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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review/Giveaway: Wet Shave Club Subscription Box

As any man with a face knows, shaving can be a tedious chore. I found it so much trouble that I have had a full beard for several years (which brings its own grooming regimen, but that’s not the point.)  
When I agreed to review the Wet Shave Club’s subscription box, my intention was to use it just to shave those areas of my face not covered by beard. As you will see, the contents of the box changed my mind.

The company offers a monthly subscription box, each one filled with a variety of shaving soaps, razor blades, aftershaves and other face-care products. As a bonus, the first box includes a razor and shaving brush.          

The Wet Shave Club specializes in old-fashioned shaving technology. You won’t find the latest plastic sextuple-blade shaving behemoth here. The included razor is a heavy double-sided safety razor, and the brush is needed to generate a lather from the shaving soaps. (You will have to supply your own mug.)

I was immediately impressed with the quality of the items I found on opening the box. The razor is all metal, solid and attractive. Also in the box: The shaving brush, two 1.5-oz. soaps (Red Leaf), two 5-blade packs of blades (Gillette), a bottle of aftershave made from Bay Rum and witch hazel (Forge & Foundry), and a pack of alum "matches" from The Legends, London.

The Hardware

The razor: This is Wet Shave Club’s own branded razor, which they have made just for them. It features a long, grooved handle to provide a sure grip in wet hands. I found it to be balanced perfectly, feeling natural in the hand and effortless to use.

The brush: Your first box includes a boar brush with a wooden handle, and the club promises to send different brushes as your subscription progresses. Again, the item is well-made, easy and comfortable to use.

The blades: I received two types of blades from Gillette, Silver Blue and 7 O’Clock. Both were effective and comfortable, and the differences between them were subtle. I found the Silver Blue to be slightly smoother on the skin, but shaving not quite as close, at least on first pass. There are many different kinds of safety razor blades, from several manufacturers, and I think finding a personal favorite is certain to be a matter of experimentation. However, of the two in this box, I would pick Silver Blue.

The soaps: Wet Shave Club picked two soaps from Red Leaf: Oatmeal, Milk and Honey, and English Coast—the latter features “herbs, mosses, meadow flowers and the scent of coastal air just after a rain.” I have been using the Oatmeal, Milk and Honey exclusively so far. It smells fresh and slightly sweet, and the lather is rich and luxurious on the skin.

The aftershave: Applying the Forge & Foundry aftershave lotion brings a brisk sting to freshly-shaved skin from the witch hazel, and a pleasant aroma that mixes the bay rum, with its bayberry leaves, and the witch hazel. The sting fades after a minute or two, but the scent stays with you for a while and elicited an 'mmmm!' from my wife.

The alum matches: Intended to soothe razor burn and irritated skin, and to stop the bleeding of minor cuts. The matches work, quite well, but applying them feels a bit strange, like pressing a pinhead on your skin.

Bear in mind that my collection is just the first box, and each subsequent box should bring a variety of new things.

The Process

I had let the whiskers on my neck, under the beard line, grow for a few days before giving the razor its first test. 

Following the included step-by-step instructions (“10 Easy Steps to an Awesome Wet Shave,”) I got ready to take it off.

Step One: Prep the razor. 
Here is where I hit the first snag: Having never used this type of shaver, I had no idea how to load a blade into this thing, and there are no instructions in the box. 

A search of the Wet Shave Club website was fruitless, but I finally found a guide on another site. Including instructions in this first box would be a very welcome addition. At a minimum they should be available on the club’s own site.

Once I got the guidance, though, putting in the blade was easy. You simply unscrew the top from the handle. The top is made of two pieces that separate as soon as it is disconnected from the handle. You slip the blade over the three prongs — do be VERY careful to not cut your fingers while doing this — and reattach everything. As it is recommended to do this every three days (or shaves) to ensure the blade is always sharp, it’s good that it’s not complicated.

I received two five-packs of blades, both made by Gillette. With a change every three days, the 10 blades is about a one-month supply. I found the Silver Blue a bit more comfortable to use, but that is a matter of personal preference. 

The Wet Shave Club sends out a variety of blades each month. It is good to have the opportunity to try out various options as you work your way toward determining your favorites.

