Monday, March 30, 2015

Angelina Jolie, Cancer, & Me

It came as a shock to everyone when Angelina Jolie penned that first op-ed piece for the New York Times in 2013 about undergoing a double mastectomy as a preventive measure for breast cancer. Jolie, who lost her own mother to breast cancer at 56, was told that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer two years ago because she carries the “faulty” gene, BRCA1. 

“I wanted to write this [op-ed],” Jolie wrote in May 2013, “to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
The article sparked debates everywhere on whether a double mastectomy was the best option. Even among my circle of friends, I heard people talking about how it was a form of mutilation to do that procedure to a healthy woman’s body. So, imagine everyone’s surprise on March 24th when Angelina Jolie wrote another op-ed to say that she’d recently had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after her doctor discovered a number of inflammatory markers that could be a sign of early cancer.  At 39 year old, this Hollywood sex symbol is now going through forced menopause.

I found myself relating—perhaps too uncomfortably—to Jolie’s situation. My family has a history of breast, ovarian, and cervical cancer, not unlike Jolie who lost not only her mother but her aunt and grandmother as well. An entire generation of women in my family was wiped out by these cancers—my grandmother of ovarian cancer at 77, her older sister of cervical cancer at 51, her younger sister of breast cancer at 66, one of her cousins to breast cancer, and another cousin to ovarian cancer. My mother’s cousin, too, died of breast cancer at 34. These types of cancers are a preoccupation of mine, not only because of my health, but because of my mother and little sister’s. Our risk of developing cancer is high with such a family history. I've already—perhaps prematurely—been giving myself self-breast exams in the shower for years and making sure to go for annuals with my gynecologist without fail. My apologies if that's TMI.

But each time Angelina Jolie has written one of these articles, I’ve wondered what I would’ve done in her position. If I’d been given Jolie’s odds for breast cancer, I think I would’ve done the same thing as her. The 87 percent risk is stacked too heavily in cancer’s favor. I’d feel like each of my breasts was a ticking time bomb waiting to decimate my life and my family’s. I have a more difficult time deciding whether I’d have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, but I do understand why Jolie made the decision, and I have a deep respect for her for having the courage to do so.

By having these surgeries though, Jolie has—in the minds of some—sacrificed her womanhood, her sexuality. Many women tie up their sexuality and woman-ness with their breasts (big or small; pert or saggy) and their ability to have children. Jolie has disproved that theory with grace. At 39, Jolie will now go through menopause and can “expect some physical changes,” but she’s not looking toward this next chapter of her life with fear or regret. Angelina Jolie is at peace with her decision because she sees it as just another part of life, and she is happy that her children will never have to say that their mother died of breast or ovarian cancer. Because of Jolie’s strength, her six children will most likely never have to see their mother battle cancer or experience that kind of loss.

I think that Angelina Jolie’s bravery extends further thanks to her public acknowledgment of her surgeries. She has empowered women like me who often feel powerless in the face of cancer. Will I get it? Won’t I get it? Will treatment work? Won’t it? Will I still be the woman I was after my breasts have been removed, disfigured, or I’m unable to bear children? Jolie has taken a subject that is usually spoken about in hushed tones among family members and made it a topic of discussion among the general public. She’s let women know that it is possible to test for these inherited gene mutations and then take action, although she makes it clear that her course of action isn’t for everyone. I don’t even know if it’d be right for me, but at least I’m now aware of my choices if I find myself in a similar predicament.  

My mother, thankfully and miraculously, tested negative for the BRCA1 gene a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not still at risk. We are. But for now, I will continue my breast exams, my annual check-ups, and try to live a healthy lifestyle in hopes that that’ll be enough in my case.

I’ve spent the last week flip-flopping over whether or not to write this post. Would it seem opportunistic? Was it too personal? I don’t know what it was that finally made me sit down and write, but I do think that, at least for me, it was good to put everything down on paper.  In writing this post too, my mother and I once again had that difficult talk, and I learned about two relatives who died from cancer that I didn't even know about. So, thank you, Angelina Jolie, for making people talk about breast and ovarian cancer without shame or fear.

