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Stitch Fix review April 12, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Uncategorized.
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I can’t remember where I first heard about Stitch Fix, but I knew I had to try it.  As much as I like shopping, I tend to gravitate toward the same types of items over and over again.  I suppose I could bring along a gal pal to help expand my horizons, but I am a very particular kind of shopper (the term “power shopper” has been used to describe me – I definitely don’t love to dally), and I’m not sure that would be productive for any of my friendships.  So, a “mail order” stylist seemed very much my speed.

Here’s the rundown: When you join Stitch Fix, you fill out a very detailed style profile, which includes, among other things, looking at various pieces and outfits and indicating how much (or how little) you like them.  You can schedule either monthly or ad hoc fixes.  From what I can tell, ad hoc fixes are taking about 2 months to schedule these days – the company has really gotten popular!  When the stylist starts pulling items for your fix, you’ll be charged a $20 styling fee – but, if you keep any items from the shipment, the $20 is a credit towards the merchandise (so the only way you “lose” your styling fee is if you decide not to buy any of the items selected for you).  Each fix contains 5 items, and they are tailored to the preferences you set when you join.  You have three days to try on the items, and you get the benefit of being able to try them on with pieces you already have in your wardrobe (which you can’t do in a store).  Then you just put everything you are not keeping in a pre-paid envelope and drop it in the mail.  If you decide to keep all 5 items, you get 25% off the order.

I was super excited to come home from a business trip to get my first fix!  When I opened the box, not only were the clothes packed beautifully in tissue, but there was also a note from my stylist explaining why she chose certain items for me AND some color cards with styling ideas for all of the pieces.

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Here is what I received:

41Hawthorn, Farah Fit and Flare Striped Dress ($68) – I wanted to love this so very badly, and it looked like it was going to be just my style when I saw it on the hanger.  However, it was way too tight on my upper half, which is weird because that isn’t usually my problem area in terms of fit.  Bummer!  Returned.

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Just Black, Kristy Skinny Jean ($78) – I loved that my stylist sent non-blue denim in my fix, but I was pretty darn skeptical about these pants fitting.  Much to my pleasant surprise, they were absolutely perfect – comfortable, stretchy, and super flattering.  Yay!  Kept.

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Pomelo, Ivy Tulip Print Tab Sleeve Blouse ($68) – I knew this was going to be a winner without even trying it on, but I tried it on with the black jeans anyway.  Score!  The pattern/color is something I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I really loved it.  The fit is just my style – loose and comfy, but still flattering.  It is a great transition piece from winter to spring.  Kept.

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Uttam, Angela Eyelet Asymmetrical Jacket ($124) – I was hoping this piece would work out, but no such luck.  I liked the shape of it, but it wasn’t a perfect fit (again, too tight on my torso – what is going on???) and the white eyelet thing was a bit too girly for my liking.  Plus, I always worry about stark white clothing, as I am notorious for spills.  For the price, I wasn’t going to keep this if I had even one doubt about its wearability.  Returned.

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41Hawthorn, Rowson Colorblock Striped Sweater ($58) – I was really surprised to like this piece, since I don’t think I would have grabbed it off the shelf myself.  I was also a bit annoyed at getting a sweater in my March fix, but it was really lightweight and soft, so I think it will be great for spring (plus, I had recently gotten rid of a few sweaters that had seen better days, so a refresh wasn’t the worst idea).  I wore it to work the next day and got a ton of compliments.  Kept.

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So, for my first fix, I kept 3 out of 5 items (not bad!) and spent $184.  For what I got and how long it took (when compared to in-store shopping), I feel like the price was very reasonable.  It was super simple to put the two “no” items in the bag and ship them back, and the online checkout was a breeze.  I made sure to let my stylist know what I thought about all the items and what sorts of things I might like in my next fix.

Yes, there will be a next fix – of course!  I don’t think I will ever commit to monthly shipments (that is just too much money to spend, and I don’t need that many clothes – plus, I’m not giving up on in-store shopping forever), but I went ahead and scheduled my next fix for the end of May, since I will want to incorporate a few more summery pieces into my wardrobe at that point.  I am really excited to see what my stylist will choose for me next!

