What I’ve been reading, January 2014

If I could, I think I’d just hibernate this winter with a mug of hot chocolate and about a thousand books. (Seriously, it’s way too cold, as I’m sure your Facebook friends have readily informed you.)

But since that is apparently not a possibility (thanks, responsibilities)(and marathon training), I’ll have to settle for my usual subway reads.

Speaking of which, it seems like a good enough time to share a new installment of “What I’ve been reading.” You can read the first one here.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
What it’s about: The tragically beautiful story of a middle school girl coming of age when suddenly the planet inexplicably stops rotating. It’s a little disconcerting how realistic the response is to the phenomenon, and 10-year-old Julia’s hauntingly innocent descriptions of her world falling apart keep you wavering between hope and heartache until the last page.
What I thought: My brother recommended this to me after being less than impressed with “The 5th Wave.” That lapse in judgment aside, he’s usually pretty reliable for a good book recommendation, so I dove in. I can see why he likes this book better; it’s a bit deeper and not really YA despite being narrated by a preteen. Highly recommend to any former English majors out there.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
What it’s about: Essentially, narrator Jack Epping goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. The problem is, “time is obstinate.” The more he tries to change, the more time fights back, ending in a violent stand-off and an unexpected ending.
What I thought: I’m pretty sure I was reading this book when I wrote my last round-up. Another recommendation from my brother (he sent me about eight books a few months ago, so he should really just start sponsoring this series), this was one of the more interesting stories about time travel I’ve read. And in true King style, it’s nearly impossible to put down once the action gets going.

Allegiant (Divergent Series) by Veronica Roth
What it’s about: Ughhh please don’t make me go over the plot again. YA dystopian lit, society has been split into factions, a teen girl has to save the world, blah blah blah.
What I thought: Those who know me will not be at all surprised that I read this series. (Dystopian YA lit? Sign me up.) But while I love the genre, I wasn’t that impressed with the series as a whole. Frankly, all three books were just kind of…forgettable. Waiting months between reading the second book and the release of “Allegiant” was hard mostly because, by the time the third book came out, I could barely remember what had happened in the second book. Don’t get me wrong, if you want a (somewhat shallow) escape and liked “The Hunger Games”, this is the right choice, just don’t expect to get too invested in the characters.

World War Z: And Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
What it’s about: It honestly doesn’t matter a stitch what you thought of the movie because there are maybe two similarities. Namely, there are zombies and the main character has roughly the same job as Brad Pitt. (Sort of.) The book is a collection of interviews of people who witnessed the Zombie War. All walks of life are represented, from marines to teens, and the character voices are riveting. Again, the realism might make you a little uncomfortable (and maybe prep a go-bag in your apartment). Fair warning.
What I thought: Yeesh, I really need to read something besides science fiction, amiright? This is what happens when you descend from a family of nerds. Regardless, I really liked this book. Oddly enough, I feel like it gave me a really interesting insight to how wars are waged and the philosophies around breaking down an enemy. Plus, some of the stories are so intense, you might miss you subway stop. (Hypothetically.)

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline
What it’s about: The book opens in the year 2044, and the world is kind of awful. Most of society spends their time in OASIS, which started as the most advanced video game in history until it became an entire virtual world where people go to school, go to work, fall in love, etc. Everything changes when the game’s creator, James Halliday, initiates a 3-tier challenge in his will, the winner of which will inherit his virtually limitless fortune and gain control of the entire OASIS. Teenage narrator Wade Watts gains immediate fame when he becomes the first person in five years to find the first clue, and then it’s a race to the finish as he tries to find Halliday’s Egg before it falls into the wrong hands.
What I thought: Yes, I finished the book I was reading when I wrote my New Year Sum-Uppance. And, you guys. I like this book so much. If you like literally anything nerdy, you should grab a copy, because your personal passion is probably mentioned by name. (Nintendo? Dungeons & Dragons? The Breakfast Club? They’re all in there.) If you like action, riddles, nerdy ’80s nostalgia, and hey, even a little romance, read this book.

Eight Miles in Eight Degrees

Marathon training has officially begun. As has my concern that I might be insane for thinking this time of year would be fine for marathon training.

On Saturday, Diana and I attempted our first long(ish) training run. It was supposed to be ten miles.

The temperature clocked in below ten degrees.

