Lifestyle // March 4, 2015

It’s no secret that women love going shopping. We gather around our laptop screens or stalk the entrance of our favorite clothing store just to get a glimpse at what’s new, what’s trending and what would look absolutely fabulous on our skin and in our closet. Shopping is our thing - has been for generations and it’s not looking like we’ll find another addiction that’s as fashionable.

Although shoppers enjoy being in great company with some of the most stylish brands, they are starting to take notice of something else that’s more important than style when choosing their garments. Environmentally conscious clothing is one of the latest trends to hit the world of fashion and savvy shoppers are paying attention.

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Now before you freak out, joining the eco-clothing movement DOES NOT mean you wear potato sacks or that you have to trade in style for sustainability. It also doesn’t mean you have to give up half of your paycheck just so you can sport an organic cotton t-shirt.  There is a happy and chic medium for the stylish consumer who wants to be socially responsible and support environmental efforts without breaking the bank. That medium is BeGood Clothing.

BeGood is an environmentally-friendly clothing line of super-soft basics and accessories that uses organic practices in EVERY stage of production. BeGood’s dedication to environmental consciousness has birthed a better product for not only the consumer, but for the planet. Recently, we caught up with BeGood co-founder Dean Ramadan at their pop-up shop in Venice, CA to talk making a difference while keeping it stylish.

Jasmin Martin: Nowadays it seems everything is shifting towards “going green”. Why do you think BeGood stands out amongst other eco-friendly clothing brands?

Dean Ramadan: First off, let me say how thrilled I am that it seems everything is shifting towards going green. Businesses have taken major steps forward in the past couple years, and slowly but surely, the green business is starting to boom. We started BeGood with the idea of making the first direct-to-consumer eco-friendly clothing line. This means that we don’t wholesale our line out to anyone, and we sell directly to you. This allows us to be the most affordable eco-option on the market. We also are turning the idea of eco-friendly clothing on it’s head, and saying, “why can’t you go green and still look good?” Too many people associate wearing eco-friendly with wearing burlap or rough hemp. You can be stylish and still wear clothes that don’t damage the planet!

JM: Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion or did a passion for social responsibility lead you into fashion? Your company philosophy is “change your clothes, change the world.” What does that mean for you?

DR: I did not know I always wanted to work in fashion, but I have always had a passion for helping others and supporting socially responsible brands. Patagonia was a major influence on BeGood, with how they’ve had such great success while pioneering so many green initiatives (like 1% For the Planet). Change your clothes, change the world means simply all it takes to make a difference, to make a tangible impact for good on this planet, is to buy an organic cotton t-shirt. Simple as that. By purchasing one organic cotton t-shirt, you are reducing the amount of pesticide and insecticide use by ⅓ a pound. Then, when you add in that your purchase is giving back to a charitable cause (donating 12 gallons of purified drinking water to Evidence Action), you can feel even better about yourself.

JM: Our favorite thing about BeGood is that not only are you promoting social responsibility through sustainable clothing, but you practice social responsibility with your charity work. Tell us a little about some of your non-profit work.

DR: Non-profit work is very important to BeGood as a company, and to its founders, myself and Mark Spera. When we started our store in 2012, Mark and I would still find time to volunteer twice a week. Once at Project Open Hand, which delivers groceries and meals to people in the Bay Area suffering from HIV/AIDS or Breast Cancer. The other volunteer work was at the Golden Gate Parks Department ensuring our cities parks are looking clean and beautiful. Giving back to our community is very important. We also believe strongly in a global economy, which is why we chose to partner with Evidence Action for our giveback. The fact that there are still millions of people on this planet who don’t have access to clean drinking water is pretty horrifying. We wanted to do a small part and make our customers aware of what was going on in the world, and to support Evidence Action to continue their incredible work.

JM: As a women’s magazine, we’re constantly discussing the differences between men and women in the workforce. Being male business owners in the fashion industry, do you feel like you’re treated differently than female business owners?

DR: I haven’t experienced first hand myself being treated differently than female business owners, but I definitely agree that I should not be. Myself and my co-founder, Mark, are actually the only males in our company. We have a number of neighbors on Union Street in San Francisco, where our store is located, that are female business owners, and I know they are treated with the respect they deserve and are doing a tremendous job.

JM: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken professionally and how has it paid off?

DR: The biggest risk I have taken professionally was quitting my job, moving across the country to a city that I hadn’t spent more than 5 days in, to open a retail store on an iconic San Francisco street selling eco-friendly clothing to customers, the majority of whom have never shopped green before. It has now paid off with three years of profitable business, our own clothing line that has advanced far-past where I could ever have imagined, an e-commerce store, thousands upon thousands of customers, and a staff of the hardest working and most fun people in San Francisco.

