August Birchbox

I have to say, I'm not that impressed with this month's Birchbox.  I was actually a little disappointed when I opened this month's box.  Of course, last month's was a tough act to follow, but I hope there aren't too many more dud boxes, or I'll probably cancel my subscription.  I don't really want to cancel. I like getting something fun in the mail every month, especially when it's something that pretty much forces me to do something nice for me.  Plus, with so much home renovations going on, it's nice to have a little girlieness added into my life.

This month's theme is Back to School.  The Birchbox team put together a box to, "refill your beauty supply kit with must-try essentials and new products that will take you through the fall."  I wouldn't exactly say that this box refills my beauty supply kit as it's very light on product, and I'm don't think anything in this box will take me through fall.  Maybe next month...

  • Schick Hydro Silk Razor:  This product was the main reason my heart sank when I opened this box.  I hate shaving my legs.  I hate having hairy legs even more than shaving, which is why I do shave, but I hate shaving my legs.  I have extremely sensitive skin and dark, coarse hair, which make for a shaving nightmare.  It took me years to find a razor that wouldn't leave me with razor burn every time I used it, and I have been a loyal Gillette girl forever (I swear by the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power Razor).  I don't even bother with women's razors; they just don't get the job done.  Anyway, I went ahead and tried the Schick and didn't like it at all.  The blades seemed to drag and pull along my legs instead of glide (which always happens when I try a Schick), and I was a nicked and bloody mess by the time I was done.  I will say I like the grip on the handle.  It fit my hand better than what I usually use, and the hydro part of the razor was nice, but didn't really get wet enough to provide any decent lubrication until I was done with my first leg.  I definitely won't be buying this product ever.  I got a closer shave with a thrice used Gillette than with the brand new Schick.
  • Whish Shave Crave Shaving Cream:  A good shaving cream or gel is essential to avoiding razor burn.  Admittedly, for the last several months I've only been using whatever shower gel I have on hand to shave with instead of actual shaving cream and it's been working out just fine, so I really thought I'd like this product.  Instead of being an aerosol, this shave cream goes on more like the shower gel I've been using recently, only thicker.  It doesn't foam up at all, but seemed to create a really slick surface on my legs (although it didn't stop that Schick from dragging along my legs).  But that's where the goodness stopped.  This stuff clogged the razor blades up like you wouldn't believe, and didn't rinse out very well at all, which was very frustrating and made for slower shaving.  I even tried it with my Gillette with the same results.  Plus, it seemed to leave me with more razor burn, even when using my Gillette.  Major disappointment.
  • Juicy Couture Viva la Juicy La Fleur Perfume:  This is a nice smelling perfume, but not something I think I'd pick out for myself.  I'm terrible at describing smells, so I'm not sure where to begin.  My first thought when I sprayed this on my wrist was, "This smells like high school."  Not to say that this is an immature scent or that it smells bad, but it definitely seemed very youthful.  At first it smells more floral, but then I think it settles into a slight musk, although the description says nothing about musk.  That just goes to show how well my nose works...not!  I'm keeping the sample in my purse so I'll have it close if the mood strikes!
  • twistband Hair Tie:  Not really sure what to say about this.  A hair tie?  Really?  Lame.
  • theBalm cosmetics Stainiac:  I love lip stains, but lip stains don't love me.  My lips chap really easily, even when I apply chap stick and stay hydrated, so stains usually start out looking nice on me, but then as my lips chap, the color gets all blotchy and uneven.  But this!  This stain is really subtle, but pigmented enough to notice.  I don't know what's different about this from other products, but I applied it in the morning before work, and it lasted most of the day.  And when my lips inevitably chapped, the color didn't get all weird and uneven.  Win!
Although the lip stain won me over, I'd have to say August's box was a big thumbs down overall.  I hope this isn't a trend with Birchbox because I just signed up and hope to continue the service.  I just don't think they had the right demographic in mind when they put this box together; I'm not in high school, I know how to shave my legs, and I have plenty of hair ties.  I'm crossing my fingers that September's box is going to be a winner.

Want to try your luck with the Birchbox lottery?  Sign up here!

The Worst Kitchen Layout Ever

When Dennis and I started looking for a house, one of our "must-have's" was a good kitchen.  Not necessarily a great kitchen, but a good kitchen.  We didn't need stainless appliances or granite countertops, but we did want a decent sized kitchen with a good layout.  Perhaps with at peninsula to eat breakfast at, or a pantry.  Maybe (hopefully) a dishwasher, and definitely lots of cabinets.  Instead, we got the worst kitchen layout ever. Okay, maybe not the worst layout ever (we did actually look at some properties with worse kitchens), but pretty close.  Oh, the bitter irony.

