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Tastykake® Kandy Bar Kakes, I love you.

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(Disclaimer: I received a Tastykake® Kandy Bar Kake free as part of my Influenster Spring Fling VoxBox. However, what you are about to read it all true.)

Y'all know I am a bonafide junk food junkie. There is very rarely a sugar, fat, and processed-whatever laden food I don't love. One of my very favorite categories of junk food has always been the snack cake. When I was little, it was Hostess. In college, I turned to my cheaper friend Little Debbie. But since moving to the East Coast, I have found the One Snack Cake to Rule Them All.

Nothing holds a kandle (hah!) to Tastykake. Seriously. Every variety of these suckers I've tried has been excellent, including some I didn't even think I liked. Most recently falling into that category is the Kandy Bar Kake. In my Spring VoxBox (don't know what that is? Go to Influenster and sign up--so much fun!) I received a Peanut Butter Kandy Bar Kake, made with Reeses Peanut Butter. And I am in love. So tasty. I'm anxious to try the peppermint (York) and S'Mores (Hershey's cocoa and graham cracker) versions.

But back to the peanut butter variety. The filling? Taste like Reese's PB cup filling, which is one of my favorite tastes ever (yeah, I know, lowbrow palette--sue me). The cake is light and fluffy. The chocolate covering is perfectly snack cake snappy. LOVE.

This is what the brand has to say for itself:

The Tasty Baking Company, founded in 1914 and located in Philadelphia, Pa., is one of the country's leading bakers of snack cakes, pies, cookies, and donuts. As a subsidiary of Flowers Foods, the company has bakery facilities in Philadelphia and Oxford, Pa. that offer more than 100 products under the Tastykake brand name. Celebrated for their freshness and quality ingredients, the Tastykake line includes such classics as Krimpets, Kandy Kakes, Juniors, and Kreamies. For more information on Tasty Baking Company, visit www.tastykake.com.

Kandy Bar Kakes retail for $1.69 each, or $4.49 for a family pack of 5.

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How's that gratitude thing going?

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As I mentioned when I went through my yearly goals, one thing I want to focus on in 2013 is gratitude--that is, instituting some sort of daily gratitude practice into my life. I decided that the best way to ensure success in this was to at least start out with something easy. Something, perhaps, in an app?

So, I got Gratitude365. And, for the last month and a half or so, every night before I go to bed, I open it on my iPad (my iPad tends to live next to the bed so that I can surf/read when I am nursing the baby and before I go to sleep) and enter a few things for which I am grateful. Nothing is too small, and I don't worry about repeating things from previous days, I just enter whatever comes to mind. It doesn't take more than 60 seconds.

Most days look something like this:

Nothing earth-shattering, most days, just things that I've noticed enjoying or being thankful for throughout the day. The baby's sleeping turns up quite often. Food is mentioned frequently.

The app is simple to use, and you can add photos, which I think is awesome, but don't use so far, since I typically am not on my iPhone. It provides the view above, a calendar view showing which days have entries, and a list view that chooses (at random, I think?) one of your entries from each day. That one is sort of fun to flip back through:

So it's definitely easy, but is it helping me to maintain a more grateful outlook about my life? I think it is. I notice more and more as I go through my day I take note of things for which I am grateful (sometimes I remember them at the end of the day, sometimes I don't). And on particularly trying days, it's definitely helpful to go back through the things for which I previously noted my gratitude, and most of them are still true/relevant.

After doing it for long enough to make it a habit, I'd definitely recommend this app for those who are new to gratitude journaling.While it may not be the most creative or inspirational way to keep track of things things for which you are grateful, it is a very easy and convenient way, and that seems to me to be an excellent first step.

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The Obvious Game: Review and Giveaway!

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I am not, as a rule, a huge fan of YA literature. I was when I was the target audience's age, but I haven't much taken to the trend over the last few years wherein adult bibliophiles go gaga over books meant for preteens. That said, I was quite excited to read The Obvious Game. Why? Because the author, Rita Arens, is a favorite blogger of mine (she blogs at Surrender, Dorothy). I've been reading Rita's blog for several years, and I admire her honesty, enjoy her stories, and relate to her voice. I've really loved peeking in on her work to get The Obvious Game completed and published, too--though I don't have a particular dream to publish a YA novel, it's been fascinating to read about how it happens. It's fun to watch anybody you admire work hard to accomplish something important to them, and that's how I've felt whenever I've read Rita's updates about getting the book published. Given that, it seems almost like icing on the cake that I really enjoyed the book itself.

But I did enjoy the book. The heroine, Diana, rang so true to me. Though she actually bore little resemblance to my teenaged self, I still felt, at points in the story, as if I'd had the exact feelings she was having. Though I never struggled with an eating disorder or a critically ill parent like Diana does, I still felt the truth in her reactions to those situations, just as I related to the parts of her life--difficult friendships, a rocky first romantic relationship--to which I could empathize. In a guest post at B.O.O.K.L.I.F.E, Rita describes early drafts of Diana as "too unlikeable" and "all rough edges and whining." It's exactly this part of Diana to which I most related. Too often, it seems, fictional teenagers are portrayed as far too rational, too moderated, too likeable. Diana isn't like that. She's a small town teenaged girl dealing with some very weighty stuff, and she's doing the best she can, but she screws up. A lot. And not just in the ways typical to fictional teens, like staying out all night and drinking, but in ways that, for me, felt more important. In one early scene, Diana doesn't stop her obnoxious (and again, so recognizable from my own teenhood) friend Amanda from ruining one of her mom's new wigs. The whole feeling of that scene, Diana's helplessness to stop Amanda even though she clearly knows it's not going to end well, made me feel 15 again in a way that was both uncanny and uncomfortable.

The Obvious Game
lets the reader in on just enough of Diana's internal monologue to both feel for her and get frustrated with her. So often, not just kids' literature, but in adult novels as well, looks inside a character's head, particularly when they are repeated or thematic, start to feel forced. The things that Diana thinks, though, skip right past forced and just make a weird kind of sense. For example, there are several points throughout the book where she calms herself by imagining what type of wig the person to whom she is talking might wear, if s/he needed, like Diana's bald-from-chemo mother, to wear a wig. Each time this device is used, it makes you like Diana more, and hurt more for her.

Another strength of the book is the relationship between Diana and her parents, particularly her mother. Again, something that sounds like it could be a YA novel stereotype (the mom with cancer) feels not like a plot device, but like something real. Diana's mom isn't a sickly saint--she cries, she yells, and she's a lousy cook. Even though she's not the book's central character, Rita takes the time with her to make her feel like someone you know--maybe not your mom, but your friend's mom. It's a great characterization.

I also like Diana's friends. Not Amanda, so much, but her "real" friends, who are fairly minor characters in the book but still feel fleshed out. I like that Diana has a relationship with a male friend, Seth, that is believably platonic--you see that so rarely in media about teens, but I remember it happening when I was in high school. I appreciate that it was included, especially as a counterpoint to Diana's relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse, which was the one relationship in the book that didn't really work for me.

The thing that most impresses me about Rita's book is that she takes theme that are so typical to YA novels that they're almost stereotypical--a teenaged girl with an eating disorder, a sick parent, an unequal friendship, first romance/loss of virginity--and makes them feel not like she's writing yet another novel about them, but like she's telling you a real story about a teenager named Diana that happens to include those elements. It doesn't feel preachy, or like you're supposed to be learning a lesson. It doesn't feel like ground that has been covered a million times. It feels like its own, unique story. That's really impressive.

So, obviously, I think this is a book you and/or your teen/preteen daughter should read. And Rita has been kind enough to donate one copy, either in paperback or ebook, to a lucky WINOW reader, so you can! Leave me a comment and tell me your favorite YA novel. For a second entry, tell your social network of choice (Twitter, Facebook, whatever the kids are using these days) about this book and leave another comment. I'll pick a winner on Friday, February 15. GO!

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4 Comments

Thank you again for your long-time support and for sharing about my book. I love your review -- you are the first to mention the wigs, and it's interesting you grew closer to Diana through them. That was one of the things I added when she was too unlikable, so I'm glad that worked for you.

I loved "Life as we knew it" by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Loved. For some of the same reasons, too. The somewhat unlikeable narrator, for example.

Picking my favorite YA novel is tough. As a teen, I loved "The Last April Dancers" by Jean Theisman and "The Outsiders". Recently I've enjoyed some of the popular dystopian YA books like "Divergent". I really liked The Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black.

It sounds like a great book! I'd love a copy!

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Quarterly Co: The Subscription Service I Still Love

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I'm not as excited about subscription boxes as I used to be. The fad just sort of wore itself out on me--the cost added up, stuff started being repeated between boxes, and I've just kind of lost my taste for the whole thing. That said, there is one subscription I have kept active for quite some time now: Quarterly. Co. 

Quarterly Co. is slightly different than a lot of other curated subscription services. First, it's quarterly, rather than monthly, which both keeps the cost down (it's $25/quarter for most boxes) and makes getting it feel more special. You can be pretty sure you'll have gotten around to opening the last box before the next one comes. Secondly, the "theme" of Quarterly Co. is much more varied than a lot of other subscription programs. When you sign up for Quarterly, you choose one of their "cultural icon" curators--anybody from Moonwalking with Einstein author Joshua Foer to "Style Girlfriend" Megan Collins--and that person decides what will be in each of your quarterly boxes. Each curator has a general theme to his/her mailings, but nothing too specific. For example, my curator is Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Her theme is "things that lift your spirits by making your life and home more beautiful, more productive, and more full of fun." One month, it was a nice notebook and colored pencil set. Another time, it was a collection of tiny objects with tiny boxes in which to put them. Each box has filled me with delight--these aren't things I need, of course, but they are things that make me happy.

This month's box, Gretchen's fifth installment, was no exception. On the enclosed card, she explained:

I love to make food festive with food dye, sprinkles, and bright wrappers. In fact, one of my favorite new traditions is the "holiday breakfast." On major and minor holidays, I now make a holiday breakfast for my family. I put out some holiday plates and placemats, a centerpiece, and--my favorite part--I dye the food to some theme-appropriate but crazy color...

Sprinkles, colorful wrappers, and the fabulous gold dust can transform a dish or an entire meal-with very little time or energy. Which is good, because for most of us, time and energy are in short supply. it's so much fun to play with food this way.

And what did she send?

Quarterly Co. THP05

Opening the box was so much fun! Each thing I pulled out, from the tiny canister of gold dust to the six pack of high-quality food coloring, made me want to squeal. None of these are things I would have bought myself, but they're all things for which I can think of fun uses. They're also things that can be used until they're used up--not adding to my clutter.

As far as value for money goes, I'd say Quarterly Co. has been about average--if I add up the Amazon.com value of the five items in my most recent box, I get right around $25. However, Quarterly Co. is definitely not selling value-for-money. Nor are they necessarily selling novelty, though I suspect many of the products their curators send are new to the folks who receive them. Instead, they are very much selling the joy of a getting a little gift in the mail. Disillusioned as I may be with subscription boxes at present, I still dig that.

Were I to recommend one of the Quarterly Co. curators, aside from Gretchen Rubin, two I'd check out would be Liz Danzico, who promises a "series of portable explorations that help you mark time" and Joel Johnson, whose mailings will be inspired by his grandmother, with "a worldly sense of style filtered through post-Depression hillbilly pragmatism." Both are boxes I'd love to try, and if I weren't so pleased with the things Gretchen chooses, I'd probably jump ship to one of them.

I know there are some subscription box fans among my readers--have any of you tried Quarterly. Co.? Whose boxes do you get? Have you been happy with them?

To be clear--I am in no way being compensated by Quarterly Co. for this post. Didn't even get a free box to review. I just love 'em!
 
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I almost almost almost ordered this box, but I saw the sneaks and figured the sprinkles would go with the happy box. I have a 4 year old daughter and we have a ton of sprinkles, so I passed. We also have gel food coloring, sprinkles and jimmies of all sorts, and a drawer full of cupcake liners.

I guess if it doesn't work for your needs you just gotta pass the happy along!

Also, glad I didn't order the recent "awkward moments" one.

I just love this concept. I just can't choose.

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In October, I received three different subscription boxes meant for babies/parents of babies. Since the models of these three programs are so similar, they seemed to me to be screaming to be compared. And I'm just the blogger to do it!

Stork Stack

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Stork Stack's October theme was "Imaginative Play." The stack included:
-Box Play for Kids Caterpillar sticker, est. value $5
-My First Green Toys Twist Teether, est. value $10.50
-Blueberry Pecan Kind Plus Bar & Madagascar Vanilla Almond Kind Nuts & Spices Bar, est. value $1.50 each
-Tinie Dinies Topsey Squeaker, est. value $12
-The Harmonica Pocket Apple apple CD, est. value $8.99

Total est. value: $39.49, or 141% of cost

This month's Stork Stack box was the last of my three-month subscription, and I won't be renewing. Though Stork Stack's are meant to be tailored to the age of your baby, only two of the included items (the teether and the dinosaur) are things my baby is going to be able to play with anytime in the near future. The caterpillar box sticker is cool, but meant for a much older child, as is the CD, and the Kind bars are just an odd addition all around (and why two of them?). At the same time, the caterpillar sticker is the only part of the stack that seems to me to be in keeping with the "imaginative play" theme. For the price tag of $28/month, I just expect a bit more than this box delivers.

Teetheme

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Teethme's September theme (the box came at the end of the month, so I am putting it in with October's other boxes) was "Teethers on the GO!" The products were:
-Itzy Ritzy Snack Happened Reusable Snack Bag, est. value $9.99
-WarmZe Small Starter Kit & Large Starter Kit, est. value $16.95 each
-MAM Learn to Brush Set, est. value $5
-pbnj baby Paci Wipes, est. value $4.95
-$5 gift card to Plum District; and $10 gift code to ecomom

Total est. value (w/o gift cards/codes): $53.84, or 224% of cost

Teetheme is currently out of commission, which I learned before I even opened this box. I have no idea whether they'll be back or not. If they are, I may give them another try. I liked how the products in this box were in keeping with the theme and were useful things, and I especially enjoyed the Itzy Ritzy bag. However, I thought it was really strange that I got both the large and the small sized WarmZe kits, and I wonder if that was just done because there weren't enough age-appropriate items and the box value would have felt too low without the extra one? I thought the box could have used a toy or something interactive to round it out instead.

Citrus Lane

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The theme for the Citrus Lane box was "Fall Fun." It included:
-full-sized tube of BabyGanics Healin' Groovy balm, est. value $7.99
-Little Taggies by Taggies mini blanket, est. value $9.
-Munchkin Soft Shaker, est. value $6.49
-Little Spider from Chronicle Books, est. value $6.95
-DHC Deep Cleansing Oil Mini, est. value $4.99

Total est. value: $35.42, or 142% of cost

I thought this was a great box. Every item in it was/will be useful, and while nothing was over-the-top fantastic, none of it was junk, either. The theme was only loosely followed (not sure how the taggie blanket or the munchkin rattle are fall-centric), but I appreciated that everything was age appropriate to my 3-month old baby--Citrus Lane claims to tailor their boxes to "age and stage," and that was definitely true for this one. I also liked the little "mom treat" of the DHC oil, which I'm interested in trying out. Citrus Lane subscriptions are $25/month, so the value was decent, if not fantastic. I'd get this one again.

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Citrus Lane does seem to tailor their boxes to the baby's age--my 10-month old got a slightly different assortment of items, including a pouch of Ella's Kitchen baby food and a couple of Munchkin sippy cups (instead of the shaker and the blanket). I've been really impressed with the Citrus Lane boxes. It's almost always stuff that we can use, and it's a fun surprise in the mail every month.

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Wittlebee, I just can't quit you

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A while back, I reviewed the Wittlebee curated subscription box for kids' clothes. My thought, at that time, was that the service was a lot of fun, but probably not economically reasonable at $39.99 for each monthly shipment. However, a few months later, I snagged a two-month subscription to Wittlebee for $33.75 at Plum District. Much more reasonable. The first box I got was just OK, and I forgot to blog about it. The second, though, came last week, and it was so great that I am once again tempted to keep up a Wittlebee subscription.

Wanna see what we got?

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From top left:
-Sage Creek Organics Red Polo Tee (estimated value $10)
-American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Short Sleeve Lap T in Baby Blue (estimated value $10)
-Tiny Whales Away Anchor T-shirt in Turquoise Heather (estimated value $22)
-Kate Quinn Organics Long-Sleeved Kimono Bodysuit (estimated value $23)
-Wild & Cozy by Hatley Red Bear Romper (estimated value $15.75)
-Tea Collection Knit Playwear Pants (estimated value $30)

Total estimated value: $110.75

It isn't just the overall value or high quality of the items that made me really love this box, though--it's the items themselves. I couldn't have picked a more perfect collection of things I'd love for Buzzy to wear. Three high quality basics--the red polo, the blue lap tee, and the gray pants--are highlighted by three super cute statement items--the anchor tee, the geometric print body suit, and the red bear onesie, which is probably my favorite item of baby clothing ever at this point. The items are not only in keeping with the color and style preferences I laid out on the Wittlebee website, they're pretty well a perfect style match for the way I like to dress my son. There is also a good mix of high end brands of which I was aware (Kate Quinn Organics and Tea Collection) and ones of which I was not aware (Wild & Cozy, Tiny Whales, and Sage Creek Organics). Of the six items, only one reads as a "filler" item (the American Apparel t-shirt), and even it is of reasonably high quality and in keeping with my color preferences. This box is quite simply one of the best curated collections of any kind that I have yet seen. Excellent work, Wittlebee!

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Curated Subscription Review: Little Pnuts

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Little Pnuts2.jpg
Photo courtesy of © Peanut Productions.

I'm sure nobody finds my new focus on kid-related curated subscription programs surprising, do you? (Do not despair, though, I'll be posting about how this month's Sample Society box kicked Birchbox's up and down the block soon.) Today, I want to tell you about Little Pnuts. For $25/month (or a single $240 annual payment), Little Pnuts sends four "Special Deliveries" per year. Each box contains 3-5 "sustainably made, ecologically friendly, organic, and naturally made toys." The toy selections are tailored to the age/developmental stage of the child in question, and none of the toys are mass-marketed or battery powered.

The box I was generously gifted from Little Pnuts was the 0-3 month option. The packaging was standard and unremarkable. Inside, I found:

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-Haba Kaleidoscope Pacifier Holder (est. value $14.99)
-Haba Pixies World Car Seat, Stroller, or Crib Decoration (est. value $29.99)
-Sevi Little Fish Wrist or Foot Rattle (est. value $6.99)
-Plan Toys Lady Bug Bead (est. value $11.99)

Total estimated value: $63.96 (85% of total cost)

Every item included in this box was a high quality toy that I'd be happy to let Buzzy play with. They address the developmental milestones the 0-3 month toys are intended to address--motor skills, hearing, and vision. They're well made and from companies I would buy from again in the future. They're also wonderfully gender neutral, which is hard to find, even at the infant stage. It was a very fun box to get, and I think it would be especially fun to get one every three months, each time with new developmentally appropriate toys for the stage Buzzy is in/going into. I think the Little Pnuts service would be a great gift, too--particularly from someone who wants to give a very nice present, but knows little about the current state of toys (great for grandparents, for example).

There is a value issue, at least with the box I got--I could have purchased each of these toys separately for a lower price than the $75 ($25/month for three months) the quarter of Little Pnuts subscription would cost. Rather than being a money-saving subscription program, Little Pnuts is selling convenience and expertise (as is the case with a few of the other higher end subscription programs, such as Lost Crates). While I personally have no issue with that, and I think the service could still be very much worthwhile, it is important to note that Little Pnuts is not a way to get these high-end toys at a discount.

Little Pnuts is probably not a program I'll carry a subscription for--I'd prefer to spend my toy budget on specific pieces that I (and later Buzzy) pick out. However, it is something I'd consider for a gift in the future, and definitely something I would love to be gifted. I think the business model is a good one--it's unlike any of the other subscription services I have seen--and I hope the company succeeds.

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Curated Subscription Review: Ecocentric Mom

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As I get back into the blogging swing of things (slowly...) I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce you to a new curated subscription program, Ecocentric Mom. Ecocentric Mom is "a fun and smart way to discover healthy, natural and organic products, delivered monthly to your home, exclusively for moms, moms-to-be and baby..." They offer three box options--one for moms, one for moms-to-be, and one for babies--each at $17/month, including S&H. Very generously, they sent me two boxes to try--the baby box and the mom-to-be box.

Ecocentric Mom offers packaging very similar to other subscription boxes--it comes in a cardboard box with the items wrapped in tissue paper.

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The first box I opened was the mom-to-be box. Inside, I found:

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-Orgain Ready-to-Drink Nutritional Shake in Creamy Chocolate Fudge (estimated value $3.22)
-2 DivineMama Bars, Datey Apricot Cashew and Macnut Chocolate Chip (estimated value $2.99 each)
-TreeHugger Natural Bubblegum balls, 2 oz package (estimated value $2.99)
-2 Eat Cleaner Fruit & Vegetable Wipes (estimated value $8 for 10, $1.60)
-Earth Mama Angel Baby Earth Mama Body Butter, 2 oz (estimated value $10.95 for 4 oz, $5.43)
-2 Vaska Perfect Lavender Laundry Detergent, .75 fl oz each (estimated value $12.99 for 42 oz, $.47)
-2 Enzyme Fresh Home Naturally It's Clean Floors Cleanser, 1/2 oz each (estimated value $5.57 for 16 oz, $.36)
-Green Body Green Planet Energy Shampoo & Conditioner, 1 oz each (estimated value $24 for 8 oz, $6)
-Green Body Green Planet Revitalizing Shampoo & Conditioner, 1 oz each (estimated value $24 for 8 oz, $6)

Total estimated value: $32.05 (189% of cost)

I had mixed feelings about this box--some of what was in it was great, other things were less so. I loved the large sized Earth Mama Angel Baby product--it's a great company and 2 oz will go quite a long way. The shampoos and conditioners were nice, but I couldn't quite figure out why they'd include two from the same company. The small sample packets of floor cleanser and fruit and vegetable wipes didn't blow me away. The food and drink samples were nice sized, though not something I'm particularly interested in.

The baby box was more impressive:

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-Bathtime Baby Baby Butter, 3 oz (estimated value $9.50)
-DivineMama Bar in Datey Apricot Cashew (estimated value $2.99)
-2 packets nurturme Dried Organic Baby Food, crisp apples & plump peas (estimated value $9.99 for 8, $2.50)
-Oogaa Silicone Train Spoon (estimated value $5.99)
-My Dentist's Choice Tooth Tissues, 10 ct (estimated value $4)
-Love Munchkin Newborn & Sensitive Skin Oil, 1/2 oz (estimated value $12 for 4 oz, $2)
-2 Vaska Perfect Lavender Laundry Detergent, .75 fl oz each (estimated value $12.99 for 42 oz, $.47)
-Episensical Sunny Sunscreen, .75 oz (estimated value $15 for 4 oz, $2.81)
-Enzyme Fresh Home Naturally It's Clean Floors Cleanser, 1/2 oz (estimated value $5.57 for 16 oz, $.18)

Total estimated value: $30.44 (179% of cost)

Even though the total value of the baby box was slightly lower, I preferred it, because it had several full-sized products in it (spoon, baby butter, tooth tissues, and snack bar) as well as larger sized samples (sunscreen, skin oil, baby food). I'm particularly excited to try the baby skin care products, and will save the food packets for a few months until Buzzy is old enough for them. The only weak points I saw were the small samples that were repeated between the two boxes--the floor cleanser and laundry detergent. I also enjoyed the variety of products included, and that the tooth tissues and sunscreen were the only ones with which I was already familiar.

I suspect the baby box is easier for Ecocentric Mom to put together, just because it's not as saturated or as vague a market as the box for future moms. Baby stuff also lends itself to small sizes/sample sizes, and there is a big trend towards green products. I'm not sure I'd recommend the mom-to-be box at this point, but the baby box seems worth a closer look.

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I've been wanting to do this post for so long! I've reviewed a lot of beauty sample boxes, and while reviewing each in turn is good fun, I think it's more useful to compare them. After all, most people are only going to subscribe to a box or two, and a lot of people ask me which I'd most recommend. So, this month, I decided to do a comparative review of what I consider (as of this moment) the three best beauty sample boxes available: Birchbox, which, as far as I know, started this whole trend, and two newer entries into the market, Sample Society and Glossybox. This review actually compares the June Glossybox to the July Sample Society and Birchbox boxes, as Glossybox ships at the end of the month, Sample Society at the beginning, and Birchbox towards the middle. Still, I think the comparison is fair.

Birchbox
As I've mentioned before, Birchbox started this whole trend, or at least was the first of these sample boxes I ever knew about. I've been a subscriber since the first month. Lately, I've been a bit disillusioned with Birchbox, however, and this month, sadly, was no different.

First, the nuts and bolts:

Cost: $10/month, $110 for a year-long monthly subscription
Shipping: This month, I received a shipping notice for my box on July 10 and the box arrived the next day
Packaging: Birchbox is packaged in a small cardboard logo box, with products wrapped in tissue paper. I like the packaging and think the boxes are very reusable.

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This month's box contained four products and two "lifestyle extras":
-Alterna Bamboo UV+ Color Protection Fade-Proof Fluide, .25 oz (full size 2.5 oz for $24, est. value $2.40): This product is reasonable and the sample size is not ridiculously small. However, it's a product for colored hair, which I don't have. I indicated this on my Birchbox profile, so I can't help but see the inclusion of this product in my supposedly personalized box as a fail on Birchbox's part.
-Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint in Bronze, .07 oz (full size 1.7 oz for $38, est. value $1.56): This is a great product, and one I've used before, but c'mon, a .07 oz sample?? One use, maybe two. That seems pretty chinzy to me. Doesn't matter, though, since the color Birchbox sent, Bronze, is two or three shades too dark for my skin. And yes, my skin tone is indicated as "light" in my Birchbox profile. 0 for 2, Birchbox. Making things even worse, this sample is a duplicate of one I already received in a previous Birchbox!
-Oscar de la Renta Live in Love perfume, 1 ml (full size 50 ml for $78, est. value $1.56): I hate perfume samples, so this was never going to be something I was going to get excited about.
-Stila Lip Glaze in Lights, .05 oz (full size 3-piece collection for $12, est. value $4): I love Stila Lip Glazes, so this was my favorite part of this particular box. The color is very neutral and I'll definitely wear it.
-Larabar Uber in Roasted Nut Roll, .82 oz (full size 5-ct for $12.69, est. value $2.54): Like almost all of Birchbox's "lifestyle" additions, this one left me cold. I just am not interested in this type of thing, and I am too picky to get much use out of it. I did try this one, and...yeah. Ick.
-Birchbox Exclusive Earbuds: Cheap neon ear buds. These don't, for me, add any value to the box.

Total box est. value: $12.06, or 120% of box cost

Further compounding my disappointment with this month's Birchbox, I logged in to the site to review the products and found that the products listed as being in my box this month and the ones I actually received are very different. The Stila gloss and the earbuds were the same, but the site had me getting Tea Forté® minteas, boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens, Gloss Moderne™ High Gloss Masque, and Juliette Has a Gun Vengeance Extrême perfume. I'm not sure whether I would rather have received these products or not, but either way I am put off by the discrepancy.

Sample Society
This month's was only my second box from Sample Society, which is a joint venture of BeautyBar.com and Allure magazine. This month, just like last month, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the products included.

The basics:
Cost: $15/month (price includes subscription to Allure magazine)
Shipping: This month, I received a shipping notice for my Sample Society box on July 2 and it arrived the next day
Packaging: Sample Society packages their boxes very similarly to Birchbox, in a small cardboard box with a logo. Inside, things are wrapped in tissue paper and/or shredded packing paper. Again, the packaging is very reusable.

photo(35).jpg

The July box contained four sample sized and one full-sized product:
-Borghese Tono Body Lotion, 1 oz (full size 8.4 oz for $36.50, est. value $4.35): This is a nice sized sample, and I love the smell of the lotion, so I'd call it a win.
-Jouer Cosmetics Luminizing Moisture Tint in Golden, .17 oz (full size 1.7 oz for $38, est. value $3.80): Same product as Birchbox, except that this one is over twice the size and is the correct color for my skin tone. Win-win!
-Sisley-Paris Hydra-Global Intense Anti-Aging Hydration, .14 oz (full sized 1.4 oz for $250, est. value $25): I get a kick out of samples of outrageously expensive products like this one, and I'm impressed by the size of this particular sample--a full tenth of the regular sized product! I'm also a sucker for moisturizer in general, so I really look forward to trying this one.
-vbeaute Eye Never Nourishing Repair Eye Creme, 1 ml (full size 15 ml for $85, est. value $5.67): Another expensive product! The sample size is small, but eye cream goes a long way. I was excited to get this, too, because puffy eyes are one of the telltale signs of my current sleep-deprived state, so eye cream is a must.
-Vincent Longo Duo Lip Pencil in Lavender Lite and Grape, full sized (est. value $26): I'm not huge into lip pencils, in general, but this is a very nice, full-sized product, and one I've neither tried nor heard of before. Both of the two colors seem pretty usable, too. I'll hang on to it.

