Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My 15 Favorite Beauty Purchases of 2015

I meant to post this earlier, but life (in the form of interview prep, followed by actual interviewing, followed by jetlag) got in the way, so here we are almost halfway through January and I still haven't written about my favorite beauty purchases of 2015. But that's about to change! A few notes before we get started:
  • Few of these are technically perfect products; they're just the products that I enjoyed the most in 2015.
  • This list is not just for new-in-2015 products, but products that were new to me in 2015. I rarely buy limited-edition products or make a purchase before reading lots of reviews, so most of the makeup and skincare I buy has been around for at least a year or two. There are a couple of exceptions on this list, though!
  • I've listed these products not in order of preference (I'm not sure what would make a lipstick "better" than a moisturizer) but in chronological order of purchase.
  • In order to show how much I've used each item, I've included photos of the products as they are now, not as they were when new and pristine.
  • I've linked to my original reviews where available, but I've still to review a couple of products from the end of the year, and I'm as lazy as ever about reviewing hair and skin products (shame).
  • My silver glitter background must be acknowledged.

1. NARS Audacious Lipstick in Angela


I hesitated before putting this lipstick on my list, because the Audacious formula didn't quite live up to the hype for me. (Just as well: I really can't afford any more $32 lipsticks.) Yes, Angela applies smoothly and opaquely in one swipe and looks great, but it also transfers easily and dries out my lips after a couple of hours, and the color is hard to scrub off at the end of the day. But I love Angela's bright purplish pink color, a refreshing antidote to the gray-toned taupes and Kardashian browns that flooded Instagram in 2015. And though I fell as hard for brown lipstick as any other #bblogger last year, I don't want to slap the cosmetic equivalent of a sepia filter on my face every day. I think there's still a place in the beauty world for punchy magentas like Angela. Its place on this list is symbolic: it's a mini-manifesto in a tube. Up with color!


2. ColourPop Super Shock Shadow in Bill


Bill, on the other hand, fits in perfectly with 2015's taupe craze. It's a soft gray-toned brownish pink (much pinker on my lids than in the pan); its trendy lip-color equivalent is perhaps ColourPop's own matte liquid lipstick in Trap. I tried five ColourPop shadows in 2015 and was disappointed by four of them (including another matte), but Bill is a winner: lightweight, opaque, versatile, and easy to blend. Note, though, that I hit pan after five-ish uses: the ColourPop eyeshadow pans are very shallow, despite the apparent depth of the white pots. Like the Lippie Stix, the Super Shock Shadows are essentially deluxe samplessomething to keep in mind if you're tempted by that low price point. Honestly, I don't mind the small size: cream eyeshadows dry out quickly and I'd rather try three different colors for $5 each than spend $15 on a single cream shade that I might not use up before it expires. I do, however, mind ColourPop's misleading and wasteful packaging. Lame.

3. Topshop Matte Lip Bullet in Plastique


Plastique's formula isn't quite as flawless as that of my other Matte Lip Bullet, Get Me Bodied, but it's still non-drying, lightweight, and opaque in two coats. And that lavender pink is a color I never knew I needed (or could pull off). It may not be my, or anyone's, most flattering color, but it makes me so damned happy. Hey, remember when I had short hair?


 4. Butter London Fruit Machine and Bossy Boots


My best friend in kindergarten and first grade was half British and half American. Despite being born and bred in the Boston area, she had ended up with her mother's British accent and mannerisms (her mother was a correspondent for the BBC and had no doubt made her influence felt). One day I was at my friend's house and we were playing with her Barbies. I asked if I could put a different dress on one of the Barbies, and my friend said no. Her mother heard this and interjected, "Don't be a Miss Bossy Boots!" My friend shot back, "You're a Miss Bossy Boots!" I think of that moment every time I wear Butter London Bossy Boots, a pale pistachio that Liz gave me when we met up in Toronto last May. I can't believe Liz parted with this amazing color!


