It’s a Mystery

mystery2If you follow me on social media, you’ll know we’ve been dealing with some bad news. I’m trying to manage my grief & stress in a healthy way (eating well, 6:30 am daily elliptical and power songs) but some days (most days, to be honest) require a special kind of escapism. The kind that has 18 volumes and completely impossible happenings in other time periods and places.

I never read mysteries until we moved to Vermont - the long winters require a LOT of reading material. I started with the Amelia Peabody series, and haven’t looked back. It can be hard to find new authors who are good in a field completely saturated with really, really poor writing. Here are my recommendations for mostly female leads, mostly historical, mostly England-located, and not-quite-cozy-but-not-too-violent mysteries.

Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. Set in 1929 London, a former WWI nurse sets up shop as a psychologist & investigator, while dealing with the trauma of post-war England.

1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
5. An Incomplete Revenge
6. Among the Mad
7. The Mapping of Love and Death
8. A Lesson in Secrets
9. Elegy for Eddie
10. Leaving Everything Most Loved

Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd. Another WWI nurse, but with a quite different character to Maisie Dobbs. She continues to work as a nurse through the series, going back and forth between France and England.

1. A Duty To The Dead
2. An Impartial Witness
3. A Bitter Truth
4. An Unmarked Grave
5. A Question of Honor
6. An Unwilling Accomplice

The Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody. Yet another WWI nurse who tracks down missing soldiers post-war to help their families, and ends up becoming a private investigator.

1. Dying In the Wool
2. A Medal for Murder
3. Murder In The Afternoon
4. A Woman Unknown
5. Murder on a Summer’s Day
6. Death of an Avid Reader

Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch. Victorian gentlemen of private means turns sleuth. Happened all the time, right?

1. A Beautiful Blue Death
2. The September Society
3. The Fleet Street Murders
4. A Stranger in Mayfair
4.5. An East End Murder
5. A Burial at Sea
6. A Death in the Small Hours
7. An Old Betrayal
8. The Laws of Murder
9. Home by Nightfall

Julian Kestrel series by Kate Ross. Gorgeously written Regency mysteries that take the reader all over Europe. Heartbreakingly, this author passed away at a very young age from breast cancer right after writing her fourth book.

1. Cut to the Quick
2. A Broken Vessel
3. Whom the Gods Love
4. The Devil in Music

Crowther and Westerman mysteries by Imogen Robertson. Ultra creepy Georgian anatomist Crowther meets shockingly independent Harriet Westerman, and they reluctantly become a sleuthing team. A bit more grim than the other books here, this one definitely gets a violence warning.

1. Instruments of Darkness
2. Anatomy of Murder
3. Island of Bones
4. Circle Of Shadows
5. Theft of Life

Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley. Precocious pre-teen chemist in decaying English country house solves the disproportionate number of murders that seem to occur in her small village.

1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
5. Speaking from Among the Bones
6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
6.5. The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse
7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

Dido Kent series by Anna Dean. So the idea of a Jane Austen inspired mystery series is a terrible one. But Dido is a delightful spinster aunt character and the books work, though you’ll feel some deja vu about the plots. Emma, anyone?

1. Bellfield Hall
2. A Gentleman of Fortune
3. A Woman of Consequence
4. A Place of Confinement

Daisy Dalrymple mysteries by Carola Dunn. These mayyyybe are a little silly and definitely the most “cozy” of the list, but still a fun romp through 1920s England with a journalist who keeps finding dead people. Oops!

1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women

Angela Marchmont mysteries by Clara Benson. I’m convinced the marketing behind these (old 1920s novels, freshly discovered!) is complete nonsense, but the books are fun, if anachronistic at times.

1. The Murder at Sissingham Hall
2. The Mystery at Underwood House
3. The Treasure at Poldarrow Point
4. The Riddle at Gipsy’s Mile
5. The Incident at Fives Castle
6. The Imbroglio at the Villa Pozzi
7. The Problem at Two Tithes

What’s missing? I’m always looking for new books to read.

The Low Profile Bed Search

bed

I’ve been searching for a low profile bed frame since we moved here, and it’s gotten to the point where I just have to find something and take the plunge. I haven’t found anything I’m 100% sold on, probably because my dream bed is a tremendous 4 poster Shaker style bed, and our bedroom ceilings slope.

The considerations:
1. Under 43″ headboard, or easily modifiable headboard. Ish. It’s not like the plaster is straight.
2. Steel or solid wood. Preferably made in the USA. Nothing upholstered or cane, a.k.a. a giant scratching post. No engineered wood.
3. Preferably white, as we already have a lot of wood action going on.
4. Slats or a platform, so we don’t need a box spring. Finished sides (no bedskirt needed.)
5. Really, really sturdy. I have a fear of beds collapsing on cats.
6. Nothing too modern.

beds

The contenders:
1. Room & Board Bennett Bed. We could paint it white.
2. Garnet Hill Windsor Bed. Would have to modify the headboard. Not convinced on the construction, even though it’s solid wood. Finial attachment area / visible screws would need fixing.
3. Room & Board Webster Bed. Too industrial, but it’s sturdy, made in the USA, and the right height.

