Thursday, August 20, 2020

Book Review - Volume Six


As the end of August nears, I’m sharing with you some of my final reads of the summer (although I’m sure I’ll squeeze in one more in the next week and a half)! Even though summer hasn’t gone as planned, or 2020 for that matter, I’ve certainly read my share of books. 

This installment features five books, including historical fiction, a psychological thriller, and a memoir. I'm sure you'll find something that strikes your fancy. 

As before, I've included the summary of the book, as well as my rating (1 to 5). Let’s get started. 


Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy―two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia―trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

Rating: 1/5. I had heard a lot of great things about this book, and to be honest, I thought it was OK at best. There were large gaps in the story line, and parts were unrealistic - the head of the cartel sparing your life because he was in love with you? I doubt it. I also thought the sporadic use of Spanish felt forced, and the story marginalized/romanticized crossing the Mexican American boarder. 


The Guest List

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Rating: 4/5. I devoured this book, and loved all the twists and turns. Each chapter showcased different characters and seamlessly intertwined them together. I loved the premise of a "who done it" at a wedding - it kept me on my toes until the very end.  


The Only Woman in the Room

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich's plans while at her husband's side and understood more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis and revolutionize modern communication...if anyone would listen to her.

Rating: 5/5. This book was absolutely wonderful. I was not familiar with the background of screen siren Hedy Lamarr, and how she was an absolute genius. To this day, her inventions literally are part of our everyday life. This book only skimmed the surface of this multi-faceted woman and definitely made me want to learn more. A must read for anyone that loves historical fiction, WW2, and old Hollywood. 


The Giver of Stars

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England.  But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice's greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who's never asked a man's permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. 

What happens to them--and to the men they love--becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic--a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond. 

Rating: 5/5. This book may possibly be one of the best books I've ever read. The story was phenomenal and introduced me to the Packhorse Library, which I had never heard of before. The characters are beautiful, courageous, and had so much depth. It really showcased the strength of women during a time when women were just expected to be housewives. I recently saw that the book is going to be made into a movie, and I can't wait for it!


Open Book 

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie. 

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her listeners if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first. 

Now, America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality TV pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites listeners on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

First celebrated for her voice, she became one of the most talked-about women in the world, whether for music and fashion, her relationship struggles, or as a walking blonde joke. But now, instead of being talked about, Jessica is doing the talking. Her audiobook shares the wisdom and inspirations she’s learned and shows the real woman behind all the pop-culture clichés - "chicken or fish", "Daisy Duke", "football jinx", "mom jeans", "sexual napalm..." and more. Open Book is an opportunity to laugh and cry with a close friend, one that will inspire you to live your best, most authentic life, now that she is finally living hers.

Rating: 4/5. I just finished listening to this on audio book, and really enjoyed it. I was shocked by how vulnerable Jessica Simpson was in her memoir (she narrated), and just how much depth there is beneath the surface. She shared some of the traumas and heartaches she's been through in life, as well as opening up about her alcoholism. She discusses how she finally dealt with her demons and is now living a sober, happy life. This is the perfect book to listen to while you're taking a road trip or driving to work (it would also be a good book to read too)!



Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review - Volume Five




I'm so excited to share this book review with you. Not only have I gotten the chance to read these four books over the past few weeks, but I've thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. That doesn't happen often! 

All the books are perfect summer reads - fun, interesting, page turners that don't take long to get through. Below I've included a summary of the book, as well as my rating, 1 through 5. 



Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

Rating: 4/5. This book kept me intrigued start to finish. The story line was different, and I was guessing what would happen next along the way. It's relatable in that no one ever really knows 'what goes on behind closed doors,' even when it comes to your siblings or a family member. It shows the strength of the bond you have with your family, but also your willingness to accept them for who they are. My only complaint was that the ending was a little too picture perfect, but you know me, I always complain about that! 


When Leah Stevens’ career implodes, a chance meeting with her old friend Emmy Grey offers her the perfect opportunity to start over. Emmy, just out of a bad relationship, convinces Leah to come live with her in rural Pennsylvania, where there are teaching positions available and no one knows Leah’s past.

