Archive | January, 2012

Beautify | Birchbox

31 Jan

In this week’s Beautify, I am about to impart to you the secret knowledge of the happy product junkie: Birchbox.

Birchbox is TOP SECRET elite beauty club  a service that delivers personalized deluxe samples to your welcoming mailbox every month for $10. And it is amazing. These two ladies, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, met at Harvard Business School. If you haven’t stopped reading, I personally think it’s awesome that Harvard Business School graduates were talking about makeup. Anyways, they wanted to find a way to “cut through the clutter of the beauty world to find products that really work for them.” (Read About here.) They designed this perfect little brown cardboard box that fits perfectly into a standard-size mailbox, and whose contents are neatly and sweetly wrapped in hot pink tissue paper and tied with black ribbon… In short, you get to open a very cute present to yourself every month. Staying within the coloring lines of presents, you don’t actually know what’s coming in your box… which I both hate and love, but mostly love. I hate this because I usually really like 1-2 of the products and am a little “meh” about the others. But, really, it’s fun to be surprised and for $10 it’s nice to try some luxe samples that maybe I wouldn’t have tried of my own choosing. So the mystery component wins. When you subscribe to Birchbox, you fill out a beauty profile (that you can go back and change) listing your skin type, types of products you’re most into etc. And they compute that into the box they send you every month, which comes with a description card of each of the 4-5 samples in your little box.

Some examples of what I’ve received in my boxes thus far… Stila Smudgestick Eyeliner, Clark’s Botanicals Smoothing Marine Cream, Befine Lip Serum, Borghese Active Mud, Archipelago Pomegranate Soap… I’m linking these so you can see that a full-sized product is pretty pricey in most cases, so “trying” these products would be incredibly expensive in a Birchbox-free world. And since I’ve only been “really liking” 20-40% of the products I’ve tried, that means I would discard 60-80% of the full-size products I’d buy in that hypothetical Birchbox-free world. WHEW, I am saving so much money!!! 🙂 

So, in summary, for a measly $10 a month or $110 a year (you get a month for free if you pay upfront), you can test 4-5 luxe products you could never afford to “try out” unless your Auntie Mavis had lived an extremely exciting 103 years and was therefore able to leave you a dowery, which you were then able to recover after marrying a 90 year-old bachelor who expired immediately after the ceremony, leaving your inherited sexist funds and self-respect intact. What are the odds, eh?

Some odds-n-ends comments now… They also have limited edition boxes, which go for about $50 and whose themes have included “Bride Box” and “Gorgeous On the Go.” These fancy boxes usually have items like foldable flats and a makeup bag, etc. Another awesome feature: I received an email recently saying one of their suppliers thought I would enjoy their products, so they were sending me an additional selection of samples from that one company. Now THAT’s how get me to stay forever!!!

So, if you want to join the ranks of the product-happy, go hereUnfortunately, it appears that there’s currently a wait-list because they are so awesome. But you should sign up for it!!! 

Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10. I’m docking them half a point for not giving members the option of choosing or getting a mystery box. In a perfect world, some months I could decide I want to try only new night creams (maybe even getting two boxes a month, GASP!), while at other times I could look forward to the mystery of it all. Ha.

Week 5 | Sugarless Veteran, Needs Workout.

30 Jan

Rolling into Week 5 of the I Quit Sugar program, and apart from some incidental consumption (smoked ham? really?) we’re just not really even thinking about eating sugar. Well, okay, not seriously considering it. I think about chocolate at least 5 times a day, I won’t lie. But I’m feeling pretty good about making it this far and am not about to give in now. *Cue Rocky Theme*

But I think I’ve plateaued as far as weight loss and feeling “better,” so starting this week I’ll be incorporating brisk outdoor walks into my daily regimen. The thing is: I just hate working out. I have a 20 minute Jillian Michaels workout dvd called 30 Day Shred that is a totally reasonable and satisfying workout… but I hate working out. I really just need to start by getting my body moving, with intention, for at least 20 minutes at a time each day.

So I’ll start with that and see how the next few weeks go…

Obsession | Thinking Pink

30 Jan

I was pinning pink like crazy yesterday and kept coming up on images that wouldn’t pin for some reason… so they’re going in mah blog instead.

So, yeah… pink! Not the first color that comes to my mind when I’m thinking favorite colors, but I get mildly-wildly obsessed with it at least three times a year… As my younger sister would put it, “Esther, aren’t you always having a pink moment?” Yes, yes I am.

