil, and almond oil.  I chose it because of this straightforwardness, and because all ingredients were in stock at home.

There’s a difference between easy, and easy for me, and I’m here to tell you I managed to encounter complication even in all this simplicity.  Although the instructions clearly feature the use of a silicone mold to pop out the lotion bars (and I have these molds), I thought it would be nice to have them into tins and jars, so that’s what I poured the mixture into.   They looked so pretty in them too.  But once they were cooled, the lotion was hard (ergo the lotion bars part), and were difficult to get out of the jars and use.  Essentially they are lotions bars, as mentioned in the instructions, and not a cream.

So I was back to the drawing board, and re-melted the lotion in my makeshift double boiler.  (I ruined my carefully saved tins in the process).  But I did find some silicone molds, and poured out my bars.  I forgot about the most appropriate shape I had, of hearts, and used instead the shapes of puzzle pieces and one meant create shot glasses made of ice (I only discovered this intended purpose after I made the lotion bars; I used the reverse to get little bullet-shaped bars).

In the end, we ended up with a decent lot of lotion bars.  (And I say “we” because I had some helpers.) They do moisturize both the hands and face well, the children have enjoyed them, and we gifted a few during a playdate.  As it turns out, puzzle-shaped lotion bars appeal to kids, and my adult friend said that she loved them and that her hands have never been so moisturized.  Also, if one of your kids decides to eat one, you’ll know he’ll be fine because there’s nothing in there that will hurt him.

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There’s something to be said for stumbling through the bumps of being a beginner.  It’s uncomfortable, but if you come out the other end, you’ve something to show for it, not least of which is a notch of perseverance on your belt.  Next up I’d like to try a recipe that really does produce a cream, or at least a softer salve, which probably means it would contain less beeswax.

I suspect doing this and other easy DIY projects gave me the confidence to venture into the world of cold-pressed soapmaking, which I’ll write about here next week.  Happy DIY-ing!

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Second-Hand Fashion Gems in Toronto

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There was a time when second-hand shopping meant sifting through piles of worn and stained clothing, but these days are long gone. Clothes are no longer passed on primarily because they’re worn out, but for lots of other reasons:  frequently changing tastes, impulse buys that didn’t pan out, ill-fitting clothes (as mothers know very well, our bodies change), and unused gifts (lots of items still have tags on them).

The result is that there are heaps of high quality, lovely pieces that are being recirculated, and it is a lot of fun to get in on the game. With so many options are available for scoring unique, good-looking clothing, the fashionistas peruse the second-hand offerings right next to the bargain hunters and the eco-minded (buying second-hand leaves a smaller footprint than buying new) and on as regular a basis.

So what exactly are these options?  For those who want a gentle approach to second-hand and love high fashion and the brands that bring it, you can’t get much better than Thrill of the Find (1172 Queen Street East).  Clothing in perfect condition is neatly hung in this boutique shop, and the staff helps you get the perfect high fashion find at a fraction of the cost you’d normally pay.  There are a lot of beautiful dresses in the shop, along with a slightly imperfect rack for those among us who know our way around a needle and thread.

A little farther east is Gadabout (1300 Queen Street East), an overflowing vintage shop selling all kinds of old things, including some very interesting clothes.  Vintage clothing is an important part of Toronto’s fashion scene, and though I don’t belong to this world, I encountered it once at Gadabout when I was shopping for my wedding dress.  When trying on a beautiful vintage baby blue knee-length dress with an empire waist and cream trim, I caught the attention of two designers who were shopping there also; they promptly offered their advice for how the dress could be adjusted to be just right.  Like Thrill of the Find, Gadabout is not necessarily inexpensive because of how specialized it is (and the designers pointed this out), but it is a good shop carrying a wide range of things, and if you find something you love, you can be quite sure you’ll not find it elsewhere.  (And I probably would have gotten married in that baby blue dress (which cost about $200) had my husband not finally confessed that he really would prefer I wear a white one.)

