Yearly Archives: 2014

Book Review – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, which was written by a Japanese decluttering phenomenon named Marie Kondo. I’ve hesitated to write about the book, though, because I LOVED it and don’t know where to start! I highly encourage you to read it if you’re interested in decluttering and organizing your belongings…ALL of your belongings.

This book really resonated with me. Kondo advocates a comprehensive, ordered, and one-time-only “tidy,” or major decluttering session, that works through all of your belongings with the ultimate goal of keeping only those items that “spark joy” in you. The overall premise is similar to many other decluttering books (i.e., “keep what you love and discard the rest”), but Kondo is more stringent about keeping a tight timeline for this process and adhering to certain parameters so that you only have to do the process once (possibly over several days/weeks/months) before developing the tools for life-long maintenance. In the process, Kondo stresses, a kind of magic happens. You make faster, better decisions. Your home better reflects you and supports you in the life you want. You “wake up” the energy of the house and breathe new life into your home.

Does this sound a little New-Agey? Well, yes, but Kondo is also so practical and no-nonsense that she’s easy to trust and follow. She talks at length about the best way to fold clothing, for example, and she specifically addressed several of my sore spots: Cosmetic samples. Used checkbook registers. Good clothing that is never worn. There are slight elements of fung shui in the book, but Kondo’s approach is tactile and physical, too.

A few of Kondo’s points especially struck me:

Kondo’s advice on paperwork? As a general rule, throw all papers out. All of them. Just throw…them…out.   This is a radical and exciting thought to me. I collect, file, and keep so much paper and feel so responsible for it, so I love the idea of throwing it all away. After all, what do we really need to keep? The list is short—passport, birth certificate, mortgage, titles, tax returns and supporting docs, insurance policies, etc. Kondo says that required paperwork will fit into a single file folder…and she’s right. I keep circling back to this idea and I gotta say—I like it. I’m tempted to gather and box up everything I don’t truly need so it’s ready for the next community shred day. And if I should ever need a paper I’ve discarded? Kondo says that most people will use the same or less time getting the information from the source (doctor, company, library, expert) than they would retrieving it from extensive files.

Recognize your belongings for their work, thank them, and release them. Kondo unapologetically anthropomorphizes objects. She encourages her readers to verbally thank objects for the work they’ve done, the lessons they’ve taught, and/or the joy they’ve brought before “releasing” them into retirement from service. It may sound somewhat kooky, but this anthropomorphic philosophy didn’t turn me off. In fact, I totally buy into the idea that certain objects have a kind of energy or spirit. It may sound silly, but I do. For example, I sometimes thank my car for being so faithful and hardworking. I pet the steering wheel and say thanks, and I try to take care of my car mechanically in return for its service.

Kondo’s book is a quick, easy read and I’ve found myself referring back to it several times already. Kondo is straightforward and authoritative, and her method is inspiring. She’s simple but strict, so that only the best of the best will remain in your home—and in your life.

Vote!

Don’t forget to vote today!

I’m so thankful that I live in a time and place where I can vote. After all,

  • I’m not a man
  • I don’t own land
  • I’m not wealthy or powerful
  • I follow (or don’t follow) a specific religion

In the past, I would have been barred from voting in America for some of these reasons. Even today, I would be barred from voting in other countries for some of these reasons. I cannot imagine how angry and helpless I would feel.

Our ancestors worked hard to create a revolutionary democratic nation marked by equality, personal freedom, and independence. We’re not there yet, but we move closer and closer to the ideal every year. I don’t want to forget how far we’ve come, and I want to exercise the rights that were hard-won by others before me. I want to advance the great American endeavor even further…so I voted today.

I hope you did, too.

FrenchBox Review – October 2014

My October FrenchBox

My October FrenchBox

I hate to report that I canceled my FrenchBox subscription after receiving my second box. 🙁 I got the same variations as blogger Liz from My Subscription Addiction. You can read her full review here.

