I'm genetically prone to fairly significant acne (thanks Dad...). And the older I got, the more cystic it became.
Years ago, I started going to the dermatologist who prescribed me spironolactone, an oral medication that absolutely worked. I took that stuff for years and had nice clear skin. Then I turned 30 and started thinking about having kids. Spironolactone + pregnancy = no go. So I weaned myself off and sure it enough, the acne came back, worse than ever.
So I experimented with a lot of different things, and nothing seemed to work until I randomly stumbled on this skin care combination:
1) Sulfur soap
2) Glycolic acid facial wash with hyaluronic acid
The sulfur soap more or less changed my life. I heard about it on some obscure online forum in which person after person agreed that sulfur soap actually cured their acne. So I gave it a shot...
No joke, my acne went completely away in two weeks. I really wish I had had the foresight to take before and after photos (because they would have been AMAZING) but these kinds of topical treatments have never worked for me before, so I didn't have a lot of confidence that this particular face wash would have any more effect than usual. Well, it did, and I stand corrected. Now that said, I think my acne will come back if I stop using the soap, but I was going to have to wash my face anyway, so it doesn't seem like that big of deal to continue using it. There were some dryness issues in the beginning, but then my skin seemed to adapt and it stopped getting flaky.
Then after about six months of consistent sulfur soap use, I randomly threw this glycolic acid facial wash into my shopping basket at CVS (your classic impulse buy). But unlike most impulse purchases, this one actually rocked. It seemed to help the sulfur soap to work even better by getting rid of dead skin. Overnight, my face went from "acne-free" to as close to "luminous" as I'm ever going to get.
This magic combination of sulfur and glycolic acid has finally made me feel confident enough to see friends without wearing any makeup (something I haven't done since I was about 16 years old). I don't even really moisturize anymore, although this CeraVe night cream is pretty good (don't get the A.M. stuff, it's basically straight sunscreen). But I only use it when I'm in the mood, not because I feel like I need it. Something about that combination of hyaluronic acid + glycolic acid really seems to help with the dry skin that's somewhat inevitable with the sulfur soap.
If you don't have a CVS near you, you can also find similar glycolic acid washes and hyaluronic acid products on Amazon, though I haven't tried any of those specific brands, so I can't speak to their efficacy. I wish this Skin + Pharmacy brand was more widely available, but it seems to be exclusive to CVS.
If you do have acne issues, or you have a child who's struggling with it, please try the sulfur soap. A single pack costs only $8 (just remember to soak the soap for 30 seconds before use - that's why it comes in a funny plastic jar). Acne is so embarrassing and frustrating, now that I've found something that actually works (for me), I felt like I had to share.
Do you have skin issues? Did you ever find a solution or are you still looking?
One of the things I'm constantly confronted with is how little I know. In fact, the more I study a subject or think about it, the more I realize there's so much more out there to learn and it's so much more complex than I had originally imagined. It can be daunting. I know a lot of people in science struggle with this issue. You go through life being a know-it-all, then you put in all this effort to get a Ph.D. In the end you feel stupider than ever because the process basically only taught you how very big the world is and how you will never completely understand anything - just the tiniest sliver of a fraction of knowledge, of which you get to claim "expertise."
But even if it feels quixotic, that doesn't mean I want to stop learning. This is one of the reasons why I love podcasts. About 50% of the podcasts I listen to are for pure entertainment (The Weekly Planet, Serial, Imaginary Worlds, Bitch Sesh, Death, Sex, & Money, This American Life, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast), but the remaining 50% I see as free learning resources (Fresh Air, Coffee Break Spanish, How I Built This, History Extra, Radio Lab, History Chicks, TED Radio Hour, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Call Your Girlfriend, On Being, Stuff Mom Never Told You, etc.).
This week I'm adding a new podcast to that list: Civics 101.
The Trump Administration's flagrant disregard and ignorance of the way the Federal government works is not just pathetic, it's fucking scary (and hypocritical as hell to criticize the Obama administration for executive overreach...).
