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A couple of weeks ago, the 8th anniversary of our home-ownership came and went. I realized it later while I was looking for a before picture of the dining room, which led to feelings of regret over not having taken the time to better document those days, in both photographic and written forms. We bought our house during a time when I wasn’t blogging publicly. I’d shut down my old blog, and while I continued posting in my private LiveJournal (oh, LiveJournal), I had no plans to do…well, this. That was the right decision for me at the time, but I’m sad now that I don’t have a good record of that time in our lives. Then, as if on cue, I got an email from the real estate website Trulia asking if I’d be interested in writing a post about some aspect of my home-buying experience for part of a series of postcards they’re compiling. Pretty perfect timing, no? So I said yes.

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It’s hard to know where to start with the whole saga without this turning into a third of my eventual memoirs (working title/epitaph: Why Am I Wearing a Cardigan? A Life in Sweaters), but I feel like a little back story is necessary. When Evan and I got married in 2004, we were living in Brooklyn. We’d had to apartment-hop three times in three years, thanks to landlords who decided to sell their buildings. We moved further south in the borough each time, eventually winding up in the beautiful but desolate Red Hook neighborhood (this was before IKEA and Fairway came to town, mind you). Our commutes became hour-plus journeys by bus and subway, grocery shopping felt impossible, the walls of our illegal loft were paper-thin, and it was just time to go.

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Based on little more than my love of Pete Seeger and a few day trips to Dia:Beacon, I suggested we look for a place to live in Beacon, New York. There’s a Metro North station there, which would have us to Grand Central in not that much more time than we were spending traveling to work from Red Hook. We rented half of a two-family house in the village, and we started our new life as Beacon-dwellers who took the train to and from Manhattan every day for work.

I’m not sure what prompted our decision to look for a house to buy, but after about six months of renting, we started looking at houses for sale in Beacon. This was in March 2005, nearly the peak inflation point of the real estate bubble. Home-flipping and renovation shows were taking over reality TV, and mortgages were being passed out with wild abandon. In cities like Beacon, where gentrification had been taking place for several years already, house prices were going up, up, up. I don’t think we really even considered whether we wanted to live in Beacon—we just felt like we had to do something. So we tried. And we failed.

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We looked at every house for sale in Beacon that was close to being in our price range, which I think totaled about four houses, tops. Others that had been listed in our range immediately went into bidding wars and sold for much higher prices. Only one of the ones we managed to visit seemed like what we were looking for (if we even knew what we were looking for—in hindsight, I’m not sure that we really did). That was the one we called the Mint Box: built in the late 1800s, covered in green vinyl, and wreckovated in just about every way possible—right down to a slapdash side addition that was sinking due to a faulty foundation. I don’t think we were in love with it, but we were blinded by the idea of buying a house. It wasn’t about finding the right place, it was just about finding any place. We’d lost all sense of perspective. I think this happened to a lot of people around that time—that desperate sense of needing to buy a house. Fear of missing out taken to extremes.

We made an offer. We had the house inspected. We hired a lawyer. The seller made a counteroffer. We made a counter-counteroffer. And so on. There were lots of problems, things that needed to be negotiated and repaired and cash that needed to be put in escrow—it was complex and it was messy. The house had been vacant for a long time, and the children of the previous occupant were the sellers. Communication was slow. In the midst of all this, we found out that there had been a leak in an outdoor oil tank, which is a big deal. A very expensive cleanup had (supposedly) already been done, but it was paid for by the the seller’s insurance company…who in turn would have forced the sellers to accept a very low offer on the house in order to recoup their costs. Then the sellers refused to produce documentation from the EPA that the cleanup had actually occurred, and also refused to allow our lawyers to speak to each other. It was a disaster, simply put, not helped by the fact that our real estate agent was not doing her job. She didn’t seem to fully understand the home-buying process, or even really care much about whether or not we bought a house at all. We felt like we had no allies to represent us, and we were in over our heads with something we clearly couldn’t resolve ourselves. As much as we wanted to believe our real estate agent and attorney and mortgage broker and inspector and everyone else involved had our best interests at heart—and legally, they’re supposed to—that wasn’t always the case.

So…we walked. I don’t think this gets talked about much because everyone imagines the home-buying experience being like House Hunters, but knowing which house is “the one” is as much about knowing when to let go and move on as it is being aware of your must-haves and wishlists.

Instead of feeling defeated after losing the Mint Box, we were relieved. Yes, we’d lost the cost of the inspection, but we were given a strong dose of healthy perspective on the whole endeavor, and we finally took the time to do what we should have done from the beginning: We spent time talking about why we wanted to buy a house, what kind of house we wanted to own, and where we wanted the house to be. We set a budget based on what we wanted to spend, not how much we could afford if we stretched our financial limits to the max.

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Perhaps the most important thing we figured out was that we didn’t have any particular attachment to Beacon. I grew up in the Hudson Valley and we both felt connected to the Hudson River, and we knew we had to be able to commute to work every day. So what about Newburgh? Why hadn’t we been looking on the other side of the bridge?!

My stepfather, Bernie, has lived in Newburgh for about 70 years, and my mother moved there 20 years ago, so they of course proved to be an invaluable resource when we started looking at houses. Bernie was more than happy to educate us about the City of Newburgh, and to point out significant buildings and their individual histories. We saw block after block after block of majestic Victorian mansions, Arts and Crafts bungalows, and modest, turn-of-the century brick row houses. We saw families hanging out on their front porches, talking to the their neighbors and looking out for each other. We also saw a lot of abandoned properties and all of the classic indicators of urban blight. It was the combination of these things—the architectural beauty, the feeling of a welcoming community, and the desperate need for care-taking—that made us fall in love with Newburgh. We wanted to be a part of the city, and to make a home for ourselves there. It felt right.

The house search in Newburgh was very different than it had been in Beacon. For starters, we wound up with a great real estate agent this time. He was a property owner in the City of Newburgh, and he was relentless when it came to pulling listings for us to check out. He understood what we were looking for, and he wanted to find the right house for us. At that time, many of the house listings in Newburgh showed little more than a tiny, exterior thumbnail image, so we really had to rely on his familiarity with the various properties.

