Category: Favorites

Five Things I Loved in April

What a strange month April was. We left the house once a day, if that, and the most exciting decisions we had to make were around what to eat. And yet, given the uncertainty of work, health, industry, and…everything else, it was still difficult in its own way. We’re very fortunate to be safe and healthy thus far, including our extended families, but continue to be aware that this is largely a matter of privilege and luck. Who knows what May is going to bring but in the meantime, here’s what helped the past month feel a little less locked down.

Share your faves and finds in the comments, ducklings. Sharing is caring.

 

Tiger King

Ok, let’s be clear: this show was a wacky, wild trip and has more than a few flaws as a documentary. It is not an objectively good show in many ways, there are no heroes and more than a little fanciful positioning of characters. False equivalents abound and conjecture is presented as if not fact, then likely. And yet, it’s compelling in the worst way: it’s great television.

Its editors in particular nailed their task of keeping audience sensibilities and allegiances shifting, while also holding them in the uncomfortable space of confronting the fact that none of the characters (in every sense of the word) are likeable or even decent. And yet, it gripped the pop cultural landscape because people watched it and couldn’t look away, myself included. It’s a master class in upping the ante with every episode and genre shift. Just when you think you’re watching a perfectly normal wildlife rescue documentary, BOOM. There’s a cult. Then there’s a murder – or is there? Then there’s polyamory. Then there’s an election campaign. Then a hit man. And it’s a true testament that I have given NOTHING away with any of those statements

I inhaled it, I talked about it with friends, I’m still not done thinking about it.

 

Psycle London (specifically their Instagram TV feed!)

This was a later find in the month, but my goodness what a treasure it has been! Psycle is a very trendy gym brand in London and I’ve wanted to try some of their classes in the past, but the locations stopped being handy when our schedules changed and I never could muster the timing or cash to go for it. Well, like many other brands, they’ve started producing content online and via social media. Apart from being absolutely what’s needed for many right now, it’s brilliant marketing. Several instructors hold their usual 45-minute classes multiple times a day on Instagram Live and, at least once a week, a selection of those videos are then added to their Instagram TV channel. I’ve done a class daily since discovering it and finally getting to try barre workouts – reminiscent of dance days and a killer class. These are all free, though there is pleasingly a way to donate any amount to help them meet costs right now. Once all this is behind us, I will definitely make it to their in-person classes, but I hope they continue an online program in some way – I will definitely keep participating and paying!

 

My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This is definitely going to be Not For Everybody, but this book absolutely gripped and gutted me. It needs all the trigger warnings as the subject matter includes sexual abuse and its long aftermath.  Straight from my Goodreads review: “What a difficult, complicated book. I’m not sure anyone has successfully tackled the layers of complexity of harms, desires, manipulations, and even bizarre affections that can be part of an abusive relationship, but this book gets the nearest I’ve ever come across. “A haze of unspeakable things,” as the narrator puts it when trying to articulate all the questions she has about her relationship with a person who took advantage of his position and power over her. If anything I think this book gives a visceral account of how our own identities can become interwoven with other people’s and the stories we tell (and tell ourselves) about our relationships to others. Even evil people are the heroes of their own tales. Uncomfortable and confronting.

“The second half of the book isn’t as crisply constructed to me and I think could have been edited down, but that’s a minor technical quibble and I’m still impressed that this is a debut novel.”

 

Glossier, FutureDew

I’ve shared this favorite before but I’ve finished my first bottle in record time for any face/makeup product and am already on my second. While I’m certainly not putting on a face every single day, I’d be lying if I said my vanity and desire to look good on video conference calls didn’t mean that I threw some slap on in April. This oil/serum hybrid provided a lovely glowy base for “bare” days and a decent canvas for when I had to look a little more presentable – at least from the waist up. I foresee this being a daily beauty product throughout summer, quarantine or no.