I fell in love with not one but two Butter Londons last spring. The other was Fruit Machine, a lavender-tinged bubblegum pink that matched Plastique almost exactly. I don't often gravitate toward pink nail polish, but when I do fall for a pink, I fall hard.


5. Lush Shampoo Bar in Jason and the Argan Oil and Solid Conditioner in Big


2014 was my Year of Bad Hair. It didn't start off that way: I got a fabulous pixie cut in January and looked forward to rocking it for a long time to come. But I soon discovered that a pixie is a rich woman's game, or at least a middle-class woman's game: it needs to be touched up at least every two months, and I couldn't afford the constant upkeep. So I started growing my pixie into a more graduate-stipend-friendly bob, and in the course of 2014 went through every iteration of terrible short hair known to womankind. By the new year, my hair had grown into something resembling a haircut that a real human being might actually want on her head, but I was still dissatisfied. My hair is a little problematic (isn't everyone's?): it's fine, but I have a lot of it, and it's quite wavy. Because of its fineness, it's extremely responsive to humidity. On damp summer days, it balloons into curly splendor; on dry winter days, it looks like a limp, sad handful of straw. My Pantene shampoo and conditioner weren't giving me much control over my hair texture, and in desperation I decided to try one of Lush's new shampoo bars, the rose-scented Jason and the Argan Oil, which takes the prize for the best classical pun in the cosmetics industry to date. You rub the bar all over your wet hair, work the product into your scalp so that it foams up, and rinse it out as you would a regular shampoo.

I started using Jason and the Argan Oil while visiting my boyfriend in the UK. After a transatlantic flight, we returned to his apartment to discover that the hot water had stopped working. For nearly a week, I had to heat water on the stove, carry it back to the shower stall, and pour it all over myself. And yet my hair had never looked bettersmooth and shiny with well-defined waves. I was so pleased with Jason that I started using Lush's solid conditioner in Big, which smells like vanilla and contains bits of sea salt for extra volume and texture. It's now hard for me to imagine going back to conventional shampoo and conditioner. Every day is a good hair day, or at least a decent hair day, which is still a huge improvement over my previous average.

There is, however, a learning curve to these products. They should be stored away from the shower or bath to prevent them from disintegrating. You'll want to buy one of Lush's metal tins for the shampoo bar, and keep the bar in the tin even when you rub it on your head. If you remove Jason from the tin too often, it will start to crumble, leaving your bathtub looking like you've killed a harpy in it (two can play that game, Lush). In the photo above, you can see that my current bar of Jason, despite being relatively new, has already cracked. Because Lush doesn't make tins for its conditioner bars, I store Big in a soap dish. Same principle applies here: instead of getting the whole bar wet, keep it outside the shower and pinch off little pieces as needed (it's much softer than the shampoo bars). This might be too fussy for you; it's almost too fussy for me, but I can't argue with the results. And I love that using solid shampoo and conditioner has reduced my carbon footprint: no more bottles to discard! FYI, Lush makes twelve different shampoo bars; I've also tried Honey, I Washed My Hair with almost identical results. I suspect that it's really just a matter of which scent you prefer.

6. Illamasqua Nail Varnish in Melange


Melange, a dusty teal flecked with gold and red, was the only nail polish in Illamasqua's Fall 2014 collection. The collection, called Once, evoked decaying rococo glamour, the warm brown light of autumn, and the turquoise patina on bronze statues. The promotional shots for Once couldn't have been more to my taste if Illamasqua had consulted me personally:


In May 2015, I walked into the Birmingham Selfridges uncertain whether I'd come out with Melange or Facet, a gold-spattered dark gray. One glance at the bottles, though, and my choice was made. The nuances of Melange are hard to capture on camera, but here's the best I've done:


Melange applies smoothly and stays chip-free for several days. I'd recommend two coats instead of my usual three—an extra coat tends to dampen the complexity of the gold and copper flecks. Wear this and feel like a weathered statue in an overgrown eighteenth-century garden! You know you want to.

