Wednesday, April 22, 2015

An H&M Dinner

Every once in a while, I attend a party that leaves me absolutely starstruck. This season, as the H&M Conscious Collection paired up with Olivia Wilde, and pieces like these magically made their way into my daydreams…

…an invitation to a private dinner with H&M magically made its way into my email inbox.
It’s been a while since I’ve clinked champagne glasses with fellow bloggers, so I was really excited to hear what everyone was up to.  Another thing I was really excited about: getting to wear my new H&M blazer!

The dinner was held at the Bayshore Shopping Centre, with the H&M Conscious Collection area shaped radiantly out of tropical green shrubbery, which was a bit of a challenge for the paparazzi…

And a challenge for me was keeping it together when meeting Emily Scarlett of H&M Canada, the lovely dinner host.  Stunning, with a seemingly effortless, impeccable style, Emily spoke about her work, her passion for the H&M Conscious Collection, and the secret behind her ultra on-point hair: finding a hair stylist who shares your vision, and keeping them forever.   

Having worked with H&M for eight years, Emily clearly knows where it’s at when it comes to picking the perfect blazer (yeah, that’s the one from my daydream above!)

You know who else I really loved at this party? The waiters.  I barely had time to finish a glass of bubbly when there it would be, the reaching arm of my best-friend-in-waiting, topping me up, again and again.  
I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not” said Coco Chanel.  I’d like to add a third occasion to that: when my glass is replenished without me even asking.  

Alright, so I’m sure you’ve been patiently reading, just waiting for me to tell you about what was for dinner, so here it is.  I’ve been to parties organized by Blackbook Lifestyle and Bayshore before and I knew they wouldn’t disappoint.  I mean, at a past event a few months ago, the catering included mint cotton candy and macarons sprinkled with edible frost so they clearly go above and beyond to inspire. And inspire they did…
“Miss, an appetizer?” the waiter asked, in-between champagne showers (that’s the right term for it, right?). “Oh yes, please!” I would answer, thinking that if I said it in a slightly different voice this time around, he wouldn’t realize that I’ve already eaten ten off his tray.  “My goodness,” I would add, “What an absolute delight!” …he totally thinks I'm someone else.   “These are scallops, seared in…”  Stop, my friend, you had me at scallops. I’m all in. 

After I indulged in a few hundred appetizer bites, we were called to the gorgeous table, decorated with warm, spring pastel accents and about fifteen million forks and knives.  Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman with the elegant dinner? You know, that scene? Enough said.  

The starter was a warm pea soup that came with a tiny spoon. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not gaspacho because I didn’t want to eat anything cold, and luckily, I had some assistance holding the miniature utensil from a pet moth I keep in my purse for this exact situation.

Moth not pictured

Next was (I think) a squash purée, topped with a refreshing zesty salad, and (hopefully) edible flower petals.  There were also petals on the little beads of butter that accompanied our bread, but I passed on scarfing those down, in an effort not to resemble a hunter-gatherer.

Then came the seared tuna, which I think is my new favourite trendy food, because every time I eat it, it’s got a slightly different ‘tone’ to the taste.  This one had a sea salt base, with a velvety texture the more you bit into the raw parts. It sat on a bed of asparagus, potatoes, and sliced egg, gathered together like jewels- fittingly.

As I expertly worked my way through the utensils, this gorgeous plate was placed before me.  On it: duck, artisanal carrots, and more duck wrapped in a soft, warm, savoury crepe, topped with two delicate sprigs of thyme. If you’re wondering, no I could not resist yelling, “Ain’t nobody got thyme for that!”  and yes, everybody laughed, and I was crowned Best Person on Planet, fourth year in a row, as a parade of celebratory elephants fell from the ceiling.

 Next came the moment I can never escape at events and parties – the moment I do something that is inherently me. This edition involved a question from a beautiful blogger, answered by me through a mouthful of duck falling out of my pie hole and onto the elegant porcelain plate it had once been meticulously arranged upon.   That’s okay though, because next came dessert, and my God, dessert was incredible:

“It’s a maple crème brulée,” the waiter whispered in a George Clooney voice as I stared at it, trying to hold back tears of admiration.  Indeed, it was a crème brulée with the thinnest shell, topped with a berry sauce and a tower of meringue. I’m going to pay homage to simplicity and say, in the simplest terms, it was exquisite.
And if that wasn’t enough, all of the gastronomic delights were sustainable and organic. Perfection.

