Friday, May 23, 2014

Birchbox Review: April

Here's a look back at my April Birchbox:

1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant -- I think this is one of those products you have to use for awhile to see the full benefits, however I do notice the exfoliation effect. It gives my skin a smooth glow. It's also supposed to fade dark spots, which probably comes with using it for a longer amount of time. I'll put this in the maybe category for a future purchase, although this sample was pretty generous so I'll be using it for awhile.

2. Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel -- I tried it and it serves its purpose...I guess. I don't really know. I've never used brow gel before. I don't focus much on brow styling, or whatever you want to call it. I doubt I'll use this very often and definitely won't be purchasing it.

3. Supergoop!® Daily Correct SPF 35 CC Cream --I like this! Light coverage, not greasy but not too matte, not very thick. I like that it doesn't really feel or smell like sunscreen, and it doesn't sting around my eyes (a common problem for me). I've tried so many of these BB/ CC creams, tinted moisturizers, etc that it's hard to pick my favorite. The note in Birchbox said it can be used as a primer and/or foundation, but I don't think it's quite enough coverage for a foundation unless you like much less than full-coverage.

4. Color Club Gala's Gems Collection in Breakfast At... Despite the name, this color isn't really Tiffany blue; it's more green. I don't usually wear colors like this, but it's a fun change! The polish is thick and nicely pigmented. It feels high-quality.

5. KIND Snacks Healthy Grains Bar - Maple Pumpkin Seeds with Sea Salt -- This bar was way better tasting and much more filling than I expected! I've bought other flavors in the past, but I'll definitely buy this one when I come across it.

Here is my May Birchbox. For starters, I am loving the color scheme! These look like some really great products - excited to try them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Five VIII

It's Friday- are you dreaming of a weekend getaway? This place looks fabulous, especially for my fellow Floridians. Golf, fishing, spa, pool, fine dining, middle-of-nowhere bliss.

2. Online Workouts

BeFiT is a YouTube channel with tons of online workout videos! I also found this video, which wasn't on the BeFiT channel but is definitely the closest thing I've found to a Pure Barre class online. Here's volume two. 

I wasn't really keen on making a wedding website, because I normally refuse to give into societal pressure to do these seemingly superfluous things. But, the fact is, I have several out-of-town guests, and I have a lot of information I need to share with them. So naturally I did plenty of research and Appy Couple was getting great reviews; many people and bloggers were saying they wished it had been out when they had gotten married. I liked that it wasn't overly sappy or corny (number one requirement!) and that it provided a website and an app. To me that was worth the one-time $35 fee, plus I tracked down a promo code for a few bucks off. The best part is guests will be able to share comments and photos, which will be fun to look at after the big day! 

4. Happy Hands
method has some great ice cream-inspired summer hand soap scents out right now, and I am loving this Vanilla Creme one. It smells like birthday cake frosting! The bottle is fun, too. 

5. Freebies!

Great segment from Thursday's "Today Show" with my favorite gals, KLG & Hoda. Nina Willdorf from All You magazine explains how you can get free meals, movie tickets and beauty products by taking advantage of birthday rewards, loyalty programs and coupon websites.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Etc. Book Club Review: "Me Before You"

This book isn't exactly a love story, but more accurately, a story about love. In short, a British woman, Louisa, finds herself out of a job and lands a position as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man. The man, Will, had a high-paying job and traveled the world on all types of cultured adventures before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed. The relationship that develops between Lou and Will is quite remarkable from almost hatred to quite the opposite...but not in the typical way.

This book has an element of predictability, but yet there are still some twists and turns. I found myself skimming ahead just because I HAD to find out how a certain situation resolved itself. This book is easy and quick to read and hard to put down. It was witty but also emotional. Very emotional! There were times when I cried reading this book before it even ended, just because of the intensity of the relationship and just imagining where it might lead, good or bad. I finished this book a couple hours before I went to bed last week, and when I lay down to go to sleep, I could barely stop crying. And I am NOT a crier.