7. ColourPop Super Shock Cheek in Monster 


A couple of months ago, I received my first truly hostile blog comment. In the early days of my blog, I wrote a post lamenting that female academics who wear visible makeup are often perceived as shallow or less-than-serious. Nearly a year and a half later, someone left a vitriolic note to the effect that makeup-wearing female academics should be perceived as shallow, because the entire purpose of makeup is to trick men into seeing women as pubescent and sexually available...oh, and "I am a scientist."

There were many things I could have said in my defense (seriously, ask your nearest scientist how they feel about evolutionary psychology; I'll wait). But I didn't feel that a full response was worth my time, and I still don't. Why should I compose a detailed reply when the perfect rejoinder is sitting on my shelf? ColourPop's highlighter in Monster, a metallic pink, flies in the face of every complaint about the "trickery" of makeup. Monster is blatantly unnatural. No one would mistake it for the flush of youth or sexual attraction. It's just fun, in the same way that matte purple lipstick or holographic nail polish is fun. In 2015, we can make ourselves look like neo-Rococo cyborgs for a mere $8, and that's something to celebrate. Now let's stop rehashing misogynistic anti-makeup treatises from the mid-17th century, how about that?

8. CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion


It's by far the least aesthetically pleasing entry on my list, but CeraVe PM has more than earned its place here. Until the middle of 2015, my night cream was First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream. Because it didn't break me out or irritate my skin, I assumed it was "working." But I didn't look any more refreshed in the morning than I had at night, and the cream did nothing for the fine lines around my eyes. Internet research led me to CeraVe PM, which contained hyaluronic acid, an ingredient absent from my Ultra Repair Cream. I bought a bottle, smeared it on that night...and woke up the next morning to find myself transformed in my bed into a giant insect free of the fine lines that had bedeviled me for so long. No, not permanently free, but so long as I use CeraVe PM every night before bed, I wake up with smooth skin. The lines come back with dehydration and everyday stress, but the moisturizer fills them in again like magic. CeraVe PM is also completely scentless, a nice change from the strong eucalyptus scent of the Ultra Repair Cream. My one quibble is that the pump stops working reliably when I get down to the last fourth or fifth of the bottle, but I can live with that.

9. Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Rapture


I bought this specifically as a "professional lipstick": "professional" not by my usual clownish standards but by the actual standards of my profession. I wore it for teaching, for job interviews, and just for fun, and it never made me feel less than pulled-together. The soft rosy plum of Rapture is neutral but not boring: it's darker and purpler than a MLBB without straying into goth territory. I do wish it were a bit longer-wearing, but it's opaque and comfortable and it disguises the ever-present dry bits on my lips, so I think I'll live.

10. theBalm Custom Eyeshadow Palette 


I can't believe I still haven't reviewed this. It's next on my list of drafts, I promise. Suffice to say that I'm disappointed in only two of the shades (the bright purple and sparkly brown), but have been getting quite a lot of use out of the others, especially the three neutrals in the top row and the dark matte plum at bottom right. theBalm continues to be one of the most underrated beauty brands out there, and I can't figure out why. Is it the cardboard packaging of their palettes? Is it that they don't send samples to the most popular YouTube gurus? No, I've got it now: it's that I haven't yet discussed this palette at length on my blog. Don't worry, theBalm. Your moment is coming.

11. Essie Leggy Legend


I find Essie to be an annoyingly inconsistent brand. Some of my very favorite polishes are by Essie, and some of my patchiest, gloppiest, and most chip-prone polishes are by Essie. Leggy Legend falls into the former category. Not only does it apply smoothly and last a decently long time (three-ish days) before chipping, it's also a more complex shade than I usually associate with Essie: a dark metallic bronze with tiny flecks of red and no visible brushstrokes. I bought this in September and have already finished almost a quarter of the bottle—quite a feat, considering that I own about 75 bottles of polish.

