Brands I Love! You'll Never Guess! Click Bait!

Today I'm going to pretend I'm an Influencer by talking about the brands I love! 

This isn't groundbreaking content, just some simple reflections about/around the brands I continuously patronize. 

We'll start with the most obvious of the three - Glossier. SHOCKING, I know - another young millennial who loves this pink-ass, Instagram-powered, pop-up shop princess of a brand.

At this point in pop culture, Glossier is as basic as Blue Bottle Coffee, loving HAIM the band, or eating avocado toast and posting a picture of it on social media. In other words, Glossier must be freaking great because all of those things are also freaking great. In other words, there's nothing wrong with loving something that is basic because "basic" is just another way of saying, "hey, this thing is relatively accessible and considerably better than other options." I'm about it. 

Things I like about Glossier: 

Glossier is the perfect introduction into the world of makeup for someone who hasn't purchased a new mascara since 2013 (SORRY). I'm incredibly intimidated by a lot of the culture surrounding beauty regimens and makeup. The YouTube tutorials, the lip kits, the brushes, the cost of it all, and the fact that makeup is literally painting (sometimes very chemical substances) onto your face for all the world to see. Yikes! 

I first looked into Glossier because I wanted to level up my skin care game. I had heard (seen) a few friends (people I follow on the internet) talking about it (posting about it), so I decided to dip my toe in. I started with the Phase 1 Set, which was a delightfully simple place to land. I love that there are just enough options to play around, but not enough to be overwhelming. I think a smaller product offering makes a brand appear more trustworthy, which is maybe irrational, but that's what's happening in my brain. 

I like that their price point is reasonable, their packaging is simple and delightfully cute, you get stickers, and their website has funky cursors of palm trees and cherries and things. Branding on point. They show actual photos of actual humans wearing their products without a ton of other makeup on, so you actually understand what it could look like if you put the stuff on your own face. The entire experience feels playful and light, which is the opposite of a lot of the classic makeup brands who aim for a smoldering, sexy, expensive aesthetic. The playful component is exactly what encourages n00bs like me to dip my toe in and rub some Cloud Paint on my cheeks. You don't need brushes or primers or powders. You just need one product that you can put wherever you want to on your face using the brushes that your mama gave you (your fingers). Also, something about Glossier's branding makes wearing makeup feel like it's for and about me and not about pleasing or impressing anyone else. It's an extension of the colors I wear everyday. It's a quick little self-love ritual that makes me feel like I'm glowing when I leave the house to go to Aldi.

A few things they could work on - I don't need stickers, a pink bubble pouch, and a fancy white box every time I re-up on my moisturizer. I wish it was something I could opt into or out of each time I purchase. Secondly, their fragrance smells like Swedish Fish. Which is fine - if you want to smell like Swedish Fish. 

To end on a high note, Glossier brand ambassador's wore pink jumpsuits at the New York City showroom pop up, and now I want a pink jumpsuit. 

Next on the list, THINX. Another example of how excellent design, branding, and communication can sell a product that could otherwise be super intimidating. THINX sells panties that you can wear while you're on your period "as a replacement or back up to traditional period products." Again, I'm about it.

THINX first popped onto my radar probably around 2015 in the form of massive billboards around Los Angeles with beautifully art directed photos of real looking women wearing simple black panties posed in an elegant still life fashion. A lot of the billboards simply said "THINX" or vaguely hinted at the function of the product they were selling. The image stuck in my brain, so I gave it a Google. I was pleased to discover a well-designed website offering a simple selection of panties with the promise of a comfortable, mess-free experience. I bought one pair and was delighted by the packaging and accompanying illustrations and messaging. The voice of this brand is your smart, honest, and dangerously funny gal pal who is down for a flea market or salsa dancing, and who will never ever judge you for divulging details about sex, period, or other bodily things. I love her. She's the best. 

