The Shopping Rule That Put an End to My Impulsive Purchases

 
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A few years ago, I was looking through my closet when I realized- I hated just about everything in there. Most of us have had this moment. It’s not that we truly have nothing to wear, it’s that we have nothing we WANT to wear. My closet was so chalk-full of items that it was an arm workout to go through it all (am I a fitness influencer now???). I stared at it all, seeing all the wasted dollars and credit card charges, and I started taking pieces out one by one. 4 garbage bags later, I knew I was still lacking that satisfaction of going in and effortlessly picking something out. Not one-offs, but clothing that could carry me through a multitude of events.

We all have the one-offs. Your friend calls you and tells you she has an extra ticket to the John Mayer concert (it’s still 2010 in my mind)! And in my totally sane brain, I convince myself there is not one thing in my closet that could impress the throngs of moody 18-year-olds in attendance. I go to the mall, find some perfect $25 tank top that will be the envy of a pre-pubescent crowd, and John Mayer, if a miracle happens. I wear it to the concert, get 1000 photos in it…and proceed to never wear it again. Repeat for a bridal shower. Repeat for a job interview. Repeat for another John Mayer concert (I went to a lot in youth- I’m not ashamed). I’m here to help you avoid the one-off, and possibly explore the psychological meaning behind needing something new for every occasion. Just kidding! I don’t have enough time in the world to get into that.

After my garbage bags full of my one-offs were donated, I sat down and made a list in my phone. A list of things I felt I needed to really create a “Capsule” wardrobe, a few items I would be happy to pull out and wear to work, to drinks, to run errands in. I think my original list was something like a great oversized blazer…nice black ankle boots…jeans I felt comfortable in and could wear causal or dressy… a tailored white blouse. I went for the basics, and I vowed I would not buy anything that wasn’t on my list.

A few months went by, and I truly bought almost nothing that wasn’t on that list. Every time I was tempted, I would ask myself if it was on my list, or conductive to my closet-building. 99% of the time, it was not, and I would put it back or exit out of the browser. If I were in “Game of Thrones”, I would be dubbed “Alexandra Ayaub, First of her Name, Queen of Adding to Cart”. It’s my favorite past-time, other than eating Macaroni and Cheese in bed and watching “Grey’s Anatomy” for the 100th time. My “Seattle Grace” nickname would be McCheesy, in case you were wondering.

Make a list every season, or as frequently/in-frequently as you need it- but be fully realistic about what it is that you need. I constantly hear from other women “I need dresses!” “I need more tops!”. Write it down when you think of it. When you are tempted to buy something, go back to your list. Is it on there? When we get sidetracked and spend our money on things we don’t really want or need, there’s nothing left for what we DO desire. I’m not saying other items don’t slip in every now and again. My AMEX knows the importance of a vintage beaded bag. But having a list helps us control those impulsive purchases, curbing our spending from being a free-for-all.

Here’s what my list looks like right now:

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My list might take a few months to fulfill, and financially, a few might have to wait. But that means in the interim, I’m not buying other wasteful things to take their place. Not everything on the list needs to be expensive! That over-sized blazer on my original list? I found at Target for $25. I know for the loafers, I’ll spend a little more, because I want them to last forever. Just make sure whatever you find, you love, feel good in, and can wear it with other pieces you already own.

Ever since I started this exercise, I have been building a closet full of things I love, wear continuously, and I am actually saving money. We create “To-Do” lists all the time, to help us focus on what we need to get done, and feel accomplished when we’ve done so. Why not do the same with our wardrobes? 

Thanks to my list, I know EXACTLY what I’ll be wearing to my next concert (it won’t be John Mayer, ok!! …mostly because he’s not on tour)- and it won’t be a tank top that some 17-year-old ends up buying from Plato’s closet.

 

"Day to Night" is a Scam and I'm not Falling for It Anymore

 
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I was addicted to magazines when I was growing up. I would spend hours flipping through my “Teen Vogue”, “Vogue”, “Cosmopolitan”, “Teen People” (R.I.P.)- and a resounding theme was “Take your outfit from day to night!”. Every issue, every season, there were new ways to take my pencil skirt and blouse from desk to daquiris (even as a 15-year-old, this was important to me even though I had no job nor could drink?). I consistently see it in publications today, swapping out ballet flats for a funky block heel, or a pendant necklace for some gaudy beaded thing. I quickly realized that now in my adult working life, I never once worried about taking my outfit from day to night- so why are magazines still so obsessed with it?

Don’t get me wrong- I’m obviously here for pieces that can be worn for multiple occasions and events, but that never quite seems to be the clear narrative. Here’s my theory: back in the 90’s, early 00’s, women were dressing more formally for work. Fashion and clothing weren’t as accessible as they are now, with the birth of fast fashion and online shopping. We’ve gotten so much more creative and expressive with “professional dress”. Most work places don’t enforce a formal dress code of suits, pencil skirts or dresses. And even if they do, what’s the problem with wearing those things out after work? It’s martinis with your messy friends, not the Queen.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think “Day to Night” is as crucial to working women, because most “nights” consist of going home, taking our pants off, throwing on a face mask that will fix EVERYTHING, and watching last night’s shows while simultaneously exploring every crevice of the internet. Oh, and fighting the patriarchy, but that goes without saying. AM I RIGHT LADIES?

Men never have to worry about owning extra accessories or stuffing “a great, sassy belt!” into their work bags if a date is on the after-work agenda. They show up in the exact same thing they put on that morning, maybe putting on a little extra deodorant or checking for boogers. Why is there such a strong narrative that the clothes that women wear to work, aren’t acceptable for a drink that we probably desperately deserve?

Most women I know aren’t remotely interested in “Day to night!” unless it involves tips on how to take off our bras off through our shirts before we get in the door. We’re just fine in what we’re wearing, thank you very much. It’s all a ploy to get us to buy more things, and convince us that we need more to be more. I’m not falling for it anymore, and I’ll show up to dinner in the same thing I worked in all day. Not all heroes wear capes…but we will wear the same pants all damn day.

We Need to Talk About Paul Manafort's Wardrobe

I often dream about having an unlimited budget for clothes. The beautiful things I would buy…I would essentially dress like a rich woman lounging in the Hamptons, year-round. Well one of America’s least favorite (do we have favorites??) con-men, Paul Manafort, thanks to off-shore bank accounts, DID have an unlimited clothing budget. For the cool cost of 1.3 million dollars, he decided to look like a dollar store drug dealer. A garbage gangster. Clothes that scream “I’M RICH WORLD, CAN’T YOU TELL?!”. Tacky plaid blazers that looked more like Danny DeVito in “Matilda” than Nick Wooster. Snakeskin overcoats- which in reality was very clever, considering he really IS a traitorous snake. I love a good theme.

In an attempt to cover up my constant anxiety over the state of our country and its lack of leadership, I thought I would dissect a few pieces of Cheatin’ Paul’s lavish wardrobe.  I use the word “lavish” very loosely, because I really do believe this is the only wardrobe in the world that looks like it is from a Men’s Warehouse outlet sale, but for the cost of a large home. BEEP BEEP, HERE COMES THE FASHION POLICE (followed by the real police- enjoy prison, Paul!!)

 

THE OSTRICH JACKET- $15,000

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When I first heard of this infamous ostrich jacket, I envisioned something grand, possibly with feathers and proper tails. What I didn’t expect, was the bomber jacket of 90% of taxi drivers- and even that’s offensive to hardworking taxi drivers everywhere. This man, who’s supposed to be the “best of the best”, was swindled into buying a coat that looked like every teenage “bad boy” in every movie, that hangs out behind the bleachers saying things like “do you always do what your parents tell you to?”. Honestly the sales associate that sold him this piece deserves our utmost respect, possibly even an award.

PYTHON COAT- $18,500 (LOL)

You know the saying “you look like a million bucks!”? This looks like a craigslist coat being advertised for an upcoming estate sale. I truly want to know where he intended to wear this, other than some underground speakeasy at 2am meeting with Ukrainians-actually this purchase totally makes sense now. Let’s carry on.

The Plaid Suits- $15,000

The boxy fit of these suits is a felony alone. You could fit four Jared Kushners in just one of these blazers. We could house a small family coming across the border under one of these, but honestly, they’ve already had it hard enough and shouldn’t have to endure any further trauma. Anyone who says that letting immigrants into the U.S. is horrific, hasn’t seen one of these suits. Next.

The Double Breasted Blazer- $$ unknown, but to be honest anything over $100 is too much for this

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Remember that episode of “The Office”, where Michael accidentally wears a women’s suit? It seems that Paul got lost on his way to "Alan Couture" and ended up at an "Ann Taylor". Hillary wore it better. So did Michael Scott.

THE CASUAL WEAR- $48,500+

Paul Manafort’s casual wear is that of a dad that never shows up to his kids soccer games when he says he will. Poor kids, but it’s even sadder for the lizard used to make a $48,00 jacket, that looks like I pulled it from a bin at Mr. Alan’s.

 

While this was a fun exercise in fashion-policing someone who was wanted by actual police, let it serve as a reminder that every.single.voice.matters. I understand that Paul Manafort wasn’t an elected official, but he had a hand in electing someone who is. We get to choose the type of people that represent us as a country, in Washington, and in our own states and cities. The people that really make a difference, are us, the people. Oh, it’s also a lesson that money can’t buy taste. But I think we established that back at “Python coat”.  

Here's What to Buy From the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale: 2018 Edition!

 
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year- no, not when the Home Depot Hot Dog stand puts up summer hours, but the other most wonderful time, The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

As I wrote last year, this sale is one of my favorite shopping events of the year. It’s NEW fall merchandise, on sale before it hits stores at full price. This was my first year not living in Michigan for the sale, so I let a few tears pass as I scrolled by delicious, heavy winter coats and cozy sweaters. I had to adjust what I was buying due to my change in climate (did you know even your fingers can sweat? ME EITHER!). I may have let a sweatshirt or two slip in there, but I am only human and a change in scenery cannot change me!

My purchases were carefully curated, and I’m sharing what I got, plus a few. I’m still in my period of (F)unemployment, so I had to shop responsibly  (somewhere, my husband is smiling reading this. Hi, Mike!).

 

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ASTR The Label Button Front Midi Dress: $52.90 (After sale: $79)

 

This was the first item that caught my attention. The price was right, print is a perfect Fall-floral, and I love the vintage silhouette of it. It is a tad low cut, but I think the length and sleeve detail make it more Lady than Tramp (but if Tramp is your thing, I’m here for that too- women doing what they want 2018!!). The buttons from bust to hem make it possible to even wear this dress as a top. I wore it over jeans, unbuttoned from the hem to my waist and voila! Now you have a blouse and a dress! You’re welcome!

Transition this from summer to fall with sneakers or boots instead of sandals, or layered with a turtleneck or tee underneath.

NIKE Sportswear Rally Sweatshirt: $51.90 (After sale: $70)

The extent of my sweatshirt wearing now is slipping one on when Mike’s not home and I turn the AC down to 65. But this limited-time activity did not prevent me from adding this perfect pull-over to my collection.

The high-neckline allows this sweatshirt be a more refined, and less sloppy. If I didn’t live in the pits of hell, temperature-wise, I would pair with a midi skirt and sneakers come Fall. Until then, I’ll wear it in front of my freezer.

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ASTR The Label Twist Front Bodysuit: $35.90 (After sale: $55)

I live for bodysuits. They’re easy to throw on, comfy and great for layering. I’m always looking for ones I can wear for going out, as it’s a one-stop-shop to a great outfit (well, you’ll need pants or something. Hopefully.).

This one from ASTR is a rich, metallic silver-grey, and will look great with black high-waisted pants or baggy jeans. The front-twist detail is extremely slimming, and it DOES have a snap closure. Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than going to the bathroom and sitting naked in the stall, because you had to pull down your entire bodysuit. It's peak vulnerability. There is probably no other frequent-situation that makes me reevaluate my life and choices more. Snaps make this a sure purchase.

Rebecca Minkoff Koso Bootie: $99.90 (After sale: $149.95)

I have long been looking for a perfect white Western-inspired boot, but everything I found made me look like a Dollar-store version of Jessie from "Toy Story". They were either too tall or too pointy, and I looked more ready to two-step, not for two drinks.

