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The Travel Bug – Lewes, DE July 22, 2014

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Originally, my summer travel plans consisted solely of my August trip to California (to see my amazing sister and ADORABLE nephew).  But…sometimes I just get that bug, ya know?  When the walls I’m used to just won’t do, and when I’m dying to explore something new and different and exciting.  And it’s great when the travel itch can be scratched by driving just a few short hours away.  That’s exactly what happened when we spent July 4th weekend in Lewes, Delaware – and now I am completely enamored with “the first town in the first state.”

The real reason we chose to go to Lewes for the holiday weekend was…beer.  :-)  I found out the week before that Dogfish Head was opening a beer-themed inn in Lewes, which is more or less halfway between the brewery in Milton and the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach.  Hubby and I didn’t need much convincing, let’s just leave it at that.  But if you do, there have been a few articles written about the Inn – and Jason and I (and Jack!) really enjoyed our stay.  It is pricey, but the location can’t be beat (short walk to both beach and town), and the hospitality was top-notch.

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The beach at Lewes was another big draw for us – unlike the other area beaches, they allow dogs (before 8 AM and after 6:30 PM during high season, and all the time in the off-season).  I have never seen my puppy happier, or sleepier!  He and his mama had fun splashing around and chasing tennis balls in the waves – while daddy stayed in ankle-deep water, of course.  What can I say?  Jack and I are definitely the water babies of the family.

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There were tons of dog-friendly restaurants and shops, and even though there were obviously a lot of out-of-towners (it was July 4th weekend, after all), the whole town had a very relaxed, welcoming vibe.  But, there was still plenty to do – we opted for an afternoon of kayaking the Broadkill River, followed by a tour and tastings at the Dogfish Head brewery.

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Even in holiday traffic, Lewes was only about 2.5 to 3 hours away from DC.  It was also a pretty drive, between crossing the Bay Bridge and going through some quaint Delaware farmland.

I can’t believe it took me so long to “discover” Lewes and the surrounding beaches.  This fan of sand and surf is awfully glad to have them nearby!  I am already plotting my next trip…

Summer Sun Safety June 29, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Cycling, Pretty, Running, Swimming.
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For those who don’t know, I am a melanoma survivor – I was initially diagnosed and treated back in 1999, so ever since then I have been extra super diligent about protecting myself from UV rays.  Back in the day, that meant sucking it up and dealing with greasy, weird-smelling sunscreens that often clogged my pores.  Thankfully, in the years since my diagnosis, there has been tons of progress, even in the drugstore sun protection arena – but my favorite brand has to be Supergoop!

I first tried Supergoop! in a Birchbox – and as soon as I used the sample of the City Sunscreen Serum, I was hooked (and I have been using it ever since).  It is light and non-greasy, and it works amazing as a primer under makeup.  I feel good walking out the door every day, knowing that I have done something good for my skin.  But as much as I love the serum, Supergoop! has so much more to offer…

Through the Birchblogger network, I was chosen to take part in a Google Hangout with the founder of Supergoop!, Holly Thaggard.  In advance of the live chat, Birchbox sent four Supergoop! products for me to try.  DISCLOSURE: I received these products for free, but all of the opinions in this post are my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.

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The Everyday SPF 30 is, like its name suggests, a really great everyday sunscreen.  Yes, you should wear sunscreen every day!  It absorbs really quickly and doesn’t feel sticky or greasy.  Because it goes into skin rather than sitting on top of it, I felt like it really resisted a lot of sweat when I went walking with the doggie on hot, sunny mornings.  Of course, you need to give it time to sink in and then reapply if you do serious sweating/swimming, but since the scent is light and pleasant and the texture is nice and light, I think I’ll be much less hesitant to lather up repeatedly!

The Forever Young Hand Cream is the product I thought I’d like and need the least.  I am pretty good about moisturizing my hands (I truly believe your hands will tell your true age more than your face, if you don’t take care of them properly), and I honestly hadn’t thought about treating them any differently than the rest of my body when it came to sun protection.  But, this cream may have changed my mind!  Like all the Supergoop! products, the texture is divine – not greasy at all.  The scent is subtle, and for those of you who drive to work, the bottle fits in the cup holder so you can protect your hands while they are on the wheel!  A little of this cream goes a long way, so I think the 10-ounce bottle will last a long time.

The Anti-Aging Eye Cream is a freaking game changer for me.  Amazing.  It didn’t irritate my under-eye skin at all (and mine is VERY sensitive), and it was lightweight and soothing (the cooling tip applicator helps with the de-puffing).  Plus, it gives some extra SPF protection to an area that can really help keep you looking and feeling younger.  I am very excited to add this product to my daily routine.