In general, I'm interested in the news, government, and U.S. History. I also grew up in the D.C. area and both my parents have strong professional connections to the Federal government. My Dad actually is a Federal employee. My mom is a lawyer for a trade association and works on congressional legislation and enforcement. So just by osmosis alone and by asking my parents questions, I've learned a lot about how the government works. But it's a super complicated system! There are still so many things I don't understand.
To help fill in some knowledge gaps, I've started listening to the Civics 101 podcast. It's a great resource on all sorts of issues related to the U.S. government. In short 15 minute episodes, they explain things like executive orders, how the constitution can be amended, commenting periods, how supreme court decisions are overturned, etc. It's very helpful and I think EVERYONE in the U.S. could use a refresher on these topics. I know my government class in middle school was pretty inadequate for some of the constitutional questions that have been popping up on a daily basis since the inauguration.
If you're interested in the Supreme Court, I would also highly recommend More Perfect, which is a short podcast series done by the same people who produce Radio Lab. They choose interesting Supreme Court cases to explain and discuss, providing some much needed context and history for the way the Judicial branch works.
So if Trump is giving you anxiety, go ahead and try listening to Civics 101 and More Perfect. It's easier to fight against an autocracy (or an administration that would like to be one) if you understand what protections and subsequent revisions were put in place in the Constitution to defend against exactly this type of situation.
Consider this step 5 of my action plan to resist Trump and his cronies (or should I say Bannon and his crony Trump?) Get educated and know your rights.
I'm working on a little book right now (just an ebook) for scientists on how to improve their writing. With the amount of editing I do, I noticed they tended to make the same mistakes over and over again, probably because scientists get very little training in how to write despite the fact that they're expected to publish research articles almost continuously.
So as I edited, I started keeping notes on these errors. Then I pulled together an outline from these notes, and lately I've just been chugging away at the actual writing of each chapter.
It's kind of fun and it's coming along! I've finished the first draft of the Introduction, the chapters on how to write in the active voice and other little "secrets" of good writing, like varying your word choice, and last night I more or less completed the first draft of the grammar section. Now all that remains is a few chapters on the best method for writing a research article, how to format a manuscript for submission, some basic Microsoft Word tricks that really make writing and editing so much easier, etc.
And as I was taking stock of what work remained, and congratulating myself on how far I had come, I thought to check my old notes for these upcoming chapters.
Lo and behold, I discovered I'd already written the method chapter! I'd completely forgotten about it, but while I was taking those notes, I got on a roll one day and slammed out ~1000 words on that section.
Copy and paste? Don't mind if I do.
I tend to do this a lot. I write things, and then I forget all about them. Usually it's a problem. I know I've needlessly re-written chapters of my sci-fi novel several times over only because I forgot where I was in the thread of the story. It's hard to keep track of these things when I'm often overwhelmed with editing work and have to put the writing on hold for a while.
But sometimes this little habit of mine comes in handy, like last night, when I was staring down the barrel of another chapter to write, and then 30 seconds later realizing I'd already done that work!
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book so I can do I a little editing to spruce it up, then give it to my beta readers (i.e., my husband and my mom), and finally get this project finished. That's been my theme lately - just finish.
I have so many writing projects I want to work on, I decided the most efficient thing I could do is finish up the ones that are in progress right now. So I published another short story on Amazon. I'm also finally finishing the editing on my practice novel, which I set aside for a little while because things got busy while I was starting the editing business. When that book's done I'll post it on Amazon too (because it's fun to get a buck or two every now and then from your writing and to see that people actually read your stories to the end!). Now I'm finishing up this science writing book and once that's done, then I'll have the time to focus on my close to completed (but not quite) NaNoWriMo project from last year.
