Monthly Archives: April 2015

Remembering the Holocaust – Survivor Dana Cohen

Here's a photograph of Dana Cohen from yesterday's event.  She is about 8 to 10 years old here.

Here’s a photograph of Dana Cohen from the program at yesterday’s event. She is about 8 to 10 years old here.

I attended a Holocaust remembrance ceremony yesterday. The special guest was Mrs. Dana Cohen, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and local citizen. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a Holocaust survivor speak in person, so I’d been looking forward to this rare opportunity. The few Holocaust survivors still alive today were young children during the 1940’s, and they are aging and passing away. It’s important to hear their stories directly while we can.

At yesterday’s event, Mrs. Cohen was accompanied by two presenters. The presenters shared a video, narrated Mrs. Cohen’s Holocaust experience, and showed some illustrative (replica) artifacts from Mrs. Cohen’s past. Mrs. Cohen saved her energy for the end, when she answered questions from the audience and received a line of people who wished to speak with her and shake her hand.

In 1940, Russian soldiers shipped Dana and her mother from their hometown in Poland to Siberia. Dana was about 8 to 10 years old. In Siberia, they were made to perform slave labor and given very little food. Many people died slowly and painfully from the hunger and cold. Eerily, there were no walls or fences around the Siberian compound. The prisoners stayed because they knew there was no place to run away to. They were miles and miles away from civilization and surrounded only by frozen tundra. Running away would mean certain death.

After the Russians broke their alliance with Nazi Germany, the Russians released their prisoners. Dana’s mother was able to barter her last treasure and link to her previous life—her wedding ring—to slowly and miraculously leave Siberia with Dana and eventually settle peacefully in Africa. Dana’s father met a different fate.  He was a member of the Polish army, and he was captured and murdered by Russian forces in the Katyn Forest Massacre (which I had never heard of until yesterday).

See the short video about Mrs. Cohen’s story here.

Read a brief biography of Mrs. Cohen here.

Learn more about the Katyn Forest Massacre here.

I really wanted to hear Mrs. Cohen’s story, but I was just as interested in seeing her. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing to me that someone can survive pure horror and not somehow bear visible scars or other physical markings. It seems like all that sheer bad energy would have to “go” somewhere, would have to make a dent or bulge somehow, like bad bacteria in a soup can. Even if you managed to push it out of yourself, it seems like it would burn a hole through your skin.  So I was curious to see how Mrs. Cohen looked today, and in person.

So how did she look?

She looked freaking fantastic.

Mrs. Cohen’s hair is pure white and cut in a short, soft style. She wore a knee-length black pencil skirt (with pockets!) paired with a springy purple scarf and green zippered jacket. She wore low black heels and—get this—her legs were bare.  And they looked great.  Mrs. Cohen sometimes stood with her hands in her skirt pockets, too, which made her look very modern and cool. I hope I look half as good when I’m her age.

And here’s another thing—she’s tiny. Mrs. Cohen is short and thin—a very petite, delicate lady. It’s amazing to think that this small person was able to survive so much. As I looked at Mrs. Cohen, I kept thinking—in a complimentary way—that this lady is a tough bird. 🙂

Mrs. Cohen didn’t give a speech, but she answered audience questions after the presentation. We asked mostly about her family and relatives. Her 27 closest relatives from Poland perished in the Holocaust. Two great uncles (her grandmother’s brothers) had immigrated to the U.S. (before the war?), so she eventually moved to the U.S. at their encouragement. She was married to her husband for 40 years before he passed away.

I asked her if she had any children, and she answered that she has one son. I then asked her if she had any grandchildren and she simply said, “No.” Then she smiled and said “Not yet,” like her son better get his act together. 🙂 Mrs. Cohen has a Polish accent and a good sense of humor. She said her mother loved Africa and would always talk about how great life was there. Mrs. Cohen said that if it rained in the U.S., her mother would talk about how the rain in Africa was better. 🙂

The mood was fairly light in the room as Mrs. Cohen answered mostly logistical questions from the audience and showed her sense of humor, so it felt impolite to ask her the heavy questions that I really wanted to ask. Like…

– What does hunger feel like?

– What did it feel like to be stranded in Siberia, so far away from help? What does that kind of despair and lonesomeness feel like?

– How does your experience in Siberia affect you today? Do you have any persistent habits, behaviors, or thoughts that are related to your time in the camp?