The Mint Fusion Lip Balm may allow me to get rid of a few underperforming lip glosses.  It has a VERY subtle pinkish color, so it looks good on its own (I wore it to a party with a heavier eye, and it complimented the look beautifully).  But, you can also apply it over lipstick for shine AND sun protection.  Win win!  The mint flavor/scent was very mild – I would almost like a bit more.

I had such a good time testing all of the Supergoop! products, and I learned a lot from the Google Hangout.  Despite many years of being a serious sunscreen advocate, I picked up a lot of new tips (for example, I now know to put my sunscreen in the fridge for a cooling effect on hot summer days, and that drinking red wine the night before sun exposure can increase the risk of sunburn) and really enjoyed hearing all of the questions.  Supergoop! is definitely not an inexpensive line, but in my experience, the products are effective and long-lasting.  Much like Maria Sharapova (a devotee of the brand who recently became a co-owner!), I believe in the power of Supergoop! and will be using their products for a long time to come.  It’s so great for an active gal like myself to have reliable and skin-friendly sun protection!

Who else loves Supergoop! – and has anyone tried their new sunscreen oil?

Going Gaga for Yoga June 18, 2014

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After eating my way through San Francisco, I needed a pretty big reset on my (lack of) fitness routine.  Fortunately, my local Bikram studio was running a promotion for 30-days of unlimited classes for $99.  Ideally, they wanted the purchasers to try the 30-day challenge – at least one class every day for 30 days.  I felt like I could at least give it a try (and even if I didn’t take 30 classes, the per-class cost would be less than usual).

For those unfamiliar, Bikram yoga is a particular genre made popular by Bikram Choudhury in the early 70s.  Bikram Yoga classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises, practiced in a hot room (generally 104 degrees and 40% humidity).  The instructors typically use a standardized dialogue to lead students through the postures, but of course each teacher’s style varies.

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I had practiced Bikram off and on over the past few years, but this would be my first attempt in taking back to back (to back…to back…) classes.  During the first class, I felt exhausted and completely out of shape (but, it should be noted, that was all me – yoga is not about everyone being at the same level, and there is no judging).  I concentrated and tried to watch some of the more seasoned students, and even by the third or fourth class, I noticed significant improvement.  It’s just like anything else – the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Even though I noticed steady improvement, I had one particularly bad class where I felt like I was going to simultaneously pass out and throw up – blargh.  Because of the heat and the strenuous nature of the workout, you have to be very well-hydrated AND very well-nourished to sustain a serious practice.  That day, I hadn’t eaten nearly enough at work, and it showed almost immediately.  I didn’t make that mistake again!

Even though I only made it through 8 days of the 30-day challenge (that sounds a lot worse than it is – I just decided to vary my workouts and spend some quality time walking with my pup and biking), I definitely plan to make Bikram a regular part of my exercise routine.  When my marathon training starts in about a week, I can definitely see one or two classes a week being helpful in terms of flexibility and stamina.

And, of course, I want to eventually look like this in Standing Bow Pose:

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A girl can dream…right?  :-)

California Eatin’ June 7, 2014

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I’ll probably be writing a lot more about my fitness pursuits in the upcoming weeks, because holy cow did I eat a TON in California.  I feel like all we did was bounce from meal to meal to meal.  Not sayin’ it’s a bad thing, but after four months of business travel, it was the straw that broke the very overweight camel’s back.  Here are just a few examples of the deliciousness…

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Xiao long bao (soup dumpings) at Yank Sing

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Fried soft-shell crabs over a spring pea salad, cooked at home by my very talented chefly brother-in-law.

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Ridiculously awesome sushi goodness, including the best uni I have ever tasted, at Akikos.

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Dinosaur-sized sandwiches from The Deli Board.  Yes, we cleaned our plates!

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Lemon tart and eclair from our (second) trip to Tartine Bakery.

And that is only the food that stuck around long enough for a photo.  :-)  Trust me, there was more…

I’m going to back for a couple of weeks in August, so I guess I’d better get my ass in gear now!  Anyone want to go for a run?

Where have I been? June 1, 2014

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It’s amazing how time flies, isn’t it?  I can’t believe today is the first day of JUNE!  Even though I’ve gotten a couple of Birchboxes and another Stitch Fix since I last posted, I don’t think I’m going to be reviewing any of them individually.  I haven’t even tried all of the Birchbox products yet, and I only kept one item from my last Fix.  Oh, well.

