Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 2013 Ipsy Bag: Classic Beauty

For those of you just tuning in, Ipsy is a beauty subscription service. For $10 a month, Ipsy sends 4 - 5 surprise beauty products to your door in a cute cosmetics bag. They even mail it in a shiny hot pink envelope! Seeing that envelope in my mailbox always makes me dance around like a little kid. If you don't want to get in a beauty rut, Ipsy is for you.

Cailyn Tinted Lip Balm in Big Apple (full size) - $19.00
Elizabeth Mott "It's So Big" Volumizing Macara (4 oz. sample) - $7.99
Starlooks Kohl Eyeliner Pencil in Onyx (full size) - $12.00
NYX Single Eyeshadow in Nutmeg (full size) - $4.50
Freeman Paper masks in Blue Agave, Starfruit, and Rose (full size) - $5.97

Ipsy Cost: $10.00

I was really excited about this month's bag because with three eye products and a very bold lip product, I could use it to create a complete vintage look. Well-defined eyes, red lips, and glowing skin make me feel like an old school movie star! I tested each product thoroughly before writing a review; some performed better than others.

The Starlooks Kohl Eyeliner Pencil is a matte, true black that glides on with minimal tugging. It's not quite as smooth as my beloved Urban Decay eyeliner... but then again, no other pencil is that smooth! Once the Starlooks Kohl is there, it stays put and looks great.

The Cailyn Tinted Lip Balm is the best product in the bag, even though the name is a big misleading. Most people expect a balm to be slippery, lubricating, and shiny. This product, on the other hand, has a velvety, powder-matte finish that lasts 8+ hours. It feels dry on the lips, but it doesn't actually dry my lips out; when I removed it, they were super-smooth and soft. A word about removal: You'll need an oily eye makeup remover to get this stuff off your face. It's VERY long-wearing!

I wanted to love the Elizabeth Mott mascara. It goes on gorgeously, with absolutely no clumps. It made my lashes look impossibly long, and helps curled lashes hold their curl. The problem? It flakes off in big, fibrous chunks that hurt like the dickens if they get in your eye. The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. When it happened again the next day, I realized the product is flawed.

The NYX eyeshadow is a beautiful, neutral golden brown with a very slight shimmer. It's subtle enough for work, and very good for covering the entire lid before adding a more dramatic contour color. It's not as dramatically pigmented as MAC, but if you're looking for an everyday shadow, it's a good choice.

Remember that company that the made peel-off face masks we'd use at sleepovers in the 90s? They're back! The Freeman paper masks are kind of hilarious: They're big face-shaped moist towelettes with eye holes. You're supposed to stick 'em on your face and let them sit for 10 minutes, and while you're wearing it you look like a monster with scary peeling skin. But the real problem is that the eye holes are too small and close together, so it's hard to prevent the product from getting in your eyes--and when it does, it stings like a bitch. I tried the moisturizing one, joked a lot about my monster face, and noticed that it made my pores look tighter and my skin felt less dry. There is another mask for drying out oily skin, and a "brightening" one.

Overall verdict: Good job, Ipsy! I can't wait to see what they send next  month... hopefully no novelty Halloween products like the nasty body glitter that came in the June bag! I'd like to see some lotion or perfume with a pumpkin spice scent, a nail polish or eye product in metallic gold, a deep conditioner, and perhaps a reverse lip liner. My wedding makeup artist clued me in to their existence, and now I want one!!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Me and Mr. Darcy

Have you read any books from the "Mr. Darcy fanfic" subgenre of literature? Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter was my first foray into this little subgenre, and I don't think I'll be back soon. I read it because I was excited about Austenland, which wasn't in theaters yet when I found Me and Mr. Darcy on the "free books" cart at work (in retrospect, that should've been my first clue). I hoped the book would get me excited about the movie, but no such luck.

Here's a clue how bad it is: Mr. Darcy woos our heroine with a recitation of poetry about hookers with veneral disease, and she's too stupid to know this is not romantic. I repeat, HE HUSKILY WHISPERS POETRY ABOUT HOOKERS WITH VENEREAL DISEASE. INTO HER EAR. AND SHE LIKES IT.

It starts well enough: Our heroine, Emily Albright, is a super-prissy, etiquette-obsessed 29 year old bookstore manager in New York who can't meet Mr. Right. She's so in love with the fictional Mr. Darcy that no real man can compare, so she decides to spend New Year's Eve on a Jane Austen literature lovers' tour in England. When Emily meets the rest of the group and Miss Steane, the enigmatic tour guide, she is dismayed to find that she's the only attendee under age 60. Oh yeah, except for the handsome but surly young reporter named Spike, who tags along to write about why women love Darcy so much. Predictably, he and Emily re-enact Pride and Prejudice, and it will make you yawn. But that's not even the bad part.

