Beauty in an unlikely place

Lush flowers and greenery.
Stunning views of the San Francisco skyline.
Seagulls flapping gently overhead, their calls muffled by the bay.
Gorgeous expanses of water lit up at dusk.

You’d never know you were . . . at a former prison.

The remains of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, in fact — one of the most infamous buildings in the world.

I didn’t expect our ferry ride to the island to include such gorgeous vistas, but nearly everywhere you looked was a beautiful and unexpected scene. In fact, some of my favorite photos from the trip — which included Yosemite and Sequoia national parks — came at a spooky jail.

Who knew?

I think it was all about the juxtaposition for me. Side by side are beauty and dreariness, pain and hope.

Side by side

Side by side - cell and bird

Located just over a mile offshore of the city in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island was once home to the iconic high-security prison once believed to be “escape-proof.” A little family research on my dad’s part discovered relatives who served time at Alcatraz before it shuttered in 1963, and it has served in many capacities both before and after its life as a penitentiary.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986, Alcatraz is now primarily a tourist attraction — and a very popular one at that. We took one of the last boats over on our recent trip and were some of the last off the island before darkness fell. I couldn’t believe the crowds and wandering tourists; I was among them, of course, and the place was cool, but all this attention for a former prison?

It’s a mythical one, though. And in addition to its storied history, the property today is surprisingly beautiful. The gardens were impossible to ignore. Roses, succulents, lush grasses and fruit . . . exquisite! blooming! This purple thatch of flora is visible from the shore, and I had no idea what it was until we got almost close enough to touch it. And totally by accident.

You never know where a random door will lead you.

Main Alcatraz

Purple flowers

Sources note the gardens were once planted by families of the original Army post and later tended by prison guards’ loved ones, but the grounds became wild after the prison officially closed. They’re now being restored by staff and volunteers, who have even discovered original plants still growing where they were planted — 100 years ago.

Alcatraz garden

Rose garden

Skyline II

It’s an interesting place. A creepy place. A spot with a fascinating history — one that extends all the way into the present. My dad has become something of an Alcatraz scholar, and judging by the crowds? He’s not alone.

Tower and flag

Bright blooms

Admin Building

Just, you know, wouldn’t want to spend the night there.

Bespectacled and makeup-less — or, how I got through a Friday

Lip products

On Friday, I swept into work without makeup . . .

. . . and in my glasses.

A decade ago, friends, this would have been unfathomable. Atrocious. Awful. Embarrassing. To be blunt, if I couldn’t wear concealer and Chapstick at a bare minimum, I might have called in sick. Wish I were joking.

But let’s back up.

Though far from a beauty maven, I’ve worn some combination of cosmetics daily since I was the awkward 10-year-old try to mask her first acne break-out. I lived in fear that my fellow fifth-graders would notice the spots, so Mom took pity on me and bought me my first bottle of liquid concealer. I tried dismissing the marks as “mosquito bites” on my chin and cheeks, but . . . eh, you know no one bought that nonsense.

Indoctrinated into the world of makeup, I became reliant on its life-changing abilities. It became a way of life.

From my early dalliances with concealer to a new love affair with blush, I eventually begged my mom to buy me my first tube of mascara after seeing friends experiment with full lashes at a sleepover. On a related note, who didn’t learn the rites of womanhood from giggling with classmates at 3 a.m.? Everything I learned about being a girly girl probably stems from those early parties — and coveting Seventeen‘s how-to articles as a teen.

But I digress.

Once I started wearing eyeliner, there was really no going back. I don’t go thick — a thin black line around the upper and lower lid is all I need — but I do, without fail, wear it. Daily. But it’s subtle, I think. I’m all about a natural look and, though I take care with my face and have perfected my beauty routines, I don’t think it’s too much.

For proof of this, a coworker recently asked me why I don’t wear makeup. And I was like, ????

To be fair, my beauty routine is pretty minimal. My oily skin means most of my “daring” eye products are pooled on my cheeks by lunchtime, so it’s not really worth the bother. Once I’m showered, doing my face can take less than five minutes. On goes my concealer, followed by blush; then I move on to dark brown eyeliner and a swipe of sheer shadow across the eyelids. Some sort of lip product (usually a butter), mascara and — poof! Instant Meg. Just add coffee.

