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You are a soul.

I took this photo at the 2014 wedding of my dear friends (and adoptive aunts), Suzanne and Marcia. It was an occasion that gave me a sense of belonging in a place that was, at the time, new and foreign to me. This quote encapsulated my dizzying hunger for experience and beauty that would eclipse anything I’d been able to find before. I wanted to live outside of myself, to eschew the comforts that had made me feel secure, to shrug off the limitations imposed by my inexperience, and to find something new, other, different, special.

There isn’t a word that could possibly describe the trauma and pain of the past year– and even if there was, I wouldn’t be able to find it in the swirling abyss that is my brain. Not unlike a stroke, grief makes you forget, and I often find myself reaching for words that seem to just escape my grasp.

I find myself now more than ever valuing the familiar comforts that make me feel safe. The places filled with memories that I’ll never be able to relive, the mundane things newly imbued with significance, like my dad’s old clothes. I’ve found myself turning over another C.S. Lewis quote in my head: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” As soon as I read those words, in the days after my father died, I felt a pang of recognition. There is no respite from a loss like this. After the initial impact, its effects continue to ripple outward, touching everything, indefinitely. Nothing good will ever be as good as it could have been. Nothing right will ever be as right as it should be. And no matter where I stand in this world, or how far I travel, I will never find a home like the one that no longer exists.

One half-formed thought has continued to pulsate through my head, especially during the numbingly bad times. We are more than this. Our selves are so much bigger than what our faulty, fragile bodies can contain.

And then I stumbled upon this photo, from a time in my life when I could barely contain my feeling of hope.

You don’t have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.
–C.S. Lewis
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Culture

We still can.

Last night, President Obama closed his farewell address with a few borrowed lines from a campaign speech he made in 2008. I know this because I have listened to this speech many times since then, in moments of doubt, happiness and when I wanted to hear a familiar, trusted voice. It’s important to remember that this speech– one that solidified the campaign message that ultimately won him the presidency– was made during a moment of unexpected loss. He had just conceded New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton.

When he took the stage, he congratulated her, and then delivered his remarks as planned. It was a rallying cry that felt almost triumphant, even in the face of uncertainty. He had not even won the nomination at this point, and was still many steps away from the White House. I have always thought that it was his words that night that stuck with me, but I now realize that it was his audacity.

In 2011, I was a nobody at a thankless job, and I finagled my way into an opportunity that I had dreamed of for years. Meeting the President and the First Lady is a memory that endures, vivid and prominent in my brain’s lockbox of prized experiences. While shaking his outstretched hand was surreal, I was struck more by the fact that he was, in fact, human, and decidedly so.

I have always been reluctant to hail people as heroes or even role models, knowing that placing those you admire on a pedestal only gives them further to fall. But for whatever reason, when he asks me to believe, I know that I will try. When he tells us that we can– we still can– I know deep down that he is right.

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Culture

We have become numb to this.

“There’s been another mass shooting in America,” says President Obama.

The despair in his voice is steeped in weariness.

“We have become numb to this.”

We’ve all seen this movie so many times that we can recite each line, and it is a dialogue for the ages. We became desensitized to the brutality behind these acts of violence long ago. Now the magnitude of each one is akin to a single wave on a tumultuous sea.

For another week or so we’ll see posts about it on Facebook: commemorating victims, praising first responders and calling for action (however unspecified that action might be). Then the names and identities of those lost will be eclipsed by happier news. We’ll enjoy a brief and cautious respite while we await the next tragedy.

College campuses, high schools and even elementary schools have become hunting grounds for disturbed, disgruntled young men who believe they’re entitled to the respect, understanding or admiration of their peers. They’ve been allowed to incubate dangerous, dysfunctional beliefs about society, about women, and about their own importance, while those around them live in fear or denial. They come from mostly privileged or seemingly normal family backgrounds, and should have been forced into seeking help (or into the hands of the law) by more responsible parties. Instead, almost all have used legal guns to commit awful crimes, purchased with ease by themselves or their family members.

So few of us are equipped emotionally or otherwise to own deadly weapons, and these deluded young men are no exception. So why is it that someone with absolutely no business owning a gun should have the right to one?

“This has become routine.” This is our routine, and it appears we’re uninterested in changing it.

We may never know the depths of another person’s misanthropy or rage, or the depths of their pain and suffering. Surely these individuals missed out on some opportunity for compassion and understanding in life, and it led them down a path of destruction. But we can’t be expected to pay for the misfortunes the world has wrought against them, and we shouldn’t be giving them the opportunity to voice their frustrations through a hail of bullets on a college campus.