 

Cooking

Nothing like a little lockdown to help you focus on your plans to cook more. I’m determined to expand the family cooking repertoire and really master both classic recipes (boeuf bourguignon, I’m coming for you) and as many different cultural styles as I can try. I’m slowly pushing the boat out on vegetarian options as well, both for health and money reasons. Jeff would like it publicly noted that he disagrees strongly with this, but even he had to admit my first dhal was pretty damn tasty. In the spirit of charity, here are a few of things we’ve made this month:

A beautiful savory dhal dish – my first proper attempt at a lentil-based meal

My go-to baking vice – for something with a bit of chewiness and heft

The BEST breakfast or brunch meal on the planet, do not @ me

Easiest banana bread 

Five Things I Loved In March

Well hey, kittens. If ever there was a time to swap some pop culture or lifestyle suggestions, this is it. Here are the things that got me through March and please please PLEASE send me your favorites because let’s face lots of us have some time to kill!

 

 

Granado Nail Polish, in Rita

This was a cheap pickup in Paris from a pharmacy. I find it hard to find the RIGHT shade of true red nail polish – it either skews too pink or blue – but this is it. A vibrant red that perfectly straddles the blue/yellow undertone divide. It also has excellent staying power and nearly lasted a week on me without chipping – unheard of!

Castlevania, on Netflix

I came to this property completely new, I had no experience of the games it was based on or the fandom. But I enjoyed this series immensely! Don’t be misled by it’s animation status, it’s definitely adult themed in terms of violence and sex, but if that doesn’t put you off – enjoy! The voice acting talent is phenomenal and the characters are wonderfully portrayed – even and perhaps especially the bad ones. And refreshing in the fantasy genre, there are all kinds of female characters including breathtakingly competent and powerful ones. Even MORE refreshingly, it isn’t a subject of discussion within the show so much as it’s a matter of fact. If after the disappointment of Game of Thrones (yes, I’m still bitter) and the fun of The Witcher you’re craving a new fun/dark/sexy/funny fantasy, I recommend.

Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman

If anything comes out of this horrible series of circumstances in the world right now, it might be a willingness to experiment and push back on what we have too long declared “the way things are.” At least, I’m choosing to be optimistic. From taxation to civic mindedness to investment in the arts…society isn’t a business and for the love of god, let’s stop trying to run it as one. This is a short book, summarizing research and experiments run on a number of topics, and explains the historical progression of ideas and ideologies. Well worth a read, whatever your political persuasion.

 

Burberry Lip Velvet lipstick in Military Red

Ah March, the month of remote working and multiple video conference calls. We may be fully dressed, we may be in yoga pants, but we’re all visible from the neck up. The lipstick I’ve been reaching for to cope is this glorious, vibrant red (which coincidentally pairs beautiful with my nail polish recommendation). Already feeling a bit run down or sloppy? I cannot recommend a red lip enough.

 

In Our Time, BBC podcast

Let famed historian Melvyn Bragg and guests dive deeply into a topic for in an hour or less. Whether profound philosophy, scientific discovery, Roman poetry, or gamechangers of history, it’s an excellent podcast to plug in while cooking, working, or just taking a break.

Five Things I Loved in February

It’s a week late, kittens, but February was a grand month for culture and I have a scrumptious bundle of #content to recommend you. I’m still trying to put my thoughts together on the subject, but while I’m still consuming news voraciously, I’m also trying deliberately to supplement if not overtake that consumption with other alternatives. Otherwise I’d probably be wandering around in a state of constant anger or despair and that simply would not do.

Sadie, by Courtney Summers

This book is visceral and devastating. It’s definitely not going to be for everyone, and contains very tough subject matter so know what you’re getting into before you start – but it’s brilliant. Hannah recommended it to me and I enthusiastically pass that rec on to you along with her advice: listen via audiobook if you can. The narrative framing device includes a podcast – very 2020 appropriate and a comment itself on our true crime loving culture – and the audio production brings this to life in a way that really adds to the experience. And makes you question how our society still treats the girls we lose to poverty, predation, and indifference.

