Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Favorites from 2013? Splendid!

I'm either a day early or a week late in this, but this is basically a list of all my obsessions from 2013.  Here's to 2014 and a whole NEW list of obsessions!

Hair - Eufora Curl'N Defining Solution
Changed. My. Life.  Little known fact: I didn't know I had curly hair till well into high school, despite the fact that it stopped being straight sometime in 6th grade.  Throughout middle school and high school, it was mostly just frizz (orange frizz in 7th grade thanks to my trusty bottle of Sun In!).  My hair gets bigger and curlier in humidity, so imagine the mess I was trying to contain with my first flat iron that was a steam straightener.
Yeah.  Not the best move for me.  I continued to combat my curls through college, and only in the last few years have I really started embracing my hair as it really is.  Everything changed when I started going to a great salon and seeing a stylist who specialized in curly hair.  For the first time ever, I asked my stylist to keep my hair curly, and teach me how to style it myself, instead of having her straighten it.  She used the Curl'N Defining Solution on my hair, and I immediately knew I needed it.  It formed lovely, bouncy curls without frizz or the crunchiness that often accompanies gel or mousse.  Never before one to spend a ton of money on hair products, I was shocked to find out that it cost more than my haircut.  Luckily one can of the foam lasts for months and months.  I don't claim to have great hair on the daily now, but this Eufora product is certainly the reason for fewer bad hair days.
Don't worry, each description won't be this long.  I just needed to show you the ridiculous contraption I tortured my hair with in high school.

Makeup - BareMinerals Matte Foundation
I started wearing BareMinerals many years ago.  Throughout this year I tried wearing a few different foundations, a foam and a liquid style, but I never really liked any of them.  I ended up switching back to my old standby, but this time with a twist.  I had only used the original formula till this year when I decided to give the matte formula a try.  I was weary initially, so I started by mixing the two formulas together.  I've found that the matte formula isn't too mattifying, but it does keep everything in check.

I love BareMinerals because it doesn't cause breakouts for me.  I like that with the powder foundation, I can choose the level of coverage I wear on a given day.  If I'm having a great skin day, I can easily just buff a little bit on and get on with my day.  If I need fuller coverage, it just takes a few more swipes with my brush.  It's great.


Nails - Sally Hanson Nail Strips
I mentioned Sally Hanson Nail Strips in a post this fall when I talked about my first day working at the music store.  I've used these multiple times this year, and I fully recommend them.  They're simple to use, and they have surprisingly excellent staying power.  The nail strips alone often last longer than a traditional varnish with base and top coat.  My only complaint is that I wish there were more colors.  I like the permanent designs, and they release limited edition designs for each season.

Skincare - Yes to Tomatoes
The Yes To line is a variety of products made from mostly natural ingredients.  The Yes to Tomatoes line is specifically aimed at acne control.  I've tried three products in this particular line: the blemish clearing facial wipes, the daily clarifying cleanser, and the clearing facial mask.  While the wipes and cleanser are both great products, the standout to me was the mask.  All of the products worked well together, and I definitely felt like they improved the condition of my skin.
Kitchen/Food - Homemade Pasta
After deciding to make homemade pasta for our Valentine's dinner in 2013, I kind of became obsessed with it.  Using my Kitchen Aid pasta rollers made the whole thing such a breeze that I found myself making fresh pasta on weeknights.  When we made pasta growing up, we typically used white all-purpose flour, but to make things more authentic, I began using a combination of semolina and AP flour.  The duo gave my pasta so much more flavor, and the final product was a delicious noodle.  With the pasta water salted liberally, and the noodles boiled just to al dente, my fresh pasta was always flavorful and delicious.  In 2014, I want to give spinach pasta a try, too!

TV - Doctor Who
Last year I read a lot of books.  This year I watched a lot of TV, and I'm not ashamed of it.  Yes, I did still watch Real Housewives of New Jersey, but I started paying more attention to British shows (Downton Abbey, Sherlock) and Joss Whedon's work (Buffy, Firefly/Serenity).  The standout for the year, though, absolutely was Doctor Who.

