Thanksgiving Re-Cap

For those of you who don't know me other than from this blog, I'm in grad school (last year!) and living in Virginia, but most of my family and friends are in Texas. We get a week off from school for Thanksgiving, and while many people choose to return home for the holiday, Andy and I stay put. It's expensive and time consuming getting home, and ultimately not worth it in our minds, especially considering winter break is right around the corner. So, for the third year this year, we've had friends over for Thanksgiving, and for the second year, my older sister and my nephew were able to join in as well since she's now doing a grad program about four hours away in Ohio.

Andy and I don't mess around when it comes to Thanksgiving; it's quickly becoming our favorite holiday. We send out e-invitations, make a menu, a solicit contributions from our friends. We do the bulk of the cooking, and honestly we like it that way. We really enjoy spending the day together in the kitchen, and we always have the best time drinking and eating and hanging out with our friends, who are always such gracious guests. It's hard not to be thankful on a day like that.

I didn't post anything leading up to Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be nice to do a little re-cap. I meant to get this up yesterday, but yesterday after my sister and nephew headed back to Ohio, Andy and I just lazed around and watched TV and ate junk food. And ran the dishwasher about four times. I sporadically took pictures with my phone throughout the day, but I missed out on quite a bit, so this will be half pictures and half description. This might end up kind of long, but if you're interested, buckle up and enjoy this peak into our home!

One of the first things I did was get the stuffing made. I use my mom's recipe because it's the only stuffing I've ever really known and a lot of other stuffing recipes have sausage or other weird stuff in it that I don't approve of. I like to stick to the classics. One thing my mom always did that is equal parts gross and responsible is use the whole turkey. We cook the gibs and neck in water, onion, celery, and spices to make a little broth that we use to make gravy later and then cut the gibs up and put them in the stuffing. Celery and onion gets cooked in a bunch o' butter. Loaf of cheap wheat bread plus some broth plus cooked gibs plus onion and celery plus some spices equals super simple stuffing. By the way, if you're still using a disposable pan for your turkey, you need to get yourself a legit roasting pan. It's so much better, plus it's a lot easier to pull in and out of the oven than those flimsy foil pans. I got this one last year at Walmart for like 10 bucks.

This year we dry brined our turkey three days before Thanksgiving and it worked marvelously. The last two years we did a wet brine recipe from a friend of Andy's, and that was great, but the dry brine was so much easier and so much cheaper, so I think we'll be sticking with that from now on. Then we wrap the turkey in bacon to keep the top of the turkey from browning too quickly and to give it a bunch of flavor. Our turkey actually cooked a lot faster than we expected it to this year, so we actually took it out of the oven, wrapped it in a bunch of foil, and let it rest in a styrofoam cooler (thanks Andy's Dad for this wonderful idea!). It stayed warm and moist and delicious until we were ready to eat it. So yeah, now you know that trick in case that ever happens to you. Crisis averted.

The last two years we had mashed potatoes for our potato, but this year I decided I wanted to do something different. The two potato dishes I remember us doing most when I was growing up was Au Gratin Potatoes or red potatoes and green beans. Andy isn't super hype on Au Gratin potatoes though (which is crazy), so when I saw this recipe it sparked an idea. So we did this hasselback or accordion style potatoes with super thin slices of garlic and put out a serving dish with sour cream, green onions, and shredded cheddar cheese for people to top them with as they liked (and of course there were butter dishes). For our green vegetable we were going to do this super simple green bean and shallot recipe, but then Andy got an idea for a deconstructed green bean casserole, so we did sauteed green beans and shallots with a mushroom puree served on the side for you to drizzle over the top. There were absolutely no leftovers of that and it was delicious. When the bacon was done on the turkey, we took it off and set it aside to be crumbled over potatoes or stuffing or whatever your heart desired and let the top of the turkey brown up.

