Monday, September 3, 2012

Influenster Review: Latina Beauty VoxBox

It's that exciting time again, time to review my latest free products from Influenster! This time it was the Latina Beauty VoxBox, which contained:

My impressions:

I am in love with Veet wax strips even though I admit I was scared of them at first. I wasn't scared of being waxed -- I'm an old pro at that and don't mind it a bit -- but that I wouldn't be able to do it by myself. I've tried other home waxing systems and they invariably turned into disastrous messes. But these strips work like a charm and they're amazingly easy to use. Literally within a few minutes of opening the box my legs were as smooth as could be, and no sticky mess at all!

My other concern was that they wouldn't be economical, but I used one strip per leg and it was plenty. (I did use the backing as a separate strip so that may count as two, I guess, but there was plenty of wax on it and I wasn't about to waste that.) Admittedly the hair on my legs is fairly sparse, but even so it should be fine for most women. I probably could have gotten a couple more passes out of them if I'd tried.

The Perfect Finish wipes surprised me by being (1) oily and (2) scented. The oil absorbs fast but it did leave residue on my hands that transferred to things I touched and only went away with soap and water. My legs also remained oily but that's less of a problem and, besides, my skin can use all the moisturizing it can get. The wipes also left both my legs and my hands nicely scented with a sort of floral/botanical perfume. It comes on strong when the wipe is first opened but soon settles down to a pleasant background sensation.

Overall, the Veet wax strips are a big plus. I will definitely be buying them in the future.

The NYC lip gloss is a more complicated story. I like it more than expected but I'm not a big fan. First, the packaging described it as "Non-Sticky" and, while it is less sticky than most glosses I've used, I found that misleading. I normally don't even use glosses and stickiness is the #1 reason. I hoped this one would change my mind; alas, it did not.

My second disappointment was the color I received. That was just the luck of the draw and it's not a complaint about the product in general, but I got a color called "Nude York City" and it's basically clear. It has a tiny bit of caramel-ish tint and a slight shimmer but neither is enough to be noticeable. I have very pale lips and I like to have a little color on them. I thought this lip gloss might be a good option for times when I don't want full lipstick but this particular color just isn't enough and I don't think I like the product enough to try a tube in another color.

That's a shame because I think it's probably the best gloss I've ever used. It's less sticky than most (as I mentioned), it has a nice scent, and I like the applicator a lot too. I'd recommend it highly to people who normally use lip gloss; unfortunately, it just isn't for me.

The Bath & Body Works shower gel is beautiful. It has a lovely scent (I had Sweet Pea) and it's wonderfully thick and much richer than I expected from a transparent, nearly colorless gel. It only takes a small amount to make a nice lather and it leaves my skin soft and moisturized. My only complaint is that the scent didn't stay with me as well as I'd hoped but, being from B&BW, I'm sure there are coordinating products (body spray, lotion, etc) that could be used to intensify the effect.

I do like the B&BW gel and I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to try it, but I'm a supermarket and drug store kind of girl and I honestly don't see me going to the trouble of buying from B&BW just for some shower gel. I would, however, definitely recommend this product to people who are willing to go to a specialty store (or its website) to get it.

The Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen is another big hit for me. I'm an enormous nerd who doesn't spend much time in the sun but I also have very fair skin that requires sunscreen. Most sunscreens that I've used have been runny and, therefore, messy and I hate them. But this is in a lotion form so it's super easy to apply and goes on beautifully. And not only is it in lotion form; it is lotion so it moisturizes while it protects -- perfect for my skin. The biggest bonus of all is that delicious classic Hawaiian Tropic scent. I'd wear it as perfume if I could. I love everything about this product!

I found the Always Radiant Infinity pads to be as impressive as Always products... er, well... always are. I've been an Always fangirl since the '80s so I already knew that they make a quality product. I use pads daily as panty liners and I normally use Always Ultra Thin Overnight Pads with Wings because they're thin enough to be comfortable but large enough to stay securely in place and protect a broad area. Using those means that I'm used to a longer, thicker pad than the regular size Radiant Infinity ones that I tested, but the regular size came through just fine. I wouldn't use them again simply because I do like a longer pad, but the thinness was amazing. It literally felt like I was wearing nothing, and yet I was invariably well protected.