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We were not prepared for what we’d see when we started to enter those properties, however. Unlike in Beacon, where the housing stock was primarily being turned over by owner-occupants, the houses we looked at in Newburgh were mostly a combination of abandoned, bank-owned foreclosures and single-family houses that had been converted to multi-unit rentals. Many of those houses were fully occupied, often by large families with children. And there we were, a young couple looking to swoop in and buy the whole place just for ourselves. It was upsetting. We didn’t want to uproot those families, who in many cases were completely unaware that their homes were even for sale until we walked in the front door. Did we want to be a part of that? Or did we want to try to make Newburgh better for everyone, including the people who already lived there? These weren’t things we’d ever had to think about before—certainly not when we were getting priced out of neighborhood after neighborhood in Brooklyn. When it came to abandoned and condemned properties, we not only felt overwhelmed, we also knew it would be a losing battle trying to get a mortgage that would make sense for us.

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We refocused our search, and eventually found a very nice Victorian row house that had already been renovated! It was a flip project, a formerly-derelict building that had been bought and totally rehabbed—a rarity in Newburgh. The renovations weren’t our taste, but that was all cosmetic. A lot of the original details had been removed over the years, but it was still full of character. The idea of moving into a place right away was very appealing. Remember, at that point neither one of us knew ANYTHING about renovating houses, so we didn’t know what we were capable of. The house was within walking distance to the new commuter ferry that was about to start running to Beacon, too, which was a huge plus. It was listed higher than all of the rehab projects we’d been looking at, of course, but the price was still within our budget (and still much less than the would-be nightmare we’d run away from in Beacon).

So: Offer made, offer accepted, inspection done and paid for, mortgage broker involved, mortgage secured, attorney hired, deposit made…closing date set! YAY! Except not “yay” at all.

The day before our expected closing, our mortgage broker called to tell us there was a problem. Apparently the bank he’d secured our loan with had waited until the last possible minute to pull comps (prices that other similar houses in the area had sold for recently), and they’d rejected our previously-approved mortgage. See, this house was a rarity. It had already been renovated, but it was being held up against unrenovated houses that had sold for half or even a quarter of the price. The bank appraiser wasn’t interested in seeing the house in person or considering the extent of the renovations. They were not going to approve a mortgage that high for any house in that location. Period.

The mortgage broker assured us that this was no problem, and that he’d hook us up with a new bank right away. And then the same thing happened again.

So there we were, having made a deposit on a house that we were not going to be able to buy. It was awful for the seller—who we had met and liked, and who was not at fault and was probably going to wind up having to sell the house at a loss—and it was devastating for us. We had to fight to get our deposit back (we finally did, months later), all the while feeling very sad and hugely disappointed that we were losing another house. This time we really felt it, too. This was in October, the week of my 30th birthday, and I remember lying on the floor in the living room of our rental and just sobbing. The lost money, the stress, the anticipation, the worry, the disappointment…it was too much. It’s easy now to look back and say, “Oh, it was just a house,” but when we were all caught up in the moment, it was crushing. At some point, the seller called us directly and offered to rent the house to us with an option to buy under the terms of our current contract after one year. He was confident that the real estate market in Newburgh would’ve caught up by then, but we weren’t willing to take that chance.

Thinking we were about to close on a house, we’d obviously already given notice to our landlord in Beacon. So where would we live? Well, fortunately for us, my mother and Bernie very generously invited us—including Bruno, two ferrets, and a gerbil—to live in their basement while we figured out what the hell we were going to do. Were we going to move back to Brooklyn? Were we going to look for another rental? We were still in love with Newburgh and we still wanted to own a home there, so we decided to keep looking. We also got smart and hooked ourselves up with a local credit union, whose policy is to pull comps on houses at the beginning of the mortgage process, instead of the day before closing. Smart, right?

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On Halloween 2005, we went to look at two houses. One of them was a vacant, grand Victorian that was way out of our budget (it was later condemned and eventually purchased at auction by some of our amazing neighbors, who gave it the love it deserves), and the other was its back-door neighbor—a two-story brick row house virtually identical to the four others attached to it. House number sixteen.

It had been a HUD house for a while, and then it was bought by a guy who thought he’d renovate it and sell it for a bunch of money. Instead of doing that, though, he rented it to some friends of his and let it fall further into disrepair. I guess he got tired of them asking to do things like fix the boiler, and eventually they found another place to live and he put the house on the market.

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(With the exception of the kitchen photo, I don’t think I’ve ever shared any of these before! They are terrible quality, I know, and wish I could go back in time for an hour or so and take better ones. Alas, this is the best I can do. Incredibly, these photos make the house look like it was in much better condition than it was…)

We were only about two steps into the house when we saw the white marble fireplace for the first time. I remember Evan and I shooting looks of excitement back and forth to each other. The more we saw of the house, the more we knew it was THE ONE, all-caps. It clearly needed a lot of work, but almost everything original was still intact. All of the rooms were perfectly proportioned. The backyard was a mess, but it was a good size and had so much potential. Cast iron radiators, original windows and doors, a big clawfoot tub, ceiling medallions, 10″ baseboard moldings, pocket doors, fireplaces in every room…yes. YES! And it was below our budget.

We made an opening offer. We waited nervously. And then the next day (THE NEXT DAY!) a huge article about Newburgh appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York Times entitled, “Finally, a Confirmation of a Rebound.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I don’t really have a word for what we felt when we saw that article, but there was definitely panic involved. And, of course, the seller also saw the article—as did some mysterious “investor” who supposedly wanted to buy and flip the house. Of course. So we upped our offer and continued to wait…and…our offer was accepted! (I mean, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Spoiler alert!) Yay! Mortgage approved! Comps approved! Yay! Yay!

Nope, still not “yay.” Here’s the part in the story where I resigned myself to living in my mother’s basement forever. I mean, there are worse things (she is a really good cook), but things were feeling pretty bleak. The seller had decided to not sign the contracts because his girlfriend told him he could get more money if he waited longer.

SERIOUSLY, MAN? Yeah, seriously. And then the seller disappeared.

A month or so of teeth-grinding frustration later, the seller materialized and we were allowed back into the house to do our inspection. During the inspection, all kinds of Bad Things were discovered, but none of them were surprising—except, of course, the fact that there was an active carbon monoxide leak and a broken boiler in the basement that was supposed to have been replaced so his friends/tenants didn’t die. Sigh. (He later tried to accuse our inspector of breaking the boiler.)

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Yet another month passed. Clearly there had been no other interest in the house, but the seller continued to drag the process out longer and longer. We still don’t know what was going on, exactly, but we continued to hold out hope because we loved the house so much. We didn’t care about it being an investment for us—we cared about taking care of the house and doing our part to improve Newburgh. At this point it was vacant in the middle of winter, and we didn’t want it to suffer burst pipes or a roof collapse and be condemned like so many other houses in Newburgh.

