Friday, November 7, 2014

Stitch Fix #6

Earlier this week, my sixth Stitch Fix delivery arrived. This might confuse some readers because the last Stitch Fix review I posted was way back in May and titled "Stitch Fix #3". The truth is that in the interim I received two boxes, decided to return everything and was, in fact, so uninspired by my stylist's selections that I couldn't even be bothered to take pictures of the pieces.

I'll briefly sum up Fixes #4 and #5 before moving onto my current Fix.

Fix #4:

This Fix was scheduled to arrive a few days before my Queen + Adam Lambert concert.  I took advantage of the timing and specifically asked for an "edgy" piece that I could wear to the event. The top that arrived was so completely "not edgy", I became convinced my stylist didn't know the definition of the word: it was paisley and made of silk. AND it didn't even fit. In all my fixes, I've had issues with style but never with fit so I was very confused. The other four items baffled me even more: they had finally heeded my "no polyester" plea, but instead had sent all silk items. Was I not clear that I have a two-year old? That I stay at home with him? There seemed to be a whole field of cotton (ha!) clothing that Stitch Fix was deliberately ignoring.

I actually sent an email after this Fix explaining my unhappiness. They replied promptly and refunded my $20 styling credit, which was nice, but honestly I would have preferred if they had just gotten their act together!

Fix #5:

Sadly, that was not the case for my fifth Fix. I noticed that the Style Profile had been slightly updated so I went into amend some of my choices. One question asked "Are you pregnant?" Well, I am (yay!) so I checked the box "Yes" and included my due date (April). Note this Fix was scheduled for September, meaning I was approximately 15 minutes pregnant at this point. So my box arrives and - guess what? - Stitch Fix does maternity clothes now. You'd think I'd be excited but I wasn't for two reasons: first, I'm 5'9" so I barely start showing before 20 weeks so I really wasn't ready for maternity clothes back in September and second, they were seriously the most boring, ugly, expensive maternity clothes I've ever seen. A grey t-shirt with side ruching that I could find for $10 at Old Navy and a burgundy wrap front dress that barely covered my essentials when I didn't have a big old bump hanging off the front of me. Additionally, they committed what I consider to be a cardinal sin of styling: they sent me the exact same top that I had already completely and utterly rejected once before. Did they think I'd forgotten? Or that I'd like the way it clung to my new pregnancy lumps and bumps? To their credit (I guess) nothing was silk.

I didn't email again because I figured they'd just tell me to take a hike rather than reimbursing a second styling fee (luckily this is all pretend money due to referral credits), but I did completely revamp my style profile. I basically made it clear that I wanted my feedback reviewed and used to pick items and that I didn't feel like this was happening. I specifically asked for longer items that I can wear with leggings and specified that I only wanted tops. No more dresses or skirts.

So Fix #6 shipped and I decided to peek at its contents in order to manage my expectations. I was very pleased, dare I say excited, to see some of the selections so I was very anxious for my package to arrive.

My stylist for this Fix was Staci. Her note said:

Hi Kathleen! I was so excited to style you for this Fix! I reviewed your blog post, your Pinterest board, and what kinds of pieces you would like to avoid. I have been specializing in putting together Fixes for our wonderful pregnant clients, and it seems like you are not interested in receiving only maternity pieces, so I sent some regular pieces that can accommodate your growing baby bump. The Skies are Blue mixed print blouse is so cute with your favorite pair of jeans, and the rayon fabric can be washed (we recommend hang dry). The Evolution by Cyrus sweater has fun colors, and is super cozy. Both the Eight Sixty and the Tart pink top will grow with you. The colors are fantastic! The RD Style sweater is a fantastic layering piece to keep you cozy. Please let us know your thoughts! Best, Staci

Let me just say upfront: Staci hit this one out of the park. Every piece she selected was totally my style and something I could see myself wearing. Ultimately I'm only keeping one - maybe two if I'm feeling saucy - pieces, but I liked each and every one and haven't had such a hard time making a selection since my first Fix!

Evolution by Cyrus Shelby Heathered Colorblock Sweater, size Medium ($68)
Initially I thought this sweater might be too short and I imagined having to wear it over a chambray shirt I just snagged on super sale at Gap, but the length here is fine. There is even some stretchiness in the sweater so I could grow out a bit before the length started to creep up on me. But that also essentially means ruining the sweater so I couldn't wear it post-maternity. It was soft but not terribly warm and I worried that the knit might be a bit delicate for Toddler O. If I was keeping the whole box, this baby would definitely be coming along for the ride, but alas it was not meant to be.
 
Verdict: Return
 
Skies are Blue Haddie Mixed Print Tie-Neck Top, size Medium ($54)

Staci definitely took a chance sending this top since it has "tie-neck" in the item description (and I specifically said that I'm not a fan of ties), but these ties are subtle enough and the rest of the shirt is cute enough that I was willing to forgive her! What I can't look past is the fact that I'm 18 weeks along and this shirt was already very snug across my tummy. I haven't even really "popped" yet so I'm guessing I'd only have a few weeks with this little pretty before it became unwearable until next fall.

Verdict: Return

Tart Maternity Darya Empire Waist Maternity Knit Top, size Medium ($108)
I saw the price tag on this top and thought, "Hahaha. Nice try, Stitch Fix. There's no way I'm keeping this one." Then I asked Husband to take my photos and put this one on first. He immediately loved it! Once I saw the pictures, I really do too. Yikes! It's a super soft buttery fabric (Modal/Cotton blend - yummy!) and is nice and stretchy. I can totally see wearing this for the next 4.5 months and then some (because doesn't the top look just perfect for nursing?) Unfortunately it'll be April when I deliver so how after a few weeks I'll have to put this away until fall and then there's no telling what condition it will be in. I'm also slightly *ahem* fuller in the chestial region right now than I normally am so I might not have enough to hold this shirt up down the road! If it was $50, $60, probably even $70 I'd absolutely keep it, but even with my referral credits, at $108 it's a huge purchase.
 
Verdict: Sadly, return
 
Eight Sixty Maria Maternity Scoop Neck Eyelet Trim Knit Top, size Medium ($88)
I was most excited about seeing this shirt in my Fix because I'm all about lace/eyelet. The color is a super dark eggplant color (it actually looked black on my style card and I was sad for a minute that I didn't receive the pretty purple I'd seen online). The sleeves are eyelet without a lining, which I can live with, but won't exactly keep me warm once feet of snow starts falling! The material is super stretchy and I'll have to take Staci's word for it that it would have grown with my bump because it already seemed a little snug with nary a bump to speak of. As you can see, there is definitely lightness across the chest where the fabric is pulling significantly so basically by the time I deliver, the whole front of the top would be white and see through? I was imagining this as more of a tunic that I could wear with leggings but this would definitely need pants underneath. As pretty as it is, I'm not convinced it fits me properly and don't want to find out in February that I've made a $88 mistake.
 
Verdict: Return
 
RD Style Arleen Colorblocked Open Cardigan, size Medium ($74)
Ah what pregnant lady doesn't want to look like a grandpa? I know this one does! This sweater is super cozy, nice and long, and NOT maternity. So I can wear it with leggings now and then again forever and ever without it stretching out! The color on my style card is more grey and I wish I had gotten that version because this taupe reminds me just a bit of this cutie that I splurged on a few months ago. However, I have been wearing the heck out of the Cabi sweater so I figure another super cozy sweater is a good thing. I'm probably not going to invest in a winter maternity coat (because I won't be that big and I'm cheap) so lately I've just been laying up as much as I can: t-shirt, button down, big fuzzy sweater. Perfection! And this sweater has pockets so score!
 
Verdict: Keeping (unless I'm convinced to keep the Tart top in which case this lovely will be returned!)
 
So all in all, my 6th Fix was successful! I'm definitely requesting Staci again and I'm excited to finally have found a stylist that "gets" me.
 
*Disclaimer* I was not compensated for this post. However, if you sign up for Stitch Fix using my referral link then I get a $25 credit. Then you get your own link and can get credits for signing up your friends. How awesome is that?


Friday, July 25, 2014

Queen + Adam Lambert: In Concert!

I wrote on my personal Facebook page a few weeks back that every four years in July, Brian May and I get together to celebrate his birthday. Obviously this post wasn't entirely true: alas Dr. May has no idea about the interesting timing of our two encounters but that doesn't change the fact that on July 19, 2014 (Dr. May's 67th birthday and nearly four years to the day from the time I had the amazing opportunity to meet him), I saw Brian May and Roger Taylor performing as Queen in concert!

Rumors of this current North American tour began to circulate ages ago. You may recall that as early as 2010, Foo Fighter and massive Queen fan, Taylor Hawkins started talking about a tour. Unfortunately that particular matchup didn't come to pass but the whispering continued. I caught wind of them early on and vowed right then and there that if they scheduled a date anywhere near me, I was going. I missed out in 2005 when I was on my "but it's not Queen without Freddie" high horse and then their 2008 tour didn't even include a visit to the States. Honestly, Brian and Roger could have announced that they were touring with a bunch of singing rattlesnakes and I'd have made it my business to be there. (Although blech - maybe not rattlesnakes!)

