Avène USA: So Much More Than “Just Water”

For as long as I can remember, skincare products have always created facial redness for me. Keep in mind, I’ve never been one to use aggressors on my skin such as blush, foundation, etc. In fact, the only makeup products I use are lipstick, eye liner, and mascara. I have always found skincare “regimens” to be daunting, unlike many who consider them to be relaxing. If I so much as used a wet washcloth on my face with a soft cleanser, my face would become red for a short period. After a while, I didn’t care for my skin as I should because it became more trouble than it’s worth. My skin is fair and when I experience any facial redness, it’s easily visible. When I recently started noticing redness in my skin, I wanted to waste no time in doing something about it. It was through Instagram I discovered Avène. Let’s get started on my experience so far!

When I began looking into Avène, it became very clear that they emphasize how their products are for sensitive skin. However, it was by looking through countless reviews of various products and details of Avène ingredients that I became eager to try Avène’s Thermal Spring Water. For those familiar with facial sprays, you may think of well-known brands such as Evian and harsh spritzes of water that feel as though you’ve encountered a miniature sprinkler. Although it was clear that Avène’s Thermal Spring Water was a staple for getting started with Avène, I was very wary because a few reviews said it’s “just water.” Despite my reservations, I ordered two products to start with: Avène’s Thermal Spring Water and Soothing Moisture Mask. Both products aim to reduce redness, make your skin smoother, and give it a bit of a fresh glow. Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed.

Thermal Spring Water 

This little #Avène gem arrived. We'll see how well it works!

A photo posted by Jenny (@fashionistajr) on

It’s not just water. No, it’s not! When I first tried this spray, I was amazed by how my redness quickly seemed to go down and a pimple forming was gone the next morning. Additionally, my mom tried the spray and was stunned to find a whitehead disappeared over night. She mentioned how she has spent thousands of dollars over the years on skincare and nothing has ever truly worked quite like this spray. To add to how impressed she already was, the spray helped ease itching in her hands.

After seeing how we both benefited from the spray, I started looking into what exactly made it so beneficial to skin. “Just water” doesn’t have that capability or we would all be hunched over our sinks throughout the day. Avène’s Thermal Spring Water Spray contains a microflora called Aqua Dolomiae that is exclusively found in Avène’s springs; the microflora’s properties are what gives Avène’s spray its notorious anti-itch, anti-inflammatory traits. To read more about why Avène’s Thermal Spring Water Spray isn’t “just water,” you can read more here.

I was also surprised to learn that the Spring Water was “acknowledged by the French government to be of ‘public benefit.'”

Soothing Moisture Mask

 

The key to a relaxing evening: @aveneusa's mask. So wonderful. #Skincare #Beauty #avene

A photo posted by Jenny (@fashionistajr) on

Skincare regimens, to me, are usually stressful. Whereas most people think skincare gives them time to themselves to relax, I have always associated that time with time I could be spent in my pajamas, watching TV and drinking tea… that is, until this mask came along.

The directions for using Avène’s moisture mask call that you leave it on for 10-15 minutes and use it 1-2 times per week, following it with a spritz of their Thermal Spring Water. When you first apply the mask, the first two things you’ll likely notice are its soft, clean scent, but also how cooling it feels to the skin. I typically like to leave it on for the full 15 minutes because it’s so relaxing, but I have also been known to wear it overnight (it does not get onto bedding, pillows, etc.) After, you tissue it off –  something I have found to be better for my sensitive skin as opposed to using a wet washcloth. The mask is very relaxing, so much so that I recommend using it before bed so that you don’t find yourself tired at an undesirable time. Additionally, my skin seems less red and much healthier after using the mask.

Extrmely Gentle Cleanser Lotion

“Extremely gentle” is an accurate description for this cleanser. I have used a few cleansers in my time and all of them have irritated my skin, except for this one. The texture of the cleanser is a bit milky, spreads easily onto the skin, and removes makeup thoroughly. Another benefit for this cleanser is that I have found it to not burn my eyes one bit! I typically spread it onto the lid of my eye, over my lashes, and beneath. It’s very soft and not at all irritating to my eyes. I would recommend this cleanser, but I’m also open to trying other Avène cleansers because this one works so incredibly well.

Where To Buy

Avène is primarily sold through four sources: Dermstore.com, Amazon.com, Birchbox.com, and through dermatologists. Of the four, I have found Amazon to be the most affordable.

Avène Thermal Spring Water Spray, 10.58 oz. – Amazon – $14.49*

Avène Soothing Moisture Mask, 1.69 oz. – Amazon – $17.51*

Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion, 6.76 oz. – Amazon – $17.43*

*Prices are subject to change

I’m so happy to have found Avène! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let me know.

Until next time,

Jenny

REVIEW: Kikki K Ice Blue Perforated Leather Planner – Large

 

When I stumbled onto something known as the #PlannerCommunity, I was a little more than blown away! For those not too familiar with what it is, it’s basically a community of people that love planning, see ways to make it more fun and creative, and then they put together some beautiful but functional planners. Although I’ve never been too crafty, the planners I saw on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Etsy were a must-have. Now… where to get one?

Finding a Planner

Everyone’s needs are different and it took a long search to discover what many know: the main planners that are able to be properly spruced up are sold by Erin Condren, Kikki K, and FiloFax. I ultimately decided against Erin Condren. It’s true that many Etsy sellers create stickers and supplies coordinated to her planners. However, I dislike that A.) You have to buy one every year; B.) For $40, it’s practically the price of an on-sale leather Kikki K. As for FiloFax, the aesthetic just wasn’t for me. Instead, I decided to buy a Kikki K Perforated Leather in Ice Blue, size large. What most appealed to me- aside from the overall look of the planner- is the fact that it has binder rings, space for additional inserts, a pen holder, and it’s made of leather. Take a look at me unboxing the planner…

My @kikkik_loves planner came!! #plannercommunity

A video posted by Jenny (@fashionistajr) on

Kikki K Perforated Ice Blue Planner: Are There Any Cons?

