Saturday, July 5, 2014

Birchbox man: July 2014 review

The box is like a very impractical cardboard drawer. But isn't it cute manly? 

I have become an elite member of society, distinguishing myself from the common vermin that plague the majority of the surface of the world. I've earned this new position by paying $20 a month to an online company that sends me fancy soaps and lotions every month. Because of this, I look and smell like a 1970s department store mannequin. It’s fantastic. This month’s Birchbox was delivered far earlier than anticipated, which certainly helped boost that impatiencey vibe I've had going on lately. It contained a few surprises, the lifestyle item not being one of them, because I cheated and watched a “preview” video before obtaining my box-o-loot. Also, I need to point out that like 90% of the people that review Birchbox have a similar table as me. Enough chit-chat let’s get cracking on this review.

If I didn't want to, I wouldn't even have to look at the items in the box.

Alfred Lane “Bravado” Solid Cologne:  This is a cologne that you don't spritzing on, rather, you dab your fingers into the waxy concoction and massage it onto your "pulse points". Despite using cologne very infrequently, and never in the past while on vacation, I would say the tin and solid-state makes it a decent travel companion; though a little on the quiet side and terrible at road trip bingo. The scent is described as having hints of tobacco, gun smoke and victory. If a campfire decided to attend a Halloween party dressed as a sexy cowboy, it would smell like this. It’s a very manly scent, but since that term is in constant flux I would say it’s the Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday sort of manly, rather than the Val Kilmer as Ice Man.

Does it smell like a sexy campfire in here to anyone else? 

Clinique For Men SPF 24 Moisturizer: It being the 4th of July this weekend, and me being an American, I played baseball (or Chicago ball, I should say. It’s similar to baseball except it’s slow pitch and requires no gloves because the ball is so large and soft). And because I played baseball, I was out in the hot sun, which gave me a chance to use something that has become absolutely necessary after living in Washington State for over 3 years; Sunscreen. Now normally it is not a necessity, but because it was actually sunny outside for a change, I was going to have my newly developed vitamin D deficiency challenged. I didn't burn and it wasn't greasy like other sunscreens, so it worked!   

You mean I can moisturize my face while protecting it from the evil sun? 
Coola After-Sun Lotion: I ventured out last week and made a lemon meringue pie completely from scratch for the first time in my life. It was absolutely beautiful. The crust was buttery and flaky, the filling tart and fresh, and the meringue was thick and perfectly browned on top, becoming an excellently sweet compliment to the other components of the dessert. Had I been so inclined (and it was tempting) to place my face gently into the center of the pie dish and then rub it around for a while, it would have smelled about the same as this after-sun lotion did. The product worked well enough, but I have found greater relief from the sun with a simple bottle of aloe vera with a less powerful smell.

Warning: Not Edible

Number 4 Hair Hydrating Shampoo (and Conditioner): I received a generous sized sample bottle of the shampoo and then a small foil packet of the conditioner. Smell is a huge factor in my enjoyment of these samples, and this one wasn't unpleasant. It did, however make me think back to when I was 9 years old and spending the weekend at my grandparents and they decided my hair was far too long for a respectable young man and that it ought to be cut by their personal barber who happened to work at the nearest fantastic Sams and had an incredibly thick Vietnamese accent (run on sentence! it was going to be longer but I got lazy). It smelled like that trip. A little of this stuff goes a long way, I put, what I thought was a conservative amount onto my hand and lathered it right up. Within seconds it was as if I was massaging a smooth mixture of soft serve ice cream and peanut butter onto my scalp. In texture, that is not smell.
The conditioner had a simple, clean smell to it. unlike other conditioners I’ve used in the past, it washed out. It’s always a nice feature, when you can wash the conditioner out of your hair, because who has time to wait an hour before your hair stops feeling like pond scum? Also it made my hair silky smooth.
"He must have just come from the salon; look at that hair!

Harry’s Truman Razor: It has been close to three years since I used a cartridge razor. As it stands I’m a firm “double sided safety razor” kind of guy. I love my Merker, and enjoy a closer shave at a fraction of the price. I’ll say this for the “Truman Razor”: it offers a ton of flexibility. You can shave any which way and the flexible head will bend to your every will. It offers a close shave and comes in a variety of stylish colors to match… you know, stuff. The handle, though as stylish as Danny Zuko, is made of plastic. Just like every American man, I received a gillette razor in the mail for my 18th birthday for free, and that was a stylish razor that felt far more sturdy(and had a precision trimmer to boot!). I also miss the double sided nature of a safety razor. I could have two good swipes without having to rinse, with the cartridges I was forced to rinse twice as often. If only the handle were slightly longer, I could have had a decent tool to combat unsightly back hair. When I finally decide to shave my chest hair into the Batman logo, I'll have the correct tool for the job.

It's the razor your face deserves, just not the one it needs right now. 

Conclusion: The Razor was honestly a bit of a disappointment. I knew that it might be coming, but expected a sturdy construction. It gave a decent shave, but not near enough of one to sway me from my current routine. My hair is silky soft, and my skin is glowing (I hope that's normal). The cologne was my favorite bit this month, it has unique and convenient packaging, and smells pretty great. The beauty of Birchbox is the veriety you get in stuff to try. If you like something from your box, you can buy it from their online store with free shipping.