Or Emmy’s.

When the town sees a spate of vicious crimes and Emmy Grey disappears, Leah begins to realize how very little she knows about her friend and roommate. Unable to find friends, family, a paper trail or a digital footprint, the police question whether Emmy Grey existed at all. And mark Leah as a prime suspect.

Fighting the doubts of the police and her own sanity, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Rating: 4/5. Oh my word this book kept me on the edge of my seat. My mom read it before me and each day I'd tell her how I was speculating the story would end. It was definitely a page turner. 


Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Rating: 5/5. I know, the synopsis reads like a total Hallmark movie, but trust me, it was even better!;) This book was charming and a wonderful read. Although I'm sure many of us can guess the ending, the path to how they get there has a lot of unexpected twists and turns. A perfect summer read. It would also be a perfect book club read, as well. 


Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Rating: 5/5. I guarantee most of you have heard of this book, or read it already. Truth be told, I've picked  it up and started it at least 3x and only got about 20 pages in before switching to another book. I don't know why, but the first two chapters just didn't garner my attention. I brought the book home with me to WI determined to finish it, if only to see what all the 'hype' was about. Let me tell you, I am so happy I finally sat down and read it. Like I said, I found it a bit slow/hard to get into at first, but once I did, I was completely enthralled. The author shares her memoir in such a unique way that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is true, and not just an incredible story.  Although mind blowing, it is also relatable, and interesting. An incredible story of transformation. Highly recommend! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Recent Amazon Purchases



From kitchen gadgets, to delicious snacks and of course some clothes, here's a look at some of my favorite recent Amazon buys! 

1. Tinted Eye Roller. Since March when covid/quarantine took full effect, I definitely have taken advantage of not wearing makeup. Seriously, I think I've worn makeup twice in the last four months...and I'm loving it. I've still been using my tinted SPF moisturizer daily, and recently added this tinted eye roller to my everyday routine. Not only does it soothe tired eyes, but the metal roller ball calms under eyes, and also brightens and provides coverage for dark circles.
2. Facial Cleansing Brush. I've long been a fan of the Clarisonic, but sometimes it's a pain in the but to travel since it has to be charged, and is also bulky. These facial scrubbers easily connect to your fingers, and give you the best face scrub you've ever had. It exfoliates your skin without drying it, and also penetrates the skin making your face wash more effective/targeted.
3. Taco Stands. I'm not even sure this needs an explanation! We love Mexican food and enjoy making it at home, but never liked how our tacos would just fall flat on our plates. No one likes a soggy taco, or one that has all of the ingredients spill all over. These are just what the doctor ordered! They fit both hard and soft shell tacos, too!
4. Ruffle Bathing Suit. This cute suit comes in tons of colors and is incredibly flattering. The straps can be detached too, which gives you a 2-for-1 look. I sized up to a medium.
5. Absorbent Hair Towel. This microfiber towel cuts dry time in half. It soaks up all that extra moisturizer, and easily stays in place.
6. Apple Slicer. I love apples, but hate cutting them. This fancy mechanism easily slides over your apples, and slices them easily and effortlessly.
7. Guacamole Saver. Can you see a trend with all these food gadgets I'm buying? And I'm not even done yet. I love avocados, and store bought guac, but hate seeing them overripen and go to waste. This seriously keeps avocados fresh, and is perfect for storage and serving, as well.
8. Ruffle Sleeve Sweatshirt & Matching Shorts. I wore this outfit for our road trip back to Wisconsin. It is so soft, and I love how the ruffle sleeve adds a girly touch to an otherwise basic look. I also love that the length of the shorts hits a the 'perfect' spot, and are a little on the longer side for comfy coverage. Seriously a must have look!
9. Shiatsu Neck & Back Massager. This massager is a miracle worker. It has three different speeds, and also has a heat option, which really helps soother sore muscle. It also comes with a adapter to plug it into the cigarette lighter (is that even what it's actually called) in the car, which makes it great for travel. I used it on our road trip and it was perfect for easing my stiffness/arthritis pain.
10. Foldable Visor. I literally cannot stand having the sun on my face, and this visor provides excellent coverage. It's easy to pack/travel, and is easy to store, as it takes up no room. It comes in a lot of colors, and the quality is great.
11. Smart Fries. Yummy. I LOVE french fries, and even though these don't give me the same satisfaction and curb my craving like the real deal, they are delicious. The come in several flavors (my fav is BBQ), and are an easy healthy snack.
12. Drizzilicious Snacks. These mini quaker cake deserts are sooooo good! 21 pieces are only 90 calories. Order these now, and thank me later.
13. Inflatable Pool Lounger. I've had tons of inflatable pool toys and loungers over the years, and this is by far the best ever. Not only is it practical, but it also has a cup holder which is perfect for your summer cocktails.
14. Ruffle Flounce Dress. I love the cut of this dress, and the price - only $30. It comes in a few colors, and the deep v-neck is effortlessly sexy.
15. Vegetable Slicer/Chopper. Love vegetables, but hate cutting them? This makes chopping onions, peppers, and many other veggies and absolute breeze. Beware though, it is SHARP! I cut my fingers on the blades and it looked like a crime scene. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Easy & Delicious Meatless Spaghetti and Meatballs


