Battle of the Beaches

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Yes, I know- Summer 2015 is unfortunately coming to an end. In just a couple more weeks there will be an undeniable chill in the air, the leaves will begin their gradual change from green to orange, red, and yellow- and the pumpkin spice latte will be making it’s triumphant return to coffee shops around the country. Autumn is almost here- and right behind it is sure to be another gruesome Winter- especially for those of us here in New England who typically get buried under feet of snow each and every year.

If you’re like me, you’re trying to savor these final Summer days as much as possible- and that can range from throwing one last backyard BBQ and bonfire with your friends, to heading out for one final weekend at the beach to say goodbye to the season before it’s gone at one of the many popular spots along the coast. If that’s the case- then picking the perfect location might prove to be a little difficult. For that reason, I’ve broken down the pros and cons of two of my longtime favorite beaches: Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, and Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

I’ve been working on this comparison post little by little over the past couple of months, unsure of when to actually publish it, but now seems a good time as any- not just for those who are looking to have a memorable Labor Day weekend- but for those who want to get an early start on planning their 2016 Summer season, too!

First, let’s take a look at the contenders:

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Hampton Beach (and my decade-old high tops)

Hampton Beach (New Hampshire)

Having been born and raised in Massachusetts, Hampton Beach was always the go-to Summer destination for my friends and I from the time we were little kids until the time we were old enough to drive ourselves. Just over an hour North of Boston, and about twenty minutes away from scenic Portsmouth, New Hampshire- Hampton Beach is one of the more populated beach destinations during the hotter months- and plays host to multiple restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, arcades, motels and shops that stretch across it’s boardwalk and side streets. While many establishments close in the off-season, certain areas at Hampton Beach stay open year-round- making it ideal for those who want a more quiet and less crowded beach getaway- and who don’t mind colder temperatures.

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The Pier, Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach (Maine)

A little further North from Hampton Beach lies Old Orchard Beach (OOB) in Maine. While considerably less populated than Hampton Beach- OOB offers a more “classic” beach experience- including an old wooden pier that stretches out over the ocean and numerous beach-side surf and souvenir shops mixed in among motels and seafood shacks. My very first trip to OOB was with my best friend in high school when we were both 16. We spent nearly a week there (with minimal supervision) and the place made a lasting impression. So much, in fact- that I’ve been going back regularly- not minding the nearly 2 hour long drive it takes to get there in the least.

I’ve broken down each of these beaches, the good and the bad, into a few different categories. Each one was carefully considered based on my personal experiences at each location, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve liked and haven’t liked. I tried to be as thorough as possible when comparing the two- and I hope it’s helpful!

SCENERY:

I love the ocean in general (it’s my place of zen and inner peace) so having to make a decision as to which beach offers a more pleasant and unobstructed visual of it proved to be a bit difficult. Hampton Beach, with it’s winding roads along the coast past beautiful mansions and gardens, is perfect for those looking for a peaceful drive with breathtaking views- while Old Orchard Beach gives retro-fanatics an eyeful of classic and weathered shops, shacks, and motel-fronts for as far as the eye can see- like something right out of a postcard.

Beach cleanliness comes into account, as well. While cleanup crews work ’round the clock and to the best of their abilities to keep the sand and sidewalks in spotless conditions- sometimes Hampton Beach can feel a little gross. In all the times I’ve been to OOB- I’ve never once hesitated to put my bare toes in the sand, but on more than one occasion while visiting Hampton- I’ve spotted trash (specifically lots of Dunkin’ Donuts cups. Ugh.) strewn across the beach and eventually being picked at by seagulls before anyone bothers to pick it up.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. As a big fan of Ocean Beach in San Diego, and it’s overall laid-back atmosphere- OOB is the closest thing to it I’ve found thus far here on the East Coast. I love the pier, I love the seaside shops and restaurants, I love the lights from the amusement park and arcades (especially at sunset)-and I really love how clean everything is. OOB may not have the beautiful scenic drive leading to Portsmouth that Hampton Beach offers, but it’s wonderful for long, relaxing walks and for taking photographs.

CROWD CONTROL:

Nobody wants to go to a beach to relax and soak up the sun when they can’t even move without tripping over someone else- and all that traffic just to get there? Ew. While both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach can get crowded (especially during popular Summer holidays like the Fourth of July), OOB is considerably less crowded than Hampton Beach at any given time. Hampton Beach’s pedestrian and automobile traffic can get so heavy that circling the boardwalk just to find a parking spot can take anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes (sometimes longer.)

If you’re lucky enough to find parking in Hampton and you’re braving the beach-side attractions on foot- be sure to stay close to your party as it’s very easy to get separated in the throngs of people, with pedestrians often spilling out into the roadways due to lack of sidewalk space.

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Hampton Beach

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. While the arcade areas and the pier can sometimes get a little packed from time to time- it’s nothing like Hampton Beach’s daily overcrowding. Parking is usually easy to find (and is relatively cheap and easy, unlike Hampton Beach’s standard $20+ parking fees where you’ll be packed into a motel lot like sardines)– and you can move about freely with your friends without risking being separated from them and having to send a series of texts to try and find them.

