Mysterious Package Company: Curious & Conundrums

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If you’re not familiar with the Mysterious Package Company, it’s actually a lot of fun. Their basic premise is they send you or a giftee a series of–get this–mysterious packages that tell a story. They create an intricate little world in their packages, with letters, newspaper clippings and “relic” items that reveal the mystery. Each experience is a little subscription box in itself. The prices range from $99-$299 and they suggest an audience age and disclose the kind of content each will contain without spoiling the mystery.

They recently started a quarterly subscription box, the Curios & Conundrums box. Previous iterations of C&C were flat mailings that contained very detailed puzzles and secrets, and it’s unclear whether this package is as intricate. I recently received the first box, and thought I’d share a bit about it! The theme was Gods of Madness… which I’ll get into later.

It’s $29.99/quarter. This came in a package that looks like an old book, which was clever. The inside front flap had details of everything contained in the box, made to look like evidence cards.

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Day planning : why I’m trying systems I previously rejected

I tend to find a lot of tried-and-true systems just don’t work for me.

Maybe I’m too disorganized for even the most casual of systems. Maybe I’m not mindful enough of the process. Maybe I’m just plain ol’ ornery.

Whatever the reason, I find myself scoffing at organizational methods that even my idols swear by, ignoring suggestions of methods that sound perfectly logical and poo-poohing the advice of those far more put-together than me. I’ve tried many things, but I find that they just don’t cut it in my messy existence.

Until this month, that is.

Like everyone else on this miserable planet, I felt like 2016 was a rough one. While I had some personal successes (a promotion, among others), I struggled to feel my joy between all the collective suffering as the year wore on. I didn’t make a ton of progress on many of my personal goals. My emotional progress with vulnerability faltered, and in fact found new emotional struggles to face. And, as my boyfriend pointed out, I’m forgetting what self-improvement benchmarks I set for myself as quickly as 24 hour later!

Day planners have been a “miss” for me in the past. I’m awful at remembering to enter important information in my planner, awful at remembering to check it, awful at remembering to carry it.  Or at least that’s been the case in the past. But with new work obligations, a list of personal goals, self-improvement to get down on and memories I’d actually like to keep… I guess it’s time I hunkered down and made myself be a little better at this.

I purchased Llewellyn’s 2017 Witches’ Datebook for myself. It has a chunk of pages with articles about witchcraft and pagan concepts, but I really like that it includes some of the stuff you might find in the Farmer’s Almanac, like suggested days for planting, moon phases and some fun astrology tidbits. There is definitely wiccan iconography involved, so it’s not for everyone, but each week includes a recipe, information about a gemstone or fun pieces of lore, which gives the planner more value than any other stupid calendar. I also like that it’s spiral bound so I can set it out in whatever configuration of pages is most comfortable for the day.

As far as how I’m doing my journaling/planning, I’d compare it to extremely lazy bullet journalling. I’m marking down some thoughts on the day, doodling the weather, adding notes about important schedule items, and writing down a goal for the day. I plan on letting it stay flexible: I’m not going to force myself to meet some imagined requirement of what my planning should be. And, surprise, it’s more inviting for me to play along! So it’s working for me for now, and

How do you plan? Are you more of a journaler or a day planner?

A week’s worth of mail : reviews and more

It’s been a really great week for my mailbox. Let’s haul it!

First, I got two boxes from Try the World, a subscription box that focuses on both snacks and pantry staples from around the world. I got a deal on two boxes for the price of one, the Italy box and the Michelin box. While I can definitely say that it didn’t get me on as a regular subscriber ($39/mo is always a hard sell for me), I will also concede that this is one of the most interesting subscription boxes I’ve come across. The value isn’t quite there for me as a picky eater, but it completely delighted my boyfriend. He said the pesto was just like his dad’s, the hazelnut spread was pretty doggone tasty and the pineapple cakes are too cute to imagine. It was also one of the most densely packed subscription boxes I’ve ever seen, which was pretty impressive.