If you're interested in signing up for Birchbox yourself, I'll give you my referral link so that I can glean from your impulsive lifestyle get points for your decision. They have a women's box as well, it's $10 a month and does not include a lifestyle item.

Check out my review of June's box here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Everything's Free at the Library!

A credit card you never have to pay off. 

They were right! They were all right! The library is absolutely fantastic! Before this starts sounding like a min-90s PSA for the benefits provided to the community by the library and the cultural and sentimental value it provides, I want to just emphasize this one fact: everything is free at the library. Probably the single biggest physical media cache in your area is offering everything it has for you to borrow, for free. If it isn't at your particular library, you can go online and literally have other libraries send you what you want. Sure it's not going to satisfy the instant gratification offered by internet services, and maybe it won't be as quick as ordering a movie or book off of Amazon prime. BUT IT'S FREE!

My local library has an online catalog that allows me to log into my account and search for items at any library in the county. I can reserve items and when they're available I get an e-mail saying it is available for me to pick up at my local branch. Look into doing this for yourself. I have consumed thousands of dollars worth of books and movies over the last few years of rediscovering the library. Here are examples of what the library has to offer.

Cascades of books!
Books: Kind of a no brainier, but when I moved up to Washington, I decided to spice up my evenings by reading this author I had heard about by the name of H.P Lovecraft. At this point in my life I was living in a trailer on my future in-laws driveway. Needless to say, my discovery of the father of modern horror was a fun re-introduction to the free bookstore.

It's like reading, but with more pictures.

Comic Books: Back in the day, my library card was solely used to rent absence amounts of Garfield comic collections. I spent hours, reading funnies in the library, and when it was time to go checking them out by the dozens. That has remained largely the same, with the addition of graphic novels and larger more "serious" comic collections. Lately I've started the Sandman, Astonishing X-men, and Bone series. Anytime a new Marvel film approaches theaters, I tend to rent a few comics in the series, most of which are in the system.

E-ink is your grandma's technology. 

E-books: I literally don't even have to leave my house to access the most convenient form of reading there is. I own a Kindle Fire HD and am capable of borrowing library books for free in the Kindle format. I download the book and it stays on all my devices for 2 weeks (after which I can renew or request to borrow it again at the soonest time possible). I then can access it on my kindle, phone and any web browser I have access to. 

Fine cinematic art is at your disposal.

Movies: This method takes far more patience than is culturally customary. It's not Netflix, VOD or Hulu or any other service that equates to instant gratification. It's not even Redbox, but it's cheaper than all of those options. What I've found to be effective is to keep a running list of movies that I want to watch eventually on my library account. Right now I have Saving Mr. Banks, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Apocalypto sitting at home. I only watch about 3/4 of the movies I check out from the library, but my options are always there, and sometimes I can find DVD's that aren't available for streaming at all. 

It's like a physical iTunes.

Music and Audio Books: Seemingly the biggest loophole in the RIAA's ongoing war against illegal music downloads seems to be sanctioned by the US government. Libraries offer a huge collection of music on CD, again you can request any album in the system across multiple libraries in the area. Even more attractive to me as a commuter is the vast array of audio books available over multiple formats. These things sell for large chunks of money and you're probably only going to listen to them once. Or you can just borrow one and call it good.

You can get even more from your local library, everything from community events, free usage of the latest consumer reports and a number of other programs. It's one big free bookstore, and there are tons of them all over the country. Utilize them, they are fantastic. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

BirchBox June 2014 Review

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try the Birchbox subscription for men. Birchbox sends me a box once a month for $20. Included in this box are grooming samples suited to my profile preferences, as well as one "lifestyle item" (which was a pretty nifty wallet this month). I received my first box yesterday and have since tried out everything in the box. This is what I thought.

This is what the box looked like, it had a little slide out drawer that contained everything.

Each box contains a card explaining what you're looking at.

Smurf Skin Wallet.
 J Fold brand card carrier: This is a slim wallet that's designed to hold just a few cards along with some cash. I got the blue one. I switched to a slim wallet a while back and have absolutely loved it. I'm giving it the ol' college try, switching out my $4 slimclip. This wallet doesn't hold as much as my slimclip, only about five cards. But it has the added benefits of being both soft and looking like it's made from Paul Bunyan's blue ox. If you haven't at least tried a slim wallet, it's well worth consolidating your wallet, especially if you're still carrying around a thick bi-fold walled it your back pocket. 

Almond Tart and Sand Face Wash.

Baxter of California Facial Scrub: My favorite sample. This facial scrub was like taking a Dutch almond tart, mixing it with gravel and sand and then rubbing it on your face; but in a good way. It's an exfoliating scrub that is recommended to be used twice a week. The exfoliation is a coarse sandy texture that works to remove dead skin and such. Also, it smells like a delicious pastry and leaves your skin feeling like dolphin hide. 