On February 28th, 2006, we got a call from our attorney letting us know that the seller had finally signed all of the necessary documents, and that our final walk-through and closing would be on March 2nd. We celebrated a little bit, but not too much—after all, a lot can happen in two days.

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Almost exactly one year from when we started looking for a house, the big day arrived, and, in the middle of a snowstorm, we drove to our credit union for the closing—which was attended by no one other than our agent, who didn’t even need to be there—and signed away our bank account for what we would come to call Door Sixteen. On the way home (home!) our car died—which is exactly what you want to have happen on the day you make the biggest purchase of your life, right? I’m pretty sure we just laughed, because we couldn’t handle any more crying.

Then we ran upstairs and ripped out all of the revolting, moldy carpeting in the back bedroom, because ewwww.

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So here we are, eight years later, still in love with our house and with Newburgh—and each other, plus another dog who joined the ranks. Our house has not proven to be a blockbuster investment monetarily. Maybe it will be someday. We didn’t have any reason to think it would be, and since we have no intention of selling our house, that’s A-OK. By 2010, the New York Times had decided that the confirmed rebound of 2005 had become “Newburgh, Where Gang Violence Reigns,” and then in 2013 they said Newburgh “Seeks Renewal Without Gentrification”—which, thankfully, is the most accurate of the three articles (gentrification, of course, is a rather massive subject in and of itself; one that I haven’t even really begun to touch on here). We invested in the City of Newburgh’s future and in the well-being of our community, and we feel very responsible for the care of our own little piece of it all. Our house is in a wonderful neighborhood where we’re surrounded by a mix of multigenerational Newburghers going back a century, families who moved there in the past decade, and everyone in between.

I’m so glad we hung in there and didn’t give up. I think about that every single time I look at the living room fireplace. Door Sixteen is our house, our home—it will outlive us, and we are so lucky to be a part of its history. Everything we do to improve our house is as much about protecting its future as it is enjoying our present.

So, your turn, assuming you made it through this beast of a post: If you’ve bought a house, what was the searching process like? Were lots of tears involved? If you’re searching for a home now, are you pulling your hair out in anguish? I mean, feel free to share even if you had a good old time, but everyone knows drama and anguish is more exciting.

I am blogging on behalf of Trulia, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Trulia’s. To learn more, visit: http://on.trulia.com/postcards.

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For the past six months (and by “six months” I mean my entire life) I’ve carried this looming sense of having forgotten to do something really important, but being incapable of remembering what it is because I’m so overwhelmed by all of the things I either procrastinated doing or discovered I had to take care of at the last minute. It’s a terrible feeling, but it’s one that’s come to define how I (mal)function on a day-to-day basis. Everything is always about catching up. I never feel on top of things. I am always certain I’m disappointing at least one or two or a dozen people, including myself. Any time I feel like I might be getting close to making progress, something happens—usually I get sick (like yesterday, which was spent lying on the sofa curled up with a box of Kleenex and a couple of dogs), but sometimes my website gets hacked or the furnace breaks. You know, normal things that happen to people. When you’re already struggling to keep up with the rest of your life, though, those little roadblocks start to feel uncrossable.

That’s when the recurring dreams start. I have a few that keep coming back to haunt me, but the one that I associate the most with stress is what I call “Forgotten Animals.” In this dream, there is either a small room or a basement or some neglected space in my house that I enter after a long absence, only to discover that it’s filled with animals (usually mice or rats, but sometimes ferrets—all pets I’ve had in large numbers in the past) in cages that are dead, dying, or living in filth and suffering. They are pets I’ve forgotten about that had bred out of control but have no food or water source. I immediately struggle to get their cages clean and hydrate and feed them, but I can’t move quickly enough. It’s a terrible dream, and it’s one that I have at least two or three times a year. It’s not hard to figure out what it means, and I try to take it as a warning.

Well, THAT was a fun therapy session! Anyway, yeah, I need to heed the dream warning. I need to figure out how to get myself organized so I can deal with the simple stuff and not get overwhelmed by the big stuff. There’s no reason to be in a constant state of chaos. I’m not really into resolutions, but I guess I’m kind of making one.

I don’t want to end on a low note, so here are some nice things from this weekend…

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Top to bottom, left to right:

VIVA HATE banner on my living room mantel by Going Steady Shop.
Next up on my reading list, Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure. Have you seen the trailer?
My new jade plant has passed the three week mark, which might be a record. I’m determined to not kill it.
I’ve been OBSESSED with Patrick Townsend’s Orbit Chandelier for years. This was a very, very nice thank you gift from Victoria, and it’s going up in my living room just as soon as I figure out how to deal with the old, non-standard electrical box in the ceiling medallion that thwarted my efforts this weekend. (Sigh.)
Daniel and Max came down for lunch this weekend. I made fancy grilled cheeze sammiches and we watched Flowers in the Attic. Perfect Sunday?
Nothing really, just admiring the tiles in the living room fireplace. So nice.
Fritz had his 6th birthday yesterday! Remember when he was brand new? (Warning: SO CUTE IT HURTS.)

Just about a year ago, I wrote a post about my skin, specifically about coping with adult acne at the (then) age of 37. It was tough to write, but I’m glad I did it. I have spent a lot of years of my adult life feeling ashamed for not having great (or even good) skin, and for not finding solutions in the simple, natural methods that have worked for so many. At the time I wrote that post, I’d been following a regimen recommended by my dermatologist for about six months — and my skin was looking pretty good. Not perfect, but I felt better about my face than I had in many years. The only prescription I was using at the time was a combination topical antibiotic/retinoid called Ziana, and it was working really well for me.

This past June (almost exactly one year after after I started the regimen and the Ziana), though, something changed. Suddenly my skin was getting lots of clogged pores, and I was started to get cystic breakouts again. It seemed like it was overnight, and it was very upsetting. First I worried that I’d developed an antibiotic resistance, then I worried my Clarisonic was harboring bacteria (even though I clean it thoroughly after every use and change the brush head as recommended)…I panicked. I waited a couple of months and blamed stress. I blamed lack of sleep. And then I stopped being dumb, and I went back to the dermatologist.

I don’t know why I waited so long. I guess it was that sense of shame again, like the doctor was going to tell me I was doing something wrong or that I was apparently untreatable and was destined to a lifetime of looking like a goblin. She didn’t say either of those things, of course (tip: if you doctor calls you a goblin, find another doctor), but instead said that she suspected the dosage of tretinoin in Ziana (.025%) was too low for me. OK!

