2016 Book Report

Last year, I got the idea of doing an annual book report from one of my favorite blogs, like want need. It was a nice way to revisit all of the different books I read throughout the year. I realized suddenly that it's already halfway through March and I never posted one for 2016! You can read last year's book report here

This year I tried something different - I had been wanting to reread the Harry Potter books (my favorite books of all time, no shame), but I didn't want to spend my already limited reading time just rereading the same books over and over again. My friend Maggie gave me the idea to listen to audiobooks during my commutes, and that has been awesome. Not only are the Harry Potter audiobooks really well done, it's made my dreary hours in the car so much more enjoyable. The audiobooks are quite expensive if purchased individually, but with an Audible subscription you can get them for much cheaper. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial and get one free book credit *here!

  • GOAL: 16 books - though I see now that when I wrote last year's book post, I thought I'd read 24!
  • READ: 17 books
  • BOOKS BOUGHT AT INDIE STORES:  7 - this is slightly down from last year, which is probably because I started Book of the Month Club as well as threw in some audiobooks
  • FAVORITE:  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. A close second was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.
  • LEAST FAVORITE:  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This book wasn't bad, really. It just felt like an attempt to capitalize on all the hype from Gone Girl, and it wasn't nearly as well done.
  • LONGEST:  Although I listened to the audiobook instead of reading it, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is easily the longest at 870 pages. Next was A Thousand Splendid Suns (372 pages).
  • SHORTEST:  The Pearl by John Steinbeck - 96 pages.
  • FUNNIEST:  This is one of the reasons I like doing these reviews... not one of these books is really "funny", and most were kind of depressing. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is pretty lighthearted, I guess. Maybe I should read some at least a funny book or two this year...
  • SADDEST:  Quite a few sad books in this group, but I think Sophie's Choice is the clear winner here. Runner up would be All at Sea by Decca Aikenhead, a memoir about the aftermath of her partner's drowning death. 
  • BEST COVER:  I do really love the Harry Potter cover illustrations, but Dark Matter's cover is my favorite out of the new books I got. 
  • WORST COVER:  I really disliked the covers for both Sophie's Choice and Under the Net.
  • MOST OVERRATED:  Definitely The Girl on the Train
  • READ OFF MODERN LIBRARY TOP 100:  3 - books #94-96. I really didn't read enough of these this year, I need to focus more on that list in 2017.
  • READ FOR BOOK CLUB:  Only 4... my book club sadly fell apart last year. 
  • BOOKS FROM BOTM CLUB: 2, and I still have a whole pile to get through. I actually stopped ordering them until I can catch up!
  • AUDIOBOOKS: 5, which is quite a few for someone who never enjoyed an audiobook before in her life.
  • GOAL FOR 2017:  Trying to keep things reasonable and just adding 1 book per quarter, so 20 books.

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I wasn't able to find the original source of this image - if it's you, please contact me for credit or removal. Thanks!

I wasn't able to find the original source of this image - if it's you, please contact me for credit or removal. Thanks!

I'm not sure why I suddenly started caring so much about skincare. Maybe it was the realization that I am in the last year of my twenties... or it could have been the fear that years of smoking (don't worry, I quit!) would cause me to wake up one day looking 20 years older than I should. Either way, I went from being a lazy piece of garbage who could barely be bothered to take my makeup off to scouring blogs and Reddit for reviews and product recommendations.

All it took was a quick Google search for "cheap anti-aging moisturizer" when I ran out of the last sample of $150 Lancôme night cream that I had. A few articles about intense, 20-step Korean skincare regimens popped up in results. Right off the bat, that sounded overwhelming, but I was also fascinated and totally drawn in by the allure of affordable, effective products.  Korean skincare is starting to really gain ground in Western markets due to relatively low cost and unique ingredients (like snail secretion, which is in a TON of products).  There is an entire subreddit that I spent literal hours perusing before I decided on just a few products to try out.

This isn't really meant to be a step-by-step guide on how to start out using Korean skincare products. For one, I'm a complete n00b myself.  Also, the whole point of Korean skincare and the multi-step routine is that every person has different skin, with different needs & sensitivities. What works for me may not be good for your skin, even if we have similar skin types! However, I did find it helpful to look at what other people were starting out with, especially if we had similar skin types. So, if you have combo/oily acne-prone skin and want to proactively combat aging, you may like some of these products too. It's probably a smart idea to consult a dermatologist before introducing new products to your skin, especially if you are prone to sensitivity or irritation. 

Here's my first "haul" of Korean products - all of this was available on Amazon! 

