Unboxing: Look Fantastic, Ipsy and Topbox October 2014

This month I received more beauty boxes than I knew what to do with.  They all arrived within a week of one another, necessitating a major re-organization of my guest room (also known as my beauty product sample storage room).  Since there’s so much stuff I’m not going to break it down by price or photograph everything; instead I’ll just share the entire box in the order it was received.


The first box to hit my mailbox this month was the LookFantastic October box, which shipped all the way across the Atlantic from the UK to my home in Canada.  This box cost £15, including international shipping, and arrived quite quickly.  The box contained:

  • L’Oreal Professional Pro-Keratin Refill shampoo and conditioner samples (travel sized)
  • KMS Free Shape Quick Blow Dry Spray, which I reviewed back in May and said I would buy if I saw on sale (no need to buy it now!)
  • Balance Me Facial Expression Filler
  • Gatineau Collagen Expert Smoothing Cream
  • Korres Citrus shower gel
  • Edit!  I forgot that I also received a This Works linen spray that promotes sleep.  I forgot about it because I’ve had it by my bed and have been using it every night since it arrived!

Overall I was happy with the box and have used all three of the hair products already.  I will probably consider buying the November box when it goes on sale on November 1st; hopefully it has fewer anti-aging products and maybe a color cosmetic or two.


Next to arrive, a few days later, was my Ipsy bag for October 2014.  I knew what I would be getting because my Glam Room went live at the beginning of the month.  I received:

  • Jesse’s Girl Mineralized Baked Powder Shadow.  I don’t wear a lot of shimmery shadow so I swapped this with a friend who received a skincare product in her bag.
  • ECRU New York BB Cream for Hair.  Ipsy thinks I have dry hair, apparently.  This is the third hydrating hair product I’ve received from them recently.
  • Figs & Rouge hand cream in Rose Berry.  I prefer unscented creams that don’t clash with my perfume, so will probably donate this to a local shelter.


  • City Color Be Matte lipstick in Cappuccino.  Shown above with the Jesse’s Girl shadow.  This will be great for Kylie Jenner-esque, 90s-inspired lips.  It looks a little smudged in the tube but is sealed properly so I’m not worried.
  • Skyn Iceland Mini Glacial Cleansing Wipes.  I love cleansing wipes for travel and I love Skyn Iceland, so these are a major win!


The last to arrive this month was Topbox.  This was the cheapest box of all ($12 CAD compared to Ipsy at $15 USD).  However, it was also the least impressive.

  • Vichy Purete Thermale Foaming Cleansing Water.  I’ll use it.
  • Cargo Eye Shadow Primer.  Not something I really need in my life.
  • Prestige Makeup Eraser Pen.  WTF?
  • Lise Watier Duo Serum sample.  My mom was visiting recently and gave me a few handfuls of these samples; I don’t know where she got them but they’re clearly giving this stuff away as fast as they can.

I’ve got thirty days to put a dent in some of these products before next month’s subscriptions start pouring in!  Did you get any of these boxes?  What products did you receive?

Mealtime Monday: Mochaccino

choco museum lima

It was just one of those days, where breakfast is a a quick piece of fresh bread with butter and jam in the hostel kitchen, and lunch is whatever you find as you’re wandering around the city at 2:00 pm and your stomach starts to grumble.  In this case, lunch was a single chocolate truffle and a mochaccino that took almost half an hour for the barista to concoct.  We weren’t sure if she’d gone to the back of the ChocoMuseo Barranco location and roasted us some cacao beans fresh, or if the milk had to be freshly squeezed out of a Peruvian cow, but this was, without a doubt, the longest I’d ever waited for a cup of milky-sweet, chocolate-caffeine goodness.  I ended up buying a souvenir bottle of pisco with cacao and coffee bean granules floating inside (still unopened, unsurprisingly) and a bar of dark chocolate with pieces of crushed coffee beans (long since consumed) while I waited; perhaps that was all part of the plan.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

maramures morning train

In my opinion nothing is dreamier than sun rising over the rolling hill of the Maramures region in northern Romania.  It seems like a magical place where anything could happen: farmers ride alongside the train in their horse-drawn carriages, you pass beautiful churches (some fortified, others meticulously crafted from wood) and the bales of hay left in the fields look like creepy creatures who are watching you from afar.

