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The cost, benefit and promise of hormone replacement therapy.

I almost accidentally careened my car into the icy waters of the Ohio River after driving past a billboard the other day. The cause of this near-tragic automobile accident was in response to the message of the advertisement: “Are you over 35 with a waning libido, expanding waistline and suffering from lack of sleep? Maybe it’s hormonal.” Hormonal?  Clearly, I misread.

Well, it’s possible some assemblage of those questions may elicit a personal “yes” in reply, but still, isn’t 35 kind of young for hormone issues? Don’t I have a few years before menopause and having to worry about hormone replacement therapy?

WHAT IS HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been prescribed to women to ease the symptoms of menopause since the mid-1930s.

During menopause (and perimenopause), the ovaries reduce their production of female hormones leading to hormone withdrawal symptoms such as hot flashes, loss of libido, mood swings, hair loss, weight gain and more. HRT supplements the waning progesterone and/or estrogen levels with synthetic compounds absorbed through pill, patch or cream form to help your body cope with the reduction.

In addition to easing the pain of menopause, HRT has also been widely viewed as an anti-aging treatment thanks to the 1960s book Feminine Forever, written by Dr. Robert A. Wilson, which praised synthetic estrogen therapy as an effective way to stay youthful and feminine. It also couched menopause in terms of an estrogen deficiency illness that could be managed with HRT rather than viewing it as a normal stage in the life cycle. The perceived added benefit of “youthfulness”greatly increased the demand for HRT and brought it into the popular consciousness as an anti-aging treatment.

Today, Suzanne Somers is the pop culture equivalent of Dr. Wilson. She is one of the most outspoken supporters of using HRT to “reverse the aging process” with books similar to Feminine Forever touting the benefits of hormone replacement therapy. In her book, Ageless, she claims HRT is an “inspiring, medically validated approach to reversing the aging process and maintaining a healthy, vibrant, mentally sharp, sexually active life.” And, with the support of influential figures like Oprah, she’s been telling American women to look to hormonal imbalance for many of their physical and emotional problems. Her twist? Instead of synthetic hormones, she supports bioidenticals. 

BIOIDENTICAL HORMONES

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is a different breed of hormone therapy that has become increasingly attractive to consumers in reaction to the debate over the safety of conventional hormone therapies.

Dr. Amy Brenner, a board-certified gynecologist whose West Chester practice specializes in BHRT, defines bioidenticals as: “An exact replica of the hormones that are produced in your body.” The thinking goes that since bioidentical hormones, unlike synthetic hormones, are metabolized identically to those made in the body, BHRT is “better for you” than conventional hormone therapies.

So if you’re experiencing with Dr. Brenner refers to as “The 40s Syndrome” — brain fog, fatigue, dwindling sex drive, mood swings, et al. — she’ll test your hormone levels for imbalance and then devise a treatment plan.

In order to discern what BHRT treatment is recommended for patients, the body’s current levels of progesterone and estrogen must be assessed. The method preferred by Dr. Brenner and the lion’s share of bioidentical providers for ascertaining these values is a saliva test: You spit into a vial and they ship it to a lab.

Why spit, you ask? The argument is that blood-test values can only assess an extreme absence or overabundance of hormones rather than the more-subtle fluctuation levels bioidentical practitioners are looking to tweak. Therefore, spit is preferable to blood as it allows for finer distinctions.  

This is a contentious testing method, though. Many experts point to the fact that hormone levels vary widely throughout the day making such subtle values difficult to interpret. Also at issue is the fact that the lab that runs the test and sells the spit kit, ZRT Laboratory, is the lab that decided what the “correct” hormone values should be.

Along with Dr. Brenner, The Happy Hormone Cottage is another local agency that will help administer and interpret your spit kit. The Happy Hormone Cottage acts as facilitator, counselor and educator for clients seeking BHRT.

“We believe education is key and gives women the confidence to dialogue with their doctor and educate them on the benefits [of hormone therapy],” says Lyn Hogrefe, the executive director of The Happy Hormone Cottage.

When The Happy Hormone Cottage gets the results of your spit kit, the information goes to a compound pharmacist affiliated with the Happy Hormone practice. The pharmacist then draws up a recommended plan of action based on your imbalance for you to bring to your doctor who would then (upon approving the regimen) submit the prescription back to that compound pharmacy to be filled.

A compound pharmacy crafts prescribed medication customized to a patient allowing for a more individualized dosage rather than providing pre-configured medication dosages (.25 mg, .5 mg, etc.) like a regular pharmacy. The individualization of the treatment based on personal test results is a benefit touted by supporters of BHRT. (But detractors would point out that compound pharmacies are under scrutiny by the FDA because of a sterile injectable issues last year that caused a fatal outbreak of fungal meningitis.)

Like traditional hormone replacement therapy, BHRT is administered through creams, pills, gels, vaginal rings and transdermal patches with your personal regimen of hormone therapy determined by your doctor and the test results. For example, every day Somers puts an estrogen cream on her left arm, injects two milligrams of estriol (an estrogen typically only produced in significant amounts during pregnancy) into her vagina and then, for two weeks a month, puts a progesterone cream on her right arm. The regimen, which she revealed on an episode of Oprah, sounds complex and kind of odd, but testimonials of satisfied customers abound.

With BHRT, women report an increase in energy, better mood stability, better sleep and improved cognitive functioning in addition to relief from common menopausal symptoms. Studies also show that visible skin aging, including wrinkles caused by low estrogen levels, can be reversed with increased estrogen. BHRT can even make your hair more lush, weight easier to lose and can increase your vocal richness.

And it’s not just the patients who love it. In fact, Dr. Brenner and Hogrefe are such enthusiastic supporters of BHRT that they are on the program themselves. And they both look fantastic. (Sorry, had to be said.)