As it turns out Brian and Roger decided to connect with American Idol veteran Adam Lambert for a North American tour, which began earlier this summer. Reception to this news on the major Queen fan front was - to put it mildly - mixed. Many felt that touring with anyone besides Freddie (and, of course, reclusive bassist John Deacon) was blasphemy. Others felt that a tour was fine but just not with someone whom they considered the very embodiment of a "C-lebrity", a song from the Queen + Paul Rodgers album released a few years back. Then there was the contingency of which I was a part: generally younger fans who sadly had no opportunity to see Queen in their heyday and realize that with both Brian and Roger firmly into their 60s, the reality of a tour is rapidly decreasing by the day.

When they released the dates, I was ecstatic: Madison Square Garden in NYC, TD Garden in Boston, and - ohmygosh, in my very own backyard - Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut! I dug out my rarely used American Express card to qualify for presale tickets and tasked ever-humoring Husband to purchase three tickets to the show. Presale, unfortunately, did not go smoothly. Tickets had been released in groups of 2 so a request for 3 was downright impossible: the system kept saying "none available"! Eek! Finally Husband snagged 2 tickets for me and a fellow fanatic friend and set out to find a single ticket for himself. The whole process was ridiculously nerve-wracking and made worse by the fact that tons of VIP tickets were available for several hundred dollars a pop. If it had just been me and Husband I probably would have paid the premium to get floor seats but I wasn't sure how high my friend was willing to go so we stuck with the regular seats. Finally, Husband got a ticket for himself and all systems were a go.

Of course literally the next day they announced a second date in Connecticut to account for the unexpected demand: that show is next Friday and tickets are still available. Argggg!

We booked a babysitter and made reservations to eat at Bar Americain (Bobby Flay's restaurant) before the show. To say I was nervous on Saturday was a bit of an understatement! I knew for sure that this concert was a once in a lifetime experience and I hoped everything went off without a hitch. Thankfully, it did! Dinner was delicious and just the right amount of food. I even treated myself to a frosty beverage to hopefully take the edge off a bit! We explored the casinos a while and I found my favorites: penny slots! I'm just about the cheapest person in the world and the idea of plopping down money that I'm just going to lose in five seconds makes me ill. With penny slots, I played the same $20 all evening before I lost it!

When it was time to go to the arena, there was a huge crowd gathered. Security was kind of a mess: they had male officers frisking male attendees and female officers further up the line frisking the ladies and checking bags. Seems like it might have made more sense to split up men and women or at least have some sort of signage indicating that was the procedure. While we waited, I checked out the makeup of the crowd which was very interesting. There were lots of older folks, but not older in the sense that "Brian and Roger are in their 60s and still awesome older"; it was more like "I'm going to hit the buffet at the golf club before nap older". I also spotted a fair number of families: parents in their 40s-50s with teenage-ish kids. The older generation definitely had the biggest showing though.

My shirt, which I will rarely wear lest it get worn!
The admission line basically lead straight into the merchandise line, which was fine because I knew I wanted a shirt. I'd scoped them out online earlier in the week and had narrowed it down to a particular style. My friend liked another style better (and I actually did too), but it didn't have the concert dates on the back and I really wanted that feature on the shirt. Otherwise it's just a Queen shirt that I could have bought anywhere! I also wanted to snag a program for a friend in Canada who visited the Montreal show but the programs were sold out.

So we waited...and waited...and waited.

Oh my gosh we were in this line forever! The shirts were all numbered and displayed on the wall so all you had to say was, "Number 3, size Medium" and then pay, but people were taking forever! One lady in front of us would say, "Number 12, size XL", the lady would get the shirt and then the first lady would say, "Number 30, size XL." You seriously couldn't order all the styles at once?!?!! Another two ladies stood there for ten minutes holding shirts up to their backs to figure out sizing as if they had never purchased t-shirts before. And I can't even count the number of people who asked, "What's on the back of Number [whichever]?" If the back isn't displayed on the wall, it's blank, people! Geesh!

We made our way to the front and at that point had decided to combine our orders to save time. My friend dealt with the lady for literally 45 seconds and 30 of those seconds were the lady fetching our two shirts. Everyone is seriously lucky that the show didn't start in the meantime or else I think we would have totally freaked out!

View from our seats. There were two giant television
displays and then a Q in the center with a video screen.
Unfortunately, our view of the Q video was blocked by
a piece of sound equipment.
Afterwards we found our seats. I've been in this particular arena before, but I was pleasantly surprised at how small it seemed. Suddenly our seats in the middle of nowhere didn't seem to terribly far from the stage. And even better, there was a catwalk and second smaller stage well within our view!




At this point it was past 8pm and I was ready for the show to start! I was definitely a little nervous and was bouncing around in my seat trying to contain my excitement. We did use the time to take a selfie photograph since Husband wasn't sitting with us to be official photographer of the night! We also chatted up the folks next to us: the couple to our left claimed to be big fans, but didn't know it was Dr. May's birthday so we weren't sure what to make of that and then man to our right said his brother was a big fan but he didn't do much squealing so who knows! (Obviously I'm being silly with both those statements: I don't go around judging whether someone's Queen fandom is adequate...or do I?)

The show itself was, in a word, amazing. Completely and utterly amazing. The set list was perfect: a combination of tried and true classics (Another One Bites the Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and Killer Queen) and more obscure tracks that separated out the real from the casual fans (Seven Seas of Rhye, In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited, and Now I'm Here). And more importantly, the boys sounded great. Dr. May and his Red Special were in rare form and good ole Roger thundered through the songs like a drummer half his age! He did have some assistance in the form of his youngest son, Rufus, who has been performing with the band as a percussionist for the past few years. Rog definitely held his own though and it was only during one song (Tie Your Mother Down, which came very late in the set list) that he completely handed over the drumming reigns to Rufus.

I'd made a very conscious decision that I didn't want to see any video of Adam Lambert performing with the band prior to the concert. You have to understand that this meant restraining myself for ages as Adam has been performing in one-off shows with Brian and Roger for several years now. For me, I felt very strongly that I needed to make my own opinion about the collaboration and I hoped that someday I'd be able to form that opinion after watching them perform together live. That said, I thought Adam did a fine job. He very clearly understood and made it clear to the audience that he understood that the show wasn't about him. I read a review that questioned why the boys didn't throw Adam's fans a bone in the form of one of his solo songs, but I think the answer is obvious: this wasn't Queen AND Adam Lambert. This was Queen + Adam Lambert. Of all the merchandise for sale outside the arena, there was ONE Adam Lambert shirt. Out of nearly 30 different Queen variations, including several that featured Freddie Mercury. Yes, Adam Lambert's fans may have come to the show to hear him sing, but there was no question that he was there to sing Queen songs and rather proud and honored to be doing so.

Adam's certainly got a flamboyant personality, that's part of the reason why many felt he would be a good fit for a band once fronted by Freddie Mercury, one of the most outrageously flamboyant frontman ever.  He was cheeky and wore some wild costumes, but remained respectful of his stagemates the entire evening. At one point, Dr May asked the crowd how we liked the "new guy" and his bashfulness at our polite applause seemed rather genuine.

Speaking of bashfulness, however, I'd be lying if I didn't say that my favorite part of the show was the middle section where Adam took a lengthy break. It began with Adam announcing that it was Dr. May's birthday and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to him. I'm including Husband's videos because he had a slightly better position in the crowd and has a better camera on his phone (and if you listen closely to the second video below, you can hear him singing along!!) Oh my gosh I seriously could not love this man more! As we sang, he made his way down the catwalk to the smaller stage and I knew immediately that some wonderful things were about to happen!
video

I was not disappointed. The next song was one that I've always wanted to see performed live because of its sing-along component: Love of My Life. The history behind this song is that Queen embarked on a world tour in 1980-1981. When they arrived in South America, this song (though released several years prior on the Night at the Opera album) was a huge hit and audiences demanded that the band play it. They complied and the crowd would sing along, often drowning out Freddie himself. When the band returned to North America (to film their iconic Queen: Rock Montreal concert), they included it in the set list, not realizing it wasn't quite the hit up north. This led to a very sweet exchange between Freddie and Brian about one verse into the song where Freddie says, "they don't know it!" From that point on, however, the song became fan favorite all over the world and has been a staple in the band's set list for decades. Now, of course, Dr. May both sings and plays guitar on this song and the emotion in his voice is evident. He asked us to sing along and promised us a "treat" at the end if we performed well. I'm not ashamed to admit that I definitely shed a tear while singing along to this one and I was horrified to see how many people made a beeline to the restrooms during this song! I think we should have locked them out! How could you walk out on this beautiful moment?

video
Although it was rather predictable, the "treat" at the end was a video of Freddie singing the final portion of the song. Yup, the tears were definitely flowing at that point!
video


The mini-set ended with Roger joining Dr. May for another one of my favorites: '39! Oh how I love this song and I greatly enjoyed singing along to this one as well. It really is a perfect example of what a dork Dr. May is though: he went into this whole elaborate explanation about how the song is a folk song set in outer space and then said we were going on a mission into space. Oh my gosh - talk about adorkable! Then they headed back to the main stage where Roger sang his signature contribution: Days of Our Lives, another one that tugs on the heartstrings of those fans who remember and loved Freddie so much.

Overall, I was very pleased with the concert. I was thrilled when later (on the closer stage, no less) they played Under Pressure. I didn't recall that one being on the set lists and as you may recall it holds a special place in my heart for being the song that showcases what an amazing musician Roger is. He sang his part as strong as ever and I swear for a minute it sounded like David Bowie had shown up! I was a little sad that Rog didn't get to sing lead on Radio GaGa, but I greatly enjoyed his dueling drum solo with Rufus! That was definitely not on the set list!