Are you interested in trying Stitch Fix?  If so, here is a referral code/link for you: https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3498264

Plated review April 6, 2014

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It is no secret that I love to cook.  Heck, I used to write a food blog (RIP, Trouble With Toast) that centered primarily on my home cooking adventures.  However, you all know how it goes – in the hustle and bustle of life, it’s not always easy to shop, prep, and cook tasty (and hopefully healthy) meals for me and the hubs.

A friend started posting on Facebook about his experiences with Plated – a company that provides “chef-designed recipes and fresh ingredients delivered to your door.”  I have to admit, I was pretty darn skeptical.  But, he gave me a promo code for 1/2 off my first order, so I figured I’d give it a go.  And, it was nice that by placing an order, I was able to score my friend 2 free plates for himself.  What goes around comes around!

Generally, when you order from Plated, you pick from their weekly selection of meals/menus, and then you pick your delivery day.  If you don’t select your meals far enough in advance, they can sell out of particular ones.  I picked a delivery date pretty far in the future, so I was able to get two recipes I was genuinely interested in tasting – Citrus Soy Chicken Thighs with Soba Noodles, and Pan Fried Redfish with Lemon Caper Sauce.  It cost me $30 for 2 meals (each portioned for 2 people), which would normally have cost $60.  If you sign up and pay a membership fee ($10/month for a month-to-month membership, and $8/month for an annual membership), meals that normally cost $15 per person would cost $12 per person.  A bit steep, if you ask me, but more on that later.

The box was delivered when promised, and everything was properly refrigerated.  All of the ingredients are pre-portioned and labeled, and each recipe comes with a step-by-step instruction guide, with photos.

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I made the chicken dish first, on the same day I got the box, and I must admit that I was very impressed with the quality of ingredients.  All of the produce was super fresh, and the meat looked great as well.  The instructions were easy to follow – to be honest, I didn’t have to look at the directions much, as the recipe seemed very intuitive to me since I have made similar dishes on my own.  The finished product was, in fact, very very tasty.

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One of the main pluses of Plated is that there is ZERO waste in terms of food – since everything is perfectly portioned for each diner, you never run the risk of buying (and then throwing away) too much of any one ingredient.  That doesn’t matter so much for things like soy sauce and soba noodles, since they aren’t perishable, but produce is another story.  I confess that I often buy more than I need (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) and then struggle with how to use the excess.

On the other hand, though, Plated creates a lot of other waste.

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There were multiple plastic bags/bottles left over at the end of the process, and while they can be recycled, it still gave me a bit of pause.

My order came in on a Tuesday, and I intentionally waited until Sunday to make the second dish.  To my (pleasant) surprise, all of the ingredients survived the extra time in the fridge.  The instructions for the fish dish were just as simple, and the end result was just as tasty (even earning raves from my normally fish-averse hubby).  Unlike the chicken dish, I probably wouldn’t have cooked something like the redfish on my own.  The lemon-caper sauce in particular made me think, “Duh, why haven’t I made something like this before?”

So, would I order from Plated again?  It WAS nice not to have to deal with grocery shopping – when work is busy or when we are traveling, Plated could very well provide a nice alternative to going out or ordering take out.  However, the normal cost of $60 for two meals for two (I would never commit to a membership for something like this) seems very spendy.  My time is definitely worth something, but I’m not sure it’s worth THAT much, especially since I live on top of a Harris Teeter.

Bottom line, I think there is a huge market for Plated, and I hope they have continued success.  I think next time we order from them, I’m going to insist that my kitchen-wary husband prepare the meal – now THAT would be an experiment!

Bike rhymes with LIKE!!! March 30, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Cycling.
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Remember when I was thinking about buying a bike?  Well, I bit the bullet and got the Breezer Downtown 8 ST (from The Daily Rider on H Street – they were terrific).  Here it is in its new home!