There is an overnight version of the Radiant Infinity line but I'm not sure what sets them apart from the Ultra Thins. I think they may just be lightly scented (as the ones I tested were) but I'm planning to use the coupon I received to find out. (I'll also be using the Secret body spray coupon because I'm a Secret fangirl as well. Wonderful products!) In any case, I highly recommend Radiant Infinity or any Always product. They never fail to impress.

We were instructed to give the Always Tampax Radiant Collection sampler to a friend, and that's what I did. I asked her what she thinks of the products and, like me, she has been using Always and Tampax for years so she wasn't surprised to find that they worked great. She also likes the bag a lot.

I guess that's it for the Latina Beauty VoxBox. (Incidentally, I'm not sure what made it "Latina", but I enjoyed it, so I guess that's ok.) In summary, everything in the collection was wonderful with the slight exception of the NYC lip gloss, and even it was pretty good. Another big thank you to Influenster and to all the companies that sponsored this box. It was fantastic!

Check out all of these great companies here:


#veetsmooth on Twitter

New York Color
#LiquidLipShine on Twitter

Bath & Body Works

#sheashowergel on Twitter

Hawaiian Tropic
#HawaiianTropic on Twitter

#infiniteprotection on Twitter

#RadiantCollection on Twitter


Monday, August 20, 2012

So about Hidden Things...

You may remember that I made a post recently about a new book that I'd just read, Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman. If you haven't read that post, go do it now! We'll wait...

Ok, so it seems I've used my copy of the book a LOT during the THREE WHOLE WEEKS that I've owned it. I won't go into why I've used it so much, but suffice to say it was a worthwhile pursuit in my opinion. In any case, I find it amusing that it's suffered so much wear and tear in its short life, so I thought I'd post a few pictures to prove it.

Here's the front cover. Note the wear on the author's name, the S in "Things", and  the dragon's head and neck.

(For comparison, here's what it looked like when it was new.)

Here's the back cover. Most of the wear is just in the middle of the long edge, where I grab it.

And here's a bit of the inside, deliberately blurred to avoid inadvertently giving away sensitive information, but clear enough that I think you can see how much I mark up my books.

In this one spot alone you can see a bracket with some page numbers next to it, an arrow with another page number, a circled word, a little note to myself in the margin and, if you look very carefully, an underlined word. And it's not just this one page, Pretty much the whole book looks like that. (And, to be honest, most of my other books do, too. This is why I'm not interested in electronic media. You just can't do that on a Kindle, folks.)

So yeah. I'm pretty sure if a book's good enough to make me wear it down that fast, you really need to read it too. Yes. You do. Here's the link again. kthxbai. <3

WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?? Go get it, wouldja?! Gosh!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hidden Things: My Thoughts

A few weeks ago I was the happy winner of a contest to win an ARC of Hidden Things, the forthcoming novel by Doyce Testerman, also known as @doycet on Twitter. In addition to enjoying his tweets, I've been reading Doyce's blog posts for some time now and have become a big fan of his writing. I was excited to read the book, and my high expectations were fully met.

Hidden Things begins with a phone call in the middle of the night. Because they are good friends as well as business partners, Calliope Jenkins is at first unsurprised to hear from her boss, Joshua White, even at such an unusual hour. However, their conversation takes an odd turn when, just before hanging up, Josh tells her to "Watch out for the hidden things."

Things get even odder the following morning when Calliope is informed that Josh was found dead shortly after she spoke with him... and then discovers a message from him on her answering machine with a timestamp after his alleged time of death.

The following evening, Calliope makes the acquaintance of a mysterious individual who claims to have information about Josh and his whereabouts. She is skeptical at first, to say the least, but eventually teams up with him to search for clues that might lead to her missing friend. Along the way, Calliope and her guide run into an amazing array of fantastic characters, ranging from terrifying to wonderful, and have an adventure that will change both Calliope's life and her understanding of the world around her.

Look, I'll just come out and say it: Hidden Things is a great book. It made me laugh, made me cry, angered me, mystified me, and, at times, creeped me out to the point of shuddering. It tells not just one but, in my opinion, at least two love stories and yet at the end no one really "gets the girl" because real life just isn't that simple. It also has a lot to say about the directions that love can take after romance dies and about the deep, important ties that can exist even in the most dysfunctional of families. It is the story of a highly unlikely friendship that grows as old misconceptions and assumptions are replaced by the truth and of doing the right thing even when we want with all our hearts to do something different. I recommend it highly if you're a fan of fantasy or mystery or even if (like me) you just enjoy a good story.