Speaking of treats, of course H&M would go there: on each of our chairs sat a box with a gift that Emily had personally chosen for each blogger based on all of the “stalking” (her words) she had done to learn about us.  My gift was a lovely little number: a giraffe print dress I plan on wearing on my upcoming trip to Cuba! I was floored by Emily’s efforts and attention to detail. I really can’t praise her enough.

Lastly, perhaps the best part of the night was meeting so many new people and hearing what drives their passion for blogging.  I couldn’t type fast enough to take down the names of these incredibly fashionable, hilarious, and beautiful girls, but luckily when I woke up this morning, I knew it wasn’t just a dream because there was that much more colour on my Instagram and Facebook from the Likes, Follows, and Hashtags from my new friends.

Thank you to Bayshore Ottawa, H&M Canada, and Blackbook Events (and Liam!!!) for such a beautiful night!


Saturday, April 18, 2015

L'Oréal Paris Fibralogy: A Product Review!

"Bleach it," I always tell the hairstylist.  "But that will make your hair so coarse!" she always replies. "You call it coarse, I call it thick!" I always insist, with a professional smile, followed by a that's what she said. 

Since the beginning of time, my hair has been thin, but luckily, I have lots of it.  I don't like to overload it with too many hair products, and prefer to keep my regime simple: shampoo, conditioner, de-tangler.  Recently, however, I was lucky enough to receive a l'Oréal Paris Fibralogy Vox Box to test this new product that promises to make your hair thick.  What's different about it is that in-between the shampooing and conditioning, you put a serum in your hair that really seals the thickness deal. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical because I've tried a lot of products before, and I would hate to write an entire review about how much a product sucks, but I would also never lie.  However, I'm excited to report I was not disappointed!

Here's how the line looks... in the Vox Box....(what a fun surprise to receive! the postman was surely jealous...)

 Step 1 is the shampoo part...pretty standard. You just lather and rinse as per usual...

Step 2 is to apply a dime sized amount of the thickening booster. This is really the activating agent.  Leave it in (do not rinse out!) and then you're ready for Step 3...

And Step 3 is business as usual: a nice dollop of conditioner.  Lather, give it a few minutes to do its thang, and rinse!

I haven't used an 'adult' hair line in a long time. Most of my stuff, as you probably noticed in previous blogs, is fruit scented or is tear-free for babies.  The Fibralogy line smells like something a woman in her late twenties should use- grown-up and elegantly fragranced.

It was a sad day before I received my Vox Box. It was a sad day because my hair was flat and thin, like this:

After washing my hair with the shampoo, and treating it with the booster and conditioner, I blow dryed it quickly and...holy moly:

I was really impressed by how sleek my hair felt, without any other product in it, and without needing to even be straightened after. It just sort of perfectly fell into place.  It certainly felt thicker, and so, so, so voluminous that I didn't know what to do with it.  I absolutely loved it, and loved that I didn't need to do anything else to amp it up afterwards...

For a lower cost product, you really can't beat this one: it really does what it claims to do, and with only one extra step in your simple hair care routine.  Thanks to Fibralogy, here's what I do now, all day, every day:

While I received this product complimentary to review, all views expressed are my own - why wouldn't they be ? :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

David Usher Strikes Again

Remember that blog post where I went on and on about my obsession with David Usher? Well, whether you do or don't, I'll spare you the verbal details of my one-sided maniacal passion, and will instead go to town with the following photos, which I've been collecting like a shrine to this ageless, timeless, beautiful beast.

My love for David was not entirely my fault. As can be seen, he led me on a fair bit:

In addition to that, we were in quite a serious pending relationship for a good long while:

For my 26th birthday, my girlfriend got me a cake with his picture on it...and, I mean, come on David. You "love" it...? Just quit playing already..

So, I tried to quit David. I really did. But then this past Christmas GUESS who was on the CBC Christmas ballad special? You guessed it. Well, you guessed it if you guessed David Usher. Because that was who was on the CBC Christmas ballad special:

So then I thought, you know what..that's fine. I'm over it. Flash your big ol' bling all you want. I'm done. I am movin' on up.  And then you know what David did?

David wrote a book.

It's called "Let the Elephants Run" and it's a book about unleashing your creativity.  I read it over two afternoons, and here are some highlights.

One of the first exercises thrown at the reader is this blank page on which we are urged to scribble and doodle and basically let loose. Letting the elephants run is a way to unleash our creativity, David explains, the kind of creativity that we used to have as children, but lost along the way.