Fresh rolls are pretty much a necessity in my opinion. I've made these a few times and love them. I doubled the recipe to make sure there was plenty for everyone with some leftover for turkey sandwiches the next day. Leftover turkey sandwiches with a little Miracle Whip and cranberry sauce is there best part, right? My mom always served homemade bread in a basket. It just feels right that way.

My sister whipped up her candied sweet potatoes. I use my mom's recipe when I make them, but she has a slightly different recipe that she uses. Regardless, candied sweet potatoes are one of my favorite Thanksgiving things. Seriously. It doesn't look like much here, but you top them with a buttload of marshmallows and brown them up in the oven and it's heaven. Heaven, people!

You can never know exactly when Thanksgiving dinner will hit the table, so it's always nice to have some snacks out for people while they're smelling all of the wonderful food and waiting so patiently. I whipped up some deviled eggs following this boiling method and my own recipe. Taste and mix is my method. I also made these crunchy chickpeas for a healthy, non-filling snack.

Slow cooker mulled cider is the easiest, most genius drink idea because you can drink it hot or over office, kids love it, adults love it, and you can spike it with regular rum or spiced rum or bourbon or whatever and you don't need quality liquor people. I put in some store bought cider, a couple of orange peels, a lemon peel, and a cheesecloth filled with allspice berries and whole cloves and some cinnamon sticks. It smells amazing as it cooks and it keeps really nicely. I cook on high for about four hours and then turn it down to keep warm after that.

This is definitely my new favorite pie crust recipe. It came out flaky and browned up beautifully and tasted delicious. It was also easy to roll out. If you are a beginner pie crust maker, I don't envy you. I put in my time and I'm finally able to make it without crying or cursing or stressing out. Yay! With stuff like biscuit dough and pie crust and all that kind of thing, you really just have to know what it's supposed to look like. Because if you don't you sit there thinking is this right and adding too much water and stressing out. But if you do you just stand there and say, no, it's fine, it'll come together, and it does. I used this apple pie recipe and it tasted good, but the juice didn't thicken up like I wanted it to. I've never been able to get a fruit pie to gel up properly. Does anyone have any great tips or advice on this matter? I didn't get a picture of my pecan pie, sadly, but it was wonderful. The whole thing got eaten up. I used this recipe as a base and decreased the sugar and increased the pecans. I'm sure I'll post my modified recipe in the future because I will definitely be making it again. My friend Meghan brought the Pumpkin pie this year (just so you don't think we didn't have pumpkin pie, because it's kind of a necessity). She also brought some delicious homemade cranberry sauce. And of course no table would be complete without a can of jelly cranberry sauce as well.

We had seven adults and one kid at our table this year, which actually worked out perfectly with the size of our table (with leaves) and the number of seats we were able to scrounge up. We did not do anything fancy with our table setting at all this year. We put out a couple of unscented candles for a little ambiance and a cloth napkin. I know lots of people do a buffet style thing so as to avoid the cluttered table, but we like keeping the food on the table so people feel comfortable getting seconds and talking while they're serving themselves and it feels more family style that way. So we don't clutter up the table with extra stuff, because the surface of this table was full to the brim with all of the food on it!

In the middle of all of this cooking and cleaning and preparing and whatnot, there was my four year old nephew. In the middle of the day he just needed to get out and get rid of some energy while his mommy was taking a nap, so he went out and started picking up sticks in the front yard. He actually wanted to rake, but we didn't have a small enough one. I asked him to make a nice pile for me and he decided that he would instead lean all of the sticks against the tree in a bizarre, modern art masterpiece. I named it tree tree. We will just leave it like that and let our neighbors wonder what kind of witches we are.

Our friends brought all of the wine and booze. We did cocktails before dinner and wine with dinner and cider after dinner. Every one was so lovely and took turns playing with my nephew and there were video games played and toy block towers built and wonderful conversations had. Perhaps the best Thanksgiving yet.

What did you do for Thanksgiving this year? What traditions does your family have? Also, throw your Hanukkah stories at me!

Yours Truly, Jen

What's In My Makeup Bag?

