Our Faves of the moment

This week we made a selection of our favorites of the moment. From outfits to Netflix series, here are the things we are loving this season!

Fave outfits

Laura: Summer took a while to pay us a visit here in Chicago, but now that it is finally hot out, I have to say my favorite outfit for the weekends are crop tops paired with high-waisted bottoms, whether they are shorts, skirts or pants.  When it comes to shoes, I love wedges because it gives you a slimmer look while still being super comfortable. I specifically like the rope trimmed one, because they give off a beachy retro vibe. I own a pair of Michael Kors from last year’s collection, but these are fairly similar.

May: The off the shoulder tops are definitely my fave of the moment, and I guess I won’t be the only one this summer. I especially like the tops with the separated sleeves and bust – like this one – because they are more comfortable if you need to raise your arms.

In my closet, my favorite is the one pictured below. It’s from Zara, I bought it last year and I’m still crazy in love with it. The fabric is really light, which makes it so comfortable. It can be worn everyday, or dressed up for formal occasions.

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I also love the off the shoulder bikini style, but that deserves its own separate post.

 

Fave Hair Style

May: Braids braids braids! My coworkers can definitely confirm my passion for braids. I love this hairstyle, it’s comfortable and looks sophisticated. Once you get how to do it you can make a billion of different styles, like twin braids or crown braids.

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Right now, what I love to do is to make two little Dutch braids on each side of my head and make a pony tail. Braids of all kinds are by far my best everyday partner. If you’d like to know how to make a Dutch braid, I’ve made a tutorial for you.

Laura: Currently, my style is easy and effortless when it comes to hair. Finally I can let my hair air-dry unless I have to style it for a classier look. My hair is naturally wavy, so after I apply my care products, I kind of let if flow freely with a hair clip so it does not get in my face. If it gets too frizzy, I put it up in a top knot bun or do a half up-do braid.

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Fave Beauty product

Laura: Funny enough, without consulting with each other, May and I both wanted to tell you guys about a primer we discovered recently. The one I am using is Photo Finish Foundation – Pore minimizing by Smashbox. I have had a particularly busy and hectic couple of months and have not slept much. In spite of that, I have never received so many compliments about my skin, which is actually far from amazing at the moment. I have this little gem to thank. It smooths down your imperfections, and evens out your skin tones while feeling super soft and comfortable on the skin, even in this hot and humid weather.

May: Instant smooth primer from Clarins is my fave of all time. It’s a transparent make up primer that has a very soft texture, it reminds me of foam. When you apply it on your skin, it will fill in your pores and smooth out the imperfections. Then, when you apply your foundation your skin looks perfect.

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Fave Music

Laura: Because I am longing for a vacation and beach days, I am currently obsessed with the Latin hit Despacito. I know it is cliché, but I can’t help picturing myself at the beach, or dancing at a summer party.  I love the original version best, with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee… Sorry Justin Bieber!

May: Right now, I love listening to Ed Sheerean, and I can’t resist dancing and singing to the Shape of You. I also love listening the several amazing covers of this song; I selected three for you: one by Samantha Harvey, one by Gootmusic and the third by Twins Melody.

 

Fave Netflix series

Laura: I haven’t watched a lot of Netflix in the past few months, but now that my shows are coming back, I am watching again. Recently, I got back into Orange is the New Black, which I watch with delight and anxiety, because of the struggles that the characters go through. I like that each character gets their own story, and that it is not all back or white: everyone is deeply flawed, but also touching in their own ways.

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Apart from that, I have been trying to get back into House of Cards, but with the current political climate, I just could not bring myself to watch it yet, which is a shame because I loved the first four seasons.                                                                                                      Lastly, I love the Chelsea Show. I have been a Chelsea Handler fan for a long time, but sometimes got tired of her former show on E! Chelsea Lately. I think that being on Netflix and executive producer of her own show gave Chelsea more flexibility to talk about a wide range of topics from the most trivial to the most important, while keeping her irreverent sense of humor.

May: Together with my boyfriend, we love watching many different series on Netflix. I like Sense 8, Designated Survivor and – of course – Breaking Bad, but at the moment we have a new crush and that’s Iron Fist. I like the Marvel movies but it’s the first time that I watch a series. Since the very first episode, I loved it.