Photo Credit: Femme 217 by Aja at SagittariusGallery.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Monthly Musings: March

With little time to sit down and read full-length works, I turned to articles and essays in my downtime. From blog posts to newspaper articles to humorous things I pulled from Buzzfeed, I thought I’d share some of those that have kept me thinking all month long. Without further ado, here is my first installment of “Monthly Musings.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Getting a Handle on Your Twitter Handle

Until I started Bringing Up Brittany, the appeal of Twitter was lost on me. I had created a Twitter account a couple years ago, but I’d tweeted maybe a couple dozen times since registering. To me, there was no point of tweeting when my Facebook statuses served a similar purpose. Besides that, I just couldn’t imagine who would want to read my tweets. It’s not like I’m a celebrity, not even a blogging celebrity to be honest.

It turns out that Twitter has been essential to the promotion of my blog, and I’ve become somewhat of a Twitter junkie. A lot of the traffic to Bringing Up Brittany comes from Twitter, and I feel as though Twitter has helped me to feel like a member of the blogging community. Because of this, I thought I’d share some Twitter hacks that have helped me in the first few months of blogging. So, here goes!

Tweet daily. It took a while for me to work this into my daily routine, but being active on Twitter is the only way to gain followers (and to keep them). Initially, I was just trying to tweet 2-3 times a day, but the more active I became in the blogging community, the easier it was for me to double, triple, and even quadruple that number. Don’t be afraid to tweet about what you’ve been doing throughout the day—no tweet is too small— or to tweet blog updates. Thanks to the Twitter app and Hootsuite, it’s easy to update even when life gets hectic.  I had about 60 followers before I started working on my Twitter activity, and not even three months later, I have over 170.

Don’t just tweet blog updates. I tweet blog updates a few times a day, but followers don’t want to just see post updates if they visit your page. I generally tweet once a new post is up, then alternate between tweets with links to the newest blog post and a link to my Bloglovin account. I try to tweet these shameless promotions once in the morning, then afternoon, and then later that night.

Use hashtags and RTs. To be honest, I am still getting the hang of this facet of Twitter, but it is crucial. When I’m tweeting about my blog, I always make sure to use #lbloggers (the hashtag for lifestyle bloggers since I'm, y'know, a lifestyle blogger). I also use, to a lesser extent, the #bbloggers, #fbloggers, #foodbloggers, and #travelbloggers hashtags depending on the latest update. And for that extra boost, I often mention @FemaleBloggerRT, @RT_Bloggers, and @TheBlogGuideRT when tweeting about a blog post in hopes that it'll get retweeted.

Participate in Blog Chats. I’ve already mentioned how fantastic blogger chats are here, but I can’t stress how great they’ve been to me. I’ve met some lovely people through them and my blog traffic shoots through the roof if I’m an active participant in any one of the numerous blogger chats that take place each day of the week.  I always give my link at the end and ask for other bloggers to send me theirs.  I make the effort to visit every blog I get a link for and either leave a comment on a post or on Twitter.  Share the love, right?

Add photos. There’s some study somewhere that says that adding photos to tweets makes them more noticeable, and I can understand why from a logistical standpoint—the posts aren’t just boring text, the photos are eye-catching, and they take up a lot of visual space. So, I add a photo when I’m tweeting about my latest posts or giving a link to my Bloglovin account without fail.

Twitter has been good to me since I started Bringing Up Brittany, but it is a time commitment. Don’t start a Twitter account for your blog if you have no intention of updating it regularly. That’s bad JuJu right there. I hope that some of these tips are helpful!

Don’t forget to follow me @brittanyalana_!

So what Twitter tips are you willing to share?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Beginning of an Era? Disney's Cinderella (2015)

“Isn’t it strange that kids today are only going to know the live action Cinderella and might be completely unaware of the cartoon?”

