How to Care for Your Skin in Your Mid-20s

I’ve been wanting to share some of my skin health knowledge with you guys for awhile now. Skincare is one of my passions, as I’ve had kind of a storied journey with it throughout my teens and 20s. It’s one of those things I’m willing to spend extra money on, mainly because my skin is such a big part of how I present myself to the world.

I dealt with acne (more so than most people) for many years, and finally don’t have to worry about that as much anymore. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing about how I cured my acne and finally put those days behind me. Today, though, I’m much more interested in anti-aging.

I know, I know – it sounds like something I don’t really have to worry about yet. But I’m a big believer in preventative health care. I eat well and work out now to prevent weight gain and health issues later. I take good care of my teeth so I (hopefully) won’t have to worry about expensive dental work as I get older (cavity-free club ftw!). And I take precautionary measures now so that I can keep my skin looking young and vibrant later in life.

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No makeup, no filter.

I’ve done a lot of research about skin health and ingredients. Like, hours and hours. I often spend the end of my day watching skin care videos on YouTube, simply because I love learning more about skin health. There are a lot of really ineffective ingredients and lots of bad advice out there. It takes an understanding of science – something I happen to love – to really sift through all the noise.

So I thought I’d share this knowledge in a comprehensive post about how to care for your skin if, like me, you’ve reached your mid-20s and you want to be proactive about aging.

The Routine

I’m sure you’ve already heard that you should cleanse, tone, exfoliate and moisturize, and there’s a lot of truth to that. I like to stick to that general outline every night, because there are good reasons for each of the steps. We live in a world with lots of pollution. We wear makeup. We apply lotions during the day. It’s vital to take these things off at night, which is why cleansing is important.

Toning is important for two reasons. Back in the day, its primary purpose was to restore the pH of the skin, as tap water and cleanser can both affect it. However, most good cleansers today won’t do this. Toning also preps the skin to absorb your serums and moisturizers. But I generally view toning the way it’s viewed in Korean skincare: Toners (and serums) are your way of treating whatever ails your skin. If you’re acne-prone, you want a clarifying toner. If you’re prone to dryness, you’ll want something much more moisturizing and calming. This is where your most targeted and individualized efforts should come in.

Exfoliation is super important, too, particularly if you’re looking to prevent signs of aging. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells so that your skin can “turn over” more quickly. In other words, the cells on the epidermis (the outermost later of the skin) will be fresh and new. This not only keeps your skin looking bright and young, it also decreases the appearance of lines, which can collect dead skin cells, makeup and other things.

And finally, moisturizing. This is obviously important because moisturizers seal water (and all those other products you applied) into your pores. They are also humectants, which means that they draw water up from inside your dermis into the epidermis, providing moisture on the skin’s surface.

The Products

So far, I haven’t really told you anything you don’t already know, but it’s in your product selection that you see differences between an average or even harmful skincare routine and a great one. Choosing products is probably the most important part of a good skincare routine. I’m going to go through what to look for in each of these steps.

In a cleanser, it’s so, so, so, so important not to strip your skin of its natural oils. I say this having suffered from acne for years. My skin improved dramatically when I stopped washing my face with cleanser in the mornings. All I do is use lukewarm water. Your skin needs those oils. Removing them causes you to produce excess oil, which leads to acne on top of the dryness you’ve just caused. There’s really no reason to use a cleanser in the morning, as your skin has been hidden from the elements all night long. A splash of water will remove the trace amounts of dirt that may have accumulated.

In the evenings, I stick with cleansing milks, oil-based cleansers and foaming cleansers. They’re gentle, but they accomplish the most important task: They remove my makeup. Some people swear by double cleansing, which I might try soon and can definitely get behind. In this methodology, you first remove your makeup with oil, and then cleanse with a gentle foaming cleanser or milk.

Good products:
Clinique Extra-Gentle Cleansing Foam ($20)
First Aid Beauty Milk Oil Conditioning Cleanser ($26)
Yes to Carrots Fragrance-Free Daily Cream Cleanser ($7.99)
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser ($8.99)

In a toner or serum, you want something gentle that’s going to boost blood flow to the skin, keep it bright and moisturized, and prep it for moisturizer. I go really low-key with toners, because I use serums, which can stand in for toners. In the mornings and on days when I don’t use a serum, I just apply a gentle toner and pat it into my face. Generally, though, I stick with the serum. As is the case with my exfoliants and moisturizers, I also prioritize products that contain antioxidants, which are great for preventing aging. Toners and serums with Vitamin C are also great for boosting brightness. The overall key is that you’re adding antioxidants and treating your skin issues, so let the ingredients be your guide.

Good products:
Caudalie Organic Grape Water ($22)
Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80)
Clinique Even Better Essence Lotion ($42.50)

In an exfoliant, you’re going to want to be extremely gentle (have you noticed yet that gentle, non-abrasive skincare is key?). I like chemical exfoliants rather than physical ones because physical exfoliants can rip and tear at your pores, leading to long-term damage. Chemical exfoliants sound scary, but all they are is concentrated acids that dissolve dead skin cells rather than stripping them away. They’re usually made with salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids (which are found in fruit). I apply a chemical exfoliant every other day at bedtime, and the products I use are usually labelled as serums. NOTE: Don’t apply these during the day, they’re for nighttime use only.

Good products:
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($28)
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90)
Sunday Riley Good Genes ($105)

In a moisturizer, look for something with high-quality ingredients. And if you have acne, don’t discount moisturizers that contain oil. Again, I can’t even tell you how much my skin improved when I stopped following the advice given to people to treat acne. An oil-based moisturizer works so much better for me. I usually apply an oil, followed by a moisturizer to seal the oil in. I look for all-natural oils, but I don’t use store-bought olive oil or anything like that – I stick with products specifically formulated for the skin. Then I apply an affordable, drugstore-bought moisturizer over top.

