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For most of my life, I’ll admit I wasn’t that concerned about the ingredients of my skincare products or makeup. In general, I would swing through Walgreens and grab my bottle of Neutrogena face wash and a CoverGirl powder compact without thinking twice. As I got older, I started investing more in my makeup, but I was motivated more by a search for quality than a concern for safety.

As an adult, I starting being more aware of the ingredients in my food or how the animals I was eating had been treated and making better choices in that respect. But while I was paying a lot of attention to what was going in my body, I still hadn’t caught on that what went on it could be just as damaging.

Then I got pregnant.

Suddenly, my body wasn’t simply my own and what I exposed myself to I was also exposing my baby to. That’s a lot of pressure. It didn’t help that I was reading scores of disagreeing articles about the potential dangers of some of the most common beauty treatments. With the idea of “better safe than sorry,” I started looking for simple swaps I could make to safer products, for my baby as well as my own health.

I wasn’t alone in that goal. My friend Madison was experiencing a similar drive to make better choices about what she put on her skin, especially after experiencing two miscarriages before getting pregnant with her daughter, Ainsley. I remember reading Madison’s blog during her pregnancy (especially after I knew I was also pregnant but hadn’t announced it yet) and soaking up her advice and recommendations for safer or less chemical-laden products. Then, after her daughter was born, Madison was looking for more flexible work options and became a consultant for a brand called Beautycounter.

Beautycounter is a skincare and beauty company founded by a woman named Gregg Renfrew. She started the brand after realizing that so many personal care products are not as regulated as many people think — in fact, many use products linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and hormone disruption, all without ever informing consumers. Unlike the FDA, Beautycounter has banned more than 1,500 unsafe ingredients (many of which are banned by the European Union), creating one of the highest standards in the beauty industry.

They also rigorously screen all of their ingredients, working with scientists and industry leaders to reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals and develop safer alternatives. They also choose ingredients that are over 80 percent organic, natural, or plant-derived, and that are sourced responsibly. Oh, and they also don’t test on animals. And just in case you needed one more reason to trust the products, they don’t hide anything nasty under the guise of “fragrance,” “flavors,” or “preservatives” either.

Like I said, they really take this whole “safe skincare thing” seriously.

As I’ve watched Madison climb the ranks from a consultant to a director within the company, I was always curious to know more about the products. Madison obviously couldn’t say enough good things about them, so when she put out a post on Facebook asking if any of her friends would be interested in hosting a Beautycounter social, I reached out and told her I was interested.

So, what is a Beautycounter social? It’s a little bit of education, a little bit of shopping, and a little bit of having snacks and drinks with your girlfriends. Basically, a trifecta of my favorite things. I told Madison I wanted to host a physical social, but also that I wanted to have a blog component to share with anyone who couldn’t attend. After getting to try out more of the products, I’m really pleased with not only the way the products are made but also how they perform.

So! What do you need to know if you want to host your own social? Here’s a peek at what I did:

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What We Ate
Is it just me, or is a party really only as good as the snacks? (I’m kidding.)(Kind of.) Because Beautycounter is all about making healthier choices for your body, I decided to put together a menu that featured a lot of fresh, healthy ingredients…along with a few more decadent treats.

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Rather than an official main course, I opted to create a few heavier appetizers. I put together cucumber bites with a cream cheese-dill sauce (recipe here) and crisps with goat cheese, blackberries, and honey (recipe here).

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I also made a bruschetta and turkey meatballs.

SIMPLE HOMEMADE BRUSCHETTA
Ingredients:
1 container grape tomatoes, quartered
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3-4 T fresh basil, chopped
3 T olive oil or avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Combine all ingredients and let sit for 1 hour to overnight to let flavors mingle. Serve with crusty or toasted slices of French bread.

CROCKPOT TURKEY MEATBALLS
Ingredients:
1 jar marinara sauce (I used the bottled kind, but feel free to get fancy with something homemade. You’ll need about 4-6 cups.)
2 lbs 98% lean ground turkey meat
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1 egg
4 T fresh basil, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 T oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Pour the sauce into the crock pot.
2. Combine all of the meatball ingredients with a big spoon or your fingers.
3. Using your hands, roll the meatballs using about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture. Don’t pack too tightly.
4. Place the rolled meatballs into the sauce in the crockpot in a single layer.
5. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours. Serve with bread for dipping in the sauce.