And if a great story just isn't quiiiiiiiiite enough to get you to have a look at this book, I'll tell you a not-so-secret little secret: There's a real, playable word search on the title page that's related to the story. Hidden words about Hidden Things. How many books offer that kind of fun?!

I know you're going to want this book, so I should tell you where you can get it, right? Yes! Hidden Things is due for release on August 21 and is available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many independent booksellers. Now go order it! You'll be glad you did.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Esther Day 2012

For those who don't know, today is Esther Day. It's the birthday of a girl named Esther Grace Earl who lived only 16 years but who made a huge impact on lots of lives, including mine, in that time.

When she was 12 years old, Esther was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that had already spread to her lungs by the time of her diagnosis. She went through a long string of aggressive treatments that were often torturous in themselves and endured the disease itself weakening her body for four years before it finally took her from us on August 25, 2010. Despite her physical suffering, however, she never allowed the illness to change her spirit or to dampen her love for life and the people around her.

I won't go into details here about my relationship with Esther. I'll just say that in 2008, she and a couple other people noticed me in a corner of the internet, observing with interest but bound in silence by my shyness, and they very sweetly lured me into conversations. They talked to me every time they saw me after that and their kindness gave me the courage to get increasingly involved in their community.

Over time I got to know many of Esther's friends and they were and continue to be some of the loveliest, funniest people I've ever met. I continued talking to Esther throughout the two years that I knew her and she was never anything but sweet to me, except on those occasions when she had to kick me out of my melancholy and remind me that life does go on.

As these friendships grew, I found the courage to branch out and eventually I met so many great people that I probably wouldn't even know most of the people reading this if it weren't for the seed that Esther planted. I would, in fact, be a very different person from the one I am today. I'm easily old enough to be Esther's mother and yet she taught me some important life lessons that I hope I never forget. She truly lived and died with the grace of her name and has lit a star -- Esther means "star" in Persian -- that won't go out in the hearts of those who knew her.

That brings us to today. Shortly before she died, Esther expressed a wish that people would celebrate her birthday, August 3, every year by telling the people they love that they love them. She wanted it to be a day for family and friends and for expressing the love that we sometimes have a hard time putting into words.

This is kind of a tough day for me. Partly, yes, because it's Esther's birthday and I miss her, but also because she's asked a hard thing of me. I do love a lot of people very much. If I know you well enough to have conversations with you, I almost certainly love you, and if I've opened up to you enough to know you well, you can be sure that I love you deeply. There are even a few people with whom I feel comfortable enough to tell them regularly that I love them. But it's not easy for me and it's much harder face to face. I don't know why it's so hard to say it, but I can barely drag the words out of my mouth and I feel embarrassed every time I do. So I find myself filled with love but lacking the ability to share it with anyone. It's frustrating, to say the least.

I will do it though. I'll do it for Esther and, even more, for all the other people that I love. I've already said it out loud a couple times today and I plan to say it at least a few more times before I sleep tonight. And for those of you that I don't see in the flesh or talk to with my voice, I'll say it here: I love you. I really, REALLY do. Thank you for what you mean in my life, for putting up with my quirks, my failings, my fears, my neurotic tendencies, and so much more. I love you.

And a belated thank you to Esther for drawing me out and showing me kindness, and for this day that reminds me to do what I should do every day. Thank you also to her parents and others who are keeping her memory and ideals alive by running the This Star Won't Go Out organization. If you'd like to learn more about Esther or donate to help other families of children with cancer, please visit TSWGO and/or buy a bracelet (all proceeds go to TSWGO) at DFTBA Records.

Now go say "I love you" to someone! You can do it! I know you can!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Dead Gentleman: My Thoughts

Several months ago I won a competition (sponsored by the lovely Kate Testerman, @DaphneUn on Twitter) to receive a signed copy of The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody (@matthew_cody). I was drawn to the contest by the description of the book as "an exciting time travel tale" in which the characters are seen "shuttling among worlds, times, and points of view". I love time travel and I'm always intrigued by shifting perspectives in a story, and The Dead Gentleman lived up to its description on both points.