The biggest reason for my absence?  Travel!  April was mostly work-related (as were January, February, and March – blargh), but then in May I finally headed west for some vacation time.  My sister lives in San Francisco, and she is having her first baby in a few weeks – squee!  I threw her a baby shower, and she got me this:

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Here are some other shots from a gorgeous day hanging out near the Ferry Building farmers market.  We really lucked out with the weather!

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The really important stuff – what we ate (hint: everything) – will come in another post.  California is delicious!

Stitch Fix review April 12, 2014

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I can’t remember where I first heard about Stitch Fix, but I knew I had to try it.  As much as I like shopping, I tend to gravitate toward the same types of items over and over again.  I suppose I could bring along a gal pal to help expand my horizons, but I am a very particular kind of shopper (the term “power shopper” has been used to describe me – I definitely don’t love to dally), and I’m not sure that would be productive for any of my friendships.  So, a “mail order” stylist seemed very much my speed.

Here’s the rundown: When you join Stitch Fix, you fill out a very detailed style profile, which includes, among other things, looking at various pieces and outfits and indicating how much (or how little) you like them.  You can schedule either monthly or ad hoc fixes.  From what I can tell, ad hoc fixes are taking about 2 months to schedule these days – the company has really gotten popular!  When the stylist starts pulling items for your fix, you’ll be charged a $20 styling fee – but, if you keep any items from the shipment, the $20 is a credit towards the merchandise (so the only way you “lose” your styling fee is if you decide not to buy any of the items selected for you).  Each fix contains 5 items, and they are tailored to the preferences you set when you join.  You have three days to try on the items, and you get the benefit of being able to try them on with pieces you already have in your wardrobe (which you can’t do in a store).  Then you just put everything you are not keeping in a pre-paid envelope and drop it in the mail.  If you decide to keep all 5 items, you get 25% off the order.

I was super excited to come home from a business trip to get my first fix!  When I opened the box, not only were the clothes packed beautifully in tissue, but there was also a note from my stylist explaining why she chose certain items for me AND some color cards with styling ideas for all of the pieces.

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Here is what I received:

41Hawthorn, Farah Fit and Flare Striped Dress ($68) – I wanted to love this so very badly, and it looked like it was going to be just my style when I saw it on the hanger.  However, it was way too tight on my upper half, which is weird because that isn’t usually my problem area in terms of fit.  Bummer!  Returned.

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Just Black, Kristy Skinny Jean ($78) – I loved that my stylist sent non-blue denim in my fix, but I was pretty darn skeptical about these pants fitting.  Much to my pleasant surprise, they were absolutely perfect – comfortable, stretchy, and super flattering.  Yay!  Kept.

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Pomelo, Ivy Tulip Print Tab Sleeve Blouse ($68) – I knew this was going to be a winner without even trying it on, but I tried it on with the black jeans anyway.  Score!  The pattern/color is something I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I really loved it.  The fit is just my style – loose and comfy, but still flattering.  It is a great transition piece from winter to spring.  Kept.

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Uttam, Angela Eyelet Asymmetrical Jacket ($124) – I was hoping this piece would work out, but no such luck.  I liked the shape of it, but it wasn’t a perfect fit (again, too tight on my torso – what is going on???) and the white eyelet thing was a bit too girly for my liking.  Plus, I always worry about stark white clothing, as I am notorious for spills.  For the price, I wasn’t going to keep this if I had even one doubt about its wearability.  Returned.

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41Hawthorn, Rowson Colorblock Striped Sweater ($58) – I was really surprised to like this piece, since I don’t think I would have grabbed it off the shelf myself.  I was also a bit annoyed at getting a sweater in my March fix, but it was really lightweight and soft, so I think it will be great for spring (plus, I had recently gotten rid of a few sweaters that had seen better days, so a refresh wasn’t the worst idea).  I wore it to work the next day and got a ton of compliments.  Kept.

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So, for my first fix, I kept 3 out of 5 items (not bad!) and spent $184.  For what I got and how long it took (when compared to in-store shopping), I feel like the price was very reasonable.  It was super simple to put the two “no” items in the bag and ship them back, and the online checkout was a breeze.  I made sure to let my stylist know what I thought about all the items and what sorts of things I might like in my next fix.

