Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Z-Ya!

I am in awe that I managed to complete this blogging challenge. I thought for sure that I would start it, do maybe four or five days, and then sort of fizzle out with the rest of the crowd that decides to quit - consciously or otherwise-  a week in. It's easy for the first couple of days, but after awhile, it sure gets hard! This said, I can see why other people are addicted to this annual challenge, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to give it a try next year.

The annual reflection post is one where you're meant to write about what you've done that surprises you, but frankly, the whole thing surprised me! When I started this blog as a review blog, I never dreamed I'd ever catch the eye of one subscriber, let alone the 50+ I have now. I figured that nobody would want to read the rants and raves of a twenty-four year old who is pretty poor and trying to decide on the best garbage bags to buy. But surprisingly, you did! And you still continue to! Without your support, I couldn't be where I am today, and I'm continually amazed by the wonderful comments and feedback I receive on a daily basis.

In the coming weeks and months, I plan to switch things up a bit. I'll write a few times a week, but not daily - I don't think I could handle that! I will have a day of the week set aside exclusively for Mr. Pixel and products concerning him, and perhaps a food review day. I will also establish a rating system you can refer to that will be consistent and thorough. Mostly, though, this will just be a repository for the things I use in my day-to-day, American consumerist experience. They won't all be helpful or useful, and they won't all be interesting, but they will be genuinely tested by a real-life woman, and that's something!

Please don't hesitate to talk to me if you have a small business. If you sell soap, cat treats, deodorant, books, tea, candles ... whatever it is, I'll review it and pay for it, too! Just let me know what I can do for you - mutual views from both your fans and mine will work wonders. :) Constructive feedback would be great, too.

When I hit 100 followers, I plan on doing a giveaway! When I get closer to that number, I'll post the contest - hopefully people entering the contest will boost followers even more.

I am nowhere near the end of my blogging journey, is what I am trying to say at the close of the day. So this isn't a goodbye, but merely a z-ya later!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Yankee Candle

Come here, I've got a secret for you. Lean in closely because I'm only gonna say this once, people are listening:

Yankee Candle is overrated.

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in before I continue. Are we squared away now? Great.

This is not to say that I don't like Yankee Candle. As a matter of fact, I love the stuff and think they put out a consistently good product that will smell great from first burn to last snuff for the most part, but none of this excuses the price gouging! Yes, I said price gouging. Some people might argue that a candle is an investment because you get hours of burn time out of them and they bring such happiness. And yes, while that might be true, at the same time there is a price ceiling - in my eyes, anyway - where after you spend $X, the quality of the candle no longer improves.

Take a $1.50 Wal-Mart candle and compare it to a $15 Bath & Body Works candle, and compare that to a $27 Yankee Candle. There is probably a giant jump in quality from the Wal-Mart candle to the B&BW one, if only because the scents tend to dwindle and die in a Wal-Mart candle and their tarts seem to have a plasticky scent behind them that I can't ever seem to get rid of. Between the B&BW and the Yankee Candle, though, there might in fact be a negligible quality difference, if any at all.

But Patricia! you cry. Sometimes Yankee Candle sells them 2/$27 and then they are worth it! Maybe. Bath & Body Works sells their large jars 2/$20 sometimes, and a lot of people find that the B&BW/Slatkin candles work better, smell better and burn cleaner. Then again, there are also people out there who find Wal-Mart branded candles and tarts charming and quaint and would not mind spending $5 on a candle from there because they are in it for the vague atmospheric scent, not the layers.

I'm a self-ascribed candle snob, and spend a lot of my time trying to locate the loveliest candles I can. Because of this, while I do admittedly spend $10 every now and then on wax tarts from Yankee Candle (until B&BW makes tarts, not sure what will happen then!), I by and large purchase my candles from third parties. I'll review a third party candle often because of this, and I think it really helps to showcase candles that are unique and different, so expect more candle reviews to come out of the woodwork in the coming days!

For now, though, I will admit to owning various Yankee Candle products. Some, I'm satisfied with - you can't ever beat a good $1 tart sale. Others, though, I am deeply disappointed by. (their car scents never seem to last no matter what I do, and I refuse to leave them in the plastic bag dangling from my rearview as the packaging seems to suggest - too weird for me!).

Overall, if you can find them at a deep sale, Yankee Candle makes some good candles. However, so do many other people at much cheaper prices, and those are something you can't shake a wick at.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Dr. Scholl's Odor-X Odor Fighting Spray Powder

For both your benefit and my own, I will keep this one clean, simple, cut and dry: I have sweaty feet. And whether or not you admit it, chances are you do, too.

I work in a job that requires me to dress "business casual." In the summer months, this can often translate to sandals or some other sort of strappy shoe that lets your feet hang out like they've got nothing to hide. The other months of the year, though, present a bit of a problem when it comes to footwear. My two favorite pairs of work-appropriate shoes are the same exact shoe - one brown pair, one black pair. They are both ballet flats from Wal-Mart that were $9.99 and are wonderful, sweet little flats that get the job done with no frills. I adore them. The only problem? By their very nature, they make your feet sweaty.

A lot of the time I can kick my shoes off under my desk at work and do what needs to be done without any shoes on, but I have to slip them back on to run down the hall to answer a question, or go to the restroom, and eventually by the time 5 pm rolls around, I can just sort of tell that they're tired and sweaty. It's getting to be the summer here in good old Georgia, and while it might not be the most ladylike subject for me to discuss with you guys right now, the fact of life is that it is time to find something to beat foot odor!

Enter everyone's favorite faux-orthopedist, Dr. Scholl. He's back and better than ever with this latest-and-greatest, a spray that claims to eliminate odors in their tracks. Simply hold it away from your feet in the morning, the can boasts, and spray to your heart's content on your feet and between your toes. Let it dry, slip on your shoes, and that's that. No foot odor!

"I don't believe it," is what I probably said out loud while standing in the aisle at the Walgreens. But the name brand was on sale for less than the store brand - a rarity! - so I bit the bullet and paid my $5 and change for this little yellow miracle-in-a-can spray bottle.

Turns out it wasn't a bad idea at all. If the Dr. Scholl's company knows one thing, it's feet, and they know it well. While it might seem like a steep price to pay, this little guy really does pack a punch, and it packs it well. I've used it a lot of work days when wearing flats, and I can definitely tell that my feet aren't sweating as much as they normally do when they are clad in the confining ballet flats, if at all.

If you have problems with foot odor and don't know what to do about it, and the idea of having a pad full of foot sweat tucked into the bottom of your shoe disgusts you as much as it did me, give this spray option a try! What have you got to lose, anyway? Foot odor you already had? ;)

Friday, April 26, 2013

A to Z Challenge: (GNC) Women's Ultra Mega Energy & Metabolism Vitamins

I am not usually a vitamin or supplement blogger, and you won't often find me purporting the use - or maligning it, for that matter - of any particular supplement or pill on this section of the Internet. But, I needed a product that began with W to review, and I am well-versed in this particular product, having taken it daily for the past six months or so, so I'll let this one go. :)

I'll just get right out there and address one issue straight off the bat: I believe some vitamins do work, but the key word here is some. Studies have shown that there are a lot of vitamins and supplements out there that are as effective as a sugar pill, aka, not at all. Others, though, are much more worthy of admiration and consumption. I would like to think that this particular pill falls into the latter category.

There has been a quest happening on my side of the mountain for years: find the perfect once-daily supplement for me. I am overweight, lack the energy I need to perform tasks when I don't sleep well, and am in the bulk of people who don't get every nutrient we need from our diets. (A lot of people don't in today's society - it's just difficult to get all your IUs of all your necessary vitamins without going out and eating one specific food just for its nutritional benefits). So it's not anything that makes me weird: I'm simply in the majority of Americans that are overweight, slow on their feet and lacking in all the vitamins a vegetarian or vegan might get.

