Friday, March 29, 2013

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: Why You Should Try Out Indie Perfumes

There are a whole lot of indie markets out there for countless products. It's easy to buy indie makeup, indie nail polish, indie-published books, even. But what a lot of people don't even realize exists is one of the most burgeoning and lively indie markets out there: the indie perfume business!

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, an online indie perfumery, is one such business. BPAL is vegan-friendly, hand-made, and tested only on any willing participants. (believe me, there are always willing BPAL testers!) What makes BPAL so wonderful is its huge and varied customer base. They host a web forum with over 16,000 members and are always on the lookout for more ways they can improve their products and please their fans.

A little resistance can come into play when discussing indie perfumes, however. The price point can be a bit of a sore spot for a lot of people (a "general catalog" BPAL, one that is not a special edition, rings up at $16 a pop, plus shipping starting at around $7 depending on how many bottles you are buying). However, when you consider the fact that your perfume is made by hand and is unique, you really are buying something special. The perfumes come in glass 5 mL bottles, and can be decanted into roller bottles, applied with Q-tips or special caps for purchase with glass rods in them called wand caps (my personal favorite). Others still like to tilt the bottle so that the perfume gets on the inside of the lid, and daub that onto their pulse points. The bottles make a great conversation piece anywhere in your home, and are addictive little sons of guns. (Many people collect the empty bottles and display them just for the bottle art!)

An example of some BPAL bottles, courtesy of
Mass-marketed perfumes are often made with alcohols, which seep into your skin and leave the sort of medicinal smell you can often catch behind the fragrance of someone wearing a mass-market perfume. BPAL and other indie perfumers don't use alcohol in their perfume, leaving you with a scent that is purely driven by its ingredients and is - even better! - unique-smelling on you. I have had friends wear the exact same blend as me, and neither of us smells the same. On me, it might smell wonderful, but on a friend, awful. That's the beauty of an indie perfume, and why it's so wonderful to explore.

As many of you might know, I am a fairly frugal shopper. I don't often spend my money on things unless I can seriously justify their cost, and because of this I'm sure many of you are wondering why on earth I am endorsing a product so expensive. It can easily be explained like so: taking the time to do something great for yourself can be worth every penny. I wear drugstore makeup and don't use expensive bath products: my splurges are generally nail polish and sometimes perfumes. I can have a hard day at work, daub on some of my favorite BPAL, and feel the calm seeping into my skin. I'd rather spend $16 on a bottle of perfume I will wear again and again (and really, these bottles last forever) than $30 on a giant bottle of something I know at least 2 other women in my office are wearing.

I'll come back later to highlight the scents of some of my most favorite BPAL blends, along with my #1 favorite, but I wanted to put up a general post about my most favorite perfumery out there, because despite its overwhelming web presence, BPAL can never get enough love.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Storyteller: A Review

I will admit that for the last 5 or 6 years, I have not been Jodi Picoult's biggest fan. I loved her initial books: my favorite will always be Keeping Faith, a book as old as my younger sister (14 years old). It seems, though, that as time wears on, Picoult's writing gets a bit more ridiculous with each passing year. I believe it was the abrupt overnight success of My Sister's Keeper that did it, but suddenly Picoult became a household name.

 I haven't enjoyed a Picoult book since she became popular, and it's always a great shame to me. Each year, she writes a new book around my birthday - March - and each year, I purchase it and am conflicted. On one hand, I will always love and envy her writing style, but on the other hand, it always feels like she is trying so hard to slam-pack her most recent novel with whatever hot-button issues she can fit into it. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The Storyteller, while full of current events, is a beautiful read.

There was a point, near midway through the book, where I was going to read for "just 15 minutes before bed." This was around 11:30 pm. Suddenly I had read 200 pages, it was 2:30 in the morning, and there were tears streaming down my cheeks. Picoult hasn't made me cry in recent years - a feat she was easily able to accomplish in previous books - and it was good to feel touched by a book again.

The Storyteller - well - tells the story of a young woman named Sage. (she has sisters named Pepper and Saffron. I forgive her). She's seen some shit, basically, and is in a death support group for people trying to recover from the deaths of their loved ones. There, she meets Josef Webber, an elderly man who has a pet Dachshund and always seems to be friendly to everyone he meets, the town "awesome old man who everyone loves." They become fast friends, and at some point, he asks her to do the unthinkable: kill him. She was raised Jewish, and he admits to being a Nazi, and wants to be murdered. Well, what the hell do you do in this situation?

 This novel pulls out all the stops. It contains a lengthy biography of Sage's grandmother, a prisoner at Auschwitz, and you can feel the tension and anxiety, the grief and the sadness, pulsing through you. You sympathize with Josef on one page, and you hate him on the next. You think Sage is a stuck-up jerk, but 20 pages later, you kinda understand where she's coming from.