These are the ideal heel-height for every day, a perfect shade of non-stark white. The low cut of this boot makes it much more accessible to wear with multiple pieces. White boots are a big-time accessory right now, and you can wear them with anything from flowy dresses, to mini skirts or jeans and an over-sized blazer. Just stay away from anything Fringe. You are Rodeo Drive honey, not a Rodeo Clown.

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VANS Old Skool Sneaker: $42.90 (After sale: $64.95)

I love that Vans became not-just for the skater crowd, but a true cool-girl staple for women and men. It’s like the modern version my pink "Etnies" from 6th grade, but without the Happy Bunny sketches on them. THANK GOD FOR PUBERTY!

I immediately took to this updated-version of the plain black Vans. The body of the shoe is linen, giving it a great textured look. It’s a fresh take on a white sneaker, which goes with just about everything already in your closet. The gold-logo detail dresses it up a bit, making me feel like the COOL girl at the skate park, not the one riding by on her bike on the way to the Aquatic Center, kick board in tow.

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Diptyque Mini Candle Set: $55 ($75 value)

This deal is the true reason I began stanning (linked that to the Urban Dictionary definition because there are sweet moms reading this) this sale in the first place. I put these in our bathroom, on my nightstand, just about anywhere in our apartment. They are small with a big impact, the scent will still fill any room. Don’t forget to de-wax them when you’re done! They make the perfect holders for Q-tips, earrings, or even a holder for dipping sauces, when everything else is in boxes and you’ve got sweet potato fries in the oven. SO I’VE HEARD!

They also make perfect gifts, but I’m feeling stingy this year so sorry friends! This one’s for me.

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Dior Addict Lip Glow Set: $75 ($90 value)

I am the laziest when it comes to lip product. Yes, lip balm is essentially attached to my right hand, but when it comes to lipstick, I’m lazier than 7-year-old me during "T.G.I.F". on ABC (Why hasn’t  “Sabrina the Teenage Witch gotten her reboot yet? For another time.). That doesn’t stop me from owning about 20 lip colors, however! Old habits die hard, or in my case, they don’t die at all because I’M STILL BUYING THEM!

Dior Lip glow is the one lip product I use up, every time. I own 4 shades, and each one holds a special place in my heart and purse. It’s the easiest and most non-committal way to wear lip color. It moisturizes and enhances your lips natural color, while giving you a natural flush of perfectly pouty shades.

They can be expensive on their own- $34 a pop. But in this set, you get your choice of Lip Glow in Coral (my favorite for summer) or Pink (the OG), PLUS, a lip lacquer (a very light-weight lipstick with mega-shine and high pigment) and a mini lip-plumping gloss. This set is your introduction into the addiction of Dior Lip products and I’m so sorry but also, you’re welcome.

 

And in a dark turn: Thank you to this sale for distracting me from the world essentially being on fire! At least I have my sweatshirt to keep me warm. Happy shopping!

"Thanks! It's Vintage!"

 
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I love vintage shopping. It gives me a such a high that sometimes I'm amazed it's legal. There's just something about finding that perfect piece that seems like it stuck around all these years just for you

But as someone old once said, "nothing worth having comes easy". The same can be said for vintage apparel. I have spent hours rifling through racks and racks of vintage clothes, with nothing to show for it but tired arms (clothes are heavy and I have chicken arms, ok?). I started vintage shopping when I was in high school, and over the years I have learned many lessons about what to look out for. And with the birth of online vintage shopping on sites like Etsy, my education has become even greater.  After having been burned by one-particular 60’s dress in 2010 (I’m not emotionally ready to explain that story yet), I have decided to share my tips with you all. Someone call Dua Lipa because here come the rules!!

1. SNIFF IT REAL GOOD

Vintage clothes can naturally have a musty smell. It's not your grandmas fault that she didn't know she had a “Reformation”-esque blouse sitting in her basement for 30 years. She was too busy handing you money under the table to care. Vintage clothing has that distinct scent, and sometimes it's fixable. However, sometimes it's not and LET ME TELL YOU FROM EXPERIENCE, you don't want to be the person at the party that smells like your Great Aunt Bertha’s attic. When you find a piece you like in-person, be sure to sniff it. Sniff it real good. If it has a faint scent, you can do the following:

  •  Send it to the dry cleaner and be sure to tell them it's a vintage piece. Most places will be able to use a deodorizer. If it's any kind of fur coat, take it to a furrier to deodorize, too. 
  • If you have a garage, hang it in there a for a few days. Sometimes if the piece is not that old (90's is apparently vintage now so that makes me 100 years old I guess), it just needs some fresh air.
  •  Activated Charcoal. VERY CAREFULLY put some in a bowl and put the bowl and your garment in a plastic tub or storage bin, any container that will seal. Again, be careful because if you spill the charcoal, well then I can't help you and you'll  use my name like Voldemort. Leave them in the bin together for up to 10 days, and the charcoal will help absorb the smell.
  •  Your freezer is your friend! The lowest shelf on our freezer is meant for meats. The other 3 shelves are all my clothes, it is my second closet. The coldness of the freezer can deodorize and sanitize your clothes. Seal your item up in a large Ziploc bag and let it sit there for a few days. One time, I forgot I put a vintage caftan in there and found it when I was taking out some burgers. Talk about mystery meat (please stay).

Be honest with yourself about the degree of the musty-scent. I bought a PERFECT 70's cocktail dress once, and I did notice that it was especially ~scented~. I tried everything to make it better, but every time I went to put it on, it made me smell like a 90-year-old chain smoker. Cigarette smells are nearly impossible to get out of clothes that have been sitting with it for years, so try to stay away. 

 

2. THE ROBERT MUELLER OF VINTAGE

When I find a vintage piece I love, I inspect that thing like the head of the F.B.I.. I go over every inch making sure there are no visible stains, marks, holes or rips. It's really a non-negotiable to me, there are so many pieces out there in great condition. Vintage doesn't have to mean dirty or sloppy, and brown spots or stains can take it there real fast. My only negotiable stain can be yellow spots on white articles of clothing, because I've found I can spot clean with Oxy Clean or Bleach. But honestly, I can barely remember to move my clothes from the washer to the dryer for 2 days so who has time for that? Make sure the clothes are clean and in excellent condition. Regardless, I always take whatever I buy right to the dry cleaner. Someone has worn these clothes before you! And it probably wasn't Audrey Hepburn, ok?

Some of my favorite vintage pieces! A mix from Lost & Found Vintage (Royal Oak), The Vintage Twin, and Etsy Stores:

My Soft Parade, Your Sweet Caroline, & Hungry Heart Vintage

 

3. VINTAGE IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

Online Vintage is a whole new game. I do all of mine on Etsy and have found some incredible pieces. But since you can't touch, smell or try on your find first, you must be especially cautious 

  • All great vintage Etsy sellers will give you exact measurements. The tag might say it's a size 8! But a size 8 in the 1950's might as well have been a 0. Take your own measurements and compare them to what they have listed. 
  •  I always, always, always message the buyer to ask if the item has any smells or odors. I got a blouse once that I could smell through the packaging. Turns out they shared a space with a perfume factory, which made me smell like 10,000 flower arrangements dying. When you message the seller, you're safe for a refund if you get the item and it does in fact smell. It's just a security blanket, which I love because I still sleep with an actual security blanket. 27 YEARS YOUNG, BABY!
  • Look at the seller’s reviews. People will say if they received an item that wasn't as described, and you can see how the seller responds. 

Try to pin down exactly what you’re looking for, to make searching easier. My favorite key searches are:

  • Vintage white blouse
  • Vintage eyelet blouse/dress
  • Vintage 1960’s sundress/party Dress/cocktail dress
  • Vintage beaded handbag
  • Vintage circle skirt
  • Vintage slip dress

Once you’ve found a potential winner, be sure to check if the seller has listed any stains or damage, and don’t be afraid to message if you’re unsure! I usually also put a filter on for just sellers in the  United States. I’ve had some issues before with customs and shipping that just weren’t worth it. So sorry Russia!! You’ll have to hold onto some great vintage wiggle dress AND the Pee Tape (#RELEASEIT!!).

Vintage shopping can be incredibly rewarding. Not only are you finding something original and supporting small business, but it’s a huge help to the environment. So to my future children, you can thank mommy later for her vintage- shopping addiction. Because of me and my 8 eyelet blouses, you’ll be able to see a polar bear and trees and stuff. Happy shopping! 

 

Viva Las Vegas!

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That's right- the Ayaubs are moving from Detroit to the desert! We are living the dream of being closer to Celine Dion...OK, OK, Michael got a really great job, too. This summer, Mike and I will be moving to Henderson, Nevada to pursue the next stage in our careers. 

When Mike initially got a call about a job in Las Vegas, I stubbornly declared that I could never, ever move to Las Vegas. I had images of someone handing me naked-lady cards on my way to get coffee, or running into one of those giant "Elmo" characters on a morning walk. And although this new job sounded like this would be a great opportunity for him, what about my job? We are both two very career-driven people, and I got overwhelmed with the thought of not finding an opportunity for myself out there, too. 

When we flew into Las Vegas for his interview, we drove about 25 minutes from The Strip to Henderson. I was ready to hate it. I told you guys- I'm horribly stubborn. We toured around the town and even looked at a few apartments. My ego was displeased to find that I didn't hate it at all- I actually loved it. It was nothing like the flashing lights and endless buffets that The Strip boasts. It was very comparable to our life here in Birmingham, just with more palm trees and a bigger "Whole Foods" (put that near the top of our "pro" list). We saw an apartment we loved, and now we had a decision to make.

When we got back to the hotel that night, I completely shut down. We cancelled our dinner reservation. We got room service and I cried. The overwhelming sadness of leaving all our friends and family behind hit me like a true Vegas hangover. I couldn't imagine not being able to call up my parents and meet them for breakfast on a Sunday. I couldn't fathom not being able to drive 10 minutes to my best friend's house, or meet my sister for a pedicure, or visit my in-laws for dinner. And what about my job? What was I going to do? 

I realized I was using the word "I" in my thoughts far too much. I wasn't in this alone, I had my husband, who had this really exciting opportunity, and I cried all over it. I will say, I haven't quite mastered some parts of marriage yet. This isn't to say we aren't happy. Being married to Mike has been my favorite 6-months ever. But anyone that says this is easy, is probably lying. It's not just about you anymore, there's two people that need to be considered in every single situation. You have to compromise, work together, and always keep in mind that it is the two of you fighting against the problem. Not fighting against each other. You work on these things everyday, and sometimes you fall short.

When we got back to Michigan, I felt calmer, more excited about this next step in our lives. I knew moving was the right thing to do, and so did Mike. We applied for the apartment and started calling moving companies.  We came to terms with the fact that our parents won't be a drive away for dinner, and we will go a while without seeing our siblings and friends. But we thought of how fun it will be when they visit, or we road-trip to California to meet up with them for vacation. This is going to be a huge change for us, and not every day will be butterflies and swimming pools (ok, we will have a bomb a$$ swimming pool though). But change is just a part of life, and we can choose to panic or embrace it. 

I am going to miss the hell out of Detroit. I tear up just as I type that, because I have grown to love this place after complaining about it my whole adolescent-life . I'm going to miss our neighborhood in Birmingham, and walking to get our favorite coffee. I'll miss driving downtown to a cool new restaurant, or store, and experiencing the thriving, beautiful culture of Detroit. I'll miss movie night with our friends, brunch with my girlfriends, Mediterranean food-binges with my sister, seeing our parents almost every week. I'll miss the people and places that made our life here so hard to leave. 

But I am excited- WE are excited! I can't wait to find a new pizza place together, decorate a new apartment, not experience winter (sorry guys), see Celine Dion more often (sorry, Mike), walk outside and sit by the pool with a book in January, experience all the ups and downs of change with my husband. I'm excited to see what's next for my career, while watching Mike's take incredible steps forward, too. 

We don't know how long we'll be in Nevada. Or if we'll move to California next, or London, or Idaho, or back to Detroit. We are taking this all as it comes, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out. 

To the desert! 

I Went to Paris and All I Got was 1000 French Beauty Products

Bonjour!!...From a café 2 blocks from my house, where I am pretending to still be in Paris. Armed with a double espresso and a pastry probably meant for two, I’m taking an inventory of all the beauty products I picked up while I was abroad. I was in Paris for work, having very little time to myself. So when I showed up at City Pharma at 8:30am, laminated list in-hand, with only an hour to get it all done, I was ready to rage.