Total box est. value: $64.82, or 432% of box cost

Clearly, I was a lot happier with my Sample Society box than my Birchbox. The products were just nicer--more usable, more tailored to me, bigger, higher value. Packaging and shipping were a wash, but Sample Society's box out-classed Birchbox in a big way when it came to what was inside. To top that off, each Sample Society box comes with a $15 gift code that can be used at BeautyBar.com, towards a product from any of the brands featured in that month's box--so if you like anything well enough to buy it, the box pays for itself!

Glossybox
Like Sample Society, Glossybox is new to me--this is just my second month as a subscriber. Though Glossybox has been in Europe for a while, they just started offering a US edition. So far, I like it a lot.

Cost: $21/month, $115 for six months, or $220 for a year
Shipping: This month's Glossybox was shipped on June 29 and arrived on July 3
Packaging: Glossybox has great packaging--it's a very subtly logo'd pink box made of heavyweight cardboard, and it's about half again as big as the Birchbox or Sample Society boxes. Inside, the products are very carefully wrapped in tissue paper and/or shredded paper filler and tied with ribbons.

photo(36).JPG

The June Glossybox contained one full-sized product, four sample products, and one "bonus" sample product:
-Ahava Mineral Botanic Hibiscus & Fig Velvet Cream Wash, 3 oz (full size 17 oz for $22, est. value $3.88): This stuff smells awesome, and it's for sensitive skin, which is great. It's also a nice sized sample. I'll definitely use this.
-First Aid Beauty FAB Smooth Shave Cream, 2 oz (full size 6.8 oz for $16.50, est. value $4.85): Another good sized sample, and something I've not seen in any other box, which is rare when you get as many of these as I do! I'm not sure it's something I will use, as I tend not to use shaving cream, but it's fragrance free, which I love, so I may bust it out.
-Ofra Cosmetics Eye Shadow ICE in Goldilocks, full sized .47 oz (est. value $14.95): This is a cool product--it's a USA-made cream shadow with a built-in primer, from a brand I have never heard of, and it's full-sized! Unfortunately, the color I got is just...awful. It's far more yellow and far less gold and I just can't see wearing it. Bummer.
-Vbeaute Lite Up, Buying Time, & Eye Never, .033 oz each (full sized are 1 oz for $150, 1.7 for $135, and .5 oz for $85, est. value $4.95, $2.62 & $5.61): Recognize that eye cream from the Sample Society box? Yep! These little samples, however, are not just of the eye cream, but the face serum and daily moisturizer from the same line. The samples are very small--I'd bet the face moisturizer is only good for one use--but at least they included all three of them, and they are high value, due to the high price of the full-sized products.
-Wella Enrich Moisturizing Treatment, .84 oz (full size 5.07 for $12, est. value $1.99): I'm all about a hair moisturizer, though I'm not sure this small pot is going to go far with my hair length/thickness. This is another product I've never heard of, though, which I always like to see in these boxes.
-A Perfume Organic Urban Organic perfume, no size listed, est. .033 oz (full size .41 oz for $65, est. value $5.23): Yawn. Never gonna be excited about a perfume sample. That said, this one is at least something off-the-beaten-path, not one I'd find in a fashion magazine, and I'll give points for that.

Total box est. value: $44.08, or 210% of box cost

While Glossybox doesn't offer quite the same value Sample Society does, at least not this month, I still really like it. I like the inclusion of brands I have never seen before, and the variety of products. I also really like getting bigger samples, so I can use things for more than a day or two and see if I really like them. Glossybox does something a bit weird in that they charge your credit card for your box several weeks before they ship it out, and their shipping takes a lot longer than the other two boxes, but neither of these are deal breakers for me at this point.

So how does it shake out? I'd call Sample Society the clear victor, at this point, though I'd also recommend Glossybox. The quality of Birchbox, unfortunately, continues to slide, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable recommending it anymore, between the lesser products, smaller samples, and failing customer service/web service. Paying a bit more for one of the newer programs seems like a better bet.

3 Comments

For the record, I received both Sample Society and Glossybox weeks ago. I just got my Birchbox shipping notice on 7/17 and the tracking still hasn't updated. I agree they've really gone downhill.

So disappointing about Birchbox!

Hello,

I post a link to the analysis of Birchbox from business perspective if someone is interested:)

http://www.slideshare.net/AnnaPietka/birchbox-the-perfect-subscription-business-13899217

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Pregnancy is hard on the skin, and since I got pregnant, I have been paying extra-special attention to how I treat mine. Products for stretch marks, for discoloration, for intense moisture, the whole 9 yards. Some have worked wonderfully; some have been completely worthless. Given this focus, though, I was stoked to get the opportunity to review a new product from Dove®, VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash. The body wash is designed to promote elasticity and strength in your skin (important when you're fighting stretch marks!) and promises "visibly more beautiful skin" in just one week of use. It contains Dove's highest concentration of "NutriumMoisture technology," including ingredients like Vitamin E, glycerin, and stearic acid.

dove visible care toning body wash.jpg

For me, there are three major components to whether I like a beauty product: accessibility, experience, and results. Accessibility basically comes down to cost and availability--can I get it somewhere I go often, or order it easily online? Is it cost prohibitive? Dove's body wash gets a gold star in this category--it's widely available and inexpensive, retailing at about $6.69 for an 18 oz bottle. Score!

Probably my most important criteria is experience--do I enjoy using this product? In the case of a body wash, the experience includes the fragrance, the feel of it on my skin, how it lathers, how clean it rinses, etc. The VisibleCare™ Toning Crème Body Wash did pretty well on this count, too. The scent, which is a "warm ylang ylang and delicate wood fragrance with robust citrus notes of mandarin and Italian bergamot," is a bit strong and long lasting for me--it smells nice, but it lingers in a way that I don't love, since I like to wear other scented products. The rest of the experience of using it, however, is very nice. It makes a soft, rich lather that feels moisturizing as you use it (I tried with a washcloth, a shower pouf, and my hands and got great lather every time). It feels rich, but it rinses clean and leaves no residue feeling. Using it feels like using a more expensive product, which is really nice.

Finally, the results: I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that my skin visibly changed with one week of use, but it is certainly looking and feeling nice, especially given that I started using it in advanced pregnancy, during a heat wave. Everything is soft and smooth and no stretch marks have developed, which is pretty high praise. The end of pregnancy is a hard time to feel pretty, and I think using this body wash has added, however slightly, to my ability to do so. I'd call that a win.

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Curated subscription review: Bluum

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I finally got around to trying another of the "mom and baby" centered curated subscription boxes, Bluum. I got a 3-month Bluum subscription for $18 with a Groupon, making the box, which is generally $12/month, half price.

Even at half price, it was overpriced. Sadly, at least upon my first installment, the Bluum box is one of the worst values for money of any I've tried. The shipping time and packaging were fine--pretty standard. But when I opened my box, this is what I saw:

bluum box.jpg

The contents:
-Ella's Kitchen Pears, Apples, & Baby Rice (3.5 oz package, estimated value $1.89)
-Peanut Honey Pretzel Luna Bar (1.69 oz, estimated value $1.59 as per Bluum, but I'm pretty sure they are $1 at Trader Joe's)
-Seventh Generation Baby Wipes (sample package of 3, estimated value $4.69/70, or $.20)
-Babybug Magazine (single issue, estimated value $29.95/9 issues, or $3.33)
-BabyGanics Cover Up Kisses Lip Balm (0.15 oz, estimated value $4.99 as per Bluum, $2.99 on drugstore.com)

Total estimated value: $12, max

So, if I take Bluum's prices (which are higher than the same prices I easily found online for the same items), this box is JUST worth the regular price one would pay for it. That doesn't represent very good value. The products are all nice enough, as far as being usable, but nothing here sticks out as something I am stoked to have discovered, either. These are regular, off-the-shelf-at-Target type things. I also didn't see how they really fit into the box's theme, "June Bug: A Picnic is the Perfect Way to Make a Family Memory." I was also bummed that the little book/magazine was bent to fit into Bluum's box--that didn't seem like very good planning on their part.

So, all in all, disappointing. This is one that, had I not shelled out for a 3-month subscription, I probably wouldn't give a second month's chance. I'll let you know if future boxes are any better.

1 Comments

Thanks for the review!
I'm torn on the availability piece. On one hand, if I love something, being able to pick it up at Target is amazing. On the other hand, why not pick itup there to begin with? Especially low cost, full size products like baby food, lip balm, and Luna Bars.
Those Ella's Kitchen pouches are 99 cents at my Target, btw. The older stages might get closer to their estimated price, but not the first foods.

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Curated subscription review: Jewelmint

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Jewelmint was the first (I think) of a crop of curated subscription programs from the e-commerce company Beachmint. Beautymint is Jessica Simpson's skincare program, Stylemint is a t-shirt program curated by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Shoemint is shoes, headed up by Rachel Bilson and Nicole Chavez in conjunction with Steve Madden. Homemint is housewares and is Justin Timberlake's baby (which still makes no sense to me). The most recent addition, intiMint, is a lingerie and loungewear line by Brooke Burke-Charvet. Honestly, none of them hold a lot of appeal for me. Jewelmint, however, does. It's a subscription jewelry program, with all pieces designed by Kate Bosworth and Cher Coulter.

Basically, you pay $29.99/month for a selection from Jewelmint's jewelry collection. You can choose anything in the collection, but certain pieces are recommended based on your style profile. If you don't choose anything, your credit rolls over. If you log in within five days of the beginning of the month, you can skip that month and not be charged. It's a pretty easy system, and one I have enjoyed so far.

I've been a member since last July and have received the following pieces:

East Side Beat Duo (no longer available)
JewelMint East Side Beat Duo Bracelet Ring 1.jpg

Scarab Ring
scarab ring.jpg

Trinity Bracelets (no longer available)
JewelMint Trinity Bracelets 1.jpg

Paramour Bracelet (sold out)
paramour bracelet.jpg

Payal Belle Bracelet (no longer available)
Payal Belle Bracelet.jpg

Honey Bee Ring
honey bee ring.jpg

Persephone Pendant
persephone pendant.jpg

The quality of the pieces I've received has been variable. I love both of the chunky Scarab Ring and the Honey Bee ring--they are nicely heavy and feel good on my fingers. The Persephone Pendant, too, has some nice heft to it. The Trinity Bracelets are pretty terrible, thin and fragile and cheap looking. Though I like the style of the Paramour Bracelet a lot, I doubt it's going to hold up very well. My two real failures have been the Beat Duo and the Payal Belle Bracelet, and in both of those cases, I think the problem was far more my choosing pieces that don't work with my style and far less the pieces themselves.

Jewelmint is not fine jewelry, and it's more expensive than a lot of costume jewelry. That said, at least some of the pieces are, to my mind, of a higher quality than a lot of costume jewelry. It comes very nicely packaged in a reusable box and a little velvet bag, and it's great for gifting. Going through the new choices each month has helped me refine my jewelry taste, which has been interesting--I would have said there was no real consistency to the things I like, but I think there actually is. I also very much like that if you are on-the-ball about doing it, you can skip months where nothing appeals to you without any sort of penalty--that make the program easy to use only when you want to use it. All in all, I'd recommend Jewelmint for jewelry lovers who are looking for a new infusion of style, but only those who aren't going to be too fussy about metal quality, and definitely not if you have sensitivities to mixed metals.

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Curated subscription review: Glossybox

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I was really, really excited about the US launch of Glossybox. First, I'd heard good things about the UK version (and some good things about the Canadian version). Secondly, I adored my first petiteBox, which is put out by the same company. Finally, the website just looked so nice! The boxes are a bit steep in price, at $21/month for "5 exciting travel-sized beauty products," but I queued up for the US beta launch anyway.

I joined Glossybox on May 10. On May 25, my box shipped. It arrived on May 30. This is all slow enough to annoy me, but it's within the range of normal, probably, so I can't complain too much about it.

The packaging is as nice as the website shows. The box is a light pink, heavy cardboard container with separate lid and the little Glossybox crown logo on the top. It's very reusable.

glossybox1.jpg

Inside, the packaging continues to impress, with the products neatly wrapped in tissue, a real ribbon, and Glossybox's informational card:

glossybox2.jpg

But what about the real test? These were the products I received (and I believe they were the same across Glossybox subscribers, though I am not 100% sure on that):

glossybox3.jpg
-1.7 oz Phyto Phytojoba Intense Hydrating Mask for Dry Hair ($38 for 6.7 oz, estimated value $9.64)
-.028 oz Burberry Lip Mist in Copper No. 202 ($30 for .12 oz, estimated value $7)
-.5 oz (full-sized) Zoya Nail Polish in Reagan (estimated value $8)
-.27 oz Amore-Pacific Moisture Bound Refreshing Oil-Free Hydra-Gel ($100 for 1.7 oz, estimated value $15.88)
-1.29 oz (full-size) Marvis Whitening Mint toothpaste (estimated value $7.50)
-Glossybox branded blush brush

Total estimated value: $48.02 (plus the brush)

As far as value goes, I'd give Glossybox a middling mark--yes, the products are worth more than twice what I paid for the box, but I regularly see values this high and higher with lower price-tag boxes (Beauty Army and Birchbox come to mind). While this box by no means felt like a rip-off, it's not the most cost-effective box I've received, either.

The variety of the products was nice--a hair product, a skin product, a nail polish, and a makeup product, rounded out by a toothpaste. The toothpaste I found a little bit weird, frankly, but I love the Marvis packaging so much that I can't complain, and it was, at least, full-sized. I liked the size of the products in general--the cheaper products (nail polish and toothpaste) are full-sized, and the more expensive products are big enough samples to get some real use from.

The thing I liked the most about this box was that the products are all things I'd like to use/try. The Burberry Lip Mist, unfortunately, is a wretched color for me, but that's a luck-of-the-draw thing and not remotely Glossybox's fault. The nail polish is a great summer color and I plan to use it the next time I paint my toenails (i.e. when I can reach them again). The hair mask will be useful for summer-fried hair. The toothpaste will go in my travel supplies and be used eventually. The moisturizer will be added to my ever-rotating lineup. I also really appreciated the "extra" of the brush, which seems to be of a fairly high quality. There is nothing in this box that isn't usable, nothing that I pulled out and wondered why they'd bothered. That helps with the feeling of getting a little luxurious gift, and I appreciate it.

I can't unequivocally recommend Glossybox yet, but I am hopeful and I will certainly be keeping an active subscription for a couple more months to see how they progress. I'll keep you updated.

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Along with the huge spate of monthly or quarterly subscription sample boxes that have popped up lately, there have been a few more sporadic offerings. These are similar boxes of beauty samples, but they are one-time purchases that come around every now and again, not subscription programs. I recently learned about two of these offerings and thought I'd review them for you here. I can see both costs and benefits to this model--you aren't tied into anything and it's not a monthly (or quarterly) expense, which is nice. However, you have to remember to order each time a new box comes out, and the regularly arriving gift in the mail aspect is lost. Mostly, it probably depends on what you are into these boxes for whether these types of services are better or worse for you.

Beauty Cache

The first non-recurring offering I found was the SkinCareRx Beauty Cache bag. For $29.99, plus S&H, the Beauty Cache promises "a myriad of products designed to exfoliate dull skin, create luscious locks, repair sun damage, and add vibrant color." Unlike the majority of these programs, everything that will be in the bag is detailed on the site, aside from one "full-sized mystery gift." The site does not, however, tell you how large each sample will be.

I ordered my Beauty Cache bag on May 23, got a shipping notice for it the next day, and received it on May 26, so shipping was very quick. The packaging was unremarkable--a regular mailing box, with the blue plastic Beauty Cache bag and a few loose items inside.

This is what I received from Beauty Cache:
beauty cache.jpg

-10 CANE + AUSTIN Retexturizing 10% Glycolic Treatment Pads ($60 for 60 pads; estimated value $10)
-2 oz Oscar Blandi Smoothing Shampoo & 2 oz Oscar Blandi Smoothing Conditioner ($23 for 8.45 oz each, estimated value $5.44 each)
-.5 oz Nuxe Reve de Miel Hand & Nail Cream ($22.85 for 2.6 oz, estimated value $4.39)
-1 oz DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($26 for 6.7 oz, estimated value $3.88)
-2 .05 oz Priori Smoothing Eye Serum packets ($66 for .5 oz, estimated value $6.60 each)
-.07 oz elta MD SPF 47 UV Clear Sunscreen for Acne Prone Skin packet ($29 for 1.7 oz, estimated value $1.19)
-.068 oz Peter Thomas Roth Laser-Free Resurfacer packet ($75 for 1 oz, estimated value $5.10)
-full-size Delux Beauty lipliner in Nudey Shimmer (discontinued product)
-.34 oz NIA 24 Physical Cleansing Scrub ($35 for 3.75 oz, estimated value $3.17)
-2 small (estimate .25 oz) M2 Skin Recovery Moisturizers ($49.98 for 1.7 oz, estimated value $7.35 each)
-small (estimated .1 oz) Jane Iredale PureLash Extender and Conditioner ($16.50 for .3 oz, estimated value $5.50)
-full-sized Cargo eye shadow duo in Vienna (being discontinued, estimated value $6)
-$20 off $100 purchase at SkinCareRx.com coupon

Total estimated value: $78.01

There were definitely things I liked about the Beauty Cache bag. I thought the CANE + AUSTIN pads were a great inclusion, and it's awesome that there are ten of them, so you can really get a feel for how they work. The shampoo and conditioner samples were very generous and Oscar Blandi is a good line, in my experience. I'm curious about the deep cleansing oil and, again, happy with the sample size. I'll also look forward to trying the M2 moisturizer, and I think it's great that they included two tubes, since they're fairly small.

The thing I'm always most excited about, however, is the makeup, and it irritates me that both of the makeup products included in the bag (including the special "full-sized mystery gift!") are discontinued/being discontinued. That kind of feels like a cheat to me. While I will probably use both products, I don't like feeling that I am paying for what amount to remnants. More practically, what happens if I decide I love something (which is part of the idea of these sample collections, after all)? It's no longer available. I'd prefer companies stick to samples of products that are still on the market.

Overall, this is one I'll probably try again next time it comes up--the value is definitely there. I just hope they don't lean too heavily on the little foil packets (though at least there were plenty of them!) or outdated makeup in the future.

Total Beauty Collection

Total Beauty Collection works pretty much like the monthly sample services--for $15, including S&H, they send 4-6 "deluxe beauty samples." The only difference is that it isn't a subscription--you have to re-order every time they come out with a new box (and I'm not clear, based on their site, on how often that happens). I ordered my Total Beauty Collection box on May 24, got a shipping notice on May 25, and the box arrived on May 29 (with the 28th being a holiday), so once again, shipping was very fast.

Packaging was so-so. The cardboard Total Beauty Collection box arrived inside another, plain cardboard mailing box. It's not anything re-usable. The products inside were packaged loosely in paper packing material, but nothing was broken.

This is what I received:
total beauty collection.jpg
-.3 oz Alterna Bamboo Smooth Kendi Oil ($24 for 1.7 oz, estimated value $4.24)
-.09 oz Senna Lip Lacquer in Awake ($19 for .25 oz, estimated value $6.84)
-.15 oz likewise Daily Skincare Moisturizer/Sunscreen ($44 for 1.69 oz, estimated value $3.91)
-.1 oz Scientific Organics emerginC Phytocell Detox Mask ($50 for 1.69 oz, estimated value $2.96)
-.006 oz Pixi Eye Bright Primer ($18 for .08 oz, estimated value $1.35)

Total estimated value: $19.30

I bet you can guess what I am going to complain about! These samples are SMALL. The two skincare samples are not more than single or, at most, double use size, and the makeup samples are only a few uses worth as well. Because of these small sample sizes, and the general quality of the products (Pixi, for example, is sold at Target), the total value of this box is barely over the price tag paid for it--unusual for these types of boxes. More than most boxes I receive, these samples felt like samples I'd get free, either with a purchase or just by being polite to a salesperson. With the exception of the likewise moisturizer/sunscreen, which I am excited to try, there was also nothing included in this box that wowed me. These are products I've either seen before or products that don't strike me as particularly "deluxe." I'll be skipping future Total Beauty Collection offerings.

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NewBeauty Test Tube Showdown

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I'm not sure exactly how/why, but did you know there are TWO versions of the NewBeauty Test Tube? NewBeauty magazine's original tube is sold on their site and a QVC version is sold on their's. There is some product/brand overlap between the two, but they are NOT the same. If someone can explain to me how/why that came about, I'd love to know. In the meantime, though, I sampled both spring tubes to see which I would prefer:

The NewBeauty tube I received was very similar to the last one I got. Very similar as in a lot of the products were from the very same companies.

newbeautytube.jpg

The tube contained:
-copy of NewBeauty magazine (which I am not impressed with)
-gift cards for $50 off a $200 order, $25 off a $125 order, and $10 off a $60 order at SpaLook
-Olay® Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex (.23 fl oz, estimated value $3.79)
-Memoire Liquide Soliel Liquide Fragrance and Fleur Liquid Body Cream (body cream was full-sized, estimated value $48, two perfumes were sample sized, estimated value $3.52)
-Perlier & Elariia Body Cream (full sized, estimated value $24.50)
-Moroccanoil Frizz Control (full sized, estimated value $32)
-Mally® Evercolor Shadow Stick in Platinum (full-sized, estimated value $25)
-SkinCeuticals Inside Out C E Ferulic and Sheer Physical Defense SPF 50 (small samples not labeled with weight, estimated value $15)
-ybf Plum Eye Liner (full-sized, estimated value $14.50)
-NeoStrata Skin Active Cellular Restoration (estimated value $22.57)
-Dr.Brandt Pore No More Vacuum Cleaner Blackhead Extractor (substitution for dr. brandt® signature BB Cream with Flexitone, estimated value $18)

Total estimated value: $206.88

Clearly, I can't complain about the value of these products. Nor can I complain about breadth--twp body creams, two cosmetics, a perfume, four skin care products, and a hair care product. I also loved the number of full-sized products included. My complaint is that the brands repeat those I've received from NewBeauty Test Tube in the past. My Spring 2011 tube contained two dr. brandt products. Summer 2011 included the very same dr. brandt product as this tube, as well as a lip liner from YBF and an eyeliner from Mally. Fall 2011 had yet another dr. brandt product, as well as a product from Moroccanoil. Given that the Test Tube only comes out four times a year, I'm surprised they can't find more companies to work with.

The QVC tube comes packaged exactly the same way as the NewBeauty tube. In it, I found:
-Peter Thomas Roth Laser Free Moisturizing Gel (.5 oz sample, estimated value $34)
-StiVectin-SD Intensive Concentrate for Stretch Marks & Wrinkles (.5 oz sample, estimated value $13.50)
-St. Tropez Everyday Gradual Tan for Body (2.5 oz, estimated value $11.19)
-WEN by Chaz Dean Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner (6 oz, estimated value $10.88)
-bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash (2 oz, estimated value $4.39)
-Philosophy Amazing Grace Shampoo (2 oz, estimated value $2.15)
-Mally Beauty Evercolor Long Wearing Shadow Stick in Twilight (full-sized, value $25)
-tarte LipSurgence Lip Luster in Fever (full-sized, value $21.84)

Total estimated value: $122.95

So, the value of the QVC tube was quite a lot lower, mostly because of the smaller, sample-sized products it included rather than full-sized ones. However, the brands were, to my taste, better--certainly newer! With the exception of the duplicate Mally eye shadow stick (which was fine by me, because I absolutely LOVE the product), there was nothing included that I'd already seen in a NewBeauty tube. The breadth was also good--two cosmetics, two hair products, three face products, and a body product. And the products that were sample sized were all big enough to get some actual use from.

Were I recommending one of these tubes to someone totally new to them, I think I'd have to slightly favor the NewBeauty tube, just for value's sake. However, for myself, the QVC tube is a better deal, and it's the subscription I'll be keeping. If I get a couple more of them and see that they use the same brands over and over again, I may switch back, or cancel all together. For me, novelty is a really important factor in curated subscription programs being worthwhile. I like to get things I have never seen before and am excited to try, like the WEN cleansing conditioner I am itching to break out. I love old favorites too, of course (I'm never sad to see bliss, for example), but introductions to new products are absolutely key.

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Curated subscription review: Kara's Way

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As I mentioned last month, one of the biggest areas in which the curated subscription service model is exploding is "green beauty." There are now, by my count, at least five natural beauty boxes available. One of them, Kara's Way, debuted just this month, and I'm thrilled to have a review of their first box for you!

Kara's Way runs in the typical subscription box model--for $15/month, you get 5-10 natural product samples. The boxes are mailed from the West Coast by the 15th of each month. For my review box, I received a shipping notification on the 15th and the box showed up on the 17th, so shipping was very quick.

The box was a small, plain cardboard package. Inside, it looked like this:

karasway1.jpg

Some of the products inside the tissue paper were individually wrapped as well, giving the box a nice gift-like feel:

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Once I got everything unwrapped, this is what I had:

karasway3.jpg

From left to right:
-2 oz Thayer's Cucumber Witch Hazel (estimated value $2)
-1 oz Beyond Coastal SPF 15 Daily Active Sunscreen (estimated value $4)
-Keeki Lip Shimmer in Sassy (full-sized, estimated value $5.49)
-.27 oz Naturelle d'Argan Argan Oil (estimated value $7.78)
-.5 oz Watercolors Nail Polish in Valentine (full-sized, estimated value $9.99)
-single L.A. Fresh Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover towelette (estimated value $.50)
-single L.A. Fresh Oil-Free Face Cleanser towelette (estimated value $.50)
-small sample (no size indicated, estimating .5 oz) Native Touch Blue Corn Sugar Scrub (estimated value $.75)
-small sample (no size indicated, estimating .25 oz) Native Touch Rooting Bear Rub (estimated value $1.25)
-really tiny Native Touch soap sample

Total estimated value: $32.26

Overall, I thought Kara's Way did a great job with their first box. Some of the products, like the Keeki lip shimmer and the L.A. Fresh towelettes, were things I'd seen in other boxes already, and the Thayer's was already a favorite of mine, but the sunscreen, argan oil, and nail polish were all totally new to me. I was happy to see that the box contained two full-sized items (the lip shimmer and the nail polish) and three good-sized sample items (the witch hazel, the sunscreen, and the argan oil). The Native Touch samples were, to my mind, too small to be of much use (the thumbnail-sized soap sample would have been best left out, I thought), but given the total number of products included, I was OK with that. I was also impressed by the breadth of the products sampled, with representatives for body, face, hair, nails, and makeup all included. I also liked that the box included both well-known green beauty brands like Thayer's and L.A. Fresh and indie lines like Native Touch.

With the exception of the argan oil, none of what was included in Kara's Way's first box was what I would consider a "luxury" product. Mostly, the samples are of fairly widely available, economical, green beauty products. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, though, so long as the samples are larger sized and the value remains reasonable, which, with this first offering, it definitely did. I will be very curious to see how Kara's Way continues to compete in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded green beauty subscription box market.

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Curated subscription review: Wittlebee

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Wittlebee is a fairly new entrant into the crowded curated subscription field, and I love the concept. For $39.99/month, they sent a box of 8ish clothing items for your baby or toddler, customized to the size, gender, and taste preferences you specify. Wittlebee is sort of a combination of the curated subscription model (since their stylists pick out the actual items you receive) and the subscribe-for-convenience model. Given the rate at which kids grow, and how busy parents are, this combo seems to make good sense.

For the purposes of my trial, I told Wittlebee that I would like 3-6 month sized clothes in gender neutral styles, that I was specifically in need of short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts and onesies, pants, shorts, and pajamas, and that I preferred bright colors to pastels. I further indicated that my child's personality was "hippy," (other options included
things like "princess," "diva," "mix & match," "casual," "preppy," and "sporty") and that I needed clothes mostly for around the house (rather than, for example, "Cold Weather Cuddles" or "Hot Summer Days"). There is also a free-form space where you can put in any specific preferences, or you can request a personal consult with a "mom stylist." I didn't do either of those things.

I neglected to make note of when I ordered my box, but I am fairly sure it came within the two week window the site mentions. It didn't seem to take long. The packaging was nice--a heavy cardboard box with the yellow tissue-paper wrapped clothes folded nicely inside, exactly like what Wittlebee shows on their site. A promotional sticker and small bee logo toy were also included. When I unpacked the box, this is what was in it:

wittlebee april 2012.jpg

The contents:
-Baby Lulu pink and silver striped hat
-soft blue hat with no label
-Kidcosmic black, green, and white bib
-American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Karate Pants in Red and Olive (retail $12 each)
-Cottonseed Short-Sleeved Onesie in Sunflower (retail $16)
-American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Short Sleeve One-Piece in Red (retail $11.50)
-Baby Avenue onesie in white (can't find online anywhere)
-Cottonseed Long Sleeve Lap Tees in Tangerine and Turquoise (retail $16 each)
-Cottonseed Short Sleeve Lap Tee in Pomegranate (retail $16)

If I only count the value of the pieces I could find online (all the clothes except the white onesie and neither of the hats or the bib), that's $99.50 worth of clothes, at full price! I can't argue with that, especially since I got my box with a 1/2 off coupon, so I only paid $20!