RISK-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

With all of these benefits, it’s completely reasonable to wonder why our doctors are not handing out prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy along with our annual flu shots. And it’s because not all minds concur on the risk of either HRT or BHRT, and more data would be nice, too.

After the immense commercial success of Feminine Forever — whose author was later revealed to be in the pocket of hormone-producing drug companies — and subsequent increase in demand for HRT, people began to wonder what, if any, damage the synthetic hormones were doing to women’s bodies. In the 1970s, HRT’s synthetic estrogen was shown to elevate the risk of endometrial cancer, causing an uproar. But then, in the 1980s, HRT got back into good graces when the hormones were shown to protect against osteoporosis and maybe heart disease. Today, the risk-benefit ratio is again in question.

The National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative conducted the first large scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of HRT in healthy, post-menopausal women in 1991. The study was slated to continue for 15 years but was stopped prematurely in 2002 when it found statistically significant increases in the rate of breast cancer and vascular disease among test subjects who received Prempro (a synthetic estrogen and progesterone compound). The threat of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and cancer outweighed the possible good of HRT, so they shut down the study.

And while the same large-scale tests have not been conducted on BHRT, the thought is that the molecular difference between bioidenticals and synthetic hormones is not enough to discount the risks found in the Women’s Health Initiative study. (Although one study has suggested that hormone patches and creams favored by bioidentical providers do no carry the same risks for blood clots as do the more traditional HRT pill delivery system).

Unfortunately, while proponents of bioidentical hormones assert there are no risks with the therapy like there are with conventional HRT, the lack of information on how the body interacts with the two hormone formulas differently is a problem. The view of the medical establishment is to assume the risks are the same for both, but Hogrefe disagrees, saying that since her program doesn’t use synthetic estrogens or progestin (synthetic progesterone), they aren’t concerned. But Dr. Brenner, who fully supports BHRT, won’t allow women with a personal history of breast cancer to undergo bioidentical hormone therapy.

Today, before starting any type of hormone replacement therapy, your doctor should evaluate your particular set of health risk factors in conjunction with the severity of your symptoms when devising a treatment plan.   The current, accepted treatment practice for any hormone therapy is to take the lowest dose of hormones for the shortest amount of time possible to achieve the desired outcome — although women on bioidenticals commonly undergo hormone therapy for an indefinite number of years with periodic testing and hormonal cocktail adjustments. 

Despite the fact that we don’t know all of the risks involved with traditional HRT or bioidentical therapy, there are undeniable perks of hormone replacement therapy that both sides recognize: It lowers your chances of colorectal cancer, has therapeutic advantages for those suffering from menopause symptoms and can help prevent osteoporosis. 

TO YOUR HEALTH

With a bunch of promises and a bit of risk, there’s ground to be gained with hormone therapy and the parting thought is this: All of these professionals are there to help you. Doctors, educators, pharmacists, all of them, will work with you and with one another to devise a comprehensive strategy — and possibly a payment plan — particular to your personal story to help you take charge of your physical health and well being.

While many of the opinions out there may differ, the unifying and sincere drive to better women’s health is leading the discussion.

Potent natural products and floral-inspired pretties

1. Lip and cheek illuminator, $30, Fine-One-One, Benefit cosmetics, available at Sephora, Kenwood Towne Center, 7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood. 2. Soap, $6 each, all-natural and locally made, Orange Fuzz3. Parfum d’ Extase eau de parfum, $85, the first perfume by Marchesa, available at Sephora, Kenwood Towne Center, 7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood. 4. Eyeshadow, $8, all-natural and hand-mixed, Blink Makeup Studio, Northside International Airport, 4029 Hamilton Ave., Northside, blinkmakeupstudio@gmail.com. 5. Un Jardin En Mediterranée eau de toilette, $90-$125, Hermes, available at Sephora, Kenwood Towne Center, 7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood. 6. Alchemic shampoo and conditioner in silver, $25 and $28, sustainable and natural, Davines, available at Parlour salon, 2600 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills. 7. Sandalwood-vanilla bath soap and body lotion, $10 each, all-natural and hand-mixed, Blink Makeup Studio, Northside International Airport, 4029 Hamilton Ave., Northside, blinkmakeupstudio@gmail.com. 8. Nail polish, $13.50 each, eco-friendly, Priti NYC, available at Alba Organic Beauty Studios, 2882 Wasson Road, Hyde Park. 9. Violets & Rainwater demi-absolute, $35-$140, hand-blended artisan essence, Soivohle by Liz Zorn, Studio Z, 1105 Central Ave., Studio 116, Middletown.

A career change has the power to reawaken your passions.

“I can honestly say that I learn something new every day  — a new fact, a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at an old situation,” says Jane Moyer. “I had no idea this new career would be that enlightening, but it is amazing.”

Like many baby boomers, Jane thought she would be retired and living on a beach at age 60 but instead, she and her husband of 40-plus years, John Moyer, Sr., decided to start a new business.

There’s a saying that we work the first half of our lives to make a living and the second half of our lives to make a difference, and Jane has found that to be profoundly true.  

When John’s father and step-mother began to need extra care as they aged, Jane focused her attention on helping them stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. And after John’s step-mother died, they moved his father into their home. For 11 months they took care of him, watching his dementia progress, and hired an in-home care service when they needed to be away. But the service didn’t provide the quality of care they expected.

They then realized the value of helping John’s father remain as independent as possible and, equally as important, the joy it brought them. So Jane and John signed on to be one of the first franchisees for FirstLight HomeCare, part of a national network of in-home, non-medical care businesses, in August 2010. Since then they have expanded to four locations and were awarded the “Franchisee of the Year” from FirstLight HomeCare.