City Pharma is essentially God’s gift to earth- or at least to tourists. It’s a large pharmacy stocked with all the best brands, at a fraction of what we would pay in the U.S.  When I arrive up 10 minutes before open, hopped up on caffeine and carbs, there was already a line forming. What I found when the doors open could only be described as beautiful, organized chaos. Caudalie, La Roche Posay, Klorane, rows and rows of all French beauty staples that are nearly impossible to get here at home. I saw multiple people combing through their own lists, strategizing what we could get through TSA.

I quickly filled a basket to the brim, high off the thrill of inexpensive prices of my favorite beauty, or just way too buzzed from the double espresso. I also found many new favorites-in-training, thanks to the advice of a few experts I enlisted from my Instagram. City Pharma was pretty overwhelming, so I wanted to share my finds today to ensure you don’t find yourself crying in the Caudalie aisle. Unless it’s tears of joy- then we’re on the same page here.

 

Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum

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A creamy, refreshing serum meant to help brighten skin and treat dark spots. I’ve found that Vitamin C serums have really helped with my acne scarring and overall skin-brightness. This one contains"viniferine", which is said to be even more effective than Vit C.  I apply in the morning after washing my face and it feels like what coffee feels like to my soul, but for my face. It’s the little luxuries, people!

*It is $79 here in the U.S....I paid the equivalent of $32 at City Pharma.

Caudalie Overnight Detox Oil

I bought this for the first time a few months ago, and have been using it religiously every night. After about a month, I noticed my skin was smoother, more even-toned, even a little redness around my nose had dulled. I wake up feeling dewy and plump, and possibly a little drowsy because I had to take a melatonin at 2am after spending all night thinking of how horses sit. ANYWAY- it’s the real deal, and about half the price in France. I stocked up.

*Paid $50 at Sephora originally, $27 at City Pharma. Caudalie is insanely less expensive in France, I highly recommend stocking up on this brand.

 

Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentrate

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This was the #1 suggestion from my Instagram outreach. It’s essentially in the makeup bag of every makeup artist, as this cream is praised as the perfect primer & moisturizer. I can now attest that this is true. I have been applying right before my makeup, and it creates a smooth, supple base for product. I really enjoy using it on its own too, after I shower and am just lounging around the house. It’s extremely hydrating and light, and suddenly gives me the urge to turn on French coffeehouse music and light a cigarette. Don’t worry mom, I WON’T!

Bioderma Hydrabio H20

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Duh. I use as a makeup remover and it gets every last bit of it off, leaving my face smooth and fresh feeling. Incredibly inexpensive, wonderfully luxurious. Like my feelings, my skin is extremely sensitive, so I use the one with the blue lid.

Klorane Dry Shampoo

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This is something I had bought in the States previously, but when I saw the significantly-less price tag in the Pharmacie ($10 here vs. $3, I grabbed a few bottles. You can’t go wrong here, it’s a great dry shampoo.

 

Klorane Smoothing & Relaxing Eye Patches

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I live for an eye patch moment. Waking up and throwing a pair on my tired, puffy eyes is very much near the top of my favorite hobbies list. Eye patches can be really expensive, considering you typically use them once. These cooled my tired, jet lag eyes at a very nice price ($10 for 7 sets).

Nuxe Dry Body Oil

This seemed to be on display everywhere and a friend had asked me to pick her up a bottle. I got one for myself and now I wish I had filled an entire suitcase with it. A silky, smooth, luxurious dry body oil that comes in a PUMP! No more messy-hands, spilling it all over the place. It smells like a fancy vacation and makes skin supple and glowy. Use any remainder on your hands on the ends of your hair. 

Hexomedine

When I got home from Paris, I had this weird red little bump under my chin. I applied this with a q-tip and by morning, it had almost disappeared completely. Touted as a staple for the French, it is an antiseptic for acne. If I have a stubborn zit, I’ll just put a little bit on and then hydrate the area. It’s extremely drying, so only use once a day if necessary!

*This product will be behind the counter, you’ll have to ask a pharmacist for it! Thanks Google Translate app!!!

*P.P.S- I think it’s rude to ask French people if they speak English. You are in their home, after all! Try “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French” first and see how they respond.

Homeoplasmine

Your chapped lips need this, trust me. Insanely hydrating and healing. I can’t remember fully because I was drunk with power at the time, but this may have to be asked for from behind the counter as well. Perfect for chapped lips, itchy or irritated skin!

Avène Thermal Spring Water

An absolute staple, the perfect skin-refresher. I stocked up on travel sizes for my purse, car and desk. I sweat a lot, okay?

Nuxe Reve de Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm

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Another recommendation from a friend, this applies like sheer butter on your lips. I keep it on my nightstand and put on a few coats right before bed. This + my pimple pads bedtime look probably gives Mike nightmares. The price of beauty, baby!!

Le Petit Marseillais (Bar Soaps)

 I picked up a few of these as gifts. They’re inexpensive, and the scents are luscious and fresh.

Above all, the thing that Paris taught me is that beauty really lies within. JUST KIDDING! I carefully curated this list through research and recommendation, I did enough sweaty laps around the pharmacy to definitely categorize it as exercise. Now with my face coated in vitamin C, freshly sprayed with mineral water, I’ll be getting back to my never-ending carb-fest. VIVE LA FRANCE!

 

Lately.

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The start of a new year- typically filled with optimism, new beginnings and a whole lot of green vegetables. But so far in 2018, I’ve felt a bit anxious, un-easy and filled with more cookies than kale. So this year hasn’t been off to the best start for me emotionally, and I feel the only way for me to face that, is to address it and move on like a the lead singer of a boy band on the brink of extinction.

I’ll start off by saying I am happy. I am fresh into marriage and truly loving it, happy with my job and other endeavors. But what keeps me up at night other than binge watching “Game of Thrones” are the thoughts “Where am I going?”, “Am I good enough?”, and “What SHOULD I be doing?”.  A consistent theme in my life has been comparing myself to others and their doings, and feeling inadequate when mine don’t seem to be up to par with “theirs”. Lately, I’ve found myself on a lot more Instagram benders, watching other people’s lives while mine slowly passes me by. Time I could spend bettering my future is spent admiring the lives of people I don’t even know. And I’m anxious while I’m doing it, because I know it’s not time well spent, and that leaves me beating myself up and feeling badly about my laziness. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

I saw an article on Facebook the other day (yes, another social media bender!!), from a 26-year-old Australian woman named Holly, who was dying of cancer. It was all over my newsfeed, so I clicked on it while I was eating breakfast. There was one part in there that hit me like a truck:

“Life isn’t mean to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo…enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.”

Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.

I know that social media is a business for a lot of people, and I think that’s a really cool thing about the world we live in today. But I have come to the realization that I am not one of those people. I don’t think I want to be a professional blogger, or "influencer" (it’s hard work and I give those people who have made a legitimate success out of it their props). And not because I think those are dirty words- there’s a lot of bloggers I look up to and keep up with regularly. I struggle with this a lot every day- in that I don’t know exactly what I want to be yet. And if I don’t know, how can I convey a specific “image” online if I don’t even know what that is yet? I just want to be me- un-photoshopped, un-calculated. 

Here’s what I do know:

I want to write. I want to impact someone’s life. I want to do something someday that will change the lives of women and other underrepresented groups. I want to give back all the kindness and support that has been given to me. I want to chase a dream and a goal and not a an Instagram-able life. I want to be more present in moments-big or small. I want to not be so hard on myself when I do find myself binging on social media- but I want it to be for positivity and motivation and knowledge. Not to make me feel inadequate and bad about myself. I want to enjoy and capture moments for myself- without needing the validation of the world and their likes.

This isn’t a vendetta against social media. I am very grateful to it, because I have met some truly amazing people- some of which have become my greatest friends that I talk to every single day. I love communicating with people everyday- I always got my seat moved in class for "excessive talking" so this makes a lot of sense. But in this year, I am actively going to try to enjoy the moment instead of capturing it for someone else. Yes, I will still share by beauty routines, my matcha-lattes, an outfit I feel bomb in, something funny that happened to me in the meat department at Kroger, or a new lipstick I’m excited about. I enjoy sharing those things, and getting to interact with people. But I am no longer going to force it. This may mean less ~content~, but that means that maybe I’m out enjoying the moment for myself a little more.

I don’t want to wait until something catastrophic happens in my life to realize these things, and I think that’s why I wanted to write this all down. I needed to hear it, and maybe someone out there needed to as well. This is my reminder and your reminder that we are not deemed inadequate or less because our lives don’t look like someone else’s. Life has different stages and plans for everyone, and I intend to seek mine out, starting now (okay...gonna finish this coffee first).

Mask On, Mask Off.

It was a wise, wise man who once said “Get a hobby!!!!!”- it was my husband, and I think he said it to me when I finished all re-runs of "The O.C." in one week. Little did he know, my hobby would become skincare & masking, and I could do it all while re-watching the Chrismukkah episode. Take that!

I’ve tried many masks, some good, some bad, some smelly, some making me look like a straight-up serial killer in the night. But I found myself coming back to the same five masks every time, keeping them on rotation for my skin-needs at that moment. I thought I would share with you all today my holy grail of face masks, which is not to be taken lightly! I’ve tried a ton, and somehow these five have survived the test of time, which is more than I can say for my violin hobby, my drawing hobby, and even my horseback riding hobby (didn’t end well, don’t want to talk about it).

 

1. Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask- $22

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This has been my ride-or-die mask for a few years now. I do it at least once a week, preferably before an event or on a lazy morning. I am addicted to how this mask makes my skin look. I call it “Botox in a bottle” (NOT IN A BOTTLE BUT I MAKE MY OWN RULES), because it tightens, firms up and moisturizes all in 20 minutes. It also just feels incredible on your face. When I fly long distances, I put it on mid-flight and let it soak in like moisturizer.

Hot Tip! Put it in the fridge for the ultimate masking-experience.

Sometimes my skin goes into a meltdown more epic than a 6th grader at Hollister trying to cop a pair of jeans from their mom (me, that 6th grader was me). It needs serious work, but I don’t have time for or can’t afford a professional facial. This Tata Harper mask gives me almost the same results. It’s like a refresh button for your face. It helps me to get rid of little bumps, calm acne, and get my skin glowing again. Expensive price tag, but you’ll spend just as much on a new candle! No? That’s just me? Got it.

 

3. Kiehl’s Rare Earth Cleansing Masque- $30

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This is it ladies and gentlemen- a mask so good- that it got my husband into the masking game. Refreshing, purifying and effective. 86% of my summers are spent in this mask, because after .2 second of being outside and getting sweaty, this mask makes me feel clean again. On occasion, I do get a small breakout after using, because it’s bringing things to the surface. But for the most part, it helps balance my skin and unclog my pores.

 

4. Dr. Jart Water Replenishment Sheet Mask- $7.50

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The first time I did a sheet mask, I hid behind a door and waited to scare Michael (here’s those serial killer vibes!!). He ended up working late so I sat behind that door for a long time, but on the upside my skin looked UNREAL after. This mask has become my post-travel ritual. It restores all moisture to your face, leaving it plump and glowy.

Another hot tip- save the packaging to use the leftover serum as night cream the next day!

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Sometimes I come home from work and have so much to do (or just need to take a nap, it’s usually the nap), there is simply no time to sit down with a 20-minute mask. This is just as powerful, in less than half the amount of time. The directions say to leave it on for 2 minutes, but I leave it on for about 5 minutes- rules are made to be broken, baby. This stuff is a miracle. I wake up in the morning with bright, even skin. I really can’t believe the difference it makes overnight, it feels like it breathes new life in to your face. Major pay off with minimal work- the ideal face mask and also my resume objective!

 

So here’s to starting off 2018 with your best face forward! Unless you go out and drink your weight in $6 bottles of champagne this weekend. You get a pass for a few days.

Cuts & Colors: A Hair-story.

 
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Long, long ago, in a bathroom in Wisconsin, a toxic relationship with my hair was born. As my mother cut my bangs (Bless you mom but, NO), I took notice of my Alfalfa-style cowlick, my thin locks, and their incredible ability to get greasy a few mere hours after washing. I’ve struggled with my hair for years, never finding quite the right cut or style. It wasn’t until I met my usual stylist, Anthony ( @ Antonino Salon, book your appointment now because he is so good it takes a few good weeks to get in!)  a few years back, that I finally felt comfortable and confident with my hair. I also stopped using children’s shampoo, so I guess that doesn’t hurt either.

