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Rebecca Collected

Books I'm Itching To Read Next

Sunday, May 20, 2018
book chair reading cozy tea coffee mug black walls girl

Most of my daydreams about cozy home life involve me and a book.

Sitting on my sunporch under a blanket, reading on a crisp spring morning while my cats sunbath in the windowsills.
Laying out in my backyard with a beach read and some lemonade.
Listening to a late summer thunderstorm from the safety of my front porch while I devour the last pages of a compelling read.
Curling up in front of my fireplace and digging into a long classic with a cup of hot cocoa.

Does it really get any better than that?

bookshelf books book spines library

If you follow me over on Goodreads, you know that I've set myself a fairly lofty reading goal for 2018 of 30 books. As of today I've read 11 books, so I'm doing pretty well but I have a long way to go yet. There are certainly going to be plenty of chances ahead of me to live out all of those idyllic scenarios and luckily, I have a "to read" list that keeps up with and far exceeds those 19 remaining books!

books book library spines

So what am I looking to read next? How funny you should ask, I've got a list right here.



A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles

I read the author's first novel, Rules of Civility, two years ago and loved it. The prose was so atmospheric and gorgeous that I found myself rereading sentences just to revel in them. Rather than exploring more of late 1930s New York City, Towles' third novel takes place in 1920's Moscow. The book centers around a Count stuck under house arrest, living in a hotel. Historic, character-driven fiction, fantastic writing and a trip to a foreign country from the comfort of my own bed -- that's everything I could ask for. And great reviews certainly don't hurt either.








How To Sit - Thich Nhat Hanh

This book is completely unlike anything I've read before, but I'm very intrigued. First in a series of 5 "mindfulness essentials" short books, this book talks about sitting. Nothing more. Just how to sit. I've been reading more and more about mindfulness and meditation over the last few years and I would love to continue exploring. This book should be a fairly simple read practically speaking since each chapter is only a single paragraph long but I'm sure it'll take a lot more to unpack and digest the advice, visualizations and practices.








Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion - Elizabeth L. Cline

I'm simultaneously looking forward to and dreading reading this book. I have been increasingly aware of and interested in my personal impact on this planet, whether that be environmentally or ethically, and one of the biggest industries that I regularly participate in is the fashion industry, a notoriously bad industry in both regards. I'm hoping this book will back some shock value, because it's been really hard for me to kick the fast-fashion habit even though I know I should. It will surely be hard to read this, and I'll be sad to part with the fun, cheap fashion stores I rely on now, but I will certainly be happy about it in the long run!







Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking - Dana Schultz

Maybe this doesn't really count as a book, but that doesn't stop me from really wanting to dive into it. I cooked my first recipe from the Minimalist Baker blog in January as part of my 30 day experiment with all new recipes and since then I've made several of Dana's recipes many times over. In fact, I've got a batch of the quinoa taco meat in the oven right this moment! I love that all the recipes are plant-based so I can feel good about having less of an environmental impact but most of all I love that they're all super simple and every single one I've tried has been packed with flavor. I cannot wait to learn more about plant-based cooking and try out the recipes that are exclusive to the cookbook.






One Small Act of Kindness - Lucy Dillon

Lastly, the cherry on top. I absolutely love a good chic lit book. They're fun, unpretentious and always make you feel good, especially when the author frequently involves dogs in the story! I've read several of the author's previous books and I'm looking forward to returning to the little world she's created in small-town, dog-loving England. They stopped releasing her books in the United States as far as I can tell, but luckily I popped over to London recently and picked this book up. I'll laugh, I'll cry (I'm a sucker for those emotional rollercoasters) and I'll do it all with a G&T in hand, lounging out in the summer sun!

My Skincare Journey & Current Routine

Sunday, May 13, 2018
I wrote in my April favorites post that I was feeling very content with my current makeup and skincare routine so it only feels right to share a bit about that with you! I'll start with the foundation of it all -- my skincare routine and the journey I took to get to where I am now.

skincare beauty anti aging moisturizing hydration lotion sunscreen mask aha acid vitamin c

I really got into skincare about two years ago when I realized that 30 was just around the corner. Luckily I haven't struggled much with acne or any other skin concerns, so I was just focused on prevention. I knew enough from beauty magazines, etc to know that if I wanted to prevent wrinkles, retinol was my friend. I used face wipes or a foaming cleanser to take off my makeup at night, and introduced a pretty strong retinol eye cream. At this point I wasn't too concerned with hydration so I'd often have pretty flakey skin, especially in the winter. I was at least smart enough to start using a sunscreen on my face, so that's one plus!