What does it mean to be a vegetarian for TEN YEARS?

fruit salad for breakfast

Fruit salad was a typical vegetarian breakfast during my travels in Peru. 

Lately I’ve been rewarding myself with perfume, but for milestone it seemed like fragrance wasn’t the right choice.

No, I didn’t finish my graduate degree (but I’m close!).  No, I didn’t get married (you can still call me, Sebastian Koch!).  No, I didn’t squeeze back into my size zero pants (though I’m sticking to my fitness schedule like a boss!).  I am celebrating being a vegetarian for ten years!

The decision to become a vegetarian was not an easy one.  Growing up, I was a picky eater.  My mom tried to put balanced meals on the table, but I think she lacked confidence in the kitchen.  I remember a lot of nights with Shake and Bake chicken, Knorr Sidekicks pre-packaged, pre-seasoned noodles, and a solitary steamed or boiled vegetable (peas, carrots and broccoli made up my entire comfort zone).  If we ate our Shake and Bake chicken, styrofoamy noodles and vegetable then we’d get dessert, which was usually two Oreo cookies.  We didn’t eat salads, we were never asked to eat fresh fruit (really!), grains were pretty much limited to packaged, seasoned options with the occasional white rice throw into the mix, and I gave up milk around the age of eight.  To me, cheese was a Kraft Single, pasta sauce always came from a glass jar and bread came from a box in the freezer and got heated up- with extra butter on top- in the oven.

shopska salata skopje

Lunches have often been salad with a touch of cheese (or perhaps I should say cheese with a touch of salad) and beautiful fresh bread. 

When I left home at the age of eighteen I also lacked confidence in the kitchen.  I literally did not know how to slice a tomato, and for the first three years I masterfully avoided actually having to eat salad.  It was only when I moved overseas that my limited diet no longer passed muster; it’s impossible to live in a beautiful European city, pass through its markets each day, and socialize with its locals while eating what I’d been eating.

The process of becoming vegetarian was immediate and not intentional.  I might not have been raised to eat well, but I was raised with good manners, and I felt obliged to eat a bowl of game stew that I was served during my first few weeks abroad.  Looking into that bowl, which I believe contained a few organs mixed in there, I realized that there was, fundamentally, no difference between that bowl of soup and a six-pack of Chicken McNuggets.  If some meat was gross (to me), why wasn’t others?  Looking into that bowl of soup I knew that I could never eat meat again.

This was going to be problematic, as I didn’t eat salad, fruit, whole grains or legumes.

I decided that from that day forward, if it wasn’t meat, I would eat it.

I remember my first salad.  I ate it here.  I had my first artichoke here.  I had eggplant (on top of foccacia) for the first time here.  The first time I tried lentils it was here.  I don’t think that the first time I ate fennel (here!) I could have imagined that one day I would be writing a blog post about being a vegetarian for ten years!

vegetarian dinner in tallinn estonia

I love when a restaurant offers a vegetarian plate with lots of little samples of local meatless delicacies, like this one in Tallinn, Estonia

I don’t remember the exact day that I gave up meat, but I know that it was in the fall of 2004.  That means that my ten-year anniversary (veggiversary?) is fast approaching.  As I mentioned, I have been celebrating with perfume lately, but this time I opted for something else.  I decided to buy two new cookbooks: The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman, and the Leon Fast Vegetarian Cookbook.  I already have a substantial cookbook  collection, and we live in the age of food blogs, but I find there’s something really invigorating and inspiring about holding a beautiful new cookbook in your hands, in the kitchen, and planning out some great meals.

As an avid traveler I have, rarely, struggled to feed myself in a nutritious, balanced way.  However, most of the time I have found amazing local dishes and ingredients, along with restaurant and shop staff who are happy to help me eat well.  As someone whose interest in health has grown over the past half-decade, I can also say that eating a vegetarian diet improved the way I looked and felt.

I am not bothered by people who eat meat, and I have never tried to convert someone else to a vegetarian diet. At the same time, I know how much better my life is today than ten years ago, and choosing to eat a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet is a big part of that.  If you’re the kind of person who keeps looking at healthy cooking blogs saying, “One day…”, or if you’ve been thinking about incorporating more meat-free dishes into your diet, start today and let me know how it goes!

