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Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas.

He was the first “adult” poet* whose work I fell in love with — though the relationship started when I was a kid. We would go to Aunt Sal´s house and flop belly-down on the floor to scribble-illustrate “A Child´s Christmas in Wales” as Uncle Perry read it aloud in his sonorous voice, doing all the characters. Miss Prothero was my favorite. ¨Would you like anything to read?”

Later, in high school, I found my way to his other work. My junior year English lit teacher asked if anyone had read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and I replied that I hadn´t, but had read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. She jumped down off her desk, crowing with delight, and came to plant a big kiss on my cheek. (This was in the Dark Ages, when teachers could do such things.)

*I had discovered e.e. cummings when I was quite young, but only the safe stuff. The really good, raunchy stuff didn´t come over my transom until I was at university.

And this is his poem that I loved most, and will love always.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.
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One of the nicest things that happens for me when winter finally ends is that my skin starts behaving itself again. It’s super-dry, sensitive, and I have rosacea, which is a triple-whammy no matter where one lives — but add the Madrid climate to the mix and YIKES!

Last winter I was so desperate that I went for a (Perfect) laser treatment. It worked wonders, but it was expensive and the recovery seemed to take forever. My dermatologist recommended a redness reducing topical that was less expensive in the States than here, so when I was home in April, I decided to do a little research. I went to Beautypedia and found that even with U.S. prices, it still cost the earth, and didn’t have a great track record. So I popped over to the Paula’s Choice side of the website and looked at my options there.

Paula Begoun is known as the “Cosmetics Cop” for her zeal in looking for the truth behind the hype, and all of the claims made about her products are backed up with clinical research.

Since Paula’s Choice also has a rock-solid guarantee, I decided to go ahead and try a couple of products — a redness reducer and a moisturizer, plus a nice big sample of retinol serum that I got for free. The first two products worked really well, but the serum — WOW! Off the charts results in a week. Needless to say I bought a full-sized bottle as well as an extra of each of the other two products, and a BHA exfoliating lotion that was highly rated, even for reactive skin like mine.

I added the redness reducer and BHA lotion to the morning part of my routine, and the serum to the night. I kept using my La Roche Posay Toleriane cleanser and Skin-79 BB cream (I now use the Moisture Plus Purple, with SPF 30++) as my combo sunscreen/foundation. It’s super-easy to follow and the extra steps don’t add any appreciable time to things. That’s important, because it means I actually do it every day with no excuses.

In the year that I’ve been following this refined routine, my skin has improved amazingly. It’s smoother, plumper, and calmer. I still had my annual winter rosacea flare-up, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, and I was able to knock it back down with just a course of low-dose antibiotics.

If you’re looking to jazz up your skin care routine with products that do what they say they will (and that you can return if they don’t) at very reasonable prices, pay a visit to the Paula’s Choice website. I think you’ll like what you find there.

*Oh, how I learned to make (and love) hair snot.

Since I decided to go back to curly hair and to get away from all the bad stuff that makes my hay-uh like straw-uh, I’ve been spending time on curly message boards looking for pointers. And everybody, but everybody, seems to be raving about “FSG,” or Flax Seed Gel. In addition to not having alchohol or any of the other ingredients that dry hair out, it’s cheap as chips and easy to make. I decided to cook up a batch and see what all the fuss was about.

So off I went to my local health food store and bought 250 g. of brown flax seeds. Once I got home, I also pulled out my argan oil and some essential oils to sex up the basic recipe a bit. And it really is basic:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 T brown flax seeds

That’s all it takes. Once the gel itself is made, you can, as I do, add 1/2 t argan oil, a few drops of essential oil (my current fave is a mix of rosewood, lavender, bergamot, and ylang ylang — happy and relaxing smells), and 1/4 t of citric or ascorbic acid to act as a preservative.

