Review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Sometimes you read a book so amazing, you just want to cherish it and keep it a secret so that no one else’s opinions of it can ruin everything you loved. That’s how I felt about The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice.

But then I realized that beautiful things are not meant to be hidden away. This was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It was another book that made me stay up late into the evening when I shouldn’t have. It was one of those books where I was constantly going, just fifteen more minutes, thirty more minutes, an hour longer because I couldn’t put it down. I’m still experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Set in 1950s London, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets centers around Penelope, the wide- eyed daughter of a legendary beauty, Talitha, who lost her husband to the war. Penelope, with her mother and brother, struggles to maintain their vast and crumbling ancestral home—while postwar London spins toward the next decade’s cultural revolution. Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love, and when her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry uses Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, and a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s— and her family’s—future happiness.

Vibrant, witty, and filled with vivid historical detail, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is an utterly unique debut novel about a time and place just slipping into history.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

Like always, I didn’t read the blurb before I read the book since I like to be completely surprised. I delved into this lovely world and its complicated cast of characters without any expectations, and was always pleasantly introduced to people and places and shops and clothes that brought me to a different world. I wish I could go to teas at Aunt Clare’s and go shopping for Dior and fall in love with rich, handsome men.

While I love young adult novels, I’ve never been a fan of young adult romance novels or the New Adult genre that’s popped up recently. I prefer reading about teenagers who have magical powers, are fighting evil forces, or otherwise saving the world. Teenagers falling in fictional love always seemed so fickle to me (even though my own marriage was born during my teenage years 😛 ). I had also just finished reading a New Adult novel which left me feeling more frustrated than anything [ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT THERE’S A SEQUEL. Now I have to read it because I don’t like leaving things unfinished].

It was difficult to remember that the characters in this book were still teens. There was something sophisticated about Penelope, but also vulnerable. The person she would become was already there, but she had to be hurt and challenged in order to become her. In a way, we’re all like that, a little lost and insecure, waiting for life to pummel us into the shape we’re meant to be.

It’s also cool and at the same time not-so-cool to have a best friend who is prettier and more experienced and daring and amazing than you. Then again, why would you want to hang out with anyone who doesn’t challenge you to improve and be a better version of yourself? Not different, just better. I think Charlotte grabbing Penelope’s hand at a random bus station was the best thing that could have happened to either of them.

So I’m a sucker for romance. I burnt myself out reading too many romance books one year and thought maybe I should give it up. But then there are novels that aren’t explicitly romantic, but the love story will sneak itself in there, which makes it all the better.

Harry totally came off as an asshole at the beginning. He continued to treat Penelope pretty callously throughout the book, but even in those moments of “meanness” he had his way of being sweet to her and knowing her in ways no one else could. Her attraction to him sort of snuck up on her secretly and before she knew it, she was falling in love with him. Which is totally my favorite sort of love story. It probably started when he gave her the guinea pig. Maybe I am a total sucker, but the fact that you later find out he was actually altruistic and one of those dudes who came off as an ass but really was a good guy all along totally got to me. I saw a bit of Mr. Darcy in him.

I also loved the fact that they didn’t just get together right away when Marina didn’t work out for him after all. He realistically spend time away so that they could have their own relationship, isolated from the incidents that had forced them together.

The only weird part about the book, honestly, was when Penelope’s crush Rocky ended up with her mother. Like I totally saw that coming since he was forty-five and probably more in her mother’s age range. Just the fact that he was her love interest first kind of killed that for me.

Romance

Seriously, everything was perfect about this book. It’s always risky to rate anything 5/5 stars, but I think this book deserves it.

Review: Slammed by Colleen Hoover

Slammed Review by Bumbling Panda

I was first introduced to Colleen Hoover at a book club, when we read one of her other novels, November 9. The club seriously slammed the book for so many reasons, but I still enjoyed the author’s writing style, so I thought I’d give her another chance.

At the very least, I can say the book was entertaining. I read it all in one day because I needed to find out what happened next, sort of like a Korean-drama addict when I can’t stop myself from pressing the “Next Episode” button despite that I hadn’t slept in two days.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads (which, as always, I did not read before I started this book. Surprise!):

Following the unexpected death of her father, 18-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and younger brother. Outwardly, she appears resilient and tenacious, but inwardly, she’s losing hope.

Enter Will Cooper: The attractive, 21-year-old new neighbor with an intriguing passion for slam poetry and a unique sense of humor. Within days of their introduction, Will and Layken form an intense emotional connection, leaving Layken with a renewed sense of hope.

Not long after an intense, heart-stopping first date, they are slammed to the core when a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together, and the secret that keeps them apart.

I’m not saying I hated Slammed. I’m just saying that reading it was a bit frustrating. Maybe I don’t like reading about teen romance in general? I like my young adult dating to be done behind the front stage while the teens are conquering the world or defeating evil or epic-fantasying themselves out. So yeah, it’s my fault that I picked up a teen romance book.

Slammed by Colleen Hoover Review by Van Hoang

Here are some things I just couldn’t get on board with.