The one song I really did wish they had played was It's Late, my absolute favorite Queen song. They only ever played it live a few times in the 1970s so I knew this one was a long shot but I think it would have been amazing to hear. Maybe next time, eh boys?

I don't regret for a minute going to the show and several times just closed my eyes and enjoyed the fact that I was in the same room with Dr. May and Roger Taylor listening to them play music. It was completely surreal. And, again, I shed another tear during the encore as they played We are the Champions and I realized that this was the last song I'd likely ever hear them play live. (Unless I go back for tonight's show, which I totally might skip town and do!) It was truly a magical evening with two of my favorite musicians!

**NOTE** I've linked to my previous posts for each song on the set list that I featured as a Queen Song of the Week. I highly recommend that you go back and listen to the original recordings and live versions of those songs as they really are masterpieces that showcase the talents of four of the most iconic and diverse musicians of the 20th century!






Friday, July 11, 2014

Tons of fun at Dutch Wonderland!

Every year since Toddler O was born he and I have made the 10 hour journey to my hometown to visit my parents and sister. Because the drive is so long I am constantly trying to figure out ways to break up the trip or, even better, find a driving companion. The first year, Toddler O was a wee babe and just slept and nursed alternately for the entire trip. We stopped in my parents' hometown, where some relatives still lived, and then my parents drove to the Virginia boarder to see us the final three hours.

The second summer was even more awesome. We drove to Philadelphia with Husband who was there for work. Then we drove three hours alone before again meeting my parents at the Virginia boarder. Then my whole family drove with us to New Jersey for a wedding where we met Husband who drove with us the final few hours the following day.

This year we specifically planned the trip at a time when Husband had to be in D.C. and North Carolina for work. We drove to the Virginia boarder to meet my parents, but then Husband drove from D.C. to my parents' house to spend a few days. Then we all drove home together.

It's nice having company on the road and completely awesome when I don't have to drive. Toddler O was a rough driving companion this year because he talks constantly and doesn't stop talking until you figure out what he's saying and acknowledge it.

This is a typical conversation with Toddler O right now:

Toddler O: "Horses! I see horses."

Me: Looking around for horses and seeing none.

Toddler O: "Do you see horses, mommy?"

Me: "Where?"

Toddler O: "In the barn. Horses in the barn: do you see it?"

Me: "Ah yes. I see them." (realizing that in his mind barn = horse)

Toddler O: "Good."

And so on with each and every thing he laid eyes on for the entire trip. Oi!

Husband initially suggested breaking up the trip home by stopping at Sesame Place outside Philadelphia. I did a little research and decided that (1) it was ridiculously expensive: for the three of us to just walk in the gate it would have been $150+! and (2) it wasn't really something Toddler O would be into since it's mostly waterpark. I thought he might be a bit young. I poked around online a little more and came across Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Randomly a girlfriend from high school lives in the Lancaster area so I emailed her to ask if she'd been to Dutch Wonderland and if her two year old liked it there. She emailed back right away that they love this particular park so that was enough for me. We decided right then and there to drive five hours to Lancaster, visit Dutch Wonderland and then drive the remaining five hours home the following day.

Dutch Wonderland was, in a word, adorable. I'd read online that it wasn't your typical amusement park: for example, there's a big ole cornfield at the edge of the park! And most of the rides are geared toward the 8 and under crowd. Perfect!

Outside the castle gates on Friday evening.
One comment that Husband made as we were driving down the main road toward Dutch Wonderland is that he understands now why Disney purchased every acre of land they could get their hands on outside of Disney World. It was very weird to be driving past restaurants, outlet malls, and Amish touristy stops and then *boom* amusement park. One of the first rides we went on was a little boat that basically rode along side the road for a bit!

Anyway, one of the super cool things about Dutch Wonderland is the cost. We paid about $70 for two daily tickets (you can get them for cheaper if you buy in advance on their website): Toddler O was free, but then they offer a "free preview evening!" So for the three hours before the park closes, you can use your daily admission ticket to get into the park and then use your admission ticket again for a full day of park fun! So basically you are buying a 1.5 day ticket, which is awesome!

We got to the park at 5pm on a Friday evening and it was pretty dead. Any ride Toddler O saw, we got right on. In fact, some rides he had to sit for 5 minutes in the airplane (or whatever) while other kids wandered over to get on. No line waiting at all!

As I said, the rides are all relatively tame, but there are still some minimal height and parental supervision requirements. Toddler O ended up being an "Emerald" which meant that he could go on most rides, but needed an adult with him on most. The ride workers all had these cute little color coded measuring sticks that they'd swing around to quickly categorize a kid. Another cool thing is that some rides actually had height maximums so Toddler O had to ride alone. He felt like a pretty cool dude on those rides!

Toddler O turned out to be a bit of a daredevil like Husband. His favorite two rides would have given me fits at age 3 (or even at age 33!). The first was called the Frog Hopper. This was had spots for six kids and then one adult could fit in the middle. The dad in front of us in line decided to go and I didn't want to risk Toddler O freaking out by having to wait any longer
so I just put him on by himself. He shrieked with delight the entire time and then wanted to go on again when we passed it later! I think it helped that there was an announcement that they kids should "ribbit" like frogs so he was screaming "ribbit" the whole time too! Very cute!

The other ride Toddler O loved I had spotted while we rode the Sky Ride across the park on the first evening: the Kite Flight. I knew I had no intention of going near it but I thought Husband and Toddler O might have fun. We visited it first thing the next morning and I was right: Toddler O screamed the whole time, "I'm flying!"

This year there is a whole new section at Dutch Wonderland called Exploration Island. It had animatronic dinosaurs and Toddler O's favorite, a sandbox. He was a bit nervous about the dinosaurs on the first night but the next day he specifically asked to see them again. He still didn't want to stand alone near them though which is how I ended up in this picture with his favorite dinosaur species: triceratops (which he calls "tops").

Dutch Wonderland also has a whole water park area called Duke's Lagoon but it was randomly 60 degrees the day we visited so it was a bit too chilly to try the water park. We did decide to be brave and went on the Double Splash Fume which got us more than enough wet for the day!

One thing that I wasn't crazy about at Dutch Wonderland is that there is a decidedly carnival feel once you get through the gates. In my mind, I paid my admission so once I'm in I should get to enjoy everything for free. Not so. They had pony rides for $6/ride (luckily I was more into Toddler O riding a pony than he actually was so we skipped it); face painting for $10 and up (!!!?!?), and lots of carnival games. As we passed one game, Toddler O saw a little girl choosing a rubber duck out of a pond. He started screaming: he wanted to choose a duck too. He didn't even care about the prize or know it was a game: he just wanted to pick up a stupid duck. $2 later he had chosen a duck and won this stupid little stuffed animal (it was one of those "everybody wins" games) that promptly went into my diaper bag and he hasn't mentioned since. Ugh - at least it was only $2!

As we left, I just had to hit up the gift shop. I'm such a sucker for gift shops, especially when Toddler O is at his current age of actually starting to remember things. I figure having a souvenir or two to jog his memory is a good thing. I found him a cute Duke the Dragon shirt, a magnet (which we always get when we visit someone), and this adorable Dutch Wonderland board game modeled after Candy Land. All told, I spent about $35 which I didn't think was too pricey.

We also splurged on one last treat before we went home: Dole Whips!

"What?" you might say, "I thought Dole Whips were only at Disney World!"

Apparently Disney World and Dutch Wonderland both appreciate the glory of a Dole Whip. Although I goofed again while ordering and got the orange swirl flavor instead of the pineapple swirl flavor (you may recall that while at Disney I first ordered the Dole Whip sans swirl which, while delicious, is not as glorious as the Dole Whip swirl). The orange flavor was still tasty though and Toddler O was just happy to have a big ole cone of ice cream. We've decided that from now on Dutch Wonderland will be a midpoint stop in our trip to Virginia so maybe by our 7th or 8th visit, I'll finally order the Dole Whip that I actually want to eat!

So if you ever find yourself passing through the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area and you have kids, definitely stop by Dutch Wonderland. It's a really sweet place and Toddler O is still talking about it!


Monday, June 9, 2014

Pinterest Inspired Father's Day Gifts

Okay, Husband, obviously by the title this post is about gifts for you so since I'm posting it before Father's Day, you need to curb any nosiness and stop reading right now!

I'll be the first to admit that I came ridiculously late to the Pinterest bandwagon. For years I did not understand what all the fuss was about. Then last October I started planning Toddler O's 2nd birthday party. I knew we wanted a Thomas & Friends theme so I started poking around on Google for party ideas. All of a sudden Pinterest made sense: instead of bookmarking a thousand different sites with one idea each or trying to remember which recipes I wanted to recreate, I could have it all in one place. I could even compare a few different ideas right next to each other and decide which one I liked better! I was a convert overnight and I created my first Pinterest board full of Thomas & Friends party ideas.

Since then I've created a few other boards too (although I still don't understand some boards that people create! I'm sure I'll eventually get it - I'm just a slow learner, I guess!). I have a bunch for recipes and a fashion board that I created for my Stitch Fix stylist. It occurred to me a few weeks ago though that I could create a board for Father's Day because there was no chance that Husband would be poking around on Pinterest and have all his gifts spoiled!