Parasite, by Bong Joon-ho

We only happened to watch this at our local indie cinema ON Oscars night, and it was a delight to wake up the next morning to see that it had made history by winning best picture. This film is phenomenal. To talk too much about it is to betray the major plot points, but I cannot recommend it enough. It’s about money and class, people and sterotypes, avarice and disdain, desire and disgust – and just when you’re sure of the genre you’re watching, the film twists and surprises you.

Snoh Aalegra

I’ve started another music project of listening to an album a week for a year and already I’ve found an artist who I regret the years I’ve spent not knowing. Check out her recent Tiny Desk Concert here and then do yourself a favor and go through her back catalog on Spotify or your preferred platform. Her voice is beautiful.

Fall of Civilizations, podcast

Are you a student of history who thrills to soothing narration and longform investigation? Of course you are, you adorable member of Small Dog Nation! I have just the podcast for you. Each episode covers the collapse of a culture and explores the various circumstances, actions, and accidents of history that brought it about. The production value has always been high but the host is particularly good at commissionning or getting permission to use native language sources and performances to really contribute to the listening experience. It’s a great treat and lovely alternative to my usual rotation of (exhausting) current affairs.

 

Planning travel

Between jaunts with friends, summer travel to see family, and trying to link up with pals doing the Grand Tour here in Europe, we’re doing the thing we always talk about but don’t follow through on nearly enough: GOING. At time of writing our first jaunt to Paris is complete with another on the horizon and we arranged for our travel to see Jeff’s family in June. Moreover, for the first time in my UK working life, I booked all my legally mandated holiday in the current working year and have a bunch of dates off in March as a result. I mean, I’ll still be working because of the coronavirus but still. This is a monumental breakthrough for an imposter syndrome laden workaholic.

Five Things I Loved In January

2020 is off to an exhausting start and now, looking down the barrel of Brexit and other world issues, just reading the news requires bracing oneself. As I type my country is dealing with a constitutional crisis, while my other country is about to pitch itself out of a 70 year alliance, and the whole world is eyeing a pandemic. It’s STILL only January. Buckle up, kids!

As always, please send me your recommendations in the comments, I rely on your estimable good taste, ducklings!

MAC Russian Red

If ever there was a month that required lipstick as armor, it’s been this January. I’ve been wearing MAC’s Russian Red almost every day for an extra boost of bravery and, as ever…it works. My only blu-ish red shade of warpaint, it makes me feel like a badass on days when I feel anything but. Much ink has been spilled on the power of a red lip, but as a totem, it’s pretty darn reliable.

 

Full Metal Alchemist

My introduction to anime continued this month and I’m enjoying it so much more than I thought I would. I credit this significantly to the Manga exhibition we saw at the British Museum over the summer, which helped me understand the art form as a total novice and gave me a lot of important context to appreciate anime more generally. Cultural heritage institutions are amazing, people, support them with your money!

 

Educated, by Tara Westover

I’m ridiculously late to this memoir that had everyone talking for years, but I’m so glad I finally got here. While my Mormonism is in no way similar to the doomsday extremist version that she was raised with, I recognize the rhythms of her language and phrases ones I share. Though on a small scale, it makes me understand what individuals and communities mean by representation – reading her work, even though our lives are disparate, I understand the emotions she describes and the experiences she references in a deep and visceral way. Her journey from a girl without a birthday or birth certificate to PhD is inspiring on its face, but the power of this book is in how well she describes her inward journey from ignorance to the beautiful and awful expanse of knowledge. It’s amazing. It’s also lonely and painful and comes at tremendous cost. Academic accolades aside, the narrative is not about what she achieves so much as how she learns to be a complex human being with agency. I think a male version of this story would be more heroic in its depiction, more triumphant in its closure. Grappling with herself as a woman, an individual, a person, allows her to tell a very different kind of hero’s journey than the rags to riches, ignorance to financial success tales that are more common.

