Unboxing – Birchbox Canada January 2015


I received my Birchbox Canada for January 2015 a few days ago but didn’t have time for an unboxing until today.  This is the second month that Birchbox has offered their subscription service to Canadian subscribers, and apparently it is also the last month that they will be sending beauty boxes to subscribers in Canadian territories or at PO boxes.  That was short-lived, but since I have a street address I am safe.  So, what was inside the box this month?


I was most looking forward to these two products: Embryolisse (a French skincare product that hydrates, protects and repairs skin) and Folie de Joie perfume.  I was a little surprised by the small size of the Embryolisse sample so I’m saving it for a special occasion!  The Folie de Joie perfume is in a spray vial, which means I can’t see what it smells like without actually spritzing it.  So, oddly, the two things I’m most interested in are the two that I haven’t opened.  I think it’s worth noting that the Embryolisse samples went out to US subscribers as early as January 2013, and the Folie de Joie was sent to US subscribers back in April 2013.


I was excited to learn that I would be receiving a Model Co. lipstick, though the brownish-nude color (“Dusk Til Dawn”) isn’t a standout for me.  It does smell pretty nice though… I’m going to have to avoid licking my lips all the time if/when I’m wearing it!  This lipstick went out to US subscribers in August 2013 (as per the comments on this post).


Next up were a few different creamy samples.  I received two packages of the Beauty Protector Hair Mask, and a small tube of Tocca hand cream in Cleopatra (scented with grapefruit and cucumber).  This blogger received the hand cream in November 2013, while it looks like the hair masks are the most recent product (they went out to US subscribers back in July 2014).

Overall, it’s hard to believe that Birchbox Canada isn’t just cleaning off their warehouse shelves by sending Canadian subscribers samples that have been kicking around for the past two years.  If you visit Birchbox.ca you can shop 18 items from the Canadian box this month (but don’t be fooled… some of those eighteen are repeats of the same product in different sizes), while US subscribers can select from an assortment of 82 products they had the option of receiving.  Although Birchbox Canada claims to be providing a personalized box based on your beauty profile, it’s also hard to believe that in light of how few different boxes seem to have been posted online.  If anyone from Birchbox Canada is reading this I would love to hear from you in the comments with a little bit more information about how you perceive the Canadian experience to compare to the US experience!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Serenity in Jurmala, Latvia

beach sopot

For me, nothing is more serene than escaping the city and visiting a quiet beach.  While I was in Riga I got tired of wandering around the bustling port and hopped on a train to Jurmala, Latvia, a nearby spa town.  Even though it was the middle of summer the beach was relatively empty and only one or two people were actually venturing into the waters of the Gulf of Riga (on the Baltic Sea).  Dipping my toes in the water and walking past sea birds aplenty was the perfect way to relax and recharge after six weeks of serious European packpacking (of course, visiting the spa didn’t hurt either…)!

Getting Real About New Year’s Resolutions


I have a long and tumultuous history with health and fitness.  Growing up, I didn’t like athletics, I liked books.  Later, I learned that I looked, and felt, stronger, healthier and happier when I incorporated healthy eating and exercise into my lifestyle.  Over time I became a fit size zero who could pump out twenty full-body push-ups without losing my breath and who got excited about doing burpees.  Today I’m a buoyant size six who can barely make it through ten half-assed knee push-ups without glaring at the fitness instructor.  I have posts going back to the middle of 2013 saying, “I’m committed to getting back into shape.” But here I am, at the beginning of 2015, and I’ve still only got a few pairs of pants that fit (compared to many that don’t).  What happened?

Well, the short answer is that I prioritized other things, I had a bad attitude, and I had nothing to motivate me.  As I’ve complained about many times before I both work and study full-time.  I’ve also recently joined the board of a non-profit.  Those took up time and energy, sure.  But I think more importantly, those became mental hurdles that I just couldn’t jump over.  The simple thought of all of the work I had to do was too much.  I slowly stopped making time for the gym and I gradually increased the amount of food I was eating.  I never reached full-blown gluttony, but I definitely indulged because “with everything I’m doing, I deserve it… and really, it’s not that much.”

