Monthly Archives: July 2013

Thank you!

Thank you to EVERYONE who submitted their “beauty tips” to the contest–good thing I picked at random or I would have NEVER been able to choose between all the wonderful entries I got by email, comment and Twitter.

I hope all of you who entered (and even those who didn’t!) are feeling GLAMOROUS today! 

The Winner!

Liz Ellis is the winner of an autographed copy of Jamie Cat Callan’s Ooh La La with this gem:

While I was pouring out my troubles to a complete stranger cutting my hair, she stopped and said to me, “Don’t you worry. Good things always come to people who have a good heart like you.” It struck me how amazing it was that someone who didn’t know me at all could say such a heartwarming thing, and really mean it. Not only did I get a great haircut, but a rejuvenated sense of self, and hope for the future. That made me feel beautiful, inside and out. 
We had so many great entries, and keep an eye out for more contests in the future!

Meat Mask

“Many Parisian ladies….bind their faces with thin slices of raw beef.  It may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it prevents and removes wrinkles as nothing else will.”  Amy Ayer, Facts For Ladies (1908)

Since we’re on a French and food kick, I thought I’d give this one a try, because it’s been awhile since I’ve done a really challenging, possibly disgusting stunt.  I used pub-style shaved steak, thinking it would be easier to mold into a mask.  It wasn’t, because it’s meat and it’s not supposed to go on your face.

Glad SOMEONE had fun

Glad SOMEONE had fun

But Ian did a lovely job of squishing and layering it onto the contours of my skin, it’s cold, clammy greasiness filling up every pore.  I immediately became an all-you-can-eat buffet for my cat, Bosco, and immediately regretted my choice.  When you begin to believe that seeing R.I.P.D. was the BEST decision you made all evening, there’s a problem. Honestly, I thought it would be a nice way to relax.

Unlike a clay masque, I wouldn’t be able to sit up and read or relax in a tub.  I would have no choice but to lay on my back, breathe deep and listen to some MST3K (episode choice: It Lives By Night) a luxury I don’t get very often.  But since I couldn’t speak (for fear of it falling off my chin and down my shirt) I ended up feeling very isolated and sad.

I lasted all of about 20 minutes with it on and then it started to get warm and gross and flake off down my neck.  I DID feel my skin tightening, maybe, but the creepy meat smell and the fear of salmonella was NOT worth it.  We have lovely clay masks now, or oatmeal, or I can just age and accept my wrinkles with Ponds heavy cream and grace, the way all three of my grandmothers have.

And all that grease must have gone into my pores, because I woke up with a big mystery mound forming on my chin, as well as some clogged spots and blotches on my cheeks.  THANKS FRANCE.

Guest Post and Book Giveaway: Win a Copy of “Ooh La La!” by Jamie Cat Callan

ImageMy friend and mentor Jamie Cat Callan has always been one of the most glamorous women I’ve ever known.  She walks into a room like she’s got her own cool breeze around her, and you’re just absolutely mesmerized.
It also helps that she’s an outstanding writer, creating The Writer’s Toolbox (which is a MUST for any writer; trust me, you’ll never have writer’s block AGAIN) and the author of French Women Don’t Sleep AloneBonjour, Happiness! and Ooh La La!  French Women’s Secrets To Feeling Beautiful Every Day.
I wanted to know her secret, and she told me it’s a French way of thinking:
French women are no more beautiful than any other women.  However, the difference is—French women believe that beauty comes from within.  French women will spend a lifetime refining their individual look and style, often enlisting the help of mentors, beauty experts, grandmothers and imaging experts.  They are not interested in looking like Angelina Jolie or the latest “It” Girl, but their very best, very unique selves. This is the secret to their timeless intrigue.  
In fact, many French women who are considered beautiful are also a little “off.”  Perhaps it’s a big nose or lots of freckles or eyes that are just a little too wide apart.  A French woman will embrace the very thing that makes her a bit different, and then she will accent it and make it her trademark.  This kind of confidence is bold and very, very attractive.
And Libby, you’ll be happy to know that French women often mix up the new with the old.  So, the idea of a Geek Girl Going Glam is very French!  They’ll carry a vintage parasol (like the one you own) with a pair of their grandmother’s lace gloves and then wear a gorgeous designer skirt and pair that with a fast-fashion top from some place like Zara or H&M.  So you see, they like to mix things up—and this makes them very glam, indeed. 
In terms of their relationships with men—French women are careful not to “give it all up.”  Even after being with someone for a long, long time, they always remain just a little bit mysterious, and just a little bit unpredictable.  This keeps things endlessly intriguing.  Think of it like this—a woman is a flower.  She can blossom, but she should always keep some secret part of herself hidden.  That’s ooh la la.
Jamie has lovingly offered an autographed copy of her recently-released Ooh La La: French Women’s Secrets To Feeling Beautiful Every Day to one of my lucky glamorous readers–tell me what makes you feel beautiful, either in the comments section, by email at or on Twitter, @libbycudmore, and “Like” Jamie’s Facebook page by Saturday, July 27.  I will randomly choose and announce a winner next Monday!
What makes YOU feel beautiful?

