Which Mystic Messenger Route Is The Best? Rating Yoosung’s Route, Jumin’s Route, 707’s Route, & Zen’s Route

If you read all of my blog posts, you know that I love the Japanese game style known as otome. And, as I recently added a new “Gaming” category to my blog, this is a doubly-appropriate post to continue the dialogue I started with my last otome post.

When I originally wrote my post “The Best Otome Games For The iPhone,” I included Mystic Messenger, but it was the only otome game I hadn’t actually played. Truth be told, I got sick of feeling out of the loop on sites like Tumblr and Etsy, where Mystic Messenger often showed up in my search results.

I’ll be real with y’all: Mystic Messenger is ADDICTIVE. So, to feel more productive while I play, I’ve set an ambitious goal for myself….I am going to play four of the Mystic Messenger routes and share my opinions on this blog. My goal is to get all of the good endings so I can judge them fairly against one another. Wish me luck in this tempestuous ordeal!

But before we get too deep into my opinions on the game, I’m going to start us off with a warning: spoilers lay ahead! And, because I am writing each section of the post as I complete each route, they may seem a bit disconnected in style and tone. I will try to write as best as I can, but bear with me!

What Is Mystic Messenger?

If you already know what Mystic Messenger is, feel free to skip this section! But for those of you who might be new to the game, Mystic Messenger is an otome game downloaded as a smartphone app. The premise circles around a mysterious stranger leading you to the apartment of Rika, the deceased founder of the fundraising organization RFA. After being led to the apartment, you wind up in a group chat with the other members of RFA, one of whom will later become your love interest. Because of the confidentiality of the organization, you can’t leave. Instead, you choose to take on party-planning responsibilities and do the job that Rika used to do. Along the way, you’ll discover more about the mysterious hacker that led you to Rika’s apartment and to RFA.

The Best Mystic Messenger Route*

*Spoilers ahead!

I am not including Jaehee’s route or either of the Another Story routes. I hope to add Another Story to this post (or a separate post) once I play them later! Also, I will be rating each of the routes in the order that I play them, not in order of preference! You’ll just have to read the whole blog post if you want to know which route was my favorite 😉

Yoosung

Yoosung is a college student addicted to playing a video game called LOLOL. He’s a little ray of sunshine and he honestly reminds me of a Golden Retriever. That’s probably how I ended up on his route without trying, the very first time I ever played the game! It’s impossible not to smile over Yoosung’s sweet comments. From the very beginning, he harbors so much care for MC, Rika, and the rest of the members of RFA. He is also very loyal and determined. Personality-wise, Yoosung reminds me a lot of Hinata from Haikyuu!!

Yoosung’s route is best summed up in two words: character development. As MC bonds with Yoosung, he moves through the grieving process until he eventually transforms from a game-addicted slacker to a motivated future veterinarian. This involves his struggle to differentiate MC from Rika in his mind. Unfortunately, this character development is often referred to (especially by Zen) in terms of toxic masculinity — i.e. Yoosung is “becoming a man.” I wrote this off as the product of the cultural differences between Korea and the U.S., but I can’t pretend it didn’t bother me.

Honestly, Yoosung is a precious cinnamon roll whose cheeks I would like to squish. I love Yoosung, which is how I ended up with so many hearts for him. Admittedly, I was a bit upset at winding up on his route at first, since he is definitely the most immature of the members of RFA at the beginning of the game. But, by the end, I don’t think you can say that’s true anymore. Yoosung’s character development was so much fun to watch (I felt like a proud momma!), and this romance was an adorably chaste slow-burn that gave me those warm-and-fuzzy “hands brushing in a Regency-era film” vibes.

To summarize…

The things I really enjoyed about this route were:

  • Yoosung’s character development *chef’s kiss*
  • Yoosung’s inexperience with girls, which led to some wholesome moments
  • The sweet slow-burn of anticipation leading up to Yoosung meeting MC in person
  • Feeling really involved in the story, especially when it came to Yoosung kicking his game addiction
  • Learning more about Rika as a person
  • Finding out more about the hackers

The things I did NOT like about this route were:

  • This route is definitely more “cute” than “steaming hot.” This wasn’t something I disliked, per se, but if you’re craving more than a kiss, this is not the route for you
  • There are fewer art scenes in this route than other routes
  • Because all the other characters are young professionals, it’s hard to resonate with Yoosung being a college student , especially coming into the game as an older player
  • Seven, who I normally really like, MERCILESSLY teases Yoosung in this route, and it gets old fast
  • Toxic masculinity, especially coming from Zen
  • The ending will literally shatter your heart into a million pieces…and that’s all I’ll say about it

Some tips for getting the good ending on Yoosung’s route are:

  • Support Yoosung’s game-playing to an extent, but encourage him not to let it take over his life
  • Be on Yoosung’s side when he’s teased by 707 and other members of RFA
  • Join Yoosung in hating on V at every chance you get
  • Do not let him confuse you with Rika or use you as a replacement for her (this is most important!!)
  • Obviously, be nice to him, but don’t treat him like a puppy or a baby; he wants to be viewed as a mature young man
Yoosung x MC Good Ending Continued | Wiki | Mystic Messenger Amino

Jumin

Jumin Han, a.k.a. the OG Cat Daddy, is the wealthy heir to C&R Corporation. The rest of the group makes fun of him for his robotic, workaholic tendencies, his privileged childhood, and his obsession over his treasured Persian cat, Elizabeth the 3rd. As you progress along Jumin’s route, you gradually draw him out of his shell, until years of repressed emotions bubble to the surface. This creates a dark twist in the story, which you must overcome in order to get your happy ending…a proposal at the final RFA party!

Before I go any further, I also wanted to mention that this route could be extremely triggering to anyone who has dealt with a toxic or abusive relationship in the past. So could my description of it, so tread lightly!

First thing’s first: Jumin’s route is NOT the route to choose if you are interested in learning more about the hackers or what happened with Rika. There is virtually zero backstory in this route, except for that which relates to Jumin’s relationship with Rika. And, while you do follow Seven and Yoosung to the hacker’s HQ, you’re left with an unsatisfying and ambiguous conclusion.

Now, let’s talk about the romance…

I have a soft spot for Jumin (and, TBH, any guy who treats his pet like a princess), so this was a route I really looked forward to playing. Unfortunately, I don’t think Jumin’s route does him justice. He makes some choices that are, IMO, completely out-of-character, such as practically imprisoning MC in his apartment. This plot point honestly threw me for a loop and made it difficult to enjoy the super-satisfying and romantic ending.

Even so, I interpreted these problems as a product of Jumin’s environment and unstable childhood (as far as relationships went). As someone who has also dealt with childhood trauma, I can understand the importance of standing by your partner as they heal, even when they do and say things that aren’t healthy. Jumin is learning how to be in a healthy relationship through MC — and while it’s certainly not your partner’s responsibility to “heal” you, I truly believe that interpersonal trauma can only be healed through satisfying interpersonal relationships.

On a different note, I also felt that it was super out-of-character for Jumin to consider giving Elziabeth the 3rd back to V. I do think it is important that he realized he was projecting his need for a human relationship onto the cat, but let’s be real: Jumin would NEVER give up that cat! The decision to give up Elizabeth the 3rd would make more sense if she was the only cat Jumin liked, but as we see throughout the game, Jumin has a soft spot for all cats. He invites a cat organization to the party and posts cat memes unironically. Sadly, we don’t really see what happens to Elly after Jumin decides to keep her, so I filled in the blanks in my head and decided MC helps Jumin learn how to love her as a pet!

To summarize…

The things I really enjoyed about this route were:

  • Jumin’s backstory, especially regarding his relationship with his father
  • Jumin’s weirdly adorable attempts at humor
  • Literally everything about Elizabeth the 3rd
  • Extra bonding with Jaehee because of MC’s relationship with Jumin
  • Seeing Jumin gradually treat Jaehee better because of his relationship with MC
  • That one time when Jumin called MC “my princess” on the phone *swoon*
  • Accurate representation of the difficulty of interpersonal relationships after trauma

The things I did NOT like about this route were:

  • Some of the moments that were meant to be “romantic” felt more cringey to me because of Jumin’s possessive side
  • Zen’s sexism when MC wants to spend the night with Jumin… Believing that men can’t control themselves is the basis of rape culture!
  • Actually, Zen, in general, is insufferable during this route. I get that he doesn’t like Jumin, but he doesn’t have to be so annoying about it
  • We never get a satisfying explanation of what happens to Seven and Yoosung at the hacker’s HQ

Some tips for getting the Good Ending on Jumin’s route are:

  • Choose options that value logical reasoning more highly than emotional reasoning
  • You can be annoyed with his father, but acknowledge that he’s a good father despite his flaws
  • Avoid attacking Glam Choi or Sarah directly
  • Make sure you aren’t too eager; avoid any options talking about marriage
  • Skip the “gold-digging” responses that make it sound like you want him for his money
  • Don’t encourage Jumin to view you as an alternative to Elizabeth the 3rd (this is most important!!)
  • You shouldn’t let him hold you captive, but don’t insist on leaving either
  • Push Jumin to take responsibility for Elizabeth the 3rd, rather than returning him to V

Also, I CANNOT end this review in good faith without urging you to play the After Ending, if only to see Jumin with his hair slicked back. I mean, JUST LOOK AT THIS:

Jumin Han's Endings | Mystic Messenger Amino

Seven

Seven (a.k.a. 707, a.k.a. Luciel) is the mystery man and legendary hacker who takes on a lot of responsibility for RFA. In the RFA chat room, he’s the ultimate meme lord. However, on this route, you discover that he has a serious dark side IRL. If you can manage to stick by him while he attempts to push you away, you’ll discover that he’s loving and loyal. But, this route is an emotional rollercoaster. Seriously….it’s the only one to make me shed actual tears. (So far, meow.)