Yesterday I shared what I keep in my bag, and today I'm giving you a look inside my makeup bag. I am not a big touch up my makeup throughout the day kind of person. I like longwear makeup because I spend the time putting it on how I like it in the morning and pretty much don't worry about it for the rest of the day. If I'm going out or changing my clothes in the evening I might re-powder and touch up my eye makeup, but for the most part once it's on, it's on. However, I do like to carry a little makeup bag with me with some essentials for times when I do need them, like if I have to go straight from work to an evening event or I get rained on or end up spending the night somewhere or whatever. Like I said, I like to be prepared. Here's what I have in my makeup bag at the moment.

From left to right: Mini hairbrush (I've had this forever. I don't use it terribly often, but it comes in handy sometimes),  Aquaphor (great for really dry or scaly patches of skin, elbows, lips, taming flyaways, etc.), Daisy by Marc Jacobs and Folle de Joie perfume samples (I like to keep a couple of perfume samples with me so I can pop some on if I forget to put some on in the morning or am not feeling very fresh), Stila CC cream (I actually haven't tried this yet), Estee Lauder Double Wear powder compact (this is actually an old compact but I keep it in here because it has a mirror and it has pretty good coverage, so it's good to cover up midday breakouts and splotchiness), Avon glimmersticks in black, NYX liquid liner, Lancome Hypnose Star mascara sample (haven't tried this yet), NYX concealer, Sephora SPF 15 sunscreen (I always have SPF on my face during the day; this is for days when I'm out a lot or leave the house bare-faced), Cococare Cocoa Butter Lip Balm (my favorite lip balm ever!), lipsticks (described below), and a Covergirl lip balm designed to work with longwear liquid lipsticks, Stila Rockin in Rio palette (5 eye shadows and one super pigmented pink that can be used for lips and cheeks. I got this for ten bucks and think it's a good travel kit).

I always like to have whatever lipstick I'm wearing that day with me, and they tend to accrue in my bag. I clean them out every few days or so, but here's what is in my makeup bag right now. I thought I'd swatch them for you so you can see what they look like.

From left to right: bareMinerals Marvelous Moxie in Maverick (this was actually part of a deluxe sample pack from Sephora. I'm not a huge gloss person, but I actually like this, though I'm not sure I would pay full price for it. The color is nice and it smells like sprinkles), Revlon ColorStay Ultimate Suede in It Girl (nice neutral pink color. Goes on like a lip butter and dries into a suede finish), NYX Matte Lipstick in Perfect Red (name says it all. Lasts wonderfully), and Revlon ColorStay Overtime in Ultimate Wine (love this formula. Lasts all day and doesn't flake if you use the gloss. This color is a nice wine/berry color, more on the red side than some).

I just keep all this in a lightweight makeup bag that came free with some samples from Sephora. Because I keep this pretty condensed down and stick to sample sizes for the most part, this stuff really doesn't take up much space or weigh too much, yet I can do touch ups or create a fresh face just from what's in this bag. Pretty much every time I order anything from Ulta or Sephora I get samples, not to mention my subscription to Birchbox; I keep everything I don't use immediately in a basket, and when I want to try a new moisturizer or shampoo or whatever or need to replace something in this bag, I go and see if I have a sample I can use in the basket. They're great for traveling too!

Do you carry a makeup bag with you? What are your travel essentials?

Yours Truly, Jen

What's In My Bag?

I have been known to carry a Mary Poppins-like bag. Whatever you need, I probably have. Bandaids? Check. Lip balm? Check. Hand wipes? Check. This is something my friends have joked about for years and years. What can I say? I like to be prepared.

Because I'm a fairly nosy person, I like to read these kinds of posts. And because I tend to have a good amount of stuff in my bag, I thought some of my fellow nosy readers might like to see what's in mine.