So why did I give FrenchBox the axe? Well…

In my heart of hearts, I just want My Little Box…not the FrenchBox knock-off. I wish My Little Box shipped to the US.

The curation is off. The first box included fruit snacks, and the second box included moist towelettes from a Japanese company. The packaging of FrenchBox is lovely, but some of the items are too random for me. I would like the box to have fewer and better items–little exquisite things from France that aren’t expensive, necessarily, but that are well-designed and thoughtful. (Maybe: Gourmet candy. Small bottles of perfume. Local postcards. Figurines or ornaments. Jewelry and accessories. Magazines or books.)

The value isn’t there for me. The aggregate cost of the individual items is greater than the $24 cost of the box, but I don’t use many of the items. For example, I don’t cook, so the big packet of herbs this month isn’t exciting to me, and I didn’t understand the use of the branded canvas wine bag in last month’s box. I was excited about the mascara in this month’s box, but it’s super messy–way too much product comes out on the wand. I would rather save my money and see what happens next. If I see an item in future boxes that I really want, I’ll buy it singly and directly from the source.

I’m signed up for Liz’s My Subscription Addiction (MSA) Quarterly box. This box is more expensive and rare than FrenchBox (it’s $50 and ships four times a year), but I think I will enjoy it more. Liz is a popular subscription blogger who gets oodles of products, and she seems to know what most women like. Her first fall box sold out before I could buy it, but it looked awesome–cozy scarf, chai-scented candle, coffee & cardamom body scrub, TATCHA powder cleanser, all-natural lip gloss, and great coupon codes for JustFab shoes and more TATCHA products. Liz also prefers “clean” personal care products, so I know I’ll be able to use and enjoy the makeup and skincare items she includes. I can’t wait for her winter box!

Of course, now that I’ve canceled, the November FrenchBox will be wonderful. Sigh. Another subscription blogger, Jennifer from Ramblings of a Suburban Mom, keeps new box subscriptions for a minimum of three months before she decides to cancel them…But I’m too cheap to do that!

Review – Target Back to College Care Package for Her

My Target College Box

My Target College Box

I passed on the recent Target beauty box, but I bought TWO of the Target Back to College care packages for women for $5 each—one for me and one for a tweenage friend. These boxes are all sold out now, but there was a great men’s version that I wish I had gotten, too. It had two nice razors and some other goodies for $5. I hope Target offers all of these boxes again next fall. They’re great for little surprise gifts for college students (as they are designed to be!), stocking stuffers, or shelter donations.

I knew I “had” to get this college box after I saw it included a Gillette Venus Snap razor. It’s a cute little travel razor that I’ve been eyeing for months, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $10 for it in the store…and now I got it for $5, along with some other goodies!

To me, everything else in the box was just a bonus after the razor:

Neutrogena Make-up Remover Cleansing Towelettes (7 wipes). I’m not crazy about the chemicals in Neutrogena products, but I will try these. I’m lazy and sleep way too often in my makeup, so I’ll keep these by my bed and see if they can really remove my eyeliner and mascara. Wipes like these never seem wet enough to really break up tough makeup.

Purell Advanced Instant Hand Sanitizer (mini bottle). I got the traditional unscented version and my tweenage friend got an apple pie scent. I’m not crazy about the chemicals in most hand sanitizers and don’t use it often, but this little bottle will be good to stash at my desk at work, especially during cold and flu season.

U by Kotex pads and tampons (2 of each). These are cutely packaged and definitely targeted to tweens and teens. I will add these to my donation stash.

Nivea Touch of Happiness Moisturizing Body Wash in Orange Blossom scent, Tide Pod in Spring Meadow scent, and Downy Unstopables In-Wash Scent Booster in Fresh scent (samples). I have sensitive skin and am particular about the soaps and detergents I use, so I will add these goodies to my donation stash.

Target Up & Up Adult Gummy Multivitamins coupon. The box included a coupon good for one FREE bottle of vitamins!  Some gummy vitamins don’t taste that great, but these are good–no particularly weird or strong aftertaste.