Before I go any further, and without spoiling anything major, I want to mention that this route could be triggering to you if you experienced childhood trauma or physical or emotional abuse. Approach at your own risk and make sure to put your mental health first!

Seven’s route is the one to choose if you are less concerned about cheesy romantic moments and more interested in the story of it all. This one leads to some important discoveries about V, Rika, RFA, and the hacker. And, you’ll learn a lot about Seven’s backstory (including his real name!), including a dark past with an abusive family. All of these details enrich your reading experience on the other routes. Plus, it’s the only route that sees some form of closure or justice in the hacker situation. I won’t say more at risk of spoiling anything major, but the ending is one of the most satisfying (to me, at least) because it’s not just about the romance between 707 and MC.

Of all the characters in Mystic Messenger, Seven is probably the deepest and most realistic to me. He represents the duality present in all human beings: the playful, fun friend and the vulnerable, dark side within each of us. I love that he is hyper and hardworking, and he will go to extreme lengths to protect the people he loves. That being said, he spends 80% of this route trying to push you away, so it will leave you wanting more when it comes to the romantic side of things. I guess that’s what fanfiction is for!

Probably the most frustrating part of this route, however, has nothing to do with Seven it all: it’s the length of the chatrooms and scenes. One thing I do like about the route is that you get a lot of visual novel-style content that’s more like a traditional otome. On the other hand, this means some of the chats are really short, and there are many you don’t participate in — you just watch them happen. Of all the routes so far, this one may have been the least interactive for that reason.

To summarize…

The things I really enjoyed about this route were:

  • 707’s humor in the chatroom is probably most similar to my sense of humor, so chatting with him felt natural
  • Seven has a really rich and compelling backstory that explains how he became an agent and got to know V and Rika
  • Seven’s relationship with his brother adds a lot of emotion to the story
  • This route has the best explanation of who the hacker is and why he’s targeting RFA
  • All of the other RFA members are really concerned about MC’s safety, and it’s adorable
  • I especially liked Jumin’s role in this route, especially when they learn the truth about V (though his reaction definitely makes more sense if you have already played Jumin’s route)
  • There are a lot of visual novel scenes and face-to-face interactions with Seven in this route
  • You finally learn 707’s real name! Yes!

The things I did NOT like about this route were:

  • Honestly, I’m not a fan of the “I’m going to make you hate me to protect you” trope
  • 707 opens up really suddenly — it’s like a switch is flipped — and I would have preferred it to be more gradual
  • I understand they do this for the sake of storytelling, but 707 calls and texts MC even when they’re in the same room!
  • We learn V was involved with Mint Eye, but we do not learn exactly how he became involved or how it connects to Rika
  • Fewer opportunities to interact with other members of RFA through chats
  • You don’t actually attend the party or meet the other members of RFA in this route
  • I didn’t feel the art scenes in this route were as well done as in Jumin’s

Some tips for getting the Good Ending on 707’s route are:

  • Choose the options that express trust in Seven’s decision-making as often as you can
  • Do not allow him to push you away emotionally — it can be painful, but resist walking away! (this is most important!!)
  • Ask for details about his life; he will respond sharply, but appreciate it (you’ll still earn hearts)
  • You can joke around with him, but don’t only joke around; make it clear you see him as Saeyoung, not just 707
  • Listen to his suggestions about your safety and express happiness at being with him
  • This route has a lot of “hubby” options…please, for the love of God Seven, don’t click those
  • Trust V as much as possible, until his betrayal is finally revealed

I also urge you to read 707’s After Ending. Unlike Jumin’s, it’s not for the sexy visual novel scene; it’s for the ambiguous conclusion. On Seven’s route, you can unlock additional content that comes after the conclusion of the story. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m told that the After Ending is important to understanding the basis for that conclusion.

Reset" Theory + 707 Loves You in Every Route | Mystic Messenger Amino

Zen

Zen is a musical actor with narcissistic tendencies but a loving heart. As Jaehee says when you ask her about Zen, he’s a 24-year-old workaholic with a dirty mouth yet he cares a lot about the people around him. You can feel the depth of that care in Zen’s route, when he comes to MC’s rescue more than once. TBH, I dreaded playing this route, because I didn’t want to alienate Jaehee and I wasn’t a huge fan of Zen in other routes (especially Jumin’s route). However, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the story and of Zen’s character!

In Zen’s route, the main conflicts of the story are 1) keeping MC safe from the hacker and 2) a major PR scandal involving Echo Girl, his co-star on an upcoming project. Minor themes in the story include his estrangement from his family and Jaehee’s feelings for him (which she tries unsuccessfully to deny). If Zen is unsufferable on Jumin’s route, Jaehee is even worse on Zen’s route, given her disapproval of MC and her lack of any substantial evidence to back up her suspicion. However, Zen’s adorable dialogue throughout the route more than makes up for the suffering I experienced at Jaehee’s hands.

The most problematic part of this route, IMO, was the rampant sexism. Zen is a sexist character in many of the other routes, but in this route, you discover that he’s also a hypocrite. Despite all of his ranting about MC staying overnight with Jumin and other characters, Zen has no trouble at all asking MC to stay the night or voicing his fantasies about her. I have no problems with them staying together in and of itself, but the fact that living together before marriage is treated by many of the characters as sinful in multiple storylines feels outdated and, frankly, unrealistic.

Again, I wrote this off as a product of cultural differences between the U.S. and Korea, but I couldn’t just forget about the sexism in the story — especially not on Zen’s route. You see, the major conflict between Zen and Echo Girl results from false sexual harassment allegations Echo Girl makes about Zen. While it’s an effective plot device in that it succeeds in sending Zen to rock bottom, this storyline completely contradicts my beliefs surrounding women and sexual harassment. This story casts doubts on women’s stories about public figures, suggesting that men are the victims in these situations. I understand what the developers were trying to do; I just don’t think it was the right plot device to use in this day and age.

To summarize…

The things I really enjoyed about this route were:

  • Zen has some of the sweetest dialogue of any of the characters in any of the routes
  • Zen is one of the only characters with a rational reaction to the bomb in Rika’s apartment (i.e. he runs to MC regardless of reason, as opposed to encouraging her to “just trust V”)
  • Zen’s backstory with his family reveals a lack of confidence that explains his narcissistic behavior, making it easier to empathize with him in this and other routes
  • It’s easy to tell in this route whether or not you are making the “right” choices to get the good ending
  • I LOVED Zen’s relationship with Jumin in this route, and MC’s relationship with Jumin as a result!!
  • This is a personal opinion, but I love Zen’s use of pet names like “babe” or “honey” — it made me melt!
  • There were a lot of art scenes in this route and they were all really well done

The things I did NOT like about this route were:

  • Echo Girl’s storyline undermines women who come forward to report sexual harassment and assault. The women who come forward are more often the victims than the men accused, and this story portrays Zen as the victim. Yes, he didn’t do anything, but I see no reason to cast doubt on women’s stories like this
  • Jaehee, Jaehee, Jaehee… I understand she’s in love with Zen, but I wanted to drop-kick her by the end
  • It gets a bit old listening to Zen talk about how his looks are God’s gift to humanity (and having to play along with it)
  • A bit like in Jumin’s route, there isn’t as much anticipation built up for the party because it’s overshadowed by Zen’s press conference

Some tips for getting the Good Ending on Zen’s route are:

  • Stroke Zen’s ego at every opportunity
  • Make it clear you see his talent and not just his looks; don’t force him to give up his career for you (this is most important!!)
  • Ask for details about his family; express empathy but encourage him to reach out to them
  • Say you want to go visit Zen when he hurts his ankle
  • Counter Jaehee’s concerns about Zen having a relationship without outwardly attacking her or the fans… this gets really frustrating, because you want to accuse her of being a jealous b*tch after the way she acts. But, if you want the Good Ending, then resist that urge!
  • Encourage Zen to come save you from the hacker and express trust in RFA
  • Avoid any option that says “Zenny,” as a general rule — these often appear in serious situations, when it’s not the right time to flirt
  • Stay optimistic about Zen’s career, even when everything goes to sh*t
Zen | ZEN (Hyun Ryu) Amino

Conclusion

After playing all four routes, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. Jumin was my favorite character.
  2. Zen’s route had the best romance.
  3. 707’s route had the best story.

