Book Review – ‘Maestra’ by L.S. Hilton

Okay, so I didn’t read ’50 Shades of Grey’ but there was a lot of talk and hype around the, shall we say, erotic nature of some of the scenes in the book. Well, ‘Maestra’ is definitely in the same category, which I didn’t know when I picked it up (hahaha, picture yourself reading this book on the subway while you head into the office and then BAM – graphic sex scene. What a way to start a Monday).

With that being said, I really liked this book. It seemed mildly unrealistic at times but also had me a bit jealous of the main character, Judith Rashleigh, of her ability to con others and live the life of luxury. It follows her life from working in a boring art house to serving at an exclusive nightclub, the people she meets, the places she goes, and the drama she brings with her. She finds herself on a free trip to Paris, potentially involved in a murder mystery, running from the law through the Italian countryside … living on a yacht, scheming for millions – all in a few hundred pages! It’s hard to write a lot without giving much away, so I guess this is kind of a bad book review, huh? Look – if you like the following aspects to a novel, you’d like this one:

Femme Fatale
Thriller
Page Turner

The sequel to this book, the first in a trilogy, came out April 2017 so you know it’s on my list of books to buy!

Facial Favourites

I am one of those people who have combination skin on my face and I’m not really sure if that’s a blessing or a curse! My skin gets really dry in patches (especially during the winter) around my chin, nose, and forehead but then my t-zone can get really oily during the day and I can break out with pimples if I’m not careful. I don’t have a specific skincare regimen but I do have some skincare favourites for my face that I’ve found really helpful in different situations, depending on what I’m experiencing. This is really a mish-mash of products, so I hope you find one that works for you!

Fresh – Soy Face Cleanser
Best For: Daily cleansing

I recently got eyelash extensions again (LOL if you’ve read my post from last summer about why I wouldn’t get them ever again) but I’m enjoying them a lot more this time! I’ve been taking better care of them and am more knowledgeable about how to make them last longer and so far, so good. I also tried out a new esthetician, which helped as well. OKAY. So, Fresh’s Soy Face Cleanser is my ride or die when it comes to cleaning my face and lashes. This is a “do-it-all” cleanser that seems to work with any skin type, so, no discrimination here. It removes makeup and dirt and leaves your skin feeling soft and fresh. I love it because I use it to clean my eyes and ‘scrub’ my lashes. I also love the fresh cucumber scent. It doesn’t get really sudsy either, so it’s easy to wash off.

Foreo – LUNA
Best For: Deep, gentle cleansing

The hype on this LUNA is well worth it! I ended up buying this over the Clarisonic for a few reasons, but mainly I liked how small and portable it was and I liked that there were no brushes or pads to be replaced. I have the LUNA Mini and it has a few different speed options and two different scrubber bristles (on the front and back). I find it really does give me that deep clean and when I pair it with the Fresh cleanser or Philosophy’s Purity, I am able to really scrub my skin without it feeling raw and I also find it helps clear up dry spots and breakouts when partnered with the right cleanser.

LUSH – Oatifix
Best For: Softening skin

Every few days I like to treat my skin with a fresh face mask and lately I’ve been loving the ones from LUSH (of course). Oatifix does a great job when my skin is extra dry or irritated and helps fluff away the dead skin. It has banana, almonds, and oats to help scrub in the most gentle way possible and is finished off with vanilla so it legit smells like cookies (YUMMY).

LUSH – The Sacred Truth
Best For: Brightening up your skin

*praise hands emoji* for this bad boy. FOR REAL. This mask makes my dry and dull skin feel bright and soft! It has papaya to help with the dryness and wheatgrass to give a nutritious boost. There’s also yogurt, primrose oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and shea butter to help hydrate. This stuff is AMAZING. Go get it now – your skin will thank you later.

LUSH – Dream Cream
Best For: Hydrating your sensitive skin

I always finish off any skincare routine with LUSH’s Dream Cream (post shower, face wash, hand wash … anything)! It says it right in the name – it’s dreamy. It has oat milk, lavender, and chamomile and works to soothe sensitive skin. It is super effective at eliminating dry or chapped skin, even if your sensitive (I have eczema and I never have issues).

Tarte – Frxxxtion Stick 3-in-1 Exfoliating Cleanser
Best For: Exfoliating

This guy is small and mighty. It’s in a twist stick format so it’s easy to apply and use. It’s got charcoal in it (hi, all the rage right now!) and gritty pieces that feel like sand to help you eexfoliate You just rub it on your skin right from the stick and then scrub with your fingers and rinse away. This will leave your skin (almost literally) squeaky clean and shiny (in a good way – you just buffed away all your dead skin cells!). I picked this up in a travel pack with a mini scrub brush and 2nd cleanser and loved the combo of the three!

Quick Dinner – Szechuan Chicken

I’m going to let you in on a secret … If I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t really know what defines chicken as being ‘Szechuan’. To my understanding, it’s the sauce – but I’m no chef, nor do I pretend to be an expert! However, you don’t have to be to make this dish. It’s super easy and is my go-to for a quick meal after the gym. It’s savory and spicy, filling but not heavy, and full of great crunch and texture.

