Minimalist Challenge Day 2: Los Cabos Doll Souvenir and Accompanying Mini Sombrero

I’m not sure why my friend gave me this doll since I have a doll phobia and am deathly afraid of inanimate objects that look like humans. Still grateful for the souvenir from Los Cabos! But it’s not bringing me any joy, and actually terrifies me a bit.

Terrifying Doll

The accompanying mini sombrero did not originally accompany the doll. It was on a random tequila bottle at a grocery store, and I loved it so much that the manager there gave it to me without making me buy the tequila. I’ve had it for almost two years, lugged it around, wore it to my first silly hat, tea party book club shindig.

Mini Sombrero

But it’s not bringing me any joy and doesn’t really match the rest of the paraphernalia I have decorating my counters. So off it and the creepy doll goes.

Review: Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones

I got into bicycling a few years ago when my parents-in-law bought my husband and I a pair of bikes. Since we lived in Long Beach, we loved to take trips along the Los Angeles River. Long Beach has a great bike community, and the streets were always perfect for cycling.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones

Hello Bicycle Review by Bumbling Panda

I didn’t know much about bicycles though, which is why this book HELLO BICYCLES by Anna Brones was such a cute addition to my library. It’s a guide for bicyclists that touches on how to exercise to keep in shape to cycle and also how to keep your bicycle tuned. There are even crafts projects that will turn an old tire tube into a wallet and other cool objects.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones Review by Bumbling Panda

Hello Bicycle Review by Bumbling Panda

The illustrations in this book were also adorable. The book is aesthetically pleasing to look at and thumb through. I loved the color scheme. I think it would make a perfect coffee book as well as an informative guide for the bicyclist. If you have a friend who loves to cycle, I’d definitely recommend buying this book for them.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones Review

The Minimalist Challenge: Day 1

In November, I’m going to be participating in the Minimalism Challenge. On the first day, I’ll give up one thing, on the second day, I’ll give up 2 things, and so on until on the 31st day, I’ll give up 31 things. I’ll document my progress here so that I’m held accountable for the things I give up–and also so I’ll have a memory of these items.

Letting go can be liberating, but it can also be tough, especially when they’re sentimental objects. But I’m tired of having so much clutter, keeping things in storage that don’t bring me joy and that I wouldn’t even remember about except that they’re taking up space in my room. So here’s to getting rid of things and freeing myself from material bondage.

Baby Cactus

The first thing I’m giving up is my baby cactus. We bought this baby on our writing retreat back in September randomly when we took a break to buy groceries. I loved this thing so much, I couldn’t stop snapping it. But since then, it has been sitting on my counter, unloved and, let’s be honest, dying. Because I can’t take care of plants. I’M LESS NURTURING THAN THE DESERT.

Baby Cactus by Bumbling Panda

Baby Cactus by Bumbling Panda

So goodbye baby cactus. You were loved.

DIY Sleeveless Skater Dress

This DIY Sleeveless Skater Dress is proof that good things can still happen on a bad day.

Happy Van in her Dress

It’s the first dress I’ve sewn in over a year.

A Line Dress by Bumbling Panda

So a couple days ago, I was having a really terrible time at work. I felt like sitting and crying at my desk for really no reason, one of the worse things about depression. Having depression sucks because you feel sad, like the deepest sadness ever like you’re in this deep black cave in your own mind and there’s no way out even though a part of you knows it’s only temporary, but there’s really no reason to feel sad, so then you end up feeling guilty for feeling sad, which makes you feel alone and unloved, which makes you feel sadder, which leads to more guilt. It’s a vicious cycle some days.

Anyway, so I went home but on the way, remembered that I had discovered a Joann’s directly on the route to my home. Since moving back to LA in January I haven’t stopped by an arts and crafts or fabric store–I haven’t even been back to LA Fashion District, even though it’s like 15 minutes from where I live now. I know! Shocker.

I promised my budget I would only buy one yard to make a dress out of (it only takes a yard for me because I am short. Lucky me!), but of course, had to nab this gorgeous plaid fabric that I eventually turned into a plaid scarf.

Plaid Scarf by Bumbling Panda

And then I struggled with only buying one yard. I really wanted this gorgeous galaxy-like mix of colorful knit fabric, but but but stopped myself. I’m so proud of me, yo.

I settled on chose this cute floral print instead (because I need more floral print dresses in my life). I didn’t pressure myself too much, just said I’m going to play around with making a dress and if I didn’t like it, well it was only like $8.

Floral Print Knit

Floral Print Knit Fabric

It turned out to be so much lovelier as a dress than when I saw it in the store. The fabric is lightweight but thick enough that I didn’t need a lining or double-layer for the bodice. My favorite types of dresses are ones without a lining, since I live in Los Angeles and spend most of my days sweating (TMI, sorry). I’m so glad that this fabric is light but thick with the perfect weight, coverage, and patterning in the print.

I busted out my sewing machine, which has been stowed in a box in my closet, and started cutting up some fabric.

And voila!

A Line Dress by Van Hoang

A Line Dress by Bumbling Panda

Sorry there is no tutorial. It’s such a simple dress though, very similar to these other ones I’ve made in the past.

Like this fit and flare a-line dress, but without the sleeves:

Or this one but without the ruched wasteline:

I’m glad to be making things again and getting out of my funk. Sometimes when I feel the depression monster sneaking up on me, it’s very easy to just let myself slip away. But this helped me be more present and mindful, and it helped distract me from darker thoughts. I was able to focus on a project, an end goal, and it turned out so well in the end. Times like this remind me that I need to be creative and make things and not neglect that artsy side of myself I desperately need.

DIY Plaid Flannel Scarf

GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS GUISE. I have great news!

I!

FINALLY!

MADE SOMETHING!

This DIY Plaid Flannel Scarf.

CHECK IT OUT YO.

Plaid Scarf by Bumbling Panda

Plaid Scarf by Van Hoang Bumbling Panda

Plaid Flannel Fabric by Van Hoang

Plaid Flannel Scarf by Van Bumbling Panda

Flannel Plaid Scarf by Bumbling Panda Van Hoang

Yeah it’s literally a yard of 60″ fabric that I frayed the edges of, then draped around my neck. So no tutorial yet but but but but but I’m coming around yo. Hopefully will actually have more projects soon. ;P

Like dresses.

And hats.

And things.

Review: Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn

Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn

Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn is such a cute book. One of those you’ll want to have lying around on your coffee table. It’s full of adorable illustrations and positive quotes that you can flip through to brighten part of your day.

Think Happy

I would highly recommend it as a gift. I could see myself browsing through this if I’m going through a tough time, and would even give it to a friend to help her cheer up.

Think Happy

Think Happy

On a random note, I’m now blond!

After watching a million videos and reading hundreds of articles (huge exaggeration here, obv.), I now know a lot more about hair than I did before.

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

null

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.