A gun is not a toy, nor is it a charming tradition. Having one is not an exercise in freedom, especially when it comes at the expense of the rights of others to truly live freely. So let’s stop dancing around semantics and identify guns for what they are: instruments of violence, and nothing more. The responsibility of owning one should be viewed as the ultimate shackle, and anyone who takes it on deserves to feel its full weight upon them.

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Fashion & Beauty

Pink hair, don’t care.

I realize I’ve been delinquent in my duties here. Like, really bad. Maybe worse than ever before. So it’s probably not the best time to congratulate myself on the fact that this blog came into existence almost exactly two years ago! Despite the fact that I’ve done a less-than-stellar job in recent months, my malformed brainchild maintains a pulse.

So on that note, I’ll get down to business. A few months ago, my lovely stylist Lauren updated my ombre with some vibrant pink and red. The result was beautiful, as expected, but as soon as I left the salon I was hit with the melancholy realization that I’d be unable to maintain the color on my own. I’d fly back to San Francisco and it would likely fade in a matter of weeks, even with the most delicate care and attention. I’d watch the fruits of her labor (and my time and money) circle the drain while crying into my loofah. The world would end and everything would be terrible, etc.

We all know that color-treated hair demands a little extra finesse– more time between washes (cold water only), extra hydration, touch-ups and more frequent trims… You know, the basics.

Well, it turns out there are some things that even Cosmo (or Harvard Law) can’t teach you. Enter oVertone Haircare, a relatively newish line of color-depositing conditioners that help to preserve your existing color or tint your hair gradually with consistent usage. The conditioners don’t bleach or lighten hair, they simply infuse it with a dose of semi-permanent dye each time you condition.

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Miserable face, messy desk, sub-par under-eye concealer.

If you’re a true Cosmo Girl, you know that color-depositing conditioners aren’t novel. What makes the oVertone line different is the fact that it’s actually good for your hair. Their conditioners lack the heavy alcohol content of regular dyes, so they won’t dry things out. They’re made of all plant-based ingredients and are gentle enough to use every time you condition. And, you can even use HOT WATER to rinse. Anyone with color-treated hair knows the pains of hunching over the bathroom sink to avoid a frigid shower.

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Another thing that I love about the line is the ability it gives you to customize your color. Each hue comes in different tones– pastel, vibrant or “extreme,” (the deepest of the three). You can also mix colors or use more than one conditioner at a time on different pieces of hair. Sounds like a lot of effort to me, personally, but if you’re an overachiever, be my guest.

Ultimately, I feel like the fact that I’ve used this stuff for the past three months with highly favorable results is a testament to its staying power. My hair feels as healthy as it ever had before dyeing, which is equal parts shocking and awesome. (I hate Halloween wig syndrome.) (You know what I mean.) And if you’re looking for a gradual, low-risk, semi-permanent way to try out a new look, this is it. So try out that lavender hair I know you’ve been coveting, y’all. Life is too short.

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26

The past few months have flown by in a whirlwind of shifting landscapes, which I guess is a fitting culmination to a year comprised of new experiences. Last May I was settling into something unfamiliar, surprising myself with the ease I felt in leaving things behind and going it alone. I waited for the moment when that realization would hit me, when I would truly feel it, like jumping into the deep end and letting the water envelop me in cold. It didn’t happen that way, though.

This past year has been a marathon– not a mad dash, but a purposeful plodding toward something different. And I think I can say that I’ve reached it: the point at which I no longer feel a crippling anxiety over the things I haven’t done. I can’t pinpoint this shift in perception with tangible milestones or achievements. I guess I would characterize it more as an absence of feeling—a relief from the needling discomfort of stagnation. I’ve discovered an unexpected confidence: just enough to be able to urge myself to jump without the fear that I won’t be able to kick my way to the surface afterward. Enough to feel that this must be the place, simply because it’s where I am.

Last week I had the privilege of seeing a good friend walk down the aisle. After a series of sitcom-worthy travel mishaps, a bout of illness and general work-induced exhaustion, I managed to make it there in time to watch her take the first steps into her new life. I’ve always been sentimental, but the moment hit me with some force. Maybe it was nostalgia for the things we used to do in another time and place, and maybe it was fear that after taking the proverbial plunge, she’d drift away. Those fears were fleeting. I realized that we all have to let go to see what comes after this moment, and the apprehension often stings more than the shock of hitting the water.

Goodbye, 26. I’m holding my breath for what’s next.

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Fashion & Beauty

Hair care tips and tricks from stylist Lauren Ramey

I’m really excited about this one, guys. Lauren is my longtime friend and stylist, and I’ve never met anyone more knowledgeable about hair. At just 25, she is the co-owner of a popular DC area salon, Elements McLean. She is certified in a myriad of cutting and coloring techniques and her styles have been featured in international hair magazines seen in over 30 countries. Despite the fact that she and her husband welcomed a new baby just a few weeks ago, she generously agreed to write a guest blog for me. (Because good hair can’t wait.) 

