Monday, December 22, 2014

Have Yourself a Melancholy Little Christmas

Christmastime is here, and with it comes a heaping helping of Christmas cheer. The stores are decked out in tinsel and glitter, and carols ranging from "Frosty the Snowman" to "All I Want for Christmas is You" fill the airwaves. If you love this sort of cheeriness, then this is your time. However, if you are a little holidayed out and needing a respite from this unrelenting merriment, don't despair. There are a surprising number of songs that are of a more lugubrious mood.

"Winter Song" by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson
This song technically isn't a Christmas song, but it is a winter song, so it counts in my book. I love the simplicity of the melody and the arrangement as well as the fact that the lyrics manage to be plaintive without being cloying. While I might not recommend listening to it in the depths of winter (especially if you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder), it is a lovely and reflective escape from the sometimes maddening glee that seems omnipresent this time of year.

"Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
For a song that has a rather upbeat tempo, the lyrics are incredibly bitter. The surprising juxtaposition results in a great (and angry) song to drown your sorrows to while muttering, "Ho, ho, hell" to yourself.

"Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon
If "Winter Song" is contemplative and "Fairytale of New York" is bitter, then "Christmas in the Trenches" is downright heartbreaking. Much of the sadness comes from the fact that, while it is fictional, it tells the story of the real-life Christmas truce that occurred during World War I. Every year when I hear it for the first time, I tear up (this has happened to me more than once while I was driving).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Two Gluten-Free Desserts for Friendsgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the U.S.! I apologize for the lack of posts recently - November is always a crazy month, and December is even worse. That is to say, while I will try my darndest to get another post up before Christmas, I can't make any promises.

Part of the craziness of this month is that I always have a conference that comes just before Thanksgiving. As a result, I flew back home yesterday (aka the busiest travel day of the year) and spent most of the day recovering from the conference and the early, early flight. Luckily, my Thanksgiving this year is quiet; beyond grocery shopping this morning (because I wasn't up for it yesterday), the only other things on the agenda for today were going to the gym, cleaning my kitchen, eating dinner with friends, and preparing for tomorrow's Friendsgiving dinner.

At least one of the guests at Friendsgiving has celiac disease, so I decided to try making some gluten-free recipes for her. The sides (glazed carrots and sweet potato salad) were easy enough, but the desserts always give me pause. As someone who likes to bake but hasn't quite figured out gluten-free (or vegan-friendly) desserts, this gave me a moment of pause. Luckily, I remember that one of my favorite comfort-food desserts, tres leches rice pudding from The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, is not only gluten-free but is also perfect for the cold and snowy weather we are having in the Midwest today. For those who might argue that rice pudding doesn't scream "Thanksgiving!" the way that pie or cake might, I would respond that this is what makes it special. Not only does it stand out on the dessert table, it can be very elegant, especially if served in individual bowls, glasses, or ramekins and topped off with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon.

The other dessert was one I stumbled across thanks to Google. Chocolate coconut pie is not only festive and decadent, it only requires 4 ingredients and minimal oven time. Instead of having a traditional pie crust, the crust of this pie is made of butter and sweetened coconut, which is baked in the oven until browned. After it cools, it is filled with chocolate ganache, a decadent mixture of chocolate and cream, and refrigerated. That's it.

If you're having Thanksgiving tomorrow or if you need some last-minute desserts, I highly recommend these two desserts. Besides being delicious and gluten-free, they are fast and can be made ahead of time so you can focus your time and energy on other matters (watching one of myriad TV marathons, making many other dishes, pleading with the universe that the turkey will be cooked just right, etc.). Happy Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving!


Friday, October 31, 2014

Foodie Friday: Soup's On!

It's Halloween (or it would have been if Blogger had published the post on time :), and even though the temperature here in northern Indiana was in the 70s earlier this week, the forecast says that there is a chance of flurries this evening. However, even though I still find the possibility of snow in October (albeit at the end of October) a little disconcerting, there is a lot I love about winter, especially early in the season. Besides the wardrobe (sweaters! slacks! sweater dresses! warm scarves!), I love having the opportunity to do some winter cooking, and some of my favorite winter recipes are soups.

I will admit that I wasn't always a soup person. I think it was mostly because it didn't seem like a substantial meal. However, a number of recipes have helped me see the light, and now a typical weekend ritual in the winter is to make a pot of soup to sustain me through the week. I also love sharing soup with friends, because despite my new found appreciation, even I can't stomach soup for lunch and dinner for an entire week. 

