August 15, 2011

In which I learn to stop worrying and absolutely love OnStar

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.

July 27, 2011

Mary Kay makeup review and giveaway!

When I was a kid, I divided makeup into three categories. Teeny bopper makeup, teenager makeup, and adult makeup. Teeny boppers wore Wet N Wild. Teenagers moved up to "higher end" drugstore brands, particularly Cover Girl. And adults? Grown up ladies wore Mary Kay. Those pink and white bottles and tubes with the little Mary Kay flower logo on them symbolized serious makeup, makeup for women with jobs, women who were beyond what could be found at Rite Aid. Mary Kay was aspiration makeup.

Fast forward a number of years, and, just before my 30th birthday, I finally start wearing makeup myself. Lots has changed, and the biggest change is Sephora. Suddenly, there is a whole world of "serious" makeup, and I am a fast addict, building a huge and expensive arsenal. One label that is missing from said arsenal? Mary Kay. Until now.

Mary Kay products
When BlogHer chose me to review a few of Mary Kay's products, I was beyond excited, both because I just plain love makeup and because I'd wanted to see what Mary Kay was offering these days. The selections I received were: a Mary Kay Compact Mini loaded with mineral eyeshadows in their hazel trio (Honey Spice, Hazelnut, and Cinneban) and a mineral blush in Shy; a tube of Ultimate Mascara in Black; and a tube of Tinted Lip Balm in Rose. Basically, they sent me everything I needed to be fully made up (on top of my base and primers). The compact is genius--it's tiny (smaller than the palm of my hand) and the eyeshadows and blush fit into it magnetically, with room underneath them for small brushes for both the shadow and the blush. The lip balm tube is also really small, and both could be shoved into a tiny clutch or even fit in a jacket pocket.

Mary Kay 5
My test was to use the products all together, as if they were all I had with me (on top of my typical morning routine moisturizer, etc.) I was very happy with the look. I was more subtle than what I normally wear, but very professional and pretty. I am typically an eyeliner wearer, and I did miss my liner, but I felt like the three colors Mary Kay picked out for my hazel eyes did a great job bringing them out. I followed the directions helpfully included in the packaging to wear all three colors--the medium brown on the lid, the darker red/brown in the corners, and the champagne/honey at the brow bone. I was also very happy with the blush, which is a subtle peach-pink and warmed up my barely-tan complexion just the right amount. The mascara went on easily, gave good thickening and lengthening coverage in one coat, and didn't smudge and didn't flake all day, even though I have sensitive eyes, so it got a gold-star as well. My hands-down favorite product, though, was the lip balm. The Rose shade is neutral perfection, and I could still feel and see the color at lunchtime. Huge win.

The biggest drawback of the products I was sent was the brushes that came in the compact. In order to fit, they have to be tiny, and I just do not have the hand-eye coordination required to use tiny brushes at 7am. I tried them, but quickly switched to using my regular brushes in order to get even application of the blush and the shadows. Since portability isn't key to me, I'll likely keep using it this way, but if the portable aspect were really important, I'm sure I could learn to use the itty bitty brushes with some practice.

Trying and being so excited about these products led me to pop on over to the Mary Kay site to see what else they have on offer. Wow! There is a ton of great looking stuff! I'm fascinated by the Shadow & Liner Duo Pens, which I think would be another fantastic throw-in-your-bag-and-go option (these are a limited edition product, so they're only available while supplies last), and I'd love to try the Cream Blush. The site also has this really neat Virtual Makeover tool, where you can load your own picture and "try on" the products virtually.

Are you sold yet? How about $100 in Mary Kay products of your own, would that do it? Thanks to Mary Kay and BlogHer, I can do that! For your chance to win a Mary Kay gift pack valued at $100, leave me a comment on this post and let me know which Mary Kay product you'd most like to try. For extra entries, blog or tweet or FB about this contest and link to it in a comment.

This contest will run through August 26.

No duplicate comments. This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

To see other folks review these products and for other chances to win, visit the promotions & prizes section at BlogHer.

Visit the Official Rules.
Visit the Official site

May 3, 2011

My Wardrobe: beautiful clothes, beautiful site

This is a compensated review post.

When I was asked to take a look at My Wardrobe, a shopping and fashion news site that prides itself on its excellently curated collection of designer clothes and accessories, I thought I might be the wrong girl. Designer fashion, me? I wasn't sure I'd see anything I liked.

I was so, so wrong. The site is gorgeously put together and easy to navigate, with options to shop by type of item (dresses, pants, jewelry), by designer, or even by "wardrobe" (i.e. work wear, evening wear, etc.). And while the items for sale are NOT cheap (these are, after all, clothes by a wide range of very hot designers), there are some absolutely beautiful items on this site.