Last month, I shared some of our favorite quarantine meals with you. Since then, we've been adding a few things to the rotating 'menu', and adding in take-out here and there. One of our new go-to's is this meatless spaghetti and meatball recipe. Yes, meatless. 

Beyond Meat has become a staple in our household for a while. Not only is it a great replacement for meat, but it literally tastes like the real deal (which for us is key). Their burger patties are probably my favorite, and they also make ground meat and sausage patties/links. Their products contain less sodium and calories then some of their meatless counterparts, and you can easily find it at HEB, Kroger, and Whole Foods. 

This recipe is so simple and is bursting with flavor. It literally rivals the best spaghetti I've had at a restaurant, if I do say so myself ;) What's nice about it is that majority of the ingredients are things you have on hand, which means no additional trips to the dreaded grocery store. 

Here's the recipe!

Ingredients:

-1 ½ TBSP bread crumb
-3 Garlic cloves, minced (less if you don't love garlic, like we do)
-1 TBSP Chopped onion
-1 tsp Chopped basil (chop extra to top your meal with)
-2 ½ tbsp Shredded Parmesan Cheese (I like to use fresh Parmesan vs the pre-shredded, it gives it much better flavor)
-½ tsp Italian Seasoning
-Pinch of Pepper, Salt, and crushed red pepper flakes 
-Rao's Tomato Basil Sauce (only use about 3/4 of the jar, or whatever amount is to your liking)
This sauce is a little on the pricey side (compared to Prego, etc.) but it is so worth it. It has the most amazing homemade taste, and is great for dipping and on pizzas, as well. 

Directions:

-In a large bowl, add Beyond Beef, bread crumb, parsley, basil, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese

-By hand, mix thoroughly and roll meatballs into golf-sized balls or make them larger if you'd like
(the 'meat' does leave a greasy coating on your hands, so definitely be sure to wash them once you're done assembling the meatballs)

-Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat

-Using tongs, add the meatballs and cook until brown on all sides, using tongs to turn them over. Once they've 'browned,' remove them from the skillet and place on a plate
I'd say to be fully brown on all sides, the process takes about ~10min. Sometimes I've had them get a little charred and honestly they were still delicious. 

-Clean the skillet to put it back on the stovetop over medium heat

-Pour marinara into the skillet and bring the marinara to a simmer 

-Place the meatballs back in the skillet and reduce the heat a little bit. Then, cover the skillet with a lid and simmer meatballs for up to an hour. We usually let them simmer around 40 minutes.

Serve with your favorite pasta & garlic bread. Be sure to top it with some fresh basil and Parmesan. 


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book Review - Volume Four


I've been trying to use this time at home to read as much as I can. As we all know reading is a great way to escape, which is definitely needed right now! Plus, I have so many books I'm looking forward to reading that I want to cross them off my list, and there's no time like the present.