Are there stereotypical, over-the-top characters? Yes, there are. (for instance, an ex-nun who runs a bakery and a barista who only speaks in haiku). Is the only other point of view character, an FBI agent whose single marital status is referred to at least six times his first chapter, clearly Sage's love interest? Duh. The story is told via 4 points of view: Sage, Leo (the handsome FBI agent), at one point in the middle Sage's grandmother, and then these short, italicized pieces that detail a story written by a character. By the midpoint of the book, I began to sort of just glance over these italicized points - they didn't seem to contribute too much to the overall book, more so just to beat a dead horse of a point home, and just didn't fit with the rest of the book. But that's my experience, and your mileage may vary. But I am willing to look past the worn-out archetypes because I believe this is a story that needs to be told.

A lot of people - myself included - tend to forget that there are a whole bunch of Nazis still alive today, as well as survivors. They are in their 90s, but they are still alive. The holocaust feels like a far-away dream, but in reality it was less than a lifetime ago, and while we are all forced to read Elie Wiesel's beautiful Night in high school, it just hits you differently when it's a work of fiction you're reading voluntarily.

Definitely go pick up a copy of The Storyteller. Drink it in, enjoy it, let the warmth run down your throat. Parts are definitely hard to swallow, but the parts that aren't more than make up for the parts that are. Fair warning, though, it will make you want to eat more carbohydrates than ever before. (two of the POV characters are bakers. Picoult loves-loves-loves descriptive sentences. You do the math).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Clear 7-Day Scalp & Hair Challenge: Introduction

For those of you who don't know, I am into free samples like a three-year-old is into Tinkerbell. (Hint: the answer is "extremely"). I am a BzzAgent, and with that comes the perks of obtaining free samples - and more often than not, free full-sized products! - of just about any product you can think of that might need to be tested by the public right before, or during the start of, its wide release. While the bulk of my free samples have come from this delightful company, the one I am talking to you about today is not from BzzAgent - a blog first for me, to be certain.

The Clear 7-Day Scalp & Hair Challenge was presented to me, initially, as a simple "click this link, fill this out, you get free shampoo" post on a forum I frequent. Always willing and eager to accept free things, I clicked it and discovered that while this is a free sample giveaway, it's also a chance to talk about your opinions and thoughts regarding a product, ala my much-beloved BzzAgent. Who could pass that up?

I promptly forgot about it, and last week checked my mail to discover a sweet little box, like so:
Inside this compact little beauty of a box is a coupon for $1 off any one bottle of Clear product, as well as not one, not two, but seven days worth of Clear shampoo and conditioner duo trial-sized packets:
(bad lighting not included)

I don't remember indicating my hair type when I signed up for this promotion, but I know that I must have. All of the bottles of Clear featured on the packaging and marketing materials show this bottle but with pink writing, claiming to be shampoo for "damage & color repair." While I dyed my hair during a few misguided months in my undergraduate years, it's been at least five, and so I don't need repair for anything, simply good old-fashioned washing and conditioning. 

What will follow in a future post will be a blog summarizing my feelings and findings after I complete all seven days of product testing for the Clear: Total Care shampoo and conditioner duo. I just finished using day two of the product, and I am a bit skeptical, but I will save these feelings for another day when I have more complete thoughts.

My hair is very greasy and if it's not washed daily or every other day at the very least, it tends to rebel like an angry teenager denied a punk rock concert. So I need a shampoo that can keep up with my daily demands and the domineering oils that love to get all over my hair's business. We'll see if this alleged "scalp care" really does make a difference or not. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Such A Pretty Fat - A Book Review

I heard about this book when I was a junior in college. I was taking a public speaking class, and we each had to select an autobiography and read a portion of it out loud. I don't even remember what I read in hindsight, but I do remember this moment.

 This stick-thin, blonde sorority girl stood up in front of the class, said the title of the book, and started explaining how hilarious it was. This horrified me. I am not entirely sure why, but I think it was the juxtaposition of a girl who was no bigger than a size 6 reading a book written by a woman who is a size 22. I am the same size as Mrs. Lancaster, and so it almost felt like a personal affront to both myself and the author: this girl was little-bitty, and she's reading an excerpt from a book about how hard it is to squeeze into some seats in some restaurants?

 I forgot all about this atrocity until later, when I was browsing Goodreads and saw the familiar cover. "Wait a minute," I remember thinking, "I know that purple lingerie. Isn't this that book that jerk read out loud in class?" And lo, it was. I put it on hold at the library and picked it up a few days later.

 We live in a world full of people who are "plus-sized models" and are, in actuality, size 10 at the most. Meg Cabot touched on this in her book series starting with the titular Size 12 Is Not Fat, and as much as the truth shall set you free, apparently the media doesn't agree. So what we have here in this book is the self-deprecating humor that I feel I can appreciate as someone who is the same size as the author. When she struggles with Atkins, I laugh, because so have I.

Jen Lancaster's struggles with weight loss have helped to inspire me along on my own weight loss journey, and made me realize that I can make a change, even if it's just a little one. I extra-appreciated the ending because she doesn't tie it up in a pretty package and slap a bow on it - she's still fat in the end, and isn't ending the book with a fast-forward through time where she's a supermodel. She's still overweight, but has lost 30 pounds, and is content and happy with herself.

I think that this is a message that not nearly enough people are receiving these days: you can be fat and happy as long as you are healthy. I really enjoyed this book, and am picking up Bitter Is the New Black very soon, having just gotten over my own unemployment binge.