Creamy Tomato Soup from MarthaStewart.com - Sometimes you need something familiar, and this soup is comfort food at its best. It is also easy, uses minimal ingredients, and is much better than anything that you can get from a can. I always use the optional garlic to give the soup another layer of flavor. Also, I strongly recommend using fire-roasted tomatoes if you can.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup from CookingClassy.com - This soup is stick-to-your-ribs rich, which makes it perfect after a day of being out in the cold shoveling snow. However, if you want to lighten it up, you can certainly cut down the amount of butter and cream and use low-fat milk. You can also add more veggies and/or use leftover turkey instead of chicken (perfect for Thanksgiving leftovers).

Chicken Tortilla Soup from ThePioneerWoman.com - While I'm not a fan of The Pioneer Woman on television, I love this soup. It is warming but not too heavy (unless you go crazy with the toppings and add-ins). The only significant change I make to the recipe is to replace the beans with 8 oz. of frozen sweet corn, which I add near the end of the cooking time. I also don't use tortilla strips, opting instead to crush up some tortilla chips and mix them in before topping the soup with a little red onion, cilantro, cheese, and light sour cream.

Lasagna Soup from AFarmgirlsDabbles.com - I've yet to figure out how to make lasagna, but I don't feel like I need to since I have this soup for whenever I have a lasagna hankering. Rather than using Italian sausage, I use ground turkey. Also, as the recipe suggests, if you are planning on eating the soup throughout the week (or you make it ahead), you will definitely want to cook the pasta separately and add it to the soup as you eat it. This way, the pasta won't absorb all of the soup.

Are you a soup person? If so, what are your favorite recipes?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Characters Loved & Lost: Part II

After having a few weeks to think about the topic of character deaths, I must admit that I'm still torn about the issue. As mentioned in my previous post on the topic, I don't necessarily like my entertainment to be dark and depressing, but I also think that, in some cases, the death of a character makes sense. In order for this to happen, the death needs to fall into one of two categories: the character's death fits the storyline and/or propels the storyline forward or the actor who played the character died.

Storyline-Related Deaths - There are some instances where the death of a character fits with plot, character, and setting. For instance, if a given character has strong ties to other characters on the show, and his or her absence couldn't easily be explained away. The best example that comes to mind from my (very) limited scope is Mark Sloan on Grey's Anatomy. After having been established as wanting a child for several seasons, it would have been an abrupt about-face if Mark left the hospital and his family (including daughter Sofia and bffs Derek and Callie). While Shonda Rhimes has been known for killing off characters in unnecessarily violent ways (George was hit by a bus and was rendered unrecognizable to his co-workers, while Lexie died in a plane crash and was eventually eaten by wild animals), killing Mark, who actually had a pretty nice send-off by Grey's Anatomy standards, seemed fitting. Additionally, the plane crash (and Mark's and Lexie's deaths as well as Arizona's injuries) ended up providing the impetus for the following season (which wasn't that great, but at least it served a purpose).

Another, and perhaps more controversial, instance of this is the death of Henry Blake on M*A*S*H. I have enough self-awareness to know that I would have been one of the many angry fans if I had been around when Blake was killed, but in retrospect, the death seems very fitting. In times of war, there aren't always happy endings, and while the show had its share of death because of its nature and setting, having a main character die helped drive the reality of war home.

Actor-Related Deaths - While storyline-related deaths allow for the creators and show runners to work towards achieving some sort of creative vision, actor-related deaths come about as a necessity. Whether it is Coach on Cheers or Finn on Glee, killing off a character after the actor has passed away is usually the right thing to do. Not only does it give the character some closure, it also shows respect to the actor and the audience. In the case of Finn, not only was the character a central one to the show (the Ryan Murphy has mentioned numerous times that his vision for the ending of the show always involved Finn) but Cory Monteith's death received so much attention that having the character fade away into the ether would have been not just impossible but insulting.