Then there's this picture, which I feel like if seven year-old Coco tried, she could do a better job drawing.  I'm pretty sure I would try harder if that was my book, but you know, that's none of my business. It's not like David Usher is my dad. And you know what, don't hide behind your age either.

And then I came across two ideas that I actually found very useful in my own pursuit of creative drive.  I've been thinking, and planning, and writing, and re-writing on scraps of paper, and picking through old notes, and revisiting old stories of mine, trying to find the inspiration, the spark that will push me to finally type out at the very least a working draft of the book I'm working on.  I keep thinking there will be a perfectly quiet afternoon, a cozy space, a week where I can't think about anything other than writing, a spot in the shade (under a palm tree? in a coffee shop?), somewhere, sometime where I can finally focus and get it out there. But there never is. Life doesn't give you that creative break so I've found I've had to sort of chop it out of my day on my own.  I was really happy to read this part, because it reaffirmed to me the fact that the absence of a quiet moment or a creative area does not mean it's not the right time to write. It just means I have to try harder to create that silence in my head and write already. Are you waiting for perfection?

And the second idea is one that challenges this thought I've had gnawing its way through my head (eww, why?). The thought that if I were just talented in something, things would happen naturally. I remember many years ago, I was painting with a friend, and I nearly had a meltdown because I couldn't even pick a color let alone decide on what to draw.  He was flipping through three art books, and calmly looked up at me and said, "It's not about creativity. It's about inspiration." That usually helps me when I can't decide what to write or how to write it: I find inspiration from someone else's talent, and let it create mine. Not in a creepy plagiarist way but in a way that recognizes that creativity means effort, and just because ideas don't randomly explode in your head, doesn't mean you aren't talented. You just need to keep working at it. That idea in itself - that talent is malleable - is so, so inspiring to me.

And you know it wouldn't be a David Usher masterpiece if David didn't quote himself in it.  This is probably my favorite part of his book.

Keep doing what you're doing, David. You'll always have a fan in me.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ribbons and Kindness

I was brought up thug style: my mom is a hardcore advocate of telling it like it is, whether it’s asking someone why they chose to wear a certain hat (“What? I’m genuinely curious as to why they thought it would look good!”) or disagreeing with my creative visions (“Your painting doesn’t tell me anything. Is it supposed to be something special?”)  And I grew up armed with the sole strategy of being blunt, because where I’m from, being honest = being blunt = you say what you think, even if it hurts the other person.  Over the years, through amassing detention slips and hating the sound of my own voice when I say things I now understand are harsh, I’ve learned what belongs in the outside world, and what is a subjectively derived thought that is far too sharp for another person’s ears.  On that front, I’ve figured it out, with the occasional unintentional slip, of course.

What I’ve recently realized (and embarrassingly so, for being so recent) is that there is another aspect of human interaction that requires a kind approach.  When it comes to someone doing something that straight up pisses you off, here’s a fun concept: don’t be a jerk in expressing that to them.  We bake our loved ones banana bread and hold hands at the movies, but when we argue – sorry, when I argue – I tell it like it is.  And y’all already know what ‘telling it like it is’ means, and it’s completely unnecessary, and only ends up hurting the other person.  And what's worse is that it happens like this: you tell the person what you think they're doing wrong, and why you hate it, and by some miracle you work it out (because hellllo they’re your friend because they’re an understanding, wonderful person, after all), and everything is great again, but now you’ve got this knot, this yucky memory, made up of all the words you said when you were angry. And knots are very hard to forget. Why are we so kind when everything is great, but don’t extend that kindness when things are falling apart? Whether you’re treasuring a friendship, a relationship, or any other person whom you want to keep in your life, I think the secret lies in never, ever compromising on the warmth, the love, and the kindness you foster every single day.  Kindness isn’t selective. It’s the ribbon around the life you choose to live, and that ribbon better wrap each and every word, regardless of how you feel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Ventral Tegmentum in Love

I was thinking about one particular item on my 30 before 30 list - to put together a collection of photographs - and about how what I really wanted to accomplish was to have something I made be showcased. Photographs are great, and one day, I might even put all of the ridiculously expensive photography courses I took to use, but to have something exhibited would undoubtedly be much more challenging. I figured it would push me out of my writing-infused comfort zone, forcing my ideas to be critiqued by complete strangers, and that idea scared me so much that I knew it belonged on that list more than the photography project did.  There's something addictive about breaking down your ego, plunging into a space where you will likely feel like a douche, as you surrender and let that feeling get all Christian Grey on you (will I ever stop referencing a movie I couldn't even get through?? Like I don't even know what I meant by that..)