Jane, who has a very positive outlook on life, found her passion for this new business unlike anything she has done in the past. She says making a difference in the lives of others has become first and foremost on her “To Do” list.

But starting over isn’t an easy task — and neither is finding your passion, like Jane did.

According to 20-year veteran career coach Dana Glasgo (aka “The Cincinnati Career Coach”) about 25 percent of her clients are in the 55-plus age group, all seeking employment after retirement or as a result of losing their jobs.

“Many times when people change careers, out of necessity or choice, they begin to have feelings of fear. ‘Did I do the right thing? Can I make this adjustment?’ These feelings are normal,” says Glasgo. “People are going in a direction, possibly, that they have never traveled. It’s a fear of the unknown. They have to realize that they can do it. It can be a very emotional time.”

Even Jane still finds challenges with owning her own company — more than once she has dreamed about getting a paycheck from someone else instead of being the one making sure there is enough money to pay the payroll.

So whether you are seeking new employment from a company or venturing out on your own, you need to realize there will be challenges and frustrations, as well as thrills in your new career. As Glasgo says, a career transition is a journey, and not an overnight trip.

For those thinking of starting a new career, Glasgo has a checklist of advice to read before making the decision:

  • Make sure you are financially secure before retiring, leaving a job (on your own) or starting a new venture. The rule of thumb: Six months to one year of savings to cover all your living expenses. This goes double if you’re starting a new business. It generally takes anywhere from six months to several years for a new business to become profitable.
  • Look at your skill set. Pick out the things you love to do and the things you never want to do again. An honest list will help you figure out what you’re passionate about.
  • List the tasks, non-negotiables and other qualities that would be included in a dream job.
  • Develop a “target” list of companies, organizations or nonprofits who employ people with your talents and skills.
  • Begin to branch out and network with other people who have similar likes and interests. Let them know you are looking for a new path. Networking gives you the opportunity of multiple eyes looking for a position that is right for you.

A woman’s artistic journey through design, film, mental illness and several continents.

I first met designer, filmmaker and Cincinnati native Andrea Sisson outside a Cincinnati Ballet adult dance class. A beautiful, other-worldly creature who has little to no capacity for the superficial, Sisson makes it clear within minutes of conversation that she is wholly interested in how creativity and consciousness drive and inspire the human condition. Even before she uttered the words “Iceland, Fulbright, documentary, my brother Jake,” I was intrigued.

She is also 100-percent committed to whatever it is she intends so if she says, “I want you to meet my brother,” you will soon be on your way to meet him.

A week after I met her, Sisson, her husband Pete Ohs and I drove out to visit her younger brother Jake at a nursing home. The couple had recently returned from Iceland, where Sisson was a Fulbright Scholar, to support her brother; to launch their poetic documentary film, I Send You This Place; and to determine the next steps in the future of their creative union. Jake was recovering from a failed suicide attempt and now had broken limbs to accompany his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder (displaying both bipolar and schizophrenic behaviors).

We became fast friends and creative conspirators. In early January of this year, I sat down with Sisson at a Cincinnati coffee shop to fill in the blanks about her creative journey from Oak Hills High School to DAAP to Iceland to Yellow Springs and beyond.

MOST ARTISTIC

As a young girl, Sisson spent hours in her parent’s Green Township bathroom making theatre. The second oldest of four and the only girl, the household was tumultuous long before Jake’s mental illness began to take root. Sisson’s older brother Zack was born deaf and the adjustment process was a challenge for all.

Wearing different bracelets to represent different characters, the vanity mirror as a proscenium stage, she began to work out how the world worked by bringing life to the ideas in her mind.

“I had these imaginary friends. One had red hair that stood up and the other one had blue hair that stood out,” Sisson explains earnestly, emphasizing with her hands how, precisely, the red hair stood up and how the blue hair stood out. “They would argue in my head to work stuff out.”

It is immediately apparent that what Sisson describes as the products of her imagination are as real to her — maybe even more real — as the coffee cup in front of her.

“Creativity is listening to a certain consciousness. And I have always painted these characters to tell the story of myconsciousness,” she says. 

In middle school and high school, Sisson immersed herself in dance, drawing, painting and sewing. By her senior year at Oak Hills High School, she had organized her schedule so it was entirely comprised of art classes.

“Every night I went home and sewed my clothes for the next day,” Sisson explains. “It was the peak of my creativity.”

Her high school friends and teachers agreed. She was named Most Artistic student.

NOMADS, MUSICIANS AND ELVES

A high school art teacher’s suggestion that Sisson become a fashion designer led her to the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art and Planning school in 2005. “In my first year Design Foundation course I had a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” she says. “Using art to solve problems and create functional solutions to assist society, well, I loved it.”

In her third year, Sisson started to move around to various co-op jobs in New York, Iceland and Italy. “I was thinking a lot about the nomadic lifestyle and finding places to rest. I was thinking ‘What do you really need?’” she says, so she was inspired to create a knitwear sweater/jacket that turned into a chair.

The next functional item that intrigued Sisson was making clothing for musicians, including then College Conservatory of Music student Eddy Kwon. “I made a suit for Eddy’s violin. To me it was functional art to the max, a tuxedo with back pocket,” she says. “I started making other characters. I could see Eddy in a world where people wear tuxes and violins.”

Ann Firestone, DAAP Adjunct Instructor of Fashion, recalls Sisson as, “a true original and an extraordinary outside-the-box — and sometimes the universe — thinker; a phenomenal intellectual.”