This winter I finished my last graduate-level class, in the months ahead I have only two responsibilities: complete my thesis and create an exit portfolio documenting my journey through this program.  Around the time I finish this work, my term at the non-profit will come to a close and I will decline to run for board again should I be nominated.  Suddenly, the future feels like it’s mine again.  And last month I realized that I don’t want to spend my future being anything less than the best me possible.

healthy eating

So, a few days before January 1st, I decided to make some changes.  I didn’t wait until January 1st… why bother, when I was ready to go then?  I didn’t need to take for a new year to make some resolutions.  I started by cleaning out my fridge and pantry.  Not just throwing away old stuff, but giving it a thorough scrubbing!  Then, I went shopping and filled it with healthy things.  In the past I have followed “detox” diet plans.  While I don’t believe that detox diets actually remove toxins, I do believe that they tend to include foods that are easy to digest and that tend to be high in nutritional value.  I decided to buy a lot of foods that I’ve eaten while detoxing, but also picked up some very detox-unfriendly foods like nightshades (you’ll never take my eggplants and bell peppers!) and even cheese (sheep feta is supposedly easier to digest than cheese from cows… or so they say).  I also decided to cut out liquid calories and coffee for a while (except for breakfast smoothies, which are a proper meal).

Dumbbells via faungg on Flickr

I spent two or three days just focusing on making better eating choices.  As I kicked my five-a-day coffee habit I did go through a day of withdrawal, and I gave myself full permission to just sleep it off.  I woke up late the next morning feeling like my head was clear, and I was ready to incorporate some more motion in my life.  I have gone through a few gym memberships in the last year as there has always been something that made each gym not the right fit for me.  In the fall I found a new gym that isn’t exactly perfect, but that is so cheap it makes the flaws very easy to overlook.  I’ve got a new plan in place where I will only work on my thesis after I’ve exercised; this motivates me to go directly from work to the gym so that I can then return home for dinner and to do my coursework.  I started out by easing back into things with gentle free weights and some time on the treadmill (I walk on an incline rather than run) but I’m now attending classes like bootcamp, tabata and HIIT to keep it interesting.

So what’s my goal?  Well, like I said in 2013 I would really like to fit back into my pants.  I do own some very nice pants.  I’ve also got a beach holiday coming up at the end of March, and I would like to feel happy and comfortable in a bikini.  Since I might be doing some scuba diving on that trip it’s important that my weight loss be fat, not muscle, because fat is buoyant and fat divers have to carry extra weight on their bodies while they dive (and more importantly for me, to and from the dive shop and the dive boat, which is a huge pain in the butt).

You know how they talk about SMART goals?  People say that when you make your goal “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely” then you’re more likely to achieve them.  Personally, I have actually found that SMART goals don’t work well for me.  I want my “timely” to be forever.  I don’t want to “measure” the numbers on the scale and worry if I’ve gained 100 grams of water weight.  I just want to be Gwyneth Paltrow treat myself with the respect I deserve.  This way of thinking is how I initially came to live healthy, and this way of thinking is how I plan to return to living healthy.

time is running out

If you’re read this far it’s probably because my situation resonates with you.  So I want you to look at your calendar, and then look at your clock.  It’s January 15th, midway through the first month of 2015.  Did you make a new year’s resolution?  How is it working out for you?  If it’s going well, great!  Come back and read this again on February 15th.  If it’s not going as well as you’d hoped, maybe it’s time to take a different approach.  Look at your clock and think about three healthy choices you can make by the end of the day: one related to what you eat, one related to how you move your body, and one related to your mental wellness.  For example, you could swap your evening glass of wine for hot water with lemon juice, take the stairs from the parkade to your apartment instead of riding on the elevator, and hang up all the clothes you’ve tossed on top of your loveseat.  Or you could make an open-faced sandwich for dinner (instead of using two slices of bread), go to a Zumba class and stop at the library on the way home to grab a book you’ve been meaning to read.  Keep up the good choices tomorrow, and the day after, and once they’ve become second nature then you can take them even further.

Did you make any new year’s resolutions?  We’re only two weeks into 2015… have you kept them?  Or are you thinking that a different approach might be better for you?  Tell me in the comments!

Mealtime Monday – Vegetarian Crispy Quinoa in Sarajevo

sarajevo vegetarian restaurant

I can’t say I was surprised to find, as I was writing this post, that the restaurant where I ate this dish has since closed.  This was the grilled vegetable and quinoa plate offered by Vegehana, a Sarajevo vegetarian restaurant.  It had a great location in the heart of the old town, but unfortunately only one person seemed to be working there, both preparing and serving the food.  In some cases that can work, but not in a restaurant with a huge menu and more than twenty hungry diners wanting to eat!  The best part of this meal was definitely the crispy topping on the quinoa, made from ground nuts, seeds and spices.  It’s a technique I’ve often incorporated into my own cooking since discovering it at Vegehana, and I’ve also seen it appear in a number of recent cookbooks (for example, the “crumbs” section in Tim Malzer’s new Green Box).  Sorry to see you go, Vegehana, but there are still lots of great options for vegetarians in Sarajevo!