FOOD:

I love fried dough, clam strips, and soft-serve ice cream as much as the next person- but I can usually only eat them for an afternoon, maximum. If I’m going to be spending a weekend at the beach, I’d like some meal options that I’m not going to regret by the time I’m heading home. OOB has plenty of seaside shacks that serve up lots of fried foods and sweet treats- and sure, a couple of decent beach-side restaurants and bars scattered here and there, too- but Hampton has a ton of great places to eat an actual meal (and the fried goods, too!) along the boardwalk and a couple of miles inland, too- like the Old Salt restaurant or the Beach Plum.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous- you can make that twenty minute drive North to Portsmouth, too- where you’ll find even more dine-in and take-out options.

Winner: Hampton Beach. I can’t recall ever having a bad meal here- be it a more healthy and filling dinner, to a quick mid-afternoon snack. The wait time might be a little long depending on where you go and how crowded it is at the time- but you won’t go hungry in Hampton. There’s simply too many options to prevent that from happening.

SHOPPING:

I don’t do a lot of shopping when I go to the beach, unless it’s the end-of-the-season sale time and I’m stocking up on discounted clothing, jewelry, or bath & beauty products. What could I possibly need to purchase, right? I usually already have my essentials and my bikini packed with me. Even still, I know many people like to shop while they’re on vacation- be it for themselves or others. Like most beaches, OOB has it’s fair share of novelty t-shirt and souvenir shops/stands- which is just fine when you’re looking for quick and cheap gifts in a pinch- but if you want something more thoughtful and maybe a bit more unique- Hampton Beach has you covered.

Amid Hampton’s own sea of cheesy and often unfunny t-shirt, caricature and airbrushing stands- there’s a few hidden gems along the boardwalk like the Deja Vu boutique and The Cow’s Ass (it’s a leather goods store. Just try to look beyond the name.) There is also a shop, Rock Palace, that used to cater to fans of classic rock, 80’s hair metal and the early 90’s grunge movement with t-shirts, collectibles, posters, etc. It’s since been taken over by Insane Clown Posse merchandise- but if you’re feeling daring- you might still be able to find some good stuff in there!

Winner: Hampton Beach. Every Fall during Hampton’s annual Seafood Festival, nearly every store puts their entire inventory on sale in order to make room for the following Summer season’s products. I like to go up and browse because you can find incredible deals on a variety of different things for a fraction of the price. It’s a great time to pick up those things that may have caught your eye in July or August- but without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.

LODGING:

Like the ‘SCENERY’ category- picking a winner for lodging proved to be difficult. Both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach have a wide selection of oceanfront motels and beach-side bungalows that are fairly priced and tended to (meaning the rooms and the grounds aren’t gross.) To make my decision, I factored in the aforementioned crowd control. While Hampton has beautiful rooms for rent that overlook the beach and the boardwalk- getting to and from the motels can be problematic with the pedestrian traffic, and the peaceful sounds of the ocean can often be drowned out by rowdy crowds and screaming kids during and after events in the area.

Old Orchard Beach offers motels that are a short walk to and from the beach- but are also still far away enough from the actual pier and adjacent amusement park where any much needed rest and in-room relaxation won’t be disturbed. Best of all? Parking is so much easier at these locations.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. I love to walk, so taking a brisk stroll a few blocks to get to where the action is doesn’t bother me at all when I know that I’ll be able to sleep soundly and easily in nice room conditions when I get back- and not have to worry about anything happening to my car in the motel parking lot.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT:

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

When I was a little kid, one of the biggest draws to Hampton Beach was it’s indoor amusement park. It didn’t boast a roller coaster or a ferris wheel like Old Orchard Beach does- but there was a merry-go-round, bumper cars, and plenty of smaller, safer rides to keep a kid amused and entertained for hours. Hampton has since done away with that section of the boardwalk, replacing it with a casino for adults only- but the beach still hosts a couple of arcades and an updated playground right on the sand. Every Friday night throughout the Summer- Hampton also has it’s own fireworks display, which is great to watch for all ages if you can secure yourself a spot along the beach- and each Summer visitors are invited to view the annual sand sculpture contest winners- which are pretty incredible most of the time.

If you’re looking to bring your child to the water, let them play some pinball, and use whatever prize tickets they win to trade in for penny candy or a stuffed bear- then they’d probably enjoy Hampton Beach the way I did when I was a kid- but if you plan on spending any time longer than an afternoon or an evening in the area- OOB might be better for you and your family. Old Orchard Beach has an amusement park (with an old wooden roller coaster that I LOVE) and it’s own large arcade- which is perfect when you or your kids need a break from the sand and the sun for a while. Everything is within walking distance from places to eat and motels, too- which is also tremendously convenient.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. My love of bumper cars aside, and looking at this from the perspective of someone who does not have kids of her own but has watched plenty of parents struggle with fussy toddlers while at Hampton- OOB is a lot more kid-friendly than Hampton Beach is these days. There’s more for kids of all ages to do, and it’s less crowded- which means parents aren’t losing their minds trying to keep track of their little ones as they weave in-between arcade games and carnival rides.

21+ ENTERTAINMENT:

On the flip-side, Hampton Beach is a much better weekend option for the 21+ crowd. Old Orchard Beach has some nice little bars and pubs, including two on the actual pier itself- but Hampton also has the added bonus of the Casino Ballroom, a music venue where some pretty good artists (and some not-so-good ones, let’s be real) have performed throughout the years. With raunchy t-shirts clearly on display along the boardwalk, a popular smoke shop right in the middle of everything, multiple bars, the small casino and the Casino Ballroom easily accessible from nearly every direction-  Hampton Beach is definitely the more adult-friendly option for beach-goers.

