So Fresh and So Clean!

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Image from my Instagram @smmanley01

I am always eager to try new hair products, especially if the company is making an effort to reduce testing on animals! 

The L’Oreal Ever Fresh line is an anti-dandruff scalp system of shampoo, conditioner, and a brand new hair scrub. This brunette struggles with dandruff in the dry Chicagoland winters, and for someone who loves to wear all black outfits, dandruff is a big no-no! The only flakes I like to see are snow, mmmkkkk?

Overall: I wasn’t keen on the scent of the shampoo+conditioner (it was super intense), but after blow drying, it wasn’t too bad. The product produced the results I wanted (a non-itchy, flake free scalp), but I also found that the conditioner didn’t provide that nice shiny glow I like. Nothing a little hair serum can’t fix!

The Micro Exfoliating Hair Scrub  was the best surprise of all. It’s gentle enough to scrub out all of the dry shampoo and hairspray I use (yes, hairspray, I’m still living in the 90’s), but the scrub doesn’t dry your scalp. I would have loved to have this product on my wedding night, to scrub out all the product. Might be a nice gift for a bride-to-be!

If you’d like to learn more about the whole L’Oréal Ever line, click here. There are systems for volume, moisture, color care, curly hair, and the scalp care I just reviewed. Bonus: ALL of these lines are sulfate and paraben free!!

I received these L’Oreal EverFresh products for free from Influenster, but all opinions are my own!

A Different Kind of “elf” on the Shelf

Greetings all!

Some of you may have seen my Influenster account on Instagram. Influenster is an online review program. First you create a social media profile, then products are sent to your home directly based on the strength of the profile you create. Then you follow through with the reviews for the products sent- easy! It’s a fun way to test your editorial skills with your writing! Why do you like a product? How does it compare to others?

So for my blog today, I thought I would give the low-down on a few products I was sent for from Influenster and elf cosmetics. Let me know what you think!

e.l.f. Lip Exfoliator in Mint Maniac

Image result for elf exfoliating scrub lip mint

I really wanted to like this, but I felt it was just a little too abrasive. I received the Fresh Sugar Lip Polish in a gift set a long time ago, and I haven’t found anything to beat it. This exfoliator did not have a residual moisturizing quality, so you would have to be prepared with some intense lip balm or vitamin E tablets for your lips to recover. I do not recommend.

e.l.f. Matte Lip Color in “Wine” Shade

Image result for elf matte lip color wine

Sometimes, you just need the right lip color for the right event! I don’t typically wear really bold shades of lip color. I often think about how powerful evoking an Elizabeth-Taylor-esque look (red lips, bold eyebrows, dark hair in curls) would be so fun. That being said, I tend towards the safer side, preferring berry colors and nudes. So, as they say, quelle domage. This was a touch too bold for me. That being said, I have a feeling it would have great staying power for holiday cocktails!

I hope you enjoyed my little sample of reviews for e.l.f. cosmetics! Have you tried any of their products?

Disclaimer: I received these products from free from Influenster. However, all opinions are my own! 


Holiday Wish List

Hello folks,

I’m slowly but surely getting back to blogging! I’m no longer the book columnist for McHenry County Magazine, and I am excited to take a break. Who knows what other writing opportunities might be in store?

I miss the practice of writing for fun, so I thought I would start with some cute gift ideas for the holidays! I like to think of wish lists that are “just because,” or gifts that I wouldn’t actually expect to receive. Let your mind wander!

What sorts of items are on your wish list?

A classic coat

I own this coat in beige, and it’s served me well for both casual and formal occasions. J.Crew Factory, $114.00


A Great Coffee Table Book

Image result for domino your guide to a stylish home

domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home, domino, $29.99

[Join me at Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, IL for a book signing event! Click here for details]

All-Occasion Earrings

Larue Earrings

This year, I’ve been obsessed with white jewelry. It’s classic, and goes with everything!

Anthropologie, $38.00

Andie Mitchell- Inspiration for Healthy Eating

Eating can be a struggle for any American woman. Do I eat like the fast food ads tell me to-with abandon and without consequence? Or do I eat like the covers of magazines tell me to- with heavy restriction and a low weight as an end goal? No gluten, no carbs, no sugar, no fat, no salt, no meat, lots of meat, lots of carbs, lots of fat…you see where I’m going with this.

