Weekly Photo Challenge – Reward

blossom prairies

It’s been a while since I’ve done a weekly photo challenge!  This week’s theme is reward, and it took me a little while to think of a photo that I associated strongly with rewards.  I finally settled on this photo, taken in a local park one March or April a few years ago.  We tend to have long, cold, dry winters, and when the snow melts it’s so gray and dusty that it’s hard to imagine anything could ever live here.  But if you look closely you might see a tiny little blossom, like this one, peeking through the dry, dead grass, and you’ll know that spring, your reward for sticking around through yet another winter, is about to arrive!

Unboxing – Ipsy February 2015


I received my Ipsy February 2015 bag on Thursday, and by the time I decided to do my unboxing this morning (Saturday) I had to run all over my house looking for the different products, because I liked them so much I’d already started using them!  In other words, this month’s bag was a definite winner!  Everything came packed inside a front-zip pink and gray bag (the back is solid pink as you will see from my last photo), and there were a number of fragile items that had been carefully packed inside individual plastic bags to prevent leaking, spilling and breaking.  Smart move, Ipsy!


The first item that I pulled from my Ipsy February 2015 bag was this Model Co. blush in Peach Bellini, a soft, peachy-pink shade with just a touch of shimmer.  I can see why some people compare this blush with the famous Nars Orgasm shade, and because I could tell right away that this shade would be universally flattering, I wore it to work on Friday morning!  Model Co. blush retails for $22.


I also received a Mitchell and Peach face oil.  I hadn’t heard of Mitchell and Peach before, but I am a huge fan of facial oils.  I truly believe that there is a face oil for every skin type, and after reading the ingredients on this product I was comfortable applying it to my face right away.  I’ve worn it to bed two nights in a row, and both times I’ve felt that my skin was soft and healthy in the morning.  I was inspired to learn more about the company, and found that they are a family-owned company that makes bath, body and beauty products using ingredients grown on their own farm in the UK!  This sample is half the size of the full-size product, and when you factor in the exchange rate it’s worth about $23.


A third product that I am literally wearing right now is this China Glaze polish in Marry a Millionaire.  This is a clear polish with very dense purple, green, blue and silver glitter.  I did one coat of purple polish as a base, and one coat of this glitter on top, and the effect was fully opaque and brilliantly dazzling.  It’s also quite pretty; not so much Studio 54 as sunlight reflecting off dew-covered flowers in spring.  This shade is a few years old, so it can be found online for about $7.


I was really excited to receive my second perfume sample in my Ipsy February 2015 bag.  I’ve been a subscriber for almost a year, and I’m a huge perfume fanatic, so I’ve always felt a little sad when I’ve seen other people receive scents that I haven’t.  Based on the description on Ipsy, Joya Composition No. 1 perfume oil has a fresh fruity opening, middle notes based on white florals, and then a sandalwood-musk finish.  I haven’t applied this fragrance yet, but sniffing the little rollerball suggests a very soapy opening, which would appeal to people who like clean scents (such as Aire Loewe or Prada Infusion d’Iris).  This sample is worth $15.


The last product, and the one that I hadn’t touched until this unboxing, was an eyeshadow single in the shade Headhunter, by a company called Medusa’s Makeup.  I’m not familiar with this brand and this particular product is made in China.  I highly prefer matte shadows over shimmery ones, and I’m worried that the eggplant shade will make someone with my coloring look like they’ve got a black eye.  If I do end up wearing this eyeshadow I will probably use it as a liner, by dipping a cotton swab (or liner brush, if I can find one!) into water and applying it damp.  This shadow retails for $8.


I also received a bonus item in my Ipsy February 2015 beauty bag!  I know that some subscribers received this Ayres Patagonia Body Butter in their bags a few months ago, so when I saw that I could redeem some Ipsy points for my own little tub I had to click “redeem”!  This body butter has an earthy, organic scent that really brings to mind an upscale spa.  It probably wouldn’t layer well with many perfumes, but it’s a great texture and the scent is indulgent when worn alone.  Subscribers can earn Ipsy points by reviewing products and sharing their bags on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (sadly, you don’t get points for writing unboxing blog posts!).