Good products:
Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil ($90)
Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil ($105)
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil ($72)
Origins High-Potency Night-a-Mins Skin Refining Oil ($43)
Fresh Seaberry Moisturizing Face Oil ($52)
Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer ($28)
Coola SPF 30 Cucumber Face Moisturizer ($32)

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How To Find the Right Products For Your Skin

So I’ve told you all about the steps you should complete, and I’ve gone over how important it is to be gentle. Now, how do you pick out the right products for your skin?

Beautypedia is my favorite research for skincare information. You can find almost any beauty product on this database, and it provides information about the ingredients that make up the product, how effective it is likely to be, and whether or not it contains any damaging ingredients.

Things to stay away from: I never buy any products that contain alcohol (seriously,  A LOT of products, even the all-natural ones from Whole Foods, contain alcohol, and it’s very harsh on the skin). I also never buy any products that contain fragrance or perfume. Some people even steer clear of essential oils. The reason? These products can cause skin irritation, even if you don’t notice any redness or burning. This is really bad, because skin irritation is thought to cause collagen breakdown over time. Can you imagine if you’re irritating your skin without knowing it, leading to more wrinkles and saggy skin later on? I just say no way to anything with these ingredients. I also, of course, avoid parabens, sulfates, etc., in my beauty products.

I also, as I’ve mentioned, stay away from physical exfoliants and cleansers that aren’t labeled as “for sensitive skin,” “moisturizing,” or “gentle.” Even Cetaphil isn’t gentle enough for me to feel comfortable using it on my skin. It gives my skin a tight feeling after I use it, which is a clue to how much it’s stripping my skin of its natural oils. If you’re concerned about finding good skin care on a budget, click on this link. This blogger, who works in the skincare industry, has some really great information on his blog and YouTube channel (note that he advises never to use Cetaphil!).

Things to look for: In your cleanser, look for gentle ingredients that won’t strip your skin. In your toner or serum, look for antioxidants. Vitamin C is particularly great, but you’ll want to get a full range of antioxidants over the entirety of your product spectrum. Your exfoliant should contain glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid – but only use it at nighttime. In your moisturizer, look for nourishing oils like coconut, avocado and grapeseed oil. During the daytime, you’ll want a moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or above (we’ll get to that in a minute) and at night, you may want one with retinol (we’ll get to that in a minute, too).

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Always Apply SPF

Seriously you guys, never leave the house without SPF on your face. I use a makeup foundation with SPF, and then apply a light SPF30 moisturizer if I go back outside after a few hours. Tan skin is simply not worth leathery skin later.

Eat Healthy, Don’t Smoke, and Exercise

Smoking makes your skin really gross. Don’t do it.

Eating healthy and exercising has been proven by science to prevent aging. People who eat a Mediterranean diet – a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and veggies and healthy fats from avocados, olive oil and fish – have longer telomeres as they get older, a DNA marker for age. Seriously, be good to yourself. All those DNA-damaging activities like smoking, drinking and staying up all night are fun in moderation, but don’t make them a lifestyle. They really do impact how you’ll age.

Other Helpful Hints

Finally, a few pointers for keeping your skin healthy and preventing aging:

  • Always wear sunglasses. Squinting causes lines, plus UV rays hurt your eye health.
  • Whenever you touch your skin, whether you’re washing your face, applying your products or drying your skin, pat the skin gently rather than pulling on it. Pulling on your skin can damage your muscles and cause lack of elasticity later in life.
  • Apply your products when your skin is still moist. This seals moisture in, which is the whole point of moisturizer.
  • Consider sleeping with a humidifier by your bed if you live in a dry climate.
  • If you can, sleep on your back to prevent squishing your face throughout the nighttime. Of course, if that leads to poor sleep quality, don’t worry about it – a good night’s sleep is more important for your skin than avoiding pillow lines.
  • Consider adding a retinol product. Retinol is a concentrated form of vitamin A that speeds up cell turnover. YOU HAVE TO WEAR SPF if you are actively using retinol products, and you should never use them while you’re pregnant. However, retinol is the only ingredient that’s truly been proven to reduce signs of aging. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to prevent rather than to treat.

OK, I think that’s it. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more about skin health. I could cover what I did to cure acne, my specific morning/evening routines, etc. And let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

3 Meditation Ideas for When “Clearing Your Mind” Doesn’t Cut It

I’ve always admired people who have a daily meditation practice. There are very few people for whom meditation comes easily, and I’m not one of them. I meditate with some regularity, but I’m still in the phase where it’s kind of like working out: I force myself to do it, it’s taxing, and it requires a lot of concentration, effort and self-discipline. I do hear that it becomes more natural over time, so at least there’s that.

For now though, I just force myself to do it as often as I can. Once I’ve succeeded (success is relative: I think the max amount of time I’ve ever been able to remain meditative is about 10 minutes), I feel great – like I just did something really challenging and good for my mental health.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that certain meditation techniques work for me, while others don’t. Simply sitting down and “clearing my mind” doesn’t work – I need to have a focus. Here are three techniques that do the trick for me – a few of which I’ve never heard of in a yoga class or meditation workshop.

Notice the Temperature of Your Breath

I learned this technique at the Newman Catholic student center in La Crosse, believe it or not. This priest was honestly one of the best spiritual leaders I’ve ever had in my life. It was clear from his messages that he was more about spirituality than doctrine, and his warm, embracing outreach to low-income people and students made it clear that he had his priorities straight.