I didn't bother to summarize the plot of TFiOS in my previous post because I figured anyone who would be reading my blog would have read it already, but more of you may be unfamiliar with this book so I'll bring you up to speed. The Dead Gentleman is the story of Tommy, a homeless orphan from the turn of the 20th century, and Jezebel, who lives with her divorced father in the present day, teaming up to stop the Dead Gentleman, a villain who transcends time. In the process of trying to defeat him, they travel across hundreds of years and back again, through various places on earth as we know it as well as other worlds. Along the way they meet giant spider-monsters, fiends that live in closets and under beds, a kraken, a shape-shifter, immortal monks with "longish earlobes and cow's tails", dinosaurs, and a three-armed simian species that can shape stone at will. As if that weren't enough, the Dead Gentleman and his crew are essentially zombies, but they're some of the most interesting, individualized zombies that I've ever imagined. And the real hero and central figure in the book is a mechanical bird named Merlin who has more soul than the human protagonists in many a lesser story. It's an amazingly diverse lineup of creatures by any accounting.

Despite my initial interest generated by the aforementioned blurb, I have to confess that I was a bit wary about this book. I read some science fiction/fantasy but it isn't usually my first choice of genre, and I'm pretty picky about young adult and middle grade literature too. But I enjoyed The Dead Gentleman a lot more than I expected. A lot more. It drew me in from the first chapter and I was almost immediately invested in what was happening to Tommy and Jezebel. They're great characters: vulnerable to fear and confusion, yet tough and smart and able to do what they have to do to make things right. They're smart and engaging and the reader can't help but get behind them.

Speaking of great characters, the Dead Gentleman himself is simply terrifying. He is undead and immortal and pure, utter evil. I don't want to give too much away but suffice to say that the end result of his goal in the universe would literally be one of my greatest nightmares. His entire crew is also undead, but they're not the usual homogeneous group of random creepy guys. The reader is introduced to several of them individually and every one of them has his own personality and motivations. None of them is nearly as scary as the Gentleman himself, and one in particular is right on the verge of being kind of comical, but it's still a super-creepy villainous crew!

I also loved the steampunk technology that featured prominently in the book. In addition to Merlin, Tommy has "night vision" goggles, a stun-gun-esque weapon called a Tesla stick, and the incredibly destructive mayfly, a grenade-like weapon. Through much of the book, he travels with a mentor named Captain Scott aboard a "submarine" called the Nautilus while, in contrast, the Dead Gentleman's ship, the Charnel House, is more like a zeppelin. Both ships are like something straight out of a Jules Verne story. The characters view different points in time through a device called the Cycloidotrope and they actually pass through both time and space by using a variety of portals. The Cycloidotrope and portals are perhaps my favorite of the devices because time travel is so fascinating to me. And yet, although the plot relies so heavily on time travel, much of the time travel that occurs is almost accidental and I liked the unexpected nature of it. In any case, like Cody's creatures, the fantastic devices used in The Dead Gentleman comprise a long and incredibly diverse group, and every one of them is a tantalizing blend of futuristic abilities with 18th century mechanics.

Possibly my favorite thing of all about The Dead Gentleman was Cody's use of shifting perspectives in his writing. Chapters that focus on Tommy are written in the first person, with Tommy narrating. Other chapters are written in the third person, and there is one chapter in which the perspective shifts quickly back and forth between Tommy and Jezebel. Furthermore, the action often shifts among different time frames without being explicitly stated in the text, except in easy-to-skip-over chapter headings. So in one chapter, for example, Tommy is narrating in 1902 and in the next he's talking about events that happened in 1900. Both chapters are written in past tense, so it's mostly just subtle textual clues that alert the reader to the change. I thought this was a remarkably nuanced and sophisticated way to write a story for the middle grades and I applaud Cody for it.

This does, however, lead directly into the first of only two complaints that I had about the story: In my opinion, some of the events and contrivances in The Dead Gentleman seem a bit too convenient, a bit deus ex machina. It rubbed me the wrong way here and there, but I'm trying to keep an open mind because it occurs to me that fantasy literature in general relies a lot more heavily on deus ex machina devices than does the literary fiction with which I'm more accustomed. In addition, it's been many years since I read middle grade fiction so it's easy to forget, but obviously younger readers would need a slightly more obvious plotline than those found in some adult fiction. I say that with no disrespect to young readers; I was one myself once and I'm thankful for the books that made me what I am today. I'm merely saying that we crawl before we walk, and younger brains need to learn how plots work before they can learn how to follow a very complex one.