Are there other reasons or scenarios where killing off a beloved character makes sense? Please chime in below!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'll Be Right Back


I had every intention of writing a post last week, but the craziness of the semester has caught up with me. Consequently, I'm taking a week off, but I plan on having a new post (a continuation on character deaths) up by the end of the this week or the beginning of next week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Characters Loved & Lost: Part I

Warning: Spoilers (at least they are spoilers if you are a week or two or three behind on Bones) ahead

Last night, on a whim, I decided to alternate between watching Grey's Anatomy (a show that I watch more out of habit than anything else) and Bones (a show I stopped watching several seasons ago). While I had a vague sense of what was happening on Bones, I was surprised to find that it killed a series regular in the season 10 premiere. A quick Google search later, I found an article that said one of the reasons the show killed Sweets was because the actor who played him, John Francis Daley, was in demand for writing and directing other projects. Stephen Nathan, the show runner and creator, told Daley that "it would be more satisfying for the fans to conclude Sweets in a dramatic way rather then for it to be up in the air and have him come back midway through the season."

Thinking about this today, I'm torn about this reasoning. First, the more cynical part of me can't help but think that Nathan, who has a history of including shocking moments in Bones, couldn't withstand the temptation to off a character in a dramatic fashion. In the past, he had Zack Addy, Brennan's original intern, become a cannibal serial killer's apprentice, and he killed Vincent Nigel-Murray, another intern, as part of a sniper story arc. Killing Sweets in the premiere seems right up Nathan's alley.

Additionally, the idea that Sweets's death would be considered "satisfying" is puzzling to me. Since I tend to watch television as a means of entertainment and escape from the real world's myriad problems, having a regular character on (what is usually) a light-hearted procedural drama get beaten to death is jarring. I know, I know - People die all the time in real life. True, but I'm not watching Bones for its adherence to reality. Even as a one-time viewer (and a casual one at that), I found Sweets's death distinctly unsatisfying. Comments on articles and on Previously.tv's Bones forum indicate that I'm not the only who didn't think the send off was warranted (or satisfying).

This isn't to say that television characters should live in perpetuity. In some cases, a character's death is necessary, cathartic, and (yes) even satisfying. While I plan to explore this in next week's post, I'd love to hear from you on this topic. What is your take when it comes to the deaths of television characters? What works for you, and what doesn't?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Literary Halloween Costumes 2014 Roudup

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm not much of a Halloween person. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) this, I'm amused to no end to see that one of this blog's most popular posts of all time is Literary Halloween Costumes, which was posted in October of 2009. Because I aim to please, I decided to do a roundup of all of my literary-themed Halloween posts as well as some of my favorite ones from around the web. Enjoy!
  • Literary Halloween Costumes (from 2009) - The original post came just a day before Halloween that year, so it focuses on costumes that you could probably throw together from things you have in your closet (Nancy Drew, Carrie, Oedipus Rex).
  • More Literary Halloween Costumes: Children's Literature Edition (from 2010) features Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, the titular Little Women, and The Cat in the Hat.
  • Literary Halloween Party Ideas (also from 2010) - If I were to ever throw a Halloween party, odds are it would involve at least one of these themes (my favorite is the romance novel-themed party with the Harlequin Presents favors/conversation starters).
  • Literary Halloween Costumes: Couples Edition (also from 2010 - I must have had an absurd amount of time back then...) has ideas for the bookish couple (romantic or platonic) pressed into going out on Halloween. Looking back at these suggestions, I realize that many of the couples suggested (Kathy and Heathcliff, the Phantom and Christine, Frankenstein and his Monster) are not exactly models of healthy relationships. On the other hand, they give functional couples a chance to act out in the name of being in character.
  • Literary Halloween Costumes: Comic Strip Edition (from 2011) - How awesome would it be to go as Calvin and Hobbes?
  • Literary Halloween Costumes: 2012 Edition (from 2012) - This list is a little shorter than my other ones (it was the first semester of my new job), but I still like the idea of someone going as Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen before Frozen took over pop culture.
  • Literary Halloween Costumes: 2014 Edition (from 2014) - After a year off, the latest edition of literary Halloween costumes includes ideas ranging from Bridget Jones to Dorian Gray to Miss Frizzle.
In case you need some more ideas, here are some of my favorites from around the web:

Friday, September 19, 2014

September 2014 Birchbox

While I've tried many subscription boxes, the only one I've consistently been subscribed to is Birchbox. It manages to hit the sweet spot when it comes to products (a nice mix of high-end and drugstore brands), product sizes (which often include deluxe-sized samples and sometimes even full-size products), and price ($10 a month). Better still, the company continues to refine its products, services, and subscriptions, and I've been loving the options that subscribers can choose to receive. This month, subscribers could either select the regular box or the guest editor box curated by the fashion site Fashionista. I opted for the Fashionista box, and this is what I received:

