Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter Camps

Y'all know how passionate I got about arranging Star's 4 weeks off in August.  So, it would make sense that I would get equally passionate about her 2 week winter break.

But, no.  For some reason, I didn't put near the same amount of passion into figuring out her December time off as I did her summer time off.

Week 1 - I had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off for "the winter holidays", but let's be honest - it was for Christmas.  If they wanted to give me time of for Hanukkah they would have done it a month earlier!  Political/religious rant aside, Star and I had some fun adventures together.  On Wednesday, Scott also took the day off and we had family adventures.  We drove down to Burlingame to check out a playground which came highly recommended that we hadn't been to before.  And, the playground lived up to the hype.  There was a really long slide which both Star and I were too scared to go on, but Scott did it.  There were various climbing things and bouncy things.

After the playground, we played bocce and Star rode her bike around.  A park ranger was driving around, hopefully getting paid extra for working instead of being with her own family.  She called out to us, "Merry Christmas!"  "You too!!", my husband and I called back enthusiastically.  Then, she said to Star, "Did Santa bring you good stuff?"  Star looked at her like she was crazy.  In that situation, I'm never sure what to do.  I don't want to make the person asking feel bad, she was only trying to be nice.  But, I also don't want to be dishonest.  So, as nicely as I could, I said, "Santa doesn't come to our house."  She then made a friendly comment about the weather and drove off.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Star was with my parents, and Scott and I worked.  Saturday afternoon, I picked her up, and then we actually had a babysitter come over so Scott and I could go to a housewarming party.  We hadn't been to a party together without Star in a while!

Sunday and Monday, cousins visited.  They have a daughter who is 6 months younger than Star.  Star and she get along wonderfully well and look similar!  We visited them in LA a while back.  We went to the Steam Trains and had a nice time together.  

Week 2 - This was the week that could have been a disaster but turned out not to be.  I had planned for Star to be with one of her classmates at a nanny share.  But, I misunderstood the whole plan, and Star was going to be taking the place of her classmate's younger brother in the nanny share while the family went out of town.  So, Star was stuck there with a super young kid for 1 day.  It was awful for her.  I left work early to pick her up.

She was supposed to be with the nanny share for 2 more days, but Scott and I weren't going to put her through that.  So, we signed her up for Camp Gan Izzy at the last minute and Star loved it.  It's run through our local Chabad and they definitely have some motives about exposing kids to Orthodox Judaism, but that's fine with us!  They went on super fun adventures (Marine Mammal Museum, Jelly Belly Factory).  At the end, they presented the kids with a framed photograph of their whole group together.  This was for a 3 day camp.  It was really amazing.  Star loved it. 

Tog and Porter #1

At the same time I was trying Stitch Fix and Gwynnie Bee, I also signed up with Tog and Porter (T&P).  T&P is similar to Stitch Fix with 2 main differences: (1) you don't have to pay them any money unless you keep something they send you, and (2) in addition to filling out an online style profile, you also have a skype conversation with your personal style fairy.

I found the skype convo to be quite awkward.  My stylist looked all cute and professional sitting at her desk where I looked shlumpy and exhausted on my bed.  It didn't feel like I was chatting with a long lost friend.  It felt like I was wasting time.  I'm not sure I told her anything by skype that I couldn't have said by email or in some other online way.

Anyway, I again described my style as Boho.  She asked if that was a style that I wanted to keep.  When I said yes, she sounded somewhat disappointed.  I then told her that I love all colors - orange, pink, greens...  She squealed with excitement and said, "oh, this is going to be fun!" 

While my T&P style fairy was picking clothes for me, Stitch Fix box #1 came and was horrible, so I wrote an email to my T&P style fairy with comments about the pieces I got in the hopes that my comments would help her put together a better box.  She said that my comments were super helpful and she expressed excitement that she was going to be the one to turn this around for me!

I felt hopeful.

My T&P box came and it was horrible.  I was supposed to get 5 or more items, and I only got 4.  Strike #1.  I got:
  • Khaki pants.  Boring color.  Not boho.  
  • A grey t-shirt dress.  Boring.  Not work appropriate.  Not playground appropriate.  I don't have any other occasions.
  • A black maxi skirt.  Boring.  And, I really don't need another black skirt in my closet.
  • A blue sweater which looked like a bathrobe on me and which shed sneeze producing angora.  
I sent an email to my T&P style fairy which felt like a break up letter.  After a few days of not hearing from her, I followed up with another email because I didn't want to keep these clothes too long or I would be charged for them!  She said that we should have another skype convo where I could try on all the items in front of her and we could discuss each of them.  I told her that I wasn't interested in that.  She wanted to stay true to the integrity of the process and have a skype convo.  I again said no.

In the end, we didn't have a skype convo, I sent everything back, and I told her that I may try T&P again down the road.

Meanwhile, back in my closet, I really need some new clothes!  I resorted to my tried and true consignment stores around the bay area. 

Stitch Fix #1

Stitch Fix is a different kind of service than Gwynnie Bee.  You fill out a style profile where you tell them your height, weight, sizes; you see pictures of clothes and you tell them if you like them or not; you can link to your social networks; and you can write up a brief narrative.

I basically told them that I love the boho style and colors (not tan, black...)

Then you schedule a "fix" (which costs $20) and some style fairy goes out into the world and collects things for you.