The fact that Will and Layken fall instantly in love

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I do get that there are some people you meet and are instantly attracted to, but. Come on. Serial killers and society have made us assume that all strangers are creepers until proven otherwise. Why is Layken trusting this guy so much already just because he has a little brother the same age as hers?

Will being creepy like literally the day after they first meet

Sure, everyone likes a guy with confidence and all. But he’s already touching her freely, examining her shoulder when they barely even know each other? Not cool. Here’s a quote from the book:

It startles me when I feel him brush the hair off my shoulder and touch my neck. His fingers slip under the collar of my shirt and he pulls it slightly down over my shoulder. “You’re going to need a new bandage soon.” He pulls my shirt back up and gives it a pat. His fingers leave a streak of heat across my neck.”

They have probably known each other a collective of one hour, two hours tops. No. Just no.

Their love is just oh so perfect–at the beginning

Gag me. When they first meet and have their date and everything, it’s like the world is rainbows and unicorns and butterflies. It was just a little too sweet. I get it though. The author was setting up their infallible relationship so that when crap hit the fan, it got all over the room too. But it was still a little cringey to read.

THE DRAMA

Layken seriously needs to stop wailing and whining and making it all about herself. I mean people have cancer and she’s all woe-is-me, I can’t make out with my boyfriend because society. I’m not saying people had cancer like how my mom always tells me kids are starving in Africa. People in the book. Literally had cancer. Or died. And she’s hiding in her non-boyfriend’s house having a weird breakdown organizing his CD collection.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. Will, her love interest, shares my opinion. More than halfway through the book, he’s all “Are you that selfish that you don’t give a crap about anyone else’s problems?” It was like YES THANK YOU, PLEASE TELL HER TO SHUT UP. I mean, her mom just told her she has CANCER! And she’s crying about her own problems!

What. Just. What.

Slammed by Colleen Hoover Review by Bumbling Panda

Here’s what I enjoyed about the book

Her best friend Eddie is super cool. One of those kids you wished you had met when you were new to a high school.

I totally related to Layken when she was all “It’s weird when your best friend has a better best friend.” Growing up in a big city, it is hard to actually make real, stable relationships despite that you’re constantly surrounded by people.

Despite that Layken often came off as whiny, spoiled and self-absorbed, Colleen Hoover created a character who was lonely and complicated and real. Layken had been through a lot of grief and trauma, and then she had to fall in love on top of it. I can understand her emotional meltdowns to a point. She was just a little annoying sometimes.

But let’s not let Will off the hook. I mean, after he found out why they couldn’t be together and he asked her to quit his class, he should have followed through. No good came from her remaining his student. I get it, Slam Poetry changed their lives and she needed to stay in the class for the sake of the story. But Will making the decision to let her stay said a lot about his character.

Not that I wouldn’t have done the same thing in his place. I’m weak too. It also irked me that he was just as fickle. He was supposed to be the responsible older adult. Yet it was Will who kept pulling Layken back when he should have set boundaries on their relationship. Like seriously? You can’t keep it in your pants for a few months?

Anyway now that the rant is over, I have to say I did enjoy the book. I read it straight through in one day. And now that I realized it’s part of a trilogy, I have to look into the other books. The author knows how to keep you hooked. Her characters have a real voice and she builds a wonderful cast and world.

What I Did in Portland, Oregon

Portland Oregon Skyline

My husband and I visited Portland July 2nd through 5th, so I know this post is super delayed!

Van Hoang

BUT FIRST!

A bunch of photos of me jumping in front of things!

Van Hoang Jumping

Van Jumping

Bumbling Panda Jumping

Bumbling Panda Jumping

I'm Not Jumping Here

Bumbling Panda Jumping

Van Hoang Jumping

Now that I got that out of the way, here’s a re-cap of what we did for the four days we were in Portland, Oregon.

Day 1 in Portland

We landed at about six in the evening, and took a Lyft to our AirBnB. (Our stay with Laurie was amazing, I would highly recommend her place if you also want to visit Portland any time soon.) Since it was still pretty early, we decided to go out for dinner, and headed to downtown. Our first stop was the Oregon Table (which is now closed!). Their burger and chicken curry was good for dinner, but since I hail from Los Angeles the land of diverse foods, to be honest, I didn’t think it beat any standards.

Oregon Table in Portland Oregon

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Chicken Curry at Oregon Table

Then we went to Cacao Drink Chocolate for some drinking chocolate. Not hot chocolate. Drinking chocolate. It was pretty delish but I wish the chocolate was a bit more rich and decadent. I was tempted to buy all their things.

Drinking Chocolate at Cacao Drink Chocolate Portland

And of course, when you’re with me, we have to hunt down the nearest bookstore. Can you find a place more perfect than Powell’s Books? There are four stories in this huge building full of books. Books books books!

BOOKS

And like other things.

Powells Books Things

Powells Books

Powells Books

And a coffee shop too.