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The story is about Danny Rand, a billionaire who disappeared during a plane crash when he was a child.  After 15 years, he is back in New York to take over the family business. He will discover that corruption and crime are gangrening his family business and his loved ones. While he was missing, Danny acquires the knowledge of martial arts and the ability to use the Iron Fist from the monks of K’un One. He will use his ability to fix up his company.

Fave Activity

Laura: Lately, all I want to do is be outside. Since I have to wait a while before I am on vacation, I like to pretend I’m on vacation by hanging out on some of the best rooftops of the city, or lounging on restaurant patios. I am also planning a few trips to the lake beaches. My goal, before I leave in July, is to try Oak Street Beach, because I have not had a chance to try it yet!

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May: These days the sun is shinning so much and the temperatures are so hot that if I had to choose an activity it would be hanging out at the pool. I love laying on a lounging chair with a fruit cocktail reading blogs and magazines or going into the water and swim a few laps. I use my Apple Watch to calculate the distance I swim and the calories I burn. The pool is a perfect compromise for me to do some exercise without dying because of the temperature. At the same time, it’s the perfect place to rest (especially after working out).

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Sweet Home Chicago

Just a disclaimer: you may come across a few articles about Chicago in the next month or so. I recently found out that I was going to relocate to the East Coast at the end of July.

This means that I will be leaving the city that has been my home for the past six and a half years. Looking back, I realize that it’s been a long time! While I am happy to move on to new adventures, there are definitely many things I will miss about this amazing city.

So this first article will  mention some of the things that make Chicago my home.

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  • Walking/jogging by the lake

In my time here, I have moved a few times within the city, but I always made sure to stay within walking distance to Lake Michigan. It is one of the Great Lakes, so it resembles a sea because you cannot see the other side.  Though it does not have a salty breeze. I love being near the water; it is one of the few things that relax me. I don’t really care for lake beaches, but it is in Chicago that I really started jogging on a regular basis.  While I am no marathon runner, I go at least once a week on the lake path and it has become essential to my well-being. I should also add that the view of the skyline from the lakefront is pretty amazing.

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  • The yearly traditions

I love that Chicago has all four seasons, although the Spring often blends into the others. Each one of them brings yearly events that I love to attend. Two in particular are my favorites:

– The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House, which happens every year in October. For a weekend, many public and private buildings are made available to the public. Chicago’s architecture is amazing and I love exploring places that are closed to the public most of the time. It is like a weekend adventure into the unknown without leaving your own city and the list of participating locations change every year.

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– The ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Chicago has a free zoo in the heart of the city and every Christmas, in collaboration with ComEd, they deck out the entire space with colorful light displays. It is like walking into a magical wonderland and I have not missed it since December 2012!

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  • The food scene

Chicago has an amazing restaurant scene. For a place famous for its hot dogs, pizza and Italian beef, the food scene is actually very diverse! There are a lot of up and coming restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines, and my boyfriend and I love exploring new hot spots, whether they are gastronomic institutions, or neighborhood gems. As a tribute to our neighborhood, and because I intend to make a more expansive article on restaurants later, I will only mention the unassuming places we typically walk to and leave out the acclaimed culinary temples you will find on a guide. Our favorite for Thai is Andy’s Thai Kitchen. For a local burger we got to DryHop or Kuma’s too.  For sushi – and the competition is fierce around here – we love Sushi Mon, and my favorite, everyday/healthy option is Vegetarian Express. This place is literally a hole in the wall; as a matter of fact I don’t think I ever ate inside it, but their food makes for awesome take out!

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  • The neighborhoods

Chicago has a multitude of neighborhoods. When I first arrived, I was surprised of how serious people are about the neighborhood they are from. They all have a different vibe and different trends. The funny part is as I spent time in the city, I too became attached to my neighborhood! Chicago is so spread out that people end up spending a lot of time in their respective neighborhoods because it helps make living here more personal.