I've tried One A Day brand vitamins, and they just didn't work the way I would have liked for them to have worked. I wandered into a GNC one day last October in a search for something to help suppress my appetite, and the saleslady sold me on this multivitamin. I was already taking a chewable, gummy multivitamin, but they talked me out of that and got me here. Just try it, they implored, I promise you'll see what we mean! So I purchased two bottles - buy one get one half off at the time - and schlepped my 180 days of nutritional goodness home with me.

It has been 7 months since, and I can honestly say that while I don't remember to take a vitamin every day, I do take one most mornings, and I can definitely tell when I don't. I begin to feel myself flagging around the 2:30 pm mark normally, but if I take my vitamin on time, that feeling doesn't come. Similarly, if I take this alongside breakfast, I don't get snacky/hungry before my lunch time. If I don't take a pill, though, I get snacky around 10:30 or 11, which is bad news for me! I've started keeping my bottle in my desk drawer at work so I know that at least five days out of each six, I'm getting the nutrition I so desperately need.

Are all vitamins great? Nope, not at all. Will this one work for you? Maybe, maybe not. I will give it my seal of approval, though, as it seems to work great for me. Give it a try if you have a chance to go by yoru local GNC: you might be surprised what it can do for you, too!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Village Naturals Bath Shoppe Ultra Moisture Milk Bath & Body Wash in Mango Mandarin (phew!)

I was frustrated last night as I was sitting in my bathtub, reading a book and sipping on some water, because I just could not think of anything for V. I've come so close but yet I couldn't think of anything I owned or could possibly review that began with V, and after the disappointment of U I couldn't let anyone down with a lackluster V! I sighed and lowered myself further into the water and then legitimately came into eye contact with my V product: right under my nose the whole time.

Unfortunately, the ending to this story is not entirely happy. While I was staring right at my new bottle of Village Naturals Bath Shoppe Ultra Moisture Milk Bath & Body Wash in Mango Mandarin (how is that for a mouthful?!), I was thinking about how much it felt like something was wrong with the product.

I'll do the good parts, first, lest you think I am focusing on the bad. This stuff smells heavenly. If you poured the essence of a mandarin orange together with the rich flesh of a mango, you'd get something that smells almost half as good as this bubble bath. It also creates an abundant lather that lasts the entirety of your bath. The texture of the product is great, too: this is a milk bath, meaning it's rich and thick, creamy and indulgent. It can apparently also double as a body wash, but I've never tried that myself, and I definitely wouldn't for reasons I'll get into in a bit. It's a large bottle - 25 fluid ounces - and costs only $3.99, so it's most certainly a good amount of product for what you are paying for. Unfortunately, it's not all good.

I have sensitive skin, but it's not that sensitive. Some products I just can't tolerate, but those are mostly facial issues I have. I do tend to get very dry feet and hands, but the rest of my body is pretty normal-to-oily. I don't know if it's my skin chemistry or what, but I haven't ever experienced the feeling some people say they get from, for instance, a bar of glycerin soap: this tightness in your pores. I had never understood what was meant by that until I poured some of this into my bath last night.

Wherever the lather settled over my skin, a fragrant and gorgeous net of it seeped into me and left me with this tight, unnatural feeling around the area. My thighs and legs, because of this, felt very awkward when I got out of the tub and dried off, and I could tell something just didn't feel right. For an "ultra moisturizing" body wash/bubble bath, I fail to see how it meets this criteria based on the simple fact that five minutes after pouring it into my bathwater, I felt my skin dry up worse than a mirage oasis once you reach the horizon.

I have never tried anything else by Village Naturals, so I don't know if this is just a misfortune in this particular bottle, all of their bubble baths, or simply an issue with the Village Naturals line in general. What I do know is that I'll likely be giving this a miss in the future, much to my chagrin.

Do you have a moisturizing bubble bath that you love? Write about it in the comments, I am always on the lookout for wonderful new bath products!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Underwear

This is less of a product review, and more of just a general pattern/occurrence I have noticed over my wide and varied years of wearing underwear on this earth: never buy expensive underwear, it's never as good as the stuff you can get from Walmart.

Don't get me wrong. I have some wonderful panties that I love and adore that have come from places that sell clothing that suits my body type - Lane Bryant, most notably - and when I have the money to spend, I'll feel like looking a bit more fancy than usual and wear a pair of those. What's nice about these boutique brands is that they're usually lacier, fancier, frillier, the whole package. This is what gets store-brand, generic underwear the boot: it's not fancy, it's not pretty, it's just panties, etc.

This was my initial line of thinking, a few years ago. Why wear panties from Walmart when I can buy some from Lane Bryant?

Back up for a minute, and realize this first of all: you can get 5 pairs of panties from Lane Bryant for $25, or 5 pairs made by Fruit of the Loom at Walmart for $13. That's half the price for the same number of panties, or double the underwear for the same price paid at a boutique.

Here's the other thing: it lasts longer. I've had pairs of Walmart underwear that have generally lasted variable years before finally getting thrown away, and even then it's just because I've changed size or the elastic has gone out. Boutique panties, on the other hand, seem to get torn up a lot easier from what I have experienced. The lace tears or there's elastic around the inner thigh portion that frays or rips, and you're left with a lacy pair of panties riddled with holes after owning them for two months.

I do own a good portion of "fancy" underwear, and you can never beat a nice undergarment selection on a day where your self-confidence is of the utmost importance! But by and large, I'll get more bang for my buck and longevity from cheaper, more sustainable underwear. Thanks, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom, for making a product I have no qualms about going back to, time and time again.

(I am well aware that this entry is not up to par. Between my headache and general illness, combined with the fact that it's hard to think of anything starting with U, I had to get something down on paper, but could not think of a thing. Rest assured that the remaining 5 days of this challenge will be up to snuff, though I might have to get uncommonly creative: nobody ever thinks about V-Z, do they?!)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Two Timing Tart

I love candles. Before I got a handle on it, it was not uncommon to see a candle on just about every flat surface in my apartment! There are still candles scattered everywhere, and when I go on a cleaning spree I light four. (one in the living room, one on the kitchen counter, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom!). I have my favorites, and ones I have hated to burn down, but there is always one brand that I keep coming back to time and time again because of how perfectly wonderful everything about it is.

Two Timing Tart is a candle company run by my newfound friend Becky, who doesn't just make candles! She also makes my life miserable by making products that are too good scent beads, wax tart melts, and bath beads. I initially found Two Timing Tart through a friend who shares a love of BPAL perfumes (my review on those here), and who was excited to receive some wax tarts. I was curious and placed an order for a clamshell case or two of the tarts, just to see what they were like. This was over a year ago, and the rest is history. I have bought candles from other places, and I do occasionally pick up a Bath & Body Works candle here or a Yankee Candles wax tart there, but by and large if it is in my apartment and it smells good, Becky made it.

Initially, my order was made to soothe myself after a nasty breakup with my ex fiance. Becky, upon hearing the details about why my address would soon change, made me a custom candle - unsolicited! - named (sorry, mom) "Douchecanoe." It smelled like a creamy fruit puree and every time I burned it I thought about how stupid my ex was, and I smiled. It was - still is - one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. Keep in mind that at this point, Becky was still a total stranger to me!

She has continued this tradition by sneaking surprises into each and every package I have ever bought from her. If I want my living room to smell like a chocolate cake lightly sprayed with ocean water, I can get on Facebook and IM Becky, and she will have made the perfect candle an hour later and given it a snappy name to boot. I don't know how she works her magic, but she does, and I love her for it.