I like pink in a fresh, modern (do not read hot pink and zebra), and relaxing way. I think I mostly stay away from pink (or use coral) in fear of turning my living spaces too girly or dressing like a princess. But a pop of pink… oh yeah baby. And right now, a pop of neon pink just feels so right… 

Do you find yourself having regular “color moments” with colors you don’t quite know what to do with…? Do you love, say, orange but your significant other can’t stand it; maybe they hate the University of Tennessee and have banned the color from your home entirely? (Hypothetically.) 
When it comes down to it, if a certain color makes you feel good I say go for it. Even a pop here and there, just a flower pot or a spatula, is going to be a visual reminder of how that color makes you feel. Which is a brilliant argument for why you should rid yourself of all ugly kitchen utensils and replace them with a much cuter version asap!!! To TJ Maxx, I say!!!

Ahhh Friday.

27 Jan

Ah Friday, a day to look back on my weekly frenzies and contemplate how swiftly my focus shifts from day to day… Here’s what I’ve been obsessing over this week:

Terrariums I’m getting ready to blow it out, terrarium style, here shortly. (I ordered air plants! And bought moss and rocks etc!) I love this chick’s visual interpretations of them on Etsy…

Instagram PhotosI just love the way Instagram gives everyone the chance to become a decent photographer. I know people who can’t find an angle to save their lives who somehow get great shots with great lighting and saturation with their phone, of all things. None of these photos are mine, mind you, because I (*gasp*) don’t have an iphone yet… But as soon as I can bear the thought of adding another $30 charge to my monthly phone bill I’ll be swapping up for one of these purty-photo-makin’ machines.

French Pastries This mania’s pretty obvious, since I’m in the smack-dab middle of an 8-week sugar detox. I think I’ll have to plan a trip somewhere with a macaron shop when it’s all over. And just plan to spend a day sitting there and eating pretty things.

Going Somewhere FunI’m ready for a road trip.

What have you been obsessed with this week?

Week 4 | Sugar Crash

26 Jan

Halfway through Week 4 of Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar program and I’m really starting to crave the delicious nectar.

I’ve been pretty cool and collected about the whole detox up until this week. In three days I have pulled myself back from the precipice numerous times – I even broke down and drank a diet Dr. Pepper yesterday. I can’t stand the taste of aspartame but I really didn’t think I could hold it together without something sweet. (Fake sugar tricks your body into thinking it’s real sugar, so it’s pretty much the same plus chemicals. Although technically it’s not cheating.)

I’ve been alternating stress dreams and boulangerie dreams as well. As long as I don’t wake up chewing on my pillow, I guess… 

But today is a new day and I am resolute in kicking my tasty habit. Anybody have any ideas for a “sweet” treat to nurse the cravings? So far I have tried and rated the following:

1. Cacao Nibs – Terrible. Absolutely awful. They taste like I imagine stag poop might.

2. Plain Greek Yogurt – Totally not a “sweet treat,” what are these people talking about? Guh!

3. Coconut Water – Not bad.

4. Peanut Butter – On crackers and celery, which I think is kind of gross but the crunch is pretty satisfying.

5. Mint Tea Lattes – Heat milk and steep teabag for a tasty, creamy treat that almost hits the spot. ha. This is my favorite so far.

Side note: Charlie, husband and co-detoxer, is doing better than I am at this point. I attribute this mostly to his impressive stubbornness and the fact that he’s seeing results. We have both lost some weight and are noticing improvements in digestion, but as far as I am aware, he hasn’t wavered. So I’m not about to let him win. 🙂 

I’ll be soldiering on now.

Places and Spaces | Tackling Black

25 Jan

This may surprise you, but I’m very particular about color. While I love the dramatic and organizational impact black can have in a room, especially with framed photos/prints, I am rarely if ever really attracted to rooms with a lot of black. They usually look garish and jarring to me, especially in the following (and most common!) combinations: Hot pink and black, zebra print in pretty much any form, and damask designs.