Coupon booklet.

White box. I know it’s weird to mention the actual shipping box, but it’s a great box–sturdy, plain glossy white, and lidded. I’ll use this for storage or gift wrap.

I love getting fun things in the mail and this box was a great value for me. Keep ’em coming, Target!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!  Here's my spooky Happy Street neighborhood!

My spooky Happy Street neighborhood!

I hope everyone has a

FUN & SAFE

evening of

TRICKS & TREATS!

My Dia De Los Muertos neighborhood is growing!

My Dia De Los Muertos neighborhood is growing!

An Evening with David Sedaris

David Sedaris.  Image from www.davidsedarisbooks.com.

David Sedaris. Image from www.davidsedarisbooks.com.

I went to see David Sedaris at a reading this past weekend and it was lovely. More than once during the evening, I gasped in shock, laughed aloud, and wiped away tears.

I can’t really explain my tears during the reading, except to say that 1) I had just come from a sweet wedding ceremony, 2) I had several cups of wine by this point in the evening, and 3) my biggest fear in the world right now is the evitable death of my parents. A major theme of Sedaris’s recent work is the aging of his father, who is in his nineties, so many of his stories provide a window into a part of life that I dread…but that I’m trying to explore and prepare for.

Anyway, of the stories Sedaris read aloud, my favorite was a long piece about his recent vacation. It sounds like Sedaris organizes annual vacations for his entire family, and he told a touching story about the week his family spent together earlier this year at The Sea Section, Sedaris’s beach home in North Carolina. Sedaris closely observes his father and relates his mannerisms and offhand remarks in great detail throughout the story. It’s as if Sedaris is carefully recording his father for the time when his father is no longer around, trying to imprint everything to memory or to paper. Or maybe Sedaris is closely studying his father for clues about how much time they have left together, or how his own aging process will be similar to or different from his father’s.

In Sedaris’s published stories about his childhood, his father is portrayed as a tough, inscrutable, traditionally “manly man”—never very physically or verbally affectionate or demonstrative. At the reading, Sedaris said that the only time he remembers touching his father as a child was when the family was at the beach, and his father would pick up his children and play with them in waves. His father was hard and aloof in his younger days, but on this most recent beach trip Sedaris caught him tapping his fingers to jazz and gazing adoringly at his family. Sedaris’s father also (loudly, repeatedly) encourages Sedaris to keep regular medical checkups and stay healthy because “I love you and want you to live a long life.” It’s nice to see the differences between Sedaris’s blustery young father and his tender older father.

And, of course, everything Sedaris presented at the reading was a careful, balanced mix of humor and pathos. Sedaris can turn between the two on a dime. A single sentence might start about his dad’s gnarly hammertoes, but it will end with the image of his dad hiding tears as he sits among his children at the dinner table.

Sedaris gave a couple of pieces of writing advice to the audience, too. When asked what was the hardest part of being in the writing industry, Sedaris said it was the actual act of writing. He rewrites stories more than ten times to tweak them and, at some point, has to finally call it quits on any given piece.

For me, Sedaris’s most valuable tidbit of the evening was this:

Saying “yes” generates interesting stories.

When you readily accept invitations and volunteer for duties, says Sedaris, you’re likely to come into contact with new, interesting people and situations. “Say yes” is a great reminder and a good way to find writing content and inspiration…which are hard for me to come by lately!

Book Review – At Home with Madame Chic

Cover image from Amazon.com

Cover image from Amazon.com

I really enjoyed reading Jennifer L. Scott’s book Lessons from Madame Chic and it kicked off my new interest in all things French. Her second book, At Home with Madame Chic, came out earlier this month and I finished reading it last week.

I liked the book, but–and I hate to say it–I was a bit disappointed in it. Scott’s first book focused mostly on individual French-inspired pursuits (like finding your personal style and dressing better in your daily life), but At Home with Madame Chic is intended as a guide to cultivating a French-like home life. However, most of the advice repeated lessons that I had picked up on in the first book–like use your best linens and tableware, play more music, light candles, plan and eat more meals at home, invite friends over more often, etc.