Day 2 in Portland

We couldn’t miss church, of course, so we took the bus to the nearest church we could find. Along the way, we found a cute little gem, a diner called Tina’s Corner. I loooove breakfast. Brunch is probably my most favorite meal of the day, and the breakfast burritos here were amazing. The portions were ginormous and the coffee was so yum. Props for the great service too.

Tina's Corner

Tina's Corner Omelette

Church

Church

We headed to downtown again to take a free walking tour, which took us all around the downtown area. The guide gave us some pretty cool insights on Portland’s history, and we also got to see the famously hidden Portlandia statue!

Of course, no tour would be complete without a stop at Voodoo Donuts, but as soon as we saw the line, we were like NOPE.

Voodoo Donuts Portland

We headed to the big food court in downtown where we got some food and delicious soft-served ice cream from Salt & Straw. I went there again the next day, it was that good. I hear they’re opening a location in LA, and I’m simultaneously excited but disappointed now that the novelty will wear off.

Food

More ice cream

Ice Cream Salt and Straw

Ice Cream Salt and Straw

Afterward, we had some time to kill before our dinner reservations. Husband and I like to do this thing where we purposefully “get lost” and pretend we’re in a grand adventure novel. So we hopped on a bus and let it take us wherever it wanted.

We ended up in Old Town. The view of the bay was gorgeous.

Old Town

Old Town Portland

Then we had dinner reservations at this cute little, fancy place called Little Bird Bistro. The fried chicken was possibly the fanciest fried chicken I had ever tasted.

Little Bird

Little Bird

Little Bird

Little Bird

Day 3 in Portland

On July Fourth, I had been hoping to go to Pittock Mansion, but was afraid that it’d be closed for the holiday. Luckily for us, it was open. We were going to take the guided tour but then decided to explore on our own. I love history and anything vintage, so this was definitely my favorite part of the trip. The mansion on the hill also provided an amazing view of Portland, so we hung around being silly for a while.

Pittock

Daisies

Flower things

Van seeing

Van Hoang Hiking

Alex

Van Hoang at Pittock Mansion

Pittock

Flowers

I want to stay here forever

Portland View

Library

Pittock

Pittock

But then we got hungry. We found a quick place to eat at a Thai restaurant across from the harbor so we could walk across and watch the fireworks.

Thai Food

And then we sat around and waited for it to get dark. Because of Portland doesn’t get dark until very late. We had to wait until well past 10:00 PM before it was dark enough for the fireworks to start. It was totally worth the wait though. We watched a bunch of guys do some pretty cool tricks with a soccer ball. We thought about going to the famous Blues Festival but decided the crowd wasn’t worth it.

Day 4 in Portland

On our last day in Portland, we decided to head to downtown one last time. Also the train from there would take us straight to the airport. We did some last-minute exploring and visited some shops so we could get souvenirs for our friends and coworkers. We finally got to eat breakfast at Tasty & Alder, which was well-worth the hour-long wait.

Tasty n Alder

Burger

Another Burger

Cute salt

Then we made a last stop at Stumptown Coffee. The brew was delicious. I’m a huge sucker for latte art.

Latte Art by Stumptown Roasters

We got lost on the way to the airport because I’m not good at navigating public transit. But we made it on time and back home safely!

My thoughts on Portland

My husband and I are scouting possible states or cities we might want to move to after our jaunt in Los Angeles comes to an end. We had been hoping Portland might be our new home. But while I was there, I just wasn’t feeling it. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing adventure trip. Learning the culture and history of the area was eye-opening. Also, everyone there is super friendly and very quick to give out compliments. I would definitely recommend it as a place to visit, but for now, our search for our new home continues!

The Search Continues

Review: Home on the Range by Ruth Logan Herne

So I did not know this book was second in a series, and just picked it at random since I don’t like knowing what books are about before I read them. I did feel a bit lost during references to characters in places in the book that were prominent to the series as a whole but still enjoyed the story.

Pros:

The children were realistic and not annoying, and their development after what they’d been through was well paced and informative. I’m not a parent but I learned a lot about child psychology in this book.

I liked the cast of characters, including the main ones.

I really felt like I was living in a ranch.

Dakota was the sweetest fictional little girl ever.

Cons:

I am Christian, and I picked a Christian book to read, but felt like I was getting so much Bible verses shoved down my throat. I felt like they could have been added in a more organic way but sometimes felt forced to the point of cringing.

(spoiler) That weird thing with Nick walking away from Elsa after her meltdown didn’t sit well with me. Yea he had a reason to be angry, but walking away from someone who just had a panic attack is not okay, especially when you were professing your love to her, and telling her nothing she could say would turn you away, literally just a day ago.

The writing style often felt repetitive. There was lots of telling and explaining rather than showing, in addition to all of Elsa’s psychological explanations. It all got kind of tedious. Example, Nick’s internal monologues stated at least 3 or 4 times that he married Whitney to spite his father. And then he has a conversation with his father saying the exact thing. We get it.

It was an overall enjoyable book, full of sexy Cowboys and PG kissing and lots of Bible verses. I would recommend it if you are looking for a clean, cute summer read.

Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (the audiobook)

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson (Review), narrated by Lincoln Hoppe

Full Disclaimer:

I love Lincoln Hoppe as a narrator and will listen to him read anything, even if it’s just a grocery list.

That being said, Hoppe did a great job narrating this book, as he does every book I’ve listened to. He really knows how to bring the characters to life, especially for stories written in first-person narrative.

Synopsis of the story (taken from Goodreads):

On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.

Another disclaimer:

I don’t like reading about blurbs about books before I read them. I don’t like knowing what the book is about because I want to find out for myself. I like plunging into novels without any expectations so I can be completely surprised and amazed by all the changes a character goes through.

The moment I started listening, I was hooked

The writer has an amazing ability to draw me in with graphic, gritty details that had me cringing but perversely drawn into the story. Sort of like when I see roadkill and I know it’s gross but I can’t help but stare. The character’s background was given in sharp detail without drawing away from the main plotline. The writer was able to give us a glimpse of how the character is the way he is without making any rationalizations or becoming boring.

The story stayed amazing and enthralling until about halfway through the book when…weird things…started to happen.

Now, yet another disclaimer. I love fantasy and science fiction. I believe 75% of what I read falls into the epic fantasy genre, which I’m only stating to point out that I have no trouble suspending my belief, especially when reading a novel.

But I found the stories Marianne Engel told, once she entered the scene, too distant to be believable. I believe this was where the writing became a muddled for me. She told the story in detailed prose, but she kept referring to the main character (and we never find out his name) as “you,” which would sort of snap me out of the story to remind me that it was just a story, thereby making it less believable. I know it was to keep the narrator unnamed, but this was the end result.

Once I finished the book, I was even less convinced of the magic that had originally kept me so enthralled in the first half. I was instead overwhelmed with questions, like:

1. If Marianne is really more than 700 years old, what happened during the time she died and was resurrected? Did she live to be that old, then died, then was re-born? Or did she lead many lives, forever searching for her true love (aka the main character)? If so, did she remember who she was in each life? How did she know who she was in this life?

2. How come Marianne could remember her past life but the main character couldn’t?

3. If she gave all her hearts to those gargoyles, wouldn’t they be alive somehow? Because she gave her last heart to the main character so…

4. What did she mean when she said “Our kind don’t die easily”?

5. How come Marianne’s penance to achieve salvation was so much more severe than the main character’s? If you really wanted to argue, he was a much bigger sinner than she was in both timelines. I mean, she was a nun who decided to marry a guy for love. He was a mercenary who killed people, and then later became a porn star (never thought I’d write that sentence, ever). So she had to live 700 years and give out hearts and carve gargoyles till she bled, and all he had to do was chip away at his own statue?

6. What was the point of it all? Was it to prove that their love endured all these years, all these lifetimes? That their love brought them back together even after death? Because that sure didn’t happen. Like, okay, yeah, they were brought back together. And sure, they got to spend some time together. But in the end, she left him. Again. And when they were together, she spent all that time carving or being annoyed when she was not carving.

All I’m saying is I didn’t feel the love. I heard him talk about it. I heard Marianne talk about it. But I didn’t feel it.

6. Or was it to point out that your life isn’t over unless you’ve paid back all your sins? Like our lives on this earth are just sentences in purgatory we’re made to live until we’re given enough chances and paid off enough sins to finally enter heaven.

Which is the complete opposite of the salvation I’ve put my faith in.

If you look at the main character’s journey toward salvation in the end, however, it is a beautiful development. He went from being a cynical porn star/drug addict to someone who was loved, and loved others. His growth alone was enough to carry the story.

I have to give this book 3/5 stars. If you love prose and the beauty of words, I would recommend at least reading the first few chapters, just to appreciate the writer’s beautiful execution. I would recommend the book as a whole just so we can talk about it. But for me, it lost its magic and left me feeling more lost than saved.

Review: Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen by Victoria AveyardGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

I’ve been on this huge YA kick, probably because I’m trying to write one of my own and mostly because they’re the best stories out there. I’ve never been into those super literary novels. Sure I love my classics (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE will always have a special place in my heart), but once in a while I like to indulge in gripping action-y teen romance, fickleness and all.

That being said, I’m really sick of these series where the books just end mid-cliff-hanger.

I get it. Sometimes stories are long and a trilogy or series is necessary. But even so, each installment in a series is meant to be a story on its own, complete with beginning, middle, end; inciting incident, growth, rising action, climax…you know, that mountain thing our English teachers were always drawing on their white boards.

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But lately the series I’ve been reading, especially YA, are all just one long story that drags on for as long as possible, broken into three chunks that aren’t really complete in and of themselves. And then you’re forced to wait and read the next story just because you’ve already started this one and you need to know how it ends.

Now that my tirade is over, here’s what I thought of Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard.

I like a strong female character.

Mare isn’t a simpering female fool, and it’s refreshing to see a female character grow into her own in a realistic way (as realistic as developing magical abilities and rising to great power in a matter of months can be).