JM: What’s next for BeGood? Are you looking into branching out into other areas? Maybe a children’s line or home goods…? We’d love to see that!

DR: BeGood is always looking to improve and expand our line. We have our spring selections coming out in the next few weeks, which we are excited to show everyone. As we continue to have success with the clothing, we are also branching out to more accessories, both lifestyle and clothing. We recently launched three new scarves, as well as a throw blanket that has done unbelievably well. We are trying to become the most authentic sustainable lifestyle brand.

I’m all about the eco-chic movement. I love that BeGood makes it easy and affordable for me to look good and support the planet in super soft, tees.

For more information on how you can join the eco-chic movement with BeGood Clothing, check them out at

Published in Lifestyle

Lifestyle // February 3, 2015 

No matter how hard you try to ignore it, your thirtieth birthday will creep up on you like Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. And it may be just as scary. For me I felt like shouting at random people, “I’m not ready to be a real adult! I still wear an Elmo shirt to bed and I had ice cream for dinner last week!” But alas, thirty came for me whether I was ready or not. To avoid some of the panic of turning 30, I wanted to share my experience with you so that you can be ready too.

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A Brand New Year For You… And Everyone Else

One of the first things I noticed about planning a party at this age was that it was hard to pin people down for a date to celebrate. Whereas before it was each to catch up and enjoy an evening out with friends, now people were scattered across the country or just super busy. It was interesting to see what everyone had going on in their lives and how that affected a simple Saturday night out. One friend had a baby on the way while others were working sixty-hour weeks; life had finally happened to my friends. It was so real, I actually had to send out a Save The Date for my get together as well as email invites (services like Evite and Paperless Post are great for invites). I realized that these moments of getting together and partying tip the lights come on were going to get more and more rare. This made the occasion all the more special for me.

Go Small And Go Home

I know this usually isn’t what you want to hear on your birthday and this may not apply to everyone but when deciding what to do for my big 3-0, I didn’t have an unlimited budget. I would have loved to fly all of my friends out for a mini vacay but that wasn’t in the cards. Instead I stayed within my budget and celebrated in town. I hosted a karaoke night at a local sushi restaurant, and served up cupcakes from Vanilla Bake Shop which is right around the corner from my house at the Century City mall. In the end it meant more to celebrate with friends and family than to have everyone shell out money for a trip.

Check It Off The Bucket List

I did manage to sneak in a last minute trip to Mexico but only because I scored a Living Social deal for a resort in Cabo. Travel deal sites like Living Social, Groupon and Travel Zoo are great tools if you just have to get away, but I highly recommend keeping all your financial goals (short-term and long-term) in mind while planning.

I had always wanted to go to this beautiful, coastal city and I was glad I could make it happen. While checking something of the bucket list for me meant a get-away to Cabo, for you it could be sky diving or driving a race car. But do something that you’ll never forget and make a memory that will last a lifetime.

Thirty is what you’d call a milestone birthday and it invites a lot of reflection. Beyond celebrating I really wanted to take inventory of my life and gear up for the rest of the year. Taking time to see friends and family and then sneaking in a little me time was the perfect way to do that. I feel refreshed and excited about what’s to come. But that’s just my b-day story. What’s yours? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Lifestyle

Lifestyle // September 15, 2014

Hate is a strong word, but now that I have your attention...I really do despise 30 day challenges. I’m not referring to those 30 day lifestyle challenges or do-a-different-physical-activity-per-day challenges. I am talking about those 30+ day squat, plank, push-up, any-one-exercise for 30 or more consecutive days fitness challenges!!! Yes, I used multiple exclamation points in this writing--they IRK that much!

These so-called challenges are all over social media beckoning users and friends to join the madness: do 100 push-ups per day for 30 days, get to 500 squats per day by your 30th day, 30 days of plank, insert your “favorite” exercise and do it everyday for 30 days. The word challenge may incite the competitor in their followers; however, it gives me visions of hell. Isn’t that the definition of 30 days of hell--doing the same thing over and over again, everyday? Not changing anything (while expecting it) is definitely the equivalent to insanity.

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Speaking of results, if you can do any exercise for thirty consecutive days, you are not working out efficiently; thus, you will not elicit the results you seek. You see, when you strength train and challenge yourselves appropriately, your muscles incur microtears and inflammation. Your body recognizes the micro-damage and works to repair those muscles over the course of 24 to 48 hours, resulting in a stronger muscle. If you are able to do these exercises everyday, then you are not doing them to elicit a strength response. On the other hand, if you do feel the soreness (also known as DOMS--delayed onset of muscle soreness) or fatigue in the muscles that were worked, then you are working through the body’s rest period which is necessary for strength building. In fact, stressing those muscles repeatedly over consecutive days, without recovery, may even result in strain--diminished strength, injury, or at best, plateau.