I also managed to snag two of Colourpop’s Mystery Grab Bags. They promised an $80 value for just $20, and I knew I would be thrilled even if I ended up with a few shades I didn’t love. The two bags were nearly identical, but the value is absolutely there. This will make for great gifting! Each bag included 1 Weekend Warrior palette ($18 retail), 3x eyeshadows ($5 each), 2x highlighters/cheek ($8 each), and 5x lippie sticks/glosses ($6 each) and 2 brushes, which they aren’t even selling online yet. If they ever do this again, I think it’s absolutely worth snagging, especially just in time for the holidays.

Another great thing I snagged was a poster from the same line as “Keep Calm and Carry On”, but with a message that I feel is much more appropriate for our current times: “Freedom is in Peril Defend it with All Your Might”.

In gift news, I received two great ones! This year, I participated in Reddit’s Secret Santa exchange. My Santa got me an Otamatone, which is the cutest little annoyatron in the world (a great gift for kids). As another great surprise, Caroline got me The Hermetic Tarot off my Amazon wishlist, which has me over the esoteric moon.

Why I didn’t care for the Gilmore girls reboot.

1.) What has Rory done in 10 years? As far as I can tell, she’s had one piece, plus a couple bylines. When we last left her, she was hopping on Obama’s campaign bus. No one mentions any work coming out of that… and that work would’ve been over at latest in 2012. What has she been doing? The creators groused that everyone was too focused on Rory’s love life and not asking whether she’d won a Pulitzer, but… apparently, they were too busy worrying about her mistakes to decide to give her a career at all?

2.) Rory is incapable of making a decision. She can’t even break up with a boyfriend, so why should I expect her to make any other move decisively in her life? It feels like she just expects things to happen for her, much like her “meeting” with the weird gossip website. Jess had to tell her what to write her book about. She hops around other people’s’ homes for room and board not because she’s cool and rootless, but because it genuinely feels like she’s blasting into town with no plan. Without any backstory, I truly just assume she was in London, needed a place to stay, so she just tumbled into bed with Logan because /shrug/. Which leads me to…

3.) Rory is The Other Woman… again. She’s been there, done that. And she clearly didn’t learn a damn thing.

4.) Did Paris really need to be hung up on Tristan? … or the vague, Caucasian male outline we’re supposed to know to be Tristan, as the case may be? The briefcase was a compelling point for Impostor Syndrome. Leave it there.

5.) Rory is really bad at journalism. She fell asleep during one interview, then slept with another. She tried to write a biography about someone notoriously unstable and seemed to be using only the subject as a source. She seems to have zero ideas for new articles. She keeps saying she has a meeting with “Condé Nast” and ends up meeting with GQ, which is the least ~Rory~ publication under their entire umbrella (which may have been a slight by Mitchum Huntzberger, though I’m not sure.)

6.) Lorelai and the Incredibly Bloated Wild Bit/Lorelai Goes to the Theatre for Far Too Long. These two bits were too long and too self-indulgent. The Wild thing was a joke that was squeezed a little too hard, and Stars Hollow: The Musical was about three scenes too many. Just to determine if I was being a Grumpzilla, I checked a few reviews and almost every one pointed out these two items. Everyone noticed that there was filler in a show we all wanted to be dense with development. Not great. I liked that there was some payoff in both, but I feel like a little montaging would’ve been appropriate.

7.) Open relationships are A Thing, people. For a brief moment, I thought the surprise was going to be that Rory was openly dating multiple people. It would have made her a more developed character–someone who knows that cheating is a bad road, someone at peace with their compartmentalization. Instead, she’s stringing along a perfectly nice guy while she’s a douchebag’s mistress, “What Happens in London, Stays in London, But Don’t Tell Your Fianceé” style. And she ends up banging a guy in a Chewbacca suit. Yeesh.

8.) Oh, Lane. Lane, Lane, Lane. You deserved so much more. Now, you run your mother’s antique shop while your husband, Terry Bellefleur, has just been promoted to a job that requires a shirt collar. Remember when he left to go on tour while you were taking care of the twins? You have your garage practices, but has the band even ventured out of Stars Hollow together? When is the last time you let your hair down? When is the last time your best friend offered to babysit for you while she was crashing on your couch? Hell, when is the last time she even asked how you were doing?