My first fix from them totally sucked.  I hated every piece. I didn't take pictures of me in the pieces because it really wasn't worth it.  I got:
  • A preppy swingy skirt in navy polka dots.  I love polka dots, but it was a preppy nautical style which isn't my thing.  And, the huge skirt was not at all flattering.  Note to self: get straight or slight a-line skirts. 
  • A dress which buttoned all the way down.  I specifically told them that things that button all the way down are not flattering on me, and unfortunately, this dress proved me right.
  • 3 tops all in boring neutrals.  2 with super wide dolman sleeves which made me feel like flapping my wings.
Horrible horrible horrible.  I sent everything back with detailed comments about why each piece didn't work for me.

I didn't hear anything back.

So, I followed up with an email, and then I received a nice response from Jenni (one of the style fairies) who offered to credit my $20 towards my next fix and she would be my next stylist.  I took her up on her offer. 

Stay tuned for Stitch Fix #2...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gwynnie Bee

As soon as I heard about personal shopping/subscription box services a few months ago, I was instantly all in.  I generally hate shopping and if someone can do it well for me, I'll totally pay them!

So far, I've tried 3 of these kinds of services.  I'm joining the chorus of bloggy reviews of subscription boxes.  Here are my thoughts about Gwynnie Bee (GB).

GB targets size 10 and up.  The bad news is that because of my weight loss, I'm almost too small for their service.  Hooray for weight loss, but boo because I might be losing GB.

Overall, I love GB.  They operate like the classic Netflix model.  You choose a plan (1 garment at a time, 2 garments at a time...); you select specific garments that you want sent to you, and then you start getting garments (but not necessarily in the order that they appear in your list.)  When you send a garment back to GB after wearing it many times or no times, another garment gets sent to you. 

Before they send your next garment to you, you get an email letting you know what is on its way.  This eliminates any element of surprise which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

One thing to note is that GB seems to frequently take garments out of circulation.  So, suddenly some items may disappear from your list.  I think it's good that GB gets rid of stuff that has been worn too much or has had complaints about it, but it's somewhat frustrating if I was excited about getting an item and then it completely disappears from my list.

Another negative for me is that they are really targeting the plus size market.  They have some items in size 10, but nothing smaller than 10, and some of their garments start at size 0x or larger.  I should be thankful that this is my problem, right?

One thing I love about GB is that there is an active group of GB subscribers who write honest reviews about the garments they've received.  This makes is much easier to get a full perspective of the garment and its true size/color/fit instead of just relying on how the pretty model looks in it. 

If you have a GB item at home, you can choose to buy it.  One of the GB items I have right now is a black sweater/jacket thing which I've worn once; I'll wait a few weeks before wearing it again and then send it back.  This sweater/jacket retails for $238; the one I have at home has been worn a bunch and they'll sell it to me for $120.92.  I'll pass on buying it, but it's nice to wear a few times!

So far, I've received 7 GB items.  Three I returned right away without wearing them.  One of those was a short sleeved spring time dress which I received in the middle of winter.  It was my fault because I should have put it on my "on hold" list which is good for seasonal items you want to receive in a different season.  One was a shimmery t-shirt which would have been appropriate for New Year's, but I received after New Year's.  And, one of them the cut made me look like I was wearing a huge tent.  The others, I've worn a few times before sending back.

I love GB.  It's a great service to make my closet seem deeper than it is without investing too much money. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Household Helpers

The title of this post feels so ostentatious somehow.  But, truthfully, I could not live my life without the help we pay for.

(1) We have a cleaning service that comes every other week.  The do deep cleaning, sweep, mop, dust, clean the kitchen, toilet, and shower.  They don't do dishes.  If I unintentionally leave anything dirty in the sink, they will intentionally ignore it.  The only straightening they do around the house is that they make Star's bed and line up all her little stuffed animals.  They seem to love that.

(2) My husband and/or I cook dinner only a few nights a week.  The other nights, we use SpoonRocket, OneLessThing, or Munchery.  I enjoy cooking - I really do - but with the time pressure of getting it on the table at a certain time so we can all eat as a family and let our daughter get to bed by 7pm, cooking from scratch is not going to happen most days of the week. 

(3) We pay people to finish getting Star ready in the morning and walk her to school 4 days a week.  Generally I have two people doing this job - each of them takes 2 days a week.  Having two people in this role gives me security; if one of them is busy or sick (or quits!), then the other one can hopefully step up a bit.  The people in this position gets to our house at 7:30 in the morning.  When they drop her off at school, the helper signs her in, and sends us a text (ideally with a picture) saying that everything went fine.  This is probably the most crucial job for our family right now.  Star's school starts at 8:30am, and not a minute earlier.  So, if I take her to school, I generally am not "free" until 8:45 after I check her in, say hi to her teachers and the other parents.  Then, I wait for the bus, then BART and get to work by 10am.  That's too late.  I like my workday to start by 8:30am, so I can end the day on the earlier side and spend evening time with my family.  We are currently interviewing for this position.  We loved 1 of our morning people last semester and she was going to stay with us this semester, but she changed her school schedule at the last minute and now we're scrambling to get these roles filled again. 

(4) Nannies and Babysitters.  I rarely pay for a babysitter.  We are really lucky because my parents live close by and they willingly spend a lot of time with Star, and we are in a babysitting coop.  But, I'll happily pay for a babysitter if neither of those usual options are available.  When I do hire someone, I'll use one of our morning helpers, or a nanny that we used in the past. 

Having all of these services lined up lets my husband and I both work full time, and frees up some of our non-work hours to spend with each other (when we're not grocery shopping, paying bills, arranging playdates, exercising, and seeing our own friends!)