In these 30 day challenges, the same muscles are moving in the same pattern. Not only is the participant at risk of potential muscle weakening, but movement dysfunction is a possible result, as well. The push-up challenge is a perfect example of this. Most adults who try this out display a kyphotic, hunchback-like, posture pattern: weak upper back muscles, tight muscles in the chest and neck create a forward shoulder and head slump, weak abdominals, tight hip flexor and lower back muscles, resulting in an exaggerated sway back. In a perfect push-up you need a strong core (shoulders, abs, back, and gluts) to hold your body in that plank position, while executing a chest press movement, to strengthen the chest muscles. However, with most people exemplifying dysfunctional, kyphotic posture and tightly weak front, upper body muscles, the movement dysfunction is perpetuated. That is not the problem. The issue is that you are expecting a weak, badly functioning structure to bear your body weight. Think of a four-legged table with two legs that are shorter than the others. If you sit on it, you expect to topple to the ground below it, right? The result in either scenario is potential injury.

I can continue on with reasons why I DESPISE these 30 day challenges, but the reasons above top the list of most critical reasons why nobody should be doing them. Stop the madness!!!


Published in Lifestyle
Sunday, 10 August 2014 18:08

Lifestyle | Drink Up! Wine's You'll Love

Lifestyle // August 18, 2014

The essence of summer: What is it for you?

For me, it usually comes paired with a glass of wine. Sometimes it’s a clean white sipped while burying toes into beach sand, warmed from a day’s worth of the sun’s blanket. Other times, it’s a full-bodied red, accompanied by laughter and adult humor as ribs, steak, and burgers are thrown on a grill ahead of a night surrounded by friends. And other times still, it’s a dry rosé when after a day of hard decision making I’ve got no room left in my mind to decide what, exactly, it is I really want.

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My only demand, no matter the varietal? That the wine be as carefree as summer itself. This means they are reasonably priced and above all… fuss-free. Here are some of my picks for the best wines for any palette:

Vinum Cellars 2012 Chenin Blanc/Viognier

Crisp. Refreshing. Under $15.  I mean I can probably just stop there, right? You’re already grabbing this wine and headed to checkout, you’ve got a concert to catch at The Greek.

But if you want to know more:
Stick your nose in this baby and you’ll feel as if you’re back on the islands, mahn! Expect something bright with tropical pineapple, guava and ripe peach scents which, as the winery says itself: Expresses subtle clover honey notes. Chenin Blanc is known for it’s generous acidity, and this wine is no different. You can also pinpoint honeysuckle and lemon-lime flavors, with slight notes of vanilla and cream.

Bottom Line: It’s hot. Your palate needs to be quenched with something that’ll go down easy while making you feel as elegant as a mid-summer night’s eve itself. This is what you’re drinking.

Flirt, California Red Wine

You thought under $15 was good? Try under $12. A blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and my personal favorite –Tempranillo, if you’re headed to a BBQ where you don’t know anyone, this is the wine you’re bringing. A conversation starter, for sure . . .  #ThatLabelTho

But if you want to know more:
Syrah, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo are three wines consistently listed on “Best Wines for BBQ” lists, and for good reason. What do you get when you blend them all together? Apparently, a wine that is smooth but not overly sweet and easily adaptable to whatever meat you throw at it.  See if you can catch the hints of butterscotch and cherry cola (If those aren’t the ingredients to an American summer I don’t know what is) And note: This is a wine you drink NOW… and why would you not? Once that bottle is empty you can use it as a vase!

Bottom Line: You want to stand out.  There may be certain man at this BBQ you just “happen” to be attending, and you’re prepared to do exactly as the bottle says . . . Flirt! Hey, what’s a summer without a lil’ romance?!

2013 Adobe Pink

Let’s be serious: Sometimes, you CAN get champagned-out. The bubbles. The tartness. The morning after. You know what I’m talking about. But what’s is a girl to do when she wants something fun, refreshing, and NOT red or white? Pick this bottle up, for under $15, and impress your brunch-mates by introducing them to a label they’ve probably never heard of.

But if you want to know more:
This rosé is light, fruity, and doesn’t need a strawberry to be added to ramp up its sweetness.  Hints of lemon with a crisp finish linger (but really, only briefly) with a touch of sugar.  Serve cold. Very cold.

Bottom Line: It’s Sunday. You’re brunching. But please – hold the champagne. Try something new!

All right ladies . . .get out there are raise your glass! Hurry . . . before summer passes you by.