My sister and I were headed home after seeing Cinderella when she made this comment, and it’s been on my mind since. I was somewhat flippant at the time, pointing out that the animated version is from 1950 and far removed from children today anyway, but maybe my baby sister was onto something.

Let’s face it, the Age of Saturday Morning Cartoons, with kids eating sugary cereal in front of the television set, is over. Even when I was a kid watching my favorite cartoons—Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, Power Rangers—the phenomenon was already on a steep decline, and that was during the Disney Renaissance with films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, to name a few. This type of animation was on the way out again by the mid-90s though, thanks to computer-animation and then the blending for 3D CGI and traditional techniques that we see in Brave, Tangled, and Frozen. Animated films as I knew them as a child aren’t in vogue anymore, and Disney has now branched, with smashing success, into the realm of live-action films with Maleficent, Cinderella, and soon Beauty and the Beast.

So was my sister right about little kids today missing out on the classic 1950s version of Cinderella with songs like “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”? The movie has been put in the Disney Vault on several occasions but it’s always been re-released with fanfare, so I don’t think there’s a real threat of Cinderella vanishing from memory, at least not yet. It’s still the one that most parents were raised on (including most millennials), so I think children will still have exposure to it. But maybe one day my sister’s premonition will come true.

As for the live-action Cinderella that’s currently in theatres? I absolutely loved it! The cinematography and renderings were breath-taking, and I don’t think that there could have been a better cast. Lily James was perfection as Cinderella, innocent and bright; Cate Blanchett, to my surprise, was the embodiment of Lady Tremaine, and I spent a large part of the movie experiencing wardrobe envy. It was also interesting to see the mistress of macabre, Helena Bonham Carter, playing the frothy, Fairy Godmother, although I wish she’d been a bit more present in the film. As for Prince Charming? I challenge anyone to find fault with Richard Madden. But the story was sadder than I remembered, and perhaps there is something to be said about having actors instead of cartoons on the big screen. I cried on more than one occasion. #sorrynotsorry

While I did miss the musical aspect just a little (I may have “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” on my iPhone in a Disney Playlist…), if this is the direction that Disney is going in, I’m not complaining. It certainly breathed fresh life into the timeless story and is making it available to new generations. So maybe I should stop being a pessimist and, instead of seeing it as an end of an era, see live action films as the beginning of a new and exciting one.

So what were your thoughts on Cinderella?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Designer for Less: Travel Wallet

I love Aspinal of London’s accessories, and ever since I discovered their travel collection I’ve been smitten. The gorgeous Italian calf leather luggage tags, passport cover, and tabbed travel wallet come in a variety of colors, and I’m more than a bit obsessed with the aqua collection. The only problem is that the set costs a whopping $325. Sadly, it’s not an expense I can justify when I travel abroad once a year, and that's a substantial chunk of my spending money for a month. Even if I just bought the travel wallet, which speaks to my hyper-organizational tendencies, it'd set me back $250. Yikes. Still, I was desperate for my own travel wallet and decided to see if there were any brands that made something similar with a more reasonable price tag.

I scoured the internet for ages before discovering that ASOS has travel wallets for $30-45, which is more my price range. The ASOS wallets are leather and have three tabs (passport, tickets, and other), which will help me to keep things organized,  and that makes all the difference in a travel experience, don’t you think? There’s nothing worse than having to rummage through your bag or carry-on to find your passport or boarding pass. The wallet is bigger than your average wallet, but considering what it’s meant to hold, that makes sense. The only thing “negative” point would be that the leather isn’t exactly supple, but I do like the textured leather. My wallet doesn’t seem to be available anymore, but ASOS has other similar styles right now.

I haven’t used mine yet, but it’s definitely going with me to France. Last year I was one of those poor individuals rooting through her handbag for her passport after it slipped into a side pocket, unbeknownst to her.  Can you imagine not having your passport when you get to the airport? I had a panic attack, and the experience probably shaved a couple years off my life. I’ll be eternally grateful to ASOS if my chic travel wallet prevents a repeat of last year.  Now to find myself a cute passport cover!