Here's my first "haul" of Korean products - all of this was available on Amazon! 

My starter Korean skincare routine

There are three important components to any Korean skincare regimen: double cleansing, adding moisture, and sun protection. I decided my first products would focus on the double cleansing, which was totally new to me, and the moisturizing. Fortunately, the ONLY thing I was really good about prior to all my research was using sunscreen daily.

I introduced new products at a time, using each product for at least a week before I added anything else. This way, I could make sure that I wasn't adding anything that caused irritation or breakouts. I have been using these five products consistently for several weeks now. Overall, I have noticed a pretty noticeable improvement in skin texture and hydration, and I've even had some reduction in breakouts! When I recently got lazy the last week or so and didn't follow this consistently, my skin looked so much worse. 

*The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil: I was nervous to put this on my acne-prone skin but surprisingly, it has not caused me to break out at all. It took a while to get used to the consistency but I have figured out my application process now. I have noticed that it does struggle with removing waterproof mascara.

*Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser: This cleanser is supposed to put your skin at the proper pH balance for absorbing active ingredients in creams or treatments. I'm not sure how it does with that because I can't be bothered to pH test my face, but it's got a nice light scent and doesn't seem to be too drying.

*Mizon Black Snail All-in-One Cream: Here's the first snail goo that I slapped on my face. I am on the fence about this. It's lightweight and has no scent, but with my combo/oily skin it's both too light to provide enough moisture on its own and too heavy to use in conjunction with a sleeping pack.

*Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream: More snails! I have a hard time evaluating eye creams. I don't really have noticeable lines, so it's supposed to be more preventative in nature. Again, no scene and very light texture, although it does make some eye makeup smudge more easily. 

*Cosrx Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask: Another product I was nervous to use on my oily skin, but this is one of my favorites so far. It's super lightweight, and while it dries a little tacky, it's definitely providing the extra moisture I need during winter. I wouldn't use it during summer months, but I've noticed a real change in my skin condition since I added this. 

I have since added some additional products and I've continued to use a couple products I already had. I may do a full skincare post at a later date, but I wanted to share my thoughts on these baby steps because I've been so happy with the results and I wanted to share with everyone! 

More Resources for Beginners

  • Asian Skincare 101 on r/Asian Beauty: This post has a great general breakdown of all the different types of products you can find in Asian skincare routines, as well as some good general advice for someone wanting to start building their own routine
  • Fifty Shades of Snails' How To Build Your Own Routine: Build Your Own Routine: Another good breakdown of different steps in routines, with a little more information on some of the more intense steps, like ACIDS!!!
  • Snow White & the Asian Pear's Help for Beginners: This is a truly amazing resource with sample routines for different skin types and all kinds of helpful information on adding products and common mistakes
  • Fanserviced-B's Visual Guide to Korean Skincare: One of the most complicated and confusing parts about adding Korean products to your regimen is that they should go in a specific order to maximize effectiveness. This is one of the clearest explanations of product order I have found and I've referred to it a lot as I add in different products

* Please note that these are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase any of these products through Amazon, I will receive a small commission. It does not cost anything additional for you to purchase products using affiliate links. You may be able to find products for a cheaper price from another seller, potentially without Prime shipping. I have only linked to listings sold by the official manufacturer. Thanks for supporting my blog! 

A Look Back, A Look Forward

What a year 2016 was. I have so many mixed feelings about it, because it was really a total roller coaster. It was also, however, one of the best years of my life on a personal level. I've heard/thought enough doom & gloom about 2016 to last an eternity, and I'm ready to appreciate the good parts in order to start 2017 off on a good note. I've got a couple resolutions for 2017, but mostly I want to just keep doing more of what I've been doing.

I traveled all over the US and across the pond to spend time with friends & family. I watched my youngest sister graduate. I got to attend FIVE weddings, celebrating friends from grade school, high school, college, and afterwards. 2016 included my first vacation with my boyfriend, and then we went on a couple more trips for good measure. I visited some great friends, and some friends visited Chicago too! I saw Hamilton from amazing seats with great company. I ran my first ever half-marathon. I made new friends and rekindled old friendships too. 

Some of my 2017 resolutions:

  • Read 20 books (up from 17 in 2016)
  • Run a half-marathon in under 2 hours - I was close this past year, but an injury made the last couple miles a struggle
  • Work out 4-5x per week
  • Volunteer 2x per month
  • Update this horribly neglected blog at least a couple times per month
  • Learn something new - maybe finally take a real swing at learning French?
I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.

I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.