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Even though Mother Nature has NOT cooperated in terms of bringing spring to our area (believe it or not, it is snowing as I write this), I can report that I love love LOVE this bike.  It is sturdy but light, it is a lot of fun to ride, and it makes it easy to carry everything I need for any kind of occasion.  In fact, the first time I rode to work, I used my Ortlieb Back Roller City panniers to tote my usual purse, PLUS a laptop, a couple of binders, and a few extra things I needed to have for an upcoming business trip.  AND I went to happy hour.  Yay!

Here’s to the coming spring (no, seriously…please come soon) and wonderful bike rides for everyone!

Birchblogger review – Smashbox Full Exposure Palette March 28, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Pretty.
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One of the MANY things I love about Birchbox is that they do a lot of outreach to their customers – you know, contests and giveaways and interactive chats and whatnot.  I have learned a lot by being a part of the Birchblogger community!  Recently, I was selected via one of their Twitter promotions to receive a complimentary Smashbox Full Exposure Palette.  Again, just to make sure we have full disclosure – I received the palette for free, but the opinions here are my own (based on using the product for a few weeks).  I am already very familiar with the Smashbox brand – I love their Photo Finish primers and their CC cream has been a staple in my makeup case for months now.

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First and foremost, lest you balk at the somewhat hefty pricetag on this item ($49), let me assure you – it is a LOT of makeup!  There are 14 neutral shades in total (7 matte and 7 shimmer), and they range from very light to very dark.  There is also a double-sided brush (which is helpful when you don’t want to get shimmer everywhere) and a travel-sized mascara.  For those who may be intimidated by all of the options, have no fear!  The palette also comes with an insert that guides you to three different looks per eye shape.  I really enjoyed learning about all the different ways to accentuate various types of eyes.

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I mostly played around with daytime looks, and they all came out great.  The silky texture of the shadows are nice on the eye, and the shades blend very well.  I did a number of combos, all of which were subtle and work-appropriate, but they still flattered my individual eye shape.  The mascara was good for everyday looks, but I didn’t prefer it for more dramatic “going out” eyes (I’ll stick with Cover Girl Lash Blast for that).

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When I amped things up for an evening look, I was very pleasantly surprised by how natural my eyes still looked – just with a little more “oomph.”  This is a palette I just want to play around with all the time, since there are so many fun options!

The shadows had pretty good staying power, though clearly a primer would help (and I couldn’t find mine anywhere – d’oh).

I really liked that I could blend and layer these shades without all of a sudden getting clown eyes.  :-)  What I liked to do best was to use a colored liner for a bit of pop and then have these shadows as a more natural, smoky element.  I wish I could share some great pictures of me wearing the shadows, but all I have is my crappy camera phone, and let’s just say the shots came out…not so pretty.  One of these days I’ll invest in a good REAL camera!

Bottom line, I would definitely buy this product – for someone like me who mostly gears wardrobe and makeup to an office environment, the Full Exposure Palette is a great fit.  Unfortunately (well, fortunately for Smashbox and Birchbox), the palette is so popular that it is out of stock at Birchbox until May – so I am super grateful that I get to keep using mine now and into the coming months!

March Birchbox review March 23, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Pretty.
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Another month, another Birchbox – and I liked the March box much more than February.

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Probably my favorite product of the bunch was the Supergoop City Sunscreen Serum.  As a malignant melanoma survivor (15 years this fall – time really does fly), sun protection is supremely important to me.  I love that this serum is a moisturizer AND a powerful sunscreen, and that it is light and non-greasy.  I wore it under makeup and it worked beautifully.  I will definitely be buying this in the future!

As a perfume jumkie, I am always excited to see fragrance samples.  Upon first sniff, I wasn’t sure what to think of Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume.  I usually prefer clean, crisp scents, and this one was more spicy and amber-y.  I actually grew to like the way it smelled on my skin, but I’m not sure I would commit to a full bottle.  It’s a nice fragrance, just not for me.

I was excited to see the INIKA Certified Organic Eyeliner (in Green Lagoon).  Not only was it a full-size product, but the color glided on easily and worked great with a number of shadow looks.  I probably won’t buy this, because I prefer liquid liner, but I still think it is a quality pencil.