It’s difficult to choose a favorite route of these four, because they’re all so good for such different reasons. But, if I could only play one route ever again, I would pick Jumin’s route. While it’s certainly problematic, Jumin has a compelling backstory and a dramatic, entertaining route. Although his route doesn’t share much about the hacker or the fate of RFA, it has the most depth when it comes to defining Jumin’s emotional experience and establishing his relationship with MC.

Another word of advice? If you’re going to choose whose route to play first, I would choose Yoosung’s route. Yoosung’s route is available on the Casual Story, which you’ll need to complete before you can do either Seven’s or Jumin’s route on the Deep Story. But, I think it offers a lot of important background information on V and Rika that you can then take into the other routes. Zen’s route is also available on the Casual Story. However, I would prefer starting with Yoosung’s route to starting with Zen’s because the information you learn on Yoosung’s route makes some of the information from Zen’s route make more sense (especially when it comes to V and Rika).

Easy Japanese and Korean Cafe Recipes to Make At Home

During quarantine, many of us couldn’t visit our local cafes. In fact, sitting at my favorite coffee shop with an iced coffee while working is probably the thing I have missed the most! As a result, lots of us decided to create our own at-home cafes with recipes inspired by our favorite coffee shops.

Of all the coffee shops in the world, Japan and Korea have some of the most ambitious food and drink combinations. From whipped coffee to onigiri with adventurous fillings, Asian cafes serve up some seriously tasty treats! If you’ve been missing traveling and going to your favorite coffee shop, then whipping up these recipes at home is a fun and COVID-safe alternative.

I first got the idea to have an at-home Korean-slash-Japanese cafe from watching this video from Marie’s Kawaii World. There’s something to be said for a good stay-cation, and making these Japanese and Korean recipes will totally transport you to a different continent. Make sure to watch her video for some tasty drink ideas, and keep scrolling for some of my own personal favorites!

Dalgona Coffee

Have you ever heard of dalgona, or whipped, coffee? I hadn’t until very recently, but I’m dying to try it! It’s a classic staple at Korean coffee shops that has since taken Instagram by storm. This coffee can be made at home by whipping instant coffee, sugar, and hot water and spooning the whip over your choice of hot or cold milk. Get the recipe from My Korean Kitchen.

Matcha Green Tea Latte

Unsurprisingly, Japanese matcha is a staple at cafes in Japan. Matcha is a type of concentrated green tea. The tea leaves are ground to make a bright green powder with an earthy taste and smell. You can make a latte with matcha similarly to the way you would with coffee, by steaming milk and pouring steamed milk into your brewed matcha. Get the how-to on making a matcha green tea latte at home from Japan Centre.

Strawberry Milk

Fresh strawberry milk is a beloved Korean drink enjoyed both in cafes and at home. Instead of adding artificial colors and flavors to a bottle (like we do), the Koreans blend strawberry puree with a sugar syrup and your choice of milk, dairy or non-dairy. This simple at-home version uses sweetened condensed milk in lieu of sugar syrup, meaning you don’t need to melt the sugar over the stove. Get the recipe at Cookerru.

Fruits Sando

For Americans, sandwiches are almost exclusively a savory affair. Not for the Japanese! At a Japanese cafe, it’s not unusual to find a fruits sando, or fruit sandwich. Layers of whipped cream and fruit are sandwiched between two slices of milk bread, a soft and sweet Japanese white bread. You can use any store-bought white bread in lieu of milk bread — but, of course, don’t forget to cut the crusts off in true Japanese fashion. Get the recipe from Sylvia Wakana.

Fruit Sandwich / フルーツサンド | For more description see here boh… | Flickr

Chapssaltteok (Red Bean Mochi)

Mochi are dumplings made from a sweet rice dough. They originated in Japan but are also popular in Korea, where this version — known as chapssaltteok — is from. These mochi are filled with red bean paste, a sweet filling made from adzuki beans. You can find red bean paste (or adzuki beans to make your own) at your local Asian grocery store, or perhaps in the international aisle of your regular supermarket. Get the recipe at My Korean Kitchen.

Onigiri

If you like sushi, then you’ll almost definitely love onigiri. These Japanese snacks, otherwise known as rice balls, are made from cooked sushi rice and a sweet or savory filling. Some traditional fillings include tuna and mayo, bonito flakes, or salted ume plums. However, you can make them without filling…or even fill them with leftovers, as the Japanese often do! Another version of onigiri, known as onigirazu, uses rice as a sandwich for layers of meat and veggies, wrapped in nori (seaweed paper). Get a basic onigiri recipe from Wandercooks, or follow this onigirazu recipe from Just One Cookbook.

Purin

Got more of a sweet tooth than a savory one? Then you’ll love purin, a Japanese caramel custard pudding often served in cafes. You’ll recognize it from the name of the Sanrio character Pompompurin, who is named and designed after purin, his favorite dessert! Surprisingly, purin is easy to make with just a few tasty ingredients. It’s the perfect dessert to impress guests with, since it looks fancy despite being delightfully simple. Get the recipe from Tiffy Cooks.

Homemade Creme Caramel with Sweet Syrup / Custard Pudding | Flickr

How To Make Stickers Using Cricut Explore Air 2 + Canva

You don’t need to be a pro artist to make cute stickers for your bullet journal. Even if you can’t draw, you can use simple graphic design to make stickers. Personally, I make stickers for personal use and sale in Canva. I have the Pro version, but you can also use the free version!

In this blog post, I’ll be covering how to make sticker sheets and flakes using the Cricut Explore Air 2. I can’t speak to other types of Cricut machines, since I don’t own them, but I know the steps are very similar to those for the Explore Air 2 in terms of software and settings.

Many sticker artists prefer the Silhouette Cameo to the Cricut Explore. However, I love my Cricut Explore because of its precision cutting and easy-to-use design software! It’s up to you which one you prefer, but this tutorial will exclusively cover making stickers with the Cricut Explore Air 2.

Canva Copyright Rules

First thing’s first: let’s talk about the boring legal stuff. Namely, when you’re using graphic design software like Canva that uses clipart, you need to be aware of what the legal uses are for that art.

With Canva, you are granted a one design use license every time you download an image file. With a free account, you will need to pay for a separate license for any Pro media used in each design when you download. However, if you pay $15 per month for a Pro account, you can use Pro media as much as you want without any additional charges.

Legally, you can create and even sell artwork featuring Canva stock designs! This includes stickers and sticker sheets. But, you must alter the clipart in some way for the sale of the images to be legal. The way I interpret this is that you can combine clipart and/or text to create stickers, but you can’t just copy and paste their clipart into your sticker sheet.

The one thing you can’t do with Canva is create templates. So, you can’t sell a “sticker-making template” in Canva, for example, for users to create their own sticker sheets. You can only create your own stickers and sticker sheets for use.

Designing Bullet Journal Stickers In Canva

You can design bullet journal stickers in Canva to make for yourself or even to sell! I like to create stickers with a central theme for creating spreads. However, you can make stickers however you see fit! Here’s how.

Canva is a free design software that can be accessed online at canva.com. You’ll just need an account, either free or Pro, to save your designs. Once you log in, you’ll need to create a canvas in the size you want your stickers or sticker sheets to be. Personally, I like standardized sizes, so I make all my sticker sheets 4″x6″.

With the canvas, you can play around to make cute stickers however you want. You can combine text with cute backgrounds to make functional stickers, or make decorative stickers using shapes and clipart. Experimentation is the best way to decide your personal style and what you like.

The most important feature for creating stickers in Canva is the Elements tab. Elements is where you’ll find shapes, frames (for images) and clipart. Some cute ways to make stickers include adding images to frames (i.e. a heart-shaped image), or adding clipart to shapes (i.e. circles with symbols, numbers, or letters inside). Other helpful elements include Text and Photos.

Above all else, the most important step for creating stickers in Canva is to save them correctly. Once you have your sticker or sticker sheet laid out the way you want it, you need to save it as a .png file. You can do this by clicking “Download” and making sure the file type is listed as “.Png.”

You’ll also want to make sure you click the checkbox next to “Transparent Background” when you export. This ensures you get stickers that are cut to the border, instead of getting one big white box, when you print and cut in Cricut.

Making Sticker Flakes With The Cricut Explore Air 2

Making sticker flakes, also known as die cut stickers, with the Cricut Explore Air 2 is the easiest way to make stickers. This is because you don’t need to deal with creating a separate background for the sticker sheets or worry about the stickers fitting on your sheet.