Today I wanted to share who helped me make hair-story with my locks:

THE CUT: Ryan Cotton, Village Parlor Detroit

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I had been growing my hair out long for the wedding, and I actually liked my cut. Anthony never put layers in my hair, making it appear thicker and fuller. But I was feeling desperate for a change. I hadn’t cut my hair anywhere near short since middle school, when the stylist at JR’S Kutz for KidZ told me that “the boys will love short hair!!” (spoiler alert: NOPE!). I knew if I went to my beloved Anthony, I wouldn’t want him to do anything different, so for this cut, I had to venture out. My first and only call was to Village Parlor Detroit.

I’ve been following Village Parlor, and its founder, Ryan Cotton, on Instagram since they announced their Detroit location. I was enthralled with Ryan’s talent, the way he cut and styled hair, it always looked so cool and carefree. Now something to know about me- I’m pretty low-maintenance when it comes to my hair. And that’s not out laziness. I am so awful at doing my own hair, I feel I should have to have permit for my curling wand. I blow-dry my hair and go and that’s what works best for me. I expressed to Ryan that my hair needed to allow for this, but I still wanted something cool and chic. He told me I could definitely lose a few inches and add in some “invisible layers” in the front, giving my hair more movement and body. Sold.

Ryan took his time cutting my hair, he is a perfectionist, which is exactly what you want in a stylist. He even stopped for a moment to remove a spot from his mirror- I knew then that I was in the right hands. Everything about Village Parlor felt like a celebration of being in Detroit. Ryan is originally from the Lansing-area, but has been in New York for the past 16 years. He moved back to Detroit to open his own salon, and be a key part of the city’s comeback. He revives not just your locks, but is reviving the city as well. I left with shorter, bouncier, healthier feeling hair- and a new friend!

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THE COLOR: Kevin Styles, Luigi Bruni Salon

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I spoke about Kevin in my last wedding post-we hit it off right away when I daringly went to him to put about 2 pieces of balayage in my hair about 4 years ago. I had never had color in my hair before, except for a few bad box-jobs on my college living room floor. I kept going back to Kevin, a true master, going subtly darker, lighter, and a few of shades in-between. I never once left disappointed, but feeling beautiful, empowered, and quite at peace (Kevin is essentially my therapist as well). He hand paints on your color, making it look natural, and NEVER like a 2000 Kelly Clarkson.

So after I got my cut from Ryan, I knew I wanted some new color match my new cut. I went darker in college- and I still feel scarred by the smell of that $9.99 box dye. I found that darker hair washed me out and made me look like an extra in a “My Chemical Romance” video (which really isn’t a bad thing, Black Parade forever!!!!). So I decided I would test the waters by going blonde-ish. I say “-ish” because I think it is a common misconception that you can just walk into a salon and take your brunette locks to blonde in one hour, for less than $200. BABY STEPS! I showed Kevin my hair-spiration, and he was feeling the vibes. He went to work for over 2 hours, hand painting on every piece, while letting me air out all my drama and problems. We sipped tea while giving the tea (ask me what this means later, mom!). When all was said and done, I turned to the mirror to see natural looking, golden honey locks, intertwined with my natural color. I love how it turned out-I feel fresh and uplifted, at a time of year I usually want to hide under the covers with fuzzy socks and a heating blanket (will still do this, will just feel better doing it).

If you’re thinking about doing something new with your ‘do, here’s my advice: the great thing about hair is that it grows back, it’s changeable, and underneath it all, we all have the same egg-shaped bald ass heads. Your identity doesn’t lie in your hair or your skin or your makeup. It lies in who you are and how you treat people- but a bomb hair style/color doesn’t hurt.   So while I don’t know if blondes or brunettes (or redheads!) have more fun, I do know it is the girl who surrounds herself with good people who are passionate about her work, who is the happiest.

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CAKE, CARS AND CARDI B! All Our Wedding Details.

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Okay- so now that we have the sappiness out of the way, let’s get down to the planning portion of our wedding. I spent the last year planning the day, and while it was fun, it could be challenging. It was hard finding the right vendors to understand our vision, execute it properly, and for a fair price. Every second of research, phone calls and emails were worth it, not because our flowers were beautiful or the DJ played all the right songs. But because it was ours, it was exactly what we wanted and more, and we were surrounded by so much love and support. Also, I could eat pizza again. ADIOS, WEDDING DIET!

Our wedding day truly was the greatest day of my life thus far, and I know Michael feels the same way. We put a lot of thought into every element, but never taking it too seriously. We wanted a big party with all our friends and family, and that’s what we had. I wanted to share today all of our vendors (and a few tips!) for any other brides out there, or maybe someone who’s just looking ahead (I don’t judge!). I had a few hiccups, but ended up loving every single vendor I used- some even becoming my friend…not by choice. I told you, I made them.

 

THE VENUE: The Townsend Hotel

 

Since stepping foot in to the Townsend Hotel almost 20 years ago, I knew I would want to get married there someday. Or at least throw a Harry Potter Pajama Party or something (I was 7 sooo..). So when it was time to pick our venue, it was the first and only spot that we looked. We met with the events coordinator, Lizz, and hit it off right away. She understood our vision, and knew we wanted an elegant, classic affair, but with pizza and trap music. Over the next year, Lizz was my basically my best friend. She was on top of this wedding like Pitbull on a remix. She was organized, meticulous and made planning incredibly easy. The Townsend Hotel is very great-Gatsby-esque, and possesses a standard of elegance that was beyond anything we could have imagined for our wedding. We were treated like royalty, even at 2AM after the reception, when they delivered an extra pizza and two plates of mashed potatoes up to our room. Choosing the Townsend Hotel for our wedding was the best decision we made, besides getting married and committing to a lifetime together and stuff.

*The Townsend also catered the dinner and their bakery made the cake, both of which I still dream about on a weekly basis.

 

THE DRESS: Mira Couture, Chicago

I searched all over for a dress in Metro-Detroit, and was so disappointed when I couldn’t find a single thing I loved. Entrepreneurs listen up! There’s a major market here in Detroit for non-traditional wedding dresses. I didn’t want anything super sparkly or pouf-y, it’s just not my style. I wanted something bridal, but non-traditional. After striking out in Detroit, My mom, step-dad, sister and I spent a weekend in Chicago looking for the right one. We booked a 3 day trip, when in reality, all we needed was 3 hours. My first appointment was at Mira Couture, where I was greeted with immense kindness from Addie, my consultant. The dress that ultimately ended up being mine (designer was Daalarna), was the very first dress I tried on. I want to be very clear about this, I think the whole “Say Yes to The Dress, bawl your eyes out, find the meaning of life moment” is a little dramatic and unrealistic. When I showed my family the dress, they undoubtedly told me that this was my dress. It was me to-a-tee. And I LOVED it. But I didn’t cry, like I’ve been conditioned to believe that sobbing over a dress is the indicator- so we spend the next 48 hours going from shop-to-shop, trying on dress after dress, finding plenty of good, but realizing that no dress made me feel like that first one. We ordered the dress and veil as soon as we got back to Michigan, and over the next year, through emails and fittings, and more fittings, Mira delivered me a dress beyond anything I could have imagined. They treated me with respect, honesty and true kindness. They really cared about my happiness on our wedding day. Their selection was incredible, with instead of racks and racks filled with similar looking dresses, their selection was carefully curated and beautifully chosen, at all different price points.

*The guys tuxedos were from The Tux Shop in Birmingham. They were wonderful to work with and each guy had the perfect fit. Except our friend Paul- he split his pants getting too low to “Rake it Up”, so that was probably his own fault.

 

THE FLORIST: Jeffrey Floral Architecture

The flowers were really the only area of our wedding in which I really struggled. I know nothing about flowers, other than I can get carnations for $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. I knew what I liked, but needed someone to tell me how to do it. We actually booked one florist, which after our trial, left me drinking straight from a bottle of wine when we got home. It was clear we didn’t share the same vision, and that there would be no effort from their side to deliver something we loved. That’s when I found Jeffrey. I was at our venue for a meeting one day, when I looked around and noticed how beautiful and unique their flowers were around the lobby. They gave me Jeffrey’s info, and now I am his #1 fan/borderline stalker. We met and I knew I was in good hands. I showed him photos of what I liked, and within minutes, he told me he had this and just leave it up to him. I trusted him like an old Italian grandmother. He’s not a florist- he’s an artist. He creates the most unbelievable arrangements, full of creativity, originality and beauty. He created a perfect ambiance for the evening, and made me semi-obsessed with him in the process.

THE CANDLES: Detroit Rose

I’ve talked about Detroit Rose candles before- they’re my absolute favorite and I am a big fan of the creator, Dierdre. So when I had the idea of doing a custom candle to display on our tables, I knew exactly where to go. Deirdre and I emailed back and fourth, talking about the mood we wanted for the room, and how we could convey that through scent. She sent me a bunch of samples, and together we found the perfect mix: rose, amber, vetiver and cardamom. She even designed a beautiful custom label for us to bring it all together. Our custom candle filled the room with the sweet scent of rose and pure romance (as romantic as Cardi B & The Ying Yang twins blaring through the speakers allow for). It is one of my favorite things we did for the wedding, because now every time I light one in our home, I am reminded of the love and happiness of that day (and have the urge to belt out get low in my living room).

 

THE BEAUTY: Hair-Kevin Styles @ Luigi Bruni, Makeup- Katrina Malota @ Luigi Bruni

I have been seeing Kevin for my hair color for a few years now, and I knew it was love at first foil from the day we met. Kevin is truly an artist, and was one of the first people that truly made me feel beautiful- and that goes beyond hair. He is kind, funny, and unbelievably talented. My hair was the least stressful thing about our wedding, because I knew I could leave it in Kevin’s hands and he would create something beautiful- and he did! I truly think there is no one better in town not just with hair, but to have by your side as you get ready for your wedding. He brings a beautiful energy, and sees each woman as a beautiful individual-and he celebrates that through his work.

I usually hate having my makeup done. In the past, it’s usually just been a lot of bronzer and eyeliner so dark and thick I still look like I listen to Hawthorne Heights (NEVER FORGET!). So I was nervous when I knew I would need to get my makeup done for the big day. I had known Katrina through coming to the salon and working with her on a project for work, and we always just seemed to click. When I went to my makeup trial with her, I explained everything I never liked about having my makeup done, and when she told me that black eyeliner wouldn’t even get near my face, I knew I was in the right hands. Katrina, like Kevin, is an artist. She’s an icon, and she has the ability to take your features, and celebrate them through her mastery. She made each of my bridesmaids, my mother, and myself, feel so beautiful- while keeping each girl true to herself. She doesn’t use makeup as a disguise, but to an enhancer to what she already sees in you. Her glowing energy is contagious, and I will forever be grateful for how she made me feel on our wedding day. 

THE QUARTET: Rondo String Quartet

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I knew that when I walked down the aisle to Michael, I wanted doves to be released and Andrea Bocelli to come down from the ceiling just belting one out. Then I got a hold of a budget and decided a string quartet would be just as beautiful. I searched high and low, but it was the Quartet’s director, Lisa, that really sold me. She was incredibly organized, responsive and kind, especially in the last few weeks when I became a bit scattered. The quartet even learned “A Sky Full of Stars”, our favorite song, to walk down the aisle to. It’s also worth mentioning that Rondo played at my mom and Paul’s wedding, a few weeks after, and played the MSU and UofM fight song as the processional. Almost makes me wish I would have stuck with violin in middle school. ALMOST (I was last chair I had no choice, really).

 

THE DJ: Max Schuler

I love music and knew exactly what I wanted to dance to at our reception, so hiring a friend with DJ equipment seemed like a no-brainer for me. I’ve known Max since elementary school, when we used to wait at the bus stop together. He is sincerely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met- when some kid made fun of me on the bus (something about a Hollister denim skirt and my bird legs), I remember Max standing up for me and not joining in- so it was really special to have him provide the music and mood for our wedding. We met a few times and got the general vibe. We didn’t want anything cheesy or over the top (if I heard "Cupid Shuffle" there would be hell to pay), just romantic and fun. BOY did he deliver. . From Bodak Yellow to Celine Dion to Roll-Out (special request by my mom- seriously), Max kept the party going all night, and I am so thankful for his thoughtfulness in playing certain songs and keeping the vibe right. UNFORTUNATELY, I was Max’s last gig, so you can’t have him. I wanted to give him credit where credit it due, and make a point for picking your own playlist!