You boil the seeds in a saucepan, stirring all the while, until they hang suspended in the gel, or until it looks like mucus when you drip it off the spoon. It takes about five minutes, start to finish. Strain the seeds into a bowl and rinse the pot out well. Do not wait or you’ll never get the gunk out. Give your strainer a good rinse while you’re at it. Note that you can put the used flax seeds into a plastic container and freeze them — you can get two or three batches out of them before you need to bin them.

Allow the gel to cool a bit before adding your extras, if you’re adding them. Store in the fridge, so you don’t have to worry about creeping crud getting into the mix. You’ll probably use this up before it has a chance to go bad, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Let me warn you, though, that no matter how simple the recipe is, it takes a while to get the hang of it. It took me four attempts.

Attempt 1: I overcooked the seeds and couldn’t get the gel to strain. Dumped the whole lot into the garbage, where it wiggled at me, mockingly.

Attempt 2: Perfect! I was so excited I decided to share my batch with the lady in the florist shop, whose cute curly crop inspired me to whack my hair off. I had enough left for yesterday. Time to make more.

Attempt 3: After reading someone’s suggestion online, I decided to add a few hibiscus flowers. (They’re supposed to be good for dry hair.) I ended up with something that looked like slimy Red Zinger. Then it dawned on me that since I’m blonde, it would most likely make my hair pink, so down the sink it went. A pity that Duchesse isn’t close enough for me to pass her the oops — it would be great for her Titian curls!

Attempt 4: Back to basics. Since I didn’t have an empty bottle, I stored it in a measuring cup in the fridge overnight. Today when I was out running errands, I grabbed a bottle and a funnel. Got home, washed them both well, and started to pour the gel into the bottle. It all came out in a single blob, leaped out of the funnel, and oozed all over the counter — like something out of a hair care horror film. At least it had the good grace to ooze its way into the sink on its own.

Final attempt: Made the basic recipe with my extra touches, boiled it just long enough, and decanted the gel into the bottle while it was still warm enough to flow easily. Yay!

You use FSG just like store-bought gel on rather wet hair, though you will need a bit more. And your hair will feel slimy while it’s drying. But once it’s dry, it’s incredible. More curl, plenty of hold, and no crunchiness. Day two, I misted with a 50/50 mix of water and aloe vera gel and the curls perked right up.

If you’re a curly (or even a wavy), give this a shot and let me know what you think.

After a winter of blowing my hair out (think glamorous newscaster type) and a summer of wearing it pulled up or back (think Zippy the Pinhead), I was ready for a radical reboot. Time to get back to the curly basics, I thought. About two weeks ago, I was ready to take the plunge.

Those are my smart chick glasses, worn for working and taking selfies.

Those are my smart chick glasses, worn for working and taking selfies.

So I trotted around the corner to my local hair salon and was attended to by the Artistic Director. She did a good job of cutting the angled, layered bob I wanted, though I was alarmed by how enthusiastically she thinned it. Those of you with curly hair probably know that thinning is not recommended for us because it tends to produce a lot of frizz when the little curly ends — now all different lengths — decide to do their own thing. But once your hair’s been thinned, it can’t be unthinned… sigh. At least my hair grows like a weed. And I’ve located a salon where they will cut curly hair dry (they were closed in August), and where I’ll try to remember not to let them thin it. I’m planning to go in for a tune-up in mid-October.

[Permit me here to digress into a momentary rant about how salons work here. There is a price for cutting your hair. There is a price for styling it after it’s been cut. And there are separate surcharges for shampoo, conditioner, and styling products. So a cut that looks like it’s going to cost you 48 euros ends up costing 60. Why don’t they just tell customers up front that it’s 60 euros? I doubt anyone says, “Just get it wet and cut it, but don’t use any shampoo or conditioner — I’ll add those at home.” We’ll see if the new place does the same thing — if it does, I’ll be taking my own stuff along with me.]

Since I’m going to be wearing my hair curly, I’ve also gone back to using SLS-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioners and stylers. They’re not really good for any hair, but they’re downright disastrous for curls. There’s a transition period, though, while your hair and scalp get used to the new regime. It can get a little wonky.