Her candles and tarts are made out of no artificial dyes and have cotton wicks, so they burn clean and long. They used to come in glass mason jars, but Becky has since changed her labels and containers over to these neat aluminum tins. Unfortunately I haven't had the funds recently to buy any, so I've had to use stock photos of the newer line of goods. They come well-packaged and always with a little somethin'-somethin' you didn't expect tucked away in the back of the box somewhere to make your day that much brighter.

To give you a sampling of what Becky has to offer, the first thing you need to know is that she has an unhealthy obsession with Shemar Moore. There are a fistful of scents based on Shemar Moore in her shop, and they all smell delicious. Shemar Moore in a Tux, for instance, smells like angel food cake and champagne, while Shemar Moore on the Beach smells like a good-smelling man who rolled around in the surf and sand and then made his way into your arms. She has a catalog of general scents as well, including 42 - a blend of grasses and flowers that smells just like the most perfect spring day - Hedonistic Self-Indulgence - chocolate caramels of the highest quality! - and Satin Sheets - the most delectable blend of coconut and sandalwood.

Becky's work is thorough and love is poured into each candle or tart she creates. Rest assured that her candles are made to order, and that there is no such thing as a "rushed order" - your quality will come in spades when you order a candle from this one. Do yourself a favor and give Two Timing Tart a try - it's an addiction you can't kick, but at least this one doesn't go to your thighs!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Simple Revitalizing Eye Roll-On

I don't sleep well. This is a common problem that seems to stretch not just through me, but my family. Not a deep or heavy sleeper without the help of outside circumstances, and it's never as restful as I'd like it to be. I average 5-6 hours of sleep a night, and it has gotten to the point now where it just feels so natural to me that it's hard to remember what 8 hours feels like. While I might find it easy to get by, though, it is pretty noticeable to the outside world that I don't sleep well: I have awful under-eye bags!

I wear glasses, and so while my eyes might be covered up somewhat, if you get close enough you'll see the scaly, dark skin underneath. I am a fervent lover of Birchbox as of late, so when I discovered that this month's box would contain a full size roller of the Simple brand's eye roll-on, I was ecstatic! Something that might help fake refreshment? I'm so there!

The bottle is simple enough. It's about as long as your middle finger, and boasts a tiny metal roller-ball at the end of the tube, beneath the cap. The label boasts what is so cool about Simple's product line: it contains 1 vital vitamin, 2 skin-loving nutrients, and 0 perfumes or dyes! The Simple line is as natural as it can get considering it's a cosmetic, and I appreciate that because anything I am going to be plastering on my face - especially so close to my sensitive eyes - has got to be at least semi-good for me!

I popped the tube into my fridge at the suggestion of Birchbox, and after getting dressed, brushing my teeth and feeding the cat, I unscrewed the lid and rolled it under my eyes, gently. It felt cold and soothing to my tired eyes, and I immediately felt a bit more awake, just through that action alone. The puffiness that typically accompanies a sleepless night was reduced, as well. I could still tell in the mirror later that I didn't sleep well - as is patently obvious most days! - but how much the under-eye circles stand out had changed entirely. They were much less prominent than normal, and if you were looking at me but not at me, you probably wouldn't even notice I had under-eye circles going on in the first place that morning.

What this product does not do, of course, is take away the pigmentation under-eye bags leave behind. Because it's just a roll-on of a colorless gel, it's really not expected to, either. I still have to apply concealer and B.B. cream to the area, just like I do with any other product I use, but it feels less like "painting off my under-eye bags" and more like "touching up underneath my eyes," which I massively prefer.

If you sleep as well as I do, I'm sorry. Maybe give a product like this a try and see if maybe, one day, you're the only one who notices you don't sleep well? You might very well be surprised, indeed!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Ruby Wing, Part 1

This month's Birchbox, for those of you who might not know, had the chance of containing a mini polish of this line I have been lusting after recently called Ruby Wing. Produced by the Color Club brand, what makes Ruby Wing awesome is that the polishes change color in direct sunlight! How nifty is that?

Honestly I had just discovered them and was fanning myself over indecision about committing to a bottle when I mentioned the polish to my friend Jessica over at Scary, Simple, Smitten. She replied by asking if I had known that I might get one in my April Birchbox. No, I did not know! Holy crap! So with great joy and trepidation I waited for my Birchbox to arrive. And arrive it did, with a teeny little bottle of Ruby Wing's Peony in its tissue paper folds.

I wanted for my manicure to chip - which it finally did, 2 days later - and applied my Ruby Wing, so excited to try it out. "Elated" would describe my mood before, but after ... "disappointed" might not be a strong enough word to cover it.

In theory, Ruby Wing is awesome. At least, this particular shade is. But in practice? Something just did not add up right with my bottle.

I could not apply polish very well up to a year ago. But over the past year, I've been perfecting my nail polish application process and very rarely have to even do touch ups. Half the time, I can just take a shower and what gets on my skin will just wash right off. But what I am disappointed about re: Ruby Wing is the fact that what you see on the left is a base coat, five coats of polish, and a top coat.

Typically, I use two coats of polish. Three if it's really sheer or a jelly or a metallic/foil that needs good brushstrokes. I kept adding layers on top of this, hoping it would straighten itself up. Unfortunately, all it did was make my hands look like a five year old painted my nails. It ran all over my cuticles and just looks appallingly bad.

I don't know if my bottle was a bad one, either, but the color looks like a sundried salmon, not the baby pink it seemed to be in the photos I saw of the color online. I went out in the sun, and while it was a sunny day, I couldn't really notice a difference in the shade after 15 minutes. If there was one, it was imperceptible. I am not always a big fan of pinks, and this shade was just not doing my pale skin any favors. I rushed home that night and removed it as soon as I could.

I was devastated because this was something I'd been wanting for a good month at this point, just about. I figured, "What the hell?" and emailed Ruby Wing, letting them know that I was wondering if I had gotten a bad bottle - reviews online are generally excellent! - and if there was anything I could do. The good folks at Ruby Wing straightaway asked for my phone number, and we had a detailed 5 minute conversation about what exactly seemed wrong with my bottle. They apologized profusely, said the formula or batch must have been off, and mailed me - that day! - a full-size bottle of my choice from their most recent collection.

While the bottle I had gotten might not have been the best, the customer service shown by the folks at Ruby Wing was phenomenal  I really look forward to coming back here with a good review on the new, green, polish I will soon be receiving!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Questions

In breaking from tradition, today I am going to be recapping some questions sent in by my readers at this post over here! These will slowly make their way to the blog's "about me" post, where they'll form an FAQ for newcomers to the site. :) There were a lot of questions and I can't answer them all, so if I didn't do yours, it's not you! I just had to select the most variety possible. :)

Q: Why did you get into blogging?
A: There have been a lot of times where I've been googling a product review, and realized that either there wasn't one, or it just wasn't very thorough. I love to look at product reviews, especially of things I already have. There is something inexplicably satisfying about being able to go, "Oh, these people love this lip balm - I have this lip balm!", you know? I wanted a web site that was a repository not just for the traditional makeup reviews, but things for my cat, books, movies, the whole nine yards. If you're a twenty-something girl like me, or  even if you're fifty-something and a guy, hopefully something I write about will pique your interest!

Q: How old were you when you first discovered your love for books?
A: I don't know exact numbers, but I remember going to the library with my grandmother and filling this absolutely huge bag with books. I'd hand-select them each and then take them back to her house and line them up along the baseboards in the living room, like sentinels in line to do battle. Carefully, I'd choose one and read it before putting it back with its comrades. Curling up in her big flowered chair and reading like an adult always made me feel so good - at night I'd creep to the floor by my bedroom door and read by the soft white light of my nightlight, holding my breath each time the floorboards in the hallway creaked, afraid someone would open my door and find out my secret. Books have always been a source of comfort and a playmate for me - I can't remember life before them, and there will never be a life without them!