 

THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Sandra Floering, For The Love of It

I searched high and low for a wedding photographer, often discouraged when I stumbled upon cheesy-azz photos in their portfolio. I found Sandra & For The Love Of It on pure luck. I saw some wedding photos on Facebook, found the photographer and got in touch with him-only to find out he wasn’t available. But he recommended "For The Love of It" to me, and I will forever be grateful. One look at Sandra’s portfolio (free of any prom-esque portraits) and my search was over. We skyped a couple of times, but didn’t actually meet in person until the morning of the wedding. I can’t put into words the energy and talent that encompasses Sandra and her husband, Grant. It felt like we were hanging out with friends all day long-really talented, hard-working friends. Sandra & Grant made us feel comfortable, at ease, and most of the time we didn’t even notice they were snapping away.  They somehow perfectly captured the happiness and love that surrounded us, and gave us a gift that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Sandra then did my mom’s wedding a few weeks later, and then one of my best friend’s a few weeks after that. By now, I consider Sandra and her husband like family, and I will think of her every time I get misty-eyed looking at a photo of my husband and I (or the one of me stuffing my face with donuts. THEY’RE ALL GREAT).

 

THE VIDEOGRAPHER: Bo Parker, Afterglow Film & Photo

We weren’t going to get a videographer. I researched and just found them too expensive for what you got. I didn’t just want a 5 minute trailer to remember the day, but more comprehensive footage because I knew most of the day would fly by me, and I wanted to be able to go back and remember. I enlisted the help of my Facebook friends ( which I did for a lot of things and you guys came THROUGH). Shout-out to Sara McNeill who lived in my dorm in college, for she mentioned a videographer who was also Central Michigan Alum! After chatting with Bo, the founder, we decided to go for it. His pricing was fair, his energy electric, and not only did he give us a trailer, but an hour-long feature that included quiet moments of the day I didn’t even know he was filming. When I watched our trailer for the first time with tears streaming down my face, I knew that hiring not just a videographer, but Bo specifically, was some of the best money I ever spent. Other than the time I paid for a wand at Olivander's at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and then got chosen BY Olivander to practice spells. But it's a close second.

 

THE DAY OF COORDINATOR: Andrea Solomon

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I was happy to plan our wedding- wedding planners are expensive and basically, I wanted to be the J-LO of this thing. But after hearing from multiple brides that a Day-Of-Coordinator was key to a smooth and seamless wedding day, I went on the hunt, finding Andrea Solomon. If I was J-LO, she was the beautifully pushy Italian father that got sh!t done (if you haven’t seen The Wedding Planner, you have some homework to do). We really wanted to be like guests at our wedding, and enjoy the day. We didn’t want to worry about if the tables would be set up correctly, or if the bus was going to be late, or if we left for pictures on time. Andrea handled every single thing on the day of our wedding. She got everyone to pictures on time, oversaw that the room was set up correctly, put out placecards, held my veil as I walked, even took all of the gifts and cards up to the room, along with a pizza for later. She allowed the both of us to just enjoy the day, and not worry about a thing other than trying all three flavors of the cake.

THE GETAWAY: Detroit Classic Car Rental

I knew from day one I wanted to ride away from the church in a classic car. I have a photo of my aunt and uncle, who have been married for over 50 years, on their wedding day, in the back of a classic car right after they said their “I do’s”. I looked on craigslist, but found some really sketchy offers (a 1986 Toyota is NOT classic guys). I eventually stumbled on Detroit Classic Car Rentals. We were able to go out and look at the car, a 1959 gold Bentley, and I was in love. It was the perfect  addition to our day, and I was so happy that Mike and I had a few quiet moments to ourselves after the ceremony to soak in the magnitude of the moment. Mike (not my Mike, a second Mike!), the owner, couldn’t have been any sweeter or easier to work with. He decorated the outside of the car with flowers and ribbon, making us feel like royalty. Do you think they would be willing to pick me up from work a few days a week? I DESERVE IT (I do not deserve it)!!

 

THE LITTLE THINGS:

Mike and I were trying to ball on a budget, which is very tough when you’re planning a wedding. Add the word “Wedding” to anything (Wedding place cards, wedding napkins, wedding socks) and I swear there is a 75% up-charge. I tried to find the craftiest way to do things, and then realized I am awful at crafts. This is where Etsy came in. On Etsy we found vendors to do our place cards, cocktail napkins, donut bags, itineraries, all of our signage, table numbers, even vintage maps of where we met and where we were getting married. I LOVED working with small businesses, they took such pride in their work and everything had so much thought and hard work put into it. Every detail felt so personal because we got to work on it with someone directly. Also it all saved me a lot of time, glue, and my sanity.

*A few of you asked where I did all my embroidery (my denim jackets, pajamas for bridesmaids, handkerchiefs, etc.) I did everything at StitchWorks Embroidery in Berkley.

 

A few things I learned along the way:

1)      If you don’t like something, speak up. I was about to use a floral vendor I ended up not liking, and having flowers that were less than great, all because I was too scared to speak up and tell them I didn’t like it. It wasn’t until my mom said something that I was willing to speak up and be honest. It's your day and your money- spend it wisely!

2)      Most things are completely negotiable. I was able to negotiate costs for just about everything, by making minor adjustments. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for a little wiggle room.

3)      Think about what you like in everyday life, and how you can interpret that into the day. For instance, we LOVE the cider mill (okay, I love the cider mill), so instead of a cocktail hour we did a cider and donut truck (Petey’s Donuts, the ULTIMATE!! They even gave us a few bags filled with donuts for our room later). It wasn’t traditional, but it was fun and very us, and our guests loved the sweet treat too.

4)      Don’t get caught up in the small stuff. I ordered a bunch of my favorite beauty things to have in the bathroom at the reception for people to enjoy. I spent hours ordering things and getting it all together. Well, a hotel guest came in and stole it ALL before the reception even started. It would have been nice to have, but I don’t think anyone being able to spray their face with Caudalie Grape Spray was a make-or-break it for the day.

5)      At first, I really kept Mike out of the planning (best wife ever!!!!). I thought there was no way he would want to be involved with flowers and quartet music. But when I asked him his thoughts, I realized he had quite a few, and wanted some specific things. Having his input made our wedding really feel like it was the things WE loved, not just me.

6)      It’s about the marriage, not the wedding. Never lose sight of that.

 

And there you have it! I really mean it when I say I loved and appreciated everyone of our vendors. It’s important to have people that love what they do, because that energy will pass on to you, making your day that much sweeter. It’s time consuming to do the research, but it’s worth it in the end. I would try to dedicate an hour or two every night to wedding things, and after that we would set it aside. It was important to not be totally consumed with it, so that we enjoyed the process. I won’t say I never got frustrated or discouraged- weddings can come with a lot of tension. But every time I started to get worked up, I reminded myself that if all of this were to go away, Michael would still be my husband at the end of the day. And I’m sure we could have found cake to eat, too.

September 30th, 2017.

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Hello, world! It’s me...Alexandra Ayaub! Yes, I am now a married lady, cozied up in my post-nuptial life. The last year was a whirlwind, and I truly enjoyed planning our big day, which made the wedding itself all the sweeter. Today, I not only wanted to share with you my favorite wedding photos, but my personal experience with planning a wedding without losing my mind, my hair, and my fiancé!

*I’ll be doing another post on all of our vendors in a few days. I loved everyone we used and am currently trying to get them all to be friends with me post-wedding. TBD.

From the day we started planning, I tried to never take any of it too seriously.  I went in to this knowing that the flowers, the centerpieces and the linens were the icing on the cake- the cake being that I get to marry Michael, truly the man of my dreams (he watches me open boxes from my online shopping and tells me what he thinks for God’s sake) no matter what the table numbers looked like. We wanted to have fun, and that was the “theme” of our wedding. And pizza, donuts and love, OF COURSE. Everything was chosen and decided upon based off the simple idea of “What do we like? Let’s do that”. We just wanted to be surrounded in love by our family and friends and have a great time. We were both very lucky to have supportive parents on both sides, who wanted the same thing.

September 30th, 2017 was truly the greatest day of my life. I didn’t know my heart could feel so happy and full as it did that day. From the warm, intimate rehearsal dinner at my parent’s house, to the very last song at the reception (in which everyone at the wedding surrounded us on the dance floor while Michael and I danced in the center, and I belted Celine Dion’s “Power of Love”. A DREAM!!) I was bursting with happiness and love. We had the most fun we’ve ever had, dancing to all our favorite songs (turns out my mom DOES know Cardi B!!) with our friends and family, scarfing down pizza at midnight, getting ready with our incredible friends at the hotel, and laughing and smiling the entire time. Not a single thing went wrong or didn’t work in our favor that day- it was perfect beyond anything we could have imagined.

I don’t know if anyone will remember the centerpieces, or the flowers that lined each table, or what the cake looked like. But I do think that everyone will remember what a wonderful time they had, and how each part of our wedding had a little piece of us in it. So Mom, grab your tissues, here is a collection of my favorite photos from the day we became man and wife:

Click to enlarge the photos and scroll (mom,again).

All photos by Sandra & Grant Floering of For The Love of It. 

The Millennial's Guide to Wedding Dress Codes

Weddings have drastically changed in the last 20 years. We get married in barns, carry puppies as bouquets, we even dance down the aisle to Drake. But the biggest component that’s changed, that no-one seems to be talking about, is wedding dress codes. Dress codes are kind of like Voldemort. We don’t want talk about it, but we know it’s coming and we’re probably just going to wing it and hope for the best (RON!).

When you Google “Wedding Dress Codes”, you’re often left with the Emily-Post etiquette of "get your long, opera gloves on and shine up your spats". But in the last 20 years, even in the last decade, fashion has changed radically. Style has changed. We, as a society, dress more casually than ever. So the words “Black Tie” can be scarier than an avocado shortage. The old rules- they just don’t apply anymore. They’re outdated, out of style and frankly, confusing. I’m here to lay out, in the simplest way possible, what that dress code on a wedding invitation really means. So, sorry, Emily Post, take a seat (probably on a doily or something).

A QUICK NOTE:

When I mention a “cocktail dress”, I am speaking of a dress that falls above the knee and higher. It’s realistic to what what’s in stores today.  It is incredibly confusing to read online that you can wear cocktail length to a black tie wedding, but that it must be below the knee. Walking into a store today, most cocktail dresses are above the knee, and we’re usually left wondering if this friend is really that important to us, and if we should just send a gift, stay home and binge GoT instead. A lot of other “guides” are probably going to contradict what I am saying. But they all seem to just be repeats of one another, stemming from years back. I am writing this guideline based on what fashion is now, and what you would find in a store today, not 20 years ago.

 

BLACK TIE

If you get a wedding invitation that says Black Tie, not followed by “optional”, or “preferred”, these people are not messing around. You have probably been invited to a Socialite’s wedding, so good for you, social climber! 

Women: Floor length dress, preferably some sort of gown. You basically need to act like you are going to Beyonce’s house for dinner. Or you’re Elizabeth Taylor on her way to the supermarket. Have some fun with this! It’s rare to get this dressed up, let it be fun. (*Dresses aren’t your thing? Do a chic tux look). 

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*I don’t know one woman with a closet full of gowns. I have three black tie weddings this year alone, and for that, I have enlisted Rent The Runway. Their StylePass has saved my closet and wardrobe. $65 a month, 3 month commitment (doesn’t have to be in a row, you can skip months), and you can rent ANY dress on the site. A lot of formal dresses on the site rent for over $200 + shipping+ insurance. With StylePass, you get it for $65, free shipping & insurance and a free backup size. You’ll look incredible and your wallet will too.

Men: A Tuxedo. Don’t fear a cummerbund, you can skip it for suspenders, which looks WAY cooler when you take off your jacket to show everyone you've memorized the "Single Ladies" dance. Or to have less restriction when eating cake. Whatever you’re into! 

 

BLACK TIE PREFERRED/BLACK TIE OPTIONAL

My own wedding invitation requests “Black Tie Preferred”. Why? Because it’s what our venue caters to...that and I get dressed up to go to the CVS. What did you expect from my wedding? Black Tie Optional/Preferred gives you a little more wiggle room. In most cases, the hosts just don’t want you showing up in your club dress, ladies, or khakis, gentlemen. This is the cooler, more lenient sister to Black Tie.