Ohno, the bad part is that everywhere she goes, our heroine runs into Mr. Darcy. Um, yeah. You read that right. And for absolutely no reason, he falls for her. He rows her around a moonlit lake, takes her for an evening horseback ride, woos her on a romantic picnic... and she begins to realize that all the brooding is a huge drag. This man can't crack a joke. DUH, he's Mr. Darcy. But is he an actor, and the act is part of the tour? Is Emily delusional? Is something supernatural happening? Miss Steane makes weird omniscient statements, but the Mr. Darcy plot is half-baked and unresolved. Just like the almost-anagram of Steane/Austen, it never quite adds up.

Meanwhile, our Emily contradicts herself at every turn. One moment she's a prissy bookworm obsessed with manners. But the next moment she's smoking pot with strangers and reminiscing about casual sex with some dude she's never even mentioned. EMILY, WHO ARE YOU?! But that's not even the worst of it: She's supposed to be obsessed with Austen, but she can't see that she's living the plot of Pride and Prejudice. When she finally realizes it, after the reader has known for 60+ pages, Emily's Oh shucks and wow! response is maddening. At that point, I hated her so much that I just didn't care.

Oh yeah, and to top it off, Darcy woos our supposedly English literature-obsessed heroine with William Blake's "Oh rose thou art sick" poem. I'm sorry, but any English lit lover knows this poem was Blake's commentary on prostitutes and the spread of syphilis... What is he implying?!.

Final verdict: Avoid Me and Mr. Darcy. See Austenland. Over and out.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dirty Little Wedding Registry Secrets

Some brides manage wedding stress by screaming things like,"That's not the right shade of ivory! Are you trying to RUIN my WEDDING?" Or "That's ALENCON lace, you idiot! I CLEARLY said I wanted a veil trimmed with BATTENBURG lace!" They micromanage and obsess and make everyone else miserable. Not me. Everyone was telling me, "You're such a laid-back bride." They didn't know my dirty secret: I compartmentalized and managed all my wedding planning stress by secretly micromanaging one thing: Our registry.

At first I had mixed feelings about wedding registries. I felt uncomfortable telling people what kind of gifts to buy us; it seemed so greedy and bossy. Soon after Keith proposed, I made a registry because it's what you're supposed to do. I put, like, some kitchen gadgets and a $24 tray from West Elm on there. I didn't want to have too much stuff in our tiny place. I blog like OMG look at The Fancy! But in real life my stuff is mostly from Goodwill and T.J. Maxx, so I couldn't imagine having really nice things or (horrors!) telling people to buy me really nice thingsThen my mother sat me down and schooled me.

The Loveliest Linens

She told me point-blank, "You need to register for nicer things. The things you have on there now are good shower presents, but what about wedding presents? I know you don't think you need fancy things now, but wedding gifts aren't just for who you are now. They're for who you will be in the future." If I turned my head and squinted, I could kind of see a Future Jen with nice things and enough space to keep and use them.

Mom said, "The people on my side of the family expect to spend more on a wedding present. They love you and they want to give you nice things that you will think of as heirlooms someday." That made sense. I lavish the people I love with gifts nicer than what I'd buy for myself. I was warming up to the idea.

The she gave me the kicker: "If people want to buy gifts, they will, registry or not. Without a registry, you're pretty much guaranteed to get a lot of stuff you don't want. This way, you won't spend all day waiting in line to return stuff." There are few things in the world I hate more than returning stuff. Honestly, I'd rather change a bunch of dirty diapers and clean the microwave than stand in line to explain, "Umm... there's nothing wrong with this chip and dip. I just... don't want it?"

So I took stock of what was in our kitchen: An incomplete set of dishes I bought at a thrift store 10 years ago and a set of slightly rusted flatware from Target. Oh, and we were missing all but three teaspoons. The binding at the edge of my bedspread is falling apart. And when my favorite set of sheets was new, my age was in the single digits. Yeah, we needed stuff. I went nuts and started registering. And then it got freaky.

Setting the Table

When I was feeling stressed out, I went on a registry-managing binge. And I do mean binge. I'd add things, remove things, make sure everything matched but wasn't too matchy, read reviews, change my mind, and read about stoneware versus porcelain versus bone china. I'd reconsider the font I'd chosen for a monogram, re-read the reviews, watch infomercial-style videos on Bed Bath & Beyond's website about pineapple slicing gadgets, and repeat. If there was anyone out there keeping an eye on our registry, they probably thought I was a huge freak, and I don't care. It was obsessive and harmless and weird and funny, and I'm glad I had an outlet for stress that didn't involve snapping at other people.