I knew what big gift I wanted to get Husband for a while now. Back when I was pregnant he got a bike for his birthday and he has literally been talking for the last 3.5 years about getting a trailer to take Toddler O out for a spin. We finally invested in a tricycle (and helmet) for Toddler O and Husband, of course, has his bike and helmet so all we needed was a trailer and he'd be good to go. I will admit that I had extreme reservation in purchasing the trailer for two reasons: (1) I'm not the greatest bicyclist and the idea of riding with such precious cargo makes me very nervous! and (2) Husband has accidentally lost 30 pounds the past year by inadvertently being on Weight Watchers (since I was doing the program and the cooking). There is definitely more than a little bit of me that will be enraged if he starts actually exercising again and loses more weight! Ugh men!

Several of my girlfriends have (and use) bike trailers though so I've been assured of their safety. I checked different brands and styles for a while but couldn't find one that fit my requirements of being not crazy expensive (i.e. a Baby Jogger pod which looks awesome but - holy guacamole - $450???) and fitting a child as big as Toddler O is (more than 3 feet tall and 33 pounds). I didn't want something that he'd grow out of by the end of this summer. Finally, I randomly got an email from Amazon that they had marked down some trailers. The first one on the list was a brand one of my girlfriend's had and liked (Schwinn) and carried up to 50 pounds! For $100! The reviews were all very good so I bit the bullet and snagged it. We're actually out of town for the next week without Husband so I told him he could open the package when it arrives a full week before Father's Day. I mean it's not like he can use it without us (unless he goes out and rents another toddler!) Now he'll have an extra reason to be excited about us coming home!

So the big gift was out of the way but Husband is meeting us out of town (we're at my mom's house) next week. I wanted to do something small to celebrate Father's Day here so enter Pinterest!

First, I made this beer caddy. Adorable, right? I sewed it all by myself (this is actually prototype 2.0 as the first one was too small to actually fit a beer bottle. Ooops - live and learn, right?) I followed this tutorial from Pinterest, which looks a lot more complicated than it actually is. The hardest part was finding all the specialty fabric at Joann's! And I had to make my own stencil since I never did find an iron-on stencil that wasn't glittery! After I made it, I made my brother-in-law model it for us, complete with a beer bottle. It looks so cute! I figure Husband can wear it for cookouts, golfing, even mowing the lawn! I have tons of fabric leftover so I made just start a side business making these silly things now that I'm such a pro!


Here's the back. I actually sewed a little belt loop that you can put around your belt! So cute! If you do decide to try it yourself, I went rogue and sewed the ripstop nylon liner first by pinning it around an actual beer bottle. Then when it came time to create the outer layer (of canvas and fusible fleece), I knew exactly how big it needed to be to still fit the bottle. Just a little tip so your first version doesn't end up in the garbage like mine did!


My second project was actually more complicated and time consuming than the beer caddy was! I had seen a cute print-out on etsy (via Pinterest) of a tree with hand prints in place of leaves. Very cute. Toddler O has never really been big into crafting but after 8 weeks of "school" where he "painted" every week, I thought maybe he'd be ready for it. The PDF from etsy was $10 and since I am ridiculously cheap, I refused to pay that and figured I could recreate the look on my own. Initially I had construction paper, a mat and a frame but then I realized that a canvas could actually be nicer (and cheaper!) so I bought that instead. I also invested in some tempera paint in six primary colors, figuring I could mix a wide variety of shades for the project. First, I got to work on my own while Toddler O was sleeping. I painted the tree trunk and ground line. Then I stenciled "Happy Father's Day 2014" in a purple ombre color scheme. The stenciling alone took forever because I had to wait for each individual letter to dry before I could do another one!

I was so nervous to turn the project over to Toddler O! Obviously he was going to be supervised, but it was up to him to not completely destroy my beautiful branches and stenciling! He was very excited to have paint on his hands and right away knew that he had to press his hand onto the canvas. It certainly didn't hurt that the previous day we had been to a craft program at the history museum which just so happened to involve making hand print cows! He did great for the first four hand prints. The fifth one got a little crazy: he changed the position of his hand at the last minute and then wiggled his fingers a bit. I consulted with my artist adviser (i.e. my sister) who recommended doing a sixth hand print to try to cover up some of the damage. That helped significantly and I had to remind myself a few times that he's only a boy of two and his art projects shouldn't be too perfect! I did manage to sneak in two extra hand prints for a second present for Pops (my dad)!


Finally, I spotted a super cute mason jar filled with Reese's Pieces. Husband is a big fan of peanut butter and always puts Reese's Pieces on his Sweet Frog creations so this seemed like an appropriate candy treat to give him. The mason jar is decorated with a tie, which he doesn't actually wear to work anymore but it was cute so I did it anyway. Because I had my new collection of tempera paints, I painted the tie rather than coloring it or creating it with construction paper. On the top I stenciled "love you to pieces" (ha!). 
So there you have it: even a big Pinterest newbie like me can find and actually replicate some pretty adorable ideas! Ultimately I changed the name of my board from "Husband" to "Gift Ideas" and now I'm going to use it year round to keep track of all sorts of cute possibilities for friends, teacher gifts and family. Husband has already received his trailer and seemed excited by it so I hope he's super surprised when he gets into town and has more gifts to open! It was fun making them, particularly the tree which got Toddler O involved. I think we might have to do some more crafty things now that he understands not to eat paint or smear it all over the place! Guess I'll have to use Pinterest to get some ideas for that too!





Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stitch Fix #3

I went ahead and signed up for my third Stitch Fix fix as soon as I checked out last month. Since there was a May date available, I snagged it. In retrospect, I think monthly fixes might be too frequent for me. This whole month I was reluctant to look at or buy anything because I didn't know if something similar would be coming in my fix. I've heard that there is an automatic every other month option that was recently introduced so I think that timing might be perfect. Luckily the one thing I bought this month (a navy/green striped maxi skirt from Target) is unlike anything in this fix!

My Stitch Fix shipment arrived a day early again which is always such a treat! Though I hadn't specifically mentioned it, I have a big function for a group that I belong to tomorrow night and in the back of my mind I thought maybe I would get something to wear to that. Now I have an extra day to decide! Yay!

Initial impressions: I have a new stylist - again. I wonder if you have to request the same one or maybe they just give you a different stylist until you buy all five items? This month my stylist was Mia and she right away pleased me by referencing my blog reviews and my Pinterest board. So at least she's reading my past feedback. I also feel like it's probably a good thing for them to actually see a picture of me. Sure, they have all my sizing and I was totally honest about my short waist and big thighs, but having a visual can only improve the situation, right?

Here's the note she wrote me:

Hello from Stitch Fix Kathleen! I loved seeing your Stitch Fix review on your blog! It really makes styling you that much better. All of the feedback you give us is always so helpful. The Pomelo maxi dress is one of my favorite spring styles and will look great with a denim jacket and flats. I saw that you pinned the 41Hawthorn tank and thought you would like it in the yellow for spring to pair with your Just Black jeans [from Stitch Fix 1]. The 41Hawthorn top is a great spring color and can easily be dressed up for date night or paired with something casual to take the kids to school. Have fun trying everything on! I look forward to seeing your blog post. Xo, Mia

Right off the bat, I liked everything on the style card. No accessories, bags or jewelry (yay!) and a lot more color (which I had specifically requested). Already we're off to a good start. I had mentioned in my notes that even though I had started a Pinterest board, and actually pinned a few Stitch Fix items, I didn't necessarily want those items or those colors. I was just pinning styles I was drawn too: I didn't want them to think I was just making a wish list. So one thing that I pinned, Mia sent but in a different color. Everything else is a more subtle reflection of the styles I liked.

Lexis Chevron Print Henley Tank by Papermoon ($48)



Initial Impressions: Hm, more chevron. Until last month's fix, I didn't have any chevron in my closest and I can't say I felt it was a gaping hole. I also don't own any Henley tops: not that I don't like the style, it's just not something I'm drawn to so this will be the first one I've even tried on! I did really like the two ways that this top was styled and could see myself wearing it both ways. I also was much more attracted to the print and color of this top once I pulled it out of the box: the colors pop much more vibrantly than they do on the styling card. The material felt soft so I'm eager to try this one on.




After trying on: Husband's comment was that I looked like I belonged on "That 70s Show". Point taken. The top felt a bit on the short side to me. The pattern has a ton of colors in it and would go with a lot, but I'm not sure the Henley portion is sitting properly on my chest: it felt super baggy. My bra straps were also poking out in the back because there is the ever-so-slightest razorback.  Turns out my initial reaction was right on this one.

Status: Returned

Carmina Heathered Knit Dolman Sleeve Top by Oxmo ($48)



Initial Impressions: Stitch Fix seems to love sending me dolman tops: this is my third one. I did end up buying one in my first fix (and liked the second, but I already had one). I guess after a month of no dolman, they are trying again. On the style card, this top looks more grey but in person: "Holy 1980s, Batman!" There are neon blue, pink and yellow streaks throughout. Yikes. Another issue? It's long sleeves. It was 85 degrees here yesterday! I'm not sure I can get away with long sleeves all that often in the summertime. Again, the styling card showed two very "Kathleen friendly" options (i.e. light jean crops/sandals and black jeans/heels), but I'm not sure that's going to be enough to convince me on this one.




After trying on: Okay, yes this top is long sleeved, but it's also thin. I guess that's supposed to make it wearable in the summer but all it did for me was point out the waistband of both pairs of pants (which I HATE!) The top is also not sitting great in the second picture (that's Husband's fault for not giving me any wardrobe instructions before snapping away). The neons are a lot more muted once the top is on, but I'm still not a fan of this one. Enough with the dolman tops, Stitch Fix!