Women: Floor length or tea-length dresses. Cocktail dress, not quite appropriate here. “But Alex!! It has rhinestones on the collar!”. How Nice! Not here. Your dress should be below your knee and under. * I want to specify that gowns do not have to be big, tulle-filled affairs. And a floor-length dress, does not mean a Massimo from Target Maxi. Look for fabrics like chiffon, silk, or crepe. It can be chic without being debutante.

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Men: Surprise! You don’t have to wear a tux (you don’t have to shave your legs and NOW this?!). It’s smart to own one-you can get a beautiful tux for around $200-$280 at most stores-, but in this situation, you can get away with a nice dark suit and tie. I love your chic khaki linen suit as much as the next gal (you guys are doing amazing, sweetie), but if your girl is in a gown, be the man candy she deserves.

 

FORMAL

Formal is very tricky. It’s like a good Tinder date. You don’t REALLY want to commit to the full thing (Black Tie), but you still want it to be nice. It’s that in-between space between Black Tie and Cocktail, which leaves you with a goody-bag of options. 

Women: Remember the Britney Spears hit “Not a Girl…Not Yet a Woman”? When you get an invitation that reads “Formal”, think of this song. It’s not QUITE a gown, but not quite a cocktail dress. You can do floor-length, but tea-length, midi (hits around lower calf-area), at or just above the knee is more standard. But just like my principal in middle school used to say “Above the knees, detention, Alex!!” Okay, it’s not that serious. Or maybe it is, some Brides are wild.

Men: Again, you have it very easy. A tux is not needed here. Wear a nice suit and tie. Black, blue, navy, midnight blue, it all works! Bonus points for a cool pocket square.

COCKTAIL

TAKE THAT, PRINCIPAL! It’s time to show off those gorgeous knee caps of yours, ladies! Cocktail is one of the easier-to-understand-dress codes, as who doesn’t like cocktails?! Cocktail is the chill, younger cousin of Formal that just came home from a semester abroad. Isn’t she the coolest?

Women: At or above the knee dresses are standard. Chances are you probably already have a great cocktail dress hanging in your closet. Change it up from wedding-to-wedding with different hair, makeup, and shoes. If dresses are not your thing (very chic of you), I’ve worn nice pants, heels, and a beautiful top to a cocktail wedding.

Men: You can have a little fun here. You should still wear a suit, but you can play around with different fabrics and styles. Linen, Khaki suits, bright blue- go to town!!...as long as that's where you get your suits from. 

CASUAL/DRESSY CASUAL

This wedding is most likely in the day-time, which is considerate, because it will give me more time to recover from the 3 glasses of champagne that it takes to give me a hangover!

Women: Take your cue from the bride. She will probably be in a more casual-style of wedding dress. Cotton sundresses, linen midi skirts and a blouse, flowy silhouettes- you can have some freedom with this. I hope it goes without saying no shorts, t-shirts or tank tops. If not, message me privately. I’m here for you.

Men: Nice Slacks and a button-down shirt. You poor, poor things.

Weddings are supposed to be joyous, exciting occasions. Too often they can be dampened by confusing dress codes and even-more confusing guides online. Still have questions? Here’s a few guidelines to follow, for any dress code:

 

1. If you know the Bride, think about what she will be wearing, and what her bridesmaids will be wearing. You don’t want to be fancier than the wedding party. If the bridesmaids are in long dresses, you probably will want to be, too. The bride is going for Bohemian Chic, barefoot with a flower crown? Your cute Anthropologie dress is a winner. Adapt to the wedding and its hosts, they will always be the perfect indicator of what the attire will be.

2. There's a lot of crossover between different dress codes when it comes to dress length (even in the photos I used, most of those dresses cross into each other's category). If you are still frazzled by it, pay attention to the fabric and style of the dress, and how you're going to accessorize. 

3. Take the venue into account- this is for Brides and guests! If you want to get married at a rustic, 100-year old chicken farm, you can’t expect your guests to come in tuxedos and gowns. Cater the dress code to the venue, so that everyone is comfortable and content.

4. DON’T WEAR WHITE. DON’T EVER WEAR ALL WHITE. Unless the Bride is cool like that and requests it. I’ve been to so many weddings where women show up in white gowns. Don’t be that girl. Be the girl that slams 5 slices of late-night pizza and then leads the Wobble. We like that girl.

5. Don’t take it so seriously. Yes, with all these “rules”, it can seem very intimidating to attend a wedding. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. The bride is just happy to have you there, if she’s not a total bridezilla. Your dress, or suit, will not make or break the couple’s day. Getting too drunk and knocking over Grandma? That might make or break it. I don’t suggest it.

Don't worry, Emily- you'll always have napkin folding and fork placement.

 

* All photos from renttherunway.com

Here's What to Buy From The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is one of my favorite holidays. I have even gone as far as to take a vacation day from work on the first day of the sale. I’M NOT PLAYING AROUND HERE! It’s one of the greatest sales of the year, because it’s not on old, bottom-of-the-barrel-merchandise. It’s the beautiful, new, shiny things for Fall, offered at a discount. Every year, I do my research. The second that catalog hits my mailbox, I study it. I strategize. I hydrate. And when sale day comes, I’m ready to rage.

In the past year or so, I have really been trying to pull the reins in on my shopping (do not ask Mike if he agrees). I make fewer, more careful & calculated purchases, as I’m trying to build a closet based on quality, not quantity. So for this year’s sale, I’m doing the leg work ( PUN INTENDED BECAUSE I’M DOWN A LEG RIGHT NOW) for you, and have carefully curated the best things to buy- just ask my Nordstrom card.

 

 

Chelsea28 Pleated Velvet Skirt- $52.90 (normally $79)

As soon as I saw this in the catalog, I knew it was going to be the piece-of-the-sale. There’s always that one piece that sells out on the first day, even in the first hours. Last year it was a Green DKNY Utility Parka. I was online at exactly midnight, adding to cart- I told you, this is not a game. This skirt is even better in person. It’s like Gucci, when Gucci was Gucci (who have I lost here?). Velvet is a YUGE trend for Fall, and this skirt is the perfect way to ease into it without looking like your Grandma’s Casino tracksuit. The color is a gorgeous yellow-gold. It will pair perfectly with a tee, oversized sweaters, a leather jacket, etc. Highly recommend sizing up- the waistband is not friendly after a mostaccioli bender (I’m looking at you, grad parties).

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WAYF Satin Pajama Top- $45.90 (normally $69)

Pajama shirts have been around for a few seasons now, and I have no complaints. I will wear anything that allows me to feel like I could sleep at any moment, but also look good in public. When I originally saw this online, I had it in my cart and decided not to go through with it. I really am trying to be careful! HOWEVER, when I went into the store, I couldn’t believe it was the same shirt I saw online. 1000% better in person. It is the ideal pink-pajama shirt. Just pink enough, so that I don’t look like I’m in some kind of doll-matching Pajama from American Girl Doll. The lapel is gorgeous and chic, and I can’t wait to wear it half-tucked into some jeans, under a sweater, or for travel. YES, for travel. I plead with the people, please wear anything but your sweats and Volleyball t-shirt from 2008. True to size. 

ASICS Gel Running Shoe- $119 (normally $159)

I live for my Asics. Once, when I was in the gym, some snotty teenager told me she liked my "dad shoes”. I don’t think she was expecting me to take it as a compliment, but dad-things are very on trend (otherwise my nightly Jeopardy habit and bad puns are in…jeopardy.) These are by far the most comfortable tennis shoes I have ever owned. They are perfect for exercise, or a solid Sunday-brunch athleisure look. They feel like you’re walking on a cloud, even if you’re just walking to the neighborhood Taco Bell. I recommend going a half size up.

 

The beauty buys are where it's AT this year. Nordstrom really stepped up their game, and I came to play (do I need a hobby?).

 

Evian Facial Water Spray- $21 (normally $46)

Do you want to feel like Meredith Blake, poolside, from "The Parent Trap"? If you don’t, go re-watch the movie and reassess. That’s what this spray does. It makes you feel like a refreshed, riche, together person. Who knew spray could be more helpful than my therapist? This deal is insane- six for $21. I keep one in my purse, and always in my carry-on for travel. Not to mention my beach bag- who’s that famous girl spraying EVIAN on herself at the pool? Oh, it’s YOU!

I am addicted to Crème de Corps, which I think is French for “you will literally feel like a corpse without with lotion”, right? It’s incredibly hydrating, and leaves skin smooth and glowy. This bottle is the size of a small child, with less commitment! It will last me about an entire year, and the pump is KEY to assure I use it everyday. A solid investment in your skin.

Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencils- $59 (normally $110)

These are my ride-or-die lipsticks. I'm horrible at lipstick. It always ends up all around my mouth, and not in a cool, ironic way. I look like I went face deep into a burger after applying a nice summer coral. These could not be any easier, or longer lasting. They glide on like a dream, the application is easy and precise. I own multiple colors, and am always adding to my collection. There's two colorways you can chose from- if this is your first experience with the pencils, go with the "Tribulation" set. Pencil Pro? "Mustang" is calling your name. 

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Diptyque Mini Candle Set of 5- $55 (normally $75)

 

THIS IS THE MONEY RIGHT HERE! I really may have saved the best for last. When I saw these last year, I had to do a double take. FIVE mini Diptyque candles?! These babies prove that size ISN'T everything (oh, hi mom!). Just one of these will fill your entire home with their delicious scent. These also make the perfect gifts- if you can bear to part with even one. If I've given you a "Feu de Bois" mini, you know it's real. Don't forget to fulfill your Tumbler dreams by de-waxing these when you're done! They make for the perfect canisters for Q-tips, perfume samples, even a shot glass. Don't knock it till you've tried it. 

And there you have it! My heart, and Nordstrom card, runneth over. I've come a long way! A few years ago, the only "runneth over" I was doing was over some pre-teen for Michael Kors boots. Raise your Diptyque shot glass, here's to progress! 

Take Your Time.

I'm officially back from a little writing hiatus, and to say I've been busy is an understatement. I'm planning my wedding, my mom's wedding, I'm the maid of honor in my best friend's wedding, AND I started binge watching "House of Cards"! How does she do it?! 

When life gets busy, I tend to feel like someones pressed fast forward (and not that weak 2x sh!%, but the lightning speed you use when you're with your parents and people start getting naked), and I'm just catching little moment here and there. I know I'm not alone- I know a lot of people get this way. Between work, friends, family, trying to be healthy, and keeping your house from looking like an episode of "Hoarders", how are you supposed to find time to slow down and appreciate the little things? 

We usually don't. Until we have to. 

A few weeks ago, I went to the dermatologist for some laser treatment for a few scars on my back. I had noticed lately that my underarms had gotten extremely dark, and I casually mentioned it to my doctor. I was sure it was some sort of allergic reaction to a new deodorant or just my Italian genes catching up with me. He took one look at it and said I needed to go see my Endocrinologist right away- that it was something internal causing this sudden darkness. It's like I got the Voldemort of armpits. I still thought nothing of it-until I did the worst thing you can do- I got on WebMD. Cancer! Tumor! Divvy up your things and say "Goodbye"!! I wouldn't admit it, but I was scared. But- I had been down this road before, thinking the worst and all it ended up being was a bad hot dog. I wouldn't worry until I had something to actually worry about. 

I got into the Endocrinologist the very next morning. She gave my underarms the once, twice, three-times over. She asked me a plethora of questions, got on her computer and got very quiet for what felt like hours. She admitted she was completely stumped- I didn't have any symptoms other than my dark underarms. I didn't match the criteria for someone that usually has this (BTW, it was diagnosed Acanthosis Nigricans . No need to bore you with words I can't pronounce). She took my hands and looked me square in the eyes: " I don't want to scare you, but I want to seek out if this is symptom of a tumor". And now I had something to worry about. 

I couldn't breathe. 48-hours-ago all I cared about was what I was going to wear to my bridal shower, if my room needed a new rug, and if Mike would be mad at me because I watched-ahead on Netflix. This can't be true. The doctor is just being careful. I feel absolutely fine. What if I'm not? I didn't sleep that night, and was exhausted when I showed up at my Internist the next morning. For the third day in a row, I was looked over, my eyes meeting those of a confused doctor. I took a blood test. To my relief, it came back 100% normal. I thought I was in the clear. If something really was wrong, it would have showed up on a blood test. Nope- now I was sent to my gastroenterologist, to get an upper scope, and look around for some scary, WebMD predicted tumor. That feeling of relief was over quicker than my "Crazy Bonez" addiction when I was eight.