Published in Lifestyle
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 19:13

Lifestyle | Startup Spotlight: Sarah Grear

Lifestyle // July 21, 2014

So you think you can write? But how do you make a career out of your words? It’s not just full manuscripts that are getting writers paid these days. Copywriting is the creative craft of the digital age.

Sarah Grear has created a business around her creativity and is helping entrepreneurs around the globe “unleash their voice” and take their brands to the next level. I chatted with her about her business and her thoughts on what it takes to make it as a copywriter:

Serena Watson: How do you stay creative with your copywriting?

Sarah Grear: Oh my goodness, that’s an awesome question… I know certain people, they feel the online world is so crowded and wonder how are they ever going to come from a place that’s different from what’s already out there.

So the way I stay in my creative zone is, I try to realize that as much as people think that's it’s all been done before, that’s not true. There’s always a way for you to come with your personal experiences in your life and no one else has experienced it but you.

For me, the way that I was able to tap into [my creativity] is to learn what my purpose was, what are my strengths, what are my experiences in life that no one else has gone through but me, and so that’s what has been really powerful for me. I learned to hone that for myself, to use my personal stories to connect with people emotionally and that’s exactly what I do with all my clients.

I get to know them in a very personal way, and I get to know their stories so intimately that I’m able to use their personal experiences as well, and shine a new light on it. That is really the root of where my creativity comes from.

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SW: That’s so real, because every story is unique. You talked about digging into the storyline of your customer. Can you describe the creative process you take your clients through?

SG: Oh sure. So the first step is for them to reach out to me and they usually find me either online or at network events. I also host meetups for entrepreneurs, so usually they’ll hear me talking about what I do and they’ll reach out.

It’s interesting because my business has gone global at this point. I feel really lucky that we live in the times that we do. I’ve had people reach out to me from Africa, Canada, England, Australia... it’s crazy. [Laughs.] It’s really cool.

So, I find out if they can fit what they need into one of my packages or I customize whatever it is they need. All of my projects are done in five business days or less. I call them my “writing vacations”. So there is a “Summer Vacay” package and the “Weekend Warrior.” I keep everything within that theme because I used to be a travel blogger. When we start working together it’s an interview process, just like we’re doing right now.

Then I go away and I’m just writing, I’m seriously writing. [Laughs] I get everything in that first meeting and I just take it and I run with it. I send most clients the whole first draft after our first call. So on the second call they have all the time left [to give notes]. They look everything over and we do the live edit on Google Docs… Then we wrap the project, shortly after.

SW: Nice. So intensive and in depth, I like it. Can you tell me what type of businesses you usually work with?

SG: My ideal clients are coaches. Like health, business, relationship coaches. But lately, I’ve been attracting a lot of creative musicians, event planners and graphic designers. Right now I’m working with a woman who actually owns three businesses and all in the wedding and event planning area. And I just wrapped a project with singer/songwriter Chrisette Michele for her new website called Rich Hipster.

SW: Oh that’s awesome! I love Chrisette Michele.

SG: Oh, me too. That project was definitely interesting. I’ve been attracting highly creative people lately and I’m pretty excited about it. What I ask people is if they’re ready to change the world one word at a time. And that’s all that matters to me is that they want to help and make the world better in some way.

SW: Well, congrats on that. Actually, I was going to ask you, what project are you most proud of?

SG: [Laughs.] That’s awesome. It’s hard to say, honestly, really my latest creation is the one I’m most proud of at that moment. I’m an artist at the core and I actually got my degree in fine arts. If you’re an artist at the core, you know that there is always room for improvement in what you’re doing.

You can always want more, you can always spin it, you can always do a little bit better... You can always improve it. So the answer is every new project. Every time I have a project I feel like I grow from it in some way. And also, it’s really interesting for other people who want to be writers. I always tell them, your brain is a muscle and the more you write, the more you exercise that muscle in your brain.

SW: Whats your favorite part of helping businesses grow?

SG: My favorite part is actually that emotional connection with the writing. I realize that being vulnerable for some people is really tough, so I come in to the space with them and open that window for them to be vulnerable.

I was working on a project for a large corporation. I met with the CEO and told them I’m here to help you guys make that emotional connection with your product that you’re not making right now.

I literally saw his shoulders drop, he was so grateful for someone to say “let’s do that,” “let’s get vulnerable.” I try to just be a little more real with people. That’s the most satisfying part is to see that growth in them and to know that when I plant that seed with them now it will grow after we work together.

We make changes in them and they are not even aware of yet and I just love that. And they will come back to me six months to a year later, like “wow!” I get goose bumps just talking about it. [Laughs.]

SW: That’s great that you love what you do. That’s so important. So what advice would you give to someone who’s getting in the copywriting?