Hotel Soap That You Swipe While on Vacation.
Proper Bar Soap: This soap was nice, but it was essentially a glorified hotel bar soap. It lathered up nicely and had a very "standard clean" smell to it. My skin felt not overly dry like it did in my "Irish Spring" days. That being said, I don't think I would spend $10 for a full sized bar, not unless it was made from goat milk and kumquats.

The cheapest Fancy Shaving Cream!
Proraso Shave Cream: I like this shaving cream. So much that I am currently still working through the bar soap version of this shaving cream right now. Still, I gave this a shot to see if there are any differences. If there are, they are too few to notice. The shaving cream uses eucalyptus and menthol to add a refreshing kick to your shaving routine. It's not going to make your face feel like freshly brushed teeth, but it's a nice refreshing feel. If you get distracted while shaving and take too long to complete the task the cream dries and flakes, making the shave less than perfect. This is easily avoided if you just shave in a timely manner.

Concentrated Island Smells in a Bottle.
English Laundry; Tahitian Waters Cologne:  I don't wear Cologne often, but this was a pleasant enough scent. The name is apt, it has smells of coconut palm trees with that standard, sharp scent familiar to all cologne and perfume products. Fun little sample, not an overly strong scent but enough to add a little something extra to your routine.  

Conclusion: I tried out every sample within a span of six hours. The last time I wore that much fancy stuff was on my wedding day, and even then I didn't have the nice shaving cream. The wallet is practical and a nice upgrade, something I'll be using for a while. The rest of the box offered a chance to broaden my pool of grooming products, but the only two I could see myself potentially buying more of is the shaving cream (since I already buy it) and the facial scrub. As an inaugural box goes, it wasn't too bad at all. Not disappointing and can't wait for the next box.

If you're interested in signing up, here is a link to the program (yes it's a referral link and will help me out if you sign up through it).  It's $20 for the Men's box and $10 for the Women's. The Women's box omits the lifestyle item (the wallet in this instance)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Animal Translator

Three things happened in the last year that convinced me to make a video where I give voice to animals. 1) I received video editing software for Christmas from my wife. 2) I bought a microphone off of amazon and wasn't entirely sure what to do with it. 3) The most important reason was that I recently emptied the contents of my media library from my phone and stumbled upon some videos from the zoo and of my cats. Now I know what you're thinking: "Wow! Narrating animals for humor?! That's such a marvelous idea, I can't believe no one else thought of that!". And you're right. I'm shocked too. The idea of giving artificial personality to animals is a vast untapped oil well of creative humor, and I am the first person to ever stumble upon it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers Day 2014

A couple days before Father's Day, I was e-mailed by my mother to put together a short, 30-60 second video explaining to our church back home what my Dad had taught me. This e-mail was sent out not only to myself, but to the remaining seven offspring. So, that night I handed my wife my phone, told her when to hit record and strung together some images and recorded a little narrative to express all the things my Dad taught me. Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Months of LootCrate

I've been enamored with the idea of monthly subscriptions for a good little while now. I'm not talking about magazine subscriptions, but receiving actual physical goods once a month. I have, however never been able to justify shelling out $40 every 30 days for the Bacon of the month club (as tempting as that genuinely is). It wasn't until about five months ago that an advertisement for Loot Crate popped up in my Facebook news-feed that I bit.

LootCrate is a monthly subscription service that caters largely to nerds/geeks/what-have-you. Falling somewhere in that demographic I was drawn to the idea of receiving monthly boxes full of toys, candy, stickers, T-shirts and other junk. I say junk because, as absolutely fun as it was, that's all it really ended up amounting to. I paid $20 a month, I received a themed crate. This crate was a small cardboard box filled with items pertaining to that months theme. In the four months that I was a subscriber the themes were: "Warriors", "Titans", "Dragons" and "Adventure". 

It's legitimately a solid idea, and great fun for those that it works for. My main problem was this: I wasn't geeky enough for it. The boxes each catered to a few select fan bases each month. I increasingly realized I fell into too few of these categories for it to be worth my money. I found myself watching cartoons and playing games for no other reason than I knew my next crate would be themed off of them. It was a fantastic way to broaden my nerdy horizons, but it was expensive and time consuming and I became increasingly underwhelmed with the loot. 

It's great if you enjoy it, and I really did enjoy it for a while, but in the end what I have to show for it is a shelf full of small figurines that are collecting dust, when I could have taken that $20 a month and purchase items far more tailored to my tastes. Still, I did end up with a pretty sweet bow tie.

Easily the best thing I received.

My next monthly subscription endeavor is BirchBox (that's my referral link!) it's a service that sends grooming samples once a month tailored to a profile you set up. Each month includes a "lifestyle" item that ranges from fitness jump ropes to tie clips (and bow ties!). These items are in addition to 4(ish) samples of men's grooming supplies. The idea being you try different things out, discover what you like and buy full sized items from their shop. The Men's subscription is $20 a month while Women's is $10 (the women's box doesn't come with aforementioned lifestyle item). I'll let you know how it turns out, but I'm legitimately excited about this one.