My box included (from left to right):
  • A sample of Laura Mercier Full Blown Volume Supreme Mascara (full-size $24.00)
  • A deluxe sample of Naobay Body Radiance Lotion (full-size $24.00)
  • A deluxe sample of dr. brandt pores no more vacuum cleaner (full-size $45.00)
  • A travel-size bottle of Macadamia Professional Flawless Cleansing Conditioner (travel size $15.00, full-size $33.00)
  • A Cynthia Rowley Beauty Silver Eyeliner (full-size $16.00)
I'm very happy with the products included, and I LOVE the fact that there wasn't a foil packet or a perfume sample in the mix. I've tried the mascara, and it is fine. While I don't like it as much as some of the other mascaras I've tried, I appreciate having the chance to try it without having to buy the full size. I don't wear a lot of eyeliner, but the product will be perfect to put in my giveaway box. In terms of the products I haven't tried yet, I'm especially intrigued by the cleansing conditioner. I wash my hair everyday, and I'm hoping that the cleansing conditioner might be a viable every-other-day alternative to shampoo.
 
If you got a September Birchbox, I'd love to hear about which box you picked and what you thought of your products in the comments below.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Literary Halloween Costumes: 2014 Edition

While the weather was in the 80s and 90s last week, this week has brought distinctly cooler weather to the Midwest. Right now, it is in the low 50s, and fall is in the air. Because of this and because October will be here before we know it, I decided that this would be a good time to post another round of ideas for literary Halloween costumes (for more Halloween-related ideas, please see my previous posts).

Miss Frizzle (from The Magic School Bus):I can't believe I haven't included Miss Frizzle on one of these lists yet, and it is past time for me to rectify the omission. As Pinterest has proven, there are many interpretations of the Miss Frizzle dress. For my money, however, I'd recommend a colorful shirtwaist dress with a full skirt and pictures related to elementary school subjects (think stars and planets, fruit, musical instruments and notes, or numbers). If you can't find a dress with a pattern or pictures you like, you can make your own or you can always decorate your own by using fabric paint or by attaching fabric cutouts. Be certain to wear loud, kooky jewelry (fun earrings, necklaces, and bracelets all work) and colorful, school-themed shoes. For extra authenticity, wear a short petticoat under your dress to help your skirt stand out, get a stuffed lizard to put on your shoulder (or get a friend to dress us as a lizard), carry around a small yellow school bus, and use Miss Frizzle's favorite catchphrase - "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

Dorian Gray (from The Picture of Dorian Gray): Given the nature of Dorian Gray's character, there are a number of different ways you could go with this costume. For instance, you could dress like a young Victorian gentleman and carry around a portrait of yourself that is older and more sinister. You could also do half of your face as young, innocent Dorian and the other half of your face as old, evil Dorian (the picture in question). Or, if there are two of you, one of you could be young, dapper Dorian and the other one could be old, sinister Dorian (complete the look of old Dorian by having the person wear a frame like this couple did). Whatever you do, go with men's evening wear (even a tuxedo would work - they were around in the 1890s).

Peter Pan: The NBC musical event is coming in December, but you can be ahead of the curve by dressing as the boy who refuses to grow up. Depending on your resources (and how elaborate you want to go), you can make this as  elaborate or as simple as you would like. The classic look is a green hat with a jaunty feather, a green tunic with rope belt, green tights, and green shoes, but you can make adjustments as needed. For instance, if the weather is chilly, feel free to forgo the tights and wear pants instead. A Beautiful Mess has some great pictures and suggestions for making your own tunic. If you have friends who also need costumes, they can dress up as the Lost Boys (think pajamas with a hodgepodge of accessories) or Tinkerbell (a sparkly short dress, wings, and a sassy attitude).


Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables and many, many other books): Anne Shirley (or Anne of Green Gables as she is fondly called by her legions of fans) is a distinctive character, but there is some flexibility when it comes to her clothing. Although most people likely envision Anne as Megan Follows from Kevin Sullivan films, Anne goes through a number of changes, so an Anne costume can be as simple or as elaborate as you (and your wallet) would like. If you want something simple, you can wear a long, plain dress with a pinafore, stockings, sensible shoes, and a plain straw hat, as Anne does when we are first introduced to her in the film and the book (red hair in tight pigtail braids is a must). However, you could also wear Anne's white organdy dress from her White Sands performance or her gown with puffed sleeves (if you want to be true to the book, the dress should be brown and in the Edwardian style, rather than the blue dress shown in the film) if you wanted something prettier. For some inspiration, the Sullivan Entertainment site has a page with four pictures of Anne at different points in the films.