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the things Wittlebee sent. I'd not heard of Cottonseed before, but their t-shirts and onesie are made out of thick, soft cotton, and I think they'll be very useful. American Apparel I am less excited about, because I hate that particular company, and I'd prefer Wittlebee not use them at all. The additions from small boutiques like Baby Lulu and Kidcosmic were really cool as well, I thought--a good mix of big companies and smaller ones.

One thing I noticed right off was that the items I received were very, very basic/plain. Looking at the boxes other people have received, I think this is probably because I asked for a box for a baby, and I asked for it to be gender neutral. I suspect offerings for older kids are a bit more creative. Wittlebee is also pretty gendered in how they set up their style questions (very few options are the same for both boys and girls), so the stylists probably don't have a ton of gender neutral items on-hand to choose from. That said, my stylist clearly paid attention to the preferences I indicated--everything was the right size, I got short and long-sleeved shirts, onesies, and pants, as I requested, and all the colors were bright and gender neutral.

From what I can tell, Wittlebee is doing an excellent job with the service they're offering--keeping busy parents from needing to replace kids' clothes all the time, introducing fun new styles and brands. But it's not a bargain service--$40/month is, to me, a lot for kids' clothes, even if they are three times that much new. I also don't have a good idea, yet, as to whether this size box, monthly, is really necessary for a kid--do they ruin/outgrow things that fast?

I think Wittlebee is something I'll try again when this baby is a bit older and I can thrift wearables for him/her less easily. At that point, I hope Wittlebee will have introduced a quarterly option, like Lost Crates has done, as I think that's more my speed at this price point. If you have the disposable income and don't like to or have time to shop for kids' clothing, though, I would definitely give them a try. Take a look around online for coupon codes, too, as I have seen several 50% off your first box codes floating around.

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$40/month is a lot for kids clothes--well, it's more than I spend!!

I also wouldn't spend $16 on a kid t-shirt, unless it was a special treat (I have a couple of Thomas shirts, since my kid goes gaga for those). I generally buy kids clothes when we seem to be running out of clothes that fit, which in practice, was about every 3 months until a year, then twice a year/when the seasons change. I look for stuff on sale and can get t-shirts for under $5 and pants for under $10 (if I'm lucky) at Target. I also don't care as much about the quality as I might do for my own clothes, simply because the clothes won't be usable for so long. I expect to get years of wear out of my own clothes, but I doubt I have a full year out of anything I've bought for kiddo.

Sean here, CEO of Wittlebee.

Grace thanks so much for taking the time to review our site. I really enjoyed this post.

In regards to a quarterly option we're working on that. For now our members can pause their membership anytime. So it's not required to get a box every month.

I would love this service. Too bad they only deliver within the continental US.

I looked at the sample boxes and saw that the girl's boxes had both Diva and Princess but I wasn't sure the difference. I wish they had some more active choices for girls like Scientist and Sporty. Or even a way to choose "boy" styles for girls. Oh and looking at H&Ms boy t-shirt selections for summer tells me that pink is all the rage here.

Anyway, the value is better than I can get here so I would definitely sign up. They just need to ship to Switzerland. :)

$40 seems like a lot of money to me. Some stuff I've learned about baby clothes: first of all, babies don't care what they look like (and I personally didn't much care what mine looked like either until she was 6 weeks old because I was so sleep-deprived and had PPD). Secondly, they spit up a lot so you need a lot of changes of clothing. Thirdly, they grow really fast so you won't keep anything for very long. So I figured out that I just needed a lot of onesies that were easy to get on and off. You can get ultra-cheap ones from, like, the supermarket, or you can get them for mere pennies second-hand and hardly worn. We definitely have a whole bunch of gorgeous, expensive baby clothes that people gave to us, but the most useful things were the cheap or hand-me-down things that didn't have a million snaps or any annoying things like buttons that went down the back.

I found baby and toddler clothing extremely easy to find at yard sales - for pennies on the dollar. And because they grow so fast, I didnt worry about it lasting necessarily. Although my kids clothes at those ages almost all were used to start with, went through both my boys, and then were sold/donated/given to friends for further use. Once the kids hit size 24 months/2T, you don't have to worry so much about getting the seasons right as they will tend to stay in one size long enough to epwear it at some point. I only bought sock, shoes new at that age and even through much of elementary school. Of course I filled in for special occasions if I couldn't find something right or to fill in gaps, but 90% of clothing was used probably.

AWFUL COMPANY!!!

After notifying them via facebook (because they don't answer if you call or respond via email) that I was disappointed in my box and wanted to cancel my subscription they blocked me from their facebook page.

After doing some research I discovered I was not alone, they do this often. Delete unfavorable reviews and comments and then block the person from defending their opinion. Mind you they are treating PAYING customers this way.

I, like most moms, researched the company and read reviews before I signed up. The reviews were glowing so why wouldn't I sign up. Pictures were favorable, it was difficult to find negative reviews and now I know why, they have them removed. Very unethical in my opinion.

I was promised that my count would be canceled by the end of day, as of yet it has not been and close of business in PST is in 22 minutes.

I find it ironic that during all of their "reorganizing" I posted a link to this page when I showed concern after the post after post on their facebook page regarding delayed shipping. After my post my box was immediately processed and clearly thrown together. It is awful and clearly they disregarded any of my notes to their so called "stylists". Not to mention that there was several posts from the owner this past weekend stating they were currently processing orders from the 7th of July. I ordered mine on the 13th.

Why might you ask did they place my order above others that ordered prior to me, to shut me up. Well if they wanted me to be happy they might of taken some effort to assemble a box that my child could actually wear.

When you start "no slim fitting clothes child is chunky" don't give them 2 slim fitting pairs of shorts. When you state the colors you like are "grey, orange and black" don't give them green. And if you want a customer to be happy don't give them a pair of shorts that I could buy myself, online right now for $2.99 and get an additional 20% off of that.

Think twice before subscribing to Wittlebee... there are other great monthly subscriptions out there for your kids. Citrus Lane, Kiwi Crate, Babbaco, little passport etc. While they are not clothing they are so much better not only as companies but as products.

It looks pretty plain to me. I learned my lesson after spending a couple K at zulily. I realized I had a LOT of boring clothing that didn't excite me too much. I should have just gotten several pieces that I REALLY wanted from online boutiques instead because they have the best stuff that I actually want for my daughter.

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Curated subscription review: Citrus Lane

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In March, I told you about my first Citrus Lane box. Since y'all were interested in the products in that box, I thought I'd go ahead and review April's offering as well. And April was just as good as March!

As before, the packaging was fine, but unremarkable--a branded cardboard mailing box and a layer of tissue paper. I apparently didn't photograph it. Inside, I found:

citrus lane april.jpg

The box theme was "Bed & Bathtime Fun." The included products were:
-Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Baby Wipes, full-sized travel pack (estimated value $2.39): Can't complain about this extremely useful item! I figure these will be our first diaper bag wipes!
-iPlay Organic Woven Terry Hooded Towel (estimated value $25): This towel is a very nice addition to the box--it seems to be of really high quality. We have, for some reason, amassed a ton of baby towels already, but this is the nicest one we have.
-Satsuma Designs Bamboo Flannel Wash Cloths & Reusable Wipes, bundle of three (estimated value $12): These are adorable. They're made of thick, soft flannel and are plain white with colored edging. I think they will definitely be useful.
-Juice Beauty Antioxidant Serum, deluxe size sample (estimated value $45 for 2 oz, sample is about .33 oz, $7.43): This is the "mommy" addition to the box. I've been getting a ton of Juice Beauty samples all over the place lately--anybody know what's up with that? Anyway, this seems imminently usable and was appreciated.
-My Dentist's Choice Tooth Tissues, full-sized pack (estimated value $4): These puzzled me at first, but apparently they are for wiping the gums/new teeth of babies who are to little to brush. I have a hard time picturing that, but I guess it's worth trying?

Estimated box value: $50.82

As before, Citrus Lane included a cute insert the detailed each product, as well as gave coupon codes for most of them. A $15 gift certificate to Eco Mom was also included in the box (and it's an actual gift certificate--no minimum purchase required). There was also a little bit of information about establishing a bedtime routine for a baby, and some book and lullaby CD recommendations.

Overall, this box was very well put-together, with all of the items being of a high quality and useable. I have absolutely no reason to complain about any of it. With the possible exception of the tooth wipes, I think we'll put each item to good use in the coming months. Absolutely no qualms about keeping this subscription active, and recommending it!

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I would totally use the gum/tooth wipes...I ignored the advice a nurse gave me to get the baby used to having his gums wiped/cleaned early on, and now I have a 16-month-old with 6 teeth and funky breath who SCREAMS when I attempt to clean his teeth. I guess there are no guarantees that won't happen anyway, but I would still make the effort just in case it helps later on when it matters.

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Curated subscription review: Beauty Army

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Beauty Army's slightly different take on the curated subscription box model has had me interested for quite a while, so I was stoked when my name finally came up on their waiting list this past month! The difference between Beauty Army and other services is that you pick your own samples--from a set of curated options. This is, for me, both a benefit and a cost. I lose the element of surprise, which sucks, but I'm also more likely to get stuff I can actually use.

Beauty Army allows you to choose six samples, from a selection of nine. Your possible selections are based on a survey you take on their site. The cost is $12/month, including S&H, and recently they've rolled out the ability to skip months when none of the samples appeal.

I selected my samples on April 10. On April 13 I got a shipping notice for my box. Surprisingly, the box didn't show up until April 21. That's reasonable, just a bit longer than these things typically seem to take.

Beauty Army does a good job with packaging. This is what arrived at my house:

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The matte black box with its pink camo interior is definitely reusable, though I haven't come up with a good use for mine yet. The products are wrapped in black tissue paper.

These were my products:

beauty army 3.jpg

They are:
-Babor Anti-Stress Anti-Jetlag Cream, .5 oz sample (estimated value $72 for 1.7 oz, or $21.18): I haven't tried this yet, but I'm excited about it, as it looks a bit different than the typical skin cream and is formulated specifically for fighting stress and fatigue. I figure with a new baby, I might need that.
-Mama Mio Boob Tube, 1 oz sample (estimated value $45 for 3.4 oz, or $13.24): Choosing this one was a no-brainer for me, as I've been falling in love with Mama Mio products throughout my pregnancy. I haven't noticed any chest sagging yet, but I hear it's in the mail, so hopefully this will help!
-BeFine Night Cream, 1 oz sample (estimated value $30 for 1.7 oz, or $17.65): I am a sucker for a moisturizer, is the truth. And I've tried and liked other BeFine products, so I choose this one. Again, haven't tried it yet (I try not to keep more than 2-3 types of a given product open at a time and I have two going in this category right now), but I look forward to using it.
-Weleda Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion, .34 oz sample (estimated value $19 for 2.5 oz, or $2.58): This one is a lower value sample, I guess, but I love Weleda and knew I'd use this, so I snapped it up. I've used it before and know that I like it and it treats my skin nicely, so I'll probably save it for travel.
-CellCeuticals NeoCell, .33 oz sample (estimated value $47.50 for 2 oz, or $7.84): This one I chose just out of curiosity, as I've heard about it/seen it around a lot lately and am interested in the idea of skin "resurfacing." I haven't built up the nerve to try it yet, though.
-Freeman Beauty Pssssst Instant Dry Shampoo, 1.76 oz sample (estimated value $6.99 for 5.3 oz, or $2.32): In all honesty, I knew I wouldn't use this, as my very-dry hair has no need for dry shampoo, but I selected it as a good swap candidate, and I have already sent it on to a friend, who says it works great!

Total box value: $64.81. Can't argue with that!

Overall, I am very pleased with my first Beauty Army experience. Next month, I hope I'll be a bit more excited about my options (and have more non-skincare options to choose from), but I really can't complain about the quality or value of the products, or about the gift-like packaging. I look forward to seeing how this one plays out.

3 Comments

Thank you so much for your review, Beautiful!!
You made amazing selections!
•Nancy-Lee
Director of Community
BeautyArmy[dot]com

I'll be posting my review soon. I should put a post up about the dry shampoo so you can link it! I really do love it, have used it multiple times already, and WILL be rebuying.

Shipping felt a little slow on my Beauty Army box, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Thanks for posting your review; I always love reading them.

Oh, this one looks awesome - I just got on the subscription waitlist.

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Curated subscription review: Barkbox

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Yay, a new variety of curated subscription club! For $25/month (S&H included), Barkbox sends "four or more" products for your dog. When you set up your account, you select a dog size, so the products are at least somewhat tailored to your specific needs. A percentage of the proceeds from each box goes to support dog-related charities. Good deal, right?

I got my first Barkbox in April. The company sent me a complimentary box to review, so I cannot speak to ordering and shipping speeds on this one.

The box I received was a regular cardboard shipping box, branded with the Barkbox logo. When I opened it, it looked like this:

barkbox 1.jpg

Inside I found:

barkbox 2.jpg

From top left:
-Carob Chip Little Eatz, 3 oz package (estimated value $3.99): I'm always game for new pet treats, but these ones, unfortunately, are wheat based. We don't feed any of our animals wheat.
-Barkbox promotional t-shirt, size medium: I honestly think Barkbox did themselves a disservice by including promotional items for their company in the box. People do not want to pay to promote you. This item didn't add value, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
-Barkworthies 5" Bull Ring (estimated value $5.95): Again, a reasonable addition to the box, and I liked that they included the bigger version of this product, as I have a big dog, but these are not something we use for our dog.
-K-10+ Calcium Supplement and Vitamin Supplement, 1 of each (estimated value $34.99 for 14, or $2.50 each): I thought these were an interesting addition, because they're a product I wasn't aware of, and I can see the utility of (it's not easy to get a dog to take a vitamin). However, only including one packet of each doesn't really make them useful to trial, so I'm mixed on how I feel about this inclusion.
-Eco Dog Planet Doggy Waste Bags, 20 ct (estimated value $9.99 for 60, or $3.33): These are biodegradable bags made of tapioca, which I thought was kind of interesting, but other than that I am non-plussed. It seems like every pet-related anything you get includes poop pick-up bags, and we tend towards using bags from Target or the supermarket, which are a little...sturdier.
-Freezy Pups Kit (estimated value $19.99): This kit was the box's "big item," and it was definitely the one I thought was the coolest. It's a little dog-bone shaped ice cube tray, which comes with four packets of mixes to make dog Popsicle treats (each one will make a tray of treats). The mixes are made of real food, too! The Juicy Apple mix is just dehydrated apples, the Sweet Potato N' Maple just sweet potatoes and maple syrup, the Chicken Soup just chicken broth, carrot, and a bit of salt, and the White Cheddar Cheese just cheddar, whey, milk, and a bit of salt. AND they're all organic. I think this item is really, really cool.

Total estimated value of box: $38.26

All told, my feelings about my first Barkbox are mixed. With the exception of the Freezy Pups Kit, there was nothing in it that excited me, and it's not likely we'll use any of the other products. However, the treats, bully ring, and waste bags are legitimate inclusions, just not things we happen to use, so I can't really fault the company for that. The t-shirt, as I mentioned, was, to my view, a misstep in marketing. I liked the inclusion of the vitamin packets, but they suffer from the too-small-to-be-useful-sample issue (which is a bit inevitable with something that high value). I would have liked to see a toy included, as the box seemed to rely a little heavily on treats, with three treat items. Overall, I think Barkbox would make a great gift for a new dog owner who is not up-to-date on the items available for dogs, but I'm not sure it would be worth the cost of subscription for a seasoned pet owner.

For the sake of being complete, I took at look around at other Barkbox review to see if other people's received items were more or less useful. The heavily reliance on treat items seems to be standard--the January box reviewed at PuppyDust included two bully sticks, a bag of treats, and a food additive, and the other April box reviews I found included the same or similar items as mine. Barkbox should probably be aware that treats are going to be a difficult thing to lean on so heavily, since dog owners are increasingly picky about what they give their pups.

Would you like to try Barkbox? Use the coupon code NOONEWATCHING for $5 off your first box! And do come and let me know what you get!

Barkbox provided the box I reviewed. This review is not otherwise compensated and all thoughts are my own.

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Curated subscription review: The Look Bag

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Beauty curated subscription service The Look Bag follows the model set up by Birchbox. For $10/month, members are sent 5 "luxury beauty samples." The products are tailored to match your "personal beauty profile" by "Celebrity Beauty Therapist and Eyebrow King" Damone Roberts. Bags should arrive within the first two weeks of every month.

My first Look Bag experience didn't *quite* meet expectations. I signed up for the service on March 19, at which time I received an email stating that "within the first two weeks of every month, you will receive an assortment of 5 different high-end beauty samples in a luxurious bag." On April 16 (not within the first two weeks of April), I received this, packed in a padded mailing envelope:

look bag 1.jpg

To my mind, the pink organza bag the products were packed is not a "luxurious" bag. The mailing envelope shoved in my mailbox was certainly not luxury packaging. On the website, the models are shown holding substantial sized boxes with Look Bag logos on them--more like what Birchbox does--and that is what I was expecting. So the packaging, and the time of shipping, were both slightly disappointing.

But what about the products themselves? I received:

look bag 2.jpg

-Pur-lisse Pur~Protect SPF 30, .5 oz sample (estimated value $12.94): I was excited about this, as I think Pur-lisse is a good brand and I am excited to try any moisturizer with a high SPF, in the hopes of finding something that works like sunscreen without feeling or smelling like sunscreen.

-CoCo Cosmetics Jovie Jubilee Body Lotion, 2 oz sample (estimated value $4): Not so jazzed about this one, as it's a lower end lotion and the smell doesn't do anything for me. Probably going into the giveaway box.

-Laura Mercier Perfecting Water Rich, .34 oz sample (estimated value $1.93): This is an interesting sample--it's a water you put on before moisturizer/mixed with moisturizer to make it more moisturizing. It's a smallish sample, so not a huge value, but something I'll be interested to try, and I like Laura Mercier a lot as a brand.

-Orofluido Beauty Elixer, .17 oz sample (estimated value $1.31): I have a sample of this hair oil from a Birchbox a few months ago, and I like and use it, so I was happy to see this. The sample seems small at less than 1/2 oz, but a little of this stuff goes a long, long way, so it's good for quite a few uses. I'm finding hair oils to be a lifesaver for my pregnancy/humidity frizz issues.

-Virga BotanicalsWater Garden perfume sample: I don't like perfume samples. This one is made by an indie business, which is cool, but it's a heavy floral, which I wouldn't be into even if I did like perfume samples. It's also just a little umarked vial, which seems like an afterthought and not very professional from a packaging standpoint.

All in all, I feel really mixed about this bag. I was unimpressed by the packaging and shipping, and found two of the five samples to be fairly worthless. The other three samples, however, were all things I'll be interested to use, in quantities that are useful. The total value is approximately $20, which is reasonable, though not as high as I'd like (and low compared to other subscription services like Birchbox). I did find the products to be more similar than I'd like--no makeup, three skin care products, one hair care product, and a perfume--but that may change over time. I'll be keeping an open mind on this one and seeing what the next few installments bring before I make a decision as to whether to keep or cancel it.

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Updated on 5/1/12: Sorry, I'm a day late with the winner! Congratulations, Melissa, you've won a 3-month subscription to Green Grab Bag!

One of the areas of curated subscription that seems to have really exploded recently is "green" boxes. Blissmobox, Conscious Box, and Pink Moment offer general "green" selections. Kara's Way, Eco-Emi, and Goodebox (reviewed here) focus on natural and sustainable beauty products. Up for review today is another entrant into the green beauty category, Green Grab Bag.

Green Grab Bag follows the same general model as most of the other curated subscription boxes. For $15/month, they send at least six samples of natural beauty products. Their website includes a long list of green brands, including some great ones like Lavera and Vapour. I was very excited to try their offering.

My Green Grab Bag was shipped right on time and arrived quickly. The packaging looks like this:

green grab bag 1.jpg

It's a printed reusable bag, with the products inside wrapped in tissue paper. The little card, tied to the handles with raffia, gives information about each product. Not THAT exciting, but really nice packaging that goes along with their green theme, and all of my products arrived intact.

These were the products I found inside my bag:

green grab bag 2.jpg

From left to right:
-full-sized Revolution Organics Freedom Gloss, in Vibe (est. value $26): this seems like a really nice product, unfortunately, the "Vibe" shade is pretty rusty-orange, and that's NOT a good color for me. Bummer, because I think I could have worn any of the other four shades.
-one-use size sample packet of Delizioso Skincare Organic Elderberry Hair Smoothie (est. value: $36 for 4 oz, packet was maybe .25 oz, so $2.25): this is an interesting product, but I HATE single-use samples, especially since the product website specifically says "Best results after prolonged use."
-.5 oz sample of Skin Perfection Seven Seas Mask (est. value: $24.50 for 2 oz, so $6.13): I tried this the other night and it's GOOD stuff. My skin felt amazing after I washed it off--smooth, soft, and I think it even minimized some post-breakout redness. It's also a good sized sample--I think probably 4-5 uses worth. Definite win on this one.
-1 oz SheaTerra Organics Pink Guavas and Pomegranates Ultimate Moisturizing Body Cream (est. value $6): I haven't tried this yet, but it smells night and fruity and I tend to like whipped shea butter creams a lot, so I have high hopes for it.
-.65 mL sample of Tsi-La Ilang Ilang perfume (est. value: $44 for 4 mL, so $7.15): I straight up can't stand perfume samples. That said, this one smells REALLY nice. It's ylang ylang (ilang ilang), jasmine, citrus, and vanilla. It's too strong for me right now, but I could see myself wearing it in the future.
-full-sized Mineral Hygienics eyeshadow in Madras (est. value $13): This is another nice addition to the box. I am trepidatious of mineral makeup (for no real reason), but shadow is a really interesting medium pink color that I definitely think I will try. I was also really happy to see that they included a full-sized version, rather than a too-small-to-easily-use packet sample.

Total estimated value of Green Grab Bag: $60.53

As was likely clear in reading my descriptions of the products that were included in my bag, I think Green Grab Bag did an excellent job with this one. There were a variety of products included (two makeup items, a hair treatment, a body treatment, a perfume, and a skin treatment), most of the samples were large enough to use several times, and packaging was good, if not great. As a bonus, none of the products were from brands I already knew about--yay for being introduced to all new stuff! As I mentioned when I reviewed Goodebox, I'm a little bit concerned about how many product offerings there really are in the "green beauty" space, and how long Green Grab Bag will be able to continue featuring good, new products, but give their already long list of brands, that may be an unfounded concern.

And now, the best part! You get to try this one out for yourselves! Green Grab Bags has generously agreed to give one WINOW reader a THREE MONTH subscription! Yay for three months of surprise bags full of sustainable beauty products in the mail! To enter, please do the following:

1. Leave a comment on this post pointing me (and Green Grab Bags) towards a green or eco-beauty brand you'd like to see included.

and/or

2. Give this post a shout-out on Facebook and/or Twitter and link to it in the comments.

and/or

3. "Like" Green Grab Bag on Facebook (here) and/or follow them on Twitter (here) and come back to leave a comment saying you did so.

This contest will be open for one week, to close next Monday, April 30, at 9am EST. Good luck!

Added on 4/26/12: For those who don't win, or who can't wait, Green Grab Bag has a great promotion for Mother's Day! Buy your mom (or your favorite mom!) a 3, 6, or 12 month subscription and get a bonus bag for yourself, free!

Green Grab Bag provided the bag for my review and will provide the contest winner a three-month subscription. This post was not otherwise compensated.

17 Comments

Following them on Twitter!

Liked on Facebook!

(Also tweeted about that, if that gets me an extra entry. Hehe.)

I'd love to see Korres included. I want to try more of their products.

...and shared this contest on my Facebook page. :D

I'm not familiar with many eco-beauty brands, but I'd love to try a few :) I love working with mineral makeup, it's so natural looking.

The green collection sounds great as is. Also suggesting: http://www.eccobella.com & http://drhauschka.com/. Thanks!

Also shared on Facebook.

I'd love to see anything from Burt's Bees (http://www.burtsbees.com/).

Liked on Facebook!

I just followed them on Twitter and liked them on FB. :) Looks like an awesome curated subscription and I love that it is green.

I once visited The Body Shop's office outside Toronto and really enjoyed seeing how they embraced eco-everything. It was impressive. So, they aren't up-and-coming, but I'm still a fan.

Liked on Facebook!

Liked on Facebook
I would like to see more 100%Pure and Tarte

Of course I love EcoTools bamboo brushes and Kiss My Face products (not sure how totally eco they are, but they advertise that way!)

I'd love to see Weleda. I used the diaper rash cream for my kids and it smelled fantastic! It also did a great job. I think they are a green company, it seems that way from the website.
Also, I liked them on Facebook!

I also linked this post on my FB but don't know how to link to it here in the comments because I am not that good at teh internet, lol.

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Curated subscription review: Beauty Box 5

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Man, this review is a bummer to write. For the first time, I am so disappointed in a subscription box that I can't really think of much of anything good to say about it. I thought about just not reviewing in this case, to keep things positive, but that seems dishonest. So here's the facts:

I signed up to receive Beauty Box 5 March 19. The website looked promising--$12/month for 4-5 samples of some interesting brands, packaged up in what looked like a cute little blue box.

And then I waited. And finally, on April 18, a full month after I signed up (and paid), I got a shipping notice for my first box. OK, that's a long wait time, but no big deal. Shipping was oddly fast--the box arrived the next day!

It seemed...small, from the outside packaging. And then I opened it and saw this:

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Hrm...some weird Easter-basket-esque filler and the products in a little organza bag. Not what I expected. Definitely not the gift feeling of the blue box and ribbon shown on the website. Still, better to look at the products before I get too judgmental, right?

This is what's in the bag:

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Yeah. Take a close look. That's:
-a single Waterproof LA Fresh Makeup Remover Wipe (estimated value $9.99 for 20, or $.50)
-a .14 oz sample packet of Pur-Lisse Pur-Protect SPF 30 Daily Moisturizer (estimated value $55 for 1.7 oz, or $4.53)
-a 15 mL sample of Freeman Pink Grapefruit Exfoliating Scrub (estimated value $3.99 for 150 mL, or $.40)
-a single SuperGoop Sunscreen Swipe (estimated value $10 for 10, or $1)
-a mL sample of True Natural Advanced Lift & Firm Serum (estimated value $69 for .5 oz, or $18.67)

Total estimated value: $25.10

There was no enclosed literature introducing me to the products, just a little card directing me to the website.

It would be an understatement to say I was underwhelmed by this box. With the exception of the serum, the sample are all single use, so even though they are technically of a higher value than the $12 price tag, they won't be particularly useful as testers--most things need to be tested more than once. They're also ALL skin products, which is neither particularly interesting or diverse. Compared to all of the other sample boxes I've received, they seem absolutely chinzy. So much so that, after finding a few other reviews of Beauty Box 5 online that seemed like they had nicer things (including full-sized products), I wondered if a mistake had been made with my box. (These reviews include this one of the March box at Nail Art Couture, this one of the March box at Mes Joies de Vivre, and this one of the February box at Pink Sith.) Surely a company trying to establish itself as competition to the extremely successful Birchbox would not intentionally send out a box such as this? I decided to send an email to customer service expressing my disappointment and see what they had to say.

Customer service got back to me quickly--within about 12 hours. However, the reply I received was very unsatisfactory. The customer service representative presented me with list of product values (some of which were different than those I found on my own), and said:

There is a misconception about beauty boxes in that it's a way receive free products
- that is not our mission. Our mission is help you find the right products by sampling quality brands that will benefit your skin, your time, and your budget.

My other concerns, about the quality of the products themselves (Freeman? really?), the small sample sizes not being big enough for true testing, and the lack of variety, were ignored.

I replied to the customer service representative and told her about the alternative values of the products I'd found (the difference, to be fair, was only a few dollars). I also reiterated my concern about the small sample sizes and limited variety. For a comparison, I mentioned what I had received in my last Birchbox (Birchbox is a $10/month program, 20% cheaper than Beauty Box 5). I also linked to reviews of several past boxes that were clearly of a much higher value than the one I received, still thinking there might have been a mistake of some sort. S/he replied, in part:

But thank you for doing your own research and finding these differences for us. Your absolutely correct in that we've featured higher valued boxes in the past. Additionally, we have also featured lower-valued boxes in the past as well. It really just varies and this is how it will be in the future as well. Some months you may get a $50 box, other months you may get a $20 box. We have never claimed to be a value box (although we do provide it), we focus our mission on providing beauty samples for ladies that are in search of cosmetic products to add to their beauty regimen.

Once again, no response to my complains about getting all skin products, or about the samples being too small to do real testing.

At this point, I saw no point in continuing correspondence, as it was clear there had been no mistake and Beauty Box 5 was standing by the shoddy box I received. I went to cancel my subscription, where I found that I had already been charged for/was committed to the May box, though it won't ship until May 17. The company charges a full month in advance.

At this point, I'd be hard pressed to say whether I am more disappointed in Beauty Box 5's box or their customer service. I am honestly floored that they would go to no trouble to make things right for an unsatisfied customer. I wanted to give them every opportunity to change my mind about their service/product, but instead they only made me more certain that they are the worst curated subscription experience I've had.

So this is the opposite of a recommendation. I strongly encourage my readers to skip Beauty Box 5 when you are considering curated subscription programs. There are a lot of options at this point, and this one is worth neither your time nor your money.

8 Comments

Good to know. That customer service response is irritating.

