Skin Sensitivity and Dermalogica

I’ve always been a sensitive person by nature, but my skin has been tough. The adage of “developing a thick skin” seemed to apply literally, but not emotionally in my case.  Despite lots of skin picking in my teen years, I haven’t had much scarring due to an oily disposition that didn’t leave my face until my late 20’s. Trust me, I’m counting my blessings!

Nowadays, I make sure to do SPF everyday, drink lots of water, eat my veggies- all that good stuff you’re supposed to do. A quick swipe of eyeliner, mascara, and blush- then I’m good to go.

Skincare was something I didn’t pay too much attention to, and I considered myself fortunate to be able to pick out the first thing I could find, leaving the rest of my beauty budget to go to cosmetics and perfume.

Then this winter…my skin decided to be reactive. My cheeks started to flake and chap, and I was drawn back to my teen years where I was plain uncomfortable with how my skin looked. I think this was a result of the super cold Chicago, a very dry condo, and stress from starting a job. Generally these are good things (again- reliable heat and new opportunities- blessings!), but my skin was not happy. I had taken winter for granted, because with oily/combination skin, my skin wouldn’t break out as much as it would in the summer time. I was on the hunt for a solution!

Then, Influenster sent me a box from Dermalogica. Influenster is a website that connects customers with brands for reviewing and social media marketing. It’s free, I’ve been on it for about 3 years, and loved trying a variety of cosmetics, haircare products, and skincare . Let me know if you have questions about it!

I’d never tried Dermalogica before. I had my skincare “go-to’s” so I didn’t think to branch out. The two products I tried were the following:


So now I have a new identity:

“My name is Sandra, and I have sensitive skin” 

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I used to revel in not having to use products for sensitive skin. My skin is tough- I can handle it! Boy, was I missing out. I guess that redness wasn’t something to ignore, huh? I’m so grateful to have had a chance to try this- it’s really been a game changer for my skin, so much that I felt compelled to write about it.

When the weather was getting particularly bad, I would cleanse with coconut oil. Usually, this would result in major oil production, but I think my skin was so dry it needed it. After one use of the Calm Water Gel, with about 1-2 drops of the barrier defense, I no longer felt any tightening of my face. After 2 days, my redness was completely gone. GONE. I also took a break from face scrubs and face masks. I feel like the two products helped to simplify my routine. This is also the only time in my life when I could use a dime-sized amount of a product and get a lot of use.

I’ve also been trying to convert my products to being cruelty-free. This means really taking a look at which companies sell product in China (a country that requires animal testing), which are owned by bigger companies that may test on animals, and which do not contain actual animal by-products. These products are fit all three of these criteria, and to boot, are Leaping Bunny approved!

These products also don’t contain parabens. The science is still new, but there are some studies to suggest parabens are linked with cancer. Yikes! Better to be safe than sorry?

The lavender scent reminded me of  Yogi Tea’s Honey Lavender tea, which I haven’t had in a long time. Maybe February is the time to really focus on stress-relief, and figuring out how that integrates into our modern notion of “self-care.” I picked up a box of this tea, and have been enjoying it both at work, and right before bed. YUM. $4 well spent.

One of my goals for this year is to get back to regular blogging. Not just reviewing books (which I will still do), but all of the fun stuff in-between.  I enjoy writing and making observations on activities in my day-to-day life-so look out!

What are some of your favorite skincare brands? Let me know!

Disclaimer: I received the reviewed products in this post for free from Influenster. All opinions are my own. 


How to be Married by Jo Piazza

how to be married jacket

I first heard about Jo Piazza’s book on marriage via the Lit Up Show podcast (I’m a little obsessed). I was intrigued to hear about a woman’s adventures and what she learned about how a “successful” marriage is interpreted throughout the world.

Piazza had the advantage, as a journalist, to take breaks from her international writing assignments to ask strangers and marriage gurus what they think about marriage. This book is the summary of her adventures.

Each chapter is separated by the country visited (or wherever she was in the United States, based on their domestic travels, life, etc.), and summarizes key points learned from that country.