skincare beauty anti aging moisturizing hydration lotion sunscreen mask aha acid vitamin c cerave

Eventually I started learning a little bit more about big time skincare additions like vitamin C and antioxidants. I found some serums online to add to my routine, but I still focused more on what I now think of as bonus add-on products. It wasn't until I discovered r/AsianBeauty and then r/SkincareAddition over on Reddit that I really changed how I think about skincare.

skincare beauty anti aging moisturizing hydration lotion sunscreen mask aha acid vitamin c the ordinary

I quickly learned the importance of nourishing and protecting your skin first, and putting all other products second. I realized that the face wipes weren't actually going to get my face very clean and that my foaming cleanser was way too harsh for my skin. Out went the high pH, stripping cleansers and in came the balm and oil based products. I ditched the wipes entirely which my face and the environment both appreciated. Suddenly I wasn't a flakey mess anymore!

skincare beauty anti aging moisturizing hydration lotion sunscreen mask aha acid vitamin c japanese sunscreen pa++++ 50spf

I became a woman on a mission to absorb all the skincare knowledge I could. I checked Reddit daily, started reading skincare blogs and watching YouTube videos about peoples' routines. I took notes and learned about all kinds of chemicals and ingredients. Now that I had my dryness under control I wanted to start adding in some of the things I saw other people using. I began to lose sight of what skin concerns I actually had and would try something so long as other people had seen it work for them. I was adding new products into my routine very quickly (big no-no) and using things that were inappropriate for my skin type. At one point I over-exfoliated with some BHA that I probably didn't need to be using in the first place and I could not figure out why my face was feeling so tight. My skin barrier was so damaged and/or confused by all the different products that to top it all off I started getting acne, despite never having had a problem with acne before.

skincare beauty anti aging moisturizing hydration lotion sunscreen mask aha acid vitamin c peter thomas roth cosrx rice water

At the beginning of this year, I stopped using anything but an oil cleanser, a moisturizer and a sunscreen. The acne went away and my skin felt more supple than it had been in months. After my skin stabilized, I very slowly started adding things back in -- one new product every two weeks. Today I'm not using much more than that stripped down, emergency routine, and my skin is as happy as can be.

Here's a look at my current skincare routine:

AM

Rinse with water if necessary (it's usually not)
Indeed Labs Hydraluron serum
Cerave PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion
Shiseido Senka Aging Care UV SPF50+ PA++++ sunscreen (phew)

PM

Illi Total Aging Care Cleansing Oil (check out my review here)
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays)
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 30%
Indeed Labs Hydraluron serum
Cerave PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

As Needed

Sheet masking! I'm not terribly picky about which masks I use and I constantly try new ones.
Peter Thomas Roth wash off masks (I talk a bit about them here)
Skinfood black sugar mask
Cosrx Ultimate Nourishing Rice overnight mask

Shiseido skincare beauty the ordinary cosrx cerave pm peter thomas roth moisturizing lotion vitamin c aha ha mask sunscreen overnight rice

As you can see, it's not a terribly complicated or fancy routine. I've scaled back quite a bit from my heyday and so it feels so simple to me! I'm thinking of adding back a gentle retinol product again soon, so I'm sure things will keep evolving. This time I'll be sure to take it slow and really evaluate whether the product is right for me and worth my time and money. And now, off to go indulge my skin with a little Sunday face mask session!

skincare beauty the ordinary cosrx shiseido cerave pm peter thomas roth moisturizing lotion vitamin c aha ha mask sunscreen overnight rice

It's Guac Time!

Sunday, May 6, 2018
It's Cinco de Mayo today, and even the grocery stores have got on board this year. Everywhere I look there's ads for chips, salsa, Mexican beers and best of all, really cheap avocados! Let's just breeze on past the fact that we Americans are once again turning another culture's holiday into an excuse to drink and instead make one of my favorite (usually summer) recipes -- guacamole!

guacamole avocado tortilla chip lemon cinco de mayo summer recipe tomato green onion salt tabasco chips

Maybe this guacamole isn't the most authentic guacamole in the world. It's missing things like hot peppers, cilantro or red onions that you seen in a lot of other recipes. My friend from Mexico was definitely skeptical the first time he tried my guacamole, but within an hour the whole bowl was gone so I'd say it passed the test. It's a little more work than just throwing a can of salsa into mashed up avocados ( 😱 - but no offense to those that do. ) and you'll have to bear with the fact that I don't have precise measurements for this family recipe, but it's certainly worth it! Grab your cooking Modelo and let's hit it.