I started watching "New Who" right after Christmas.  My brother has been suggesting it for a couple years now, and I always told him I didn't have time to start another series.  I don't think he understood that I'm a hardcore binge watcher, and once I started the series, I wouldn't be able to stop till I consumed all. of. it.  It became apparent to him the day after I started watching it, when I texted him my feelings on David Tennant's first episode as the Tenth Doctor, which happens at the beginning of the second season.

I had watched all of the new episodes by my birthday in Mid-March, and for my birthday LP Stacey started watching the series with me.  Since then we've finished the series (again for me), watched the 50th Anniversary Special, and the 2013 Christmas Special.

To say I became obsessed would definitely be accurate and possibly even an understatement.  Case in point?  I was the Eleventh Doctor for Halloween this year.
Also, my phone's ringtone is an excerpt from the music played in the show.

And Scott bought me Dr. Who art for Christmas even though he had no idea the significance of the print in relation to the show.

Book - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The first time I read TFIOS, I read the entire thing in one sitting.  I laughed; I cried; I had all the emotions.  I immediately read all the other John Green books, even the novels he co-wrote, and I loved all of them.  I always come back to The Fault in Our Stars, though.  It sounds so depressing when I tell people it's a book about teen cancer patients who fall in love.  I mean, it is a book about that, but it's so much more.  It's beautiful and real and poetic, and no matter your gender or age, I think you need to read it.  Just keep a box of tissues nearby.  If you can finish the entire book without crying, then you should probably see a doctor, because it would appear you have no heart.

Furthermore, the book has become kind of a cultural phenomenon, at least within my communities.  It was number one on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble bestsellers lists before the book was even released.  More than 150,000 copies of the book were pre-orderd.

It's a beautiful and real and poetic story, and no matter your gender or age, I think you need to read it.  Just keep a box of tissues nearby.  If you can finish the entire book without crying, then you should probably see a doctor, because it would appear you have no heart.
Also, the film adaptation starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort is set to be released in June.  I hope it does the book justice.

Music - "This Year" by the Mountain Goats
I was introduced to this band and this song while watching the Evening for Awesome concert on YouTube.  I had just started watching Vlogbrothers videos, and I hadn't read any of John's books or listened to any of Hank's music yet.  The video for the Evening for Awesome kept popping up in the recommended videos list on YouTube, so eventually I spent an entire evening watching it.  John and Hank Green are huge fans of the Mountain Goats, so naturally they asked the band to perform at the show.  They closed the entire evening by playing "This Year."

I was immediately struck by a line in the chorus, which I find to be both funny and sad: "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me."

Last year was kind of a tough one for me.  I ended up places physically, emotionally, and mentally that I never thought I would be.  Places I never really want to be again.  I believe I connected with the song on a deep level because of my situation at the time.  When I had an hour-long commute this summer, I would usually end the drive with this song.  

Movie - Much Ado About Nothing
Who would have guessed obsessions over both Doctor Who and Joss Whedon would have led to yet another obsession over Shakespeare?  

After thoroughly enjoying the fourth season of Doctor Who and the chemistry between David Tennant and Catherine Tate, I found out they did a production of Much Ado About Nothing in London's West End a couple years ago.  The production was filmed, and through Digital Theatre, I was able to download it to watch till the cows came home.  For Whovians it's pretty amusing to see Tennant and Tate take on the roles of reluctant lovers Benedick and Beatrice since their characters on Doctor Who were never the slightest bit attracted to one another.
Early in 2013 I found out that Joss Whedon was directing and producing a film adaptation of Much Ado.  By that point I had already watched watched all of Firefly (all 1 season of it), Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, as well as the first season of Angel and The Avengers.  I was deep into the Whedonverse when I first heard about his adaptation.  Joss Whedon is known for using the same actors throughout multiple projects, and I love them all.  I figured watching the film would be kind of like watching a reunion.  A reunion composed of Shakespearean English, but a reunion nonetheless.  Set for limited release, I scoured the list of theaters with screenings in hopes of seeing it on the big screen.  At the time of its initial release, there were only two theaters in the state that were set to screen it, and I made sure I could attend one of them.  It was lovely and funny and everything I wanted it to be.  I even mentioned it in this post.  Thankfully I actually got a second chance to see it on the big screen when it came to The Art Theater in town a few weeks later.

