Big news, y'all. G and I heading to New York City in barely a week and a half! We've been hoping and planning for this trip ever since getting back from the first and last time we went way back in 2008. So, this is a huge deal for us and something we are so happy to be able to do! We are going to be driving to Connecticut and staying with a friend who lives there. He works as an audio guy for ESPN in Bristol and last time we went we were able to go on a tour of ESPN and even got our pictures taken at the same news anchor table you see on TV! I don't give a flip about sports but even I thought that was so cool! So, we are staying with our friend J, then going to the city for 3 days and 2 nights. We're all sharing a room and splitting the cost so we were able to get a great hotel deal, we're going to be just a couple blocks from Times Square.

On our list of things to do include going to the MOMA, the Main Public Library (I've always wanted to see it), spending more time in Central Park, Fifth Avenue shopping (er, maybe just browsing) for me, Chelsea Market, Dylan's Candy Bar, any number of cool, funky food places (you know we are foodies!), and probably some other things I'm forgetting. If you've been, any places you think we should go?

I've been compiling a wardrobe for the trip piece by piece for probably a couple of months now. I had to get a new roomy bag, a light hooded jacket in case it rains, some comfortable shoes, and clothes that are versatile depending on the weather. Here's what I've put together!

The clothes and bag are actually all from Maurices, the wedge sandals are from Payless, and the !pink! booties are from Sole Society. I bought those on sale and still admittedly have probably never spent so much on a pair of shoes, but man, I just reallly wanted a pair of pink boots! I've also got a jean jacket to go over the slip dress, and jeans of course. The weather may not even be warm enough for the lighter stuff, but I wanted to have options. I know I will have a hard time deciding what scents to take though! I will definitely want a variety depending on my mood and where we're going. Ah, it's a good problem to have!

I can guarantee a very picture heavy post when we return!

So, this past Friday for my upcoming birthday G treated me to a spa day. I got my hair and brows done, and also got my first massage. G had one a few weeks ago and he was totally transformed. He raved about it so much I finally just said, "OK, you should just get me one too for my birthday." And so he did.

 I have a pretty troubled back. It hurts most of the time (partly from storing a lot of tension and partly from the weight I carry up front) so I wasn't sure what they would be able to do for me in thirty minutes. I went to my usual Aveda salon and spa, and I will say it was a really lovely sensory experience, but for my first massage, it wasn't necessarily a very therapeutic experience with lasting effects. G said his back felt better days and days afterwards (lucky), but honestly my back hurt again by that night. The masseuse was a very sweet lady, and I think when I told her it was my first time and she said she would go easy on me, she really meant literally. I didn't say ouch a single time, not even close. She didn't really work on loosening any specific knots, it felt more like a general, extremely gentle overview. The oil she used smelled amazing though, and the warmed table and the hot wet towels she used were very comforting and pleasant, but still...I think my back is going to be a hard nut to crack, and I think I needed a little more force. Next time I will try to get the same masseuse G had since apparently she works miracles!

I got my haircut too, nothing drastic, but I think it turned out nicely.
Before my appointment (no eye makeup since I was getting my brows done):

And after:

After my spa day G and I went to the mall where I did some pre-birthday plundering. Do you know that you can get tons of cool free stuff and discounts for your birthday? The days of merely getting a sad little free sundae at the restaurant as a child while hanging your head in embarrassment as your parents get the staff to sing to you are long over. The perks are much better nowadays.

First, we went to First Watch, a great breakfast/brunch chain. I had been signed up for their rewards club, and they sent me a coupon for a free meal. If there are any restaurants you go to often, always check their website or social media pages and see if you can join their mailing list, because free things may come your way. I also got an email for a free meal at Brio Tuscan Grill  too, but I'm saving it for later.

I am a Platinum Ultamate Rewards Member (like Sephora's VIBs) and I was also sent a ten dollar coupon to use as I pleased for my birthday. This was nice because it could be used on any products, drugstore or prestige. I had 100 points saved up as well, which translates into three dollars off a purchase. I had also just received that very morning a coupon for a free box of haircolor which I had gotten by entering a giveaway sponsored from the L'Oreal Facebook page. For this little haul, Revlon and NYX products were on sale for 40% off. So, after using my ten dollar gift, my three dollar reward, and my hair color coupon, I got all of this for $7.51. Not too shabby, eh?

I got hair color, cotton pads, a Revlon compact, a green color correction concealer and  brow kit from NYX, and a Revlon Lip Butter in Berry Smoothie.