In a service during finals week, he was speaking about making time for prayer even in the midst of a chaotic season of life. He had everyone in the church close their eyes and inhale and exhale deeply. He mentioned that we should notice the temperature of our breath; it comes into the body at room temperature, but when we exhale, it’s much warmer. It has been heated by our bodies, a wonderful sign of life and a great signifier of the yogic belief that breath is life.

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When you meditate, try to pay attention to this phenomenon. Notice how the breath enters the body cool and fresh. Hold it in your belly for 5 seconds, and then exhale slowly. Concentrate on the air’s newfound warmth, and try to internalize how the temperature of your body – the stuff of life – has heated the air, and how the air has given oxygen to your body in return.

Breathe Up and Down Your Spine

This is a technique you’ve probably heard of in yoga class or online. It’s a prevalent part of Kundalini yoga as well as other schools of yoga that focus both on the breath practice and the concept of energy moving along the spine.

Ideally, you’ll be sitting cross-legged or in lotus pose for this. You can also do this lying down (definitely choose that option if you’re more likely to be comfortable that way) but I enjoy the feeling of my bones meeting the floor for this one.

You’re going to inhale and exhale as always, but as you do, you’re going to focus on breathing along your spine. As you inhale, move your concentration up from the base of your spine, along your back, all the way up to the tip of your head at the culmination of your inhale. Hold your breath (and your concentration of energy above the head) for a few seconds, and then descend down the spine all the way back to the base again as you exhale. Keep on repeating this.

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Honestly, when I’m really into this practice, I’ve been known to fall asleep. That’s how effective it is.

Let Quietness “Massage” Your Brain

OK, I know this one sounds weird, but stay with me. We’re bombarded by noise all day long. I don’t know about you, but I spend much of my day wearing headphones. If I’m not wearing headphones, I’m often in conversation, on the phone, watching a movie, or listening to music in some other way. I rarely experience silence.

Learning to savor silence is important. Depriving our ears of stimuli forces us to relax and not to think, which can be really uncomfortable (hence why many of us can’t drive five minutes to the grocery store without listening to music).

I actually really like silence. I find it very serene, and when I’m tired, I would much rather drive in silence than with music on. Maybe I’m getting old …

When you go to meditate, pay attention to the fuzzy feeling that your brain experiences when it’s exposed to silence. Noises (music, conversations) may pop into your head, but just acknowledge and dismiss them. I like to think of the physical sensation of silence around my brain – it’s almost like my brain is enveloped in a warm massage, relaxing after hours of work processing sounds. I try to savor and enjoy this feeling while I’m meditating.

If background noises occur (people talking next door, the garbage man coming by outside, a dog barking in the yard) just acknowledge it as part of the experience. Savor the sound, but let the relative quietness shine through as the predominant experience.

 


These techniques are my three favorites, but there are plenty of others out there. I think the most important component of meditation is to practice it regularly – and that’s something I still struggle with.

A few bonus tips for you though, before I close:

  • Mediate after exercising. You may already know that the entire point of the physical yoga practice is to prepare the body for meditation. Even if you’re not into yoga, prolonged physical activity (on which you’re concentrating, not doing mindlessly) will have a similar effect.
  • Try putting your feet up. Seriously! I don’t know what it is, but lying with my feet elevated above my head (I usually just scoot up to the wall and put my legs up) clears my mind. I think it must be because of more oxygen flowing to the brain.
  • Caffeine and meditation are not friends. I love coffee, so this makes me sad.
  • Alcohol and meditation are not friends. I love wine, so this also makes me sad.
  • Don’t meditate in order to fall asleep. That’s not the point.
  • Guided meditations are nice for relaxation purposes, but they’re not really meditating. Meditating, traditionally, is more akin to praying. You’re going to want to decrease external stimuli, not increase them, and guidance is indeed a stimulus. You’re trying to look inward here.

Finally, do it regularly. I know it’s hard – this is a habit I need to get into too. Would anyone be interested in doing a meditation challenge with me? Comment below, get in touch or let me know via Instagram or Twitter !

New York City: Land of Aerial Yoga, Club Music and Shoeless Wandering

That was … interesting. I’m back from New York, and ready to tell you all about my trip. Let me preface by admitting that no, I did not actually wander barefoot through the streets of New York. But I came close. And I’m not happy about it.

Overall, my trip to New York revealed some interesting things to me. I learned that I may be entering a new phase of my travels … one that’s a little less solitary and more focused on connection. More on that later, though – I’ll start from the beginning.

I arrived in New York last Wednesday afternoon with plans to stay at an Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’d been to New York before but hadn’t really had much exposure to Brooklyn outside of a quick jaunt to Williamsburg with my friend Kathleen. I tend to run in kind of artistic circles, though, and knew that I wanted to explore the area more.

After an hour-long ride on public transit (no complaints there, I ❤ the New York subway system) I checked into my Airbnb. I stayed in a pretty cool loft that was definitely to my taste – I love lofts, with their high ceilings, artsy vibe and exposed hardware. I got a private room in a loft with four other women with whom I interacted a little bit throughout the course of my stay.

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I was a little surprised, though, that my place wasn’t exactly in Williamsburg. It was in Bushwick, a still trendy yet more up-and-coming part of the borough. Unfortunately, I discovered this the hard way. On Thursday morning, I set out in the general direction of Williamsburg, assuming Google maps wouldn’t lead me astray. I was wrong.

Setting out with only Google maps to guide you is perfectly fine when you know an area, but my route took me through some very desolate, warehouse districts of Brooklyn. In addition to me being kind of creeped out by my surroundings, my shoes broke (hence the “barefoot” reference) – right after a night with quite a bit of rain. By the end of my two-hour walk through the grimy warehouse district, my feet were not only soaked, but covered in city dirt – ugh. All this before I’d even had any coffee. I was pissed.