Then I'll have a decision to make in terms of what novel I want to work on next. There's my sci-fi story I've been thinking about and writing/rewriting for several years now, but I've got other ideas too that might be a little simpler and more at my skill level. Then there's always my little book on organic chemistry (I love little books), which again, might make a good Amazon ebook. Decision, decisions...
This is why I wish I could write full time. I hate having to choose my writing projects based on efficiency, but I also want to be smart about it. When you have limited time to write, you've got to make that time count.
How are your writing projects going these days? Are you spread thin? Or are you better at focusing on starting and finishing a single story at a time. Honestly, I'm undecided about which way is better. It's nice to switch tasks when I get stuck on one project, but the tendency to never finish anything longer than a short story is also much higher.
Not a lot of time to blog today, so I'll just say this:
Go see Get Out as soon as you can.
It begins wide release on February 24, but I was able to see it a little early at an advanced screening in Chapel Hill last night...and it was amazing, easily in my top 5 (3? Maybe number 1?) scariest movies of all time. Just a very tightly written movie. Extremely well made. Super creative. And I'm not even a fan of the horror genre, but I was completely absorbed in the story the whole time.
Systemic racism as a horror trope is not just a brilliant idea, it's fucking on point. Everyone in the theater was so freaked out that this collective hysteria kind of swept over us. There was screaming, laughing, cheering - I can't describe how involved everyone was in this movie.
Also, in the current political climate, I really am trying to get outside of my echo chamber as much as possible since I think that's at the route cause of a lot of the issues the country is dealing with today (that and not bothering to just shut up and listen). I'd never heard of Jordan Peele before, who wrote and directed this movie, so I'm really appreciative of my friends who introduced me to his work by giving me their extra ticket. I'll be checking out his show for sure.
Get Out - 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Go see it. Totally worth the price of admission.
The other day my husband and I were debating what invention constituted the greatest scientific achievement. I said that besides electric power, the birth control pill was definitely the most significant. My husband disagrees, but think about it - being able to reliably control how many kids you have impacts the most fundamental ways a society functions and organizes. For instance, there's no way women could achieve equal status to men without some form of birth control.
It's kind of interesting that we even get to ask ourselves whether or not we want to have kids. This wasn't a question women could lightly toss around prior to the pill's invention. By all accounts, Jane Austen didn't get married because she knew that the work of raising a family and perhaps the disapproval of her husband would prevent her from writing. But today, I can be married, write, and dilly-dally about having children pretty much to my heart's content. What a privilege that is.
I like kids. I like hanging out with them. I have childish tastes. I wouldn't mind having someone else in our family to love unconditionally and be loved back. I like the idea of watching my child grow up and teaching them things.
But I'm also selfish. I want to write books and live in interesting places. I get overwhelmed and resentful when I don't get to work on my own projects. I get irritable and snap.
Not long after I started writing more seriously, we got a dog. My uncle's German Shepherds had puppies, and my husband and I couldn't resist. We chose Hammie (aka "Miss Virginia Ham") who's the second puppy on the left in the image below, peaking out from beneath her brothers.
We fell in love. She was (and still is) the smartest and sweetest little girl. She was my first dog, and it was just incredible to have this little creature in the house following us around everywhere.
Those first few weeks were hard though, especially because we were so sleep deprived from having to get up once or twice each night to take her outside to pee. And if I'm being honest, despite all the love I felt, I also remember thinking that getting a puppy was probably a bad idea if I wanted to write and publish a novel.
But you know what? I wouldn't go back and change it. Sure, for a few months I did write less, but then she grew up and could sleep through the night, and slowly the writing returned.
I imagine it would be similar for children, only more intense and for a longer period of time. Maybe I wouldn't get back to writing for several years, but I know that eventually I would.
On the other hand, if we didn't have children, it would be easier to travel. We wouldn't be so stretched for money. We'd have more time to focus on each other and on our goals and projects. We'd pour our love into dogs and cats, no doubt. Play auntie and uncle. Be a Piggle-Wiggle woman. It would be nice, I admit it.