 

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed For Men

From the sublime to the ridiculous…I can’t remember the last time a book made me so angry. It’s reported nonfiction and its subject is how the male body, male mind, male psyche and so on is still the template on how much of our world is designed. From scissors too large for most women’s hands, to seatbelts not designed for breasts or differently shaped pelvises in preventing injuries, it details how much of the world is Not For Us.

The Good Place

What a joy this show has been, and how sorry I am to see it go. Clever premise, joke-packed writing, deep concepts, perfect aesthetic, delightful cast. Would that all series had two of any of the above much less all of them. If you have not yet indulged, do yourself a favor this weekend: grab a pal, a bottle of booze, get cozy and enjoy a romp through the afterlife while discussing the nature of ethics. Seems dull? Hardly!

Five Things I Loved in December

The last month of the year draws to a close, ducklings, and as always, I have a short list of the things that made the bleak midwinter a bit less bleak.

As always, please share your favorite things from the month in the comments!

Knives Out

What a joy this film was! It’s that rare thing that manages to hit all the tropes of its genre while still being fresh and original. Every single actor and respective character is perfectly formed, and the ensemble together is fantastic. You can tell that everyone working on this project just had so much fun doing it–who knew Daniel Craig could do comedy noir this well?! Much has been written on the costuming (if there was an Oscar for knitwear….) but the entire design of the movie is a visual feast from the sets to the cinematography. I can’t remember enjoying a movie as much in a long time. If you love murder mysteries of any stripe, and appreciate a good love letter to the genre istelf, it is not to be missed.

 

Glossier FutureDew

Much as I love the brand, I looked at this product askance when it first dropped. A sheer, oil/serum hybrid designed to make you look shiny… Surely only twenty year olds with already perfect skin could use such a thing, right? Well, shut my mouth. I tried it at Glossier’s London pop up in Covent Garden and was shocked at how much I liked the look and feel of it on my skin! It isn’t classified as makeup and provides no coverage beyond a touch of blurring luminosity, but when combined with concealer produces a lovely “fresh face.” I’ve used it almost every day since purchase.

Cowboy Bebop

We went on a winter break pop culture binge and one of the areas Jeff is undertaking to enlighten me is the world of anime. He recommended this cult classic series and I mainlined it! It’s a very difficult series to describe as it’s a mashup of science fiction, film noir, and western genres and tropes but the final blend is a standalone story that is wholly unique. I’m very new to this stuff, but if anyone can recommend other anime series they think I’d like based on this, please send them my way. Jeff’s already got a couple lined up, but a girl can’t ever have too many!

Flannel Sheets

We finally bought these after talking about it for years…and what a great decision it was! We first experienced these at Jeff’s parents’ house and it was a gamechanging experience for winter. It wasn’t expensive in the slightest, we just grabbed some brushed cotton version from John Lewis on a Black Friday sale. If thus far your 2019 has been insufficiently cozy, try adjusting your bedding.

Anti Anxiety Medication

Whew, let’s talk about this one, ducklings. In what is becoming a bit of a theme for longtime readers, this is another area where I have waited too long to get help that in retrospect I clearly needed years ago. In fact, the conversation with my doctor went something along the lines of, “So the last six years have involved cross-Atlantic immigration, freelancing and toxic jobs, career changes, financial stress, religious faith collapse, and the personal strains that all the above entails. Here are all the lifestyle changes I’ve made to try and manage and many have helped, but I’ve hit a wall and here are all the things that aren’t getting better in my mental health (in fact, a few are getting worse). I think I’ve let this go on way too long and I think I need additional medical help to cope.”
Quoth my doctor, in essence, “Girl, you think?!”

I’ve only been on it for a month, but I’m feeling much more emotionally stable and in control of my own brain than I have in at least two years. LEARN FROM MY FAIL, ASK FOR HELP IF YOU FEEL YOU NEED IT.