Thank God there was no love triangle.

I’ve never been a fan of love triangles, so I’m glad that any hint of one in this book is pretty clear cut. I don’t like characters that go back and forth between their love interests. That’s greedy. Make a decision.

Action and progress.

These books were pretty easy to read, because there was a lot of killing and fighting and attempted murdering; and scenes that didn’t involve action sequences were very short.

But there was no sizzle.

However, while having shorter, progressive scenes made this book fly by, it also made the world, story, and characters feel distant. I could never quite connect with Mare because I felt as if most things were summarized. Unless she was killing something or someone was killing her, there was a slight fuzziness to the story, like I was viewing it through a glass. I couldn’t get myself to care about the characters that she cared about, because I never got close enough to them. I’m usually a sucker for romance. Any mention of a blush or faster heartbeat in the presence of a muscled prince, and my spine goes ramrod straight. But with Mare and Cal…there was no sizzle for me.

The villain didn’t get to me.

Along that line, when (spoiler alert) Mare is betrayed by a certain someone…I didn’t feel betrayed. I didn’t hate him. To me it was just another…[insert plot point here]…sort of thing.

Overall, I enjoyed these novels. My opinion might be overshadowed by how upset I was that the book ended abruptly on a cliff-hanger, and I really just don’t appreciate getting sucker punched like that. I also normally wait until a trilogy is complete before I embark on the journey because this is a personal pet peeve. I don’t like having to wait until the next installment to find out what happens. The fact that the second book ended the way it did, added to the fact that I now have to wait for the next book made it even worse.

But I will be reading the last book. So it was a pretty entertaining series nonetheless. I would give these a solid 3/5. Hopefully by the time the last book comes out, my anger will have dissipated, and the story will justify its spread across three books.

DIY Citronella Bug Repellent Candles

DIY Citronella Bug Repellent Candles

DIY Citronella Bug Repellent Candles

Finally crossing these off my arts and crafts bucket list.

I get a lot of mosquito bites. Step outside for five minutes in the summer and I’ll be covered in red welts. Those suckers love me. Candles have been something on my arts and crafts bucket list for a while, so when I finally got around to making them, I decided to also make them bug repellent. These DIY Citronella Bug Repellent Candles are practical AND they smell nice AND they’re pretty to look at. Is anyone else as addicted to washi tape as I am?

Here are the materials I used:

DIY Citronella Bug Repellent Candles

Pour wax into your double boiler and start melting it over medium heat

Preparing Melting Wax for DIY Bug Repellent Candles

My double boiler held about 2 cups of melted wax. This project took way longer than I had projected, and I ended up just adding more to it as it melted, since the wax shrinks once it melts.

Let’s just get this out of the way that I am very sucky at measuring things. This is why everything I bake turns out WRONG. So…sorry.

Melting Candle Wax for Bug Repellent Candles

Melting Wax for Mosquito Repellent Candles

While I waited for the wax to melt, I prepared the candle wicks.

I dabbed a bit of E6000 glue to the tab of the candle wick. Then I plucked it onto the bottom of my glass jar.

E6000 Glue Materials for DIY Bug Repellent Candle

Using E6000 Glue for Wicks DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Preparing Wick for DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Once the max has melted, set it aside in a bowl to cool.

Melting Wax for Mosquito Repellent Candles

Melted Candle Wax for Bug Repellent Candles

Candle Wax in Bowl to Cool Down for Bug Repellent Candles

Choose what essential oils or smells you want for your candle.

Essential Oils for DIY Bug Repellent Candles

I knew mine was going to have citronella, but I didn’t want it to be overpowering, so I added other scents. I found that orange made the citronella more bearable, even though I don’t particularly like citrus-y smells. Tea tree oil also works wonders, and so does eucalyptus.

I am by far not an expert on essential oils. I suggest reading more about them, as it will open up a whole new world of DIY to you. Lotion and body butter anyone? (Coming up soon!)

Once your wax has cooled for about two minutes, add in your oils.

I used Jillee’s recommendation of 75 drops to a pound of wax (about 2.25 cups of wax).

Drop Essential Oils in Candle Wax DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Give it a stir.

(Please don’t use that chopstick to eat with later.)

Stir Essential Oil into Wax DIY Candles

Carefully pour your melted wax into your containers.

Pour Wax in Jars DIY Candles

I had to ghetto engineer the wick so that it stayed propped upright while the wax cooled and hardened.

Cool Down Wax for DIY Bug Repellent Candles

SCIENCE.

Candle Wick in Hot Wax DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Cooling Down DIY Bug Repellent Candles

I let it cool overnight (a few hours should do the trick, though) and then snipped the wick to a quarter inch above the wax.

Snip Wick for DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Then I taped it up with washi tape!

Most of these tapes are gifts from my best friend Rebecca. The shape of the jars was difficult to maneuver, so apologies for the less-than-perfect execution. Hey, I spent like 5 hours melting wax, all right. I deserve these kisses.