Winner: Hampton Beach, by a landslide. While I love Old Orchard Beach’s amusement park and overall relaxed look/feel, I go to Hampton when I want to have a few drinks and sprawl out in the sand with my friends and not have to worry about negatively influencing any small children within the vicinity.

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Me hamming it up in OOB, 2014.

SUMMARY:

It was definitely close, but my love of Old Orchard Beach surpassed that of Hampton Beach by just a little bit. OOB is infinitely more laid-back, less-crowded, less expensive, and much cleaner than Hampton Beach presently is- which makes it my favorite destination when I’m just looking to get away and relax for a few days, but Hampton has more to offer foodies and adults looking to have a fun-filled weekend of boozing and shopping- so it really comes down to what exactly it is you’re looking for and for how long you plan to stay.

If you’re from New England and you frequent either one of these beaches- I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you agree or disagree? Are there any other two beaches in the area you think I should compare in a future post? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me!

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!

xo

Quick Eats: Salted Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie

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I fully and openly admit that when it comes to Autumn-centric beverages, I much prefer salted caramel flavored anything over the immensely popular pumpkin spice flavored drink/food. There’s just something about the perfect mixture of sweet and salty that can satisfy nearly any craving.

Of course, it’s still technically Summer here- and with the temperatures still steadily soaring high- it might be a little bizarre to walk into any coffee shop to order a piping hot salted caramel latte or hot chocolate.

Thankfully, there’s a colder alternative available that takes no more than 2 minutes to prepare, mix and enjoy. Best of all, this recipe can easily be tweaked to become sweeter or saltier based on your own personal preference.

I went ahead and made it the old fashioned way, so the recipe below reflects what I used and how many measurements it’d take to make one smoothie.

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WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

* 1 cup vanilla almondmilk

* ½ frozen banana

* 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

* 1 tablespoon peanut butter (creamy- not chunky)

* ½ cup ice

* 1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder

* A pinch (or two) of sea salt

OKAY, HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. Blend all ingredients (except the sea salt) until smooth.

2. To garnish, sprinkle the pinches of the salt on top. You can also use chocolate bar shavings and/or caramel sauce to make it look more presentable.

3. Enjoy!

How easy is that, right? I’ve been loving these lately- and they’re a great way to transition from Summer to Fall flavors without burning your tongue.

If you have any Summer-to-Fall recipes (including beverages) that you swear by this time of year- I’d love to hear them!

xx

August 2015: In a Nutshell.

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Back in July, when I had said August was going to be a very busy month for me- filled with adventures, conventions, concerts and catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while- I wasn’t kidding one bit. This past weekend marked the first couple of days in what felt like quite a few weeks where I deliberately made no plans or commitments just so I could rest and recharge in the comfort of my bedroom (and in a long overdue bubble bath,) before bidding farewell to the month- and the Summer- and welcome in September!

But before I get into pumpkin spicing everything that crosses my path and pulling my scarves and sweaters out of their designated storage bins in a frenzy- proper respects must be paid to August. I hit the ground running from the moment the month began- kicking things off at Boston Comic-Con (which seems fitting since I ended the month with last weekend’s ‘Walker Stalker’ convention,) and reuniting with my long-time friend Steven- which led into a wonderful night at the House of Blues where I watched an incredible performance from Brandon Flowers.

Me creeping up behind Steven at Harvard University - August 2015.

Me creeping up behind Steven at Harvard University – August 2015.

I enjoyed the final weeks of scorching hot temperatures and spent a considerable amount of time outdoors in the sunshine in August- hiking, going for long walks through cute downtown areas in Western Massachusetts, photographing some abandoned places (while scouting for new locations to shoot in the Fall,) hanging out at the beach- and just driving around aimlessly with my friends with our car windows rolled down. I took in a couple of Summer blockbusters at the local movie theaters and discovered some recipes that re-ignited my love of cooking/baking (I have a few more “Quick Eats” posts lined up in the coming weeks!)

I also drew inspiration from the 70s’-inspired Fall fashion trends that have been gracing magazines and storefronts as of late, as well as from a recent experience at a local fondue restaurant I hadn’t tried up until then- to put together a themed party in the approaching cooler months for a group of my friends and colleagues. I’m still sorting out the details (and I’m truly grateful for the people who have stepped up to offer insight and help!) but I can’t wait to share everything once it’s in order!

So what’s in store for September? While the coming month will be considerably more relaxed than August was, it still marks the beginning of my favorite season of them all- and I have a few things planned to celebrate- from a bit of travel, to some Autumn-inspired recipes, and fun Fall fashion finds (say that four times fast.) I do also plan on squeezing in as much beach time as I can out of the next couple of weeks before it gets too cold to hang out by the coast- and the annual end-of-the-season Seafood Festival in New Hampshire is swiftly approaching- so I’ll be able to stock up on beachwear for next Summer, as well as discounted jewelry and my favorite all-natural soaps  (expect a haul post, is what I’m saying.)

All in all, August was tremendously fun and frenzied (in a good way!) and although I’m sad to see Summer slip away, I’m very excited for September- and especially October- but I don’t want to get ahead of myself!

‘Til next time!

xx

Loot Crate: August 2015.