Bridget Jones (from Bridget Jones's Diary): Although the first Bridget Jones book came out 18(!?) years ago, she is still somewhat on people's minds because of a recent follow-up book. Consequently, now might be the perfect time to break out your bunny costume, hideous Laura Ashley dress, or ugly Christmas sweater and dress up as everyone's favorite (former) singleton for Halloween. One of the best things about Bridget is that she has a wide assortment of vices, so this could be a great excuse to smoke, drink, and/or indulge your sweet tooth (just don't make all of the questionable decisions Bridget does - it is one thing to pretend to be a character, it is another thing to emulate her in every way :). Just be certain to walk around with a diary all night (or, if you want to update it somewhat, take to Twitter the way Bridget does in Mad About the Boy) and record your stray observations, including calories consumed and cigarettes smoked. Bonus points for complaining about "smug marrieds."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Revisiting Smash a Year after its Demise

Many, many things of note happened while I was taking a break from the blogosphere, and one of the most interesting (at least to me in relation to this blog) was the strange creature that was Smash. When it was first announced, people were taken with its solid pedigree from both the film/tv (Stephen Spielberg! Anjelica Huston! Debra Messing!) and theatre (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman! Theresa Rebek! Megan Hilty!) worlds, and its premiere opened to a lot of fanfare and some solid reviews. However, almost from the beginning, the show was plagued with numerous problems in front and behind the cameras.

A lot has been said about the rise and fall of Smash, including an intriguing behind-the-scenes look by Marc Shaiman, the insightful and delightfully dry review by The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum,  and a series of recaps from The A.V. Club, the latter of which includes the wonderfully snarky (and accurate) summation of the series as a “long parade of talented people and Katharine McPhee realizing the show with such promise they signed on for has become… this.” Given all of this and the fact that the show lasted a mere 32 episodes, it seems like everything that needs to be said about Smash has been said. However, thanks to the magic of YouTube and its “Watch It Again” section, I found myself revisiting some of Smash’s highlights and lowlights, which got me to thinking about the show as a whole.


One of the issues with Smash is that it often garnered the wrong kind of attention, especially near the end of its brief tenure. After a thrilling pilot, which culminated with Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (McPhee) vocally duking it out with the rousing “Let Me Be Your Star,” the show made a series of missteps that alienated its natural fanbase (theatre people). The characters lacked subtlety and consistency, deus ex machina seemed to happen every week (Grace Gummer comes to help her mother [Anjelica Houston] see the error of her ways before going off to count trout or salmon or something), and even the most basic plot points and details seemed ridiculous. By the show’s end, the small audience that remained mostly consisted of hate-watchers who wanted to comment on Karen’s awfulness or Julia’s (Messing) questionable scarf choices and annoying son. In all honesty, reading the recaps and forums at places like the departed Television without Pity were much more entertaining and lively than anything depicted in the Smashverse.

However, thinking about the show and watching clips a year after it ended has been an enjoyable experience. Yes, the show is still deeply flawed, and yes, Karen/McPhee continues to be its weakest link, a distinction that is impressive since the show had so many problems. However, minus the animus and the derisive, if often deserved, commentary surrounding the show in its death throes, Smash is indeed entertaining in a non-ironic way. There are some very good performances that transcend the terrible character development; Hilty, Messing, Jack Davenport, Houston, and even Jeremy Jordan, who was saddled with a character that seemed custom-made to be awful, did the best they could with what they were given. Hilty, by far, was the highlight of the show, and she was able to give Ivy dignity despite the character’s whiplash-inducing turns. The other aspect of the show that truly stood out to me upon rewatching the clips was the musical numbers. There were some stinkers, to be sure (I had a very hard time connecting to Hit List, a show whose dislikable characters rival the ones found in Smash), but many of the songs are quite good. Shaiman and Wittman’s contributions, including the Bombshell songs and the wonderfully campy “A Thousand and One Nights” (ignore McPhee's contributions and concentrate on Raza Jaffrey and the rest of the cast), stand out. The second season brought some stellar numbers from Andrew McMahon, Joe Iconis, and Pasek and Paul. Even when the show’s plot was cause for secondhand embarrassment, the musical numbers, for the most part, were interesting and sometimes even excellent.

