Sunday, December 29, 2013

My First Birchbox: Product Reviews

That's my December Birchbox! (all of the photos in this post are from my Birchbox app on my phone, by the way) Okay, so I was pretty sad when my first box didn't arrive by Christmas, but what a surprise to find it in the mail the day after! It was SO cute, too; the box was gold with white stripes on it that looked like ribbon and a little "Sparkle and Shine" blurb in white on the outside. Then you open it up and there's the regular Birchbox box inside that's so perfect (and 100% reusable for gifting!!!) with its tissue paper and everything. It's literally like a present you ordered for yourself but you're not exactly sure what's going to be inside!

I decided to finally bite the bullet and sign up for Birchbox because let's face it - $10 a month for five or six personalized samples (and sometimes full sized!) of beauty and hair products, a possible snack-type item, AND shipping - that's pretty darn good. Since I've decided to end my Mary Kay business, and I've been wanting to make some changes to the products I use, I sort of wanted to accumulate a bunch of samples of high quality stuff to choose from. So, Birchbox it is! (side note about the Mary Kay: I still have a TON of product that I normally use, like cleanser and eye shadows and stuff, so I won't actually be running out real soon, but wanted a bit of direction as to what products are out there for when I DO run out. Products that aren't necessarily found at the drugstore, that is.)

I heard about Birchbox on my friend Lauren's blog, I'm Better in Real Life. Check her out!

So, here we go with the reviews!

This nail polish came to me in the same color as in the photo - it's called Top Shelf. It's a regular polish, not gel-like or anything super fancy, and for $8 for a full sized bottle I'd say it's pretty good. Definitely up there with Essie and OPI, which are about the same price point. The color is sort of a muted copper, with a shimmer that's just perfect for someone who's 28 - still trendy without being like WHOA. It's a more neutral color, so it goes with skin tones really nicely (I'm super pale, so some neutrals can look kind of funny on my see-through-skin, but this color is great on me). The consistency of the actual polish while I was putting it on was great - not too thin, not too thick, and easy to apply even layers with the brush. I didn't apply a top coat, so it did chip after about a day (this is VERY typical for my nails, I think they must be weak or just flex really easily, because this happens to me no matter what brand of nail polish I use), but because the color is so neutral, it's almost impossible to see the chips. I'm going to apply a second coat today to touch up. Also, it dries pretty quickly. Overall, I like this product. The sample size I got might actually be really close to the full size bottle, so I won't be buying this product because nail polishes last me forever! Thanks Birchbox!

Side note about nail polishes: I got a free color change at Nordstrom from the girl who works for Julep (nail spa and nail polish brand), and IT WAS AMAZING. Literally the only regular (read: not Shellac or gel or gel-like) nail polish I HAVE EVER HAD that did NOT chip after day one. She did apply a Julep top coat, and that might just be the secret - I don't know. It was amazing. It's also kind of expensive, BUT the regular polish manicure lasted me about 5 days without chipping - and then it chipped because I was weakening my nails with the gloves at work and hand sanitizer and sci-can wipes (surface disinfectant wipes for health care facilities...). Bottom line: I'd pay for a Julep manicure.

This ChapStick was the Birchbox FIND for this month - every once in a while, the people at Birchbox find a brand new product that is just SO GOOD that it goes in everyone's monthly box that month, and this month it happened to be a FULL SIZED tube of this new ChapStick product (that's why the price says zero dollars). I haven't used actual ChapStick brand stuff in a long long long time (I typically use the freebees from dental conventions and Burt's Bees lip balms), and I never realized just how much of this brand (and probably other brands, too...) are made of chemicals! The ingredients list for a tiny thing like lip balm is ridiculous - and to think it goes ON YOUR LIPS, which you're then going to lick and touch your food to, and...ew. So, some of those chemicals aren't that bad - oil extracts and stuff from various plants like coconut, scents like peppermint or vanilla, etc. The chemical name for a lot of that stuff sounds scary but the actual thing is not. What is scary to me is phthalates and parabens, and other preservatives, and artificial colors and and and...yuck. This product is chock full of chemicals. But I have to admit, it feels good on your lips. If you're a ChapStick/lip balm fiend, you will probably love this product. I like it, I just have to clear my mind of my chemi-phobia before I use it. The good news is that it feels so good that I've only had to apply it once a day (or night).