Place - The Art Theater
We're lucky enough to have multiple theaters in town, including The Art Theater.  It's great to have a place that shows indie films, has late night screenings of "classics" and basically does everything an independent movie theater should do in my opinion.  I saw so many movies there this year, and I didn't even make it to all the films I wanted to see!  Manager Austin McCann took over in 2012, and I think he is doing a great job.  There's a great mix of genres, and they do interesting festivals and events with local groups.  Also, they have a liquor license, so that's a bonus.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Season of Giving 2013 Continues? Splendid!

So I had this great plan to expand my Season of Giving this year.  I was going to pick more charities to donate to, and I was going to find really great companies that partner with charities to give back, and I was going to write beautiful posts about all of them in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

But then, you know what?  I got busy with work, SAI, and social obligations, and I haven't gotten around to writing any of my "scheduled" posts.

I didn't want to completely abandon the concept, and I still donated to charities, so instead of doing multiple posts, I'm just going to do one, giant, big-ass post with the remaining organizations.

I did manage to write another post about the Eastern Illinois Foodbank to kick things off this year.  You can read that here.

In addition to the EIF, I gave money to the American Red Cross specifically in my area.  Back in November tornadoes swept through Illinois.  An EF4 tornado ripped through Washington while an EF3 tornado hit Gifford.  Other towns throughout Illinois were hit with severe weather and tornadoes that day as well, but Gifford and Washington are especially important to me.  Gifford is a small farming town 20 miles from where I live.  Two of my coworkers live in Gifford, and though their homes were thankfully and luckily untouched, they shared stories of the terrible damage caused by the weather.  I took a special interest in the recovery efforts in Washington because one of my dearest friends and her family live in Washington.  They were fortunate enough that their property sustained no real damage.  However good friends of theirs lost their entire house and all their belongings.

Knowing that I would not be a real help to the relief effort, the best way I knew to help was to make a donation to the Central Illinois Chapter of the Red Cross.

The next two charities were suggestions from my friends.

Bryan suggested I donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.  The ten year old organization helps veterans through a number of programs.  They have projects to help them stay connected with other vets, programs to help them find civilian jobs appropriate for their experience, projects to help with physical recovery from injuries sustained while on active duty, and programs aimed at mental health.  One of the things that struck me about the WWP website is that on the Programs page, it shows the mental health programs first, which I appreciate.  I love knowing that there is an organization that is making a concentrated effort on improving the mental health of the men and women who have been in combat while serving this country.  The Wounded Warrior Project casts an even wider net by offering a grant program to help other nonprofit organizations that support our veterans!

The final charity for this year was suggested by Elizabeth.  Girls Inc. is a nonprofit aimed at inspiring girls to be "strong, smart, and bold."  I love that mission statement!  I want all girls to be strong, smart and bold!  The programs Girls Inc. offers cover a wide range of subjects including economic literacy, community action, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills, and preventing teen pregnancy, among others.  The organization has more than 1,400 sites in 350 cities in North America.  Each year they serve 136,000 young women ages 6-18.  Unfortunately there are no affiliates in Illinois, but there are plenty in the surrounding states!  The website has some great resources explaining their programs, how you can support the organization, and resources for parents and their daughters.  One of these resources is the Girls Inc. Girls' Bill of Rights.  It's wonderful.

If you made charitable donations last year, I would love to know which organizations you supported!