guacamole ingredients recipe avocado lemon tomato green onion salt tabasco garlic bowl

Here's what you'll need:

2 ripe avocados 
1 bunch of green onions
1 or 2 tomatoes (picked straight from the garden if possible)
Lemon juice, to taste (You probably won't need more than the juice of 1 lemon)
Garlic powder, to taste (Or optionally fresh garlic. Or both.)
Salt, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

1. Chop 3 or 4 green onions. Include both the white part and the green parts!

tomatoes knife cutting board guacamole recipe

2. Dice your tomatoes, removing some of the watery, seedy part, but not all.

guacamole avocado recipe mash cutting pit

3. Cut your avocados in half the long way. Hit a knife, sharp side down on the seed until it sticks and then twist to remove the seed. Throw the buttery goodness into a medium mixing bowl mash (try a fork or a potato masher). You'll want a little texture so don't go overboard with the mashing here.

guacamole lemon juice squeeze juicer recipe

4. Squeeze on some lemon juice and mix in. The acidity helps prevent the avocados from turning brown.

5. Add your tomatoes and green onions. Stir to combine. There should be a pretty even distribution and you want to have enough of both veggies that there will be some in each bite.

guacamole chip taste recipe avocado tomato garlic green onion bowl

6. Season with salt, garlic powder and tabasco sauce and adjust flavors as necessary. If you're planning on eating the guac with chips, remember that they often bring a lot of salt to the table as well, so test it out on a chip!

And that's all there is to it. One batch will make a bowl for about 4 responsible portions, but like I did today, I often double up on everything because I find that people tend to devour it. Enjoy!

guacamole recipe food scraps avocado pit lemon green onion


April Favorites

Sunday, April 29, 2018
April has been a very special month. So many atypical things have happened this month that I'm sure I'll probably never see another month quite like it. Because of all the excitement, this month has been much more about experiences and events than about things, and so it's only natural that my favorites reflect that.

travel away suitcase herringbone glossier passport vacation wanderlust

First up is something I'm sure you've all seen coming. Traveling. I love it. I love seeing new places, learning about their history, checking out all the local museums and art galleries and eating all the tasty foods a place can offer. I've been lucky enough this month to get to not only travel, but travel internationally which just amplifies everything fun about traveling. I'm positive I'll travel again, but for now I just want to soak up what a privilege it has been and how nicely a two week break from the real world has treated me.

new job work desk mac mouse keyboard monitor screen standing desk

And now, hurdling back into the real world is my second favorite of the month -- starting a new job. Previously I was working the same job I've had for almost seven years. I loved the people I worked with and took a lot of pride in the product we were creating but it was time for a change. I'm now working for a much smaller team and I'm the only mobile developer at the moment. It's a lot of pressure at the moment, but it's a huge opportunity for me to spread my wings, become a lot more self-reliant and expand my knowledge base. Everyone has been really welcoming and helpful so I'm optimist about my future there. Bonus -- I'm not working in the travel industry!

gym fitness workout routine plan schedule weight cardio water bottle moleskin notebook staedler triplus fineliner camelback weight gloves nike

On the other side of the spectrum from all this newness, I've been really enjoying settling into and returning to things I know and love. My return to the gym after taking a break for vacation has been really positive. I've been taking a more laissez faire approach and doing a little of whatever I feel like each day. Normally that method hasn't resulted in my best efforts being put forth, but something about it now has me pushing myself harder than I have been lately and really feeling motivated while I'm in the midst of a workout. I've started listening to music again during workouts (a weird thing to have stopped doing now that I think about it) and I think that's really helped me eek out just a few more reps. I'm sure this style won't last forever for me, but I'm loving focusing on just the muscles I want to right now and just the types of exercise that get me all jazzed up.

makeup nars acrylic skincare skin brush sigma cerave sun glossier

Lastly, I've been feeling really good about my slimmed down, curated skincare and beauty regime. Traveling really makes you pick and choose exactly you enjoy and regularly use, and I don't feel any desire to going back to an expanded regime. A cleanser, hydrating serum, moisturizer and sunscreen have been all I've used for my skin and it's definitely loving it. No acne, no congestion, and no dryness. Maybe it's just the added humidity now that's getting warmer, but I don't feel like tempting it. As for makeup, a simple tinted moisturizer, concealer, brow gel, mascara, and maybe some blush and highlighter if I feel like it have been getting me through everything and with a fresher look to boot. I just love the feeling of loving what you have and wanting for nothing. I hope to find ways to spread that feeling throughout all different aspects of my life!