And that is literally all I could find that wasn’t too modern, engineered wood, or tall. HELP.

In Praise of Being Basic

latte_art_swan

While I was in California, enough people asked me why I hadn’t Instagrammed any cocktails yet that I began to wonder if I come across as an alcoholic on Instagram. “No, you’re just…predictable.” Holly told me at lunch. “You mean basic.” I replied. I’ve come to realize I’m kind of okay with that.

Sure, there are loads of things considered ‘basic’ that are pretty icky. Coffee drinks from Starbucks probably shouldn’t be considered actual coffee. UGGs should be banned from fashion. No one over the age of 21 should be ordering a Cosmo at a bar.

But couldn’t we all use a reminder to appreciate and derive joy from tiny, attainable things? There are enough unreachable, aspirational images online that taking the joy out of the easy-to-reach stuff is not ok.

There are plenty of things I’ve seen called ‘basic’  that I find pretty dang pleasing. A short list:

  • Coffee art. It looks delicious and is evocative of cozy, slow mornings. You know when I don’t have time to see the top of my coffee? When it’s in a tiny paper cup with a lid and I’m rushing to work, which is basically all the time.
  • Doors. Since when is appreciating architecture and design a bad thing?
  • Flowers, especially peonies and roses. They grow freely in my backyard and smell good.
  • That Hozier song (ok, Sean was the one complaining about this being basic). He’s Irish and the lyrics compare love to sacrificing things to pagan goddesses. Excellent. I don’t even care.
  • Macarons (and I think le merveilleux are right behind macarons in the soon-to-be-overly-trendy-camp). They’re both gluten-free, look like cakes and cookies for fairies, and make any day better. Seriously, you’re going to judge pastry?
  • Brunch. See Coffee art.
  • White Converse. If they were good enough for your grandfather to play basketball in, they’re good enough for you to take pictures of your feet on the beach in.

 

Get It Together: Agenda Tips & Tricks

organize

I finally ordered my 2015 agenda. After much deliberation, I ended up buying the same one I had last year. I was very tempted by this one, and eventually I’ll just find a Filofax style refillable. I’m really picky about the week layout, and couldn’t find a refillable I liked this year. I just can’t kick paper – lists or notes in my phone never get looked at again.

Determined to get organized, I sat down and set this one up to be my one stop information book.

House:

1. Tape or staple paint chip cards for all your house colors, with notes on where the paint is used, or what you’d like to match / coordinate to it.

2. Ditto fabrics if you know you need to match them.

3.  Take measurements of things you know you need. For example, I’m looking for a bed frame with a height of less than 43″, a smaller sized screen door, and tablecloths for my extremely long dining table. I never remember all those measurements, so I wrote them all down on one page.

4. Keep an ongoing list of things you’re looking for in thrift or antique stores. China patterns, silverware patterns, lamps or light fixtures, etc. Sometimes I get to a store and totally space on what I’ve been keeping an eye out for.

organize2

Life:

1. Between Facebook, Google calendar, and emailing my mother-in-law, I tracked down everyone’s birthdays and wrote them in. I did not write them in the birthday list at the back of this agenda, but on the actual days. I am seriously TERRIBLE at birthdays. I hope this will help.

2. I love this agenda because it has one side for the days in that week, for appointments or “must-dos” and then an open to-do list page on the other side. It helps me to sit down on Sunday and list all the things I need to do that week.

3. I wrote down some goals, resolutions, and POWER PHILOSOPHIES, so I can flip to them if I need a grounding check in.

4. I don’t use this planner for work at all (unless I’m speaking at a conference / traveling and need to put details in) – my work calendar is wayyyy too convoluted. This is personal life only.

5. If you’re not one to schedule regular massages / retreat times or make time for yourself, go through the year and randomly put “make spa appointment” on the to-do list side.

6. If you’re on a health issue hamster wheel, like me, consider making a “health” section to track appointment results, make notes, and track money spent for tax purposes.

7. I don’t keep business cards. If I need to know someone for business purposes, I follow them on LinkedIn. If it’s for personal / doctor / car repair, etc, I just add them as contacts in my phone.

8. I also don’t put bills due in here, because that’s all set up on auto-pay already. I’m a big fan of automating anything that can be automated.

How else do you use your planner / agenda? I’d especially love to hear more house renovation tracking tips!