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My name is Lauren Ramey. My father, Irving Russo, and I own an organic hair salon that is dedicated to our guests’ health, the health of their hair and the environment. I got inspired to do hair simply from watching my father my entire childhood. He has been doing hair for 51 years, and has more passion for this industry than I have ever seen anyone have for anything. He has been my mentor, critic and biggest supporter, and I am truly blessed to be able to share his passion with him every day.

One of my biggest goals as a hairstylist is to give my guests the tools they need to carry their in-salon looks over into their daily lives. Here are a few of my tips and tricks to get the job done in a fun and healthy way.

Haircut Frequency: I recommend having your hair cut/trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks. There are a few reasons for that. One is that your hair will lose its shape. Layering and styling techniques only hold up for so long, and reshaping will make styling at home easier and less stressful. The other reason is simply for health purposes. Have you ever been bored and looked at the ends of your hair to find split ends? Those split ends have a nasty habit of traveling upwards through the strands of your hair and can eventually create frizz and damage. Trimming every 6 to 8 weeks prevents that issue.

Product Ingredients To Watch Out For: These are a few ingredients to be mindful of when choosing a hair care product (or any other beauty product):

  • Sulfates are lathering agents that companies add to shampoos to make them lather up like in TV commercials. They have no purpose other than to make bubbles. Look for Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate.
  • Parabens are preservatives that keep products good for long periods of time. Parabens have been found in large percentages of breast cancer tissue, and can be highly carcinogenic. Look for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben.
  • Phthalates are plastics that companies add to their hair care products to make hair look shiny. They coat the hair and weigh it down, eventually leading to the desire to switch products. Without phthalates, there is no need to have three different kinds of shampoo in your shower to rotate through.
  • Mineral Oil also coats hair, preventing good proteins and moisture from getting into the inner cortex of the hair to heal from the inside out.
  • Gluten is the last ingredient to watch out for. Most people know about gluten as a food denomination. It is a wheat protein that can be ingested, but it is also added into products as a strengthening agent. Just as people can be sensitive to eating gluten, one can be equally affected by it topically. Gluten protein can dry out the hair and scalp and can inflame skin.

Making Your Color Last: If you buy an expensive, dry-clean only cashmere sweater and you take it home and throw it in the wash with your dirty towels, is that not a huge waste of money? Isn’t it going to ruin the fabric and color of the sweater? The same holds true for hair. Why go to a salon and pay your stylist big bucks to make your hair shiny and bright just to go home and wash your hair with shampoo that contains plastics and artificial oils? It will taint the color, make it wash out faster, and instantly take out the beautiful shine we all want to keep around. If you’re using shampoo and conditioner that enhance your color, there is no need to worry about how often you are washing.

Heat Styling Tips: Using hot tools can be a fun styling aid, but they can also be mismanaged and can create long-term damage. The biggest thing I always say when you are new to using a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron: practice, practice, practice with the tool turned OFF first. There is no shame in getting the hang of round brushing your hair without the blow dryer on, barrel curling without heat, or running the flat iron through sans steam. Practicing will save you from scorching your hands or burning your hair to a crisp. Watch your temperatures, too. It’s easier to start cool and build up to the temperature properly, rather than cranking your tools up and not knowing whether they will be too hot.

Once you know your way around hot tools, try a few of my little tricks:

  • When using the blow dryer, don’t pick up a brush until your hair is at least 80% dry. Hair does not style when wet. Round brushing your hair while sopping wet is a waste of your time, and puts more stress on the hair (and aches in your arms).
  • When using the curling iron, curl each side AWAY from your face. By placing the barrel behind the section you are curling, you will curl the hair back and away. This will create a beautiful windswept look, and keep the hair from falling forward all day.
  • When using a flat iron, take smaller sections to create a more consistent look and cut down on time. I use the face as a guide to section out the hair for ironing. For the first section, use the tops of your ears as a marker. Use your pointer fingers or a comb as your sectioning tool and everything below your ears gets ironed first. Clip or tie up all hair you aren’t working on. For section 2, use the outermost edges of your eyebrows. To split up sections 3 and 4, divide the remaining hair using your temples as the midpoint. Splitting up your hair into 4 sections may sound tedious and seem like it’ll take longer, but give it a try. You may be surprised how much shinier and more uniform it comes out.