The instructions do not say anything about disposing of used blades, but it is best to not put them directly into the trash. 

Even after they are dulled enough to need replacing, they are still quite sharp and could potentially injure sanitation workers or wildlife scavenging in the landfill. Check out this article from Greenopedia for some easy disposal ideas. 

Step Two: Prep the brush. Just put it in a mug of hot water for a few minutes to soften the bristles. While that’s underway, you can do step three.

Step Three: Prep your beard. Basically you want to soften up your stubble. The club recommends a hot shower, which worked well for me.

Step Four: Build a lather. Put one of the shaving soaps in the bottom of a mug and squeeze the excess water out of the brush. Swirl the brush in a circular motion across the soap until lather builds up. Adding a bit more water will make the lather foamier. You will probably need to experiment some to find the right level for your own face.

Now, at this point, because you are about to put blade to skin, you might have noticed an omission in these steps. I will go ahead and fill it in:

Step Four(a): Put the lather on your face. (This is important, so assume it even though it isn’t stated.) Use the brush to spread the lather across the area you plan to shave. It will not be as thick as you might be used to if you normally use canned shaving cream or gel, but it will lubricate just fine.

Step Five: Angle your blade. In order to cut your facial hair, you need to find the angle that puts the edge of the blade in contact with it. The club recommends starting with the handle parallel to the floor and then moving it slowly to point towards the floor while pulling the razor down your face, until you find the angle where the blade is cutting the hair.  This method worked well.

Step Six: Shave. Do not press in, as you have to with a cartridge razor. The weight of the razor and gravity will do the work. Shave with smooth strokes, with the grain.

Step Seven: Rinse your face and get ready to do it again.

Step Eight: Reapply lather and shave again. Assume you will need at least two passes each day, and maybe a third if (like me) you had more than a day’s worth of growth.

Step Nine: Third pass if needed, then rinse with warm water and again with cold water. The second rinse closes your pores.

Step Ten: Apply aftershave. Each month, Wet Shave Club will provide an option or two for after shave care.

How It Went

Because my first trial of these products was on a patch of several days’ growth, even three passes was not quite enough to eradicate it. Also, while cutting a sharp beard line is a challenge under any circumstances (this is why bearded men pay barbers for the occasional reshaping), the safety razor does not allow great precision, at least not in my unpracticed hands.

Obviously, using the things in this box for beard maintenance was not going to be a fair test, so I decided to go clean-shaven.

1. Remove most of beard, 2. After 3 passes. 3. After next morning's shave - fully cleanshaven! No nicks!

First, I used my electric trimmer to get rid of as much growth as possible, getting it down to the equivalent of a day or two’s worth of stubble. 

Then I returned to the step-by-step guide, giving myself three passes and a little extra attention on the hairs right beneath my nose, which are both coarse and hard to reach with the blade.

By the end of three passes, I had a little remaining stubble but had gotten almost all of it. 

The next morning, I gave it two more passes and emerged fresh and clean. Since then, I’ve kept it up and a plan to for a while. After the first two days, I've found that a single pass is often enough, but I usually do two.

The alum matches serve the same purpose as a styptic pencil, in a more portable form. If you get a nick, wet the head of one and rub it over the cut a couple of times; the bleeding will usually stop immediately. You can also use them to soothe irritated skin after a shave. I have given myself a minor cut or two and the matches work perfectly.

This has been a new shaving experience for me. In the past I’ve always used either triple-bladed hand razors or electric shavers, and never been happy with the results. This safety razor and its single-edged blade gave me a better, and much more comfortable, shave than anything else I’ve ever used. 

As an added bonus, the process takes a bit more time than most shaving methods, and requires a few steps to be followed, so it creates a small personal ritual and a meditative space, a nice daily touchpoint in this chaotic world.

The Details

The Wet Shave Club offers its monthly subscription box at four different prices, depending on the length of the subscription: It is $29 for one month: $24 a month for three months; $22 per month for six months, and; $19 a month for a year. Gift subscriptions are available, and shipping is free within the continental U.S.