Obviously, the kitchen in our new place wasn't a deal breaker because we did end up buying the property, but the only thing we were able to cross off on our must-have list was the dishwasher (thankfully).  The new kitchen is small, and the layout is horrible.  It has no features such as a peninsula, an island, or even a pass-through.  Not to mention no pantry and hardly any cabinets, plus a horrible use of space.  Irony abounds.  That's not to say we can't use the kitchen as-is.  We can certainly prepare food the way things are, but not very easily, efficiently, or aesthetically pleasingly.

For starters, the stove has no attached countertop, which would make preparing and cooking food a royal pain.  We'd have to take several steps to get to and from what little counter space we do have, and I know with my clumsiness, I'd be dropping food all over the place in transit between counter and stove.  There's also a weird alcove with an exposed water heater with a lot of wasted space right next to the stove.  I suppose some counter space could be added to the right of the stove, but it would still  be very awkward and not very pretty.  Another weird thing about this kitchen is if you were standing at the stove, your back would just about be touching the fridge.  No room to maneuver at all.  I didn't test it, but I'm not even sure if the oven door would be able to open fully.

And the fridge...the fridge is just sticking out in to the middle of the room like a big hulking behemoth.  It just feels so big and imposing where it's sitting right now.  But at least there's nothing blocking the doors from opening all the way.  That's something, right?

On the other side of the room we have the only counters in the whole kitchen; just a smidgen of space to the left and right of the sink.  Above the sink are the cabinets that sit off-center of the window, and drive me a little crazy when I look at them.  And did I mention that the washer and dryer are in the kitchen?  No?  Well, the kitchen also has to double as the laundry room.  I don't have any good pictures of the wall behind the washer and dryer, but the spigots stick so far out from the wall that the washer and dryer don't fit well into the space.  Not to mention the dryer plug is set way too high on the wall and is just an eye sore.  But at least there's a dishwasher!!!

the way the washer and dryer sit, the back door just opens

Dennis and I have been wracking our brains to come up with a better way to use this space.  As part of our mortgage, there are several things we have to do to fix up the new place.  One of them is replacing the hot water heater, and we plan on going with a tankless version that we will place in the wall in order to be able to use that alcove a little more efficiently.  Some of our ideas include getting a front load washer and dryer and stacking them where the water heater currently is, moving the fridge to where the washer and dryer currently live, and moving the stove to where the fridge is.  We would build out a small pantry with pull out shelves next to the stacked washer and dryer, and would be able to add one more bottom cabinet and a little more counter space next to where we move the fridge.  But that may require some plumbing and electrical work that we're not exactly prepared for at the moment.

First things first, we have to replace the cracked and damaged ceramic tiles in the kitchen with wood laminate (as part of our 203K bid), so the appliances will have to be moved out for the demolition of the tile.  Once that happens we may come up with some other/better ideas of how to use the space.  Only time will tell.

Nurtured Family

Nurtured Family

As time flies by and Baby Reyna's due date fast approaches, it has recently occurred to me that Dennis and I need to start preparing!  And preparing means more than just finishing our home renovations and moving.  However, I'm not exactly sure how and what I should be preparing.  This is our first baby, and I've never been around babies before, so there's a HUGE learning curve for me.  As far as I know, after Baby Reyna gets here, all I have to do is poke it with a stick, right?!?  I've been doing some research online about this whole baby thing, and have been reading some books, but I still feel pretty much clueless.  I need to talk to some real life parents about all this stuff.  One of my clients suggested I head over to a local shop, Nurtured Family, with any questions I might have (and there are plenty), and they'd be happy to help.

I love shopping small and local, so last week I drove over to see what this whole baby thing is all about.  I was very surprised to find this boutique shop in the middle of an industrial business park, but it's location certainly didn't have anything to do with what it is like on the inside.  Nurtured Family's specialty is cloth diapers, baby carriers, nursing support, and natural remedies, along with many other support products for baby and family.  In other words, a good place to start getting lots of information about All Things Baby.