This is my bag of the moment. I've carried this bag pretty much every day since the beginning of March, it's usually too full, and it's held up pretty well. It's starting to show a little wear and tear, and I'm starting to think about shopping around for a new one, but I've been too lazy to actually do so. I should also maybe mention that this is technically a handbag, but I carry my school/teaching stuff in it on the days I do that. I'm pretty sure I got this at an Aldo, but I can't seem to find it online. I bought it at a mall in Boston when the strap on my previous, much beloved laptop bag broke. This was an emergency purchase I have gladly not regretted it.

Most days my bag is in school mode, meaning I need the larger compartment freed up for my laptop and charger and papers and things. So my bag organizer with all the little things that end up in a purse gets shoved in this front pocket. It works out better than you might think. I used to have all of these little things just hanging out in this pocket, and it made the pocket much less bulky looking, but I hate (read HATE) digging around in my bag, so organizer to the rescue!

For some reason this backdrop looks kind of fuscia in some of these pictures, and red (the actual color it is) in others. Weird. I mean, I totes did that on purpose. For like an ombre effect? Anyway...remember how I said I had a Mary Poppins bag? This is all the stuff I have in my little organizer right now. And believe me, I've cut this down in recent months. There used to be more. Much more.

From left to right (ish): pen flashlight (you never know when you might need that), moist towlettes (when I go to a steakhouse or for wings or whatever and they serve these with the plate of food, I always tuck away the unused ones. They come in handy!), q-tips (for touching up makeup and such. I think I got this little travel pack from Target), mini lint roller (also Target), sugar packets (I like to stash a couple extra when I get coffee at a coffee shop. Sometimes you don't put enough sweetener in there and you don't realize it until you leave. Sometimes you get a bland latte. You never know), Altoids Small, Trident (this gum is actually supposed to help prevent cavities if chewed regularly), assortment of granola/energy bars (I get super bitchy when I get low blood sugar, so having food on me is a must), contact eye drops (I don't wear contacts very often, but I like to keep this on me for when I do), Avon Care Silicone Glove Protective Hand Cream, mini first-aid kit (some bandaids, Dayquil, cleansing wipe, Excedrine), mini toothbrush and toothpaste (for in case I leave the house in the morning without brushing my teeth, or need to freshen up after lunch), and my Tide To-Go Pen (which I could not live without. Works so well, so convenient, so awesome), and my makeup bag. The makeup bag is my most recent addition to my bag, and I'm going to do a separate post with the contents of that to avoid this post getting too outrageously long.

I always like to have a notebook and some pens in my bag. I'm a big fan of the Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine pens and have them in a bunch of colors. I've been carrying one of these customizable notebooks for a while from Staples, and I like that I can move around the sheets of paper. I got my Nine West wallet from Ross years ago and it's worked great ever since. Has room for all of my cards, is big enough to keep my checkbook in, cash spot, change pocket on the back, easy to snap shut, everything a person needs. I'm not fussy with wallets. I just wanted something reasonably attractive that works, and this one fits the bill. I don't really worry about matching my wallet to my bag. I don't think anyone else really notices that kind of thing. I have my laptop in my bag more often than not, and I use this sleeve to keep it from getting scratched up or bumped around since this bag isn't padded. My adaptor for the classroom AV system is constantly in my bag so I have it when I need it for teaching, and I always have a set of headphones with me as well.

In the front pocket of my purse I like to keep my Student ID so it's handy when I need to pull it out and swipe it and some emergency cash. I've left my wallet at home more than once when I've gotten it out to pay bills or buy something online, so I like knowing that I've got some cash tucked away for lunch or whatever.

I almost always have this water bottle either in my bag or in my hand when I'm going out. I got it at Target and it's glass, which I like better than plastic and think water tastes better in it, and the glove does a great job of protecting it. I dropped this thing once when I was jogging on the street and thought for sure the glass would be cracked and it wasn't. The lid pops open easily and the mouth is big enough to put ice in but small enough that I don't worry about spilling water all over myself.