9.) Communication… y’ever heard of it? I know communication breakdowns are like, the third man in the room in any scene, but c’mon. We’re supposed to accept that not once did Lorelai and Luke actually discuss having children? Rory doesn’t know the basics of using a cell phone in a dead zone (pro tip: when you hear the other person, STOP WALKING)? Emily and Lorelai sit in therapy in silence and the therapist just sits there with them, no questions? Luke–the man with a No Cell Phones sign in 2016–doesn’t have a We Don’t Have Wi-Fi sign? Rory still can’t speak her mind to… well, anyone?

10.) Circles. Y’all know those four words by now. They disappointed me. Not because of the circles, but because the loop was just too darn similar. Spoilers ahead: though Rory is (exactly) twice the age Lorelai was when she got pregnant, Rory is basically in the same financial straits, with no job, no home and no partner (though it’s safe to assume that Rory will allow Lorelai to be involved.) Like Lorelai, Rory’s baby daddy is not a prospect as a potential father figure, perhaps doubly so because Logan (who I assume is the father) is engaged to an heiress and the Huntzberger dynasty has no room for bastards. And while the message is perhaps to be that you can’t out-smart life, that you’re never all that different from your parents… wasn’t Rory supposed to be different?

 

Fortune Cookie Soap Box : Winter 2016

The theme was Through the Wardrobe, a nod to the Chronicles of Narnia… which I know next to nothing about. The only thing I do know about it is that there’s a lot of winter in there, so it makes good sense as a winter soap box theme. All of the products they sent this month were white and red, which was super charming and beautiful… but also a little confusing. They often make each scent a different colour so that when you go to buy it from their site, it’s pretty easily recognizable. But as a curation, this box was really thoughtfully put together and I love that about FCS.

Sweeties Fortune Cookie Soap – This is meant to be reminiscent of Turkish delights, and it’s even a translucent jelly-type soap, dusted with white powder. The scent isn’t there for me, though. It just smells like soap to me with no rose at all. Also, it bled red all over its wrapper and the fortune. I don’t know whether that was from this unseasonable heat or if this will bleed badly when wet.

Dream a Dream Dusting Powder This is meant to be dusted on after a shower. It’s a heavy patchouli with lavender. I like the inclusion of this for winter, as it’s going to be super helpful for my thighs when I’m pullin’ on my long johns.

Hide and Seek Whipped Soap – On first nose, it smells like a warm, toasty coconut that’s slightly sweet. But in the shower, it opens up a little to something baked with melty marshmallows on top. The texture is lovely… for the most part. Occasionally, you get a solid bit of soap that just feels out of place and weird. Still, whipped soap is the future and everybody needs to get on board.

Father Christmas Whipped Cream – I catch a light whiff of juniper, followed up by a sweetness. Honestly, I don’t see myself wearing this.

Always Winter OCD – I get pine, cedar and a tiny bit of sweetness. Maybe some cinnamon. Again, not my favorite scent. It reminds me of cheap holiday candles. The glitter is exactly what my hands look like after I put up my miniature ceramic winter village.

Deep Magic Shampoo Bar – Mint and rosemary, for sure. It’s very bright and warm. The cooling sensation when I use it is phenomenal. This bar lathers better than any FCS shampoo bar I’ve ever tried, so I was super dismayed to see that for the full-size launch, they changed the texture of the bar completely. WHOMP WHOMP.

Small Favors Pedi-Bomb – I catch the sweetness of a pipe, honey and a little zip of citrus. It’s lovely. I will be using this after a long day of wearing boots, no doubt.

Lion’s Breath Perfume Oil – I get the pomegranate smell, with a warm winter wood backing. I love this a lot, and it’s turned out to be a fan favorite scent.

Walmart beauty box : fall 2016

Let me Teal Deer this one for you: This box was great, and my belief that this subscription is worth the cost of admission remains unabated.

The Standouts for me:

Batiste Dry Shampoo – This is a cult favorite among dry shampoos. Great add-in.

Dove Nutrium Moisture in Peony – I normally cringe when I see something is floral scented, but this is absolutely lovely.

Hello Toothpaste – I actually got a full-size tube of this in a PopSugar box, and I LOVE it. The texture is a little goopy, but the flavor isn’t very aggressive and it’s just an all-around good toothpaste. Yes these have been in every subscription box coming and going, but it was actually a nice surprise to learn that Walmart will be carrying this brand.