Inspiring Travel Books – Where Bears Roam the Streets

wherebearsroamthestreetsI feel like I haven’t done an Inspiring Travel Book post in a while.  Part of that has to do with my busy schedule (though the end of working and studying, both full-time, is in sight!), and part of that has to do with standing in the library, looking through books, and feeling like none of them really capture what I want to be reading about.  Another book about a middle-aged woman experiencing a midlife crisis and running away to Italy?  A story about two cool bros who adventure down some obscure river in a boat made out of recycled kombucha bottles?

However, the other day I was in the library and noticed a new book in their travel section: Where Bears Roam the Streets by Jeff Parker.  Described as “a Russian journal”, this book documents Parker’s many trips to Russia and the relationships he developed over his years of travel.  The book captures what it’s really like to be middle class in Russia… not to starve, but not to have all of the material comforts, or feeling of security, that are enjoyed by the middle class in other parts of the world.  The action begins, and often returns, to Saint Petersburg, but Parker and his Russian friends often travel around the country (and Parker occasionally returns to the USA… home of his Russian wife).

The economic situation in Russia is precarious, and the low value of the ruble is attracting many foreign visitors.  If you’ve been thinking of visiting Russia and want to know what to expect, reading Where Bears Roam the Streets is a great first step!  (The second step is probably reading Lonely Planet Russia…)

Empties – December 2014


Out with the old, in with the new, right?  In 2015 I am once again resolving to clear out my guest room full of beauty products, but before I can do that I need to clear some space in my bathroom by using up the products that I have open.  Yup, it’s time for a December empties post!  Here’s what I used up in the last six weeks of 2014:

  • Let’s go back to front, left to right, shall we?  I finally used up my massive bottle of La Roche-Posay mineral water, which I was using in conjunction with Roc cleansing water to clean my face like a French girl.  This lasted forever and made me realize how wasteful it is to run the tap when I wash my face; I would definitely repurchase if I wasn’t obsessed with using up what I have.
  • I take a lot of showers.  The second item in the back row is Olay Simply Refresh Rainforest Flower shower gel; the first item in the next row is The Body Shop Moringa Body Wash.  Both were pretty, fresh floral scents that made my many showers more enjoyable.
  • I didn’t use up my Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face sunblock before it expired, but I take sun care seriously and I’m tossing it.
  • I received a sample of Korres Citrus shower gel in my LookFantastic beauty box; I liked the formula but found the scent to be very masculine.
  • Goodbye, Live Clean refreshing daily toner!  You spent two and a half happy years on my bathroom counter… you will be missed!
  • In an Ipsy bag I received ten Skyn Iceland cleansing wipes.  I am lazy and love a good cleansing wipe (especially during travel).  I also love when a beauty bag actually considers my profile and sends me something tailored to my wants and needs!
  • I love when my skin feels powdery-soft.  Estee Lauder’s Perfectionist CP+R Wrinkle Lifting / Firming Serum (in the little purple jar) made my skin feel like it was a pile of feathers atop a baby’s bottom.  Sadly I don’t have enough wrinkles to know if it actually would have helped reduce lines, but when your skin feels like heaven, who cares?
  • I also received a sample of Pur-Lisse Delicate Gentle soy milk cleanser in a beauty box a few months ago.  This was a nice, non-irritating product that is comparable to the Simple cleanser I always have on hand (the latter is also much easier to find!).
  • I also finally used up my first bottle of Bio-Oil.  I’m not really convinced that this does what it claims (erases stretch marks, fades scars, etc.) but I do find that it’s nice to add a drop or two into my body lotion when the skin on my body is especially dry.  I received a second bottle in a beauty box (it’s been a long time since Topbox sent out a box like that!), so I will be using more of this in the future.
  • In my never-ending quest for perfectly dry, perfectly fragrant armpits I tried out Secret Natural Mineral Eucalyptus Blossom deodorant.  The smell was okay, it kept me fairly dry, but I think this formula is the culprit behind some of my white-stained black tanks… this stuff gets into the fabric along the armpit seam and won’t come out.  Also, don’t think that “natural” means aluminum-free; this still contains aluminum, they’ve just hidden that fact behind a peel-back label on the back of the bottle!
  • A free sample for checking in at my salon on Yelp: Aveda Color Conserve Strengthening Treatment.  I used this twice and my hair doesn’t feel any stronger, but it also doesn’t feel any weaker, which is a good thing!
  • Free Spirit Botanicals Gardener’s Hand Cream.  I basically put this natural, eco-friendly cream on any and every skin imperfection and always see an improvement.  Free Spirit Botanicals also makes my favorite salt scrub.
  • Biotherm Blue Therapy Serum in Oil.  Biotherm is not a brand I knew well before, but I have tried, and loved, two products from their Blue Therapy line recently.   I loved that this serum, suspended in a healthy oil, was hydrating enough not to need to be followed by moisturizer as part of my evening skincare routine.
  • A super-old tube of Life Brand moisturizer that I found packed in a box of junk that my parents were storing for me.  Life used to make a fantastic microdermabrasion-inspired exfoliator that went with this moisturizer, but it’s been discontinued for about a decade…
  • Benefit Bad Gal LashSo much Benefit Bad Gal Lash
  • I am tossing a sample vial of Alkemia’s De La Foret perfume oil because this one is just too woody for me.  However, it was fun to wear on a camping trip!  Forest perfume for forest activities!
  • I used up a sample of Bond No 9 I Love New York for Her perfume, which I absolutely adored.  It’s a gourmand scent (that means it’s sweet) but it was really tempered with a healthy dose of patchouli, sandalwood and even leather.
  • I also forced myself to use up the entire vial of See by Chloe perfume, which I found alternatively cloying and boring.
  • Unfortunately I learned that Yves Saint Laurent’s Baby Doll mascara is not the right formula for my lashes.  It left them looking clumpy every time.
  • I used up two Missha Super Aqua skin care samples- one was the Ultra Water Full Clear Cream, and the other was the Marine Stem Cell Intensive Serum.  I’ve always been impressed by the Missha products I’ve tried, and these were no exception.
  • And last but not least I am throwing out the rest of my KMS Tame Frizz taming cream.  The packet on this one was huge and the product inside dried up before I was able to use it enough to know whether or not I liked it.