The remainder of the book read, to me, like an overwhelming list of all the tasks that good housekeeping involves–meal planning, shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning, childcare, errands, etc. Even just reading the recommended tasks and schedules made me feel breathless and tired. I don’t see how it all fits in and gets done, even with Scott’s tips.

The book is good, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Lessons from Madame Chic. Maybe I just can’t relate to it. Scott is in a very busy season of her life right now–she’s raising two young children as a stay-at-home mother who also works as a writer and blogger. In contrast, I don’t have small children, I work outside the home, and I probably have much lower standards for housekeeping than Scott–I’m content to let a lot of cleaning slide. 😉

Like most information I receive about marriage and children, too, this book reinforces my (current) choices to postpone (and maybe avoid altogether) marriage and childbearing. It’s easy to forget how hard and busy life is for wives/mothers of young children–and it’s too easy (and ignorant) to say that stay-at-home mothers have plenty of flexibility and time. Scott’s days are filled to the brim and precisely scheduled around school, activities, errands, etc. There are no long naps or leisurely chunks of free time. Also, when your workplace is your home, it seems like you’re never off-duty. There’s always something to be done.

I also noticed that Scott’s experience directly reflects a depressing reality of life for many American women today–the double-duty of prime responsibility for both a career and the keeping of the home. Scott uses the word “help” a lot in her housekeeping discussions–as in, “ask and encourage your family to help you care for the house.” The choice of the word “help” bugs me because it denotes that the speaker is still primarily and singularly responsible for getting everything done…and I don’t agree with that, personally, given that Scott has a successful writing career of her own and provides almost all of the care for two young children. Her twin roles of writer and caretaker are to me, at the very least, equal to her husband’s career demands, but he seems (from what I gather from the book) exempt from most housework and regular tasks.

I’m sure Scott would not be interested in the advice of a stranger who doesn’t know the real Scott or her life. I totally get that. But if she was interested in my two cents, I would encourage her to change the language that she uses regarding housework. We women should avoid using the word “help” so that our families learn that housework falls equally to all members of the household who are employed in outside pursuits. Also, I would advise Scott to use language differently in another way–to speak up about and legitimize her own successful (and presumably demanding) career. She writes books and articles, runs a successful blog, and makes prestigious public speaking appearances–but I didn’t really learn any of that from the book (just from her blog!).

All of these points are not to say, however, that there is not joy and lightness in the book. There certainly is. There’s a lot of light and music and dancing in Scott’s happy household, and that sounds lovely. Scott also emphasizes the need to go with the flow of life when original plans are derailed–to lean into unplanned events and the ebbs and flows of energy that make up a day or a week. Scott seems approachable and comfortable, too–she emphasizes that casual dining, decorating, and entertaining are just as good as their formal counterparts, and that it’s all about connecting with and caring for the people you love, not trying to impress them. I really appreciated all these points.

Overall, this book really made me think–and that’s the point, right?! 🙂 What’s funny, though, is that it made me think more about the challenging realities of home life for working women in America rather than French housekeeping methods. But I’m sure many working women in France experience many of the same outdated expectations as American women. How do we cultivate a good homelife without reverting to old gender roles or lopsided workloads?

Birchbox Review – October 2014

My October Birchbox

My October Birchbox

I got my October Birchbox last week but I’ve been dragging my feet on writing about it because:

  1. I like to try all the products before I review the box.
  2. This box was pretty boring to me.

Birchbox’s October theme was “Fandom” but it didn’t seem as strong or cohesive (or interesting?) as past box themes. The box included a brightly-printed card on which you could write your favorite book/movie/show/artist and then post it to social media. The month’s special editor-curated box was a nod to a movie called “Laggies,” which I’ve heard nothing about outside of Birchbox promos, so that’s kinda odd to me.