Things I like about THINX:

The panties themselves are as advertised - slim, well-fitting, comfortable, never bulky, and I have yet to have any incidents with leaking. I bought one pair, and then I bought three more in various styles and colors. Each one makes me feel good while on my period. I don't feel like I'm wearing a diaper, and I don't have to put foreign, disposable, wasteful objects up inside of my body. It's a win-win-win-win. 

Similarly to Glossier, THINX's Instagram feed is more than a bunch of hyper-curated photos (boring). It's actually full of interesting and informative conversations about sex, health, and bodies, and it has lots of cute illustrations and inspirational quotes to balance it all out. 

In addition to their social feeds, THINX has a killer blog, Periodical (lol) where they tackle hard-hitting taboo-bursting topics like "What's in My Vagina?" and "Your Guide to Better Period Sex" which is LITERALLY *clap* the *clap* voice *clap* the *clap* internet *clap* needs *clap*. Sorry, but I am so hyped to see a brand demystifying and destigmatizing conversations about vaginas and the things that happen in and around them. AND they're providing a real valuable resource for people who don't have someone to talk to about those things. Our bodies are beautiful and when (really distasteful) penis and blow job jokes have been commonplace in pop culture since at least 2000, I think it's about damn time we're allowed to talk about vaginas and periods in public spaces. 

A caveat - I still have one box of tampons. I use them when I'm going swimming and for a few other specific occasions, but aside from that, I'm all THINX, zero stress, and not even feeling a little bit gross about it. 

Last, and perhaps the most iconic Midwestern pitstop of all time, Cracker Barrel. A very different aesthetic from the first two brands, but an aesthetic I will praise nonetheless.

If you have negative feelings about Cracker Barrel it's probably because your little brother threw up in the mini van on a road trip from Cleveland to Hilton Head when you were in fourth grade after eating Cracker Barrel for lunch. I get it. That's disgusting. But I highly encourage you to open your mind to the possibility of Cracker Barrel being a delightful experience. Next time you're driving to Cincinnati and you start seeing those Billboards with the big white copy claiming absurd things like "BISCUITS ARE SPOONS YOU CAN EAT," don't think too much about it, just exit in 18 miles and soak up the southern charm with some down home cooking.

Things I like about Cracker Barrel: 

A meal at Cracker Barrel will be satisfying for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they're easy to come by. It's always convenient and well-timed. You're hungry? There's probably a Cracker Barrel within 20 miles of your current location. It's pretty challenging to spend more than $20 per person at a cracker barrel. A coffee, a meal, and some dessert will leave you feeling perfectly full, and don't forget to ask for some apple butter with your biscuits and/or cornbread. 

Although you're in Ohio, your waitress will undoubtedly have a bit of a Southern drawl, she'll call you "hun" or "darling," and she'll keep your sweet tea topped off. While you wait, you can check out the memorabilia on the walls, play the peg game, or people watch. On your way out you can buy some camouflage Jelly Beans, a Yankee Candle for your Great Aunt, and the latest pop country hits on CD. Also, who doesn't love a rocking chair? Snap a family portrait all lined up in those chairs before you get back on the road. 

Full transparency, I'm just a huge fan of mashed potatoes, corn bread, biscuits, and apple crisp, so obviously, Cracker Barrel is the best. The real reason Cracker Barrel has made its way onto this elite list is because of its incredibly silly copywriting and the fact that it is like Disneyland if Disneyland was made by your Christian, Southern, sweetheart of an Aunt. From the grits to the gift shop to its relatively impressive Instagram following, Cracker Barrel is a highly intentional brand who is extremely aware of its consumer and will never try to be anything it's not. I respect that. Context is everything, and I-71 South is the ideal place to stumble upon a Cracker Barrel for dinner. 

An honorable mention goes out to Hebrew National for this Instagram post, and for making a really solid, kosher hot dog. Give them a follow while you're at it. They could use the encouragement. 