At times, Sisson pushed so far outside of the box that it limited her commercial viability. “I made some outfits that were like ready-to-wear mountain landscapes,” Sisson explains. “Some corporate people came to a [critique] and wanted to know who would wear it. I said ‘elves.’ The audience laughed. They blew it off and gave me a bad score.”

To know Sisson is to know that in her out-of-the-universe universe, elves would wear it. So would she. Only lately did she come to understand the crit. “Now I know what they mean,” she says. “Now I would understand how to go back to the outfits and alter them to make them something for people to wear. My desire then was to explore and push.”

ICELAND CALLING

Sisson worked her student co-ops in great cities for well-known companies, but many of them were dissatisfying to her ambitious, creative spirit, particularly the floor-sweeping, errand-running parts of the job.

“I reached out to an Icelandic designer because I loved his poetry and designs so I wrote him this long email and specified what I wanted to do in my co-op and what I didn’t want to do,” Sisson recalls.

He wrote her back an even longer email, replying to each paragraph. 

“I almost cried. He received me and responded to me and was excited,” she says. “So I go to Iceland to discover he is crazier than I am and running a business. We made chairs out of concrete, we made a record case out of concrete, or we tried to anyway.”

For Sisson, it was a great experience. “All day long I would fold paper into purses. But really I was levitating above the table, in my mind space.”

Sisson returned to the Icelandic designer for her final co-op before graduation but was less satisfied, yearning for more of a creative partnership around ideas.

By the summer of 2010, she was back in Cincinnati, finishing up school and getting serious with her future husband, filmmaker Ohs.

“Then I got the Fulbright,” Sisson explains. “I got a letter from the U.S. Congress saying ‘We support what you do. Go do what you want.’ I thought ‘Oh my god, it worked! Being a little crazy is paying off.’”

The two married in August and two weeks later, with Ohs, Sisson moved back to Iceland to complete her Fulbright.

LAUREN EDWARD

According to their website, “Lauren Edward is the superhero that was born from the marriage of Andrea Lauren Sisson & Peter Edward Ohs.”

Sisson recalls that in Iceland, “We started sharing everything,” she says.” We wanted to be very creatively open. Pete makes my stuff better, more complete. And we are very honest. I will say ‘That’s not good’ when he says something. As a team, what’s his is now mine so it has to be good. I like that.”

Ohs, who is as thoughtful as Sisson and works to understand the world with equally rigorous ambition and intellect, explains the dynamic in similar ways. “She brings truth and purpose. She brings unfiltered emotion and unfaltering ethics. She is the barometer,” he says. “I can look at her and immediately know if we are on the right path or if we’re off course, if the pressure’s too high or if the stars are aligned. I put a lot of faith in her and I’m happy to do it.”

Ohs also appreciates Sisson’s “obsessive attention to detail.”

“Lines, pixels, colors, shapes, words, meanings; there are tiny details that can be subtly shifted within all these elements. It takes a gifted eye and a determined spirit to pay attention to all of them,” he says. “To borrow from the ‘forest for the trees’ idiom, Andrea lives in the forest and she absolutely loves each and every little animal, leaf and piece of bark.”

I SEND YOU THIS PLACE

Sisson’s obsessive attention to detail becomes a focal point early in the Lauren Edward documentary I Send You This Place. The film, shot in Iceland and Cincinnati, examines the nature of the mind when it becomes overwhelmed by place or circumstance. A love letter to Sisson’s brother Jake, ISYTP asks how we construct our ideas about what is and is not normal behavior. The visually poetic film follows Sisson’s journey as she questions if Jake would be deemed mentally ill in Iceland or by anyone who has experienced the tempestuous, brutal, strange beauty of the place itself.

ISYTP screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C., the Reykjavik International Film Festival in 2012 and in New York at the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival in February, 2013. It also enjoyed a Cincinnati screening at the Emery Theatre last November. It was the first time Sisson’s brother Jake had seen the film. Jake rarely watches anything on television or film so his steady presence throughout the hour-plus documentary was impressive. Afterward, Jake talked with friends and fans about his primary interest: gods and goddesses.

By the time of the Cincinnati screening, it had been a little over a year since Jake launched himself from a bridge and Sisson and Ohs had moved back from Iceland to spend time with him. They became convinced that the traditional, institutional, drug-heavy approach to Jake’s mental illness was keeping him sick. Last spring, they set off to find alternative treatment for Jake and ended up on a multi-week road trip, caring for him in his highly psychotic, non-medicated state.

Sisson thinks of the experience now as a way to validate her brother as he was convinced there was a better way for him to get better. “We trusted Jake to lead the way. It was his journey, it’s his life and we were trying to help,” she says. “I think this was a tremendous thing for Jake and my family. Jake being listened to. Validated.”

“I also got to spend time with my brother,” she says. “I hadn’t spent time with him since we were teenagers, since the ‘sickness.’ Pete and I wanted to stir up the situation, to help Jake, myself, others around him see him differently.”

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS FAR AWAY

Part of the vision for Jake had been pastoral: Find a farm where he can live and heal. While it turned out it was better for everyone — Jake included — to return to his parents, Sisson and Ohs have spent the past six months living in a rented Yellow Springs farmhouse, making short films for Spotify and other commercial concerns, traveling to film festivals (including Sundance for “research”) and moving into the next iteration of their shared vision.

Sisson’s next source of inspiration is film. She just isn’t exactly sure yet where that will take her; perhaps L.A., perhaps New York or both.

“We want to make films,” Sisson explains. “We are shooting one this spring about two people walking through a desert. A young man is carrying a wooden robot head. It’s his girlfriend and he wants to find the parts to fix her. Then he meets another woman. She is looking for a mythological lake. They are searching for something better and realize maybe they don’t want to be better anymore.”