At this point, you should have already exported your sticker as a .png with a transparent background from Canva. The next step is to open the Cricut Design Space program in your computer. (This is the free program that comes with your Cricut. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, there are directions in the box for downloading Design Space and setting it up properly. Follow those and you’ll be just fine!)

Once you’ve opened Design Space, create a new project and give it a name. Go to “Upload” and select the file for your first sticker. Once it’s uploaded, you’ll need to choose a complexity level. Most people recommend choosing the highest level of complexity, called “Complex,” to ensure no little details are missed. You’ll also want to make sure you select it as a “Print Then Cut” file

After these steps, you can add the stickers to the canvas and resize them (if needed). Repeat these steps for as many stickers as you want to cut right now. Then, when you’re ready to print and cut, click the “Make It” button at the upper right-hand corner of your Design Space application.

This is the part where you’ll want to set up your printer and Cricut Explore Air 2. You can use Bluetooth to connect to the Cricut machine, but I usually use my USB cable (I’ve had wonky connections to Bluetooth in the past). Verify the preview looks the way you want it and then click “Continue.”

Usually, I print using the System Dialog so I can change the printer settings if need be (for example, to switch paper types or select higher-quality printing). You’ll also want to make sure that the “Add Bleed” button is set to green. This way, Cricut will add wiggle room for printing.

After printing, hit the “Open” button on the Cricut and set the dial on your Cricut Explore Air 2 to “Cardstock” so that it will cut all the way through the sticker paper. (Other Cricut models may have different settings.) You can then move on to setting up your mat! Align the sticker paper with the guides on the mat so that it’s in the top-left corner. Then, feed it into the Cricut and hit the “Load” button (the one with the double-arrow). It should be flashing.

After the paper loads, the C-shaped “Start” button will start flashing. Hit that and watch as the Cricut goes through the magical cutting process! When it’s done, the double-arrowed “Load” button will start flashing again. Hit it to unload your mat. Carefully, you can then use tools or your fingers to peel your sticker flakes off the sticky mat.

And voila! You’ve got die-cut stickers for your bullet journal.

Making Sticker Sheets With The Cricut Explore Air 2

Now, let’s talk about how to make sticker sheets, or kiss-cut stickers. This is a little more advanced, so stick with me! Most of the steps are the same, so I will only go over the ones that are different.

The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure you make a background for your sticker sheet. I usually make mine 4″x6″. If you’re selling your sticker sheets, I recommend adding your logo and a product number to the top of the sheet. IMPORTANT: Do not download the background as a transparent file!

Then, resize your sticker sheet so it’s small enough to fit on the sheet below the logo. You will want to download this sheet as a transparent .png. Upload both these files to a new project in the Cricut Design Space application. Make sure you add the background layer to the canvas first and size it the way you want before layering the sticker sheet layer over it.

The next step is the most important to make sure your file is cut correctly! Select BOTH the background and the stickers at the same time, and in the right-hand panel, click the “Attach” button. You do NOT need to group the layers — just click “Attach!” That will make sure your sticker sheet is cut the right way.

After that crucial step, follow all the same steps for printing and cutting your Cricut project, except make sure you set the dial to “Vinyl” instead of “Cardstock.” This ensures the Cricut doesn’t cut all the way through the paper, giving you kiss-cut instead of die-cut stickers.

Your Cricut may not cut all the way through your sticker paper around the border of the sticker sheet, so you’ll need to follow the guidelines with scissors or an X-Acto knife. If you’re interested in playing around with your Cricut, I’m told you can also try copying the background four or five times to get it to cut through the paper. However, I’ve never tried this personally, so I can’t give guidance on how well that works.

Tips For Making Stickers With A Cricut

  1. Store your mats in the plastic they came in. The Cricut mats are designed to have a light sticky coating so your material will adhere to it. Unfortunately, other things — like pet hair and dirt — will also stick. Over time this can make the mats dirty and keep material from sticking, so make sure to store your mats in the plastic they came in (or another safe place) to keep them clean and sticky.
  2. Do a test cut before mass printing stickers or sticker sheets. Planning to print dozens of stickers or sticker sheets to sell on Etsy? Do a test “Print Then Cut” on plain paper first to ensure your settings are correct and there are no mis-cuts. In my experience, it’s much better to learn that you messed up before you use 20 sheets of expensive sticker paper!
  3. Don’t buy the Cricut sticker paper. First of all, the Cricut-brand sticker paper is overpriced — you can get the exact same thing for much less money on Amazon! Secondly, it’s not good for kiss-cut stickers. This is because the paper is cardstock-thickness, so it won’t cut the way you expect on the Vinyl setting. For bullet journal sticker sheets, I prefer a thinner sticker paper like the Avery or Koala brands.
  4. Print and cut one piece of paper at a time. I will be the first to admit that this is a HUGE pain when you’re looking to make, say, 50 sticker sheets at once! But, printing and cutting a single piece of paper at a time minimizes the number of errors made by the Cricut machine. For this reason, if you can fit two or more sticker sheets on a single piece of paper, I highly recommend doing so. This means you can make multiple sheets at a time instead of just one.
  5. If you’re selling stickers, save the mess-ups! Last but not least, don’t waste your fancy sticker paper by throwing away mis-cut or mis-print sticker sheets. If they are for personal use, then fine — but if you are looking to turn a profit off selling sticker sheets, I highly recommend saving them and selling them at a discount as “Oops!” stickers instead. This reduces the amount of waste and maximizes the profit made by your sticker business.

Blippo Kawaii Shop: Best Of The 2021 Tokyo Sale

Another year, another Blippo Kawaii Shop Tokyo Sale! The Tokyo Sale is an annual event at Blippo Kawaii Shop, where a select number of kawaii products are significantly discounted.

In recent months, Blippo’s selection has been dramatically expanding. They have stocked a bunch of new items from brands like San-X and Mindwave, and started carrying new brands like Gloomybear and Tokidoki.

As for the Tokyo Sale, Blippo has added many high-quality kawaii products to its sale section in honor of the occasion. You can find characters and brands like Sumikko Gurashi, Bonbonribbon, and Pote Usa Loppy among the stock.

I’ve curated a list of my favorite finds from the 2021 Tokyo Sale section to help you decide what to buy. Don’t forget to stock up — the Tokyo Sale ends soon!

Mameshiba San Kyodai Sakura Plushie Charm ($5)

Japan’s month-long sakura viewing season has come and gone, but it is not your last chance to get your hands on these limited-edition sakura shiba plushies! These cuties are wearing festival ornaments with motifs like sakura blossoms and Hanami dango, with a chain attached so you can carry them on your keys, backpack, or anywhere else that makes you happy.

Pote Usa Loppy Rope Handle Shoulder Bag ($21)

Want to carry your picnic or beach day items, library books, or farmer’s market groceries in kawaii style? Then you need this rope-handle shoulder bag featuring Pote Usa Loppy’s Shiloppy! Sturdy rope handles, a convenient pocket, and a magnetic closure make this bag a high-quality investment for your next daytime excursion.

Sumikko Gurashi Japanese Souvenir Socks ($5)

Blippo has added a wide variety of Japanese souvenir socks featuring Sumikko Gurashi characters to its Tokyo Sale lineup, including this pair including a kokeshi doll. The kokeshi doll is a popular souvenir in Tohoku, Japan! With these socks, you can travel the world without ever needing to leave your backyard. COVID-safe vacay, here we come.

Bonbonribbon Pencil Set ($3)

Whether you’re looking to sketch in your bullet journal or take an exam, these kawaii Bonbonribbon pencils will brighten up your day. You’ll get four hexagonal pencils with a cute design featuring Bonbonribbon and her bunny friends, as well as a selection of buttons. And, thanks to the Tokyo Sale, you can get them for as little as $3!

Sumikko Gurashi Multi-Color Pen ($3)

If you ever have trouble deciding which color pen to use, this Sumikko Gurashi-themed multi-color pen will solve your dilemma. This pen comes with a color for every mood. You can even switch it up mid-sentence if you’re feeling mischievous! The theme of these pens is “happy friends,” which perfectly describes the Sumikko gang in this design.

Colorful Princess Eraser Set ($3)

Get a taste of the royal treatment with this colorfully cute eraser set from Blippo! If you grew up in the early 2000s like I did, these Japanese puzzle erasers will bring you right back to your childhood (and taking apart and putting back together puzzle erasers to distract yourself in class). With designs like wands, tiaras, and gems, these erasers are perfect for embracing the magical girl inside of you.

Sumikko Gurashi Stickers with Gum ($3)

What could be cuter than these kawaii sticker and gum packages featuring the Sumikko Gurashi gang? The Tokyo Sale is rich with Sumikko Gurashi this year, and these tiny boxes full of goodies are no exception! Each pack comes with three pieces of stickers and one piece of gum. Chew some bubblegum while decorating to your heart’s content with these adorable Sumikko Gurashi stickers.