Yes. If I had to choose the number one downside to this planner, it would be that it doesn’t have a weekly view. For me, having a weekly view is essential because it allows me to write more details to my plans; in the case of putting together a beautiful planner, I definitely think it’s necessary for any little add-ins like planner stickers. Instead of adding a weekly or daily view, Kikki K used the other sections for To Do, Meeting Notes, and about three sections that include blank paper with a subject and date. While I can definitely get use out of the To Do section and Meeting Notes, I think the other three sections could have been minimized to create more room for weekly views.

Additionally, the interior cloth lining probably would fare better if it was leather like the majority of the planner.

Lastly, my Pilot G-2 pen is slightly visible on the other side of a piece of paper in the Kikki K planner. That’s a definite downside.

What I’ve Started To Do

Although I’ve only had my planner a day, I took a trip to some craft stores and found these LOVELY Valentine’s Day-themed items. With them, I’ve started to put together some clips (such as the ZEN one)…

Some pretty finds from craft stores!

I'm so excited for some of the things I got for my #kikkiloves #planner!

A photo posted by Jenny (@fashionistajr) on

 

I’m also very excited to have signed up for the Planner Addict Box which can be found here. It’s a monthly subscription box that sends you accessories for your planner, often put together according to what season it is. It typically includes items from Etsy sellers and costs $15/month + shipping. I’m very excited! My first box will be arriving in early February.

In addition to purchasing some planner stickers, I also bought these dated weekly inserts: https://www.etsy.com/listing/245919451/printed-dated-2016-large-a5-weekly?ref=shop_home_active_4.

Last but not least, I stumbled across this planner-like page on Instagram and thought it was gorgeously put together, especially the calligraphy-like writing. I was surprised to find she used a very fine tip Sharpie pen and I decided to buy a multi-coloured six pack (found here).

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I’ve incredibly satisfied with my Kikki K purchase but I recommend purchasing a planner based on your personal taste and needs. If spicing up your planner is something you’re interested in, I do lean more toward thinking Kikki K is the way to go. If you’re a fan of planning and have put together a planner, let me know! I love seeing others’ ideas for planners.

Until next time,

Jenny

Let’s Try the World: Holiday Style! Unboxing, Recipes, Opinions, and More

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Now that my love of food and Try the World is clear, I’m so excited to review more. Truthfully, it’s slightly tiring to cook, take photos, review, etc. However, it’s SO fun!

Snacks

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Nyåkers’ Ginger Snaps; Origin: Sweden

Thoughts: I’ve always loved ginger snaps and was so, so excited to try Swedish ginger snaps, especially because I have plenty of Swedish heritage. I was surprised to find they’re an orange flavour and was initially put off because I’m not  a fan of citrus. However, these ginger snaps very quickly grew on me. They’re easy to chew yet crisp, perfect for English breakfast tea, and their orange flavour isn’t overpowering but leaves a nice flavour behind. Buy here.

Note: If you’re put off by the fact that it’s orange flavour, the brand offers other flavours, including original. They’re so different from American ginger snaps- more authentic- and I encourage that you try out food from other places!

Would I have it again? Yes, yes, yes. This was a surprising find and something I normally wouldn’t have tried; I usually dislike anything with an orange flavour aside from orange juice and an actual orange!

Truffettes de France; Origin: Canada

Thoughts: If there was one thing I would change about this, it would be to make the package bigger. They were yummy, rich, and so, so smooth. Although they didn’t go beyond what I usually expect from a chocolate truffle, that isn’t a bad thing; truffles are delicious!

Would I Have It Again? Oh yes! I very much enjoyed having these chocolate truffles. They were so, so smooth and a nice little treat.

Orientines D’Apricot Sablés; Origin: Morocco

Thoughts: I didn’t think I would much be a fan of these, but I actually really enjoyed the jam/shortbread combination. They’re not overly sweet and they’re another great choice for English breakfast tea. In fact, I took matcha shortbread cookies I made from the Japan box and enjoyed them with the ginger snaps and apricot sables for tea. Buy here.

Fun fact: sablés originate in France, despite that these cookies are made in Morocco.

Would I have it again? In. a. heartbeat. These cookies were one of my absolute favourites from the box. I’ve come to find that sablés aren’t as sweet as most American cookies and they’re perfect for tea time. The way I LOVE to enjoy these particular sablés is to dip half of them into some jam or a type of fruit sauce (the açaí sauce is perfect for them). I’ve also ordered the strawberry version and love those as well.

Beverages

Teatonics’s Ruby-Red Restorative Tea; Origin: UK

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Thoughts: Teatonics is the first true rooibos tea I’ve had. I’ve had teas that have contained roobios, but this is the first that has truly centered around it. There were a few features of this tea I really liked from the start: it’s certified organic and it’s from the U.K. I have had teas that contain rooibos and, admittedly, it wasn’t my favourite. Although this didn’t strike my fancy as much as other teas, I think any rooibos lover would LOVE this because it definitely contains a nice balance with its notes of vanilla and cacao. Buy here.

Would I have it again? Probably not. I love that this brand cares about quality, easy to see in the fact that their tea is organic. However, I’m simply not huge on rooibos.

Desserts

Olive Oil Cake with Almond-Sugar Glaze

Two recipes are included in Try the World’s holiday box, including olive oil cake with an almond-sugar glaze (found here) and açaí ribbon cookies (found here). Beginning with the olive oil cake, I found this recipe incredibly easy to follow. Often times, things on Instagram, Twitter, and blogs looks so perfect it’s unreal. Well, confession: the olive oil cake requires orange zest and I forgot it. However, it didn’t take away from the cake tasting wonderful. My sister is the first person to make statements such as “that sucks” if she dislikes something, yet her reaction to this was “that’s f***ing delicious.”

The one note I would make about this is that I didn’t find the included olive oil in the box to be enough for the required 1/2 cup. I had to use a small amount of my own. Otherwise, this was a very easy-to-follow recipe.

Olive oil cake with almond-sugar glaze

Olive oil cake with almond-sugar glaze

Açaí Ribbon Cookies

Again, this is a pretty easy-to-follow recipe, but there are some tips worth mentioning. This recipe requires that you chop the hazelnuts very fine because it’s what your cookie dough will be breaded in. What that essentially means is that the hazelnuts have to be very fine. I suggest putting them into a blender or a food processor until it reaches the following consistency.