Less Exciting for Me:

Nature’s Bounty Hair, Skin and Nails Gummies – I just don’t love vitamins as a sample. Best case scenario, it tastes like candy and you don’t know if it works. Worst case scenario, it tastes awful and you don’t know if it works.

Clean & Clear Deep Action Shower Mask – This is great in theory, but wtf plastic pellets.

I’ll be passing on:

Village Naturals Therapy Foot Soak – I am fully confident that this product is great, but my mom swears by epsom salt soaks and she’ll appreciate this way more than I ever would.

Biore Charcoal Pore Strips – Since I have plenty, I’ll share the love with someone else. These are fairly on-trend, though, so it’s a great include!

Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream – I think this is going to be a really good unscented lotion, so I’ll let my mom try it, too!

Juicing : answering my own doubts

So y’all know that the internet has a huge boner for juicing, right? It’s everywhere. Just ask Pinterest. People love juice recipes, people swear that their lives have been changed by fruit pulp and a centrifuge.

I, of course, was deeply skeptical. My brain had far more reasons to say NAY than to jump on the bandwagon. But once I jumped in, I actually found out that there wasn’t much to hate.

Juice extractors are expensive.

While this can be very true, they lower range models are getting more affordable. The one I got (Westinghouse WJE2BSLA Select Series) is just $45 on Amazon, and I’d call it well worth the price. But I’m a tightwad. I can’t even justify buying a lot of things I really, actually, for-real need. But when I saw this juicer at a discount store for well under retail, I jumped.

Produce is expensive.

For a lot of people, the fruit and veg necessary for juicing is a pretty big cost burden. I tend to buy the cheapest available of any produce I choose. I also fully recommend finding a grocery store that offers discounts on their bruised and aging produce: since you’ll be juicing the produce soon, it won’t matter in the least. Focus on juice recipes that make the most of less inexpensive produce, like lettuce, carrots and apples. And finally…

There’s a lotta waste.

There doesn’t have to be. If you’re smart about the order in which you extract, you could actually be doing meal prep while you juice. Run a mess of apples and use the pulp to make applesauce or a baste for porkchops. Juiced carrots are just a step closer to a lovely pasta sauce or padding for a meatloaf. Save the pulp from all your savory produce in the freezer and use it to make batches of vegetable stock.

There’s a lotta cleanup.

The juicer I have isn’t as messy as I expected. A silicone spatula gets most of the pulp out pretty easily. Then, I just use a soft toothbrush to clean the grater and hand wash the bowls. I find it more troublesome to clean my mixer. YMMV.

But, like. The health claims?

First of all, if you’re not eating any fruit or veg right now… uh, the health benefits are going to be greater. I promise. Since smart combinations make the produce more palatable, you’re more likely to get in more servings of stuff you ordinarily wouldn’t just nosh on. If you’re already getting plenty of servings of fruits and vegetables and you won’t be replacing anything that’s not as nutritious with juice… it’s probably pointless for you. There are some recipes that contain plenty of produce that is either said to or proven to offer particular benefits. And if you’ve got a particular vitamin deficiency that juicing can help you fill… like, do it already!

Fortune Cookie Soap Box : Fall 2016

IMAG0024Y’all know the drill, right? The Fortune Cookie Soap Box is $19.99 quarterly and features a smattering of specially-made bath and body products from the Fortune Cookie Soap Company. They’re always adorable. Bonus? Every box comes with a $10 credit for the FCS shop. If you’re a frequent buyer of indie bath products, I truly believe this is an awesome deal.

The Overall: I LOVE this theme, and I usually love their fall boxes, but this had a few misses for me. I know I’m a bit of a rough customer when it comes to bath and body products because I don’t tolerate a lot of scents. Still, I remain a huge fan of this subscription. It’s just such a delight to try the products, and they’re ones I can easily use up or give away.