The title of this indie mirage narrative, likely to feature Sisson as the girl looking for the mythological lake, is Everything Beautiful is Far Away.

I ask Sisson for a word to describe what the next six months look like for her and Ohs.

“Nomadic,” she says.

Lean into nature for a fresh and healthy look this spring.

Spring is here — or will be shortly — so it’s time for fresh faces and clean looks. Traditionally, “spring cleaning” means we disinfect our homes, reorganize our closets and generally purge our abodes of dirt and clutter; this means we also need to examine what’s in our makeup drawers and beauty bags.

Sure, we all have our favorite palettes, nail polishes and mascaras but, like food, almost all makeup has an expiration date. Not only can things start to get clumpy and dry out but products can also become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria — especially makeup that contains moisture. Expensive to replace? Yes, it can be. Worth a good case of pink eye, Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Staphylococcus epidermidis? Absolutely not.

Here are some guidelines for when to toss your makeup:   

Mascara and eyeliner: every three months. Our eyes are most susceptible to infection, so in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation you should replace your mascara at least once every three months. The same is true with eyeliner — liquid or pencil. I realize you probably have many different shades of liner but once you use one, bacteria can begin to build on the tip.   

Liquid foundation and concealer: every 12 months. Or sooner if you dip your fingers or a makeup brush into the foundation instead of using a pump; this increases the odds of bacterial growth.   

Cream blush and cream eyeshadow: every 12 months. And always use a new applicator when you’re applying them: Q-tip, freshly washed hands, clean makeup sponge, etc.   

Lipstick, lipgloss and lip liner:every 18-24 months. Toss them earlier if they start to dry out or you used them when you were sick or had a cold sore. Lip liners may last a little longer because you can continuously sharpen them, exposing new product.   

Powder products (blush, bronzer, eyeshadow):every 24 months. You can also spray powdered items with 99 percent isopropyl alcohol to help kill surface bacteria.   

Makeup brushes: It’s a good idea to clean these once a week to prevent bacterial build-up. Wash them with a gentle shampoo and then let them air dry. 

My tip: Put a “trash” date on your makeup packages with a marker so you know when to replace them. Also, if any of your products start smelling strange, change color or texture or you apply them while you have an infection, you’ll need to stop using them immediately and throw them away.

Now that you’ve purged, let’s consider a “fresh” approach to your new product selection. While in the past organic makeup didn’t conjure up images of glamorous palettes, things have changed. There are now several natural skincare and makeup brands with a range of innovative, contemporary and actually pretty offerings to consider. Here are a few of my favorites:   

Dr. Hauschka
This brand is famous for organic skincare products, but the company also has a complete line of makeup products including foundation, powders, mascara, lipstick, eye shadows and more. Dr. Hauschka’s organic makeup is certified by BDIH (the Germany-based nonprofit association of industries and trading firms for pharmaceuticals) and contains no synthetic chemicals. Their products are formulated using organic and biodynamic ingredients and pure minerals. My personal favorite: Natural Allure Illuminating Powder — a delightful pure silk powder that gives you a light shimmer.  

Ecco Bella
Ecco Bella cosmetics have some of the highest amounts of organic components. This makeup brand has a complete line of cosmetics as well as skincare products. The company’s products are free of preservatives, artificial colors and gluten and full of natural ingredients like organic jojoba oil, calendula and chamomile. Their products are also reasonably priced. For fresh, dewy lips this spring, check out Good For You Gloss in “Pleasure.” Your lips will thank you; your admirers will compliment you!

Suki Color
Suki Color organic makeup is made using only natural plant extracts and pure minerals. The company’s products are great even for the most sensitive skin (I have rosacea and my skin loves this brand). Suki Color has multiple benefits — you look great and the makeup is packed with organic ingredients including omega oils and plant extracts that nourish and moisturize the skin. For lovely-all-over, fresh skin coverage, try their Tinted Active Moisturizer. You’ll be treated to a velvety finish with cell-turnover benefits.

Tricks and tips in mastering the art of feminine mystique/.

Chalk it up to spending a weekend night at a drag show. After lip-syncing along to Whitney Houston as the queens strutted through an audience of enthusiastic admirers, I realized there was a lot to learn from the art of drag performance. Mastering the balance of exaggerated femininity and tawdry humor, power and flirtatiousness, look-at-me bravado and love-me-please vulnerability takes serious skill.

So on a Friday evening, I stopped by The Cabaret in Over-the-Rhine to chat with former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Mystique Summers (née Donte “B*tch I’m from Chicago” Sims) to pick up a few tips “real girls” can use. I joined Mystique backstage in the dressing room, a wonderland of sequins, lights, wigs and mirrors — and enough makeup to make even the least girly girl feel like a kid in a candy shop. As she put on her face she said, “I’m all about bright colors and having fun and being bright on stage. I could spend 12, 13, 15 hours putting on makeup.” Clearly, I’ve come to the right person.

CONTOUR CLUB

I ask Mystique about contouring, which, despite having watched numerous YouTube tutorials, I still haven’t managed to master. “Contouring is god’s gift,” according to Mystique. It’s a way to create shadow and de-emphasize certain features. It can make your face look thinner, your nose look smaller, etc.

To achieve the illusion, you’ll need a shading powder, a highlighting powder and a brush. For shading, Mystique suggests, “Black girls need a nice, healthy brown with a bit of burgundy; a light brown works for white ladies.” You could also try bronzer. To increase the contour effect and enhance the areas where light would naturally fall on the face, highlight your cheekbones and browbones, Mystique says to use a powder “one to two shades lighter than your skin.”