See you in May, which hopefully will be much calmer!

Lessons From Vacationing

Sunday, April 22, 2018
Vacations are typically supposed to be about relaxing, exploring, eating basically everything in sight and definitely less about life lessons, but sometimes you can't help what you get.


When we were prepping for this vacation, I spent a lot of time gathering ideas. Finding cultural things to do and see like museums and historical sights comes really naturally for me (thanks history minor), but I struggle to know what's good to eat and where or what the cool neighborhoods and shops are. Thankfully we've got social media for that these days, and so I went all in. I spent a lot of time saving Instagram inspo for places to visit and things to eat, reading city guides on all kinds of people's blogs and creating big lists of things to do, all nicely grouped together by location. You can even take a look at all my plans and ideas here! By the time we took off, I felt more prepared for a vacation than I ever have before.

But like anything in life, you can plan as much as you want but you will always run into differences between your expectations and your reality. Don't get me wrong. Everything on this vacation went according to plan, we had no major issues with and enjoyed every single place we saw, stayed and ate. There was absolutely nothing at all to complain about and we truly enjoyed our trip.




Instead there was just the matter of reconciling what I thought I'd want to do with with what I actually enjoyed doing.


I think I let the shiny, alluring perfection of social media coerce me and I lost sight of what I know has always enamored me with traveling. I wanted to live a slice of that "it girl" life that I'm so used to seeing online. So much of social media is about appearances -- the coolest cafe, the prettiest food and the trendiest shops. Truthfully, a lot of the times social media can be spot on! We went to a very Instagram-famous eclair place in Paris where the treats were delicious and oh-so beautiful and it was completely worth the trip. Several meals in Brighton were also social media recommendations that entirely lived up to their hype. But there were also several things on my list that at the end of the day, just weren't for me.

Being a cool kid can be exhausting. Couple that with traveling, which can also leave you feeling a little like a stranger without a real home (even when you're having a great time!), and cities with millions of people everywhere and it quickly all be a little too much for little old introverted me. I did enjoy what places I ventured to when I was feeling brave enough to wade through crowds or worry about my appearance but my desire to visit those places also tapered off quite quickly. And you know what? That's completely okay.


As the trip went on I found myself caring less and less about where we ate, just oping for sometime unknown, unpretentious and quite frankly easy. I traded shops for more museums and beautiful churches. I wore practically the same comfortable, warm and probably less stylish outfit almost every day we were there. We weren't afraid to spend the nights cuddled up in our Airbnb, eating a carb-heavy "dinner" in instead of out and about at the coolest restaurant. And it all just felt right.



I guess what I'm saying is this. Don't be afraid to be yourself. You don't need to be a cool kid if you don't want to. You can be that nerd that loves history and art and all the touristy stuff a city has to offer, and maybe occasionally take a trip to the trendy cafe nearest your hotel. Be flexible. Prepare for a trip, but know that maybe once you're there you won't want to hit all the places you thought were  must-sees. Try something out of your comfort zone, because now's the time, but know you don't need to stay uncomfortable the whole time you're traveling. Just do whatever interests you and enjoy your trip!

What We Did - London, Paris & Brighton

Sunday, April 15, 2018
We're back!

After a week and a half of traveling, I'm incredibly glad to be home, cooking my own food, sleeping in my own bed and cuddling up with my cats, both of whom are extra lovey and adorable right now. I'm not so glad, however, to have traded in the 70 degree, sunny Paris weather for the winter weather advisory we're currently in, but you can't have it all right? And now, after yammering on about this trip for the last few months, it's finally time to share with you lot what we got up to!







London

We spent 5 nights in London, staying at an Airbnb in the fantastic Belsize Park area. The first night we got in we wandered down to Camden Town, checked out the market, had a few beers at The World's End, and generally just took our time walking around and back up to our neighborhood, getting the lay of the the land.

The second day started off with a free walking tour starting in Covent Garden. We learned a lot of history from our tour guide and "enjoyed" our first spring English rain. For lunch we had a slice of pizza at Homeslice in Neal's Yard and then wandered through the Covent Garden area more. We went down to Camden Town again for dinner at Wagamama and then sought refuge from the rain in our flat.

Day three kicked off with a visit to my favorite museum, the Victoria and Albert museum. We caught a free introductory tour which gave us a lot more context of the exhibits and the museum itself than we would have gotten on our own. I highly recommend it! After the museum we grabbed some food from M&S and had a little picnic in Hyde Park. Since the weather had cleared up a little bit, we a little window shopping on Oxford street for a bit and then took the tube over to St Paul's Cathedral to do more sight seeing. We saw the cathedral, walked across the millennium bridge, popped into the Tate Modern for a bit, and then walked down to Tower Bridge. By then it was getting misty again so we took the tube up to Hampstead, did a little more window shopping and had dinner at a local burger place before heading home.