What you need:

2 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
Rice noodles
½ cup of Szechuan sauce
2-3 tbsp of smooth peanut butter
Handful of sugar snap peas
Handful of bean sprouts

What you do:

1. Cook the chicken on medium high heat in a pan with a little bit of oil (about a ½ tbsp – I find if you use too much it splatters everywhere)

2. Once the chicken is cooked, turn down to a low heat and add the Szechuan sauce and stir until the chicken is covered

3. Once the chicken is covered in sauce, add in the peanut butter and simmer on low while you cook your rice noodles

4. Just before you serve it, crank the heat up to high and let the bottom of the chicken get a bit crispy (the sugar in the peanut butter and sauce makes this happen).

5. Throw on the sugar snap peas and bean sprouts and serve over the rice noodles – I like throwing them on just before I eat so they’re crunchy and cold

A few modifications to note: you can serve it over regular rice, I just prefer it with rice noodles. You can also add more sauce + peanut butter, depending on how spicy you like it (the more peanut butter, the less spicy it is)

This honestly takes 15 minutes to cook and is super easy – enjoy, friends!

 

Budgeting: The ‘20/30/50’ Method

Let me first preface this post by saying I am by no means a money expert. If you were to ask my closest friends and family a few years ago how I am with finances and budgeting, they would have laughed. But after a few years, lots of debt, money issues and living pay cheque to pay cheque, I’ve learned a lot about budgeting, money management, and saving. I’ve tried a few different ways of budgeting but this method seemed to work the best for me. I will also say that I’m really open about my money issues and what I’ve learned and gone through so if you have any questions feel free to comment below.

I used The ‘20/30/50’ Method to make a new budget this year and found it the easiest to work with and the most straightforward. Making a budget + tracking your spending can be very eye-opening if you’re diligent with it. It can show you where you’re overspending, where you might need to increase savings or income or where you might have extra money that’s unallocated. The budget I make is just for myself – J handles his money separately, which works for us – so all my numbers are for ‘my half’. You can download an editable copy of my ‘20/30/50’ budget and try it out for yourself!

Okay, so The ‘20/30/50’ Method has three categories and each number stands for a percentage of your total monthly income. So for example, 20 is 20% allocated to savings. The categories are:

50% – Must Have

Rent, utilities, car payments, #AdultThings that you need every month that no one really enjoys paying for – am I right? You’ll see in the template that among my must-haves I also budget for taxis and Car2Gos. Luckily my company reimburses me for the metro pass, so most of that budget gets used on taxis, Uber, and car shares. We live in midtown Toronto and don’t have car payments or parking but occasionally use a car share program or take taxis + Uber.

20% – Savings + Debt

This is fairly self-explanatory. I am on a debt repayment program so I like to allocate as much money to that every month as I can. However, J and I decided to start saving at least $100 from every pay cheque. I’m more confident in my spending habits and was able to move some money around to do so. Sometimes if I’m having a good month I’ll even put more than $100 in after all my debt + must haves are taken care of. Debt repayment is always going to be a top priority for me but it’s good to save. I also put money into an RRSP at work, which comes out every pay cheque and I don’t even notice. I would recommend doing that with your company as well, especially if they do partial or full match contributions. I promise you won’t even notice it’s ‘gone’.

30% – Everything Else

Anything that doesn’t fall into the above two categories, don’t forget bank fees!

This is always the first area that I look at to cut down on spending. For example, I switched from TD to PC Financial because I was tired of spending on bank fees. PC is a great option for ‘free banking’. If switching isn’t an option, look into how much you get charged in bank fees every month – I never did and it was astonishing to see it add up! Try to find an account that has as little monthly or annual fees as possible (that still fits what you need it for). Eating out has been a big adjustment for J and me! Before we got our condo together we were eating out a lot because we never had groceries. Now that we budget groceries into it, have our own kitchen and enjoy cooking again, we can cut down on eating out. I like to keep the ‘everything else’ category as small as possible. I have an ‘everything else’ line item in there, which is just my miscellaneous category for monthly expenses that don’t fit elsewhere.

In addition to budgeting, I also track my expenses using the app “Expense 5”. It’s been my favorite expense tracking app so far and the easiest to use. I actually prefer not attaching my bank account to a spending app because I find manual entry easier and more accurate. If you want an app that attaches to your bank account, I recommend Mint.

It’s recommended that you re-adjust your budget every month but I haven’t gotten that intense about it yet. This is a good starting off point. I recently had my best friend do this budget to help her assess where she can save and used it to help her goal plan for the future. For example, if you want to move out but haven’t yet, you can use this budget to make a ‘mockup’ of what living solo or with a roommate would cost and whether you can afford it.

I hope this was helpful!