Tips For Dealing With Big Life Transitions

*Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Fresh Start – The Moving Crew – Warwick, a local Rhode Island moving company for residential and commercial moves. A huge thank you to Fresh Start for supporting Journal with Haley!

Life transitions are something I know well. At 22, I’ve been through two cross-country moves: one from Boston to Cleveland, and one from Cleveland to Providence. I’ve transitioned from a “traditional” career path to one I forged myself as a small business owner. And, in the fall, I will also be starting graduate school to change careers from marketing to social work.

Because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I’m also deeply familiar with the anxiety that big life transitions can inspire. Even those of us who do not suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder can experience emotional difficulties when dealing with life transitions. Whether you’re getting married, having a baby, getting divorced, graduating, or moving, these tips can help you navigate big life transitions with as much grace — and as little stress — as possible.

Tip #1: Make a Plan

Procrastination is, sadly, something I know well — but nothing makes a life transition more stressful. When we moved apartments from a Cleveland suburb to downtown Cleveland, we had a month’s notice to move. But, we left almost everything to the last minute. As a result, we were constantly racing between the old apartment and the new one for things we had forgotten to pack. 

As the old saying goes, “failing to plan means planning to fail!” That has certainly been my experience when it comes to big life transitions. Because of my poor experiences with procrastination in the past, I’m striving to make my transition to grad school as seamless as possible by planning ahead. I’ve kept a calendar of important deadlines (like class registration and health form submission), filled out my financial aid forms as early as possible, and planned which classes I wanted to register for long ahead of time.

Some tools that have been invaluable to me in making big plans are: 

  • Google Sheets. I use spreadsheets for everything from tracking my business expenses to creating packing lists for vacations. They can help keep your to-do list organized in preparation for a big life transition.
  • Erin Condren LifePlanner. I’m a proponent of old-school paper planners. The planner I am currently using is the Erin Condren LifePlanner, which I love because it offers so much space for notes and tasks to be filled in. Plus, they’re pretty, which makes planning much more fun (and less stressful)!
  • Binders. I also recommend keeping a binder for your big life transition. You can print out any important paperwork so you have a physical copy and three-hole punch it to store in your binder. Give your binder a pretty cover sheet with a label like “Move to Cleveland” or “Grad School,” and use it to house any important documents related to your life transition. That way, you’ll always know where everything is — like proof of address or your health history — when you need it! 

Tip #2: Seek Support

The most important thing you can do when dealing with a big life transition is to seek social support. Your friends and family are a valuable resource. Chances are, they want to help you and might even offer you help — so, resist the urge to turn them down! There is no shame in needing or wanting help during a stressful life transition.

Another part of your life where you might consider seeking support? Your mental health. Life transitions are often associated with stress, anxiety, and depression — so much so that there’s a mental health disorder called Adjustment Disorder related to them. For this reason, I recommend having a mental health professional on deck in the event that you need additional support during your big life transition.

So many people wait until they are already miserable and overwhelmed to seek help for stress, anxiety, or depression. But it’s my firmest belief that we should treat mental health the same way we treat physical health. That means getting check-ups regularly, especially when we’re dealing with big changes in our lives. Even if you don’t think that you’re stressed, you can still benefit from having a professional to turn to when you need it.

Tip #3: Simplify, Simplify 

When dealing with life transitions, the little things — like packing that last moving box or even taking care of household chores — can pile up as you deal with the new responsibilities that come with your life transition. That’s why I recommend looking for places where you can simplify and prioritize as much as you can.

Decide what’s most important and what can fall to the wayside when you’re dealing with a life transition. For example, eating, sleeping, and showering are obviously non-negotiables — but could you ask for a hand from your partner with the dishes, or use a drop-off service to get your laundry done without sacrificing your precious time?

If you have the financial privilege to be able to hire help, I highly recommend paying for an extra hand. Despite what society may tell us, there is no shame in being unable to “do it all” as a woman. For example, one thing I wish I would have done when we moved cross-country is hire movers. We used a U-Haul, which meant the responsibility of packing and unloading the van fell completely to us.

P.S. Is the life transition you’re dealing with a big move? If you’re local to Rhode Island, I highly recommend you check out Fresh Start – The Moving Crew – Warwick for your moving needs. They will not only help you move boxes, but will also help you pack up, making your life a heck of a lot easier. 

Plus, their moving crew will guide you through the entire process from door-to-door. Fresh Start – The Moving Crew – Warwick offers their residential and commercial moving in Warwick to homeowners, offices, commercial buildings, restaurants, warehouses, and more. Keep them in mind for your next big move!

commercial moving in Warwick

Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town Vs. Story Of Seasons: Pioneers Of Olive Town – What’s The Difference?

I’m back! After a much-needed break from blogging, I (finally) feel inspired to write again. At first, I wasn’t sure I would continue, since I just started a new blog called Wellness by Haley to chronicle what I’m learning about mental health, social work, and grad school. I’m also preparing for a busy year: my first as a full-time grad student!

So, what have I been doing in my free time during this hiatus, besides setting up my new blog? TBH, I’ve been playing a LOT of video games on my Nintendo Switch Lite. You probably already know that I am a fan of Animal Crossing, but I’ve recently gotten into the Story Of Seasons series.

These games are very similar to Animal Crossing in that the objective is to beautify your farm and befriend the local villagers. As someone who loves otome games, I love that there’s a dating/marriage/children component to the series as well! Now that I’ve played both Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town (FOMT) and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town (POOT), I have some thoughts about what makes each game unique — and which features I prefer from each one.

Oh, and if you’re waiting for stationery content (because I know I’ve been writing about a lot of video games, etc. lately), don’t worry — that’s coming soon! 😉

Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town

In both the SOS games, you play a boy or girl moving to the town — in FOMT, that’s Mineral Town — where your grandfather used to run a farm. After your grandfather passes away, he leaves you the farm, but it’s in a state of disrepair. It’s your job to restore the farm to its former glory.

The most obvious difference between FOMT and POOT is the art style. FOMT is a chibi art style, while POOT is more sophisticated. I prefer the FOMT style because the graphics load more quickly and are less busy. I felt like the art style and number of features in POOT overwhelmed me a bit.

I have played through the first year of FOMT a few times and gotten to about year 3 on my most recent playthrough. I wanted to decide which of the male marriage candidates were going to be the most entertaining! Eventually, I settled on Grey, who is a cute, fiery blacksmith’s apprentice. His dialogue once you get married and have a child is sweet as honey.

In general, I prefer the marriage candidates in FOMT because they each have their own unique cutscenes and personality. More than in POOT, the game goes into the characters’ backstories and establishes their motivations. It really helps you connect with the marriage candidates, making it easier to choose who to start your new life with.

Another aspect of FOMT that’s better than POOT is the mining aspect of the game. You can enter the mines in both FOMT and POOT, but FOMT has a much more sophisticated mining system. There are many different types of gems you can collect during the wintertime, when no crops grow,

Finally, something great about FOMT that’s not in POOT (as far as I know) is that you can hunt down different treasures throughout the game. There are truth jewels, Kappa jewels, and goddess jewels. Some are hidden around town and some are hidden in the mine. Once you’ve accomplished the main objective of the game (to get married and restore your farm), hunting for these is a fun little side quest that I really enjoy!

Image Source: Steam

Story Of Seasons: Pioneers Of Olive Town

Story of Seasons: POOT is the upgraded version of FOMT that improved on the game’s features and art style. In fact, this newer version of the game is very similar to Animal Crossing in a lot of ways. The primary similarity between the two is the crafting element introduced in POOT. As in Animal Crossing, you can craft decorations for your farm, customize furniture, and obtain different hairstyles and outfits in this newer Story of Seasons game.

After playing FOMT, the first thing I noticed about POOT was how much easier the game seems to be (for reference, I played on Normal for both games). For example, it’s a lot easier to sell items for money (you get more money, faster). More money means it’s easier to upgrade your home and your tools, meaning you can acquire things like pets earlier in the game. This definitely made my experience with POOT more fun.

In general, farming is easier in POOT. For one thing, it’s easier to switch between tools and easier to upgrade your tools. The crops are easier to grow, in that they grow quickly so you can cash out on them sooner. And there’s a wider variety of crops to choose from, without needing to unlock them as the years go on. You can also continue to grow certain crops in wintertime. In FOMT, the lack of wintertime activity meant you spent more than you earned almost constantly, making it hard to acquire a big enough fortune to shop Van’s special items.

Van isn’t in POOT, but one feature they carried over from FOMT to POOT is the Makers. Makers are machines that produce different items from animal byproducts. For example, you can turn milk into butter or eggs into mayonnaise. In this game, however, you have to craft the Makers, instead of buying them from the blacksmith’s. They’re a lot easier to obtain in POOT, which contributes to the ease of acquiring income in this version of the game.

In POOT, there’s a lot more to do because they introduced new elements that made things like cooking easier to accomplish. There’s no Goddess Collection in POOT, which does take away some of the incentive to cook. However, they introduced a Grocery Store, which carries all the seasonal crops you’ve ever shipped. This way, you don’t have to worry about saving your crops for cooking and can just head on over to the store like you would IRL.

