Amateur Sewing Hour: How to Convert a Dress into a Top

img_8476I fell in love with the bird print the moment I saw it. What luck – 100% silk and bargain-priced at the used clothing store! The dress was too big, but I knew how to cut it down to size. At least I thought it did. Even though I tailored to fit, it still wasn’t quite right.

Not such a big print, you see, yet somehow it overwhelmed my petite frame. While the cinched waist looked good, the wide gathered skirt with pockets at the hips wasn’t doing me any favors. So today I decided to turn this dress into a top.

img_8477You may smirk and say my project is for the birds. It’s true that hemming tops is one of the hardest things I attempt on the sewing machine. But I knew this one was going to work out. Silk is a lot easier to handle – as opposed to stretch fabric (like a t-shirt). And I envisioned an empire top, which is basically like a really short dress, right?

I knew how to cut a circle skirt. I pinned it and cut nine inches off the bottom. Hey look, I can use the extra material to make a cowl (or a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl)! And how light as a feather I will feel with the weight of a hundred birds lifted off my hips. This is gonna be good.

img_8479Still smirking over there? This project isn’t so scary for an amateur. I turned the pockets into faux pockets by sewing them shut and cutting out the interior material. Then I started hemming the bottom at one of the side seams and slowing worked my way around, folding the narrow hem over twice as I went to get a clean look.

Now I’ll tell you an important tidbit that I learned from my one sewing lesson when I first bought my machine: you must iron to finish your work. I hate ironing (she whines), but I remember the teacher saying this: do you want people to ask “where did you get that fantastic thing?” or do you want them to ask “oh, did you sew that yourself?” Hmmm, must avoid looking home-sewn…..

img_8481-1The thing about hemming tops especially, is that the bottom often curls up. This, my friends, does not look professional. It looks like a mess. But with a fabric like silk, it’s very easy to steam iron the hem so that it lies flat. And suddenly your creation no longer looks like something you hacked with a razor. It looks like a bona fide top!

I love this look – it’s the perfect length to be layered with a cardigan or blazer. I think I’ll wear it out to dinner tonight with jeans and ankle boots. These birds are making me happy once more. Let’s fly!

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Sauerkraut Science Experiment – Ruby Kraut Success!

IMG_1454I’ve been on a bit of a homemade food jag lately, getting a little more adventurous with the offerings from the farm box. I’ve always been afraid to make sauerkraut – fermentation is a scary beast. But when life gives you big purple cabbage heads, something must be done.

I’m reporting after my second attempt as kraut-maker, but let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? On my first try, I followed a couple of online recipes and used what I had on hand: namely, cabbage and salt. I also bought juniper berries and caraway seeds for seasoning. The salt caused the cabbage to sweat; I squeezed out more juice then added additional water.

This fit nicely in a glass-lid casserole dish. I covered the cabbage/water with parchment paper, topped with a Ziploc bag filled with more water to weigh it down (keeping water level above cabbage level), then followed with the lid. The crock sat on my counter for over a week. I started noticing mold on one corner; I scraped it off but it returned in a few days. That’s when I got scared and put it in the fridge. Tasted fine; I ate the whole thing over several weeks.

IMG_1457Now that I had a little experience under my belt, I was ready to try again. This time I bought a large, wide-mouth canning jar by Weck. I also bought a smaller jar to fit inside for the weight. Somehow I had a better result with the sweating and didn’t have to add any extra water. I fit it all in the 1 liter jar (weighted with glass lid from smaller jar) and sealed the lid.

After a couple of days I could see a lot of bubbling action. So much so that I feared my jar would explode. Ack! I had failed to leave some room at the top of the jar for expansion during fermentation. I decided to remove the clips from the sealed lid and KABOOM – purple juice on the kitchen walls!

Dang, all that healthy probiotic juice wasted. I lost about a third of a cup and had to replace some of that with water so the kraut wouldn’t dry out. Pity. After 10 days (like last time), I put it in the fridge and ate it little by little. Despite my troubles, it was a delicious batch.