So that's my bag. I'll often have my Mac charging cord in there as well, and something to read. It's also not uncommon for there to be some paperclips floating around in the bottom. And obviously my iPhone, which I was taking pictures with today.

What are some essentials you keep in your bag?

Yours Truly, Jen

How I Meal Plan & Grocery Shop Part 2: At Home + App Recommendations

This is part 2 of my 3 part grocery shopping post series. If you missed part one, find it here.

Every week, Andy and I sit down and figure out our food plans for the week. We usually do this together, and we usually do this on Sunday. It takes us about an hour or so, and then we don't have to worry about it again for a week. Yay! This is definitely not my favorite part of the weekend, but it's nice to have it over and done with. Plus, this routine is so familiar by now that it really ain't no thing.

1.  Look through store advertisements. Every week we get a local circular with the store advertisements for our two grocery stores (Kroger and Food Lion). If you get the Sunday paper, you'll get them there, and they're also available at the front of the store if they aren't mailed to you. I sit down for a few minutes and flip through the circulars, circling things that are priced well that I may be interested in getting (with no real plans for yet). The longer you consciously shop, the better idea you'll have of what a good price is for items you commonly buy in your area.

2. Check inventory. Before we start list making, I like to see what we already have in the house and see what staples need replenished (milk, eggs, bread, etc.) as well as what we have that needs used up before it goes bad (produce, bread, meat, leftovers, etc.). The staples goes on the grocery list, and I keep the things that need used up in mind while thinking about meals.

3. Check for coupons. I'm not a serious couponer at all, but if I love to save money when it's easy. Kroger has a good online coupon system, so I'll spend a few minutes looking through there and clip anything that I think we might possibly end up buying. Since these are just loaded automatically to my store card (as opposed to having to print them), I over-clip. I also always have some paper coupons that were mailed to me from Kroger or Food Lion or included in a magazine or on a product's packaging or that I was given at the register when checking out on a previous visit, so I like to look through those and see if there's anything I want to use that is about to expire or that I might want to use that week for whatever reason. The easiest way to get the best price is to match a store sale to a good coupon. So for example, a frozen pizza brand might be on sale for 4 for $5 and then I have a $1.25 off coupon when you buy two.

4. Start meal planning. Based on what we have that needs used up, what's on sale that week, and what recipes we're in the mood to try or re-make that week, Andy and I cobble together a menu. For example, if chicken breasts are on sale, or chicken was recently on sale and we have a bunch in the freezer, we'll look through my Pinterest board and our recipe books and binder and pick a recipe or two we want to make. If we have leftover marinara in the fridge, we might pick a pizza recipe, or chicken parmigiana, or spaghetti and meatballs. Usually while we're recipe browsing, we'll look at a bunch of recipes and keep the ones that look particularly good to us at that time and/or that we already have some of the ingredients or those ingredients are on sale. As we decide on meals we know we want to make, I jot them down on a notepad. I also jot down things like nights we have plans to eat out or go to a friend's house, which will affect the number of dinners we need to plan. We don't usually plan special breakfasts or lunches. We tend to have things on hand for pancakes and eggs and bacon, and we usually eat leftovers or quick foods we keep on hand for lunch.

5. Once we've decided what we'll be eating for the week, we go through all of the recipes, double check the things we think we already have, and add the things we need to buy to the grocery list and make sure all the paper coupons we use are in my wallet. Then we're ready to go!

 6. Usually after we get back from the grocery store, we'll decide which days we want to eat which things. We try to spread out similar meals (like if we're have two chicken dishes or two pasta dishes), keep in mind who is going to be cooking what and their work schedules, how quickly things like produce need to be used, and optimal freshness for things like beef and seafood. I mark these down on the notepad and then put the whole menu up on the chalkboard that hangs up in our kitchen. Again, it is not uncommon for us to end up shifting things around a bit as the week progresses, but we like to have a schedule to work off of and it really helps keep us from eating out too much.


