Sunday, February 22, 2015

Battle of the Beauty Boxes: Birchbox, Glossybox, Ipsy February 2015

Time for another box comparison. There were some hits and some misses.

Birchbox - $10 a month, rewards system is AWESOME. 10 points per product review, 100 points = 10 bucks. This month I received six products, and therefore got six dollars of credit to use in the shop. The shop is extensive and amazing - spending money there is no problem for me.
Super sweet packaging that makes me wish that it wasn't cold here all of March, which is when I want spring to begin.

Benefit PosieBalm: Value: appx $6.00. I have no idea the real value of this - there is no size written on the container. Full size is $18, and I am guessing this is about 1/3 of that. I was most excited about this from this box because it is something I will use, from a nice brand, but not something I would have purchased on my own because of the hefty price tag for a tinted balm.

Marcelle Make-Up Remover: Value: $5.00. I normally take off my makeup using a cleansing oil, but dislike traveling with it because it is in a pump form and would make an utter mess in a travel bag. I am glad to get these types of samples for that purpose.

Davines Minu Shampoo: Value: around $7.50. I will use this, as I tend to lack travel shampoo, but it is exorbitantly priced overall for what it is. The less time a product spends on your skin/hair, the less it is worth spending a bundle on. Splurge on serums or moisturizers and on shampoo. 

Gilchrist & Soames: Value: $4. I am totally unimpressed with the scent of this. As in, it smells like soap. Why anyone would want to pay 18 bucks for a full size is beyond me. It will be used, for travel, but this is super not exciting.

Harvey Prince Hello Perfume: $5.50. I pretty much never appreciate getting perfume samples. That said, once in awhile I will get a great one. This smells lovely, though I probably won't purchase a full size. The ONLY thing that really makes this worth using is the sprayer. Samples that aren't big enough to have a sprayer attached are seriously a waste of time for everyone, and a filler for these boxes.

Harvey Prince Hello Perfume: $0.94. This was a freebie, so I can't be too harsh on it. The dollar I got back in rewards by reviewing it is higher than the value of the sample itself, so I can't say I regret receiving this. It is a so-so product and I hate packet samples like this. 

Overall: 6/6 products will be tried out or have been tried, but it is seriously depressing that only 2 are products I am remotely looking forward to using.
Birchbox: $10 spent. Overall value: $28.94
Glossybox: $21.00 per month, mostly super deluxe sized or full sized products. Very reliably awesome. They give you ten points per review, just like Birchbox, but it takes 1000 points to redeem for a free box. Which means overall, it takes 20 months (there are normally five products per month) to redeem a new box. Almost two years. However, I did notice last month that they awarded me 100 points for being a loyal customer. I am not sure how often that would take place, but it cuts down on the time it would take to receive a free box by two months. Slightly less sucky.

Another adorable box. The Glossybox boxes are the BEST for storing tea samples, give away samples, as drawer organizers, or sturdy boxes for regifting things.

Rituals Foam Body in Yogi Flow: Value: full size at $15.00. I need more soap and body wash like a hole in the head, yet I am SO excited to try this. And super impressed that it is full sized.

Unwash Bio-Cleansing Conditioner: Value: $6.67. I have been dying to try a cleansing conditioner. The Wen ones look great but are so pricey to try. This will be good for travel and good to introduce me to cleansing conditioners, and see if they will work for my hair type.

Royal Apothic Tinties Lip Butter in Pink: Value: full size at $14. This is awesome - just look at the adorable packaging if you need proof. It is actually not very sheer, which I love, and full of great natural ingredients. This will be perfection in the summer once I am not ghostly white.

Julep Color Treat in Heartleigh: Value: Full size at $14. In case anyone wasn't sure, all the supposedly amazing antioxidants in this are likely ineffective because antioxidants tend to be light sensitive, and probably sensitive to the loads of chemicals that make this "5-free". Most of the "free" stuff to me is hella gimmicky. Just chemicals replacing chemicals. I love Julep polishes, but will be rehoming this with a friend I know loves nail art.