My Internist, one of the smartest, most kick-ass women I know, assured me that the chances of an actual tumor in my gastrointestinal tract just doesn't feel likely. It just wouldn't add up, but let's do this test to be safe. She put my mind at ease, taking away some of that crippling fear when you have to think: "but I haven't done anything yet". 

Last week, I had my upper scope- and it came back 100% clear. I burst into tears as soon as my doctor told me. Also I was not fully off anesthesia yet and I was having a dream I met Nick Jonas so things may have gotten mixed around. 

It's no secret that life moves fast, and it can change in the blink of an eye. After my appointment with the Endocrinologist,  I laid in bed that night with Mike, crying, thinking I hadn't appreciated enough our dinners together. Or morning walks. Or doing the dishes together.  I hadn't taken the time in the little moments to realize they are the big ones. That life is good even when it's Monday, even when I'm not on vacation, even when I'm up to my eyeballs in work. If we do not take the time now to appreciate the people in our lives and the moments they create, what are we living for anyway? It's not the clothes, the new beauty products (can't deny they bring me overwhelming joy, but THAT'S NOT THE POINT!) or the Instagram moments. It's the everyday, mundane things with people you love that will fill your life. There's a real argument to be had for the in-between. 

So what's the takeaway here? IF YOUR ARMPITS SUDDENLY BECOME DARK DON'T JUST RUB LEMON ON THEM BECAUSE MARTHA STEWART SAID TO. GET THEM CHECKED OUT. Okay, no. It's something more important. I know it's impossible to be grateful and appreciate everything every minute of every day. Some days are really really tough. But this is your reminder, your sign, if you got off track like I did, to not sweat the small stuff, and to use that extra time to enjoy your boring, beautiful life. Don't wait until it's Instagram levels of excitement to enjoy it. Speak kindly and with purpose. Realize that true love is not just reserved for a significant other, but for your family and friends as well. And let them know.

I feel so unbelievably blessed that my results came back clean, because I know there are so many people that aren't granted that same relief. This entire ordeal has forced me to slow down a little bit and realize that the things that keep me from enjoying life, aren't important enough to give them that power. So wedding flowers, take a back seat. I'll be enjoying this boring-ass episode of Jeopardy curled up my couch while I yell out the wrong answers- and loving every minute of it. 

*Photo by Ava Ranger Photography 

 

 

Equilibrium Pilates Challenge: It's Only Just The Beginning.

 

360 Pilates classes- that’s what I’ve been up to for the past three months. Well, I’m on the other side now, and am doing a little "Mulan" style ~reflecting~ on how my life, body, and mind have changed in the last 90 days with Equilibrium Pilates Studio.

I’ve said it a thousand times, I am not athletic. You’re looking at the Assistant Manager of every single basketball, softball, and volleyball team from Middle School to High School (yes, I tried out for each one- CAN’T STOP ME). It mostly has to do with my orthopedic disability from birth defects.  I also am just extremely uncoordinated, and in a game of H.O.R.S.E, I’m usually out faster than you can say Kobe. Or is it Lebron now? SPORTS.

So when I entered this path to Pilates, I was understandably nervous. I equated Pilates to tall, perfectly slender dancers, moving through each exercise with more grace than “Swan Lake”. It was much to my surprise, that most people in my classes at Equilibrium were just like me, and the teachers, although slender and graceful (but also with bad ass muscles that could crush a man), didn’t make me feel for one second that I wasn’t just like them. I never felt out of my league, or like I didn’t belong. The teachers were kind, helpful, instructive and supportive. They helped me move through each class with the same grace I reserved for dancers and people who can walk with books on their head. It makes me tear up to think about one teacher, Rachel, who literally held onto my waist, supporting me, and moved me through a standing position on the Reformer, as I was physically incapable of completing the move myself. The kindness, patience and understanding that was shown to me at Equilibrium was not just good for Pilates, but I found it resonating in my life in so many other ways.

Did I wake up every morning, leaping out of bed like a kid on Christmas, ready to roll to Pilates? Hell naw. In the first few weeks, my mind still equated Pilates to a “workout” which translated to “burden”. But by the end of the challenge, I was itching to get to Pilates every day, and missing it when I couldn’t attend. I found that my mind needed it as much as my body did. Walking into the studio and knowing I had an hour to work on me, free from work or other obligation was an absolute game changer. Some people do their best thinking in the shower- I would now like to think I do mine on the Reformer. The low-impact (but high results) of Pilates make this workout anything from a burden. I actually found myself choosing Pilates over Happy Hour- and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s some of the best work I do all day.

Now for the physical results. Let’s be totally open here: I went into this challenge at 98 pounds- which is far too low for me. I was weak, no muscle tone, frail and scared that if I fell, I would be the youngest person that ever screamed “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!!!”. In just three months, I have more muscle than I’ve ever had- 7 pounds more of it to be exact. Moves I couldn't do in the first week, I was doing with ease on the last. I feel strong, capable, and safer on my own two feet. Again, for the sake of being honest- this wasn’t an easy adjustment. I felt AMAZING. But seeing weight get put on your body, even when it’s good weight, can be tough. Society equates being thin to being fit. And even I, fell victim to this archaic notion. I had, wrongly, associated my slenderness with having a “good body”, even though one big gust of wind and I was out of here. When I started to get more muscle and put on weight (which was the necessary thing for me to do), it took adjusting. I had to really come around to appreciate this new, stronger, healthier body. Like most women, I am hard on myself. Every lump and bump and dark spot I am critical of, to the point of stressing myself out over the smallest of things. Through Pilates, I’m learning to appreciate my body not because of its size or weight, but because it is mine, and for the first time in a long time, it’s healthy. It’s an ongoing effort, and I truly encourage you all to do the same. Equilibrium has jump-started the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with my body, and that in itself is priceless.

Maybe you’re thinking you want to try Pilates, but like me, you’re a little unsure. Do you have stretch pants? A pair of socks? Well then honey, you’re in! To ease the “first class jitters” of starting a new form of exercise, the wonderfully kind people of Equilibrium are offering a FREE Pilates barre class with me! Here’s the info:

SATURDAY, JUNE 3RD

8:30am

Equilibrium Pilates Studio, Birmingham

189 Townsend Street #100 (just go down the stairs and you're there!)

Email JessicaP@Equilibriumstudio.com to sign up! 

 

If you even have a HINT of “I want to try this”, please join me for this class. I don’t promote anything I don’t fully support, and I can promise you this could be the start of something really, really great for you. It’s a low impact class, so don’t be nervous! You’re going to get through it thinking you’re basically the Calvin Johnson of Pilates (Again, SPORTS??). And then 24 hours later, you’ll be wondering while you’re so sore. Those are your muscles, and they’re back, baby.

I would sincerely like to thank Equilibrium for the gift of this partnership. The kindness of the studio and its staff has made this a life-and-body-altering experience, and I am forever grateful. I plan to continue practicing Pilates for a long time to come, until I’m frail when I’m actually supposed to be.

Renee Rouleau Skincare: A Review

Nothing makes me happier than seeing humans on a leash-less walk with their dogs- how do they follow along so loyally? I can hardly walk down the sidewalk with Mike without straying to something shiny in a store window. Another great joy in my life is finding new, effective skincare lines. So when I stumbled upon Renee Rouleau Skincare via Instagram, my tail immediately starting wagging. Okay, wait, no- I’m getting these all mixed up.

It was a few months ago that a post-Renee-facial-selfie of Demi Lovato shook me to my core (I was also eating an entire box of Thin Mints so that might have contributed to core happenings). I was so curious about the Renee Rouleau skincare line, since it was born from the mind of a esthetician- Renee herself. I was generously given some product, and my skin will never be the same.

Before we dive into product specifics, let’s go over a couple things.

1)      You can go to ReneeRouleau.com and take your skin quiz. It’s more fun than a “what toast topping are you!!” quiz, and it will guide you to which products would be most beneficial for your specific skin type.

2)      All Renee Rouleau (Roo-Low) products are lightweight, with formulas using herbal plant extracts and essential oils.

3)      No parabens, bad alcohols, synthetics or synthetic fragrances

4)      They don’t test on animals! Bunnies everywhere rejoice.

5)      The product packaging is beyond chic- rose gold is basically a Millennial girl’s bread and butter.

 

AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser

I am (almost!) 26-years-old, and I am still dealing with these little white bumps all over my chin at all times. They weren’t quite white heads, but little bumps that sat beneath the skin, crushing my dreams of a concealer-less day. I tried creams, lotions and potions and they never seemed to disappear, even as my skin was generally improving. Within two weeks of using this face wash, the bumps are gone and have not returned. This wash is creamy and gentle, with a light exfoliation (made from plastic beads- so not harsh or harmful to environment), gentle enough for every day. It’s more soft and soothing than a fresh pint of Halo Top. It really deep cleans my pores and fights against acne and yes- my annoying bumps. Leaves your face cleaner than Martha Stewart’s counter tops and softer than what I imagine Usher’s abs to feel like. $31.50

Anti Cyst Treatment

LADIES- you know that feeling, once a month when it feels like your uterus is going to fall right out of you and walk away? As if that isn’t bad enough, with that blessed time of the month comes the cystic, throbbing bumps that no matter how much masking I do, they pop up to the party they weren’t even invited to (I will remind my children every day of all the suffering I did for them). It usually takes me 4-5 products, praying and a lot of waiting to make them go away. This anti-cyst treatment was God’s way of answering. I apply 2-3 times a day, and the cyst is gone in half the time. I saw my usual forehead attendant go down in half the size in just one day. It’s an easy to apply, clear serum that’s made with gentle, yet effective ingredients (Citric Acid, Methyl Gluceth 20 and Ethyl Lactate) to calm, reduce redness and prevent scarring. It’s like a cortisone shot in a pump- but less money and painless. When I really want to give that bump the boot quick, I apply the serum and top with M-61’s Power Spot Blemish Lotion. AND STAY OUT! $45.50 (and it will last you a LONG time.)

Skin Recovery Lotion

As we know by now, I have sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin with redness on my cheeks. I am the total package…. to a greedy dermatologist. I’ve found in the past, I tend to overdo it. In a desperate attempt to get my skin under control, I do mask after mask with oil after oil piled on top. I now know that does my harm than good, and I’ve been trying to simplify my routine to just a few products- which was why it was a relief to find that this lotion is also the total package- gentle on sensitive skin, calms acne and reduces redness. Some nights I need deep, deep hydration, and I’ve expressed my love for Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer Rich for that. But at night, when I need my skin to essentially take a Xanax, this is my gal. It’s oil free, doesn’t clog my pores, hydrates, and leaves my skin calm and cozy- like me during an 8-hour marathon of “Say Yes to The Dress” on my couch. So now, even if I overdo it, it takes my skin back to base camp one, providing a perfectly calm complexion come morning. $41.50

 

BHA Clarifying Serum

Sadly- I couldn’t test this one out. It has a Mushroom ingredient in it- which I am allergic to! Basically my allergy ruins my skincare fun and my pizza but that’s just life. So this one, I’m giving away to one of YOU! This serum is designed to clear clogged pores, lift scarring, lessen oil production (I am seriously depressed right now DAMN U MUSHROOMS), and even out your skin tone. Over time, it is meant to help with your clarity and texture, minimizing your pores and blemishes. How do you win? STARTING 3/21: Head on over to my Instagram (@alexandramauro), like the photo that goes up tomorrow morning, tag a friend, your mom, meme-soulmate, WHOEVER!, and be sure to follow @reneerouleauskincare. I’ll be picking a winner this week! 

 

I may never have the pipes of Demi Lovato (it’s more like William Hung or Mariah Carey NYE edition), but now I can at least rival her flawless complexion. Skincare is important- not only because I want to look 30 when I’m 50, but because it helps me be more confident on the day-to-day. Renee Rouleau gets that- and helps me put my best face forward. Not in a Neutrogena commercial way-where a girl magically and excitedly splashes water on her face- but in an every day, maybe you spilled salad dressing on your silk shirt but hey my skin looks great-way. And for that- I am forever grateful.

 

* Thank you to Renee Rouleau for providing the products. These are my honest opinions and experiences after one month of use. 

 

Pilates or Bust (literally)! My Partnership with Equilibrium Pilates.