Overall, a lot of good products will be leaving my bathroom counter this month!  I hope that the products currently filling up my guest room are just as good as these… or better!  Please share in the comments if you have any beauty resolutions for 2015, whether it is to use up what you have on hand or buy lots of new things to experiment!

Mealtime Monday – Fruit, With a Side of Waffle

street food waffle with fruit

A few years ago I was stricken with a rather horrifying cough while backpacking in Poland.  Once I’d coughed out both my lungs and shoved them back into my chest cavity I ventured out into town in search of a healthy treat.  “I know!  I’ll find a fruit salad,” I thought to myself.  “Surely I’ll be able to find a fruit salad!”  Unless you’re blind you know where this is going… after walking all over town and looking at every menu I could find, I determined that there was absolutely not one single restaurant in town that could dish me up a bowl of fruit (like I’d enjoyed so many times before).  The only place I could find an assortment of fruit was, sadly, atop this waffle, complete with my annual allowance of whipped cream.  It was difficult, but I managed to get it down!

WPC – Finding Warmth in Huacachina, Peru

huacachina dunes peru

I am sitting here in fuzzy PJs beside my (okay, natural gas) fireplace, drinking some green tea, and it’s snowy outside with temperatures expected to reach -20 quite shortly, and I’m really happy to see that this week’s photo challenge is all about warmth.

Last “summer” I went to Peru, and by summer I mean winter, because when it’s my summer break Peruvians are wandering around in down jackets and snow boots.  I was unprepared for these cold temperatures (much like in the Baltics in August, but at least that was the northern hemisphere!), so it was a pleasant change to move inland from damp, cold Lima to the sand dunes of Huacachina, Peru (near Ica), where cactii grow year-round and the sun warms the sand dunes enough for you to stick your toes in without worrying about catching hypothermia.  If you happen to be in Peru in July, and if you happen to be freezing too, then make sure to add an afternoon on the Huacachina dunes to your itinerary… because everyone deserves a little warmth!

Unboxing – Birchbox Canada December 2014


Oh, hi there, Birchbox Canada.  Nice to meet you!