Thanks for letting me play Influencer! Byeee

Introducing Playlist Pals

Playlist Pals is a *cleverly* titled thing I started doing a few months ago where I make playlists on Spotify that are only like 10-15 songs long. This was kind of inspired by my genius baby cuz, Ellie who makes monthly playlists that are absolutely killer. It was also inspired by WNKU, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky's incredible public radio station that went off the air last year, because human curated music > algorithms until I die. And it was also inspired (is it still inspiration if it is something that makes you mad and motivates you to change your behavior?) by how easy it is to passively listen to music on Spotify.

I love having nearly any song I can think of in my pocket at all times. I am a premium subscriber! However, I hate that Spotify makes it so easy to be uninvolved in your music listening experience. I think they've taken what should be an active hobby and made it so convenient that it loses some of the magical aspects of experiencing music. I hate that I no longer own any music. I can't flip through my CD case and see the artists that remind me of 2014. If my friends or family don't use Spotify I don't have an easy, practical way to share music with them. I'm going to save the rest of this rant for another blog post, but the gist is that music is important. By making small, digestible playlists for myself and for sharing I can be a little bit more engaged in the way I consume music. Playlist Pals is how I'm going to organize and share music for now, because Spotify is what I'm working with/paying for. Hopefully some day my nostalgic ass will have a better solution. 

When I share each playlist here I'm going to write about music as a person who knows nothing more about music than what I've gleaned from a few years of piano lessons, a few years of illegally downloading albums from the internet, a few years of renting random cds from the (analog) library and adding them to my iTunes library, and about a decade of enthusiastically  consuming music. I'm going to write about how the songs make me feel, where I was when I was listening to them, and where I found them. Should be pretty fun!

Playlist Pals 1

The creation of this playlist was like my mindful return to music, so it's only appropriate that it begins with an Iron & Wine song. The title track to their 2017 release, Call It Dreaming is the kind of song that makes me want to drive down a backroad and blow out my shitty speakers while dramatically swaying my upper body and drumming on my steering wheel. I hope you can picture this. I was delighted by this release. I hadn't given much thought to Iron & Wine since I overplayed their 2007 album, The Shepherd's Dog on my CD player and later on my blue iPod mini. Catching this new album ten years later has some real transformational feelings involved. 

This Candi Staton song takes me to a similar time in my life as old Iron & Wine. I think I heard this song for the first time as a sample in the One eskimO song "Kandi." I rediscovered the original sometime in the past year, and it's one of those choruses that sticks in my brain all day long. 

I guess this is just a nostalgic playlist because TEGAN & SARA. That's probably all that need to be said. Tegan & Sara is like the starter pack for modern(?) feminist lady pop, and discovering this song a few months back couldn't have been more timely. Happy to have them back in my earholes.

The Buckle Downs are a Pittsburgh group that I've been hearing about on WYEP for a minute now, and this song is just powerful and uplifting, and I'm really hoping to catch them live in the near future. 

I'm not going to tell you much about Perfume Genius other than that you should listen to the Song Exploder episode about this song and fall in love with it like I did. 

Aimee Mann and this song "Goose Snow Cone" are also featured in an amazing episode of Song Exploder, but I really discovered it through my Mama who only second to my sister is probably my largest music influence. My Mama showed me folk and my sister showed me indie music and hip hop and the rest is history! This song can make me cry, but so can a lot of things. 

Not sure how Living Legends came into my life, but I'm glad they did. Indie hip hop from the 90s. Something to bob your head to.

Zach Witness!!! A true OutKast lover. Read this if you vibe with this song. "Just keep all faith in me. Don't act impatiently. You'll get where you need to be in due time." This should be my mantra for life!

I actually really like the weird transition between "Keep Faith" and Sonny Cleveland's "Goodness." Both are super positive which is pretty much the only thing I'm trying to bring into my life when it comes to music. Their self-titled 2015 album is all I've been able to find, but pretty much every song is just as fun and funky as the next. 

When I was living in Portland one of my favorite coffeeshops played a lot of Sam Cooke's greatest hits, so I fell down a Sam Cooke rabbit-hole, and I'm glad I did. I love all the dramatic fade outs and if any voice makes me want to slow dance with someone it's this voice. 