I also went to an Aveda retail store at the mall to pick up my annual birthday gift. If you sign up with Aveda, you can get a free customized birthday gift. This one is super generous. You go to the store, and they sit with you to do a "sensory journey", allowing you to smell different scent blends, separating them into "yes" and "no" piles, until you narrow it down to the scent you want. Then you choose your product format, including full sizes of perfume, lotion, massage oil, bath salts, or body wash, and then they mix it up for you right there. This year I got my blend in a lotion, but I have gotten them in salts, massage oil, and a perfume before. I also picked up a Light Elements Texturizing Creme, which smells amazing and is great for creating light, piecey texture.

Since I am also a Godiva Rewards member, they took sent me a coupon for ten dollars off a ten dollar or more purchase. Godiva Rewards members are already entitled to one free piece of chocolate every month, so I picked that up, along with a Ultimate Dessert Truffle sampler, which usually costs $15.00, but I got it for $5.00. They are yummy!

Finally, Sephora is having their 15% off Chic Week sale for VIB's through the 21st, and since they had their preview event all day this past Thursday, I was able to run in and get a free tote and bag of samples. I also picked up my free birthday gift, which is available for any Beauty Insider. The Benefit gift this year is really nice! I purchased Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Face Peel, and used 100 of my points for an Origins Clear Improvement mask.

All in all, a most productive day!
Have you gotten any awesome deals lately? Let me know!
A few days ago Jess from  Wanderlusted asked me to share some of my top products, considering I have tried so many. I am not so good at dwindling down my favorites*, especially from certain brands, but I will try. So I'm imagining that I am marooned on a deserted island, and luckily for me I'm able to carry 5 of my favorite colors/scents from various indie companies with me. Don't be confused now, on this island I will likely be curled into the corner of my grass hut in a fetal position, crying and mumbling unintelligibly about the loss of my many preciouses. Today I'm just going to do indie brands, and later on I may do general categories of holy grail items in makeup, skincare, hair, etc. These aren't necessarily selections that represent a ideal, balanced introduction into each brand for a newbie, but they are the ones that I've found most versatile or absolutely necessary for my continued existence. Here we go:

Haus of Gloi

1. Ploughman
2. Samhain
3. Moon Dog
4. The Brier Path
5. Hearth

Solstice Scents

1. Manor
2. Jack and the Devil
3. Tenebrous Mist
4. Cascade of Gold
5. ???? I can't do it. I got through 4 and then the idea of choosing just one more was too painful to bear. Maybe I should have gone with 10 choices.

Darling Clandestine

1. Small Saga
2. Inked
3. Vardogr
4. Curiosities' Ball
5. Limerence

Sweet Anthem

1. Annabelle
2. Elliot
4. Nell
5. Phoebe

Alkemia Perfumes

1. L'Ensens a la Vanille
2. Persian Tea Room
3. Hex
4. Madam Pearl
5. Smoke and Mirrors


1. Dusty Rose
2. Golden Age
3. Heat
4. Little Beach
5. Blackberry Sorbet


1. Rapunzel Had Extensions
2. Lucky Charmed
3. Evocation
4.Sloth Snuggles
5. When I Grow Up

* These favorites are subject to change...pretty much constantly.

We are just going to ignore the fact that I've never done a Darling Clandestine First Impressions review. I could bypass all of it to simply say: Try all the things.
Try them now.

Summed up concisely (not my strong suit, I know), this Etsy shop is definitely at the top of a very short list of my favorite indie etailers. The owner, Evonne, has created an extremely strong and unique brand presence. Sure, the off-kilter carnival theme has been done before, but everything about this company, from the artwork to the admission ticket sample labels, to the scents identified only with an image and the fascinating, poetic stories behind each scent, strike me as very fresh and vivaciously unique. Maybe it shouldn't be so, but a strong brand aesthetic is what draws me to an etailer initially. It tells me they took the time and effort to define what they are about, that they know what they want to convey, that their style is something I see as reflecting my own personal style, and the products are likely to live up to the promise implied within that aesthetic.

OK, maybe that wasn't so concise. Scratch the concise part. Moving on...

I admit when I first tried Darling Clandestine last fall, I was a little skeptical of the claim that these scents are "truly inimitable." Ballsy claim, I must say. I sort of took it as a challenge. Oh yeah? We'll see about that, DC.