For me, it was easy to picture the scenes in the book, and I still replay some of them in my head. I understood and cared about the characters; their story felt so real. This book has definitely earned a spot on my list of favorites. It's incredible; I feel like the storyline and the characters are still alive in my mind. "Me Before You" will make you think about illness, disability, relationships, family, life-changing events, but most of all, it will make you think about love.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review the Runway

Once you do Rent the Runway , you'll question why you ever spent hundreds of dollars on formal gowns that you wore once or twice. But at the same time, you'll be reminded of why you did do that, i.e. you could try the dress on, you know what it looks like in person, you can have it altered, etc. But I've realized I'm willing to forgo those conveniences in most cases for the ability to wear designer dresses that I could never afford to buy.

I used RTR for the first time for the Moffitt Cancer Center Magnolia Ball I attended last weekend. I pretty much did it all wrong, but it still worked out. Here's what I learned:

1. Rent early.
I now know you can reserve a dress four months in advance, so I will definitely be renting earlier next time. I booked about two weeks prior to my event and several of the dresses I was interested in renting were not available. The rental system on the website looks similar to reserving a hotel room; it blocks out the dates the dress is not available, and it's done by size.

2. Get the free back up size.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Yes and no. RTR offers a free backup size with your rental. So say you think the 2 is going to fit, but you're afraid it might be a little tight, you can also reserve the 4 for free. BUT one of those sizes may not be available (see 1. above). So if you really want the dress, you might risk renting just one size and pray it fits. Which is not completely risky because...

3. There are options if your dress doesn't fit.
I guess I didn't scour the website enough, because I wasn't aware of those options when I placed my order.

So, I ordered this allison parris dress ($80 rental, $627 retail) that I love but knew might not fit. It wasn't available in my back up size.

I ordered this Carmen Marc Valvo dress ($70 rental, retail $1295) as my back up for $32.50. RTR offers a second rental of equal or lesser value for $32.50. Not a bad deal if you have a couple events in one weekend. 

I ordered the second dress because I wasn't aware of these following options--- The first option: Mail back the dress that doesn't fit within 24 hours to receive a credit on your account. The second option: RTR says in most cases they can overnight you another dress in the same price range. But you'll need to know if your original dress does or doesn't fit to take advantage of these options, so...

4. Try on your dress as quickly as possible after it arrives.
My dresses arrived early on Thursday, but I didn't try them on until midnight. When I realized one wouldn't even zip over my butt and the other was pretty tight, it was a little late. Well, not exactly, since I could have called RTR first thing Friday morning. But...I was worried even if they overnighted me something, it may still not have arrived in time for my event on Saturday. Had I tried on my dress earlier on Thursday, I would have been able to contact RTR that day before they closed, which is 8 p.m. on weekdays.

5. Have your dress delivered two days before your event.
RTR suggests one to two days before, but I definitely say go for two days for the reasons I mentioned above, and because you'll want time to accessorize. RTR offers four-day and eight-day rentals. Of course it costs more to do the eight-day rental period, but it's nice to know that option is available if you're going out of town, etc.

6. Buy the PRO membership.
I normally don't buy these things, but this is a great deal that basically pays for itself. For $29.95, you get free shipping and insurance on every order for the whole year and a free birthday dress, which translates to a $50 rental credit, on or up to, a month before your birthday. I just reserved a $40 dress and a $5 bracelet for my birthday, and with shipping and insurance included, everything was absolutely free. Since I'm going out of town for a casual weekend before my birthday, I had planned to order the dress to wear on my actual birthday, Monday the 19th. That would have meant my delivery date would be the Saturday before, but I learned...

7. Saturday delivery costs more.
Standard shipping is $9.95 (free with PRO), next day and Saturday delivery are $35. If you choose one of those options and you have PRO, they will deduct $9.95. So it comes out to about $25. I didn't feel like paying $25 for Saturday delivery, so I chose to have my birthday dress delivered on Monday instead. Hopefully it arrives in time to wear it on the air on Monday, but if not, I'll have a couple more days to wear it.

8. Take advantage of coupon codes or discounts.
RTR offers $25 of your first rental, which I took advantage of. Then once you rent your dress, if you follow @WellaHairUSA on Twitter and tweet a selfie of the hair style you wore with your dress and the hashtag #WellaHairSelfie, Wella will send you a code for $20 off your next rental. I do NOT do selfies, but I made an exception for this. Will selfie for discounts! Also, if you are a Junior League member, you can receive a 15 percent discount (You can find the code on the member section of Plus, 10 percent of the price of your first order with that code will go back to AJLI. I tried, but it doesn't appear you can use more than one of these promotions/discounts at a time.