They asked me to put together an outfit I'd wear from their inventory. I couldn't help it. I put together four.

My first look is a boho spring style, centering around an absolutely stunning Winter Kate Victoire dress from the site's sale section:

Winter Kate vintage style dress
$289 - my-wardrobe.com

Sam Edelman tribal sandal
$116 - my-wardrobe.com

Mulberry messenger handbag
550 EUR - my-wardrobe.com

Daisy Jewellery silk jewelry
$140 - my-wardrobe.com

Iosselliani metal jewelry
$279 - my-wardrobe.com

For my second outfit, I had to start with a fantastic feather D&G headband and do a flapper-influenced evening look. How much do I love the sequined Halston Heritage clutch? A lot. A lot lot.

Bionda Castana peep toe sandal
$975 - my-wardrobe.com

D&g shoes
$512 - my-wardrobe.com

Halston Heritage sequin handbag
216 GBP - my-wardrobe.com

Dannijo jewelry
$305 - my-wardrobe.com

D G feather hair accessory
$84 - my-wardrobe.com

For my third look, I knew I wanted to use a real dream item, the Vivienne Westwood Accessories Serpentine Orb Handle Tote. It is pretty much the perfect black bag. I thought it looked fantastic against the colorful palette of Tibi's Raindrops Jersey Shift Dress, which is something I would absolutely wear if it just happened to show up in my closet.

Tibi shift dress
288 GBP - my-wardrobe.com

Falke black legging
20 EUR - my-wardrobe.com

DAY Birger et Mikkelsen bracelet
$114 - my-wardrobe.com

Finally, for my last outfit, I mixed pieces I absolutely love AND thought would be super wearable. I'm loving daytime sequins on other people, so I started with a great pink sequined tee from DKNY and paired it with a silk skirt I would absolutely adore to own by Milly. Another great Vivienne Westwood bag, some wedges by Ugg that I've had my eye on for weeks already, and fantastic tassel earrings? Sign me up!

DKNY short sleeve tee
$149 - my-wardrobe.com

Milly silk pleated skirt
$521 - my-wardrobe.com

UGG Australia wedge sandal
130 GBP - my-wardrobe.com

Anton Heunis metal earring
$140 - my-wardrobe.com

I really enjoyed the time I spent on My Wardrobe, an added the site to my shopping bookmarks. I am, unfortunately, not in the market for any high-end clothing at present, but if I were? This is where I'd go.

October 20, 2010

October Birchbox Review

After I reviewed September's Birchbox, I immediately ordered the October box for myself. After looking through my October box, I ponied up for a whole year's subscription (you get a one month discount--$110 rather than $120). For my $10/month, this is a great product.

Once again, the outer packaging was superb, making me feel like I was opening a gift, rather than receiving samples. The October theme is "Dress Up," so the products all fall loosely into that category.

october birchbox theme.jpg

The inner packaging was also lovely, with the small samples all tied up with a ribbon.

inside october box.jpg

As for the treats themselves, they're just as great as last month!

october box contents.jpg

Box contents:

With the exception of the sleep drink, which kinda skeeves me out (though there isn't anything scary in it--just water, malic acid, lavender, extract, natural flavors, and salt), this is again all stuff I'll use. The nail polish remover pads are actually already gone--they worked and didn't stink! And I really like the lip gloss.

Last month, I was super impressed to receive $24.18 worth of products for $10. So let's do the the cost analysis again, shall we? Again, calculations are based on the full size products:

reBloom sleep drink: $3.99
Oribe shampoo and conditioner: $2.00 (shampoo) and $2.64 (conditioner)
deborah lippmann nail polish remover finger mitts: $3.33
Perricone MD Cold Plasma: $3.75
laura mercier lip glace: $13.83
Total: $29.54

Another great value! The laura mercier gloss alone is worth the box's purchase price. Way to go, Birchbox!

Edit: So my math was flawed: the Perricone MD sample? Actually $37.50 value! Which makes this box an UNREAL value!

October 9, 2010

Birchbox winners!

Sorry for the delay in announcing the Birchbox winners. I was thrilled to get 51 entries! Random.org tells me the winners are

41:

Sunny | October 1, 2010 6:27 AM | Reply

I facebooked this post, but I kinda wish I hadn't, because I want to win! LOL. I'd love to try more lip products and cleansers/toners/masks.

3:

Meghan | September 29, 2010 1:57 PM | Reply

I am a total sample box fanatic. I'm so excited that you found another one. I would love to win one. :)

Sunny and Meghan, contact me with your addresses and your October boxes will soon by on the way!

September 29, 2010

Birchbox review and giveaway!