However, one of the annoyances of POOT that contributes to having more to do is the fact that it’s so difficult to keep your farm clean. Weeds sprout quickly, grass grows errantly, and every time it rains (which is a LOT, in my experience), puddles accumulate. You can avoid this by placing items like roads, which prevent weeds or puddles from spawning in those squares. But, the rest of the grid is fair game. Not to mention, getting the dilapidated farm clear in the first place takes a lot of time and energy — both yours and your character’s!

In conclusion, POOT is a lot more complicated than FOMT. In some ways, I miss the simplicity of FOMT. And, I definitely felt more attached to the marriage candidates in FOMT. But, the new features in POOT keep me busy and make the game a lot more fun. Instead of wondering what I should do to pass the time, I now find myself running out of time in the in-game day to get things done, both on and outside the farm!

Image Source: GoNintendo

Kawaii Bento Box Lunch Ideas

Bento is a Japanese tradition of packing lunch in a small, single-serve container that dates all the way back to the 1100s. When you think about how old it is, it seems crazy that the bento craze only reached the United States a couple of years ago.

Kawaii character-inspired bentos, called kyaraben, are one of the cutest ways to pack lunch. Just looking at bento box ideas on Pinterest is enough to brighten up your lunch break — and make you hungry! Better yet, they’re versatile: even the pickiest eaters can customize a kawaii bento box to their tastes.

In this blog post, you’ll learn how to pack your very own kawaii bento, including what tools you need to get started and what to pack in your bento lunch box. Let’s get started!

What You Need

Bento Box

The foundation of your meal is the bento box you will pack it in. These days, there are many different styles of bento boxes, including Japanese and Western brands, for you to choose from. Some bento boxes have multiple layers for you to store snacks and side dishes on top, with a larger compartment on the bottom for a main dish. Others come with removable dividers you can use to divvy up the bento box however you see fit. Still others come with their own utensils for easy eating!

Bento Boxes for Adults - 1400 ML Bento Lunch Box For Kids Childrens With Spoon & Fork - Durable, Leak-Proof for On-the-Go Meal, BPA-Free and Food-Safe Materials
LOVINA Bento Box for Kids & Adults ($15)

Rice Molds

A traditional Japanese bento lunch is built around rice balls. Rice molds are a fun way to make your lunch box more kawaii. They come in adorable shapes, like bears and bunnies. You can even find rice molds to create rice balls in the shape of your favorite kawaii characters, like Hello Kitty!

Halloluck 3-Pack Rice Molds ($7)

Cookie Cutters

Different sized cookie cutters are a must-have for personalizing your bento box. You can use them on sandwiches, slices of meat or cheese, veggies, and fruits to make your bento lunch more unique. These sweet shapes can make even the most boring lunch kawaii!

LENK Vegetable Cutter Shapes Set,Mini Pie,Fruit and Cookie Stamps Mold,Cookie Cutter Decorative Food,for Kids Baking and Food Supplement Tools Accessories Crafts for Kitchen,Green,9 Pcs
LENK Vegetable Cutter Shapes Set ($9)

Cupcake Liners

Cupcake liners are perfect for divvying up the compartments of your bento box or keeping a picky eater’s food from touching. You can fill them with berries, pieces of melon, cherry tomatoes, crackers, or cookies to add a little bit of extra to your bento box.

Patelei Animal Theme Cupcake Liners ($12)

Toothpicks

Cute cocktail toothpicks are the perfect decorative accent for any bento box lunch. You can use them for clean and easy pickup on melon balls or cherry tomatoes, or even use them to create meat and cheese or caprese skewers.

Bird Cocktail Picks - Olive Skewers Bpa Free Reusable Sandwich Sticks Appetizer Toothpicks Fruit Stick, Perfect for Cocktail Party Home set of 12 pcs 3.14 Inches
Canos Bird Cocktail Picks ($10)

Kawaii Bento Lunch Ideas

Sandwich Lunch

Many of us think of sandwiches as boring lunch fare, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when you’re talking about bento boxes. Sandwiches’ ability to be cookie cut into unique shapes makes them extremely versatile for themed bentos. You can use slices of meat and cheese to create faces and other accents on your sandwich creations!

Pasta Lunch

Pasta salad makes for a versatile lunch because of the many ways you can make it. Traditional macaroni salad, pesto and caprese, Caesar salad… the list goes on and on. Or, alternatively, serve up warm pasta with your favorite sauce in a thermos, or even a noodle stir fry.

Meat and Cheese Crackers Lunch

A meat and cheese crackers lunch feels nostalgic to me, probably because it reminds me of those little turkey Lunchables I used to eat in elementary school. You can make it kawaii by cutting the meats and cheeses into cute shapes with your mini cookie cutters!

Rice Ball Lunch

The rice ball lunch is a staple of the Japanese bento tradition. What’s awesome about rice balls is that they can be sculpted into any shape your heart desires. Want Rilakkuma-shaped bear rice balls? Do it. Pink-dyed Hello Kitty cat-shaped rice balls? Go for it!

How to Celebrate Sakura Season (Hanami) in the U.S.

Each year in Japan, the cherry blossom, or sakura, trees bloom between late March and early April. It’s customary to celebrate sakura season, or Hanami, with an outdoor festival or a party beneath the sakura trees.

It’s a dream of mine to one day visit Japan during sakura season (and get my hands on some of those limited-edition Starbucks goodies). But since that isn’t possible during the pandemic, I will be celebrating Hanami here in the U.S.

Cherry blossom season is fleeting, and comes just once a year. As the Japanese say, mono no aware (nothing lasts forever)! Make sure to make the most of it with these tips for celebrating from the comfort of your home.

Snacks & Drinks

In Japan, a lot of people celebrate Hanami with signature sweets and drinks that evoke the colors and flavors of the sakura tree.

Traditionally, sake, or rice wine, is the drink of choice during Hanami. In the modern era, however, some of the most famous Hanami drinks come from Starbucks, which releases a cherry blossom latte each year that comes in a beautiful pink color — just like a sakura flower!

You can make your own cherry blossom latte with ingredients you can easily find in the regular grocery store. This recipe from Food.com uses espresso, cherry syrup, vanilla syrup, and your favorite milk to make a sweet and steamy sakura drink.

Food is another way to ring in Hanami. The Japanese often make sakura versions of their favorite sweet treats, while other goodies only pop up during this special season. One such treat is dango, sweet rice dumplings served on a kabob stick. The dumplings are colored in shades of pink, green, and white to evoke the colors of the sakura tree.

You can make your own dango with this recipe from Japan Centre. The recipe does call for some specialty ingredients, like glutinous and non-glutinous rice flour, which can be found at an Asian grocery store. You probably have one in your area, so run a quick Google search to find the Asian grocery store nearest you!

Alternatively, if you’re not much of a chef, many sakura-flavored treats from Japan are available to be purchased here in the U.S. For example, look no further than Blippo to get the limited-edition Sakura Almond flavor of everyone’s favorite Pocky biscuit sticks.

Stationery

If you’re a Japanese stationery guru like I am, then you probably already know that one of the best parts of Hanami season is the limited-edition Japanese stationery that gets released every year. Brands like BGM and MT Tape release limited-edition washi tape; special pens are released that write in bright pink ink; and shelves fill with sheets upon sheets of sakura flower stickers.

So, where can you stock up on these limited-edition sakura goods in the United States? Here are some of my favorite picks for this year’s Hanami stationery.

Spring Limited Cherry Blossom Stickers - Shiba

Cute Things From Japan has many limited-edition sakura goods from Mind Wave, including this sheet of sweet shiba stickers. ($3.50)

Washi Tape - Cherry Blossom

They also have limited-edition BGM washi tape in three different sakura prints. This one, called Morning Cherry Blossom, is my favorite! ($2.90)

You can find this pretty Rilakkuma letter set from San-X at Blippo. The set comes with 4 envelopes and 8 blank and lined sheets with different sakura-inspired designs. ($9.90)

Delde Slide Pen Case - 2021 Sunny Spring Series

This Spring 2021 Delde pencil case from KawaiiPenShop comes in four designs, one of which is a pastel pink sakura theme. The unique shape collapses to form a standing pencil cup for all your writing utensils. ($24.99)

Character Goods

One of the most exciting parts of sakura season for kawaii fans is that all your favorite kawaii characters jump in on the trend! From Rilakkuma to Hello Kitty, you can keep an eye out for special limited-edition character goods this spring that are unique to Hanami in Japan.