My friend Joe told me I'd like Cate le Bon, and he was right. He's pretty much the nicest person, and he knows way more about music than I ever will. Those things probably make me like this song and this album even more. 

Wow, this song by "the band with Feist in it." I recommend reading this article, and listening to the rest of this album. 

Another one I have to thank my Mama for. Valerie June is a blessing for the senses. Her country/Appalachian twang is delightful and meditative for me. My mom has seen her like three times, and I am so jealous! This is another delightful album that you should spend some time with. Perfect for a Midwestern road trip. 

Totally didn't think I would talk through every single song, but it was fun for me! If you made it this far you either love me very much or you're very bored. Either way, I'm grateful for your time!

Hope you enjoy the tunes! : )


Little Wins

There's a thing most yoga instructors say at the beginning of class. It starts with an acknowledgment of how chaotic being a person in the world can feel. Your racing mind, ten steps ahead of where you currently are in your day; the stress of an upcoming holiday; the tumultuous emotions surrounding relationships. This acknowledgment is followed by a reminder that no one is alone in these feelings. Lastly, before we begin to flow, the instructor says, "Thank yourself for taking the time to make it to your mat today." In my class Saturday the teacher said something like, "You did it, you're here, thank yourself for making that happen. It wasn't easy to make it to your mat today." 

I've probably heard these words in a yoga class hundreds of times, but this time they stood out. I was like, "Hell yeah. I did it. I got up early. I'm doing something that makes me feel good." And this simple recognition of a tiny little accomplishment felt so important. 

For a while now I've been trying pull a grand reflection out my month-long experience in China. I haven't found one of those yet, but I made a little connection while on my mat. In China I was surprised by every success or smooth interaction. I exclaimed "we did it!" when we took the right bus to the right glaze store, when we loaded a kiln, and when we found a cafe with real coffee. Walking to studio each morning felt like an grand accomplishment, and making art filled me with laughter. Every task was worth celebrating because everything was new and unknown and surrounded by the challenges of translation. Unfamiliarity made small accomplishments feel huge.

I realized that we don't give ourselves enough credit. I certainly don't give myself enough credit. We put giant expectations on ourselves to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society with bustling social lives. It takes a mountain of tiny efforts to make any aspect of this aspirational human possible, and rarely do we pause to say, "hey! we did it!" We beat ourselves up for sleeping in, for slowing down, and for being unsure. But in reality, life is confusing and people are insane, and the world we live in every day is probably as challenging and foreign as any grand adventure. Small accomplishments lead to big important things. I'm going to try to stop being so hard on myself. I'm going to start thanking myself and celebrating my little wins. 

P.S. When I say "we" in this I'm probably talking about me, but it might apply to you too ! ? : ) 


Fantasy Dinner (Dance) Party Guest List


The most fun cover letter I've written thus far in my big girl job hunt asked me to answer this question:

"Oh -- and your fantasy dinner party guest list."

Or rather, they casually dropped this open-ended bomb of a suggestion at the very very end of the job description. After musing on it for about a day and a half, I came up with an answer that satisfied me so thoroughly that I have chosen to share it on my lil baby blog as well! This time, with moving pictures! 


"And now, my fantasy dinner party guest list. I’m sticking to all women because it feels right, and because this question without any parameters is absolutely overwhelming. To start, Michelle Obama for obvious reasons. When they go low, she goes high, and I would never tire of hearing her speak.

Secondly, my Nana, because she had a calming smile, she was a wonderful listener, and she had a surprising arsenal of crazy stories.


Solange— she was one of the first people to come to mind. She is an incredible music and visual artist, and I would be one step away from meeting Beyonce and relatively close to meeting Kanye and all the Kardashians (sorry, but it would be fascinating)!


Jane Goodall because I love the way she ripped on National Geographic in an interview for the October 2017 issue of National Geographic . She is a badass and a trail blazer, and it’d be incredible to be in her presence.