Ten Things I Loved in October and November

Hey kids, I’m still taking things easy, but I felt bad for not sharing a few of the things that have made the last couple of months a bit easier to manage. I’ve done a double batch for two months of failed updates to make up for my continuing, shameful neglect of you. As always, it’s a grab bag of pop culture, beauty, randomness, and silliness and I want to hear about your own bundles of random goodness too. Share your seasonal favorites with me in the comments, I need all the good things I can get.

 

Lancome Teinte Idole Ultra Wear Nude Foundation

I needed to replace used up foundations this year and hoped to try and find an alternative to my beloved (and expensive) Armani Luminous Silk Foundation at a lower price point. I did this…barely…and discovered a fab new addition to the makeup lineup that isn’t getting quite as much attention as I think it should. This newish foundation is very liquid-y, less viscose than most I’ve tried and yet with very good coverage. Most importantly, it’s one of the best color matches I’ve found for my skin–and when you find that, kittens, you cough up the money and don’t ask too many questions! If you like lighter feeling formulas that can be built up or sheered out based on your preference, I think this is a great contender and can recommend it!

 

Baume de Rose, By Terry

It’s cold and dark and my lips are chapped. Huzzah for winter! For reasons yet unknown to science, every other lip balm I had to hand suddenly revolted on me and I endured several weeks of what are either the worst chapping I’ve ever had, or some kind of allergic reaction. It took a long time to calm down and left me paranoid about putting anything on the skin around my mouth that didn’t come highly recommended and vetted. Alas for me, this little pot (which is hideously expensive) turned out to be the only thing that didn’t make a flaky and painful situation worse and I’ve been slathering it on since the weather changed. I’m not sure I can recommend it in good conscience given the price, but if you have the money and the need to spend it on something a bit more upscale than Blistex, it’s a very soothing formula. And yes, I’m probably going to repurchase it when I finish the pot…

Chanel Nail Polish in Richness

I only bought three things to “update my wardrobe” for winter this year: one was the beautiful camel coat I actually swapped for, the others were two Chanel nail polishes–the first I’d ever bought from the brand. I’d actually performed a clear out of the small bag that I keep my nail products in as most of them were years old and separated and decided to replace them all with just two shades: an all-purpose, deep red and a near-black, both part of Chanel’s excellent holiday collection. The red is especially beautiful, a brown-y, red-y color that, true to its name, looks expensive and good with everything. It also looks good on every skintone I have seen it used or swatched on! It was a simple way to streamline my beauty cabinet yet further, reduce the waste and wasted space used on expired items, and treat myself for a new season without breaking the bank.

Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino

On to books, one fiction and nonfiction. Starting with the latter, this essay collection from Jian Tolentino–a writer with The New Yorker who writes about modern life and experience from a decidedly female and millennial perspective–was a page turner. I admire Tolentino’s writing a great deal, and found her exploration of the strangeness and complexity of life thoughtful and sharp. She seems fairly unflinching in her examinations, especially of herself, and tackles topics such as sexual assault and journalism related thereto, consumerism, and what the internet is doing to all of our brains in both large and deeply personal ways.

Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie

Without intending to, I seem to have fallen into a theme of adaptations of ancient Greek myths of late! You may remember some previous favorites like The Song of Achilles and Lore Olympus in this vein. I now am thrilled to include this novel which is a haunting take on the Antigone story, with a brilliant twist. The ancient themes of divided loyalties between family, state, piety, and morality are still there but set in modern Britain and the rebellion that divides the famous siblings against the state is the rebellion of their brother in running away to join the Islamic State. It’s beautiful and absolutely devastating. Don’t you dare ruin it for yourself, but the final page will cause you to lose your breath.

FBoL (censored!)

My darling literature lovers and fellow liberal arts majors, gather round the podcasting fire to enjoy this hilarious independent podcast called F**** Bois of Literature. A funny and feminist review of all the characters in literature who we may love, but know in our hearts to be deeply problematic. Tropes and themes, genres and genders, myth and modern masculinity…it’s all on the table and hilariously explored.

