Wednesday 16 November 2011

Hummingbird Friends

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you probably already know that I've been making friends with a hummingbird on my back deck over the last few months. For those of you that don't, here's the backstory...

James and I moved into a lovely place, which has a back deck that gets a surprising amount of sunshine for a space between buildings. In San Francisco, things run a little chilly, but for the plants that like that sort of thing there is a sort of eternal springtime. James described San Francisco's weather as a British summer every day, and I think that's pretty apt; at 4pm on the nose, things usually start to noticeably chill as the wind comes in off of the Pacific Ocean, blowing from west to east as the sun begins to dip. Tourists in shorts begin to ask about "I <3 SF" sweatshirts and Irish coffees, and locals pull cardigans out of messenger bags as if choreographed.

Consequently, it is not necessarily easy to grow a garden on my deck. While I have a tendency to plant tenacious vines that can climb little bamboo trellises from any windowsill, my little seedings had a rough time through this summer. Happily, three little morning glory plants managed to make it, even after a perilous run-in with some mold after their seed packet got damp. Two of them, despite feeble growth, even flowered.

Such is the tenacity of the morning glory.

It turns out, these pale blossoms caught the eye of a young hummingbird. To be honest, I think that more than one came by, as they are constantly surfing for new terrain with nectar-bearing flowers in bloom. At the time, though, these few flowers were only enough to attract some curiosity.

One bird kept coming by. Like clockwork. I would be sitting, writing, and a quick little figure would zip up and peek into the lattice work around the deck. It was like magic. My little visitor would sometimes fly in, see if anything was going on, and occasionally look through the window to see what I was up to.

So, basically, I bought this little imp a candy machine. I decided the hummingbirds were trying to make friends, and that the moment might pass. I found a beautiful little glass ornament--which could almost be nestled into a Christmas tree and not look wrong--and hung it up on the lattice. I was worried it was too hidden, that they wouldn't want to come into a semi-enclosed area to drink, but James suggested I just put it out there and see what happened.

Thus, I got to know Vic. I think Vic kind of got stuck with the deck as his territory because he was a young male, and the deck is pretty crap territory for an older bird with some authority. It took me a while to figure out that he was, in fact, male, since the young Anna's hummingbirds all sort of look like their moms. When grown, the males have these incredible iridescent feathers that radiate out from their beaks to their foreheads and throats. The feathers are actually covered in little cells that reflect light only from certain angles, so their color flashes out of nowhere when they change the angle of their heads. When these feathers are grown in, they look awesome.

Vic looked like his mom with 5 o'clock shadow. But only from one side. From the other side, he looked just girly. So I nicknamed him Victor Victoria. (He really was the confuser; it took me a while, and some video footage, before I realized that the adolescent male and adult female I thought were visiting were in fact the same bird.)

One of the fascinating things about Anna's hummingbird is that they have a song, and they can play it with their voices and tails. Their little throats are not big enough to make a very loud call, so they can also use their tail feathers to emit a noise in the same tone. They do this when they perform these incredible daredevil dives to tell others to piss off. Hummingbirds, it turns out, are like super-caffeinated fighter pilots. They are very territorial (even the males toward females, and vice versa) and spend a lot of their day launching themselves at high speed toward intruders. Even potential mates get treated to a version of this; it seems that the males eventually shift their aggressive ousters into a courtship dance, and romance ensues.

So, day by day, I get treated to all of these little dramas. Vic sits and sings, and occasionally his girlfriend sneaks in, steals his sugar-water, and they perform some complex aerial maneuvers. I see them do all kinds of interesting things, too. Like, they check out my seedlings in the pots on the railing. I replanted my garden, in the odd autumnal warmth that is peculiar to San Francisco, and anytime I change anything--or meddle, more likely--my efforts are examined by my little green bird friends. They've found a break in the lattice big enough to use as a doorway or perch, from which they can ambush one another. Just this morning, Vic's girlfriend was brave enough to go inside the narrow space between the sheets of lattice above the deck rail, where she snuck a drink from the hidden space at the back of the feeder.

It is kind of a big responsibility to feed little birds, especially in the cold. Anna's hummingbirds live in cloud forests, which sounds so dreamy; they are adapted to the cooler climes, and eat bugs and tree sap to keep their fast metabolisms going in low temperatures. Costa Rica is the hummingbird epicenter, it seems, and we are far from that tropical climate here. Anna's hummingbird stays around here year round, and they start nesting late in the year. So, my little feeder gets cleaned thoroughly, refilled and immediately replaced every few days. When one of them dropped a feather for me, the tip was a silky iridescent green and the base was fluffy down; a furry undercoat is essential when you're three inches long and living out in the rain.