What’s the result of all of this tinkering? My hair is now in total shock. On one side of my head, it appears to have forgotten how to curl at all, so after I wash it, I take locks of hair and twist them up tight so that when they dry, they’ll be more or less curly. Or at least seriously wavy.

But I want this hair back:

Ah, Devachan, how I miss you.

Ah, Devachan, how I miss you.

Nothing terrifically noteworthy has happened of late, and with the early chill — it snowed yesterday in the mountains here — I seem to have started my hibernation ahead of schedule. Hence the lack of posts, interesting or otherwise.
But last week, I noticed that I was looking a bit señorona (the Spanish equivalent of dadame) with my over-grown hair pulled back in barrettes, and decided to get it cut a bit. My friend Marta put me in touch with her hair cutter, and an appointment was made. In the 24 hours that I had to wait, I decided I was going to give it more than the trim I’d first decided on.

Four fingers’ worth of hair on the salon floor later, I was feeling thoroughly liberated. Since it was chilly and rainy, and I’d just gotten over a cold, I agreed that it would be a good idea to dry it in the salon. (Usually, I just let it air dry.) And for fun, I decided to have a “blow-out.”

I love the reaction when my friends and family see me with straight hair. They freak out! My curls are so much a part of who I am, that it’s as if I’d disappeared. When I see my reflection, I do a double-take, too. It’s like I’m wearing my sister’s hair!

Weirdness notwithstanding, I hang onto my straight hair as long as I can. There’s a lot to be said for just brushing your hair and running out the door, as opposed to the machinations that we curly-tops have to go through even on a non-wash day. This time, I went three days before I washed it.

Mr. Pants heaved a sigh of relief when he saw me with my curls again. “You’re just not Rubi with straight hair!” he complained. He’s right, of course. In the words of the immortal k.d. lang, “All that hairdo, that ain’t me.”

Not quite news-anchor hair, but close.

Yesterday the shutter on my local eyebrow threading place went back up, and today I dashed in to book an appointment — apparently there are a lot of wooly ladies in Madrid, since it was all I could do to get a sliver of time.

When I sat down in the chair, I told my threader (threadess?) that I’d been very good about applying the almond oil recommended to get my brows to grow. She looked down, laughed, and said, “That may be — but your brows have bleached out so much by the sun, it’s hard to see them.”

I’m not sure if that’s a plus or a minus.

It’s really early for Rubi, especially given that she couldn’t tear herself away from the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, which ran until nearly 2:00 a.m. local time. But there’s the problem — there are still lots of images rolling around in her brain that need processing.

There are the dark, Satanic mills.

“Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”

There’s the really scary giant baby puppet.

NHS: Nightmarish Hallucination Service?

And there’s this.

In Soviet Russia, … oh, forget it.

On the positive side, they were free. On the negative side, you get what you pay for.

Leaving to one side all the jokes about being what matadores wear when they’re moonlighting at McDonalds, or El Pollo Loco, or at the Doritos booth at the trade fair, these just make my heart hurt.

The Spanish Olympic Committee points out that getting these incredibly ugly duds for free from Russian sportswear manufacturer Bosco (not to be confused with the chocolate syrup company, who’d never have screwed up this badly) saved something like $2 million. They are adamant that in these massively straightened times, they did a good thing.

It’s hard to understand how they couldn’t look any further than the price tag. Spain is a very well turned-out nation. This is the country that produced Fortuny, Balenciaga, and Blahnik. Adolfo Dominguez. Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, for crying out loud. It also gave you Zara and its enormous family of brands. (De nada.) I cannot believe that there wasn’t a single Spanish design firm that wouldn’t have been willing to produce something more fitting, more authentically Spanish, and less soul-killingly vile. If cost was that much of an issue, they could have put it to public subscription. I think if Spaniards had been warned that this was the alternative, they’d have dug deep. They’re a generous people, with a strong sense of vergüenza.