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I also made mini fruit pizzas for dessert, but like a dummy completely forgot to take photos. Or, rather, like an animal who couldn’t wait to wolf down her mini fruit pizza. Whoops. I used this recipe to make them and topped each pizza with strawberries, raspberries, and a few pomegranate seeds.

For drinks, we had my summer drink of choices, rosé.

What We Did
The social started out with everyone having something to eat and drink and generally getting comfortable. My friends were good sports about letting me take pictures of them. (Thank you again, lovely ladies!)

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Once everyone was settled, I played a video message from Madison explaining how we knew each other, how she got involved with the brand, and just what she loved about many of Beautycounter’s most popular items. It was so helpful hearing from someone who actually uses so many of them on a regular basis, and we pretty much spent the whole video saying, “Ooh, I want that!” and “Man, Madison is seriously adorable.” (We also agreed you have the best hair and skin, M! But I digress…)

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Then, it was time for the fun part: playing with the products! Madison had sent me several sample packs and full-sized products for my guests to test, and it was so helpful to be able to actually feel, smell, and see what we were looking at.

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I also loved being able to send each guest home with a little something from the line. Each person got one of the sampler packs I mentioned, and I also divided up a Charcoal Cleansing Bar so everyone could take a piece home to try out. (I’ve been using mine once a day since the social!)

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All in all, it was a super simple event to plan. Madison was extremely helpful in answering any questions I had and even offered to answer any questions online in real time if necessary.

Now for the fun part! You don’t have to have been at the physical party to shop the brand. Click my social host link here to see everything that Beautycounter has to offer, from naturally beautiful cosmetics to super safe skin care. I’ve been really loving the Protect All Over Sunscreen (it’s safe to use on Vivi and blends in way better than the other baby sunscreens I’ve tried without any chalky residue), the Rejuvenating Eye Cream (because thirty is right on the horizon, yo), the Charcoal Cleansing Bar (it sells out quickly whenever it’s in stock, so jump on that!) and the Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer (the perfect lightweight coverage). I’m planning to get one of the Lip Sheers and the new Purifying Charcoal Mask as well, and I can’t wait to try them out. Just be sure to use my link so Madison gets credit for the sales :)

Have any other questions about the brand or want to host your own social? Let me know or reach out to Madison directly — she’s seriously the best to work with.

Happy shopping!

I like to work out.

I know, you might like me a little bit less now. I know that the main struggle most people have with working out is that they simply dread it, but honestly, that hasn’t been me for many, many moons.

But don’t despair, dear reader; I still have my own struggles. For me, the challenge to working out is lack of time and, more recently, a redistribution of funds. That is to say, I’m working part-time now and because the money I make goes toward, you know, food and pants and junk, there’s not a lot left for fancy-shmance gyms and such.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those fancy-shmance gyms. I love spin. I love pilates. I love bootcamps. I just love affording food and car payments and trying to save money all while staying home with le bebe more.

But because I’m me, it was never an option to completely cut fitness out of my life. I love working out, remember? And not just because I like fitting into my clothes (although I do), but also because working out makes me feel more like me. Which is important when you change virtually everything about your life by doing something like, oh, I don’t know…having a baby. But you already knew all this. What I want to talk about today is how I manage to get in challenging, effective workouts without spending a dime — and often without leaving my living room.

To be totally honest, for much of my life I’ve thrown a mean side-eye at home workouts. I had a hard time believing that I could ever get the same results that I could at a gym or a studio because, well, I never felt like I worked out as hard at home. Or I always felt like the workout videos I would try would leave something to be desired. (And there’s nothing worse than working out enough to need to wash your hair but not enough to feel like you made any kind of impact in your overall strength or fitness.)

Fortunately, in the last few months I’ve found several online options that are not only totally free but also leave me feeling sore the next day. So, to save you the struggle of the lame at-home workout, I’m sharing my favorite free options here. Happy sweating!

Side note: I’m not even going to mention running because I feel like it’s too obvious, but running is obviously a big one for me. Totally free and I can bring the Viv in the jogging stroller. We go 2-3 times per week, and it’s awesome. (But you can’t do it in your living room, so maybe not as awesome as these other options.)