Status: Returned

Fiona Embroidery Detail Striped Maxi Dress by Pomelo ($78)


Initial Impressions: I must be some sort of maxi dress psychic, because just like last month, I literally just read a review that included this dress! This dress has lace detail at the top which I did think was cute (although means I have to bust out the strapless bra - meh). I actually pinned a lace sleeved sweatshirt so I wonder if this was Mia's summer version of that. It's navy and cream which is still neutral, but comes across as much prettier than the grey/black dress I got last month. I held it up to myself and it seems like it might be long enough. That'll be the real test, I think!

 


After trying on: Now we're into murkier waters. As you can see, I only styled this dress one way. I was convinced that it was showing every lump and bump and I figured trying to fix it would be a lost cause, but the picture actually came out kind of nice so now I'm torn. It's definitely long enough and, even better news, I can wear my regular bra with it as long as it's a nude color. I didn't take a sideways picture so it's possibly a disaster from that direction. Help!

Status: ???

Alessandra Striped & Colorblocked Blouse by 41 Hawthorn ($54)



Initial Impressions: This is the top that I had pinned in a bright blue color. Mia sent me the yellow version. It's a really cute top but the material felt weird. I checked the fabric content and - yup - 100% polyester. On my style profile I asked to avoid polyester and they have up until this point. Granted I did pin this top, but obviously I can't tell the fabric content when I see a random item online. I kind of wish Mia had overruled me on this. And the price point is higher than the three non-poly options! I'll still try it on and it might be cute but it just seems like it will be really hot for summer.




After trying on: Well geesh I knew there was a reason I pinned this top: it's freakin' adorable! I liked it as a casual everyday outfit and then also as a going out outfit (not that I ever do, but a girl likes to have options!) I really really wish this was the nice soft material that the chevron top was. Husband liked this top the best (aside from the dress) and I really did too! Ugh but polyester? What's a girl to do?

Status: ???

Selfridge Cowl Neck Long Sleeve Top by 41 Hawthorn ($48)


Initial Impressions: Another long sleeved top? The weather must be much more mild wherever these fixes are coming from. In Connecticut we seriously go from snow to 80 degrees in the span of two weeks. There just isn't a big window for lightweight long sleeved tops to get much use. The color on this one is very pretty, but both of the styling options are pretty dressy (albeit cute). This is a top I'd be much more excited about if I were still working but unless I put it on and look like a supermodel, I'm predicting I'll pass!



After trying on: I'm not quite sure why the Stitch Fix stylists keep trying to swarth my upper body in fabrics. Between the dolman tops, the oversized V-neck from my last fix, and now this cowl neck, I'm starting to wonder! I definitely chose that I prefer tops fitted to my body and straight options on the bottom, but it seems like I keep getting the reverse. I said to Husband as I stepped outside to take this photo, "This is a nightmare of fabric," and it is: lovely, soft fabric, but way too much of it. It's another thin long sleeved top but again that leads to a game of jean peek-a-boo. I didn't even bother styling this one the second way since it was so much dressier than I'm ever going to be (and I don't currently own a skirt! Ha!)

Status: Returned

So right now it's between the Alessandra Striped & Colorblocked Blouse and the Fiona Embroidery Detail Striped Maxi Dress. I'm not entirely sure I love either but the thought of losing my $20 (even though it was referral credits) is a tough choice to make. I feel like so many of these were close but then didn't work out. I loved all the color in the box (except maybe the neons - I don't need that much color!) and they definitely listened to my feedback about the dress length so we're making progress.

What should I do?

** Disclaimer ** I wasn't compensated for this review by Stitch Fix, but if you use my referral link to sign up, I get a $25 credit when you receive your first fix. Then you get your own code to distribute and potentially receive $25 in credit when your friends sign up. Neat, huh?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stitch Fix #2 Review

I had originally scheduled my second Stitch Fix shipment for mid-May (after receiving my first in mid-January), but then I kept pushing the date further and further up until it was finally in mid-April. I really hoped to get some nice summer clothes and since temperatures here tend to hop from 45 to 75 overnight, I figured the early the better for receiving some new options!

So for any newcomers, the gist of Stich Fix is this:

1) You register for Stitch Fix and fill out an extensive fashion and style profile.
2) When you are ready to receive a shipment, pay a $20 styling fee.
3) When your box arrives, try on the five items they send, decide which to keep and send any rejected items back in the prepaid shipping envelope.
4) Check-out online to pay for your purchases (the $20 styling fee goes towards any items you purchase. If you choose to keep nothing, you forfeit the $20). If you keep all five of your items, you save 25%!

Neat, right? Especially for someone like me who basically needs a whole new wardrobe thanks to both post-baby weight loss and lifestyle change (as a stay-at-home mom).

This shipment was originally scheduled to arrive on Thursday, but tracking info suggested it would arrive on Wednesday. Then I went out to get the mail on Tuesday and it was sitting on my front porch. Definitely a nice surprise for it to arrive early, but be warned since you only have three days to return unwanted items! Don't schedule your Fix to arrive around a time you are planning on being away or too busy to try things on! Luckily my schedule was wide open this week so I had all the time in the world to pour over the contents of my box.

The first thing I noticed about my second Fix was that I had a new stylist. I was a little disappointed about that: I feel like Megumi really got my style the first time and while ultimately I only kept two things, I really did like all five things included in my box. See my first review here. I had left really detailed feedback (about the delicate nature of the applique cardigan and that I didn't need two tops so similar in the same Fix) and had hoped to see where Megumi would go while preparing my next Fix.

Alas, I got a new stylist, Anna, who for the most part sent me things that I liked, but weren't really practical. I'd wager a guess that most of these stylist aren't yet moms (just because Stitch Fix stylist seems like a trendy just out of college job), but just by looking at the style cards I felt like Megumi had really nailed the easy yet put together style I was looking for whereas Anna maybe struggled a bit more. Despite these initial misgivings, I eagerly unpackaged my Fix and started inspecting the offerings.

Leya Thermal Knit Short Sleeve Top by Tart ($54)

First impressions: This top was the item that most caught my eye when I opened the box. I love a striped top and red is not a color I tend to wear a lot so I own no summer clothes like this. I had specifically asked for no white, but I was willing to give Anna a pass on this because it's technically not all white and I love striped tops so much! When I lifted the top out of the box, I was immediately struck by two things. One, which was good, was that there is a neat keyhole opening in the back which makes this top a lot more interesting than just a plain basic tee. Second, which was bad, is that this top seems very delicate. It's called "thermal knit" but the fabric seemed to stretch far more than any thermal I've ever encountered and seemed prone to snags. Obviously not a good thing when I've constantly got a two year old pawing at me!

I'm an idiot: ignore the price tags peeking out of the adorable keyhole! In my defense, it was 33 degrees outside when I took these pictures! 33 degrees! On April 16th! That is ridiculous! I'm wearing sandals here, people! All so I can write about my Stitch Fix experience! For you! You're welcome!
After trying on: Meh, this top completely underwhelmed me once I got it on. The knit just clung to my (smaller but still) post-baby tummy and the scoop on the hem did absolutely nothing for me. I liked the keyhole back, but really nothing else about this top. If it had just been a plain cotton t-shirt with the keyhole back, I would have kept it in a heartbeat! Such a disappointment.

Verdict: RETURNED

Wrenn V-Neck Jersey Top by Pomelo ($44)

First impressions: This top has been making the Stitch Fix blog review's circuit for a few months now in a variety of colors. My mom even received a Stitch Fix a few months back and this was included in a teal shade. Although it's just jersey, the style of this top seems overly dressy for a stay-at-home mom. Even the two outfits on the style card appear to be a work outfit and a going out outfit. No casual option to be seen! The one thing about this top that did peak my interest is that it's a lovely shade of royal purple, but even that strikes me as more of a fall/winter color. We'll see how it looks on, I suppose.

The only thing I changed about these two looks were the jeans.
Jeans: Just Black (from my last Stitch Fix)
Capris: Old Navy
After trying on: This is not a very forgiving top: I can see the tops of both of the jeans I'm wearing above and I hate when that happens. I also had to take about ten pictures to hide all the lumps and bumps and if I'm being completely honest - I'm probably sucking in a bit in both these shots. The neckline just feels so formal to me. If I were still working I'd probably keep this one in a heartbeat, but for just hanging out on the playground it's a pass.

Verdict: RETURNED

Erie Mini Reversible Crossbody Tote by Street Level ($48)

First impressions: Oh crap, did I not check off "No handbags" on the style profile? I immediately ran to the computer to check only to discover that there is no "No handbags" option so I just have to remember to type that 100 times in my comments from now on. Now I'm fully aware that this is going to come off as snotty, but if I'm going to invest in a handbag, I want to invest in a handbag. I learned my lesson several years back when I purchased a cheap handbag from Macy's and just months later, it was a mess: strings everywhere, stains, no shape. A disaster. One of my Coach bags, on the other hand, lasted 6 years as my everyday work bag. It lugged enormous files, water bottles, and everything in between and yet looks like I just bought it yesterday. So strike one against this bag is that it's $48 and obviously not real leather. Sorry, but if I'm buying a handbag, I'm investing in one that's going to last me more than a few months. Strike two is that I think handbags are really personal: some people like big pockets, some don't, others like crossbody, others don't. It's just too much of a gamble and the style profile asks ZERO questions about handbags. Strike three is that this bag is labeled "mini" and it totally is: it's like a little Barbie handbag. I could barely fit my wallet and phone in here, let alone diapers, wipes, snacks, water, Band-Aids and the other 300 things I must bring when we leave the house. Big fail on this one.