A great deal of blame has been heaped on McPhee, and she (or at least her character) was a major part of the problem. While people formed factions along party lines (Team Ivy or Team Karen), the issue of Team Karen was the Karen was very difficult to root for. Set up as the person that the audience was supposed to identify with and want to see succeed, Karen ended up being not the likable everywoman or even a flawed if ultimately sympathetic protagonist but an object of scorn who managed to be both insipid and incredibly unpleasant. McPhee isn’t blameless when it comes to Karen’s awfulness, but she also isn’t entirely at fault. Although another actress (Laura Osnes, a true Broadway ingĂ©nue who also got her break from reality television, was considered for the role and would have been a better fit) could have brought out Karen’s more likable characteristics and perhaps even a sense of genuine goodness and vulnerability, the writing for the character undermined the ultimate goal of making her relatable. As Nussbaum cogently puts it in her article, Karen is a “human humblebrag” and “a one-note character [who McPhee] then took… down a half-note.”

McPhee’s acting chops are decidedly not up to the job of transforming Karen from a passive-aggressive Mary Sue to an actually likable character, but that isn’t the only problem at work. Despite Smash’s attempts to tell us that Karen is the most awesome, most special, most talented actress ever to appear on the Great White Way, McPhee doesn’t have the incandescent sparkle needed to match the rapturous praise her character receives in heaps. She also suffers by comparison to Hilty and the head-to-head competition between Karen and Ivy that is dictated by the script. In most cases, Hilty wins hands down. However, this isn’t to say that McPhee is untalented; there are moments where she did an okay job with Marilyn (please don’t throw things at me), and numbers like “Public Relations” show moments of the sparkle that the other characters constantly attribute to Karen. Unfortunately, this small glimmers do not an entire character make.

Over 365 days and 1,000+ words later, I’m still awed and entertained by the rapid rise and fall of Smash. The awe comes from the fact that such a talented group of people was able to assemble and make a television show about musical theatre in the first place, and the entertainment comes from both the show’s better moments and the enmity it inspired in its implosion. However, despite hindsight being 20/20, moments of Smash remain thrilling. With that in mind, I’m ending with two more of my favorite moments:
 
Yes, this is a little too "Up with People," especially since the song is about suicide, but I enjoy this version of song a great deal. If only the rest of Hit List were as raw and energetic as this.

It was a toss-up between "Let's Be Bad" and "The National Pastime" for this slot, but Hilty has so much great subtext in this number that it wins.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birchbox for CEW 2014 Prestige Headliners and Mass Appeal Boxes

While I try to keep my Birchbox purchases in check, I decided to take the plunge and buy the two limited edition Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) Insider's Choice boxes.What drew me to the boxes is that each product was a finalist in the awards and that the products came from both drugstore and prestige lines. The price of the boxes are $18.00 for the Prestige box and $12.00 for the Mass Appeal one, but you can snag both for $28.00 total if you order them at the same time (no discount code needed - the money is taken off when you checkout). You can also use Birchbox points towards the boxes, and you can use other coupons for additional discounts!
The contents of the Prestige Headliners Box (l to r): Fekkai Glossing Creme, Josie Maran Pure Argan Oil, 100% Pure Nail Polish, Coola Environmental Repair Plus, Philosophy Miracle Worker Overnight, and the toe separators
The Prestige Headliners Box, $18.00, contains brands and products you'd find at Sephora or department stores like Nordstrom or Dillards. These products include:
  • 100% Pure Creamy Nail Polish in Jam (full size)
  • Coola Environmental Repair Plus Radical Recovery After-Sun Lotion (deluxe sample)
  • Fekkai Brilliant Glossing Creme (a very generous deluxe sample)
  • Josie Maran Cosmetics 100% Pure Argan Oil Light (deluxe sample)
  • Philosophy Miracle Worker Overnight (deluxe sample)
The Prestige box also had two lifestyle extras - a pocket mirror and toe separators. In truth, I could have done without these two freebies. That said, I'm so excited about trying out the products in this box since, besides the glossing creme, I haven't used them before.