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1. Jillian Michaels (literally anything she does)

I first fell in love with Jillian when pretty much everyone did — when she was a coach/trainer on The Biggest Loser. I always admired the tough-yet-fair way she worked with her team, and, as a sort of exercise masochist, I secretly dreamed that one day she would scream at me to keep going unless I fainted, puked, or died. (I know, I’m sick.) The point is, when Jillian left the show (and especially when she explained that she left due to the less-than-healthy practices that often went on behind the scenes), I was sad to say good-bye to my favorite celebrity trainer.

And then I found out she had workout videos. And her videos were actually the first at-home workouts EVER to give me legitimately sore muscles the next day. I was an instant convert.

I actually own a couple of her DVDs, but it’s super convenient for me to pull up her YouTube videos on our Roku. And, let me tell you, no trainer’s workouts get me more sore the next day than Jillian’s. She’s a beast. Bonus: I love her affirmations at the end of each video. Because I did work hard, and I should be proud of myself, Jillian!

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2. Tone it Up

Speaking of girl crushes, I’m a little bit in love with Karena and Katrina. Not only do they have sick bodies, but they are both sweet, bubbly, encouraging, and incredibly fun to work out “with.”

Also, as the mom of an increasingly mobile little girl, I really appreciate that the videos are mostly less than ten minutes long. I typically do 2-3 videos at a time, but if Vivi is having a bad day, it’s easy to squeeze in an 8-minute workout while she plays in the morning and another 15-minute session when she naps in the afternoon. And since the gals are so entertaining, I’m usually actually enjoying the workout too much to realize how hard I’m working. (That is, until I can barely lower myself to sit down the next day.)
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3. Christine Khuri of GymRa

Oh, Christine. You could most definitely snap me over your knee like a twig. And I love you for it.

Christine Khuri’s workouts are probably the most old-school of the bunch, but you know what? Squats, curls, and lunges are staples for a reason. And when I have the time to fit in a solid strength workout, this woman knows what she’s talking about.

I was a little apprehensive when Christine’s videos first popped up in my recommended list, but I figured there is no way she could be so jacked without knowing a thing or two. And given the fact that I could barely raise my arms to wash my hair the next day (from an at-home workout, folks), I would have to say my suspicions were correct. And don’t feel like you have to be a fitness pro to do her workouts — you can always modify your weights, and everything she does is super accessible.

 

For all you work-out-at-home warriors, I want to know: What are your favorite free workouts?

 

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I really could not be more excited that summer is finally here. It’s not that we had a particularly difficult winter (we didn’t, fortunately for this stay-at-home momma), but there’s something about not having to bundle up myself and a baby anymore that sounds especially appealing.

Speaking of not bundling up, Viv and I are especially excited to spend the summer in the water, whether that be in her baby pool, in a real pool, or at the beach. I’ve been a water baby since before I can even remember (my mom once had a dream when my sister and I were little that she found gills behind our ears while giving us a bath), and I’m extremely excited to pass on that legacy to Vivi.

But what is a water baby without a great swimsuit?

When searching for a swimsuit for Vivi, I was somewhat surprised at the limited selection available for babies less than a year old. Sure, you can find a handful at the usual stand-by places (lookin’ at you, Target), but I wasn’t seeing anything I thought was a) cute, b) not too babyish, and c) something I thought she would actually wear and be happy in.

Then I learned about Red Dolly Swimwear. Red Dolly is a vintage-inspired swimwear line designed by California-based designer Heather Stepanik. She started out making suits for adults in cute, vintage styles (think high-waisted and flattering one-pieces), but she has since expanded the line to include baby items and accessories.

I totally fell for the line when I saw it, and I was thrilled when Heather offered to send me a couple suits to try.

Side note: It didn’t occur to me until later that by agreeing to review a swimsuit, I was agreeing to post photos of myself in a swimsuit here. Clearly, I was just so excited about the baby suit I wasn’t thinking clearly. Be kind.

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Fortunately for me, Red Dolly Swimwear is actually super post-maternity friendly. I had never worn a high-waisted swimsuit before, but turns out it actually covers all those areas you might be self-conscious about after growing a human in your body for nine months.

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The suits are also incredibly comfortable and great for chasing around that same tiny human once they’ve, I don’t know, started crawling around at lightning speed. After all, as another mom friend said to me recently, my days of relaxing at the beach are over for about the next ten years. That little stinker can move.

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And, like you needed me to tell you this, the baby suits are even BETTER. Is there anything better than a bikini and a baby belly together? I don’t think so.