After trying on: I didn't even bother trying to figure out how to attach the strap.

Verdict: RETURNED

Ben Mixed Stripe Jersey Maxi Dress by Mystree ($78)

First impressions: I'd hoped that they'd send a maxi dress, but didn't want to specifically ask for a maxi dress because I didn't want them to send four. I figured for a summer time Fix, it was a given that they'd send at least one dress. I'd actually seen a review that included this dress earlier in the week so I'd seen it before. I'm least excited about the color palate of this dress: Anna wrote that the dark colors will "hide any dirt" I encounter, but a bright color in a washable fabric would have worked too! There are so many gorgeous corals and mints and radiant orchids out there right now, I would have loved some of that. And I'm pretty sure I included in my style profile that I'm pear shaped so I'm not sure why extra ribbons of fabric crisscrossing my already wide lower half is a good thing. Maybe Stitch Fix should consider not publishing reviews until items are out of circulation. It might just be me, but even if I love this dress on, I'd still be a little sad that it wasn't a total surprise when I opened the box.

Ugh ignore my beastly arms: I haven't been to boot camp in a month due to a pinched nerve in my back!
After trying on: One thing I hate about maxi skirts/dresses is I never know what the length is supposed to be. Short people whine about maxi dresses touching the floor, but then tall people complain when they don't. Which is it, people? Am I going to look like a freak wearing this thing out when I've got a good 6-8 inch clearance between the dress and the floor? I specifically said that I have long legs so I'm sad Anna didn't select a dress that had a longer length (like my beloved Megumi did with my black jeans from last time around). I'm also not sure the neckline is doing me any favors. It just seems very dumpy and frumpy and the dress itself is hugging every single curve I've got. Yikes. I can find a much better maxi dress out there!

Verdict: RETURNED

Lila Chevron Panel Knit Tank by Loveappella ($54)

First impressions: I liked that it was chevron without being chevron all over. That's a trend that may be on its way out the door, but this tank I feel like I could get away with when it's long gone. The blue and teal were nice colors and I liked how, despite having a razorback, it also had regular straps so it can be worn with a regular bra. It did look rather enormous though. This is another sizing issue: when something runs so big, how do you know when it's the style and when it's too big? This is a Medium, which is my true size, but maybe I need a Small when something is so big like this. I don't want to look like I'm wearing a sack! Granted, it would be a pretty teal chevron sack, but nonetheless a sack!

Styled for summer and fall.
Shorts: Old Navy
Jacket: Athleta
Pants: Just Black (from my last Stitch Fix)

Pretty back but no special bra needed! Yay!

After trying on: I like this top. It doesn't look like anything else I currently own, but goes with the type of "easy but stylish" vibe I'm trying to give off this summer. The style card suggests white pants and a denim jacket or an A-line knit skirt. I'm more likely to go with the former look just because I think with a wide hemmed shirt like this, I need a thinner bottom to balance out my lower half. I think it would look nice with shorts too.

Overall, this Stitch Fix was a bit of a disappointment. I felt like Megumi really got my style, my figure, and my lifestyle last time around and with Anna, not so much. The fact that my mom and I got even one item in common is a joke: I'm a 5'9" stay-at-home mom who asked for easy summer outfits and she's a 5' retiree who wanted nicer items to wear on her South Pacific cruise. The bag, in particular, was a big disappointment. That's a whole extra article of clothing that I didn't even get to try. Granted I didn't specifically say "no bags" but I had said no to all other accessories so I feel like it maybe should have been inferred. Bummer.

I've got some referral credits so essentially I'll get the chevron tank as well as my next Fix free so I'm definitely trying again. I also started a Pinterest board which I'll pin too next time around to give them a better idea of my specific style. And, of course, detailed feedback is a must. While I'm a tad disappointed, it does seem like your first few Fixes can be hits or misses while they try to figure you out. Perhaps because my first Fix was so spot on, this Fix seems to be more of a miss than it actually was. If I received this Fix first, I might be more excited about everything, but short of a time machine there's no way of ever knowing!

If you do want to sign up (and you still totally should because it's still fun to get a box full of unknown goodies on your doorstep every month!), please use my referral code. I'll get $25 to use towards my next Fix and once you sign up, you'll get your own referral code to share with friends.

Stitch Fix referral code: https://stitchfix.com/referral/3142615

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Disney Dining with an (Almost) Toddler

Prior to our recent Disney adventure, I'd heard mixed advice about how to eat at Disney World. Some folks swear by the meal plan and others say, "No way!" The complaints of the latter group seemed to completely vary too: "the meal plan isn't enough food!" "the meal plan is too much food!" "it's too expensive!" "the options for children are limited!" Everyone has an opinion and good luck convincing them otherwise!

So upfront I'm going to say it: we got a Disney Dining Plan and, for the most part, our group was very happy with it.

Disney Dining Plan is available to guests staying at Disney Resorts. To take advantage of the Dining Plan, you must purchase your tickets as part of a Magic Your Way Package. That basically means you are paying for your hotel, food, park tickets, and some small extras (i.e. a refillable drink mug) in advance. The thing about these packages is that you get meals for each night you are staying at a resort, not for each day you are visiting a park. So we were staying seven nights (Thursday-Thursday) so we got seven day's worth of dining (even though we only purchased five days worth of park tickets). I note this because you will need to arrange your meals within the parks accordingly: you can't schedule six meals at park restaurants if you only have a five day park pass so you'll need to check out some of the restaurants at the Disney Resorts.

We ultimately decided on a Dining Plan because we knew we wanted to do character meals and we knew that they were pricey! One character brunch alone can set you back close to $40/person and we did three! For us, even if we didn't eat all the allotted snacks, we made our money back with the table service choices we made.

The menfolk at a buffet breakfast -
this was a table service credit.
So what does "table service" mean? Well, it turns out there are several different types of Disney Dining Plans and that all the restaurants on the Disney property are categorized into three separate types of restaurants: table service, quick service, and snack. Table service restaurants are just what they sound like: you walk in, are seated, and order food which is brought directly to your table. Buffets are also included in table service restaurants. Quick service restaurants are like "fast food" restaurants: you order at a counter and then take food to your seat. Snacks can be found on the menu at certain quick service restaurants or at separate snack stands in the park.

The meal plans vary in the variety of each type of restaurant which is included. For example, there is one plan that is two quick service meals each day and one snack. You may notice that Disney offers "free" Dining Plans occasionally throughout the year: nine times out of ten, this is the Dining Plan that they are offering. The downside of this Dining Plan is that it does not include any table service credits which means no character dining. Another Dining Plan includes three table service meals each day! I guess some people like fine dining, but sitting around waiting to eat for 3+ hours every single day was not our idea of a good time...and I doubt our stomachs could have handled that much food either (especially before Splash Mountain!) Ultimately our Dining Plan was called the Magic Your Way Package Dining Service Plus and included one table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per person per day.

Children under three do not need a Dining Plan. Disney advertises that they can eat "free" but that requires some clarification. If we went to a buffet, Baby O was "free" to eat whatever he wanted off my plate, but if we were at a table service or counter service restaurant, we had to pay for a kid's meal. By the end of our vacation, however, we realized that my dad and grandmother were subsisting on merely our table service meal so we started using quick service meals for Baby O's lunch.

Disney Dining Tip: There is no distinction between children's quick service meals and adult quick service meals. If you have 49 quick service meals available (as we did at the start of our trip), you can use those credits to purchase meals for any member of your party. So if a member wants to eat light and chooses a kids' meal: no problem. Or if you want to use a credit so you don't have to pay for a kids' meal with cash: do it. Obviously this only works at quick service restaurants because one person is at the counter ordering. A waiter might give you a hard time if you were sitting in a restaurant trying to order filet mignon for a 5 year old using his meal plan!

Okay so we have our Dining Plan and we're ready to just start showing up at restaurants, right?

Oh my gosh, no!

Disney Dining Tip: Reservations to table service restaurants can be made up to 180 days in advance. Get out a calendar and count back 180 days from the start of your trip. On this morning at 7am EST, you must be either on the phone or at your computer if you have any hope of eating at some of the most popular Disney restaurants.

Disney will let you book meals for your entire vacation that morning (i.e. you don't have to call back every day all week), but some things are going to be booked already so have several workable plans in mind and try to be as flexible as possible. Remember, while you are hemming and hawing over whether you'll take a 5:15 reservation instead of a 5:30 reservation at Be Our Guest, the last reservations for the day at Cinderella's Royal Table were just snatched up. Here is a link with some of the most popular Disney restaurants (and alternatives if they are already full).

Disney Dining Tip: Use the Disney Food Blog website to figure out where you want to eat. The bloggers have been to Disney an enviable amount of times and have dined nearly everywhere and tried nearly everything! This website was a great help in figuring out which table service restaurants were worth visiting!