Maggie Rogers because she seems wise beyond her years, and I think my fantasy dinner party would definitely evolve into a dance party, and Maggie would probably help that become a reality (see: "Alaska" video).

Lastly, ******* *****, because she’d bring the jokes, I could pick her brain about starting an amazing brand, and I could low-key ask her to hire me. "

Do you guys like how I not-so-casually slipped the founder and CEO of the company into a seat at my fantasy dinner party table? Think it'll get me a job? ; - )

Paper-cut illustration by me, gifs by the internet (?)

The Sketchbook Experiment

In the Fall semester of 2016, also my fifth and final year of school, I was on my last co-op (internship) in Cincinnati working at Rookwood Pottery. It was a really important semester for me. Cincinnati felt (almost) like home, steadily and sneakily wiggling its way into my heart and to the top of my list of favorite places. I felt really valuable at work, and I was spending the rest of my time cooking, taking care of myself, and drawing and painting more than I had in a really long time. While all of this goodness and creative energy was welling up in my body and brain, a tiny whisper reminding me that soon this chapter of life would be coming to an end was growing louder and louder. Soon I would be graduating from the forever summer camp that is DAAP. I would be leaving the part of my life when all these incredible weirdos (my friends) would be living and making together in the same city (even if for only four months at a time). 

I am increasingly grateful for my strange, incredibly smart, and creative friends. While I was riding my creative wave, a lot of these folks were getting into similar rhythms, and we were all sharing our work with each other through Instagram, because that’s how you talk to your friends as twenty-somethings. While encouraging my pals with a deluge of flames, heart eyes, and sparkle emojis, I thought about how cool it could be to make some analog, physical art with this special group of people. 


Most of my friends were spread out across the country working at various co-ops for the semester, and this presented a challenge for collaborating. Snail mail was (is always) the solution. I gathered a group of interested pals and divided them into four lists. Each list had a sketchbook, and each sketchbook would travel from person to person, filling as it journeyed from San Francisco, to Brooklyn, to Dallas, to Seattle, and eventually back to me in Cincinnati. 

It took more than one semester, but eventually all of the sketchbooks finally made their ways back to me. Slowly and carefully I paged through each one, catching little anonymous glimpses into the daily lives of my friends from miles and miles away. 

We kept in touch about the whereabouts of the books through a Facebook group that I made to deliver instructions and post updates for the participants to see. It made me feel really warm and fuzzy to see that people were wondering about the books after they had passed through their hands. 

Some people wrote notes to each other, some collaborated on drawings, and some asked questions that went unanswered. We experienced a gut-punching election, and we made some art about it. We collected leaves, and tickets, and cut-outs from magazines. We drew from life, we drew like designers, and we drew like little kids. We left many things unfinished. I learned that we have many differences in our dictionaries, I learned that not everyone is inclined to draw/collage/write on top of the work of others, I learned that JP’s grandma used to read him Peter Rabbit, and I learned that some of my friends are terribly inept at utilizing the U.S. Postal Service. Collectively, the results of our experiment are not museum-worthy or award-winning or ground breaking, but they’re a pretty special time capsule of a disparate yet collective experience of friendship and life as twenty-somethings.

Thank you to all the sketchbook experiment contributors: Kateri Ang, Michelle Baverman, Joel Beeby, Alex Bowman, Terah Coleman, Paul DuFour, Joseph Frankl, James Gall, Maddie George, Chloe Georgiades, Karyn Georgilis, Taylor Gittings, Casey Harmon, Emily Harper, Rachel Hess, Mark Liston, Alex Lohmann, Ayla London, Ian Malott, Ian McGillivray, Jia Lu Ni, Rachael Polack, Julianna Probst, JP Schmitz, Shelby Wauligman, Jocelyn Williams, Bryce Wong, and Halie Zulch.

Sketchbook 1

Sketchbook 2

Sketchbook 3

Sketchbook 4* 

*Still on its journey, apologies!