I don't actually eat pretzels (or any wheat) regularly - I make conscious choices to enjoy a holiday cookie (and suffer the discomfort later), let's face it, but normally I don't eat wheat. The sample of the gourmet chocolate covered pretzels above was truly a tiny sample, about two bites' worth of a single pretzel, so I tried it. The full size pack is of course larger, and contains five regular sized pretzels for $7. The flavor I got was dark chocolate with toffee crunches and toasted coconut flakes - it sounded AMAZING. After my two bites, I can honestly say my expectations weren't exactly met, unfortunately. If you're a pretzel fiend, you will like these, no matter what flavor probably. I wasn't impressed; maybe it was bland when I had expected wonderful flavors of toffee and coconut to accompany some chocolate? Maybe the pretzel was too thick for all the flavors of the coatings to be fully enjoyed? Not sure. This didn't do it for me, though.

The Beauty Protector Protect and Detangle leave-in conditioner - WOW. That is all I can say - WOW. Smells GREAT, kind of a subtle vanilla without being sickly sweet, and the product definitely does what it says it does! Here's the blurb about it from Birchbox: "This paraben- and sulfate-free detangler seals the cuticles (the microscopic scales that compose the outermost layer of each strand of hair). It also smooths and moisturizes, thereby minimizing frizz, while safeguarding color and adding shine. Lastly, it provides protection against UV rays and heat. Happily, it accomplishes all this through a weightless, non-greasy formula that leaves behind an airy floral scent." So, it's without a couple of the chemicals I like to avoid, AND it has super protective features! AND IT WORKS! I used it the last time I washed my hair; I blow-dried my hair (didn't straighten it that day, because IT DIDN'T NEED IT!), and WOW. Felt amazing. So soft (and still is, two days later, and without being greasy), weightless, added volume to my stringy-thanks-a-lot-late-20s-aging hair, and smells wonderful. The scent is NOT overpowering, it's very light, so don't worry. My only complaint - the pump on my sample sized bottle didn't work, so I put a pump on it from one of my travel bottles, and it worked fine. So, that's not even really a valid complaint! This product is FANTASTIC, and I'm seriously considering buying the full sized bottle (the sample bottle is about the size of a normal travel-sized bottle of anything you'd buy at the drugstore). Bonus - because I don't wash and dry my hair every day, it will last me a LONG time. And, a little bit goes a long way to amazingly soft hair! Love this!

This moisturizer from Embryolisse is definitely another WIN from Birchbox!! FABULOUS product!! Also seriously considering purchasing the full size of this product as well - another one that doesn't have several of the chemicals I try to avoid, this moisturizer (can also be used as foundation primer and makeup remover!!) is SUPER silky and lasts all day/night. It's really lightweight, doesn't clog my pores (which are huge, by the way), and feels amazing. I love this product. The sample size is smaller than a normal travel sized tube of lotion, so that's kind of a bummer...another reason I'm seriously considering buying the full size - I WANT MORE! And to me, the price is worth it! Win for the French, win for Birchbox, win for me. Love it.

Alright, I know you're thinking "WHOA, a buck-80 for this perfume?!" Yup, that's exactly what I thought, too. It smells great - again, not sickly sweet like most vanilla-scented things can be. It's a light vanilla scent with jasmine and a hint of lime. Definitely a mature take on the food-scented perfumes (remember the days of vanilla sugar scented lotion and eau de parfum from, like, Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works?! Ya, that's not this...). The sample was not a travel sized bottle of it, it was one of those tiny tubes with the hard-to-remove cap on it with a little info card. Smells good, but I absolutely will not be purchasing a full sized bottle of this, nor will I ever ask for it as a gift for any occasion. To me, that's ridiculous. There are plenty of fantastic perfumes out there for under $100, and although this is pretty unique and does smell's not necessary.

Well, there we have it! First Birchbox product review: CHECK! Hope you enjoyed, and if you already subscribe to Birchbox and received different products in your December box that you'd love to share, please do! Thanks for reading, and until next time - ciao!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

#samelove #keepmrZ2013 #standwithEC

Today we all learned that the vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School was asked to resign because he is gay. He married his husband over the summer, and apparently school admin just found out about it.

Students at Eastside Catholic organized a sit-in to protest the situation and show their support for their vice principal. Buzzfeed reports that a petition has been started in attempts to get their VP reinstated back into their school community. Once social media began buzzing with word of the sit-in, students at both Seattle Prep and my alma mater, Holy Names, also quickly organized a sit-in and even made some awesome posters with hashtags like "#samelove" and "#keepmrZ2013" to show support for the students and staff at Eastside Catholic who are quite upset about the whole thing.

Totally valid. Rock on EC, Prep, HNA. I'm proud to say I can associate myself with King County's Catholic high school community. This is a pretty big deal for so many students to rise up and make this an event that can't be broken up by admin coming through telling them all to get back to class. I'm really glad to see this type of thing happen in a younger group of people too, because so often as adults (even young-ish adults) we stereotype kids and teens into this category of people that we think doesn't care about much aside from drama and pop culture, and doesn't know enough about anything to hold a valid opinion, etc.