 

Thirst Aid Kit 

A podcast from Slate, this joyous celebration of unabashed thirstiness and horniness is laugh out loud funny, as if you were sitting around with your friends indulging in sheer aesthetic appreciation of the finer specimens of the human form. And (crucially!) it manages to do this in a way that isn’t gross in the slightest. Truly a feat in our day and age!

 

Therapy

Still going. Still grateful.

 

Sweaters you choose to sleep in

Coziness is a much underrated sensation, but it’s one that I actively pursue at this time of year. To that end I purchased a cheapish cashmere sweater whose primary function is only to keep me feel toasty in bed. It’s bougie as hell, but I do not regret this decision at all. Slipping into my sleeping sweater has added a nice little tactile moment to bedtime and I consider it money well spent!

 

Shearling slippers

See above comment about coziness. My first pair of shearling slippers were worn to a thread and I cheerfully replaced them a few weeks ago for shuffling about the house and keeping toasty. My godmother was the first person who really sold me on specialist foot gear for warmth and snugness by religiously gifting me slip resistant chenille socks for every year I was at university, but these may be an upgrade!

Five Things I Loved in September

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
― Heny Rollins

September was a productive but exhausting month for Small Dog Headquarters and the news is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Here is a short list of the things that kept me sane, healthy, and laughing uproariously this month.

 

Schitt’s Creek

This month, in pop culture that C. is late to! Schitt’s’Creek had been on my list to catch up on for a long time and now I’m kicking myself for how long it took me to get around to it. This is a laugh-out-loud gem of a show! The premise is that a wealthy family loses everything and has to start over in the last asset they own, the eponymous rural Canadian town. Hijinks ensue.  Every single character is perfectly formed and standalone, and the inside jokes and interrelationships layer wonderfully throughout its so-far five seasons. There is apparently going to be a final, sixth season and I hope it wins every comedy award possible. Wacky, earnest, and fundamentally kind while still being extremely funny, it walks a very precise line for entertainment that’s hard to accomplish but very satisfying when pulled off.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

I devoured this retelling of the Trojan War myth in about two sittings and I cannot recommend it enough. The prose is wonderful. Madeline Miller crafts the world of ancient and mythological Greece in such a way that the Homeric legends are presented as present reality to the characters–gods and heroes fully included. It’s not over-glamorized in the way of TV or cinema when they try to depict the “swords and sandals” dramas; the ancient parts feel authentic and gritty. And yet, you aren’t at all surprised when a meddlesome goddess shows up to twist the mortals about, or one of Zeus’ many offspring are referenced. Told from the point of view of Patroclus, a romance grows, set against the backdrop of the west’s most famous war. I’m still to get my hands on Circe, the latest novel by the same author, but I’m more eager than ever to do so.

 

Grocery Delivery Services

Once again, I have to sing the praises of the very kind gentleman who drops of a box of fruit and veg to my door once a week. When I skipped the service the week before and of our move, I noticed an immediate change in my cooking and snacking habits–for much the worse. Now that it’s back up and running, I’m back to cooking and eating more fresh fruit and veg again and feeling tons better overall. Many urban environments have a lot of these services to choose from, but mine is Able & Cole.

 

Independent Movie Theatres

In Bermondsey there is a small theatre set behind a cafe and drinks bar off a historic square. It’s got about thirty red leather seats and the general closeness of the space makes it feel more like an over the top home theatre. It’s fantastic! Apparently it’s one of three similar theatres within bars or events spaces, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have such a joint in walking distance. We tried for the first time on a date night, but I’m already booking future tickets because not only does the theatre show new releases, it also is a venue for National Theatre broadcasts which show live or filmed viewings of West End productions. It’s a great way to see a show you may not have been able to catch in person.

 

Burberry Lipstick

An old favorite, but let me endorse the Burberry Lip Velvet in bullet and liquid lipstick form. I’ve started wearing the deep, deep burgundy color Oxblood in both formulas in celebration of the arrival of fall, and it’s the perfect option for anyone looking to feel just a bit witchy as the season changes!