My only other complaint relates to characterization. I realize it isn't central to the story, but I wish there had been a bit more set up regarding Jezebel's relationship with her parents, and maybe also with the people in the hotel. There obviously isn't a lot to say about Tommy's background, given his street-orphan status, but I feel like Jezebel is unnecessarily almost as much of an enigma as he is. There is a bit of a side plot regarding a friend who thinks Jezebel is jealous of her boyfriend but I honestly didn't think that was as useful as more information about Jezebel's background would have been. On the other hand, this is the first of a planned series of books, so it's entirely possible that these loose ends will be tied up more and more as the story proceeds. Again, I'm keeping an open mind.

So yeah. A really good middle grade fantasy thriller. Not something I would ever have expected to find on my shelf if you'd asked me a year ago, and certainly not something I would have expected to enjoy. And as a bonus it has beautiful cover art (as you can see above) and the author is SUPER nice (check him out on Twitter and see for yourself). I can even imagine reading this one again at some point, and that's not something I do very often with any book. If you or your kids like fantasy at all, and especially if you like time travel and/or steampunk, I highly recommend The Dead Gentleman.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: My Thoughts

I promised to share my thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars many months ago, and I wrote it at that time, but never got around to finishing and posting it. I'll do that now.
I like a lot of things about TFiOS. Here are
some of the things I like:

I like that Hazel and Gus aren't defined by their respective illnesses. My father had cerebral palsy as a result of a birth injury and I've known a lot of other disabled people in my life, too, as well as a few terminally ill people. And guess what? Every one of them was/is just a regular person. Some nice, some less so, some smart, some not so much, etc, but all different and none of them defined by their physical conditions.

I hate when books and films portray sick or disabled people (especially children and teens) as being somehow more "special" than the rest of us are. And if I'm completely honest, even TFiOS falls into that trap a little bit. But it's only a small bit, and I can't imagine how one would write the main characters of a novel without making them at least a little bit special, so I can forgive that. Overall, I think John did an admirable job of writing three-dimensional, fully human characters who, oh, by the way, also happen to be terminally ill.

I love the Augustus/Gus dichotomy. I think it was a stroke of genius to use that to help differentiate the various parts of the character's personality. And while we're talking about Gus, I like the unlit cigarette device too. It's a brilliant way to have Gus assert his defiance against the realities of his situation without having him indulge in truly risky behavior. I don't think I would have liked him nearly as much if he were the type of person who would smoke just to prove to the universe that he can. Gus is smart, and he found a way to be tough without being trite. I admire that.

Contrary to what I've seen a lot of people say, I like the way Hazel's parents are written. They're written against stereotype and yet they're representative of a lot of parents of terminally ill kids. The mother who cares deeply for her child and does all she can to help her, yet also is proactive in advancing her own life, the father who loves deeply and cries easily -- these types deserve to be heard and understood just as much as the more typical parents do. I liked Gus' parents too, and his whole raucous and realistically portrayed family. I think John did an excellent job of showing us these people who shaped Hazel and Gus so significantly.

I love the novel-within-a-novel device and, although he obviously isn't a very sympathetic character, I love the way Van Houten is written. I actually wish Van Houten and his book had been explored more, but I suppose that would have been a very different story, and one that isn't particularly John's style.

Speaking of John's style, here are a couple of things I didn't like so much:

I love John Green's books. I really do. But I also love watching vlogbrothers videos and following John on Twitter and Tumblr and all sorts of other places, and unfortunately that kind of hurts my appreciation of the books in the long run. It's not John's fault -- of course he's going to talk about the things that interest him and of course the things that interest him are going to get into the books -- but in the end, for me, it all makes his writing a little... predictable. (Sorry, John!)

I'm obsessive about avoiding spoilers, so I don't mean "predictable" in that sense. I mean things like discussions of the inevitability of human oblivion; the awesomeness of the Netherlands in general and of Amsterdam in particular; the loveliness of Natalie Portman; the complexities of living with serious illness; made up band names that are nerdy plays on words; Indianapolis, its Museum of Art, and even the Funky Bones exhibit; Swedish hip-hop; mathematical concepts in general and Venn diagrams specifically; and zillions of literary references, including biblical ones. Don't get me wrong; I love following John all over the internet, and I love reading his books too. I'm just saying that it's a tough position to be in, enjoying the day-to-day interaction with an author but being frustrated by the familiarity that it creates even in his brand new book.