Daily Data

I have aspirations of journalling. Notebooks, purchased with said aspirations in mind, devolve from journal, to notebook, to sketchbook, to grocery list, to crumpled in the bottom of a backpack. This cycle felt endless, every notebook a hodge-podge of lists and drawings and musings, or simply lost, half empty, for four months in a box that was never unpacked.  Then came the bullet journaling trend (someone put rules to a thing everyone was already doing and bought the domain), and I was like "hey, you CAN do that, self." But, alas, I had too much faith in myself, and my bullet journal became a to-do list in under three pages. 

Last Summer, after graduating and realizing that my brain was pooped, I decided I should start doing things to help improve my memory and overall brain function. These healthy habits included eating better and more consistently, sleeping, exercising (the basics), and drawing. I've been drawing for forever, but I decided to start drawing for fun again, with no expectations or purpose. My dad bought me some colored pencils for my birthday (how cute is he!), and I hadn't cracked them open yet. So I grabbed a colored pencil and started drawing random blobs and slowly, patiently, almost meditatively, coloring them in. This coloring, in combination with my fascination with personal "data" or stuff that represents you, and how it is all so nebulous these days, led me to my Daily Data collection. 

For about a month and a half, starting September 1, I have been collecting "data," day by day in a little graph paper Field Notes notebook. Here's where the colored pencils come in - each day is represented by a series of blobs and shapes in different colors. At the bottom of each page there is a key with descriptions. A red shape might represent a beer I drank or a mile I ran depending on the page. As the days passed, my Daily Data collection became part of my morning routine, recording what had happened the day before as a colorful composition in my tiny notebook over coffee. I'd bring my tin of colored pencils with the little notebook tucked inside to a cafe, camping, or on weekend trips to Pittsburgh. As my collection grew, my definition of "data" evolved to mean anything that I had experienced that day. Six black ellipses might mean I ate six oreos, and an up-side down brown arch might represent the stranger that we talked to on the way to the bar who told us it was his birthday and asked if we'd buy him a beer - he had great teeth! 

At the end of the month I took a good look back at the thirty pages I had created. Each one was, obviously, a little 2D time capsule of a mundane day in my life. Whether it was commemorating a special day of adventure with people I love, or a day that I ran more than I had in a long time, it was a personal, PHYSICAL record of my existence - of where I'd been, and who I'd seen, and what I had accomplished.

Since sharing a some snapshots of my daily data with a few intimate friends (all of my Instagram followers), I have had people tell me about a project that started in 2015 called Dear Data. Dear Data is a badass project where two ladies wrote post cards (love snail mail <3) back and forth with data from the week visualized on the front of said post cards. Some of these data visualizations are absolutely beautiful, and I think it's a super cool project and exercise. They've made a book and kits - it's kind of become a movement around visualizing little bits of first-hand experienced data. I'm glad I learned about it through sharing my Daily Data with folks.

My original inspiration for this project, as I referenced earlier, came from thinking about the data or evidence of existence that we are leaving behind in this digital age. When Instagram is your highlight real and snapchat is ephemeral and Facebook is for old people, where do these mundane pieces of existence live? How will our great grand children know how we lived between Instagrams?

This morning I recorded my data from October 11, 2017. Tomorrow I will draw a blob that represents the beginning of this blog. I think this is a type of journalling that I will be able to continue. Perhaps because it is 1/3 art, 1/3 journal, and 1/3 data collection. Whatever the reason is, I think it is a practice that brings me some mental clarity, and if nothing else, it helps me remember and appreciate the passing of a day.

I'd really love to hear what you think about this! And if you feel like trying it for yourself, I'd love to see what your data looks like! :) 

Welcome to Musings!

Musings is a space for me, Ali Karsh, to talk about things that I experience and think about in the world.

I've always enjoyed writing, but in the past five years (design school) I have fallen out of practice.

I've got a lot of thoughts - some more insightful/important than others. Processing these thoughts makes me a better designer and human, so rather than just rambling excitedly to unsuspecting strangers and acquaintances, I'm going to start writing things down.