Empties: August and September 2014


I didn’t use up enough products in August to warrant a post… but then September rolled around and the basket of empties on my bathroom counter started to overflow!  Here’s the lowdown on what products I used up (or just decided to toss) as summer came to a close.


I used up four perfume samples: YSL Manifesto, Calvin Klein Downtown, Boucheron Place Vendome and Hermes Eau de Merveilles.  Downtown was my least favorite as I found it quite uninspired, while Place Vendome probably ended up being the most pleasant surprise (it was more gourmand than I’d expected, with noticeable notes of honey and praline).


Just two styling products: a Wella glossing spray (loved the look and the smell of this one) and a KMS “add volume” spray gel.


I said goodbye to Givenchy’s Noir Couture Mascara in Black Satin.  This had a brush composed of three rounded, ball-like shapes, which did little for my lashes.  I also used up a sample of Benefit’s They’re Real in black, which was a better formula for my lashes.  I also threw out a brand-new y.e.t Fickle Auto Eyebrow Pencil, which I’d bought online.  Sadly, as is the case with many brow pencils, this one was labeled “brown” but was more like “roan red” when applied.  Way over at the side you’ll see a Mai Couture blotting paper sample that I also decided to toss without using, as I couldn’t envision a situation where I would ever want to blot up oil while also depositing shimmery powder onto my face.  This one had been kicking around for years; it was time to set it free.

Warranting its own mini-paragraph is the M. Asam Magi Fini BB cream (on the right in the small pot with a green lid).  I received this BB cream in a beauty box aeons ago, and was hoarding the last few precious… drops?  Swipes?  Blobs?  I adored the cream-to-powder finish and found the color was truly adaptable, in the way that early BB creams promised to be.  I have no idea where this is sold in North America, but it’s worth picking up if you come across it.

From the Shower

I emptied out my bottle of The Body Shop Almond Shower Gel (a perfect base for gourmand perfumes!), used up a tube of St. Ives Naturally Clear Blemish Fighting Apricot Cleanser (an accidental purchase; I thought they’d repackaged the Apricot Scrub and didn’t realize this was actually a different, less-effective product) and bid adieu to the last few drops of Head and Shoulders in the travel-sized bottle that I brought on my beach getaway in August.  My hair looks awesome when I’m at the beach, but I always find that my scalp feels kind of icky unless I use Head and Shoulders every few days to get rid of salt and sand buildup that my regular shampoos just can’t battle.

Body Care

I used up a B. Kamins maple-infused body lotion sample, which I wasn’t particularly fond of.  I also used up the last few drops of the Nuxe Huile Prodigeuse that I got in this travel kit.  Besides leaving my limbs beautifully hydrated, this has one of the best scents known to man.  A few months ago I also ordered a one-ounce sample of the Makeup Artist’s Choice Glycolic Acid body wash, which I will definitely buy full-sized in my next order as I loved its gentle exfoliating properties.


Looking at all the skincare products I used up, you’d have to think my skin is perfect, right?  It’s actually not that bad, but I’m not sure it reflects the ridiculous amount of expensive product samples that I end up slathering all over it.

I used two sheet masks this month: the Etude House Pearl Extract mask and a Baksshi Aloe Vera mask that I got as a freebie from Ipsy.  I also used up my second bottle of Roc Micellar cleansing water, which I still love (even if it doesn’t make me look like a French girl).  I also finished up my full-size jar of Ole Henrikson’s Invigorating Night Gel, which didn’t deliver the exfoliation that I’d hoped for.

I finally used up a mini bottle of Estee Lauder’s Idealist Even Skintone Illuminator, which was pretty much like every other pearlescent illuminating lotion on the market, and also made it through a sample tube of Bioderma’s Sebium Global “intensive purifying care” lotion for acne-prone faces.  I used up a bizarre sample of Prevage “advanced anti-aging serum”, which had a distinctly fishy smell and warned that I should patch-test for THREE DAYS before applying it to my face.  Umm… that much patch-testing would pretty much use up the entire sample.

I tossed an unused sample of Origins GinZing eye cream because I was concerned that its formula would clog the pores around my eyes and/or lead to milia, as I read a number of reviews that suggested this was a possibility.