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So here’s what I’m using now. It’s been about two months, and HELLO! My skin looks pretty good, and every day it looks better. I still have a lot of discoloration from past breakouts, but it’s fading gradually and is relatively easy to cover in the mean time. I don’t think I’ll ever think I look good without makeup on, but at least now I don’t think I look diseased when I walk in the bathroom in the morning. At age 38, I can finally even bring myself to be around a friend (AT HOME! Let’s not get carried away…) in the evening after I’ve washed my face. That’s big for me. I think it’s been about five weeks since I’ve had any sort of breakout, and even then it was minor.

Anyway, here’s the current product lineup:

1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
Yeah, on some level I still feel like this is chemical-laden, unglamorous garbage and I kind of do wish I could wash my face with, like, virgin coconut oil and fulvic-enhanced mineral water (heh), but it’s $5 and it works so I just don’t even care anymore. I use it twice a day, once in the morning, then twice at night — once to remove makeup, then again right after with my Clarisonic.

2. Clarisonic (20% off at SkinStore.com right now, FYI)
I always come back to my Clarisonic. Whenever I think it’s failing me, it turns out it was actually something else. Like I said, I’m diligent about keeping it clean and changing the brush head (I always use the ones made for delicate skin). I love my Clarisonic, and I feel badly for ever doubting it. I’ve actually had a couple of terrifying dreams in which I find myself Clarisonic-less, which is admittedly kind of sad but also very telling and let’s just blame stress for everything.

3. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Complex
This incredible serum has mostly taken the place of my former favorite, Huile Prodigieuse, as a nighttime treatment. I still use Huile Prodigieuse during the day if my face feels tight, and it’s great in my hair, but the older I get the dryer my skin…and I needed something more intensive. I’d gone through a couple of sample bottles of the Midnight Recovery Complex when it was first introduced and really liked it, but I didn’t fork over the money for a full-size bottle until last June. It’s wonderful stuff. Magical, even. I only use it at night, and because I just need 2-3 drops to cover my whole face, one bottle will last a really long time.

4. Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado
Yep, my old standby for the past five years. As much as I hope to someday find an eye serum that can rid me of my undereye circles, this cream remains the only one I’d found that truly keeps my eye area hydrated in the colder months. No matter how many other eye creams I bring home samples of, I always wind up coming back to this one. Again, as with most Kiehl’s products, the price tag is offset by the generous amount of product. One jar of this eye cream lasts me almost a year.

On to the prescriptions…

5. Retin-A Micro
I actually use a generic version of this, which I think came out to something like $8 for three big tubes with my insurance. My dermatologist prescribed it in .04% retinoid strength, which is nearly double what I was using before in the Ziana (.025%). Unlike Ziana, it does not contain an antibiotic. I use it nightly only, never during the day. Retin-A works by increasing the rate of your skin’s cellular turnover, which means pores are less likely to clog, decreasing pore dilation and (of course) breakouts. It also boosts collagen production, so fine lines and sagginess are diminished. And it really works. Apparently I won’t see the full effects until I’ve been on it for the better part of a year, but it’s made an enormous difference in the clarity and smoothness of my skin already. There was an adjustment period in the form of breakouts and dryness when I started using it, but it wasn’t horrendous — probably in part because I’d already been using a lower dose of retinoids for a year before starting. I do have some adjustment advice, though…

Anna’s Retin-A tips:
✚ Wait at least 10 minutes (preferably 20) after washing your face to apply it. Really for real. Retin-A and water are not friends. If you don’t wait, you are just asking for over-dryness.
✚ ONLY USE A PEA-SIZED AMOUNT. That means a standard green pea, not a chickpea or a lima bean. PEA-SIZED. Squeeze it into your hand, dot it all over your face (avoiding the eye area), then rub it in. It’s not a spot treatment or a mask. Take it easy.
✚ If your skin is getting really dry, apply a light moisturizer first as a barrier. I always put my Kiehl’s serum on right after washing, then wait 20 minutes before applying the Retin-A.
✚ If you feel like you need to skip a night, skip a night. In fact, you might want to start out only using it every other night until your skin adjusts. Everyone is different. Pay attention to how your skin is reacting, and know that the adjustment period of flaking and breakouts is NOT forever.
✚ USE SUNSCREEN during the daytime. Retin-A increases your skin’s sensitivity to light. Don’t mess around with this one. Please.

6. Aczone Gel
Aczone gel is a relatively new medication, but its active ingredient, dapsone, has been used as an anti-inflammatory/antibacterial for a long time…including as a treatment for leprosy. And hey, if it’s good enough for lepers, it’s certainly good enough for me! Seriously though, I’m amazed by this stuff. It’s a gel formula that goes on really nicely, and it’s kept me totally free of any cystic breakouts that Retin-a alone can’t prevent. I use it twice a day (at night after applying Retin-a, and in the morning under my makeup). I saw pretty much immediate results when I started using Aczone — by the next morning anything inflamed on my face had calmed down, and I haven’t had a recurrence since. I don’t even have any tips for using Aczone because it’s so gentle and (at least for me) totally non-irritating.

One downside to Aczone is that it’s new enough that there’s no generic option, and the price tag ($200 for a one month supply!) is prohibitive if you either don’t have insurance or if your insurance won’t cover it (mine won’t, and I have really good insurance). That said, there are coupons you can download to reduce the cost (man, the prescription drug industry is soooooo, so super shady…). I was able to get a three month supply (90g tube) for $25, which is totally worth it. If the coupons stop working…well, let’s not think about that.

So that’s it, really. I still have not found a sunscreen I love, so I won’t share a recommendation. That said, if you have one you love that’s broad-spectrum and nice under makeup, I’d love to know about it! My favorite sunscreen (a lightweight spray from Paula’s Choice) was discontinued a couple of years ago, and I’ve been wandering aimlessly through disappointing alternatives ever since.

One more thing for those of you who have had to deal with similar skin issues: If something isn’t working (even if it used to work!), don’t give up. If you can go to a dermatologist, do it. There are so many options for treating problem skin, and I really, truly believe that improving your emotional health through dealing with those problems is incredibly important. It’s not just about vanity, and there’s not going to be one thing that works for everyone. This has been a very long struggle for me, and I am under no illusion that this is going to work for me forever. I have to do something, though, and it’s a massive relief to have found the right thing for me…for now.

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Do you remember a post I wrote recently about being a goat-petter rather than a goal-setter? About how I don’t have a “life list,” and why I don’t feel like making one would make me a happier person? It’s right here. When I wrote that post, I truly expected to get a lot of responses from people telling me why I should have a life list, why setting specific goals is important and asking why am I being such a defeatist downer? Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, lots of you spoke up to say you felt the same way. I was in equal parts shocked, enlightened and comforted.