Cornflake Girl

“Mix one cup yellow cornmeal with two tablespoons salt, then take about three tablespoons in a dish and moisten slightly.  Part hair and work over the scalp, but don’t rub too hard and irritate scalp.  Then shake and work rest of the dry mixture through the hair.  Now bend over and shake out the loose corn meal, out in the sun if possible, or let dry ten minutes and brush out with a stiff brush to remove the rest.”  Hazel Theresa Gifford, Fundamentals of Beauty (1944).

I hate washing my hair.  For me, an awesome hair day is a rarity, an accidental surprise that I cannot replicate, so when one does come along, I don’t want to just rinse it out and will try to hold onto it as long as possible.

ImageSo while this is messy, but it WORKS.  Yesterday I put curling gel in my hair, then slept in a sauna-like bedroom all night, followed by YET ANOTHER sweltering upstate NY day, all of which are MURDER on hair.  But I gave this a shot (which also gave me an excuse to go to the air conditioned grocery store) and my hair looks completely fresh and new.  There’s cornmeal all over the deck, sure, but nothing a broom or a good rainstorm can’t fix.

I have short hair, so next time, I could probably halve this recipe.  Also, don’t do it in your work clothes, or anything black, or if you’re inside, any clothes at all, because it gets EVERYWHERE, making you look like you joined an asbestos removal team in your pajamas.  And careful when you stand up, because it will go RIGHT DOWN your back and wind up in your area.


Tick Tock Dinner Clock

“Make your husband’s homecoming in the evening an important event.  Don’t let him walk into a cold, dark house.  Make dinnertime a special occasion.” Arlene Dahl, Always Ask a Man

Ian works two jobs, one as a newspaper photographer and the other as the director at the local Teen Center.  But this means that he is home a lot, so there’s isn’t much of a “greeting” phase, since I’m the one that works outside the home, jezebel that I am*.

But Thursdays he works afternoons, so for today’s stunt, I wanted to have dinner ready to go on the table as soon as he got home just after 6.  Then he got a call that he had an assignment at 6:30, pushing dinner back to 7 or later.  And I STILL panicked about getting it done on time.  I was planning to fry the ham, but the instructions said to bake, and clearly, I’m a slave to instructions. The sauce I tried to cleverly whip up tasted like soap, so that had to go.  I even got the table set!

But the ham is baked, salads are done, with two minutes to spare . . . but where is the Honey?  He’s late, which isn’t exactly his fault, but is there some housewife time-science I’m not privvy to?  How did Arlene know when her man was coming home, especially without a cell phone?  Or did he just have to eat a cold dinner?

My ex, Aaron, used to freak the eff out if I even spoke to him when he got home from work.  He said he needed time to decompress, and since he wouldn’t let me cook, that meant waiting in front of ESPN while he ate cookie dough out of the tub (yes, tub) without offering me any until he was finally ready for the difficult task of getting a pizza.  But Ian’s not a jerk, so when he DID come home, he was happy that I stood up off the couch and let him know that dinner was ready.

Ian enjoyed having dinner on the table when he came home…now if I could just get him to come home on time!

To Make a Cake

“To bake a cake . . . bake the cake like the mix on the package said to do” Margie Blake, Fun to Cook Book (1955)


I Can Haz Kake?

My Gay-Gay tells this great story about her roommates at Lindenwood coming back to the sorority house from their Home Economics class with a bewildered sort of look.  “We tried this new thing called ‘cake mix’,” they said.  “You just add an egg and some butter, stir it up and put it in the oven to make a cake.”

So I guess I wasn’t too surprised when the Carnation Fun to Cook Book my friend Kelly got me “To counteract (my) progressive childhood” taught our young Margie Blake (Daughter of Carnation Cooking Goddess Mary Blake) how to make a cake by simply following the directions on the box.  Any box will do, I guess.  I was going to use her peppermint frosting recipe, so I got plain old Duncan Hines vanilla cake.

Look, I’ve tried to bake cakes from scratch, I really have.   And occasionally they turn out not-terrible, like the Moxie cake I made Matthew for his birthday, but for the most part, they turn out so mediocre that it’s not worth the effort.

A cup of oil, three eggs and a little water later, I had cake mix, only some of which was on my knees.  And 30 minutes after that, I had a cake, most of which will be going directly into my gaping maw.  In a way, I suppose, this was progressive–not having to bake from scratch left a woman more time to attend social functions like bridge club or the Association of University Women, allowing her to get out of the kitchen and expand her horizons.

Next, of course, came the frosting.  I used the “Candy Cane Frosting” recipe, because it has Carnation Evaporated Milk, natch.

And it did not end well.