And thanks to a recent mini flurry, the ground was also covered in an inch or two of ice, snow, and slush in most places.

I know what you’re thinking: Justine, why didn’t you just run on a treadmill?

Don’t think I didn’t consider it. But my tolerance for that hamster wheel tops out at about five, maybe six miles. Ten would have been brutal.

So despite the cold, Di and I loaded up in fleecy layers, gritted our teeth, and braved the elements.

We ran around Central Park, five miles out. The plan was to run the full five back, but after about six miles of hopping, slipping, and tip-toeing around ice encrusted sidewalks, our whole bodies were exhausted. (Plus our pace was nothing to write home about.)

Since we’ve both dealt with injuries in the past, we decided to call it quits at eight and pick up the extra miles during our shorter runs this week.

And, you know, my face was so frozen by the end that I could barely speak.

I’m planning to do my weekday runs at the gym (hopefully streaming some Netflix to distract myself), but I still have a 12-miler next Saturday to prep for. Any cold-weather tips from my runner friends? Maybe a really great jacket you love? I’ll take anything.

Only 12 more weeks to go!

Home Tour: Bedroom Makeover

I’ve been saying for about three years that I really need to decorate our bedroom.

You know, basically since we had an “our bedroom.”

In my defense, I’ve tried. I’ve made loads of plans, even bought a few different bedspreads, but for whatever reason, the room never came together. Part of the problem was that it also doubled as storage since apartments never seem to have enough closets.

Lately, though, I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’ve simplified our belongings enough that pretty much everything has it’s own place, and I even found a look I loved online that I worked to recreate. Plus, a week off of work over the holidays to actually accomplish my lofty goals didn’t hurt.

The room isn’t totally done (I’m thinking of changing the curtains, and I have a picture I want to get blown up to poster-size for the wall), but for the first time, it looks like someone actually put some thought into it. Which obviously means I have to share it with all of you.

For reference, here’s what it looked like before.

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Yikes, right? I’m a bit mortified to even share these. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I was also going through our closets that day. But seriously, we lived like that for at least a week or two.

Here’s what it looks like now:

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Isn’t that just a breath of fresh air after the “before” photos?

Besides finally clearing out all those clothes (thereby creating more space to store what we actually need to keep), I also adjusted the layout by moving our full-length mirror over by the window. Not only did this give me the space to put our laundry hamper behind the doors where it doesn’t have to be the first thing you see, it’s also better lit for using the mirror anyway.

Then I re-framed a few of our favorite photos to create a gallery wall above the bed. Plus, I got new bedding that I am in love with. (Product sources below.)

I feel like I’m finally getting closer to that goal of a grown-up bedroom. Is it too late to add that to my list of goals for the year?

Resource guide:Duvet cover/shams: Signature Stripe Duvet Set in Navy from One Kings Lane
Floral throw pillows: Olive and Garden on Etsy (no longer available, but the fabric is Waverly Formosa)
Bed Frame and Dresser: PB Teen (literally the bed I had when I was a teen)
Mirror: IKEA
White picture frames: IKEA
Deer Head: Z Gallerie (I told a few people it was from West Elm, and I realized when writing this post I was wrong. Sorry, guys! This just shows you how long ago it was that I ordered the dang thing.)

Things I Like: Beauty Product Round-Up

The last time I shared a few of my favorite beauty products, it was met with a flurry of positive response. (Seriously, I heard from blonde pals I hadn’t talked to in a while.)

I think I just always assume I’m the last to discover anything (see: the time I “discovered” the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Pandora), so when I find out I’ve introduced people to something, I’m kind of standing there like, “Me? I’m kind of hip?”

It’s just unheard of, guys.

But anyway. In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d reveal a few more of my favorite products in the hopes of spreading the love around.

products I like

1. Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector: Combination to Oily
I was a bit rough on BB cream when it first came out (I mean, it’s pretty much foundation, right? This is like trying to rebrand a bun as a top knot). But after using this product for a few months, I stand corrected. I have pretty good skin, but I get some uneven-ness and redness around my nose, and this stuff completely smooths it out. The overall effect is totally glow-y without looking greasy. Plus, it’s under $12. Love that.