If you know about life lists and you read blogs, then you probably know who Maggie Mason (a.k.a Mighty Girl) is. Maggie is the queen of the life list — she even started Go Mighty to help people create their own life lists. My post was absolutely not directed at her specifically, but I was a little concerned that it would come across as an attack of some sort. I was relieved and happy when Maggie herself chimed in to say that despite her belief in life lists, she agrees with me — and that she tends to attract friends who are like me. Goat-petters and goal-setters, co-existing in harmony!

So anyway, you know what wound up happening? Maggie asked me if I’d be interested in speaking at Camp Mighty, an annual retreat now in its 3rd year. It’s all about connecting people through panel discussions, workshops and socializing to encourage the motivation and support needed to realize goals. They also raise a bunch of money for Charity: Water in the process. The whole thing goes down at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, and by all accounts, it’s a good time.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Anna, aside from the water part, this kind of sounds like your worst nightmare. Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing you think is a bunch of nonsense?” And yeah, that’s a fair enough assessment. I’m a cynic. I’m a jerk-faced cynic with all kinds of issues about everything. Large groups of people (especially when they’re predominantly female), make me uncomfortable. Bathing suits make me uncomfortable. Hugging strangers makes me uncomfortable. Having my picture taken makes me uncomfortable. The idea of public speaking makes me uncomfortable. “Networking” makes me uncomfortable. Why in the world would anyone fly across the country to do something like this when they could be at home on the sofa watching Three’s Company reruns with their dogs? And to paraphrase Woody Allen paraphrasing Groucho Marx, I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.

Here’s the thing, though: Underneath the cynicism, I get it. I really do. And I’m really not a jerk-faced cynic all the time. I also understand that Maggie didn’t ask me to speak at Camp Mighty because she thinks I’m going to be converted to life list-ism. She asked me because I have a different perspective to offer, and because there are probably going to be at least a few people there with whom that perspective will resonate. I think I can do that — even if I’m not going to make a life list or go swimming.

So I said yes. And it’ll be good. Do you want to come? I hope you do.

Camp Mighty 2013
When: October 17–19, 2013
Where: Ace Hotel; Palm Springs, CA
Discount: Register with the code “DoorSixteen” to save $50 off registration

If you’re planning to go, please let me know! As uncertain as I know I sound, I really am excited about this — albeit super nervous and full of self-doubt and all that kind of stuff. I mean, have you looked at the list of speakers?! A bunch of my friends (including a few folks I’ve never met in person before!) will be there, though, and hopefully I’ll get to meet some of you, too, which makes it a whole lot less scary. See you there?

(Photo from the Ace Hotel Palm Springs website)

doorsixteen_feetsagrams

I struggled to find an appropriate photo to accompany this post, but I couldn’t. Instagrams of feet are always a good fallback, so here are four of them. This post has nothing to do with feet or shoes or tiles or anything like that, though. It’s about weight — gaining weight, losing weight, weighty weight.

About three years ago, I wrote a post called I’m OK. Sometimes I go back to read it so I can remind myself of exactly how I felt that day, because it’s how I strive to feel all the time — that is, I strive to not have to think about how I feel; to not have to think about constant physical self-improvement.

I’m going to quote myself:

I’m 5′6″, I weigh 150 pounds, and I usually wear a size 8 or 10. This is the size that I am when I am eating healthy, well-balanced foods in normal quantities. I have weighed as much as 40 pounds more when I was eating enormous portions of unhealthy, prepared foods, and I have weighed as little as 30 pounds less when I was meticulously measuring every morsel of food that entered my body and obsessing over calories and fat grams and fiber content to the point that I wound up not really getting much pleasure out of what I was eating. Neither option was healthy, but not because of my weight at either end of the spectrum — it was unhealthy because my body wasn’t getting the things it needs in the right amounts to function properly.

Yeah. That was me three years ago, which suddenly feels like a long, long time. I still believe in everything I wrote, but I’m not at that place anymore, physically or mentally. I’ve hung out in the ~145 pound area for most of the last 6 years without really thinking about it. I’d go up a few pounds when I was overworking and stressed, and I’d go down a few pounds when I was taking extra-good care of myself.

Last October, though, things started to get out of control. I know it sounds TOTALLY RIDICULOUS to blame Hurricane Sandy (because seriously, among all the things that were affected by that storm, my weight does not deserve to be mentioned), but that was kind of the turning point. I wanted comfort foods, I wanted to bake, I wanted takeout food, I wanted to feel safe and I wanted something to do while I waited for my apartment building to have electricity and for the subways to start running again. Unfortunately, my default activity when my regular routine is interrupted is EATING. Snacking. Eating. More snacking. Not much moving around. More eating.

Seven months post-Sandy (three weeks ago, to be precise), I forced myself to get on a scale. It wasn’t like I couldn’t see that I’d gained weight or that I didn’t notice having to buy bigger jeans, but I wasn’t prepared to discover that I’d managed to put on FORTY (40!) pounds. In seven months! Whoa. 5′6″, 180 pounds. That’s only 10 pounds shy of my highest weight ever, a place I never thought I’d be again in my life.

Side note: I’ve never really understood why so many people (women AND men) don’t like to reveal their ages or weights and that kind of stuff. Why is it such a big deal? Your age is what it is — who cares! The older I get, the less that makes sense to me. If I started telling people I’m 27 instead of 37, what would I accomplish? I get that those of us who are or have been overweight often (not always) have some degree of shame or embarrassment associated with scale numbers, but at the end of the day, what does being open about your weight change? How is it different than telling someone your height? Anyone looking at me can see that I’m overweight — being coy about numbers and sizes doesn’t suddenly make me look like I’m thinner. I’m all about dropping the shame and other internal weirdness and just putting it out there.

Just so it’s clear, I really don’t think that height/weight-based metrics are particularly good indicators of a person’s health. That said, I have a pretty good sense of where my weight naturally settles when I’m eating healthy, nutritious foods and taking good care of myself. I didn’t go from 140 to 180 pounds in seven months by taking good care of myself. My health and well-being matters to me, and as I creep closer to 40, I know I really can’t mess around with this stuff.

Also, vanity. Self-image. That stuff. It’s real, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t affect me. The week before I weighed myself, I was at my friends’ wedding in San Francisco, and I spent a whole lot of time avoiding having my picture taken (and feeling ridiculously self-conscious when I couldn’t avoid it). Who wants to feel that way? Not me.