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When I received last month’s Loot Crate, “Heroes II,” I had been low-key hoping that we’d also get a sequel to the company’s wildly entertaining “Villains” box, too. I mean- why should the good guys have all the fun, right?

Well, Loot Crate apparently read my mind (kind of freaky) because August’s box was just that- another assortment of items dedicated to the baddies we all know and love across comics and television. “Villains II,” Loot Crate’s second sequel-esque collection, took a slightly different approach to boxes in the past. While the typical crate contains multiple smaller items, toys, trinkets, the occasional t-shirt and Digital Loot (coupons and promos that can unlock additional online content)– August’s crate contained a handful of decently sized/valued items alongside the monthly mini-magazine and collector’s pin- and without any Digital Loot.

Let me show you what I got!

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First up are the usual items- my monthly pin and mini-magazine. This month’s installment, packed with puzzles and promotional advertisements in lieu of any interviews and Q&As- also included a a fun little analysis of Batman’s greatest foes and the type of person that fits their personalities in the real world (i.e.: The Scarecrow’s IRL-version is that one person we all know who seeks out the worst stories happening in the world and endlessly plasters them all over social media in order to scare people.)

It’s a fun read- and even more fun when you try to think of the people in your life who fit the profile of each villain (I’m a Poison Ivy personality for sure.)

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Speaking of Batman, the first item in the box that I happened to glance at was this creepily-cute wooden Joker figurine with interchangeable faces. It’s so unique from any other (typically plastic) figurines I’ve received in past Loot Crates- and since I’m STILL pretty pumped up from the official “Suicide Squad” trailer and a glimpse at Jared Leto’s version of The Joker- I think I’ll be keeping this one for myself and finding a special spot for it on one of my shelves. The more I look at it, the more adorable it is to me- so maybe I’m more of a Harley Quinn personality than a Poison Ivy one, after all.

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I was so, so, SO happy when I saw the HYDRA logo inside of August’s crate. By far my favorite (and the most diabolical) villains of all- I was ecstatic that they weren’t left out of the mix this time around. This silver pin, which has already found a home clipped onto my leather jacket for the Fall- was the highlight of this month’s box. I love it and I can’t wait to show it off- probably while getting emotional as I talk about my Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier feelings and how excited I am for “CA3: Civil War” to be released.

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In August’s POPSUGAR Must-Have Box, I had received a very cute and very classic-looking coffee mug to replace a broken one in my office. I admit that when I first opened this Venom one, complete with a freakishly long tongue and frightening looking teeth- I wanted to bring it to my office, too (I’m sure my boss would get a kick out of it while I sipped from it and met with clients)– but I think this is best reserved for home on those mornings when I’m able to brew coffee in my kitchen before I get going for the day and don’t have to worry about scaring people with the mug.

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Finally, what is a Villain-themed crate without something inside that references the multiple not-so-nice folks/threats in ‘Breaking Bad’? This machine-washable apron, sporting the fictional Los Pollos Hermanos logo, absolutely cracked me up- and will probably get more use out of any of the t-shirts I’ve ever received through Loot Crate (not that I don’t love them- but I am really excited to wear this the next time I do any cooking/baking posts for the blog!)

This item was really unexpected and I think it’s fantastic!

Overall, I loved August’s crate. Each item was unique and fun- and I’m going to be a little selfish this month and keep all of them for myself. I really hope that this isn’t the last ‘Villains’ box we see from Loot Crate. I know it’s hard to top a successful sequel (and even harder to top the original again,) but I’d like to see a part III to this series.

September’s box was recently revealed to have the theme ‘SUMMON’, which sounds interesting enough. I can’t wait to see what’s inside!

xx

WSCBoston: 2015!

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Good morning and Happy Monday (I’m actually drafting this on Sunday night and queuing it up to post while I’m at work- but Happy Monday regardless!) I’m still coming back to Earth after a whirlwind and ‘Walking Dead’-filled weekend, which seems appropriate considering last night marked the series premiere of TWD’s companion drama, ‘Fear The Walking Dead’. The new show, written and produced by the same masterminds as the original series, takes place in Los Angeles during the time frame between Rick Grimes’ falling into a coma and when he wakes up- so for those of you who haven’t been taking notes- we get to see how that pesky zombie apocalypse actually started and how things went from bad to worse by the time Rick came to in his hospital bed.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited.

This past Saturday, I headed down to the second annual “Walker Stalkers” convention at the Westin Hotel. Some of you may remember my weekend at the convention last year– and how much fun I had checking out the panels, posing for photos when I wasn’t taking so many of my own, and coveting all sorts of merchandise. This year was more of the same- although I couldn’t make it on Sunday and had to cram all the excitement into one day, instead.

This year, I snapped photos with a few people I missed jumping in front of a camera with at the 2014 WSCBoston event, including Chandler Riggs (who plays Carl, and who is now officially taller than I am. The last time I had a photo with him he barely came up to my shoulders,) Michael Cudlitz (Abraham), Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), and Lennie James (Morgan)– who I admittedly had a fangirl moment with. He’s one of my favorite actors and was so incredibly kind- and funny- when I briefly went mute in his presence. I rarely get starstruck, but he made me forget how to speak for a minute or two!