Eventually, I found a nice little spot to get coffee and do some work. I worked throughout my trip – one of the benefits of being a freelancer, I suppose – so I got to know a few of the coffee shops in the area. I spent most of my time at Swallow Cafe, which was right around the corner from my loft (I wasn’t going to make the mistake of walking to Williamsburg again) and ate more than a few meals at Forrest Point, which was quite good.

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And that was … it. For the first four or five days of my stay, I made attempts to meet people by going out to bars and reading my book at restaurants. I also took an aerial yoga class, which was super fun. I should’ve made more of an effort to talk to the girls at the class, but our conversations mostly revolved around yoga. I’ll do a separate post with my experience of practicing aerial yoga, but suffice it to say, I’ll definitely be doing it again.

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Other than the yoga class, though, I didn’t get too much interaction. On Saturday, I went out with the girls in my loft, but we quickly went our separate ways at the party (I think they were trying to meet guys) and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. I know, I know … the sob story of an introvert. I decided I was over the party and headed home early.

Another factor that didn’t help my mood was the fact that my building turned into a huge party at nighttime – like, until 4:30 a.m. I would’ve maybe liked to go, but I’m not really one to walk into random parties, and unlike at hostels, there was no common area in which to meet people. So I ended up lying in bed simply listening to the party all night. I had little choice – there was extremely loud club music blasting from the room right above mine. This continued Sunday night. And Monday night. I wondered if these people ever worked.

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Things really looked up on Tuesday, when I got to meet up with my cousin Olivia. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you already know about my cousin John. John, Olivia and I are the closest cousins in age on my dad’s side of the family, and I hadn’t spoken to Olivia since our last family reunion (she has since moved to New York and gotten married).

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She took me around her borough, Manhattan, on Monday. We walked the High Line, which I really loved, as it reminded me of the 606 in Chicago. We also went to the Manus x Machina exhibition at The Met, which I’d read about in Vogue and really wanted to see. The exhibition focused on the marriage of technology and hand-crafting in haute couture. It was really crazy to see high fashion up close. The detail was simply stunning. There were garments embroidered painstakingly by hand juxtaposed with outfits manufactured with a 3D printer, and all were equally sophisticated and impressive.

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After a busy day running around Manhattan, we ate sushi at MOMOYA, and it was honestly the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life. This is saying something because, as much as I love sushi, it all tends to taste relatively similar so long as it’s of pretty good quality. This was way better than what I’ve had in Chicago, though – crunchy in all the right places and amazingly flavorful, with high-quality, fresh ingredients and an amazing seaweed salad to complement it.

Wednesday, Olivia and I met up and did a little more sightseeing. She showed me some of the neighboring suburbs, including some quaint picturesque towns and some very grand estates. Suburbs aren’t really my thing, but I’d always wanted to see some of the New York area outside of the city.

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The next morning, I caught a 6 a.m. flight back home. I was honestly very happy to get back.

So, I started off this post mentioning that my trip had taught me some new things about myself. It might sound like a sort’ve uneventful week, but I learned something: my days of wandering in solitude are coming to a close.

For the first time, I was legitimately craving a companion while I was at cafes and bars by myself. My fun score improved drastically once I got in touch with Olivia and had someone to talk to. When I first started traveling alone, I really reveled in being alone. Even at hostels, I tended to stay away from the common areas and keep to myself. I wanted to take it all in in silence. I wanted to read my books. I didn’t want to feel obligated to make conversation.

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For the past few years, traveling alone has been really empowering. Maybe that’s because I spent so much of my early 20s unable to find independence. But lately, traveling alone has felt … well, lonely. I think it’s time to start traveling in a different manner.

So what’s that going to mean for how I plan my trips? Obviously, I’m not always going to have someone to travel with. I think I’ve learned that the best way to make friends if I do have to travel solo is to stay at hostels rather than Airbnbs. People at hostels are usually there because they WANT to meet people and make friends. I’m going to continue traveling – ideally with friends or my boyfriend – but if I do travel alone, I’m going to make more of an effort to connect with others. I am over being a loner, and I think that’s a positive thing.

Stan’s Donuts, Table Donkey & Stick, and Florence+the Machine

I’m in New York this week, which is as big a surprise to you as it is to me. Well, maybe not that much of a surprise, but I only planned the trip a couple of weeks ago. I’d been reading the latest issue of Vogue and longing for something a little more cosmopolitan than Wisconsin, and since I didn’t have a lot of other travel plans lined up, I decided to come to NYC.

But before I post about New York, I wanted to share updates from last weekend’s Chicago culinary adventure.

To celebrate Logan’s birthday, we got an Airbnb in the appropriately named Logan Square area, and proceeded to eat our way through the neighborhood. I’m going to warn you, though – my food choices last weekend weren’t as healthy as is characteristic of this blog. But eating yummy, unhealthy things once in a while is part of life.

We started off with donuts from Stan’s, mainly because Logan is obsessed with Stan’s Donuts. To be fair, they’re really, really good. We got a platter of six different, extremely decadent donuts: (starting from top left and working clockwise) lemon-pistachio old fashioned, coconut cake, chocolate cake, Nutella-banana filled, peanut butter-banana filled, and blueberry old fashioned.

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My favorite remains the lemon-pistachio old fashioned, and Logan’s was the coconut cake. There really wasn’t a bad donut in the box, though. All of them were fresh, doughy, sweet, flavorful and ideally textured; the old-fashioneds were a little crispy around the outside (which I love!), while the cake donuts were super soft. So, so good.

After the donuts (which stood in for birthday cake), we went walking around the neighborhood for a bit. If you’re in the Midwest, you may recall that Saturday was incredibly hot and muggy. At least it didn’t rain, though! We ended up stopping at Billy Sunday for cocktails.