So today marks three weeks since my first “scale moment,” and as of this morning, I’m down to 170 pounds. Ten pounds might sound like too much to lose in a short period of time, but that’s just because I went from eating like a teenage boy in a growth spurt (takeout food every night, chips every afternoon, multiple daily bagels on the weekend, etc.) to eating like a reasonable human being overnight — so the initial drop in calories consumed was pretty massive. I have no expectation of continuing to lose at that rate! Having lost a large amount of weight once before (I went from 190 to 130 in 2006), I know that about two pounds per week is normal for me. My goal weight (hey, I have some goals) is 145-ish, because I know that’s comfortable and healthy for me.

I’m using Weight Watchers (online only, no meetings) to track what I eat. I am not an advocate of Weight Watchers’ packaged/processed foods, and I really don’t care about their meal suggestions or any of that stuff, but I do love their tracker tools (YAY for the iPhone app!) and the point system is very handy. It’s worth the $15/month to me because I’m the kind of person who likes order and accountability and having a system. I also really like that Weight Watchers isn’t about going “on a diet,” it’s about reinforcing health eating habits (hello, I sound like a commercial) through making smart choices every day. It’s sustainable.

I just want to feel well, be healthy and not spend so much time thinking about my size. I want to feel like the person who wrote this post again. I’m not comparing myself to anyone else, I’m comparing myself to what I know I’m capable of. I can’t be passive about this stuff any longer. Onward!

iced coffee + almond milk

I’ve always kind of thought that making your own almond milk is a little like making your own crackers or shoes. If you have the time to do it, cool, knock yourself out! In the mean time, I’ll be over here buying a perfectly nice carton of almond milk and a box of Triscuits. A few weeks ago, though, Evan and I were up in Kingston checking out Daniel and Max’s new house (side note: OMG!!!), and we stopped in at a super-cute antique store/café, Outdated. As usual, I was on the hunt for an iced coffee, so I checked with the girl at the counter to see if they have soy milk. She told me no, they only have almond milk — and then added (surely noticing the look of disappointment on my face, because who likes almond milk in coffee?), “But it’s homemade! It’s really good!”

And so it was. Like, really, really good.

I put my trust in Angela’s recipe for almond milk and gave it a shot. Incredibly, I already had a nut milk bag on hand and I just fixed our busted blender, so I didn’t really have any excuses. IT WAS SO EASY, GUYS. I know people like ♥ Martha Stewart ♥ like to say stuff that isn’t easy is easy just so the rest of us feel badly about our inadequacies, but making your own almond milk? EASY. Washing the blender is the hardest part, and once you quit being a baby and just wash the thing even that isn’t so bad. If you need more convincing, watch Honey LaBronx — a.k.a. The Vegan Drag Queen — make almond milk. If she and I can do it, so can you.

Not only is it easy, it’s also DELICIOUS. Wayyyyyy better than any store-bought almond milk. The nicest part is that you can control how much liquid you use, so you can make a thicker, creamier milk if you want. This could be the end of buying boxed soy creamer for me, which would be a huge plus given the price of that stuff — not to mention the iffy ingredients in some brands. I drink stupid amounts of iced coffee when it’s hot out, so anything I can do to make that a cheaper, healthier and more delicious experience is worth it.

Speaking of iced coffee, YES, I still use my Bodum iced coffee press, and YES, I still love it.

(I just went over to Oh She Glows to get the almond milk recipe link, and I see that Angela is also writing about homemade almond milk with cold-brewed iced coffee. Hah! See that? I’m not lying — it’s so good!)

Now I want to try making other nut milks. Cashew milk, definitely! Hazelnut milk?? Hmmm. What other nut milks should I try?

wheat

When I was getting this post draft together in WordPress and entering the keyword tags that go at the bottom, the word “goals” auto-completed as “goats.” I almost didn’t correct it, because frankly, this post might as well be about goats. I think about adorable, bleating farm animals far more often than I do my life ambitions, after all. Right now, though, I do have a goal: Write a post about why I’m not a goal-oriented person.

OK, that’s not entirely true. I do have lots of bite-sized, short-term goals. Stuff like “take a shower” and “repair the porch roof.” (I guess those are called to-do lists. I love to-do lists.) What I don’t have — or have any desire to have — are the long-term vision-y kind of goals, like life lists and that kind of stuff. Honestly, my life list kind of looks like this:

1. See And Also The Trees live, but not if it requires traveling outside of NYC.
2. More Chihuahuas!
3. Conquer adult acne.
4. Don’t go skydiving or engage in any other “thrill-seeking” activities.
5. Don’t sleep outdoors.
6. Be a decent person.
7. …?

And that’s about it. I’m sure there are ambitious, accomplished people reading this who have life lists of their own — real life lists, like the kind that come up when you Google “life list.” Looking at those lists always makes me feel tired, overwhelmed, a little bit scared and a whole lot like I really don’t belong. Just to be totally clear, I don’t have anything against people for whom life lists are beneficial. I don’t think it’s a silly exercise to make one if you feel compelled to do so and it it’s helpful in your life, I’m just here to speak up on behalf of the non-life listers, the non-goal-oriented among us. HELLO, FELLOW LOSERS!!! Just kidding, we’re not losers. We’re just feel like we are sometimes.

The word “perfectionist” gets tossed around a lot, usually as a humblebrag (“My worst trait is that I’m a perfectionist! Tee hee!”), and the truth is that it’s a trait that really carries a lot of negative weight. Since I went to the Wikipedia School of Psychology for my internet doctorate degree, I’ll quote from their article on the subject:

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

Yeah. That. Except in my experience, that whole adaptive perfectionism/motivational stuff really only plays out when it comes to short-term/immediate goals (see: to-do lists), and the long-term goals/”way of living” kind of things are the ones that lead to a whole lot of personal disappointment…and that other D-word, too.

Beyond the defective brain stuff (and I say that as someone with a defective brain and as a lover of other defective brains), I tend to want to live in the moment when it comes to making plans. I don’t know if what I think I feel like doing today is the same thing I’m going to want to do next week, let alone five years from now! That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of making confident decisions. In fact, I think I’m pretty good at making up my mind to do things when the time comes, and I’m good at following through. If I decide on Wednesday that I’m going to tile the kitchen on Sunday, I’m not going to let a 102° fever and a bronchial infection stand in my way! Stupid? Yeah, a little, but the kitchen looks great.