Q: What hobbies do you have other than reading?
A: I do admittedly spend a lot of my spare time on the Internet - it's where I get my news, communicate with friends who are no longer geographically near me, and find time to laugh. Of course, I also spend a lot of time play with my cat or hanging out with my boyfriend. He and I love to watch TV, play board games and just laugh together, he's a lot of fun. I also enjoy music and while I am not an avid couponer, I do coupon. I'm thinking of starting up a coupon-centric day of the week over here, when April is over and I'm done with the A to Z challenge!

Q: If you were on a desert island and could only bring three books with you, what would you bring?
A: I am going to tie this in with my being asked what my favorite books of all-time are! And this is a horribly difficult decision, because it would be like abandoning my papery children! Matilda would definitely have to come - my aunt Sarah gave her to me in a paperback when I was six or so and I have carried her with me in my heart ever since. I will also carry a fondness for Oliver Twist with me forever - it was the first "classic" book I ever read, and I grew up on the 1960s movie musical. Something about that book resonates with me, its pages feel like a warm, broken-in glove I'm slipping on after a long, hot summer. Lastly I guess I would cheat and say whatever I was reading at the time - I hate leaving books unread!

Q: What are some of your favorite beauty and skincare brands?
A: I am a fan of Garnier's B.B. cream, but as for everything else, I'm really still getting to "know" makeup! I am a big fan of Revlon lip butters, for instance, but I don't quite feel qualified enough to really give this the well thought-out answer it deserves. I enjoy makeup and am trying to get more comfortable with wearing it on a daily basis, but I do try!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Pixel

I have a cat. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't just have a cat, I have what a lot of people refer to as a "furbaby." My cat is my pride and joy, and while he isn't always the best roommate - when he's dragging my trash out of the bathroom and onto my bed for instance, or when he's nipping my ankles in the mornings to tell me he's hungry - but he's always a consistent cuddle buddy, and he'll never turn down being held.

His name is Pixel because when I first got him, that's roughly how large he seemed to be: a pixel, a blip on the map. He's since grown like a weed, but he was rescued from a street fight and was just the tiniest, scrappiest most unfortunate-looking thing in the world. But I needed him, and he needed me, and I paid a lot of money to get him sorted out medically because I'm a giant sap. (you can also see how big those eyes are ... can't say no to that!)

I love my cat, and I want what's best for him like I imagine those of you who are parents want what is best for your own children. I want him to have the best possible food, the best toys, the best cat litter, I want him to know that he's loved and even though I'm not always home as often as I'd like to be, he's the best cat ever. So today's entry is a recommendation for the best thing I've bought my cat to date, his toys notwithstanding.

I live in Georgia, where it gets brutally hot in the summer. Unfortunately with that heat comes humidity, so it's not just hot, but muggy, the air outside is so thick you can practically feel your body slicing through it. So when you're not as hydrated as you should be, you know your furry friends must be too. Pixel was very young last summer - 7-10 months - and he would drink water, but he drank from the toilet with an unfortunate level of gusto. If I forgot to leave the seat down you can bet he'd be right there, tail up in the air with aplomb, splashing away. I wanted something that would allow Pixel to get the water he wanted - moving, like in the wild - without the $75 price tag that most 'cat fountains' come with these days.

Enter the Catit cat fountain. What I love about the Catit is that it doesn't make Pixel bend down to drink like he does when he has to eat - the water dish is at his height, to where he only has to bend so slightly to get to his hydration. It doesn't recycle the same water over and over in a waterfall sort of system, but rather it circulates it from underneath the fountain, comes up over a filter and spills out in a mushroom cloud of water, before disappearing back through the filter and into the base, where the cycle repeats.

I unplug it once a week - more when it's warm out and he's drinking more water - and fill it with water to the fill line. Plug it back in, it's done. No muss, no fuss. You change the filter every 3 months - it's a disc of the typical black filter material that just rests in there, nothing crazy - and that is literally all that you do.

I don't have to list the reasons why a cat fountain is ten times better for your feline companion than a bowl of still water (and I definitely shouldn't have to spell out why a toilet is not an appropriate water source), but I'll list a couple just in case:

  • Standing "hard" water has a higher concentration of mineral salts and just doesn't taste as good as circulating water.
  • Cats need filtered water for the same reasons we do: it's better for them!
  • Bacteria can easily grow in a bowl of standing water, especially in the summer.
The Catit fountain can be found on Amazon for under $20, with a package of 3 filters costing $7 and some change. That equals ~$30 a year for something your cat will be so much more likely to drink and enjoy, and I would say that that alone is worth it, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Organization

Today's entry is less of a review and more of just a preview of how things work in my world. I am not particularly organized on a large scale - clothes are strewn all over my apartment, for instance - but even if it's not all in pristine condition, I can find anything, any where, at any time. I thought I would show how I organize my linen closet and makeup.

This is one of the shelves in my linen closet. If you think I have one or two of each object ... well, you're not counting right! I find something I like, and I buy a lot of it when it's still on sale. What this has led to is an overstock of hand soap that probably rivals that of someone who works for Bath & Body Works - I haven't bought hand soap in at least six months. Additionally, I am down to one B&BW body wash, but I tend to stock up on them when I have a coupon that makes them 2/$11. I know they aren't the cheapest body washes by far, but my skin is very sensitive and I just love the different smells and the indulgent lathers they produce. I'm a cheapskate on a lot of things, but never on my body wash.

Additionally, you can see my deodorant stockpile. My absolute favorite deodorant - Secret gel, sport scent - was on closeout at my local Kroger a few months ago, so I bought 3. My second-favorite I prefer to wear in cooler months (when it's hot, rubbing a solid under my arms just feels icky to me) is the Dove that smells like oranges. My armpits are by far the most sensitive parts of my body and these are so far the only two deodorants I can wear without breaking out in hives, so of course I have to stock up! You can also see my 2 cans of Dove dry shampoo - great for a quick spritz before work if I showered earlier the day before - and my toothpaste and toothbrush surplus.

To the right is my makeup stash, though it's less of a stash and more of all of my makeup thrown into a metal box on the counter, and more than half of its contents are brushes, haha. I'm still learning how makeup works and expanding my collection, so right now I can keep it all in this tiny box and I don't have to dig for anything. I was given a few makeup items by a friend recently, so my collection is much bigger than it was a few days ago! Recently the only things I really use are that Almay eyeshadow palette you can see, the B.B. cream, a concealer stick that's in there somewhere and my knock-off beauty blender, which I will definitely write about at another point.

My Garfield mug was a gift from an aunt for a birthday I don't even remember the number of, and I've kept my toothbrushes and brushes in him ever since. He's just so twee and cute, I smile! Not pictured are my floss picks (in the medicine cabinet), baby shampoo/wash (for cleaning makeup brushes) and mouthwash (I use the offbrand Scope because that works just as well at a fraction of the price. Thanks, Target, and sorry, Scope company).

Not very deep or profound, but it works for me! Everything is accessible, and there is plenty of it! Any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to lay them on me! :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Nail Necessities

(If only this was like Scattergories, I'd get a double word bonus for that title!)

I could talk about things related to the word "nail" all day long. I love painting my nails and generally taking care of them, and while my nails aren't the world's greatest - my cuticles tend to be awful - nothing keeps me more calm than sitting down with something to watch on TV and a nice manicure ahead of me.

I've talked previously about my favorite cuticle care product, and so now we are going to go one step beyond your cuticles: your base and top coat.