2. Queen Helene Mud Masque Pack
I tried this mud masque after it was recommended as a coworker, and it might be the best gift she has ever given me. If you’re prone to blackheads or the occasional pimple, it’s a miracle worker. It pulls the dirt out, and I can’t even see my pores after I wash it off. Seriously, that’s pretty amazing for a $4 mud mask.

3. Salux Beauty Skin Cloth
This disposable wash cloth will change your life. I know, I know; bold statement. But my skin has never been softer than when I started exfoliating with this. It’s from a Japanese beauty brand, and it’s cleaner than your typical loofa because it rinses so completely. Order a bunch now. (Note: The exfoliation is probably too much for your face and…delicate areas. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

4. Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray
Y’all know I love big hair, so I was excited to try this spray after it was recommended by a well-coifed friend. And, guys, it didn’t disappoint. It can sub in for dry shampoo, or be used on clean hair for a little extra oomph. It’s a bit pricey, but makes curls and lift last all day. Can’t be mad at that.

5. DryBar Southern Belle Volumizing Mousse
Like I said, I like big hair. And this is my favorite mousse I’ve ever used. It never makes my hair feel greasy or look like it has a lot of product in it, and it protects from heat styling. Dontcha just love a twofer?

6. Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of the cat eye liner look, and this is the best product I’ve found to create it easily. It seriously lasts all day, and the pen makes it so simple to use. (The trick is to use the point as a sort of stamp to create the eye liner “flick” at the outside corner of the eye. Then simply draw the rest of the line on your eyelid.)

So now you know all my secrets. Anyone else have any great tips to share? (And if you want more suggestions, don’t miss my pal Kayla’s recent post on her top ten favorite makeup products.)

The Top 10 Posts of 2013

Similar to my annual sum-uppance, I also like to share a round-up of the top ten most-read posts of the year every December. (Last year’s winners here.) It’s usually fairly amusing — I mean, without this list, we would never have known how much people like reading about narwhals, right?

Let’s do this.

10. How to: Baby Gender Reveal Party
I loved writing this post almost as much as I loved planning my friend Megan’s baby gender reveal party, and apparently my readers have enjoyed it as well. You’ll also be happy to know that Bill and Megan had a healthy, adorable little boy that we all adore.

9. How to: Throw a Mad Men Party
So apparently I need to plan more parties? Our houseapartment-warming party was one of th most successful party I’ve ever thrown. I themed it (because I’m me), and the results were pretty fab. This post shared what I cooked, what we wore, and how I decorated.


8. Get Your StitchFixMy post from the first time I used the service. In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a follow-up about my other experiences with the company here. I actually did find something in the subsequent fix that I liked, which I have completely forgotten to blog about. But they made things up to me.

7. What Guys Should Wear for Pictures
Listen, dudes. I’m looking out for you. This will hopefully be helpful for any newly engaged folks out there.

6. How to: Nutella Hot Chocolate
Another repeat from last year. You just can’t argue with Nutella.

5. How to: Plan a Bachelorette Party in Chicago
I still think this is one of the most helpful posts I’ve ever written — and one of the best parties I’ve ever planned. I stand behind all of my recommendations, and people who attended have told me that people forward them this blog post when they come across it while Google-searching bachelorette party ideas. That’s some good SEO right there.

4. How to: Create “Disney Princess” Curls
I often joke now that my target audience is little girls between the ages of one and seven because of my cartoonishly large eyes and long blonde hair. But turns out that little joke was a great way to drum up some blog traffic. Go forth and learn how to curl your hair.

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3. So…this happened.
So…this one is weird. I mean, the post is funny. It was a funny thing that happened to me. But this post NEVER got any serious traffic until November 28th, when suddenly it exploded in popularity, getting about 5,000 page views in two days. (A sizeable amount for my little blog.) I know the traffic came from Facebook, but I have no idea why or where in the social network. If anyone knows why, I would love to have this phenomenon explained.

2. How to: Paint a Metal File Cabinet
The tale of how my father-in-law and I took a rusted out file cabinet and restored it like new. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll buy spray primer. Everyone wins.

1. How to: Skip Washing Your Hair for Six DaysIt’s like the little post that could. Thanks to a hefty dose of Pinterest traffic, this post has risen from the fourth most-read post last year to the most-read post of the year. Round of applause (and dry shampoo) for everyone!


Thanks for another great year! Can’t wait to see what’s in store for this one.