An afternoon in the Chicago Botanic Garden

I have spent the majority of my life living in or just outside of the city of Chicago. You would think that by now, I'd have seen most of the major attractions, and truthfully I thought I had. When my aunt was visiting from out of state a few weeks ago, my mom suggested we go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I realized that I had never been there before. Well, I was certainly missing out. 

Am I the only one who didn't know about this incredible place? I asked a few other friends and most of them hadn't been there before either. It feels like a hidden gem, maybe because it's not actually located IN Chicago - it's in Glencoe, about 20 miles north of the city. 

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and while busy, it didn't feel terribly crowded. The grounds are massive (365 acres) so you can always find a quiet corner. The Botanic Garden is actually divided up into 26 different garden areas, each with a theme - naturally, some are more popular than others. The Japanese Garden seemed to be the busiest, maybe because the plants and styling of the garden are so different from what people commonly see here. One of my favorite sections was the English Walled Garden, with its separate "rooms" designed and manicured in six different ways popular throughout British history. Despite the popularity of both of these gardens, it wasn't hard to find a quiet place to sit. 

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

It's not all gardens, however - there are exhibitions too. It was such a beautiful day that I chose to sit outside in the gardens while my family explored some of the exhibits, but I wish now I had seen the Botanicals: Intimate Portraits photography exhibit they had. Luckily for me, it's there through September 25th, so I'm going to have to plan a trip back. My brother said that the furniture exhibition called The Hidden Art of Trees was also really cool.

We ended our day with an (expensive) snack on a beautiful patio, but they do allow picnicking in a glen adjacent to one of the parking lots. I did see some people breaking the rules and eating snacks on various lawns, which I am sure you could get away with as long as you aren't a terrible human being who leaves garbage behind in a botanic garden. 

It's surprising to me that I haven't heard more people talking about the Chicago Botanic Garden, considering that it's free to go. While the parking fee is admittedly a bit steep ($25-30 per car, so make sure if you're driving you consolidate vehicles), you can take the Metra there from Chicago. There's even a $2 trolley in case you don't want to walk from the train station once you get there. You can also purchase memberships that include free parking for a year. 

Maybe it was the beautiful weather or maybe my affinity for plants has just grown stronger (seriously, my apartment is starting to resemble a ill-watered jungle)... but I LOVED it. I'm already checking Metra schedules so I can take a book and spend another summer afternoon there wandering around and reading. 

Heart Eyes: Sugar & Vice 😍

Wow, I am a truly miserable blogger. I have finally edited some pictures from my trip to Montreal in FEBRUARY, but I haven't managed to finish writing about what I did there. Also, since so far this blog has been largely travel-related, I thought it might be nice to mix it up and write about something totally shallow and unimportant - but fun.

I first discovered Sugar & Vice on Instagram, when someone I follow posted a picture wearing these Crescent Moon earrings.  A quick scroll through their feed and I was pretty much ready to give them all my money - if you know anything about me at all, I'm sure it's easy to see why.

As I get closer and closer to 30, I wonder more often how much I can get away with in terms of wearing cheesy band merchandise.  I guess I'm just old enough to feel silly or out of place sometimes wearing it.  I hardly wear all those band t-shirts smashed into my dresser anymore (though I do have a David Bowie shirt from high school that's been worn almost to shreds that I refuse to give up).  Maybe I'm just getting boring in my old age, because I feel like my style has gotten so basic and repetitive.  But those earrings, or the pin?  Not only would I feel anything but boring, I think I could stroll into the office wearing those and no one would bat an eye.  Even the Aladdin Sane necklace wouldn't feel too "teenager" if it was worn with fairly subdued clothes. It feels like a nice compromise. 

While I was obviously drawn to the Bowie jewelry, I also browsed through some of their other stuff.  They do have a small apparel section, though their focus is clearly the laser-cut acrylic accessories as well as a selection of enamel pins.  Some of the necklaces and earrings do veer into tacky instead of kitschy - I know that 16-year-old Allyson would have LOVED them, which means I would feel a little too juvenile wearing them.  But some of their simpler stuff would really make my uniform of black pants, a plain t-shirt and my trusty hat far less meh, and all but the craziest necklaces would look great with a solid black dress.

There's a few other things I liked about Sugar & Vice right off the bat - one, their products are massively affordable; nothing I looked at was over $30 USD. Two, I recently saw a gorgeous version of the raindrop necklace (above) on Instagram in purple to honor Prince. They haven't put it up on the main website and are taking special orders for it only, because they didn't want to profit off of Prince's death. I think he would have appreciated that.  Both the special order Purple Raindrops necklace and all of the David Bowie items have a percentage of proceeds donated to charities.