So now I’m ready to offer some words of advice: don’t be afraid of the kraut! The worst that can happen is you lose a head of cabbage (and maybe spray your walls with sour juice). After more investigation, I now know that my jar would not have exploded but simply bubbled over. I will be prepared next time!

Here’s a good recipe for your first-time sauerkraut science experiment:

One head of cabbage, finely chopped
1 TBSP Salt
1/2 TBSP Juniper berries
1/2 TBSP Caraway seeds

I highly recommend using a glass jar because you can see what’s going on. Leave about an inch at the top of the jar for expansion. Put the lid on but don’t clamp it down. Just let it rest there. It is likely to bubble over, so set the jar over a plate/bowl. Let the fermentation begin! Start tasting around ten days – when you get the perfect sourness it’s time to seal the lid and refrigerate. Just look at that gorgeous ruby hue.

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Today’s Juice: Funky Beets

IMG_7728Things were about to get funky. That’s sounds cool – but it really means I had some beets in my fridge that were reaching the end of their storage life. So I whipped out the juicer and started my mad science experiment:

4 beets
1 turnip
2 carrots
1 big romaine leaf
2 stalks of kale
1 radish
1/2 Meyer lemon
1/2 apple
handful of spinach

 

Though the beets and turnip had been around awhile, the rest of the ingredients arrived just yesterday in my CSA box. This juice was super funky fresh! Here’s a breakdown of some of the nutritional benefits (excerpted from The Juice Lady’s Guide to Juicing for Health):

  • Beet and carrot juice help with liver and gallbladder function.
  • Kale, spinach and romaine are good for cardiovascular and intestinal health.
  • Apple and lemon have antiviral properties.
  • Radish and turnip are both good for the lungs.

I drank down my magic elixir all at once (16 oz of juice). And now it’s time to do a little happy dance to the funky beets!

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Nut Milk Newbie – My First Homemade Batch

IMG_7672 I have been drinking almond milk for years now, mostly in my morning granola. Recently I read an article about a stabilizer that’s added to most commercial nut milks called carrageenan. A seaweed derivative, some animal studies have suggested a link between carrageenan and GI inflammation. While it’s currently deemed safe by the FDA, it got me thinking about what I put in my body on a daily basis and what control I have over ingesting unknown additives.

So today I took the plunge and made my very own nut milk! Encouraged by online tutorials and recipes, I assembled a very short list of ingredients: organic sprouted raw almonds and water. Last night I soaked the almonds in a glass bowl (1 cup almonds, 2 cups water and 1/2 tsp sea salt). I read to soak them 12 to 18 hours (preferably overnight) to help with digestibility and make them easier to blend.

IMG_7674This morning I drained and rinsed the almonds, then returned them to the bowl and added 4 cups of filtered water. I used my Cuisinart immersion blender to make frothy, creamy milk. (For me, an immersion blender is so much easier to use – and clean – than a regular blender.)

Next I set a colander over a larger bowl and strained the milk through cheesecloth. I squeezed out every last luscious drop. After the fact, I realized I should’ve used my mixing bowl with the spout instead; I transferred it here (from pink to white bowl) to make it easier to pour the milk into a 32 ounce mason jar. The white bowl would have been a better choice for blending, too (as it has a wider, flatter bottom than the glass one).

Welcome additions

Welcome additions to nut milk

Though I had no trouble using the cheesecloth, I have ordered a reusable nut milk bag online to make the process even easier. When it arrives, I’ll make another batch and report back. Update: The bag is definitely an improvement over cheesecloth; no need for colander (which I was only using as a second safety net); no mess, easy to clean. I’m sold! 🙂

This unsweetened, fresh almond milk tastes divine. I love it plain, but it’s also yummy with a few select additions: cinnamon, vanilla extract and maple syrup. I had these on hand; next time I may try actual vanilla bean and a couple of Meedjool dates.

Newbie success! Love when that happens. This is probably one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. Fresh nut milk can be stored in the fridge for up to a week – I’m sure I’ll have no problem using it up!

Here’s a review of helpful tools for making your own nut milk:

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A better bowl for blending and pouring

Best quality raw nuts, soaked overnight
Immersion blender
Nut milk bag
Wide mouth mason jar (I got mine at Whole Foods)
Large bowl with pour spout

And here are a couple of blog sites that helped me find my way: Wellness Mama and Oh She Glows

Hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try. Go nuts!