Yes, there will be a next fix – of course!  I don’t think I will ever commit to monthly shipments (that is just too much money to spend, and I don’t need that many clothes – plus, I’m not giving up on in-store shopping forever), but I went ahead and scheduled my next fix for the end of May, since I will want to incorporate a few more summery pieces into my wardrobe at that point.  I am really excited to see what my stylist will choose for me next!

Are you interested in trying Stitch Fix?  If so, here is a referral code/link for you: https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3498264

Plated review April 6, 2014

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It is no secret that I love to cook.  Heck, I used to write a food blog (RIP, Trouble With Toast) that centered primarily on my home cooking adventures.  However, you all know how it goes – in the hustle and bustle of life, it’s not always easy to shop, prep, and cook tasty (and hopefully healthy) meals for me and the hubs.

A friend started posting on Facebook about his experiences with Plated – a company that provides “chef-designed recipes and fresh ingredients delivered to your door.”  I have to admit, I was pretty darn skeptical.  But, he gave me a promo code for 1/2 off my first order, so I figured I’d give it a go.  And, it was nice that by placing an order, I was able to score my friend 2 free plates for himself.  What goes around comes around!

Generally, when you order from Plated, you pick from their weekly selection of meals/menus, and then you pick your delivery day.  If you don’t select your meals far enough in advance, they can sell out of particular ones.  I picked a delivery date pretty far in the future, so I was able to get two recipes I was genuinely interested in tasting – Citrus Soy Chicken Thighs with Soba Noodles, and Pan Fried Redfish with Lemon Caper Sauce.  It cost me $30 for 2 meals (each portioned for 2 people), which would normally have cost $60.  If you sign up and pay a membership fee ($10/month for a month-to-month membership, and $8/month for an annual membership), meals that normally cost $15 per person would cost $12 per person.  A bit steep, if you ask me, but more on that later.

The box was delivered when promised, and everything was properly refrigerated.  All of the ingredients are pre-portioned and labeled, and each recipe comes with a step-by-step instruction guide, with photos.

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I made the chicken dish first, on the same day I got the box, and I must admit that I was very impressed with the quality of ingredients.  All of the produce was super fresh, and the meat looked great as well.  The instructions were easy to follow – to be honest, I didn’t have to look at the directions much, as the recipe seemed very intuitive to me since I have made similar dishes on my own.  The finished product was, in fact, very very tasty.

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One of the main pluses of Plated is that there is ZERO waste in terms of food – since everything is perfectly portioned for each diner, you never run the risk of buying (and then throwing away) too much of any one ingredient.  That doesn’t matter so much for things like soy sauce and soba noodles, since they aren’t perishable, but produce is another story.  I confess that I often buy more than I need (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) and then struggle with how to use the excess.

On the other hand, though, Plated creates a lot of other waste.

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There were multiple plastic bags/bottles left over at the end of the process, and while they can be recycled, it still gave me a bit of pause.

My order came in on a Tuesday, and I intentionally waited until Sunday to make the second dish.  To my (pleasant) surprise, all of the ingredients survived the extra time in the fridge.  The instructions for the fish dish were just as simple, and the end result was just as tasty (even earning raves from my normally fish-averse hubby).  Unlike the chicken dish, I probably wouldn’t have cooked something like the redfish on my own.  The lemon-caper sauce in particular made me think, “Duh, why haven’t I made something like this before?”

So, would I order from Plated again?  It WAS nice not to have to deal with grocery shopping – when work is busy or when we are traveling, Plated could very well provide a nice alternative to going out or ordering take out.  However, the normal cost of $60 for two meals for two (I would never commit to a membership for something like this) seems very spendy.  My time is definitely worth something, but I’m not sure it’s worth THAT much, especially since I live on top of a Harris Teeter.

Bottom line, I think there is a huge market for Plated, and I hope they have continued success.  I think next time we order from them, I’m going to insist that my kitchen-wary husband prepare the meal – now THAT would be an experiment!

Bike rhymes with LIKE!!! March 30, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Cycling.
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Remember when I was thinking about buying a bike?  Well, I bit the bullet and got the Breezer Downtown 8 ST (from The Daily Rider on H Street – they were terrific).  Here it is in its new home!

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Even though Mother Nature has NOT cooperated in terms of bringing spring to our area (believe it or not, it is snowing as I write this), I can report that I love love LOVE this bike.  It is sturdy but light, it is a lot of fun to ride, and it makes it easy to carry everything I need for any kind of occasion.  In fact, the first time I rode to work, I used my Ortlieb Back Roller City panniers to tote my usual purse, PLUS a laptop, a couple of binders, and a few extra things I needed to have for an upcoming business trip.  AND I went to happy hour.  Yay!