A friend of mine is doing his PhD in Neuroscience, and invited me to an annual Society for Neuroscience Art Show held at the Orange Art Gallery in Ottawa, and after checking out their website, I noticed a call for artwork submissions. Looking at the previous years' pieces, I was both overwhelmed and inspired: Ottawa has a lot of talent, and nobody boasts it until you attend one of these events.

I decided to submit a piece anyway, and while I didn't think I would make it in (they did remind us that space is limited so not to get our hopes up too high), I was just excited to attend an art show that was all about the brain. I mean, it was practically guaranteed to be cerebral (*applause*). I've always been interested in motivation and exactly what part of the brain guides what thought and behavior. Or, more generally, the fact that something so tiny in our brain is responsible for a movement of the shoulder, a coy gaze, a forced laugh, a lonely memory, or the flutter of those butterflies when a stranger smiles at us on the metro. As I thought of ideas, I looked at diagrams of the brain and realized that not one of them ever depicted it in a beautiful way, so I decided to start with an aesthetically focused representation of this inevitably grey matter. It would be a watercolor brain, so that each synapse and nerve could seamlessly harmonize with the next.

I chose kraft packaging paper for the base, so that the water would dry to form texture. Then I cut it out and pasted it onto a canvas which I filled with white and pink acrylic paint undertones, then a thin coat of varnish.
And then I thought about the most exciting part of the brain. The most unpredictable, confusing, and elusive part: the part that makes us love. It's called the Ventral Tegmental Area or the Ventral Tegmentum, and it's a group of neurons that are responsible for all those times your heart skips a beat when he or she looks in your eyes. And then I thought about my favorite poet, E.E.Cummings, and how I can barely ever get through his poems without becoming breathless from the intensely palpable, all-consuming pull at my heart with every word.  And so, I came up with the idea to depict the Ventral Tegmentum as the creator of the emotion behind the poetry of this incredible poet. I don't think I can explain it in a different way than how I did when I submitted it, so here is what I sent with my submission:

They say “follow your heart”, but what guides our hearts is a microscopic synapse that happens in the right place at the right time. This phenomenon is what inspired this piece: the idea that a tiny elusive spark in our brain could lead to somebody writing words that can then elicit similar feelings in others. The excerpt is taken from one of my favorite poems, “Love is More Thicker Than Forget”, and speaks to me of the importance of this feeling in our lives. I couldn’t imagine a better poet than E.E. Cummings to conceptualize the marriage of the tangible – the brain – and its most beautiful creation: love.

Oh, and here is the final product, with an excerpt of the poem stemming from the little yellow dot, the Ventral Tegmentum, as its muse.

And this is the part of the poem that's a little tough to read:

"Love is (more) thicker than forget
More thinner than recall
More seldom than a wave is wet
More frequent than to fail"

I can go on a huge tangent about what the words of that lovely poem mean to me, but really all I care about is that they mean something different to each person who reads them. 

Here is the rest of the poem, because it is so breathtaking, but could not all fit onto the canvas:

"it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky"

Amazingly, my piece made it into the vernissage (what???) and soon, it was time to check out what the rest of Ottawa is up to, in the world of visual art.  We saw some bubble-blowers:

And a piece that really reminded me of Egon Schiele's work, probably because of the haphazardness of the lines:

And ugh, this is just brilliant. My all-time dream would be to know how to paint like this:

And these pieces could really brighten up a white space...

And here's how it looked altogether:

Oh, and here is my piece, The Ventral Tegmentum in Love:

And here is my friend, The Benisa in Love (with Gucci, for the time being):

Oh, and in case you're wondering, it's really, really nerve-wracking to listen to people discussing your work. Some people would pause and contemplate, while others would immediately dive into discussing their observations, meanwhile..

And at the end of the night, my piece was sold in an auction that donates all proceeds to a local charity. This year's donations were given to Ancoura, a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing and support for individuals with mental health issues. And, not to sound insensitive, but I was really just effing stoked that someone wanted to take my piece home.  I imagine them looking at it now, feeling the same way I felt when I found the right words to describe it, their heart slightly warmer, their brain a shade of raspberry pink.