12. Heritage Store Rosewater and Glycerin


First things first: this facial mist is probably made by a cult. It contains glycerin, rose oil, and water, but not just any water, oh no:


Wikipedia tells me that Edgar Cayce was a Christian mystic active in the American South in the early 20th century. Renowned for giving psychic readings while in a trance state, Cayce espoused various kinds of alternative medicine including, presumably, "Vor-mag water." Though I don't subscribe even a little to this sort of thing, I appreciate the modesty of the folks at the Heritage Store: they're tactful enough to admit that the benefits of vortexed water are a matter of personal belief.  But maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the good vibrations of this product, because it's made quite a difference in my skincare routine. I spray the mist on my face a few times per day: after showering, before applying makeup, and whenever I need a quick moment of refreshment (it was a godsend during the bleak, sleepless nights of job-application season). It smells heavenly, it leaves my skin feeling smoother and more moisturized, and unlike many mists and toners on the market, it contains no alcohol. I suppose I could decant it into a prettier container, but I like seeing the gaudy fuchsia plastic and the bizarro health claims. I did grow up in San Francisco, after all, and this packaging reminds me of home.

13. Urban Decay Afterglow Blush in Rapture


After I tried on Rapture for the first time, I decided it was too close to NARS Mata Hari and Sleek Flushed once blended out. I told myself to return it...and then wore it almost every day for three months. Whoops. In retrospect, Rapture isn't terribly similar to the other two blushes: Mata Hari is lighter and pinker, and Flushed is warmer and redder. (In fact, Flushed no longer has a real place in my makeup wardrobe, since Rapture has replaced it in all my brick/bronze/brown/plum looks.) Rapture is one of my easiest blushes to wear: the formula sits perfectly on my skin, the color melds nicely with my complexion, and the slight gold sheen makes me look a little more alive, yet not, you know, strobed. Here I am wearing Rapture with one of my favorite lipsticks, Revlon Matte Balm in Sultry:


It's rare that I get this excited about a blush, but Rapture is so good that I have to make a conscious effort to give my other blushes some attention. If you're looking for a plum blush, try this one. Seriously.

14. NARS Semi-Matte Lipstick in 413 BLKR 


This deep, brownish, slightly plummy red is my very favorite makeup purchase of 2015. I don't have much more to say about 413 BLKR than I said in my initial review, except that I bought it two and a half months ago and I have yet to tire of it. My love for this color is making me reconsider my seasonal affiliation: am I actually an autumn instead of a winter? Scandal!

15. Urban Decay Naked2 Basics Palette


I asked for Naked2 Basics as an early Christmas present because I wanted a selection of reasonably cool-toned matte browns and a couple of matte highlight shades. And now I have those shades, and that's just fine. As you may be able to tell, this palette hasn't blown my mind (I initially typed "brown my mind"): matte brown eyeshadow is unexciting by definition, at least to me. Plus, the shades are too close to each other to allow for a wide range of non-muddy looks, and the shadows are so finely milled that I find myself with a lot of excess powder floating around after I swirl my brush in the pans. So, uh, why is this palette on my best-of-2015 list? Well, the colors pair well with more interesting eyeshadows from other palettes, and Frisk, Cover, and Primal are ideal for my go-to lazy one-shade looks. Naked2 Basics has filled a huge gap in my collection, and I reach for it whenever I want an overall brown-toned look. This really was the year of Urban Decay for me, wasn't it? I started 2015 with just one Urban Decay item and ended it with a total of six (the two absent from this list are the Revolution Lipstick in 69 and the 24-Hour Glide-Onwhateverthefuck liner in Demolition).

And we're done! I was going to include some honorable mentions, but that's too tl;dr even for the likes of me. Instead, here's a photo of one of my dad's cats in a box:

20 comments:

  1. Oh my! Great picks indeed. What I liked in these picks are the lippies. All are so very pretty. Love the colors and pigmentation.

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    1. Lipsticks are my favorite beauty products by far, so I actually have to make an effort to buy anything else! In my first couple of years of makeup collecting, I had dozens of lipsticks, one blush, and just a couple of eyeshadows.