Here’s what I got:

ModelCo Party Proof Matte Lipstick in shade Kitty – This was my sample choice and the only real winner for me in this month’s box. I’m not a lipstick person at all, but this shade is basically the exact same color as my lips and I like that. It evens out my lip color and provides lots of moisture and a little bit of shine. Despite the name, the lipstick is not matte at all. I would call it more sheer than matte. It also has a great scent that reminds of me strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, so it’s fun to use. 🙂 I was a bit disappointed that the tube didn’t have a mirror on it (I’ve seen online that the old ModelCo tubes were square with a little rectangular mirror glued on one side of the cap) but the top of the cap has a cool clear window that lets you see the lipstick. That’s cool to me (I don’t get out much).

Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner – I got 99 problems but blackheads aren’t one (thankfully). This facial mask is targeted to oily and combination skin, but my skin leans more toward normal and sensitive. I tried a little on my T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) this weekend and it was pleasant to use. The mask is a clear gel that dries into a whitish paste. It’s cool and refreshing at first and then feels taut and tight as it dries. I washed it off and my skin felt smooth and soft. It does seem to soak up excess oil and leave your skin matte. I will share this with a friend and see what she thinks.

Lord and Berry Paillettes Eye Pencil – Meh. I don’t have many occasions for glitter eyeliner and a glitter eyeliner pencil can be picked up cheaply at the drugstore. This one is more of a dark charcoal gray than a true black. I swatched it on the back of my hand and the color did have some serious staying power (I still had some color on my hand the next morning but no sparkles), but it also seems like it would smudge easily. I never tried it on my eyes.

BeeKind Body Lotion – Meh. I appreciate that this lotion has clean ingredients, but I got a very similar Naobay lotion from Birchbox in July. The two lotions smell identical to each other, too (like lemongrass). This seems like a repeat to me.

Harvey Prince Petaly Noir perfume sample – Whoa. Heavy florals, heavy musk. This scent is so not me. Also, I got a Harvey Prince sample from Birchbox only two months ago.

All in all, this month was kinda boring for me, but I can’t complain. I reviewed my five products on the Birchbox site for $5 to spend in the online shop, and I take advantage of 100 point ($10) resubscription codes whenever I can, so I’m not losing any money. I also bought myself a Pixi lip balm from the Birchbox shop to make up for the unexciting month. 😉

I’m really looking forward to seeing what holiday gifts pop up in the Birchbox shop!

Review – Walmart Beauty Box, Fall 2014

Walmart Beauty Box - Fall 2014

Walmart Beauty Box – Fall 2014

Walmart now offers a seasonal subscription box of drugstore health and beauty product samples for only the price of shipping ($5!). The products are drugstore/mass market brands and subscribers receive four boxes a year (fall, winter, spring, summer) for a grand total of only $20, which is a great deal if future product brands and sizes are consistent with this first box.

Subscribers receive one of two box versions depending on their birthdate, and the age threshold for the older box is 35 years. I received the “younger” box, which included nail polish and lip gloss, and I ordered a subscription for my mom, too, who received CoverGirl lipstick and Olay antiaging facial creams in her first box. (You could also fudge your birthdate during the sign up process to get the type of products you prefer!)

I was so excited about this box when I first ordered it, but the whole experience has been a bit of a mess. When I first heard about the box, the payment web page wasn’t secure (no “https” in the link), so I waited a couple of days until that was corrected before ordering. Then, my box never arrived. I waited for four weeks and then had to contact the vendor twice (Walmart outsourced this project to another company) before I got a response and a replacement box. (Note: I ordered my mom’s box a week or so after mine and she got hers quickly, so I think the trouble was limited to orders placed on certain early days of September). This box is a great value, so I hope these issues are one-time events related to startup. I don’t want to chase down my box each season.