There’s an upside to this lack of planning and goal-setting, I swear. I think it’s my lack of career ambition that’s allowed me to feel satisfied in the same job (I have been promoted several times, but I’m still a book cover cover designer at the same publishing company that hired me right out of art school) for 15 years. Maybe that sounds really dismal, but it’s not. The fact that I don’t feel like I need to constantly be looking for something “better” or more prestigious means that I’ve been able to become emotionally connected to my workplace in addition to having a professional connection. I’ve been working with the same core group of people for a decade and a half, and that’s a great feeling. It’s a little old-fashioned, I think, right? When I was a kid, my friends’ parents had worked for the same companies for years. That’s definitely not the norm (at least in NYC) for my generation, and I know very, very few people who have had the same job for more than four or five years.

Anyway, all I’m getting at here is this: You don’t have to constantly be working toward something you think will be bigger or better. You don’t have to sell your first house to buy a bigger one. (You don’t even have to buy a house in the first place.) You don’t have to visualize your life as you want it to be. It’s OK to be happy where you are right now, and to find contentment in the mundane. You can live in the same city for your entire life and still be a well-rounded, fulfilled person. Reading a book you found by chance on a park bench can be every bit as thrilling as going skydiving. It’s OK. Leave yourself open to opportunities you could never have thought of in the first place. You don’t have to be that person who’s constantly planning for the next amazing thing. That doesn’t make you boring or a loser or a failure. Everyone everywhere feels disappointed in themselves at times, and none of us are ever really living up to our true potential. That’s alright. We don’t have to be perfectly realized humans living carefully mapped-out lives. If your only goal in life is to be a decent person, that’s already a lot to think about and work toward. Human decency is an ongoing process that requires constant introspection as well as observation of those around us. That’s a pretty huge goal.

I know this post isn’t going to resonate with most of the people who read it, but I’m hoping there are one or two of you out there who will understand what I’m talking about. Cheers to us, the realists and the dreamless and the non-life listers! May we always find as much happiness in petting goats as others do with setting goals.

tofu lentil salad

Once upon a time in the recent past, I cooked at least 6 dinners a week. On the weekends, I even cooked extra food to freeze for lunches at the office. And then something happened: We got an apartment in Brooklyn. Oh Brooklyn, home of M.O.B., Wild Ginger, Vegetarian Ginger, Britain Indian, Darna Falafel, Siggy’s, Zaytoons and, of course, my beloved Hanco’s, home of the best vegan pork banh mi sandwich imaginable. Brooklyn is a food paradise, and having so many awesome vegan options available — whether by walking a few blocks or ordering delivery — is kind of irresistible.

There are, however, some downsides to all of that delicious convenience:

1. PRICE. Yes, that’s obvious. I know. Buying dinner out for two people night after night is stupidly expensive, and while I know that’s kind of the New York way of life that everyone makes jokes about (“My oven? Oh, you mean where I store my off-season clothes!”), it’s shocking how much it all adds up to week after week. I need to keep that in mind the next time I shake my head at an $8 bottle of olive oil — I mean, the oyster mushrooms I had as an appetizer last night cost $9. C’mon.

2. WEIGHT. As in, I have a lot of it to spare. That whole thing about vegans being skinny? That’s a damn lie. Healthful eating and fitness are about a whole lot more than whether or not you eat animal products. If you eat giant portions of processed takeout food every night, guess what? You’re going to feel (and see!) the effects on your body. It isn’t even so much about size specifically as it just feeling slow and tired and knowing that the weight gain is the result of eating too much of the wrong stuff all the time.

3. STRESS. I don’t know why it’s so hard to remember this when it’s 8:00 at night and I’m starving, but cooking and preparing food makes me feel really good. I’m a big fan of task completion even when it’s on a really small scale, probably because I work in an industry where nothing ever really feels done. Having a sense of definable accomplishment is a huge motivator, and getting a healthy, yummy meal together is a huge stress reliever. The same goes for doing the dishes…but now I’m going off on a tangent. (OK, so this whole post is a tangent.)

To help curb my addiction to takeout, I’m assembling a small arsenal of simple recipes that I can fall back on night after night. Aside from being vegan, the only rules are that I have to be able to prepare the meal in less than 30 minutes, it has to be reasonably healthy, there can’t be any ingredients that would require me to buy huge amounts of something perishable when I only need a tiny bit and, most importantly, Evan and I both have to LOVE the way the meal TASTES. It’s going to take a little trial and error, but I’ll post the successful recipes here along the way. (Please feel free to share your own favorite fast, cheap, vegan recipes in the comments, too!)

Tofu lentil salad (vegan)
Serves 2

8 oz super or extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp peanut oil
salt
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
1 tbsp Sriracha (or to taste)
5 oz salad greens, any type
1/2 cup cooked lentils (Either make a bunch in advance and store them in the fridge, or cheat and buy a vacuum-sealed pack from Trader Joe’s — they go a LONG way)
Spicy peanut dressing (I’m lazy, so I buy Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette from Trader Joe’s, but you can certainly make your own)
Whatever other stuff you have in the fridge: Avocados, cherry tomatoes, sprouts…

Slice the tofu into quarters, press to remove excess moisture and cut into chunks. Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, then add peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the tofu in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. I follow all of Isa Chandra’s advice when cooking tofu — if you’ve had trouble getting it to come out nice and brown, definitely take a look at her suggestions.

Once the tofu is nicely browned on all sides, reduce the pan heat slightly and add in the mirin, vinegar and Sriracha. Toss with a spatula to coat, and turn off the burner. Let the tofu sit in the hot pan while you prepare the greens.

In a large bowl, toss the greens, lentils and any other veggies with the salad dressing. Divide into two bowls, and top with tofu cubes. Done!

doorsixteen_cobblehill1

Sorry to leave you with those yelling goats for so long! Friday was our big Brooklyn moving day. We said goodbye to DUMBO and hello (again) to Cobble Hill. The two neighborhoods are only a mile apart, but they have very different personalities. Even though we moved out of our first Cobble Hill apartment ten years ago, it still feels like home to both of us. So good to be back! The photo above is the view from our new kitchen. The sunrises are beautiful.

We won’t have internet access in the new place until Thursday (seems so ridiculous that in 2013 they still have to make an appointment to bring you a modem in person and “install” it for you!), so I’ve been using my time to clean, unpack, clean and clean some more. I’ve moved many times in my adult life, and I never feel comfortable in a new place until I’ve scrubbed every surface. This apartment is pretty huge, so it’s taking a while!

doorsixteen_cobblehill3

The dogs are in HEAVEN. The new kitchen gets a ton of sunlight, so they basically spend their entire days now sleeping and moving slowly across the floor like hot dogs on a roller. It’s also very quiet in the new place, so their naps aren’t interrupted by barking patrol duties.