Teadora Nourishing Exfoliating Bar in Rainforest At Dawn: Value: Full size at $5. I have way too much soap in my life, but I appreciate the quality of this one, and will enjoy using it.

Overall: 4/5 products to be kept and used. No reject products, even the one to be given away. I love how many were full sized.
Glossybox: $21 spent. Value: $54.70 (rounded to nearest ten cents)
Ipsy: $10 a month, super reliable about providing good brands and makeup items, even if the brands aren't always super luxe. Comes in a makeup bag that is sometimes ugly and useless, sometimes wonderfully shaped and pretty. I do not count the bag as having any value in the box as it is impossible to calculate. Also provides 10 points per review, takes a super long time to gain enough to redeem for free product. Though lately, I've been able to share more on Facebook to earn some extra points, which is nice.

Pretty, but stupid design. Giving this away. I strongly prefer when the zipper is on the top and not on the side.

ModelCo Blush Cheek Powder in Cosmopolitan: Value: $22. I love blush. It is weird because you really don't use much at a time, yet the fact that I have one in every shade of pink, peach, and plum out there is mind boggling. This is matte, and I don't have any matte blushes, as they tend to feel chalky, so I will like giving this a try. 

Luxie 504 Large Angled Brush: Value: approximately $6.40. I am excited to get another brush - my angled brush is very very old, and this one feels soft enough to be a good replacement.

Rob Sheppy for Tini Beauty Powder Eyeshadow in Pearl Fizz: Value: $12. Eyeshadow that is a beautiful light pearly tan shade. Perfect for every day in most any eye look. Even though I have a ton just like this, I am happy to have another.

Cargo Lip Gloss: around $8.00. I've already given this away because it is a terrible shade for me. Light milky pinks are super in right now and super ugly on pretty much everyone without porcelain skin. I don't think it is ever attractive to use lip color lighter than your REAL lip color. Just my opinion.

Hey Honey Take It Off Exfoliating Peel Off Mask: Value: $7.00. I like having new masks for when I travel, and I haven't used a peel off mask in years. I am weirdly excited to use this, the peeling is always super satisfying.

Overall: 4/5 products to keep. The give away item is likely good quality, but a personal preference on a shade. Mostly makeup, which is why I like this bag compared to the other two, which tend to focus more on skincare.
Ipsy: $10 spent. Value: $54.40 (rounded to nearest ten cents)
Round Up:
Value Per dollar:
Birchbox$2.89 in product for every dollar spent. (Compared to $4.35 last month)
*If you consider the $6 in credit as money off, it changes to $7.24 for every dollar spent*
Glossybox$4.76 in product for every dollar spent (Compared to $3.38 last month)
Ipsy$5.44 in product for every dollar spent. (Compared to $3.03 last month)

The best products were in the Glossybox, which is pretty typical as it is a more high end box, followed by Ipsy and then Birchbox this time. That said, I am calling Birchbox a major dud. Being excited to use two products from a box is not acceptable these days when there are so many great ones. The best value is Ipsy by far this month, and though Birchbox rewards points make it technically more for the money, the lack of exciting product makes it functionally worth the least. As the Birchbox value per dollar went down compared to last month, the Glossybox went up, and Ipsy was nearly double last month;s value.

Until next month. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Makeup Challenge: Winged Liner

I hate when there are makeup tricks that best me. I typically try my hand at things and get them right pretty quickly. Learning to put a darker shade in the crease, using different brushes, contouring, all of that came pretty easily. False eyelashes were a bit harder but it turned out once I got some decent lash glue, they weren't so hard after all.

But winged, I don't know how anyone gets that right. I've been able to successfully wing one eye. But the other eye tends to not even look like a wing, let alone a matching one. I've been testing out all of my makeup lately, and tossing/rehoming things that I don't love. Almost all of my makeup lives in my bathroom now, and it is all of my very best products. I have been enjoying rediscovering favorites now that I am not focused on using up stuff I don't love. During this process, I found two liquid eyeliners, both which get great reviews online (Urban Decay 24/7 and Stila brands), sitting unused. I tend not to liquid line, I think my pencil liners do a good job and look a bit softer. But I certainly know winged liner is made for liquid liners. I plan to eventually experiment with gels too, but right now I want to focus on using the liquid liners, and mastering this elusive makeup skill that I'd love the option of doing.