But I thought about it, and I realized that if I could do it either way, kids or no kids, then I should probably try to have a kid. And if doesn't work out, well, I'll know I tried, and then I can lead my child-free life without regrets.
So I think we're going to try, maybe not for another year, but sometime soon. And that makes me happy, which makes me think it's the right choice.
Did you debate whether or not to have kids? What was your thinking?
If you're into Science Fiction or Fantasy, I think you'll enjoy this week's Friday Kindle deals.
First up, there's a $1.99 sale on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which happens to be one of my fantasy-loving brother's favorite novels ever. It's about two magicians in 19th century England. Also, apparently it's a TV series now? Interesting.
Then we have the Dirk Gently box set ($1.99), which includes TWO books (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - best title ever) by Douglas Adams. If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you should definitely check out this other series by Adams. It's equally zany and fun.
And finally, you can read about time-travel and slavery in Octavia Butler's classic science fiction novel, Kindred, for just $2.99 on your Kindle or any other device that has the Kindle app.
Not a bad showing this week! Four great books that are worth reading.
Ever have one of those weeks when you're confronted with about a dozen, fairly serious problems? I guess the Universe decided that this would be my week.
Here are just a few of the things I've had to deal with:
1) A distantly related cousin of mine decided to use my email address as a throw-away account for her Match.com profile. On Saturday night I began to receive email after email from Match.com, all addressed to this person I've never actually met. She's done this in the past, giving my email to insurance agencies (why?!), American Eagle, and DeSales University. And each time I think someone's stolen my identity, but no, it's just this random woman who thinks my email address is her "secondary email" (her words). I finally managed to get in touch with her through Facebook (after she's spent years ignoring my polite requests to stop using my email). She wasn't even remotely apologetic either, just begrudgingly agreed to change it. Frankly, I don't think she understands email if she believes she can just use a random account for her internet life (an account she can't even access, because it's MINE).
2) Dishwasher broke. Spent the week dealing with the landlord, handymen, and an electrician who finally diagnosed the problem as some faulty wiring under the house. ("Not sure how it ever worked," he told me). But in order to get to that point, we had to rule out all other possibilities by replacing the circuit breaker, the dishwasher, the wire connecting the dishwasher to the circuit, all of which required my pantry shelves to be taken apart TWICE in order to get access to the stupid circuit box (whoever built those shelves around a major piece of electrical equipment weren't too bright). Silver lining, it gave me an excuse to throw away a lot of expired food and spices, and to purchase these neat pantry organizing tools and this awesome Japanese rice storage container to bring some much needed order back into my life. And I got a new dishwasher out of the deal, so there's that.
3) My phone suddenly stopped being able to make or receive phone calls. Just bam, out of nowhere, I started getting this error message saying that Verizon didn't recognize my phone on their network. So I called 611 (Verizon's phone support line), and they fixed the issue in a matter of minutes. So major shout out to Verizon. Thank you for being the only problem I had this week that was quickly and easily fixed.
4) My car insurance and registration disappeared! Went to get my car inspected at Jiffy Lube. They asked for my registration, but it was nowhere to be found in my glove box (nor my insurance card as I later discovered...). How long have I been driving my car without proof of registration or insurance? Luckily, they were able to inspect my car anyway, and I got a new registration certificate in the mail a few days later. I also think my insurance renews fairly soon, so I should be getting a new card in the mail anyway (but I guess this problem is only partially resolved since I should probably call and get a new one now rather than wait).
5) Since we came back from the British Virgin Islands (post on that later plus my vacation reading summary as soon as I can get the pictures from my husband's phone), my glands have been feeling really swollen, which I know is a sign of infection. But honestly, I felt otherwise fine. Things came to a head yesterday when my head, nose, eye, ear, and teeth all started to ache on one side of my face. Turns out a cold I was dealing with a few weeks ago never really went away (which I sensed even on vacation, I just felt kind of "clogged up" the entire time), and it developed into a sinus infection. Major shout out to the UNC Health Center for seeing me quickly and prescribing me antibiotics. I've only been on them for one day, but already the swelling in my throat has gone down.