And hands are skin too, so I sadly said goodbye to yet another bottle of Gloves in a Bottle, my miracle winter hand cream.

Bits and Pieces

Since I’m weird, I also saved the packaging from a package of cotton rounds, a piece of cardboard from an empty box of Q-tips and the tube from my dentist-recommended Sensodyne toothpaste.

Three cheers for starting fall with at least six square inches of extra space on my bathroom counter again!

WPC: Skopje at Night


I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Skopje one evening, but it definitely wasn’t this!  Macedonia Square, also known as Plostad Makedonija, is a gigantic plaza in the heart of the city.  I was there in the summer when the huge fountains changed along with the music being piped through the square.  This week’s photo challenge is about nighttime, and Skopje at night remains one of my favorite evening memories.

Unboxing: A Gift from Hudson’s Bay

hudsons bay beauty gift

The other day I saw a Tweet from @davelackie about a special event at a department store near my mom’s house.  To me, listening to a one-hour presentation about makeup and then taking home a goody bag full of $150 worth of free beauty products is the perfect mother-daughter bonding experience, so I signed us both up for some of the limited, reserved seating and made the drive to my parents’ house for the weekend.

The presentation itself was okay.  Dave Lackie is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter because he’s always giving away great prizes to his followers (I have yet to win, sadly), and he was joined at the Hudsons Bay-sponsored event by a makeup artists from the UK named Nina Westbury.  Dave did most of the talking during the presentation (he was enthusiastic and definitely aware of runway trends), which allowed my mom and I to focus intently on Nina’s own makeup.  I’m not sure if she’d done her makeup “for the cameras” or something, but her stripey blush and heavy-handed eyeshadow didn’t exactly inspire confidence.  Nina does seem to have experienced professional success, so maybe she’s one of those people who is better at doing other people’s makeup than her own.

The highlight of the event, obviously, was the goody bag valued at $150.  We were able to pick them up after the presentation inside the store.  We waited until we were home to open the bags, and I was happy to discover I’d need the  help of some old jewelry boxes to take a two-tiered photo of everything that was inside for you!  My goody bag included:

  • Thierry Mugler Womanity (mini bottle)
  • Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps (mini bottle with birds on the stopper!)
  • Philosophy Living Grace
  • Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll mascara (trial size, not in photo as used immediately!)
  • Philosophy Hope in a Jar
  • Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Skin Balancing Lotion
  • St. Tropez One Night Only Body Lotion (retail travel size)
  • Lise Watier lipgloss (I think I received the same shade in a beauty box a year ago?)
  • Biotherm Blue Therapy Serum-in-Oil
  • Origins Ginzing moisturizer (sachet)
  • Clinique Repairware Laser Focus
  • Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair
  • Clarins eye makeup remover
  • Lancome Advanced Genifique
  • Roger & Gallet Fleur de Figuier body wash, body lotion and perfume vial
  • A huge black and white makeup case

So basically I’ll never get another wrinkle in my life, and I’ll probably smell pretty good too.

This event is over and I doubt there will be a second opportunity to get exactly the same bag from Hudson’s Bay.  However, companies are always looking for opportunities to connect loyal (or just interested!) customers with samples of free beauty products.  To find out about similar events and giveaways in your own area, use social media like Instagram and Twitter to follow the big beauty insiders, and the upscale beauty vendors, in your area.  Following indie or niche beauty brands is a good idea too.  When you make a purchase at a department store or beauty boutique, don’t be afraid to ask for samples of other products you might be interested in purchasing.  You can also sign up with sites like Influenster, who help companies find potential customers to review and share their products.

WPC: Enduring Painted Monasteries


The Bucovina region is famous for its painted monasteries.  Here, at Mânăstirea Moldovița, it is believed that the paint on the exterior of the monastery has miraculously endured more than five hundred years of harsh weather conditions, remaining bright and colorful even today.  Considering that I can barely survive a typical workday or a trans-Atlantic flight, we’ve got to give these monasteries some credit (miracle or not!).

Unboxing: Topbox September 2014


Seeing as I brought you a full Ipsy unboxing two days ago, I thought I’d keep my Topbox September 2014 unboxing quick and dirty.  In summary, sometimes one big-ticket item makes an otherwise dull beauty box worthwhile.  Topbox rarely delivers a big-ticket item, so it was a pleasant surprise to find one in my tube this month.