So challenge accepted, winged liner. Every day I have makeup already on, at the end of the day before I take it off, I am going to try to do winged liner over whatever I have on already. I won't be messing up any makeup I've already done, no need to take it off and redo anything, but I will be getting practice 3-5 days a week and getting better. As of now, I seem to be capable of doing a not-totally-terrible wing on one eye. Now, I just need to make that one eye a little better and sharper, and be able to do a wing on the other eye with my non dominant hand. And one magical day, maybe they will even match and I can rock the look outside my bathroom at the end of the day.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Recipe: Lentil Soup with Sriracha

I have been doing a lot of cooking these days, and last week was just a rock star cooking week. I tend to only share the recipes that worked super well for me. With the job application process being slow and boring, I feel like I have fewer places for tangible personal development overall. That said, it has been an excellent time to cook a ton, and I have to say I am feeling pretty accomplished lately.

I have been wanting to try a few lentil soup recipes, as I really like lentils and they are inexpensive and nutritious. I also go ga-ga over sriracha. I have had good luck with soup in the past - they are pretty hard to mess up. Or at least pretty easy to fix if you do mess up.

I used this recipe, and didn't need to change a thing, which I appreciated. I made this one a real vampire-repellant...with ten cloves of garlic. It ended up being a great choice for me, though I would be cautious about doing so if I was at risk of being "close" with someone who also didn't eat some. I also used my new chopper, which has totally revolutionized the whole onion issue for me. I can only chop large pieces of a single medium onion before being so teary eyed that I can't safely use a sharp knife. Plus, for this recipe, I liked that I could make it almost pureed.

I am basically obsessed with curry, and I like that this recipe has those flavors in it without being overwhelming. It is flavorful, but definitely not reminiscent of an Indian dish.

I added the tomato and stock and then added the lentils and let it do its thing for an hour.

The finished product.

Then, a generous helping of sriracha. I can honestly say that the soup is flavorful enough without it, for anyone who isn't into heat, but I love the flavor and heat so I go to town.

I personally prefer a chunkier soup overall so I didn't blend this, though I liked that there weren't big chunks of onion or garlic and those flavors were more diffused throughout the soup. It wasn't very liquid at all this way, so if that is something you prefer, don't use as many lentils. Probably even half would make it a more traditional soup consistency.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recipe: Matcha Chocolate Chip Scones

With all of the new things I am making, a few are standing out as game changers. This is one of them. I don't typically bake all that well, but who knew scones were so easy? Plus, tea and chocolate and baked goods together? Yes, please. I foresee running out of matcha rather quickly now. I adapted this recipe a little bit, as I found the scone mixture to be too sticky on its own. I added a lot more flour in the end, close to another cup's worth. I've made this twice, and it came out really well both times. My first was a hair better, because I spent a bit more time mixing things more thoroughly (my biggest challenge when cooking or baking is impatience), but I'd say this is pretty reliable.

Clearly this is not helping the weight loss a whole lot. I've upped my minimum walking distance to three miles instead of a mile and a half in part because of this exact situation. Whatevs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Recipe: Sausage and Mushroom Pasta

My overall goal to learn 50 new dishes this year is going super well. I don't plan to share all of them here, just the ones I could see making again. Out of 50 brand new experiments, I consider myself happy if 2/3 are good enough to be repeated, and so far I have done far better. As of today, I am down to 42 more.

This is an Italian style sausage and mushroom pasta - super easy, super tasty. I got the recipe here. Budget Bytes has become a go-to recipe site for me, I have several more bookmarked to try. I only adjusted a couple of things from this recipe. I used fresh oregano and fresh basil, as I am trying to get in the habit of using fresh when I have the opportunity. I really believe it made a huge flavor difference. I also used hot Italian sausage - I prefer the flavor, but I also feel like it seasoned the whole dish super well. I didn't add any extra salt or pepper at all. My sausage was locally made, and less firm, so there was more oil in the bottom of the pan. I also cooked 4 links, but only sliced three for the final dish - one was lunch. More oil = more unhealthy but more flavor. I also sauteed the garlic and onions and mushrooms in the oil a little before adding the tomato. Finally, a friend recommended I partially cook the pasta and add less stock so I could prevent mushiness.