What are some of your favorite designer dupes?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

5 Smart Ways to Pay Off Student Loans

I loved my time at Cornell but it’s time to pay up in blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of cash. If you’re in the US, you’ve probably heard politicians talking about the scourge that is student loans. President Obama only paid off his shortly before taking office in 2008, and he’s issued executive orders to help students and graduates shoulder the burden. So many of my friends related to Quinn Perkins when Shondaland’s Scandal poked fun at the loan collection services (“Who has money? All I have is student loans. It doesn’t matter how many times you reinvent your identity, Sallie Mae will find you”). We all laughed somewhat uncomfortably because, really, ain’t that the truth? 

I graduated with about $100k in loans, which means that most of my salary each month goes toward paying them off. I’ve been making these dreaded payments for a couple of years now, and although I’m no expert, I thought I’d share some tips for paying off that mountain of student loans. Without further ado…

You can start paying off interest will you’re still in school.  This is something I wish I had known at the time. I’d still double-check with your loan company to make sure that making a payment won’t mean you forfeit your grace period, but if not, and you can afford to, put some money toward the interest on your loans each month. A large chunk of what you end up paying monthly is interest (not the money you borrowed, “the principle”), so doing this will give you a bit of a jumpstart. Trust me, any little bit helps.

Keep organized. You don’t want to be charged late fees on top of everything else, so it’s important to know when your payments are due and how much you’re expected to pay. Simple enough, right? Well, if you’re like me, you will probably have a loan for each year you were in school at the very least (I happen to have seven individual loans). To keep track of everything, I created an Excel spreadsheet with info on each loan (due date, payment amount, and interest rate). Whenever I pay a loan, I make sure to jot it down so I know what’s been paid and what hasn’t. I also have Google Alerts set up in my iPhone.

Make a budget. I use one simple equation for this: Monthly Salary – Cumulative Loan Payments = Spending Money. It’s easy to overspend, especially if you buy small things here and there. It turns out that even a $5 purchase here and a $10 purchase there add up. It’s important to know how much you can afford to spend each month so that you have enough money to pay up when the time comes.

Don’t pay your loans with credit cards. This is basically like paying off one loan with another, and you’ll quickly find yourself in a sticky situation.

Pick the payment plan that works for you. Whether you have ten year or twenty-five year loans, a graduated payment plan or an income-based one, make sure it works for your budget. You can also contact the loan services to change the due date if necessary. Just remember that although an extended term means smaller payments now you’ll end up paying more in the long run.

Loans are evil, let’s just put that out there. There are so many other things I’d like to do with that hard-earned money of mine (shop, travel, move out of my parents’ house) but, sadly, I have to be a grown-up and be responsible and all that stuff. 

Adulthood can be lame sometimes.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Boozy St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

I might not be Irish, but on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone gets to be Irish for a few short hours.  It’s the one day a year when bagpipe music isn’t considered a nuisance and people aren’t repulsed by the idea of drinking green beer.  You can be sure that I’ll be going to our local Irish pub to take part in the revelry!

So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to do a bit of boozy baking.  I discovered two recipes for Guiness Cupcakes with Bailey’s Irish Cream Frosting last summer and have been impatiently waiting for March 17th.  I ended up creating a hybrid of the two recipes because I liked the simplicity of the cupcakes and frosting in one but couldn't resist the ganache from the other.

Slightly modified recipe from Family Fresh Meals & ganache recipe from The Stir.

Chocolate Guiness Cupcakes

You’ll Need…

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
½ dark brown sugar
½ cup unsalted softened butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 (12 oz.) bottle of Guiness Extra Stout Beer

And the Steps…

Preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare 2 (12 count) muffin tins with paper liners.  In a large bowl mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, butter, granulated sugar, and dark brown sugar until the ingredients are fully incorporated.  Add 2 eggs, vanilla extract, and sour cream and mix.  Slowly add Guiness Extra Stout and mix until ingredients are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth.  Fill each muffin cup to about halfway and bake for 20-25 minutes.  A toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean. Set aside to cool before frosting.