I have always been drawn to the disordered relationship some women have with food, reading eating disorder memoirs and lounging on the couch with Lifetime movie marathons about anorexia and bulimia. One day I hope to work with these women professionally, but until then, I rely on firsthand accounts in the books I read (the last two that really struck a chord were Portia De Rossi’s memoir, Unbearable Lightness, and Crystal Renn’s book, Hungry).

Then came Andie Mitchell. I was able to check out Ms. Mitchell’s memoir, It Was Me All Along, via e-copy through the Chicago Public Library. I finished it in two days. I, too, have a personal journey with significant weight loss (ballet + a vegetarian lifestyle helped me lose 40 lbs during college). I could relate to the constant fear of gaining the weight back, slipping into obsessive thinking and never being able to “let loose”. At the age of 28, I finally feel like I had a chance to feel comfortable in my own body. I just got married a few weeks ago, and I never once felt pressure to do the traditional “wedding diet” (although, truth be told, the anxiety of planning did shed about 5 vanity lbs!).

Eating in the Middle cover


As my husband (!) and I start our lives together, so too do we start to venture out into new cooking territory. I ventured out and prepared Mitchell’s baked buttermilk breaded chicken (the first time I’d cooked meat in about 7 years), and Andy prepared me Mitchell’s lemon poppyseed cupcakes (the first he’d made cupcakes in probably about the same amount of time). There were moments where we both helped each other- Andy cutting the meat to see if it was done (I wasn’t about to start eating meat again), and me correcting Andy that the cream cheese frosting recipe called for 6 oz of cream cheese (2 oz short of one block!). A nice start to our marriage together, prompted by a book that has recipes for both vegetarians and carnivores.

Mitchell’s cookbook is an extension of her philosophy on food is clear in this book. Healthy version of your favorite noms, plus some delicious indulgences. Personally, I think all books should be written like this! PLUS there is nutritional info! I can’t wait to try all of the recipes!

Rating: 4/5 stars


Further Reading/Viewing:

A copy of Eating in the Middle was  provided by, but you can better believe my opinions are my own.

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

My poor fiancé. Every time we’ve played a couple’s game, the (surprisingly) only complaint he has is my tendency to collect paper clutter.

Personal growth can stare you right in the face. If the person I am about to marry is this quick to identify an area of growth for me, I’m going to jump right in! There have been other de-cluttering books that have gotten a lot of press lately, but this seemed like a unique title, with an existing perspective (feng shui) re-introduced to 2016 readers.

Kingston approaches de-cluttering through the lens of Feng Shui, a practice that always seemed out of reach to me. If I can barely keep my desk clean, how am I supposed to understand energy balance in my home? Kingston makes the material easy to digest. Here are a few of my pros/cons from the book.


  • Organized content (a good sign!)
  • A well-rounded perspective on de-cluttering, including suggestions on what to do with your to-be-disposed items
  • Extending de-cluttering past physical objects in the home (emotional de-cluttering, de-cluttering bad food out of your diet, etc.)
  • Super easy to read- finished reading in about 2 days


  • Suggestions about fasting and colon cleansing, without enough disclosures about medically-sensitive populations for these constructs (people with diabetes, cancer, etc.). This can be dangerous stuff, and should not be treated lightly
  • Mention of “space clearing” practice, without describing thoroughly enough what it is. I anticipate that this will be a follow up book, but I at least want to know more basics before I explore further.

Overall, I would highly recommend this title! I look forward to re-visting it in those times that I need to clear my home…and my mind!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Further Reading:

A review copy was provided to me by All opinions are my own! 


Spinster by Kate Bolick

Back in April 2015, I was about to suspend my gym membership for a few months. Every summer, I push myself to head outdoors for any physical activity, both for the Midwestern-deprived Vitamin D I so desperately needed, and to get as close to nature as possible. (The Lakefront trail isn’t a bad place to get started).

Physical activity gives me a chance to listen to my book podcasts, and April was no different from any other month. On a cool April day, I listened to a segment of the New York Times Book Review podcast  (scroll to April 19th, 2015 segment). This episode featured not only Jon Ronson (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the McNally Jackson Bookstore in Soho when this book came out), but also Ms. Kate Bolick.

Where had I heard that name before? Ah yes, The Atlantic!