So my mom called and got reservations at our preferred restaurants at almost our preferred times. The restaurants we chose to eat at during our stay were: Mickey's Backyard BBQ (Fort Wilderness Resort), Coral Reef Restaurant (Epcot), Crystal Palace Character Lunch/Dinner with Winnie the Pooh and Friends (Magic Kingdom), 'Ohana Restaurant (Polynesian Resort), Chef Mickey's Character Breakfast with Mickey and Friends (Contemporary Resort), and Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom). Phew!

Character Dining:

Mickey's Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness Resort:

The "gang" does their musical number.
We went to this dinner on our first night at Disney. We hadn't even gone to a park yet, but we made a very conscious effort to schedule this dinner first. Why? Because it was a character "experience" and show. What's the difference between a character "experience" (my totally made up word, not Disney's) and a character meal? In an "experience" characters don't come around from table to table. They are there at the meal, in this case out on the dance floor dancing and posing for pictures in predetermined spots, but they don't just show up behind you unexpectedly. We booked this meal first to gauge how Baby O was going to react to the characters. If this experience had gone poorly, we would have cancelled our other two character meals.

If you haven't ever been to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, it's worth visiting for a meal at least once if only to confirm that you will never ever ever stay there. We arrived at the resort via car only to find out that we had to load onto a bus that would take us deep into the woods where the BBQ was taking place. As we drove, the accomodations became more and more frightening: first, there were "cabins" (i.e. actual built structures), then we saw trailers and I swear by the time we were pulling into our stop (literally 25 minutes later - be sure to build that extra travel time into your schedule), there were just folks pitching tents. A little too woodsy for my blood!

Now because this was a show and a meal, it costs two table service credits. In real money that's equal to anywhere from $36 to $59.99/person. Zoinks! However, as Husband pointed out NUMEROUS times, unlimited beer and wine was included in that price. And the show. And a buffet. And, most importantly, a chance to determine if an almost two year old was terrified by Mickey Mouse.

Now the show itself is cute. It's a little rodeo with a band and two hosts. There is a cowboy who does rope tricks (with an audience participant). And the characters come out to do a little performance before joining the crowd to dance. Baby O was not really into being on the ground yet with the characters (who could blame him, it was very crowded), but he seemed to have fun as I carried him and bounced him around. At one point we spotted Minnie dancing in the corner with a smaller crowd and he was willing to dance near her. Finally, we saw Mickey and Minnie doing a photo opp right behind our table so we lined up. I held him, he smiled and said, "Hi," , we got a photo and he didn't scream or cry hysterically. All told, I'd call it a win.

Mickey bars were a hit.
The food here is barbeque food. I've seen reviews complaining that it was too "backyard" but it's not like Disney is hiding the ball here: it's called Mickey's Backyard Barbeque. There were ribs, chicken, burgers, and sides like macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and cornbread. Dessert was a Mickey bar. Don't show up expecting it to be a five star dining experience and you won't be disappointed. Was it the greatest food I've ever had in my life? No. Was it the greatest food I had during our Disney trip? Not even close. Was it the perfect way to start our vacation and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Absolutely!

Crystal Palace Lunch/Dinner with Winnie the Pooh and Friends

I call this a lunch/dinner because we had reservations at 2:45 and were seated around 3pm. This was also intentional on our part: there's a 3pm parade that runs past the Crystal Palace every afternoon. We lucked out and got a window table with a decent view, but unfortunately it started drizzling so everyone came up onto the covered patio portion of the Crystal Palace and blocked our view. No worries though - we got an amazing view of the parade on our last day (read about that here). It was also lunch/dinner literally: we went through the buffet the first time and then our waitress told us that they had switched over to the dinner options if we wanted to go through again (we did!)

Piglet took time to come see Pops.
This was our first character meal of the trip and not surprisingly, Disney runs these things like clockwork. I couldn't figure out how the Cast Members could keep straight which character had visited which table, but lo and behold somehow despite our ten person group taking numerous trips to the buffet and the restroom, the characters taking breaks, and new people arriving to be seated, not only did all the characters come to our table, but they brought them over in order of a child's likely interest (i.e. Eeyore first, Piglet, Tigger then Pooh). The characters were delightful. Seriously. They interacted not only with Baby O but with other people in our group too and, of course, were completely in character the whole time: Piglet was sweet and wanted to acknowledge everyone, Tigger was full of energy, and Pooh was very kind and gentle to Baby O, who was thrilled with the whole experience!

Food-wise, buffets really are a great value on the Dining Plan. This was also retails between $36-$59.99 and while the food was good, I would have had a heart attack if I'd gone to a restaurant and gotten that bill (especially since there were ten of us at that point!) Baby O ate free which meant that my first trip to the buffet was to fill a plate with anything that looked appealing and possibly not unhealthy. Then my second trip was for my own plate. Because he's an almost toddler, Baby O was much more interested in my plate than his (even though it contained some of the same things!) The Crystal Palace also does a character buffet breakfast, which is also very popular.

Overall, this was a good meal. We got to meet Pooh and Friends, which Baby O loved and it was a nice midday meal. We split some quick service meals that evening for dinner and were all satisfied. The location is prime: right off Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. This one is popular so be sure to make your reservations ahead of time: there's no walking in off the street for this restaurant!

Chef Mickey's at Contemporary Resort

We ate here on our gloriously perfect last day at the Magic Kingdom. That being said, I don't know if we were biased at all, but everyone agreed that this was an amazing character meal. There is both a breakfast and a dinner option. We chose breakfast and got 10:30am reservations. That actually worked out perfect because we arrived at the Magic Kingdom just as it opened (accidentally catching the morning show outside the park!), rode a few rides at Tomorrowland, met Buzz Lightyear and then hopped on the Monorail for the 5 minute ride to the Contemporary Resort.

As we waited for our table, the Cast Members lined us up for a photo opp with a Mickey statue. Later they come around to your table and give you the option to buy the photo. It's about $30 for a 8x10 and two 4x6. Overpriced? Yeah, probably, but it was our last day and it was a rare full group shot so we splurged. We got a big table against the back corner of the restaurant. Our waitress came right over, took our drink orders and sent us away to the buffet.

Oh my goodness, this buffet. My dad (Pops) is a huge breakfast fan and he definitely looked like he was in heaven. The options were endless: savory (breakfast pizzas, sausages, omelets), sweet (pancakes, Mickey waffles, about 300 types of Danishes), and healthy (fruit platters, granola, yogurt). I filled about four plates and still hadn't gotten one of everything! Baby O was a fan of the Mickey waffles and Danishes, but we managed to get a banana in him as well. I was just tasting everything and it was all delicious!

Baby O joined in the napkin twirling fun.
After we had our plates filled, the fun started. The vibe in this restaurant is straight-up Mickey nostalgia. As a child I had this little record player and a Disney 45 record that I played nonstop. Those were the songs playing at this restaurant!  Songs like Digital Duck and Mickey, She's Got a Crush on You. I was like a kid again, squealing each time I recognized a song from my past! The whole restaurant would start twirling their napkins in the air to the music and then the characters would appear! No messing around here, Chef Mickey's brings out the big guns: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto all dressed in chef garb. Once again the characters seamlessly made their way from table to table, spending just enough time with everyone.

We've been "Goofy bombed!"
We did have a funny incident where Donald and Goofy arrived at our table at the same time from
different directions! The Cast Members quickly stepped in to swoop Goofy away but not before he "Goofy bombed" our photo with Donald! We all got a big laugh out of that! It even inspired a page in my Disney scrapbook with all types of different "Goofy" shots of us during the trip! An event bigger treat? The characters came around twice! So we were able to retake some pictures that hadn't quite come out the first time.

We momentarily panicked when we realized that Mickey had been detoured right as we were getting ready to leave so we mentioned to our waitress that he hadn't been back a second time. A few minutes later, Mickey's "handler" came over and told us that when we were ready to leave, she'd meet us in a little alcove by the kitchen. I was so thrilled because I really wanted to try to get a Baby O picture with Mickey by himself and ultimately I did! I thought it was so wonderful of them to accommodate us when there were like 200 other families that obviously wanted Mickey time too!

Once we got our Mickey picture, we hopped back on the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom. As far as character meals go, this one ranks up there in popularity with Cinderella's Royal Table. The execution is flawless and the food is delicious. We used one table credit for the meal which generally runs between $30-$59.99. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who has kiddos who want to meet the big five Disney characters. It was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Non-Character Dining:

Okay, before I dive into the other three restaurants we ate at, I want to say upfront that I had a hard time figuring out what to label this section. It's not "regular" dining because some of these restaurants are anything but so I settled on non-character dining which simply means that the characters do not come around to your table or interact freely with guests.

Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot:

One memory my family had of our last trip to Disney (circa 1991) was eating at this restaurant and being stunned, literally stunned, when we were seated next to the giant fish tank wall. Since Baby O is a huge fish fan and we were in a Finding Nemo room, we figured this would be a nice place at Epcot to eat. Despite having "Advance Reservations", we waited a long time before we were seated.

Disney Dining Tip: Advance Reservations aren't exactly reservations so plan accordingly. Even if you've been told by Disney to arrive at a certain time, all that really means is that when you show up, you'll be seating before people who walk in off the street are. It doesn't mean that they are holding a table for you. We waited particularly long at Coral Reef because we were a big group (10, at that point) who asked to be front and center of the aquarium. Luckily we had snacks for Baby O and kept him occupied while we waited.

Once we were seated, we ordered our food. The food here is fine, probably on par with a Red Lobster, but if you are looking for amazing seafood creations, this is not the place to get it. We all enjoyed our dinners and it was neat to watch Baby O's reaction when the team of sea divers popped up in the aquarium, but had I been out looking for a "nice" dinner, I might have been disappointed. I think we all agreed that of the restaurants we ate at, we could have skipped this one and not minded.