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Here are some of my favorites: Lakeview (you should hit up Boystown at least once!) for the bar life and fun times. Lincoln Park and Old Town are a bit more yuppy, but they are my favorite areas to live. I love the old brownstones! Wicker Park, aka hipster central, is super popular for vintage shops, bars and entertainment. River North is the hip, urban neighborhood with a booming night life and the West Loop developed a top notch foodie scene. Make sure to spend some quality time with its Randolph street restaurants. Because I am lazy, I do not often venture there, but these neighborhoods are also worth exploring: Pilsen, with its vibrant murals and rich Mexican influence is a good one. Hyde Park, home of the renowned University of Chicago and Barack Obama, is also definitely worth the trip! Just a tip though, rely on a car or take the Metra (the commuter rail system) as they can be hard to reach with the CTA.

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After writing this, I realize I have so much more to write about Chicago, so bear with me through the summer!

 

Tips for traveling alone

Last month, at almost thirty years old, I took a trip by myself for the first time. I was a bit nervous, because I had never done things like eat at a restaurant by myself or be alone in an unknown environment.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about my safety. I fly alone frequently and I have traveled quite a bit. It was more that I was uncomfortable appearing alone in public places, or being alone with my thoughts for days! When I told some of my friends about it, I received very mixed reactions. Some of them said that they could never do it, while others seemed surprised and even made me feel silly for feeling weird about it at all. Only my friend Christine told me that while she dreaded it at first, she ended up loving it. She was right. Traveling alone was exhilarating. Here are some tips that definitely made my life easier.

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  • Plan ahead

This seems like a no-brainer, but when you are alone, you want to avoid getting lost or ending up in potentially dangerous situations. I recommend mapping your itinerary and doing some research on places to visit and where to go. I asked my friends who knew DC for recommendations and used Google Maps to chart everything before heading out of the hotel. I also made sure I researched the restaurants I went to, to ensure I could sit at a bar, since I didn’t want to be alone at a table. I hate waiting so this was definitely one of the perks of the trip: when you are alone, you can do things you want at your own pace.

  • Bring books (or magazines, or your tablet)

I used to love reading and would spend most of my vacations as a kid going through books. Unfortunately as a gown-up, I often don’t have time to read and I waste too much time on social media to be able to pick-up a book at night. This was a welcome opportunity to catch up on some books I had been meaning to read and I loved being alone in my bubble enjoying a story.

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This is also great if you feel anxious at the idea of being alone and awkward in public, and so much more refined than being sucked into your phone! If you don’t like to read, you can always get a magazine, play games or watch movies on your tablet.

  • Get ready to talk to strangers

I am a fairly sociable person, and decided that the best way to not feel awkward, when being alone in places like bars, was to strike up a conversation. (In this case, you should probably drop the book). Usually, people tend to talk to you more if you look like you are alone anyways. As long as you seem open to it, you can end up meeting really interesting people along the way. Some of them are also be traveling by themselves. As grown-ups we don’t really get many chances to randomly meet new people, so why not enjoy it?

  • Prepare a playlist

Since you do not have anybody to talk to, I recommend making a playlist, which will set the mood of your trip. I personally was into my Big Little Lies phase (seriously, if you haven’t watched the series, you should!) so I played this. It kept me company as I walked, and I know this is silly, but I almost felt like I was starring in my own movie! So pick something you like that makes you feel good and get going!

  • Treat yourself!

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Although I mentioned it briefly in some parts of this blog, I think this last point is worth having its own paragraph: since you are alone, you can do whatever you want! So pick the type of food you love, take long walks if you love to walk, or take a taxi if you hate walking. Have your favorite drink, watch a sunset, sit out in the sun or go for a run. Just do things for you. You don’t have to compromise with a friend, significant other, work schedule, or a family request. You made it alone all the way here, so enjoy yourself!

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Things to do in Washington D.C.

I was just thinking that this blog is starting to look like a travel blog between May’s trip to Berlin and this trip to D.C. but these trips were purely coincidental!

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As it turns out, I had to take a last minute trip to Washington D.C.  It was my first time in the city and I had to travel alone, which was scary at first, but made it even better because I was free to do what I wanted for a couple days. I was fortunate enough to have friends who were familiar with D.C. to advise me on where to go and what to do, so I want to share some of my adventures.

