Getting Ready for the Ring

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

The great thing about knowing (or at least supposing) that a proposal is on it’s way is that it gives you a chance to prepare for it. And if I learned anything from my early years as a Girl Scout, it’s that being prepared rocks!

I was kind of lucky in this regard. Not only did I know that the ring was due back from being sized at pretty much any moment, but I’d recently been brushing up on my manicure skills in preparation for showing off my new something blue. Because, let’s face it, your hands are never on display as much as when you first get engaged. Even if you’re not wearing a ring people are going to look, just in case, because we’re all-but programmed to do it!

So swing into the nearest nail place at your local strip-mall and pay $20 to get a basic manicure. Or stop by the local drug store and pick up some cuticle oil, orange sticks and a nail file and DIY it. This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and get acrylic nails if you’ve never wanted them before. Nor does it mean you even have to get a colored polish if you prefer the low-maintenance au naturel look.

But smoothing out the edges, maybe evening-up the lengths, and trimming your cuticles (at least push them back) will give you a nice, clean look that won’t have you hiding your hands from curious congratulators. And if you don’t want polish but do like a little bit of shine, try a 4 step nail buffer and buff your natural nails to a serious shine without a drop of polish required. I also really recommend a parafin dip (either at the salon or at home) for extra smooth hands.

Once there’s an engagement ring on your finger there are a whole new range of movements your fingers and wrist will go through just trying to show of that bit of bling. Or, you know, move it so the light catches each of the facets just so.

Come on, I can’t be the only women to fall prey to the siren spell of sparkle, can I?

illustration via Miss Road Trip

a few wrist warm-ups for showing off the sparkle

In the interest of avoiding repetitive stress injuries, I’ve come up with these three exercises that should have you in fine form for when he slips that ring on your finger!

The Show Off

Start with your forearms at a 45° angle from your elbows and your palms facing forward. Even though only one hand gets the pleasure of a ring, we don’t want uneven arms, do we? Go ahead and practice with both hands at the same time.

Raising your arms slightly, flex your hands down into the quintessential show-off position. Return to your starting position.

For advance bling-bringers, extend your arms up and out as you flex your hands in a move we’ll call the Marilyn.

If your ring hasn’t been sized, yet, and it’s a little loose, make sure to keep your pinky–maybe even your middle finger, too–close to your ring finger as you flex to keep the bauble from gravity’s greedy clutches.

The Hello

With your forearms and hands creating a single line nearly perpendicular to the floor spread your fingers and rotate your hands at the wrist, bringing pinkies around the front and in towards each other and return to your starting position.

The Jazz Hand

Arms relaxed, hands can be just about anywhere, spread those fingers out and give them all a good wiggle.

Again, if your ring is loose, keep those fingers pointed up to prevent slippage.

Also, the Jazz Hand can be combined with the Hello for maximum eye-catching sparkle effect. Use it wisely.

Disclaimer: I’m not a physical therapist, so take these “exercises” with the grain of salt and handful of humor they were given.

Come on, fess up: You tried them, didn’t you?

The Nails Have It!

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Confession time: I have a love/hate relationship with my nails.

On the “hate” side, I’ve always have very thin (and sharp!) nails that broke easily–especially when they had just gotten to a decent length or right before a big day. On the love side, there’s nothing short of a new pair of shoes that puts more pep in my step than having nicely-done nails.

But polish chips so easily and needs a lot of upkeep, upkeep that I don’t have time for. Comparatively, acrylic nails only have to be seen-to every 2 weeks but the damage they do to the natural nail bed (and the 3 months it takes to recover healthy nails after one of my trysts with the salon) is atrocious. Not to mention the inconvenience of having to leave to house, be on someone else’s clock and the hour-plus for a full set and 45 minutes per fill.

What’s a girl to do?!

Polishes, acrylic nails and tools.

So many tools, so little time.