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Logan ordered the Yes We Can!, a mix of Yusho Funaguchi Sake, Jamaican gold rum, pineapple tepaché (a drink made from pineapple rind), lime, cilantro and amchur bitters. It was served in the sake’s original can (super cute) and tasted bright and pineapple-y, with the sake’s unique flavor adding some dimension to an otherwise sweet drink. I went with the Flowing Konomi, which was made of white Bordeaux, tequila, matcha, sesame leaf and lemon. I thought mine tasted kind of like a lemon-flavored mojito, which is weird, because they share none of the same ingredients. Nonetheless, it had a similar light, airy and mildly sweet flavor.

After our little happy hour, we got ready for dinner and a show. I took Logan to see A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque at the Gorilla Tango Theater. Our attendance at this show has been a long time coming. We initially came into the city to see it back in March, but unfortunately a bout of food poisoning prevented us from going. The show itself was way different than what I’d expected. There were literally about 10 people in the audience, and the show was very bare-bones. The writing was hilarious, though, and the actresses were really enthusiastic performers with great dance moves. I’d recommend it, but it’s not exactly a huge production or anything.

Before the show, though, we had dinner at Table, Donkey and Stick. I’d been wanting to try this restaurant for a long time. It’s one of Logan Square’s more upscale eateries, and in true, hip fashion, it’s located in a very understated building off the beaten path.

I was too busy enjoying the food to take very many pics, but you can see some of our small plates in this photo.

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Our charcuterie plate included smoked trout, lamb salami, sesame seed bread and assorted cheeses with honey and candied walnuts. For dinner, Logan got steak and I had polenta.

Overall, the dinner was OK. I’m not going to pretend it blew my mind. I was kind of disappointed, as I’d been anticipating this dinner being super good. But really, it was just kind of blah. Good ideas and decent execution, but really, the flavors and ingredients were pretty average. For something relatively upscale, it wouldn’t be my first choice in the area.

The weekend as a whole was amazing though. We spent the following day walking around aimlessly (it was much cooler and more pleasant on Sunday) and enjoying the city before finishing the weekend at the Florence+the Machine concert in Tinley Park. Florence is one of my favorite performers, and this was my first time seeing her live. She’s such a flower child, twirling around the stage in her long, billowy dresses all night long.

Those pipes, though.

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3 Healthy Eating Hacks that Help with Moderation (w/ Meal Plans!)

Moderation is a tricky concept. Much as we want to believe that a miracle diet can help us lose weight and stay thin, the truth is that sooner or later, real life happens. Birthdays happen. Pizza happens. Pancakes happen.

For many people, it’s the tail end of a diet – the period after losing weight when you’re trying to return to a normal lifestyle – that sabotages long-term goals. This is because people aren’t meant to eat according to “diets” forever. Navigating life post-diet (or a healthy life in general, even if you haven’t dieted) brings with it lots of questions. How much can I indulge? If I can eat whole-wheat pasta, why can’t I eat white pasta if it’s being served at a party? Avocados are high-fat … should I eat them? Should I eat low-fat dairy? What about low-carb bread?

Well, having lost quite a bit of weight once upon a time (and having kept it off for nearly 10 years), I feel proud and qualified to speak to my experience on this subject. No matter which weight loss plan you’ve adhered to, chances are you’ll eventually come upon a “maintenance” phase in which you graduate to real-life and have to juggle healthy eating with everyday living and casual indulgences.

In real life, of course, we eat both carbs and fats, so whether your diet was low-carb or low-fat, you’ll now be indulging in both macronutrients in moderation (or at least you should be).

Enter my favorite three favorite diet hacks of all time. These three little tricks help me make sure I’m eating a diet that’s low in high-fat meats and refined carbs, low(ish) in overall calories, minimally processed, and conducive to staying fit and healthy.

Hack 1: Eat a meat OR eat a carb – don’t eat both in one meal.

I choose either a meat or a carb for my meal, and I don’t include both in one sitting. This means that I tend to eat vegetarian sandwiches, burritos, tacos, etc., and if I have chicken or steak, I’m not having potatoes on the side – I’m probably having green vegetables.

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Now, since carbohydrates are technically found in veggies, fruits, dairy and pretty much every food besides meat, I realize I need to define “carb” as I’m using it here. I generally mean things that contain wheat, starch, rice, corn or flour – things like breads, potatoes, rice dishes, tortillas, flatbreads, things with a crust, popcorn, baked goods, etc.

I also realize that meat isn’t the only source of fat, obviously. I have written before about the health benefits of healthy fats, so on this blog, the only type of natural fat I give advice about eliminating is that of meat. I believe in eating meat as infrequently as possible, but all evidence shows that healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and even coconut oil are really good for us!

Hack 2: Limit meats and carbs to 1 serving per day.

Keeping your meals either meat-free or carb-free is generally pretty easy, but there’s an additional rule that can make things a little more challenging. I only have one serving of meat and one serving of carbs, max, per day.

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There are three meals in the typical day, of course – so you’re probably wondering what on earth I eat for my third meal. Usually, it’s eggs, a rice-less stir fry with nuts and legumes, or fruit with nut butter. I’ll outline a few meal plan ideas at the bottom of the post!

Hack 3: Eat the healthiest versions of your meats and carbs.

Finally, since I’m usually eating carbs and meats once a day, I make sure to eat the healthiest options for both macronutrients. Here’s a list of the foods I generally eat, and those I avoid.

Carbs
Eat: Sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, fresh corn, stove-topped popcorn
Eat rarely: White rice, white potatoes
Don’t eat: White bread, white pasta, refined sugar, packaged foods, potato chips, fries

Meats (and other animal products)
Eat: Turkey, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs
Eat rarely: Beef, pork, whole milk, natural cheeses
Don’t eat: Processed meats (bacon, sausage, hot dogs, etc.), processed cheeses (American, usually.)