HOW TO CONTOUR:

  1. Apply the contour powder to the perimeter of your face along your hairline, jawline and then under your chin to elongate. Next, hit the sides and tip of your nose with contour to make your nose appear longer and straighter, and then apply underneath your natural cheekbones, parallel to your jaw, to emphasize them.
  2. Use a buffing brush to blend, blend, blend. There shouldn’t be any obvious lines — everything should be a nice, subtle gradient.
  3. Focus on applying highlighting powder to the area around your eyes, your browbone, down the center of your nose, the top of your cheekbones, the middle of your chin and in a “V” shape from the middle of your forehead.

A COMPLETE FALSIFICATION

Applying false eyelashes is another makeup trick that stumps me, and it seems I’m not the only one. I’ve noticed quite a few women with asymmetrical tarantula-like lashes hanging from their eyelids, which is obviously not a good look — you need to use lashes that are at least somewhat realistic.

“The length they sell at Walmart and Walgreens is fine,” says Mystique. “The ones you get at the $1.99 beauty supply …” she trails off disdainfully. Apparently, that’s when you start heading into tarantula territory.

HOW TO APPLY FALSE LASHES

  1. Bend the lashes into an arc several times to make the band more flexible. You want a shape that will closely fit your lash line.
  2. Put a thin line of lash glue on the back of your hand and then dip the band of the eyelashes lightly into the glue. Let it dry for a few seconds until it’s tacky to the touch. “I use hair glue,” notes Mystique (which is not necessarily recommended for day-to-day).
  3. Start applying the lashes at the inner corner of your eye and work your way out.
  4. Finish blending your natural and false eyelashes together by curling them and adding a few coats of mascara.

HEEL, GIRL

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to wear heels. However, if you’re teetering around OTR like a drunken mummy in your Kardashian-esque platforms, please take note: Getting your strut on in heels requires skill and skills require practice.

The best way to practice? “Put on your heels and vacuum,” Mystique advises. “That way, you’re walking, not thinking about your heels.”

HOW TO WALK IN HEELS

  1. Practice on carpet and start small. “Start out with a three-inch heel,” says Mystique and work your way up from there.
  2. Think about putting your heel and the ball of your foot down at the same time. It should look and feel like your entire foot is hitting the ground in one smooth motion.
  3. Adjust the length of your stride. This is one of the trade-offs of wearing heels — it’s just not possible to walk as quickly as usual. A shorter stride puts less stress on your hips and calves.

Filled with newfound knowledge, I leave the dressing room to let Mystique finish getting ready for the show. The next day, she sends me a picture of her finished makeup look, all sparkling orange eyeshadow, violet lips and lashes for days. Admiring the photo, I’m reminded that a flick of eyeliner, a bold stiletto or a dramatic lip can accentuate whatever part of my personality is dominant at the moment. That “you can be anything” feeling I get from watching drag queens perform makes me feel powerful. And maybe that’s the most important lesson.

A ‘magicool’ outdoor wedding.

Carla Morales and Phil Valois were eager to bring their professional talents and personal style together as they designed their June 4, 2011 wedding. And as graphic designers, no aspect of their DIY ceremony and reception was left untouched.

Carla, a house rabbit mom who designs under the name Carla Rabbit, and Phil, a graphic designer who loves goats, quickly decided on a Goat Groom and Bunny Bride theme — especially fitting since they wed in the Year of the Rabbit.

“Phil and I are makers,” says Carla, who designs with her now-husband under the moniker Reptiles+Rainbows. “We are always working on art and design projects, be it for ourselves or for a client. … Our DIY approach to the wedding is just the way we work.”

The ceremony and reception were both held at the Oak Ridge Lodge in Mount Airy Forest, tucked away from loud noise and busy streets.

“I loved the giant trees, so we set up the ceremony on the grass and used the woods as our backdrop,” Carla says of the venue. “Mount Airy Forest also has a really cool, big treehouse that I always thought would be fun for photos, so Phil and I took some of our portraits in there.” Photographer Johanna Virta captured the day. 

They transformed the outdoor venue into a “50 shades of lavender” affair with 36-inch purple balloons, tissue paper puffs and paper garlands and incorporated their style as a couple and as individuals with unique touches of rabbits and goats.

“Everything had to comply with the Goat Groom, Bunny Bride identity we created,” says Carla, “even the scent and color of the bathroom soap — lavender. We brewed two kinds of beer and designed the label on the bottles. Like the bride’s ‘Bunny Brew’ was light and sweet with traces of lavender; ‘Goat’s Milk’ was dark and heavy like Phil.” Their wedding program even doubled as a goat/bunny mask and a fan.

The ceremony commenced with a modest wedding party strolling down grass to Elvis tunes. The bridesmaids wore various hues of purple while the groomsmen wore furry Lamb’s Ear leaves on their suits. In lieu of a ring bearer, Phil and Carla had a ring bear: Carla’s five-year-old nephew wore a furry bear hat and carried the rings on two wild carrots. Phil wore a hand-died bowtie courtesy of local design studio, Brush Factory. And then Carla made her entrance in a short Anna Sui gown with gold glitter Vivienne Westwood plastic heels.

“My first (and only) stop was at Anna Sui, one of my longtime favorite designers and the inspiration behind our black and lavender wedding colors,” Carla says. Her hair was a work of art all its own, styled by Jessie Hoffman of Parlour salon, with a real rabbit skull attached to a gold netting birdcage fascinator Carla made herself.

Before the walk down the aisle, Carla was eager, not anxious. “My sisters couldn’t believe how calm I was,” she says. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I couldn’t wait to walk down that grass. I remember thinking, ‘All my friends are here, my family is here, I’m about to marry Phil, let’s do this!’” The ceremony closed with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. 