SG: For the people who want to get into the copywriting, the first book that I read was the Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I think that’s a great book to start with. The next thing I would do is [engage in] either an online network or an in-person network.

One of my online networks that I enjoy being part of is "B School” by Marie Forleo. You can interact with the Facebook group and we meet online for the course once a year. It’s a program that you go through, it’s really intense.

And then after you do those things, read some books about other copywriters that have built businesses out of it and get in system for networking. I highly recommend reading Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Those three things that I did changed my life, changed my business, changed everything.

SW: Last question, and this is just based on your experience after working all these different companies and seeing what they do well and what they do not as well… what mistakes do you see young businesses making in terms of branding?

SG: Not speaking the truth. Usually they come to me because they weren’t being true of who they really are and they got lost. Also, having fun. If you’re not having fun then you really shouldn't really be doing it. At all.

Not to say that there won’t be hard times. I get that, but overall, you have to be able to pull yourself out of that. You do that by... having values that you’re always going to hold yourself and everyone around you to. Branding is an experience, a direct extension of who you really are. If you can really hold true to your brand and speak your truth, you’re going to be a cut above the rest.

For more information on Sarah Grear visit her website or check out the next Unleash Your Voice: DIY Website Writing Workshop, a two day writing event! Get early bird tickets from now until July 31st!

Published in Lifestyle

Lifestyle // July 7, 2014

This article is part of a two part interview with Dr. Gloria Burgess. Read part two now!

Imagine waking up everyday happy -- no, excited to go to work. If you already wake up like this then you have found your passion. Congratulations! Unfortunately, there are millions of millennials out there who are lost in their career. Dr. Gloria Burgess is passionate about helping people find their path in life. As President and CEO of Jazz!, Inc., she leads a team that specializes in equipping leaders and others to be their professional and personal best. An accomplished author, inspirational speaker, and coach, Dr. Burgess is also a professor at the University of Washington and Seattle University. Sit with Dr. Burgess for just five minutes, and her confidence in herself and her chosen career path is palpable. Don’t we all wish for that kind of certainty, especially when it comes to following our passion?

As a young woman, Dr. Burgess was faced with a monumental decision—to continue her career as a successful executive in the tech industry or to follow her heart’s desire for more personal, meaningful work. She chose the latter. Now she guides individuals to answer the life changing question: Am I on a career path that I’m truly passionate about? Here are three of her tips-- in her words-- for finding a path that is right for you:

Tap into the Wisdom of Your 5-Year Old Self

As children, it seemed as though we had all the time in the world. We didn’t have to study, work, or check email. We had time to play and do what we enjoyed. When you reconnect with your younger self, you can discover important clues about what you love.

“When I was a little girl,” recalls Dr. Burgess, “I would be so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t budge, even when my mom called me by all three of my names!”  She advises: “Set aside 10 minutes. Right now. This time is just for you. Sit quietly, and be still. Now, think back to those wonderful days of your childhood. When were you most happy? What were you doing? What did you love doing so much that you lost all track of time?”

“We actually discover our passions when we’re quite young,” says Dr. Burgess. “But on the way to adulthood, we tend to lose touch with them. Many of us lose our way.”

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If you can’t connect the dots between your career and what you loved doing as a child, it may be time to rethink your career path.

“So many people have their ladder against the wrong wall,” declares Dr. Burgess. “Not surprisingly. Think about it. You go to college, graduate, and land a great job. After a few years, your job isn’t as fulfilling as it once was. In truth, you’ve probably outgrown it. But instead of moving on, you stay put. After a few more years, you find yourself stuck. You might be very good at your job, but you’re miserable because it no longer provides meaning or brings you joy. In essence, you’ve fallen out of love. It’s time to make a change.”

“Staying put is a recipe for disaster,” Dr. Burgess warns. “People often think they’re tired or burned out because they work so hard. Wrong. They feel this way because they’re actually burning precious time and energy in a job that no longer fits or feeds them. They’re running on empty, because they’re giving from a well that’s gone dry.”

“Know this: People who love what they do don’t draw a line between work and play. It’s all about passion, purpose, and continuous personal growth.”

You, too, can enjoy this kind of life.

Identify and Value Your Strengths

As one of the first Black female executives in the tech industry, Dr. Burgess had to overcome obstacles that many of us don’t encounter today. But like a true trailblazer, Gloria made her mark early and became a leader in her field. “I absolutely loved my corporate career,” relates Dr. Burgess. “I had a fantastic job and really excelled in my work.”After 23 years in high tech, she left corporate America to launch her own business.

Why would she, or anyone, leave such a successful career?