What’s even worse, though, is the effect that ugly clothes can have on athletic performance. I’m not kidding. As UK gold-medalist Sir Chris Hoy commented when shown the team kit, designed by Stella McCartney,  “It’s very important that you feel confident in your kit and you feel good in it because you don’t want to be thinking about it when you’re competing.” How must the Spanish Olympians be feeling right now?

No llores, guapo.

I think that pretty much sums it up.

I’ve been wanting to try a BB cream for a while, if nothing else just to see what all the excitement is about. Add to that the fact that I don’t love the full-foundation look in summer, and the news that a local outpost of South Korean super-brand Skin79 just opened, and I finally climbed down off the fence.

Skin79 was one of the pioneers of bringing BB creams to the mass-market and they have many, many versions. I wanted some personal input as to which one would be best for me, so I headed off to their new boutique (literally, a puesto in a market in posh Barrio Salamanca) with my friend Xtina in tow.

The lovely saleswoman with absolutely perfect-looking skin pointed us in the direction of a version that would be best for our rather dry, 50+ skin, demonstrating it on the back of our hands. Poof! My age spots freckles disappeared. The name of this wonder-worker? Snail Nutrition BB Cream.

Before you allow yourself to be totally grossed out, remember that snail slime is the new must-have beauty ingredient. Reports are that it is beneficial for acne, scars, burns, and wrinkles. The snails themselves are not harmed during the extraction process, and the slime is filtered multiple times before it is used in cosmetics. (I’m not sure why it’s important to me that they don’t hurt the snails, given that I have no such compunction about eating escargot!)

Skin79 sells travel sizes of most of its products, which means that you can buy a bitty one and test drive it thoroughly — my 15g pump bottle cost 12.90 euros; the full size is 40g and 28.50 euros. And a little goes a very long way. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

When I first tried it out yesterday, I put it straight on bare skin, reasoning that since it’s been so hot, I wouldn’t need moisturizer. That was an error on my part, because it made my skin a little tight-feeling. However, since I also put way too much on (kabuki-face!), it’s also possible that some of the tightness was due my heavy-handedness.

Today, I’m wearing it over my moisturizer. The only place where it feels tight is on my cheeks, where I built up three coats to camouflage my pink rosacea patches and broken capillaries. So there’s definitely something about using less that I’m going to have to get used to. After all, the point of a BB cream is lightweight coverage.

So how much is the right amount? I’d say go for a blob the size of the head of a dressmaker’s pin. The pump bottle will allow this kind of precision dose, so don’t worry about wasting any. Apply it as you would foundation and give it a chance to “rest” and oxidize (so it can blend with your own skin tone) before you add a second coat anywhere. Three coats are too many!

The coverage is amazing: I’ve had it on all day in 90-degree (F) heat and it hasn’t budged. My skin feels great — soft, smooth, and hydrated. I don’t have that tacky-gloppy feeling I get at the end of the day with foundation.

Skin79’s BB creams do not come in multiple shades, although each type of BB cream tends to be a slightly different shade — because I’m very fair, I found a good match for me, but if you’re darker-complected, you may not. I’ve heard that Skin79 are developing additional shades for their North American and European markets, so stay tuned.

All in all, I’m convinced. The only thing that I’m going to keep tweaking is what to wear underneath it. I think that a hydrating serum will probably do the trick. Those of you have don’t have Sahara-dry skin, or who live in a more humid climate than Madrid will probably be able to wear it bare-faced, at least in the summer.

I’ll post an update in a couple of weeks to let you know if it’s still a keeper. In the meantime, if you’ve tried a BB cream — with or without slime in it — won’t you please share your experience in the comments?

At least three times in recent weeks, I’ve read posts or articles (or comments thereon) stating that wearing sunscreen is either not necessary (if you’re Spanish — tell that to the milky-skinned blondes and redheads who are just as Spanish as their olive-skinned sisters!) or dangerous (carcinogens! Vitamin D deficiency!), and I’ve got my dander up.