I've really enjoyed sharing my book reviews with you in the past. This review features a mix of genres, like usual. Below you'll find a memoir, two suspense thrillers, and two pieces of historical fiction (my favorite). As before, I've included a summary of the book, as well as my rating,1 through 5. 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose of­fice she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients' lives -- a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can't stop hooking up with the wrong guys -- she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is rev­olutionary in its candor, offering a deeply per­sonal yet universal tour of our hearts and minds and providing the rarest of gifts: a boldly reveal­ing portrait of what it means to be human, and a disarmingly funny and illuminating account of our own mysterious lives and our power to transform them.

Rating: 5/5. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was incredibly relatable. It not only had me laughing and crying, but after {almost} every chapter I felt like I had just gotten out of the best therapy session of my life. It also really made you realize that even though we think we're all so different, that we're so innately similar - we want to be accepted, we want to be loved, we want to be happy, we want to LIVE...a great read that you won't want to put down.


Cilka’s Journey

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942, where the commandant immediately notices how beautiful she is. Forcibly separated from the other women prisoners, Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly taken, equals survival.

When the war is over and the camp is liberated, freedom is not granted to Cilka: She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian prison camp. But did she really have a choice? And where do the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was send to Auschwitz when she was still a child?

In Siberia, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she meets a kind female doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing and begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.

Confronting death and terror daily, Cilka discovers a strength she never knew she had. And when she begins to tentatively form bonds and relationships in this harsh, new reality, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.

From child to woman, from woman to healer, Cilka's journey illuminates the resilience of the human spirit―and the will we have to survive.

Rating: 5/5. This book is written by the author of, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, another book I absolutely loved. This is a sequel of sorts to the first book, but chronicles Cilka's journey. This woman suffered incredible hardship, and still overcame due to strength and relentless attitude. It also opened my eyes to the Siberian prison camps, something I didn't know much about. My only complaint was that I wish the ending would have been a bit longer. The author provided you with information to further your research, but I wanted more! The sign of a good book.  

Lost Roses

It is 1914, and the world has been on the brink of war so often, many New Yorkers treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanovs. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia: the church with the interior covered in jeweled mosaics, the Rembrandts at the tsar’s Winter Palace, the famous ballet.

But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming, she fears the worst for her best friend. 

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg and aristocratic countryside estates to the avenues of Paris where a society of fallen Russian émigrés live to the mansions of Long Island, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways. In her newest powerful tale told through female-driven perspectives, Martha Hall Kelly celebrates the unbreakable bonds of women’s friendship, especially during the darkest days of history.

Rating: 5/5. This book was beautifully written and made you feel like you were right there with the characters. As the synopsis says, it really does show how deep the bonds are that we make with others, and how some relationships will follow us for our entire life. Although each woman's story was uniquely different, they intertwined seamlessly. This book is the prequel to, Lilac Girls, which I haven't read yet, but have heard so much about. Interestingly enough, even though its the prequel to that novel, it was written after the other book was published. The story line sparked so much interest in the author, that she wanted to delve deeper! 

The Girl Who Lived

As the anniversary of the murders approaches, Faith Winters is released from the psychiatric hospital and yanked back to the last spot on earth she wants to be—her hometown where the slayings took place. Wracked by the lingering echoes of survivor's guilt, Faith spirals into a black hole of alcoholism and wanton self-destruction. Finding no solace at the bottom of a bottle, Faith decides to track down her sister's killer—only to discover that she's the one being hunted.

How can one woman uncover the truth when everyone's a suspect—including herself?

Rating: 3/5. I just finished reading this book for my virtual book club. It was an easy, mindless, quick read, but left a lot of questions unanswered. I felt like for a shorter book (under 300 pages) that they introduced too many characters that I couldn't keep them straight. I think they also added a few too many twist and turns that at the end I was like "Really?" That being said, I got through this book in only a few days, so if you're looking for something easy check it out. I'm definitely curious to see what all the other women have to say when we discuss it! 