Obviously I’m not the only one who struggles with the time it takes to keep up pretty nails. In addition to all sorts of quick-dry and 1-step polishes, faux-acrylics (what we used to know as Press-On Nails) have come a long way. I’ve become quite fond them for a couple of reasons:

  1. I can do them at home, no professional assistance required. After all, I’d rather watch what I want to watch instead of a Vietnamese soap opera. (Not to mention whatever they’re playing on the television! Seriously, I could tell you some stories.)
  2. The quality is consistent at a low price-point. At an average price of $5 per package, if you’re good with a nail file you can get 2 sets out of each package. Nice nails for 7-10 days for $2.50? It’s hard to beat.
  3. My nail beds are just as healthy when I take off the nails as when I put them on. Because there’s no drilling, natural nails are not affected. The glue is easily dissolved with acetone and the rest just files off. This suits my frequent “I’m tired of dealing with them” moods quite well.

While glue-on acrylics are very simple and theoretically ready-to-g0 right out of the package, it’s a good idea to choose each acrylic carefully and then do some basic shaping with a nail file to match it better to the shape of your nail. And always start with a good basic manicure that includes grooming your cuticles.

Still, glue-on acrylics aren’t the be-all, end-all of manicures. As much as I love them for their ease of use, it does require carrying around a bottle of nail glue for repairs as necessary. Because they are not sculpted onto the nails like regular acrylics, they can lift a little easier, but it’s a small price to pay.

Enter nail strips.

Somewhere between a sticker and an overlay, items like the professional-grade Minx line and the consumer-grade Salon Effects by Sally Hansen and ANG allow you to apply a perfect covering to your nails that stays put for a week to 10 days or more, if done right. Depending on the brand and where you shop, it can be between $5 and $20 for a set. But, again, if you have short nails and are careful, you can easily get 2 applications per kit. What I love most about these strips is that it takes no glue to apply them and the upkeep is minimal. Unlike acrylics (of any sort) they bend with your natural nail and seem to strengthen thin nails while being worn.

The selection at my local big-box store is limited unless you want the bright solid versions. I prefer the patterns, myself, especially the subtle one like the fishnet pattern shown in the picture below (a little blurry, sorry, it was a cell-phone picture from a couple months ago when I last used this pattern).

Nails featuring fishnet overlay

And I’ve just heard that Sally Hansen has come out with a fun assortment of Halloween styles just in time for my favorite holiday! If I hadn’t already purchased the purple-spider nails for this years BYOP, I’d totally be placing an Ulta order now!

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a significant jewelry change in the first picture of this post. It was a happy coincidence that the last 3 weeks have had me taking better care of my hands and nails, as my left hand is going to get a lot of looks for the foreseeable future. As of Friday, September 30, I’m engaged!

Make sure to come back tomorrow for the promised manicure-promoting giveaway!

Wax On, Wax Off

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Ahhh, 80’s movie references never let us down, do they?

But we’re not waxing cars, painting fences or building spare rooms here. In fact, all of those could be reasons why today’s topic is even more of a necessity!

If you’ve ever upgraded from the standard to the “spa” manicure, you may have experienced the odd but oh-so-heavenly paraffin dip as part of your day of beauty. While having ones hands encased in melted wax may seem a little strange, once you get over the part about not being able to use your hands for 20 minutes, it’s quite relaxing.

It’s also great for “owie hands”. Most of you probably know that in addition to maintaining several blogs, I’m also a cartoonist. Over time I’ve developed tendinitis in both thumbs and if I overdo it, the consequences are quite painful. One night I decided to give warm wax a try on my unhappy hands and the relief was instant and amazing! While inflammations tend to be treated primarily with cold therapy, everyone is different and heat can work wonders in small doses.

Paraffin dips–for hands, feet, elbows or any other rough spot–are like hot oil treatments for hair: they sooth and infuse much-needed moisture into tired, frazzled skin. And while you can pay for this treatment at any swanky day spa, you can also do this in the comfort of your own home.