The reception was just a hop away from the nuptial site. Guests found their table numbers listed on lavender-flavored rock candy and followed them to glass table numbers cast from numbered birthday candles, courtesy of the friends and family who created them at Brazee Street Studios, where Carla acts as visual director. The dinner was vegetarian, perfect for a rabbit and goat, and Carla’s sister baked the wedding cake, which was complimented by gelato from Dojo Gelato.

Suiting up as centerpieces were plaster goat and bunny heads with jade succulents sprouting from the eyes. “Phil and I don’t like flowers; we like plants,” says Carla, who carried a purple artichoke bouquet from H.J. Benken florist. So the groom’s mother grew and grafted each centerpiece for the event. After the guests found their tables, the new duo hit the dance floor.

“Our first dance was a swing routine to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ crazy rendition of the classic “I Love Paris” — our rabbit’s name is Paris,” she says, “Everyone danced and sang with Sexy Time Live Band Karaoke.”  

Capping off the night with a torrential downpour, the newlyweds and their guests danced under the rain while the band continued jamming. “Those guys were so cool to keep the party rolling,” says Carla. The couple and their partygoers ended their blissful day indoors enjoying one last acoustic tune.

A gin cocktail with Chartreuse.

The Last Word, a Prohibition-era gin cocktail, was created at the Detroit Athletic Club during the 1920s. Frank Fogarty, “the Dublin Minstrel,” a famous vaudeville comedian, discovered the drink there and brought the recipe with him to New York. It was first written down in Ted Saucier’s famous cocktail recipe book, Bottoms Up, in 1951.

The use of Chartreuse, an herbal French liqueur, is important to this drink. If you haven’t had Chartreuse, you are in for a treat. Chartreuse is a very old liqueur that dates back to 1605. The story goes that King Henry IV’s artillery marshal presented a recipe for an ancient elixir that claimed to give the imbiber long life to the Carthusian monks. The recipe was super complex, blending 130 different herbs and botanicals in an alcohol base, and it took the monks until 1737 to decipher and perfect the recipe at their headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery in southeastern France.

Originally intended for medicinal purposes, today the liqueur is drunk straight and very cold or in cocktails, like this one. The Chartreuse monks still use the same ancient recipe to create the spirit in their distillery in France and, to protect the recipe, it’s said that only two or three monks know how to prepare the different parts of the herbal mixture at any given time. 

THE LAST WORD

INGREDIENTS:
1 ½ oz. gin
½ oz. lime
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
¾ oz. Chartuese 

INSTRUCTIONS:
Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Cool-girl street style meets classic urban wear.

Pick and choose from these top trends to put a pop in your wardrobe and “spring” in your step: gobs of gold, incandescent neons, translucent accents and sporty athletic wear.

On Maddie: Dress, $50, Tulle, Trend Boutique, 2946 Markbreit Ave., Oakley; Jacket, $35, Need Vintage.

On Maddie: Dress (worn under shirt), $348, 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent, Kate boutique, 2732 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Shirt, $30, part of a set, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Cynthia Vincent booties, $375, Kate boutique, 2732 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Aztec Tetra Necklace, $288, Kora, VogueVert; Naxos Ring, $174, Nettie Kent Jewelry, VogueVert; Jupiter Triangle Bag, $187, Mettle, VogueVert.

On Terrance: Pants, $125, 10.Deep, Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; T-shirt, $35, Vitamorte, Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Striped button-up, $74, The Hundreds, Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Hat, $40, Dope Couture, Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Belt, $35, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Shoes, model’s own.

On Sierra: Shorts, $35, vintage Ralph Lauren, Need Vintage; Jacket, stylist’s own; Shoes, model’s own.

On Ashley: Shirt, $20, Need Vintage; Shorts, $30, Need Vintage; Jacket, $18, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Belt, $12, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Booties, $99, Heart Throb, Morrison & Me, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Beaded bracelets, $252 & $365, Flutter, VogueVert; Luna Chain lucite bracelet, $48, Mettle, VogueVert; MilkyWay Connector Ring, $79, Mettle, VogueVert; Ceres Clutch, $99, Mettle, VogueVert.

On Maddie: Dress, $30, vintage Kenneth Cole, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Jeans, $175, 7 For All Mankind, Kate boutique, 2732 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Shoes, $125, Fiel, Morrison & Me, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Triangle Lapel Pins, $90, Mettle, VogueVert; Olivia Top Handle Bag, $655, Jess Ruzzuti, VogueVert; Talon rings, stylist’s own. On Terrance: Pants, $125, GPPR, Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; T-shirt, $20, handmade by Need Vintage; Sweater, $300, vintage Gucci, Legit Vintage; Shoes, model’s own.

On Ashley: Tank, $25, vintage, Legit Vintage; Skirt, $20, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Boots, $250, Cordani, Morrison & Me, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; Mikri Vigla Pendant, $198, Nettie Kent Jewelry, VogueVert; Delos Bangle, $348 each, Nettie Kent Jewelry, VogueVert; Mister Bag, $584, Novella Royale, VogueVert.

On Maddie: Dress, $50, Tulle, Trend Boutique, 2946 Markbreit Ave., Oakley, trendcincinnati.com; Jacket, $35, Need VintageOn Ashley: Jersey, $25, Legit Vintage; Pants, $60, vintage Paul Alexander, Hi-Bred Vintage, 2548 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-240-4664; Denim jacket, stylist’s own.

All jewelry and bags featured in this shoot were borrowed from VogueVert, an online shopping boutique that offers the “conscious minded woman access to the newest, most talented green and compassionate designers, all in one place.” Founded by Cincinnati-based Kathy Hamm, a financial advisor, artist and philanthropist, any woman would be proud to wear VogueVert’s impeccably curated collection of beautifully made, high-end designs — even if they didn’t have a green-leaning bone in their body. And if supporting the store through products wasn’t enough, one dollar from every purchase and ten percent of their overall profits go to the VogueVert Charitable Foundation to fund scholarships for design students that support the protection of the environment, animals and women around the globe.