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To work better with the dough, I suggest wetting your hands just a tiny bit. It’s recommended that you flatten the cookies using your fingers, and I also suggest using your fingers to carve the indentations; it’s a more delicate way of carving the indentations and not overdoing it.

Once your cookies are cooled, filling the indentations with acai sauce is the last step. These cookies were so, so delicious. They’re very soft and the flakiness of the hazelnut dough goes amazingly well with the acai sauce.

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Other 

G. Cova & C. Panettone; Origin: Italy

Thoughts: Unfortunately, I couldn’t try this because it has high-fructose corn syrup (it’s labeled as glucose-fructose syrup). I did give it to my sister and she very much enjoyed it. Buy here.

Biokia Dried Berry Mix; Origin: Finland

Thoughts: Trying the berries was interesting and definitely unique compared to blueberries. I most likely won’t eat them as a snack, but I have considered trying them out in a fruit reduction. I’ll have to give an update if I do!

Would I have it again? I wouldn’t have this particular mix of berries, but I’m opening to trying Biokia’s other blends and maybe even adding them to a smoothie. Some of them- such as chocolate covered cranberries- sound so, so good. Buy here.

Bazzar Açaí Dessert Spread; Origin: Brazil

Thoughts: The açaí was perfect for the ribbon cookies as well as for dipping the sablés into it. I was interested in learning what other companies sell Bazzar’s products and, surprisingly, I couldn’t find all too much on Google. I’m so grateful Try the World included it in their box or I never would have known about it. I would definitely have this again, both for dipping treats into it as well as for baking. Buy here.

Sindyanna of Galilee House Blend Extra-Virgin Olive Oil; Origin: Israel

Thoughts: This was only used in my olive oil cake and I can’t really give a fair description of it outside of that. As to whether I would have it again, I would most likely try other variations of it from the brand just to see how each one differs. Buy here.

Would I recommend this to someone who’s…?

Low-carb? Unfortunately, no. There were so many lovely, sweet goodies in this box that don’t work well for a low-carb lifestyle.

Gluten-free? Yes! Five out of eight of the items are gluten-free, including the truffles, açaí sauce, ruby-restorative tea, olive oil, and the dried berries.

Vegetarian? Yes. All of these options seem very vegetarian friendly.

Conclusion

I’m in love with the holiday box. Although I’m a bit disappointed mine didn’t come with a bow as it’s supposed to, there were so many goodies included! The Japan box was amazing for try full meals I wouldn’t have normally tried, and this box was great for trying treats I normally wouldn’t.  This box has inspired me to begin baking more, to play around with ingredients, and to dive a little more into holiday cooking. I’m very satisfied with the holiday box!

Let’s Try the World: Japan Style! Unboxing, Trying Recipes, Opinions, and More

(not my photo; source is linked via image)

If you follow me on Twitter, you know two things: 1.) That I love good food; 2.) That I have been mentioning @TrytheWorld a lot lately. Try the World is a subscription service that delivers a box to your door every 2 months featuring food from around the world. Each box is specific to one country with the exception of their holiday box. While I know many bloggers, vloggers, and so on receive a free box to review it, this box has not been sponsored or sent to me for review. Additionally, although some opt to make a video, I’ve chosen to write a post because I think it allows better insight into just what can be done with the box, nutritional facts, and so much more. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Snacks

Peach Gummies and Morinago Milk Caramels

Pictured above are Kasugai peach gummy candies and Morinago milk caramels. Both of these require no preparation and, although I originally didn’t think this Japan box would appeal to me, they were so yummy. To begin with the gummies, there’s a very fragrant scent of peach when you open the bag. The texture is far better than American gummies which often require quite a bit of chew time. These gummies actually are gummy and taste like a fresh peach, except without the mess of peach juice. Although I don’t see the peach flavour being sold on Try the World, I included the link to other Kasugai gummy flavors. Important to keep in mind: though the gummies are $5, the pack is about twice as much as the one pictured above.

I don’t consider myself much of a caramel person, but admittedly, I’m almost through with eating the morinaga milk caramels. They’re not difficult to chew, they’re smooth in texture, and though the flavour is slightly reminiscent of butterscotch, it’s not quite as overpowering as butterscotch often can be. What I love most about them is how understated they are, which is quite surprising as I’m always up for a sweet dessert. The morinaga milk caramels can be bought separately here.

Quantity: 12 caramels

Quantity: 12 caramels

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NEXT UP: Beverages

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I’m a big lover of tea, matcha being one of them. Numerous articles have been published discussing the health benefits of matcha. In addition to matcha having many health benefits, there are various ways to prepare it both as a beverage as well as in food. The matcha included in the Japan box is blueberry matcha powder, a variation I’ve never before tried. One downside to this version is that cane sugar is added. Additionally, both recipes included– one for matcha shortbread cookies and another for a drink– call to use either 1 or 2 tablespoons of the powder, depending upon which recipe you’re using it for. However, I personally found the bag too narrow to easily use a tablespoon.

For the powder having cane sugar, I was surprised to find that it didn’t taste entirely too sweet. I ended up having to add a couple of Sweet ‘n’ Low because it wasn’t a taste I found too pleasant. Once I was able to more easily pick up on the flavour, I enjoyed it far more. The blueberry is more subtle, but its taste isn’t quite to the point where the tea ends up tasting like juice.

Blueberry matcha powder prepared with 8 oz. cold ice water.

Blueberry matcha powder prepared with 8 oz. cold ice water.

NEXT UP: Meals

There are three essentials for making new, exciting meals in the Try the World Japan box: Soba noodles, ponzu sauce, and an okonomiyaki set. The ponzu sauce goes with the soba noodles and included in the Try the World box is a recipe for matcha shortbread cookies. I was really disappointed to discover that the ponzu sauce has high fructose corn syrup. Not only am I allergic to HFCS, but it definitely isn’t the healthiest ingredient. I found a ponzu sauce from Kikkoman and was happy to find that it even had 250 mg. less sodium for the same serving size. Moving on!