Overall, this was a fantastic month for my Ipsy bag.  Unlike the lackluster Birchbox Canada (my February Birchbox hasn’t even arrived yet!), Ipsy sent me a beauty bag that I feel is highly personalized and that has already been put to good use.  The value is outstanding as well; I paid $15 USD for the bag, and (excluding the bonus item) it was valued at $75!  I know the exchange rate isn’t great for Canadians, but when you are getting high-quality products that you will actually use, Ipsy is a real bargain.  You can subscribe or find out more about Ipsy here.

Unboxing – Ipsy January 2015

This unboxing is very late!  I am expecting my February 2015 Ipsy bag to arrive in a few days, but I’m just now getting around to sharing my bag from Ipsy in January.  I’m sorry!


January 2015 might have been my least favorite month with Ipsy yet.  (On the plus side, I’ve seen what I’m getting in February and it looks a lot better!)  All of the goods were packed in a cute makeup bag that was white on one side and blue on the other, with an orange zip across the top.  Inside, I found five products.

  • Velvet 59 Velvet Rose Lipgloss in Noisette.  I’ve never heard of this brand before and, to be honest, I have more nude lipgloss than I could ever need. The brand claims that this retails for $19, but I have a hard time believing anyone ever bought it for that price.
  • Pacifica Natural Mineral Coconut Eyeshadow.  I’m pretty sure I received the same eyeshadow back in May 2014, and I haven’t opened that one either (I actually tried to give it to my mom, but she didn’t want it…).  It’s not that I don’t like Pacifica or the shade, it’s that I have lots of nude eyeshadow that is already open that I am committed to using up.  Also, I kind of prefer matte shades for their staying power.  Retail price unknown as I can only find it as part of a palette that is about $13.
  • Hikari Mechanical Eyeliner in Storm.  Sadly, this one didn’t get great reviews over on Ipsy, which is why I’ve delayed opening it.  I like the idea of a slate gray liner, but I’m seeing a lot of feedback suggesting that this doesn’t go on smoothly.  This apparently retails for $13.
  • Elizabeth Mott Eyeshadow Brush.  This is the third eyeshadow brush I’ve received from Ipsy, so I haven’t bothered opening it.  It sells for $10.
  • Eco-Beauty by LA Fresh Day Moisturizer.  I used to get a lot of LA Fresh stuff in my Beauty Box 5, and I was never a big fan.  I would be worried about putting their products on my face were it not for the good reviews from other Ipsy subscribers.  Sadly, this “day moisturizer” doesn’t have any SPF, so it’s best for people who spend their days in caves and other dark places.  The full size of this retails for $40, but for that price I’d go to a department store and get a great day moisturizer with SPF during one of their upscale brands’ bonus offers.

Despite the high retail value of all of the products in my bag this month, I will get little use out of them (and, I suspect the prices might be a little inflated).  A friend of mine is a high school drama teacher and I might just donate these products to their stage makeup collection.  Except for one product, that is!


There was one other product in my Ipsy bag in January 2015!  I redeemed some Ipsy rewards points for this NYX Butter Lip Balm in Ladyfinger.  I loved the texture of the Butter Lip Balm that I received in an earlier bag, but the shade (Marshmallow) was very pale and had yellow undertones that didn’t flatter my pale, cool-toned skin.  This Ladyfinger gloss is going to look a lot better, and it’s probably going to be the first thing I open and use this month!

Overall it was a bit of a disappointing month from Ipsy, and the sting is a little stronger considering that with the dropping Canadian dollar the cost of the bag has got closer to $20 CAD for subscribers in Canada.  However, I’m excited about my February bag (I’m expecting blush, perfume and face oil, plus some other goodies!) and will definitely stay subscribed for a while longer.