Wow. That is disappointing.

I read the other reviews you linked to and while they seemed to receive a slightly higher value in product, none of them were impressed with the company or their product offerings. Definitely a do-not-bother.

I'm glad you chose to review and especially glad that you described the CS experience. I will take Beauty Box 5 off my 'wish' list.

That's really horrible. How do they think they'll be able to compete with dozens of similarly (or better) priced boxes with way better content?

Terrible! Thanks for posting

Ouch. You can see the disappointment even in the picture (where you show everything clearly laid out). Sad, but thanks for the warning.

The way the billing is done is frustrating. I just signed up to try Eco-Emi, and they do the same thing. Since there's a waiting list, you want to jump on the chance to sign up when you can - but in my case I paid in early April for a box that won't ship until the END of May (45-60 days after paying!). And, the billing is at 1 month intervals, which means I'll pay in early May for the June box, before I ever receive the May box. So you can't get your first box, then cancel if you don't like it - because they've already charged for the 2nd box. :( Not very customer-friendly.

So... I'm loving all the box reviews! Do you have a favorite so far?

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Curated subscription review: Birchbox

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Though I reviewed my first couple Birchboxes, I haven't done a review of one for well over a year. In part, this is because my last few boxes have disappointed me. I was even considering dropping my Birchbox subscription for a bit. However, I really liked my April box, so now seemed like a great time to do another review for the company that, at least for me, started this whole crazy curated subscription thing.

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April's box was built around a green theme, in celebration of Earth Day, I assume. The products I received were:

tarte LipSurgence™ lip tint in Peaceful: This tarte lip tint is the first full-sized product I've received in a while and I was jazzed to see it. I love these lip tints and have a bunch of them, but the very neutral Peaceful is not a color I'd have picked out for myself, and I'm sold. At a $24 value, this one product was worth more than twice what I paid for the box, too. Go, Birchbox!

MicrodermaMitt® Body Mitt: A second full-sized product! This mitt is made of floss silk, and it's a great exfoliating tool. A bit too good for my sensitive skin right now, but I think it was a great addition to the box anyway, and the $28.50 price tag really adds to the box's value, too.

Wonderstruck Taylor Swift: God, I wish there were a way to opt out of perfume samples...

Marula - The Leakey Collection™ Omega Rich Pure Marula Oil: I'm getting really into various oils, and this one is one of the best I've tried for skin. It absorbs quickly and completely and feels great on. Unfortunately, the sample sent by Birchbox was wee--only about four uses worth for me. I did appreciate that it came in a tiny pump tube, though, rather than just a vial--makes it much easier to get the tiny bit you need out.

Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream: This sample I wasn't all that jazzed about--it's something I used before and found eh, and it's not a huge amount. But it's not a horrible, unusable sample, either.

All in all, a great box! Huge value, and products I have used/will use!

I looked through the other April offerings, and there were lots of other things I'd have liked to see in my box as well, including Vapour Organic Beauty Siren Lipstick, willa™ Lavender Facial Towelettes, Pangea Organics Lip Balm (I have some of this and use it all the time), WEI™ High Performance Face Treatment Pads, and stila Smoky Eye Shadow. Enough that I started wondering about having multiple concurrent Birchbox subscriptions...So I guess I'm back in Birchbox's fan club. I do still have a lot of questions about how the boxes are being tailored (if at all), though, since it keeps seeming as if other people are getting products that would be better suited to me than the ones I am getting. I'll keep you updated!

1 Comments

I got almost completely different things. In addition to the mitt, I got:

Atelier Cologne - Orange Sanguine
Juice Beauty - Blemish Cleaning Oil-Free Moisturizer
Erno Lazslo - Active pHelityl Soap
Pur 4-in-1 Mineral Tinted Moisturizer - Light

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Curated subscription review: Goodebox

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Curated subscription club Goodebox focuses on "healthy beauty." In practice, this means Goodebox sends the same types of products as other beauty box services (makeup, skin care, hair care, etc.), but they focus on brands with natural scents, no phthalates, no sulfates, no parabens, etc. The products they send are also animal-friendly. For $16/month including S&H, Goodebox sends at least six samples of these types of products, both from established natural beauty companies and new kids on the block.

I received my first Goodebox in March. The packaging was unremarkable, but sufficient. Inside, I found the following:

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alima Luminous Shimmer Blush: A small sample of natural blusher in Freja. Wonderful color and formula, but not a very easy to use sample size. Estimated value, $1.50

alima Bronzer: A small sample of natural bronzer in Belize. Seems like a nice formula, but the color is a bit too dark for me and the sample size, again, is small enough to be difficult to use. Estimate value $1.50.

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Clairvoyant Beauty Depuffing Cucumber & Cranberry Eye Gel: A small sample size (.25 fl oz) of natural, vegan eye gel. A little goes a long way, so I've been using this for about two weeks and haven't even killed half the jar yet. I don't know if it's helping much or not--my allergy eyes are puffy no matter what--but it feels nice when I put it on. Estimated value $16.

Clairvoyant Beauty Balancing Rosehip Oil & Hibiscus Serum: A small sample size (.5 fl oz) of natural, vegan skin serum. Haven't yet tried it yet, but it smells wonderful. Estimated value $34.50.

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Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes: LOVE these. An 8-count sample package of the best makeup wipes I've ever used--they take everything off, smell nice,and feel really good to use. I will definitely be buying a full-sized version. Estimated value $6.

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Stark Skincare GRAPEFRUIT cleanse + hydrate balm: Reasonably sized sample of a really nice smelling skincare balm. I just can't get down with balms--they feel like Vaseline on my face--but if I could, I'd use this one. Estimated value $9.

Stark Skincare Green Tea Detox Clay Mask: One or two-use sized sample of natural mask. Haven't used it yet, but I will try it. Estimated value $6.

Total estimated value: $74.50

There were a couple of things I really liked about my Goodebox. First, I hadn't ever seen any of these products before--they were all brand new to me, and that was really cool. Secondly, all of the products are cruelty-free, which is wonderful. Third, I really, really love the Josie Maran wipes--the introduction to them was worth the price of the box alone. Finally, Goodebox does something I haven't seen any other subscription company do--they send an email, after you receive your box, that lists each product, gives information about it, provides a URL to it, and has a coupon code for it. That's very smart business, and a nice touch.

The thing I liked less was the size of the samples. I understand that samples need to be small to be cost-effective, but some of the included samples were simply too small to use easily or to get a good idea of how I feel about the product. The Josie Maran sample pack was a great size (8 wipes), and the Stark Skincare and Clairvoyant Beauty samples were fine, but the samples from Alima really were too small. These Alima and Clairvoyant samples were also pretty poorly packaged, without full labeling. This makes the products feel a lot less special and a lot more like something you got in a free bin or shoved into your bag at Sephora.

Another concern I have is about the extent to which Goodebox is personalized. Looking around online, I saw a review of a box exactly like mine. More looking around makes me think that all of the March boxes were the same. This isn't necessarily a problem, but I think I prefer curated subscription models that tailor to individual tastes/needs at least a little bit.

I can't recommend Goodebox whole-heartedly, because of the issues I had with sample size and because I am a bit trepidatious about what they will find to keep filling their boxes with--how many natural beauty products are there to sample, really? However, I did like this box enough, and find it to be a good enough value, that I will try again next month. I'll come back and report on April's box then.

2 Comments

Great review! Goodebox tells me through their FB page that although their launch boxes were all the same, they are sending out at least 4 different boxes this month (April), so maybe these will be better tailored for beauty profiles. All in all, great value for the first one, can't wait for the next!

Interesting review. Just to address some of your dislikes, most natural brands don't have the budget the big brands have because they aren't cutting corners by including cheap,toxic ingredients. So sometimes compromises have to be made - a better, health conscious product, or really pretty packaging.

As for how many natural brands are out there? As many as mainstream. I know because I only use and work with those brands. There are thousands. They lack the budgets to hire celebs to lie and say they love the line, so no one's heard of many of them. Which is a shame because most of them are quality. Much better quality than mainstream, actually.

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Curated subscription review: petiteBox

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I know I've said this before, but I think I found a new favorite curated subscription program. petiteBox is a new US offering from the folks behind UK-based beauty subscription service Glossybox. petiteBox is intended for women in the second half of pregnancy and the first year of a baby's life, and each box is specifically geared to the current stage of the subscriber and her baby. Each box contains 4-7 products (not samples), as well as some very well-done literature. The focus is on health, wellness, and pampering for mom, as well as top-of-the-line stuff for baby. The products are promised to include the "creme de la creme of brands within the baby and parenting space."

And y'all, they aren't lying.

First, the packaging for petiteBox is the hands-down best I've seen for any curated subscription service. The box, shown above, is large, heavyweight, pretty, and completely reusable (I'm already thinking of ways to re-purpose a stack of these).

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Inside, the products are wrapped in tissue paper and everything is sealed with a simple logo sticker.

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After you pull away the tissue paper, you'll find extremely well-packaged products, nicely arranged, and whatever literature petiteBox includes. In my box, there was a welcome letter, a press release, an informative product card listing the contents of the box, and an envelope of cute cards with information on them, including a tutorial on how to choose a diaper bag and a recipe card for pregnant-and-breastfeeding friendly beverages.

This was the whole contents of my box:

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From bottom left, you are seeing:

Angel Dear Blankie: Adorable, super-soft combo of a stuffed animal and a blanket for little ones (retail $13).

Earth Friendly Baby Shampoo/Body Wash: A full-sized bottle of nice lavender-smelling baby wash (retail $9.95).

Basq Calm Resilient Body Oil: A full-sized bottle of really lovely lavender pear smelling body oil (retail $38).

MAM Pacifiers: A package of two BPA-free MAM pacifiers (retail $6.95).

Lotus Wei Infinite Love Mist: A full-sized bottle of amazing smelling "Infinite Love Mist" spray (retail $35).

Basq Advanced Stretch Mark Butter: A little one-use sample packet of stretch mark butter (retail $35 for the 4 oz full-size).

Lasinoh HPA Lanolin Oil: A full-sized tube of pure lanolin nipple cream (retail $10.99).

So what do you notice about these products? Well, first off they're all, as promised, high end. You won't find most of this at CVS. Secondly, the retail value of this box is far and away above the $25 price tag. Adding up the retail prices for the products, I get a whopping $113.89! They're also all useful--the included toy/blanket is something I can see my child loving, and the body products, for both mom and baby, are all really nice. With the exception of the lanolin, to which I am allergic (no way for them to know that!), I will use everything in this box. It also introduced me to new brands, particularly Basq, whose products I will further investigate.

With their first box, petiteBox has exactly captured what is so great about curated subscription services. The beautiful products and lovely packaging make this box feel like a gift, and every product in it is both interesting and useful. I honestly cannot give high enough marks to this one, and I cannot wait to see what next month will bring!

3 Comments

That looks really nice. I wish these had been more available when I was having babies.

I used your info on Petite box on my blog....I linked you back bc I LOVE this review.

Fantastic looking goodies. Thanks for the great review. I am looking forward to starting to receive the Petite Box!

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4/11/12: Congratulations to Nancy, the winner of a "Found In _____" crate!

Remember back in October when I told you about stationary-focused curated subscription club Lost Crates? I thought Lost Crates was really cool then.

Lost Crates is way, way cooler now. They've completely revamped, and now they feature six different subscription box options. They still have their $38/month stationary offering, but they also have an eco box (also $38/month), a housewares box ($68/month), a foodie box ($48/month), a "Found in ________" box, which features products from a new city every month ($48/month), and "Jack's Picks," a box of monthly surprises selected by "design aficionado" Jack ($38/month). When Lost Crates asked me to choose one of their new offerings to review, it seriously took me days to make my selection. Every single box sounds fantastic!

Finally, I chose the housewares box, figuring I'd go with the box most likely to appeal to most of my readers. I was not disappointed. March's box theme was "Cocktails Anonymous," and the products selected by the Lost Crates team to highlight this theme were fantastic--both innovative and useful. They included:

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Rocking Whiskey Glasses: The boxes biggest item was a full set of six 6 3/4 oz whiskey tumblers, made by the Swedish company Sagaform. These glasses are on a round base, so they "rock," but don't fall over. They're attractive, made of high quality glass, and innovative--I'd never seen the rocking design before.

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Graffiti Cocktail Shaker: Everybody needs a cocktail shaker, but most people already have one. How does Lost Crates deal with that? They include this innovative shaker, made to look like a spray paint can. It's a Philadelphia University/Kikkerland Design collaboration project winner and though it's not exactly to my taste (little Andy Warhol for me), it's very cute. It's also a high-quality shaker that my resident drink master thinks looks leak-proof.

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Whiskey Stones: I thought the addition of the whiskey stones, US-made of US-soapstone by Vermont company Teroforma, was the best part of the crate. I love the idea and appearance of whiskey stones, and I particularly love that Lost Crates chose "local" stones, and really attractive ones!

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Double Jigger: The double jigger included in the crate, made by Harold Imports, was my least favorite item. I get the practical value of a jigger, but there was nothing exceptional or innovative about the particular jigger that was chosen. That said, not ever item has to be one-of-a-kind, and the jigger did round out the collection nicely (at least, it would for people who measure their liquor...)

There were several things I really loved about this crate. First, the products were largely new to me. We have a pretty extensive collection of both new and vintage barware at my house, and, with the exception of the jigger, nothing in this crate duplicates something we already have. That's awesome. It also introduced me to some new brands, specifically Sagaform--and they're good to know about, because they design really beautiful stuff (I've got my eye on this teapot now). Introducing me to products and companies of which I was not otherwise aware is one of the top reasons I love the curated subscription model.

I also liked that the products included in this crate were, by and large, useful. They're all things I can easily incorporate into my household, and none of them are so anachronistic that I have to wonder where they should go (or to whom I should gift them). Relatedly, the products are all high-quality--they are things that are expected to have long, useful lives, not cheap disposables. This is a qualm I have about some curated subscription programs, where the focus is more on "hey, you got a present!" and less on "hey, this is something you can really keep and use." Everything in this box was keep-and-use-able.

Though it's true that every product in my crate can be easily found on Amazon and elsewhere, I was also impressed by the focus on independent and non-US design. While the jigger is a pretty basic made-in-China model, the glasses, shaker, and stones are all examples of less run-of-the-mill design, coming from a Nordic company, a design contest winner, and a small US business, respectively. If Lost Crates continues to go out of its way to support these types of businesses, that will go a long way with me, and it already goes a long way that they did so with this box.

Curious about what the boxes I didn't choose might have contained, I poked around Lost Crates' website and found that, for those who hate surprises (fools!), they give a full accounting of what is in each box each month. So, for March, were the other boxes as great as mine? I'd say yes! The $48/month foodie box was another one I was tempted to get, and had I done so, I'd have been happy! The March selections were on a "Cup O' Joe" theme, and included a Chemex, a box of Chemex filters, and a pound of Intelligentsia Coffee! I'd have loved that, and again would have found the products both new and innovative (I've heard of Intelligentsia, but not tried it, and I don't have a Chemex) and useful!

The "Found In ______" box was the other one I'd have really loved to try, much as I'm a sucker for local products and for travel. For March, the box's featured city was Brooklyn, and it contained a set of coasters from Brooklyn Slate, a bottle of blueberry candy from Brooklyn Hard Candy, a Brooklyn Maptote wine tote bag, a Pepperpress "Greetings from Brooklyn" letterpress postcard, and a letterpress "Good Luck" card from Walk Up Press. Though these items are a bit lower on the "long-lasting and useful" scale than those in the other two crates I've mentioned, it's still a very well-curated collection, and one I'd have been happy to receive.

Lost Crates is not the same as other curated subscription companies I've featured. They are at a higher price point, and the products included in the crates reflect that price point. These aren't samples, they aren't seconds, and providing a discount isn't what Lost Crates does. Instead, they are selling small collections of carefully curated items, and they're selling them at a premium. Were you able to find the collection of items I received yourself, for example, you'd probably pay $8-$10 less for them than the $68/month charged for the housewares crate (at least, you would based on Amazon prices). However, you'd lose two important things--the expertise of their selection/curation, and the gift aspect of receiving a surprise in the mail.

Shelling out $68 (or even $48) a month for a gift for myself isn't currently in my budget, and I doubt it is in a lot of my readers' budgets, either. However, Lost Crates is still useful. For one thing, they offer a quarterly option for their crates, wherein you receive (and pay for) a crate every three months, instead of monthly. That's a bit more doable. I also think the gifting potential of their product/service is enormous--wouldn't a few months of housewares crates be a great housewarming present? A few foodie crates for a hard-to-please foodie on your list? I love the idea of "gifts that give repeatedly," and this strikes me as a bit classier than the beer-of-the-month club (though I wouldn't turn down a nice monthly microbrew delivery, either). While I (sadly) won't be signing myself up for monthly Lost Crates deliveries, I'm definitely going to keep them on my gifting list, and I'm seriously considering splurging on a quarterly subscription.

An even more budget friendly choice, of course, is to win a crate! Lost Crates has generously offered to give one away to a lucky WINOW reader. You can choose any of the six crates, with the exception of the original stationary crate, since I gave one of those away already in the fall. In order to help you choose which crate would be perfect for you, Lost Crates has developed a little quiz. Go take it, then come back and leave me a comment on this post saying which crate you'd like to win.(Psst, if you want to cheat, you can also look and see what is coming in each April crate, but I recommend waiting to be surprised!) For a second entry, head to your social media outlet of choice (Twitter, Facebook, or your own blog) and mention both this giveaway and Lost Crates (find them on Facebook here or on Twitter here), then come back and leave another comment telling me you did so. The contest will be open for one week, so hurry!

This is not a compensated review--Lost Crates provided the crate for me to review and is providing the crate for the winner. All opinions are my own.

32 Comments

I keep seeing the whiskey stones on ThinkGeek, but I just never buy them...we would adore that particular housewares box. Those glasses are divine!!!!!

My favorite is the stationery box (which the quiz told me was my soulmate box!) but my second choice is the foodie box. (I peeked, because I have dietary restrictions!)

I got Jack's picks. I don't know who Jack is or what he picks but why not?

Posted on facebook with some unwitty commentary.

W00t! These are amazing - I get the e-mails and lust a little every time one comes in.

According to the quiz, the Housewares crate would be a good match (and I agree!).

Off to tweet about the promo ...

Tweeted!

The quiz told me Housewares, so that's what I'll go with :)

You've been facebooked!

My "Soulmate Crate" would be Jack's Pick, my "Fine Match" was the Housewares crate. How fun!

It says my perfect match is the soulmate or the Fine match. I clicked on coffee, simply because I consume SO much of it these days with a noob. :)) So pick me:)

I facebooked as well. I liked Lost Crates too, this looks like a fun subscription!

I got the Jack's picks crate - which seems pretty awesome!

I took the quiz! If I won, I'd like the stationery box!

My "Soulmate Crate" is the Housewares crate, with "Fine Matches" for the Foodie crate and Eco crate. I will go with my soulmate as first choice.

I mentioned both Lost Crates and this giveaway on my Facebook page.

I love the Found In!

Also Intelligentsia is local to me (as in 3 blocks from both my home and office) so if you want anything from them let me know.

I would love a "Found in ________" box! Sounds exciting!

Ooh. I want the foodie crate! These are supercool, thanks for blogging about them.

My soulmate was the Foodie Crate!

I just spread the word on face book and liked Lost Crates. :-)

The Eco Crate looks cool!

I would love the Jack's Picks crate!

Well, I'm going for the Foodie Crate!

Oh, and I shared the FB page so there's that too.

I'm in love with everything about the Housewares crate except the price. I'm all about the items in that crate.

The Housewares crate! We just moved into a great little apartment so that would be perfect :)

I've been a Stationary Crate subscriber for a while now, but I'm loving the roll-out of the new crates. I'd love to win the Housewares crate!!

I just Facebooked Lost Crates as well as your fab blog & giveaway to my hoards of teeming friends for my second entry. Thanks so much for doing this!

Foodie box! Om nom nom!

Those whiskey stones are just great! I have tried them myself and they didnt let me down;)

Ooh I'd love to win the "Found In: ____ Crate". It looks like April is going to be Seattle, where I've been threatening to move to for years!... but I can't figure out how to cheat and see the box contents. Probably for the best ;)

Thanks!

Entry 2: I tweeted! I hope I did it right. It's under "imaginarysaerra"...

The message was:
Grace is doing an awesome giveaway for "Lost Crates" this month @ http://www.noonewatching.com/archives/2012/04/curated_subscription_review_lo.html - I'd love to get a Seattle crate, how fun!

Thanks!

Wow! Thank you Grace! As I mentioned in the email, I'm a tiny bit stunned, as I can't remember the last time I won anything, but also incredibly excited and grateful to try out Lost Crates!

Thank you! :)

Leave a comment


Discount store love and giveaway!

| 53 Comments

4/4/12: Congratulations to my winner, JENNIFER! I will be in touch about your prize!

If you've been around WINOW for very long, you know that much as I love thrift stores, they have a close second place in my heart in the form of discount stores. I've waxed poetic about TJ Maxx and Marshall's (more than once) and showed you my Big Lots bounty (again, more than once...). Though I may not have mentioned them often here, I'm also a big fan of Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Tuesday Morning, and, when I can find one, Gabriel Brothers.

And so it was that I found myself, given a rare day with nothing on the agenda and no pressing thrift shopping to take care of, browsing a variety of these stores. I wasn't completely without aim--I was, as I always seem to be these days, shopping for bras--but I didn't let that mundane task stop me from looking around. And I have to tell you, the discount stores in my neck of the woods are looking good.

TJ Maxx/Marshall's

Apparently, TJ Maxx is intended to be the slightly more upscale of these two stores, but I can't tell the local outposts apart. They seem to have more or less the same items at more or less the same prices. A few things that caught my eye at one or both of these stores were:

theBalm
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theBalm "Hey Mama" Set

See that set above, of three full-sized products from theBalm (bronzer, blush, and translucent powder)? It's $49.99 on Amazon. It was $9.99 at TJ Maxx or Marshall's this weekend. I think maybe it's being discontinued, as I can't find it many places online, but the individual products are still for sale on theBalm's website. Same with the individual products in the other sets I saw at my stores, including color-specific eye kits for $9.99 ($35.95 on Amazon) and the Timebalm Skincare Age Fighting Heroes kits for $12.99 ($57.99 on Amazon).

Le Creuset
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Le Creuset Stoneware Oval Dish

The 3 3/4 quart oval stoneware baking dish from Le Creuset shown above originally retailed at $70. Amazon has it right now for $35.95. I picked one just like it up off the clearance rack at TJ Maxx for Mark this weekend, for $13. A while back, after realizing that none of our rubber spatulas were in anything approaching decent shape, I spotted a whole passel of these Le Creuset versions at Marshall's. Amazon has them for $9 each--I believe I paid $2.99.

Caldrea
caldrea sink set.jpg
Caldrea Cloverleaf Sink Set

My Marshall's and TJ Maxx almost always have Caldrea products, which I think is awesome, because I love their hand soap. One new product I noticed this weekend was these hand sink sets--a little stainless steel organizer equipped with dish soap, hand soap, and countertop cleanser. I believe they were $12.99 at my stores. At Balducci's, they're $46. There were a variety of other products available as well, including smaller sized lotions and hand soaps for $2.99 each, and sink side hand soap and lotion sets in a similar stainless steel holder for $9.99.

Calvin Klein
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Calvin Klein Women's Seductive Comfort Customized Lift Lave Bra

You had to know I was going to come back to bras, right? My favorite bras are Calvin Klein--they've just always fit me really well and been very comfortable. They're also often available at Marshall's and TJ Maxx. This one was, I believe, $14.99. It's $46 to get it in my size on Amazon.

Big Lots

For a while, I was kinda off Big Lots. They built a new store close to my house and it seemed like I never found anything there. I kept trying, though, and this weekend's trips were fruitful--I saw all sorts of cool stuff, and found a number of things that made their way home with me. Some of the highlights were:

Crocs
crocs.jpg
Crocs Classic

I really don't get Crocs, though if my feet swell much more I may have to reconsider...I know, however, that lots of folks are crazy for them. These classic variety ones retail for $34.99 on the Crocs site, and I don't see them in adult sizes for less than around $25 anywhere. Big Lots had a bin of them for $15 each. They even had some in my size, but so far I have resisted.

Tom's of Maine
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Tom's of Maine Soothing Mint Maximum Strength Sensitive Fluoride Toothpaste

I am a dedicated Tom's of Maine toothpaste girl, and I nearly always buy it at Big Lots (typically 4-6 tubes at a time). This visit, I was stoked to see the store carrying the sensitive teeth variety, which I could use right now, as pregnancy has made my whole mouth sensitive. On Tom's of Maine's website, this toothpaste is $5.99/tube. The lowest I see it for elsewhere is $4.99. At Big Lots, it was $2.50.

Anchor Hocking
anchor hocking set.jpg
Anchor Hocking Round Glass 6 Piece Storage Container Set

I have kind of a thing about glass storage containers, and Anchor Hocking is my favorite brand (they're still made in the USA!). This six-piece storage set, featuring lidded containers in 4-cup, 2-cup, and 1-cup sizes, retails for $14.99 on Amazon. At Big Lots, it's $6. I actually have a whole cupboard full of this set and similar ones, all from Big Lots.

Tuesday Morning

Wacoal
wacoal.jpg
Wacoal Luxe Extra Touches Push Up Underwire Bra

I know, back to bras! I have to tell you about this one because it excited me so much, though. Before my boobs decided to get huge, I wore a lot of Wacoal bras--always purchased at Nordstrom Rack for less than $30 each. The other day, I saw that they had a small selection of them at Tuesday Morning as well! This particular variety, which sells for $46-$70 depending on color on Wacoal's site, was, I believe, $26.

Spanx
assets tights.jpg
ASSETS® Marvelous Mama Modern Fishnet Tights

I tend to be of the opinion that the last thing my pregnant butt needs is shaping garments. Or fishnets. But if I felt differently, these Assets tights would be really cute. They're a nice moderate fishnet, come in bigger sizes, and are, of course, intended for the pregnant crowd. They're $20 on the Spanx website and I believe they were $12.99 at Tuesday Morning.

Burlington Coat Factory

Burlington Coat Factory is the newest addition to my discount stores list. I've found them to be a great source of bras and, oddly specifically, Calvin Klein dresses (usually around $10 for the former and $40 for the latter). Recently, though, I took a look around to see what else they had to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Amy Butler
amy butler bedset.JPG
Amy Butler Dancing Garden Comforter and Sham Set

How perfect are Amy Butler fabrics for bedding?? I didn't even know Amy Butler bedding existed until I saw the Dancing Garden set, pictured above, at Burlington Coat Factory. The organic set was originally priced at $130, and Amazon has it for $68.88, but at Burlington it was on clearance for $39.99.

Built
built market tote.jpg
Built Market Tote

Though I've never used one, I've always liked the look of the neoprene totes and carriers made by Built. They seem like they'd work really well for farmer's market shopping or carrying food to work. This variety, the large market tote, retails for $39.99 at Amazon and Zappos. The ones I saw at Burlington were $14.99.

Ross

Around here, Ross is the bottom of the discount store pyramid. The stores are often understaffed and very disorganized. Still, if you have the time and patience to sift, gems can be found. The ones I noticed recently were:

Core Bamboo
core cutting board.jpg
Core Bamboo Dishwasher Safe Bamboo Cutting Board

I like bamboo cutting boards--they look nice and they clean up easy, and bamboo is a great sustainable material. This small, 10.5x7 inch version, $14.27 at Amazon, is $4.99 at Ross.

Vista Alegre
I can't find a picture of it anywhere online, so I suspect the casual white porcelain Cook & Serve line by Portuguese company Vista Alegre has been discontinued. However, they still have quite a bit of it at my Ross store, and we've purchased a number of things ourselves, including a large platter (think Thanksgiving turkey size) and several sizes of baking dishes. The dishes are no-nonsense, heavy white porcelain, made in Portugal, and both look and hold up great. Prices vary, but some are as low as $4.99 for a smallish baking dish.

Michael Kors
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Michael Kors Mens Long Sleeve Dress Shirt

There are few articles of clothing I care about less than men's button down shirts, but I still took a look at the selection at Ross recently and was surprised to find a passel of Michael Kors shirts, like the one above, for $17.99. The pattern seemed to be the same was what you'd find at Macy's or similar, where the shirts retail for $59.99.

Good stuff, right?

Much like thrift stores, I think discount stores can be overwhelming for people who aren't used to them. It's true that a lot of what you might find in a given store is crap, and things don't work quite the same way as they do in regular department stores. On the assumption that at least a few WINOW readers are skeptical of these bargain warehouses, I thought I'd provide a few tips for newbie discount store shoppers:

1. Keep an open mind (and open eyes).

Just like you would in a thrift store, you have to approach a discount store with both an open mind and a sharp eye. You may find things you'd never considered, or even heard of, before. Things are quite often going to be in sections that make no sense. Shop with an awareness to what is around you, and with the mindset that you're looking for buried treasure.

2. If you like it, buy it. Don't hesitate.

Unlike department stores, discount stores usually have a very limited number of any given item, and when they're gone, they're gone. These stores are not the place to exercise "if I still want it next week, I'll come back for it" restraint. However, the majority of them DO have decent return policies (be sure to check your particular store), so if you buy something and change your mind about it, you can bring it back. That's much better than not buying it, coming back for it later, and finding it gone.