And another problem that maybe resulted from reading a little too closely: I wasn't even a tiny bit surprised by the "twist ending". I knew from clues in the opening pages what would happen and I would have been much more surprised if it hadn't happened. I like the twist, such as it is, and feel that it was the right decision for the characters. But I would have liked it a lot better if it hadn't been telegraphed quite so clearly throughout the book. I understand the importance of foreshadowing, of course, but I felt that it was too obvious here, and that was disappointing.

That's it, just the two complaints, and one of them isn't really even about the book itself. Pretty good, I'd say!

In closing, I do want to say something about two things related to the book but not about it specifically. First, I love, love, LOVE the audio book box set that was offered through DFTBA Records. I read the book with John reading along in my ears and, while it did slow my reading time significantly, it made for a much richer experience in the end. I can't think of many other purchases that have made me as happy as that one has.

And secondly, I can't even express how much I love and respect John for signing all those pages. Some might call it a publicity stunt and, who knows, maybe it was a little bit. But I mostly believe that it was a man who truly wanted to do something nice for us and worked his tail off to do it, and I think that's amazing and cool and wonderful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, John.

I'll finish with my favorite quote from the book (WARNING - may be slightly spoilerific):
 "I kept saying 'always' to her today, 'always always always,' and she just kept talking over me and not saying it back. It was like I was already gone, you know? 'Always' was a promise! How can you break the promise?"
"Sometimes people don't understand the promises they're making when they make them," I said.
Isaac shot me a look. "Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway. Don't you believe in true love?"
I didn't answer. I didn't have an answer. But I thought that if true love did exist, that was a pretty good definition of it.

I agree.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Long Live the Queen!

Here's the thing: I reeeeeeaaaaaaaally want Maureen Johnson to be named the Queen of Teen. I want her to have that crown and that throne! She's been shortlisted; now she just needs our votes, and that's where you come in. I want this so much that I'm willing to make it worth your while by staking my own time and energy on it. Here's what I'm offering:

1. Take a screenshot of the voting page with Maureen Johnson's name selected and your first name and email address filled in to the form below the list. (You don't actually have to sign up for the newsletter; this is just a way for me to make sure that the entries are as unique as possible. And yes, I'm aware that I can easily be scammed since I'll have no proof that you clicked Submit after taking the screenshot, but I'm willing to take that risk. I have confidence that most people are basically honest.)

2. Choose a prize below:
  • I will copyedit and format up to 6 pages (5000 words maximum) of text that you have written OR
  • I will write up to 6 pages (5000 words maximum) of non-research-based text on a topic of your choosing OR
  • I will write up to 3 pages (2500 words maximum) of research-based text, PLUS provide properly formatted references in any style you need, on a topic of your choosing
  • I will provide up to 3 hours of tutoring in inorganic chemistry, general physics, general biology, human anatomy, or algebra via Yahoo or Skype (your choice)
3. Tweet/DM me (@theoriginaledi) by midnight CDT (GMT -6:00) on Sunday, 27 April. In your tweet, provide a link where I can view the above screenshot and tell me which prize you want. If you're concerned about the privacy of your email address, I'll be happy to follow you temporarily so you can DM it to me. Just let me know.

4. Some time during the day or evening on Monday, 28 April, I will randomly choose one winner for every 25 entries that I have received. The winner(s) will be announced on Twitter and notified via email.

5. One entry per Twitter account.

IMPORTANT: I mean, you ARE getting this for free, but just in case you're concerned about the quality of my work, you should know that I do freelance writing and editing on a professional basis and I'm a certified teacher in the tutoring areas listed above. I do know what I'm doing here.

Let's do this, people! Could there POSSIBLY BE a more deserving Queen of Teen?? I think not!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Valentine VoxBox Review

I'm so excited to be writing this! A few months ago I signed up at Influenster to be a tester for various products and a few weeks ago I received my first products, the Love Voxbox.

It contained:
My impressions:

Unfortunately, more than half of the products in this box were things that didn't suit my tastes very well, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Besides, it was all fun and the two products that did suit me were SO good that it MORE than makes up for the others.