The summary of the fourth day is really short -- The British Museum. We spent easily at least 6 hours in the museum, taking several 30-45 minute free tours of specific rooms and doing our own wandering as well. We took tours about Roman Britain, the Enlightenment period, Medieval Europe and the Abyssinian reliefs, all of which were really well done and informative. We even ate lunch in the museum cafe which wasn't half bad! After the museum started closing we headed to dinner at Punjab in Covent Garden for some curry.

Our fifth and final full day in London had all kinds of activities. We walked over to St John's Wood to quickly check out Abbey Road and then headed back to Oxford street again, this time to do some actual shopping. We hit up all the high street favorites and of course Liberty. I only made one small purchase at Liberty and got a couple books at Waterstones -- I had to fit everything in my suitcase after all. We had lunch at Dishoom which was fantastic (and there wasn't even a line!), did some more shopping and then ended the day at the National Portrait Gallery for one of their Late Shift evenings.

And of course on our last morning in London, before catching our Eurostar from St Pancras we had to quickly stop by Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross. What self-respecting Potter fan could skip that?









Paris

Our three nights in Paris were jam packed. Our hotel, Hotel Palm, was only about a 15 minute walk from Gare du Nord so we happily walked in the beautiful, sunny 70 degree weather. After checking in we took our time wandering up to Sacré Coeur and joined the throngs of people sitting on the grassy hill in front of the cathedral, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view. We wandered the streets a bit more afterward, ending up people-watching outside at a cafe for a few pre-dinner drinks, and then grabbed dinner just down the street from our hotel.

The second day in Paris was just as beautiful as the first, even with a small rain shower in the early afternoon. We walked from our hotel to the left bank, heading to Boulevard Saint-Germain. We window shopped for a bit, then grabbed some beautiful and absolutely delicious eclairs from L’Éclair de génie and ate them by the fountain at Place Saint-Michel while waiting for our free walking tour. The walking tour was again very informative and well done -- highly recommended. We ended in a bar, grabbed a few locally brewed beers and then headed to the République area for dinner. The evening was capped off with a river cruise at sunset from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre and back.

We had a very early start on our third and last full day in Paris. We went to the Musée d'Orsay and used the Eurostar 2-for-1 deal. Seeing all the impressionist paintings was incredible, and even the museum itself was beautiful. After the museum we went to see Sainte-Chapelle which was easily the most breathtaking thing on the whole trip. The huge, intricate stained glass windows date from the 12th century and are completely awe-inspiring. Once we finished drooling over the windows we walked to Notre Dame, passing a little bird street market (???). Mass was happening while we toured Notre Dame which added a sense of realism to the grandeur of the whole church. To rest for a bit we headed to Jardin du Luxembourg where we sat in some chairs and sunbathed and people watched. We had to be up really early the next day for our train, so we grabbed some croissants, a baguette, cheese and some wine and headed back to the hotel.






Brighton

After an early Eurostar trip, a tube ride and another hour long train journey we arrived into Brighton. We were too early for check in at our Airbnb so we just headed down Queen street to the seafront. After a long weekend in Paris we were very good at people watching so we practiced a little more from the sea front while we waited, this time doing a lot of dog watching as well. After finally checking in we walked to Hove to grab fish and chips from Wolfies. To close the night we grabbed a few gin and tonics at The Gin Tub, which has become a serious contender for rank as my favorite bar ever. They have a huge number of gins available, the garnishes were beautiful and you order from an old school phone on your table!

Our only full day in Brighton started with a trip to Billie's for breakfast. Their portions were huge, the prices cheap and the food was delicious. After stuffing ourselves, we worked it off by walking to the Royal Pavilion to take a gander. Then we wandered around North Laine, hitting up Snooper's Attic, Abode Living, Utility and many other cute shops. To take a break from the consumerism, we walked the beach a bit and enjoyed the sun peaking through. In lieu of breakfast we grabbed some lattes and a snack from The Flour Pot bakery which was fantastic and then went back to the flat for a little rest. For the last dinner of our trip we walked back to Hove and had some delicious pizza at Fatto a Mano.

Before heading home we filled up on bagels from Bagelman and a few lattes from Small Batch Coffee. After checking out the duty free section, a 7.5 hour flight home we were back stateside in Chicago for a lovely stay with my aunt and uncle.