3. If you try it and you REALLY like it, buy multiples.

Much of the merchandise you find in discount stores is discontinued, so if you buy something and absolutely love it, you may want to scurry back while whatever it is is still available and buy as many more as you can get your hands on. It is quite possible you won't have the chance again, at any price. Once upon a time, I didn't do this, with a particular variety of EO room spray. They don't make it anymore, and I have been hoarding the last quarter of the bottle I have for years. Another time, I found these great Giovanni Hand Wipes for something like $4.99/bag at Marshall's. After I took one bag home and discovered that they are the perfect wipes to keep in my car for post-thrifting clean-up, I went back and bought about a dozen more. I still have a couple of bags left, which is good, because they're hard to find other places, and when I do see them, they're at least twice and often three times as expensive.

4. Stay critical.

As much as you can find hidden treasure in discount stores, things are there, rather than at department stores, for a reason. When you're considering buying something, especially something big, try to figure out what that reason is, and if it matters to you. For example, I could care less if most things are "last year's model," but I don't want to buy anything that is or is about to be expired. You also need to keep an eye out for damage--things that are in discount stores are often "second quality," and though a lot of the time the defect that keeps an item from being sold at full price doesn't matter in the least to you, sometimes it does. Be sure to look items over carefully and check tags for clues.

5. Be aware of the non-discount price.

Not everything in a discount store is actually discounted. For example, I was recently excited to see Bob's Red Mill products at my local Big Lots, but when I compared the prices on them to the ones elsewhere, I found that they weren't significantly discounted--and some of them were actually marked with higher prices at Big Lots than they are at regular supermarkets. Stores with tags that claim an "original price" or "compare at" price are not immune from this phenomenon--sometimes the comparison prices they list are just wrong--so you have to be aware of what a given item goes for elsewhere and not assume that it's going to be cheaper just because most things in a discount store are.

6. Shop often.

Another way discount stores are like thrift stores is that their merchandise turns over fairly quickly, so the same store could have a mostly-different inventory from one month to the next. Because of this, and because of the small number of highly discounted items they sometimes get in stock, you have to hit your local discount stores fairly regularly in order to get the best deals.

7. Don't buy things you have no use for.

This is definitely do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do advice, as I have a hard, hard time with this one. But just because something is a cool/high quality/beautiful/whatever product, and is available at a highly discounted price, doesn't make that item something you actually need, or even want. Don't buy things you don't need or want. It's a financial drain, it creates a boatload of clutter, and it makes no sense. Really. I promise. I know.

8. Remain aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a given store.

All discount stores are not created equal, and there are certain items for which only a specific store will work. I rarely buy food items at any discount store besides Big Lots. Cosmetics and bath and beauty stuff is almost always best at Marshall's or TJ Maxx. For higher-end bedding, towels, and other similar housewares, Tuesday Morning is usually the best spot, and they also have fantastic plant pots. Burlington Coat Factory has the biggest selection of baby items. I don't know that these strengths are necessarily universal, however, as when we lived in Austin, Ross was wonderful for clothes and Tuesday Morning had a great stationary section and really good pet supplies, neither of which is the case here. So, it pays to be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of your specific local stores, so that if you are looking for a specific item, you know where to go.

9. Remain aware of seasonality.

Discount stores have different stock at different times of the year, and some of the things they focus on might appeal to you more than others. For example, I love going to Marshall's and TJ Maxx in the month or two before Christmas, because they carry a ton of bath and body type stuff suitable for gift giving, and I eat that stuff up. I like Tuesday Morning and Big Lots more in the spring, when they carry plant pots and gardening supplies that make good gifts for Mark or that we may need around the house. Clothes, obviously, are seasonal at all of the stores, and they tend to have the best selections in the late summer (school shopping time).

10. Only do it if you enjoy it.

Again like thrift shopping, I think discount store shopping is really only worth it for those of us for whom shopping is fun. If there is no thrill of the treasure hunt for you, then whatever cost savings you achieve may well be overshadowed by the hassle of having to make lots of stops, sift through lots of crap, and deal with stores that may be dirty and are almost certainly disorganized. I get such a kick out of it, I wish I could do it for everybody--it would save me a lot of cash and those who don't enjoy shopping a lot of headaches--but until we figure out how to make that happen, those who really hate shopping are probably better off buying fewer things and paying more for the convenience of ordering them from Amazon.

And, finally, the giveaway!

In the spirit of celebrating discounts stores, I thought it would be fun to do a discount store themed contest. And, since I've been so into curated boxes lately, I thought it would be fun to curate my own. So, this giveaway is for a special, one-of-a-kind, Grace-curated discount store box! The box may contain any type of item, the only caveats being that it was something I thought was cool enough to buy, and that it was purchased from one of the discount stores listed above. The original retail value of this box is over $200 (but don't worry, I didn't pay anywhere near that for it)! Since I didn't give you any idea what was in the boxes the last time I did a giveaway, I decided it was only fair to give a clue this time. So here's a picture of what you could win:

IMG_0112-1-1-1.jpg

Here's how to enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me which, if any, discount stores you frequent and what you tend to buy there.
2. Share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter and leave me a comment telling me you did.
3. Go and read another post on this blog--any post you fancy--and leave me a comment there. It has to be relevant to that post, it can't just be "hi" or "this is for a contest entry!" Then come back and leave a comment on this post telling me you did it.

So, that's THREE ways to enter. Go do it! This contest is open to international entries, so long as you're willing to wait for your prize to arrive via whatever the most economical shipping option is.

I will close the contest in one week, next Wednesday, April 4, at 9:00 AM EST.

Good luck!

I am in no way affiliated with any of the stores or products mentioned in this post, and this review is not compensated in any way.

53 Comments

I really love my local TJ Maxx. It's usually very organized, and I've found great handbags (I'm carrying a silver-grey Kenneth Cole Reaction crossbody bag at the moment - LOVE), nice selection of Calphalon cookware, and clothes for Aislinn. They also usually have a nice selection of shoes and business casual pieces for work.

I admit to not hitting up Big Lots as much as I should. It seems that my husband is doing the bulk of the grocery shopping these days, and he's a one-stop-shopper.

We do have a new Ross in town, and I have yet to stop in there. I'll have to do that soon and check it out.

We also have a Tuesday Morning, but it is sooooo messy and disorganized. I get flustered just walking in the door.

Great post, Grace!!! I really enjoyed your tips.

Also posted on your BeautyFix post. Now to remember FB and Twitter when I get home!

I've started to love TJ Maxx and HomeGoods but I find that they vary from store to store quite a bit. Home Goods is awesome for kids room decor and those plastic water glasses with the lid and straw -$4 there and at least $10 everywhere else!

I shop at all of the above!
TJ Maxx is my favorite, but the most expensive. I get a lot of kitchen gear there, though. And when I need shoes, that's the place to get them. Also purses and luggage. I swoon over the kitchen ware selection though!

Ross is ok, my husband likes to get his boxers there. They have the nicer brands (Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis) for cheap. Our local Ross also has a good toy selection and maternity clothes.

Marshalls has the best shoes, and I've bought great coats and kids' stuff at Burlington. I agree with you - discount stores and thrift stores are they way to go. I never shop at department stores, and rarely even at Target or Walmart.

I get my tea and tea accoutrements at TJ Maxx. The handy thing about that strategy is that I have a regularly scheduled reason to visit because what's a girl to do when she's out of tea?

Because I'm in Canada, I mostly only shop at Winner's and even that is infrequent. I'm on team 'Wow this is frustrating' for both major thrift and discount store shopping. On the other hand, Winner's carries toys, so I frequently hit them up for birthday and baby shower gifts. I refuse to buy clothes there anymore. I've regretted every single article of clothing I've ever bought there and the straw that broke the camel's back was a skirt where the zipper broke the second I put it on.

That said, I really appreciate your tips! I will apply them as best I can and see if it improves my shopping experience.

Wow, you found some great things. I used to love hunting through these stores for bargains, but the ones near me aren't usually worth the time it takes to dig through the jam-packed racks. I may have to go hunting for the Amy Butler bedding, though.

The one item I still only buy at TJ or Marshalls is cashmere sweaters, right after Christmas. Oh, and board books! They usually have good kids books for the best price going.

I actually went in TJ Maxx for the first time in years last weekend. I had forgotten how great their kids stuff was. Now that I saw the Le Creuset dish I might have to head back over there and check out the kitchen section!

I was just at TJ Maxx yesterday! It was the umpteenth store I'd visited, trying to find math bats for my new house. I scored a set of 2 mats that were exactly what I wanted for $14.99! Even just one bath mat at Walmart or Target was at least $16.99 so I was stoked.

I shop at most of the stores you mentioned, although I'd forgotten we have a Burlington Coat Factory and a Tuesday Morning here. I tend to shop with a specific focus instead of thrifting, so this post was really helpful on taking another perspective when I'm in there for gifts and stuff that I might need, just not right now.

I commented on the naming post from last week.

We just got a TJ maxx so it's my favorite at the moment. We have no Ross, and I have to travel just over an hour to get to one, and along the way I will pass no less than three awesome thrift shops... Which is to say that I never actually make it to Ross.

We haven't been in a while, but Big Lots is a store that we have frequented in the past. We even bought our couch there, lol.

You should come visit me sometime and visit the wonder that is Gabe's (Gabriel Brothers). They don't have quite the selection of Marshall's, and everything is "as is" so you have to check, but they do have some great stuff and you never know.

Had to share this post on Facebook. It's a good one and thank you for sharing all this wonderful information with us.

Yay!!!! I LOVE discount shopping. When I go to Messina for shopping, TJ Maxx is the first place I hit. We have a sister store here (Canadaland) called Winners. I worked there as a teen and look there for items before going ANYWHERE else. It used to be so bad that I knew what days the trucks delivered lol.

Favorite departments at Winners are the specialty foods, kitchen wares and personal care.

Great blog as always!!!!

And BAM!!! facebook posted :)

And now I will be spending way too much time looking at all of the books you posted about and I'm starting with Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman. My Goodreads account will be overflowing.

Left a comment on the book post as well:)

My favorite is Stein Mart. I go there for things like towels and linens. You can buy really high and bedding there for cheap. Even nicer than the stuff you can get at home goods. I also like big lots. You can define a lot of gourmet and organic food there for supercheap.

Do you still have Fillene's Basement in your area? I loved that store, found an empty one in Baltimore recently. (as in closed!) SOme nice fashions there :-)

I live in the Uk. We have TKMaxx over here which we use for kitchen stuff, bedding, men's shirts, toiletries for gifts, candles, shoes and the occasional fancy party dress for little ones. I sometimes go to a discount shop in my mum's town for a look round but it is pretty dismal. I am very envious of the options you have locally to you.

What a great giveaway, Grace! Now it's time for me to share on facebook and read another post!

I was fairly lucky as far as foot swelling went with my Lemmie pregnancy, but it was terrible with Alexander, so I feel your pain. On the plus side, you're looking absolutely beautiful! Can't wait to see pictures of beautiful Grace with that beautiful baby!

How did that post on the wrong post? I shared on facebook.

I shop at Ross, T.J. Maxx and Big Lots. I bought the best smelling soap ever at T.J. Maxx. It smelled so good that it took me about a week to admit that I was allergic to it and it was the thing making me crazy itchy.

I like TJ Maxx. I have good luck finding underwear and linens there.

I love Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
I typically buy home decor there- accessories, lamps, tables, etc...
family74014 at gmail dot com

I LOVE this post! These are such great tips, number 7 is always a problem for me, some things are just such a good deal, it pains me not to buy them.

I like Ross for dresses and bras and The Rack for underwear. I've shopped at Big Lots a few times, but I'll have to check it out more closely.

I usually only shop at TJMaxx and HomeGoods- Ross is a bit too hit-or-miss for me. I've been living in a town with a Big Lots for almost a year now, but I've never thought to go in it. Well, now I will! But back to TJMaxx and HomeGoods- I shop for kitchen stuff, clothes and shoes, and kid books, mostly.

I also use TKMaxx (here in the UK), it's especially useful for finding stuff for the home. I've never had much joy shopping for clothes there as my other half is extra extra tall.

I get all my cleaning and baby products at a discount store called Quality Save, they stock the same brands as the supermarkets but much cheaper - I save around 25% a week that way.

I just posted about the giveaway via twitter. :)

I buy a lot of sweaters at Marshall's / TJ Maxx. Also undies, socks, towels, sheets, etc. do you not have a Nordstrom Rack near you? The BEST for shoes.

Laft a comment on Drugstore Product Love.

I love to buy clothes at Ross - my current obsession is Calvin Klein dresses for work! I got married about 2 months ago and discovered TJ Maxx and Marshalls during that process. I ended up buying the shoes I wore for the wedding at Marshalls, as well as the rug that we stood on while ceremony was performed (our chuppah). I keep meaning to add Big Lots to my shopping habits for hair products but haven't managed to do it yet.

I just commented on this post:
http://www.noonewatching.com/archives/2009/02/fast_food_on_a_diet.html

It was fun reading some of your archives that I haven't seen since you posted them originally!

I tweeted this (@angie303)

Facebook'd and tweeted!! @mrsrefney

We have, unfortunately, lost most of our local discount stores. I definitely try to hit up TJ Maxx when we are near one. I loved Burlington Coat Factory for baby clothes. That was where I found most of Evan's preemie items.

Just letting you know I commented on another post.

I found my Lucky purse at TJMaxx when I had looked at every department store in town and couldn't find anything fun or funky. I just happened to be in there looking for clothes and figured I'd take a peek and there it was, clearanced for $24.99.

I love shoppng at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. I too, don't notice much of a difference int he types of items they stock, seem pretty much the same. I love getting clothing there because I can buy more (yay!).

I live across the street from a marshalls, so it tops the list. I feel like the marshalls & tj maxx in chicago are pretty interchangeable--at least in the city. I loved big lots but they're very inaccessible here. I haven't seen a burlington in like, 10 years. I like nordstrom's rack if that counts.

I commented on the beautyfix post!

What a fun giveaway! I visit Marshall's the most - there's a Marshall's and a Ross very close to my home, but like you mentioned, Ross stores can be a jumbled hot mess. I only go to Ross to find sundresses for music festivals and if I need something like a ceramic baking dish. However Marshall's I find some serious gems for me, Emerson, and the home.

I've only ever shopped at Ross, for clothes for the kids. It's not bad at all, and a good place for winter coats. They just recently built a TJ Maxx nearby, I may have to give it a try!

I just facebooked you :)

I commented on your third trimester pictures post! And I forgot to say on that one that I really love your red shoes. I need red shoes, I think :)

I FB'd you! :) Have I mentioned lately that I'm glad you're back to blogging?

Grace,
Thank you so much for the giveaway! My favorite discout store is TJ Maxx in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's two-storey and their selection of purses is mesmerizing. Each time I go in there I see a B.Makoswki bag that I fall in love with.

Tweeted and tagged you in it!

https://twitter.com/#!/LifesDeepColors/status/186952591261958145

@Lifesdeepcolors

I just wanted to let Grace, (and all the other WINOW readers) know I got this box today and it is fantastic! There are so many neat things in there. The colored pencils are actual branches, and way too cool to use. My 10 year old daughter is going to love growing the Sunflowers and Forget-Me-Nots in the little grow kits. The Liberty note cards are gorgeous, and come in such a pretty box, the collapsible lunch box is way cool. I need to find a reason to take lunch somewhere, just so I can use it!

And so many other things as well, makeup (which is quite timely, seeing as I've recently taken an interest in it!), delicious smelling soaps, notebooks, including story writing notebooks (another thing my daughter will be going for, I assure you), a cross stitch kit that I will be able to teach my daughter how to do (hopefully. If I remember how. lol), markers... and more.

What a fabulous giveaway. Thank you so much Grace!!

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Curated subscription review: Beautyfix

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I have this new idea where I'm going to review a new curated subscription box every week until I run out of them. Won't that be fun?

Today's offering is Beautyfix. Beautyfix works slightly differently than most curated subscription services in that you pick your own products! From a curated field of choices (about 50 or 60 in all), you pick 8 products to have sent your way. This is done quarterly, rather than monthly like most curated subscriptions, and the cost is higher--$49.99, including S&H. BUT a good number of the products are full-sized or extra-generous samples, so it still represents a cost savings. Plus, you get some sort of bag with every shipment.

This was my spring assortment, received last week:

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From the bottom left, the products I chose:
*Nick Chavez Ultra Shine Honey Peppermint Conditioner, full-size, 8 oz (value $20)
*Becca Cosmetics Resurfacing Primer, large sample size, .5 flz oz (value $40 for 1.35 fl oz full-size, or about $14.81 for the sample )
*Belli Skin Care All Day Moisture Body Lotion, sample size, about 1 oz (value $19 for 12 oz full-size, or approx. $0.86 for the sample)
*Kelly Teegarden Organics Vitality Rose & Cucumber Eye Cream, small sample size, .1 ml (value $30 for 1.18 oz full-size, or approx $1.58 for the sample)
*La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel, full-size, 6.76 fl oz (value $22)
*Kinerase Photofacials Daily Exfoliating Cleanser, sample size, 2 oz (value $40 for 5 oz full-size, or approx $16 for the sample)
*Nick Chavez Beverly Hills Angel Drops with Argan Oil, full-size, 2 fl oz (value $19)
*Perricone MD Nutritive Cleanser, sample size, 2 oz (value $39 for 6 oz full size, or approx $13 for the sample)

Total value of products: $107.25

There are a number of things I really like about Beautyfix. Getting to pick your own products is great--I am focused on my skin right now, so I chose a lot of skincare products for this box. Getting largely full-sized or large sample-sized products is great. And I like how Beautyfix introduces me to brands that are high end, but not necessarily sold at Sephora/familiar to me. I've gotten to try several things that I'd never heard of before (my favorites thus far have been Kerstin Florian Rehydrating Neroli Water and Pur~lisse Pur~lip Comfort Daily Lip Nourisher). I also like the inclusion of a different kind of bag in each box, though I was not particularly impressed with this season's small cylinder offering.

That said, there are some things I really don't like about Beautyfix, as well. They rely heavily on products from the same brands (lots of Becca, Nick Chavez, and Jonathan, for example). The selection doesn't change as much from season to season as I'd like. You don't get prompted to log on to the site and select your products for the season, and if you forget to do it, they send you a box they selected--which is not, in my experience, great (the one time that happened to me my box contained Degree Fine Fragrance Body Mist and one of the worst smelling bath bombs I have ever encountered). I'd like there to be an option to skip a season's box if none of the offerings appeal to you, but as far as I can tell, there isn't one. And, of course, it's expensive. The trouble with sampling full-sized products, rather than sample-sized ones, is that it costs more. So there are trade-offs.

I go back and forth about whether or not to keep my Beautyfix subscription active. I've actually cancelled and re-upped it a couple of times since my first box in May 2010. Since Beautyfix is run by Dermstore, the options tend to be skincare-heavy, and that's fine for me right now, but eventually my skin should settle down or I should arrive at some sort of routine for it, and at that point I might let my subscription lapse again. All in all, though, I am really happy with the spring box, so I will definitely get a summer one and let you all know how it goes.

4 Comments

I love the idea of this, but my skin reacts if I change products too often.

One day, I'll find a sub service I can dig into!!

Thanks. :)

this is super helpful. i feel like all of the beauty things like this are 50%+ of skin products, which i don't use and even if i did they never come in my skin color. So it's not a deal for me. This is another story tho!

Just so you know, you CAN skip. Just call into their customer service and ask them to skip the season. I skipped the winter season and was ready for the spring season when it showed up.

WOW that's a pretty pricey sub! especially compared to other amazing services that are a fraction of the price of this! eek.

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Curated subscription review: Citrus Lane

| 8 Comments

Now that I'm back in the blogging saddle, I am looking forward to doing some more reviews of various curated subscription programs. As you may remember from last fall, I am fascinated with this business model, and wrote a big comprehensive list of the ones I've found (and I have been updating that list periodically when new ones pop up on my radar). What better time, then, to give a try to some of the parenting-and-kid-focused boxes?

The first one I decided to try is Citrus Lane. I went with this company first based on good reviews I'd read elsewhere, and because they specifically tailor their boxes to the age of your child, including infants. I was also impressed with the quality of the sample items they listed on their website (companies including Tea Collection, Aden & Anais, Plan Toys, etc.) Finally, I liked that Citrus Lane organizes each month's box around a theme, like "Bath Time" or "Play and Learn," and sends products related to that theme.

Logistically, Citrus Lane works in much the same way as most other curated subscription services. For $25/month, they send you 4-5 products. You can do a month-by-month subscription, or get a 3, 6, or 12 month package. I decided to go with month-to-month, since I want to sample as many of these programs as I can and not make any big commitments. That said, I will tell you right off that it's highly unlikely, based on my first box, that I'll be giving up this subscription!

Customer service and shipping from Citrus Lane was great--they told me my box would be sent out on/around the 15th of the month, and it arrived at my house on the 19th. When I opened it, this is what I saw:

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Nothing special as far as packaging goes, but completely adequate, given that none of the items included in my box were spillable/breakable.

When I extracted the included pamphlet, I learned that the theme for this month's box is "Dining Out" (note that if you don't want to be surprised, you can look on the website to see box themes a month or so in advance). The pamphlet gave a little overview of each product included in the box, as well as some age-specific dining out with kids tips (mine were about teething and drooling).

Now, the products included in my box!

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1. Natursutten Butterfly Ortho S pacifier, $7.95
2. Itzy Ritzy Bitzy Bib, Burp, & Bath Cloth in Licorice Swirl & Baby Bamboo, $12.95
3. Mommy's Bliss Gripe Water, 4 oz, $11.99
4. ZoLi Munch Teether, $5
6. Weleda Almond Soothing Facial Lotion & Weleda Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion, deluxe sample sizes

The box also included coupon codes--10% or 20% off most of the included items, and $10 off a $30 purchase at Abe's Market.

All in all, I was very happy with the products I received and with how they tied into the theme. Though I'm puzzled by the inclusion of the Weleda stuff, I love that line, so I'm not complaining! Each product was a high quality example of its kind (pacifier, bib/burp cloth, teether), which was nice, and they're all things I expect we'll use, with the possible exception of the gripe water. I can definitely see how getting this box monthly would be not only a really fun surprise, but also a useful way to get to know new products and receive things that will be handy for day-to-day baby-rearing. Big thumbs up to this one!

Also, I noticed on the website that Citrus Lane has recently introduced the Pampered Pregnancy Box, intended as a gift for expectant moms. It's $65 and includes a pregnancy style guide, Foot Petals, Josie Maran lip gloss, Mama Mio Tummy Rub Stretch Mark Butter, Psi Bands, a Vosges chocolate bar, Zoe Organics Face & Body Wash, and a bunch of coupons. I think this would make a stellar gift if there is anybody newly pregnant in your life, and I'll be keeping it in mind for future pregnant friends myself.

This is not a sponsored review. I have not been provided with free product or asked to review by Citrus Lane.

8 Comments

I love the look of that teether - it would have been perfect for my kids!

That's a really nice box, and the price-point is perfect. This could be a nice gift for 3-6 months for an expectant mom friend of mine!

Great review...I'll be looking into it.

This would be a great gift--thanks!

That looks great. I'd have loved that when my kids were small. I'll have to keep it in mind for a couple of my pregnant friends as well.

Looks a fun mail day! I would have loved that when my kids were small. The packaging is lovely without being too much and the products look wonderful. It would be a great gift!

This looks like a great subscription program! I think the price is right, and the products seem nice. I'm sad I no longer have a child in their age range or else I'd try it!

Nice box! and I have never seen that brand of pacifier before. cool.

I absolutely love Citrus Lane! I finally did a review on their August box! Check it out! littlemommak.blogspot.com

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Lost Crates: perfect for the stationery lover

| 43 Comments

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When I did my curated subscription round-up, one of the subscription programs I found most intriguing was Lost Crates. Each month, Lost Crates sends a customized "crate" of notebooks, pens, and other stationery accessories, based upon the personality profile you take on the website. The cost of the service is $38/month, including S&H, US-only.

Like a lot of people, I'm a bit of a stationery fiend. I love notebooks, journals, cards, pens...stationery makes me happy. So I was quite excited to receive my first Lost Crate earlier this month. My crate contained:
-medium black EcoSystem Artist Journal ($14.95)
-2 pack of French Paper Company Pop Ink Memo Books ($2.50)
-2 Stabilo Point 88 pens, black and red ($.85 each)
-Made by Humans Staple-Free Eco Stapler (2 for $19.95, or $9.98)
-Virginia State Field Notes County Fair graph notebook (3 for $9.95, or $3.32)

The packaging was excellent--a small cardboard "crate", filled with recycled packaging material, and a little note, personalized with my name, explaining what each item was. The whole thing felt very much like a gift--the products are all full-size and high quality, and the effect is that you feel you are receiving something special and high end. They are also all useful products--nothing cute but useless was included, which I think is great.

Lost Crates is clear that they do not consider themselves a discount site. The products in any crate you receive will be worth a very similar amount to the $38 you paid for it. Instead, they offer introductions to new companies, revisit old favorites, and give their customers the excitement and joy of a monthly surprise. Whether or not that makes the price tag worth it is, of course, a highly individual decision.

What might make your decision in whether or not Lost Crates is for you a bit easier? Perhaps, winning one? Head on over to the Lost Crates site and look around, then come back and tell me what you'd love to see in a crate. For an additional entry, follow Lost Crates on Twitter and/or like Lost Crates on Facebook. For yet another entry, Tweet or FB link to this contest! Contest will run for two weeks, to be closed on Tuesday, November 8. Thanks for playing!

Disclosure: I was not compensated nor did I receive free products for this review. However, the Lost Crate giveaway is courtesy of Lost Crates.

43 Comments

What a wonderful idea!
I love journals, pens, notebooks so I have bookmarked their site.
I would love to see items that I can't find at my local Barnes & Noble.
So accessories, gadgets or other items that aren't just big name products.
I'd love for them to introduce me to something I haven't seen before.

I don't see how to look around without giving my CC info, which I don't want to do. Would love quirky fun stuff, dishes or bookmarks or ... well, really anything. Who doesn't love surprises?

Following on Twitter.

Liked on FB! Man, I want to win! :-D

Mmmmmm. I love note cards, post cards, funky pens - I enjoy sitting down and writing letters. Actual put-a-stamp-on-them-and-send-them-snail-mail letters. :) I love travel journals, too. What a great give away!

some of those waxy-sealy things. love those.

(and i'll be twitter & facebook liking stuff soon!)

I did the quiz as my son because he LOVES stuff like this. He loves notebooks and fancy pens and drawing stuff. He also loves stuff like staplers and paper clips. So a box with any of those things would be awesome.

How very cool! I would love to find a leather bound journal or the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel in my crate. A girl can dream, right? :)

Many thanks to you and Lost Crates for offering such a great giveaway!

I follow Lost Crates on Twitter - normawatson

I like Lost Crates on Facebook - Cindy A.

Wow, what a cool idea! I love journals- especially hard bound ones with interesting clasps. And I love new pens that write really smoothly. This is totally my type of place!

I love good letter paper and good-quality pens - I'd love to get a crate with some nice notecards and letter-writing stuff.

I also Liked them on FB. :)

I'm totally intrigued by that no staple, stapler. What do you think of yours? I can't figure out how it's working. If it's good, I'd love to recommend it to my workplace.

And I love anything by French Paper. They have great products and the best design.

What a great idea! I would love to see handmade paper or journals.

What a great idea. I'm a bit of a stationary fiend, myself. I love colourful journals and stationary that has inspiring things written on it. I'd love to add your contest to my couponing/savings group as an American contest.

Facebooked it, and am liking them on facebook.

Like them on Twitter (as nytetyger) and Facebook. As to what I'd love to see? A lovely notebook, a selection of pencils-- perhaps in color? A new rollerball, and a small case to carry writing things around with you.

StationEry. StationAry means it's standing still. tsk tsk

I love Lost Crates

That's the exact same crate I got for my first month except the colors are different.

Moleskine hardbound journals
Pilot frixion retractable erasable gel pens
Cute travel sets of mini stapler, tape, etc. in a small case
Pen cases
Pen sets of different colors

I'm addicted to moleskine and field notes books. And any fine tipped pen that doesn't bleed.

You know I'd be all about the eco, and stuff for notetaking since I don't draw.

Love, love LOVE LOST CRATES! Just got my first one in October and have been trying to be patient for November's delivery! Everything was useful, new and fashionable. Would love to see anything this company sends out! EXCITED!

Fountains pens and postcards

What would I like to see in my crate? Hmmm... A fountain pen for a left-handed person. I LOVED the recycled plastic pencil holder you guys sent. Some neat-o paper clips. Actually, anything!!!! Thanks for asking.

I would love to see journals with sketch paper... ergonomic pens... small sturdy notebooks that can take a beating in a bag. But that's in addition to the things they already have -- love the fountain pens, cool accessories, notebooks, etc.!

I liked Lost Crates on Facebook.

I followed Lost Crates on Twitter. Thank you for hosting this giveaway!