Here are some of the takeaways I learned:

  • Denmark, where hygge is practically a form of government! I was already interested in this way of life when this book came out January 2017. The idea of coziness, mixed with practical minimalism, came to light even more in Piazza’s descriptions of how she applied it in her own home. When I do hygge I just overeat pastries; when Piazza does it, it’s intentional home decor. You want your home to be something you are excited to come home to!
  • France: “Be your husband’s mistress” sounds a bit cliché, n’est-ce pas? But perhaps it makes sense. French women in the book commented on how American women don’t leave as much mystery in the relationship, which I can appreciate. A little space and a little mystery can help any relationship! I took French for four glorious years in high school, and I have always been fascinated with the culture. I think besides French beauty and fashion, Americans are equally fascinated with the culture around infidelity and marriage (as explored in the film,  Le Divorce). I came away with a totally different perspective on the so-called “acceptance” of infidelity in French culture (along with a revived appreciation for good underwear).
  • Sweden: What is it like to have a culture that embraces stay-at-home-fatherhood? I mean seriously, Piazza interviewed the author of this book, and it sounded amazing. Just look at the photos! I have always wondered why men’s bathrooms don’t even have diaper changing stations (dudes can at least change diapers in 2018, right?!), but this gave me some food for thought about what we’ll want to do once we have children.
  • For the non-Westernized countries mentioned, I found myself having to re-assess my white privilege (and so does the author!). I am ashamed to say that I made many assumptions about certain cultures, where my feminist ideals clouded my judgment for atypical practices in other worlds. “Seeing” these cultures through Piazza’s lens, I am more eager than ever to reserve judgment, and listen first.

Sidenote: those seeking a strict sociological text with no personal editorializing should read another book. I loved that Piazza was honest about her (perceived) shortcomings as a wife, friend, daughter, etc. Her first year of marriage came with some ups and downs, and she was refreshingly honest about how those ups and downs were impacted by the insights she gathered from the people she met on her journey.

Highly recommend this for folks interested in starting the conversation about marriage. More to come, I hope!

Rating: 4 stars

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My husband and I on our wedding day, April 22, 2016

Further Reading

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

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The recent political campaigns in the US (most spectacularly, the Presidential election of 2016) have sparked sales in many classic dystopian novels. One of my favorite books of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel that has seen a surge in purchases since the election.

It doesn’t hurt that Handmaid’s Tale was also turned into a TV show on Hulu. Elizabeth Moss, the show’s star, has been quoted over and over about the current relevance of the show.

Basically, we are READY for some depressing books about a terrible future, right? I’ve seen a few other dystopian/postapocalyptic books come out (like this, and this, and this), but Red Clocks was the first one that I felt very compelled to read.

The women in Red Clocks are identified not by name, rather by what their primary role is in relation to others. The time is the future, the place is Oregon. Four women’s lives intersect shortly after The Personhood Amendment is passed, and embryos are given rights as a human being. The ripple effect is full force: in-vitro fertilization is made illegal (as an embryo cannot consent to implantation), and abortion is equated with murder. Adoption, too, falls down the slippery political slope, and only two-person households may adopt.

It’s kind of an intense read, and for me it was quite challenging to get through the first half. However, once I got through it, it was well-worth the struggle. I really enjoyed reading about the different characters. Their histories are not spelled out at first, almost like you have to “earn” their trust to learn more about them (like you would a with any stranger). It’s for this reason that I don’t want to give away too much information about the individual characters themselves.

Red Clocks reminded me a great deal of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, another complex and timely book. I recommend it for those who don’t mind a cerebral read that will make them think twice about the complexity of personhood and womanhood.

Read more here on Goodreads.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown Publishing for allowing me a chance to read an e-galley! All opinions are my own.


How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

I received a copy of this book from our local bookstore’s Blind Date with a Book section, where the book was covered in brown mailing wrap with nothing but the author’s quote about the book written in Sharpie:

“The bald Britney Spears of the literary world.”

Well, how could I resist?!

First, let’s take a look at the totally different covers for the hardcover and paperback versions of this book- fascinating, right? Publicists and cover designers out there are doing a great job of diversifying the covers. I think each cover conveys a little something different, don’t you?

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Image result for how to murder your life paperback

I was expecting a deep dive into addiction, and I certainly got that. What I didn’t expect was a deep dive into the world of fashion magazines, exactly at the time when I was becoming obsessed with them in the 2000s.

I absolutely adored Lucky magazine when it came out, and saved my babysitting money to subscribe. My mother couldn’t understand how I could love to read about fashion and beauty I couldn’t afford, but I genuinely enjoyed the writing. I still reference The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style  about once a month (I recommend getting a used copy!). Sure enough, the author is actually photographed for the book, and references the book launch during one of her relapses back to drug abuse.