I really did learn a lot: Wilton Armetale serving dishes are beautiful and really useful. They thaw your meat faster and keep your salad crisp longer. Porcelain is a comparatively affordable and dishwasher safe substitute for bone china. Godinger crystal weighs a TON. Like, be careful lifting it. The regular prices at Bed Bath & Beyond are, on average, 30% cheaper than the regular prices at Macy's. Most people hate towels; I was bewildered by all the HATEFUL towel reviews. NO ONE LIKES THEIR TOWELS. But everyone loves a Dyson. And that pineapple slicing gadget is amazing.

So last weekend, friends and family all came together to shower me and Keith with love really awesome gifts. It was humbling and I cried a little bit. I kept thinking They are so good to us. Do I deserve this?! I'm feeling grateful, supported, loved, and (woo-hoo!) finally over the registry obsession. Watch out, bridesmaids!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Pinehurst House in Yorkshire England

Have you heard about Pinehurst House, the incredible time capsule in Yorkshire? An abandoned 40 bedroom mansion in Harrogate, Yorkshire England was recently sold... and for more than a quarter of a century, no one set foot there. It was one of three homes owned by Sir Dhunjibhoy Lady Bomanji, aristocrats born in India. They were high society figures and friends of royalty during the Downton Abbey era. They used the home from the 1920s until Lady Bomanji died in 1986, at which point it was abandoned. Her daughter inherited the home, but never used it, and it was completely untouched for 27 years. 

I'm not going to show you any pictures of it, because Getty Images owns all the pictures I've found of Pinehurst. I've heard that if you reblog a Getty image they'll track you down and eat your soul. And that would hurt. So instead of sharing images of Pinehurst, I'm sharing some tantalizing images of other abandoned and derelict places. To see Pinehurst, go here. 

The Grand Library - Photograph by James Charlick and for sale on Etsy
Pinehurst House walks a strange line between looking exactly like Downton Abbey in some pictures, and like a Restoration Hardware catalog in others. The black and white bathroom tile, white subway tile backsplash, and ornate white bathroom sinks look so current! But the morning room, with its elaborate ceiling and chandelier, looks like the perfect spot for Lord and Lady Grantham to take their morning coffee. And the servants' bell call system is straight out of the Downton kitchen.

Manor View - Photo by James Charlick of Derelict Photography and for sale on Etsy
It makes me so happy to know that the home is going to be used as a residence once again... and that there are secret, untouched places of beauty in the world waiting to be found. Here's the best part: The contents are being auctioned off in 446 separate lots. Drool over the Christian Dior vintage stockings, about a billion dainty beaded evening bags and gloves, Irish linens unused and in their original packaging, antique silver, porcelain, china, and so much more. See it all here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."

Recently I find myself drawn to flowers on backgrounds that look like an inky black sky. It's a very 80s look, and one I associate with my childhood. I like to joke that my sisters and I spent our childhoods playing in wallpaper stores instead of playgrounds--but it's true. My mother's interior design obsession didn't become a business until after I finished high school. But she spent our childhood years honing her skills at home.

Black wallpaper and old family photos 
Consequently, my sisters and I spent hours quietly sitting in the corner at the wallpaper shop. I loved poring over big, heavy books of Waverly and Schumacher samples. Florid cabbage rose patterns on black backgrounds were always my favorite designs. The contrast enhanced the flowers' delicate shapes, and the dark colors kept the flowers from looking too sweet or childish. It was pretty, but mysterious and a little ominous. Even at ten, I was already a little bit goth.

Peony no. 3240 Original Signed Fine Art Photograph by Kariherer on Etsy
Now I'm taking a second look at the style I liked when I was a kid, and it's still got a hold on me. It can be edgy and dramatic with a mirrored side table and lacquered furniture, or granny chic with lace curtains and a handmade quilt on the bed. With clean white woodwork and furniture, I think the look would be quite crisp and very pretty. One thing's for sure, though: It's not a look that's good for resale. And I can't wait to get out of this sardine can teeny tiny condo and into a real house with a yard for the dogs! For now, I'm going to dream of walls that look like a dark, secret garden... and consider contenting myself with one of these prints from Etsy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: Orange Is the New Black

Pretty little birds doing marking time. Antique clock attributed to Charles Abraham Bruguier, 1840.
Are you watching Orange Is the New Black, too? When I first heard about it, I didn't expect to like it. A show set in a women's prison? Not my thing! But the friends who recommend it have excellent taste, and they were so right. I love character-driven stories, so Piper, Pornstache, Pennsatucky, and all the other colorful characters completely captured my attention. I zipped through the first season in less than a week.

When I heard that the show is based on Piper Kerman's autobiography by the same name, I was so surprised. Did you know it's based on a true story? I couldn't wait to read Orange Is the New Black--and it didn't disappoint. I want to tell you about it, but I never know how to review autobiographies. What am I supposed to do, double-check her story? Um, no. So instead of verifying Kerman's facts, I'm going to tell you why Orange is the New Black is worth reading, even if you've already watched it.