“It’s very simple. I left success—for significance. I wanted my life to count for something beyond my job, beyond myself. I left a successful career because I was being called into a fuller and higher expression of myself. I left because I was out of alignment with who I was becoming. I had one foot in the world of developing systems and processes and the other foot in the world of developing people. Something had to give!”

“When I realized I was passionate about helping others find their passion and reach their full potential, I was excited, energized, and focused.”

“I was filled with joy. I then knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d found my passion and my purpose, which would allow me to fully share and express all of my gifts. I no longer wondered if I should go or stay. It was simply a matter of when.”

Do you value your strengths? Do your boss and teammates value and respect your strengths? Are you able to fully express your strengths in your current position? Or do you leave the office each day feeling like you have something more to offer? Dr. Burgess encourages us to ask these questions daily.

“It’s good career management,” she says. “And it’s a great strategy for personal growth. Both are necessary if you want to enjoy a life of passion and purpose.”

How might you move into a fuller expression of who you are? How might you move beyond mere success to a making your life count for someone or something beyond yourself?

Published in Lifestyle

Book Review // June 16, 2014

Lately I’ve been enjoying period-specific historical fiction—especially anything that takes place in the early to mid-1900s. This led me to my latest find: Rules of Civility by Amore Towles. It was published in 2011, so it’s not a brand new release, but I loved it all the same.

What pleasantly surprised me about this book was the strong female lead. An independent woman in her early twenties, Katie Kontent is a native New Yorker making Manhattan her own in the post-depression era. Like any young woman starting out, she works hard and is doing her best to make ends meet. Katie’s partner-in-crime is Eve Ross, a fearless beauty from Indiana trying to take the city by storm after leaving her country roots behind.

This is a glimpse into the very early days of freedom for women; the beginning of a time when it was possible for them to work and take care of themselves. Together the girls take on the city as they swap dresses and hunt down the bars with the strongest martinis and the best jazz.
But this is just the beginning.

After meeting Tinker Gray, a handsome and wealthy stranger, one New Year’s Eve, the two girls embark on a life-altering journey vying for his affections. Although it’s clear that he’s interested in Katie, a sudden accident one night leaves him devoted to Eve and Katie is left in the rearview mirror.

The tragic situation leaves Katie confused—but she genuinely wants to be happy for her friend. She becomes determined to take control of her own life, forgetting the feelings she felt for Tinker and the reliance she had on Eve.

Katie moves into her own apartment. She quits her stable secretary job to pursue magazine editing. She makes new friends and begins to climb the social ladder on her own.

All the while, the reader joins Katie in her journey to stay true to herself despite the glitz of Manhattan and the desire she has to move into the upper echelon of New York society. Eve and Tinker move in and out of Katie’s life and offer mixed signals of what their relationship means, yet Katie never loses her poise and is careful to keep her distance. Only when Eve runs off to California, leaving Tinker behind, does Katie begin to let her feelings for Tinker take over.

Every page of this book is a treat. It examines several important themes: independence, honesty, friendship, determination and honor. I adored Katie Kontent for her honest approach to life and her strength. While Katie considers herself flawed, I found her to be the truest character in the story and it’s hard not to admire her. I loved reading about a strong female character in an era when many women were simply expected to give in and get married without the chance for a life of their own.

Rules of Civility will not disappoint. It whisks the reader quickly into 1940s New York and wraps her or him up with a mix of compelling characters and surprising situations where most would wonder what they’d do if they found themselves facing the same thing.

Published in Lifestyle
Friday, 30 May 2014 07:11

Made Movies | Maleficent Review

Made Movies // June 2, 2014

People went out in droves this weekend and even stood in line for hours to see the reincarnation of one of Disney’s darkest and most feared villains, Maleficent. The film raked in over $170.6 million during it’s opening, proving that its star, Angelina Jolie, still retains her global appeal despite having been absent from the silver screen since 2010’s The Tourist. The film seeks to tell the recycled untold story of the classic fable Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist, Maleficent -- a miscreant so wicked she curses newborn baby Aurora at her christening. Directed by Avatar’s production designer Robert Stromberg, the film seeks to immerse you so deep into the fairy tale that you forget that it’s live action and begin to think that the world of magic and pixies is real. But does it succeed?

I checked out the film over the weekend hoping to see a modern and mature version (a la Ever After – which I loved) of a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was little. Disney is known for their candy coated narratives for kids but the pure evil antihero, dark undertones and haunting melodies of the original Sleeping Beauty were more in line with the stories of The Brothers Grimm and their Little Briar Rose which the film was based on. I predicted from all of the marketing (heavy on the Angelia, with no explanation of why we needed a new version of this classic) that the movie was going to be 97 minutes of her perfectly arched eyebrow and cold sneer but wondered if she could really carry it. The final verdict? She didn’t need to. The wonderland created by Stomberg steals the show in the first half of the film as Jolie slowly gets her bearings (maybe she was rusty?). We are introduced to the fairyland of “the moors” where all the magical creatures live and are left wondering, “how did they do that?” The marriage between live action and the artistry of CGI suck you in and the story is well on its way before you realize that… “hey, there are other people in this movie besides Angelia Jolie?!”

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Yes, yes there were… but just barely. Elle Fanning plays Aurora, more pawn in the battle between Maleficent and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) than a real player in the story. Copley as the King was a little over the top, and the storyline didn’t do much to save him. After spending his childhood with her, and seemingly falling in love, young Stefan betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings in order to become king. When Maleficent retaliates by delivering her deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora, King Stefan descends into a ridiculous obsessive state of vengefulness. So much so, that he can’t even go to his dying wife’s bedside because he must sit and have imaginary conversations with Maleficent. He sends his daughter away to be cared for by three pixies (Fittle, Thistlewit and Knotgrass—fun right?) until her sixteenth birthday, hoping that his nemesis will never find her. But no one is more cunning than Angelina… I mean Maleficent and she immediately goes to the cottage where young Aurora lives in hiding.


In act two, we see something that was definitely not in the cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty. What starts out as the fairy queen spying on Aurora turns into Maleficent looking over her.  Maleficent’s merciless demeanor and spine tingling cackle are slowly melted away by Aurora’s burgeoning charm. The cutest scene is when toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) waddles up to Maleficient who says, “I don’t like children.” Some irony there coming from Jolie, mother of seven.  Maleficent picks up Aurora and holds her for a second before she sends her back to the cottage. Still holding on to her hatred of King Stefan, Maleficent almost sends 8-year-old Aurora over a cliff. But the once lighthearted fairy queen can’t go through with it. And when Aurora finally visits the moors, the merciless Maleficent is completely won over by her wide-eyed wonder. “I have a plan,” Aurora says. “When I get a little older, I’ll come and live here with you. We can take care of each other.” “Why don’t you live here now?” Maleficent says.

The evil queen and the young princess chillin’ together? This isn’t the sleeping beauty I remember! The story seems even more unfamiliar as Aurora pricks her finger as foretold in the curse and falls into a death-like sleep but the kiss from cute Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t wake her up. Say what? Isn’t this true love’s kiss? The story ends and we find that true love isn’t always romantic. Aurora and Maleficent have to team up to help each other defeat the crazed King Stefan and the story is suddenly more Thelma and Louise than the romantic Disney fairy tale we all remember. Overall, I thought the story was a bit choppy and the performances could have been stronger but I wasn’t mad at the effort. Really though, what was disappointing was the lack of maturity in the story. This may be a modern retelling but it’s still one for the kiddies. Should you see it? Sure, but bring your little cousins too.

Published in Entertainment
Saturday, 22 February 2014 00:30

Travel | Chic Travel on a Budget

Lifestyle // February 23, 2014

So, you want to plan a trip with friends and family but no one in your entourage is ‘rolling’ yet? If you add up the cost of flights, resort fees, food, activities, and rental cars, trips can get pretty costly.  Oh, and then there are all these destination weddings you are getting invited to this year… I mean come on. The invitation is flattering but, when you get down to it, you have to figure out where you’re going to get $1,000 of disposable income.  If you wait until you’ve stacked up cash, you may never get to spend a fun, relaxing weekend with loved ones. Life is made up of a series of wonderful moments - here are tips to plan a memorable getaway without breaking the aqua bank.

1. Pick a vacation destination central to the majority of your party. Consider where your friends and family are coming from. If you’re lucky, they’re all in the same general area, so picking somewhere convenient to travel to together will be easy. But if you’re like me, they’ll all be spread out. In this case, try selecting a location convenient for the most folks, or for those whose budgets are less flexible. It’s the nice thing to do…

2. Pack light! With the exorbitant fees for checked baggage these days, you can save yourself upwards of $100 by only taking a carry-on. If you are going away for just a weekend you should be able to pull this off… Just say no to that third pair of stilettos!  

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3. Keep an eye on flash deals! One of the keys to cheap and chic travel will be to remain flexible. You never know when deals will become available. I have found fantastic opportunities via resources like Gilt City, Jetsetter, Groupon, Travelzoo and Vacationist. The one caveat is, you have to be ready to pull the trigger. So, if you want to welcome adventure, flash deals could be the right move!