An Anonymous Girl

Looking to earn some easy cash, Jessica Farris agrees to be a test subject in a psychological study about ethics and morality. But as the study moves from the exam room to the real world, the line between what is real and what is one of Dr. Shields’s experiments blurs.

Dr. Shields seems to know what Jess is thinking… and what she’s hiding.

Jessica’s behavior will not only be monitored, but manipulated.

Caught in a web of attraction, deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Rating: 4/5. I read this book in one sitting. It read like a Lifetime movie, but in a good way! With lots of twists and turns, it was interesting and very suspenseful. A great physiological thriller. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Current Favorite Workout Outfits




Let's be honest, since quarantine began our wardrobe has changed drastically. Working from home means you can wear anything you want, so why not be comfortable? I mean who likes sitting around the house in jeans...

My 'outfits' currently range from pajamas, to mumu dresses, bathrobes, and workout clothes, in no particular order. I've always loved a good workout outfit, and since athleisure is all we'll be wearing for a while, I wanted to share some of my new favorite pieces with you. 

Majority of my workout sets are from a local brand called, DYI (I'm wearing their clothes in photo 1 & 3). I absolutely love the quality of their stuff, and they're always coming out with fun new patterns. Everything is made locally as well, so I like that, and like having the opportunity to support a small business. I've also been going crazy for tie dye lately, and basically bought the entire tie dye collection from Adidas. In addition to the fun biker shorts and sweatshirt, I also have two t-shirt dresses from them that have been in constant rotation.  


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What We're Watching Now

I've been constantly asking for recommendations on good shows to watch, so I wanted to share some of mine with you.

Most of these networks or streaming services offer a 30 day free trial, so right now is a great time to squeeze in some of these shows! After the 30 days, you can cancel at no cost to you - win, win!


Netflix
Ozark
Bloodline
Messiah
Tiger King
Breaking Bad 
Narcos
Gossip Girl
The Crown
Dead to Me
You
Sinner
The Stranger
Mindhunter
Bodyguard

Amazon
Man in the High Castle
Hunters
Jack Ryan
Zero Zero Zero (what we're currently watching)
Goliath
I've heard Fleabag and the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are good, but haven't watched either 

Showtime
Homeland
Billions
Ray Donovan

HBO
Boardwalk Empire
Big Little Lies
Sharper Objects
Game of Thrones 
True Detective
Chernobyl
Band of Brothers
Sopranos
Sex and the City
Rome

Hulu
Little Fires Everywhere
Killing Eve
The Act
I've heard great things about The Handmaid's Tale, but I haven't watched it  

If you have any shows you've been watching or re-watching, definitely share! 




Monday, May 11, 2020

Our 'Social Distance' Getaway to Hill Country















Can you believe these views? Last month we went on a little getaway to Canyon Lake in Texas Hill Country and had the most amazing time. 

We decided that a change of scenery would be good for us, which I know all of us are needing right now.  Since getting on a plane is out of the question for the time being, we figured it would be safe and OK to drive somewhere. We also wanted to pick somewhere that was close enough that we would't have to stop anywhere along the way unless we had to (Canyon Lake is about three hours away). 

When I came across this gorgeous property, I knew the deal was done - I needed to stay here. From the wrap around patios, to the stunning views, and gorgeous pool, SKYHOUSE Canyon Lake made the perfect retreat. The modern house has three bedrooms, and can accommodate up to 10 guests. It would be the perfect place to do a girl's trip once social distancing is over. Adam, Safari and I loved having the entire house to ourselves, and liked how isolated it was (as you can see from the pictures). 

It was a great place to just rest, recharge, reconnect and take a break from everything going on. We did a hike one day, but otherwise we just sat out by the pool, read, and grilled everyday. We had stocked the car with groceries before we left Houston, so the only thing we needed to worry about each day was what we were making for dinner. We stayed for a week, and my only complaint was that we didn't stay longer! 