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I also got to visit with one of my favorite cast members (and one of my favorite people overall, really,) the always fabulous and SUPER funny Josh McDermitt (he plays Eugene)– who I had run into earlier this year at a small convention in Marlborough, and who hijacked my phone to capture quite a few silly selfies- including the ones above. He’s truly the best. He completely and totally brightened my day (at a time when I was starting to get a little hungry and fatigued- so it was much appreciated!)

Eugene must be protected at all costs because we all need more Josh on our television screens. If Eugene dies- we riot.

While the layout of the convention was slightly different than last year, which led to some confusion at times (especially in the photo op. area where I saw more than one person get a little lost,) the staff and volunteers remained helpful, upbeat, and fun- which really set the tone for the whole day and kept everyone in good spirits. Once again, I had a wonderful time meeting and getting to know so many other fans of the franchise, seeing some incredible cosplay, and admiring the work of local artists who had set up booths throughout the hotel’s designated “Walker Stalkers” areas. I controlled myself when it came to purchasing merchandise this year (it wasn’t easy, trust me- but I’ve got a trip to California and Las Vegas to plan for), but I’ve definitely added some things to my wish list for next time.

The “Walker Stalkers” conventions have grown in size and popularity, adding dates in London and even creating a ‘Walking Dead’-themed cruise set to sail to the Bahamas next January- which is pretty amazing for something that is still pretty new in comparison to other conventions that have been around for years and years. I’m very happy and proud of everyone involved for the success- and again- I highly recommend checking one of these conventions out if you’re a fan of the comics/show(s)/video games/etc. It’s a blast and you won’t regret it!

xx

POPSUGAR Must Have Box: August 2015.

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When I canceled my membership with Ipsy at the end of July, I had mentioned in my review of the month’s bag that I was eyeing another subscription service to take it’s place. That service was the monthly POPSUGAR Must Have Box. Although considerably more expensive than Ipsy, (POPSUGAR’s service costs $39.95 a month as opposed to Ipsy’s $10 a month fee,) the value of the items included- which cover beauty, fitness, fashion, food, home decor and much, much more- ALWAYS surpasses the cost. I wanted variety and more importantly- quality- and I felt I would get that with the POPSUGAR box after reading so many positive and pleased reviews from current subscribers.

I decided to give it a try, and August’s box- my first with the company- arrived at my door shortly after I’d subscribed.

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Like my GlossyBox and Loot Crate subscriptions, POPSUGAR included a pamphlet in the box that detailed each product inside and their estimated retail value. The service curates the items based on themes and inspirations (which I love because it means real thought into the box as opposed to just random selections,) and packages everything very neatly! I was already excited even before I saw what was inside.

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Starting with the food items, of course, I received a package of birthday cake pancake and waffle mix from Shortstacks (who have other interesting and awesome-sounding mix flavors available at their website!) and a bottle of Folgers‘ iced coffee concentrate in the caramel macchiato flavor. I haven’t tried the concentrate yet (but will soon, since my mornings can get pretty hectic sometimes and this seems like it’d be convenient!) but I LOVED the pancakes. They were colorful, easy to make, fluffy- and tasted really good.

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Since starting my job at the firm nearly five years ago, I have mastered the art of preparing a balanced, healthy, and usually tasty lunch the night before I head to the office. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and maybe some chocolate here or there (if only to keep me going after 2 p.m. when I start to crash,) I try to cover it all so I’m not left famished by the time 5-o-clock rolls around. Even though preparing the meals I bring with me has been a piece of cake- packing them neatly is an entirely different story- and on more than one occasion I’ve suffered a casualty as my food has gotten squashed inside of my bag.

I thought this plastic lunch box from Happy Jackson was just the cutest. It’s so bright and cheerful and will serve as great protection for the more-fragile sandwiches or fruits I store at work!

And I can never have too many napkins with all the cooking and baking I’ve been doing lately, so these pretty pink ones from Meri Meri will come in handy the next time I’m having guests and need something a little more presentable to use than paper towels when serving them!

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Recently I noticed that my usual coffee mug at work, a cute black & white number with mustache-prints on both sides of it, had an unfixable crack running along the inside of it- causing some of my coffee to slowly but surely seep out onto whatever surface I had rested it on. I was a little bummed, since I’d had it for quite a while- but I think this “Best Day Ever” mug will serve as a nice replacement. It’s simple and it’s cute- and it’s microwave and dishwasher-safe!

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I’ve only been using this eye cream from Royal Apothic for a few days now, typically at night before I go to bed, but I’ve already been seeing fantastic results with it. Each morning after use, the area around my eyes where I’ve gently tapped it on it looks noticeably brighter and smoother (which is really important to someone like me who is prone to dark circles from time to time.) The formula is really gentle, non-greasy, and absorbs pretty quick- so I don’t get it all over my pillowcases during those instances where I cover my head with one in the morning in a desperate attempt to avoid my alarm clock. A little goes a long way, too- so I know this full-sized container will last me a while. I’m thrilled with it so far!

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I think my favorite item in August’s POPSUGAR box was this beautiful, lightweight, and two-styles-in-one cotton gauze scarf from American Colors. I know I’m hanging onto Summer with all my might- but Autumn is still my favorite season (by far!) and I think this scarf is going to be perfect to integrate into my wardrobe when the temperatures start to drop here in New England. It’s so cozy, comfortable, and chic. It also retails for $79, which completely blew me away.