My favorite grocery shopping app is Anylist. I tried a few before this one, and Andy and I have both been using this app for over a year now, I think. I love this app because you can share your list with other people, so Andy and I are both able to view our grocery list at the same time and make edits to it at the same time. It also syncs and updates really quickly, so if he crosses something off the list on his iPod Touch, it shows up on my iPhone almost instantaneously. The other major feature that I love about this app is that the items are separated by categories as they would appear in most grocery stores (Breakfast & Cereal, Condiments & Dressing, Cooking & Baking, for example), and they are customizable. So you can switch the order in which these categories appear on your list by the order you go through the aisles in the store, and if an item shows up in one category and you think it should be in another, you can easily move it there.

I also use the Kroger app, which lets me see what coupons I have saved to my card and clip coupons right there in the store. Plus there's an electronic barcode of my Kroger card on the app, so if I ever forget it I can show that instead.

I Heart Podcasts

Do you guys listen to podcasts? I'm somewhat a newcomer to the podcast world. In fact, let's back up a second. I used to be the kind of person who hated listening to people talking on the radio; in fact, I've never really been a big fan of being read to either. I like reading and hearing stories in my own voice, and I like learning information via reading because I feel like I absorb and remember it better that way. Reading has always been a huge part of my life (as if the fact that I'm getting my MFA in creative writing didn't give that away) and I've never really had a place in my life for non musical audio.

Fast forward to grad school, where I a) have a boyfriend who loves listening to short stories, and b) have to read so much for classes and for teaching and for things related to what I'm writing (not to mention the fact that I decided to start blogging and read a lot of blogs and the news and whatever). I started listening to short story podcasts with Andy and I kind of liked it, and then I got an Audible subscription and started listening almost exclusively to novels. And then I didn't have a novel queued up, and I started listening to a bunch of podcasts. And it was awesome. In the past few months, I have developed a serious love for podcasts, and I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you!


NPR's Fresh Air: I like listening to this show when it's on the radio, but I'm not often able to catch it. This show is deals with "contemporary arts and issues" and has some really great, interesting interviews. It's really interesting to hear these people speak, and you often get to learn really interesting stuff from behind the scenes, some content of the book, etc.

WTF with Marc Maron: This is my most recent love. Marc Maron is a comedian (you may also have caught his show called Maron on IFC), and in his podcast he does interviews with all kinds of people--for example, in his two most recent episodes he interviews Barry Crimmins, a political comic and activist, and CM Punk, a wrestler. Maron is funny and smart, has great questions, and keeps shit real.

New Music Discovery

NPR's All Songs Considered: I am pretty much obsessed with this show. I love listening to this while getting ready in the morning. You get to listen to these two music-obsessed guys talk about a variety of music--and they really do cover a lot of different types of music--and give you interesting factoids about the musicians, their interactions with the musicians, compare sounds of albums, etc. It's also nice because it's not all talk; they go back and forth between talking about songs and playing songs.


This American Life: Each episode is centered around a theme, like "Getting Away With It" or "Kid Logic," and is divided into acts. Within each act, a different story is told exploring different facets of that topic. Some of these stories are told through interview format, sometimes it's a radio personality reading someone else's story, sometimes it's a person reading their own story, sometimes it's a story that's part of a memoir, sometimes it's someone telling a story for the first time.

Selected Shorts: In each episode you hear usually three, but sometimes more or less, short stories. Each story is read by a different actor on a public stage with a live audience. The performances are wonderful, the stories come to life, and they are introduced briefly.

The Moth: This is a shorter podcast, usually only 15 minutes or less. In each podcast a person tells a crafted true story. It's pretty much that simple.

Learning Stuff

Radiolab from WNYC: Radiolab is kind of like This American Life except that each episode centers around something sciency. You get stories, you get exploration of a topic, you get a little scientific explanation. The science is kept pretty simple and is explained in simple terms for us non-sciency listeners.

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day: In less than 3 minutes you get the pronunciation and spelling of a word, its brief etymology, and a good explanation of its meaning and an example of the word being used in a sentence. This podcast doesn't do anything super special, but it's a great little way to improve your vocabulary and keep you thinking about English and language.