– Is it ever hard to feel full, or warm, or safe?

– Do you bear any ill will towards Russia, Germany, or Japan?

These are such personal questions, but I think they are important questions, and yet I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable asking Mrs. Cohen these questions even if we weren’t in an auditorium full of people.

I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Mrs. Cohen’s story, and I learned some new things about the Holocaust that I had never heard before. I encourage everyone to seek out similar opportunities before it’s too late.

One more thing:

When the young Mrs. Cohen and her mother were in the Siberian prison camp, they received care packages from their former nanny and housekeeper, a Polish lady named Magda. This boggles my mind. Imagine: You’ve been exiled to frozen Siberia, the end of the world, surrounded by nothing…worked and starved almost to death by your captors…yet they made sure you got your mail? In a world full of chaos and evil, somehow the mail system was open and working. That to me is evidence of the strangest and scariest element of World War II. In such a modern time among first-world countries–with vaccines! cars! Coca-Cola!–such horrible things happened so publically and on such a grand scale.

– Angela

Birchbox Review – April 2015

The RPC Birchbox!  (Image from

The RPC Birchbox! (Image from

I got my April Birchbox last week! After a few months of ho-hum performance, I was super excited to see that Birchbox teamed up with Rifle Paper Company for the box design and some add-on goodies. The add-on goodies (or “plus items” in Birchbox-speak) were super cute but a little expensive (in my opinion). You could buy a Rifle tumbler and notebook set or an adorable canvas tote bag. I have plenty of tumblers and totes, though, so I resisted. (Birchbox also offered two different curated box choices for April to commemorate the final season of AMC’s Mad Men, but I wasn’t swayed by the non-retro contents.)

I really wanted TWO of the sample choices for April–the Jouer lip and cheek tint and the Jane Iredale Just Kissed Lip and Cheek Stain.  I like how the Jane Iredale line uses all clean ingredients (Jessica Alba mentions the brand often in her book), but I was in need/want of a new cream blush so I went for the Jouer tint.

Here’s what I got in my (great!) box:

Jouer Tint in shade Petal – This sample is so cute.  It’s like a tiny black compact–about 1 inch square–that closes magnetically.  It just needs a little mirror inside!  I like cream blushes and have been using the same (messy) brand/shade for years, so I wanted a change.  The peachy-pink color is pretty and saturated.  I believe the formula is paraben-free, too–the FAQ page on the Jouer website says it’s paraben free but the (outdated?) ingredients list on the Tint page lists parabens.  I should inquire about that.

Beaver Professional Hydro Nutritive Moisturizing Shampoo and Repairing Conditioner – Hmm.  What an unfortunate name.  I’m pretty loyal to my DevaCurl hair stuff, but sometimes I use a sulfate-containing shampoo (like this one) as a kind of clarifiying shampoo.  This Beaver duo had sulfates, parabens, etc., which I try to avoid or minimize use of, but I still tried it because it smelled really good.  Other people commented on how good my hair smelled, too!

Liz Earle Eyebright Soothing Eye Lotion – I love my Liz Earle facial cleanser, so I was excited to see another Liz Earle product in my  box.  I was bummed, though, when I read the ingredients list–lots of parabens.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I will.  It’s supp0sed to cool, refresh, and de-puff tired eyes.  Sounds pretty good!

MDSolarSciences MD Crème Mineral Beauty Balm in SPF 50 – I’m loyal to the Coola BB cream with sunscreen that I discovered via Birchbox months ago, but it was great to try this one, too.  It’s a mousse-like cream that’s slightly thicker than my Coola stuff, with a higher SPF.  I could still feel it on my face by the afternoon, which I like to think means that my face was still being protected from sun damage.  My forehead felt a little greasy by the end of the day, but nothing major.  Thumbs up!

I know I complain about the limited number of “clean” products sent by Birchbox, and I know I could subscribe to one of the many eco- and health-conscious beauty subscriptions out there, but I love Birchbox’s low price and generous rewards system.  I’ve discovered a lot of everyday-use favorites through Birchbox, so I’m sticking with them!

This was a great box overall and it’s always fun to get a mix of products–something for my hair, my skin, and my makeup bag!  The Rifle Paper Company box will be saved and used for something, too–it’s too pretty to throw or give away!