Kate Bolick Atlantic cover


Her cover story, called “All the Single Ladies” caught my attention when I was living in New York City, trying to dabble in more content-based magazines than my usual fashion and fitness-focused reads.

I was preparing to launch back to Chicago from New York City, where I was studying to get my Master’s in Social Work. Part of this was to reunite with my boyfriend of 5 years (now, my fiancé!). I struggled with a lot of questions. Was I moving back just to be with him? Even if I was, would that be a bad thing? I lived a comfortable existence being on my own. Was this my destiny, or just a preference for solitude?

Even though I was coupled, Bolick’s article resonated with me with that Atlantic article. So did her work in Spinster.

Kate Bolick.png

The first part of Spinster is a history of Bolick’s beginning interests in “spinsterhood”, and her desire to find a places of solitude (after all, it is often our own lives that influence our research). Probably my favorite vignettes are pieces from her teenage diaries, where she longs for a kind of “Spinster Sunday”- a day languishing alone with books and quiet.

What comes next are chapters dedicated to the history of five “spinsters,” juxtaposed with Bolick’s own life (dating, college, editing Domino magazine [swoon!], and her beginnings in book reviewing). One part history and one part memoir, the book is a smart read. I walked away from the book feeling inspired, knowing that in 2016, marriage doesn’t mean that I need to abandon my passions, and I can tap into the same desires for career advancement as the five women mentioned (six, including Bolick herself).

On the day that I read the bulk of this book, my fiancé was sleeping in, while my typical Lark-self was getting ready to head to the coffee shop on a Saturday morning. I gently nudged him to see if he wanted to wake up and come with. He responded by saying “I’ll let you enjoy the time by yourself.” He wasn’t offering me permission, rather acknowledging that he appreciates my need for alone time.

post its spinster

Creating my own index…with Post-Its

Although Bolick includes a Works Cited page, I would’ve loved an index with page numbers to reference. The Works Cited page alone is enough for a semester’s worth of a Feminism in Literature class, perhaps the makings of a Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I can’t wait to help make “spinster” an empowering word, and I can’t wait to embrace my own Spinster Sundays (or Saturdays, or Mondays, etc.). I hope the author conducts another book tour when the book comes out in paperback, so that I can tell her how much I loved the book in-person.

Rating: 4/5 stars

further info:

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

tsar love techno cover


Normally, I’m not a huge short story fan. In fact, in the years that I’ve been reading The New Yorker, I have been known to pass up the fiction section entirely. Of course, the exception to this is anything by Sloane Crosley (except her latest book– woof).

I was intrigued when I heard about Anthony Marra’s newest short story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno.  I loved the image of a mixtape on the cover, foreshadowing the common “soundtrack” that strings together the vignettes of characters through the former USSR territories.

The stories take place from the 1930s-2000s, told from different perspectives with each story. Too long to be chapters, too short to be novellas, too separate to be one novel. To say too much about the plot, I feel, would give it away. Trust that the complexities of Soviet history, blended with timeless human struggles with relationships, make for a wonderfully long-lasting book hangover.

My favorite part of the whole book is how each story links back to characters who narrated stories earlier in the book. It’s like when you walk past a familiar scent or perfume. At first you take a step back, realize it is familiar, and then slowly come back to identify it. Which character was related to whom? In what way? How long ago? It becomes very clear that they are all meant to weave together.

A good book entertains.

A good book is well organized.

A good book makes you cry.

A good book makes you laugh.

A good book tells you more about lands you’ve never been to.

This book did all of the above, and more.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Further Reading:

I received a copy of this book from All opinions are my own. 

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley


There are few writers that grab my attention quite like Sloane Crosley. She’s a psuedo-vegetarian, essayist, fashionista, and just a super cool chick (but not quite like the “cool girl” discussed in Gone Girl).

I was first grabbed by I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a collection of humor essays recommended to me by a friend (and purchased during my last days of working at Border’s Booksellers). The following Christmas, I received her other book, How Did You Get This Number? I immediately started following her other work, plus her co-founded blog Sad Stuff on the Street. I was so thrilled that she decided to venture into publishing fiction!