The high quality razor and shaving brush alone make it worthwhile to get at least one box. The promise of a monthly assortment of products to try, including soaps, aftershaves and more brushes, for just $19 a month with a one-year subscription is pretty enticing too. The Wet Shave Club selects products of high quality that should appeal to any man who wants to pay attention to good grooming.  
Wet Shave Club Website
Wet Shave Club on Facebook

The Wet Shave Club is providing a 10 percent discount to our readers. Just enter RCH10 as a discount code during the checkout process. 

They are also offering one box to our readers as a giveaway, featuring the products involved in this review.  This giveaway is for US residents and will end just before midnight ET on November 6.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner! (Foraged Mushrooms)

“Eww…what’s that??”

Uh oh. This was going to be a hard sell.

Let me preface with this: one of my hobbies is hunting wild mushrooms. Well, I suppose it’s less of a hunt and more of a gather. 

This is considered somewhat of a weird hobby to most Americans, but according to the residents of the little Appalachian town in which I live, obtaining at least half of your food from the forest is not at all an uncommon practice. 

There is free food outside, people! It’s all over the place! You just have to know what the edible stuff looks like and you can eat it. It’s amazing.

My boyfriend, however, is like most Americans when it comes to mushrooms--though to his credit, he has come to politely tolerate my hobby. 

He can successfully identify the grocery-store varieties, but remains suspicious of my outdoor finds.

I plop a 4-pound bag of flabby orange fungus down on the kitchen counter. “Dinner!” I said.  

People are scared of wild mushrooms, because they don't know enough about them to safely identify them. They see one and think that if they eat it, they will probably die, or at very least, it’s gonna be nasty. But plenty of those exotic gourmet mushrooms you hear about at expensive restaurants or occasionally glimpse at the farmer’s market or fancy section of the grocery store are, in fact, (gasp!) wild. As in, came from outside. In the woods. Picked by someone wandering around with a basket and possibly (seriously) a trained sniffer-pig.  And you may have already eaten one…without even knowing it! (DUN dun…DUUUNNNN!!!!)

The reason for this is because many delicious gourmet mushrooms can’t be effectively cultivated. Some have what is known in mushroom nerd-language as a “mycorrhizal association” with specific trees—essentially a symbiotic relationship with the tree’s root system. 

Some are parasitic and must squeeze the last living breath from their host tree and feast on its remains in order to recycle it into sweet, sweet deliciousness for your dining pleasure. 

Many are waaay too much of a production to cultivate yet plentiful enough in nature that buying them from the dude with the basket is much more plausible, practical, and cost-effective. The good news is that you too can get your own delicious wild gourmet mushrooms, with no cost to you!

Meet the Chicken-of-the-Woods Mushroom (that’s Laetiporus sulphureus to you, bub). 

This is the best noob-mushroom ever, because it’s practically unmistakable and has no poisonous look-alikes.* 

It’s big, bright freakin’ orange with yellow or sometimes white pores (rather than gills) on the underside, and grows in huge shelf-like stacks on hardwood (almost always oak) trees in Eastern North America in the fall. 

You can usually see it from halfway across the woods, because its size and color make it really difficult to miss. 

It’s called “Chicken-of-the-Woods” because it tastes like…you guessed it…chicken. It’s got a meaty texture and even the “stringiness” of chicken breast. You can pretty much cook it in any manner that you can cook chicken. And like chicken breast, it’s a bit bland and needs a little seasoning.  It has officially become the BF’s new favorite mushroom. Success!

*On the Western portion of the continent and in the Great Lakes region, there are other types of “Chicken-of-the-Woods” that grow on conifers and eucalyptus trees. These have been associated with sometimes causing gastric upset (as in, unpleasant amounts of time spent in the bathroom hugging the bowl) in sensitive people, especially when consumed raw or undercooked. It’s uncertain why; most people eat it with impunity. 

Only eat young, tender, brightly colored Chicken-of-the-Woods, and cook your mushrooms thoroughly. Trying a small amount at first to see if it agrees with you before scarfing a huge plateful is always wise practice when it comes to any foraging, especially for mushrooms

So today, we’re making vegetarian Chicken-of-the-Woods Thai Green Curry.  