 

 

I’m not totally lost when it comes to working out. Yes, some days my idea of a crunch is the one I get from a Lay’s potato chip. But I’m no stranger to fitness- I’ve been doing physical therapy pretty much since birth. Here’s the story: I was born with severely clubbed feet, which led to a whole plethora of orthopedic issues, and here I am, 10 surgeries later with a better walk!! but the osteoporosis and severe arthritis in my feet and ankles that come with the territory of being laid up, and in and out of wheelchairs during my youth.

During my last surgery in high school, I was pretty immobile, and I became extremely frail- even getting down to 75 pounds at one point. During my recovery, I was able to put weight back on, and I was actually feeling pretty healthy, stable and good on my feet- then I went to college. Four years of no physical therapy, minimal exercise, maximum servings at the cafeteria, an introduction to beer, an even bigger introduction to late-night Jimmy John’s. I left college with a degree, 20 extra pounds and feet that couldn’t take me more than 3 blocks.

When I got my first job out of college, I was definitely feeling the effects of my poor health. I was tired all the time, none of my clothes fit, I was feeling sick quite often. It was New Year’s Day of 2015 when I joined the popular fitness program, “Tone It Up”. I went HARD. I ate according the to the recipes, did the daily workouts (which really are great), and in 8 months, I lost 20 pounds, toned up (they really do live up to their name), and completely changed my eating habits. I felt incredible. I was walking easier, getting out of bed with less effort, not limping so often. Then, SURPRISE!! I got colitis.

For a solid 6 months I was sick every day. I’m not going into the gross details because they are well, gross. But I was having trouble eating just about anything without getting violently ill. I had a JOYOUS Colonoscopy (I really do hate getting my picture taken), where I was diagnosed with Colitis. I was asked to cut out dairy which was basically my worst nightmare because, cheese. However, I learned to substitute with alternatives and have been able to manage it pretty well. But I stopped working out, was eating less and started losing more weight quickly. My bone mass was rapidly declining and I could feel it. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, limping my way around the house, at work, etc. I felt like an 80-year-old woman- which had nothing to do with my Jeopardy obsession and in-bed by 9pm habit. I could feel myself deteriorating to my osteoporosis and arthritis- and I just couldn’t motivate myself to do anything about it.

Then I got engaged! And let me tell you- having someone want to spend the rest of their life with you really puts things into perspective. I started thinking about our future, all the things I want to be able to do, and now it wasn’t just about me. It was about Michael and our future family and our lives together. THAT and I tried on a wedding dress and was horrified by the frail thing staring back at me. My family made me promise to take care of myself and my bones, and here we are.

I didn’t really know where to start. My exercise abilities are limited due to my orthopedic disability.  I basically knew I needed to lift things and gain muscle. I tried remembering when I felt my strongest, and realized it was before my last surgery, when I was doing Pilates to gain some strength for the recovery process. I started asking around about different studios in my area, and stumbled upon Equilibrium Pilates in Birmingham. I reached out to the owner, Nancy, who was like a lifeboat in a sea of bad choices and bad bones. Nancy expressed they were looking for a studio challenger- essentially someone who would come to classes, and document their progress over three months. I was thrilled when she asked me to be the Challenger- and relieved. I felt like this was the first step to getting my bones back in business. So what is my commitment? I will attend classes 4 times a week, varying form Pilates reformer, to barre and mat classes. I will check in on my social media whenever I’m at the studio- which is not to annoy people with look at me!!! I’m working out-bro photos. It’s to hold myself accountable, and to keep you guys in the loop on my progress. I will also be meeting with a personal trainer once a week to lift said heavy things.

I’ve been taking classes at Equilibrium for about two weeks now and I can’t believe I’m saying this- but I notice a difference. I’m standing up straighter, I’m not as achy in the morning, I can get up from the couch or a chair a little easier, without having to pause for as long to get my feet moving. Listen- I know I’ll never be 100%. I’ll still have to use a wheelchair at theme parks, take a cab for anything over a mile, and my “run” will always look like a horse that was rejected by 11-year-olds at Equestrian camp. I have good days and bad days and everyone has their own struggles. But could I get out of bed easier? Walk to get ice cream with Michael? Fall down without worrying about breaking a bone? Yes- and I do believe Equilibrium will help me get there. I’m doing this for me, for the future, and yes, for a wedding dress. Also because I don’t think they give Life Alert to 26-year-olds.

The Winter Beauty Edit

Ahhh, the inevitable flakes of winter- and I'm not talking about the snow. As the weather gets colder, my skin gets flakier than a Pillsbury biscuit. I'm flakier than that girl you run into at Target from high school that says "we should get coffee sometime!!!". Get the ugly, gross picture? Good. Now we can proceed with what we're going to do about it. 

I'm a firm believer that some of your skincare and beauty need to change with the seasons. I've compiled a list of my favorite skincare and beauty products for winter to get you through these next few months (let's face it, Winter lasts until April).  So crank up your heat, ignore your unshaven legs as you pull on some big wool socks, and enjoy: The Winter Beauty Edit. 

 

Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich -$35

You all know my obsession with Glossier's Priming Moisturizer. I use it every morning before my makeup for a perfect base every time. So when Glossier came out with a richer version, you know I pressed “order” on launch morning before my eyes were even open. This is my top-winter product. It healed my dry, flaking skin overnight. It’s unbelievably rich, creamy and luxurious feeling. The best part is, you can’t use too much. It melts into skin like butter, bringing life back to dry, dull, winter face. I also use on my neck because I am in constant fear of Tech Neck (it's a sickness). It feels like a $300 cream Kim Kardashian probably uses- but it's only $35 and you don't have to act like Kanye makes sense.

* Psst: you can get 20% off and free shipping through my rep page here: https://www.glossier.com/reps/alexmauro

 

Milk Cooling Water- $24

Again- getting hydration on your skin in the winter is hard, because we’re indoors, cooped up under blankets just trying to get through it. Milk Makeup Cooling Stick is an easy, fun way to not only reduce redness and perk up tired skin, but it adds an extra layer of hydration. I keep mine in the fridge, swipe all over my face-especially under eyes- in the morning after washing. Also a perfect gym bag companion for after a workout.

 

Laura Mercier Face Polish- $32

Back to the flakes. You know the ones, you scrub and you moisturize and they just appear again like a stage-5 clinger at a party- BUT THEY WEREN’T INVITED!  When my skin needs a reboot, I scrub with this and it does exactly what it says it will- polishes your skin. My winter-dream team is washing clean skin with this, then Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich. You will wake up with a whole new face (not in a bad Heidi Montag way. It an awesome, how am I this glowing? in the winter way).

 

Kiehl's Rare Earth Pore Cleansing Mask- $30

Sometimes, you need a good detox, from harmful harsh heat in your house, from layering on makeup, etc. This is my ultimate. It detoxes skin without stripping it, it just leaves a nice, smooth, matte finish. It makes me feel so CLEAN afterwards. But because winter is a fickle biotch and will ruin this moment for you, follow up with Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask. If you don’t’ have that in your arsenal already, skip this whole post and order that. Baby steps- and that is the first one.

 

Elta MD Suncreen- $20

Yes, you do need sunscreen in the winter. And fall. And all other times of the year. People always ask me what they can use to prevent wrinkles, and sunscreen is it. We don’t realize the damage those harsh office lights make, the sun when we’re in the car- etc. You can drive yourself crazy trying to avoid it or worry about it- or you can wear sunscreen daily. This one was recommended to me by multiple friends, and for good reason. It is unbelievably lightweight and silky. I put it on before my priming moisturizer, and you can’t even tell it’s there.  It blends in beautifully and protects all day. Get on it.

 

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Eye Cream- $37

The top question I am asked is “what can I use for under-eyes?".  In service to all of you, I’ve tried just about all of them. This one is the only cream I have ever noticed a difference with. I do feel it helped with my dark circles over time, but more than anything it just made my under-eye area look not so tired. It smoothed the skin, actually making it look younger and healthier. A little goes a long way too- I've had it about 4 months and haven't even made a dent in the tube. 

Mermaid Perfume Body Oil- $50

Some days, you walk outside and are immediately assaulted by ice-cold wind, sharp, sleet-y snow and frigid temperatures. You think to yourself “I need a damn vacation”, but you check your bank account and it says “Girl lol no you need a BUDGET”. So how do you get away without actually getting away? Treat yourself to something tropical. On those miserable winter days, I crank up the heat in my apartment, take a bath (this is the best bath companion), and follow up with Mermaid Perfume Body Oil. It smells like you just left the beach, Mai Tai still in hand. It soaks into skin in seconds and leaves you with a lingering vacation smell all day. Not to mention crazy soft-skin worth of putting your bathing suit on (you can walk around your house in one, I won’t judge). Bonus points if you get their candle- it will fill your whole home with beach bliss. 

Boy Brow in Clear- $16

In the winter, I’m all about a more natural look- like an Eskimo with natural beauty just oozing from my pores. But as we all know, sometimes it takes a little work to make natural look polished. This is why I love Boy Brow Clear. I am faithful to Boy Brow in brown, but I do have some little baby hairs in the front that don’t quite need color, but just a little lift. Voila, Clear Boy Brow. All the same gorgeous, effortless, just a little messy brow, without color if you don’t need it (bless you).

Milk Makeup Eye Vinyl- $20

I had been coveting a glossy eye for months, but couldn’t seem to figure it out without looking like I had some weird disease. Then I was recommended Milk Makeup Eye Vinyl, and it changed the game. PERFECTLY glossy without looking oily or sick. It gives you the ultimate cool-girl look, because let’s face it, you are cool and should look like it. My favorite shade is the nude. Glide it on eyelids and pat in and BAM! You’re an Olsen (without the chain smoking, bravo).

 

Winter is tough- but taking care of your skin doesn't have to be. All of these products can be easily integrated into your routine, without sending your face into panic mode- because it's stressful enough just trying to keep your socks up in your boot all season.

 

* Title photo via Into The Gloss

Pink is the New Prozac

Here we are, in that deep, depth of Winter when it seems like we are just as far into it, as we are from getting out. Cold, icy temps, dirty sloshy snow covering the sidewalks. Every day seems like a scene from “Frozen” (and not the cool, singing parts. Just the shit weather). Yup- seasonal depression is in full swing. It may be vain, but during this period, I make it through with little pick-me-ups. A mascara here, a coffee before work, etc. My bank account may hate me but my soul is (possibly falsely) nourished. But recently, I found the holy grail of all mid-winter pick-me-ups. Hear me out:

During this time of year, I do notice one thing: I am in all black, all the time. Constantly sifting through a pile of black clothing, looking for that same black turtleneck, black jeans and of course, black socks to go with my black boots. Its become routine, and frankly, it’s a little boring. This winter, I decided to challenge myself and brighten my mood by brightening my wardrobe. I wanted one universal piece I could throw on my "Wednesday Adams" inspired looks.

Enter, the Pink Coat.

 

I'm going to need everyone to stop saying “I have too many coats!!!”. No- there is no such thing. When you live in Michigan (any other cold-weather state applies here), your coat is your wardrobe, and quite literally your outfit most days. I am sitting in a Starbucks right now, black turtleneck, black sweats and PINK COAT. There’s no way I was going to come out in this blistering weather and not flex on these high schoolers ordering hot chocolates- and all it took was one, simple piece. A pink coat is the new staple, and instant outfit brightener, a fool-proof way to look like you know what you’re doing. It’s the thing you need to get you through these next few months, and the options are much, much cheaper than a therapist.

Because I believe that "more is more and less is a bore" (Iris Apfel, my idol)- I have two options I can throw on over just about any outfit: a pink faux fur from J.Crew, and a wool pea coat I got in Ireland.

For warm, wool coat, I recommend finding something in the lighter, or “Millennial Pink (Glossier did it first tho)” range. It looks expensive, chic and well put-together.

If you're a little more adventurous (or in my case, fashionably obnoxious), opt for a bright, faux fur version. There is no way to be basic in a pink faux fur, it is instant FASHUN.

Consider pink your new base. It can be worn with black, white, red, blue, stripes, pajamas, sweats- YOU NAME IT. This is the easiest cure for mid-winter outfit ruts.

Here's a few options to get you through these next few months (let's face it, Winter goes until April. Don't live in denial).

Topshop Biker Jacket (on sale for $99!)

Style Nanda Pink Overcoat with Strap Detail, Asos ($264)

Via Spiga Faux Fur Coat (on sale for $139!)

 

Improve your mood, update your wardrobe, and make sure that when you inevitably end up in some 9th grader's Snapchat background at aforementioned Starbucks, you will STAND OUT.

 

Photos by: Ava Ranger