– Angela

Pink Sunday

She's laughing at your attempt to purchase something she's wearing.  (Image from

She’s laughing at your attempt to purchase something she’s wearing. (Image from

I like to think that I am fairly unaffected by marketing or consumerist “hype,” but I guess not. Read on…

If you didn’t know, Target announced a limited, one-time collaboration with designer Lilly Pulitzer months ago, and the female internet community has been abuzz ever since. The preppy, beachy line is very popular with Southern college girls, and it’s also the perfect stuff for adult women to wear for beach vacations, cruises, and resort stays. The original Lilly line is cute, colorful, and bold, but it’s also a bit pricey, so people were super-stoked about the afforable Target line.

Personally, I’m not a huge Lilly Pulitzer fan (the floral clothes aren’t really my style), but I’ve bought several small Lilly items over the years for myself and for gifts–stuff like drink cozies, pens, and agendas–so I was interested in the Target collection’s small accessories and home goods. Target released a comprehensive Lilly “lookbook” a few weeks ago and the items were cute, affordable, and fun. Everyone (including me) was getting their wish lists ready and saving their pennies in anticipation for the day of the big launch–Sunday, April 19th.

Well, the big day finally arrived, but…

The Target website crashed, store shelves were cleared out within 5 minutes (literally) of opening, and resale-minded shoppers filled carts with obscene amounts of Lilly merchandise–whole racks of dresses, whole stocks of pillows, etc. Scores of shoppers who had lined up outside in the early hours before the stores opened left empty-handed, crestfallen, and angry. People on social media called it “Pink Sunday”–a frenzy of excited young women–and it looked worse (but briefer) than Black Friday.

This entire scenario is fascinating to me. I spent a lot of time yesterday on news sites and social media, reading the (heated) shopper comments and looking at photos of the loooong lines, empty racks, and grabby resale folks. And I have a very complicated response to all of this:

It makes me wonder: Do companies have an ethical responsibility to match the intensity and breadth of their marketing campaign to the available supply of goods? And do companies have an ethical responsibility to limit the number of items a single person can purchase from a limited collection? Or is all fair in capitalism, especially when the items in question are luxury goods? Floral dresses and swizzle sticks are not needs, after all.

It boggles my mind: It’s amazing how a company can create such intense desires, and with so little–after all, this Target frenzy was sown only by a few pretty photographs online. People saw the photos and just “knew” they wanted this stuff, even though they hadn’t seen it in person, already have closets full of clothes, and Lilly Pulitzer items have been available for purchase since the 1960’s (literally). Sure, the official designer items are pricey, but if you really wanted a little bit of Lilly, you could have planned and saved for a special purchase long ago.

It embarrasses me: I have nothing against fun clothes and disposable income and the occasional impulse buy. We are so fortunate to live in the U.S. where our needs are met and we are free to play. But I’m still embarrassed that I found myself buying into the Lilly + Target hype. I pored over the lookbooks, too, made a list of the few pieces I might be interested in, and even visited a Target on late Sunday morning (everything was gone). And I’m embarrassed by the frantic, emotional portrayal of Pink Sunday on social media. Sure, it’s honest and real, but it’s also embarrassing to young women. It plays into all our bad stereotypes and distracts attention from all the good things we do on Regular Monday through Regular Saturday.

It angers me: Legions of smart, talented people are tasked by companies to research markets, study psychology, and design ads to part us from our money (and our logical reasoning?). These professionals are very good at what they do, and they make it hard to resist their companies’ wares. But what if we used all that talent and power for something else? Like enticing people to make better environmental choices, or to volunteer more, or to travel more?

It confuses me: Why was I so interested in the Lilly + Target stuff, even though I’ve never been interested in buying big Lilly pieces before? Was it the affordability mixed with the scarcity mixed with the hype? I suppose that’s FOMO at its finest–making me really want something I didn’t even imagine wanting before just to be part of the fun!

Sigh. So what can we do to “fight back,” or at least better control our emotional response to these kinds of highly orchestrated temptations? Maybe:

  1. Seek out simple living and non-consumerist inspiration and guidance. See my Blogroll for some of my favorite folks.
  2. Unsubscribe from junk mail and unsubscribe from junk email. Fewer temptations!
  3. Unsubscribe from all but my favorite fashion and lifestyle bloggers on social media. Or follow only one or two at a time. After all, they get tons of merchandise for free, present a highly-edited view of their lives, and it’s their business to create desire for their stuff!
  4. Have a bigger and better financial goal. It’s easier to bypass the small purchases when you remind yourself that you’re saving for an awesome vacation or paying off a nagging debt.
  5. Don’t shop for entertainment, or when highly emotional (sad/angry), or when hungry/bored.