The Jergens BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream was a mixed bag.  I wasn’t able to wear it long enough to see results, so I’m not sure I’d choose it over a self-tanning moisturizer.  However, it had a very nice fragrance, and the texture was great (it went on smoothly and absorbed quickly).  Maybe I just need to invest in a larger bottle to see if extended use brings results?  Jergens is an affordable brand, so I’m less afraid of jumping in sight unseen.

I haven’t even used the Curly Hair Solutions – Curl Keeper.  I don’t have particularly curly or wavy hair, and it has been so dry here lately that frizz isn’t really an issue (now, static is a totally different story).  Considering that the rest of the box was so good, I didn’t get too bent out of shape that this product wasn’t really applicable to my profile and beauty routine.

What did everyone else get in March?

OORAH! March 22, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Races, Running.
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I entered the Marine Corps Marathon registration lottery (since I didn’t do the Rock & Roll full, I wanted to add one to my race schedule sometime in 2014), and guess what?  I GOT IN!

Marine Corps Marathon

I won’t start really training until June or July, but I am pretty stoked – it is supposed to be a GREAT race!

Who else will be running with the Marines?  Any thoughts on training plans or coaches?

Rock & Roll Half Marathon race report March 18, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Races, Running.
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Way back when, before the winter that knows no end, and before the hellish work travel of death, I thought it would be a great idea to run another full marathon.  I ran one in 2010 and 2012, so it made perfect sense to challenge myself to 26.2 again in 2014.

Well…best of intentions and all that.  Long story short, training was lackluster and it would not have been prudent to attempt the marathon.  So, we decided to drop down to the half marathon, and the race was this past Saturday.  It wasn’t my worst half, and it certainly wasn’t my best, but overall I enjoyed myself and emerged from the experience with my head held high.

It was a BEAUTIFUL day for running – 40s at the start and 60s by the end, with a mostly overcast sky.  I love the Rock & Roll races because the bands keep it interesting every couple of miles (gives me something to focus on besides the clomping of my feet), and this was no exception – the water stop volunteers were super nice as well.  It was awesome to see the whole DC running community out in full force!  It makes me think I will do more to get involved with non-TNT running groups from here on out.

The course was different from when we ran this half in 2012, and for the most part I loved the changes.  The exception?  The MASSIVE hill coming out of Rock Creek Park into Adams Morgan.  Holy.  Crap.  It was practically straight up!  I was huffing and puffing just trying to walk, let alone run.  The payoff was a nice downhill once we got to North Capitol Street, and then a nice jaunt through our neighborhood (NoMa/H Street/Capitol Hill)!  I also appreciated that the finish was not SO far away from Metro (unlike the Army Ten-Miler).

Bottom line, I’m glad we followed through with the race, and I look forward to warmer weather and hopefully getting into the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon!  :-)

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Another RTR win March 17, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Fundraising, Pretty.
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After my last experience with Rent the Runway, I couldn’t wait for my next opportunity to get dressed up and go out on the town.  Luckily, husband decided that we should go to the DC Brewer’s Ball (to benefit cystic fibrosis research/awareness) – yay, I needed some cocktail attire!

I ordered two dresses again, which turned out to be a great idea because the primary frock (the one I had in two sizes) just wasn’t what I was hoping for – it was very “fussy.”  My second dress was absolutely perfect for me AND the event.

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The shape of the dress allowed me to feel comfortable while still flattering my best assets – my legs!  The dress is short (more like a mini, depending on your height), but it looked FAB with heels.  The tiered look created some visual interest, and the neutral shades allowed me to add some fun bling (which I also rented) and not look overdone.

It is so incredible to know that I will never have to buy evening wear ever again.  :-)

February Birchbox review March 7, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Pretty.
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I have really enjoyed my Birchboxes since I started the subscription service back in September of last year.  Unfortunately, February 2014 represented the first “bust” box.  Here’s what I got:

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I haven’t even used the Bain de Terre shampoo and conditioner yet, since I figured I would pack them for one of my upcoming trips, AND I am pretty doggone loyal to Bumble & Bumble.  So, I cannot comment on the product, but I will give Birchbox props for some pretty substantial sample sizes here.