Upon trying them I concluded, and though I admittedly have barely begun to delve below the surface of the comprehensive ocean of the indie perfume business, so to speak, that these are pretty damn inimitable. Meaning, she has a very distinctive style and I think in a blind smell test when compared to other companies, I could probably point out a DC scent with ease.

A lot of the companies I've tried seem to base their scents in the natural world, or recreate a real thing, place, food, seasons, etc. Or something tangible in some way. Darling Clandestine incorporates tangible things, it seems, to create microcosms of moments. Or something a bit more mercurial or impressionistic. Whereas a lot of my other scents are very natural feeling, DC seems to have a touch of the mechanical and urban and edgy and gritty. It seems strange, but her scents remind me of green things growing in the middle of a vast metropolis, like Central Park or something similar. Or maybe something a bit more wild, like a forest over time swallowing up something that was once industrialized. Maybe that makes no sense, but that's my impression.

Most of DC full sizes come in extremely generous 15 ML sizes, and the sample vials are also a bit larger than others I've encountered. When she has 1 dram (approx. 3.7 ML) "bitsy" vials samplers available (which hasn't been recently that I've noticed, unfortunately) they are an absolute steal and a great way to have scents on hand that you want more than a sample, less than a full size of. The solid scents, which normally don't appeal to me that much, are potently scented and very creamy and easy to apply. Some people don't care for the label identification, which designate each scent solely by a picture. I find it very interesting though, and the pictures are unique enough that I am able to quickly start associating each scent with its corresponding image.

I won't go over all of the scents I've tried, but some of my favorites are Vardogr, Inked, Curiosities' Ball, Limerence, and Small Saga, which I literally just got as a sample this past weekend. I bought both the full size oil and solid scent as soon as I realized the sample was almost empty. I can't even describe how good this scent is. Evonne lists notes, but they are sometimes sort of vague, as though she would rather you glean most of what the scent is like from the story she writes about its inspiration. It is supposed to contain
"notes of green figs and tea and cream and apricot wine, this scent opens deceptively sweet and creamy but then unfolds its complex layers and settles in a mellow, woody finish".
 I get a scent that is sweet, creamy and slightly fruity..but more. I never thought I would like apricot wine, but this scent just sparkles with freshness and light, and then the drydown is lush, rich, and woodsy. It reminds me of the summer of my junior year of high school. How useful is that? Not very, I know. It doesn't even help me out because I can't pinpoint anything I wore or encountered during that time that would make me associate the two. Maybe it is just one of those microcosms...if a time was a scent, what would it be? Anyway, it's brilliant.

Evonne also does green, earthy, leafy scents magnificently well. Vardogr, she asserts, is "weird", which also sounds like a challenge to weird do I like it? Well, very much so, as it turns out. It is sort of weird, but not excessively so. The combination of dank darkness, leather, and coffee actually works for me. It is required rainy day wearing. Limerence is such a real smelling lily-rich floral mixed with the scent of concrete and rain. I've learned that this note is called mitti attar, and it may be my new favorite note. Really, it's not just rain, but rain and stone
. To me, in this scent it's not refreshing, cool rain, but hot, humid, heavy rain...with steam rising from the earth as it falls. As if it's been waiting to rain all day and then finally relents. It's moody and earthy and so, so authentic it's unnerving.

 Even the scents I don't really care to wear are interesting to me. Rivet smells just like a clean hotel room. Get that? It's extremely sharp and leathery, and makes me think of stark leather armchairs and white, starched bath towels. Carny Wedding seems to be a fan favorite, but for me the buttery sweetness and smokiness smells a little dirty, like kissing a smoky stranger in a derelict pool hall. This is not from memory at all. Cloudswing contains notes of lemongrass, hay, vanilla, among other things, and while lemongrass is usually a no-no for me, it is tempered by a creaminess and sunshiney feel. It reminds me of playing in the barn on my cousins' farm as a child, hiding up in the scratchy bales with a whole day of field exploring stretching out before us. The picture that goes with that scent may have influenced my impression, but it still applies.

So, basically the point I'm trying to convey here is that these scents are definitely worth trying out. Whether you love them or not, they are always a little adventure and a well-produced experience. Join the DC facebook page because she posts coupon codes fairly regularly. If you're curious about any scent I haven't mentioned here, just let me know and I will tell you if I've tried it and share my thoughts.

Thanks for reading, as always!