I ended up having a bit of extra batter using this recipe, so I made a small Chocolate Guiness Cake. 

Jameson Ganache

You’ll Need…

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsp Jameson Irish Whiskey

And the Steps…

Bring heavy cream to a boil.  Pour over a bowl of the finely chopped chocolate and butter, and let mixture sit for several minutes. Stir until mixture is glossy. Add whiskey slowly, stirring to incorporate.  Refrigerate for 5 minutes and stir.  Repeat this step 2-3 times until the ganache is thick and cooled. With a spatula, cover the top of each cooled cupcake with ganache. 

This step needs to be well-timed, which I learned the hard way.  You can’t leave the ganache for too long or it becomes too firm to spread.  I ended up putting the ganache over the stove to melt it slightly, and then mixing it again until it was a spreadable consistency. This step should be done once the cupcakes are cooled so that you can cover them as soon as the ganache is ready.

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Frosting

You’ll Need…

2 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese, at room temperature
2 (4 oz) sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioner’s sugar
8 tbsp of Bailey’s Irish Cream

And the Steps…

Mix cream cheese and butter until they are both fully incorporated.  Gradually mix in confectioner’s sugar (also known as powdered sugar) and beat until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the Bailey’s Irish Cream and beat until all ingredients are incorporated.  Put frosting in the refrigerator to set for 20-30 minutes.  Frost cupcakes using an icing bag.

I ended up doubling Family Fresh Meals’ frosting recipe.  I rather have more frosting than less since there’s nothing worse than running out or having to be stingy. Whatever frosting I have leftover, I just freeze.  I also added an extra cup of confectioner’s sugar because the frosting was too runny after I added the Bailey’s.  With the extra confectioner’s sugar and time in the refrigerator, the frosting was the perfect consistency for piping.


These are some boozy cupcakes, just as a warning, but they taste amazing!  The cupcakes were nice and moist with a subtle taste of stout. No wonder chocolate stouts are so popular these days!  Both the frosting and the ganache have a stronger taste of the Bailey’s and Jameson, respectively.  Feel free to go a bit lighter on the alcohol.  As my mom said, you can get drunk off these babies.

Just as a warning though, the alcoholic ingredients are not the cheapest.  The smallest bottle of Bailey’s I could find was $26.99 and the small bottle of Jameson cost me $18.99.  To keep costs down, I’d suggest using another brand of whiskey.

The cupcakes have been a hit so far with my family, and I didn’t hate the way the house smelled after all the baking was done either!  

How do you plan to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Road to France Pt. 2 - Easy Booking with

France, here we come!

After months of talking about it, Mom and I finally booked our trip to France. I’ve known that I was going, but having it booked makes the whole thing feel that much realer. Now I can start making my (in)famous itineraries (more on that later) and start booking excursions. My Fodor’s travel guides will no longer tease me from their perch on my bookshelf. 133 days until take off!

I’ve gone on several European vacations (London in 2012, Italy in 2014), and I’ve always booked them using  I love the fact that you get the feel of a travel agent without the booking fee.  Whenever I have a question, I can just send a quick email to the person who helped me to book my trip or give them a call.  I’ve always gotten a reply within a few hours.

What I also like abut is that they do give you the option to select from their vacation packages or to create your own.  For both London and Italy, I used the pro-offered packages.  I selected the package based on my destination, picked the departure date, and chose the flights and hotels from a list compiled for me. This time around I decided to design my own trip though, and it was just as easy, to my surprise.  All I had to do was enter my departure city and destinations with desired dates, and did the rest.  It provided me with flight, rail, and hotel options as well as offering transportation to and from the airports, travelers insurance, and some sightseeing options.  All I have to do was make my selection and pay—easy peasy.  All my travel documents will be sent to my Go-today account as PDFs when they’re ready for easy access.