Right now, Vic's little territorial games are a little more loaded, since my little fairy garden seems to be rapidly transforming into a love-nest. I have to be considerate and disrupt that as little as possible, and so I remain consistent, tending the garden and being around just enough that the sugar always flows and the flowers grow happily. There are no cats to haunt my deck, the wind is not so brisk, and so I feel glad to have taken a little patch of barren built-up space and rendered it part of an ecosystem once more. These sassy, magical little birds, who are just as curious about me and remarkably unafraid of my relatively lumbering pace, have inspired me to build a sanctuary that we share, and it's pretty special.


If you want to follow more of the story as it develops, I've been posting videos now and then on my YouTube channel:

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Makeup, Hair Dye and Cleaning it All Off...

Hello friends! I've just been catching up on the world of social networking, and while doing so I encountered a post from a friend who admitted to being remiss in her removal of makeup--much to the dismay of her eyelids. In dishing a little advice to her, I thought it might be useful for me to share a few other tidbits I've found useful and convenient.

As a general rule, I advise going for the best quality stuff you can get, using it wisely, and remembering to clean it off thoroughly before letting your head hit the pillow--however tired you are after a show or hard partying. These are the rules:

1. Buy products that have less-is-more value; get makeup that looks the way you want it to with lighter application and fewer layers, and use facial products that allow you to get more out of the makeup you have. This will not only save you money in the long run, but it will save your skin suffering under heavy makeup and merciless cleansing. While I know my preferred products are more expensive initially, I don't buy them very often and they last for ages.

2. Always take it off. Set yourself up for success by establishing a clean-up routine that is manageable. Get the right makeup remover for what you wear, and use it! Make this part as easy as possible for yourself, so that you will always do it right. This will save you time, pain and wrinkles.

3. Think of ways to make your routine adaptable. (I'll write a blog post dedicated just to this soon.) If you find yourself needing to scrub up at home, away from home, in a jungle--think of ways you can make that doable. Because, as in Rule #2, you want to make this easy so you'll be consistent.


I'll start with makeup. I am a big fan of MAC, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they have a passion for color, and back that up with heavy pigmentation of their eye makeup in particular. This means a lot to me, as I used to find it awfully disappointing to buy cheaper eyeshadows, only to find that they went on a pale shadow of the shade in the pan. If I'm going to bother with putting makeup on my face, I want it to be effective. Additionally, I think less is more when it comes to stuff on your face--if you can get good depth of color without having to build up layers and layers of makeup on your face, your skin will be able to breathe better and there will be less makeup to travel all over your face as the night goes on.

The best trick I have for quick and simple priming of eye makeup came to me courtesy of a MAC artist, who assisted me in buying a boatload of flashy greens, purples and blues. She recommended I also purchase a Shadestick in a nude shade. The Shadestick has some shimmer to it, and also evens the tone of the eyelid nicely, so it makes a great sheer eyeshadow on its own. However, it also has the magical ability to make any eyeshadow pop by deepening the intensity of the color; the nude Shadestick effectively makes my eyeshadows look on my eyelids like they do in the tin. It's a super light layer, and eyeshadow clings to it pretty tenaciously, making the color more buildable and long-lasting.

Similarly, the Prep + Prime Skin has worked supremely well for me as a base layer before foundation and concealer. There are two versions--one with a sunscreen and one without--and the original is pretty light and quick to absorb, reducing redness, evening skin tone and generally helping to use less foundation and concealer. (The Prep + Prime Face Protect with sunscreen is great if you're going to be out and about in the sunshine, though it is heavier than its non-SPF counterpart.)

As you might expect, I am also a fan of MAC's foundations and concealers, and for much the same reason I like the products above: I can use less of them because the pigmentation and opacity make them easier to apply exactly where I want them, rather than coating my face in heavy layers. The Studio Finish SPF 35 concealer comes in a convenient little case identical to MAC's eyeshadows, so it easily packs into a pocket or a purse, and it can be used sparingly in lieu of a full face of foundation. When I do go for a foundation, I like the Studio Tech applied with a sponge--this gives it a really natural finish, and also lets me get away with using less. (I've always preferred clean fingertips for applying creamy cosmetics, as that gives me better control, but the matte finish of the Studio Tech foundation when applied in the direction of facial fuzz is pretty wonderful.)