When I got there, I was immediately greeted by one of their employees.  I really should've gotten her name because she was so very helpful.  She taught me everything I need to know about cloth diapering and baby wearing, both things Dennis and I are planning on doing.  All of my questions were patiently answered and she did a great job at alleviating some of my anxiety about what to do with a baby (apparently you're not supposed to poke it with a stick, as was my previous assumption).  Nurtured Family also offers classes ranging from breastfeeding to baby wearing, to cloth diapering, as well as others.  I've already added tons of stuff from their online shop to my registry, and plan on taking several of the classes.  I feel like I'm on my way to semi-prepared motherhood!

If you're a Houston local needing mothering/family supplies, head on over to their shop.  It's on the northwest side of town at 8525 Jackrabbit Road, Suite B, 77095.  Their business hours are Monday-Saturday 10a-5p, or you can always visit them online

Rehab Bid for 203K

We have a ton of stuff to do to the new house before we move in.  Not only are there things we want to do to get the place ready, there are things we have to do according to the terms of our mortgage.   When we first started looking for a house, we knew we wanted something older and that meant a fixer-upper in order to stay within our price range and within the area we want to live.  Older houses have so much more character and feel so much more sturdy to us even if they need a little TLC.  Dennis is a really handy guy, and I grew up around home remodeling, so this was a no-brainer decision for us.

As we explored all our options for financing, I came across a HUD 203K Rehab Loan.  Basically, we qualified for a loan greater than the purchase price of the property in order to use the extra funds to fix up the place.  The rehab funds are disbursed in three payments as the work progresses.  The first disbursement is for materials and is paid out at the closing of the home sale.  The second disbursement has to be approved by the mortgage company (and I'm not exactly sure when and how that happens--guess we'll find out), and the final disbursement is only made when an inspector deems all work complete and up to standard.  At least, I'm pretty sure that's how it all happens.  I'm 100% sure about the last disbursement being contingent on completion of work.

We're really lucky because the house we bought is already in excellent condition and only needs a little work, comparatively speaking.  The nice thing about the work we have to to do to the place is that we don't have to do it at all!  We have a contractor to do all that for us.  Never in a million years did I think we'd be in a position to have someone else doing work to our house; I'm so used to DIYing everything with Dennis.  Well, we are planning on doing some of the work ourselves to save time and money, but most of the hard stuff is going to be taken care of by our contractor.

Which brings me to the list of thing that have to be done to the house.  For now, in order to keep this post short, I'm not going to bother listing the things we want to do to the house.  That'll be it's own beast of a post later, and will probably expand faster than it shrinks (at least at first).

  • Provide railing at front steps - since Dennis does welding and metal work, this is his job to do; can't wait to see what artistic design he comes up with
  • Replace any broken or missing brick; repair any separations in brick
there are a few loose bricks because of old mortar, but not because of a faulty foundation
  • Remove and replace damaged siding on walls of garage.  Paint to match.
only a few boards need to be replaced; we're going to paint the garage a different color

  • Repair damaged roof of awning above 2nd story rear entrance
this definitely needs to be fixed

  • Repair damaged flashing
  • Remove and replace any damaged fascia boards, soffit joists and soffits.  Paint to match.
the roof was recently replaced and is still good, but whoever did the work, didn't do any of the trim

  • Remove and replace any rotted window trim and sills.  Paint to match.
  • Properly seal and weatherstrip all doors and windows
  • Provide spindles on rear stairs and guardrails; spacing not to exceed 4" - another job for Dennis and his welding skills
  • Install drywall on walls and ceiling of second garage bay
the garage bay on the right needs drywall

  • Remove and replace damaged ceramic tiles in 1st floor kitchen - we're going to do most of this work ourselves and we got an amazing deal on wood laminate flooring - I'll talk more about that in another post
most of the tiles in the kitchen are cracked, not to mention hideous.  I could live with them, but the bid includes floor replacement, so I guess we'll just have to upgrade--darn...

  • Repair 2nd level door between rear and middle bedroom
  • Install catwalk in front of A/C unit in attic
  • Remove and replace 1st floor water heater, including repair of any corroded supply lines
not only is the water heater in bad condition, it's in a terrible place in the kitchen; we're going to go with a tankless water heater and probably put it in the wall, or in the closet of the master bedroom on the other side of that wall

  • Replace any missing or damaged electrical cover plates - another thing Dennis and I will probably take care of ourselves
  • Provide GFCI at 1st floor kitchen counter tops, bathrooms, and garage
  • Each living unit has a separate system that will be made operational by repair or replacement - THE most important thing on the list and the number one reason we decided to move forward with a 203K loan on this property, considering what good shape the house is in.
So that's that.  These are the items listed on our proposal and, therefore, attached to our mortgage.  Our contractor has already started the work, and things are coming along slowly but surely.  I must say, this is all rather exciting!!