When I woke up Friday, I went about my routine like any other day. Before Spence was off, I went to put in my contacts and dig around for something business-casual. Unlike every other morning, however, my right eyeball suddenly erupted as though dissolved by dragon’s breath. It felt like a hive of bees had descended on my cornea, and I was left cursing and flailing and weeping crocodile tears from the injured organ.

It sucked.

I’ve worn contacts since I was 15 and have never, ever had pain like that. Once I pried my lens from the eye (harder than it sounds), I couldn’t believe how much it burned. After cracking a lid open and finding no eyelash or hellspawn or detectable grit, I thoroughly rinsed the contact to try again and . . . NOPE.

For only the second time in my adult life (the first being when I had pink eye — glergh), I wore my glasses to work.

And for the first time in my adult life, I just shunned makeup completely.

It felt weird at first . . . and uncomfortable. Not wanting to be late for work but not yet resigned to wearing my glasses all day, I toyed with the idea of packing my contacts or rinsing my eye again or doing something — anything! — to avoid having to go to work looking like a bedraggled, one-eyed monster, but there was nothing to do.

I saw an eye doctor on my lunch break and was informed my eye was “perfect,” just irritated, so no serious damage done . . . probably just the result of not thoroughly rinsing all the soap from my hands before I touched my eye, or something torn on the contact. No big. But walking around makeup-less and bespectacled, well . . . it was what it was.

And you know what?

It didn’t matter.

If anyone was looking at my mascara-less lashes, I didn’t notice. Or really care. Not just because my eye felt like a flaming orb from a devil-controlled volcano . . . I just, meh. Because I’m a married lady now, maybe? And I’m just not really out to impress anyone? It’s not that I don’t like looking and feeling good . . . I do, of course. But on this particular Friday, with nothing to do but put my head down and work on a series of sections at work, I was just . . . whatever.

It was kind of great.

Thirteen-year-old me — she of the blue eyeliner and pink lipstick, mind — would have been horrified by my plain appearance, but 28-year-old me was content to look a little crazy for one day of her life.

And I did powder my nose, at least.

Juice Gems — a few of my favorite things

mark_lipglossLike many women, I’m on a constant quest to find a new makeup product that will somehow change my life. I can’t believe I’ve never blogged about it before, but I’m totally obsessed with . . . lip balm. I’d say Chapstick, but I’m pretty sure that’s a brand — and I’m not obsessed with the brand, just the product! I can’t stand having chapped lips. Few people actually enjoy having chapped lips, I’m sure, but I mean it really drives me crazy. To the point that I actually carry around about five different lip products in my purse, ranging in color and texture for the look and feel I’ll need at any given moment.

There’s one big problem with lip products, though — some of them are . . . gross. They don’t taste good. And they wear off easily, or they’re sticky, or they’re too glossy or flat or strange. Okay, that’s actually a string of problems with lip gloss!

But I’ve found one that has made me insanely excited — Juice Gems from Mark, the Avon-based company. We have an incredibly sweet Avon representative, Corinne, and it breaks my heart not to place an order with her, ah, every week . . . so, you know, I’m constantly stocking up on Avon products. Just to help her out, see. There’s nothing really in it for me . . . besides tons of lipstick, eye shadow and affordable jewelry!

So in my never-ending attempts to help Corinne, I picked up a set of the Juice Gems in holiday flavors. Once I saw gingerbread listed, I was sold. Honestly, I’d sort of purchased them with the intention of giving them to my mom for Christmas . . . but found an alternate product for her that I think she’ll love (no, Mom, it’s a secret — you’re going to have to wait until Dec. 25 for all to be revealed). In addition to the gingerbread flavor, we also have candy cane, apple cobbler and iced cookie. They all taste nice — not that I’m licking them or anything, but you know what I mean! — and the color is really pretty without being over-the-top. And — most importantly — they’re not sticky! I can’t stand sticky lip gloss — the kind where you’re constantly pulling your lips apart, they’re so weighted down with goop. Gross.

So my great lipgloss search is, for now, temporarily suspended! When I find a product I like, I usually stock up for fear that my town will become flooded, the stores will close and I’ll never be able to find that perfect shade of mascara or eyeshadow again. Unlimited supply of gingerbread lipgloss, here I come!