Lancome’s Visionnaire Advanced Multi-Correcting Cream is a daily moisturizer designed to be used after a facial serum.  The full-size of this product is 50 ml and retails for $92, which makes this 15 ml sample worth $27.60.  As the entire box cost $12, I feel that I got my money’s worth this month.  And to be honest, it’s not just about the price, it’s about finally receiving the type of upscale, high-end, luxurious beauty products I was promised when I initially signed up for Topbox about two years ago.  Topbox no longer promises that the products in their tubes will be upscale, but they also haven’t openly explained to long-term subscribers why they’ve gone so downmarket in the last eight months or so.

The other three samples are what I consider to be in line with Topbox’s more downmarket offerings.  I’ve seen the Amika dry shampoo in some US beauty boxes this month, so the brand is either doing a big blitz or dumping old stock.  It is apparently sold at professional salons, but I’ve been salon-shopping lately and not seen the brand in any of the upscale places I’ve investigated.  Topbox quotes the value by volume (per milliliter), but the packaging is labeled by weight (in grams).

I also received a 15 ml tube of Bioderma Sebium Foaming Gel, an anti-acne face wash.  In my next Empties post I will be reviewing the corresponding moisturizing cream, which I recently used up.  I don’t really have acne-prone skin but I might toss this in my gym bag or save it for period-related breakouts.  The value of this 15 ml sample is only $1.5, and it’s also worth noting that it contains the same volume of product as the Lancome cream (that shows what a little packaging magic can do!).

The last product is the biggest disappointment.  I received a bottle of Teeez nail polish in “Spa Retreat”, a metallic dark green.  Not only have I received a blue-green Teeez polish from Topbox before, but this is old stock from the brand’s 2012 City Trip collection.  Topbox used to promise to deliver new, exciting, on-trend beauty samples, which means two-year-old nail polish from a repeat brand is once again not in line with the service that I subscribed to way back when.

Although I’m happy about receiving a Lancome skincare product, I’m once again underwhelmed by my monthly Topbox.  I much prefer my Ipsy bag, which arrived more quickly, contained products that are new (to the market, and to me) and only cost a dollar or two more.  I only recommend subscribing to subscriptions I really love, so if you’ve been thinking about swapping your Topbox for Ipsy, or just signing up for your first beauty box (in Canada or the US), feel free to follow my link to Ipsy.


Unboxing – Ipsy September 2014


Things that make me happy: deliveries that arrive early!  Ipsy allowed me to take a sneak peek at what would be included in my glam bag this month, so I’ve known for a week or two what would be inside.  Initially I wasn’t particularly excited, but when I opened up the pretty pink envelope this afternoon I was pleasantly (un)surprised by the contents.  (I was also surprised by the cute gray bag they were packed in; I really like the understated look, and the weirdly-soft feel, of this month’s makeup bag!)


My Ipsy September 2014 glam bag included three different color cosmetics.  Cailyn is not a brand I have seen outside of Ipsy, but this tube of lipgloss (in the shade “Basic Instinct”) looks like the perfect neutral to keep in my desk drawer.  I also received a mini Pacifica eye pencil in “Fringe”, a basic brown.  It’s been a while since I used a liner that wasn’t black, so this might be a welcome change to my eye makeup routine.  Finally, I received a NYX eyeshadow in “Asphyxiation”, a shimmery navy blue.  I can definitely see myself using this with a damp eyeliner brush to line my eyes for an evening out.


My Ipsy glam bag also included two products that weren’t makeup.  First, there was an eyeshadow brush by Crown Brush.  This dual-ended brush has a regular shadow brush on one side, and a crease-specific brush on the other end.  I have a few eyeshadow palettes that I haven’t opened up yet, and this new brush will make blending and softening the colours that much easier.  The last product is a Briogeo “Don’t Despair, Repair” hair mask.  I still have a hair mask by Eva NYC that I received a few glam bags ago, but with winter coming up and my hair being colour-treated, I know this will be used very shortly!

Ipsy subscriptions cost about $15 US per month when shipped to Canada.  They always arrive promptly and they do consider your beauty profile when deciding which products to send.  It’s super-easy to subscribe here, and remember that you can usually skip the waiting list by sharing your subscriber status on Facebook.