July Birchbox

I just got my first Birchbox in the mail last week*!  According to their website, "Birchbox is the best way to discover new grooming, beauty and lifestyle products. Sample top products from high-end brands, get expert advice, buy new favorites and earn points with every purchase." In other words, they send you samples of new beauty products to try each month, and if you decide to buy a full size product you earn points you can use for rewards. Now, I'm not much of a girly-girl, and I'm very low maintenance. I don't really wear makeup (although I love makeup, I just don't want to spend the extra time every day to "put on my face"), and I'm certainly not a high end beauty purchaser, but these sample boxes sounded like an affordable way to ad some girly-ness into my life. I can definitely justify spending $10 a month to get something fun delivered in the mail!

Birchbox teamed up with Glamour for July's box, and although this is my first one, it seems to be a pretty stellar selection of products.
  • stilla lipglaze: A full size product in my first box! I'm not sure exactly what the color is called--I couldn't find it listed on the tube, but it's a very nice neutral shimmer. The applicator is like a paint brush and is very easy to apply evenly. I find lipglosses with the sponge tips to be a little harder to apply evenly. This shade adds just a hint of color and lots of shimmer for a very subtle natural look. I'll probably keep this in my purse so I can use it if the mood strikes me. As a bonus, it smelly yummy. The only down side is it feels like I have lipgloss on my lips; a little heavy and sticky, but a fair trade for the look
  • Color Club nail polish in Blue-Ming: A mini nail polish in a nice pastel blue. I have a ton of nail polish. And I mean a ton. I haven't counted, but I'd estimate I have between 150-200 different polishes, but none like this shade. I normally don't go for shades of blue, but this one is good for spring and summer, and is a welcome addition to my collection. I haven't polished my nails since getting pregnant because of the horrible morning sickness I suffered through, but I look forward to trying out this polish.
  • Tea Forte minteas in Lime Mojito: Another full size product! These mints are really interesting. The first one I had made me think of eucalyptus or tea tree. The next one tasted more limey/citrusy with mint aftertones. They have a very organic/holistic flavor, and I guess that comes from actually having organic tea as an ingredient. I like them. They're very light and refreshing.
  • dirt. luxe salt scrub in lemon leaf: I haven't used this yet, but I love the way it smells. I've always really enjoyed citrus scents, especially in the summer. They're light, crisp, and energizing. I'm really looking forward to using this.  *Update*  I finally used this and was really impressed with it!  The smell was amazing, just as I said before.  I was surprised that this scrub didn't feel very abrasive.  I like my skin to be pink and raw after a good scrubbing, but this was a lot gentler.  In fact, it felt so gentle I was worried it wasn't doing anything.  It still got the job done, however, and left my skin baby smooth and moisturized.
  • Birchbox exclusive earbuds: I'm not really a fan of earbuds. I have really small ears, and I've never found any that fit me without hurting me after about 10 minutes of use. These are no exception, but I know this isn't the case for most people. But it doesn't matter anyway because one of the earbuds was busted. I think it's fixable, and if it is, I'll find someone to give them to. Included with the earbuds was a link to a music playlist from Glamour on

  • amika nourishing hair mask: I haven't had a chance to use this yet, but I love deep conditioning treatments for my hair. My hair is super long and I dye it, so I'm always looking for good conditioning treatments. The full size product is way out of my price range, though, so I hope I don't end up liking this too much!  *Update*  I used this and I LOVED it!  Even when I use deep conditioners I always feel like my hair is still frizzy and unmanageable.  It's mostly straight, but can't decide if it wants to be wavy or not, and if I don't blow dry it or use a flat iron I'm pretty much unhappy with it and just wear it in a bun.  After I used this, I just let my hair air dry like I usually do, and at first I didn't think this was much different than other deep conditioners as my hair seemed to be doing the usually frizzy act.  I slept with it in a bun after it was mostly dry, and in the morning my hair looked fabulous!!! Even after washing my hair a few times without this treatment, I can still feel the effects of the conditioner.  I'm pretty sure I'll be saving my pennies and getting a full size of this product.   
  • amika oil treatment: This is the biggest disappointment of the whole box. I was really looking forward to trying this hair treatment, but when I opened my box, the entire sample had leaked out! The sample pack had a cut in the side, probably from separating multiple samples for shipment. I don't know if the boxes are assembled by hand or by machine, but if they were assembled by hand, this should've been noticed and fixed, and if they were assembled by machine, they're lacking in quality control. The cut in the package would definitely be large enough to be noticed by the naked eye. Bummer.