I'd live to see pens and pencils, preferably ones I can't find in my area. Cut paperclips or other quirky stationery items would be fun too ^^
Thank you for the chance!

I follow Lost Crates on Twitter (@diysara).

Would love to see whimsical 3x5 index cards included in one of the Lost Crates!

*also tweeted about the contest and follow Lost Crates on Twitter

Things I'd like to see more of is sketchbooks or art tools aimed for the artist or art journaler. :D

Followed on twitter and liked on FB.

Tweeted: https://twitter.com/#!/aisazia/status/133982799723102208

Great giveaway! I'd like to see some fountain pens as well - like the new Noodler's flex!

I liked Lost Crates on Facebook!

Followed on twitter, retweeting link to contest!

I followed on Twitter and liked on FB!

I have been contemplating on subscribing for awhile, still unsure whether I should do it. It would be a great way to explore other brands of stationery and a surprise in the mail!

Tweeted https://twitter.com/#!/bakanekosan/status/134078320659804160

Followed on Twitter, and liked on Facebook

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New Beauty Test Tube Review and Giveaway!

| 21 Comments

First, a bit of housekeeping--the Uncommon Goods giveaway is now closed. Thank you to all the participants and congratulations to the winner, Sarah M!

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I am excited to review one of the curated subscription services I mentioned a couple of week ago. The service, New Beauty Test Tube, is a quarterly offering from New Beauty magazine. Four times a year, recipients receive a "test tube" of beauty products, some full sized and some sample sized. An issue of New Beauty magazine is also included. Test Tubes are $29.95 each, plus $8.95 shipping & handling (a total of $38.90).

Beginning my subscription was easy--the New Beauty Test Tube website isn't difficult to navigate. However, there is no option to order a single Test Tube, so ordering one is beginning a quarterly subscription. You can cancel at any time, but I don't see an easy way to do so on the website. This is something of which potential customers should be aware.

Shipping was quick--my test tube was sent out only two days after I ordered it, and I received it three days later. Packaging was also good, with the plastic "test tube" itself contained in a box and all of the products arriving in good shape. My only complaint is that unlike the makeup bags or small cardboard boxes used by other beauty sample subscription services, I can't think of a re-use for the plastic tube itself. Still, that's fairly minor, and it is clever packaging.

My Test Tube contained the following:

-New Beauty Magazine ($9.95 cover price)
-full size L'Oreal Elnett Satin Hairspray (retail $8)
-Macadamia Natural Oil Get Hooked Pack (retail $12)
-deluxe sample size Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner (.4 oz, full size is 1 oz @ $45)
-sample size Orlane Super-Moisturizing Concentrate (.11 oz, full size is 1.7 oz $125)
-full size Mally Evercolor Starlight waterproof eyeliner in Midnight (retail $15)
-full size Your Best Friend Posing Plum lip liner (retail 2 for $24)
-sample size Spa Ritual Handprint Hand Serum (.25 oz, full size is 4 oz @ $60)
-sample size Lash Food eyelash conditioner (1.5 ml, full size is 8 ml for $69)
-gift card for $20 off a $100 order at Spalook

If my math is correct, the total value of the products, not including the gift card (which is more like a coupon code), is $99.73. The website claims a $150 value, which I don't quite see even if I did count the coupon value, but still, a pretty good deal. The products themselves are a mixed bag. I'm not at all excited about drugstore hairspray or questionable purple lip liner, but the Macadamia oil package, eyelash conditioner, and moisturizers are all worth a try. There doesn't seem to be a way to customize the box--my account is not, for example, customized with my hair and eye color, skin tone, or beauty concerns--so I'd assume there are going to be a few things I don't have any interest in every quarter. Still, there was enough I did like in my first Test Tube to justify giving it another try next quarter (the next box is expected to ship in December).

So, sound like something you want to try? I have one Test Tube to give away to a lucky winner! Leave me a comment with something you'd like to see in your Test Tube to enter. Extra entries for FB'ing, Tweeting, or mentioning this giveaway on your blog. Please leave a separate comment for each entry. Contest will run for two weeks, ending Thursday, October 13. Good luck!

I have not received compensation of any kind for this review--I purchased the New Beauty Test Tube I reviewed. However, the contest winner will receive their prize courtesy of New Beauty Test Tube.

21 Comments

As strange as it may sound, I love getting unusual-coloured makeup items (like the purple lipliner you received) that I would not purchase on their own, because then I get the fun of trying it out, seeing if it works for different uses, and occasionally being surprised at how well it works for me.

I'd love lip stains as they are my favorite makeup product.

I love getting small nail polishes in my Birchbox; it lets me try new colors, so I think that's something I'd like in any beauty sampler. I kind of hate tiny one-use samples of stuff like eye cream; there's no way to tell if that's going to work from one use, right?

I have an unhealthy addiction to wearing lipstick. Any color, any finish. Doesn't matter. I love it.

If there were a box that just sent lipstick, it would be the best thing ever for me.

I tend to buy very "safe" makeup colors so I would be glad to see anything outside of my normal! I also love all types of lip gloss.

Oooh, I'll play! I have never, ever tried eyelash conditioner, so that intrigues me.

Ooh. Yes, makeup in different colors. Also lip stuff. I've still never found a shade that suits my face.

I love the idea of samples that are big enough to actually try. A one-use packet of wrinkle cream or face soap is not enough to tell if it's a good fit for my skin.

I would love some samples of new face lotions. The one I'm using now is not my favorite but I'm always scared to try new ones!

I would love to see makeup and hairstyling products since I love to try them!

Thanks for this great chance of winning all that :)

I love new nail polish colors! Or colored lipgloss.

I always need lip colors/gloss!

I would really like to see concealer or mascara in the next one.

Ohhh argan oil! i would love to test out argan oil, or neem oil, or uh any kind of hair oil. the weather here is headed towards cold and DRY as anything.

and i facebooked and tweeted this so hopefully a buncha other people will enter.

I'd love some simple makeup products that match and compliment each other in such a way a makeup novice like myself could apply them without looking like a clown.
I'd love some light blushes so when I'm especially pale in the winter I could perk up my face!

I would love to try some of those products. I can't ever find a lip color that looks good on me.

I'd want to see a sample of some of that really ntense eye shadow. I'm not sure if it'd work on me, but I'm intrigued.

Im in the market for a new blush and I can never get enough of new high pigmented eyeshadows.

Lip color! I've been trying for years (and who knows how much money) to find a lip color that doesn't look ridiculous on my face.

I would love to see some fragrance samples. I really like to use a fragrance for a few days before I buy.

I would love to see some magic product to control facial oilyness!!

I'd love to see a REALLY luxurious sample in the test tube...like something from LaMer!! I was about to sign up for the test tube....but will wait till tomorrow...just in case I win your contest!! :O) I'll go ahead and facebook, tweet, and light a candle to send smoke signals now!!

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One Stop Gift Shop: Uncommon Goods

| 49 Comments

I like to buy gifts. I like to get gifts, too. My partner, unfortunately, is not huge into either one. However, after almost a decade together, he's learned that he doesn't have an opt out clause, and he has progressively gotten better and better and buying me gifts.

It helps that he figured out a way to make it easy on him. And I liked his way so much, I've recently taken a page from his book.

The magical solution? Uncommon Goods.

For those not already familiar with it, Uncommon Goods is a web store with the following vision:

UncommonGoods (www.uncommongoods.com) is an online marketplace offering creatively designed, high-quality merchandise at affordable prices. At UncommonGoods, we believe that creativity and the expression of individuality represent two great human treasures. We have set out to create a business that makes uncommon goods accessible to everyone.

And they succeed. They have a huge variety of products, all "uncommon," and many handmade and/or made with recycled materials. Mark tends to buy nearly all of my gifts there. Some favorites have been:


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Birth Month Flower Necklace, $48

I think these pendant necklaces, commemorating birth months with their traditional flowers, rather than stones, are fantastic. Mark got me one for my birthday last year.

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Caia Koopman Cases, $30-$36

When I started carrying business cards, Mark bought me this gorgeous, quirky Caia Koopman case to carry them in. I get compliments on it all the time.

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Recycled Tin Flower Art, $40

Mark got me the first of these two recycled tin art pieces for my birthday last year, and I loved it so much he got the other one for me for Christmas. They now hang as a set in the hallway of our house.

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Sari Scarf, $48

The blue version of this gorgeous scarf, made from recycled silk saris, is one you might recognize if you've been reading here for long--I've had it for several years and I wear it all the time. I love mine so much, I bought Mark's mother an earth-toned version for Christmas, and she wears hers all the time, too.

For Mark's birthday earlier this month, I decided to follow his example and go for all-Uncommon Goods gifts. The site is large and varied, so I started with the recommendation section: Gifts for Men (found here: http://www.uncommongoods.com/gifts/by-recipient/gifts-for-men). They divide their recommendations in all kinds of ways, with sections for each member of the family, each age range, by the amount you want to spent, or for various types of personalities--there is Gifts for Dads (click here), Gifts for Brothers (click here), Gifts for Moms (click here), and so on. There were a number of interesting things in that section, but nothing struck me as perfect, so I headed over to Recycled Gifts to see if anything caught my eye. Bingo!

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Growbottle, $35

The first thing I picked out was the Growbottle. It's a system for growing indoor (windowsill, basically) herbs hydroponically using a recycled wine bottle. I knew Mark would love it, and he did--when he opened his, it was the first present he started playing with. I splurged and got the basil, chives, and mint versions. Yay for fresh herbs this winter in a container that is fairly cat-proof (no dirt) and easy on the eyes!

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Retired Wine Barrel Lazy Susan, $125

I stuck with the recycled section and found my next gift there as well. We eat a ton of antipasta at my house, and when there are more than two people at the table, that's a ton of passing little dishes around. This recycled wine barrel Lazy Susan is not only gorgeous, and completely in keeping with the kind of decor Mark likes, but totally practical. It lives on our dining table now and we've used it several times already.

Mark's final gift was one I found by accident while browsing jewelry for myself:

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Ebony Wood & Stainless Steel Men's Ring, $45

This I bought simply because I love the look of it, but it's also handmade in the USA, which I find to be a huge bonus!

Overall, I love Uncommon Goods because it's an easy place to get unique gifts for a wide range of people. It's not just a place for Mark and I to get presents for one another, but I can easily find gifts for our parents, friends, and other family members there as well. The packaging is environmentally sustainable, and they do eco-conscious gift wrapping (in unbleached recycled boxes and/or bags made from recycled t-shirts). They also have a blessedly easy to navigate site, and I've never had any sort of shipping issue. I recommend them very highly.

So...can you see yourself buying a gift at Uncommon Goods? How about a little something for yourself? How about with a $50 gift card? To win one, do any or all of the following (be sure to leave a new comment for each entry):

1. Take a gander at the Uncommon Goods site and come back and tell me your favorite product and who you'd gift it to.
2. Tweet a link to their family page!
3. Sign up for the Uncommon Goods email list.
4. Vote on possible new Uncommon Goods products with their voting tool.
5. Share this contest and my blog on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other social media site floats your boat.

This contest with run for two weeks, ending Thursday, September 29.

This is not a compensated review--I just love this store. The gift card, however, is courtesy of Uncommon Goods.

49 Comments

I've been ogling the wood rings. WANT

Facebooked! I love those necklaces but now I have an excuse to go window shop for my favorite item.

That website is like Aladdin's cave on the internet! Beautiful stuff. Two things really caught my eye and made me think about a couple people in my life who are extreeeemely hard to buy gifts for. The ring I would buy for my husband because it's quirky but elegant and unique like him lol. The sari silk scarf I would give to a life-long family friend who was like an aunt to me all growing up. She's this incredible British lady in her 60's who has fabulous waist-length silver and gold hair, and I think the scarf would be magnificent on her. I will definitely advertise for you on my Twitter and FB! I so hope I win this one!!!

I love the seven sisters pendant and most of their jewelry! It would be a great gift for a sister or my mom. I have several items from them but haven't shopped there recently. Thanks for the reminder!

Oh, and I also signed up for their email list...

I also Facebooked!

I've heard you talk about this site, but I hadn't spent much time there before. If I could talk my hubby into using a Kindle, I'd be all over getting him the "Theory of Relativity Kindle Cover." He's a physicist, and this way he could read whatever he wanted to while still looking like a badass!

I would get my 5 year old daughter this lunch box: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/goodbyns-blue-or-green Probably in green. So cute!!

Tweeted link to this page! :)

I like the buoy bells for me. I may have to get the fire hose wallet for my brother in law, that's right up his alley, and he's hard to buy for. I may just get Christmas presents for everyone there this year.

I think that, given the nature of my week, I'd buy the Bon Appetit Lunch Box because a certain I.M. needs to have bento lunches for daycare.

Signed up for emails too.

Shared it on FB. LOVE that catalog.

I would buy a Beth Mueller vase for a dear friend who loves them. I've bought them for her before.

I'd love to give the stackable lunch pot to hubby for taking his lunch to work. Heck, my mom would love one too!

The Tree of Life necklace for my mom. Her eyes turn green when she wears green. :love:

You are on my Facebook.... with a shootout to my h. My birthday is coming up. :)

I'd love to give the catapult kit to my daughter.

I want their oak and acorn ring for DH, but they don't carry it in a size big enough, and also I lack funds. But I might get him some level cufflinks. He'd love those.

I want the grow bottles myself.

I voted for the chalkboard necklace. Cute!

Oh and I want to buy the cheesemaking kit for my partner. He's always saying he needs a hobby...

I'd grab the glass guitar pick for my sister, the birth month flower necklace for me, and the mobile foodie survival kit as a joke for my husband!
I love Uncommon Goods, everything I've ordered from them has been great!

I love that they have gifts for geeks. I have several geeks in my life. I particularly like the solar water bottle.

So many thing to choose from! I'd love the nest egg necklace, or the birth month flower pendant and I would give one to my best friend!

Love Uncommon Goods, I would get the amazing Shark Socks for my goofball husband, he is a sock collector :)
Thanks! foxsquirrelrabbit at gmail dot com

Signed up for the Uncommon Goods email list!
Thanks! foxsquirrelrabbit at gmail dot com

Voted on several potential jewelry ideas! Fun to be able to influence future products!
Thanks! foxsquirrelrabbit at gmail dot com

I like the Tibetan lion earrings. I'd gift them to my granddaughter.

So many great gifts. I love the teen boys section and I wood get the fire hose belt for my son and the wallet for my brother (even though he's 40).
Thanks for the link. I will be using them.

I checked out the recycled gifts for men and my husband would love the portable ping pong set! What an awesome store- I'd never even heard of it!

Signed up for the email list!

I signed up for the email list.

http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/sticks-stones-swizzle-set

I think I've already exclaimed over this to you, but something that combines two of my favourite things: rocks and drinking!

also, facebooked/tweeted this. :)

I love the avocado salt and pepper shaker and I think my mom would too!!

The ukelele kit looks like a fun project to do with my kidlet.

signed up for the email list!

And I just posted it on FB.

I want the little winged demon kite for my son! (http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/high-art-kite-little-winged-demon)

I really want the growbottle but I suspect I wouldn't keep anything alive in that either. :o

thanks so much for offering this great contest. i love uncommon goods.

i would get my son this http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/fire-hose-wallet

because he has mention several times how ironic it is that when one buys a wallet one no longer has money to spend.

the make your own ukele kit for my daughter
tbarrettno1 at gmail dot com

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Though I am a reasonably good driver, I'm a little bit "car nervous." I get lost a lot. I have a hard time following written directions (or the map on my iPhone) and driving at the same time. I recently got my first flat tire and I completely flipped out. I have a tendency to lock my keys in the car and leave my lights on. (OnStar FMV cannot unlock the doors like the embedded system, but can send roadside assistance/locksmith.) Forget about talking on the phone and driving--I won't even answer an incoming call, much less make one when I'm behind the wheel (Oprah would be so proud!). These things have always just been the kind of little annoyances that are part of being who I am. It never occurred to me that there was something I could do to address them. Then BlogHer asked me to review the OnStar FMV Mirror, and everything changed.

For those not familiar with it, the OnStar FMV Mirror is an after-market add-on, comprised of a rearview mirror and a small microphone, which allows vehicles not built with OnStar service to access some of the same services factory-equipped OnStar cars have. Currently, at Best Buy, the system costs about $375, with basic installation included, and the service is either $18.95/month (for just the emergency and security features) or $28.90/month (for everything). (Retail price for the system is $299, with installation in the $75-$100 range, depending on installer/store.)

OnStar-Retail-Mirror.jpg

After receiving my OnStar package in the mail, my first step was to get it installed. OnStar recommends using a professional installer. I went to AV Sound Design in Herndon, VA. The folks there were great and my installation took only a couple of hours and presented no problems. When I picked my car up, my original mirror had been replaced with the OnStar mirror, which is similar in shape and size and doesn't pose any visibility issues. A small microphone was also installed just above the windshield--it's so subtle I didn't even notice it right away.

After my mirror was installed, I pushed the blue OnStar button to call the service center and get it all set-up and registered. During this call and every other call I've made to the service center, the OnStar advisor to whom I spoke was pleasant, friendly, and competent. Setting my account up was easy and within a few minutes I was ready to use my system.

Luckily, I haven't had a need to test the system's emergency service or accident response capacities. However, I have been through the other things it can do. It has provided me excellent turn-by-turn directions and I've set up the Bluetooth connection with my phone so that I can make and answer calls while I'm driving. Both work very well. I particularly love that when I need directions, I can call an advisor to find them for me, rather than just asking a machine--this way, when there are two locations with the same name, or something doesn't seem quite right, the advisor can sort out the issue before sending the directions to my system. It's the perfect combination of human and non-human interaction.

I expected to enjoy the Bluetooth and turn-by-turn directions features of my OnStar system, and I do. What surprises me, however, is how much I am also starting to depend on the access to an OnStar advisor I have at the touch of a button. It is much like being at a hotel with a great concierge--the advisors are helpful, polite, and accessible. If I'm in a new part of town and can't find a coffee shop, or see a construction issue and am not sure how to get around it, the advisor can help me and seems happy to do so. I was afraid, before I got the system, that calling in to it would be much like calling "customer service" at most companies--I'd likely be met with someone who was either rude or simply unprepared to do what I needed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. However OnStar is training their service advisors, they've got the right idea.

The best reason for the system, though, is the one I haven't had to use and hopefully won't. In an emergency situation, the system can alert an OnStar Advisor who is immediately connected into your vehicle to see if you need help. The Advisor can use GPS technology to pinpoint your vehicle and contact the right emergency service provider. That's great for peace of mind. I have a family member who spends the majority of her work time on the road, driving between several locations of her company over several hundred miles. I'd love it if she would get an OnStar FMV--not only would it replace the GPS and Bluetooth devices she now uses with one mirror, but it would provide an extra level of security for her when she's on the road. Were it within my budget, I'd also get an OnStar FMV for each of my friends with small children--both because the Bluetooth and navigation capacities would help to reduce their distractions while in the car and because I'd love for them to have access to the emergency response services.

I absolutely plan to remain an OnStar subscriber after the trial period I was gifted for this review has ended. It's not an overstatement to say that the OnStar FMV has changed the way I drive. For my fellow nervous drivers, I definitely recommend it.

To learn more about the OnStar FMV mirror, visit the Facebook page and/or visit your local Best Buy store.

To read other BlogHer reviewers' thoughts on the OnStar FMV mirror, check out the BlogHer Prizes and Promotions section.

2 Comments

I totally love my OnStar too. I love being able to call home if I forgot my phone and I love being able to use my phone with the bluetooth. I don't use the directions so much so we got rid of that but I live in a much smaller metro area than you. I do enjoy the peace of mind too, especially since I have kids.

The only problem I run into is that when I am angry it doesn't recognize my voice quite right and has trouble figuring out who I want to call. Which proceeds to make my daughter laugh her butt off in the seat next to me, making OnStar think that I am saying numbers and then it dials random people just from the sound of her laughter. It does usually diffuse my anger though so I suppose there's something to be said for that!

I think the idea of OnStar is a good one but I worry a bit about the company practices after reading a few articles about their privacy.

Here is a blog post that was linked to by slashdot about some of the privacy issues.

http://www.zdziarski.com/blog/?p=1270

I think the idea is wonderful and it sounds like it works well but I do not want anyone selling my driving habits to marketers.

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Mary Kay review and giveaway

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Mary Kay 7
Why am I lookin' so pretty? Click through to find out and to win $100 in makeup from Mary Kay!

Review and giveaway.

2 Comments

I've used Mary Kay's skin care off on on for a few years now; I usually have a co-worker selling it, and when I get the extra ducats, I'll purchase it. I also love the oil-free eye makeup remover.

I'd like to try the eye-color matching eyeshadow. It would really streamline my morning routine!

love to try her cosmetics.
GloriaDeal@aol.com

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My Wardrobe Review

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Like this outfit? Wanna see more? Click over to the review!

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Bring on the honey love

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Here's something you may not know about me: I love honey. The stuff itself is pretty good, but honey scented products of all kinds are really the way to my heart. Something about that sweet, fresh scent makes me think it's spring and all is happy. So, since it's something like 12 degrees here today, I thought maybe I'd share some honey love with you all. Some of my favorite honey things:

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Lush Honey I Washed the Kids soap, $7.95/3.5oz

My love for honey bath products began with this soap from Lush. A friend recommended it to me, and I was in love at first whiff. Lush describes the scent as honey infused with bergamot and sweet orange, and it's simply the perfect honey scent--sweet, not cloying, and so warm and sunny and smooth. I also love the layer of beeswax on each bar. Honey I Washed the Kids is my all-time, hands-down favorite soap.

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L'Occitane Honey and Lemon Lip Gloss, $12/.8oz

Honey lip gloss is great in theory--smells great, tastes great, moisturizes well--but sometimes it can be sticky and cloying. This L'Occitaine gloss is the exact opposite--the mix of light honey and citrus makes it smell and taste great, without being a Lip Smacker, and it doesn't go on goopy at all. It's spendy, but it's worth it.

burts bees lotion.jpg'
Burt's Bees Naturally Nourishing Milk & Honey Body Lotion, $10/8.6oz

I avoid most Burt's Bees products, as many of them contain lanolin, to which I am allergic. This fantastically (though strongly) scented lotion, however, gets its moisturizing properties from sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and beeswax--no lanolin needed! It's a very light formulation--almost runny--so it's not hearty enough to stand up to my winter dry skin, but it's great in the summer. It is also really affordable, usually $10 or less for a bottle. The bummer? The buzz is that this stuff is being discontinued. I need to stockpile a few bottles if that's really the case.

Violette Market Vintage Beekeeper perfume, $15
In my searches, I've found two really great honey perfumes. The first is Violette Market's Vintage Beekeeper. The scent is described as "Honey absolute, golden resins, clove bud, cinnamon bark, creamed vanilla accord, and weathered wooden hive." It's perfect. The clove and cinnamon undertones keep it from being too sweet, and the vanilla is very subtle. I can't smell the wooden hive in specifically, but there is definitely a note that keeps the whole scent grounded. I've been using it for more than a year and I adore it.

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The Poison Apple Apothecary Queen Bee perfume oil, $13/5ml

Poison Apple Apothecary's Queen Bee is my other favorite honey perfume. It's a less complex scent, more straight-up honey, and it layers better with other scents. I'm not sure I like it quite so much as the Vintage Beekeeper, but I do wear it often.

Haunt Batik Skin Glossing Oil, $12/4oz

Sometimes, I just don't feel like messing with lotion. On those days, I turn to body oils, and my favorite is Haunt's Skin Glossing Oil in Batik. Batik is described as "smoky beeswax & resin darkened honey," and that's exactly what it smells like. The smell a bit smoky and a bit stronger than I'd usually choose, but I like it a lot on occasion, especially before bed.A little goes a long way, so the 4 oz bottle for $12 is actually a pretty good value, too.

lush it's raining men.jpg
http://www.lushusa.com/shop/products/bath-shower/shower-gels/its-raining-men

I'd be remiss in ending this post without telling you about the new honey product that has me thinking about my honey love in the first place. I went to Lush the other day and immediately fell in love with the limited edition It's Raining Men shower gel. The gel is formulated with actual honey, for cleansing and moisturizing, then the scent is supplemented with the same yummy formulation as the Honey I Washed the Kids soap. This stuff is fantastic, and I'm very tempted to buy a case before they discontinue it after Valentine's Day.

Do you have any honey-scented favorites? Tell me in the comments--I'm always interested in trying something new!

1 Comments

I like honey scents as well (I'll have to check out the soap) but I love Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's Chestnut Blossom Honey. On my warm skin it works.

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New beauty product loves

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There's just something about January that makes me want to replace makeup. Well, my desire to buy makeup isn't really specific to any month, I guess, but January also makes me want to throw the old stuff out, so I guess that's progress? Anyway, I've tried a few new products over the past few weeks and I wanted to let you all know about the winners:

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NARS blush in Deep Thoat, $26

I've long been a fan of NARS blush--I've been working on a container of the same blush in Orgasm for at least two years. Lately, I've been thinking I should move on to a new color, both because what I have is past its expiration date and because the color is looking a bit too pink on my winter pale skin. I went with the next lightest shade, which is described as "peach with shimmer" but goes on pretty pink for me, and so far I like it a lot. I'd love to try one of the bright pink blushes, like Desire or Mati Hari--Carmandie on What Not To Wear is always saying to use a bright pink blush with a very light hand--but I'm still chicken.

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Make Up Forever Aqua Cream in 13 Warm Beige (clearly not the color shown), $22

I've been curiously eying Make Up Forever products at Sephora for years, but I've never tried them before. However, I'd exhausted the colors of my beloved Benefit Creaseless Cream Shadow (though I do love the new Purple Snap), and I couldn't resist when I saw all the great shades MUFE's Aqua Color cream shadow/lipstick/blush comes in. I picked a fairly neutral shade to start out--not really beige, but more champagne--and it's wonderful. I can wear it all day, it doesn't crease, it doesn't smudge, and it doesn't come off until I wash it off. I'll definitely be getting more colors--right now I have my eye on the 5 Peach, 16 Pink Beige, and 19 Purple.

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Smashbox Lip Enhancing Gloss, $18

A while back, I bought the Smashbox Burlesque Beauty Collection. One of the things in the collection was a double-ended lip gloss in Peep (a bubblegum pink) and Show (a dark berry). It's great gloss, and I've used both of them a lot. I was sad to find out they don't seem to be available as single glosses. However, I like the formula so much I think I'll be trying some other colors (even though I already have a staggering amount of lip gloss). Fame, Radiant, and Tease all look pretty good...

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Lush Sweet Lips Scrub, $8.95

I realize it is absolutely ludicrous to pay $9 for a tiny pot of sugar and jojoba oil, and it's unlikely I will do it again. However, I have to give Lush props for introducing me to the very idea of lip exfoliation. I have chronic and irritating flaky lips in the winter, and rubbing some of this stuff in (and then licking it off, it tastes great) makes them feel absolutely amazing. The tingly good feeling you get from exfoliating is, it turns out, even tingly better on your lips.

Tried any new products lately? Re-kindled your love with any old ones? Leave a comment and share!

1 Comments

this from the lady who told me she could never pull off blue shadow! :)

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TJ Maxx, you disappoint me

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Remember, just a few short weeks ago, when I told you how much I love TJ Maxx and Marshall's? And how it was the second time in a month I'd bragged on those stores? Those were completely sincere posts. I had a great time shopping at my local discount retailers in the weeks before Christmas.

In the weeks since Christmas, I've visited the local Marshall's and TJ Maxx stores several more times. The new job I'm starting next week is going to require a somewhat more formal wardrobe than that to which I've become accustomed, and both my coat and my gloves are on their last legs, so I've been hoping to do some shopping for myself.

No such luck.

It's like they are completely different stores. Since Christmas, not just one, but ALL of my local discount retailers have taken a deep nose dive. They don't seem to be getting restocked--the merchandise is the same one week as the next, and it mostly seems to be the leftover stuff that wasn't purchased before Christmas. Making matters even worse, the stores aren't being kept neat and organized--the shelves are partially empty and a lot of them have damaged merchandise on them.

This seems like a really bad business plan to me. I mean, I know the pre-holiday time is probably more profitable, but people still shop in January. What about exchanges and spending holiday gift cards? What about a shopper like me, who built up quite an attachment to the magical discount store retail therapy before Christmas and is now having her hopes dashed? Are these stores always like this, only really worth your time in-season? Is it something I've just missed until now?

I've decided to send an email to TJ Maxx and Marshall's and let them know about my disappointment, with a link to this post and the past posts I've made about how much I love them. I'll let you know if I get any explanation.

1 Comments

I wonder how much control they really have over their inventory.

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Small Business Saturday: Get Your Etsy On

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In honor of the American Express Company's Small Business Saturday (which I didn't get asked to promote like some of my favorite bloggers did, but I'll give a shout out to anyway), I thought now might be a good time to introduce you to the Etsy shops I currently have my eye on. I'm not including gifts for babies or little kids in this post, because they're a whole separate Etsy animal, to my mind. These are just things I would like or I think would make great gifts for the adults on your list.

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Cash Budget Pouches, $35

I have no desire to to actually do cash based budgeting, but I love the fabric cash envelopes at Beauty that Moves. They can be customized with any labels you'd like, or left without labels, so I'm sure they could be used for something else as well. There's free shipping right now, and the fabric choices are awesome.