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The night tour of all the Memorials

The part of Washington D.C. that everyone is familiar with is the National Mall. This is the area with the Washington Monument, the White House and all the Memorials.  I was advised to tour the monuments at night because they are lit up and it makes for a unique experience. It took me about an hour and thirty minutes, but I am a pretty fast walker. I started my tour at dusk at the Lincoln Memorial and walked around the Tidal Basin . The memorials emerging from darkness gave out this eerie, almost surreal impression. Even as a foreign national, I felt a great amount of emotion and significance emanate from these monuments. Standing there, you definitely feel the importance of the people who have shaped the most powerful country in the world.

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Georgetown and walking by the Potomac River

With its river walk and pretty homes, Georgetown is probably one of the prettiest neighborhoods in D.C., although it may be a bit preppy for some tastes. I had lunch at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place by the Potomac River on Sunday and loved the relaxing atmosphere. It was a warm sunny day and a lot of people were boating, walking around, or simply sitting at the restaurants’ terraces. I ordered crab cakes since it is a local specialty and enjoyed basking in the sun. I highly recommend a walk in this area!

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The Museums

Since my trip was very last minute and quite short, I did not have the time and flexibility to efficiently plan my visit. I read that the second most visited piece of art, after the Mona Lisa, was the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian. I have already seen the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, so I felt compelled to go see the Hope Diamond. One thing worth noting is that most museums in Washington D.C. are free. This is great for obvious financial reasons, but also because it makes people flow through the museums faster since there are no lines at the cashier. The Hope Diamond is located at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I am not a fan of watching stuffed animals or volcano formations, so I headed straight to the gems and precious stones area. They have some truly magnificent pieces, but I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by the Hope Diamond. It is so big and bulky, and does not even seem real!

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If you enjoy art, I recommend visiting the National Gallery. The lady at the information kiosk was one of the kindest and most helpful people I have ever encountered in a museum! She basically created a personalized itinerary based on my taste and what I told her I hoped to see. The collections are really good and I really liked the modern East Building with its great architecture.

I thought I had managed my time well enough to be able to see the Newseum, the museum of the press. Unfortunately, I showed up an hour before closing time and was turned away! Just a cautionary tale: buy the tickets in advance or plan ample time for a visit.

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The neighborhoods

The center of Washington D.C. feels a bit surreal with the National Mall, the museums and official buildings. As soon as you get outside of the center, you feel this homey, almost European neighborhood feeling. I loved the row homes in the Dupont Circle area for example. The city is so green, especially in the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom. Adams Morgan is great if you like animated neighborhoods and going out to bars. I got breakfast at Tryst , which is super famous, and it did not disappoint. I highly recommend just walking around and stopping by any cute place that strikes your fancy, as there are many of them.

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Enjoying a glass at the POV, the W Hotel’s rooftop

After a hectic day on Monday, I decided to reward myself and celebrate my last night in D.C.  with a glass of wine on the city’s most famous rooftop, the POV Bar at the W Hotel. There is a panoramic view of the Washington Monument and the White House.  It is not the type of spot where I’d spend an entire night out, but it is most definitely worth stopping by for a glass or two. Take pictures!

Overall, I really loved the city and wish I had had more time to visit, as I have a long list of things I still want to do! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

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Gala Ready!

Every year my workplace organizes one gala evening called the “Soirée,” which is our biggest fundraiser of the year. This event gives me the opportunity  to find the perfect gown, because let’s face it, I do not often have the chance to go all out and dress like a princess! Since it just took place this past Saturday, I would like to describe what I wore and give you tips on how to get ready for a formal event.

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A few years ago, I discovered this amazing website that was a game changer for me. It is called Rent the Runway.  You can rent a designer gown for 4 or 8 days at a fraction of the purchase price. They ship your dress in two sizes to make sure it fits you, and if it does not, the customer service is incredible. Once, they overnighted a dress to my home after mine got stolen on my porch after being delivered. If something happens to the model you order, they will send you something similar instead. That means you always have options. So far, I used them four times and I never had to wear a dress that didn’t fit or that I did not like. Some of my friends don’t like spending money on a dress you don’t get to keep, but I don’t mind because I would never wear this type of gown twice anyways. I also can’t afford to drop a thousand dollars on a dress for one evening per year.

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Last year, Rent the Runway opened a store in Chicago. I wanted to go and try dresses in person for this year’s Soirée, but I got sick with the flu. Since I had to stay in bed for five days, I decided to order online again. I went for a golden dress which is not typical for me, as I usually wear black or red.