My experiences with have always been great.  I like the fact that I book everything in one go—flights, hotels, transfers, etc.—and that I don’t have to fret over misplacing documents. 

Mom and I will be in France for 10 days, and we’ll spend the first 6 in and around Paris before taking a train to Nice for the rest of our stay.  The whole trip cost between $2700-2800 per person, and that’s including round-trip airfare, hotel stays (with continental breakfasts), airport transfers, and rail tickets.  The one downside to is that you have to pay for the whole trip upfront, which can put a serious dent in your bank account, but it’s worth it!  Regardless, I highly recommend if you’re going to be making travel plans soon.  With over 40 countries to choose from, there are plenty of options for avid travelers!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Love Your Skin with Olay Complete

It is a truth universally acknowledged that winter wreaks havoc on the skin. Or at least it should be a truth universally acknowledged. The cold weather leaves skin dry, chapped, and in a general state of disrepair. But since winter in the Northeast requires layers upon layers of clothing, it’s pretty easy to hide the problem. Spring is just around the corner though (hopefully), so soon there will be a lot more skin visible. That means it’s time to get my skin back into respectable shape.

I’m pretty lax when it comes to moisturizing my skin (I’m working on it, I swear!), but the one place I never skimp on is my face, especially in the winter. Olay is the only face lotion I've ever used thanks to both of my parents indoctrinating it in me. I have vivid memories of my father slathering “Oil of Olay” on my fat baby cheeks. Both my mom and dad use it to this day, although we all use different formulas.

I swear by Olay Complete with SPF 15. I’m pretty fair-skinned, so I always need a little bit of UV protection to prevent me from turning into a boiled lobster. I like the fact that the SPF is in my moisturizer so that I don’t have to worry about an extra step in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work.

The cream is light and smooth, so you hardly notice that it’s on. It’s also not oily like some lotions can be, which is important for someone with sensitive skin like me. The tiniest bit of oil on my skin and I break out; I’ve never had that problem with Olay Complete.  The fact that it also has vitamins E, B3, and C in it means that I know my skin is being nourished around the clock.  

At $5.99 a pot, I think Olay is a huge steal.  It’s part of my daily routine, and I put it under all my make-up. My skin feels supple and fresh, and knowing that it's well-hydrated and protected from the sun all year round is a huge plus.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 Helpful Tips for Buying Your Next Laptop

After a teeny accident (my dad tripping over my laptop’s power cord and the poor thing going flying), I was in dire need of a new laptop. It’s a big purchase, not only because of the price tag, but because I use my laptop for just about everything. I use it for work, for blogging, to keep in touch with friends and family, to watch movies, to shop, and to pay my bills. Whatever laptop I decided on had to be a reliable machine that fit all my needs. But with so many makes and models available, how does one decide? Here are some things to consider when shopping for your next laptop.

Price. How much are you willing to spend on your laptop? Once you know that, you’ll be able to narrow down the options considerably. I was looking for a mid-priced machine, so I knew I’d be staying clear of anything with a price tag higher than $600. Laptops can range from $150-$2000.

Mac or PC. People today are divided into two groups—Team Mac and Team PC. I’m Team PC and have been since my first computer at age 3. I’m a creature of habit and prefer what I know to having to learn a new operating system, but there are some people who are more willing to try out something different.

Screen Size. Size does matter when you’re buying a laptop. In my case, I use my laptop more as a desktop and watch a lot of TV shows and movies on it, so I wanted a bigger screen. But, if you’re someone who carries their laptop to work or to classes, a smaller screen means that the laptop will probably be lighter too. One thing I noticed too was that smaller laptops tend to not have CD-ROM drives. Since I use my laptop to watch movies and some of my software requires a CD for installation, this was just another reason why I decided to go with a larger screen.

Touchscreen? Whether I should get a laptop with a touch screen was a point of contention in my house. Some people (my dad) are huge advocates of the touchscreen because it’s the newest technology and they like the interactivity. But, for me, I didn’t want to pay more for a feature that I had no intention of using. I don’t see the point of a touchscreen on a laptop and think of it as more a of tablet function. Different strokes for different folks, right?