Chicken-Of-The-Woods Thai Green Curry

For two generous servings, you need:

Mmm…mysterious greenish paste...
2 c sliced Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms
2 c sliced mixed stir-fry vegetables of your choice (bell peppers, broccoli, onions, etc.)
2-4 tbsp of Thai green curry paste (look in the “international” aisle)
1 15 oz. can of coconut milk
1 green chili, minced (adjust to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Cooking oil or butter for frying
Vegetable or chicken broth for deglazing the pan
Chopped Thai basil, if desired
Salt & pepper to taste
2 c hot cooked rice

1. Sauté the mushrooms in butter or oil until browned. Don’t overdo it on the grease; this mushroom will suck it up readily like a sponge. Deglaze the pan with broth and set aside.

2. Saute the vegetables in butter or oil until crisp-tender.

3. Add chili, garlic, and ginger and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

4. Add the curry paste and lime juice and stir to coat.  

5. Stir in coconut milk thoroughly. Add cilantro and Thai basil and simmer for 5 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Add the “chicken” back to the pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes more, until hot. Serve over hot cooked rice. Done!

Enjoy this delicious meal, and the well-earned sense of satisfaction that comes from sucessfully foraging for your own dinner!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Review & Giveaway - Mud Pie Soaps and Lotions

I've mentioned in my previous reviews on soap products that I have a mild case of determined psoriasis, which means I am very careful about what I use on my skin for fear of agitating the underlying beast.

At the same time, I like a good smelling soap with a good lather and a smooth after-shower feel. These are the four main proponents I judge soaps by:

  1. A pleasing scent, added bonus for unique scent combinations. One of my favorites is a mix of patchouli and vanilla, or vanilla and orange.
  2. A good lather so I at least feel like I am getting clean. This pretty much negates any and all glycerin based soaps, which never lather for me.
  3. My skin feels smooth after the shower and not sticky or rough.
  4. Healthy and natural ingredients without skin irritants

If you can match the above requirements, chances are you have a damn fine soap. I am not even worried about the coloring or shape of the soaps, so long as I am getting my money's worth. 

I am pleased to say that, for the most part, MudPie Soaps meets these requirements.

And they don't just stop at soaps. I was given the opportunity to try their soaps and some of their body butters. Who doesn't like a good body butter?

The items they sent over to me were:

  • Blueberry Soap
  • Patchouli & Lavender  Soap
  • Eucalyptus and Chamomile Soap
  • Blueberry Body Butter
  • Lavender & Chamomile Body Butter

My package arrived in a plain brown box within about a week of my order placement. As soon as I opened the box I got a potent waft of blueberry ambrosia and knew I was in for a scented treat, if nothing else. 

I decided to try out the Blueberry Body Butter right away on my hands. 

Being a computer programmer and farmer means I am constantly using my hands, and sometimes am very hard on them. I dislike the feeling of cracked, chapped, or dry hands, especially while trying to knock out some hefty website code. 

So keeping a small container of blueberry scent in a bottle is a great bonus for me.

Of course, if you do this at work, like I did, your co-workers are going to ask who is eating blueberries, and where can they get some. I did share once, and the whole office smelled like blueberries, added bonus.

The body butters go on thick, so you don't need a whole lot. Because it has shea butter, you can easily overdue the amount you rub into your skin, but at least it will last a long time. Your skin feels moisturized for a good long while, and the scent stays with you so you don't have to reapply often. 

I was very pleased with these creams and they were the perfect size to keep in my purse-where-all-things-get-lost.

I was unsure about the blue color and whether it would leave colored residue, but as you can see it blended in nicely.

I saved the Lavender & Chamomile Body Butter for next to my bed before I go to sleep because both scents help promote a restful sleep.

What I noticed immediately about the soaps was the beautiful color combinations used to create these delicious bars. They use tints and glitters to create creamy colorful waves of design into each batch, and my blueberry bar was topped with glitter!

Mud-Pie Soaps are made of olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, castor oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter as a base, and then the scents and extra oils are adjusted accordingly to create the various types.

The first soap I decided to try was the Blueberry soap. I couldn't help myself, that's how good this stuff smelled. I was very pleasantly satisfied. 

The scent was amazing, the lather was great, the after-shower smoothness was spot on.