First of all, the timelines are completely different. On the show, Piper spent years with her drug smuggling ex, Alex. In real life, Piper spent just a few months breaking the law with her ex, whose name was really Nora... and she spent eight (yeah, eight!) years with Larry before she went to prison. So it's not the same story you see on the show. And even though Piper was only briefly with Nora, the book describes all the juicy details about Nora's flashy African boss, how Piper embarrassed herself on her first date with Nora, and their subsequent adventures in Asia. The show just gives a few meager flashbacks.

On the show, Piper makes a lot of stupid, selfish choices. As the season wore on, I started yelling at my TV like a crazy person. "Why are you doing that?! Stop it!!" Real Piper is much more careful. She's relentlessly positive, and she doesn't cheat on Larry. I like her a lot. And speaking of Larry, he's a selfish, petty asshat on the show. Worst of all, Show Larry writes something stupid in the New York Times that puts Piper in real danger. Real Larry is steadfast and wonderful. His sweet editorial made my eyes prick with tears.

So Piper and her man are pretty rad in the book. But I have bad news for all you Alex Vause fans: Piper and her ex weren't even sent to the same prison!  That's some far-fetched drama, and the entire show is like that. With each episode, the show becomes more dramatic and less believable. The bizarre pregnancy cover-up plot... Pennsatucky's homicidal lunacy... Mr. Healy's weird personality change... It was exciting, but it was a bit much.

The book, on the other hand, describes prison life more honestly. Women form alliances, celebrate birthdays with gusto, pine for their children, and treat microwave ovens like alchemy labs. Seriously, check out Piper's recipe for prison cheesecake. I was fascinated by the ingenious ways the women make their lives slightly more bearable. Like how the women who ride "con air" prepare for the flight by dabbing generous gobs of contraband Vaseline in the whorls of their upper ears. They rub it on their lips later when they get dehydrated on the 12+ hour flight--because they're not given water on the flight. Whoa. My Kombucha cravings are pretty trivial in comparison.

Finally, I have a bit of good news for all you Alex Vause fans: Piper and Nora did run into each other toward the end of Piper's prison term. I'm not going to tell you where or why. You've got to read it!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Feel Feelings.

Something old, something new, something crystal, something blue...
"I feel feelings." That's what Keith said immediately after he proposed, and it's how I feel now. They don't tell you that when you're planning a wedding, you find yourself awash in love and kindness from the unlikeliest sources. Far-flung family friends and long-lost pals pop up to wish you well, and so many wonderful memories come rushing back.

Two days ago, a gigantic box arrived on our doorstep. This thing was so big, I half expected it to contain furniture. We opened it together and found 12 gorgeous, carefully packed Waterford crystal goblets and a Waterford pitcher from Dr. and Mrs. N., old family friends in Illinois. I was so amazed by their generosity.

I've always loved them both: Mrs. N. looks like Miss America with her sky-high chestnut-colored curls and creamy porcelain skin. She is so beautiful! And she's also kind: She was so welcoming and sweet to me when I was a little girl, and I basked in her compliments. Dr. N. is still one of the funniest and most high-energy people I've ever met. Back in the 80s, he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest backgammon game. I shyly asked him to sign my book, and he laughed uproariously and happily obliged.

Dr. N. even helped my father build a huge playhouse in our backyard when I was seven. My earliest interior decorating projects took place in that playhouse; I remember using Mason jars, dried peas, and white paint to make faux hobnail milk glass vases. Yeah, I was into milk glass at age 7... ha! We went to the circus with Mr. and Mrs. N.'s kids and celebrated holidays at their house. Time spent with them was a really fun part of my childhood.

And now I'm going to remember them every time we use our crystal. It's funny; I almost didn't register for crystal. It's so fancy, and registering for nice things made me feel uncomfortable. I changed my mind in part because my Mom told me, "It might not fit your lifestyle now, but wedding presents aren't just for who you are now. They're for who you'll be in 50 years, too. And some people want to give you something you can call an heirloom someday." The bigger reason, though, is because my sisters and I had so much fun ping!ing Mom's crystal when we were children. And, um, let's be honest: It was pretty fun when we did it last year at Christmas, too. I imagined our kids making music with their glasses someday (Any child of Keith's will turn everything into a musical instrument!), and I knew it was a good idea. 

So I'm feeling the love. I'm full of gratitude up to my ears, uncovering long-lost happy childhood memories, imagining our future children ping!ing our crystal at Thanksgiving Dinner 2023, and realizing I already love imaginary children that don't even exist yet. This is another thing they don't tell you about planning a wedding: You'll feel a lot of feelings.