For me, not wearing sunscreen is not an option. Plenty of us Rubi Family members — and yours truly — have gone under the knife to deal with skin cancers. Never, thank deities, melanoma, but plenty of other “fun.”

The very best sun protection is staying out of it, but that’s rarely an option. Next best is a hat, long sleeves, and leg-covering trousers or skirts. Oh, hats! I recently received as a gift a beautiful “Panama” hat (really made in Ecuador), but I tend not to wear hats in the city, even though I love hats and look pretty snazzy in them. I should probably rethink my position!

I take a two-level approach in the summer, which is when I’m out in the sun the most. On my face, neck, and décolletage, I use SPF 50, because that’s the part of me that gets regular exposure. On the rest of me, I use SPF 30. The EU has recently revised its sunscreen guidelines, so I know that the products I buy here will protect me from both UVA and UVB damage. If you live in the States, I urge you to spend a little more and look for LaRoche Posay’s sunscreens with Mexoryl SX. They protect much better than the ingredients commonly available, and nearly all dermatologists recommend them. (The FDA has only approved this highly-effective ingredient for this brand!) And don’t bother with anything over SPF 50. It doesn’t work any better, and it tends to lead people to take risks with the amount of sun they get.

I’m also concerned about Vitamin D deficiency, so I take supplements — 2000 IU a day — and if I know that I’m going to be outdoors for just 10 or 15 minutes, I skip the sunscreen on my arms and increase the daily dose that way. That’s all it takes. Ten minutes exposure of the “long bones” (i.e., arms and legs) will do it. Then cover up (see above).

If you are concerned about the ingredients in your sunscreen, and I think this is a legitimate concern, you can visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep page for a list of safe sunscreens, organized by category (makeup, moisturizer, beach/sport, and lip balm). They are also a source for lots of practical tips about sun protection in general.

ETA: Do not forget a pair of quality sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB, even if your eyes are brown. Sun exposure causes cataracts.

Rubi sez: Please do take sun protection seriously and make the best decision you can for your pocketbook, based on the most current science. And enjoy the sunny weather, of course!

One of my favorite treats on a hot summer day is to come home, kick off my shoes, and spritz myself with chilled cologne. Here in Spain, there are a couple of classic colognes that you’ll still smell when you’re out and about.

There’s the baby version, super-nostalgic, and so popular that cleaning products also come in “colonia” scent — to give you an idea of the cognitive dissonance, my floor wash smells of baby cologne. What can I say? They were out of pine…

What Spanish babies’ heads smell like.

And the grown-up version — it’s a little harder for me to explain what this one smells like. Clean, fresh, just-out-of-the-shower…in a sort of old-fashioned way. (If any locals are out there reading, please feel free to chime in.)

What freshly-mown meadows smell like, theoretically. (“Heno” means “hay.”)

The way to wear both of these colognes (and there are plenty of adults who wear Nenuco on the sly) is to splash them on liberally — like we did in the States with Jean Naté, or “4711,” the original eau de cologne. (Remember Jean Naté? I loved it as a kid! I’m having an olfactory flashback.)

What summer smells like at Casa Rubi…

As I said, I’m more of a spritzer than a splasher. And there’s nothing I like more in the summer than a green tea scent. Since the key here is “guilt-free,” I’ve forgone the Roget & Gallet and L’Occitane versions, and grabbed a bottle of Yves Rocher “Thé Vert” (10 euros for 100 ml). I haven’t had a chance to chill it yet, but tomorrow morning, whoo! I can’t wait.

What’s your summer scent? Do you stay luxe, or go el cheapo? To chill, or not to chill? Let me know…

P.S. If you want to try Nenuco or Heno de Pravia for yourself, you can buy them online at La Tienda.com. They also sell world-wide superstar Jabón Magno (the divinely-scented black soap) and MamaRubi’s old favorite, Maja. (No Jean Naté, though.)

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