Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beauty Review: Birchbox Products from July 2011

Following the awesomeness of my May and June Birchboxes, I guess it was just a matter of time until I got a box that I wasn't crazy about. While I have decidedly mixed feelings about my July box, there were (as you'll see in this review) more hits than misses.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser (full size [8 oz] $20): As I mentioned when I got my box, I had tried and liked this cleanser before. However, I'm glad that I had the chance to try it again, since I had forgotten how great it is. It is very gentle and non-drying, and it does a nice job with regular cleaning on any skin type. It also has a nice, mild scent, making it a good workhorse product to have. Although I haven't used Purity Made Simple in a while, I might go back to it in the fall/winter months.

Nuxe Huille Prodigieuse Multi-usage Dry Oil (full size [50 ml] $29.50): According to the info card that came with my box, this oil is supposed to give you a pretty glow without any slickness or greasiness. It certainly did do that, but I found myself not needing it all that often. This is something that might make sense in cooler weather, but in the summer, the last thing I want to do is to add an additional layer of anything (particularly oil) to my skin. That said, the oil worked well conditioning my cuticles and taming flyaways (use it sparingly!).

Redken Shine Flash 02 (full size [4.4 oz] $17): This product's claim to fame is adding shine to hair. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell any difference in my hair when I used it. I don't know if my hair was just too dark or was shiny enough without it, but this product is not on my "to buy" list.

Zoya Touch Collection Nail Polish in Pandora (full size [.5 fl oz] $8): I really like Zoya polishes, and I had been wanting a sophisticated nude polish (because wearing sparkly purple or blue when teaching is probably not a great idea). This is the perfect summer nude color, and it had pretty decent coverage too (it only took two coats for it to be opaque).

Do Nothing But Read Day 2011 + What I'm Reading

I rarely (if ever) need an excuse to read, but I am looking forward to "Do Nothing But Read Day" this year. DNBRD falls on Saturday, August 6, and it should be a lot of fun. Given the number of books that are in my "To be read" pile, this should help me make a dent. I just finished The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith, and I'm in the middle of The Making of Cabaret by Keith Garebian.

Depending on my progress on the Garebian book, my planned reading for August 6 might include:

  • The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand
  • Just My Type by Simon Garfield (I got this from LibraryThing Early Reviewers June batch, but it is a pdf that does NOT play well with my Nook, so it has been a slow read since I have to do it at a computer)
  • Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination by Misha Berson (it has been on my TBR list since June)
Are you participating in DNBR day? If so, what are you planning to read?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: "The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie"

Growing up, I LOVED the Little House books with an ardor that even my eventual alliance with Nancy Drew could not equal. I carried the yellow-bound paperbacks, which I received as boxed set from my aunt, around until they literally fell apart, and I even remember discussing the books with my classmates in the tiny Southern town where I went to elementary and middle school. 

Although I replaced my frayed books with the full-color editions that came out in the mid-2000s, I now have a more ambiguous view of Laura and her books. In addition to the horrible television show (sorry, but it is a ridiculous, preachy, exhausting mess) and the books' discomfiting racial issues, there is also the fact that certain groups, such as extreme right-wing conservatives and super Christians, have seemed to have appropriated the books as their own. Added to Rose Wilder Lane's (Laura's daughter and assistant with the books) libertarian streak and the books' hypocritical view of the government (there is a great deal of anti-government sentiment that conveniently ignores the federal assistance that the Ingalls family received)  I can't look at the books in the same way.

Despite my complicated view of the Little House books, I was excited to read Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life, where the author decides to enter the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder by doing the things that Laura did (churning butter, twisting hay sticks), researching Laura's life, and visiting the places mentioned in the books. On her quest, she is accompanied by her seemingly saintly boyfriend, Chris, who not only reads all of the Little House books but also willingly does things like sleeping in a covered wagon and road tripping to various Ingalls-related sites.

This is a rather slim premise, but what McClure lacks in substance she usually makes up for in style. For the most part, she relays her misadventures with great panache and humor. This is particularly evident in the middle chapters, which show McClure's attempts at cooking recipes from The Little House Cookbook and her road trips to places like Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and Almonzo lived. A run-in with an "end of days" group at a homesteading skills weekend (she and Chris, worried that the group members will hear them in their tent, write notes to each other to plan their escape) to an experience sleeping in a rented covered wagon are two highlights of the book, for McClure manages to merge the absurd and mundane together to create a comedic moment that, nevertheless, seems real and related to her quest in some way.

I also appreciated McClure's exploration of her conflicted views of the books, their writers and participants, and their legacy. She even tries to understand the viewpoint of Rose Wilder Lane, a divisive figure that many people (even, or perhaps especially, fans of the books) tend to dislike for a number of reasons, including her complicated relationship with her mother and the fact that she blatantly plagiarized from Laura's unpublished memoir to write her own (fictional) novel. Given that McClure could have easily gone the fan girl route while letting her "calico-sunbonnet freak flag fly," I appreciate her candor and her acknowledgement of the less-than-perfect or ideal aspects of Laura World.

The book does drag in places, most notably the opening and the ending. Both sections are more rooted in McClure's personal life and less related to Laura Ingalls Wilder's works, and both address McClure's personal life, specifically the illness and death of her mother. There is also a part where McClure has a mini-crisis while visiting De Smet, South Dakota, which is as puzzling for the reader as it is for her.