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Finally, POPSUGAR included a couple of digital surprises, too- the first being a 20% off voucher for any purchase through American Colors (the makers of the aforementioned beautiful scarf I received and who have so many other pretty things available at their site!) and a free 3-month trial of My Yoga Works (a $45 value!), which offers free online video lessons/yoga classes, playlists you can customize, etc. 24/7. I CANNOT WAIT to set up my mat at home and get started with this! It’s so exciting!

Overall, my POPSUGAR box had a total retail value of just over $200! I’m thrilled with everything that came in the August box. This was truly worth every penny I spent when signing up and I’m already so psyched to receive my September box (I received a couple of spoilers in my e-mail earlier this week and wow! That’s all I can say! It looks like it’s going to be another good one!)

xx

GLOSSYBOX: August 2015 Review.

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With the recent cancellation of my membership with Ipsy, that leaves GlossyBox (which I’ve been subscribed to the longest) as my only beauty-centric subscription service these days. I admit that sometimes the boxes and assortment of items I receive every month can be downright disappointing- but overall I’ve been very happy through the 2+ years I’ve been a member. More times than not, the value of the products in each box surpasses the $21 a month fee- and I’m always discovering new brands and products to try- so it’s been worth every penny in the long run.

August’s GlossyBox, with the company’s newly integrated more prompt shipping method (which I truly appreciate)– arrived right on schedule- giving me plenty of time to try all of the products and write a thorough review of the pros/cons of each of them.

WHAT I RECEIVED:

GlamGlow YouthCleanse Daily Exfoliating Cleanser

MANNA KADAR Cosmetics Lash Primer

Lollipops Paris Malicieuse Lip Balm (*Full Size!*)

SpaRitual Nail Lacquer in ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ (*Full Size!*)

POP Beauty Kajal Pen in ‘Sooty Black’ (*Full Size!*)

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Product # 1: GlamGlow YouthCleanse Daily Exfoliating Cleanser ($39)

With all of the beauty box subscription reviews I’ve written over the years, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I am an avid fan of any and all GlamGlow products. Their masks and treatments, both for face and eyes, work wonders for me- and I recently tried (and subsequently fell in love with) their POWERMUD Dualcleanse treatment per a small sample I received. The products- particularly the deep-cleansing masks- have become weekly staples in my skincare regimen.

I have not, however- tried this cleanser. Admittedly, I was worried that using a GlamGlow product on a daily basis would be overly drying to my skin. After all, they tend to suck out any dirt, oil, and makeup clogged in my pores like a vacuum- and that’s not something I necessarily need to do every morning/night. I didn’t want to overdo it- but I tried this cleanser regardless- and I’m really glad I did!

I’ve been using this product each night after removing my makeup with a towelette, first applying it like a mask and letting it sit for a couple of minutes on my skin before I wet my hands and massage it into a lather on my face and then rinse it off. The formula is NOT drying at all (it’s surprisingly gentle!) but it still deeply cleanses and smooths my skin. Recently, and prior to using this product- I had a couple of pre-PMS blemishes spring up along my cheeks- but this cleanser helped clear them up right away with no pain and no irritation! I think I’m in love.

Would I Purchase?: Yes! This is a great daily cleanser that took me by surprise and exceeded my expectations. I’m very happy with it and I do plan on stocking up on a full-sized bottle during an upcoming trip to Sephora to replenish some of my skin/hair care and makeup.

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Product # 2: MANNA KADAR Cosmetics Lash Primer ($24)

I’ve never really been one for lash primer. I think the last time I used one was over several years ago when I worked for Clinique Cosmetics and the company provided me with a free full-sized tube of theirs to try. I inherited long lashes from my mother, so the need to prime them in order to make them look fuller or longer when I followed-up with mascara was just an unnecessary step in my routine. This MANNA KADAR formula, however- acts as both a lash conditioner and primer in one- and can be used during the day with mascara to enhance the appearance of lashes, and at night by itself to soften and hydrate them. I caved, and tried this product in both ways.

While I didn’t notice much of a difference when using this primer with my ‘Better Than Sex’ mascara (my lashes still looked the same as they did without it,) I did see a slight improvement when I used this product at night. Each morning after I’d applied a couple of coats of this from one corner of my eye to the other- my lashes did look a bit thicker and felt softer to the touch. This primer didn’t cause any irritation to my lids and didn’t cause any blurry vision or anything- which is a plus- but I’m still a bit on the fence about it since I’m not sure it’s something I’d have to have.

Would I Purchase?: Maybe. I don’t think I’d re-purchase a full-size tube of this primer to use with mascara, but I’d probably consider it if I wanted to continue with a nice and gentle nightly conditioning treatment for my lashes.  If your lashes are in need of some TLC- this might be a really good product for you to try, but for me- it’s not something I’d rush out to purchase once I’m done with the sample.

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Product # 3: Lollipops Paris Malicieuse Lip Balm ($5.50)

When I first opened August’s GlossyBox, I was hit with a strong whiff of what smelled like vanilla cake. Immediately getting hungry, I pulled the box apart until I found the source- this tube of clear moisturizing balm. It thankfully hadn’t leaked out of the tube- but it’s fragrance was powerful enough to take over the box. I can’t say I minded much- because it really does smell delicious. Part of me hoped that it would taste delicious on my lips, too- and I was really happy to see that I was right. It definitely did!