Sigh. I already do most of these things, but I STILL would have liked to see the Lilly + Target pieces in person, and maybe buy one or two items depending on the quality. The next time I buy cat food at Target, I’ll keep my eyes open for any returned items.  🙂

In what clever marketing ploys have you found yourself ensnared? Please tell me I’m not the only one…

– Angela

P.S. Target says that there are no plans to restock and that they are learning from this experience.

P.P.S. Interestingly, my favorite bracelet is actually a heavy (fake) gold bangle from Lilly that I received as a FREE gift with a small online purchase. I’ve worn it so much that the finish is wearing off!

P.P.P.S. Why am I so basic?! 🙂

Five Simple Tips for Managing Email

I get stressed out just looking at this.

I get stressed out just looking at this.

My junk mail war is a new endeavor, but I’m already pretty good about managing my personal email. I shop online quite a bit and I like requesting freebies, so a few months ago I found myself constantly deleting junky new emails from my smartphone to clear the “new mail” notification. I picked a day and began tackling my incoming junk mail from that point on, and now I only get mail that I want (along with occasional stragglers!).

Here’s what I do to manage my email:

1.  Maintain two personal email accounts: a correspondence account and a business account. Use the correspondence account for communicating with friends, family, colleagues, etc. Use the business account for online shopping, marketing lists, hobby newsletters, etc.

2.  Unsubscribe from each unwanted email blast as you receive it (then delete the email). Look for the “unsubscribe” link buried in the fine print of the email. Commit to doing this for one or two weeks and your email influx will drop off dramatically. After the flood stops, you can tackle the odd straggler or new material as it arrives.

3.  Be judicious when signing up for new email lists when shopping online or requesting freebies. I always opt out of communications beyond those related to my accounts or orders unless I am already committed to or really curious about the company.

4.  Turn off email notifications on your smartphone, and reduce the frequency of mail server check-ins. Nowadays, most personal emails are by nature non-urgent. If people need to get in touch with you quickly, they will call or text you. I also set my smartphone to check for new emails only once an hour (which also saves battery power, I think).

5.  Don’t sweat the old stuff. Mark all your old emails as “unread” and move on with your life, or search by company name and delete most of the old junk in batches. If you really want a fresh start, you could always open a new email account.

A little time invested now will result in big benefits down the road. You’ll be less tempted to shop and less distracted by your phone, and you’ll spend less time wrangling emails!

Monday Musings

Everything I eat is crap.

Everything I eat is crap.

— I finally did my taxes and cannot wait to get my returns. I plan to use the money towards some bills, but still…It will feel so great to make a big lump payment!

— The limited edition Lilly Pulitzer for Target collection hits the website and stores on Sunday. It’s all very cute but I’m going to try to limit myself to buying only one piece. I’m debating between the Upstream espadrilles, the Upstream scarf, or the tall drinking glasses. (The Upstream pattern is a crisp navy and white fish print.)

— Hmm. I bought a chocolate croissant from a non-oven Starbucks yesterday and received it in its original plastic wrapper…which says the croissant is good (refrigeratered? unrefrigerated?) until the end of AUGUST. That totally bums me out–all the pastry marketing from Starbucks talks about how fresh everything is supposed to be! I suppose I imagined near-daily shipments of bakery boxes filled with fresh goodies–not from Seattle, of course, but from some regional hub. Sigh.

— After reading and re-reading Marie Kondo’s tidying book and studying pictures of Bea Johnson’s sleek house, I have the decluttering bug something fierce. I keep my clothes pared down, but I now want to edit ALL THE OTHER THINGS–my files, makeup, hobby stuff, etc. Nothing is safe!

— I read all about Masters golf champion Jordan Spieth this morning, and he might be my new Tim Tebow–a cute, sweet, athletic college guy to ogle from afar.

— OMG.  I saw this John Frieda shampoo and conditioner when I was shopping yesterday and it TOOK ME BACK.  I used this stuff over 15 years ago and it made me feel so fancy.  It was my first “expensive” shampoo and conditioner and I loved the mint smell.  It’s been off the market for at least 10 years and now it’s back!  I kinda want to buy it for another roll in the hay.  I mean, roll in the tub.

A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!