This book isn't perfect, but it is entertaining and informative, particularly for those who grew up reading the Little House books. At a mere 249 pages (at least on my Nook), it is a light, quick, fizzy summer read, perfect for taking to the beach or reading on a plane. McClure's ability to weave in information while keeping the prose engaging makes this a supremely enjoyable way to revisit a childhood favorite and a cultural touchstone. It even made me want to embark on my own Laura World adventures, even if they only go as far as dusting off my copy of The Little House Cookbook and making up a batch of apples 'n' onions. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie Review: "Winnie the Pooh"

In the frenzy surrounding the final movie of the Harry Potter franchise, another childhood favorite sneaked into theaters under the radar this weekend. Disney released a feature-length (if somewhat short) Winnie the Pooh film based on several of A. A. Milne's original stories, and the entire enterprise makes for an enjoyable movie experience, particularly for those little ones who might be a tad too young for the daring exploits of Mr. Potter and his companions. That said, much of the audience in the showing I attended on a warm Saturday afternoon were adults, signaling that the nostalgia and affection for our bear of very little brain transcends age (even if some of us might have felt a little silly going to the ticket desk and asking for the 12:30 showing of Winnie the Pooh).

The 60-minute movie (I told you it was short) has three interweaving storylines involving our favorite silly old bear and his 100 Acre Wood friends. Besides Pooh's usual quest for honey, we also have the search for Eeyore's tail and some confusion over the whereabouts of Christopher Robin (who looks and sounds a lot more British than earlier incarnations). If this doesn't sound like an awful lot to sustain a film, it is because it isn't. However, it is light, fluffy, and very enjoyable. As Roger Ebert noted in his review, it would make the perfect first film for small children, since there isn't anything terribly menacing or disturbing about it. It is just innocent, gentle fun from beginning to end.

The characters are much the same as you remember, even if they seem a little broader and less subtle than they were in the original shorts. My brother and sister found them to be caricatures (for instance, Pooh seems much, much more honey obsessed than he did in other incarnations, which is saying something), but I didn't have this problem. Perhaps it is because my nostalgia goggles were firmly in place, but I had a lot of fun seeing the characters on the big screen.

Perhaps one of the real reasons to see the movie (especially on the big screen) is the animation. Simply put, it is gorgeous and is a fitting tribute to the original Winnie the Pooh films made by Disney. Besides Christopher Robin, all of the characters look much as they always did, and the lush but familiar depiction of the Hundred Acre Woods is beautifully rendered. Eschewing than the creepy, computer-generated characters found in other animated movies and shows (including the terrible My Friends Tigger and Pooh on the Disney Channel), the hand drawn quality of this film makes it that much more enjoyable. Imagine the difference between going to an old-fashioned movie theatre and the multiplex behemoths that most cities have, and that is the difference between seeing a soulless, CGI version of Pooh and this animated version.

The voice actors do a nice job; joining Jim Cummings (the original voice of Pooh) are John Cleese as the narrator and Craig Ferguson as the blustery Owl. The other voice actors are not necessarily people you would have heard of, and that, to me, is an excellent thing. Without having to be dwell on being vocally recognizable to their audience (think of the numerous Dreamworks animated movies that seem obsessed with featuring stars' voices), these actors can slip into the familiarity of the characters that thousands (millions?) have grown up with.

The songs are fun if not super memorable. There isn't anything that comes close to the wonderful Sherman brothers' songs, even though Robert Lopez (of Avenue Q fame) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez do a serviceable job of it. I also wasn't too taken with the Zooey Deschenal cover of the original Winnie the Pooh theme. However, Ms. Deschenal more than makes up for it in the fun "So Long," which plays over the clever ending credits. Do yourself a favor and stay through all of them. They are charming and entertaining without being too wry, and they have some lovely callbacks to the Milne stories. Even my disenchanted brother and sister loved the credits (and thought they were the best part of the film).

If you are feeling fatigued by the Harry Potter hoopla (or, if you are like me, you never really got into Harry Potter in the first place), do yourself a favor and spend 60 minutes in the 100 Acre Wood. Sitting in the back of a theater and seeing little kids clutching their stuffed Pooh bears and watching their friends on the big screen for the first time is a truly magical experience (no broomsticks or Hogwarts required).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Birchbox July 2011

I had a great teacher in high school who often said, "You get what you get when you need it." I've always taken this piece of wisdom to heart, and it always seems to be true. Today, after a long, hot, miserable commute home, I was excited to see the familiar pink box waiting for me by my mailbox. Although this isn't my favorite Birchbox ever (I really loved my May and June boxes), this one has some intriguing products.

This month's theme, if you can call it that, is that the products were selected by designer Cynthia Rowley, and I do like that most of the products are no-nonsense basics that are very usable for everyday.
From left to right: Redken Shine Flash,
Nuxe Dry Oil, Kind Bar

  • A large sample of Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser
  • A large sample of Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Multi-Usage Dry Oil
  • A large sample of Redken Shine Flash 02
  • A large sample of Zoya Nail Polish in Pandora (a creamy nude polish)
  • An almond and apricot Kind Bar
I've tried Purity Made Simple and Kind Bars before, and I like both products. I'm also excited to try the nail polish, since I've been wanting to wear a more subdued color lately. My only real disappointment is that there isn't really any makeup (besides the nail polish), but as I mentioned earlier, I do think that everything in this box is very practical and easy to incorporate into my regular routine.

From left to right: Redken Shine Flash, Zoya polish, Purity Made Simple, and Nuxe Dry Oil
I haven't quite decided if I'm going to do a full review of these products, but if you would like one, please feel free to leave a comment below. I'm easy to persuade!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Poems for Independence Day

July 4th is upon us once again, and even though I am planning on hiding from the crowds and working on my never-ending research, this doesn't mean that I am a complete Independence Day Scrooge. If you, like me, prefer quiet and poetry to drunken crowds and tourists (Boston seems to be crawling with them right now, and it is exhausting), then here are some poem suggestions and resources for your 4th of July.
Have a wonderful holiday (however you decide to spend it)!