My love of cake aside, this balm was very moisturizing and lightweight- so it softened and smoothed my lips significantly without feeling greasy or sticky the way other balms can. It also lasts a long time, so when I overdid it on the licking (I swear, I couldn’t help it,) it didn’t come off easily and therefore multiple re-applications weren’t required. It was like- wait for it, wait for it- having my cake AND eating it too! Too cheesy? Okay, sorry. I’ll stop.

Would I Purchase?: Yes! This might be one of my favorite products in August’s box. I loved the feel of this balm, and I obviously loved the smell and the taste- but I’m also very appreciative of it’s price point. $5.50 per tube is not bad at all for something that is this lovely. I’ll definitely be re-ordering another tube (or 20) of these when I run out of the one I received.

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Product # 4: SpaRitual Nail Lacquer in ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ ($12)

I know that just a few posts ago I was practically pleading with Mother Nature to let Summer stick around longer than usual this year (I need it to, okay? Just let me have that), but that doesn’t mean I can’t dip into lovely Autumn colors on my eyes, lips, and nails just a little bit prematurely, right? I mean, it’s not like I’m breaking out my sweaters and knee-high boots right now (okay, maybe I wore knee-high boots the other day- but they really complimented a dress I had on.)

I digress, I couldn’t put off trying this lovely and very dark raisin shade from SpaRitual until the middle of September or early October. I had to try it now. Now, the color itself wasn’t really easy to apply, and required a steady hand and a good eye to keep it from getting streaky- but considering that’s a common encounter with nearly every dark shade of nail polish ever created- I wasn’t too put-off by it. After two coats and a little touching up, my nails looked dark, vampy, and very Fall-esque. The formula is pretty tough, too. I’ve had it on for a few days and I have yet to see any peeling, chipping, or discoloration. I love it- and I think this is going to be my go-to shade once the cooler weather is upon us.

Would I Purchase?: Yes! This bottle is going to probably last me several lifetimes, but if I ever run out I would definitely pick up another one. I’d also really like to try some of the other shades available in this collection. I love that SpaRitual’s formulas are completely vegan and free of harmful chemicals- but that the longevity of the polishes are still fabulous!

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Product # 5: POP Beauty Kajal Pen in ‘Sooty Black’ ($10)

Ah, yes- the classic black eyeliner pencil. We meet again. I’m pretty sure this type of product has all but become my sworn enemy through the years- but a thorough review is a thorough review- and I reluctantly tried ‘Sooty Black’ (I admit, I like the name,) to see how it compared to my past battles with other products similar to it. Although this pencil is hard, it didn’t feel agonizing on my lids- and it applied surprisingly smoothly. The other end, used to smudge the liner- came in handy on the one or two minor mistakes I made when trying to get a perfect cat-eye- which was nice. Most impressive was this liner’s staying power. This product didn’t budge once until I used a makeup remover at the end of the day. There was no bleeding, no flaking, and no fading. I didn’t have to worry about looking like The Winter Soldier by the time my lunch hour rolled around- which is always a huge relief.

Would I Purchase?: Maybe. I’m still not 100% sold on hard pencil liners (I’m stubborn, after all,) but this one wasn’t terrible. I will give credit where credit is due. It didn’t inflict pain to apply and it stayed in place all day. I like the price, which is very reasonable for the quality- and might consider it down the road if I ever need a break from my liquid and gel liners.

With three out of the five products I received in August’s GlossyBox being hits for me (and the other two I’m still unsure about- but weren’t terrible by any means,) I have to say this month was a pretty good one. I really liked the assortment of items and the value of the full-sized ones that were included. I think this box was a nice way to bid farewell to Summer before subscription services begin rolling out their Autumn collections and creations.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for September!

xx

Quick Eats: Eggs Baked in Tomatoes.

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I am one of many, many people who enjoy breakfast foods no matter what time of day it is. It’s 2 in the afternoon and I’m not in the mood for a sandwich or a salad? Scrambled eggs it is. Quiet and cozy night in and I need something to eat that’s quick and easy? Pancakes or waffles, for sure. I’ll eat an omelette any time, any place- and don’t even get me started on how much I love bacon- because I really, REALLY love bacon.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I will never argue that- but sometimes eating the same thing every morning day in and day out gets a little boring, and as tempting as reaching for the nearest sprinkle-covered doughnut is- I know that ultimately I’ll regret it in the long run. Occasionally I need to mix it up while keeping it healthy, too.

I saw this recipe floating around online recently and knew I had to try it. It doesn’t require a ton of ingredients, it’s quick to prepare, it isn’t loaded with sugars or fats- and the most important thing- it tastes really good, too!

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WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

[JUST A QUICK NOTE ON THE INGREDIENTS: The recipe I saw online was for eight eggs. Now, as much as I love breakfast- I can’t eat eight eggs- so the listed amounts below were for a serving of two eggs/tomatoes. If you’re making a different amount- here’s an easy way to measure: There’s one egg inside each tomato, and one tablespoon of milk on top of each egg. You need just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your skillet/baking dish- and you can season the egg however you like! The amounts below are just what I, personally, used when preparing this.]

* 2 tablespoons of olive oil

* 2 medium tomatoes

* 2 large eggs

* 2 tablespoons of milk

* Sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese

* Salt and ground black pepper

* A pinch of chopped herbs (any that you like!), chopped bacon, and/or chopped vegetables.

OKAY, HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an oven-safe skillet or baking dish with the olive oil.