The house had everything you could ask for, and we cannot wait to go back. The owner also has three other rental properties in Hill Country. To check out this property, and the other SKYHOUSE vacation rentals, click here




Wednesday, April 22, 2020

My Skincare Routine

I'm a big fan of consistency, and rarely change or add anything to my skincare regimen. I've used all these products for several years, and have had a great experience with all of them. Several things were also recommended by my dermatologist (even better!), and can easily be purchased from Amazon which is very convenient right now. 

 My skin is fairly normal, but used to be on the drier side. One perk of Houston humidity is dewier skin, so dryness isn't really an issue anymore unless it's "winter" or I'm traveling. Other than that, I do suffer from a little bit of redness, but find that many of these products help me manage/control it. What's nice about the majority of these products is that they're great for all skin types. 

I believe that having healthy skin doesn't have to take 100 steps or cost a fortune. My skincare routine is fairly straightforward, and everything I use is under $100 (with the majority being under $30). Here's a look at my skincare routine🙂



Cleanser

This cleanser was recommended to me by my dermatologist. It's great for sensitive skin, and is fragrance free. I use it in the morning and evening. At night I use it in conjunction with my Clarisonic

I came across this cleanser at the hair salon I used to go to. Unlike most exfoliating scrubs, this one is soft and gentle. Since it isn't so abrasive,  it's great for daily use, and will not leave your skin dry. Its great for removing that dull layer or skin, as well as any impurities. I use this every night (unless I am using a face mask). 

Ever since I got my first Clarisonic nearly a decade ago, it has been a game changer for my skin. I use this every night with my Vanicream Cleanser. If you're not familiar with the Clarisonic brand, here's a little background from their site, "One mode, one button, one minute for fast and simple skin cleansing. Mia Prima Sonic Facial Cleansing Brush minimizes the appearance of pores and allows skincare products that follow to absorb better. The soft start helps skin adjust gently to sonic cleansing, gradually increasing power. Mia Prima works with any Clarisonic facial cleansing brush head, is easy to charge, and gently cleanses skin six times better than hands alone. You’ll see visibly minimized pores, a more radiant glow, and smoother, softer, more even skin. Patented, proven, and safe to use two times a day, it removes makeup, sunscreen, and pollutants hiding in pores." The brush is definitely an investment ($99), but it really is worth it and lasts forever. The only additional cost is brush replacements, which I change out every four months or so. 


Toner

After I cleanse or get out of the shower/bath, I spray this all natural toner on my face. It leaves my skin hydrated, evens out skin tone, and helps with redness. I'm prone to redness, and I have found this to be very calming. It's also great to mist on your face throughout the day if you're feeling dry, or when you travel. 


Lotion

Daytime
Also a referral from my derm! This lotion is lightweight and hydrating. I use this in the morning and evening. 

If I can recommend one item to you, this would be it - it's a game changer.  It is so important to wear SPF daily, so it should come as no surprise that my dermatologist recommended this, as well. This moisturizer has SPF 40 in it, but unlike a lot of SPF's, it doesn't go on thick or leave a white film. It is incredibly light, and gives you AMAZING coverage. It comes in one 'tint,' which leaves you looking perfectly sun kissed! I put this on after my moisturizer above, and before my makeup.

Evening
My evening routine differs depending on what my skin is needing. I still always use my Rose Water toner, but sometimes I use different lotions/creams en lieu of  my Vanicream if my skin is feeling a bit dry. 

This French brand is absolutely amazing. I first came across it at a pharmacy in Paris a few years ago, and then stared ordering it from Amazon. I can also find it at Walgreens sometimes, too! The cream is silky, and leaves my skin feeling instantly hydrated and luxurious. It definitely gives me that added boost of moisture when I need it, and isn't too heavy. It also smells great. 

If my skin is really in need of some hydration, I use avocado oil. The brand I use is Now, and can be purchased from Whole Foods or HEB in the beauty/pharmacy section, as well as from Amazon. This is 100% pure, and a great natural way to hydrate dull skin. Its very soothing and isn't so heavy that it clogs your pores. It is oily and does look a little greasy (it is oil after all), but it's worth it. I will normally put it on and let it soak in while I use body lotion, brush my teeth, etc., and then top it with my Vanicream Lotion to seal it in. This tends to help keep the greasy look at bay. 