Simple Soba Noodle Dish

Tips: When filling a pot full of water for my soba noodles, I used about as much as I normally do for penne or your traditional pasta (about 2/3 to 3/4 full). However, boiling soba noodles turned out to be far different. It rapidly foams and almost boiled over. Be mindful when deciding how much water to add to the pot. I would recommend no more than necessary to cover the noodles.

“Soba” quite literally means “buckwheat” in Japanese. Despite its name, buckwheat is gluten-free, meaning soba noodles are traditionally gluten-free. However, for those that are gluten-free, the soba noodles included in the box are not gluten-free. Wheat has been added to them.

One change I made to the recipe for myself was that I only used 1/4 cup edamame beans; the recipe calls for 1 cup. I personally found it to be enough. After you have all of the needed ingredients for the dish gathered and prepared, the process for preparing it is rather simple: add all fresh ingredients to the cold, rinsed soba noodles along with the vinaigrette.

End Result

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To me, I found the carrots and edamame beans to be more of a textural component to the recipe rather than adding much flavour. I wasn’t a fan of either texture and most likely wouldn’t add it to the dish in the future.

Thoughts on the dish: I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the dish more than I had originally expected. It had a bit of nuttiness to its flavour, but the vinaigrette was very, very refreshing. It isn’t a dish that makes you feel weighed down. However, the downside was that it doesn’t taste as flavourful the next day and the vinaigrette really becomes hard to taste once stored in the fridge.

Okonomiyaki

Included in the Try the World Japan box is a kit for making Okonomiyaki; ingredients included are the okonomiyaki flour, nori flakes, tempura bits, and yam powder. Additional ingredients necessary for preparing the dish are 2 tbsp olive oil, 6 slices of bacon, 4 cups chopped cabbage, 2 scallions, and 2 eggs. In addition to necessary ingredients, ingredients on the list serve as toppings for the okonomiyaki: okonomyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, nori flakes, and bonito flakes.

After your ingredients are ready to be mixed with the flour, your cutting board should look something like this.

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If someone in your house is gluten-free, I recommend mixing the flour and fresh ingredients (pictured above) in a space that’s not used for making GF food. It was a bit messy at first due to the flour. After everything is mixed, it should look something like this:

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The recipe calls for cooking them on medium heat, about 8 minutes on each side. I found that they didn’t take 8 minutes on each side. The best indication, depending on what heat you put them over, is to watch for how they brown. You’ll begin to see your bacon turn just the right texture, the batter begin a medium brown, looking slightly crisp but not hard. When your bacon is face down in the pan cooking, I suggest pressing the spatula against each okonomiyaki cake; it helps ensure the bacon stays to the cake when you flip it around. In this photo, you can see the other side beginning to brown just around the edges:

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I was unable to find an okonomiyaki sauce that I can have locally because it had HFCS. On Try the World’s site, one reviewer named Stephanie commented to say she mixed Sriracha with mayo. So, before making this I picked up some Sriracha mayo and opted for American mayo vs. kewpie mayo.

End Result: 

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This doesn’t look anything like most people’s okonomoyaki, I admit that. On the other hand… HOLY MOLY, was it good. I actually ended up doing a gluten-free spin on it for my mom and she loved it. The spice of the Sriracha is slightly cooled with the regular mayo, but is still very heated and goes so, so well with the bacon. Nom, nom, nom.

Matcha Shortbread Cookies

I’ve had my matcha drink, I’ve had my savory meals, and lastly… matcha shortbread cookies. There are numerous suggestions I have for this recipe. I followed the recipe to a T and found the dough to be incredibly crumbly, pictured below.

Matcha shortbread cookie dough

Matcha shortbread cookie dough

After your dough is prepared, it calls for rolling it to 1/4″ thick and then chilling it. There were a couple of problems with that: 1.) The dough was FAR too crumbly to roll; 2.) Exactly how are you supposed to store it in the fridge after rolling it? Do you transfer it to a pan, all rolled out? I decided to roll the dough up as best as I could, seal it with plastic wrap, and let it chill until firm (30 minutes)  in the fridge, despite that the recipe doesn’t call for that until after it’s rolled out.

Once it was more firm, I rolled the dough out and… despite that you’re supposed to use circular cookie cutters, I went for Christmas cookie cutters.

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I was very, very excited about this because I LOVE Christmas and it was my first time actually  being successful in using cookie cutters. Whether it was spraying them with canola oil or dusting the dough with flour, I’m not sure, but I’m very happy.

I baked them for 15 minutes, as the recipe said, and they did come out perfectly. Surprisingly, the recipe did make 24 cookies just as it said it does. Normally that never happens!

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At first I wasn’t sure whether they’re sweet enough, but I have to say it didn’t take too long for them to grow on me. Their flavour isn’t too strong of matcha, but they’re very comforting and I’m really eager to dip them into a nice cup of English breakfast tea. In some ways, their flavour reminds me of La Mere Poulard‘s cookies but with a crisper texture.

Would I Have It Again?

Kasugai peach gummies: Yes! I bought their apple gummies in a bigger bag, but I prefer the peach flavour and would most likely buy the smaller bag; the bigger bag is, well, too big for my taste!

Morinaga milk caramels: Yes, yes, yes. I actually went to a local Japanese store and ended up buying another little pack.

Matcha blueberry powder: No. Although the flavour was interesting to try once, the cane sugar is one turn off and I found myself satisfied after a few sips.

Simple Soba Noodle Dish: Maybe. One reason I’m unsure is because I didn’t find it enjoyable the next day. However, if I was making it for more than one person, there’s a good chance I would have it again.

Okonomiyaki: YES. YES. I got three meals out of the kit and my gosh, it was delicious. I’m still craving it.

Matcha shortbread cookies: If these weren’t so difficult to make with their texture, I would most likely make them again and even decorate them with icing. However, the texture created a mess. I do suggest trying the recipe at least once because it’s been very enjoyable for both myself and my sister.

Would I recommend this to someone’s who’s…?

Low-carb? No.

Gluten-free? No. There were only two gluten-free items.