Here’s the classiest example I could find of the combo I’m talking about, which, in my humble opinion, still looks like someone having a mid-life crisis albeit a somewhat restrained one…

In fact, this is about as much zebra as I can stand in one room: So my challenge was to find soft interiors that utilize black in a non-garish way without looking too cold, masculine, or modern. As it turns out, it can be done… All these stripes could be overwhelming but the antique paintings, photos and furniture really pull it back from the brink and warm the room up a little…The lace is really feminine without being expected or overly frilly…I would pretty much murder for this couch, and I like the way that black is used as a pop of drama in the room as opposed to an assault.You pretty much need a black couch with this girly wallpaper! It totally works.Now this room looks very French and restrained-but-feminine to me. The black and white balance each other without competing.A black accent wall goes a long way and doesn’t weigh the space down. I also like the faded black furniture… It’s black but not harsh…This is how to work in animal print without looking like a teenage drama queen. The french blue color is amazing here.I would pretty much make out with this espresso machine any time. Wow. This space is really classy and clean looking – the ideal coffee spot, totally calm and restful.Since they used these bold stripes the natural accents really tone down the drama. A super girly space with a tech of black. I love the wallpaper collage, what a great idea… This I love. Clean lines and restrained color, but still playful and warm.

So, which side of the argument are you on? Are you into bold dramatic POW! or the occasional hint of assertion…?

Beautify | NARS

24 Jan

I read about beauty products A LOT. And sooner or later, when the pros are discussing their beauty staples, NARS always comes up. In fact, this lady actually said “I worship the God of NARS.” If that’s not an awesome recommendation, I don’t know what is, and there are a certain few products that apparently everybody who’s anybody who knows anything about makeup has, namely, the following two items:

(1). The Dragon Girl Velvet Matte Lip Pencil, $24, and… (2). Orgasm Blush, $27. This particular shade was named “Top 25 Beauty Hall of Fame” 2010 Elle; “Best Blush for Light Skin” 2010 & 2011 InStyle “Best Beauty Buys”; “Best Blush for Fair Skin” 2011 InStyle “Best Beauty Buys.”

They will both most assuredly join my beauty collection one day, but I currently have a sufficient supply of red lips and pale pink cheeks, so I wanted to branch a little farther with my intro to NARS products.

So for Christmas, I asked for and received the incredibly brashly-named “Super Orgasm” gift set, $39, complete with blush, lip gloss, and nail polish, all in a gold-shimmer pleasantly peachy shade. Which is loverly. The blush goes on sheerly and smoothly, with a smidge of a flashy-but-not-flashy golden glimmer. The shade is very flattering and subtle. I love the color and intensity of the lip gloss, but the consistency is a little gooey/tacky, and frankly smells weird. The nail polish is a perfect shade darker than my skin color and the flecks of gold are just fabulous. Love love love the color. But it chipped like crazy, despite a heavy topcoat. I’d still buy it, though, because the color is so great. My second foray into NARS awesomeness is the Velvet Gloss Lip Pencil in Happy Days, $24. It is FANTASTIC. I was looking for a peachy but not-too-sheer, not-too-solid lip color, preferably in stick form, that wasn’t too cakey or greasy. Man… this one is just perfection. I tried a few Yves St. Laurent colors (I will definitely be going back to that brand, the pigment and textures are divine) but they didn’t quite have what I wanted and at their asking price of $34 the shade had better be perfect. And then I tried this one and 30 seconds later I was in line… It’s buttery but not greasy, highly pigmented but still a little sheer, not too glossy or tacky, and doesn’t smell awful!

Another good thing to know about their brand is that they do not test on animals, have replaced the majority of animal derived ingredients with plant-derived ingredients, and are gluten free. They do use parabens “to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination.” Meh.

My overall NARS rating is an 8 out of 10 because of their range of colors and pigments, purtiness of shading, care of ingredients, and frankly, they get a couple points just for being so highly rated and regarded. I am deducting a point because of the tackiness of that lipgloss and the fact that even $6 L’Oreal lipsticks manage to have a classy rose scent, and another point for the embarrassment of having to tell people the name of the shade I’m wearing. I’m all for being a modern, sassy woman, but I don’t feel the need to get all Eve Ensler about my cosmetics.

Being Creative | Chore Board

23 Jan

There are few things less enticing to me than the thought of making a chore board, but with the new year comes new resolutions to do better, and step one on that path is keeping up with all the space we live in right now, which is a bit of a challenge.

We used to have a little competition going through a geeky-but-fun point logging website called Chore Wars, but I found that I need a little more incentive other than just “winning.” Wow. I “won” by doing the most chores. WAIT A MINUTE… Sounds a bit like the old babysitter trick of playing the quiet game to me.

So we needed a re-vamp. The criteria for the new system were that it be cute, easily visible/tangible (so as  to be a constant reminder), and that the “winner” actually win something every month. Because weekly is too much and if more than a month goes by without reward I’m personally not hanging on any longer.

