Monday, September 30, 2013

Paddle On

Yesterday, I drove up to Swartswood State Park to make use of their lake and admire the Fall foliage just starting to come out.  Not only do I offer these pictures as proof that New Jersey is beautiful, but they also represent why I love canoeing.  I can go out onto the water and explore places I wouldn't be able to on foot, without a loud motor, just the swish of the boat gliding through the lake.  If you've never been to Swartswood, it's in my new favorite part of North Jersey, in Sussex and Warren counties, where there's a state park and/or historical site pretty much every 5 miles (sometimes less).  I highly recommend going up there.  There was no launch fee or entrance fee because it's the off-season now, but I almost wish there had been, so that I could help support these wonderful NJ state parks.

It was an absolutely gorgeous, clear day with perfect 75-degree weather.

No instagramming necessary for a view like this.

We encountered a little sailboat party going on.

Happy trees and cloud reflections

A hint of changing leaves.

The colors, Duke!  The colors!

In other news, today is my last day as a nanny.  Onto new things.  It's kind of exciting and scary.  Hopefully, I'll be able to tell you more later this week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Five

Sorry that I've been a bit of an absent blogger these past few weeks.  I've been going through a rough patch and it's been difficult to find something that I want to write about.  It's finally starting to look like my luck might be changing, but it's still too early for me to give you any details.  Anyway, I want to at least make time to appreciate some things that are bringing me cheer this month.

1. Pumpkin Flavored Everything
'Tis the season, y'all!  I can't help but fall for this marketing strategy every single time.  I have to admit that I got excited when liquor stores started rolling out the Pumpkin Ales and Oktoberfests in August (S was less amused).  Even though I can buy pumpkin any time of year, I guess I'm conditioned to only want to eat it every single day between the months of September and December.  Young American ladies (and probably some men, too) await the release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks the way French people line up at midnight for each year's Beaujolais Nouveau.  Just in the past week, I've made pumpkin cream sauce for tortellini, pumpkin and butternut squash soup, pumpkin spice oatmeal, and I even bought pumpkin spice coffee creamer for my coffee.  I'm into it.  And don't even get me started on the apples and apple cider and apple cider donuts.

2. Going to See Movies in the Theater
It's the magical moment when horror flicks for Halloween intersect with Awards Season films.  I might have to see at least one movie a week just to keep up.  I'm most excited about 12 Years A Slave, The Counselor (I wasn't that interested in the plot, but Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplay, so now I have to see it), Inside Llewyn Davis, The Monuments Men, and August Osage County.  I'm also pretty excited that Night of the Living Dead is coming back to a local theater, with commentary from the guys behind "Mystery Science Theater 3000."  I love movies so much that, during awards season, I usually go see several by myself, just to make sure I see as many as possible.  The Oscars is kind of like my Super Bowl.

3. A New Metropolitan Opera Season
Like Pumpkin Flavored Everything, I'm a sucker for the spectacular productions at The Met.  I'm really hoping to score some La Boheme tickets in the last-minute lottery this year, since I had so much luck with The Ring last year, but my guess is everyone else will want those tickets too.  Knocking on wood with crossed fingers!

4. Being More Active Outdoors
I've gone camping three times this year and we've planned at least one more trip before the season is over (that's S, prepping some firewood on our last excursion).  I'm trying to take advantage of the beautiful state parks we have here in New Jersey... I know, you probably thought the whole state was either like Newark or Seaside Heights.  Nope!  We also have forests, rivers, mountains, and lakes.  I haven't gotten the canoe in the water yet, but I'm hoping to take it for a spin this weekend and maybe next weekend as well.  S and I have also started taking little walks every evening after dinner.  At first, I was kinda like, "Aw, man... I just got home.  Do I have to go out again?"  But once we get going, it's a really nice way to decompress from the day.  We try to go a little bit farther every night.  It's not a real workout, but studies show that even just a little, light walk a few times a week has long-term health benefits.

5. Getting in the Halloween Spirit!
I can't decide whether Halloween is my first or second favorite holiday, but it was taken from me last year due to Superstorm Sandy and this year I demand some festivities.  Haunted houses and hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, candy, costumes, maybe some light decorating if a certain someone will let me...  Hopefully we can get our cable to work again in time to watch Beetlejuice and Hocus Pocus on TV (even though I own both of those movies).  OK, so maybe it's still more than a month away, but October magazines come out in September and I'm already getting inspired.  The good news is that a lot of things most people would only put out during Halloween, I consider part of my everyday style: skulls, bats, etc.  Our apartment is already covered in cobwebs and spiders, so that's one less thing we have to do!