You can see, my sausages are bigger and crumblier. Still yummy.

I sliced mine thickly because it wasn't as firm - it doesn't matter in terms of flavor. I think next time I would consider just removing it all from the casing and browning it like ground meat.

Mixing in onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the oil.

Added tomatoes and partially cooked pasta. I used ziti because that is what I had on hand.

Finished. Not particularly fancy looking or refined...but damn tasty. This turned out absolutely fantastic, and it reheated really well too. I've been on a mission to use up the excessive amount of carbs in my pantry, and this was a great help. Seriously, I have no idea how I got POUNDS AND POUNDS of pasta, rice, and other grains...but I have a feeling I will be spending the next six months using it up. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Icy Day

My motivation is a bit off today, and has been lately. Getting signed up for subbing has just been one annoying road block after another, the latest being that I need to get a new TB test done. And of course, it is ice pellet-ing today. Schools are closed, and I nearly killed myself getting something from my car, so no driving to get it done today.

I am trying to maintain perspective. Worked on application stuff for contract positions instead, repeating in my head that this is really the end goal. Subbing is just something to do, a way to get my face into schools, and make a little money while I work on getting the contract job. The real goal. Without that I have little to no idea where I am headed in 6 months, which is not a state of being I really enjoy.

Additionally, I realized yesterday that today was my dear friend Tracy's birthday. Tracy passed away from breast cancer almost four years ago at age 30. I truly can't believe how time has flown, but it also somehow feels so much longer than that. I met her two months before she got diagnosed, when I had just moved to Baltimore and begun working at the animal hospital. I was having a hell of a time fitting in there and adjusting to my new position. In the months after her diagnosis, we started to get a lot closer. I didn't know then that after she was diagnosed, she lost a huge number of her oldest friends. I never thought about her cancer as impacting whether or not we would be friends. She was a lovely, inspiring person who never ever stopped working for her dreams and improving herself. She was diagnosed as stage 4, but still sought out opportunities to go back to school and start her own business.

I think, as frustrated as I am about my employment situation, it was good for me to have reason to stop and remember her so much today. Not because I am alive and she is not and she was SO alive right up until she wasn't, or because I feel bad for being frustrated. But because she would be so proud of what I am doing, even at my most frustrated. She saw the good in everything. To this day, the most touching compliment I have ever received was the time she told me I was brave. It was six months after I moved to Baltimore, deeply struggling with the transition, and learning to live on my own. I was telling her that I was feeling like a failure at my job, at practical life things like knowing what to do when the car won't start, and other practical day to day things I seemed to lack knowledge about. And she just looked at me and told me that I was one of the bravest people she had ever met. I had chosen a profession that was hard, not really in line with the expectations of my family, and moved to a new city where I really didn't know many people to make a life for myself. She had never left Baltimore, and I had never considered how it might affect someone to never live anywhere else.

So while I might not be meeting standards I set for myself, pretty much ever, I try to remember how supportive Tracy was, and that I shouldn't minimize what I am doing because even if it is not going as quickly as I would like or according to plan, it is more than most people even try to do. I should be proud.

So today, I am working on the big dream, the contract job stuff, in Tracy's honor, and not worrying about subbing. Well, not worrying as much as I am capable of not worrying. I have been talking to a new guy on OkCupid, a professional musician who seems to live very much in the now. I wasn't expecting to enjoy him as much as I have been, and he said he would call to talk again today or tomorrow. He is a lovely phone chatter, which helps undo some of the dating frustration. I think regardless of what does or doesn't happen, he was the exact right person for me to encounter right now, during a time where I need help worrying less about the future even as I work towards it.

I am also working on my yearly goals by making a new recipe today. I have one planned to post about already, and this will be another if it turns out as well as I hope it will. Today is an icy, semi rainy day. Tracy always said that she loved rainy days, not because she liked the rain, but because we need the rain. Today is a rainy day.