For starters, I'm not much of a chocolate fan, and especially not milk chocolate, but as chocolate goes the Ghirardelli bar was very good. My husband likes chocolate more than I do (though he doesn't like milk chocolate much either) and he said it was great for milk chocolate. The coupon was a big plus because it's good for any variety and there are several Ghirardelli bars that he likes very much. So the next time I need a small gift for him, I'm all set. He can hardly wait!

Alas, we don't like tea much either so the Stash herbal teas were a loss on us, but the story has a happy ending. I honestly didn't like the tea at all, but that's not saying anything because I don't like tea in general. Again, my husband likes it a little more than I do and he drank a few glasses of it (we both like it cold a lot better than we like it hot), but we gave most of it away to a friend who loves tea. The good news is that she loves it and was extremely happy to receive it. I have no doubt that it's fantastic tea; it's just not my thing.

I was genuinely excited to try the Truvia but I rarely use any kind of sweetener at all so it was kind of hard to find a good way to use it. I tried it in the Stash tea but all I could tell from that was that it was sweeter. I do sometimes sweeten my coffee but I'm completely indiscriminate about what kind of sweetener I use. The first thing I happen to grab is fine with me and I don't pay a lot of attention to any minor differences in flavor. Therefore, I don't really have a sense of how different ones taste and, again, the Truvia just seemed like another sweetener, nothing special. The one benefit that I did find was that, unlike many sweeteners, it tastes pretty good on its own so if you use it on cereal or other things where it's not dissolved/cooked in, there won't be any offensive bitterness or aftertaste. I would absolutely use Truvia again but I honestly don't think I would ever bother to seek it out over any other sweetener.

And now for the things I LOVED!

The Gillette Venus & Olay razor was AMAZING. Admittedly, I'm kind of cheap so I'd never tried such a fancy razor before and was actually kind of skeptical that it would make any difference at all. I was so wrong! When I first started using it, I didn't think it was working because it literally just felt like I was rubbing a bar of soap on my skin. I thought the blades weren't touching me because I didn't feel that familiar "scritchy" sensation. But after just one pass over the whole area I ran my hand over it and, lo and behold, I was completely hair free! I finished the rest of my shaving with a grin on my face and was extremely pleased with the results. I've used it repeatedly since then and it's still going strong. I've found a new razor for sure, and I'd recommend it to anyone! Good job, Gillette!

The big winner in this particular Voxbox, though, was the Kiss Nail Dress strips. My nails are a constant source of frustration for me. They're thin, weak, usually short, and don't do well with polish. What's more, polish doesn't like them much either and usually 2-3 days is about the most I can expect from it before it gets so chipped that it has to come off. I'm also reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaally bad at putting it on so it takes more effort than I usually have time to invest to make it look acceptable in the first place.

That all changed when I got the Kiss strips. They were SUPER easy to apply -- just carefully place the back of the strip at the back of the nail, smooth it toward the front and sides, fold it down over the end of the nail, then run the included emery board over the end of the nail to cut the strip off perfectly evenly. I thought they'd fall off within a day or two but, true to their word, they lasted through 10 days of showering, hair washing, dish washing, hand washing, etc, and in the end only came off when I TOOK them off because my nails had grown so much that I had a lot of uncovered space. I didn't put them on my toes because I wanted to let my niece try them too (she loved them as much as I did!) but I have no doubt they'd be fine there too. Despite sticking so well, they came off remarkably easily and my nails looked perfectly healthy underneath, which is not the case when I remove nail polish.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that after about a week the tips of my nails were starting to show a little bit but I really liked the strips and wanted to see how long they would last so I went over them with some clear glitter polish to camouflage the gaps. Not only did they take the polish beautifully, but they actually looked even cooler with the addition. The lesson there is that they can be modified with traditional polish if you'd like, which I think is super cool. 

The leopard print isn't a pattern that I would have chosen for myself but I liked it well enough. I am DEFINITELY going to buy more Kiss nail strips at the first opportunity and I'm really excited to try some of the other designs. I recommend this product wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. You'll love it! 

So that covers it, I think. Despite my general distaste for chocolate and tea, I was really happy with my Love Voxbox. I'm excited about discovering the Gillette Venus & Olay razor and the Kiss Nail Dress strips, I'm thankful for the Ghirardelli chocolate coupon and for the opportunity to try Truvia sweetener at last, and I'm even happy that I got the Stash teas because my friend is very pleased with them. Thank you, Influenster, for the chance to do this. I can hardly wait for the next one! 