Marnell’s energy sparkles as she climbs the ladder of magazine writing. I can feel her energy through the pages when she gets her first job at Lucky working with the goddess of beauty writing,  Jean Godfrey June (swoon!).  June acted as a mentor and, in my opinion, a guardian angel for Marnell as she shifted in and out of sobriety. Through reading, I could feel the buzz of Marnell’s drive to want to climb and climb that career ladder, while also not wanting to disappoint her mentor as she flipped backwards with each relapse. This really hit me, because I know what’s like to NOT want to disappoint someone I respect professionally.

Marnell’s writing is refreshing. She acknowledges a privileged upbringing, which allowed her to financially sustain the expensive drugs she was so heavily addicted to (and New York rent, which isn’t cheap my friends). She uses humor to talk about some very heavy subjects. Just about every page touches on depression, bulimia, substance abuse, sexual assault- not light reading. It’s uncomfortable, but her confessional, self-deprecating exposure is surprisingly uplifting.

In 2016, I read Sarah Hepola’s alcoholism memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.  Hepola’s did such a good job recalling the comfort of addiction. Feeling lonely? Take a drink. Feeling anxious? Take a drink. Her true voice shined through the memoir.

Both Hepola and Marnell are courageously talking about how addiction can sometimes be….fun? Exciting? Feels like coping? If we acknowledge how addiction is appealing, instead of only focusing on the negative effects, it builds a bridge to help through honesty. If drugs did nothing for users…people wouldn’t be addicts!

One thing missing from Marnell’s memoir? Dates! The story is so well-told, but I wish I could’ve followed along with the timing. That being said, I completely understand that, as with any addiction, time is blurred and dates are tough. The narrative is what’s important.

Rating: 4 stars

Further Reading:

Cherry Bombe Cookbook

Cherry. Bombe. Magazine.

So rich in content, such beautiful graphic design, and so much millennial pink!

My dear friend, Scott, and I discovered Kinfolk magazine several years ago, a publication which prompted an appreciation for print magazines at a time when so many groups were going digital. All of a sudden, many other publications cropped up, including Cherry Bombe.

For this cookbook-addict, I was all too happy to add more print materials to my shelves that focus on food and the talented women who make it!

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Martha Stewart, photographed for the Cherry Bombe Magazine


I happened upon Cherry Bombe magazine while walking through a boutique in Brooklyn. When I saw that it was dedicated to woman and food,  I got SO excited and knew that I had to get a copy. I’ve been reading it ever since!

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Erin McKenna, the goddess of vegan and gluten-free treats!


I love learning about famous chefs, food writers, and the amazing strides women have made in the food industry. Any publication that takes time to recognize the power of women in food will always have my support!

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Photo from my Instagram account


Now…to the cookbook!

Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook highlights a series of recipes for each course of a meal. Each recipe is authored by a different author, baker, chef- you name it!- who has made contributions to the modern culinary industry.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Each recipe is authored by a different chef (or “shef“), highlighting a bit of history about the author and the creation of the recipe
  • Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, recipes are scattered throughout. Some recipes can easily be altered to accommodate (like omitting cheese from a recipe to make it vegan, or using gluten-free pasta for pasta recipes)
  • The recipes are gorgeous, but they are that way because the ingredients lend themselves to looking (and tasting) so good. The Beet Ricotta Dumplings look like pink perfection, and of course it’s from the beets themselves- nothing fancy (and I think would make a lovely Galentines Day meal!)

The one thing missing that I would have liked for the book is a better description of the level of difficulty of each recipe. Don’t get me wrong- some of the recipes look relatively easy, but some do seem more difficult. I’m just a little unsure as to the specific cookbook market here (novice cooks vs. those who are more experienced in the kitchen).

I may not be a fantastic “shef” at this point, but with the help of resources like these, I feel more empowered to keep practicing. I hope the Cherry Bombe ladies continue to publish further volumes of cookbooks for years to come.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Cherry Bombe Radio podcast, and check out their Instagram account!

*Thanks to the Blogging for Books website for giving me a free copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review!

It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

Michele Campbell’s debut thriller, It’s Always the Husband, came at a much needed time when I was looking for escapist fiction. Do you get mystery/thriller withdrawal like I do? If my thoughts are a little jumbled, it’s because I’m coming off of some major writer’s block. A column I wrote was approved for publication a few months ago, and then rejected a few weeks later. As a result, I took some time to just read and recoup!  It’s time to get back in the game, and I’m so excited to review this book!