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Oregon (from Blooms and Birds of the 50 States), $15

Dutch Door Press makes the most amazingly cool letterpressed art, including my favorite set, the "Birds and Blooms of the 50 States." The Oregon (above), Virginia, and Texas prints are all on my Christmas list, and they're a very reasonable $15 each, or $40 for a set of three.

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Super Bike Party screen printed glasses, $31 for 4

Aren't these screen printed glasses from Vital Industries the cutest thing? I'm a total sucker for pint glasses in general, and I love the clean-yet-quirky look of these.

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Coffee lover flour sack tea towels, 2 for $20

I love tea towels. LOVE. They're one of those great gifts are both useful and fun.These illustrated ones from Girls Can Tell, showing all the parts of four different types of coffee makers, are so perfect. And for those who prefer a different hot drink? The tea version!

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Personalized cosmetic bag, $22.99

JuJu Baju bills itself as "best bridesmaids gifts ever," and it may well be, but I can tell you they make ADORABLE custom bags. My favorite are the cosmetic bags, which can be personalized with the recipient's name.

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Atomic Apron half apron, $25

Those who remember my Happy Housewife project know I love aprons. Right now, my favorite ones are made by Atomic Aprons. The $25 half aprons are just lovely--I love every single fabric they are offered in. I think there's someone on my list getting one!

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Original insect framed paper cuts, $80 each

Paper cuts are just so cool, and these ones of insects, in their old-school oval frames, are awesome. They're made by Tina Tarnoff, who also translates her work into great pendants and cards.

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Custom tea dresses in vintage fabric, $130

I love vintage dresses, especially the ethereal 50s kind. But they so rarely come in my size. The answer? Clearly custom made vintage-esque dresses, like these beautiful ones from Sohomode. I'm not the marrying kind, as you know, but I have to admit, the idea of a herd of bridesmaids in these (like so?). Makes me consider it for a minute.

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Magnetic sea salt kit, $35

Another thing I am always a chump for it things that come in sets or kits. Just seeing several of something together makes me want to buy it. That said, the herb, spice, and tea kits sold by Cook Outside the Box would make incredibly good gifts for a foodie. There is everything available from an "everything" spice kit with 24 spices (for $84) to small "make a meal" spice kits with recipes (from $14). The packaging is perfect, too, with the spices individually sealed in little glass topped magnetic containers. I just love these.

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Darwin Origin of Species Butterfly Art, $97.17

I probably wouldn't buy art for a present for someone I didn't know well, but were I going to, I'd definitely consider the pieces at Terrordome's Extractionarium. They are so lovely--cut paper pieces, mostly butterflies, made from maps and classic books. As a bonus, they're sold already framed, so you don't have to deal with that hassle.

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Unlucky - Gyotaku Fish Rubbing - Limited Edition Print, $55

Another Etsy artist with whom I am completed enamored is Fred Fisher. Fisher's prints are made using the traditional Japanese Gyotaku fish rubbing process, in which paint is applied to a fish and then cloth or handmade paper is pressed into the surface to create the print. Fisher's pieces are gorgeous, and at $45-$85, really reasonably priced for original art.

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10 Wrapped Samples Vegan Cold Processed Soap, $17

There are a ton of soap makers on Etsy, and I can't really recommend one over another. However, I love ">Prunella's packaging, and I think a set of ten little baby soaps in one's choice of scents for $17 is a great deal. Prunella has a ton of scents available, too--all EOs and natural scents, no perfumes. If you prefer full-sized bars, she's got any five bars for $24, or single 5-5.5 oz bars for $5.50 each.

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Unisex dino print underwear, $20

As a kid, I hated getting underwear as a gift, but c'mon, who wouldn't be stoked to receive a handmade, recycled fabric pair of unders from Sheso Designs? Both unisex and women's styles are available in a variety of mostly colorful retro type fabrics, most for $20/pair.

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The Color Study II Locket, $54

I love lockets, and these color study ones by Verabel are amazing. Verabel has tons of other vintage lockets as well, both with and without embellishments, from $24-$78.

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Manly Shave Gift Set with Clove Beer Soap, $30

I'm often told that men are much harder than women when it comes to buying gifts, and I think it's often true, maybe even more so when you're trying to keep your gifts handmade. A shaving set is a wonderful solution. There are a few for sale on Etsy, but I think my favorite is this one by Dirty Deeds Soaps. For $30, it includes a ceramic bug, a beer shaving soap, a badger hair shaving brush, and a set of instructions for an old fashioned shave. It's put together really nicely and I think it would make a wonderful present.

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Dorothy - silk, cotton and barkcloth yo-yo necklace, $21

Everybody is wearing a statement necklace these days, and I still haven't found one I love enough to commit to. If I do find one, though, I think it's probably going to be at cookoorikoo. Her amazing handsewn yoyo necklaces? On sale for $21 right now, in tons of great fabrics. Maybe I can justify an early Christmas gift for myself?

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Pacific Northwest Seed Bombs, $7

These I'm getting for stocking stuffers for sure--they're just too cute not to. Visualingual makes tons of different types of these little bags of "bombs," including herbs and regional wildflowers. They bombs are seeds mixed with red clay and worm casings, so that all you have to do it throw them on the ground and they'll germinate and grow all on their own. The packaging they're in is super cute as well--screenprinted linen sacks that could be easily reused.

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Lot of 25 vintage hankies, $22.99

Honestly, I don't know who I could get vintage hankies for as a gift, but I couldn't not tell you about Nathaniel's shop. Aren't vintage hankerchiefs amazing? And in lots, with themes, for great prices? If you've got a vintage lover on your list, it would be worth considering.

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Journal starting kit #24, $14.59

I think these journal starting kits by Rebecca Horwood would be amazing gifts for teens. For about $15, the kits include a plain basic Moleskine journal 20+ pieces of original ephemera, 4 pieces of craft paper, and instructions/hints on how to start making your own original art journal.

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Modern Animal Clock--Elephant, $68

Finally, I have to show you the amazing wooden animal clocks made by Decoy Lab. The elephant is my favorite, but there is also an owl, a squirrel, and a hedgehog. The clocks are made of maple veneer or bamboo and are so amazingly cute I could have one in every room.

That's probably a good start! Got any favorites of your own? Please share in the comments!

3 Comments

Neat! I lol'd at your bridesmaid comment. (I suppose that's an advantage to un-marrying. You never stop planning a fantasy wedding. Though wedded bliss hasn't really stopped me either!)

Etsy is such an interesting place to poke around, but there is so much there that I can get overwhelmed fast. Thanks for a quick tour of some favourite places!

Great ideas Grace, thanks!

Love so many things you found. You should be a personal shopper.

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Holiday shopping advice: don't forget discount stores!

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So I know I've already told you a tale of how much I love discount stores recently (In which I proclaim my love for Big Lots, and tell you why). But I'm going to do it again. In particular, I am nuts about Marshall's and TJ Maxx. Both are ubiquitous here (really--there are 12 TJ Maxx stores and 18 Marshall's stores within 20 miles of my house), so, second only to thrift stores, they are my go-to places to shop. I buy everything there--clothes, housewares, pet stuff, occasionally food, and bath and body products.

I recently had an online friend tell me she'd never been to a Marshall's or a TJ Maxx. This astounded me. I guess they aren't common in some places? Anyway, that got me to thinking about all the things I love to buy at these stores, so I decided I'd show you a few recent favorites.

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Both Marshall's and TJ Maxx have recently been stocking these great travel sets from EO. Containing a 1.5 oz container each of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and lotion, they'd be great for just tossing into a plastic bag to take a short trip. I'm a big fan of the EO line in general, so I was happy to scoop a whole bunch of these up. I got one each in French Lavender, Grapefruit & Mint, Sweet Orange, Tea Tree and Lemon, and Cranberry Hibiscus, and am planning to either give a couple of them away as small Christmas presents or hoard the whole bunch for my future travel needs. The price? $4.99 at Marshall's/TJ Maxx, versus $6.99 on the EO website.

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Another EO product I've been excited about lately are the 5 oz bottles of shaving cream. I hadn't previously used EO shaving cream, but it's good stuff and the scents are great. I picked up a lavender one and a tea tree and lemon one for $3.99 each. On EO's site? $8.99. If I get a chance, I'll pick some more up soon and stockpile them--that's one thing about finding this stuff at TJ Maxx or Marshall's, they aren't going to have it forever, so you have to get it while the getting is good.

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Another brand of which I am a big fan, which TJ Maxx and Marshall's carry not infrequently, is The Body Shop. My latest score was several 7.1 oz containers of Pink Grapefruit Body Scrub--pink grapefruit is my favorite Body Shop scent, and I think they might be discontinuing it? Anyway, the scrubs were $4.99 each, and The Body Shop sells them for $20! I also picked up a couple of 8.4 oz bottles of pink grapefruit shower gel, on clearance for $3 each ($13 at The Body Shop), a Moroccan Rose body butter for $5.99 ($20 at The Body Shop), and a Wild Cherry body butter ($5.99, $20 at The Body Shop).

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Recently, I've noticed a few high-end cosmetics at TJ Maxx, which is, as far as I know, a new thing. The best thing I've found was the NARS Black Eye set--a bottle of eye makeup remover, a eye shadow duo in Pandora (black and white), a black mascara, and a black eyeliner pencil. The retail on this set, which isn't available anymore anywhere I can find, was $60. I picked mine up for either $24.99 or $29.99.

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I live in tights in the winter, and buying them is not easy at my size. One brand I can always count on to fit me properly is Hue (Size 4, baby! They actually really do fit a 6'0", 215 pound woman!). On their website, Hue charges $9.37/pair or two for $15 for their opaque tights. At Macy's, they are $8.99/pair on sale. At my discount stores, I regularly find two packs of the exact same tights for $9.99. And I buy them every time.

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The gourmet food section is definitely hit-or-miss at most discount stores, and do you have to keep an eye on expiration dates, but there are gems in this rough. Most recently, I found a bunch of these gourmet Spanish salts from SoSo Factory, for $8.99 each. I snatched up the smoked paprika salt and the five-pepper salt, and was Mark ever happy that day! These retail for $18 each and the packaging is almost as great as the product--I'd definitely consider them for foodie gifts.

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Another recent food section highlight has been offerings from Mustapha's Moroccan, a brand Mark sometimes orders online. I've seen capers, harissa, and various spices. The 10 oz jar of capers was $4.99 (as compared to $9.50 online), and the 1.6 oz ras el hanout was $7.99 ($15 online). The 1.6 oz nigella (grains of paradise) was $3.99 ($7.50 online).

I also have to recommend taking a look through the clothes. Sometimes, there's nothing. Recently, though, I've been impressed with the sweater selection. The clearance rack at my TJ Maxx had tons of really nice merino wool cardigans that had their tags cut out, but I am fairly certain were from either J. Crew or Talbot's. For the $15 each they were marked, they looked very high end, and were I not allergic to wool, I'd be adding several to my new job wardrobe.

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If someone on your list has been very good, another thing I've noticed in my stores recently is a lot of Le Creuset. Even at a discount, this stuff is expensive, but there is a substantial discount. For example, I saw the 5.5 quart round French oven, which is $235 at Amazon.com, for $145 at TJ Maxx. You won't be able to be picky about colors--they usually only have one or two, but still, it's worth considering if you have anybody on your list who lusts after fancy cookware and doesn't mind last year's model (and honestly, has it changed?).

Cookbooks are another thing I've noticed a lot of recently--usually for less than $10. My not-MIL has a thing for the Barefoot Contessa, and I've seen several of her books at Marshall's, as well as Giada and Martha Stewart.

If you decide to take my advice and check out your local discount stores, I highly recommend you buy first and think about it later. If you decide against something, you can return it (with a receipt!). If you leave it, though, chances are excellent that you'll come back for it and it won't be there anymore. You can't guarantee anything will stay on the shelves, or that there will be more when something runs out. Likewise, if you find something small you really love (like, say, the toiletries I posted about at the beginning of this post), buy a few and stockpile them. It's not unlikely their manufacturers have discontinued them, so this is going to be your last chance.

Happy shopping!

5 Comments

i love TJ Maxx and Marshalls, Grace. Thanks for this post. I'm going to check them out before the holidays for some stocking stuffers. I have some Body Shop lovers in the family.

OMG. That salt! The cookbooks! The EO! The Mustapha's Moroccan! The LeCreucet! Oh, how I wish I could shop with you!

My mom and my sister and I have a big TJ Maxx shopping tradition when I'm home (San Diego). The closest one here is about 25 miles away but now I am newly inspired to take the trip!

Another thing I often find books at TJ Maxx are the sort of books that I tend to check out for too long at the library (cookbooks, other nonfiction how-tos). I buy them up cheap at TJ Maxx and then donate them when I'm done. $3 is usually cheaper than the fines I would incur on the same sort of book from the library.

Here, its Ross that is the place to hit. Our Marshalls can be really hit or miss. I'll have to re-visit TJ Maxx though. Its on the opposite side of town, so I never think to head over there.

I love TJ Maxx and Ross both...we've bought everything you've mentioned, and we also get a lot of our therapy items there. Let's see, $200 to buy a therapy ball from a specialized shop, or a $4 yoga ball from Ross? Tough choice....

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Chubby Girl Cheesecake review and giveaway!

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pumpkin and honey cheesecake picture.jpgRecently, my friend Susan took the plunge and opened her own small business, the fantastically named Chubby Girl Cheesecakes. As soon as her shop was up and running, I wanted to make an order--I love cheesecake!--but I waited until I had a similarly cheesecake loving guest come to stay a few weeks ago, since Mark doesn't like it.

It was worth the wait. I got 1/2 a Vanilla Bean cheesecake and 1/2 a Meadow Foam Honey cheesecake, with a bag of Susan's holiday Spiced Wine Cranberry sauce. And my friends, it was amazing. It was not only the by-far best cheesecake I've ever had, but one of the best desserts I've ever had. Susan ships the cakes frozen, so you'd think the texture would suffer, but it's still fantastic when it arrives and defrosts. The vanilla bean was the perfect vanilla, not too strong, but definite vanilla flavor, and a creamy texture that I can't even describe--nothing like those cheesecake that you think might just be a block of slightly sweetened cream cheese. The Meadow Foam honey had a wonderful, slightly herbal honey flavor and a more whipped texture. And the crust! Susan makes her own cookies and graham crackers for crusts, and the difference is obvious--it's remarkable. The sauce was the perfect red wine and cranberry compliment. Seriously, the whole thing was amazing. A transcendental cheesecake experience.

Susan's cakes aren't cheap--$39 plus shipping--but they are completely worth it. Each 10" round, 5-6 lb cake is an easy 16 servings, which makes the per serving cost totally reasonable. I'd HIGHLY suggest you consider a Chubby Girl Cheesecake next time you need a fancy dessert.

And guess what, lucky folks? One of you is going to get to order one ON ME! That's right, I'm giving away a Chubby Girl Cheesecake in honor of Susan's new business and in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Just head over to her site and take a look at the order form to see all the varieties Susan has available, then come back and leave me a comment as to what flavor(s) you'd like to try. If you want extra entries, blog about this contest or Tweet it and leave me a comment telling me you did that. Next Friday, I'll let random.org choose a winner, so be sure to leave me a way to get in touch with you!

Good luck!

70 Comments

OMG. WANT.

It's hard to chose, but I think the one I most want to try is Vanilla Bean with raspberry sauce.

And shared on Facebook.

WANT. I've wanted to try the MFH since she first discovered it!

Oh wow. I want a Lime, followed by a vanilla. Such a hard decision! Dh and I were mentioning the other day that we might have a cheesecake for christmas to each other LOL

Pumpkin or Lime for me. And shared on Facebook.

would LOVE dark chocolate truffle

I would give up any and all Christmas gifts for one of Susan's Dark Chocolate Truffle Cheesecakes. I've been drooling over her site since she put it up.

I really really want to try a lime cheesecake with raspberry swirled in.

Lemon Blackberry! It sounds heavenly . . . .

Yes this is a WANT! I think I'd like to try Pumpkin, followed by the Lemon Blackberry!

Wow, Fresh Lime sounds amazing! As does vanilla bean with the cranberry wine sauce! (I'd probably pick pumpkin but for the fact that I baked pumpkin bourbon cheesecake two weeks ago).

oh my goodness- dark chocolate truffle please!

Dark Chocolate Truffle or White Chocolate Raspberry...or you know, any of it really. It all sounds quite divine!

Shared on FB because Cheesecake should always be shared with friends.

I'm drooling over here Grace. I think the vanilla bean and the pumpkin both sound insanely good.

Vanilla bean or honey :)

Meadow foam honey! I have no idea what that is but I love honey and cheesecake and meadows!

Oh I want the white chocolate raspberry one!!!!!

Me! ME! And, additionally, if I win HHM and AmyW and Fiddlemama can all enjoy he lovely cheesecake with Trolly together.

Also? Facebooked it.

I think Fresh Lime sounds delicious!

Okay, I think I'll have the dark chocolate truffle with raspberry sauce on the side. Yes. Yes I will.

I am broke and my family would love a holiday cheesecake, I just linked from twitter and facebook :P

Dark chocolate truffle with either raspberry or blackberry swirled in!

White chocolate raspberry. Or lime. Or maybe pumpkin... too many to choose from!

I agree with ibby - I have no idea what meadow foam honey really means, but it sounds delightful. Fresh lime sounds pretty incredible as well...wow.

Its hard to choose. I'll say lime, but really - I want them all!

ZOMG! Pick me! Pick me! I would love the opportunity to share cheesecake with the family for Christmas. And cranberry sauce? I'm ded.

Facebooked!

mmmm, yum!

I'm aiming for fresh lime with blackberry sauce!

and I posted on facebook! woot!

Oh dear, I would love to make out with, I mean eat any one of those flavors. Grrrrowl.

MmmMMmmMmmm....I would say pumpkin would be my first choice followed by vanilla bean with spiced wine cranberry swirled in! Yum!
I wanna win!!!!

Lime. No, dark chocolate truffle. No, lime.

Want all the cheesecakes. Nom nom nom nom nom!

Lime. Yes.

Ooh, I'm not sure what Meadow Foam Honey is, but I think I'd like to find out!
(Oddly enough, while I love chocolate passionately, I firmly believe that cheesecake should not be chocolatey).

Oooooh how nice! I would love a vanilla bean cheesecake. You sold it so well.

Oh man...I want the chocolate truffle, but I really want to try one because she's the only person who does the GLUTEN FREE...and I've been dying for a GF cheesecake.

Imma gonna post on facebook for a second entry. No one reads my blog :-( lol

1/4 MFH, 1/4 White Chocolate Raspberry, 1/4 Dark Chocolate Truffle, and 1/4 Pumpkin!

(No, I'm not indecisive at ALL. ;P)

Ooh, the Meadow Foam Honey sounds delightful! I've been drooling over it since she started her business.

O. M. G.

That sounds amazing, all of it. I'll say the white chocolate raspberry, but whoa, dude. What an awesome business! :) Just tweeted about it- StephanieReads

and I facebooked it!

Tweeted at badmamanodonut

Lime.

Yum! Vanilla with raspberry sauce, please!

omg. all of them? every one? in every imaginable combination? if i HAD to pick just one... dark chocolate truffle with raspberry sauce or swirl in. who is with me on that treat? plus? i've tasted chubby girl cheesecake. they are DEVINE.

I want want want the Meadow Foam Honey.

just one?? White chocolate raspberry is always a fave.

I am drooling over the dark chocolate truffle and I am really curious about the spiced wine cranberry sauce.

Pumpkin! For the Holidays of course. Or...White Chocolate Raspberry. Is it bad that I can't make up my mind even for a drawing?

Pumpkin of course!

OMGZ. How to choose just one?!?!?!? I think... meadow foam honey is calling my name!

Posted to facebook!

I am a cheesecake fanatic! I have been since I was 5 and would order a salad bar and cheesecake when we went out to dinner, so I would love to these cheesecakes! Picking only 1 is hard, but I think I would like to try the lemon blackberry.

I posted to Twitter (angie303) & Facebook!

Ooh, I'm dying to try one. Vanilla!!

The pumpkin with the spiced wine cranberry sauce sounds heavenly.

I have to try the meadow foam honey! I tried the chestnut honey when she lived by me and it was AMAZING.

Susan is an amazing chef! I have always enjoyed her food. I love lemon cheesecake so I would love, love to have her homemade lemon blackberry one. Thank you for blogging about Chubby Girl Cheesecake & offering to give one away. I am so excited!

I shared this on facebook. Not sure if that counts, but its too good not to share. If everyone tasted Susan's food/cheesecake they would be hooked.

I have an obsession with white chocolate raspberry cheesecake! I don't have a tweet account but I did share on FB. My only regret of all of this past year is that I was less than a foot from one of her cheesecakes and somehow it never reached my mouth :(

Oooh! Oooh! I wanna try the lime. I love citrus and dairy, which most people think is strange, but, it sounds like the grown-up cousin of a creamsicle :)

I'd love to try the lime with a raspberry swirl or the lemon blackberry. Who am I kidding, they all sound divine, but those two caught my attention right away.

I just ordered the dark chocolate truffle + raspberry for K's birthday, but for myself, either the vanilla + cranberry or lime + raspberry. They all sound so good.

oh, and shared on Facebook. :)

oh wow! im going to order one for the christmas dinner, but if i were to be so lucky...blah blah. White chocolate rasberry! I can taste it already! It was hard not to say the dark choc. truffle! cant wait to come back and order!

The dark chocolate truffle sounds amazing, but I have to say vanilla bean!

These cheesecakes are seriously amazing. It's OK if I don't win, because I have already been lucky enough to try one, but I do want to try the dark chocolate truffle. Hopefully someone in Pittsburgh wins and then I can just share!

(I had the pumpkin, and it was perfect. DH just mentioned this past weekend that he was thinking about it and craving it.)

So, I'm in Canada, but I go to the US and have a US mailing address that I can use, so I'm going to try to win anyway. I think the White Chocolate Raspberry would be delightful.

I want a vanilla bean!!!

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Aquaphor Giveaway!

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Interested in winning some products from Aquaphor? Head over to the review blog!

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I've mentioned my love for classic country music before. I am a complete sucker for that sound--Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, you name it. Good lyrics about hard lives with a twanging guitar. Gets me every time.

So, flipping channels a few weeks ago, I stopped when I saw Shooter Jennings. I like Shooter Jennings--don't love him, haven't bought an album, but have been interested in what I've heard. And then I saw that he was singing with another man. A bearded dude who reminded me a whole lot of a country version of a younger James Hetfield. They were singing a song about "between Jennings and Jones." And two verses in, I was hooked.

Jamey Johnson is the first musician I've heard since the day I was introduced to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals several years ago that has really struck any cord at all with me. And as I listened to him swap songs with Shooter, I liked him more every time he opened his mouth. That gravel voice, soft Alabama accent, no-bullshit guitar. Wonderful.

5678a2bc-543a-4114-be02-e940b9d39578.jpgAs soon as the show was over, I hopped on iTunes and looked for the album with the Jennings and Jones song on it. I found out it was Johnson's first studio album, "That Lonesome Song", and decided to take a chance, spend my $10, and buy the whole record.

Every song on it is good. And a few of them are great. I think my favorite is Mary Go Round, but I'd probably tell you different on another day. The lyrics are poetic, but straightforward, and the music is all traditional country, with an occasional moment that makes you think a bit of southern rock (think Skynyrd). The influences are pretty clear--I can't help but hear Merle Haggard in The Cost of Living High and Waylon himself on Between Jennings and Jones, and the pun of Mary Go Round is all Kristofferson--but this is a tribute more than an impersonation, and Johnson's original songs are so good I didn't for a second wish he would just give up and do covers (which tends to be the case whenever I hear anybody with a good classic country voice).

So, now that I have That Lonesome Song more or less memorized, I'm going to buy Johnson's second studio album, the double "The Guitar Song" as soon as it comes out in September. And these are the first records I've bought in years, y'all. Even with Grace Potter, I was satisfied to buy one. This is a big endorsement coming from me.

So if you like classic country, here's what I want you to do. Go here and watch the video for "In Color" or here to watch "Mowin' Down the Roses." Look how cute he is! Listen to how great those songs are! Then run out and buy his CD or his MP3s. Then come back and thank me.

1 Comments

Absolutely agree on JJ. I first heard In Color and became an instant fan. It would be hard to name my second favorite. Between Jennings and Jones comes close. For Classic Country today, he is to me the greatest singer on the charts.

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Eating out is something Mark and I have enjoyed doing together for our entire relationship. Portland was the high point--there are a million great restaurants there, and new ones popping up all the time. In Austin, we explored some, and found a few spots, but compared to what we'd come to expect from Portland, we were disappointed.

Here in Virginia, we haven't had time since we moved to try many places. However, when Mark's parents were here in September, we did go into The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg for some lunch. We didn't plan it, just happened to walk by the restaurant while we were exploring Leesburg. And it was great--we had a light lunch, each had a glass of wine, and improved our afternoon considerably.

It was with this good memory in mind that Mark asked if I wanted to to The Wine Kitchen for dinner on Saturday. We hadn't been out anywhere nice in ages, so I was really excited about it, and I was not disappointed.

We started our meal with the charcuterie plate ($10). The highlight of the meats was an Italian bresaola--I hadn't had bresaola before, and I loved it, particularly paired with the stone-ground mustard The Wine Kitchen provides. The Spanish Serrano ham was good, too, though not the best I've had by any means. I was very disappointed, however, by the domestic (from Iowa) pork belly. It really tasted like raw bacon, and was both extremely fatty and very tough. We also go the marinated olives ($4), which Mark was disappointed to find were pitted, ruining their texture, but I thought were pretty good, and a very generous portion for the price--we couldn't finish them.

Along with our first course, Mark had a taste of Majella Sparkling Shiraz 2005, from Coonawarra, Australia ($4 for the taste) and I had a flight of tastes of three pinot noirs: Terrazze Pinot Nero, 2008 from Provincia di Pavia, Italy; Rosella's Vineyard A.P. Vin, 2006, from Santa Lucia Highlands, California; and Klee Pinot Noir, 2008, from Willamette Valley, Oregon ($13 for the flight). The Wine Kitchen pours a generous taste--I'd say it's more like a half glass--so I think the prices are very reasonable. Mark didn't like the sparkling shiraz, and neither did I--it tasted like carbonated port and was way too heavy for a pre-dinner drink. The Oregon Klee pinot was very good, the California OK, and the Italian antiseptic tasting, to my palette, but I learned to drink wine in Oregon, so take that for what it's worth.

For a second course, we split the Parisian herb gnocchi ($12). Served with roasted brussels spouts, pearl onions, and a balsamic vinegar, browned butter, and ricotta sauce, this was sublime. I don't love gnocchi in general, Mark doesn't love brussels sprouts, and yet we both loved this (though in retrospect, I'm not sure why we ordered it). The gnocchi were soft without being at all mushy, the brussels sprouts were just a bit crunchy, the pearl onions were sweet, and the sauce was perfect. This is a bit rich, though--I'm not sure I would want a whole serving as an entree. For a split starter, it was perfect.

I didn't have to give my entree much thought. I had the "chicken and waffles" ($12) .The Wine Kitchen's take on this classic is actually battered and fried farm-raised quail over cornmeal and herb waffles, with bacon caramel syrup. If that sounds good to you, trust me, it's better. The quail was done perfectly, and it was wonderful with the syrup. Mark also really liked the waffle, but I wasn't as big a fan of it--I wanted to be lofty and soft inside with a crisp outside, like a cornmeal Belgian waffle, but it was more Eggo-textured. Still, the overall dish was a huge success. I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

Mark went for the braised short ribs ($16). His dish was simply not so impressive as mine. The ribs themselves were fine (and it was a generous portion), but the red wine sauce served on them was lackluster. I was intrigued by the red grits the ribs were served with, but they ended up tasting much like grits with tomato sauce in them, and the texture was in the in-between area, not quite grits, not quite polenta. The pickled vegetable salad, however, was excellent, and was a wonderful accompaniment to the heavy beef and grits, adding a crispness that would have been lacking otherwise.

With our entrees, Mark and I each had a flight of wine tastes. I chose the Hills of Italy ($10), which included: Barbera D'Asti Collina La Mora, Barbera, 2007, from Piedmonte; Benotto, Nebbiolo, 2006, from Monferrato; and Chianti Riserva, Renzo Masi, Sangiovese, 2006, from Chianti. The Barbera and Sangiovese were both very solid, not great, but very drinkable. I didn't care much for the Nebbiolo, as it had a dusty taste to it that was too strong on my palette. Mark went for the Righteous Staff Selections ($12). His flight included: Yalumba , Riesling, 2008, from South Australia; La Palazzetta, Brunello di Montalcino , Sangiovese , 2003, from Tuscany, Italy; and d'Arry's Original, d'Arenberg, Shiraz, Grenache, 2005, from McLaren Vale, Australia. I didn't sample his Reisling, but loved it. The Sangiovese was very respectable and would fit right in with the wines in my flight. The high point of his for me, though, was the surprisingly good Australian Grenache, which I loved and will definitely look for again.