If you're interested in doing this sort of thing, just head over to Influenster and sign up. It's fast and easy, and I can promise you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Year, New Blog, New Hope

Those of you who have known me for a while will know that I prefer to make my so-called "new year's resolutions" on February 1 instead of January 1. For reasons that I won't go into, I've done it this way for many years now, and the time is upon us again.

First the traditional review of my 2011 goals (as I prefer to call them):

1. I declared 2011 to be National Eat Right And Get Some Exercise I Mean Seriously Come On Year, otherwise known as NERAGSEIMSCOY.

I did ok with this but not great, particularly on the eating right bit. I got more exercise than I've gotten in any other year of my adult life other than 2010, but it was significantly less than 2010 and that's not good. I definitely need to get back on this.

2. I also called 2011 Dude I'm Not Even Kidding Stop Being a Jerk And Stay In Touch Year, or DINEKSBAJASITY, in hopes that I would do a better job of showing the people that I love how much I care about them, and do so on a regular basis.

I did better in this area than I have in a very long time, but I also had some serious failures and that makes me unhappy. It's hard to be happy about the successes here when I think of the many times that I've failed. 

3. I set a goal to post on my blog more often than I had been before, which was maybe once a month or so on average. I hoped for once a week.

At first glance this appears to be an utter failure because the very last entry on my old blog was these resolutions. But in fact that was completely on purpose. Some things happened shortly after that post that made me not want to post there anymore, which is why I'm starting a new blog now. I have written in the interim; I just haven't posted it publicly. So I'm content with this because I know that it's not the failure that it appears to be. 

4. I hoped to make at least a few videos and post them on YouTube.

Ugh, this one hurts because I really have tried hard and often. I just haven't been able to find a decent place to do it where I would have decent lighting and a good camera angle and so forth, and I've also had trouble figuring my camera out. I have a couple of videos completely planned; when I find a way and a place to do them, they will be done. 

5. And finally, I wanted to get the (main) book I'm writing from ~20k to at least 50k "solid, reasonably well edited words".

I didn't exactly do this, but I'm fairly happy with what I did. I didn't write 30k words on the one book, but I did write a total of maybe 25k on all three of the books that I have in my head. That isn't much, but the second and third books both require extensive research, of which I did quite a lot, and it was time consuming. Still, I can't deny that I should have done much more. I'll be working on this again in 2012.

So what's the plan for this year? Well, it's basically the same as last year, with a few refinements, mostly in terms of making them more specific. So now, without further ado:

My Goals for 2012*

1. To lose at least 1 lb per week and to go to the gym at least 2 times per week (AKA Edi's 2nd Annual NERAGSEIMSCOY)

2. To send Christmas cards or emails to everyone in my address book AND birthday cards, emails, or other greetings to all of them whose birthdays I know; to say "I love you" to at least 3 people per week IN ADDITION TO the three people to whom I already say it regularly; and to give kisses and/or hugs to at least 3 people per week IN ADDITION TO the three people to whom I already regularly give them (AKA Edi's 2nd Annual DINEKSBAJASITY)

3. To post something in this blog at least once per month

4. To make at least 3 videos and post them to YouTube

5. To write a total of at least 50,000 words on any or all of my three book drafts

These aren't terribly difficult goals in the big scheme of things but they're all things that are moderately to extremely difficult for me. I know I'll struggle with them to various degrees.

Losing weight is pretty easy for me if I put my mind to it and remember to care. Caring enough to bother is the tough part but I know that I need to do it so I'm going to try hard.

Writing is also easy for me and I love doing it, but carving time out of my schedule for it is almost always a challenge.

By far the hardest goals to meet will be the gym, the interpersonal stuff, and the videos. The first two are things that I've always struggled with a lot but I want very much to do better, and the third is something that interests and excites me, but that has given me logistical problems. Here's hoping that I can overcome obstacles of all kinds and conquer these goals this time around.

So yeah. That's what I have in mind. Thank you so much if you care enough about my thoughts to have read this far! Comments and questions are welcomed. I'd love to hear what you think.


* (defined for my purposes as "between now and next February 1")