  • Buttercup Shampoo: This has the alarming shade of dayglow yellow of many toys of my 90s youth, but the scent is much less aggressive than the hue would suggest. On the nose, I get a very warm scent that’s very faintly sweet. It’s like faint whiffs of a baked good smelled through a grandmother’s perfume, but in the best way. The consistency is a bit odd, IMAG0026simultaneously too runny and too gloopy to feel like a very upscale shampoo to me. I think they could work on that a bit.
  • Mostly Dead Whipped Cream: I don’t know how to feel about this. It smells different every time I pick it up. The first time I opened it, I was like YUM OMG YES OKAY, like a toasty baked pastry drizzled with honey. When I handed it to my roommate, she said it smelled like feet. When I gave it a second whiff, I detected a strong pang of Doritos. Yikes. Now, it has the same sickening acrid sweetness that I hated in their winter Whipped Cream. Rubbing it on, I get the wonderful pastry smell I loved. The initial wear brings up all that acrid sweet smell, then fades out to more of a warm vanilla musk. It’s weird.
  • Drop. Your. Sword. Fortune Cookie Soap: The look of this is super cute, but this glitter, y’all. It’s got to go. It got absolutely everywhere in my life. It appeared on my friends’ faces after I opened the box, even though I was certain I hadn’t touched them. It’s a plague of glitter. The little sword stabbing the soap is darling. The scent is lovely, like very clean, bright apples with a backing warmth and a tiny whiff of effervescence. (My fortune was “Contents may contain Iocaine powder…” Yikes!)
  • IMAG0032Prepare to Die OCD Hand Sanitizer: I’m not a huge fan of glitter in a hand sanitizer, and this has it in spades. That said, it’s a great fall scent. Warm and reminiscent of a baked oatmeal cookie with lots of warm spice and faint sweetness. I think I’ll be using this daily. The glitter plague continues.
  • True Love Facial Cleansing Oil: I absolutely will not be using this to “cleanse” my face. It’s far too scented to imagine having even the littlest remnant of this on my face. That said? I love it as a perfume oil. A lovely sweet melony citrus with a bit of floral backing.
  • Mawiage Scented Cotton Ball: My boyfriend was like WTF is this? and I can’t argue too much. It’s like a third of a cotton ball with only the faintest whiff of the scent. It’s a lovely idea, but I’m not sure I can really tell you anything at all about the scent I’m supposed to be testing out.
  • Pit of Despair Steam Me Up, Scotty!: These are so hard to judge because the scent is always very sharp. I definitely get the lemongrass and plumeria. That said, I think this would make me sneeze if I used it as a shower steamer.IMAG0030
  • Inconceivable! Perfume Oil: This third dram vial is killing me with miniature cuteness. The scent wears a little sweet on me. I get the scent of pear tempered with amber and fall woods. The vanilla whipped cream definitely makes an appearance. Overall? The effect wavers between a Bath & Body Works concoction and Play-Doh.
  • Knight Cream Facial Moisturizer: This is supposed to be unscented, and I’ll disagree somewhat. I definitely get a scent, whether that’s just chemicals or what. The formula is okay.

Culinary boner : 5 foodie products I excitedly recommend

Have you ever had something, then kinda wished you’d never tried it, because now your life is forever changed and there’s no going back from here because you know what you’d be missing? Yeah, I’ve had a couple of those moments recently.

Curate Gluten-Free Snack Bars

Y’know how you can eat some health foods, and your body instantly perks up, as if recognizing “Hey! This is good for us! And like, made of real, actual things??!” These bars offer those moments, every dang time you unwrap one. We have yet to come across a variety that either I or my boyfriend isn’t absolutely nuts (wakka, pun) over. They’re small, but each nibble is pure delight.

Celsius Sparkling Orange (Pack of 12)

It’s in my nature to give products like this one the ol’ side-eye. It’s one of those celebrity endorsed loads of shiny promises with dubious origins. Except I kinda like this one. I tried it as a sample and actually found myself impressed. Drinking it makes me feel good! Now, I might owe that to the whopping 200mg of caffeine. That alone certainly makes it not for everyone–some people report getting shaky or having stomach aches. But I don’t drink it all at once, and instead sip slowly at it over the course of the day, which puts the caffeine intake on par with my typical summer iced coffee intake. What makes it better than a typical energy drink: green tea extract, ginger root extract, a bunch of vitamins/minerals (including biotin?) and no preservatives, sugar/HFCS, artificial colors/flavors or aspartame. But before you try it, please be warned: it only technically tastes like orange. To me, it’s more like if you tried to calm down the aggressiveness of a ginger beer with some orange Sunkist.