Vegetarian? Yes. The bacon could be substituted for something else.

Conclusion

All in all, I was very happy with this box. It got me to try things I normally never would have attempted to make, especially the okonomiyaki. That will honestly be something I have all throughout the year now. Trying Japanese candies was interesting to compare to American, British, and Belgian sweets; I thoroughly enjoyed them. Safe to say, my foodie heart was very happy.

It’s been fun, Japan!

Shop: http://www.trytheworld.com/collections/all-products

Christmas 2015: 10 Stocking Stuffer Ideas

It’s that time of the year again… the HOLIDAYS! I think it’s always important to be mindful of other holidays and other religions. Although Christmas is very popular, other holidays and religions do exist. I personally celebrate Christmas and am delighted to share some stocking stuffer ideas.

Starbucks Dark Chocolate Peppermint Grahams, $8.95

Food, to me, is always a good gift idea. Starbucks has a good record of deliciously combining peppermint and chocolate to just the right level, from everything to their peppermint hot cocoa to last year’s peppermint bark. YUM! They can be found here, but I recommend checking with your local Starbucks to save on shipping.

Christmas Holiday Soap Sampler, $11.95

Although I’m traditionally more of a shower gel girl, I’ve really begun to enjoy just how luscious bar soap can be, especially with a relaxing bath or shower. These little soaps are petite, Christmas-themed, and feature shea butter– so soft for bar soap! You can find out more here.

Bath & Body Works Holiday PocketBac Hand Sanitizers

THEY’RE IN STORES. This is NOT a drill! I’m in love with Bath & Body Works’ holiday scents; vanilla bean noel is my all-time favourite. This year, I cannot begin to count how many holiday scents there are to choose from for hand sanitizers. The shape is so cute, so petite and perfect for stocking stuffers. All of the holidays scent can be found here.

Start Where You Are: A Journal For Self-Exploration, $8.77

Journals always seem to be a great idea for the holidays, especially as the new year is almost ’round the corner. Although I believe personal growth can and should happen at any time during the year, giving inspirational little gifts always seems so lovely. What’s so striking about this particular journal are its unique pages that inspire what to write about. To see what else it includes, you can find it here.

  Republic of Tea: Comfort and Joy Tea, $11.50

When it’s chilly outside, there’s nothing better for a tea lover than a nice cup of tea. When it’s the holiday season, nothing can really beat a cozy cup of holiday tea. I love the Republic of Tea for their rich blends of tea that are truly unique. Although they’re certainly pricy, one can does last a while because I’ve personally found one tea bag to be enough for a cup. Most boxes of tea usually only come with 15-20 tea bags, so you’re definitely getting 2-3x the usually amount of tea. This particular blend has “cinnamon, cloves, apples, and licorice root blended with fine black tea.” Reviewers have nothing but praise for it and are eager to stock up. Even better: the shape of their tins is more optimal for a stocking. You can read more about the tea and purchase it here. However, I definitely recommend checking out local stores such as Whole Foods or World Market. I recently saw that World Market had many, many holiday teas from The Republic of Tea which can save on shipping and possibly the base price.

Kitty Crown, $24

Admittedly, this looks a little fairy-like. No, you couldn’t wear it to work. Yes, it’s cat ears. On the other hand, it’s so pretty. The gold detailing is just so beautiful and I can imagine it resting atop other little stocking stuffer gifts, just sparkling. It was made by Alice Mary Lynch, previously a designer for John Galliano and Christian Dior. Note that its description does sound as though it’s meant for children. Either way, it’s so amazingly stunning it is sure to bring some delight! It can be found here.

I Am Very Busy Planner 2016, $21.99

Source: Modcloth.com

Source: Modcloth.com

This planner, though on the smaller side, is so cute with its message. I have been seeing this planner often yet wasn’t really sure where it came from. If you’re going to buy a planner for someone, I always recommend knowing their preferences when it comes to calendars. If this is their type, it’s so bloody cute! You can find it here.

Gatsby’s Green Light Special Necklace Set, $19.99

(Source: Modcloth)

(Source: Modcloth)

If you know someone who loves The Great Gatsby and/or the 1920s, this necklace probably will make them immensely happy. There are so many Gatsby items out, usually of the book cover, and I love that this necklace really puts such a fresh spin on wearing something Gatsby-related. Additionally, if you turn each piece over, one piece says “Daisy” and the other says “Jay.” The number of Gatsby references is sure to really make any Gatsby lover happy. You can see more pictures here.

Holiday Fuzzy Socks, Price Varies

Who doesn’t love fuzzy socks? Although the ones pictured above are most likely fuzzy one the inside as opposed to the outside, too, they’re still a great example of how cute and cozy fuzzy socks can be. When it’s chilly, the feet seem to always be one part of the body that is most noticeably cold. Once your feet are warm, you seem to become warmer in general. Additionally, fuzzy socks can be found almost anywhere: Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx, your local drugstore… you name it. Prices can vary, but it isn’t difficult to find a very comfortable pair for a reasonable price.

Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns, $9.26

Okay, so… this one may take some squeezing into a stocking. However, coloring for adults is definitely said to be soothing for most. Many, myself include, attribute its stress relieving powers to the fact that when you’re focused on colouring the intricate patterns, your worries start to fade. This particular colouring book can be bought here, but many others exist!

Well, that’s all for now when it comes to holiday stocking stuffer ideas! I’m very, very exited for the holidays. No matter what you celebrate or your taste in gifts (maybe these weren’t for your particular taste), here’s to hoping you enjoy the holidays!

A Non-Romanticized View of Las Vegas

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My experience with Las Vegas is a little different than most. Most people come from ’round the globe to get a taste of Vegas, having seen photos, heard stories, and having watched the brilliant lights in films such as Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. My history with Vegas goes far back to the 1st grade when I was living just a little outside of the Las Vegas Strip in Henderson, Nevada. Vegas has often been referred to as Sin City. Although I only lived there for six months, I have few memories of sin. My childhood there was sweet, going to school was fantastic, and even being on the strip now and again was very fun. I do recall some risqué ads, but that was about the extent of it. After moving away from Henderson, I didn’t visit Las Vegas again until 2006 and 2007. Going out to eat and bowling were some of the highlights, along with seeing the beautifully bright lights of the strip. When you’re young, it’s food, innocent experiences, and pretty sights that take you away the most. I can remember being mesmerized by the lights, the spotlight of the Luxor able to be seen for miles. Although I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be seeing those lovely lights for a long time, what I didn’t realize was that I would never again see those lights in quite the same fashion that had captivated me.