Overall, I'd say this was a really awesome selection of products. Good enough to overlook the busted earbuds I wouldn't have used anyway and the disappointment of leaked oil treatment. I know not every box will be this good, but they really set the bar high!

*I got my first box so late in the month (actually on August 3) because I signed up really late in July. You have to request an invitation to join Birchbox and mine came through just in time to get July's box. If you want to sign up, click here.

My Singular Focus

As a testament to my raging ADD, the only thing I have been able to focus on for the past month has been painting the new house.  And not just focus on, hyper-focus on.  I don't want to watch TV or lounge on the couch; I don't care if laundry isn't done; food?  bah!  who needs to eat, anyway?  There's painting to be done!!!   I only go to work because I need the paycheck; if I could take two weeks off, I'd do nothing but paint for 14 days straight, probably 12+ hours a day.  It's a crazy obsession, and I can't shake it.  Maybe I don't want to, okay?  I refuse to live in a beige world.

I am determined to get every room painted before we start moving in.  It is so much easier to paint an empty room than having to move, cover, and work around furniture.  Not to mention having to box up and store any decorations and knick-knacks, and having to find a safe place for any art on the walls.  That's just not going to happen here.  Nothing will get moved until the paint has dried!  Nothing!!!!

Dining Room - Before
Dining Room - Progress

One lucky thing is we're not planning on having one big moving day.  We have no time limits on when we have to move out of our current house, so we're going to move room by room, little by little.  Den's mom owns the house, and no one is going to be moving in after us.  Actually, the place will probably get torn down and a new house will be built on the lot, so we have plenty of time to decide what stays, and what goes.  We're only going to take what we need and love to the new place, and the rest will get tossed, donated, or sold.  But that's another post for another time.  The point I'm making is I at least have some wiggle room in my painting schedule; no pressure from a definite "you need to be out of here by this date" deadline, and that's what's keeping me sane right now.  Mostly sane, anyway.

Master Bedroom - Before
Master Bedroom - Progress

At first, I was only painting on my two days off.  After a week and a half of that, I realized I wouldn't get anything done in time to move and settle before Baby Reyna comes along if I didn't also spend evenings after work painting, too.  So several nights a week I'm at the new place painting away.  I haven't gotten as much done as I imagined I would by now, but the only pressure to finish NOW! is coming from me, and I can handle that.  Sort of.  The frustrating part is how long all the prep work is taking.  I just want color on the walls!!!  I have to remind myself that all good paint jobs are a result of proper prep, and that takes a long time.  The extra time I invest to do things right will be worth it in the end.  Every day I say to myself, "slow and steady, slow and steady, slow and steady..."

Nursery - Before
Nursery - Progress
These are just a couple pictures of the little progress I've made so far.  I've only worked on three rooms, and I'd only consider the master bedroom completely finished right now.  Hopefully by the end of this upcoming week I'll also be completely done with the nursery and can move on to the living room.  Slow and steady, slow and steady, slow and steady...

We Bought a House

Finally, after almost two years of searching, we bought a house.  It took us a very long time to decide exactly what we wanted and what neighborhood to move into.  If we had wanted to buy any old house just to own a house, we would've bought a long time ago.  After much thought and deliberation, we decided we wanted to buy a multi-family home inside the Loop.  The neighborhood we decided on, Riverside Terrace, is undergoing gentrification revitalization, so prices were still well within our range for a home so centrally located in Houston.  It's a beautiful brick two story duplex built in 1928, and it's in great condition.  It needs some updating to the kitchens and bathrooms, and the property needs some cosmetic work, but it's nothing we can't handle.

We closed on the property on July 11, and I started painting the very next day!  I'm so ready to move into central Houston (right now we live way out in the country and I'm ready for city life).  I'll be posting a page full of before pictures of the place, and I'll make sure to post plenty of pictures of the renovations sprucing up of the place.  Hopefully we'll have enough work done to move into the place by the end of September.  That way I'll have enough time to settle in before the baby comes.  We'd better get busy!!
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