LÄRABAR Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, 1.6 oz, 16 Count

Speaking of things I used to give the side-eye… I was so insistent that these things COULD NOT POSSIBLY be worth the price. Until I had one, that is. Ho-lee-Hannah, y’all. The secret to their success is that the base is made from dates. In fact, this particular bar has four ingredients: dates, nuts, fair trade chocolate and salt. I was under the impression that these were “power bars”, but calorically, they’re not much different than your average candy bar. (Considering sugar and calories, this is almost exactly the same as two full-size Reese’s cups, minus the TBHQ.) But this is satisfying on a wavelength that no candybar touches for me. And it feels good knowing I’m snacking on something that’s made from actual food.

Primula 3 Cup Aluminum Espresso Maker

We haven’t had one of these lil’ guys in a while, and boy did we miss it. Sure, getting the caffeine to my mouth takes a bit longer than my Keurig, but the results are delightfully worth it. Nothing beats a Café Cubano. For the uninitiated, you fill the bottom with water and there’s a chamber in the middle for the grounds. You plunk this thing down directly on the stovetop burner, and in a few minutes BOOM, espresso. Compared to nitrous extraction, it’s a bit less creamy, but the ease factor and price definitely make up the difference.


Norpro Nonstick Springform Set Of Three

I have had this set of springform pans for a while now, but I keep finding new uses for the pans. If you’re not familiar with a springform pan, get familiar fast! They’re great for a variety of dishes, from cakes and pies to deep dish pizzas and quiches. The nonstick on this pan isn’t perfect, but it’s good. Most importantly, it hasn’t worn off, scratched or visibly rusted. You do have to be mindful when cleaning the edges, but the extra effort there is well worth the lovely result.

Rocksbox!

Rocksbox is $19/mo for a Netflix-ish jewelry subscription. They send you three pieces of jewelry and you can return them and swap out as much as you want. You make a “wish list” of jewelry items you love, and one of the pieces they pick to send you will be from that list. You also earn $10 a month to spend on future purchases. With the average “member price” of my pieces around $80, it wouldn’t take long until you earn a free or very discounted piece of jewelry to keep!

Curation is a part of this subscription, and possibly one of my favorite aspects. Based on your wishlist and a quiz of your preferences, someone at Rocksbox hand-selects the three pieces you’ll get. It comes along with a card about why the pieces were selected. You can then provide feedback about the selections for your next Rocksbox.

Everything comes in a shipper, and inside that, a hinged box tied with a ribbon. It feels very luxurious. Every piece of jewelry comes in its own drawstring bag, and sealed inside a plastic baggie. No tangles, and no damage. Postage is paid both ways, but unfortunately, you have to return everything you’re not buying at once to trigger the next shipment. I’d love to be able to hang onto a piece for a while. I’d also like it if I could trigger the next shipment myself rather than waiting for them to receive the jewelry. That’s probably because of the high value of the items, but it bums me out, man.

One thing I really love is that their style quiz asks your ring size. I recall their options went above a 10 (!!) and they only show you rings available in your size. I wear a 9, so this is a huge help to me! They only have about 7 styles available in my size right now, but that’s completely fine! It’s above and beyond what I expected.

My three pieces:

 

I selected the House of Harlow necklace and it’s everything I hoped for. On me, it hangs to my midsection and has a nice weight to it. The other two pieces felt a bit off from what my wish list would hint that I like (I had no short necklaces in my list, nor hoop earrings) but I get why they were chosen. The hoops are very summery and would make a great boho look with the House of Harlow necklace. The bar necklace was lovely and will be perfect for a couple of weddings I’m going to this week, but on my rather thick neck, it’s a bit short. In my feedback, I said that I have a thick neck. I also mentioned that if they have expanders, I’d love to have one with any future short necklaces they send. We’ll see what they say!

I followed a referral link to get a free month of the service (want in on that action? Enter code AMANDABFF192) I’m not sure if I’ll continue after that runs out, but I really enjoy this subscription and recommend it to any jewelry hounds who are always trying to spiff up their wardrobe. I could also see it coming in handy in the summer months for wedding guests, or around the winter holidays for all the parties!