The first of many "happys"!
Baby O, however, had a blast. It was at Coral Reef that we realized that he had started calling cupcakes "happy" presumably because you sing "Happy Birthday" and then get a cupcake! So we thought it was all kinds of adorable for the rest of the trip to reward him with a "happy" every time he asked! We also thought it wasn't fair that girls get all the fun of dressing up at Disney so we (okay, fine) I dressed him in his Nemo Halloween costume, which EVERYONE thought was adorable!




'Ohana Restaurant at the Polynesian Resort

Any disappointment we might have experienced with the food at Coral Reef was immediately rectified the following evening at 'Ohana. This was our last meal as a big group (Mimi and Poppi left the next day) and it was just perfect. A note: the Polynesian Resort is on the Monorail line and as a result isn't exactly driver-friendly. Husband and I would literally drive right up to the Magic Kingdom parking lot and then you had to take a quick turn or you missed the resort. Once we finally got on site, someone we ended up in a bus only lane! If you have park tickets, I'd just take the Monorail and leave the car at your own resort!

'Ohana does character meals but we just made reservations for the family-style dinner. Family-style dining is amazing: it's like a buffet that comes to you! They'd bring an entire platter of the most amazing little wontons I've ever had in my life, I'd eat them all, and they'd bring another platter! Glorious! There were delicious wings as well - both were appetizers and I seriously could have made a meal of those two choices! The main course is a thousands types of meat brought to the table: fish, beef, chicken, shrimp in unlimited amounts! As we entered the restaurant, several people stopped us to say, "Leave room for the bread pudding."

Oh my goodness, the bread pudding! Now I'm a chocolate dessert girl myself: if there's no chocolate, my interest lessens significantly. But this bread pudding was just ridiculous. They served us an enormous platter of it and I wanted more! So good!

I swear he's taunting me! "Look, Mommy - it's 8pm and I
have a cookie!"
Our waiter was also amazing. With big groups Disney automatically adds in a gratuity which you pay in cash, but we were so impressed with our waiter at this restaurant, we added in a bit extra for him. Baby O was particularly a fan. Why was that? Because at one point during the meal, he was refusing to eat the chicken (or whatever) that we had put on his plate and said, "Cookie!" Apparently the waiter heard him and brought him out a cookie. On the house! Then when the bread pudding came out, he presented Sir O with a dish of ice cream in case his delicate palate wasn't interested in the bread pudding. If it hadn't been almost 9pm at this point, I might have been more pleased. "Yes, thank you for loading my child up with sugar two hours after his bedtime!" Luckily Baby O slept well that night!

If you've seen Lilo and Stitch, you know that 'Ohana means family and that's obviously the theme of this restaurant. Between the family-style dining and the dinner entertainment, the emphasis on family was pretty clear. The entertainer is a ukulele wielding singer who first invited children onto the dance floor to dance the hula. Then he asked if anyone was celebrating anniversaries. As it so happens, Lolli and Pops were celebrating their 37th Anniversary so they went up and got leis. Then the singer sang a special song for them. Really sweet!

The group consensus is that this was our favorite food experience while at Disney. It just narrowly missed being our overall favorite dining experience, however. That honor goes to...

Be Our Guest:

What can I say? This restaurant is gorgeous! It's brand new, situated in New Fantasyland and they just capture every little detail about Beauty & the Beast so perfectly. Even from outside, the castle looks like it's far out in the midst (when in fact the entrance is right there) - how did Disney do that? This was actually the most difficult reservation for us to get. We wanted an early dinner (which to us meant 6ish), but the only thing available (and remember we called 180 days out) was 4:15! It turns out Baby O was having a rough after-nap transition and we were late to our reservations. Lolli masterfully told the Cast Member we were changing his diaper and somehow managed to carry on that charade for 20 minutes while we raced from the parking lot!

Once we finally arrived, they were ready but only if we wanted to sit in the West Wing.

The answer to that question is always, "Yes!"

So they led us in. Security here at dinner time is seriously tight: they won't even let you in the restaurant during dinner unless you have a reservation. There is a lunch option available which is counter service dining, but supposedly it's still very crowded and frankly turning this gorgeous restaurant into a "cafeteria" ruins the ambiance a bit in my mind.

There are three distinct dining areas at Be Our Guest: the Ballroom, the Rose Gallery, and the aforementioned West Wing. The Ballroom is the main dining area in the center of the restaurant. It's the largest (and claims online to be two-stories, but I didn't notice that). This room has the least amount of "character": it's a large room and diners are packed in very close to each other. Additionally, every single diner is going to walk past your table as they head to theirs. We had originally asked for Ballroom seating on the advice of one of our guidebooks, but in the end we were thrilled that there were no seats available.

The Rose Gallery is the "overflow" room. There is an enormous music box featuring Belle and the Beast in the center of the room. It's very pretty but if you end up in this room, you might be dining alone (or with very few other guests). It was nearly empty when we poked our heads in to take photographs.

The West Wing, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. If you've seen the movie, you know the West Wing is where Beast keeps the Enchanted Rose, which is featured prominently in the room. The reason we originally did not want to eat in this room is because it is very dark and every 10 minutes or so, there are flashes of thunder and lightening. We weren't sure Baby O could handle it, but since we were already late for our reservation, we figured we'd take whatever table they offered us. After the first lightening strike ended, Baby O freaked out and we weren't sure why because the noise was over. Then the second strike ended and he did it again. He started whining something, "Beeeeees!!!" No idea. So I picked him up and carried him around. He kept saying it and I noticed it seemed to be when I passed by a portrait hanging in the room. The portrait is straight out of the movie and magnificent: it starts off as a portrait of Prince Adam (the Beast's apparent name) and then for a few seconds after each lightening/thunder episode flashes to a portrait of the Beast, which is what Baby O was saying: "Beeeeees!" He wanted to sit so he could see the portrait for the entire meal! We moved him to the other side of the table and funk be gone! He was a happy baby once more!

I'd read online that they were testing having the Beast join diners during their meal. I asked our waitress if the Beast was in and she responded that he wasn't feeling well so she wasn't sure. Well apparently that was just a ruse because after we placed our order, the Beast entered the West Wing! They announced him with fanfare and invited guests to meet him in his Library after they ate. Baby O was seriously about to lose his mind from excitement! I misheard the announcement and thought we could go while we waited so I gathered up Baby O and headed over to the Library. As it turns out, they want you to meet Beast right before you leave the restaurant so even though there was no one in line, they wouldn't even let us stand there and watch him. Luckily we spotted the music box in the Rose Gallery at that point, which satisfied Baby O's Beast craving for a while!

While the castle itself is the true star of this particular restaurant, the food is nothing to snuff at either! Several of us got a seafood pot pie which was just the right size to leave room for our dessert and not feel too full. The dessert comes over on a tray and was very tasty. If you are celebrating an event, ask for the "grey stuff" and they'll bring some on the house. Or you can select a brownie topped with "grey stuff" for dessert. Lolli got some for a celebration and then ordered the brownie too: she said the "grey stuff" was delicious! I'm told the dishes agree but I didn't ask them! :) Entrees run approximately $15 to $29.99 for adults and a meal costs 1 table credit on the Dining Plan.

On the way out, it was finally time to meet Beast. He doesn't do autographs because his paws are too big but they had a Disney Photo Pass photographer set-up and he was happy to take photos with a personal camera also. There was a short line once we arrived at the Library but they both moved people through quickly but allowed ample time with the Beast. It was finally Baby O's turn and he just about lunged out of my sister's arms into the Beast's!

Okay, all I can tell you is that the Beast is huge! It's one thing for kiddos to meet Mickey or Ariel, but Beast is a whole different ballgame. My dad is 6'4" and you can see in the picture how much taller Beast is: easily 7 feet. There's an option to just leave the restaurant and not meet Beast so you can peek in the Library and see how your child reacts. Or gauge them when the Beast is announced and enters your dining hall.

You really might be surprised though: never in a million years would I think that Baby O would love Beast as much as he does. We found him a special Beast plush (only available in the gift shop near Gaston's Tavern in New Fantasyland) which he carries everywhere and for Christmas he received the Beauty and the Beast DVD. We've watched "Belle Beast" at least 450 times since then!

So clearly Baby O's reaction to Beast gives us an additional sentimental component to why we so enjoyed this restaurant. It's tough to get reservations but well worth it in the end. I definitely recommend you try to check this one out!

Conclusions:

Overall, we ate a lot of really delicious meals at some really gorgeous restaurants at Disney World. I was happy with all of our choices, particularly since none of the restaurants are considered "fine" Disney Dining. They worked out just fine for us! Ha! Since the odds are not in our favor that we're going back any time soon, I'd probably want to try some different restaurants if we were to go back, but I'd also really want to visit 'Ohana and Be Our Guest a second time. They both really are that outstanding! I'm not really a big breakfast person, but even so Chef Mickey's would be tempting as well!

Baby O found appealing options at all the restaurants, but the buffets were a big hit due to both the variety and the fact that he could eat off our plates. I didn't find that any of the kid's meals at the sit-down restaurants were outrageously expensive but note that you will be changed a gratuity that is not covered by the Dining Plan if you have a large party.

I hope my wrap-up helps! Enjoy!