A lot of nail bloggers swear by Seche Vite, a moderately expensive base and top coat combination that is quick to dry. However, I don't like Seche, and here's why:
* It smells too strongly of my ninth grade biology class on fetal pig dissection day
* It shrinks any nail polish you put it over, without fail
* It gets thick and gloppy way too soon
Many people overlook these downsides because they think the positives (namely how fast the stuff dries - under 3 minutes and you can go pet a shedding cat without fear) outweigh the negatives. In my mind, though, the price tag is much too high for such a negative to exist in the first place.

So, Patricia, what do you use as a base and top coat, if not the world-renowned* Seche Vite? I'll tell you!

Picture courtesy of beautylish.com
I use the Orly brand base and top coats: Bonder and Sec 'N Dry. I occasionally also use their quick dry drops, which I have a nearly-full bottle of, but I don't like them that much because Sec 'N Dry just works so well.

Bonder is an orange-colored bottle of base coat that comes with the premise that it is "sticky" - rather, your polish will adhere to your nail with little-to-no trouble. And it's true - even when it's dry, Bonder still feels a little tacky. Don't worry: this is a good thing! Whatever polish you layer on top of it will meld with the coat of Bonder you first applied, making your manicure last longer than with many traditional, plain-Jane base coats. I like Bonder because it dries quickly, helps hold the coat of color polish to my nail, and doesn't have a really strong odor, unlike Seche Vite tends to do. Sometimes it doesn't work as well as I would like it to, but it has a very high success rate, and I would say it's definitely worth trying out.

Sec 'N Dry is Orly's answer to the question, "How can we make a quick-dry topcoat?" It does everything Seche promises to do, without the drawbacks. Sec 'N Dry leaves my polish shiny and bone-dry after five minutes, and does so without wrinkling your polish, thickening up over the course of time, or smelling like the science building did at my alma mater. (if you had not seen the sign for the building and you just walked inside, let's just say you'd know it was the science building!)

Orly products aren't the cheapest out there - many people swear by Sally Hansen and other cheaper drugstore brands that can (in theory, I haven't tried them myself) work just as well. The nail circles I run in also seem to talk about Out the Door topcoat a lot, as well. What I do know is that the bottles last a very long time, you can always find a 20% off coupon for Sally's, and that at 20% off $6.99 (aka: ~$5.60 a bottle), I'd rather have something a couple dollars more expensive that I know works than a $3.99 top coat that might very well be awful.

Next time you're out and about, give the Orly products a try. While I am not a huge fan of their polish colors, I have never had an issue with either Bonder or Sec 'N Dry, and I think that anyone looking for a decent base or top coat would be hard-pressed to find better quality! (formaldehyde notwithstanding).

* Seche Vite might not actually be world-renowned, your mileage may vary.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Plea for Help!

Hello there, followers! I have a question and a favor to ask of you all, if you would be so kind!

This Friday's letter for the A to Z challenge is Q, and I want to do something called "Quiz Me." While my blog is a review blog, my "about me" section is quite barren, and I want to update and arrange it into something that is even a facsimile of biographical. However, I am awful at coming up with FAQ questions, and I don't want to do it myself!

Please help me out and comment to this post with a question you would like to see answered here on Bookish Geek this Friday? I won't get to them all I am sure, but I'll answer as many as is reasonable!

I would really appreciate it - you can't make it in the blogging world without followers, and those of you who are with me in these beginning stages are so wonderful. :) Thank you, everyone!

A to Z Challenge: (Green Giant) Multigrain Sweet Potato Chips

Is this title cheating? Ever so slightly, but I had to do a review of these delicious chips and the month will be over before I'm able to write another G-related post again! Bzz Agent was thoughtful enough to let me in on this delicious campaign, so the least I can do is go with M is for Multigrain and let the Green Giant part take the backseat! (Another review is forthcoming for the zesty cheddar chips).

When I do food posts for Bzz Agent, typically they send me a coupon and let me go get the food myself. So I was astounded and excited to receive a giant (how fitting!) box in the mail from them last week with not just two big bags of these tasty treats, but 4 mini bags, and enough coupons to give to all of my friends. Having just come home from work and not being willing to mince words or waste time, I dove right in to one of the mini bags: the sea salt multigrain sweet potato chips.

Let me start this by saying that I don't like sweet potatoes. I never have, and while they are growing on me as I get older, I don't think I'll ever go out of my way to try to eat any, regardless of the form they come in. So I was a bit apprehensive that these sweet potato chips would jump up and kick me in the mouth with the sweet potato flavor. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was, most assuredly, not the case!

While they do have a sweet potato taste, it's so minor that if you gave them to me and then asked me what they tasted like, I probably couldn't even begin to tell you, but I might go as far as to say rice. They are very thin and flaky chips that are almost transparent in coloring; not the thick, crunchy potato chips you've come to recognize from a lot of other brands. They aren't flavor stronghouses either. In fact, they have simply a light dusting of sea salt, and taste sweet and ever so slightly salty: it's a perfect, winning combination, and one that I was not expecting at all!

Looking at the nutritional benefits might surprise you, as well. The little bag I had - which was about 16 chips, one ounce and one serving's worth, has a reasonable 140 calories. What surprised me was that for a chip with "salt" in the title, there are only 80 grams of salt in a serving. The #1 ingredient is whole corn flour: sweet potatoes are actually the #3 ingredient, but the list of things that are in these chips isn't too terribly long, either. If you want a snack that is genuinely 100% sweet potato, you won't find it here. What you will find is something that's healthier than your average potato chip, not greasy (I can type immediately after eating them and it leaves no oily residue on the keyboard!) and has a pleasant aftertaste.

While they might not be the most healthy, the chips also don't boast that they're 100% anything - they simply say they are made of real sweet potatoes, and this is absolutely true! Nice advertising on your part, Green Giant.

- Very pleasant taste
- Non-greasy
- Healthier than your average chip

- Top ingredient is not sweet potatoes

All in all, I'd say give these snacks a chance. If you are looking to replace a side of Lays with your brown-bag sandwich lunch, this is a wise option. You might want to stick to veggie sticks if you're looking for something completely healthy, though!

* I was given the Green Giant veggie snack chips as part of a promotional campaign run through Bzz Agent. While the products were given to me, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and are not necessarily those of Bzz Agent or the Green Giant company.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Lips

I love my lips. I believe there was a Veggie Tales song written with the same title, and I suppose this is because Larry the cucumber knows how vital lips are to your everyday life. (we'll pretend he actually has lips for the sake of this conversation). Your lips help you eat, talk, convey emotions ... yet we often neglect them in our makeup routines in favor of foundations and eyeshadows.

I could wax poetic about the products most people already know: Revlon Lip Butters are an awesome product, as are Maybelline Baby Lips and just about any other moisturizing lip balm. So today I'd like to switch it up a bit by talking about my favorite products that don't even have any tint and aren't used to show off your pretty smile, but rather to care for and protect your lips when they appear naked and unadorned.

My first love was brought to my attention by my good online friend Asia (say 'I see ya!' out loud with a very thick southern accent, sounding a little dopey, very fast. that is how you pronounce "Asia"), who vlogs on YouTube over yonder. She mentioned it in a Target haul video a while back and I didn't think much of it until it began to get sunny and muggy down here in Georgia: a true sign of the times until at least September. My constantly dry lips then began to realize that maybe the product she was mentioning might be a good idea after all. Enter my newfound love: ELF Lip Exfoliator.

Image thanks to lady-caramelo.blogspot.com
Asia describes this product as smelling just like a big, hot bowl of brown sugar cinnamon oatmeal, and she could not be closer to the truth. The smell of this stuff conjures up sitting at the kitchen table with my mother in the winter before school, eating a bowl of oatmeal with a small pool of butter in the middle, holding a book open with one hand and a spoon in the other. It tastes like pure sugar on your lips, too, which is fitting because this is a sugar scrub in a lipstick tube.