6) But the antibiotics have done a number on my stomach. Got dinner with my husband last night, but that was something of a mistake. Antibiotics + Mexican food = trouble. Not to get to graphic, but I had to run to the bathroom at the end of dinner. And then if that wasn't bad enough, I also managed to lose my pedometer in the toilet...(I am just a fucking mess this week).
Strangely though, losing the pedometer, even under those circumstances felt very freeing. Even though it was a great pedometer, and it really helped me to stay active, hitting those 10,000 steps had become something of a chore; an item I have to check off my list every day. Compulsions like that (as if 10,000 is some kind of magical number) get stressful, and I really need to be doing LESS each day, not more. So saying goodbye to that pedometer was like the Universe telling me, "Hey, it's ok. You got this." I can stay active without obsessing about numbers. This also means I can get rid of my little notebook where I keep track of this kind of stuff. In theory, keeping records is fine, but when it becomes an added stress at the end of day (climbing into bed, then realizing I haven't written down my step numbers, my word counts, whether I ate generally well or poorly that day, etc.), then I think it's time to reassess whether this is a habit I want to keep in my life. And sitting in the bathroom at our local Mexican joint, I thought, "Enough. I'm good." Time to simplify, subtract, and only add when the habit or item adds distinct value to my life.
The funny theme to this week? A lot of problems also inadvertently led to solutions. An old dishwasher got updated (and outdoor light got fixed in the process). A pantry got a much needed cleaning and reorganization. I decided to get rid of some "healthy" habits that were starting to become unhealthy and a needless source of added stress. And getting spammed with Match.com emails about people looking at "my" profile finally gave me the motivation to track down that distant relative to avoid future email snafus.
So it was kind of slog of a week, but a positive one in the end.
How's yours going?
I've got a to-do list that's a mile long (actually, it's several index cards long). There's always a list of things I want to write. Novels, short stories, non-fiction e-books, blog-posts, emails, etc.
And lately, I've stumbled onto something that I think a lot of people have already figured out, but as usual I'm slow to learn the rules to any game.
Basically, re-use your content.
On my editing website, I have a small blog where I talk about basic grammar mistakes that I notice scientists often make in their manuscripts. I write these posts because I'm interested in grammar, but I also use them to market my business to some degree. So for example, I wrote a post about the difference between the abbreviations "e.g." and "i.e." and then I posted that link on Facebook. That link brought people who were interested in learning how to use those abbreviations to my editing website, and now maybe they'll use my editing service at some point in the future. Basic web 2.0 marketing.
So that's great, but it's certainly time consuming. Writing those blog-posts sometimes keeps me from writing fiction or non-fiction at the end of the day because I'm exhausted. I feel like my brain gets used up.
But then I realized that I can kill two birds with one stone. Because I'm also trying to write an e-book for scientists on how to become better writers by learning some simple rules and tricks. Maybe you're already seeing the connection...
So now when I write these grammar-focused blog-posts, I just copy and paste them into my working draft of the science writing e-book. I'll revise it later to fit into the appropriate chapter. So I turned one post into two uses. Win win!
Here's another example. The other day I was reading All & Sundry's blog-post about meditation, which inspired me to write this long and detailed comment because I'm really interested in that topic. Well I wound up adapting that comment into a blog-post here. I figured, hey, I spent a lot of time writing that comment, why not expand it?
I'm calling this BOGO writing, buy one get one free. Obviously, you have to be careful not to overdo it (I think a lot of bloggers who have written "books" make this error by repackaging old blog-posts, which just ends up pissing off their readers). But if you've written good content once, why can't it be used in a different context when there's virtually no overlap between the readership?
I guess it's an example of working hard AND smart, something I've always struggled to do. I can work like a dog, but dogs aren't that smart...