Joy the Baker Podcast: It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Joy the Baker. I love her writing, I love her photographs, I love her recipes. I don't know why it took me so long to check out her podcast. Each week, she and Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean talk about a subject, like irrational fears or therapies or shame hangovers. It's not a podcast I listen to expecting to learn from (though usually when you listen to smart people talk, you learn something), but it's nice to listen to if you just want to hear some friendly people talk about some stuff. It's conversational and fun.

Breakfast for Dinner: My friend Nicole and her boyfriend Dago started this podcast not too long ago, and it's been really fun to listen to. Part of that is probably knowing the people in it, which is so weird, but part of it is learning sports terms and getting some weekly news headlines and hearing them talk about a new song each week. There's also usually some kind of shenanigan, like singing fake Madonna songs or writing new product jingles.

Woah, I just realized that was ten podcasts and I totally didn't plan that. Awesome. There are other podcasts I do listen to sometimes, but these are the ten that I find myself listening to the most and looking forward to. I don't keep up with all of these 100 percent of the time (Fresh Air updates five days a week, so that alone is a lot), but I like to listen in the car or while I'm getting ready in the morning or putting away laundry or whatever, and many of these only update once a week. What are your favorite podcasts?

Yours Truly, Jen

Hot or Not: Origins Skincare Must Haves

If you are a Sephora junkie (I talk about being a recovering one here), you probably bought a bunch o' stuff during their recent VIB insider 20% off sitewide sale. I have been pretty happy with my drugstore makeup and my morning and evening skincare essentials, but I thought I would look around the site and see if there was anything I really wanted that was splurge worthy (because pretty much everything at Sephora is a splurge on my budget). The gift sets really stole my attention because many of them are such a great value! Andy has never gotten me any makeup or skincare gifts in the past, so I didn't think I was ruining any possible future gifts by buying any of them for myself. I ended up getting this Origins set and a couple of other things (which I will be sharing with you soon!).
First off, let's break down the money. This set costs $49.50, and is supposedly an $81 value (according to Sephora). In the box you get a full size GinZing Refreshing Eye Cream (usually $30), and a 1.7 oz. Clear Improvement mask (usually $16), which already brings you up to $46. Then you also have a 1.7 oz Checks and Balances face wash, a 1.7 oz Modern Friction wash, and a 1 oz GinZing moisturizer. The latter three are not sold at Sephora in the size included, but are still pretty well sized. Essentially, you pay for two items and get the other three free, which is a great value. The full size Modern Friction is almost 40 bucks, and the other two full sized products are in the 20 dollar range.

The thing that made me initially look at the set was the eye cream. I've been using the Simple Revitalizing Eye Roll-On and have liked it, but I kind of wanted something a little nicer to help brighten up the area and prevent fine lines. I had gotten a small sample of this eye cream from Origins in the past and had liked it, so I thought about buying the full size. Finding it in a nicely priced set really clenched the deal. So far, I am liking this cream. It's not too heavy, but it feels moisturizing and does brighten up the eye area, so it's great for mornings. I don't have very puffy eyes so I can't really speak to its effectiveness in that area, but I definitely enjoy using it and think this would be an excellent product for gals who don't wear a full face of makeup every day. Dab on a little of this under your eyes, a good tinted moisturizer, and a little lipstick/lipgloss, and you look fresh in absolutely no time at all.

The Clear Improvement mask was actually a product I had purchased before and enjoyed, so I was happy to get that again, though this one I've been using from Avon is a pretty good "dupe" for it, I think. 

The Checks and Balances wash is a product I've seen crop up on beauty blogs and Youtube channels a lot in the last few months, so I've been interested in trying it, but it's not a product I would probably have splurged on if it hadn't been included here. I've used it a couple of times now and I really like the fact that you only need to use a little bit of the product at a time. I've used it with my fingers and with my Clarisonic and I think I like it better with fingers, but it worked fine with the Clarisonic as well. 