Simply apply liberally to your lips and rub them together to exfoliate your lips with the granulated sugar crystals, and then let it fade away or - if you're me - lick it off because it just tastes so good you can't stop yourself. The best part about this and all other ELF products is that at $3 (and $3 is one of their more expensive price points), this is a wonderful and affordable way to give your lips the TLC they deserve that they might not otherwise be getting. I put some on each morning on my way to work and I have licked it all off it's faded away by the time I get to my desk, at which point I can apply some tinted lip stuff after I eat my morning yogurt.

The other product I come touting to you today is a lip balm, but not just any lip balm with a generic spearmint or cherry flavoring: this one is truly something else, and you know that before you even unwrap the label.

Unicorn Farts lip balm - yes, really - is made by one of the most creative Etsy sellers I know, Long Winter Farm. It applies so butter-smooth you barely know you're wearing any lip balm, and it smells like a marshmallow covered in peppermint and gently rolled in cocoa powder. If that sounds too much for you, though, don't worry: it only smells good and has no actual taste.

The other thing I love is the elongated tube - it's almost flat and an oval shape, which is perfect for your lip. When I was younger I was enamored by my mother's ability to leave a perfect lip-shaped dent in each tube of lipstick she owned, and it was something I've never managed to emulate until now. Unicorn Farts just applies like a dream, moisturizes your lips and gives them a subtle sheen without being glossy. It retails for $4 on Etsy, but is well worth it.

I use other lip products, as I've mentioned, and am a huge lip balm junkie. However, nothing in my vast lip care experience has come close to touching these two jewels, which I come here to proffer today. Go on, pucker up!

Friday, April 12, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Kristen

I am a big supporter of online friendships and communities. I've kept up with a little personal blog in my own corner of the Internet since 2003, and it will be my 10th anniversary there in August of this year, which is simultaneously horrifying and amazing. Suffice it to say, a lot of friends have come and gone in the past ten years, and while some have stuck around, many have left because honestly it's hard to maintain anything for 10 years, much less an Internet blog.

In the recent years, I discovered this writing competition that this web site ran, called LJ Idol. The premise is strikingly similar to American Idol: people sign up, they post a piece of writing, and are slowly eliminated until a champion is crowned. I took a backseat and watched for a while, but have now participated in a season and a half. (I say "half" because the most recent season is an abbreviated one). I have made a few really good online friends from this competition, fellow bloggers and writers alike. But one of the most wonderful people I have met is named Kristen, and this blog is all about her.

I won't tell you about her life story, because she can tell you that herself on her own blog, which she has so nicely done! I will tell you that she met her boyfriend through LJ Idol, that she is a persistent go-getter with a can-do attitude and one of the most contagious and infectious positive attitudes out there, and that she has the most adorable Great Dane I've ever seen.

Kristen recently inherited a dream of hers, one that might feel farfetched but then as soon as it comes true you find yourself pinching your arms to make sure you're awake: she is about to begin running an independent publishing company! Currently, Kristen is in the process of acquiring and firing up on all cylinders this delightful publisher known as Fey Publishing, a great company with some wonderful independent writers in charge of it. What I love about Kristen is her tenacity: she lost her job not all that long ago, but instead of despairing when times got tough, she kept her head down and now she's acquired a lifelong dream of hers. I really think there's something commendable there, if you squint hard enough. ;)

Her blog, meanwhile, focuses on her life as a writer and, most recently, her publishing company. Kristen talks candidly about everything from her encounter with a baboon as a child to struggling to self-promote her blog. And I can tell you, no matter the subject matter, she writes with a silver tongue that never seems to fade away. I have enjoyed getting to know Kristen these past months, and I can't wait to see her go on to even bigger and brighter horizons.

This is the second of my two blog promotions for the A to Z contest, and I hope that you will give Kristen's blog a chance. I guarantee you, you'll learn something: not just about yourself, but about how the world works as a whole.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Jessica

Today's blog is a little different, in that I'm not reviewing a product for once - I won't be tomorrow, either! - but instead, a person. Namely, a blogger. I'll pause for you to wrap your head around that for just a minute. Go to the next paragraph when you're ready. I will wait.

Anyway, this entry concerns my friend, Jessica. I have known Jessica since she was 18 years old, and I was 19. I was a sophomore in college and she was a freshman. We'd been talking on Facebook before she ever came to our university, but I still wasn't expecting her to pop into our dorm room early on that weekend afternoon with this effervescent pep that belongs only to a college freshman. Her smile was so wide it could have split her face, and she poked her head in just past the door jamb and said, "Hey!" My first thought was, "Damn, she's eager!" My opinion on this subject has yet to change, and it's been almost six years.

Everyone has friends who they tend to not speak to for months at a time. Not for any particular reason, they just sort of drift and come back, like those hand-holding otters in that YouTube video about, well, the hand-holding otters.

Like so.
In this regard, Jessica is my otter. Since she stuck her beaming face into my dorm room while my friend Christie and I were trying to figure out the bed arrangement and the merits of delofting our beds, I have seen her go experience a breakup, a car-totaling wreck, the birth of a niece, a new boyfriend and most recently, a wedding, not to mention the tons of milestones in between.  We go through periods of not talking, but we always manage to drift back together, somehow. She's not the fresh-faced little eighteen year old dreamer I met five years ago, but she is still the biggest go-getter and will hands-down be the first one of my friends to try something, even if the idea is terrifying. Plus she has a flawfree head of naturally red hair that I am so jealous of it's not even funny.

All of this goes to say, I trust Jessica. I trust her opinions, I trust her judgement and I trust most of the things she tells me. We are both new to the game of wearing and applying makeup - not for any particular reason, we just are both makeup late bloomers - and I have been following and eating up her blog from day one.

Scary, Simple, Smitten is a wonderful makeup blog that I would heartily recommend to anyone, novice to the world of beauty or not. What I love about Jessica's blog is her tone, most notably. She is a creative writer, and she writes like she talks, so everything she types up is going to come straight from the heart. It's an easy-to-read style, and she tells it like it is when she reviews products. Never one to mince words or be verbose, Jessica will tell you straight-up what her opinion on a beauty product is, as well as doling out frugal recipes for all-natural beauty items, as well as just general commentary on what it's like to be anxiety-prone in the world of beauty, where you can't be timid or you get eaten alive.

SSS is a fresh face to the blogosphere, and one I think that everyone should give a read. Since I began reading her blog, I've added a good 3-4 products to my 'want to try' list, and while that might be bad in one sense, it's definitely mostly good. I am so proud of the work she has put into this web page to really make it her own, and I hope that you do yourself a favor and go check out Scary, Simple, Smitten for yourself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A to Z Challenge: iPod Touch

I don't have a smart phone. And in today's society, that makes it almost entirely impossible to get by. However, I am severely attached to my little slide-keyboard phone that belongs to 2009, and while smart phones have become the norm these days, I never got that memo. To be more accurate, I did, and then I threw it in the trash.

I have a beef with the majority of American society, with regards to how much time people spend glued to their phones. You can't even go out to lunch with a friend without someone glancing at their phone and constantly texting, Googling or checking something. It leads me to feel secluded (as the only non-smart-phone-having member of the group), as well as just angry that people can be this self-centered. They don't mean to be, I'm sure, but that doesn't stop people from emailing and Facebooking at the drop of a hat any time, anywhere. I sit in front of computers for 8 hours a day at work, then go home and look at a computer some more in a vaguely horizontal position. Sometimes I want to get away from the Internet, not closer to it, and that's my primary motivator for not wanting a smart phone. (the other is the cost, but that's not as important to me as the simple act of disconnecting).