The contents of the Mass Appeal Box (back row l to r): L'Oreal Butterfly Mascara, Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer, (in front, l to r): Vaseline Lip Therapy, Dove Body Wash, Burt's Bees Lip Gloss
 The Mass Appeal Box, which cost $15.00 on its own, includes brands that you'd find at the drugstore or at retailers like Target or Walmart, including:
  • Burt's Bees 100% Natural Lip Gloss in Spring Splendor (full size)
  • Dove Go Fresh Restore Body Wash (deluxe sample size)
  • L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Butterfly Mascara (full size)
  • Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer with SPF 15 (full size)
  • TRESemme Keratin Smooth Keratin Infusing Serum (full size)
  • Vaseline Lip Therapy Rosy Lips (full size)
The products in the Mass Appeal box look great and seem very usable. I'm especially excited about the moisturizer and Vaseline lip product. As an added bonus, all but one of the products are full size!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 2014 Birchbox

For August 2014, Birchbox did something a little different when it came to the subscription boxes. While the box was still $10.00 (including shipping), the company decided to expand on its idea from July's box, which allowed subscribers to choose a sample and the color of the sample. For August 2014, the company let subscribers decide decide if they wanted one of two box themes (one was a box with higher-end products, the other box was dubbed the "Everygirl" box and had more affordable samples). With the higher-end box, subscribers could also choose one of the products they wanted to receive.

I opted for the higher-end box, and this is what I got:
From left to right: Key West Aloe lotion, Laura Geller Cool Lids Cream Eyeshadow, Nugg Beauty mask, Neil George Shampoo & Conditioner.
My box included:
  • A deluxe sample of Key West Aloe Mango Moisturizing Lotion (full size is $12.00)
  • A nice-sized sample of Laura Geller Beauty Cool Lids Cream Eyeshadow in Silver Sands (full size is $19.00)
  • Deluxe samples of Neil George Shampoo and Conditioner (full size is $9.00 each)
  • A single-use sample of nugg Beauty Revitalizing Mask (full size pack of 5 is $14.99) - this was my beauty extra
I was very happy with my box choice, and I've been trying out my products ever since I receive the box last week. Right now, I'm most intrigued by the eyeshadow and mask, but I haven't had a chance to use the hair care products yet.

What did you receive in your Birchbox this month? What do you think of the idea of letting subscribers select the type of box they want? Please feel free to leave a comment below! Also, let me know if you want a review of the different products - I aim to please!

Misadventures in E-Reader World

Three years ago, I became the owner of an e-reader. My well-meaning family purchased a Nook SimpleTouch for my birthday, and I have dutifully used it ever since. While it has some definite benefits, I have also had a lot of trouble with it. My original Nook had to replaced three during the first few months I owned it because something seemed to be wrong with it (it froze on a regular basis). The third device seemed to be a charm, at least until the past few months. This summer, it got to the point where it would only work for 5 to 10 minutes at a time before it would freeze and I would have to reset it.

After three virtual chats and one phone call with Barnes and Noble customer service, I am once again getting a replacement device. Since the warranty expired on my Nook after the first year, I have to pay for the replacement (the device is discounted). Because I'm absurdly optimistic/profoundly stupid, I've opted to go with another SimpleTouch instead of the flashier, more versatile, and more expensive tablet version. My one hope is that, if this device is also a dud, it has the decency to fail while the warranty is in place so I can return it and give up on a dedicated e-reader.

Despite these complaints, I have found that the Nook app to work well on my iPad (I also broke down and downloaded the Kindle app, even though I am not a fan of Amazon for many reasons). Worst-case scenario is that my replacement Nook stops working, I return it (or drive over it with my car if the warranty has lapsed), and I use my iPad to read my e-books.

Given all of this, I'm curious about other people's experiences with e-readers. Have you had better luck than I have? What devices do you use?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Foodie Fridays Review: Graze Boxes

One night, as I skimmed through an issue of Real Simple, I saw an ad for Graze boxes. Graze is a snack subscription box that you can opt to get every week or every two weeks. The boxes, which cost $6.00 each, come with four small trays of snacks, and you can choose to get a Nibble box, where you can get any of the 90+ snacks they offer, or a Calorie Counter box, which features snacks ranging from 50 - 150 calories each.Given my love of subscription boxes (my Birchbox subscription is still going strong, and I've dabbled with trying boxes from Pop Sugar, Ipsy, and Beauty Bar), I decided to broaden my horizons and give Graze a try. I figured that, at the very least, this could give me a healthy and portion -controlled alternative when I was feeling a little peckish.
My latest Graze box, with (going clockwise from the upper left-hand corner) lightly salted popcorn, raspberry coconut muffin mix, cherries and berries dried fruit mix, and booster seeds.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pop Culture that Restores Your Faith in Humanity