 Eye Cream

Eye cream should be applied before your moisturizer. Did you know that? I only learned a few years ago what the process should be - cleanse, tone, serum, eye cream/spot treatment/etc, then lotion! I guess it makes sense since you want all your potions to penetrate the skin, and by adding lotion your creating an additional barrier. Anyhow, this eye cream is great. It helps reduce wrinkles and noticeable dark spots, and has cooling effect which key for depuffing tired eyes. A little bit goes a long way, and it can be used day or night.

Another great eye gel. I alternate between this one and the one above. This brand also has a specific AM/PM version, as well. 



Everything below I only use in the evenings


Masks
I typically take a bath 4+ nights a week, and that's when I like to use my face masks. This may be the only time I really experiment with new products. That being said, there are only two masks that I continually repurchase. I also only use masks a total of 2x per week, because that seems to be what works best for my skin.

This mask has a cult following and it's not hard to see why. This product literally gives you a great at-home facial. Not only does it exfoliate, but it helps decrease the size of pores, and also leaves skin smooth and hydrated. I use this once a week, and follow it up with my Avocado Oil to make sure I really suck in as much moisture as I can. My skin is glowing the next morning. Highly recommend. 

This mask is from another great French brand that prides itself on clean beauty. I use this mask typically once a week to help with any congestion I'm having with my skin. It zaps blemishes, and prevent new ones from happening. It also doesn't leave my skin dry, which I've experienced with other purifying masks. 


Serums

I just started using this about three months ago, and have been loving it. I kept reading about it everywhere, and heard several beauty bloggers recommend it. Not only does it help brighten dark spots and even out skin tone, but it reduces fine lines and wrinkles. My skin looks more radiant and younger (I think) since I started using this. I use this 3x per week. It is one of the more pricey products I use, but it's proven to be worth it. 

I don't really think this falls under the category of 'serums,' but I do put in on before my moisturizer, so lets just got with it. No one likes seeing wrinkles on their face, and since we've been sheltered in place, gone are the days of getting my Botox. I did some combing through the internet and came across this product. The reviews and results I saw were pretty unbelievable. It definitely has helped lessen some of my forehead lines, and I've started using it on my neck, as well. Again, another pricey product, but compared to Botox it's a steal. Plus, it's less invasive.  


Acne

My eighth grade self is loving that I'm sharing this with you right now. I remember when I first started using Clean & Clear and it was all the rage. I've never really suffered from acne, and do not have acne prone skin. That being said, I've tried countless spot treatments over the years, ranging from budget finds (like this one) to super expensive ones, and nothing works as well as this. Quite simply it zaps my zits! It also doesn't dry me out. 


And there you have it! If you try one of these products, or have tried them in the past, I'd love to hear what you think!


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Easy (and affordable) at Home Gel Manicure Kit




Since we won't be getting to the nail salon anytime soon, there's no time like the present to perfect your at-home manicure skills. #selfcare, right? 

 Even though I'm a mess at doing my nails, I also recognize how much time (and money) gets spent going to the nail salon. After some practice, I found I can easily do an at home pedi, but when it comes a manicure, that's another story. I always end up with more polish on my hands and fingers then on my actual nails. Also, I usually will get normal polish on my toes which is simple to do at home, but for my manicure, I like to get gel. Gel not only lasts longer, but it dries almost immediately and rarely chips. Gel also requires a UV light. 

I had looked at some at home gel kits, but was only coming across ones that were very expensive, and had mixed reviews. I eventually found this one on Amazon, and actually purchased it about a month before we were asked to quarantine ourselves/shelter in place. It not only received 4.5 stars with over 700 reviews, but it's affordable (under $50). The the first time I tried it, I was shocked how well it worked and how easy it was to use. It comes with everything you needed to start your own at-home salon! The kit includes the following: 


1. 48W LED UV Nail Lamp
2. Six Gel Nail Polishes 
 3. No Wipe Top Coat and Base Coat 
4. Cuticle Oil 
5. Nail File 
6. Nail Buffer 
7. Nail Brush for Hands 
8. Nail Brush for Toes 
9. Cuticle Fork 
10. Cuticle Pusher 
11. Nail Clipper 
12. Nail Separator

It also comes with step-by-step directions on how to use the kit, light, and the polishes. The only modification I make to their directions is the dry time/time under the UV light. They recommend 60-90s for the base, polish, and top coat, whereas I've found it's better to do 120s for each coat.