Here’s what I came up with: I used paint chips and a cheap frame with a poster’s cardboard backing to make a bulletin board (they were materials I had on-hand) and then divided the main chores between myself and the husband based on which tasks each of us were more likely to do. Color-coordinated, of course.

My row are the corals and his are the greys, and the row of whites tell us how often each task should ideally/minimally be performed. Each task has an assigned number of points, and doing the tasks more often will generate more points. The green cards on the wall next to the board is where we will log the points and each write our ideal “prize” for the month – whoever wins gets what they asked for.

(For instance, if I win this month I want to go to the aquarium and out to dinner at Tom and Chee afterwards. And maybe to Ikea and Trader Joes while we’re up there!)

I’m going to revise that bottom row to be non-specific about what days we need to do things but otherwise I think I’m happy with the system and eager to see if it works out!

Any ideas for how to improve the system? How do you handle chore assignments at your house (unless you live alone, in which case I’ll assume your pet gets points for using the bathroom outside…)?

Life | New Year’s Resolutions

20 Jan

As you can see, my resolutions didn’t include deciding on resolutions before I was darn well ready to. Ha. But it’s still January, and I still want to write about them so that I can look back next year and see how I’ve done. I kept journals like a maniac as a kid but now I really just blog…

RESOLUTION #1To be more mindful of what I put in and on my body. 

The past few months have involved various intentional eating pattern adjustments like going gluten-free for a month and now doing this I Quit Sugar program. While accompanying weight-loss is a goal for most honest folk, myself and my husband included, for us these eating adjustments are more directly focused on overall health and being better consumers. Documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me, Food Inc, and Fast Food Nation have really served to inform and generally shock me into caring about what I put in my body: It’s just plain unhealthy what we’re actually eating these days. 

(This awesome chick is Iris Apfel, who seems to be the funnest, craziest old woman and I want to age just like her – having fun and being colorful.)

The flip side of the coin is what I put on my body, and trying to look and feel my best. I’m going to use skin products that are amazing, wear quality makeup that doesn’t spark allergic reactions, and buy lovely clothes that I can hang onto for a few years, now that I’m pretty sure a punk phase won’t roll around again. (But if it does, I’ll be ready for it with some bright lipstick!) Because in the end, shopping for quantity over quality causes me to end up consuming/spending more and never really loving any of it or feeling good about myself and the way I look.


RESOLUTION #2: To try to live more in the moment rather than being overly cautious. 

(Yes, this includes taking a pause from the incessant Facebooking. It’s great catching up with everybody, but ten times a day every day is just too much reading, not enough doing.)

I want to do exciting things, travel, take chances, go out on a limb… The past several years of my life have been a series of very measured attempts, many of which have been linearly unsuccessful (aka have ended), but have also been honest attempts at finding happiness. So I can’t discount them, and wonderful things have happened along the way.

This year I want to be a little less calculating and be a little more open to trying things that might not make all the sense in the world. Call it “following my heart, not just my head” if you will. I feel strongly that this is going to be a big year for me and as I start feeling older I want to remember and look forward to new adventures, rather than focusing on the few years of my life when I was a little cra-cra.


RESOLUTION #3: I am going to Paris. It is more than a little upsetting to say that I have never been to Paris. But there you go. I’ve been all over Europe and America, Japan, England and Ireland, and even Russia for the love of Pete, but never to Paris! Well, this year I’m going. I’m going to eat macarons and baguettes with cheese and butter and drink cafe cremes and buy flowers and stroll L’Avenue des Champs Elysées and buy facial creams in pharmacies and take Le Metro and Le Glare at everyone in a very French way. All the while dressed like Audrey Hepburn and taking photographs of everything. Mark my words.

So what are you committed to doing differently this year? I think sharing your resolutions with others can help keep you accountable, so feel free to post yours in the comments so we can all look back together!

Obsessions | The Whale of the Matter

19 Jan

Whale Tissue Holder, $39.99. Sperm Whale TShirt, $20. Cosmetic Case, $20. Burlap and Calico Pillow, $25. Vintage Education Chart, $45. Hand-printed Toms, $73. Art Print, $12.50. Wood Art Sign, $89. Large Whale Cutting Board, $40. Embroidery Hoop Wall Art, $19. Made-to-Order Lidded Bowl, $32. Whale-Stripe Bar Towels, $11.