As you’ll see from this list, it’s actually quite easy to make small substitutions at restaurants that allow you to follow these rules. Getting sweet potato fries instead of regular ones makes your diet a little healthier. Same with turkey burgers instead of beef burgers, and whole-wheat buns instead of white ones.

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You’re probably wondering what these little tricks look like when they play out in real life. Here are a few meal plans that would be pretty common for me in my life. You’ll notice they meet all of the requirements above, and that every single meal contains a source of protein as well as either a fruit or a vegetable (or both!):

Day 1
Breakfast: Apple with almond butter.
Lunch: Sandwich on wheat bread with avocado, hummus, spinach and tomato.
Dinner: Chicken breast with steamed broccoli and asparagus sautéed in coconut oil.
Snacks: Mixed nuts, banana, coconut water.

Day 2
Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with spinach.
Lunch: Salad with iceberg lettuce, kale, slivered almonds, tomatoes, cucumber and balsamic vinaigrette, topped with turkey breast.
Dinner: Whole-grain pasta with olive oil, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes.
Snacks: Apple, salted avocado, a few small slices of local extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

Day 3
Breakfast: Omelette with feta cheese, tomatoes and spinach.
Lunch: Turkey chili topped with avocado.
Dinner: Stir fry with brown rice, green and red bell peppers, black beans, kale and cilantro.
Snacks: Mixed nuts, baby carrots with hummus, orange.

Day 4 (Note that this day is completely vegetarian!)
Breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt with blueberries and strawberries, topped with chia seeds.
Lunch: Lentil soup with assorted vegetables and spices (no potatoes!).
Dinner: Black bean burger without the bun, topped with tomatoes, onion, lettuce and mustard, with homemade sweet potato fries on the side.
Snacks: Apple, banana, baby carrots, mixed nuts.

Day 5
Breakfast: Banana with natural (sugar-free) peanut butter.
Lunch: Burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, salsa, avocado and lettuce.
Dinner: Grilled salmon with sautéed broccoli and asparagus.
Snacks: Coconut water, sliced green pepper, baby carrots with hummus.

You’ll probably notice that I almost never waste a meat or a carb at breakfast time. There’s just no reason to – Greek yogurt, nut butters and eggs all contain plenty of protein, and don’t require me to skimp on my meals later in the day. Of course, if you’re a sucker for breakfast meats, obviously you have plenty of meal ideas for meat- and carb-free meals above, you just need to mix them around a bit!

You’ll also see how easily these three hacks make room for indulgence. Let’s say you’re at a baby shower (as I was for my beautiful cousin Beth two weeks ago!) and you’re greeted by this ridiculously delicious-looking spread:

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I don’t believe in living a less full life because of dietary rules. I ate my slice of cake, and you can be damn sure I enjoyed every minute of it (actually, it was literally one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted – mad props to Mariano’s). I just made sure that counted as my carb for the day. As I said before, these hacks have a way of keeping your daily caloric intake in check while also keeping your consumption of meat and carbs healthy and moderate. I savored my slice of cake, but I made up for it by staying healthy and focusing on fresh, plant-based foods during other parts of the day. Now that’s having your cake and eating it, too.

5 Important Safety Tips For Solo Female Travelers

Back in March, two young Argentinian women were murdered during a backpacking trip across South America. According to some reports, they had agreed to stay with two men they didn’t know after their cash was stolen at a youth hostel. Some family members have argued that this version of events was a lie, manufactured by the Ecuadorian government to cover up an instance of sex trafficking.

I happened to hear the news while on a solo trip myself in Mexico City. It really struck me that this could’ve just as easily been me.

People quickly expressed condolences to the women and their families. While some people were quick to say that women should never travel alone and that the girls were partially at fault for their fate, others came to the victims’ defense, rightfully calling out this attitude as victim-blaming.

However, some used the situation to start a conversation about safety tips for young women who wish to travel – and this instantly caused an uproar. Some people decried the safety advice itself as victim blaming, asserting that these young women had the right to travel however they pleased, and that society and rape culture that were to blame for their fate.

Is that true? Absolutely. But should we pretend that traveling as a woman doesn’t carry additional risk? I don’t think so.

While this kind of idealism would be nice to portray as reality, it’s not. I’ve been traveling alone as a young women on and off for the past five years. I firmly believe that women should travel, and that they have the same right to the globe as their male peers. I think that, in fact, arming them with safety advice is empowering, not a reinforcement of rape culture. Empowering a woman with knowledge about how to protect herself while she sees the world puts her at a great advantage over non-traveled peers, teaches her life skills, allows her to grow spiritually and culturally, and arms her with street smarts that will carry over into day-to-day life (obviously, men experience the same benefits when they travel).

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Given my experience traveling alone, I thought I’d share the obligatory solo female travel safety tips. So far, sticking to these rules has kept me safe and sound. Obviously, not all tragedies are preventable, and in no way do women’s actions excuse the violence that happens to them all too often – but by following these tips, I’ve very rarely ever felt unsafe in any foreign country. That’s all I know, so that’s what I’ll share.

No. 1: Keep A Cash Reserve on Your Person

This sounds basic, but think about it: If your wallet is stolen or you lose your purse, you’re going to be in a very vulnerable position in which you may have to depend on others – others you may not know or trust. Having your purse or wallet stolen isn’t unheard of, especially at hostels where you’re sharing a room with 20+ other travelers.