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  2. I swatched Rapture in Sephora when it came out... Such a beautiful colour... Perhaps it would make a great eyeshadow as well ! I didn't get it because I already own Flushed, and it looks straight up copper on me :(

    Academia is harsh, and its rules are totally indecipherable to a newcomer... My supervisor recently described it as a "viper's nest" (great motivational speech).
    Anyways, I'm sorry you got make-up shamed. But if someone is stupid enough to consider a frosted lavender-pink highlight as deceiving, they need a class on art history and mimesis, seriously.

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    1. The more I wear Rapture, the more convinced I become that Flushed doesn't quite suit me. I think it's just a little too warm and ruddy for my complexion. Rapture is quite a bit cooler!

      Your supervisor is so right! What frustrates me the most about academia's rules is that most of them are unwritten: you're just supposed to KNOW, without ever being explicitly told.

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  3. Laughed so hard at the anti-makeup scientist! I do admire the way your look is so consistent, and that you are not led by limited editions and new releases. And, my image of you is definitely more autumn than winter!

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    1. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS about that person. Like, why were they on a makeup blog in the first place? Are they not aware that most makeup is immediately recognizable as makeup (and is intended to be)? And all the scientists I've met have referred to themselves by their specific discipline: "I'm a biologist," not "I'm a scientist." I don't go around telling people I'm getting a PhD "in the humanities." SO MANY QUESTIONS.

      My color season continues to elude me! I can't wear many spring (warm + bright) or summer (cool + muted) colors, but I can do both warm + muted and cool + bright.

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  4. These all sound great! I really like those shampoo bars too. They last forever and they're so handy for traveling. When I did field work, I used to take the Karma bar and use both as shampoo and body soap. And I should add that CeraVe lotion to my list, because I love hyaluronic acid, but it's hard to find it in affordable products.

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    1. CeraVe was one of my best brand discoveries last year! (Thanks, Paula's Choice.) My mom had never used a facial cleanser until I recommended CeraVe's hydrating cleanser; she has very sensitive skin, but it's mild enough for her and she uses it every day now. The lotion is more expensive per ounce than most drugstore skincare products (more expensive than the FAB Ultra Repair, for that matter), but I think it's worth it.

      Man, I wish I could talk about doing "field work" for my project. It sounds so cool. I'm going to look at a manuscript from the 1660s today, if that counts...

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  5. "and woke up the next morning to find myself transformed in my bed into a giant insect"

    Endless fucking brownie points for that Kafka reference.

    I've been waffling on the Heritage rose water for, I swear to you, over a year.

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    1. I feel more like a Kafka character (slash giant insect) with every year that passes in grad school. And you should buy the rosewater! What's not to love? The ingredients are good, it's not super-expensive for the amount you get (I've had it for three months and have used about half), AND the label is almost as amusing as the packaging of Dr. Bronner's soap.

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  6. This post gives me hope that maybe it's not too late to whip together my own best of 2015 post/bring my blog back to life??? I mean, January isn't even half over yet! Right??

    I am really curious about that shampoo bar but EXTREMELY wary about Lush. I have chronic migraines and respond very negatively to a lot of strong smells, so I've given a wide berth to every Lush counter I've ever encountered. I also don't have a bathtub so the whole bath bomb excitement kinda passes me by.

    SO ENVIOUS THAT YOU LOOK SO GOOD IN PALE COOL PINK. I look like I've tried and horrifically failed to emulate Nicki Minaj in shades like Plastique.

    I used to be a regular reader/commenter on XOVain, and while I still lurk occasionally I don't comment anymore because of a (dude, of course) troll who claimed that I OBVIOUSLY wore lots of red lipstick as some sort of effort to hypersexually powertrip all of the hetero men I OBVIOUSLY worked with. As in, I was using lipstick as a way to make myself feel like I had some control over these men because I was making myself sexually attractive, but also the joke was on me because men don't like red lipstick. At the time I just thought "lol bro I'm not straight and work for an LGBTQ community center bye" but ultimately it really drove me out of the comments. All of this long-winded sharing aside, in the age of Instagram and Kontouring and green liquid lipstick and friggin STROBING, WHY do men still think makeup is about them???