A week or so ago, my friend Jenny turned me on to the Birchbox. Birchbox is simple and brilliant--for $10/month, they send you a box of beauty/makeup samples. High end, good sized samples. Could that be any more up my alley?

So I contacted the good folks at Birchbox, and they were kind enough to send me a September box to review, and host a give-away of two of the October boxes for you all! Score!

My Birchbox arrived today, and I have to tell you all, it was everything I expected and more.

The outside of the box is lovely, classy and simple.
closed box.jpg

Opening it up, I was greeted with a nice note from the company, introducing me to the month's theme, the "clean slate" of back to school. The reverse of the card gave me all the specs for the products included in this month's box.
open box.jpg

Under the postcard, I found the products very nicely wrapped.
inside the box.jpg

And after I removed the wrappings, I got to see my treats!
box contents.jpg

The box contained:

  1. A very good sized (4 gram) sample of Cargo bronzer.

  2. A regular perfume-sample sized sample of Marc Jacobs Lola perfume.

  3. A great sized sample (.29 oz) of NARS makeup primer.

  4. A 3-sheet sample package of Tatcha blotting papers.

  5. A one-use collagen mask sheet from The Face Shop.

I am really excited about these products. They are all high end, and they're all large enough samples to actually be useful. None of them are things I've used before, though Cargo and NARS are both companies I like. The blotting papers are of particular interest to me, since I've been trying to find some blotting papers that I don't hate. I'll be interested to see if they work for me.

Cost analysis on this box is good, too. By my calculations (based on the cost of the regular sizes), the products are worth:
Cargo bronzer: $12.72
Marc Jacobs perfume: $3.13
NARS primer: $5.63
Tatcha blotting papers: $1.20
The Face Shop mask: $1.50
Total: $24.18

I am stunned. The products themselves are worth more than twice the cost of the box--and that's without the added awesomeness of getting to try new products, having them arrive as a surprise, the lovely packaging, etc. Definitely a good value.

So here's the best part, for y'all: I have TWO of these to give away for October. They're available for US readers only (sorry!), and you can enter as many times as you want. Here's what you need to do:
1. Leave me one comment telling me what kind of products you'd love to see in your Birchbox.
2. Leave me more comments telling me you sent someone to my blog, added it to your reader, or Tweeted or FB'd this post. One comment for each thing you do.

That's it! I'll draw winners a week from today. Good luck!

September 23, 2010

Aquaphor winners!

As promised, I drew two lucky numbers to win the set of goodies from Aquaphor. The winners are...

11

Revvie | September 16, 2010 5:42 AM | Reply

I am ALWAYS on the search for a new chapstick type of product. I hate thick waxy ones, but the thinner glossier ones don't have enough moisture. So, maybe ... Aquaphor?

and

12

MrsRefney | September 16, 2010 8:01 AM | Reply

I lurve Aquaphor. With dry winter coming up, it'll be good for me and my 3 year old. Her skin gets worse than mine in the winter.

Please get me your snail mail addresses, ladies, and your products will be on their way!

September 15, 2010

Aquaphor Giveaway!

Aquaphor Wonder SetBlogHer is the gift that just keeps giving! I have, for two lucky readers, an Aquaphor Wonder Set! The Wonder Set includes:

Aquaphor Lip Repair: Aquaphor Lip Repair effectively relieves dryness and soothes chapped lips so you can smile comfortably. Provides immediate and long-lasting relief for dry lips, seals in moisture and prevents dryness. Fragrance-free, preservative-free, dye-free and appropriate for sensitive lips.

S.R.P. $4.49 for.35 oz tube

Aquaphor Healing Ointment: Protects extremely dry, chapped, cracked or irritated skin and helps enhance the skin's natural healing process. The multi-purpose ointment is safe to use on babies' sensitive skin; it relieves chapped cheeks, treats diaper rash and relieves dry skin associated with eczema.

S.R.P. $5.49 for 1.75 oz tube
S.R.P. $16.99 for 14 oz jar

Aquaphor Gentle Wash & Shampoo: A convenient cleanser that gently cleanses both skin and hair. Enriched with soothing chamomile and provitamin B5, it is specially designed to be gentle for baby's sensitive skin. Soap-free, fragrance-free, tear-free and pediatrician recommended.

S.R.P. $6.29 for 8.4 FL oz.

TOTAL VALUE: $33.00

I can't use Aquaphor myself--it contains the dreaded lanolin--but that is no reason you shouldn't! These are all new products--I know you want to check them out! Leave me a comment and I'll draw in a week.

August 27, 2010

Little Black Box under new management: July and August


For the last few months, the Little Black Box has been under new management/ownership. As I'd gotten a little bit discouraged with the LBB in past months, I was excited to hear about the new owner and to see what differences she (or maybe they?) had in store.