The patchouli soap also had an amazing scent and lather, but unfortunately my skin felt sticky/rough afterwards, so it was not my favorite of the bunch. Which sucks because patchouli is one of my favorite scents of all time.

The eucalyptus soap was an aromatic herbal scent that opens up my airways when I shower and leaves me feeling refreshed.

Overall I am very happy with my package from Mud-Pie Soaps. It was a fun and pleasing package of aromatherapeutic goodness that made me smell great, lifted my spirit through scent, and made me feel clean and delicious. Highly recommended! Body Butters cost $4.50 each, and soaps are between $5.00 and $5.50. Because these are small batch artisan soaps, the available scents change often, so check in frequently.

Mud-Pie Soaps Etsy Shop
Mud-Pie Soaps on Facebook

To share the gloriousness of these fine delectable soaps, Mud-Pie Soaps is offering a giveaway of 3 of their favorite soaps to one lucky United States winner. What varieties the winner gets will be a mystery, but that's part of the fun! This giveaway will end just before midnight ET on November 3, 2014, and is valued at approximately $16.00.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review/Giveaway: LillyPopArt

As a parent, this company is one of the coolest things I've ever discovered. If you have young ones, I imagine your fridge is about as covered as mine in works of ‘art’. Some of it may be questionable, at best. However, I’ll bet that every now and then, like in our house, you are presented with a drawing that you just are in awe of. Who knew that little kid had such an imagination, right?

So what do you do with that special gift? You hang it on the fridge, or on a special art wall. It gets food splattered on it, or crumpled up. It probably has fallen down a few times and been stepped on, getting re-hung a little worse for wear each time. Eventually its probably tossed and replaced by the newest masterpiece.

BUT! It doesn’t have to be like that - not with LillyPopArt just a click away.

With LillyPopArt, you can preserve your child’s art in a variety of ways. I chose to turn one of the most precious drawings my 5 year old daughter presented me with into a throw pillow.

Actually, as I began the process with one drawing, luckily I got distracted before finishing, because she drew another, even better one, which I ended up using.

The first one is the original picture I was going to use. She included her baby sister who was still in my belly, and the Hello Kitty on her current dress. The one I ultimately went with, the one on the right, included her dad as well.

The process of ordering was super simple. From their website ,you choose what product you are going to make. That is probably the hardest part of all, with so much to choose from! You can pick a canvas to display on the wall, serving trays, clocks, cell phone covers, even shower curtains (and so much more!)

After making the hard decision on which product, scan your child’s drawing into your computer. If you can’t scan, you can take a picture of the drawing instead, and upload it. 

I was able to scan the picture however I was contacted by Helene at LillyPopArt the next morning to say it didn’t go through. 

I was able to just email them the picture. On the order form it also asks your child's name, age, and if you have a preference on dominant colors. You can choose to ‘trust LillyPopArt,’ which I did.

In the following days we emailed a few times discussing the final product. 

She sent me a digital proof showing the process of turning it from original, to digital photo, to what it will look like on the pillow. 

I literally cried when I saw her picture come to life like that! I only asked them to make one color change to it. I wanted the baby in my belly to have a colored outfit on to depict gender. 

A few days later once everything was approved, they told me it had sent. 

It was then less than a week until the pillow arrived in the mail.

It was absolutely everything I could have dreamed of! The pillow itself was soft, with flawless stitching. The design was bright and vibrant, and most importantly, exactly how it appeared in the proof email. On the underside is an invisible seamed zipper to remove the pillowcase for easy cleaning, so I can be sure that this will be an heirloom that will last a long time. 

My daughter was so excited to open the package, and recognized her work of art immediately. The pillow has been a wonderful conversation piece to anyone who has seen it. This is the most wonderful keepsake and I truly hope to add to its collection soon!

LilliPopArt has generously agreed to let us host a giveaway of an original work of art made into a one of a kind personalized plush fleece blanket (50"x60") valued at $65!  This giveaway is open to US residents only and will end just before midnight on October 30.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

LillyPopArt Website
LillyPopArt on Facebook
LillyPopArt on Pinterest
LillyPopArt on Twitter
LillyPopArt on Instagram

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