October 11th, 2015

The idea of going to Vegas as an adult versus when you’re 11 evokes a feeling of excitement because you know that you’re going to be able to experience more, that you’re more alert to your surroundings, and that you’re more aware of what a city has to offer. My Las Vegas trip took place between October 10th to October 13th in total. Tip: do not take a red eye flight because you’ll feel as though you’ve become a zombie upon arrival. It wasn’t until 5 A.M. our time that my mom and I had gotten our luggage, the rental car, checked into the hotel, and grabbed a small bite to eat.

The next day revealed a side to Vegas that was new and disappointing: it has become so overbuilt that finding parking was immensely difficult and almost what I imagine NYC to be like. Picture this: 9 new casino/resorts opened, one’s being built, another one is being planned, and another one was put on hold, yet very little- if anything- has been demolished. To give an idea of just how big some resorts can get, the one currently being built is estimated to be 21 MILLION square feet upon its completion (look into Resorts World Las Vegas to learn more about that!) Taxis are everywhere in long lines at every casino and after finding parking at a couple of hot spots, my feet were already worn down in flats. One of our first stops was Caesars Palace and to be honest, the shops lacked variety (examples: Christian Louboutin, Dior, Burberry, etc). While all of those are lovely, the atmosphere didn’t seem to match. However, I will say the H&M in the Forum shops put a spin on things, had a full selection, and was very well-organized.

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After Caesars Palace came the Bellagio. I have amazing memories of Bellagio’s gorgeous fountains, although with Vegas being so built up now, it wasn’t until the next day that I finally remembered how big Bellagio is; it had been a bit blocked out by surrounding buildings and I didn’t get the chance to see the fountains again. Bellagio’s atmosphere is far more calm and serene than Caesars.

One very pretty and artistic feature is Bellagio’s lobby ceiling called Fiori di Como by Dale Chihuly. The moment you look up, you know you’ve found something very special: 2,000 hand blown glass blossoms. You can read more about it here.

Fiori di Como by Dale Chihuly, Bellagio lobby; October 11th, 2015.

Fiori di Como by Dale Chihuly, Bellagio lobby; October 11th, 2015.

Some cute little things I found in Bellagio’s shops are included here:

Bellagio has what has become one of my absolute favourite spots in Vegas: Jean Philippe’s Patisserie. Though I had high expectations when trying out Philippe’s pastries, it went above and beyond my expectations; there is no doubt in my mind as to why he was named the best pastry chef in France. Jean Philippe Patisserie features the world’s largest chocolate fountain, so big that my photo couldn’t even fully capture the fact that it extends into the ceiling:

Jean Philippe Patisserie, World's Largest Chocolate Fountain; Bellagio, October 11th, 2015

Jean Philippe Patisserie, World’s Largest Chocolate Fountain; Bellagio, October 11th, 2015

Some of Jean Philippe’s delectable desserts and creations that blew me away…

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I finally decided on the Nutella Napoleon, which: surprise, surprise, tasted nothing like Nutella but did feature hazelnut and chocolate. The chocolate was so incredibly airy and smooth; its richness wasn’t too overwhelming and, my goodness, I finally understand what everyone on Chopped means when they discuss what a dessert should have; its crunch helped make for the perfect bite. I have had a lot of desserts both in and out of restaurants, high end and low end, but Jean Philippe’s was by far the best dessert I have had.

One last feature I have to mention in Bellagio are their beautiful conservatory and botanical gardens, open 24/7. The themes change according to season and it becomes even more difficult to believe that everything is real when you visit. Trying to comprehend that these beautiful, natural features change seasonally truly gets you thinking of the hard work that must be involved. At least 2-3 weddings were taking place in the short time I was there, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

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The Wynn

Las Vegas never truly stops moving, even when the city is supposed to be in bed. In a city that can be very chaotic, The Wynn is really a gem. Its atmosphere is soft, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, and everything from the dining to shows makes you know, without a single doubt, that it just might be the most special place in Vegas. As soon as you enter the Wynn, you’re greeted by this lovely lobby. I truly wish that actual trees were like this because it makes you want to go for an evening stroll.

Wynn Las Vegas lobby; October 11th, 2015

Wynn Las Vegas lobby; October 11th, 2015

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Wynn Las Vegas lobby. I wish I could float in that pretty hot air balloon.

However, the highlight of the day– no, the entire trip– was seeing one of Wynn’s most well-known features, Le Rêve. For at least two years I had been wishing to see Le Rêve and my expectations were nothing but extraordinarily high; however, it blew me out of the water (no pun intended).

Le Rêve, October 11th, 2015.

Le Rêve, October 11th, 2015.

Le Rêve’s circular showroom makes every seat in the house magnificent. Although I had my doubts about going into the splash zone, I now can’t imagine ever trying another seat. The moment the curtain (yes, that ceiling is somehow a curtain) is lifted, angelic music is by now flooding the room, wind is lightly breezing past your face, and the soft scent of water is filling the air. The show holds many romantic themes all told through symbolism, music, and dance– a story primarily about a couple that tries and tries again to be together but that continues to be pulled apart by different forces, usually other lovers. Make no mistake, the show will not leave you feeling weighed down. Real life doves are used, flames that erupt will likely heat anyone in the splash zone, and the energy from performers is enough to make the night feel not near ready to end. In addition to the powerful yet wordless story told, the entire show is aquatic in some form or another, the entire stage a deep pool. Everything from aerial straps to makeshift dinette sets are used for flips, turns, and high dives into the water.