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Vivi loves her suit and has already worn it about three times in the first week since it arrived. I was a little nervous she wouldn’t want to keep it on, but the soft, stretchy material is extremely comfortable and easy for her to move in. Win-win.

Even better, Red Dolly regularly offers discount codes on their suits to social fans. Check out their Facebook page here, or follow them on Instagram here.

**Suits provided by Red Dolly Swimwear, opinions my own.

I won’t lie to you — one of the best parts of having a daughter is getting dressed up.

I wasn’t super girlie growing up, but I’ve definitely embraced all things dresses, makeup, and accessories in my adult years. Fortunately for me, my little lady seems to already have gained an appreciation for most things pretty and sparkly.

And there’s nothing like a tea party to bring out all the girlie goodness. (That sounds dirty? It’s not…moving on.)

Recently, we were invited to attend my friend Cynthia’s annual tea party. (You might remember her last one here.) This year, I was super excited to be able to bring Vivi to her first high tea — and even more excited to dress her up for it.

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IMG_7414Per usual, Cynthia’s hosting was superb. We ate a combination of finger sandwiches, blueberry scones, and four different types of cookies with our tea and champagne. I love how Cynthia always uses a mix of pottery and flatware to give the whole event an Alice in Wonderland effect.

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Now for the style! My favorite part of the tea party is that we all wear some kind of hat. Last time, I wore a fascinator. But this time, I borrowed a pretty striped sun hat to go with my white sheath. (My dress is from LOFT two years ago, but similar styles here, here, and here.)

Blah blah blah. Honestly, the only thing I want to talk about is Vivi’s outfit!

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I mean, come ON. As soon as I knew Vivi needed a hat, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have been eyeing these glittery gold crowns from Peekabloom Baby for months now, and I was so thrilled to have the occasion to get one.

The crowns are lined with felt (either pink or mint) and held on with a matching elastic strap. I was a little nervous that Viv would rip hers off as soon as it went on, but she actually didn’t touch it the entire afternoon. The strap is a little long on her now, so I was able to tie it to a comfortable size.

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The crown itself is just as adorable in person as it looks in photos. It’s super well made and can even stand up to a bit of baby-style handling. I’m planning to reuse it for the next photo shoot we do with my sister. Plus, Alysse, the fabulous crown maker, is offering my readers a 20 percent off discount code! Just use SUNNY20 at checkout. (She also has a whole collection of adorable bows that can stick on even the baldest baby’s head — they’re almost magic.)

Vivi’s dress is by Carter’s (actual dress no longer available, but similar styles here and here).

Thank you again for having us, Cyndy! Everything was perfect!

It’s funny how life teaches you things. Sometimes, they are profound things. Sometimes, not so much.

A few months ago, I started having doubts about our living room arrangement. When we first moved into our tiny two-bedroom, we struggled with a few things.

For one, this apartment is really weirdly shaped. Ignoring the labyrinth hallways leading back to the baby’s nursery, even our “open” spaces are strangely laid out with a variety of weird pockets and wall extensions that leave us with very few open expanses of wall.

Our initial idea was to use our couch to create a bit of separation between the kitchen and the living room. We also weren’t sure where to put the TV, and the one big open wall seemed like the best option.

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That’s an old picture (we didn’t even have the rug down yet), but you get the idea.

But as time went on and Vivi became more and more mobile, the couch breaking up the room seemed like less and less of a good idea. For one, if I tried to do a few dishes in the middle of the day, it was hard to keep an eye on Vivi if she was sitting on the carpet. And if she wanted to get to me, it meant getting her tiny body around our 7-foot couch.

So I started making plans to move the couch to where the TV had been and the TV to the wall with the window. It’s still not perfect, but the end result is much more open.

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But this isn’t a style post or even a DIY post. This is a story post. Because, let me tell you, rearranging your furniture is a regular excavation for stories.

Here are a few things we learned whilst shoving our stuff around:

If you ever think you’re not important enough to have a long-term impact, try breaking a glass in your apartment. You will find shards of glass for the next calendar year.

A few months ago, I broke a jar of salsa. I had just bought it and was putting away groceries when it slipped from my clutches and smashed onto our tile floors. (Side note: Those are the moments in life when you honestly think about just getting in your car, stepping on the gas, and never looking back. Where do you even BEGIN?) Because I have a dog and a baby, I’m especially conscientious about trying to keep, you know, hazards from lurking around on the floor. So I cleaned up the salsa, swept, vacuumed, and then got down on my hands and knees with a wet paper towel to try to scoop up and remaining splinters of glass. I did this for the better part of an hour.