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    1. Yes, you should absolutely post your favorites of 2015! I think all of January is still "the beginning of the year" and thus an appropriate time for reflection. And I'd avoid Lush stores too if I had chronic migraines. I don't find the shampoo bars to be very strongly scented, but it might be a risk to order one online.

      HAHAHA WHAT. I'm sorry you encountered such a shitty person on xoVain. It continues to mystify me that men haunt female-centric websites in order to remind women that their lives revolve around men. You know, we're just hard-wired to do it. Because SCIENCE. I'm not a huge fan of the current brand of Insta-makeup, but one thing I do love about it is that it's defiantly weird. It flies in the face of what the Reddit hetero male crowd thinks makeup does: it's not "trickery," it's not meant to make women look conventionally hotter, it's embraced by people all over the gender spectrum, etc. (I'm wearing MAC Antique Velvet as I type this, btw.)

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  7. I went back to find that comment and then I laughed for a few minutes. But what do I know about anything, I'm a librarian, not a scientist. Makeup is just some evil conspiracy amirite.

    Bro, if you think my eyelashes are naturally purple, that's your problem, not mine.

    I'm still thinking about 413 BLKR since you posted your review on it. 95% sure I will find a way to smuggle it to the hinterlands of Atlantic Canada.

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    1. Maybe he's color-blind? That's the only logical explanation I can think of.

      413 BLKR is worth smuggling! It's a shame it's not available at Sephora. I suppose the illusion of exclusivity is a good advertising technique, but surely NARS wants as many people as possible to buy their products? I wish I knew more about the economics behind beauty marketing.

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  8. I love the sparkly background!

    I can't get over how good Angela looks on you - for such a bright colour it looks very inconspicuous, like it belongs on your face.

    Love the history behind the facial mist; that's the kind of thing that most beauty products just don't have going for them!

    I have the original Naked Basics and it pretty much fills the same niche for me. I do use it alone for very quick and easy super neutral looks, but it works best as a complement to other palettes. The shade Naked2 is the BEST crease/transition shade. I've hit major pan on it and UD doesn't sell it as a single, which is tragic. :(

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    1. I remember being surprised at how well Angela harmonized with my coloring. It looks like such a screamingly bright color in the tube, but on my face it just sort of clicks into place. It's always nice to come across a color like that!

      Yeah, the Naked Basics palettes are definitely better for people who already have an eyeshadow collection than they are for total beginners. I rarely wear more than one color from that palette at a time.

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  9. I can't do the Lush metal tins, I can't open them with wet fingers! Haha! Plus then it keeps all that moisture in there and I get a mushy shampoo bar mess. I just keep it in a soap dish. I've used lots of their solid shampoos. Godiva is my fave scent but it doesn't seem to lather as well (I think it's trying to be a 2 in 1 shampoo conditioner). I am glad to see this review of Jason and the Argan because my bar was really crumbly too! I bought the bright orange one at the same time- I think it's called Brazillianate? - and didn't have the crumbly problem, so I thought I just got a bar from a batch that wasn't melted or mixed in as well. Reading your experience I wonder if the difference lies in the formula of Jason.

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    1. Ah, I should have mentioned that I store the bar in an *open* tin so that the excess moisture evaporates! But you're right that the tins are insanely hard to open. And come to think of it, my bar of Honey I Washed My Hair isn't crumbly at all, so Jason might indeed be an especially soft bar (maybe it's the argan oil's fault).

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  10. Your blog is one of my favourites and I always look forward to new posts. I really appreciate how thoughtful and enjoyable your reviews and musings are. That aside, I'm pretty sure I need that Illamasqua nail polish!

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    1. Thanks, that's wonderful to hear! Sometimes I worry that my ramblings are a little too long and self-indulgent, so it's nice to know that some people don't think so. :)

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