Rainy Day Oatmeal

The sky is a misty white this morning; the streets are slick with rain. The perfect time for a comforting bowl of delicious oatmeal.

Forget instant – you really do have time to make the slow stuff, even on the busiest mornings. “Old fashioned” rolled oats cook up in just 10 minutes. No need to hover over the pot. Use that time to make your coffee or tea, feed the cat, scroll the news.

IMG_7634 (1)Oatmeal for one is easy. I use one cup of water and half a cup oats. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes; then remove from heat, cover and let stand a minute or so.

Prep a bowl of nourishing additions: mine has blackstrap molasses, flaked coconut, chia seeds, walnuts, raisins, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Just a handful or a splash of each. I aim for the best quality ingredients. Even the spices are organic!

IMG_7629Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite brand of oats. I store the bag in the door of the refrigerator. Coconut flakes and chia seeds, too. Keep the pantry stocked with the rest and you will always be prepared for that perfect steaming bowl of goodness. For added extravagance, top it with sliced fruit and a little almond milk.

While I love my homemade granola for breakfast, something about the warmth of oatmeal feels more satisfying. A good reminder to not save this for a rainy day!

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SF Like a Local – Top 5 Treats + 2!

My (mostly edible) faves from local artisans – it’s a yummy topic worth re-posting. This year I’m adding two more to the top for those of you looking for cool gift ideas with a little more staying power. Like ART!!! And JEWELRY!!!

goldcriesandsilverdustslargeHilary Williams Fine Art

Hilary Williams is a Bay Area superstar. She creates fabulous fine art screen prints, mixed-media paintings and illustrations inspired by local scenes, both urban and natural. I’ve bought several pieces of her art – at all different price points – from a handful of postcards to a signed limited edition print. Check out her great stuffs!

 

MothBeetle2Bug Under Glass

I love anything made by local conservation biologist and designer, Kevin Clarke. Featuring ecologically-friendly sourced insects, his offerings include jewel beetles, sunset moths and Darwin’s favorite butterflies. Kevin’s real butterfly wing jewelry is just gorgeous – I’ve given several two-sided pendants as gifts. The framed insect collections always take my breath away. Bug Under Glass ships from CA to anywhere.

 

Ok, the rest of these are food. Or food-related. Nothing wrong with that! All of these delectable goodies are made right here in San Francisco, and these five companies have certainly won my heart.

IMG_4124L’ Amourette Chocolate

I have many local faves when it comes to chocolate (see my post, Confessions of a Dark Chocolate Snob), but this is the current winner. A $5-8 bar may sound extravagant, but oh so worth it as a slowly-savored treat. So far I have tried the Dried Fig; Shredded Coconut; and Sea Salt varieties. With over 20 bars listed on their website, I cannot wait to discover more! Candied Pomelo Peel, anyone?

 

firepepperSpice Ace

I just love going in this store. A feast for the senses. Cleanly stacked glass jars with white labels and lids line the walls. And inside these small jars? Pungent, fresh and delicious spices, salts, herbs, extracts. There are tester jars for each, so you can whiff away (and even taste, if you like). I find the prices to be very reasonable – mostly cheaper than what you see at the grocery store. My favorites so far: San Francisco Fire Pepper (pictured), Herbes de Provence Sea Salt (Sel Gris), Black Truffle Parmesan Seasoning, and the exotic Dukkah (an Egyptian blend of “Hazelnut, Sesame Seed, Pistachio, Coriander, Cumin, Sea Salt, Black Pepper”).  And you gotta get the Bacon and Onion Smoked Sea Salt!

songteaSong Tea

Around the corner from Spice Ace is another neighborhood wonder: Song Tea. I do love my tea. I’m usually buying good-quality teas, but this place really steps up the game. At first I was taken aback by the hefty prices (some upwards of $100 for 8 ounces). Whoa! I took a chance and bought the Gold Peony White ($22/2 oz) then went back and got the deliciously fragrant Longzhu Jasmine Green ($16/2 oz). I’ve been keeping track – because I can steep these leaves 2-3 times, I’ve been able to yield more than 45 cups each. So it works out to be about the same cost per cup as a $5 box from the grocery store. Score!