When I’m in a place like this, I always keep some of my cash in a passport bag that my Grandpa gave me before my trip to Europe in 2009. It’s just a boring, unassuming black bag with a shoulder strap, but it keeps my cash and ID safe – I wear it under my shirt and tuck it into my pants so that it remains unseen to the public.

This way, if someone mugs me or takes my purse or whatnot, I still have cash reserves to depend on. If I’m in a tight spot, I can use that cash to get a cab, buy a bed at a hostel, or get to an American embassy.

No. 2: Don’t Get Super Drunk or Take Drugs with People You Don’t Know

When I was in Germany, I met a girl – I’ll call her Jane – at my hostel in Munich. Jane was really cool, and we instantly clicked. We spent a day shopping and exploring the city, and then went out to enjoy some of Munich’s nightlife later that evening.

Jane got really, really drunk. Like, multiple body shots on the bar followed by beer followed by more shots drunk. By the time our group was ready to move on to a new location, she was holed up in the bathroom, practically passed out an unable to move.

Ladies, do. not. do. this. I’m by no means a teetotaller, and believe me, some of my greatest travel memories involve partying. But getting messed up to the point that you don’t know what’s going on is not a good thing to do when you’re traveling – it leaves you vulnerable to rape, assault, getting robbed, or worse. Is it wrong that women have to watch themselves more than men do? Yeah, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’d prefer not to be harmed. So don’t do it. Have fun, but know your limits (if you don’t know them yet, you probably shouldn’t be traveling alone yet anyway).

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No. 3: Develop Confidence in Saying No

When I was younger, I had a hard time rejecting people, especially boys. Thankfully for me, none of those boys were particularly pushy, but nonetheless – I’m glad I grew out of this. Having the confidence to say no comes with age, and when you’re really young (like 18-20) sometimes you haven’t developed the skill yet.

I’m not just talking about turning down romantic or sexual invites. I’m also talking about other things – offers for taxi rides, free tickets to shows, a drink at the bar, someone to accompany you on the train, etc. If someone offers to help you with something, you are in no way obligated to accept. Learn how to say no, and say it loudly and with conviction. When you’re traveling alone as a woman, you have to learn to speak up for yourself, and you need to make sure that you don’t get into positions where you need to accept help (see no. 1).

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No. 4: Go Out in Groups

Sometimes when I’m traveling alone, I enjoy going to a pub and having a beer by myself. I’m actually kind of an introvert, and sometimes the serenity of sitting in a quiet bar with a cold beer just appeals to me. However, I usually do this before 9 p.m., and only have one or two beers before going home.

If you want to go out and party, go with a group. Traveling alone is actually not as lonely as people might think – if you stay in a hostel and you’re friendly, I guarantee you will make friends. Hostels often organize meet-ups, bar crawls, excursions and other activities, and these are a great way to meet other like-minded travelers in their 20s and early 30s.

Going out in groups is important because you and your friends can watch out for each other. My advice from no. 1 remains – you still shouldn’t go crazy, you don’t know these people super well – but at least when you’re in a group, you won’t be a walking target.

 

On my last night in New Zealand, I went out with a group of friends I’d met at work. A particularly pushy guy (not in our group, just some rando at the bar) kept touching me unsolicitedly. When I told my guy friends, they were quick to stand up for me, and the dude finally left me alone. I’m glad I had people around to help me out when I felt uncomfortable.

No. 5: (This One is Lame) Dress Modestly Until You Know Your Surroundings

I hate that women are forced to wear certain things to avoid violent behavior. It’s not fair – our bodies do not dictate the actions of others, period. But to keep yourself safe, I do think it’s smart to bring along modest clothing when you’re going to a new country. At least until you understand the local culture.

There are countries – particularly in the Middle East and India – where immodest dress is considered offensive, and unfortunately, wearing such clothing could put you at risk of violence. Even outside of those areas, being an obvious female tourist dressed like you’re going to a nightclub can make you a target for unsavory people.

When I go somewhere new, I bring along my going-out clothes, for sure! But I usually don’t change into them until I know that my outfit is in line with what other women around me are wearing. Until I know that information, I stick to jeans and a baggy t-shirt.

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In closing, I do think it’s important not to be paranoid – again, I’ve traveled quite a bit by myself, and have never once felt truly at risk. People are generally good. I firmly believe that. And many, many people are willing to help you if you need it. I think the key, though, is trying to avoid needing it. Be the one in control, know your surroundings, stay alert and have fun. Be empowered! Doing so will help ensure that your travel experience is a pleasant one and that you will feel comfortable and confident traveling alone in the future.

Memorial Day Weekend, Tacos at Big Star + Upcoming Travel Plans!

Going “back to work” after a long weekend is kind of weird when you’re a freelancer – mainly because you never quite feel like you’re out of the office in the first place. I took it easy last weekend weekend (minus some minor freelance applications and social media maintenance) but only because most of my clients were away from their computers. If they hadn’t been, I wonder how I would’ve been able to give myself permission to take the weekend off.

As a new freelancer, I’m still getting used to the swing of things. If a client emails me at 8 p.m. on a Friday, is it reasonable not to reply until Monday morning? When life and work are so intertwined, keeping someone waiting so long seems lazy or rude. On the other hand, of course I want to give myself weekends off (most of the time anyway). Once I get into a good rhythm, I’ll try to share some tips for maintaining a work/life balance when you’re a full-time freelancer and blogger. The lines definitely get blurry.

However, my Memorial Day weekend was pretty chill. I saw X-Men Apocalypse on Friday (I thought it was way better than critics gave it credit for) night and took it easy on Saturday. I also re-watched one of my favorite movies, Before Sunrise  … I swear I will never get tired of the Before trilogy. Exercise-wise, I ran 3 miles both days and also did a little bit of yoga.