DIY Paraffin Dip

Supplies needed for a DIY paraffin dipYou’ll need:

Paraffin Wax
Mineral Oil
Essential Oil (optional)
Slow Cooker or Double Boiler
Candy Thermometer
Plastic bag(s)

And even all of that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Basically, for a skin-softening treatment you want 1/4 cup of mineral oil (from almost any drugstore) per 1 lb of wax. And this wax can be the same stuff you find in the grocery store canning aisle, it doesn’t need to be anything special (though you can buy specialty waxes, with the oil already in it, if you really want to). 3 to 4 pounds of wax will give you a good volume to dip hands or feet into, but go with whatever works for you. A few drops of your favorite essential oil can be a nice touch, but is certainly not mandatory.

To melt the wax, slow and steady really is the best way. You can do it on the stove in a double boiler (a large coffee can, for instance, in a water bath) like you would melt the wax to make your own candles but a spare slow cooker or electric pot you can dedicate just to your paraffin dips really is the best. Yes, you can buy paraffin baths for $40 and up, but a flea market Crock Pot will work just as well. Especially if it has a “warm” setting option, that will come in handy later.

So, melt the wax and then let it cool a little bit. This is where the candy thermometer comes in. Wax melts at around 275° F but that’s a little too hot to be comfortable for applying to skin. Ideal paraffin dip temperature is 120° F, give or take.

Once the ideal temperature has been reached, dip a clean hand into the warm wax, remove it (the wax should harden pretty quick in the average air-conditioned home) and re-dip, building up 5-7 layers of wax. Slip the waxed hand into a plastic bag and wrap with a towel (one warm from the dryer is even better). This locks in the heat and helps it penetrate–wax that cools too quickly will not have the same softening effect on your skin. Let your hand rest for 20 minutes.

When you’re ready to wax-off, remove the towel and start scrunching your hand around in the bag, using your other hand to help remove the hardened wax and keep the flakes of wax contained. Marvel at how soft your skin is and do the other hand. Doing both at the same time is nice but you’d need to be awfully skilled with your toes or have a buddy helping you to put on the plastic bags and towels. One at a time is the usual. After all, this is a relaxing activity–don’t rush it!

Now, if this is a personal-use paraffin bath, it’s totally okay to reuse the wax. Just put the dried wax back into the pot at the end of your at-home spa session and it’ll be ready to remelt for next time. There will be some sediment or residue, of course, so ditch the wax if it starts to look murky or icky. If you’re hosting a spa day for your girlfriends, though, it’s best to go ahead and ditch the wax. Paraffin blocks are pretty cheap and there is such a thing as too much togetherness.

Pretty Hands, Pretty Feet

64 Arts

Moving on from our discussion of magic, the next art on the docket is

22 Manicure

To soften hands spoiled by work or age, or products.

And who couldn’t use one of those every now and then? Let’s go with now.

Even though I try to stay brand neutral on most things, the fastest way to soft hands that I’ve ever encountered is the Mary Kay Satin Hands Pampering Set. It’s quick, it’s easy and it does wonders to rough hands and feet (elbows and knees, too!). I’ve even found the Extra Emolient Night Cream to be a great quick fix for heels that look less than sandal-worthy when you’re heading out the door and don’t have time to put on more than a lotion. And since you use so little of the Night Cream for the manicures (a little goes a long way), ways to use up any extra are always nice.

(Want to win a sampler-size Satin Hands kit? Stay tuned as I’ll be giving one away later in the very near future!)

The other fast track to soft hands is regular stop-ins at your local nail place or spa. There’s ups and downs to this method.

Pros:  No need to purchase your own supplies.

You get pampered while stimulating the economy a little bit.

Some of those nail techs have fabulous massage techniques, working any kinks out of your tired hands in minutes–that’s hard to diy! (But not impossible.)

Cons:  Cost. $20 seems to be a pretty average price, including tip, for a basic drop-in manicure.

Only available on someone else’s schedule, and that can be a drag.

It’s just as easy to get a bad tech as it is a good one.

Of course, to do it yourself at home you need just a few simple items:

Nail clippers, cuticle oil, hand lotion, bath salts, orange sticks and a 4-step buffer; all of which can also be used to make the very clever–if I do say so myself, and I do–manicure gift card I created while I was writing for eHow.

Next week we’ll talk about my favorite perk of the spa manicure–make sure to come back for tips on making your own paraffin dip!