I've probably mentioned it before (and the picture by my blog heading might have tipped you off), but The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all time favorite films, and a wonderful Stephen King novella as well. I've been to see the tree from the movie near Mansfield several times and I've always found it a source of inspiration and a testament to the power of perseverance. Not long ago the tree was struck by lightning and only about half remains, but still, it stands. I figured it was time for me to design a piece of Shawshank inspired jewelry. I used some techniques that were new to me so I wasn't sure how it would turn out, therefore I didn't really do any "action shots" of the process, but I do have some of my practice pieces so I can show you the general progression from start to finish.

The first technique that was new to me is embossing, and the second is glass etching. They sound a little scary and complicated, but after a little fumbling I started to get the hang of it.  The necklace that I made starts with a memory glass frame, made by Inkssentials. These products are so great for crafters; you can do so many things with them! They're perfect especially for those who like to incorporate text/pictures into mixed media items. My idea was to encase a picture that I had taken of the Shawshank Tree in the frame, and etch the text "get busy living" on the glass, so the picture would be slightly frosty from the etching while the text would show up clearly only at certain angles.

As I began working on this project I realized there were tons of tutorials on glass etching crafts, and plenty using text. But these were all pretty large, easy to work with stencils, used in such projects as, for instance, etching "flour" or sugar" onto your glass baking ingredient jars. I couldn't find anything on how to etch teeny tiny letters, or where to find really tiny letter stencils or stickers that actually peeled off cleanly with only the outline of the letters showing. So, I improvised and attempted to make my own stickers by printing out the text, using spray adhesive to attach the printed paper to contact paper, and then cutting out the letters, removing the contact paper's adhesive backing when I was ready to etch. This proved to be incredibly cumbersome and time consuming, and the results weren't ideal. I arranged the homemade stickers on the glass to form the words, and then prepared to etch.

Basically what you do with glass etching is seal off the area you don't want etched with a stencil or sticker or crafting tape, and then cover the surface with etching cream. Etching cream is serious business, folks. This stuff eats through layers of the glass (which affects the way light shines though it, giving it that frosty appearance ) so it does skin no favors. Be careful, and wear gloves. You have to completely cover the surface to be etched, thickly and evenly, in order to get reliable, noticeable results. I left the etching cream on for about 3-5 minutes, and then rinsed the piece of glass in a bowl of water I had nearby. I added baking soda to the water to neutralize the etching cream I was removing. The homemade stickers rubbed off pretty easily, and after I dried the glass the etched letters started to appear. The process technically worked, but the letters looked much too sloppy for the amount of time and effort it took to cut them out.

I thought there had to be another way. So I turned to embossing the letters onto the glass first. This allowed me to purchase a teensy little alphabet stamp set that I can use indefinitely rather than laboring over stencils I can only use once. I used clear embossing ink to stamp the letters directly onto the glass. This is slightly tricky only because the stamps want to slide and smear the ink over the glass, so I had to do a few of these before I got one that looked neat enough. After I had the text down the way I wanted it, I poured on embossing powder (the color doesn't matter, as it will be rubbed off anyway), and then poured off the excess.

The picture below is one of my first attempts, where tiny smears of ink caught the powder and kept the letters from looking crisp and clean.

When I had a version I liked, I used a heat tool to emboss the powder on the glass. It was my first attempt so I wasn't sure what to be looking for, but it was pretty easy to see the powder start to melt and sort of rise off the glass slightly. I let the glass cool and then etched the glass just as I had when the letters were stickers. Only this time at the end of the etching time I scraped off the embossed letters, and it worked smashingly.

The memory frame that I had was bright and shiny new silver in color, which just didn't work for my style. So I aged the frame using the salt and vinegar potato chip-patina method that I describe in this post. I knew raw brass and copper would patina well with this method, but I didn't know what the frame would do. It worked beautifully and looked suitably rustic.

I printed out the picture of the tree sized to fit within the frame and used spray adhesive to attach it to a reverse image (that shows if you turn the frame around.) I fit the picture between the glass slides, sealed them all within the frame, and then assembled the rest of the necklace using a purple/light green color scheme.

Finally, after all that rambling, here is the final piece:

What I love about it is that at certain angles, the text is barely visible, all you notice is the tree. Then, at others, the light catches on the words and they stand out, shining.

Then, for the back of the pendant I found a piece of scrapbook paper that I thought was very appropriate: an old-fashioned looking dictionary definition of "hope".  The quote I used for this post is from the film, and sums up the whole message, so I think this works.

This was such a challenging piece for me to make, but I absolutely love how it turned out!

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