molinariMolinari Salami

I first discovered Molinari salami last year when I was looking for holiday treats. Someone posted on Facebook that Molinari Delicatessen had to-die-for ravioli. I had to investigate, of course. Bought the ravioli for myself, and a couple of links of salami as a gift. My taste buds have never been the same. I never cared one whit for salami, but that’s because I’ve never tasted the good stuff until now. Yes, now I know. I even dug up this LA Times article that explains why San Francisco is the salami capital of America.

ettaandbillieEtta and Billie

You may not be able to eat or drink these products, but you’ll sure be tempted – with heavenly scents and textures such as those found in the Grapefruit Cardamom Body Scrub, the Bergamot Ginger Body Lotion or the Citrus Poppy Seed Soap. I love the simplicity here, both in the packaging and substance. As soap maven Alana Rivera states, “My soap is made with real natural ingredients like Lavender and Coconut Oil, rather than irritating chemicals like Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Trisodium Etidronate.  And it’s handcrafted with care by a human being, not created by a machine in a factory. The choice seems pretty simple to me.” I agree.

So there you have it, my Top 5 + 2! If you’re not a local, you needn’t worry – all of these SF companies are available online. Now tell me, what are your top local favorites?

Lacquered Carrots to the Rescue

Image 1Um, yum!

This may look like a Halloween treat, but it’s actually the perfect side dish for an easy peasy fall meal. For me, that means buying an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods and then pairing it with fresh vegetables from the CSA box.

I love carrots any old way – juiced, raw, roasted – but this recipe elevates the common root vegetable repertoire. No improvisation this time (as I’m prone to do), I just follow the recipe to the letter. From one of my favorite cookbooks, The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld: “These carrots are sweet but not cloying.” You said it, Myra!

Lacquered Carrots with Coriander

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c dry sherry or mirin
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 lb carrots, cut in 1/2-inch-thick diagonal cuts
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground coriander

Throw everything in a large skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until carrots are tender (about 15 min).

Uncover and cook, stirring constantly, until the carrots caramelize (about 6 min). Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.

And that’s it. So easy.  This time I transferred the cooked carrots to a plate, returned the skillet to heat, threw in a minced garlic clove and some kale, dash a salt – voila! In a few minutes I had the perfect medley meal. Whatever juices were left in the pan made a nice finish for the kale as well.

Image 2All so scrumptious, but the carrots really steal the show. Perhaps I should call chicken the side dish. Or wingman to my carrot.

Make a Collage

Image 4Stunted in your creative growth? Angry about something (or someone)? Frustrated? Perplexed about a situation? Forget therapy. Therapy schmerapy, what you need is a good ol’ collage-making session!

Image 4_2I have followed the advice of two authors on this point: Sue Monk Kidd and Julia Cameron. One of my favorite books ever is Traveling With Pomegranates. This is a memoir by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. I believe this book found me at a critical time: I was about to tackle a huge creative project – taking me in a new direction – which I found bewildering and scary. I related to Sue’s fear of writing her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, after years as a successful nonfiction writer. I made my first collage after reading about her experience in the Traveling with Pomegranates memoir:

“I started the collage soon after returning from Greece, searching through magazines, catalogs, postcards, photos and prints, cutting out whatever inspired me. I was supposed to be writing an outline for the novel, and I was cutting out pictures. It didn’t seem to matter whether I understood what the pictures meant or how they fit into the novel; it was enough to be drawn to them in some deep, evocative way. It was pretty much an unconscious process. I told myself I was being creative, turning my play instinct loose to roam around and find what fascinated it. Inside I was thinking: This is nuts.”

Nuts or not, the random assemblage of images helped guide her writing. She elaborates further on her website:

“I had a big notebook where I worked out the underlying structure of the book. I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure ‘madness,’ which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. [The] collage of images vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel.”