It’s Always the Husband is a mystery that is told in two parts. The first part is a recounting of the history of three very dissimilar colleges roommates (in temperament, socioeconomic status, and personality) during their time at college. A tragic accident (or is it?) happens and changes the dynamic of their ever-changing relationships. The second part is present day, with a murder prompting the friends to revisit their role in the aforementioned accident. Violence begets silence, and it’s quite the page-turner.

This book gave me the slightest of flashbacks to my favorite book, The Secret History. A small college on the East Coast, filled with privileged children and the multi-flavored family drama of their pre-college lives (a social worker’s dream!). Just add a dash of college-town politics and a 20-year post-college history (and yes, not so “Greek” as TSH).

Ruth Ware’s endorsement on the cover states: “A page-turning whodunnit that will speak to anyone who’s ever had a fremeny.” The word “fremeny” has always been so problematic for me (friend + enemy…usually just means enemy). However, in this story, the love/hate dynamic of the friends totally fits the definition.

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Our main girl, Kate (antagonist? protagonist?) reminded me of some other famous characters- some real, some fiction. The wounded, well-to-do blonde is a common character in mysteries (maybe we have Hitchcock to thank?), and the Campbell’s take on the device/character was so well done. I was fascinated with Kate and how polarizing she was in her community.

Kate brought to mind these ladies, in particular:

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Blair Warner, Facts of Life icon of affluent beauty


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Serena Van Der Woodsen, NYC junior socialite on Gossip Girl
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Marilyn Monroe, known for her beauty and her many addictions

This book was rich with characterization, and I was genuinely surprised at the ending. Campbell writes not just a murder mystery, but a story about the power of betrayal in friendships and how omission can be just as bad as lying in any relationship. A subtle undercurrent of the role of privilege is here, too, showing how motivation for financial comfort can alter our moral values when they are tested.

Highly recommend this one!

Rating: 4 stars

Further Reading:

What We Can Learn From Williams Syndrome

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness

by Jennifer Latson

The only exposure I’ve ever had to Williams Syndrome was an episode of Law and Order: SVU. A child witnesses her mother’s murder, and it is her savant-like qualities that help the detectives solve the case. Since then, the illness had only come into my consciousness when I encountered a particularly friendly person. Would this person have Williams Syndrome? I never explored it much further until recently.

I was listening to the New York Times Book Review Podcast, and an interview with the author, Jennifer Latson, popped up. I knew I had to reserve this at the library ASAP, and I was so glad when the book came in within a week.

The book is one-part investigative journalism, one part biography. The biographical piece is based on the life of Eli, a young man with Williams Syndrome, and his mother, Gayle (names have been changed to preserve anonymity). Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder, characterized by physical characteristics (wide smile,  short nose, blunted forehead), social characteristics (indiscriminate social connections- the “pathological friendliness” in the subtitle), and medical characteristics (heart problems like aortic stenosis, and difficulties with weight).

We have the privilege of witnessing Eli’s journey with Williams Syndrome, from diagnosis to his teen years. Gayle is very candid with the author, talking about her fears for Eli’s safety, and some of the more embarrassing moments of having a child with no social filter. While reading, I wanted to climb into the book and give Gayle just an hour or two for time to herself. Even moments when she could try to relax (often with other caregivers of children with Williams Syndrome) were usually tainted with the kind of worry that seeps into your bones.

In a time of extreme hate and prejudice, we can learn a lot from Williams Syndrome. Latson cites the work of Robert D. Putnam, author of this book. In a 1964 study, Americans were asked to answer the statement “Most people can be trusted.” 77 percent agreed. When this study was repeated in 2012, only 24 percent agreed. YIKES. When did we stop trusting people?

People with Williams Syndrome are the only known group of people who show no racial bias.  Even as young children, we tend to show a preference for our own ethnic group. Makes sense right? We feel safe with what is familiar, and we’ve probably been more exposed to our own ethnicity/race via family and friends. What can we learn from a group of people, for whom pure compassion is organic? Quite a bit, I would guess.

These statements are not to minimize the struggles of this rare disorder. I had several tearful moments on the train and work shuttle bus, crying while reading about Gayle’s struggles, and moments where the community came together to provide support for Eli, and others with Williams Syndrome.

I can only hope that more books are published like this, for both Williams Syndrome and other illnesses. We can only grow our sense of compassion for others when we hear their stories.

Further Reading: