Skincare Is the New Makeup

Can we even call minimalist makeup a trend anymore? It’s been dominating runways and commentary on cosmetics for a long while now. In any event, I’m a big fan. Why? Ok, it’s partly because I’m busy, don’t get enough sleep, and don’t have much time for makeup in the morning. But it’s also because focusing more effort on caring for your skin rather than covering it up just makes sense.

I’ve spent much of the last nine months thinking about this and trying new products. My efforts are yielding great results and I want to show them off and be on trend!

REVERSE Lightening Accelerator Before and AfterTwo months into my new skincare regimen (no makeup, no filter)!

These runway looks show the dominance of minimalist makeup. I especially love the minimalist looks exhibited on the Thierry Mugler, Balmain, Balenciaga, Gucci, and Versace runways.

A few ideas about preparing your skin for a minimalist look:

1. Exfoliate. To get that fresh-faced glow, slough off skin cells and let your beautiful skin shine through! I’m addicted to this (it’s the BEST exfoliant I’ve ever used) and this awesome gadget, which I use every Sunday to  shed dead skin cells to start my week off right. (Thanks to my husband for the Christmas gift that keeps on giving!)

2. Moisturize your face. Be sure to use an eye cream, night cream, and day moisturizer with SPF.

3. Moisturize your lips. If you’re going to only use gloss, your lips better not be chapped! I recommend this Rodan + Fields lip serum, and so does Vogue’s Beauty Director.

4. Use sunscreen daily. And wear a hat. If you’re freckle-prone or live in South East Asia like me, you’ll need to use a moisturizer with SPF, then more SPF, and then a hat and sunnies.

If you’d like to get results like mine, please check out my Rodan + Fields business at! But regardless of what products you choose, embrace the minimalism and let the real you shine through.



Singapore Slinging

My quick trip to Singapore last week combined a few of my favorite things: family, food, and fitness. In my book, there’s nothing better than spending an active day outside then following it up with good food and drinks. Singapore’s the place, and my mom is always up for working and playing hard.

This was my second trip to Singapore and I loved it just as much. It’s the perfect antidote to Hanoi. Hanoi is fascinating, busy, and energetic, but it’s also loud, chaotic, and constantly launching multi-front attacks on my senses. Living downtown, I can’t walk 20 feet without a motorbike honking at me and there’s no green space. It’s exhausting.

On the other hand, Singapore is quiet, clean, and green – perfect for the organizationally obsessed like me. I knew I’d like it when the first thing I saw after exiting customs was a touchpad screen seeking my feedback on the customs service. Wait, there’s an actual service standard? AND a tracking system to benchmark performance? I wasn’t in Hanoi anymore, Toto.

It’s also diverse, a cool melting pot of 5.5 million people, cultures, and religions.

Trip highlights included: a bike tour, sunset drinks on the 57th floor Ku De Ta Skybar, Botanical Gardens, a durian ice cream sandwich, and chili crab and lala at Satay by the Bay.

Fitness & Frolicking

After reading great reviews on Trip Advisor, we booked a bike tour with Let’s Go!. Singapore is HOT. Last time, I packed like an idiot—skinny jeans and long-sleeved dresses—but this time I came prepared. Even though Singapore is the land of flashy labels and Chanel sunnies, I was also equipped with running shorts, workout tanks, and new sneakers. Gotta earn my night out.


Rene was an enthusiastic guide and pedaled us throughout the city to see the Speakers’ Corner, China Town, the Malay area, Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay, and Marina Bay. While we pedaled, Rene gave us a dose of Singapore’s history and unique insights on life there. Glitzy malls abound, but Singaporeans love their outdoor space – Rene showed us one government-financed apartment building with a green jogging track on the 50th floor. We also sampled Singaporean coffee (the beans are caramelized in butter!), pastries, and bread.

           Bike Tour Snack for Blog

We loved a subsequent stroll down Orchard Road and a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Orchard Road is a mall-shoppers paradise. I’ve never seen so many Louis Vuitton stores in such a small radius. Even if shopping’s not your thing, it’s worth a stroll to marvel at the mass consumerism and wonder, “Who buys this stuff?!” At the end of Orchard Road, not far from the U.S. Embassy, is the Tanglin Gate entrance to the Botanical Gardens. Pure heaven. Walking trails meander throughout beautifully maintained gardens… $5 SD was well spent for orchid garden admission.





IMG_1566        IMG_1553

Food (and Cocktails!)

After a day of biking and walking amid skyscrapers, we wanted to get a top-down perspective and headed up to the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands building to check out the Ku De Ta’s Skybar. Heights aren’t my thing, and the journey up crammed next to a sweaty man wasn’t the elevator ride I was looking for. But the minute we got out to the rooftop it was all worth it. Awesome atmosphere, fabulous drinks, and the city skyline spread out before you.


IMG_1541You can’t visit Singapore without checking out one of its famous “hawker centres” – an outdoor food court of sorts that serves amazing Singaporean cuisine. Last time I visited, my husband and I went to Newton Circus and housed some l chilli crab and beers, and I intended to do the same on my second trip. This time we checked out Satay on the Bay – in the Gardens by the Bay. We ordered chili crab, oyster omelette, and the day’s special, lala, clams sautéed with onions and awesome stuff I couldn’t even identify. I was not disappointed. (Except for with the beer prices – $13 SD for a pint!) Next time: BYOB.

Singapore, I’ll miss you, but I’ll be back!

The Wage Gap is Real — but it’s not as bad in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic

Thanks to my husband for sharing this interesting article from the Washington Post.

According to a recent study by the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, American women have the best Employment & Earnings grades in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and–in general–the worst in the South. This is good news for those of us living in the DC area (D.C. ranked #1, Maryland ranked #2, and Virginia ranked #8), but not so great for my friends in Louisiana (#49),  Idaho (#50), or West Virginia (#51).

The sad part? Even though Maryland ranked second of 51 (including D.C.), it only received a B+, suggesting even the best states still have a long way to go…

What do you think? Where have you seen the best (and worst) working conditions for women?!

Fitting in Fitness #fitnessfriday

Bali Boarding

My relationship with fitness hasn’t always been very thoughtful. Until my early 20s, I never really thought about it. I grew up in an active family, played sports in high school, and skied and sailed in college. I was always outside, busy, and active.

In my 20s,  I was more interested in having fun (read: happy hours and champagne brunches) than working out. I still exercised, but it wasn’t a focus. I was lucky that I could always pull it together when I needed to get in shape, but for the most part, I didn’t have to worry about it, and I didn’t.

Turning 30 seemed to change that.  Suddenly, I could no longer just eat whatever I wanted  and walking to the Metro no longer cut it for my daily “exercise.” I tried to make exercise a priority but I was so busy with work and life that it didn’t really happen. Then I got pregnant. So much for fitness.

During my first pregnancy, the extent of my exercise was walking to get frozen custard (3-4 times a week). I did prenatal yoga every Sunday and enjoyed the support of being in a room with other women, but I didn’t break a sweat. After R was born, I did nothing for nine months. I was too tired, too stressed, and didn’t feel like I had time to add exercise into the mix. Then something changed.

I made fitness a priority. I started slowly, making a point to walk with R and Sully (our dog) every night after work. Then I started going to the gym during lunch. I kept my expectations realistic: 30 minutes of cardio, several times a week. I tried spinning. The first class kicked my butt and I could barely walk for days, but I went back. Then I started meeting several girlfriends for Saturday morning spinning – we’d sweat, then we’d grab coffee and catch up. Maybe obvious, but it took me a long time to realize that exercising didn’t need to be a chore.  It was actually fun. And for me, doing it with friends made me want to exercise more.

By the time I got pregnant with MK, I was exercising 5-6 times a week and feeling GREAT. I kept it up throughout my entire pregnancy and was chomping at the bit to get back at it after I gave birth. I thought, I was in such good shape before I got pregnant, I’ll be back in shape in no time! Unfortunately, I overdid it. I was so fixated with getting back to where I was (never a good idea) that I didn’t listen to my body. I did sit-ups, planks, and more sit-ups and still looked five-months pregnant five months after giving birth. I was so demoralized. I thought there was something wrong and felt sorry for myself.

After some research, I realized this problem is common to many women, especially after multiple child births. It’s called diastasis recti (DR), and it happens when the connective tissue between the abdominal muscles stretches, resulting in a protruding stomach also known as “mummy tummy.” According to wiki: ” Women are more susceptible to develop diastasis recti when over the age of 35, high birth weight of child, multiple birth pregnancy, and multiple pregnancies. Additional causes can be attributed to excessive abdominal exercises after the first trimester of pregnancy.” Um, yes, that’s me.

I’ll save my musings on DR for another post but needless to say, realizing I had this condition forced me to pursue an entirely different approach to fitness. I now try to exercise at least five days a week, but my workouts aren’t long. Having two small kids and (finally!) working full time, I often don’t have extra time to burn getting to the gym, and the air quality and crazy streets of Hanoi make running outside a challenge, so I often work out at home. Unless I’m on vacation (see above)!

In addition to banging out a quick workout, I also spend my Friday                  afternoons making nerdy fitness infographs on Piktochart… 

Fitting in Fitness               

Here are a bunch of great fitness options I’ve found that are short and sweet, but still make me sore the next day. Perfect for people short on time and/or outdoor space, or for those of you that travel frequently. Please share your additions in the comments below or on FB!

YogaGlo – this is my husband’s and my go-to workout. Sort by teacher, type, duration, level, etc. There’s something for everyone. (Our favorite teacher is Tiffany Cruikshank – you can follow her on Instagram for daily updates.)

Yoga Medicine – Tiffany Cruikshank’s yoga/wellness company. Yoga, lifestyle, wellness, training, etc.

Cosmic Kids Yoga – For the kids. Free, fun, creative yoga classes fon YouTube. Perfect for rainy days.

Couch to 5K app – I never thought I could run a mile, let alone a 5k. This app motivated me to do it!

Mutu System – great system for healing DR. I used the Focus Program and it worked wonders.

Jillian Michaels – her 20 minute workouts really work. I was skeptical but it kicks my butt. I have 30 Day Shred and the Kickbox FastFix – love both. Easy to download on iTunes if you’re on the road and need a quick workout.

Pinterest – Search for “at home workouts” and you’ll find tons of ideas.

Fitbit – if you’re competitive like me, this will keep you moving. Not a substitute for exercise but a good reminder to take the stairs or walk home from work.

CorePower Yoga – No CPY in Hanoi but I can’t wait to get back to DC and check out the new studio in Georgetown. Love the Yoga Sculpt (heated yoga with weights and good tunes) classes in St. Paul!    

Going Greek

Living abroad makes you do funny things. Living in DC, where good, healthy food is abundant, accessible, and affordable, I did a lot more “assembling” than “cooking.” Why bother making things from scratch when it was easier and cheaper to buy them at Trader Joe’s? But now that I’m living in Hanoi, where my favorite foods aren’t always readily available (but I have lots more time and help!), I’ve found myself being more adventurous in the kitchen.
At home, one of our family staples is plain greek yogurt. It’s healthy, cheap, and easy to find at any local grocery store. In Hanoi? Notsomuch. After paying $10 for a carton of (nearly expired) Greek yogurt one too many times, I decided to try making my own. A friend promised it was simple and tasted much better than the locally available stuff. Who knew it would be so easy? And the best part is there are no preservatives, no sugar, no crap, so you can feel good eating it and serving it to your families.
All you need:
Yogurt thermometer
Yogurt maker (you can also use a dutch oven if you don’t have the yogurt machine)
 Nearly finished…
Preferred Products:
Milk – whole, local, organic (although in Vietnam I use aseptic packaged milk from New Zealand)
My Greek Yogurt Recipe
1 litre milk
1 heaping tbsp yogurt
1. Pour milk into microwave-safe bowl and heat until temperature reaches approximately 175 F (this takes 7 minutes in my microwave).
2. Remove milk and let cool until temperature reaches 110-115 F.
3.  Remove skim from top of milk.
4. Slowly and gently whisk yogurt into the milk.
5. Pour milk/yogurt mixture into the yogurt maker containers and cover. Turn on machine for 7 hours (you’ll need to determine the optimal time based on your machine and preferences).
If you don’t have a yogurt maker, pour milk/yogurt mixture into a Dutch oven and cover with lid. Wrap the entire pot in a thick towel (to keep it warm) and put it in turned-off oven. Let sit overnight or until it reaches your preferred consistency.
6. To make Greek yogurt, line a mesh sieve with cheesecloth and drain yogurt for approximately 15 minutes.
Turning regular yogurt into Greek yogurt
7. Serve yogurt with your preferred toppings. Some of my favorites? Fresh mango, chia seeds, almonds, dried fruits, PB2, diced apples, cinnamon, granola.
Yogurt is made up of live cultures so every batch is a bit different, depending on the temperature, climate, etc. I recommend experimenting with different brands and types of milk to see which you prefer.   
Yogurt Fans
Greek yogurt with cinnamon and maple syrup for dessert

Morning Commute

After 1.5 years in Hanoi, I’ve gotten used to this scene. But for some reason today I had one of those expat moments where I stopped and realized how different life is here. So cool to gain perspective on my former life. My current commute is crazy, but I’ll take it over sitting on the Beltway any day!

imageShortcut down Food Street, a “pedestrian” walkway near my apartment

imageHanoi traffic 

What’s in your blender?

Started today off right with a spinach, mango, banana, chia, coconut water smoothie. So easy, so good, so healthy. And my kids loved it.

I’ve gotta’ be honest: I’m not a morning person. Thankfully, my husband is and he likes making smoothies and coffee.


Up close and personal                                                          Tuesday morning smoothie

If you’re looking for a healthy smoothie recipe that’s also great for your skin, check out the Glowing Green Smoothie by Kimberly Snyder. It’s an easy way to get in all your fruits and veggies before you even leave the house.

Maternity Leave Madness

It’s not breaking news that maternity leave policies in the U.S. leave something to be desired. And by something to be desired, I mean they’re pathetic.

With both of my kids, I was “lucky” because I was able to take three months (R) and two months (MK) of paid leave. My husband and I wanted to take our leave sequentially, so we could extend the at-home time with the baby before full-time daycare. But he wasn’t allowed to take sick-leave past the eight mark. Apparently, caring for a newborn baby is not considered a medical requirement – you know, because they’re so independent at two months old. I was also “lucky” that I was able keep up with emails while I was home on maternity leave. This was a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it made transitioning back to work a little less stressful; on the other hand, it was a distraction that kept me from making the most of my few months home.

Maternity Multitasking

Maternity leave multi-tasking.

After my maternity leave was over, I had no option to transition slowly back into work – it was all or nothing. To add insult to injury, I had to use all my sick and annual leave to get paid during maternity leave, meaning I returned to work with ZERO hours of leave on the books. Not good when you have a kid in daycare (i.e. constant colds). And God forbid you want to take an actual vacation (because maternity leave is so relaxing!). The crazy thing is, I’m one of the lucky Americans who at least has some paid parental leave. According to statistics Sheryl Sandberg cites in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead “Forty percent of employed mothers lack sick days and vacation leave, and about 50 percent of employed mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child. Only about half of women receive any pay during maternity leave.” And we wonder why working moms are stretched and stressed?!!?

I’m sure most of you have read (or read about) Lean In. I loved it. Alone, the arguments weren’t groundbreaking. But I loved the smart way she dug into a broad, controversial, emotional subject (motherhood, work, and life balance) and backed it up with facts, figures, and examples. I liked that she started a dialogue on issues that mattered to me. Her book – and the publicity it received – validated my feelings. Instead of feeling whiny, I felt energized. It spurred both women and men to have tough talks about why women are underrepresented in the executive levels of business and government and how to change this. At the end of the day, a woman struggling to balance everything will need a reliable partner and they need to be part of the dialogue too.

That’s why reading this Washington Post article (posted by a male friend!) on Vodafone’s new global maternity leave policy, which sets a minimum for maternity leave, made my day. It’s awesome to see a company leaning in and changing the way women are expected to behave in the workplace and at home. The best part? Vodafone isn’t changing their policy because a government regulation told them to. They’ve changed it because it’s good for their business and their employees. According to the Post article:

Indeed, talent retention was one of the very goals Vodafone had in mind when it designed its new policy. On a global level, women comprise roughly 35 percent of Vodafone’s employees, but only 21 percent of its international senior leadership team. Moreover, 65 percent of the women in the past who opted to leave the company following maternity leave did so within the first year.

Sharon Doherty, a director at Vodafone who was the architect of the new policies, went looking for ways to address those numbers. She noticed that in Italy, Portugal and Romania, where mandates are in place for companies to help women transition back into the workplace after maternity leave, the company’s retention rate was higher. “That led me to ask more questions and find out why,” she said. She decided to pitch the idea of a company-wide global policy.

It’s so refreshing to hear an international company recognize that women–with or without children–bring something special to the workforce. And taking leave to care for our children shouldn’t mean we have to sit in the penalty box for a few years (until the kids are old enough to care for themselves and we can return to work). Because the truth is — and Sheryl (my buddy) talks a lot about this in her book — the longer you’re out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in. I wish I’d had maternity leave options like the ones Vodaphone is proposing and hope this is the first of many companies to think smart and change the way the do business.

Kudos to you, Vodafone!

Time to Shine

Back when I lived in DC, worked full-time, and fancied myself a young urban professional, I used to say I didn’t want to turn into one of those moms who wears Lululemon all the time. My thinking was, “Just because you spend $100 on yoga pants doesn’t mean you should wear them all day long.”

Now, before I offend half of my (two) readers, hear me out. First of all, I love Lululemon – I dream of having racks of coordinating yoga outfits and to look fashionably fit while walking out of a yoga sculpt class, glistening with sweat, to pick up my kids from school. But the all-day Lulu outfit was a symbol, the uniform of many a—gasp—stay-at-home mom! I’ll admit it, I used to be one of “those” women who worked full-time and couldn’t imagine not putting on professional business attire to start my day. I knew being a full-time mom was incredibly challenging and admired all the women who did it – my mom, some of my best friends – but I just didn’t want to do it myself.

The truth was, I was insecure about who I was and how to balance my family and my career. After having kids, I felt like my career took a nosedive. I wanted to move forward but I didn’t have the energy. And I felt guilty. It sucks to drop your three month old off at daycare at 7:30 pm, pick her up at 5:30 pm, and put her to bed two hours later. I felt guilty. But I also felt guilty because I didn’t want to be a full-time mom either. I looked enviously at my friends who’d already made that choice and felt like there was something wrong with me for not making that sacrifice and for not even wanting to try. I felt guilty. Was I missing a maternal gene?

Fast-forward a year. I’m getting ready to move to Hanoi, a city I’d never visited in a country I’d never set foot in, where they speak a language I don’t understand. 26 hours away on a good day. And I was flying with a 2.5 year old and a 2 month old. I’m organized. I plan. That’s what I do. So I had a plan: I was going to have my second daughter, move to Hanoi, take a few months off, start a part-time job, while simultaneously pursuing an Executive MBA. I was so smart. I even interviewed for my Embassy job the night before my scheduled c-section! I took a perverse delight when I casually mentioned I was delivering a baby the following day and the interviewers gasped and said, “Well, we’ll hurry this interview up then.” I was ON IT. Ah, “the best laid plans…”

So we get to Vietnam, spend a few months settling in, and I’m ready to start (chomping at the bit, that is) to start working. Well guess what? That wasn’t going to happen. Gotta’ love government bureaucracies. I thought I’d start in a month or two so I focused on my Executive MBA program and headed off for the retreat weekend excited to embark on a new adventure. Well, the program wasn’t what I expected, and I didn’t want to spend time away from my kids pursuing a degree that I didn’t think necessary nor desirable. Scratch that off the strategic planning chart. If you’re keeping score, this left me with no job, no MBA program, and NO PLAN. Plan B? Stay-at-home mom. OMG.

So, I donned my Lululemon uniform and plunged into mom-dom: breastfeeding, (literally) cleaning up spilled milk, school drop-offs, swim lessons, sitting cross-legged at baby music class, watching bad TV while the kids napped. There were certainly upsides: I spent time with my kids, including doing all things I’d never had time to do in D.C. But I still felt anxious, like I spinning my wheels. I wanted staying at home to be my choice, and it wasn’t. Which left me a healthy dose of resentment on top of my trash heap of a plan. Slowly, and I mean slowly, some things started to click though.

1) The Lulu uniform ain’t so bad. Comfortable, stylish, adaptable. (Far more embarrassing was the Southeast Asia version I began to adopt. I won’t go into detail but suffice it to say that it involves $5 elephant pants sold to Millennial backpackers throughout the region… Seriously.)

Elephant Pants for BlogRocking my new uniform: elephant pants.

2) Personal goals still mattered. Check that, they mattered more than ever. And fitness became a huge one. I achieved a personal fitness goal of getting into crow pose this fall and then, this winter, finally getting into full wheel. I used to tell myself I’d never be able to do either. When I pulled off crow I screamed – in the middle of yoga class, very un-yogi of me – “I did it!” It felt awesome. I felt like me. I felt like I was shining again and my perspective began to shift.

3) Usually when an older person tells me how lucky I am to be staying at home “because I’ll never get these times back,” it’s when one or both children are wiping snot on my pants or exploding their fruit squeezies on themselves. And I want to punch the well-intentioned stranger in the nose. But in those rare (very rare) quiet moments, I begin to realize they have a point. The chaos is kinda the good stuff.

These are among the many things I’ve gained perspective on having quit my job, left my friends, family, dog, and home, moved halfway around the world, and gone waaaaaay outside of my comfort zone. And that’s what Shine is about. I’ve spent lots of time in the past few years reading, thinking, and over analyzing life. And doing it amidst the craziness of Hanoi has given me a new appreciation for the things that matter in my life: family, fitness, food, and frolicking (traveling, kids, having fun). I hope my crazy ramblings might be helpful to others going through the same life adjustments. And I hope you’ll share your ideas with me. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to find balance.

Riley Boat Pose for BlogR rocking a boat pose in Bali.

P.S. I can still rock a D.C. business suit with the best of them!

Biz Suit for Blog

Why Shine?

Welcome to Shine! And Happy International Women’s Day! I can’t think of a more appropriate day to launch my blog than the day when we take time to honor women’s accomplishments worldwide and to focus on greater equality. It’s even more appropriate that this year’s theme is “Make it Happen.” After a few years of waiting for things to happen to me, I’m now focused on making them happen.

I’m celebrating this International Women’s Day in Singapore, where I’m enjoying a weekend getaway with my lovely mother, exploring this modern city/state that’s a melting pot of people, cultures, buildings, old and new. And from here, where it’s hot and sunny, I’m launching Shine.

Ku De Ta Singapore  On the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Building in Singapore.

According to Merriam-Webster, the verb “shine” means: 1) to give off light; 2) to have a smooth surface that reflects light; 3) to be very good or successful at an activity. And that’s exactly what I’d like this blog to do – in my life and, hopefully, for others as well.

My hope that this blog will “shine” (pun intended) a light on the issues that I spend a lot of time thinking about: balancing family, work, healthcare, and fitness, all while having fun as I travel this crazy world.

One thing I love about travel: it makes you reflect. 2013 brought my family to Hanoi, two-month-old and two-year-old in tow, and suddenly, our world was awash in nuoc mam (fish sauce), a sea of motorbikes, conical hats, and a new language. That’ll make you reflect! On health, personal goals, career aspirations, mom-hood, spirituality, the whole nine yards (That’s 8.2 meters in Vietnam).

This space is dedicated to the fitness and lifestyle side of those reflections. Just a sampling of my own, constantly-evolving lessons learned, tips, and tricks and a space to share yours. So, please let me hear your two cents (or, 427 Vietnamese dong) about how to live better, healthier, more balanced lives.

Happy International Women’s Day to all you lovely ladies out there!