Image 8 We could all use a little more madness in our lives. The unstructured play kind. When I recently found myself frustrated creatively, I turned to another source of inspiration, Julia Cameron. You may know of Julia’s famous book, The Artist’s Way (initially self-published, it has become a lasting best-seller). Lately I’ve been drawn to the sequel, Walking in This World. Just like The Artist’s Way, it is designed as a 12-week course to break through creative blocks.

While this is my second time through Walking in This World, I never actually completed the assigned tasks. Last week I decided to go back and tackle them one by one. Fortunately this included making another collage.

Task: You Want to Make Something of It?

“Set aside a stack of magazines with pictures. Buy a piece of poster board and some glue. Locate a scissors, tape if you want it, and give yourself a full hour’s time. Scan your consciousness for a situation you would like to understand more fully….Holding this theme loosely in mind, [pull] images that attract you and may feel connected to your theme.”

I find this process immensely satisfying. I can’t say why, exactly. Maybe for the same reason that coloring books were cited as a relaxation technique for adults in a recent Huffington Post article. Not only is collaging an aesthetically pleasing de-stressor, the finished product has a lasting, ameliorative impact.

photoThat first collage I made years ago (which, by the way, is the banner for this website) contains visual cues about my past, present and future. For instance, I randomly pulled a photo of the Pyramids, then got to visit there a few years later. I also ended up with a picture of a sculpture created by an artist who later helped me score an interview with a national arts magazine. See, this collage is prophetic and powerful.

As of today I have my own sequel, and I love it. At first I thought I would be like the monks with their sand mandalas – I arranged the pieces on the floor, took a photo, and planned on dismantling the collage. Who has room in this tiny apartment for another playful “school time” art project? But much like the first one, I love staring at this new bright and mysterious collage.

Image 3So up it goes on the back of the closet door, right underneath the original. My clothes closet/sewing room/office is the perfect place for me to have some communing time with my new personal piece of inspiration. Who knows what it will teach me? I’m glad to go a little mad like Sue Monk Kidd and “make something of it” like Julia Cameron – two very inspiring women, indeed.

I’ll end with these words from Julia and I hope you will be encouraged to try your own collage. Remember, go nuts! Ripping up paper is fun! Make a mess with glue!

“What you discover through this process may surprise and intrigue you….what you find through making a collage may not even address the specific topic you ‘worked’ on. Instead, a far larger and more holistic sense of healing may emerge.”

SF Like a Local – We Travel by Zip Line

What’s it like to zip-line? I’m proud to say that I now know the thrill of zipping through the treetops in a lush canopy forest. Quite different from last year’s equally-thrilling day trip hot air balloon ride. This time it was a cool ride all the way, baby.

So cool, in fact, that I have no words to describe the feeling.  Luckily for me, my friend rented a GoPro helmet camera on site. So here you have it – in less than 3 minutes – a first-time zipper’s experience on video:

Not scary at all (unless you have a fear of heights). I felt much more supported than the time I went parasailing. These zips only last about 10 seconds (we had 6 zip lines and 2 sky bridges on the 2-hour tour). In honor of the 10-second thrill, I’ll keep this quick and breezy:

ImageRed Canopy Tours by Mount Hernon Adventures in the Santa Cruz Mountains (about 1.5 hours from SF)

Excellent tour guides, beautiful views

Go, and rent the GoPro!

 

Strange Afflictions – Crazy Clown Lips Disease (aka Cheilitis + Angioedema)

IMG_2077Last December, I boarded a plane to Florida to visit family for the holidays. By the time my cross-country flight landed, I had tingly red lips. Itchy. Swollen. This had never happened to me before, yet my mom had had a similar issue, one I dubbed “crazy clown lips disease.” For a more scientific explanation, look up cheilitis and angioedema (beware that scary images of lip swelling abound).

For Mom it started out of the blue one day (just like me); she thought it was linked to her new high blood pressure medication. Bouncing from doctor to doctor, no one could figure out the problem. She was finally sent to an allergist who told her, “You’re not allergic to anything, you’re dehydrated.” She stepped up the water intake and the lip issue eventually resolved.