Anyway, I finally got my box yesterday AND I got the color variations I wanted, so I’m happy! 🙂 Here’s what I got:

Secret Clinical Strength Invisible Solid Antiperspirant in Completely Clean scent (full size!) – I recently bought this deodorant for $8, so this item alone more than offsets the price of the box for me!

L’oreal Glossy Balm in Innocent Coral (full size!) – This is a warm, bright pink, and not really orange at all (which is good, I think). I saw online that some other subscribers received plum and pink variations, too. The color is sheer-to-buildable and glossy. The balm has a “makeup” smell and taste that isn’t bad, but it would be cooler if there was a mint or fruit scent/flavor instead.

CoverGirl Glowing Nights Glosstini in Laser Light (full size—Glosstinis are mini bottles!) – I’m so glad I got this color—it’s a very dark gray with some dark blue mixed in, too. This is a great color for fall and winter, unlike the bright aqua and bright yellow polishes some other subscribers received.

Nicki Minaj Pink Friday perfume (sample vial) – This vial is long and thin and I was afraid I’d crush the glass getting the stopper out! I wish all perfume samples came with sprayers. I have no issue with this scent (sweet sugar, light floral) and I will enjoy the sample, but it doesn’t wow me and I don’t plan to purchase it.

Dove Oxygen Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner (generous samples) – I’ve gotten these a few times via my freebie alert sites. I’m loyal to other hair products right now, but I’ll put these in my sample stash to use for travel, shelter donations, stocking stuffers, etc.

Dove Pure Care Dry Oil (generous sample) – I’ve also gotten this before for free, and my lovebug used it on his beard until he got some proper beard oil. He liked it well enough. I’m starting to feel, though, that if a product uses, say, macadamia nut oil as a main or featured ingredient…why not just get pure macadamia nut oil and avoid all the extra mineral oil, preservatives, etc. the products mixes with it?

L’oreal Youth Code Pore Vanisher (packet sample) – Meh.

Neutrogena Nourishing Long Wear Makeup (foil color samples) – Meh. I will have fun swatching these on my face, though, in a rainbow pattern.

Overall, the Walmart Beauty Box is a fantastic value and a great little surprise in the mailbox. I can’t wait to see what comes in the winter box!

Long Weekend…

Three-day weekends are the best. I feel like I can devote one day to playing/relaxing, one day to chores/errands, and one day to the things I don’t normally get around to on weekends, like little craft or household projects.

This weekend was so nice:

On Saturday – I got a haircut (DevaCurl!) and then picked up the family. After a lunch of wings, we visited a small farmer’s market for its annual harvest festival. There was a petting zoo and we got to touch a newly hatched chick who was only two or three days old. He so was warm and fragile and soft. We walked around and looked at all the produce and ate homemade ice cream and caramel apples. Then, we picked out some pumpkins to decorate the house and left to stop by a huge nearby popup Halloween costume shop. It had oodles of stuff, including some scary decorations. I started to watch the Gators game later that evening but feel asleep…They lost, though, so I guess I didn’t miss much.

On Sunday – Hmm. I don’t think I left the house on Sunday. I puttered around and tackled some bills and paperwork.

On Monday – I had brunch at a local diner with my lovebug and then spent the afternoon shopping with my sister. We went to Starbucks and to a Hobby Lobby that recently opened near us. I’ve been to Hobby Lobby in other states and I love it, so I’m glad we have one nearby now! I spent the rest of the evening cross-stitching a new kit, eating pizza, and watching everyone else in the family (and some visiting friends) work on their own projects for school, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. It was a cozy night and it was nice that we were all working on something tactile and creative. We’re usually staring at screens! (Well, to be honest, some screens were involved last night, too, but they were mostly used for inspiration and reference… 😉 )

On Tuesday – Back to work, but now it’s only a four-day week! Whoo-hoo!

P.S. I appreciate a long weekend, but I’m conflicted about Columbus Day. I started reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States recently and his first chapter reminded me (in great detail) of how densely populated and strikingly advanced the “New World” and its native cultures were. Here’s a nice CNN opinion piece on the subject, too.