Using Food Products As “Natural” Haircare: I know a lot of people swear by a good avocado masque or olive oil treatment, and that’s great. But there are a few reasons why raw food shouldn’t be used as a form of hair care. The molecules in raw foods are too large to penetrate the cortex of the hair. So when you are putting olive oil, avocado, egg, or vinegar on your hair as a treatment, it is only working on the outside.

In reality, all forms of hair renewal and healing start from the inside. While it may feel as though your hair seems healthier, it’s only temporary. Once all traces of the food rinse off, your hair will return to the state it was in before the treatment. These treatments can alter the way hair color processes at the salon as well.

Vinegar is a huge one to be mindful of. Having vinegar on your scalp before a color process can irritate the scalp and cause undesirable results in color. I’m not saying any hair care product made with food ingredients is bad, though. In these products, the ingredients are processed, making them more useful for penetrating the hair. In short, I would stick with manufactured products instead of food in the raw.

Hair Trends For 2015: Long hair is in, and controlled chaos is the name of the game. It has been a trend for the last couple of years, and it isn’t losing steam. Messy braids, boho waves, and long ponytails are walking the runways this year.

I hope I have given a little insight into keeping styling fun while maintaining the health of your hair. Remember that hair is your most permanent fashion accessory, and that there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. It can change the way others see you, and how you see yourself!

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Fashion & Beauty

Consignment and Resale: A Manifesto

It’s been forever, I know. I’m sorry. Things have been really busy around here. What with the holidays and work and a weird compulsion I suddenly developed to slog through all six seasons of Gossip Girl in five weeks, I could hardly find the time to do anything productive. You know you love me, xoxo.

To be honest, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a topic with which to christen the blog this Year of Our Lord 2015. (I wanted it to be both interesting and useful, so you can understand why it’s taken me two months.) The topic I kept coming back to was one that I’ve had multiple friends ask me about: the world of shopping and selling second-hand. I’ve come to understand that this is something people may find intimidating and confusing. But fear not, I’m gonna tell you what I know.

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I would say somewhere between 50-60% of my clothing was originally owned by someone else (like a Saudi Arabian princess) (true story). Certainly the most valuable and unique pieces that I own are ones I’ve bought second-hand. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Why spend your hard-earned dollars on mass-produced, mediocre mall wares when you could score something way more awesome?

Well, turns out there are a few reasons, and they’re all psychological. That’s right, you’re crazy. Here are the concerns I hear most often:

1. I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start.
I hear you. Walking into a consignment or resale store can be intimidating, as they’re often organized differently than mainstream retail stores. Since the merchandise is all unique, racks are usually organized by item type and then subdivided by size. The good news is that you can look through all the size small sweaters at once, for example.

2. I can’t find what I’m looking for.
Here’s where you’ve got to redefine your expectations. If you’ve developed tunnel vision looking for the perfect LBD or a pair of great fitting jeans, you may miss out on the best of what’s actually there. These stores don’t often deal in basics, so if you’re looking for classic wardrobe staples it’s probably best to buy new. Instead, keep your mind open to the novelties.

3. I don’t know if I’m getting a good deal. 
The short answer here is yes, you probably are. Resale shops price clothing well below retail price– as they should, because it’s often (though not always) used. I would advise against buying brands like H&M, Gap, Banana Republic et al. secondhand– in fact, many stores won’t take them because they simply don’t retain their value after they’ve been worn. (Why buy these brands used when they go on sale frequently enough as it is?) Instead look for higher quality/designer items. This is your chance to score something you might not normally be able to afford. Most stores sell their merchandise at less than a third of retail price, and the luxury items are often priced to sell at even less.

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A recent (lucky) find.

Now that you’ve got your neuroses in check, let’s move on to the process of selling your clothes. I’ll first point out the distinction between consignment and resale. Consignment stores will pay you for your clothing if/when it sells, while resale shops will offer you cash or check immediately. While resale is obviously the route to instant gratification, I have found that these stores tend to offer a bit less because they’re assuming a risk if your pieces don’t sell.

In the spirit of actual research I checked in with an employee at one of my favorite SF resale stores: Wasteland, in the Haight.

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Erica gave me the following tips on selling your unwanted clothing:

  • Shops are looking for modern, on-trend pieces from luxury brands or designer vintage. They tend to eschew major brands.
  • Leather is always in style. Certain pieces like moto jackets do well, often regardless of season.
  • No low-waisted jeans. High-waisted pants and skirts are on-trend.
  • No basics, betches. Basic items simply don’t sell as well, unless they’re designer or super high quality.
  • Stores do their shopping ahead of season. Start spring cleaning now!

Another thing to remember is that while shops can appear fickle about the items they accept, they keep track of the items that do and don’t sell and often base their buying decisions off of these trends. You may find that working with multiple shops is the best way to sell more of your unwanted goods.

Happy shopping, and selling!

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