Happy weekend, readers.  I'll try to be back with some real posts next week.  Don't forget that you can (and should!) follow me on Twitter for daily, bite-sized updates.  If you still feel like winning a beauty product care package from me, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Bloglovin.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

I've come into some new-old, cool things this summer (old in general, new to me) that I think are worth sharing.  Some additions to my collections, new collections I've started, etc.  Other people downsizing their possessions has come in handy for me!

The thing I'm most excited about is my new set of vintage, mismatched teacups.  I was never interested in teacups before (and, in fact, rejected a matching set from my grandma's old house), but these all looked so pretty and interesting together that I felt like I had to have them.
My favorite is the yellow and gold one in the back, but I also love the butterfly handle of the one in front of it.

I also found a new addition to my oddities collection at the horror convention I went to.
It's a mummified pig fetus!  Ain't he cute?

We also inherited a canoe and a lot of camping equipment.  We're hoping to put it to good use this weekend.  And, yes, in-laws... we bought some life jackets!

By all means, if anyone else wants to give away a bunch of fun stuff, let me know!  Shopping your closet has become a trend during weak economic periods, but I've had a pretty good time shopping other people's attics!

Monday, September 9, 2013


S and I spent most of the summer chasing memories.  His parents retired and are moving out of the house that S considered home for half of his life, so everything we did had a sense of urgency about it.  Everything felt like it would be the "last" time.  We also buried his grandparents in the town where his mother's family spent their summer vacations and were able to revisit some of those memories with her.  We came back to our apartment with boxes full of childhood toys, high school pictures, college books, and we inherited a car-full of old things that belonged to other people.  I'll admit that most of the time, I felt like a voyeur.  Not having grown up with his family, these things didn't mean to me what they meant to S.  I'm learning quickly that this is an important part of joining someone's family and I felt honored to get to share these moments with them.  One of the best parts of this experience, for me, was witnessing new memories being made for S's nephews (soon to be my nephews too!) -- camping with their family, riding "big kid" rides for the first time, participating in their grandpa's last church service before he retired.  These are the things they will remember when they get older.  It's kind of amazing to watch that happen.

When we came back to our apartment at the end of Labor Day weekend, I needed to relive my own childhood for one night.  Every year, my hometown marks the end of summer with an "Italian Festival" held in a church parking lot.  I honestly have no idea how old I was when I started going to the Italian Festival, but I do know that every year since then, except for the two years that I lived in Iowa, I've at least made an appearance for a few minutes to say my goodbyes to the season.  As a kid, the Italian Festival meant going on the ferris wheel with my Dad.  As a teenager, it was a time to reconnect with my high school friends.  Now, because I'm still working on an academic-year schedule, the Italian Festival is sort of the last hurrah of vacation.  For some reason that I can't quite articulate, it felt really important this year... maybe because I had spent the rest of the summer doing things that were nostalgic for S, or maybe because getting engaged makes me feel more officially like an adult, or it could be the pressure I've put on myself this year to find a better job.  For all of these reasons, I cried over spilled zeppole.  Let me explain: zeppole are pillows of fried dough, covered in powdered sugar, and they are the one constant of every Italian Festival.  Summer just doesn't feel complete without them.  S and I had been at the Italian Festival for about five minutes before the clouds opened up and we were caught in a thunderstorm.  I tried to get some zeppole at the last minute before we left, but the moisture from the rain and the heat of the zeppole fresh from the fryer caused the bag to rip open in my purse, covering everything in wet powdered sugar and leading to luke-warm, soggy zeppole.  I cried when we got into the car.  In my mind, this one, last symbol of carefree, summer days had been ruined.  S didn't quite get it at first; I'm sure he thought I had lost my mind.  It's funny how we tend to instill small things with the monumental power of nostalgia.  To me, those zeppole weren't just a dessert, but the markers of an occasion.
Of course, we went back the next night, won every game we played, and got six perfect zeppole before heading home.

S and I are entering a new chapter of our lives together and it's been a little bit difficult for both of us to let go of the previous one.  The unknown can be scary, but if I have to jump into an abyss, I think I picked the perfect person to do it with.  Now, bring on the pumpkin carving and Halloween candy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome Back!

Oh gosh, it's that time of year again.  S and I are both starting work again tomorrow, so I can't deny that summer is over any longer. It has been a really activity-filled, exciting summer during which I've been not home more often than I've been at home, so that has made it fly by way too quickly.  To be honest, part of me is happy to be home.  I'm ready to get back to a healthy routine and start writing again.  As a substitute teacher and nanny, I don't get a paycheck during the summer, so it will also be nice to be able to contribute to the household again.