DIY Bug Repellent Candles

Husband came out of the bedroom mid-project and sniffed the air. He was all, “Oooh, smells good.” Then he walked into the kitchen and was like, “Are you cooking meth?”

Yes, because that is what I do in my spare time, in my kitchen.

So there ya go. I hope you guys try out this DIY. It’s simpler than you think and makes you feel like a super mad scientist who doesn’t like mosquitoes. Have fun and enjoy!

My First Time at a Korean Sauna

First Time at a Korean Sauna

My Sister was with me during my First Time at a Korean Sauna

I had no idea it was nude!

Don’t worry, I survived.

So if you’ve never been to a Korean sauna, then let me just tell you something: the faster you get over the nude issue, the more you’ll enjoy yourself.

I was suuuper self-conscious at first. And no one else cared. Seriously, no one.

Plus, you’re only nude in the separate women/men areas and you can always wear the spa uniform they provide. The only necessarily nude part was when you had to shower, since they had an open shower layout. Some girls wore their bikinis, which was allowed at the sauna we went to, but not allowed in other places, so you can always call ahead to make sure.

My sister and I decided to brave it out our first time at a Korean Sauna at Spa Palace in Koreatown which is in Downtown Los Angeles. There are a ton of other saunas. Guess where? Yes, Koreatown. So check out Yelp for some good ones.

Side note: I actually lived in Koreatown for about two years shortly after college. It was a rather interesting experience I’ll never want to try again. However, I think I would move back, solely for the spas.

The price is okay if you pay the full retail, which is $25 for a day pass and $30 for a night pass. Day hours are 6:00am to midnight and night hours are 8:00pm to 6:00am. That’s cheaper than a hotel! If you get the day pass and stay into the night (after midnight), you have to pay an extra $10.

However, I went ahead and bought the 10-day passes booklet for $150 (with cash. If you pay with a credit card, they charge $180–I believe this is a promotion that’s around for a “limited time”) since I had a feeling I’d be back. That brought the day passes to $15 each. Which is pretty nifty in my opinion!

Day Pass for First Time at a Korean Sauna

Then I read the fine print and apparently you can’t stay past 6 hours or they’ll charge you upwards of $15. Not that I have been able to handle more than 6 hours at the spa, to be honest, but I would have liked to have the option! Especially when they tout the ticket as an all-day pass. But. Whatever. Principles, I suppose.

Spa Palace Ticket Back First time at a Korean Sauna

My first time at a Korean sauna, I packed waaaay too much stuff. The tiny sliver of a locker they provide barely had space for my giant gym bag, purse, extra pairs of shoes, and towels. Yes, I am an over-packer. I just don’t know if I’ll be in the mood to wear my Ron Swanson t-shirt and ripped jeans or my fit-and-flare floral dress, okay? Also, they gave me an odd-numbered locker, which are the ones on to upper level, so if you’re short like me ask for an even-numbered locker. I had to stand on the stool to reach my stuff. 🙁 Short people problems.

I learned my lesson though, and narrowed it down to only a few items that you’ll need to bring to the spa.

What to Bring Your First Time at a Korean Sauna

I would suggest you only bring a change of clothes (don’t forget clean undies and socks!), your bathing suit, and an extra towel if you want it. The spa will provide the uniform that everyone wears in the co-ed areas, shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. Girls get one regular-sized towel and one hand towel. Guys only get a hand towel (was very confused the first time I went with Husband, and he did not get a regular-sized towel). They won’t give extra towels unless you ask, and then you feel like a nuisance, plus you have to walk all the way to the front desk in your spa attire, which you won’t want to do.

My first time at a Korean sauna, my sister and I sprung out for a complete beautification experience. I made a delicious coffee and honey scrub, which we lathered all over ourselves. And I mean. All. Over. I’m glad I used this at a sauna and not at my own home because man. What a mess. But it left our skin smooth, exfoliated, and moisturized. I would totally do it again.

Then I also used this dead sea mud mask, which buuuuuurned, but left my face super soft and exfoliated.

We even put our hair in hair masks and leave in conditioner. So after my first time there, I felt completely primped and clean and scrubbed all over.

Then we spent all day soaking in hot tubs, dry saunas, and sitting in steam rooms. We tried out the Himalayan Salt Room to “soak up the minerals,” the Gold Room (which was just hot and painted gold), and Elvan Stone Room (hot with an…Elvan Stone. I still don’t know what that is or does, sorry), the Loess Soil Room (laying on tiny, warm beads felt amazing, but prepare to lose all dignity when you try to leave!), and shocked our body in the cold room, which was around 55 degrees (so pretty much like stepping outside that night since it was raining).