Sunday was a little more exciting. Two of my good friends are moving to San Francisco at the end of the month (uh, jealous) so they had a Memorial Day/birthday/going away party at their house in Humboldt Park.

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Logan and I headed into the city early to get lunch at Big Star. Just like Paris, Big Star is always a good idea. The place has a fabulous patio and is right in the heart of Wicker Park (and they serve damn good tacos), so there’s usually a fairly long line to get in. Luckily, we were seated within about 20 minutes. Logan got the Taco al Pastor (pork shoulder, pineapple, onion and cilantro), Taco de Pollo (chicken thigh, pickled chayote, queso fresco, pepita, sesame and cilantro), and Taco de Chorizo Cordero (lamb and pork chorizo, spring onion crema, radish and cilantro).

As you may know, I’ve been flirting with going back to vegetarianism lately. Though I haven’t sworn off meat yet, I’ve definitely been making an effort to reduce my meat consumption. I probably eat it about three times a week, and I’m trying to switch over to fish when I do eat meat. I got two vegetarian tacos and one pescatarian taco at Big Star.

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The Taco de Zanahorias (literally “carrot taco”) was, as you may’ve guessed, carrot-based. I never thought a carrot taco could taste so freakin’ good. The carrots were cooked in a mole sauce with just a touch of spice, tossed with radishes and cilantro, and topped with chipotle date yogurt, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. The dates in the yogurt brought out the sweetness of the carrots, while the chipotle gave it a smoky element that was further enhanced by the seeds. The seeds also gave it the perfect bite of crunch. SO GOOD. This was my favorite of the tree tacos I ordered.

I also got the Taco de Papas con Rajas, which was filled with potatoes and topped with rajas chipotle, queso cotija, onion and cilantro. Though this was also delicious, it was a little too cheesy for my personal taste. Cheese-lovers would adore it though.

Finally, I got the Taco de Pescado (you know, fish taco). Super good, though not particularly healthy, as the fish was beer-battered and fried. The texture of the fish was absolutely perfect though – tender, flaky and substantial (this wasn’t a flimsy little tilapia fillet, it was quite meaty and took up all the space on the tortilla) and perfectly complemented by chipotle mayo, cabbage, lime and cilantro.

We may also have split a pitcher of margaritas before proceeding to amble around my favorite bookstore, Myopic Books.

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After our buzzed literary foray, we headed over to my friends’ party, and then caught the train back to Wisconsin around 9. It was a long day, but super fun. Monday was full of picnicking, relaxing and catching up on Game of Thrones. All in all, it was a great weekend. I anticipate many trips into Chicago this summer – I just can’t stay away, I’m a city girl at heart.

Speaking of cities, I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be spending some time in one of my favorite cities in the world – New York – in July! Re-watchng Sex and the City and reading Vogue has really gotten me itching to explore New York. I’ve only been to NYC once, for a three-day trip back in 2012. That was a pretty crazy weekend … maybe I’ll tell you guys about it in a future post. Three hints as to the events that transpired: dry cleaning, hurricanes, and Halloween.

I’ll be staying in an artist loft in Williamsburg for one week, and plan on wearing glasses, rocking my fedora and working from cafes (among other things). Bet you wish you were as hip as me. Get ready for an adventure!

A 100% Clean Picnic Menu, Including Dairy-Free Chicken Salad Wraps

I’m officially on week two of my 28-day detox, and things are going pretty well. I’m really enjoying the way I’m eating right now. I’ll post about this in more detail later, but it’s essentially a clean eating plan. One of the food groups I’m not eating is dairy.

Here in Wisconsin, the weather is finally starting to get summery! (By the way, I’ve made it a personal goal never to struggle through another full Wisconsin winter. A 3-month trip to warmer climates may be in store for this winter – more on that later!) Over the weekend, the BF and I decided to make a picnic. Obviously, it had to be on par with my detox plans.

Detox or not, if you’re trying to eat clean, take some inspiration from what we made:

Drinks: Sparking water with lemon
Appetizer: Carrots and hummus
Main: Dairy-Free Chicken Salad Wraps
Dessert: Fresh fruit salad

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I’m excited to post my first-ever recipe on this blog! I hope to do more of them in future posts. I personally love finding recipes on healthy living blogs, and I’ve always dreamed of creating my own.

The recipe was super simple to made, and the chicken salad was SO GOOD! It’s made with coconut milk instead of dairy, so it’s full of healthy, wholesome fats. To make the recipe detox-friendly, you should technically buy a fresh, organic, antibiotic-free chicken. I picked one up from the farmer’s market and roasted it ahead of time.

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Dairy-Free Chicken Salad Wraps
Makes 8-9 lettuce wraps

Ingredients:
7-9 romaine lettuce leaves
1 lb. roasted chicken meat, chopped or shredded
1 14-oz can coconut milk (full-fat)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup red grapes, halved
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 green apple, chopped
1 T coconut oil
1/2 t dried garlic flakes
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the coconut milk, coconut oil (make sure it’s liquified first), lemon zest, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic flakes, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Combine the chicken meat with the celery, grapes, almonds and apple, making sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Pour the wet mixture on top of the dry mixture. Stir until combined.
  4. Lie the romaine lettuce leaves out in a row on a pan. Spoon the chicken salad mix into the center of the leaves.

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These were so delicious! They’re really healthy and low carb, plus the almonds give you that satisfying crunchy texture that you often miss a lot on low-carb eating plans. The lemon juice and cilantro are both detoxifying ingredients, and the combination of green apples, grapes and almonds is high in diverse antioxidants.

We really enjoyed these, as well as a gorgeous sunset and full moon. Anyone else take a look at the Blue Moon on Saturday? It was perfect weather for moon-watching here in Wisconsin!