Hands down, my favourite local second-hand haunt is my neighbourhood Value Village (924 Queen Street East).  This is your trusty department thrift store – the rectangular shop is stocked with utilitarian shelves and hangers, but there are some treasures among the more mundane offerings, and the prices are cheap (although they are not as cheap as they used to be, due to its increased popularity).  Clothing is organized by type (sweater, long-sleeved shirt, skirt) and size, but you are much better off going to browse than looking for anything in particular.  I have bought many things that I really like and use here, and my niece bought her prom dress here, confident that she wouldn’t encounter another girl in the same dress.

Do you have any favourite second-hand neighbourhood stores or experiences?

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Local Fashion Finds in Toronto

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We hope you’ve been enjoying our month of fashion and beauty ruminations.  To round off, we’ll be telling you about our favourite local fashion finds this week.

High end, thrifting, making your own – what’s your style when it comes to looking great in Toronto?  Does big city living boast so many options that the overflowing choice leaves you unsure of where to start?  Or do you thrive on the ever-changing world of fashion that graces our city?

This week, catch a glimpse of 4 Mothers’ varied thoughts on this, as we tell you about our experiences and what exactly it is that we’ve found – you might be surprised!

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Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt Coming to Toronto on February 28

MK_ScavHunt_Artwork_NoWhiteWe’re excited to be taking our littlest boys to Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt on February 28 at the Sony Centre in Toronto (it’s being performed in 45 Canadian cities)! Based on the popular animated series, this musical theatre performance promises to take audiences on an interactive medieval adventure complete with trolls and flying dragons.  What more can we ask for?

Mike the Knight pursues his chivalrous quest with friendly dragon companions Sparkie and Squirt, buddy Trollee, and his wizard-in-training sister Evie.  The show appeals to preschoolers who follow Mike’s on his many discoveries, including the importance of responsibility – after all, his motto is “Be a knight, do it right!”.

Our sons like this series, which is fun-loving and full of adventure, dress-up and imaginative play.  We’re sure the theatrical production will be a hit too.  We’re looking forward to take our littlest boys to a show meant especially for them – no tagging along to an event geared towards their older brothers next Saturday – we’re going to spend some great one-on-one time just with them and a musical little knight.

Learn more about show here. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.ca or by phone at (855) 985-5000.  

H20 Float Spa – Floating to Relaxation


float spa 2I first heard about the float spa from Beth-Anne.  The synopsis: you enter a large water capsule, close the lid and lie there in the dark.  I believe she may have referred to it as a nightmare.

I was like, “Oo, I want to try!”  And in honour of 4 Mothers’ reviews of interesting spas this week, I did. And it was really quite cool.

My local H20 Float Spa, conveniently located on Danforth Avenue, offers two float pods (with lids) and two open concept float rooms (large enough for a couple to float together).  I opted for the pod, which really is large water capsule with a lid, perhaps the size of a queen size bed, filled with 10 inches of water and filled with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts.  At this concentration (higher than the Dead Sea), the body naturally floats to the surface without any effort, which in turn is conducive to deep states of relaxation.

It was this selling point that got me: I am trying to meditate more, and was curious about doing so in the pod.  What would it be like?

The water in the pod is comfortable but not hot – you can’t float for an hour in water that is too hot.  It’s normally kept at body temperature (34 degrees) although when I mentioned to the attendant booking my appointment over the phone that I get cold easily, he increased the temperature a degree or two for my session.  I slipped into the water and immediately was buoyed up.

The attendant had asked me if I wanted cream to cover any cuts on my body, but I didn’t think I had any. Apparently I had small cuts on some cuticles though, and the high salt content of the water meant that the stinging was distracting enough that I buzzed the attendant (there’s a button in the pod for this) to request the cream after all.  I generously applied (and reapplied) this and felt better. (Luckily I hadn’t shaved before floating; I later learned this is not recommended because any little nicks in the skin will sting too.)  I also inserted little spots of wax into my ears; apparently you don’t want the salt water entering the ear cavities.