That said, I wanted some features of smart phones that I can't really get with my own precious angel of a telephone. The camera is dismal, and I wanted to be able to take mobile photos. Some apps are helpful (MyFitnessPal, Zombies, Run!, etc), and it's good to be able to keep up with the current trends in mobile gaming. So what was someone who needed these things but didn't want to fork over the money for a smart phone going to do? The next best thing.

I am 99% sure this is what's inside my Otterbox
I bought an iPod Touch in late winter, 2011, and it's been the best investment I could have imagined. It's not the most current generation, but the one before it, and I think it's white, but it has been in a case since the day I got it home, so I honestly couldn't tell you.

What I can tell you, though, is that for its ~$100 price tag (thanks, refurbished iPod on eBay!), I get all of the benefits of a smart phone without the monthly data plan cost. There are occasions where there is no Wi-Fi around and I can't always access my email or the Internet, but we're in a society that is becoming increasingly, constantly mobile, so the odds are with you that you're either at a Wi-Fi hotspot or mere feet or a building away from one. (The entire downtown of the city where I live has a built-in Wi-Fi. I'd never heard of an entire city block having Wi-Fi until I found this out - unreal!) It cannot, of course, place phone calls, but it has a built-in microphone and between FaceTime and the Skype apps, as well as bunch of third-party creations designed to make "phone calls," you can probably get away with it as long as you're around a Wi-Fi signal.

A lot of people might still want their smart phones, and I understand their impetus. You can't always rely on Wi-Fi signals, and some people just sleep better with their email available at the flick of a finger, anywhere, any way. But what I can tell you is that if you're looking for a cost-effective alternative to a smart phone that still has all the benefits of one, look no further than an iPod Touch for your mobile computing needs.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A to Z Challenge: H is for Hair

My hair is a hot mess. I'm not exaggerating, though if you looked at a photo of me, you might just laugh and splutter a bit and then say, "Please!" because it resembles a head of very nice, straight, strawberry blonde hair. But that's not all it is.

Look haaaaarder ...
On top of being straight and strawberry blonde, my hair is baby-thin and limp as a wet rag. You can do nothing with it, and this is not an exaggeration. Once, for a project in high school, we had to style my hair like that of a Titanic-era young woman. We used what I'm pretty sure was almost an entire bottle of hair spray to get my hair to hold this delicate, sugar-spun curl we'd painstakingly curler'd into it. Seemingly, this was going to hold, and we were ecstatic. I filmed our video and 20 minutes after, when I went outside to get in my mother's car, a drop of rain hit my hair. The entire thing fell out, and I was back to my stick-straight, boring 'do.

It might be hard to believe, but yes, my hair is a persnickety, boring mess. It's a gorgeous color and is wonderfully thin and light on my head, but it does nothing, and there is equally nothing I can do about it. So needless to say, I get really hopeful that some miracle shampoo is going to come along and cure me.

Spoiler alert: nothing is. I have yet to find a magical shampoo that will give body to my lifeless head of hair, and if you think you have found this product, let me know and I'll sell you a bridge buy some and try it. An additional hurdle is that I am a night showerer - always have been - and so anything that involves "spray this in your hair in the morning after you shower" will not work, as I wake up with dry hair, get dressed, do my makeup and leave the house.

This said! This is a review blog, and H is for Hair, so I need to review something. I figured I would review what is currently in my shower, because why not? The bottle is 3/4 empty so I must not hate the stuff.
They really do change their labels a lot ...

And it's true, I don't hate the stuff. But I don't love it, either. This is Herbal Essences' "Tousle me Softly," their shampoo for wavy hair. I bought this, I believe, in a misguided attempt to fool my hair into believing it contained a semblance of body or wavy texture. When I get out of the shower, my hair is wavy and I think it's lovely. As soon as it dries, though - wham, straight. 

This shampoo doesn't fix that. I don't have originally wavy hair, so I also can't comment to how well this shampoo handles people with wavy hair. What I can comment on though is that this shampoo smells delicious (like a light floral-y fruit, if that makes any sense), and leaves my hair with lots of bounce, if not body - my hair is lightweight when I use Herbal Essence in a way that it isn't if I use any other shampoo. And this is coming from someone who used to use bar shampoo and exclusive SLS-free soaps. (Then I fell in love with Bath & Body Works body wash, but that is another story all together and we already passed B, so it will just have to wait). It is also a pleasant purple color, and I am not ashamed to admit that I tend to buy soaps and shampoos based on their coloration. (OK, I'm a little embarrassed by that).

Herbal Essences consistently makes good products. I remember going to visit my grandmother in South Carolina - later Alabama - and taking a bubble bath in her giant Jacuzzi tub. She had bottles of the old-style Herbal Essence type (you know the style, big and pastel-colored with no attempts to capture the college-aged crowd: they were for women and unabashed) and I remember smelling it and thinking, "this smells grown up." When Herbal Essences changed their marketing to be more targeted at the teenage and twenty-something crowd, my first thought was, "that stuff smells like my grandmother!" (which delighted me, but that's beside the point). 

However, they have been delivering delicious-smelling shampoos for the past few years, and I hope they don't stop. I am continually saddened that I don't color treat my hair at all so I can in no way justify buying their color-treated shampoo, which smells divine in the bottle. I will be, however, buying their newly designed shampoos that look just like the old ones, which I am stupidly excited about. It's everything I loved about grandma's bathtub minus the slightly medicinal smell of old-era Herbal Essence. 

One thing I do love about my hair? Any product designed for shine works, well, glowingly!

Monday, April 8, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Garnier B.B. Cream

I've heard a lot of things about B.B. Cream over the past year or so. At some point - I'm not entirely sure when, exactly - B.B. Cream became the new "it" item to have in your makeup bag. I was still really new to even deigning to conceptualize wearing makeup at the time, so from what I understood, B.B. Cream A) came from Korea and B) would literally revolutionize your face.

It sounds like the lazy makeup applier's dream. Rub this one cream all over your face, throw away six other bottles of face product because you no longer need them, this one does it all. That sounded great, but I was skeptical. I opted instead for what most people do: a foundation, a concealer, 2-3 different products that might fix whatever B.B. Cream swears it will, but many assume it won't.
Courtesy of musingsofamuse.com

At some point after I began to really concentrate on what I was slathering all over my face on a daily basis, I decided to go for broke and check out B.B. Cream. This idea fell flat on its face moments after leaving the gate due to the sheer volume of B.B. Cream products out there. At this stage I worked for a large drugstore company, and women would come in all the time to buy the various B.B. Cream products we sold. I'd take a mental note each time, one Maybelline purchase here, one Olay there, but there never seemed to be a particular brand that stood out. Defeated, I stood back and let my old makeup back in. It worked, after all.

Enter BzzAgent, the most wonderful "free stuff" web site in all the land. When I was invited to do a campaign that would get me a free anything, of course I said yes, but I was positively delighted to discover that it was a B.B. Cream campaign. A free $12-15 product for me to try out? Of course I'll do it! What made this interesting is that I now work a 8-5 desk job, and like so much of the female workforce, I don't want to A) waste 30 minutes of my morning applying makeup when sleep is such a commodity, and B) I want my makeup to last me all day long, from my first sip of water after clocking in at 8:01 to when I turn off the lights in my office at 4:59. So this was a challenge I was willing to accept, but also just that: a challenge.

One thing of note before I go any farther: I have super-oily skin. My face shines like a lighthouse on a clear day, and my T-zone could be used as a bike reflector. Patches of my face still have acne scars, and there are a few small red blemishes still. All of this goes to say that this product really had its work cut out for it. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised.