Overall, I don’t have enough words for Le Rêve, except: thank you. I had chills.
The End, Le Rêve

The End, Le Rêve

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October 12th, 2015

October 12th is admittedly more of a blur. The previous day I had walked about 5.5 to 6 miles and had about three hours of sleep just in attempts to be able to do everything that I wanted to do in Vegas. Secret? I still didn’t get to. I visited Paris Las Vegas and found myself rather disappointed. The shops didn’t have too much, the atmosphere lacked je ne sais qui, and one shop I had been wishing to go to, Hexx, didn’t live up to expectations. While I had expected Hexx to be a truly unique chocolate experience as Jean Philippe had been, the shop primarily featured mainstream, artificial candies. The day was primarily filled with a bit of rest, and then… some more food.

Wynn, you just keep getting better and better. The atmosphere was just absolutely beautiful, the wait was short, and the food was one of few spots where refined, healthy food was easy to come by.

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Their dinner features dishes such as caprese salad, prime rib, a crepe station, crème brûlée, balsamic glazed asparagus, an antipasto station, and MUCH more. Frankly, there was so much I didn’t even get close to trying everything that I wanted to. What makes the Wynn buffet unique isn’t that they offer so much, but that everything they offer is high-quality and of a great variety.

I don’t have enough words for the Wynn. Although I didn’t stay there- the rooms begin at $500- I imagine they’re just as lovely.

One last part of the night was heading to the Flamingo to see Legends in Concert. Yeah. About that. The show revolves around impersonators, the trailer seemed amazing. The guy impersonating Michael Jackson sounded very little like him and looked even less like him. His dancing was bearable, though… but then came the Taylor Swift impersonator. She sounded like Minnie Mouse and got the lyrics to “Shake It Off” wrong. That was the end of that. I peeked at some of the Flamingo’s shops. Only in Vegas can you pass buy an adult store with its entrance featuring spread legs. No thank you. That wasn’t exactly how I was wishing to conclude my trip. I peeked into the Cromwell and found a lovely little set of Alice in Wonderland sticky notes, but that was the end of it. My feet were tired, I had overloaded on lights and food, and sleep was much needed.

Conclusion

Despite some of Vegas’s unique features, there were some things that couldn’t be ignored. Smoking is allowed almost everywhere, seemingly far more than in 2007. As smoking becomes more and  more taboo, it’s surprising. I’m not one to point fingers and be judgy, but it’s noticeably unhealthy when it’s allowed almost everywhere. Drinks are very, very easy to come by– served in gambling areas of casinos. Additionally, it’s easy to come by incredibly large drinks. Although I don’t drink, the size of some drinks was just… WOWZA. Slot machines are everywhere, even in the airport and grocery stores. It’s a bit sickening to see so many people just sitting at slot machines for long periods of time, even at 2 in the morning. Sexism runs rampant. Half naked women are featured on billboards, slot machines, shows, and… on the arms of men, whether they’re tourists or locals. It’s always half dressed women serving drinks, half naked women on billboards, etc. Thunder from Down Under is about as close as you’ll get to equal nudity in Vegas, and even that’s not featured nearly as often. Lastly, coming by food with healthy ingredients becomes difficult unless you’re willing to pay (The Wynn buffet’s dinner is $40 per person). While me mentioning all of these things may seem petty, it becomes worth mentioning when you combine all of these factors together.

Although I’m already missing some things in Vegas such as Jean Philippe’s chocolate, I also realize that with time comes change– both for Vegas as well as for myself. We have both grown and I’m all right with that. Though it’s disappointing to not view a city as fondly as you once did, it lets you appreciate the truly special things it can offer.

Until next time, Las Vegas…

Random Snapshots

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*All photos in this post are mine

It’s Time for College: How to Make the Grade You Want

Whether entering college for the first time or returning for yet another semester, it can seem as though getting motivated and making the grades that you want is impossible. However, with a few tips- some of which may seem obvious at first- what you want is achievable.

Having completed the entirety of my high school degree online, it took me up until the 11th grade to truly grasp time management, motivating myself, and taking responsibility. Often times college students will have to take a freshman course about college. I did, but the truth was that the book and course didn’t cover a lot of the things I ended up seeing in my freshman year– both from freshman as well as upperclassmen. Let’s get started!

Attend Class

Kelly of Dream in Lace recently published a post entitled “Five Things I Wish I Knew When Heading Off to College” and listed attending class as being crucial; I couldn’t agree more. In my first year of college, I couldn’t get over how many people missed class and brushed it off like it was nothing. What I found was the following:

  • Often times professors will include information in their lecture that may not necessarily be in the required textbook. The information may be simple, but if you’re not in class and paying attention, that could be a question missed on homework, a quiz, or a test.
  • Even if you mostly understand your assigned reading, a lecture will usually always make everything much more clear, especially because you have the opportunity to ask questions. For my accounting class, I always kept up on assigned reading and found I mostly understood the concepts discussed. However, when I got into class I found that I really began to understand everything inside and out. When a very difficult exam came along in the future, I knew how to work the problems inside and out.
  • Reading is very different than being in an environment with active discussion and participation. Even though I’m odd in the sense that I enjoy reading college textbooks, I’ll admit that they can make me tired sometimes. Having a professor speak before you, having visual aids, and having fellow students ask questions really keeps you engaged; as a result, you’re more likely to remember the information in the lecture.

Take Responsibility

People, no matter their situation, always hear about taking responsibility. When attending college, the most obvious aspect of “taking responsibility” is to simply get your work done (and often students struggle to even do that). However, taking responsibility involves far more than turning in an assignment.

  • If you cannot make it to class because you get sick, do everything in your power to not get behind or get a zero on a grade. Check attendance policies. If you need to go to student health services to get a doctor’s note and you have the ability to afford the fee, which often isn’t too high, do so because your professor may work with you to give a makeup quiz or exam. Ask your professor his or her policy on submitting homework online if you’re sick. If you’re taking classes that involve numerical processes such as accounting or college algebra, watch YouTube videos about what was covered in class. That brings me to my next point: email your professor, apologize for missing class, and ask what concepts were covered.
  • If you get a bad grade, especially on a paper, try to not get offended or have the immediate reaction of “that’s unfair! I deserved an A!” Instead, go to your professor and ask why you got that grade and what kind of work it takes to achieve the grade that you want. In my Composition I course, the highest grade on homework was a 5. After thinking I had gotten my homework perfectly right, I remember getting a 4 and finding myself panicked because my upcoming paper was worth 30% of my grade. After speaking with my professor, I had a better understanding of what was wanted and later ended up getting the grades I had wanted.
  • If you email your professor about something that could affect your grade or attendance yet you don’t hear back from them in the time that they say they normally respond in, follow up. Following up is important in so many situations. Professors are people just like us; sometimes they don’t receive an email, sometimes it gets lost in the many emails they get, and sometimes they simply forget with everything else going on. It’s your responsibility to follow up with what you want accomplished.