It’s possible to plug in music to the pod, which I think would be an amazing experience, but for my first try, I wanted just silence.  When I was ready, I reached up for the handle to close the capsule.  When the lid actually clicked shut over me, I had a moment of startled awareness of enclosure. And the sudden, completely absence of light. There was a subtle green glow in the pod when the lid was open, now with it shut, there was a short window of reddish darkness, and then just black darkness.  Pure sensory deprivation.

It was quite amazing.  Weightless, with absolutely no difference to my sight whether my eyes were open or closed, I began my mindful meditation practice.  With so little sensation, what was there was heightened.  I was very aware of the water, its temperature and mine, its texture on my skin (so very smooth), and also what parts of my body were covered by it or exposed. The sounds of my breath were intensified, and almost foreign as it got deeper. My mind wandered (it always does – my meditations are a work in progress), but there was very little external stimulus.  And I don’t think I have ever heard my own heartbeat so prominent and plain.

The one meaningful distraction was the periodic rumble of the subway that makes the location so convenient; in my sensitive state I could both hear and feel this.  I took this in stride with my meditation but could imagine a purer experience without it – some music might mask this beautifully.

I’m fairly sure I fell asleep and woke a few times.  Towards the end of my hour, my meditative state ended, and I very nearly opened the lid (although I didn’t – the lights came on just a few minutes later to signal the end of my session).  I began to wonder:  how much oxygen is in this pod, and was my breathing a bit more laboured than when I started?  In other words, I began to experience some mild anxiety. But I recognized this, and was not actually worried; I had just left my relaxed state.  I finished up with a leisurely hot shower in my floating room, and ended my spa with a hot cup of sweetened tea and an orange.

As Beth-Anne astutely observed from the beginning, the floating pod isn’t for everyone.  Even though there’s only 10 inches of water, I think you have to be really comfortable with water – no fear of it at all – to enjoy the experience.  Also, you have to be a-okay with the dark and small spaces (although it’s absolutely possible to float with the lights on and the lid up, but you’ll be missing the main experience of sensory deprivation).

If you are good on these fronts, by all means, give it a go.  I’m not sure I’ll become a regular, mostly because I rarely go to spas in general, but it was an unforgettable experience and a very good meditation session. The attendant told me that there are some excellent meditators who book three hour sessions. (I had asked him my oxygen question, and he explained that there is a filter inside the pod that is constantly monitoring oxygen levels and adding air so very long sessions are possible.)

And if the pod isn’t quite up your alley, the open concept floating rooms sound very accessible.  There were only couples in the waiting room when I was paying and wrapping up; a casual testimonial, I thought, that floating in the dark with your lover probably makes for an excellent date.  One thing is sure: you wouldn’t soon forget it.

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A Week of New and Unusual Spa Treatments

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Okay, it’s mid-February, Toronto is in the middle of a deep freeze, and I don’t want to leave the house.  Can’t we channel some wisdom from the animal kingdom – there’s a reason why they hibernate!

But February comes every year, and must be faced when the time comes, and we all must do the best we can with it.  This week, 4Mothers tries to cope with a bit of pampering, also known as the spa.  Most of us like a good spa treatment, but to shake things up a bit, we’ve decided to try some unusual and new spa treatments and report on our experiences.  Stay tuned and see what each of us turn up with.

Also, tell us – what are your favourite spa treatments?  Do you stick with the tried and true, or do you venture into novel territory?  We’d love to hear your thoughts, and we’ll get through February together!

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Maturity in Makeup: An Interview with Makeup Artist Boriana Karan

boriana“Every face has beauty and personality.  I see where my clients are and where they want to go and look for ways to get there.”  So says award-winning Boriana Karan, one of Canada’s preeminent makeup artists, whose work has appeared in a plethora of magazines, commercials, and videos.