Here are some of my picks for sakura-themed character goods that are available for order in the United States:

Rilakkuma Cherry Blossom 15

I was so excited to see this sakura Rilakkuma plushie at my local Barnes & Noble! Dressed in pink with sakura accents, Rilakkuma is celebrating Hanami with a stick of squishy, sweet dango. ($24.99)

Hello Kitty Pink Sakura Kimono 10" Plush

For fans of Hello Kitty, you can find this Sanrio sakura stuffed animal at Japan LA. Pale pink Hello Kitty is dressed in a Hanami-themed kimono with a matching obi, bow, and sandals. ($36.00)

More of a My Melody fan? Not to worry! This adorable limited-edition Sanrio sakura mochi plushie is available on Japan Haul. It’s called a “mochi” plushie because it’s extra-squishy, just like the sweet treat. ($19.10)

Or, if you stan Cinnamoroll, Japan Haul has also got you covered. This limited-edition Sanrio sakura plushie features Cinnamoroll with pink accents, a sakura flower on its ear, and a pretty blue and pink sakura-themed outfit. ($37.32)

What is Age Regression (Agere/Littlespace)? | Healing Your Inner Child, Part II

In the past, I wrote a blog post about Healing Your Inner Child, which to this day, is still my most popular post. I think a lot of people have experienced childhood wounds and relate to the idea of wanting to go back and be a child again. That being said, I decided to make a “Part II” post where I talk about one way that a lot of people — myself included — engage in childlike play in a safe way: age regression.

As someone who experienced childhood trauma, I had to grow up fast. Even though I know I played with toys as a kid, I don’t have a lot of positive childhood memories. Since then, I’ve always been drawn to things like coloring books and dollhouses, even though I knew I had outgrown these things. Soon, I learned I wasn’t the only adult who felt this way — and that some adults were engaging in play with the things they used to love by participating in healthy, safe age regression.

What is Age Regression?

Age regression (“agere” for short) is a coping mechanism where a person mentally reverts to an earlier age (one where they felt safe) to deal with the effects of a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some people entirely regress to an earlier age, fully believing that they are that age and engaging in developmentally-appropriate behaviors for that age group. Others don’t regress completely — they may act childlike or engage in play while still acknowledging that they are no longer that age.

Regression Ages

Whether you’re fully or partially regressed, the headspace of feeling like a child, or feeling “little,” is often called “littlespace.” A lot of people have a “regression age” that they revert to every time they’re in littlespace. For others, it’s a range of ages or a certain developmental group. You can pinpoint your little age (or ages) based on the behaviors you exhibit and the activities you enjoy during littlespace:

0-1: non-verbal, crying, kicking, sucking; not potty-trained, uses pacifier and diapers; bottle-fed only

1-3: learning to be independent, becoming verbal, fantasy play, asking questions; potty-training, may or may not use diapers/pull-ups and/or pacifier; weaning off bottle to sippy cup and baby foods & some solid foods

46: explorative play, developing routines, becoming more independent, imaginative play; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to sippy cup or water bottle and eats solid foods

7-11: mastering skills, becoming more concerned with social experiences, starting to question beliefs, more opportunities for independence; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to regular plastic cup and/or water bottle and eats solid foods

Is Agere a Kink?

One thing that’s important to acknowledge is that age regression or littlespace is NOT a kink. Some people do engage in caregiver dynamics (I do not, so I won’t speak too much about this since it’s not something I understand well), but they are NOT sexual and there is NO power dynamic. However, you can be a “little” with or without a caregiver.

When people engage in a relationship with a power dynamic, sexual or not, they may call it DDLG or CGL. These terms are considered kink/NSFW by the agere community. To be perfectly clear, we are NOT talking about kink in this blog post! I’m talking 100% about SFW agere/littlespace.

Is Age Regression Harmful?

Agere can be healthy — there’s nothing inherently wrong with it! Being in littlespace can be a healthy coping mechanism, can keep you from engaging in maladaptive coping mechanisms (like self-harm), and can help you heal your inner child. It’s even used by some therapists to help people access traumatic memories from childhood and heal from their pasts.

Here’s a great quote from a scientific paper that I think perfectly sums it up:

Regressive behavior can be simple or complex, harmful or harmless to the individual showing the behavior and to those around them. Regression becomes problematic, especially in a hospital, when it is employed to avoid difficult adult situations or stressors.

Hermioni N. Lokko, MD, MPP & Theodore A. Stern, MD (2015)

Something I want to clear up, however, is the distinction between helpful and harmful agere behaviors. While I think it’s important to acknowledge that regression itself isn’t inherently bad, there are times when being a regressor can get in the way of leading a full and healthy life. I’ll call these “healthy” and “unhealthy” regression for the purposes of this article, although it’s rarely as black-and-white as being one or the other.

As a social work student and aspiring therapist, as well as an age regressor, I would define healthy age regression as:

  • A conscious choice (you aren’t regressing involuntarily, which can be harmful at times)
  • A form of self-care (you aren’t harming yourself or creating problems in your life by regressing)
  • Healing to your inner child (you have to define this for yourself — to me, play is healing, but temper tantrums are not healing)
  • Pure regression (“impure” regression occurs when age regressors have unwanted intrusive thoughts of “adult” things, such as sexuality)

Times when age regression can be unhealthy or unhelpful include:

  • When you regress even though you don’t want to (involuntary regression)
  • When you’re using it to avoid adult situations or it gets in the way of adult responsibilities, like going to work
  • When you are self-destructive or harm yourself in littlespace (e.g. head banging)
  • When it is your ONLY coping mechanism

To summarize, age regression usually isn’t harmful. If you’re experiencing involuntary regression and it bothers you or is causing problems in your life, you should definitely speak with a mental health professional, since it can be a symptom of more serious disorders that require psychological intervention. Otherwise, if you’re consciously engaging in agere as a form of self-care or a coping strategy, there isn’t any harm in accessing your inner child, as long as you have other grown-up ways to cope, too!

How to Be Little

Tips for Healthy Age Regression

  • Engage in age regression in a safe place, around people who understand your behavior (or at least accept it)
    • If you live with others who aren’t supportive, lock your door or do it when no one is home
  • Set up a comfortable play area with blankets, pillows, stuffies, and fairy lights (or anything you want)
  • Fill up your water bottle, sippy cup, or bottle and make snacks easily available for when you want them
  • Take care of any “adulting” before you regress: pay bills due today, get work or homework done, etc.
  • Stock up on little gear, if you can afford it, like arts and crafts supplies, stuffed animals, and cute accessories
    • If you don’t have a lot of money, Dollar Tree and Five Below are great places to get little gear!

Activities for Age Regressors

  • Eating “little” snacks or meals (dinosaur nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, fruit and veggies cut into shapes)
  • Sipping out of a bottle, juice box, or sippy cup (based on your “little age”)
  • Sucking on a pacifier, if you want to
  • Wearing a onesie or matching pajama set, if you want to
  • Watching kids’ TV shows or movies on Netflix or YouTube
  • Coloring a children’s coloring book or printable coloring pages with markers or crayons
  • Doing arts and crafts projects
  • Starting a “little journal” for age regression
  • Going to Build-a-Bear Workshop
  • Playing kids’ video games or phone games
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Drawing with chalk
  • Take a bubble bath with bath toys
  • Print out a reward chart and use stickers to fill it in

Inexpensive Little Gear for Age Regressors

Play-Doh 5-Pack ($3, Five Below)
Nickelodeon Character Bubbles ($3.25, Five Below)
Rainbow Sherbert Unicorn ($9.99, Claire’s)
#BFF Nail Polish ($5.99, Claire’s)
Decora Kei Bracelet Set ($4.90, Blippo)
NUK Learner Cup ($6.99, Amazon)
Hello Kitty DIY Scrapbook ($17.99, Amazon)

50 Glow Up Tips for Girls

Ah, the “glow up.” Some people like to hate on the term for incurring images of weight loss and implying we aren’t good enough as we are. But I see it differently: to me, a glow up is about being the best version of yourself. It’s not about changing what you look like. It’s about practicing self-care.

And sure, self-care can take the form of meditation and journaling — but it can also take the form of slathering on fake tan or doing a DIY mani-pedi. Us girls need to stop self-care shaming one another for not taking care of ourselves the “right way.” Whatever you see as self-care, whatever leaves you feeling refreshed, is the right way!

That being said, this is not a glow up post that will teach you how to get a peach-shaped butt or slim down your waist. This glow up post isn’t about changing your body: it’s about embracing your natural beauty. Beauty products are meant to enhance you as you are, not to change your appearance significantly. You should still look like yourself when you’re doing it right.

Nor is this a post about how to look more attractive so you can land the “perfect” BF or GF. To me, a glow up is about self-love, not about earning someone else’s approval. By all means, you do you when it comes to love and sex. But if you feel the need to change yourself to peak someone’s interest, then they’re not the right person for you, babe.

I like the idea of a glow up. I like the idea of going back to school or work, feeling rejuvenated from a little extra TLC. Most importantly, I think glow ups are meant to be fun. Why does everything need to be so serious? Why do we need to turn a fun makeover into a social commentary?