RAM. RAM is a computer storage location that allows information to be stored and accessed quickly because it is accessed randomly instead of sequentially. Once upon a time, if you were tech savvy enough, you could add memory to your laptop. Nowadays though, fewer laptops are giving you that option. Since I can’t expand the RAM on my laptop, it was important to me that I get a laptop with the most memory in my price range. More GB of RAM does mean a more expensive machine though.

In the end, I decided to go with an HP 15.6" Laptop with Intel Core i5 Processor. I’ve been happy with it so far, though the keyboard has taken some adjustment. It’s much slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, and its battery life is fantastic. I think my money was well-spent.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Simple Pleasures: Bouquets

With a winter as bitter as this one spring and summer seem like they’ll never get here.  Everything seems so lifeless. The trees are bare and the lawns are hidden under inches of dingy, gray snow.  Gross.

To combat the winter-weather blues, I’ve taken to buying myself bouquets for my room. As I've said before, I think there is something to be said about how plant life can improve your mood (maybe even your quality of life?) and energize a room.  I look forward to my bi-weekly trips to Dahlia’s stand in Grand Central, which I’ve dubbed “flower day.” Original, I know. It may seem slightly indulgent but a smile and upbeat mood is worth $30 a month for 2 dozen vibrant roses, right? Right. Plus, there are two things that are cheap in New York City—manicures and bouquets—so I might as well take advantage of it!

Although I know spring will arrive eventually and I’ll finally be able to look out at our garden, I think I’ll continue with this flower day ritual. It’s such a simple thing, but it does lift my spirits, especially after a long day at work. It’s the simple things in life that make it worth living, no?

What are some little things that make you smile? xx

Friday, March 6, 2015

London in a Box

I love my mom to pieces and, as I’ve gotten older, she has become my best friend. There is nothing that I can’t talk to her about (seriously), and I always know that she’ll be in my corner. She’s the sort of mother who sacrifices for her children with nary a complaint, and I'll will always be thankful for that.

This year, I wanted to do something special to mark her 25th (you’re welcome, Mommy) birthday. As I’ve mentioned already, I’ll be going to France this summer; but what I failed to mention is that I’m taking my mom with me. I ordinarily travel alone, but I thought that this would be a nice mother-daughter adventure for us.

For Mom’s birthday present though, I gave her a day trip to London. My mom is a Londoner, but she hasn’t been home in 40 years. I grew up hearing tales of her London (post-war with debris still on street corners), but London has changed so much since she’s last seen it.  I know that she misses it. A lot. When I mentioned that we would change planes at Heathrow on the way home, she nearly burst into tears. I knew that it would be a huge tease to be just a couple hours away from London and not make the trip there.

I still wanted Mom to have a gift to open on her birthday though, so I got a teeny bit creative with the presentation. I give you London in a Box! I remembered from my scrapbooking days that Jolee’s Boutique and Recollections had some great London stickers with texture and embellishments that I put into a small box (hence London in a Box). The stickers have dimension to them, so they don’t just lay flat in the tissue paper. This isn’t their typical use, but it certainly did the trick!

The gift itself was wrapped in two layers of wrapping paper from Papyrus, one of my favorite stationary stores.  Their products have a beautiful hand-crafted quality to them, and the attention to detail is stunning.  When I saw that they were selling sheets of wrapping paper with an Eiffel Tower and UK stamp motifs, I knew I had to have them both for Mom’s gift.

Mom also got one of my (in)famous itineraries for our day. We’ll only be in London for about 12 hours, but I'm squeezing in as much as humanly possible for her. We’ll somehow manage to see the Tower of London, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, Harrod’s, Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens and Palace, and Oxford Street. My feet hurt just thinking about it!

There were tears when Mom realized what I was giving her, but she was so excited about it.  She was all giddy as she added the London in a Box stickers to the itinerary, and she now has it displayed on her dresser.  I'm glad that I could give her this chance to visit home--40 years is a long time.