It’s easy to get lost in her collection of dazzling work, yet for all the glamour of her profession, Boriana has a decidedly down-to-earth manner.  She is equally at home in the world of high fashion as she is on the living room floor playing with her two children. So it comes as no surprise that Boriana’s clientele includes not just models and actors, but also the rest of us who seek out individual consultations to help us look our best.

I’ve talked to Boriana a few times about her work, and each time it’s nothing short of captivating.  And since my beauty regimen consists primarily of an annual haircut and flossing, this really is saying something.  I think it’s because her approach to makeup is so thoughtful.  Listen to her:

Like a house, you need to build structure to a face.  I observe how women do their make-up – usually they focus on the eyes and sometimes the mouth.  But every feature of the face is part of the structure and needs attention, so emphasizing one or two features doesn’t create a balanced look.  Just as a good room is created from various pieces of furniture, or a recipe from different ingredients, a face is made of multiple components and requires a structure.  Some components are more prominent than others depending on the person – these components include hair, eyes, a nose – if a woman is lucky, sometimes a mouth – also fullness of the face and colour.  

It sounds very subjective but everyone has to look in the mirror and see what parts of her face’s structure are missing, and then focus on this first.  Maybe you have small lips or big eyes or a reddish complexion or lack of colour or healthy glow in the face – whatever it is, you must address this missing link first.  If you have only a few minutes to do your make-up, this is where you spend it by focusing by building a complete structure from all your features.  Creating these basic structural elements to the face is like creating basic visual manners.  Make-up should have a health and balancing to it before moving onto something more elaborate.  Then, if you have an extra minute, you can go on to something else.  But make sure that this translates into balance of the overall structure.

This reference to minutes is another reason why Boriana has the credibility that she has.  Sure, she can airbrush a naked body into almost anything, but she also knows how it works for most of us, on the ground.  Women are busy; mothers are very busy. “Three minutes – it’s what most of us has,” she says.  In which case you need to know how best to use each of those minutes.

I ask her whether she has any advice to dispense to the everywoman, and the biggest message here, hands down, is to take care with eyebrows. “There is a huge misunderstanding about brows,” she explains. Firstly, girls and women are too aggressive with eyebrows at an early age, and regrowth in the brow zone can be as little as 10%.  But the more we age, the more brow we need.  With age, the asymmetry in the face becomes more prominent and the eyebrows can compensate for that without surgical intervention and create the illusion of better symmetry in the face.   As eyes inevitably become deeper set and faces start to sag with time, clearing underneath the brow and working the top layer can give the face a natural face lift.

Another area that’s often overlooked is colour in general in the face. We’re not talking here about sucking in our cheeks and stroking an angular slash of blush under the cheekbone.  Boriana speaks instead about the apple of the cheek, the highest and roundest part of the cheek most prominent when someone smiles.  She’s seeking here to replicate the flush of youth, the glow that comes after exercise, an external showing of healthy, internal heat.  This is where “makeup can compensate for the lack of a look of health, including the lips.”

Finally, Boriana generally recommends that for women 30 and over, smoothness and softness to the features is usually more flattering than sharper lines. So, as we age, it can be helpful to shift from lipstick to a gentler lip balm, stain or gloss.  Move away from powders to mattifying creams; choose targeted use of concealer rather than a foundation over the whole face.  “Imagine a move from tempera paint to watercolours,” she tells me. “It’s maturity in makeup.”

Boriana is completely engaged as she talks and her energy is contagious.  She has been interviewed for magazines and other print media before but this is her first blog experience.  “Is there a way for your readers to ask questions?”  I’m surprised by this because she is a very busy woman, but I am meeting with her next week and she says she can answer questions then for me to report back.  It won’t be instant gratification, but her thoughts will undoubtedly be helpful, because this is a woman who not only wants you to look your best, but who can actually help you get there.

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                    Boriana shows how to match skin ton from a palette of rainbow colours from Make Up Forever