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2. Using a small paring knife, cut around the stems of the tomatoes and remove them. Use a spoon to scoop out all the insides of the tomatoes. (Reserve the insides and use them to make tomato sauce or salsa.)

3. Arrange the tomato shells snugly in the prepared skillet or baking dish. Crack an egg into each tomato. Top each egg with 1 tablespoon milk and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. Season each egg with salt and pepper.

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4. Bake until the tomatoes are tender, the egg whites are set and the yolks are still a little jiggly, 15 to 17 minutes (or 20 if you’re paranoid about undercooked eggs like I am.) Let cool 5 minutes and then garnish with the fresh herbs/bacon/vegetables. Serve immediately.

5. Stuff your face and start your day right!

The eggs, while cooked, can be a little runny when prepared this way (I made a side of toast to dip in the yolks for that very reason) so if you like your eggs to be a bit more solid in texture- I recommend whisking them first and then pouring them inside the tomato, instead.

If anyone tries this recipe- I’d love to hear how it came out! Did you do anything differently? Did you add different ingredients? Feel free to share!

xx

Quick Eats: Oven-Baked S’mores Bars.

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I know that August, while still scorching hot in certain parts of the world (including here)– also marks the wind-down of the Summer season. For some who don’t like stifling weather or the humidity, this is a relief- but for those of us in New England, most of who feel like we only just recently dug ourselves out of a never ending snow pile- the last days of Summer can feel like a punch to the stomach. I adore Autumn (my favorite season!) but I really wouldn’t mind if Summer decided to stick around for just a little while longer- maybe even lingering around in late September? Please? Pretty please?

Oh well- fret not! There’s still a little bit of time between now and Labor Day to enjoy and savor some final Summer fun- including baking one of my favorite seasonal treats- and you don’t need a campfire to do it!

If you don’t have access to a fire pit, or if it’s raining, or if you just can’t seem to make a proper s’more on a stick (I’m notoriously bad at it,) you can bake your own less-messy version right in your oven in just over a half hour!

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WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

* 18 graham crackers

* 1/4 cup of granulated sugar

* A pinch of salt

* 8 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter

* 3-4 extra-large Hershey’s bars (or 7/8 regular-sized ones)

* 1 bag of marshmallows (you don’t have to use all of them, but if you want them extra gooey- go nuts.)

OKAY, HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, allowing an extra 2-3 inches of parchment to hang over the edges of the pan.

2. Using a bowl or a food processor, pulse/beat the graham crackers until they are finely ground. Pour the crumbs into a medium bowl.

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3. Add the sugar and salt to the graham cracker crumbs and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Pour your crumb mixture into the prepared baking pan and press it into an even layer.

4. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly golden. From there, let the crust cool for 5-10 minutes.

5. Arrange the chocolate bars evenly on top of the slightly cooled crust, leaving about ¼ inch of crust uncovered around the edges. Arrange the marshmallows on top of the chocolate, leaving some space between each one (they will expand a little).

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6. Bake until the chocolate is soft and beginning to melt, and the marshmallows are evenly toasted on top, 10-12 minutes (a little less if you don’t want the graham cracker crust too crispy.)

7. You can slice and serve the bars immediately, or let them cool for 15-20 minutes if you’d like to slice them cleanly.

8. Enjoy! (Side note: you can reheat sliced bars in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds!)

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These came out so, so good (although s’mores are one of those rare desserts that are near-impossible to screw up,) and I will definitely be making them again before September creeps up on me. My niece would love these for sure- so I’m going to enlist her help in making them with me next time!

xx

“The Earth is Heating Up – I Still Want You…”

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It’s been a little over 24 hours and I’m still buzzing and beaming from an incredible Monday night at the House of Blues. I had the absolute pleasure and privilege of joining my friend Steven in the lighting pit the other night where I watched him work his magic while Brandon Flowers captivated everyone in the room from the stage.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but my very first Killers show was back in 2004 when I was 18. I paid $2 to see the band at a dive of a venue in Boston just as their debut album, “Hot Fuss”, was gaining momentum on the charts. A year later, I met Steven at another Killers’ show in Providence while he was preparing to work- and the rest is history. He’s been one of my dearest friends for just over a decade now and I simply adore him. I really wish I could see him more often, but it’s always a complete blast whenever I do. Monday night was no exception.

The show was incredible, and Steven’s designs and concepts were visually stunning. Prior to his having to report to duty, we had a lovely dinner at the Lansdowne Pub next door to the House of Blues. I was also fortunate enough to meet some of his co-workers (who were all very sweet!) before I took my seat and was blown away by the show. My favorite song off of Brandon’s latest album has got to be “I Can Change”, so to finally hear and see it live was a definite highlight of the night- as were hearing two of my most beloved Killers’ classics “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” and “Human”.

I didn’t want to obstruct the view of or distract those standing/sitting behind the lighting pit by snapping away with my camera all night, but I did manage to take a few photos of the show here and there.

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My personal favorite.

Steven was also kind enough to give me a set list after the show (I have a bit of a collection of them, as well as some guest passes/ticket stubs at my place. They range from 2005 until now,) which sort of marks my final Killers and Brandon Flowers show of my 20’s- which is incredible (and maybe just a little bit depressing!) I can’t believe how long this music has played a part in my life. Time really does fly- and while I know that nothing lasts forever- I’m really hoping for some more nights like Monday’s when I’m in my 30’s, too!

xo

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