Invest in Office Supplies

Remember when shopping for school supplies involved mostly buying Crayola products? It was fun, colourful, and simply the best. However, just because we’re no longer in elementary school, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with office supplies!

Everyone learns differently. As it would follow, everyone differs in what office supplies help them learn best. It’s well-known how many people love to use highlighters; I personally get little to no use out of them. I prefer Post-It Notes, ultra fine Sharpies, and colored EnerGel pens. To give some ideas for what can be done with office supplies…

  • Coloured pens can be used to colour code. For example, I write vocabulary terms in purple before giving the definition or explanation in black. For latin terms in my law class, I’ll write the term in green. For visual learners, such a trick might be helpful.
  • Post-It notes can be helpful for making notes on papers or even being used to compare and contrast in your notes. I’ve personally found neon green allows for the best contrast with pens and that they’re well paired with ultra fine Sharpies; the Sharpie bleeding through won’t matter because you don’t use the other side of the Post-It. However, if you choose to use only one side of a sheet of paper and then use ultra fine Sharpies, you’ll find that highlighting the Sharpie-written word won’t smudge the ink.
  • Highlighters can indeed be useful for highlighting key points– whether it be a unique fact or to connect separate points where the author didn’t necessarily bridge the two points.
  • Index cards are useful for listing traits or facts that relate to one central subject (e.g. if you’re discussing a muscle, its traits, and its location). Related to index cards are vocabulary cards which need no explanation for their use!
  • Find what notebook works best for you! This may seem obvious, but many people will think carrying around a miniature tab of paper to class can work. How, I don’t know. You need a sufficient amount of space to take notes, even if you have read the assigned reading. Some prefer five subjects, some prefer one.

GET A PLANNER!

I cannot stress how important it is to get a planner! Most, if not all, professors have zero tolerance for late work unless you have an excused absence, and even then it can sometimes be iffy as to whether they’ll accept your late work. Again, this is an example of taking responsibility. Record the dates of due assignments. Often times planners will include a weekly view so you can make a to-do list for each day. Break down your reading time to make it less stressful. Maybe even get a head-start. As brutal as it may sound, if you miss a due date to not reading, not working, or forgetting, the only person who will be suffering is yourself. Get. a. planner.

Find Computer Labs and Printers

Although there are many students that have laptops that they take with them around campus, computer labs and printers can still come in handy for the following reasons, whether you have a laptop or not (some of these scenarios are based on what I’ve had happen):

  • If you have a laptop, some days you simply might not feel like carrying it or you may have forgotten to charge it when you have only a few minutes left to submit an assignment.
  • Because professors will often want hard copies of your work, knowing where printers are located is essential. If you printed an assignment at home, it’s possible you could get to campus and realize you’ve forgotten to bring it. You could read over your work and realize you made a blatant error with very little time to correct it. You would need to know where the computers and/or printers are located to quickly go and correct the work.
  • One shocking thing I found was how helpful it can be to print PowerPoint presentations out. Even if you have a printer in your dorm or at home, printing off 20 pages can take a toll on your paper and ink supply.
  • If you don’t have a laptop to take around campus, knowing where computer labs are can be very helpful in the case of having a gap of time between classes; it can let you get some work done so that you’re not stressed out when you get home, thinking “oh, no, I still have all of this to do…”

Take Care of Yourself

After listing off all of these tips, college may seem a bit overwhelming. However, one of the most important things is spacing everything out instead of trying to do it all at once after putting it off. With that being said, it doesn’t mean college can’t be stressful. Honestly, it can be. With that being said, it’s very important to take care of yourself. If you put so much pressure on yourself to never stop working for a moment, you’ll neglect self-care and it’ll be counterproductive.

  • Eat properly. The freshman 15 happens to many, but eating well goes beyond keeping a healthy weight. The foods you eat can largely influence how you feel throughout the day. Try to avoid having an excessive amount of sugary or fatty foods. Make you to eat enough protein and vegetables. Always eat your vegetables, right? Don’t forget that vegetables contain many nutrients such as iron and Vitamin K– nutrients that affect everything from fatigue, brain function, to even increasing life longevity.
  • Take some time to relax. Just as it’s important to make sure your entire life doesn’t consist of partying or blowing off school, it’s just as important to take breaks and a bit of time for relaxation. If you have a hobby that helps you relax, such as baking or watching a movie, take some time to yourself to enjoy that. Taking time for yourself can become more complicated in crunch time when many assignments are due, but it is possible to relax. You will overwhelm yourself and no longer be able to properly work if you become lost in anxiety or constant work.
  • GET ENOUGH SLEEP! It’s 2015 and a constant theme seems to be glamorizing little sleep and fast living. Hey, it’s great to have progressive food and shopping, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need sleep. Whoever said “sleep is for the weak” probably died pretty young with having very little accomplished. Aside from sleep deprivation affecting hormone levels which in turn can affect weight, sleep patterns, life longevity, and one’s immune system, it has been found that two weeks of consistently sleeping six hours a night leads the body to act just as if it had been up for 48 hours straight! With that little of sleep, “studying” won’t matter because retaining the information will be a lost cause.

Lastly…

GO AND MAKE AMAZING THINGS HAPPEN FOR YOURSELF! You have the power to make incredible things take place if you’re willing to put work into what you do. College can be intimidating, but it’s a time for new things: friends, learning (both in the classroom and outside of it), and accomplishing things you never knew you were capable of.

Here’s to a new school year!