Glow up for the right reasons, and a glow up can be a powerful form of self-care and self-love. And on that note, here are 50 tips for achieving that glow up from the inside out.

Glow Up Tips

  1. There is no need to spend money on a mani-pedi. Kiss press-on nails look just as good as a full set of acrylics and are far cheaper. You can also DIY a mani-pedi at home with tools purchased from the dollar store, like cuticle clippers and a four-way buffer.
  2. Freeman’s Feeling Beautiful face masks are a well-kept drugstore secret. Their clay and charcoal masks work just as well as more expensive formulas from Sephora or Ulta.
  3. Choose a signature scent. Try to match your deodorant, body lotion, and perfume to feel more put-together. For example, I use vanilla deodorant and PINK’s Warm & Cozy scent, which also has notes of vanilla.
  4. If you choose to remove your body hair by shaving, do it right. Change your razor frequently for a close shave. Start by exfoliating for a smoother glide.
  5. Always use shaving cream. Choose unscented, “sensitive” formulas if you’re going to shave “down there” — I like the brand EOS.
  6. Biotin can help with hair and nail growth and strength. But, it can also trigger acne. Consider stopping those skin, hair, and nails vitamins if you’re someone who struggles with breakouts.
  7. Never, ever use a tanning bed. Skin cancer is no joke. You can get a natural-looking glow from Jergens Natural Glow body lotion, which adds gradual color and won’t damage your skin.
  8. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! I don’t know which girl needs to hear this (I certainly did), but you still need to moisturize if you have oily skin. Acne treatments used to keep oil at bay can dry out your skin. This actually causes your skin to produce more oil to replenish the moisture — unless you moisturize to counteract its effects.
  9. Speaking of skin, you NEED to check out the brand The Ordinary. They make dermatologist-grade products for a fraction of the price. Their niacinamide serum costs $6 at Ulta and is a godsend for acne-prone skin.
  10. Go to bed earlier. Sleep is more important than you think. Young people in their teens and 20s need at least 8 to 10 hours each night. That may sound like a lot, but any less than that will leave you feeling foggy and drained.
  11. Putting fruit in your water may not “detox” your body, but it does make water taste better and might encourage you to drink more! I like Spindrift sparkling water, which has a splash of fresh fruit juice for taste.
  12. Green tea is also a great option for staying hydrated. It’s full of antioxidants, which make your skin glow and keep your body healthy. Choose caffeine-free for maximum hydration. (Caffeine is dehydrating.)
  13. Want to upgrade your wardrobe? Nasty Gal is my favorite affordable place to buy clothes.
  14. The online thrift store ThredUp is also a great option if you’re looking to avoid fast fashion and save the environment.
  15. Make a Pinterest board before you shop to stay focused on your ideal style. You’ll save money by focusing on finding certain pieces, instead of grabbing whatever catches your eye.
  16. Glossier’s Balm Dotcom is my favorite beauty product of all time. It’s super versatile and comes in tons of yummy flavors (Mint is my favorite). At $12, it’s a little pricey, but one tube can last for months.
  17. I don’t believe in changing your body to glow up. That being said, nothing makes you glow like serotonin and endorphins! Working out is good for both your body and your mind. Focus on finding something you love to do, not something that will make you skinny or look a certain way.
  18. Please, for the love of all things holy, stop buying those scented perfumes, deodorants, and washes for your vag. Fragrance can seriously irritate you and offset your natural pH, leading to nasty infections. Stick to unscented washes and warm water ONLY.
  19. NEVER wash inside the vagina (only on the vulva). Douching is a fast-track to infections.
  20. Stop gossiping. The ultimate glow up is deciding to treat others with kindness. Gossip only makes you look bad, and won’t do anything to change that person’s behavior. If you don’t have the guts to confront them to their face, you shouldn’t be complaining about them behind their back.
  21. Don’t apologize for things that are out of your control. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to resist the urge, but think of it this way: over-apologizing makes your real apologies less meaningful.
  22. Cetaphil and CeraVe products are a lifesaver for acne. Dermatologists recommend them for a reason! I use the Cetaphil face wash and CeraVe moisturizer.
  23. If you’ve been crying, ice cubes, cucumber slices, and under-eye gel masks (I get the Peach Slices Magic Panda Eye Mask — it’s $4 at CVS) will all help you de-puff. Choose one to get rid of redness and soothe those irritated eyes.
  24. Don’t like your body? Losing weight will not fix the problem. If you’re uncomfortable in your own skin, you’ll still feel that way at any size. Focus on being confident and loving yourself instead of shrinking yourself.
  25. Confident girls carry their own condoms and lube. Condoms and lube packets are free at most universities. If you’re not in college anymore, buy them at the drugstore. You have no reason to be embarrassed — you’re a grown-ass woman and you should do whatever makes you happiest!
  26. But seriously, don’t forget the lube, because a guy WILL. Lube is a game-changer!
  27. Happy girls shine the brightest. Try using positive affirmations like “I am strong” or “I am worthy” to boost your mood. Say them to yourself several times a day, out loud, in the mirror.
  28. If you love facial brushes like the Clarisonic and Foreo but don’t love their prices, you can get cheaper versions at Target or Ulta for $10-15.
  29. Don’t rub your hair when drying it with a towel. The friction can cause frizz. Wrap your damp hair in a towel and squeeze out the water instead.
  30. Shape your brows if you want to, but avoid over-plucking, shaving, or waxing. Stick with your brow’s natural shape and only pluck the stray hairs. (Trust me, if you over-pluck, you’ll regret it later!)
  31. If you have oily hair, don’t wash it every day. It sounds backward, but washing your hair too much can actually trigger more oil production because it strips your hair of its natural oils.
  32. Dry shampoo is a game-changer when it comes to washing your hair less often. The Dove brand is inexpensive and works great. Use it between washes to absorb grease.
  33. When it comes to exercise, start small. You don’t have to sweat it out at the gym for hours for it to “count.” A 10-minute YouTube workout is better than sitting all day.
  34. Read! Reading offers the ultimate mental glow up. People who read more have larger vocabularies. It’s also important to get out of your bubble and explore different perspectives.
  35. Keep track of healthy habits. You can create a habit tracker in your bullet journal or use an app like Done.
  36. Journaling helps you purge your brain of negative thoughts and worries that are distracting you from your goals. Write it all down, get it out, and move on. (Easier said than done, I know.)
  37. As a dancer, I know a thing or two about gross feet. Foot peeling socks will remove all those callouses. The Tonymoly ones cost $6.50 at Ulta and work in about 4-6 days. Google pictures (warning: they’re graphic) to see how well they work!
  38. In this house, we usually end up eating unhealthy foods when we’re busy because we don’t feel like cooking or have time to cook. That’s why I like to have a list of easy, healthy meals to throw together on busy days. Quinoa bowls (made with pre-made quinoa from Trader Joe’s — find it in the freezer aisle) and soup with gluten-free crackers are two of my go-to meals.
  39. My boyfriend is a doctor and says the number one way to eat healthier is to cook more of your own meals. Most of the salt, sugar, and fat we consume comes from restaurant or takeout meals.
  40. That being said, NEVER diet. Dieting wrecks your metabolism and mental health. Focus on adding in healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, and veggies, instead of subtracting foods you love.
  41. Feeling anxious, depressed, or generally crappy? Ask yourself if HALT applies. HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are common triggers for extreme emotional responses. If you address the root cause of your feelings — by eating a snack if you’re hungry or working out if you’re angry, for example — you can make yourself feel better.
  42. Drink more water and use a humidifier if you have chapped lips. All the chapstick in the world won’t help you if you’re surrounded by dry air or dehydrated.
  43. Delete and block all of your exes phone numbers right now. You’ll thank me later when you’ve been drinking and are ready to dial.
  44. Use Differin gel as a spot treatment to dry up a big zit overnight. It contains a prescription-strength retinoid that works to rapidly address acne.
  45. Kill them with kindness. Mean girls are usually looking for attention, and it drives them crazy when you act like you aren’t hurt. Being happy and refusing to let them get to you is the best revenge.
  46. Trust me when I say that no one can tell the difference between Bath and Body Works and your $90 Chloe perfume. You are the only person who knows how much your scent costs, so save your money for better, more important things.
  47. A common misconception on glow up TikTok is that cranberry helps with your vaginal health. Cranberry pills are actually for your urinary tract. So, if you get UTIs, take cranberry. If not, what you really want is a lactobacillus probiotic to keep that vag happy and healthy.
  48. Ask more questions and talk less about yourself. Showing genuine interest in someone else’s life is the fastest way to make friends or get asked out.
  49. You don’t need to wear a lot of makeup (or any!) if you don’t want to. If makeup is your thing, pick 2-3 “daily essentials” — mine are mascara, brow gel, and highlighter — to wear for everyday, and go bolder for special occasions.
  50. Only wear 100% cotton underwear. As someone who’s had recurrent infections, just trust me on this one.
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