All I’m worried about now is how I’m going to top this next year…

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Review

As much as I would love to spend $8 on a bottle of OPI or Essie, sometimes that price tag is too rich for my student loan-burdened bank account. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m almost exclusively a drugstore cosmetics sort of gal at this point in my life. But just because I want bargain prices doesn’t mean I want nail polishes that chip the next day or need a million coats to look opaque. I've found that Sally Hansen Insta-Dri line is a great alternative to designer polishes.

For $3.99, you get a thick, long-lasting nail polish and a large selection of colors to choose from. Depending on the color, one coat will usually do the trick, and it goes on smoothly and evenly. The “Perfectionist Brush” is wider than the average brush and has contoured edges for easy application. 

Now, I will say that the name is a bit of a misnomer. The nail polishes don’t dry instantly (I wish!), and they don’t dry in 60 seconds either.  The dry time is still faster than most drugstore nail polishes I’ve tried though. I do still use a quick dry coat to speed up the process, but that’s only because someone has a tendency to smudge her nails…

A couple of weekend’s ago I bought two new Sally Hansen Insta-Dri polishes for my collection.  Show Steel-er is a light gray with a slight blue tint to it (from certain angles it even looks a bit like powder blue).  It seemed like a perfect winter color to me and certainly matched the New York uniform (black, white, and gray). I can’t lie, I’ve been obsessed with this color since I bought it.  

The other shade, Expresso, is a rich mauve. It’s a deep enough shade to work as winter color but I think the berry hue could work for the spring too. I like that it’s on the more subdued side without appearing too neutral.

My Sally Hansen manicures usually last about a week without chipping and with minimal tip-wear, but the darker colors don't seem to last quite as long as the lighter shades (as was the case with Show Steel-er versus Expresso), not sure why.  Still, Sally Hansen provide smooth, vibrant coverage that really can't be beat for the price.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

New Month, New Goals: March

I hoped that February would be less snowy and warmer but Mother Nature had other plans. We seemed to have a snowstorm at least once a week (usually on a Monday) and had record-breaking lows. How low? One night it was -4F and felt like -20F, and our meteorologists were warning us about the risks of frostbite and hypothermia. I'm hoping that March will have some mercy on us weather-wise. It seems like Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog was spot on when it came to the whole 6 more weeks of winter bit.

So how did I do as far as my February goals go?

Let my hair down more (literally). Check! I wore my hair down for a total of 15 days, which is way more than I usually do.
Lose 5 pounds. Not quite. I lost 3.4 pounds total this month, which is still something. I’m about 7 pounds from my “happy weight,” so I'll keep going.
See some of the Oscar nominated movies. I saw Ida, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’d love to see more.
Watch the new season of Vikings. Check! Only 2 episodes have aired so far, but I’m a happy camper watching my husband on TV.


  • Do some spring cleaning. To mark the beginning of spring (March 20th), I thought it would be a good idea to get some cleaning done. My room has become a bit of a disaster area thanks to a hectic month at work and a couple of home-bound days courtesy of snow. It’s high time I get everything in order again.
  • Book France. So, so close! I’ll book my trip to France mid-March now that I’ve gotten my vacation time approved at work. Stay tuned for more details on this!
  • Get Mom her birthday present.  Someone is getting older on March 5th and deserves a gift.
  • Read for fun. I got slammed with reading for work in February and didn’t have time to breathe, let alone read for pleasure. I still have a couple manuscripts to get through, but hopefully I’ll be able to read a book or two from my growing “to read” pile.  Maybe I'll even manage to read some of the books from my book hauls.
  • Bring lunch to work. A co-worker and I made a 2 week-long pledge in late January/early February to bring lunch instead of buying it. I was surprised by how much money I saved during those weeks (about $60) and continued to bring lunch for the rest of February. I’d like to see if I can continue this trend in March.
So what are your goals for March?

Lovely calendar by Rifle Paper Co.