9. Use the "Chat with a Stylist" feature on the RTR website.
I did this when I had questions about certain dresses and the coupon codes. It's so much easier than calling them, sending an email or using one of those "Contact Us" forms that I dread like the plague on all websites. Each time I used the chat feature, someone responded in less than a minute. I've now started to use this chat feature on other websites as well, such a time saver!

10. Pay attention to the "How She Wore It" customer reviews and photos.
RTR encourages customers to post photos of themselves wearing the dress and reviewing how it worked out. Look at these photos! Many of the dresses look quite different in person. Also, take the reviews to heart. One of the dresses I rented had several reviews that said something like, "this dress is better for people who have a straight up-and-down figure and are not curvy in the hip area." Well, that's not me at all, yet I still rented the dress. And guess what, it was really tight in the hip area!

Bonus tip: Enjoy it!
You might be worried about how the dress is going to fit, if you have shoes that will match, how you'll mail it back, etc. (They send you a free, prepaid UPS envelope that you can either put in a drop box or return to a UPS store by 12 p.m. on your return date.) But at the end of the day, a huge box will show up at your door with a beautiful, expensive, designer dress inside... and that's actually pretty fun. Try not to nitpick everything and just wear it with confidence!

Here is the end result of my rental experience.

The zipper was really difficult to zip, it was super tight in the hip and butt area (thank God for Spanx!), and when I first put it on, it felt like I was wearing a straight jacket. But guess what, after having it on for a little while, I didn't even really notice the tightness anymore and you couldn't tell in the photos. I didn't even spend a penny on accessories: I wore earrings from Analisa's wedding, a bracelet from Becca's wedding and the shoes from my high school prom, seriously! Twelve years later they are still fabulous. It all worked out! With dress rentals starting at $30, I know I'll be using RTR many more times in the future!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Super Soul Searching

2008 was a particularly trying time in my life. I was just beginning my career in the middle of the financial crisis and facing some crises of my own, particularly in the relationship department. I had always dreamed of living in DC, and there I was, but it just wasn't living up to my dreams. Don't get me wrong, I made wonderful friendships, joined some great organizations, and thinking about it now, actually had a lot of fun. But I knew it just didn't feel right, I was missing Chicago, I was missing Texas and the town was tainted by bad break up feelings all over. Therefore, I spent many a Saturday night in the Clarendon Barnes & Noble self-improvement section. Then Oprah chose Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" for her book club, and on a whim, I bought it. My life started to change reading that book on my Orange Line Metro commute.

Oprah and Eckhart did a web class on the book, and I found myself racing home from work each week to watch it online. It was eye-opening and felt like therapy, even though I wasn't doing any of the talking. "A New Earth" isn't a book about getting through a break up, or dealing with a career crossroads, or really anything that I was going through specifically. Instead, it's about everything. Life and you. Not you as a professional, you as a spouse, you as a parent, YOU, your soul. Because really, it's all we have. Jobs come and go, so do some relationships, and money, and even our health at times, but underneath all of that is our soul.

You might think it's crazy, but I'm into all of this soul-searching stuff, so I'm a big fan of Super Soul Sunday on OWN. Oprah and Eckhart are opening back up the discussion about "A New Earth" with a show each Sunday for 10 weeks. They're already up to Chapter 7 this upcoming Sunday, and even if you haven't read the book, it's still relevant.

The focus is on living in the present, distancing yourself from the ego (and it might not be in the sense you're thinking of) and breaking free of what Eckhart calls the "pain body," a collection of all of the painful experiences we've had in our lives.

Even though it reads like it, this post wasn't meant to be a ringing endorsement for this book or the show, but rather just sharing something that has changed my life: soul searching, introspection, spirituality, whatever you want to call it. Some days I'm better at it than others. Having a healthy soul is much like having a healthy body; you have to work at it every day for the rest of your life. And like a traditional weight loss plan, when you put your ego on a diet, the pounds of baggage don't come off in a day.