Also! We recently moved the secretary desk into the living room – it’s much brighter / warmer / more social to work from here than in the spare room, and I’m definitely using it more. Willoughby likes it too. I need a big fern to go next to that globe!

desk

willoughby

Winter Skin Care Routine

rose

Here in Vermont, winter is all about itchy skin and crazy, crazy dry hands, feet, and cheeks. It starts around late October and by January I just want to move into a spa and spend my days in a full body paraffin wrap. Well. Sadly I must go to work, so this is how I get through winter with daily spa-esque times.

Body

1. Dry brush before you hop in the shower. Also good for your immune & lymph system. I’m a doctor.

2. In the bath or shower, a salt scrub with a good oil in it. I like Jane Gee’s Rose Geranium, and The Body Deli’s Honey Date scrub. For shaving, I’ve been stealing Sean’s Naturopathica Soothing Shave Cream. If I try to shave my legs with soap, I end up in a world of pain and with scaly legs. Good times.

3. While still damp, moisturize up. I’ve been using this Shevanti body balm from In Fiore that Jen sent me, which basically smells like you’re preparing yourself for ancient sacrifice. I also love Huile et Baumes Gentle Dry Oil for the Body.

4. Sometimes you just have to go get a manicure / pedicure with a paraffin wrap. I tried to do the heavy moisturizer + socks thing the other day and it did nothing.

5. Keep hand cream at your desk. I use Aesop’s Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm. Weleda’s Skin Food is pretty great too, and cheaper.

aesop_in_fiori

Face

Because I live in the middle of nowhere, I tend to shop for makeup and skincare on Sephora. Between racking up samples and points, turning 39 and feeling like I should up my skincare game, and Jen sending me a lot of these fancy things, I’ve been trying a lot of different products lately.

I took the photo below (it’s hard to take a selfie with a real camera) because I felt silly talking about skincare without being like “Hi, I have skin.” Ok then. I have skin. And strabismus. I feel like I look like a middle-aged mom here.

face

1. Alternate a clearing / exfoliating cleanser with a moisturizing one. On the mornings when I use the Clarisonic with the delicate brush, I use either Apotheke Charcoal soap or Josie Maran cleansing oil, depending on level of dryness / oiliness. At night, I take off my eye makeup with this Caudalie cleaning water, and do either a hand or washcloth wash with the Aesop Fabulous Face Cleanser.

2. Face masks. My favorite. I love the Farmaesthetics Rosehip + Clay Mint Mask to draw out impurities, and the fresh Rose Face Mask does some kind of tingling witchcraft and leaves my skin super super soft and refreshed.

caudalie

3. For moisturizer, I mostly stick with Caudalie Vinexpert Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Radiance Day Cream. On super dry days I use the Rodin oil, but that’s basically like rubbing (sorry, patting) gold into your face so I don’t use it that often. I also really like MD Solar Sciences Mineral Tinted Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 30 UVA-UVB Sunscreen, especially if I’ll be out skiing or doing winter sports. It makes my skin feel super velvet-y and matte.

cheeks_lips_face

3. Makeup is fairly simple, I’m using all of these in the photo above: bareMinerals BARESKIN in Bare Linen. Josie Maran gelee blush, Josie Maran Matchmaker Powder in Fair/Light, Josie Maran mascara. Uh, I didn’t really think about the fact that most of it is Josie Maran until now. It’s really hard to find decent natural makeup that works, so I stick with what I like. Sean did treat me to the Chanel Rêve d’Orient eyeshadow palette for Christmas, so I will add sparkly (non-natural) lids.

4. Tinted lip balm, forever. Here are a few of my favorites: rms Beauty Lip Shine in Sacred, Tata Harper Lip Treatment in Be Adored, ellovi lip butter (c/o), & fresh Sugar lip treatment in Petal.  I really want to try this Terry Baume de Rose in Fig Fiction. I should maybe tone down the lip balm addiction a little.

chanel_caru

5. Spritz all this madness with a facial spray, like Caru Lavender & Chamomile Facial Toner, or Caudalie Beauty Elixir.

Hair 

Don’t forget your hair, it needs moisture too! Keep the static fly-aways and split ends away with Bumble + Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Conditioner, davines OI Absolute Beautifying Potion, and Phyto Subtil Elixir Intense Nutrition Shine Oil. My hair is really, really dry, and I do a lot of heat styling on it.

In Conclusion

Whew. That’s a whole lotta product. I don’t always have or use all these at the same time, and some I’m using via deluxe Sephora samples, but these are my tried and true recommendations. I’m still trying to stick to more “natural” skin care and makeup products – especially with so many of the chemicals of concern in conventional products being endocrine disruptors.

After writing this post, I said out loud “But I don’t FEEL this high maintenance” and then Sean laughed a lot. Ha ha, let’s look at your tie collection, bro.

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. I may receive a commission on purchases made after following an affiliate link. If you add up the products in this post, you’ll know why I need a commission. I am not actually a doctor.