I could go on and on about this, but I'll leave some tips and tricks for a future post. Let's see about getting all of this stuff off of the face, now.


Okay, the party's over. You've fastidiously applied all of your favorite colors, fake lashes and glitter. You're tired and ready to sack out. But you still look like a drag queen, and you can't be bothered to sandblast all of the shellack off of your face.

Do not give in to your laziness. Here, you have the opportunity to avoid a big mistake. I'll explain...

All of those layers of sediment have the potential to serve as a handy substrate for bacterial growth. Furthermore, your skin needs to breathe, and the natural oils produced to keep everything moisturized and protected from the elements need to be able to escape your pores. Layers of makeup on your face can simultaneously dry your skin and keep oil trapped, and both of these effects can cause your skin to break out or age.

Additionally, eye makeup simply must come off. Your eyes are miraculous gems, and they withstand (and heal from) all sorts of punishment all day long, fighting off dust, debris and germs through the magic of your own body's mechanisms for cleanliness. All of the concerns about break-outs and drying apply to your eye area, with the added threat of eye infections. These are gross. Don't let them happen. Sleeping in your makeup allows extra time for the little oil glands at the bases of your eyelashes to get blocked, which can lead to losing those precious little hairs. Your eyes also use that resting time to heal up from little scratches and injuries, so you want to treat them kindly before nodding off so that your peepers are better off, not worse, then the were the night before. Flakey makeup and glitter are like sand in your eyes, and can do a lot of damage by morning.

I'm super careful about my eyes because I wear contact lenses. If you do too, take some extra care to ensure that your glamour and your prescription are not at odds with each other. Contacts can hold makeup and other alien substances against the surface of your eye, increasing and prolonging irritation. If you wear contacts, I'd highly recommend removing them before your eye makeup. I've always found the battle between makeup, contacts and makeup remover has one big loser--my eyes.

If you wear false lashes often, you need to do some extra care and maintenance. You want to make sure to gently but thoroughly remove all of the lash glue, and you also should make time to de-gum and sanitize any lashes you use repeatedly. Lash glue, like waterproof mascara and heavy makeup, is a great breeding ground for bacteria, both on and off of your face.

So now that we have covered why you should be fastidious in your post-show dismantlement, let's talk about the easiest way of approaching this. I have adapted my routine into a few different versions to address traveling, festivals and getting ready for bed in the comfort of my own home.

The most versatile product I've found for travel, home and the wild outdoors is the MAC makeup remover wipes. They can be chucked into a gig bag, suitcase or backpack without any worry about a mess, and they also don't require a rinse if you're stuck without the required items for a full wash. Furthermore, they can obliterate every waterproof makeup I've encountered while being gentle to skin and eyes. I try not to use them on a daily basis, as I'm not a fan of throwing away more than is necessary, but for traveling and shows they are indispensable.

For home, I love to have a bottle of MAC's Gently Off makeup remover. As I'm a fan of the Splashproof lash--possibly the most indestructible mascara I've encountered--I'm also pretty dedicated to this product, which makes getting it off a breeze. While Gently Off does utilize an oil and water suspension (you shake to mix), it feels surprisingly light and lovely, and you can also use this without a rinse if necessary.

If I'm traveling or camping, a bottle of jojoba oil is a brilliant fix-all. It is the only non-MAC product I've ever used with success to remove MAC's waterproof cosmetics, and it can also do many other duties: it's a fantastic oil for skin and hair, as it's remarkably similar to the oil our own skin produces. I've used it as a moisturizer for body and face by simply patting it on after cleaning, and it feels dry and light. However, be careful what bottle you decant it into--jojoba oil set loose in a suitcase is no fun.

Finally, I adore Lush's Ultra Bland cold cream for thoroughly cleaning after I've removed my makeup. My skin doesn't do well with soap or alcohol, and I have to be careful about leaving heavy oils or creams on overnight. Ultra Bland is a brilliant cleanser; a little goes a long way, and you remove it with a damp cotton pad, which assists the cream in picking up all of the excess oil, dirt and makeup that would make skin unhappy. Also, since it is emollient, I generally don't find I need any moisturizer on most of the face after I've used it--just a little eye cream is fine. It's a dense cream consistency, and travels very well without leaks or drips.


Alright. Hair will have to wait for another time. But it will be exciting--get ready for henna!!