Do you ever BOGO write? Is it a no go or a yes go?
It's that time of year again...yep, taxes.
Every year I say I'm going to pull a Ned Flanders and get my taxes done early, and LITERALLY every year I end up doing them the day before they're due, which always reminds me of that Simpsons episode.
I love you Homer Simpson.
Fortunately, Turbo Tax makes it easy and cheap to do your own taxes. I've never had any problems using it (though I have big issues with the fact that we have to "do" our taxes at all thanks to the lobbying efforts of Intuit, but that's another story).
All ranting aside, the one thing I'm pretty good at every year is buying Turbo Tax ahead of time when it's on sale. Right now you can get the Deluxe download of Turbo Tax for $20 off from Amazon. Or if you're self-employed like me, you can get the Home and Business version on sale for a whopping $35 off. Kind of wish I had found that deal yesterday...Seriously, don't buy directly through Intuit. They're only offering $10 off. When will I learn to always check Amazon first?
Anyway, if you've never tried doing your own taxes, give it a shot. Turbo Tax really does make it very easy by asking you simple questions about your work situation and how much you earned, etc. Then the program automatically calculates the math for you.
Ok, now that that's over, we can concentrate on the fun stuff, like finding a good book to escape into once you've finished your taxes. Sounds like my ideal reward.
If you're looking for something fun and light-hearted, maybe check out this Debbie Reynolds memoir, Make 'Em Laugh ($1.99).
Or get political with Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries ($1.99).
And because I'm a sucker for German Shepherds and police dogs, I might check out this mystery, Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima ($1.99). I'm not a huge mystery reader, but occasionally I like to try a new series. My all time favorite has to be the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn novels by Tony Hillerman. If you're also a reluctant mystery reader, those books are a great place to start, imo.
Anyway, lots of good reading options for escaping from tax season when you need a break. I know I will.
I have a hard time getting started on work. Sometimes, I'll wind up dithering away one or two hours before I finally start editing. It sucks, because those one or two hours come out of my personal writing time. And every day I tell myself I'm not going to procrastinate (except it's not even procrastination exactly, it's more of this inability to start anything), but I usually wind up doing it again. I've struggled with this since I was kid. Writing school essays was never hard. It was starting the essay that would send me into a near panic every. single. time. And then once I got over that panicky hurdle, I'd be perfectly fine again. It's a weird type of anxiety.
On election night, I didn't go to bed until close to 2 am. It took me that long to accept that Clinton had lost. And as I was curling up under the covers, this thought popped into my head: "I just want to disappear into my story."
The other day, my husband and I were driving home from D.C. It's a long drive, and sometimes when I'm bored, I think of things that make me laugh.
"What are you laughing about?" my husband would ask.
"Oh, just about how I used to play basketball in a turtleneck."
Many miles later:
"What are you laughing about now?"
So I told him the story about the time I was in the bathroom at my old job when I overheard a student ask another girl if she had a tampon. She didn't. But I always kept a tampon hidden in the bathroom, behind this random bowl of potpourri. So I opened the stall door and said, "I have one!" and showed them my hidden stash.
"Did they think that was weird?"
And that's why I was laughing, because it was only at that moment, sitting in the car somewhere on I-85 did I realize that eavesdropping + popping out of a random bathroom stall + revealing a hidden tampon might be considered a little strange...
"I think they were equal parts horrified and grateful."
My pets have weird nicknames:
Hans (grey cat): Hansy, Dazzler, Gremlin Cat (he's very impish)
Bunbun (siamese cat): Bunny, Buntaro, the Bunbun (we joke that he's so dumb, he doesn't understand that "Bunbun" is his name, not his species)
Hammie (german shepherd): Ham Sandwich, Hamberlina Jolie, Muffin Chomper, Nose Tube (cause her head is pretty much just a giant tube for her nose).
I don't know why I felt like writing these thoughts down. They've been bouncing around in my head for a few days. Maybe it will be fun to read them again later.