Despite the fact that I've physically been on vacation, I do feel like I've accomplished a lot this summer.  I've applied to a lot of jobs, published an article in XO Magazine and did a lot more editing for them, and I've done a lot of thinking about what this blog should be.  Since I haven't been posting every day, I've had more time to come up with well thought-out posts with some substance to them, sort of like this one.  I think I would rather post less often -- maybe once or twice a week -- but write posts that are a little more meaningful.

On the other hand, I'm going to start off with something on the lighter side today.  We'll work our way up to more serious stuff later, but today is the last day of vacation for many of my friends who work on an academic calendar.  A few of my favorite bloggers have posted recently about the drug store beauty products they use regularly.  I might not be the best person to take beauty advice from.  I don't even wear makeup on most days.  In fact, stop reading now.  This post idea was a mistake.  No, not really.  Are you still there?  Just listen; it'll be fun.  It's true that I have a very, very simple beauty routine.  Unless it's a special occasion or I'm really trying to impress someone, I have just a few makeup essentials that just make me look polished and put-together.  There are a few items I insist on buying from high-end stores like Sephora: perfume, any powders or foundations, real grown-up lipstick, etc.  I think these items are worth investing in because of the quality of ingredients and how long they last once you put them on.  I find that drug store make-up tends to run/bleed/smudge or wear off easily.  I'll write a post about my "splurge" beauty essentials some other time.  For now, I honestly do get by with drugstore cosmetics in my everyday life.  The fancy stuff is really just for special occasions.  My most important beauty products are benzoyl peroxide face wash (it's easier to wear less makeup if my skin is already clear), mascara, and a little tinted lip balm.  If you take care of your skin, just some mascara and light lip color will make you look more awake and, frankly, like you give a crap.

Clean and Clear Continuous Control acne cleanser is by far the most important beauty tool in my arsenal of beauty tools, or how ever that metaphor is supposed to work.  It has 10% benzoyl peroxide and is mineral oil-based rather than oil free.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but oil works best for dissolving other oils.  This cleanser doesn't dry out my skin, but I have that perfect* mix of Italian and German that makes me very pale but somehow oily at the same time.  I'm not sure I would recommend it for people who have dry skin all the time, but if that's the case for you, you might not have to worry about acne so much.  Clean and Clear does have a similar product with only 5% benzoyl peroxide and exfoliating beads, which I use in the winter.  This might be your option if you have dry skin.  Since I've started using benzoyl peroxide instead of salicylic acid cleansers, my skin has never been clearer.  This makes for a smooth, clean canvas for accenting my best features.

My go-to mascara is Maybelline's "The Falsies" line.  I've tried all iterations of it except the most recent, "Big Eyes," version.  My favorites are Black Drama and Flared.  They are all true to their word -- my lashes become very long and defined, like false lashes, but without the effort it takes to put on real falsies.  (Ha.  "Real falsies."  Oxymoron!)  Some drug store mascara runs/smudges or clumps easily, but I haven't had any of those problems with this one.  I have noticed that it dries out more quickly than high-end mascaras, but experts suggest that you replace your mascara every three to six months anyway, so I don't mind buying a new tube at such a reasonable price.

Baby Lips, another Maybelline product, provides the perfect amount of color and moisture for everyday wear.  I've just started using this type of lip balm (in the "Cherry Me" color) and I think it's my new favorite.  It keeps lips protected from the elements, but it's not too thick or sticky.  The color is light, but noticeable.  You'll look like you're more alive, but not like you've been standing in front of a mirror for an hour.

I'm lucky not to have very high-maintenance hair, but now that I've tried Herbal Essences "Honey I'm Strong" conditioner, I'm spoiled and no other hair product will do.  It feels rich, smells great, and makes my hair silky smooth.  It looks like I've styled it, even when I've literally done nothing to it.  This is worth using one of my 3-ounce liquid containers when I travel.  I can live without it, but I'd rather not.

In other news, the blog now has a Twitter account!  In celebration, I think it's time I do my first giveaway contest!  Just follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Bloglovin and then post a comment that you've done so.  Each platform on which you follow me is one contest entry.  I will put all of the entries into a hat (literal or proverbial) and pick one at random.  The winner will receive all of the products featured above and a nice, little, personalized note from me.  We'll discuss the logistical details for shipping once you've won.  
Disclaimer:  I am not in any way affiliated with Clean and Clear or Maybelline and am just doing this contest for fun.  For the one or maybe two of you who is/are already following me on all of those platforms, you can still enter the contest by promoting this post on one of your Twitter/Instagram/blog accounts.  

With that, dear readers, I leave you to your final summer holiday.  Thanks for sticking with me.  There's a lot coming in the near future.

*and in case anyone is wondering, the word "perfect" to describe being both pale and oily is sarcastic.