I spread the B.B. Cream on my makeup sponge, and daubed it all over my face. Instantly, I could see a difference. My pores shrunk, the redness swept out of the spotty portions of my cheeks, and the neon glare of my T-zone quieted down. The only thing the B.B. Cream didn't do that I can't really expect it to do is totally cover up my one or two acne spots, so I rubbed a small bit of concealer stick on those and I was done. Three minutes, maximum. Two products. One happy customer.

Garnier's B.B. Cream lasts throughout the day without any worry about me having to set it with powder. It comes in only two shades, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it could easily match my own pale shade. Best of all, it provides an SPF 20 sunscreen, so the need for a moisturizer is also gone. It has a low, pleasantly clean scent that fades within seconds of application.

Overall, I highly recommend purchasing the Garnier B.B. Cream if you are thinking of using a B.B. Cream, or just seeing how one works. While the more expensive international B.B. Creams might work better, for a starter in the world of makeup or someone just wanting to see how this magical potion would react to their skin, Garnier B.B. Cream comes with the highest of praises from me.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Fingernails

For the past year or so, I have been enamored with nail polish. This is a shocking development to a lot of the people who know me, because I'm not considered what many might call a "girly girl." I enjoy wearing skirts, but not too often. I like to wear makeup, but I don't collect it. But nail polish? Let's just say I have an unhealthy addiction to nail polish.

This particular post isn't about nail polish itself, though, because if I did everything I know and love about nails at once I would be typing for hours, and I'm only slightly exaggerating. So this particular post will cover what I like to call the meat and potatoes of painting your nails: your cuticles.

Without your cuticles in good shape, a good base coat and a decent top coat, even the best manicure is liable to go haywire on your fingertips. Cuticle maintenance is crucial to keeping the polish from flooding into the skin around your nails, and if your cuticles get raggedy, it will throw off even the most professionally-painted manicure.

I have never been a fan of anything-oil on my fingers. I type a lot as part of my job, and I don't like feeling oily, sticky or any sort of residue: I can barely tolerate lotions! So when I went to Sally Beauty in search of something to keep my cuticles soft, I was surprised to discover that something for cuticles existed that wasn't even in the form of an oil.

Ain't she a beaut?
The "All Season Professional Cuticle Conditioning Stick" took me by surprise. The good folks at Sally keep them in a small rack by the register, so they are understandably easy to miss. But they were the only thing there that was for cuticles and not A) in a giant package/bottle or B) a liquid. Clocking in at $5.45, it wasn't a cheap choice, but it wasn't an expensive one either. I decided to take a chance (it helps that I was able to use my $10 off birthday coupon that day!) and see what unfolded.

This product truly blew me away. It smells divine, for starters - I purchased the vanilla version, but it also comes in a pomegranate. Additionally, it's about as big a tube of Soft Lips lip balm, so you can throw it in your bag and carry it anywhere. I don't know about you, but the notion of carrying around a bottle of slick, slippery cuticle oil in my bag makes me too nervous to even fathom it. I keep it in my purse, on my keyboard at my desk, and everywhere in between. It makes it easy and downright fun to soften up your cuticles, with hardly any effort on your part!

Cuticle care is often overlooked because it's a discouraging process that tends to make people moan that they don't have time for it. The ability to care for my cuticles while typing at my desk at work has increased my ability to look after them tenfold: I'm much more cuticle-conscious than I ever was before, now! The tube will go a long way, of course, as you're using barely any each time you use it. The only thing I would say is be careful of using it in the summer months, when it gets very hot: like all balmy substances, it might melt a bit in the tube if you leave it in the heat for too long. Go ahead, get conditioning!

Friday, April 5, 2013

A to Z Challenge: Entertainment

When I was younger, I watched a lot of television. This rapidly began to fade the moment I hit college, because I was simply too busy, and it's been waning ever since. My days of coming home from school, plopping down in front of the TV and watching Garfield & Friends are long behind me, comrades, and while I could recreate it these days (Garfield & Friends is on Hulu now!), I don't think I'd much want to.

What they don't really tell you about being an adult (and at 24, my grasp on the concept of 'adult' is tenuous at best) is that what really becomes a commodity is time. I work 8 am to 5 pm and spend at least an extra hour outside of that in a car. My sleep schedule suffers because I just don't want to be asleep when I could be awake doing something awesome that's not related to my wonderful job. (I really do love what I do. It's just my first "real adult" job and I am getting used to working a predictable, solid workday: before now, I worked retail, and it's anyone's guess what will happen to your schedule then).

Just last night, for instance, I sat down around 7:30 pm to watch Veronica Mars and paint my nails, because my boyfriend was out of town for the night. I woke up when my alarm went off at 7:15 this morning. The noise of anger I made scared my cat enough to make him leap out of my bed and run into the kitchen, afraid something had happened to his breakfast. Because I sleep for 5-6 hours each night instead of the 8 I so rightfully deserve, I had an amazing deficit to make up for, unfortunately at the cost of me having some "me time."

All this goes to say, my "E" is for "Entertainment," because I want to introduce you to my favorite TV show. One that has a solid fanbase, but it's not so big that you see communities online about it, and not a lot of people talk about it. (Out of the several hundred friends I have on Facebook, for instance, I can name about 3 that watch this show alongside me).
You will cry buckets. It is so worth it.

Parenthood tells the story of a family of six: two sisters, two brothers, a mom and a dad. It chronicles the struggles of the children (all adults with their own families), and what they are doing with their lives. Just from looking at this cast photo, you might think "Oh, no. Too many characters. It's a soap opera. Not gonna even touch it." And you'd be right in that there are a lot of characters, but it is surprisingly easy to follow.

You have the archetypal "eldest son" and his wife Kristina and their two children, and their struggles with - in the beginning, at least - the possibility that their son Max might be Autistic. There is Julia and her husband Joel, Julia being the "power mom" lawyer and her husband the stay-at-home dad type. Sarah is played by Lorelei Gilmore Lauren Graham, and if you copy and paste Lorelei Gilmore's personality into Sarah Braverman, you get exactly what Sarah's deal is, but this incarnation of Lorelei has 2 kids instead of 1. (the one flaw I can say this show starts off with is that Sarah is Lorelei Gilmore 2.0 in every way, shape and form). Lastly there is the youngest manchild of a son, Crosby, living on a houseboat and being a womanizer. And mom and dad and their struggling marriage. But I digress.

Are these characters archetypes? Absolutely. But what Parenthood does that most shows starring archetypes don't is make you care. It holds you underwater until you admit that that you love it, it figures out who your favorite character is, and then it tortures them until you cry alongside them. The Braverman family is full of drama and issues and dark moments, but also so much beautiful, bittersweet feeling that there is hardly a dry eye in the house by the time the credits roll each episode.

I discovered this show when I was 22, when my ex and I were going through a rough patch a week or two before we broke up. He and I lived together, but I wanted to leave him alone, so I'd just lay in bed and watch Netflix. I stumbled upon this show and the rest is history. I curled up in bed with my laptop, wrapped myself in my comforter, and watched their lives unfold for hour upon hour. I saw myself in each of them, and in turn, each of them became part of me. I cheered on their victories and wept at their defeats. The producers of this show are so adept at tugging on heartstrings like marionettes it should be illegal, but of course it isn't, and of course, it's wonderful.

Give Parenthood a chance, and it might just surprise you. There are some stereotypical moments where you'll think, "Oh, really?" but you'll get over it soon enough. The first three seasons are available on Netflix, with the most recent season four soon to follow. Season five hasn't been green-lit yet, so you have time - and an impetus! - to watch my favorite show now.

Go on. I'll wait.