Stylist and creative director: Betsy Wecker
Models: Maddie Mroz and Ashley Dunsing
Dancers: Sierra Rayniece and Terrence Smith from Urban Impresario, a nonprofit creative talent agency encouraging raw talent, young creative minds, artists and social entrepreneurs to grow as independent professionals, urbanimpresario.org
Hair and Makeup: Brant Dutle, Megan Middleton and Cecili Robison of Paul Mitchell The School Cincinnati

Inside Suzanne Marie Lambert’s East Walnut Hills home.

Taking a step into artist Suzanne Marie Lambert’s cozy East Walnut Hills home is like strolling through a three-dimensional scrapbook — every surface is laden with trinkets from multiple continents, family photographs, colorful art and an array of inspiring quotes.

Friends often gasp that it feels like a museum and after exhibiting her personal artwork in France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and many U.S. cities, one would only expect Parisian flea-market treasures, Algerian baubles and mementos from New Mexico nature walks to cluster into a personal archive. Lambert’s sense of creating an aesthetic journey through artifacts and portraitsis not only prevalent in her home, but her artwork as well.

Lambert lives the artist’s dream of being a painter, photographer and sculptor, traveling to various cities and leaving her paintings in galleries and homes like footprints left behind. Nestled among the historic mansion-style domiciles of East Walnut Hills, her home is perfectly niched between the bustle of downtown and the eclecticism of O’Bryonville.

Although she spent many years living in the sunlight and warmth of South Beach and time in Paris, Lambert loves the convenience and collaboration Cincinnati has to offer.

“Once I moved here, I got immersed in it,” Lambert says. “There’s a really strong connection between artists here and working together. I think that Cincinnati is getting a name for itself in visual arts.”

Lambert used to have a studio in a large, local warehouse, but traveling out of her home never seemed to be on her agenda. “I ended up never going there because I didn’t feel like leaving,” she says. “I always ended up painting in my kitchen.”

Luckily, Lambert’s large, high-ceilinged dining room is all the escape she needs to create her abstract, vibrant-hued murals and paintings. Cacti and art supplies line the long hand-painted windows, which bring in enough sunlight to illuminate the room like a Southwestern sun parlor.

When inspiration subsides in Cincinnati, Lambert turns to her studio in the south side of Paris, which she visits three times a year. However, she’s always happy to leave the sidewalks of the City of Light and return home. “I kind of live in my studio now, it’s taken up my whole house.” See her work at suzannemarielambert.com.

“Most of my paintings I do as sort of an expression or reflection of a place I’ve been or a person that I know,” Lambert says. “I’ve done a lot of paintings about Paris. Sometimes I write things on the side in distressed French.” Her paintings can be found around Cincinnati in Urban Eden in OTR, Cafe De Paris in Garfield Park and many homes throughout the city.

Walking across Lambert’s paint-splotched canvas floor emits the feeling of walking across an artist’s palette. “I save the canvas that I use as a floor drop and stretch it, frame it and sell them,” she says.

Handwritten and cut-out quotes from Henry David Thoreau and Marcel Duchamp are juxtaposed on the wall next to photos of Andy Warhol and an image of Miles Davis, peering from a postcard with a confident gaze. All of these chosen words reflect Lambert’s daily mantra, “They’re what I want to remind myself,” she says. One of her favorite quotes comes from Victor Hugo: “There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”

“I crave color, I desire light” is a quote Lambert penned many years ago, which ruminates throughout her work. This corner of her dining-room-turned-studio is her “place of contemplation, rumination, reading, writing, picture-looking and dreaming.” The windows behind the chair are a pair from her vast collection of abandoned windows, which she paints, adding a trendy yet rustic feel throughout the home.

“Sometimes you’ll be on the Metro in Paris and I’ve seen these gypsy guys just jump on the Metro and start playing … it’s so fun because they’re always so free and into it and they’re rockin’ it and that’s how they make a living,” she says. This inspiration has led Lambert to pursue the accordion. “My fantasy is this: I just want to have an exhibition and when everybody’s there I’ll just whip out the accordion and start playing.”

“A photograph is a painting made with other tools,” Lambert says. One of Lambert’s favorite subjects to photograph is people, from musicians to her own family. Family portraits ornament the mantelpiece and bookshelves. Black and white portraits of her son compliment teal and orange photos of Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe — Lambert’s  favorite female painters.

Lambert dismisses traditional notebook buying for a new, upcycled approach: turning colorful catalogue pages blank again. “I decided that instead of throwing away books, you know, little brochures, I thought that if I painted pages, then I can draw in them and use them as journals,” she says.

“This one, I’ve already started using as my journal,” she says.

“I have many groups of photographs of my family and loved ones around my place. The two photos, which can be seen, are one of me sitting on a sidewalk curb at Findlay Market; my granddaughter is just in view over my right shoulder. The other photograph is of my grandmother, Torah Lambert, who I adored. She lived to be 102 years old,” Lambert says. “Also you [can] see a small ceramic bowl. I made this bowl when I was in 8th grade. It was the first clay I ever worked with. I was really into hand-painting little blue flowers on my creations at that time.”

Rustic colors are often seen in Lambert’s paintings, influenced from her frequent visits to her daughter in Albuquerque. “The skull was a gift from a longtime, dear friend,” she says. “My favorite things to do in the Southwest are to hike, photograph, paint, eat local foods, mostly enjoying the big, blue sky, mountains and my family, of course.”