Isn’t that radiator crazy? There are two of them, and I’m told they’re some kind of old industrial model that’s supposed to be behind a wall. Whatever the story is, they’re very weird and a little scary looking and I love them.

Lots of photos to come once I have steady internet access!!

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long, long time now. Skin—and, more specifically, adult acne—is something I’ve touched on briefly here and on my old blog, but never really in depth. It’s such a sensitive, personal subject, and it’s hard to talk about. The skin on our faces is so intimate, but we show it to the world every day. I’m constantly trying to reconcile that fact.

I don’t like having my photo taken. I’m OK taking my own photo (which is why most pictures of me also contain a camera and are in reverse), but the second someone else aims a camera at me I feel extremely anxious. I imagine the photographer at home, hours later, zooming in on my skin and discovering all of the many things that are wrong with it. It feels naked; it feels bad. When I take a photo of myself, though, it’s more about the act of taking the picture than it is an examination of my face. It’s safe, and if it looks bad, I can delete it and no one else ever has to know.

It really all comes down to skin. Forget the shape of my nose or the color of my eyes or anything at all about my face, because the only thing I’m seeing when I look in the mirror is whether my skin is flaky or red or if I have a pimple or two or seven. The condition of my skin plays a huge role in defining my confidence, my overall mood and even my productivity on any given day. My rational mind tells me this is ridiculous, but my irrational mind has used personal days to stay home from work because of breakouts. So.

My skin was fine when I was teenager, OK in my early 20s…and then it just got progressively worse. I never used to wear foundation, but my the time I was in my early 30s it was a daily operation. Ridiculous amounts of time spent every morning dotting on teensy amounts of concealer over red marks with a tiny brush, all so no one would have to know my terrible secret. It’s hard to explain this stuff with anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to deal with adult acne, so if you fall into that camp, please try to cut those of us who have some slack. To be 37 years old and battling breakouts and wrinkles at the same time sucks. It makes you feel like you’re perpetually trapped in a delayed adolescence while simultaneously running out of the years when you’re supposed to look your best. It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel inept and unprofessional and dirty. And you will try anything to make it all better.

So here’s where I’m at right now, and I can say this with confidence: My skin has never looked better. Well, maybe it looked better when I was 15, but this is as good as it’s been in the 22 years since. Every now and then I have a minor breakout, but it’s generally just one small blemish that goes away pretty quickly and doesn’t make my life too horrible while it’s around.

Here’s the rundown:

1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
This is the least-glamorous face wash I’ve used in my adult life, and I admit I was really skeptical when my dermatologist recommended it to me. I like to use things in pretty packages that are only sold at tiny drugstores or fancy department stores. Again, I know it’s ridiculous, but I’m biased against a cleanser that’s available everywhere for $5. But yeah, my dermatologist was right, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever washed my face with. I actually use it twice at night: Once to do a quick makeup removal, and then again right after to deep-cleanse with my Clarisonic. Speaking of my Clarisonic…

2. Clarisonic Mia
I LOVE MY CLARISONIC. So much. I’ve had it for a couple of years now (it was a Hanukkah present from Daniel, who understands my quest for pore perfection), and we’ve been on a journey together. At first I loved it, and then I hated it, and then I really wanted to like it again, and now I love it and can’t imagine being without it. The trick is finding the right cleanser to use it with. There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s better to use it with a foaming or non-foaming face wash, and I really think it comes down to your skin type. For me, a gentle, foaming, soap-free cleanser works best. I use it every single night.

A couple of notes: I use the replacement brushes made for delicate skin. I can’t see why the new Mia 2 is worth the extra money, so my recommendation is to just go with the original Mia. It’s the cheapest model Clarisonic sells, and it does everything you need it to. I don’t know anything about the cheaper facial brushes that Olay and Neutrogena make, so I can’t advise you there—but I can say that my dermatologist was adamant that I only use a genuine Clarisonic. I already owned one, so fine by me!

✚ EDIT: Reader Tallin commented that SkinStore.com is having a 20% off sale right now that includes the whole Clarisonic line.

3. Ziana Gel
I realize this might be a controversial inclusion since it’s a prescription product that combines a topical antibiotic (clindamycin) with a retinoid (tretinoin), and I hesitated to mention it at all. I’m not big on using antibiotics, and I was initially hesitant to start applying them to my face. I’ve also had bad experiences with prescription retinoids in the past. I think I just got to a point of desperation, though—I weighed my emotional well-being against the potential risks, and I decided to fill the prescription.

Ziana has been amazing. Aside from inflamed blemishes, I’m really prone to clogged pores and closed comedones. After using Ziana (just a tiny, pea-sized amount over my entire face at night) for a week, the improvement in my skin’s texture and clarity was noticeable. After three months, my face was completely clear—and I mean completely. I’ve been using Ziana for a total of six months now, and my skin just looks so much brighter and smoother and healthier. Some of the reviews I read complained of redness and drying, but I didn’t experience any of that. Maybe they were using too much or not using a moisturizer? I don’t know, I can just tell you that it’s been wonderful for my skin.

4. Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado
I first wrote about this eye cream four years ago, and I’m still using it now. I usually only put it on at night since it’s a bit too emollient to wear under makeup, but it’s hydrating enough that the effects last even during the day. I’m careful when I wash my face in the morning to not get cleanser around my eyes, though, so maybe it’s just residual amounts that are doing the trick? Whatever it is, I love this stuff. No, it doesn’t cure me of my undereye circles, but it does keep the skin around my eyes soft and dewy-looking, and that’s good enough for me.

5. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse
I wrote an entire blog post about how much I love this stuff a couple of months ago, so I won’t dwell on it again too long now. The love affair is still going strong! Much like my Clarisonic, this is something I can’t imagine ever not having as part of my skin care routine. I’m forever thankful to Ilenia for recommending it to me! No more dry patches, no more irritation…just soft, happy skin.

So that’s about the size of it. I do also use a sunscreen daily, of course (a spray from Paula’s Choice that was just discontinued, much to my chagrin), as well as Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant when I feel like I need exfoliation, and Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads if my skin seems dull at all. Nothing else—and yes, that means that my formerly-beloved Mario Badescu is no longer in my life. I have a much simpler routine now, and it’s all come down to finding the right products for me.

I still feel a bit hesitant to publish this post since I know very well that skin is an incredibly personal thing and that everyone will react differently to various products, but I also understand how reassuring it can be to know that someone else is dealing with the same issues. I may not be jumping in front of cameras anytime soon and I still have no plans to ever leave the house without makeup, but at least I can look at my face now and not just see the state of my skin—and when I do, I’m mostly OK with it. Happy, even.