Sorry for the click-bait-like title, but it perfectly encapsulates the post’s topic. This morning, The A. V. Club featured anarticle on feel-good entertainment where they asked their staff, “What’s your favorite entertainment based on people making the world a better place, talking down the villains instead of shutting them up with a bullet, making firm sacrifices for the welfare of others, seeing the world as half-full rather than half-empty, etc.?” The answers ranged from Adventure Time to Mystery Science Theater 3000 to Groundhog Day, and reading them, I was struck by how diverse the list and how each person explained his or her choice. This also made me think about my own pop culture choices for when I need a little moral uplift. While I admit that much of the entertainment I will consume when I’m down comes in the form of books, there are also some movies and YouTube clips that (almost) always cheer me up. Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorites (several of the works mentioned in The A. V. Club article would be here, but I wanted to bring something new to the table).

Hairspray (the movie musical) – While I miss the snark and over-the-top humor found in the stage musical, the earnestness of the movie version make this a great reminder that acting on one’s convictions can help change the world (or, at the very least, integrate a local teenage dance program). Also, how can you be blue after hearing Shaiman and Wittman’s infectious songs?

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Winnie the Pooh – I adore Winnie the Pooh in almost any of his forms (except for the shows that involved enormous puppets and computer-generated animation). Both the original feature-length film, which was cobbled together from a series of shorts, and the 2011 sequel of sorts provide some life-affirming lessons in the gentlest and kindest way possible. For all of the mild (if amusing) adventures the characters have, the central idea for both movies is that friendship is important and that sacrifice for friends is worthwhile. Not bad lessons for a bear of little brain.

Anytime Mr. Rogers was being awesome – There are so many examples of this, but some of my favorites are his 1999 induction into theTelevision Hall of Fame and his 1969 testimony in front of the United StatesSenate in support of funding for public broadcasting. If you need more examples of how he was just an all-around great person (and someone to aspire to be like), check out Mental Floss’s 35 Facts about Mr. Rogers video and this Salon.com article on his kindness and humanity.

The Princess Bride – In a world where happy endings are scarce and where good doesn’t always triumph, this modern fairy tale provides an alternative universe where fathers are avenged, miracles happen, and true love conquers all. All of this sentiment is balanced with a wry wit, making this the ultimate film version of comfort food.

What pop culture helps restore your faith in humanity? Please feel free to leave your comments below – I’d love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Misadventure in Little House Land

I was shopping at the supermarket today, and I came across a package of pig tails in the meat section. My mind immediately flashed to Little House in the Big Woods and Wendy McClure's books on reading the Little House series (The Wilder Life and Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse). With this moment of inspiration, I purchased a package of tails and brought them home.

Tonight, I am here to share with you a few lessons learned from my experience with the pig tails:
  1. No one tells you that pig tails look very disturbing. I didn't take any pictures of them, and even if I did, I don't think I could post them without having Blogger flag them for being rather obscene. If you are really curious, you can do a Google image search, but be warned - they are very phallic.
  2. Pig tails are also very time consuming to cook. Based on Little House in the Big Woods, I imagined that they could just be tossed in the over with a little salt, but a quick online search told me otherwise. They had to be boiled (with at least one change in water) and then roasted. The good news is that the enterprise is largely hands off, but it does take a lot of time.
  3. Given all of the time you will put in, there is little meat to be had.
  4. Even though there is little meat, there is a lot of skin and fat. This makes them very rich.
While I never plan on doing this again, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to cross something off my Little House wishlist. I'd say that vanity cakes would be next, but they sound even more overwhelming than pig tails if only because they require several pounds of lard.

I'm Back

Hi again blogosphere,

It's been over a year, and I've missed you a great deal. Since I just can't quit you, I'm back to updating the blog. In the 16 months since I've last posted, I've survived another year at my job and seen another group of students graduate (yay!). I've also gotten more used to my surroundings and to settle into some sort of pattern.

My goal is to post at least once a month. We'll keep our fingers crossed on this.

Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know if there is a particular topic or feature that you've missed and you want me to bring back (Birchbox products, Foodie Fridays, etc.).

Thanks!

TGS

P.S. I have also started a professional blog. It focuses on young adult literature and teacher preparation. If you are interested in following that blog, please leave me a comment with your contact info. I won't publish the comment, but I will send you an email address with the link to my blog. I'm trying to keep my professional blog very separate from this one, which is why I'm not doing a direct link here!