For anyone that's had gel on their nails, they know the benefits of it (dry time, two-week no chip guarantee), but it does come with a downside - the soak off. The polish has to be soaked off in acetone, and takes about ~10 minutes or so.  They buff your nails to get the shiny coat off, then they’ll soak a cotton ball in acetone, place the cotton ball on your nail, and cover with tinfoil. The polish is then easily removed with an orange stick (the small wooden nail sticks). 

At home you follow the same steps, but I recommend ordering these Polish Remover Clips (pictured above on the bottom right). They’re under $10, and are a quick, clean and efficient way to hold the cotton ball/remover in place. Trying to get tinfoil individually wrapped around all your nails is an arduous task, so this is a game changer. 

All in, the price of the kit and the remover clips is only $57.98! A great deal. 



Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What I've Been Cooking - Quarantine Edition


Every week I try to make two home cooked meals in addition to our weekly steak night (which we cook together every Friday or Saturday night). What I make usually consists of recipes I come across online, or ones I find in cookbooks. I also like being able to make versions of some of our favorite Mexican, Chinese and other favorite dishes with far less sodium, and half the calories. 

I always try to spruce up recipes and put my own spin on them - even if that's simply adding additional spices, or subbing one ingredient for another. Once my creations are complete, I share shamefully un-Instagram worthy food photos on my stories (be sure to follow me). I figured since we're all hunkered down for who knows how long, it was about time I shared them on the blog. Here is a look at what I've been cooking while under quarantine.  

Note: Since a lot of grocery stores are empty or have limited stock, I tried to focus on recipes that consisted of items that many of us have in our pantry, freezer or fridge. 


Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry
When purchasing the chicken for this, I always ask the men at the meat counter if they can cut 1lb of chicken breast into cubes, That way I can avoid the hassle, and don't have to deal with raw chicken at home. 9 out of 10 times they are more than happy to do it for you. 

I sub cornstarch for arrowroot flour
I add scallions - they really make the flavor pop, and add extra freshness 


Slow Cooker Santa Fe Chicken 
This has been our go-to recently. It makes just about 3-4 meals for us, and can be used so many different ways. We have made salads, tacos, and quesadillas with it. It also freezes well. 

I sub the chicken broth for a half jar of our favorite salsa. I also use canned corn instead of frozen, but I think either would work. 
I add two fresh bell peppers (diced), as well as a jalapeno (minced, with ribs and seeds). I also double the amount of cilantro and use a spoon full of tomato paste to make it a little ticker.


Date Night Rigatoni with Sausage & Kale
We always use fennel over celery, and I think it makes a huge difference. We like to serve this with burata and prosciutto on a bed of arugula with toasted bread. 

I sub the sausage for chicken sausage, but have made it with pork, as well. Both are equally as good. 


Build Your Own Pizza
This one doesn't really have or require a recipe. We simply purchase whatever plain pizza crust is available in the frozen section, and top it with our favorite marinara sauce, cheese, and whatever we have in the fridge. 

For this pizza I used Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce, Kraft 5 Cheese Italian Blend, and then added onion, jalapeno, arugula, bell peppers and some pesto on top.  


Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos with Avocado Crema
These are packed with flavor, and are a great vegetarian recipe. 

I omit the flower and milk completely. I find it unnecessary, and actually like the cauliflower better if I simply throw it in the hot sauce just by itself. It also cooks up more crispy, which I like, and cuts the cooking time down a bit. 

I sub sour cream for greek yogurt. 



I hope you all enjoyed seeing a glimpse at what's cooking in my kitchen! Please let me know if you'd like to see more posts like this, and if you cook any of these meals! 




 

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