Canadian beauty box subscribers have been burned by Gymm, left behind by Glossybox, had their shipments reduced by Luxe Box and been disappointed by Topbox.  It seems that for Canadian beauty box addicts, looking to well-known US boxes (like Ipsy) is the only answer.  Starting this month, Canadian subscribers now have access to one of the biggest beauty boxes in the USA- Birchbox.

My Birchbox Canada shipped via UPS and arrived above five days after I received the initial shipping notification.  The box cost $14.95 USD… let’s look inside and see what fifteen dollars will get a Canadian!


The first thing I found inside the box was a sample of Benefit Lollitint, a lip and cheek stain in a bright pink color.  This 2.5 ml sample has a retail value of about $8.


The Lollitint was packed in a separate cardboard pouch along with this Cynthia Rowley eyeliner pencil in black.  It’s great to get a chance to sample this exclusive brand in Canada!  This travel-sized sample is worth about $12.


When I signed up for Birchbox Canada I had the opportunity to tell them my fragrance preferences.  If you could see my vanity you would know that in my world there is no such thing as too much perfume!  Rather than get a sample of one of Harvey Prince’s famous perfumes, I received a sample of their Hello Body Cream in a fresh lemon scent.  It’s hard to know the exact value of this sample, but similar sized products are sold directly by Harvey Prince for $1.


Next up was a Vasanti Exfoliating Cleanser that helps renew skin with the help of papaya, microcrystals and aloe.  This product has appeared in other beauty boxes before (including Birchbox USA in February 2013!), but it’s new to me and I love exfoliating, so I don’t mind.  This one is worth about $5.


The last product inside my Birchbox Canada for December 2014 was this Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle Leave-In Conditioner.  I like the idea of packing this for my upcoming beach holiday, as it looks like it would help revive my hair after exposure to the sun and sea.  This sample is worth about $4.

Overall, the total value of my Birchbox Canada in December 2014 is about $30.  I will probably use all of the products at least once or twice, which means that Birchbox Canada is off to a really good start!  If you’re in Canada and want more information about this new beauty box subscription, visit Birchbox Canada!

(Check yesterday’s post if you want to compare Ipsy’s bag in December 2014 with this month’s Birchbox Canada… it’s impossible for me to decide which one I prefer this month!)

Unboxing – Ipsy December 2014


I think I forgot to do my unboxings last month, which is unfortunate as it was a pretty good month for Ipsy and I also got to celebrate my final Topbox.  I replaced my Topbox with Birchbox Canada; my first Canadian Birchbox is in the mail and should arrive this week (for details on this new Canadian beauty box check out Birchbox’s Canadian site).

I was happy as soon as I cut into Ipsy’s signature bright-pink bubble envelope, as I could see my beauty products were packed in a tasteful black bag with a cute pink zipper that added a little pizazz.  Inside, I found the following products:

Sexy Hair 450° Blow Out Heat Defense Blow Dry Spray Mini.  I already have quite a few different heat-protecting products that I like, but none in a perfect travel size.  I will take this with me when I travel over the Christmas holidays!

Beauty Without Cruelty AHA 3% Facial Cleanser.  I’m kind of obsessed with acids at the moment, so I’m really excited to give this facial cleanser a try.  Alpha-hydroxy acid is great for exfoliating and removing impurities; I might pack this when I travel to Central America next spring as it will be perfect for cleaning up salt- and sunscreen-coated skin.

Cailyn Cosmetics Just Mineral Eye Polish in Orchid.  I am not a big fan of shimmery eyeshadow colors, but this is an interesting product in that Cailyn has managed to make loose eyeshadow practically mess-proof in this inkwell-inspired pot with a wand applicator.

Tarte Deluxe Lights, Camera, Action 4-in-1 Mascara.  I just used up a sample of Benefit mascara and might open this one next.  Tarte promises that this black mascara is going to increase the volume of my lashes by 330%… hopefully I will still be able to open my eyes!

NYX Butter Lip Balm in Marshmallow.  I first became addicted to NYX’s Butter Gloss through Ipsy; now I own a handful of different shades.  I’m really looking forward to trying their version of a lip balm.  I received Marshmallow, which is described as a pure nude shade, but all of the options that Ipsy sent this month look awesome.  If this feels as good as Butter Gloss then I might have found an upgrade for my Baby Lips!

Ipsy costs $15 USD including shipping to Canada.  For more information or to subscribe visit Ipsy’s site.