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The issue with wearing this type of color in April in Chicago, is that there is little sunlight and I could not tan. To remedy that, I use MicroMist® Airbrush Sunless Tan by Neutrogena every day for the 5 days preceding the Gala, so that my skin looks naturally sun kissed.

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My nails were next. I waited to receive my dress to determine which color I was going to select. I opted for neutral. Two days before the Soirée, I went to my favorite nail place to get a no-chip manicure, a pedicure, and I threw in a brow wax as well. You want to make sure that you do the wax at least a couple days before an event, in case your skin gets irritated. I have very sensitive skin that immediately gets red and a little puffy after waxing. You have to give your skin time to recover.

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On the day of the Gala, I took the entire afternoon to get ready starting with my hair and make-up. The dress reminded me a bit of Belle’s in Beauty and the Beast, so I decided to channel her and went for a half updo with curls. For make-up, I used my Kat Von D Shade + Light contour palette  for contouring, which is perfect for amateurs like me, and selected neutral colors with a hint of gold for my eyes. I used the Urban Decay Naked Eyeshadow Palette.

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The downside of this dress was the ample cleavage, so I used Hollywood Fashion Tape to keep everything in place. The last thing I wanted was to have a Janet Jackson moment at a work event! In the end, my hard work was rewarded. I received tons of compliments and had so much fun dancing through the night!

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My Spring Cleanse

Growing up in France in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I felt a lot of pressure to conform to this ideal of skinny, petite look, which is often the French cliché. As a teen, I was into fad diets and new tips in order to stay in shape. The truth is, I was not a very athletic teenager and I only started exercising regularly well into college. When I moved to Chicago, I was worried about gaining weight because I would regularly gain weight when visiting the US and then lose it after going home. With this permanent move, I needed to find a better balance.

At first, it was difficult. Then, about four years ago, I decided to do a one month of cleanse in the spring. That meant not drinking alcohol for a month and eating “clean” ( meaning no processed foods and no white carbs), and vegetarian. I wasn’t sure about not eating meat for a month, as I was a self-professed carnivore, but I stuck with it. I also started working out regularly between two and four times per week. The results really blew me away. Not only did I lose a significant amount of weight, but I also felt better. To top it off, there were no crazy cravings after the first week. After that, I kept eating better and working out regularly. I also really cut down my meat intake, even though I am not fully vegetarian.

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An example of a clean Brunch: Poached eggs with salmon, avocado and Feta; sautéed mushrooms, spinach with coconut oil and fruit.

 

I am proud to say that I have consistently remained thinner and more toned than at any time in my life. Still, in the summer and during the holidays, I sometimes fall off the health wagon and splurge. For this reason, I have maintained the habit of a clean month in the spring and fall.  They help serve as a reset button to tune me back into good habits rather than a strict weight loss program. These past two years, I tweaked my cleanse a bit to reflect its new purpose.

For example, I do not watch calories as closely anymore and I am more concerned about making sure that I get enough energy, and feel good. This means that I eat more healthy fats (avocado, olive and coconut oil, nuts and nut butters). I also eat more high protein carbs like quinoa and soba noodles. It does not impact how much weight I lose during that time, but I feel more energized and healthier.

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I also focus more on other factors such as sleep. Going to bed early is sometimes a challenge, but I found that trying to stick to a schedule improves my ability to get more out of my sleeping hours. Additionally, I tried to switch up and develop my workout routine to help me fall asleep easier.

 

While I learned to enjoy my cleanse months, occasionally I feel that my social life takes a bit of a toll because I tend to be more selective in the social events I attend. Being the only non drinker at a party is not always fun. Yet it also frees my time to try new things, such as classes at the gym – I had been too shy to try until  now – or more involvement in this blog! I also make sure to include some activities I enjoy that do not involve eating or drinking, for example a visit to the museum or a movie, or going on long walks with my boyfriend.

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Diversey Harbor and the Chicago Skyline, on one of my favorite walks by Lake Michigan

I like to live a fast-paced life.  I also realize that taking care of myself and having a healthy lifestyle is a daily, and yearlong endeavor. I sincerely believe that these two months a year help set a good pace by helping me regain mindfulness and balance.

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