The Clasp is about three college buddies in crisis in their 20’s who reunite for a mutual friend’s wedding in Florida. Victor is an Adrian Brody look-a-like who was recently fired from his job at a search engine start-up. Kezia works for a jewelry designer with a boss who seems modeled after an edgier Miranda Priestly. Nathaniel lives in LA, trying to make it as a screenwriter, health nut, and hipster ladies’ man.

Victor wakes up the morning after the wedding, and steals a sketch of a necklace from the groom’s mother’s bedroom. He believes the necklace that inspired the sketch is in France, and may have inspired the Guy de Maupassant short story, “The Necklace.” While Victor goes to France on a hunt to find it, Kezia and Nathaniel make their way to France, for other reasons, and challenge their assumptions about their relationships and what they want in life.

Now, let me preface that I don’t have to like the characters in a book to enjoy the book I’m reading. In fact, sometimes a really un-likable character can help you reconcile and learn from some not-so-great parts of yourself. Despite my true love (and I do mean LOVE) of Crosley’s essays, this book just didn’t do it for me. Here’s why:

  • The first 2/3 of the book is just…boring. It was the first time in a long time I had to push myself to finish a book. It gets a little better towards the end.
  • The characters are not developed. For example, towards the beginning of the story, Nathaniel learns he has a not-serious heart condition. He reflects on the symbolism of it for about 1 page, wondering if this is why he has difficulty loving others. Then….that’s it. Both issues are maybe mentioned one other time, and without blending everything together. It’s like getting a hole in your jeans, and trying to sew it back together with thick yarn and big gaps in between. You’re better off just keeping the jeans “as is” and moving on.
  • The mood was not consistent. There was a continuing fluctuation of “good humored reunion” vibes, with “melancholic quarter-life crisis.” Even at the end, I didn’t know whether the characters were sad about their unresolved personal questions (about life, love, careers), or if they felt they came out of their adventure in France stronger than before.
  • The characters are unlikable. Like I said, this does not exclusively make me dislike a book, but I felt it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I know Crosley has the chops for a novel. Maybe this is just growing pains before she writes a really well-developed, enjoyable novel. I will be eagerly waiting for her next piece, but until then, I will not be recommending this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Further reading:

Crazy Sexy Juice by Kris Carr

I was introduced to Kris Carr my junior year of college. It was Counseling 101 at Loyola University Chicago, and our professor screened Carr’s documentary, Crazy Sexy Cancer, as a way of showing one example of the grief experience with a chronic illness diagnosis (primarily focusing on the Kübler-Ross stages of death and dying). Carr’s documentary explores the emotional and physical struggle after she is diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in her liver, with fewer medical options other than “watch and see what happens.” She took control through the lens of a camera, and her diet.

Since then, I’ve been following Ms. Carr’s journey through cancer wellness and vegan vitality. I was lucky enough to meet her in a Barnes and Noble in New York when she came out with her book Crazy Sexy Diet, which focuses not only on adapting an alkaline-based vegan diet, but also general self-care and self-compassion practices. She is just as vivacious in-person as she is in her writing.

Her new book is Crazy Sexy Juice, a book which many Carr fans have been waiting for with baited breath. Finally, the queen of green juices compiles her ultimate companion for both juicing and smoothie making.


I decided to make her recipe for Classic Green Lemonade (recipe can also be found here). It is delicious!

green juice 1

green juice 2

Well I had to put it in a mason jar! #hipster

In Carr’s new book, you can find an ultimate list of ideas for juices and smoothies. I loved the juice recipes, but favorite part are the recipes designed for juicing pulp (besides composting, of course). I can’t wait to try the beet burgers!

It seemed like every time I turned the page, I thought “wait, there’s MORE?”

As with most things, Carr writes in a way that is both approachable, and thorough. Many of the recipes are categorized by what ailment it might aid (such as hot flashes, or digestion). So, too, does she include suggestions for the emotional components of eating healthier- not to take yourself too seriously, nor putting too much pressure on yourself for “perfection”.

I would recommend this book for folks who are interested in juicing and/or smoothie making, and trying to implement a kinder diet (both to yourself, and animals).

In summary, Carr suggests we:

“Make energy deposits instead of energy withdrawals”

Good advice for just about any part of life, wouldn’t you say?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Further Reading:

  • Book trailer on the author’s website
  • If you are interested in buying a juicer, check out Carr’s guide here 
  • The juicer I own is here

A copy of this book was provided to me by NetGalley. All opinions are my own!