For dessert, I was all set to get the Caramel and Sea Salt Torta Palla ($7). Then, however, our waitress offered me the a port and truffles flight ($14), which I couldn't refuse. Mark ordered the Torta Palla and we split both. I didn't get the names of my port offerings, but the tawny was excellent (the other was a LBV that was a bit strong for me). The truffles were quite good. We were surprised to find we both loved the milk chocolate and cinnamon one the most, but the dark chocolate and Earl Gray garnished with lavender was also quite good. The third truffle was a ruby port and dark chocolate version, which I thought was overpowered by the tawny I was drinking and didn't care as much for.

Mark's dessert was my hands-down favorite part of the meal. Two balls of very good, very dense chocolate cake were covered with an excellent hard chocolate shell (not waxy at all, with great flavor). The balls were topped with heavenly homemade caramel sauce, sprinkled with strong sea salt, and garnished with what I believe to have been sweetened and whipped mascarpone. Every element of the dessert was perfect, and it was all fantastic together. I was stuffed to the gills by the time it arrived, and I ate my half with gusto anyway.

As far as atmosphere goes, The Wine Kitchen is a much different place for weekend dinner than for weekday lunch. It was very crowded and noisy. We arrived just after 6pm and got the last open table, and for the rest of our meal, multiple parties were standing up in the middle of the restaurant waiting for a clear table. Our second round of wine was delayed quite a bit, in part because our waitress couldn't make her way through the mob. Still, I like the place, it's comfortable and not pretentious in the least.

I like the prices at The Wine Kitchen, too. The tastes are usually $3-$5, and the flights $10-$16, so it's a great way to taste some wine. The food, too, is very reasonable for the quality and size.

There may well be other great places locally--we'll definitely keep looking--but I think Mark and I may have found our special new date night place here in our new home, and that's a good feeling to have.

2 Comments

If I am ever in the same city as you I would love to go out to eat with you and Mark. You two appreciate good food and good wine and your descriptions have me drooling at my desk.

Wine Kitchen is a hidden Gem in Leesburg but it is one of many we are blessed with. The town has way more good food than it has any right to.

For magnificent food paired with astonishingly good brewed-on premises beer don't miss Vintage 50, just outside the historic downtown on Rt 7

Lightfoot is the obvious star of downtown but I recommend going for a weekday lunch and trying one of their ridiculously better than it has any right to be Grilled Cheese of the Day offerings

I'm also a real big fan of the authentic New Orleans flavor of the Cajun Experience, about a block off main street. The Chef is an LA native who takes real pride in her food.

and for a true "don't judge a book by its cover" experience, try La Chocita, and don't be put off by the tiny dining space decor. The food is amazing Latin American cuisine with authentic Ecuadoran, Guatemala and Peruvian dishes and THE BEST Pollo Brasa you will find in the state

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January Out of the Box Sampler review up

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Go over to my review blog for my review of this month's Out of the Box Sampler box.

After having such a good experience with the December Out of the Box Sampler, I ordered myself up a subscription to the OOTB service for 2010. I thought it would be really great to get the boxes at what would feel to me like random, having not ordered them each month. The first one came yesterday, and I was right!

Please? Nobody is reading my review blog. It's sad.

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Hey, check me out over here!

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It occurs to me that most of you aren't reading my review blog. That may be just because you aren't interested, but in case it's because you don't know it is there, or aren't sure if you'd be interested, please check it out?

Today, I put up a review of the Little Black Box and Sweet Delights Divalicious Sampler Boxes for November.

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LBB Giveaway on Reviews site

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Get thee to WINOW Reviews and try to win a September Little Black Box!! One week only, so go now.

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Sephora swag giveaway on WINOW Reviews

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Be sure to go over to my review blog to read about my Sephora bag from BlogHer and enter to win some products!

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Don't buy Bodum

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Observe.

From: Me
To: Bodum USA
Date: March 28

To Whom It May Concern;

Several months ago (around Christmas), I purchased a double-walled glass Bodum Centeen carafe.

We have happily used this carafe multiple days per week since we bought it. We use it to store the coffee that is getting cold in our Bodum French press. We never pour boiling liquids into it, or even anything all that hot. It has only been carefully hand washed.

bodum carafe.jpgThis morning, I poured the extra coffee into it as usual. By the time I put it in the carafe, the coffee was cooled enough that it was drinkable to me, so far from boiling. I put it in the carafe and put the carafe down on the counter. Then, a moment later, the outer layer of the carafe exploded. It wasn't struck on anything, it just flew it pieces. I am attaching a photo so that you can see the damage.

Not only is this disappointing, as I paid at least $40 for this carafe, and have always purchased and been happy with Bodum products, but it is also really dangerous. It shattered into hundreds of tiny fragments. And it did so without any impact, which leads me to believe there must have been some weakness in the product.

I feel that with the price Bodum charges for its products the quality should be higher than it was here, and would appreciate a replacement carafe.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

Grace

From: Bodum
To: Me
Date: March 30

Hi. Grace

Thank you for your email. Sorry to hear what happend with your double wall carafe. Unfurtunally we sold out on this carafe we don't sell them anymore. What I can do is I can exchange it for you for something else, please visit our website and choose something from there and I will send it to you as no charge.

Thanks,

Bodum Person

From: Me
To: Bodum
Date: March 30

Thank you for your quick response!

It looks like the only thing currently available on your site that will fill the same need the carafe did is the stainless steel Bistro vacuum flask. If we could get that to replace our carafe, we would appreciate it.


Thank you,

Grace

From: Me
To: Bodum
Date: April 27

Hello,

I am forwarding an email correspondence I had with one of your representatives, Bodum Person, about a month ago. I have not since heard anything, nor have I received anything in the mail. Can you please let me know the status of my replacement item?

Thank you,

Grace

From: Bodum
To: Me
Date: April 28

Hi. Grace

Unfurtunally I can't do anything because with out a receipt we can't do anything sorry.

Thanks,

Same Bodum Person

From: Me
To: Bodum
Date: April 28

Bodum Person,

Why was I originally told I would receive a replacement item, then? It is extremely unprofessional to have told me that and then stopped responding and sent nothing. I would like this exchange to be forwarded to your manager, please. I will expect response from him or her.

Grace

There are several things wrong with this transaction. The first issue, obviously, is that Bodum's product was defective. There was no reason a double-walled glass carafe should explode with no impact and without being filled with a very hot or very cold liquid.

Secondly, Bodum isn't standing behind their product. A reputable company will go out of their way to compensate for or replace a defective product. Bodum is refusing to do so.

Thirdly, I was led on in my exchange with Bodum's customer service representative. Upon receiving her first email, I was told my carafe would be replaced--not with another carafe, since they are no longer made, but with another product.

Fourth, when replacing my carafe turned out not to be the policy, Bodum not only didn't make good on their word, they didn't even contact me to tell me they weren't going to send a replacement. I waited nearly two months, then sent them another email myself before I found out that I was not going to be compensated.

Lastly, the grammar and spelling in the emails from Bodums' representative is atrocious and her language is unprofessional.

As anybody who reads WINOW often knows, I love to tell my readers about companies and products I love. I do it all the time. But I am as willing to tell you all about bad companies as I am about good ones, and, at least in this instance, Bodum is a bad company. Bad enough that even though I generally really like their products (I'm on my third French press), I won't purchase anything from them again. Just as I respect companies who have quality products, stand behind their merchandise, and have good customer service, I disrespect companies that have poor quality, don't stand behind their products, or have this type of poor service.

It has been made clear lately, over and over, that one of the many things the advent and popularity of blogging has done is give consumers more power. Bloggers are being begged and even paid to review products every day. Word of mouth has always been important, but now, rather than just telling all my friends and family about Bodum, I can tell the few thousand people a month who visit me here as well. And if they have any sense of what that scope of word of mouth could mean to them, they ought to feel pretty stupid for not just replacing my carafe.

13 Comments

I am going to email them too.

Ack. This raises my blood pressure just reading it, and it's not even my carafe.

I'm about the nicest, most patient customer ever, but I've really had it with this kind of thing.

I won't buy Bodum, either, to stand in solidarity with you! :)

Wow. Totally unprofessional.

i did online customer service for a (phone) company & i know that policies differ in responses, but that totally would not fly with just the atrocious grammar/spelling. we were constantly checked at random & "graded" on our responses.
sorry that bodum has become such a disappointment & hope you get some resolution.

My experience with Bodum is only positive! Great customer service, Great products and Great value - I think you are being over sensitive here.

How can you expect to get a replacement or money back without a receipt? that's normal procedure most places - It has nothing to do with not standing behind their products.

http://twitpic.com/f7j73 This is my Bodum unshatterable beaker. Weeks have gone by and still no word from their cust. serv. #bodum #fail

http://twitter.com/MattSidesinger/status/3533045541

I have just purchased my 2nd Bodum toaster.
And like the first one it is not toating properly.
I have the control dial on 6 {the highest number & the
toast pop's up a medium golden brown.
To get it darker I have to re toast it.
This was the same problem with the first toaster.
For a $100 item I expected a much superior performance.

Arlyn One dissatisfied customer

I still never got a response from Bodum. I have bought three french presses since. 2 for me and 1 for my mom. None of them were Bodum. I tell everyone to stay away.

When on holiday in Sydney last year I bought my grandson a BODUM battery powered salt and pepper dispenser,
My grandson enjoys cooking,I thought this would be a fun impliment for him to use.
On return to Australia this year my grandson [18] said,"the Bodum SnP was rubbish, it never worked! I tried different batteries but no luck, also I cannot use it with out batteries so it has been no good for anything.
I wrote a letter to Bodum but received no reply!!
I know this is only a small item, butI did expect it to work.
Sincerly
Annoyed grandmother.

I have the same issue except I have not had a response and I even emailed them my receipt... no contact whatsoever after the initial phone conversation in which I was told I would have my travel presses replaced and my email that should've met their policy standards per our conversation...I will not be buying from them anymore. If they cannot stand behind their products then I won't waste my $ on them then. I had 3 of their travel french presses melt. Poor customer service and falling through their cracks

I put some coke from the fridge in my bodum cup, and it exploded internally.

Bodum would not reply to my emails, their products are just garbage.

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So in May I reviewed the Sweet Delights Divalicious Sample Box and was duly impressed. Today I got The July box, and I remain so. Read about my haul, and keep in mind that the whole works was only $25 Canadian, including shipping:


  • Cocoon Apothecary Magic Bean Body Cream, 4 oz bottle, Cream & Coffee (estimated value $10)

  • From Lumiere Cosmetics, small sample pots of eye pigment in Raspberry Truffle, Hypnotic, and Halo (estimated value $5 each

  • A small bottle of Adult Cold Care blend aroma oil and a Jasmine tinted lip slicker from Blue Monday Soap Co. (estimated value $8)

  • A .5 oz Dolce de Limone lip balm from Herban Lifestyle (estimated value $5)

  • A blue and silver chain bracelet from Roxy's Rox (estimated value $7)

  • A yellow and black cell phone charm from from CellChic (estimated value $8)

  • A sample gift tag and 10% off coupon code from Pick Me Paper Designs (estimated value negligible)

  • From Heaven and Earth Essentials, a sample of White Chocolate Latte Sugar Scrub and a $5 off coupon code (estimated value $4)

  • A 1.5 oz lavender soap sample from Heather's Natural Soap Co. (estimated value $2)

  • A pink and brown polka dot clip from Pretty Hair Clippies (estimated value $2)

  • A sample vial of "Seduction" perfume from Rosalyn Scent (estimated value $1)

  • A pair of blue beaded earrings from Satin Doll (estimated value $10)

  • A Scrabble tile pendant from B.B. Bellezza (estimated value $7)

  • Four tea lights (2 white tea & ginger scent and 2 love spell) from Crystal Lights (estimated value $4)

  • A felted rope (to be used as a necklace or bracelet) from Lisa and Lucy Jewelry (estimated value $15)

  • A keyfob from Venezie Bags (estimated value $4)

  • Two samples of hydrating facial creme from Aguacate & Co. (estimated value negligible)

  • A Grandma's Kitchen soap sample from Mountain Farm Soaps (estimated value $2)

  • Five Peak-A-Boob strips (estimated value negligible)

Total estimated value: $104

Crazy, right?

The eye pigment is the most exciting part for me--the colors are really vibrant and there is actually enough to wear it a few times. The lip balms both look promising as well. The jewelry isn't to my style, but the quality is good. Overall, I couldn't be happier. Sweet Delights can count me in for September's box for sure.

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Review: Flutterby Beauty

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flutterby logo.jpgThe LBB has done it again! In June's box, one of the most exciting items was a little bag of several samples from Flutterby Beauty, a new bath product shop on the scene. Intrigued by the sample items (and the 20% off coupon code), I made a small order from the website.

After some deliberation, I ordered: two 6.5 oz jars of Whipped Body Polish (one in Comfort, "a soothing blend of calming lavender with a hint of creamy milk and a drop of honey;" one in Clementine Lavender, "a relaxing and balancing fragrance of French lavender and sweet clementine supported by bergamot and Italian lemon"); two 2 oz bottles of Silky Body Oil (one in Head Over Heels, "fragrance opens with sweet vanilla, leads to a delicate floral center, and ends with a base of blackberry musk (compare to Philosophy Falling In Love);" one in Marrakesh, "an aromatic blend of spices including ginger, cinnamon, and clove balanced with a bit of zesty orange and warmed by a hint of vanilla"); and two 2 oz bottles of Moisture Mist (one in Honey Bee, "sweet honey drizzled over sticky toffee balanced with a squeeze of juicy orange and light florals (compare to Lush Honey I Washed The Kids);" one in Nectarine Blossom, "just-ripening nectarines with a hint of the delicate blossoms and a touch of honey (compare to Jo Malone Nectarine Blossom & Honey)"). After my discount code, my order came to about $35 with shipping.

It shipped lightening fast (two days, maybe?) and arrived quickly. It was well-packaged, with each set of two items in its own bag, tied with a purple ribbon. There was also a purple organza bag with three sample items--a body polish, a lotion, and a perfume. Flutterby's packaging is minimalist--just a simple label--but the bottles and tubs aren't flimsy and everything held up just fine.

Since the order arrived, I've had the chance to try at least one of each item. The body polish has a great texture, didn't seperate during shipping, and washes off without leaving an oil residue. I don't love the Comfort scent--the lavender overwhelms everything else in it--but there are lots of others to choose from. It's definitely worth buying again.

The other two products are even better. The Silky Body Oil is much like Haunt's Skin Glossing Oil (only $1.50 a 4 oz bottle cheaper), and it's an amazing moisturizing after-shower alternative when it's too hot for thick lotion (like now). I've tried both scents, but I love the Marrakesh--it's just spicy enough without being overpowering, and both the citrus and the vanilla are both clear in it. It's one of those smells, like Villainess' Jai Mahal, that just makes me feel cozy. Wonderful.

The Moisture Mist is also a winner. It's nice and cooling and lightly scented--perfect to carry around during the summer to replace heavy perfume oil. And the best part? Honey Bee is a dead ringer for Lush's Honey I Washed the Kids, which is one of my all-time favorite scents. I'm not a big fan of the Nectarine Blossom, but, again, there are lots of other scents to choose from. It's also fairly inexpensive, with a 4 oz bottle costing only $8.95.

Even more so than the first company to which the LBB introduced me, Heaven & Earth Essentials, I am taken with Flutterby. I'll definitely be ordering from them again. And, if you want to do the same, they are having a grand opening sale right now--the coupon code OPENING gets you 15% off your order and $5 flat rate shipping on all domestic orders. Go!

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June LBB review

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The LBB is on a roll. June's offering did not disappoint! As usual, this post will contain a rundown of what my box contained, but I'm also going to attempt to figure out the value of the items therein. All the values listed are taken from the merchant's website. If what was in the box is not offered on the site, the value is estimated based on what is offered.

In the box:


  • A Freesia Hand Poured Soy Melt from Walking Leaf Co., $5.95

  • Two printed package tags and a 15% code from Shalom's Cottage Home, $.75

  • A pink teardrop adjustable size ring from AlluRing, $6.

  • A green ribbon clippie barette and a free shipping code from 3 Little Monkeys, $2

  • A small bag of dog treats from Pawsh Dog Bakery, $1

  • A sample sized bar of Pure Lemon soap from Strawberry Hedgehog (also featured last month), $1

  • A sample sized jar of unrefined shea butter from Nature's Shea Butter, $2.25

  • A Patriotic Parfait sample sized wax melt from Whiff and Sniff Candles, $1

  • An Autism Awareness ribbon pin and a 15% off coupon code from Jodi's Craft Emporium (also featured in April), $5

  • Two wooden and paper magnets from QueenVanna Creations, $1.75

  • A beaded ponytail wrap and a 20% off code from Pony Pretties, $5

  • Two small envelopes and two matchbook notebooks from Crye's Creations (also featured in March, April, and May), $.70

  • A large size pink cotton crocheted scrubbie from Mom With a Hook, $1.75

  • A Sultry Summer perfume sample and a lollly from Lemon Lollipop (also featured in May), $1

  • A chili pepper shaped catnip toy from Colorado Catnip Toys (also featured in March), $3.95

  • A super cute "If You Love Something, Set it Free" screen printed postcard from 3 Lambs Graphics, $3

  • A screen printed thank you card and an offer for four free monogrammed cards from Just Wright Boutique, $4.95

  • A Winter Nights soy scent tart and a sample sized bag of Pomegranate bath fizzies, along with a magnet, from The Serene Dream Shop, $.75

  • A sample of Wakey Wakey Whipped Body Polish, a sample of Strawberry Fields Hydrating Lotion, a sample of Afternoon Delight Silky Body Oil, and a sample of Classic Vanilla Moisture Mist, along with a 20% off code, from Flutterby Beauty, $6

Grand total: $51.80.

Yeah, I think it's definitely worth the money.

I am particularly excited about the Flutterby Beauty stuff--it's a new shop, and the information on their website leads me to believe they are right up my alley!

1 Comments

Thank you SO much for the link and I'm glad you liked my sample! I LOVE The Little Black Boxes, it's always fun to participate in them!

Happy week!
Brigitte

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Zenni Optical, I love you

| 5 Comments

I wear glasses. My eyes have been bad forever, and I've worn glasses full-time since sometime in college. I wore contacts for a bit when I lived in Oregon, but I haven't been able to do that in Texas due to allergy issues. I long for Lasik surgery, but it's not something I've made a financial priority as yet.

In the meantime, I am picky about my glasses. I want fun, funky glasses, and I want multiple pairs to choose from. You can see a bit of my glasses history here (these are in approximate chronological order, and span the last five years):

In recent years, I've met these needs by spending hours looking at frames at Lenscrafters or the like when they're having a twofer sale. That way, I get two pairs to switch between. Last time I did this, though, I ended up with two pairs of glasses that fell apart within a few months. Not cool. So, when I got my new prescription in May, Id decided to go to Costco Optical, which had been recommended to me by several people, pay a bit more, and just buy one new pair of glasses.

I did that. I ended up buying two pairs--one regular glasses, one sunglasses (pretty much a necessity if you want to be able to drive here). My total was around $280. More than I've ever paid for glasses, but I figured I needed a good pair, so I paid it. Then I waited for a week while my glasses were made.

When I picked them up, the sunglasses were fine. I ended up not living the rather ostentatious frames I'd picked, but they worked fine. The regular glasses, however, hit me with a headache and nausea the minute I put them on. Figuring it was just that new glasses feeling, I tried to get used to them.

And tried and tried. And kept feeling sick. And then came to the conclusion that the prescription in the glasses must be wrong and that I should take them back.

And then went on vacation. And then got sick. And then neglected to do anything.

So I found myself in the position of having no accurate prescription glasses. When I complained about this state of things online, an e-friend pointed me towards Zenni Optical. Looking at the website, I felt pretty skeptical. Glasses for as little as $8? Really? How is that possible? But I loved a lot of their frames, and the risk didn't seem too big, so I decided to give it a try. I measured my pupillary distance with a ruler in the mirror, entered in my prescription from the card the eye doctor gave me, and made an order for three pairs: one conservative, one geek chic, one funky and bejeweled. Total cost, including shipping and handling, was $37.80. I made my order on Friday, June 15. On Monday, June 15, I received an email notifying me that my glasses were shipping. Yesterday, June 17, they arrived.

And I am thrilled with them. Every pair fits correctly, has the correct prescription (I can see and don't have a headache), and looks awesome.

The quality seems fine--they come in cheap cases, but that is pretty easy to fix. I don't see any difference between them and the ones I've gotten anywhere else, except that at $9.95-$12.95 each, they were less than 10% of the price. How does Zenni Optical do that? I have no idea, and honestly, I don't care. I just plan to take full advantage of it. Next up--different styles of sunglasses!

5 Comments

I'm glad to hear this review! I considered using a place like that last time I got new glasses, after basically choking when I realized how much glasses cost. I've been wearing contacts/having insurance for so long, I didn't really know. I ended up getting some frames on ebay, and getting the lenses locally, for a total of about 140, which wasn't bad. Maybe I'll give Zenni a try though...nothing to lose, right!?

copier! you have my glasses (the blingy ones all the way to the right).

the other day my dad asked if i had new glasses and i told him, no i just had many pairs.

It was like a commercial--he said, "Oh you must be rich!" and I said "No, I got them online for 30 bucks!"

Jealous! I just found out two weeks ago that my new health insurance covers eye exams, but nothing else. My vision is abysmal. Minus 7.5 in both eyes. If I don't want to wear coke bottle lenses that means 400$ plus for a pair of glasses. I also wear contacts about half the time and see better with them (but can't stand them for all day office days). I last bought a new pair of glasses four years ago. I thought about buying a new pair recently, but with no more insurance help and paycuts and paying for contacts... I worry about only having one pair though. And no sunglasses. Last time I looked into online glasses with my special lenses it was still a couple hundred $. Sigh.

beapea, i have -6.5 and at least at zinni, it cost me 40 a pair. Still way better than in a normal store. I got the regular (plastic) lenses too and they were fine....

You are not alone. I too have fallen in love with Zenni. In total I have 6 pair of glasses (5 reg 1 sun)and those 6 pair have cost me less than one pair from the "professionals" With my astigmatism I am thrilled to pay only $17 for mine :)

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Some pretty things (product reviews)

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It has been absolutely FOREVER since I've talked about makeup! I can't even remember where I left off, so let me just tell you what is working for me and what's not:

Stuff I Love

Shampoo: I recently started using the Hybrid Solid Shampoo from Lush (I know, I have been railing against Lush for years, but the store in Cambridge called to me when I was there and I couldn't resist). I love it. My hair and scalp feel great, my hair looks awesome, and it's a wonderful shampoo experience. The smell is like licorice, but not too strong, and it lathers in a soft, wonderful way. It is also not that expensive. It's $9.25 for a bar that I think will last me at least three months (keeping in mind that I store it in a case and I don't wash my hair more than 3 times a week).

Makeup remover: I use Blum Naturals Daily Cleaning Towelettes for Dry and Sensitive Skin, and I love them. They take everything off, don't dry my face out, and feel good while doing it. Apparently they are $7.29 a 30 count package retail, but I bought four or five packages when they were at Ross for $2.99 each, so I am stocked up for a bit.

Primer: I am a complete disciple of Smashbox Photo Finish, as I've mentioned before. I am just finishing my first full bottle of it and have another to open when that one is empty. The first bottle lasted about four months, I think, of near-daily use, and it costs $36 a bottle, so it's not cheap, but it's worth it.

Powder: Again, I am wholly satisfied and no longer looking in this category. Clinique's Almost Powder Makeup SPF 15 is the one for me. It goes on smooth, looks natural, and, in Neutral, is the perfect shade. It's $22.50 a compact, but I bet the compact will last more than a year, so price isn't a big issue.

Blush: I have not one, but two blushes I love. The first is Nars' Blush in Orgasm, which I have mentioned here before (probably more than once). The second, which I am actually using more now that it's summer and my face has some natural color and doesn't need as much help, is Lancome's Blush Subtil in Cedar Rose. I love the oil-free formulation and how easily it slides on and natural it looks.
The Nars is $25 a compact and the Lancôme is $29.50, but again, I use so little, each will last more than a year, I'm sure.

Eyeliner: I've recently made two happy eyeliner discoveries. The first, a surprise, was The Body Shop's Hot Brights Eyeliner. Since I have hazel eyes, mine is the purple one, and I very much like and am using both ends of it. It seems to stay on well and it's easy to apply. It's $13, which isn't cheap, but eyeliner lasts for as long as you are willing to keep on using it, so I think that's OK. The other one I'm using is Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, which is also awesome and the easiest eyeliner ever to apply, but a bit much for daytime for me. I have the 1999, which is plum with tiny gold glitter, and it works great at night. It was $16, but again, will last indefinitely.

Eye shadow: Again, I made a surprise discovery on a trip to The Body Shop. The Shimmer Cubes in Palette 16 are working great for me, in particular because I really don't like heavy eye shadow and just want a little bit of dazzle. I've used 3 of the 4 shades (everything but the darker pink) and liked all three of them. The set is $22, which seems reasonable for this much shadow.

Deodorant: After a brief foray into Oyin Funk Butter, which irritates the hell out of my skin (I think it's the baking soda), I am back to Secret Clinical Strength Hypoallergenic. It just works. I won't stray again. As a bonus, they have it at Big Lots for $2 right now. I might stock up.

Soap: The world is FULL of soap that I love, but my favorite right now is Villainess' Blush. It's great summer soap, smelling like berries and lime, and it makes the smoothest lather that never feels like it is leaving a residue. I love it. It's $5 a bar and worth even more.

Scrub: Again, I've rarely met a scrub I didn't like, but my right-now favorite is Arcana's Murder Ballad Blues. It's super moisturizing, doesn't leave a grease film, and again, smells like summer berries. I wish I had another jar of it. It is generally $11.99 for a 10 oz jar, which lasts me about 8 uses, but I don't use it every day.

Shaving Cream: This was another Ross discovery: Tree Hut Shaving Cream for Him and Her. I LOVE this stuff. It's super rich and thick, with a bunch of shea butter in it. Makes for a great, smooth shave, and it smells wonderful, especially in the Brazilian Nut scent. I've been looking forever for something to replace my Trader Joe's Honey Mango, and this is definitely it. Looks like it's about $4 a bottle at drugstore.com, too!

Body Moisturizer: I have to go with Villianess Whipped. It's a little bit heavy for summer, so I don't use it on the days I use scrubs, but since I have dry skin, it's still useful. The scent I am using right now, which I love, is Xia. It's a blackberry (can you tell I'm into berry scents right now?)/vanilla/pepper/cocoa smell, and it's just wonderful. It's $10 a jar, and a jar would last me probably 40 days of continual use, so it should last all summer.

Stuff for Which I Still Search

Conditioner: I am using Aveda's Smooth Infusion Conditioner, and it's fine, but it doesn't wow me. Also, it's expensive--$21 for 6.7 oz, and I use quite a bit of conditioner.

Face Wash: I've been using regular Cetaphil for quite a while, but it seems to work less and less well. I've tried a few other things, but so far they've all spectacularly failed (particularly the tea tree facial wash from Trader Joe's, which I swear peeled my skin off).

Tinted Moisturizer: I am using Clinique's Moisture Sheer Tint SPF 15. And I like it, but I don't love it. It's still not quite as sheer as I'd like, and I have a hard time putting it on without it ending up in my eyebrows, which makes it look like I have brow dandruff. It's also expensive, at $27 a tube, though I use so little I can't imagine the tube lasting less than 4 months or so. On the upside, it does feel very hydrating, which I like, but I still want something that is a little more moisturizer and a little less foundation.

Mascara: O perfect mascara, why does thou forsake me? I have been through nearly every highly-recommended brand of mascara out there, and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I want something that makes it look like I have long, natural lashes. Lengthening, but no thickening or clumping or looking and feeling sticky. I've tried Definicils, Diorshow, Smashbox Bionic, and am now on to Imju Fiberwig, which is better than anything I've tried previously, but still not really what I want. It's also $22 a tube, which makes it not really something I want to replace every 3 months. I may go back to Neutrogena's Weightless Volume Wax-Free, honestly. The difference is just not that great, and it's less than a third of the price (around $7).

Lipstick: I put this in the "still searching" category because although I like what I have, I want more. The lipstick I am wearing the most recently is Benefit's Silky Finish Lipstick in Dessert First. I love how it looks when it goes on--just the right amount of color and shine and it feels really nice and never dry--but it doesn't last at all, which is a bummer, because I hate having to reapply. I thought choosing the Full-Finish Lipstick might help this, so I got that in Do Tell, but it goes on way to matte. Looks OK once I put gloss over it, but I hate it by itself. I'm also still using Clinique's Black Honey Almost Lipstick, though it's not quite what I want in the summer, and Bare Escentuals' Buxom Lip Gloss, which is too shiny for during they day for me right now. The Benefit lipsticks, by the way, are $18 each, which seems reasonable for a lipstick, since they last forever.

Facial moisturizer: Right now, I am using some health food organic stuff I can't remember the name of. It seems OK, but something is making me break out around my hair line, and I think it may be the culprit. I had a sample of something rose-based that I just loved, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Does that ring a bell for anyone?

Whew! I use a lot of product these days! Guess I've become a high-maintenance girl!

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