The Modern Friction wash is actually the most expensive product in the box (for the full size, anyway), and is a very gentle exfoliating wash. I have this weird thing where I'm so used to harsher exfoliating washes that I almost feel like gentle ones like this aren't doing anything, but some of those harsher washes can actually leave tiny cuts on your face which is not good for your skin, so a gentler wash like this is actually supposed to be better for your skin. I did feel like this helped even out some little bumps on my face, and though this wash is not part of the GinZing line, it smells to me like fresh cut ginger root. I don't see this product irritating even sensitive skin, and if you only use it once or twice a week, even this smaller size will last you a while. 

The only product in this set that I don't see myself getting a lot of use out of right now is the Ginzing energy boosting moisturizer. It doesn't have SPF in it so I wouldn't normally use it during the day, and I already have a moisturizer I use at night. I have tried it a couple of times and like it, but I may end up waiting until I run out of one of the products I'm using before I really dig into it. Since it is only an ounce though, it would make a great travel moisturizer!

Overall, I'm definitely giving this product a thumbs up. I think this is a great little value set if you're interested in trying out some Origins products without paying for the full size, and would also make a great gift to anyone you want to pamper, like your mom or sister.

Have you tried out any gift sets this year?

Yours Truly, Jen

Let's Talk Confidence

I recently saw this image on Upworthy, and unlike most of the things I see on there, I had really mixed responses to it. On the one hand, I can totally see her perspective. Our culture and the way we are raised make size, race/ethnicity, and gender really significant to our level of confidence and our thinking of what we can and cannot do. Many people might say I can't do X because of X factors, and just leave it at that. But on the other hand, I'm always really interested in what makes a person believe so wholly in themselves that they'll do something that seems impossible, and it doesn't matter who that person is. If you've ever seen pictures of models without makeup, or even porn stars without makeup, you'll see that most of them aren't just born the beauties we make them out to be. Don't get me wrong, they're still gorgeous in a totally human, approachable way, but when we strive to look like supermodels we strive to look like the made up, airbrushed version of them, not what they were born with. So what made them say, you know what, I can be a super model? Their size? Their height? When an artist starts a new movement, what makes them think that they can do that and be successful and be accepted? When an aspiring actress gives up everything and moves to New York or Los Angeles to try and start a career, but gives her the confidence to do that? Stupidity? Faith? Self worth?

I want to know what separates the people who dream of greatness, who have all of these ideas for cool things they'd like to do or could do (i.e. me) from the people who just do them, who start that Youtube channel or sell all of their stuff and move to a different country or try an impossible career or say to the world, hey, I'm worth a damn. I guess this is just as much about drive and go-getter attitude as it is about confidence, but I feel like those things often go hand in hand. If you are really confident in yourself, you believe that you can do anything, and so you're more likely to try to. 

I have often had ideas for things that I might be good at, or things I might be interested in doing, and part of not doing them is probably laziness, but more of it I think is a fear of failure, of not being good at it, of not following through, and that fear stems from a lack of belief in myself, that I can do it, and thus a lack of confidence in myself. Obviously this isn't exactly crippling lack of confidence, since I have done some things in life, like to go to grad school and write some stuff and start this blog, but I always wish I would do more.

I don't know if I've articulated myself well here, but I'm really interested in hearing what you have to say about this issue. Where does your confidence come from (and no, I don't mean that in an insulting way)? Your upbringing? Your looks? A certain talent or ability? Do you think Mindy hits the issue on the head, or are you conflicted like me? Sound off in the comments!

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. I am totally aloud here, and did not intend to offend anyone with my comments here. If you totally disagree, please comment and let me know! The point of this Let's Talk series is to talk about things that are controversial, interesting, generally not talked about, etc., so some people may be offended by some comments and that is a necessary byproduct of open conversation.

P.P.S. Previous Let's Talk posts here and here.