So here are my tips if it’s also going to be your first time at a Korean sauna:

    • Seriously get over the nude part as soon as possible. Other people don’t care–and in fact, they feel sorry for you if you’re self-conscious. Those Asian ladies will look at you funny. You know what look I’m talking about
    • If the nude thing really bothers you, just hang out in the spa uniform. No one will care then either
    • There are more things to do in the co-ed areas than the separate women/men rooms, so you can always hang out there clothed for the most part
    • Leave most of your crap at home. You won’t even need your phone, and shouldn’t even have it out unless you’re in the co-ed areas. YOU’RE HERE TO RELAX, SO RELAX ALREADY CAN’T YOU JUST RELAX??
    • Bring your own towel, at least to this location
    • Try out their food, especially the green tea ice cream
    • Go when it’s raining or cold outside! Nothing feels better than a warm sauna on a wintry day

They also provide a blow dryer, q-tips, and body lotion in the women’s locker room, so you won’t need to pack that.

Oh, and don’t forget your deodorant.

Husband and I went back the following week for a couple’s massage, which was rather different than what I was expecting. First of all, it wasn’t one of those relaxing massages where you felt pampered after. It was one of those I-will-beat-your-muscles-into-pulp massages that left you feeling like mush. We got back home after five hours at the spa, and felt bad for leaving our fur-babies at home all day on Saturday. It’s usually the one day they would get to enjoy with us.

But no. I guess they had their own fun.

Pollo and Lucas Singing Thinking out Loud by Ed Sheeran

I hope you guys visit a Korean sauna one of these days, and tell me all about it! One of these days we would like to visit Korea and go to a real one, but until then, we’ll make do with the offerings in L.A. I guess there are some good reasons to move back here after all.

At-Home Manicure: Tips from a Former Manicurist

Give Yourself an At-Home Manicure

Treat Yo’Self: How to DIY an At-Home Manicure

Tips from a Former Manicurist

Ah, yes. I used to do nails. Yes, I am Asian. Yes, Vietnamese. Yes, I know I am very cliched. Sorry ’bout that. But hey. Now I get to give you some tips on how to DIY an at-home manicure, right? You can save some money from those trips to the salon!

Disclaimer and side note: They’re totally talking smack about you.

Let’s just skip my whole sob story about my short career as a manicurist and what a horrible job that was, and get down to business shall we?

Here’s what you’ll need:

At Home Manicure Materials

  • Lotion and water in a bowl
  • Cuticle pusher or orange stick
  • Cuticle remover cream (optional)
  • Nail clipper (optional)
  • Base coat, nail polish, and top coat
  • Something to read or watch while you wait for the beauty godmothers to work their magic

Let’s get started on your at-home manicure

Start with clean nails. Wipe off any remaining nail polish with a polish remover. I like ones with acetone because they’re efficient, but they can also be very drying so whatever you prefer is fine, so long as it removes all the polish off your digits.

If you’ve got thick cuticles like me, you’ll need to soak your fingers in a bowl of water and lotion or cuticle cream. I just use lotion. To speed up the moisturizing process, I’ll even dab globs of lotion onto my nailbeds and let my fingers soak in more lotiony water. Sorry I didn’t have a more attractive bowl on hand. 😛

Hand Soak At Home Manicure

Then I take a cuticle pusher (I’m using Sally Hansen’s Push-n-Trim) to gently nudge my cuticles into my nailbed. It’s common practice to cut cuticles, but you should never do that because you might give yourself an infection. You have cuticles for a reason, which is to protect your nails and fingers. If you have excess dead cuticles, you can remove them with a cuticle remover cream.

Cuticle Pusher At Home Manicure

This Sally Hansen tool comes with a trimmer at one end. If you must, you can very very gently trim your excess cuticles. But be careful or you can catch some skin.

Cuticle Trimmer At Home Manicure

If you need to trim your nails, do so now also. I like to keep my nails short because keeping them long is just one more way to hurt myself. And also, how do girls even function with long nails? How do you do things, like life?

Anyway, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove any lotion or gel from your nails.

After Image for At Home Manicure

Get your polish on

When applying nail polish, you should always use a base coat, which will prevent chipping and staining, and keep your color lasting longer. I’m using essie Grow Stronger Base Coat.

Grow Stronger Base Coat At Home Manicure

To stave off chipping, apply polish with thin, even coats. You should never apply more than three brush strokes per nail. Gently place the brush at the base of your nail, just touching your cuticle, and stroke downward in the middle. Then stroke each side of your nail. Do up to three coats. This is an awesome video that also explains how to paint your dominant hand with your non-dominant one. It just takes practice but you can manage it perfectly, trust me.

I’m wearing my sister’s borrowed OPI before I have to return it to her this weekend. It’s such a fun color! I’ve been addicted to essie’s polishes, but was pleasantly reminded of OPI’s thick brush. It made for applying the polish a lot easier and smoother. This color was a bit streaky on the first two coats though, to be honest, so I had to apply a third.

OPI Nail Polish At Home Manicure

Once I’ve got my polish on, I like to let my nails dry for about fifteen minutes depending on how thick the polish went on (some colors need three coats). This is where having something to read or watch comes in handy.

Side note: I was finishing up Crown of Midnight, the second installment in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, and it was de-lish. Made the whole waiting process in this at-home manicure much more bearable and guilt-free.