Of course, I guess I wasn't excited enough to actually open July's box when it showed up, because when I went to open August's box today, I realized I had two. So...two for one review!

First thing I noticed was the improvement in packaging. The LBB is once again in a box, tied with a nice ribbon, wrapped with lovely colored tissue paper. With something like this, the packaging is really important--it makes a bunch of samples feel like a gift, you know? So thumbs up to the packaging.

July's box included the following:

  • A sample pack of crafts from Etsy Texas Crafters, including a 1 oz raspberry vanilla soap sample with no indication of where it came from; a tiny envelope and note, tiny package tags, a tiny knitted facial scrubber, and a bookmark from Katies Scrap N Supplies; a green glass bead from Jacque's Place; and a cotton face cloth from Lori Peterson. These are all cute things, with nice packaging, but there's nothing here I'm particularly excited about.

  • From SBS Teas, two good sized samples of loose tea: Island Delight rooibos and Enchanted Fairy Cake green tea. SBS Teas has always been a participant in LBB, for as long as I can remember. Shame I don't think much of their product. It's always really flavored, and I am not much on flavored tea.

  • A really cute little folded paper star ornament from star crosses.

  • A little sample hank of Highland Baby Bear yarn in "Buttercup" from Huggy Bear Knits. Though this doesn't much personal use to me, I think it's a great addition to the box.

  • A lilac (not my favorite) soy votive candle from Beautifully Natural Candle Company.

  • A full sized bar of soap, in a great little cotton bag, from The Joy of Soap. Mine's Manly Man scent, and I'll be passing it on to the manly man (hah) in my house.

  • From Beachcomber's Cove, a greeting card with a bird on it.

  • Another long-term LBB participant, a Whiff & Sniff Candles scent shooter in "Coconut Vanilla."

  • A cute pair of red glass bead earrings from a.j. wear.

  • Two sample chunks of peppermint soap from Sweet Sally's Soaps. These smell great--they're destined for my shower right now.

  • A little box of treats from Skin Candy: full-size roll-on perfume in Beneath the Stars; a 2 oz goat's milk, honey, and shea butter lotion in coconut mango; a one-use size sample of foaming whipped sugar scrub in Italian cream cake; a one-use size sample of lotion in raspberry brulee; and a one-use size sample of whipped cream soap in mango peach salsa. This is an awesome little set of samples, and I am really looking forward to trying a couple of them.

August's offerings were:

  • A little lavender butterfly hair clip from Lillianna Marie Designs. Cute, but not of much use to me.

  • A small sample of hand-spun yarn from Midnightsky Fibers. Too small to do anything with, but it seems nice. Cat toy?

  • Possibly my favorite LBB thing ever, a tiny notebook made of Trivia Pursuit cards, from Thistlecraft Designs.

  • From jenn's Scents & Gifts, a little hanging deodorizer thing in "Clean Linen." Really not fond of that scent.

  • A cute photo card from Marge Cards.

  • A pretty cool new addition--a "washcloth candy" from Sweet Monkey Tots.

  • A nicely scented little grapefruit soap sample from Two Crafty Chicks.

  • From Elsa Coburn Designs, a cute pair of green bead earrings.

  • From RufusRabbit, a great pair of dangly earrings that I am going to wear immediately.

  • From dela chic, a great little pair of knitted leaf earrings that I am kinda in love with.

  • and two duplicates:
  • Another bar from The Joy of Soap, this time in the oddly nice-scented Cucumber Curious.

  • From SBS Teas, a large sample of loose Green Chai tea.

Overall, I'm impressed. There seem to be fewer, higher quality samples, at least so far. I am happy not to have taken five or six scent tarts out of either box, for example. There still aren't a lot of giftables here, though, and mostly what these boxes serve as is an introduction to indie business, which is great, but not something I really need at this point--I'm trying to buy less stuff all around. So...I'm thinking about doing a giveaway for the rest of my year's subscription to the LBB. We'll see.

August 16, 2010

And the vibe winners are...

These five lucky readers have won a Kissa vibe! Please email me at avengingophelia at gmail dot com with your mailing information!

42:

breadandroses | August 10, 2010 10:13 PM | Reply

yes,please.

4:

Hala | August 9, 2010 10:29 AM | Reply

Come on... can you imagine Richard's face when I say "Oh--it's from Grace!"

11:

Duchess | August 9, 2010 11:18 AM | Reply

I'd like one, Grace.

24:

Terri Torkko | August 9, 2010 2:46 PM | Reply

And I sent my friend davi over here.

AND? The vibe is named after my cat, which is awesome on so many levels.

2:

Revvie | August 9, 2010 10:28 AM | Reply

Grace, it would be so awesome to get one of these!

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