4. Take advantage of the off-season. Some of my best vacations have been during the off-season. Prices are way more reasonable and there are crazy deals. No snow on the slopes? Try Lake Tahoe. A little warmer than usual, check out Miami. This past Fourth of July, some friends and I visited Palm Springs. Sure, it was 107 degrees at its peak, but we spent the majority of the time in the pool or inside our wonderfully air-conditioned house, which brings me to suggestion #5…

5. Find home and vacation rentals. I wanted to get a big group of friends and family together for the 4th of July. We were all on a budget, so it was important that this be a quick, cheap, and easy getaway. Given that we had eight people, I searched for home rentals via:,, Eight people contributing to the rental widened our net. Suddenly, we were able to afford a three bedroom three bathroom house, with a pool and gourmet kitchen (see picture above). I was really nervous about renting through a website. I worried that someone might run away with my money, or that the home wouldn’t be as advertised.* Fortunately, it turned out better than expected! Having a kitchen allowed us to cook for ourselves and save money on dining out. In preparation, I planned out our meals for the two-day stay and got just the right amount of supplies from Costco and Whole Foods. Once there, we happily chilled at the house, swimming, cooking, drinking, talking, and playing games. Our two-day Palm Springs vacay worked out to under $140 per person!

*TIP: Read reviews and customer advice before purchasing. Obviously, the more positive reviews the better, but don’t just look at the number of stars, be sure to read the text. Other vacationers will help you determine if the house will fit your vacation needs.

If you’re jonesing for time away with friends, try something a little non-traditional. Even if it doesn’t turn out like one of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s fabulous vacations, at least it will be an adventure.

Published in Travel

Lifestyle // December 30, 2013

This story was originally published on The Los Angeles Post.

Instagram has hands-down reigned the social media world in the past few years, its position solidified with the acquisition by Facebook, the release of the iPhone5 and the addition of video functionality.  Of course you’re following all of your Facebook friends and even a few big names, celebrities, and possibly a few bloggers, but Instagram has allowed a whole new wave of amateur and professional photographers to blossom. From art, culture, style, food and more, here are some of the must-follow people to follow on Instagram... besides your little sister and Rihanna.

1. @Instagrafite

With the uptick of street and graffiti art, we love this visually dynamic virtual gallery showcasing the best street art. Billboards, walls, signs, and even the occasional semi-truck somehow are transformed,giving your inner-art enthusiast a daily shot of awe. We also love that the photos are tagged on the map, so you can visit the pieces that make the grade in your area. Street art tour, anyone?

2. @chrisconnolly

We love diving into the world of mobile developer and all-around web-guy-turned-iPhone-photographer Chris Connolly. Shots of nature, portraits and simple city fixtures become things of beauty in his hands. Chris makes us want to grab our iPhones and start taking pictures of anything and everything.

3. @share_food

Foodies everywhere rejoice when @share_food posts a new photo. Food porn to the extreme, follow to find delicious and beautifully photographed treats like portabella cheeseburgers, chocolate tarts, colorful sushi and more. This is a must-follow account because you can tag your own photos with #sharefood and if your own photo is featured,  it could be viewed by over 62K followers.

4. @OscarPRGirl

Need an injection of style and the latest trends? For an inside look at what’s hot, a must-follow is Erika Bearman, the Communication Director for Oscar de la Renta and her fabulous style envy-inducing photo of outfits, behind-the-scenes, events, swag and more.

Just like shopping, there’s always something new and we are all for living vicariously through Erika’s fabulous life.

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5. @BarackObama

Run by our President’s social media-savvy staff, this Instagram account is full of personal photos of President Obama as well as inspiring shots from around the country on the campaign trail and following his work.

6. @paulscheer

Who doesn’t need some daily dose of humor? Spice it up with this hilarious stream from writer and comedian/TV Paul Scheer who turns ridiculous street sightings into comedy gold. Just be careful not to LOL too loud at work.

7. @dvl

We love the visually stunning photo magic that can only describe the photos posted by usability consultant Dustin Vaughn-Luma. Epic black and white shots, nature’s glory and priceless moments frozen in time abound in his shots.

8. @alifewortheating

Because your life wouldn’t be complete without more stunning photos of food, we’ve added @alifewortheating to our list. Run by self-proclaimed foodie and traveler Adam Goldberg, his photos document his culinary experiences. We love his accessible style and following along in long form with updates to his blog and other social media profiles.

9. @Charitywater

Combining stunning photos with social good, this nonprofit organization made of list of top Instagram accounts to follow for a dose of feel-good and kindness brought by shots of their efforts to bring clean drinking water to communities in developing countries.

10. @kevin

Although he’s no Tom from MySpace, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom made our must-follow list for those that want to stay in the know on the latest of Instagram and some cool behind-the-scenes snaps. However, mostly we just like his lavish, jet-setting and glamorous beach photos. If only we had thought of Instagram.

Share with us! Who are some of your favorite people to follow on Instagram?

Published in Lifestyle
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