 

Beauty Review – LUSH’s Brazilliant Shampoo Bar

Apparently, I’m late to the ‘bar shampoo’ party, but whatever. Better late than never, right? I’ve purchased a few bar shampoos from LUSH but this has been the only one I’ve gotten a chance to try. It’s called “Brazilliant” and is a little orange disk that smells unbelievable (as all LUSH products do, I guess). It’s a solid bar that is supposed to ‘tame unruly locks’ with it’s strengthening andiroba oil, specifically thick and curly hair. No one believes me until they see pictures, but my hair naturally is the definition of unruly. It’s frizzy, it’s curly, it’s all over the place and I can’t control it. I’d give this bar a solid (no pun intended) 6/10 and here’s why:

Smell

Can’t be beaten in the smell category – it smells heavenly and delicious but you rarely find a LUSH product that would fail in this category

Consistency

I feel like if my shampoo doesn’t suds, it’s not working. This is a fairly sudsy bar and I loved the lather, so I thought it worked well

Price Point

For a bar of shampoo, it was decently priced. 55g bar costs $10.95, which is way cheaper than the shampoo I usually buy from the salon (Kevin Murphy is always shampoo king).  I wash my hair almost every day (gym life) and this bad boy lasted me a good month and a half. I did store it in the metal container I got from LUSH, which helped keep it away from moisture that could speed up it wearing down.

Results

Although it bragged to make my hair tamer, I didn’t find it to be the case. My hair was definitely soft but in no way did this tame my wild lion mane.

Cons

There’s no good way to store this thing. You can buy metal containers at LUSH that store their bar soaps, but the round container just fits the soap and once it gets wet then dries in the container, it’s hard to get out with wet hands. The associate recommended I put a piece of string underneath so it was easier to lift out but I’m not looking to MacGyver my shampoo experience, so I never did. I basically just rubbed the bar on my head while it sat in the metal container.

The other con was that I found the oil separated from the bar itself and sat on the top in a sticky pile and if I got a chunk of that in my hair, it took forever to get it out because it just kept lathering.

Have you tried bar shampoos? Did you have better luck than me? Would love to hear your thoughts!

#EveryoneIsGettingMarried #INeedAGift

#WeddingSeason, a season we love and hate all at the same time. We’re pretty lucky this year that we only have three weddings to go to (and unfortunately a fourth we can’t make due to other commitments), but I have seen some people who have upwards of eight or nine this year alone. With that many weddings and an increasing number of people opting out of creating a registry, it can be hard to think of creative wedding gifts that involve more than an envelope stuffed with cash.

I’ve noticed a trend in couples not wanting to do the traditional gift registry that was so common say, ten or so years ago. Most couples hope for cash or sometimes register for their honeymoon and guests can donate to that instead, but there’s always the ‘old-school’ guests who want to give a gift and I get it; it seems more sentimental. If you’ve got a wedding and didn’t want to go the cash gift route, I’ve round up a few ideas for you.

Lessons

My cousin recently got married and had mentioned wanting to learn how to garden + cook. If your bride + groom are like this, I suggest getting them lessons for something they’re interested in. There are lots of couple cooking classes (ranging in price, but can be upwards to about $80 per person, per lesson) available in the GTA for people who want to learn how to cook. Think about what their hobbies are and go from there. Honestly, I’d love someone to gift me some scuba lessons (would be great to prepare for a tropical honeymoon, too!)

Themed Gift Baskets

It’s hard when there’s no registry but there are things people could always use around the house. Because my cousin wanted to cook, I put together a cooking related gift basket – my favorite cookbook, a gluten free cookbook, cooking utensils, an apron, etc.

A Year of Dates

A co-worker suggested this one and I loved it. It can get really pricey, so if you have a group of friends needing a gift, this is a great option. You give 12 dates so the couple has a different date every year for a month. Some of what we included when we gave this to our co-worker last year was movie passes, ferry tickets to Toronto Island, cooking classes, paint nights, gift cards to restaurants, etc. You can tailor this to what the couple enjoys doing and they don’t all have to be expensive! The more creative, the better

Monthly Clubs

There are so many subscription programs out there that can act as a great gift – wine of the month, cheese of the month, chocolate of the month – sign them up and they’ll get something from you every month for a year!

Hopefully, this helps if you’re looking for something creative! I know it’s hard but ultimately, you want to gift the couple what will be useful and most appreciated by them.

 

Book Review – ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by S.J. Watson

Another day, another blog post about books. Honestly, I could probably write a blog post every week about a book I’ve read but I try to keep it to the books that stick out to me or that I’ve really enjoyed. When you read a lot of books consecutively it’s hard to keep them all separate at times. S.J. Watson’s ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ has been on my to-read list for a while now but there were always other books I wanted to read more. So, after reading the book and then watching the movie – I have to say, as always, I liked the book a lot more. ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ follows the story of Christine, who wakes up every day following a traumatic accident, not remembering who she is, where she is, or what is going on in her life. The book goes through her journey of regaining her memory and who she can trust. I really liked this because it was consistently told from Christine’s viewpoint (it didn’t jump around to other characters) so it was easy to follow. I found it a bit repetitive at first, going over the same bits of information over and over, but I think it was written that way to help the reader to understand what Christine was going through. The twist was slightly unexpected, but I liked her discovery through the novel and how everything wrapped up. If you want to see the movie, I recommend the book first – it paints a better picture of the characters and building up to the different events (as is usually the case).