IMG_5458Armed with that familial knowledge, I believed I too was dehydrated. I’m sure I was. It was winter – and certainly long-distance plane rides can dry you out. When I returned to San Francisco I set out a glass pitcher filled with 64 ounces of water and aimed to drink it everyday. Most days I drank even more (up to 12 eight-ounce glasses), and my body seemed to want it.

I felt less sluggish, my skin looked better, and yet….the lips! Here’s the synopsis of my never-ending cycle: lips blow up to twice their normal size, burning and bright red, then after a couple of days the swelling recedes and lips shed like snake skin, leaving a set of baby-skin-tender lips to start the cycle again.

Here’s how bad it got: I couldn’t bear to have food touch my lips (it would get embedded like quicksand); the tine of a fork could start a geyser of blood from a paper-thin tear; lipstick seemed to permanently tattoo my lips; I had to drink wine from a straw (oh the horror).

Bee Stung = Ouch!

Bee Stung = Ouch!

My extreme discomfort pushed me to share my dilemma with every person I met. How could they not notice this hideous disfigurement? In truth, most of them couldn’t tell a thing. My running joke: “People pay good money for this.” Beestung lips may be desirable for some, but in my case I really felt the sting!

My condition seemed directly linked to sun/wind exposure. Here in SF, I am constantly exposed to high winds. And I’m constantly outside (walk to work, walk to store, walk to restaurant). My lips hurt wherever I go. Aquaphor is the only thing that protects them from the elements, yet I have to keep reapplying (and I don’t like the idea of eating petroleum jelly on a daily basis). Too much heat or wind-whipping, and they will swell anyway, especially if I drink alcohol after spending time in the sun.

Five months in, I finally caved and went to the dermatologist. I was going on a Bahamas cruise and didn’t want to blow-up on the boat. The doc gave me two applications (one antibiotic, the other steroid). I applied them both for seven days, and my lips felt great. As soon as the treatment stopped, however, the problem came right back. I could tell the steroid ointment helped – I really wanted to maintain that “normal” feeling – but the doctor warned that steroids cause thinning of skin and cannot be used indefinitely.

My mom’s condition lasted 4-5 months. In her case, the redness/itchiness extended into her cheeks (Joker lips). My irritation never got too far outside the vermilion border (lip edge). But I did have that crazy recurring blow-up swelling, which didn’t happen to her.

IMG_6526Then I had an epiphany: one day I applied an “agave lip mask” moisturizer before heading off to teach a class. I did not go outside (drove from garage to garage), and by the end of class my mouth was aflame. This was no weather-induced flare up! I googled the product and sure enough, other women were having similar allergy issues. In fact, all the lipstick/lip gloss I was using from that same brand was causing a reaction.

You must think I’m pretty dumb. How could I not know I was allergic to my lipstick? I guess because I used it for over a year with no problems. In fact, I loved this brand so much that I got rid of most of my other lip products. Right before I started having the lip issue, I bought another shade of my favorite gloss. Then I wore it on that fated plane ride to Florida…..

Bite Beauty, I will miss you

Bite Beauty, I will miss you

Most people love this new brand: Bite Beauty. Organic ingredients. Food grade. I thought I was doing my lips a favor. Turns out “all natural” doesn’t necessarily mean allergy-free. It could be a reaction to lanolin (also found in some Burt’s Bees products). It could be the dyes – Bite uses food dyes since they are “food grade” products. I don’t know the answer yet. I do know that other lipstick/gloss brands are not causing the blow-ups. If I’d paid more attention earlier, I could’ve saved myself a lot of lip ache.

So it’s been a full seven months, including five weeks since the last Bite blow-up reaction. How are my lips now? Still extremely dry, still very sensitive to the elements. I walk around like a scarfed bandit, dreaming up clever ways to cover my mouth – wax lips, football mouth guard. I’m waiting for that day when my lips feel normal again (Mom says it’s coming). Until then, these are my tools:

wax lips1. Drink plenty of water
2. Organic coconut oil before entering shower
3. Organic Shea butter – thick and moisturizing
4. Ultra Repair Lip Therapy by First Aid Beauty
5. Aquaphor for the best protection from wind/sun
6. Avoid drying lipsticks, pay attention to ingredients