Something to note in this situation is the separation of church and state - unfortunately, even with a petition and solidarity in support of this VP and his husband and the school's sense of community, the school admin ultimately is at the mercy of the employment contracts issued by the archdiocese. Technically, a teacher at a Catholic school can be fired or asked to resign for a lot of things that we would consider to be horrific and unfair reasons. While I don't agree with all of the items in the archdiocese employment contracts (my husband read me a lot of what was in his contract), it is the way it is. This thing is bigger than just one school's administration - we're talking the entire city's archdiocese. I do hope that the solidarity of the students in the community will send a message to the archdiocese that change is long overdue.

This is an interesting time, what with our new Pope and all. I wasn't raised devout Catholic or anything, but I went to church sometimes and then more often in high school and college, and haven't really gone in a while. One thing I can say I was NEVER taught in Catholic church is intolerance. I know the church has a reputation for being intolerant, old fashioned, almost exclusive...and although some men in the hierarchy of the church may have written the church's position regarding various social issues, I truly feel that I was never, ever once told in the name of Catholicism that I should not accept or appreciate someone because of their differences - whether those differences be in sexual orientation, lifestyle, race, sex, whatever. NEVER was I told it was acceptable for me to judge a person based on any of those, never was I told that those who are different than me will go to some sort of hell.

That was just my personal experience with the Catholic church, and I realize I'm just one of many thousands of Catholic fish in the sea who may have had very different experiences than me. However, I think it's important to realize that at the root of Catholicism and its social justice values, acceptance and celebration of the world's diversity is by far the best way we can live - if you're more devout than me, you probably strive to live the way Jesus lived, and all of that...and if you do, that was to love, accept, celebrate EVERYONE. [Haha, this reminds me of the Megyn Kelly thing recently...let's just remind ourselves that the Jesus who walked this earth was, in fact, NOT white, and THAT is the verifiable fact...] This might be a strong opinion to hold, I don't know, but I honestly feel sad for those who have resentment, hatred, damning feelings toward people who are different than they are. It just seems like so much energy to be wasted on negative feelings towards our fellow humans, on a purpose that is literally going nowhere in this world of progressive positive change. And I also feel sort of a sad wonder about those who literally have the fear of god in their hearts - how draining it seems to be, to be afraid all the time of doing something and being punished for it? Or doing something good only because there is a promise of a reward? Why not do something good because it's the right thing to do? Why not just avoid hurting others for the sake of taking care of each other? Aren't those the real values we want to preach anyway? And I'm pretty sure it doesn't require a specific religion to teach any of those...Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, you get what I mean...I kind of feel like when it comes down to it, the basic core values are all pretty much the same. But hey, I'm not a theologian or anything either.

Maybe it seems like I'm being a hypocrite and behaving as though I don't accept those with other religious beliefs, so let me clear that up a little - I don't mean to attempt to discredit someone's faith by ANY means, I am literally curious as to what it would feel like to be afraid of a supernatural consequence of my behavior. I'm way more afraid of what will happen to me in THIS lifetime if the government decides to hunt me down for not filing taxes in 2010 because I literally made zero dollars (and if you make zero dollars, you don't HAVE to file taxes anyway. At least not according to my dad...). I'm afraid of the culture of litigation and mudslinging we have fostered. I'm WAY more afraid to see the consequences of irresponsible agricultural practices, unsustainable social welfare programs, and the ridiculous political system we've allowed to come into existence. I'm afraid of the physical world my children and grandchildren will live in. I'm not sure what's going to happen to my body and/or soul after I die, but I'd like to think that the living friends and family I leave behind will have lived in a better place because we enjoyed time together. Did that make sense?

I'm not the most articulate, and some of this may not have great diction or syntax, but hey. This was all written on a whim, because I was so happy to see on Facebook that all my high school friends were sharing the story about current HNA students standing together in support of their fellow Catholic high school students. I have been trying to cut back my obsession with Facebook lately, so I decided to write about it here instead. And you got the long version instead of the abridged Facebook version :)

Anyway, that's my two cents, if any of my three readers care (haha!). Peace be with you, friends! (p.s. When the Catholic church changed the wording of a bunch of the traditional responses a few years ago, I was TOTALLY thrown off, and I don't like it. Just saying. Not that my opinion matters to the Vatican or whoever even makes that stuff up...I'm a great Catholic, as I'm sure you can tell, haha!)