Here’s to the coming spring (no, seriously…please come soon) and wonderful bike rides for everyone!

Birchblogger review – Smashbox Full Exposure Palette March 28, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Pretty.
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One of the MANY things I love about Birchbox is that they do a lot of outreach to their customers – you know, contests and giveaways and interactive chats and whatnot.  I have learned a lot by being a part of the Birchblogger community!  Recently, I was selected via one of their Twitter promotions to receive a complimentary Smashbox Full Exposure Palette.  Again, just to make sure we have full disclosure – I received the palette for free, but the opinions here are my own (based on using the product for a few weeks).  I am already very familiar with the Smashbox brand – I love their Photo Finish primers and their CC cream has been a staple in my makeup case for months now.

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First and foremost, lest you balk at the somewhat hefty pricetag on this item ($49), let me assure you – it is a LOT of makeup!  There are 14 neutral shades in total (7 matte and 7 shimmer), and they range from very light to very dark.  There is also a double-sided brush (which is helpful when you don’t want to get shimmer everywhere) and a travel-sized mascara.  For those who may be intimidated by all of the options, have no fear!  The palette also comes with an insert that guides you to three different looks per eye shape.  I really enjoyed learning about all the different ways to accentuate various types of eyes.

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I mostly played around with daytime looks, and they all came out great.  The silky texture of the shadows are nice on the eye, and the shades blend very well.  I did a number of combos, all of which were subtle and work-appropriate, but they still flattered my individual eye shape.  The mascara was good for everyday looks, but I didn’t prefer it for more dramatic “going out” eyes (I’ll stick with Cover Girl Lash Blast for that).

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When I amped things up for an evening look, I was very pleasantly surprised by how natural my eyes still looked – just with a little more “oomph.”  This is a palette I just want to play around with all the time, since there are so many fun options!

The shadows had pretty good staying power, though clearly a primer would help (and I couldn’t find mine anywhere – d’oh).

I really liked that I could blend and layer these shades without all of a sudden getting clown eyes.  :-)  What I liked to do best was to use a colored liner for a bit of pop and then have these shadows as a more natural, smoky element.  I wish I could share some great pictures of me wearing the shadows, but all I have is my crappy camera phone, and let’s just say the shots came out…not so pretty.  One of these days I’ll invest in a good REAL camera!

Bottom line, I would definitely buy this product – for someone like me who mostly gears wardrobe and makeup to an office environment, the Full Exposure Palette is a great fit.  Unfortunately (well, fortunately for Smashbox and Birchbox), the palette is so popular that it is out of stock at Birchbox until May – so I am super grateful that I get to keep using mine now and into the coming months!

March Birchbox review March 23, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Pretty.
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Another month, another Birchbox – and I liked the March box much more than February.

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Probably my favorite product of the bunch was the Supergoop City Sunscreen Serum.  As a malignant melanoma survivor (15 years this fall – time really does fly), sun protection is supremely important to me.  I love that this serum is a moisturizer AND a powerful sunscreen, and that it is light and non-greasy.  I wore it under makeup and it worked beautifully.  I will definitely be buying this in the future!

As a perfume jumkie, I am always excited to see fragrance samples.  Upon first sniff, I wasn’t sure what to think of Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume.  I usually prefer clean, crisp scents, and this one was more spicy and amber-y.  I actually grew to like the way it smelled on my skin, but I’m not sure I would commit to a full bottle.  It’s a nice fragrance, just not for me.

I was excited to see the INIKA Certified Organic Eyeliner (in Green Lagoon).  Not only was it a full-size product, but the color glided on easily and worked great with a number of shadow looks.  I probably won’t buy this, because I prefer liquid liner, but I still think it is a quality pencil.

The Jergens BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream was a mixed bag.  I wasn’t able to wear it long enough to see results, so I’m not sure I’d choose it over a self-tanning moisturizer.  However, it had a very nice fragrance, and the texture was great (it went on smoothly and absorbed quickly).  Maybe I just need to invest in a larger bottle to see if extended use brings results?  Jergens is an affordable brand, so I’m less afraid of jumping in sight unseen.

I haven’t even used the Curly Hair Solutions – Curl Keeper.  I don’t have particularly curly or wavy hair, and it has been so dry here lately that frizz isn’t really an issue (now, static is a totally different story).  Considering that the rest of the box was so good, I didn’t get too bent out of shape that this product wasn’t really applicable to my profile and beauty routine.

What did everyone else get in March?

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