Then I will finish my nails off with a top coat. I’m using essie No Chips Ahead.

No Chips Ahead At Home Manicure

Again, let it dry for about fifteen to thirty more minutes. Yes, beauty takes time! Don’t be tempted to touch it! Don’t be tempted to do anything. I will be watching you. Just rest your hands on top of a surface and do not, do not touch anything. Seriously. Even if you know you’ll be “careful.” That doesn’t exist. It’s like freshly painted nails are a magnet for dents and scratches and fluffy dustbunnies and dog hair and potato chip crumbs. I DON’T KNOW HOW THOSE GOT ON THERE I SWEAR I WASN’T EATING ANY.

And I also hope you went to the restroom before you started. I warned you!

How to Give Yourself an At Home Manicure

After about thirty minutes, you should be good to go! Simple and easy, no? It’s the perfect way to treat yourself without splurging. I hope you try this at-home manicure yourself!

If you got excess polish on your fingers, you can take a brush dipped in some acetone to gently remove it. If you’re too lazy to do that, it’s okay, it’ll disappear once you wash your hands enough times. 😛

So I’m totally obsessed with essie’s beautiful shades right now. What’s your favorite brand of nail polish? Color? I’m totally into this Sugar Daddy. It’s so subtle and cute, and I woke up with a smile when I saw it first thing in the morning. Oh, the things that make me happy…

A Challenge to Be Nicer to One Another

Be Nicer to One Another

Be nicer to one another, Shall we?

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today…

and then it felt like I was in some Groundhog Day-esque time loop where I kept waking up on the wrong side of the bed, even though I had gotten out of it hours ago. At first I thought it was just me and I’m going through a serious grump sesh. But then things kept happening that made me fall deeper and deeper into a spiral of anger. Seriously, why do people have to be so mean? Why can’t we be nicer to one another?

First off, on the drive to work, a mini-cooper kept tailgating me. Of course, I don’t condone tailgating because it can lead to some avoidable accidents. I’ve actually witnessed an accident where the cars were going literally three miles an hour (I was right next to them!) and an SUV smushed the trunk of a sedan because he was following that close. And, why? You’re either deliberately provoking the person ahead of you or giving someone else anxiety and stress. Traffic in Los Angeles isn’t bad enough as it is?

To be fair, I can sometimes understand instances of tailgating when it’s accounted for–like if someone is going really slow in the fast lane and they should move aside for the speedy cars. But I was not in the fast lane, nor was I driving particularly slow. Nor was there much traffic in the lanes around me. I mean, it was six in the morning. So why was this person tailgating me?

I do not know. It was rude and it was stressing me out. And eventually they moved to the slower lane and cut me off, which bothers me even more because there was no one in the fast lane! Double argh. And then I ended next to them at the exit light! So all that trouble was for nothing, buddy. Joke’s on you.

Second, at the gym, I was working on my shoulders and between sets, I like to work out a different muscle group. It’s efficient and I don’t like to let my heartrate drop too low between sets. But some girl stepped in and took over the shoulder machine which, hey, is fine. I wasn’t using it. So I grabbed my water bottle which I had left at the machine (and which she saw me do, so she knows I was using it), and moved on to the next machine while I waited for her to be done. She did like five reps, and then she sat there typing away on her phone. I kid you not, I completed six whole sets (of combined triceps and back) and she was still typing!

Well whatevs. I didn’t want to work on my shoulders anyway 😛 so I went downstairs to do abs.

And THEN, after showering, I was walking down the hall and the SAME girl takes a step right in my way. I almost crashed into her. And she was too busy staring at herself in the mirror to notice. To be fair, once she did notice, she muttered a quick “sorry,” which I do appreciate.

Anyway, this turned out into more of a rant than I would have liked. And I’m aware that I can sometimes be not the nicest or friendliest person in the world. I could go out of my way more often than I do. I can smile at strangers and open the door for someone. But most of the time I walk around with a frown on my face. Mostly it’s because the sun is in my eyes, but sometimes it really is because I can’t get out of my dark mood.

That frown is highly contagious, and is one of those thing that get worse and worse if I don’t do something about it. Like a hunger headache, the longer I ignore it, the stronger it grows. And the thing about grumpiness is that it’s infectious. Somehow, someone being a jerk to me will cause me to be a jerk to myself and everyone else.

Which is why I’m going to make an effort from now on to be kinder and more considerate of those around me. And it’d be cool if everyone joined me. This is a challenge to be nicer to one another. To just be more aware of your surroundings and how your actions affect your environment and the people breathing the same air as you.

I’ve created this Be Nicer Challenge Schedule to get us started. Download it, follow it loosely, follow it strictly, there are no rules.

be nicer

The idea is to do little things every day that will eventually add up into bigger things. We’ll start small, with just some eye contact and a smile (sounds like I’m picking someone up at a bar 😉 ). And then we’ll move on to bigger things, like volunteering and baking cookies. What do you guys think? I’m open to suggestions as well! And I hope you guys join in this quest to be nicer to one another.