Mealtime Monday – An Ode to Olives

vegetarian pizza with olives

It was this exact pizza that made me fall in love with olives.  Before this pizza, I would pick the little slices of canned black olives off of my pizza.  Before this pizza, I would only pick up the nachos that didn’t have any olives even touching them.  You see, before this pizza I had never encountered a whole, pit-in olive!  How bizarre is that?  Just today I went to the supermarket and filled a jar with all sorts of fresh olives from their olive bar.  All it took was this pizza to make me see both the error in my ways, and the error in ever allowing olives to be sliced and packaged in those gross little cans.  If you happen to be in Ohrid, Macedonia, stop by Pizzeria Leonardo and you too may experience a culinary awakening!

Empties – January 2015


I took a little hiatus from blogging there, mostly because my trusty camera was in the shop for repairs.  The front closure wasn’t closing over the lens properly so it got all scratched up in my purse; fortunately I had purchased an extended warranty plan three years ago and it was still covered!  I can’t imagine parting with my trusty Canon Powershot SX260 (it doesn’t have wifi but it has great GPS and a 20x optical zoom… and it’s pink!) and I’m starting to think about buying a Canon D30 (which is waterproof up to 33 meters, I believe) for my upcoming holiday in Central America.

While I was away I managed to use up quite a few products.  There are few things in life as satisfying as sweeping all the empties off the bathroom counter, snapping a photo of them and then tossing them away forevermore.  So, what were my January empties?

  • Live Clean Smoothing Facial Scrub.  This was my favorite Live Clean Fresh Face product.
  • Clean and Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleaner.  You won’t see many repeats in my empties, but I know I’ve shown this before.  This is my holy grail skincare product that helps me beat workout-related breakouts on my chest.  Buy it on Amazon here and never take a post-gym shower without it again.
  • Olay Satin Care shave gel.  It works.
  • Two products in tubs.  On top there is some kind of Alberto hair paste that I used a handful of times a few years ago and then didn’t touch again.  On the bottom there is a tub of Free Spirit Botanicals sea salt scrub, which is my favorite salt scrub.
  • The pretty pink bottle is Amika Perk Up dry shampoo, which I think I got in either a Topbox or an Ipsy bag.  I loved the pretty smell of this dry shampoo.
  •  Speaking of pretty smells, I feel like using up two Secret deodorants this month makes me seem rather smelly!  In fact, one of them was unopened and found in the bottom of a drawer; it expired before I remembered it was there.
  • My sample bottle of Vichy Purete Thermale foaming cleanser exploded in my luggage on my way home from a recent trip.  Fortunately I pack my toiletries inside a waterproof kit which I then wrap in plastic bags, so nothing was ruined.
  • Etude House Milk Talk body wash smells like strawberries.  I used a few samples of this body wash this month, and still have one pack let.
  • Bioderma Sebium Purifying Foaming Cleanser would have been great on my teenaged skin, but it’s a little too drying for me now that I’m in my thirties and live in a freezing cold mountain range!
  • Carol’s Daughter Sacred Tiare Styling Cream smelled like a tropical cocktail and hydrated the ends of my hair nicely.  This is one that I would actually repurchase as a full-sized product if it were sold in stores near me.
  • Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion facial scrub had a gritty, fine texture and didn’t melt away at first contact with water.  Although I love the texture, it was very strongly scented and I worry about the impact of that extreme scent on my skin during the exfoliation process.
  • Clinique Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief is a decent moisturizer, but nothing special.
  • That Carmex lip balm had a cherry scent and nice tingle… along with SPF!  Don’t ever leave home without SPF lip balm!
  • And finally, I am tossing a bunch of perfume miniatures that I think were already off when I received them.  A bunch of them were “classic” scents that have been discontinued for a while, and I think they were stored improperly by the online vendor who I ordered them from.  When you are buying discontinued scents online make sure to proceed with caution!

So there you have it, readers!  My January empties!  What great products did you use up this month?

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!

WPC – 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…)