I STILL find pieces of that dang glass jar from time to time.

And when we moved our couch last week? GLASS CITY. I don’t even know how pieces of glass got where they were without having actual legs to walk there. We may never know.

The point is, broken glass. It’s there, you just have to find it.

You really should measure everything before you try to move it. And then measure again. And did I mention you should measure?

I wish I could tell you it only took us moving one thing (and then having to move it back) for us to learn this lesson. But it took about three things.

If you ever want to feel real dumb, make the same mistake three times in the span of about an hour. And be SHOCKED every time you get the same result.

But after moving our file cabinet and then having to move it back and then moving our pantry and having to move it back and moving pictures and having to move them back, we finally got it. Life lessons, folks.

Babies make even the simplest tasks harder.

I know, you’re STUNNED by this revelation. But, seriously. I think most people expect that having a baby will make going out to dinner harder or saving money harder. But if you think you’re going to move your couch from one side of the room to the other in one fell swoop, you’ve got another thing coming.

Vivi was in some kind of mood when we were trying to move things and wanted to be held every second or she would scream her fool head off like she was being murdered. We would have to move something for a few minutes (while she wailed), then hold her for three minutes (while she sulked), and then put her down and repeat the process about a dozen times until everything was in place.

At one point, I was like, “Should I just strap her to my back while I move this 200-pound couch?” And then I realized that was insane and put her down again.

Sometimes they gotta cry, folks. That’s the life of a baby.

But these difficult lessons aside, we got the room rearranged. And it’s one of those changes that makes you smack your forehead and wonder why you didn’t just do this in the first place. Because now we can open our bathroom door all the way (we moved the bar that had been slightly blocking it next to the couch), use our gateleg table more easily (it can also double as extra counter space in it’s new location), and fit more people around the coffee table for dinner (there is SO much more open floor space).

You live and you learn, right?

What? You don't mop in pumps?

What? You don’t mop in pumps?

I know Memorial Day is not actually the start of summer, but it certainly feels like it. It might just be the humidity, but especially in the city, things just start to feel a bit more festive.

Of course, there is a downside to summer sneaking up on you: You may have officially missed the boat on spring cleaning. (I know. I’ll give you a minute to stop weeping and pull yourself together.)

But just in case you didn’t get around to deep cleaning the curtains and finally organizing that back closet you’re afraid to open (what, just me?), I have a solution. Recently, I discovered three areas of one’s home that can be cleaned and/or organized in about 15 minutes (TOTAL), meaning you can invest a little and feel smugly superior in less time than ever before.

Let’s. Get. Clean.

#1 Your magazine stash: 2 minutes

Maybe it’s a rack, a basket, or just a big pile that doubles as a side table, but odds are that you’ve got a pile of old magazines lying around somewhere. You’ve probably been telling yourself for a year or so that you just can’t toss those old issues because one of them has that recipe you’ve been meaning to try/haircut you want to show your stylist/workout you’re going to do in your living room/etc. But, let’s be real. It’s 2016. We have Pinterest. It’s time to cut ties and set those pages free. In about two minutes, you can whittle down that pile to a handful of favorite issues or even dump the whole thing. Just remember: Magazines can usually be recycled, so do the earth a favor and do that.

#2 Your makeup bag or under your bathroom sink: 3 minutes

Did you know it can actually be dangerous to use cosmetic products after they’ve hit a certain age? Unless you like slathering bacteria all over your face, it’s a good idea to toss makeup after a certain point. (Here’s a guide for how long to keep each item.) Today, spend three minutes checking every item in your makeup bag and throwing out anything past it’s expiration date. Don’t have a makeup bag? Settle for clearing out the area under your bathroom sink (you know you’ve got a million-year-old bottle of shampoo or something under there).

#3 The fridge: 10 minutes

Is there anything worse than getting a whiff of something foul every time you open your fridge? Today, spend ten minutes tossing all the old food and organizing what you want to keep. (Hint: Store all leftovers at eye level or on the top shelf so you’re more likely to notice them and actually eat them before they go bad.) In ten minutes, you’ll probably even have time to wash any newly emptied Tupperware, too.

Look at you! Fifteen minutes later, and you’re surrounded with evidence that you’re a responsible, neat adult. Well done.

What are your favorite quick cleaning chores?