The cookbook is geared towards seven year olds whose mom still has to use the can opener for them (recipe for soup: 1 can soup, add Carnation Evaporated Milk, heat, serve) and yet I, with my MFA hanging on the wall above where I write this, ruined the recipe.

Cake is So Damn Unpretty . . .

Cake is So Damn Unpretty . . .

I don’t know whether it’s the humidity or that I’m a kitchen idiot, but the frosting turned out very watery and I now have a cake that looks like the Most Disgusting Sandwich in the World.  It tastes okay, sure, but it’s not pretty.

Wolf Whistle

For the first time since I started this project, I got wolf-whistled today by two shirtless construction workers (oh WHAT a cliche) from about 700 feet away.  But it wasn’t like I was even wearing a cute dress or high heels–I had on black slacks, a polo shirt and Laura Ingalls boots.  From the 500 feet away that they were, I’m surprised they could tell I was a girl.

I suppose I was a little flattered even though I disagree with wolf-whistling on principle.  I’ve been feeling a little less-than-beautiful lately; on Saturday I was visiting Pete, Eeon, Bridget and Jim, and Eeon put on some old Triangulon Home Movies from college.  He had this footage of me and Jim just talking in the dining hall of the student union, and all I could do was stare at myself on screen like a big idiot.  I was so beautiful!  My hair, waist-long and tied back with a funky headband I made out of a pillowcase, perfectly framed my pale, sweet face, my unlined eyes, my unworried mouth.  I looked like Geena Davis, and better still, I had this aching vulnerability to my movements, this strange tenderness, a shyness clearly barricaded behind the glass facade of a brash conversation about the long-closed adult video store on Amsterdam Ave in NYC.

People tell me I’m pretty now and I believe them.  But for the first time in my life, I became very aware that I am growing old, and that my face, my body, are changing and will continue to change.  All the cosmetics and the new hairdos can’t hide that forever; even if I could find that sweater and that hairband, I wouldn’t be able to recreate the Me that I was.

And you know what?  That’s okay.  I can live with that.  I was just glad I had the chance to peek back at myself with all the same friends (and new ones) present, groan at my terrible Ninja Fighting skills, and once again enjoy Fighting Fish:

All that, my friends, is infinitely more important than beauty.

Eeon’s finding me a screenshot; I’ll add it as soon as he does.

Purse Envy

“No matter how neat a woman looks, a sloppy, overfilled purse is a dead giveaway.” Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson, Better Than Beauty

I have always lived out of my purse.  Working long hours, sometimes two jobs in one day, I had to make sure I had everything on me–bus fare, discman/CD, my uniform(s), my notebook, pens, lunch–because if I didn’t, I was out of luck.  I carried big, ugly bags, usually black, basic, utilitarian, covered in pins and patches.  I did have one sweet one that I made out a tie and this great houndstooth fabric, but it didn’t hold much, so it didn’t get used very often.  A nice handbag was an expense I couldn’t afford and a hassle I didn’t need.  I was a modern, liberated woman, I didn’t need no stinkin’ handbag!

About a year ago I decided that, damn, it, I was modern, liberated and worthy of a big bright beautiful statement purse.  I went straight to TJ Maxx and bought a cute little fuchsia Betsey Johnson hobo bag for $24.  And I instantly felt more confident, like a woman instead of a college bimbo.  And I could still fit what I needed in there–my cell phone, iPod, a notebook, a pen, some Dr. Pepper lip gloss, a wallet.  (I also have a houndstooth Betsey bag that Ian got me for Christmas, and a big bold leopard print Betsey tote that I use when I travel.  First time in my life I’ve had more than one purse in rotation!)

But even that’s too much stuff sometimes! 

I have always envied my friend Lexa for a variety of reasons–one, she is pretty and blonde and wildly successful and secondly, she always looks so polished and put together, with this wonderful elegance that only NYC women have.  And the last time I saw her, she was carrying a slim envelope clutch purse, and I was so, so jealous.  I keep meaning to make one, but I suffer terribly from ProCraftination, the symptoms of which are me buying craft supplies and then never actually doing anything with them.


Lot of Spaceballs References This Week . . ..

But I did keep that style tip in mind when I went out for brunch with Rachel, Nina and Tiffany.  I took only what I needed to survive–a twenty, my license in case I wanted a Belini, my fan and my Moxie lip gloss, all of which fit neatly into a #10 envelope-sized red leather clutch purse Ian’s mom brought me back from Costa Rica.

How classy a girl looks with a clutch!  It draws attention to her lovely hands, makes her look charming and delicate, a bit mysterious.  What could she possibly have in that little thing?

In an age where we’re expected to be tied to our smartphones, which have our entire library/record collection/work/social lives stored on them so that at any moment you can be reading a work email while talking to your mother and making arrangements for the babysitter, to go out into the world free of all those things, trusting and living life as it was happening (brunch was lovely!) was a completely liberating experience!