The perfume, a Joan Vass scent, was okay but not great.  I am currently using a variety of perfumes that I love (and that I can switch around based on my mood), so it would be unlikely for me to buy another anyway.

The Previse HydroMilk I actually really liked – the lotion was non-greasy, and it had a wonderful scent (a light lavender).  However, I had to giggle when I went online to read more about it – turns out it’s a hand/body lotion, but I was using it on my face!  Now that I know what its purpose actually is, I probably won’t buy it – my face is the place where I’ll spend a bit more for a quality moisturizer.

I am SO TIRED of getting nail polish in my boxes.  This one is supposedly a color-changing variety, but I don’t know how long it will be till I actually try it out.  In the summer, I am much more likely to splurge for a mani-pedi, but since it has been permanently polar up here lately, I wish I could try more makeup/skincare instead of nail colors.

So, I guess they can’t all be winners – I still love Birchbox, but I am hoping that March brings more fun surprises that I will be excited to share with you!

Product review: the Basis B1 activity tracker February 28, 2014

Posted by bettyjoan in Running, Uncategorized.
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The men in my office had a little wager going during the holidays, to see who could drop the most weight (don’t even get me started on whose bright idea it was to do a weight loss challenge during the heaviest eating season of the year – needless to say, I did not participate).  Most of them invested in FitBits to track their steps – they were an army of wristbanded crusaders, they were!

At the time, I was thinking about getting activity trackers for myself and hubby, but the FitBit just didn’t do anything for me.  It couldn’t tell the difference between walking steps and running steps, and the reviews indicated that it was a pain to have to maneuver to the screens because they are teeny tiny (though, to be fair, so is the band itself).  Yeah, even before there was a recall, I was looking for something more.  I eventually settled on the Basis, though I honestly cannot remember how I found out about it.

According to the website, here’s what’s behind Basis:

Basis is much more than a personal health tracking device. It’s a system. A system based on exhaustive research and insight to how we can be our best for the long haul. A system created with the most advanced personal tracking technology on the market to provide the most detailed data possible. And a system that can interpret that data, give you insight and translate it into simple actions you can take every day. So that you can meet the demands of today’s world. So you can develop and discover the super human in you.

I haven’t yet found my inner super human, but for the most part, Basis delivers on the technology front.  I love love LOVE that I can get heart rate data without having to wear a chest strap, and in my experience, the device has been accurate regarding step counts and determining whether I am walking or running.  It is supposed to be able to tell when I am cycling, but I have only tried it once, so I’m not 100% sure about the accuracy there – to be continued, when the weather improves!  I have really enjoyed looking at the sleep data – it’s so interesting to compare how I feel in the morning with how well (or not…) I slept during the night, and you don’t have to tell the Basis when you are going to sleep, like you have to do with the FitBit (it figures it out on its own using heart rate and perspiration indicators).  I also definitely appreciate that you can sync the device with a mobile app via Bluetooth or on your computer by plugging into the USB cable:

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So far, the only technology-related negative is that there have been some sync-ing issues.  The sensors on the cradle don’t always line up easily, which affects the device’s ability to sync, and recently there have also been some network/system issues that have impacted sync-ability for days at a time (which has meant that I don’t wear the device as much).

The biggest con of the Basis is its look/size:

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It is very large, and not stylish at all.  In normal work attire, it doesn’t bother me as much, but when I am actually trying to look cute and fashionable and chic?  Yeah, I don’t want any part of it.  They just came out with a newer model that has a steel “frame” around the face, which seems to slim down the profile a bit and make it look more like a watch.

I am still on the fence about the whole Basis “system” of habits.  Basically, the website/app tracks different habits, such as “Wear It” (which encourages you to, duh, wear the device for a certain number of hours a day), “Step It Up” (which wants you to take 10,000 steps in a day), and “Consistent Bedtime” (I think y’all can figure that one out).  I mean, yes, I like to see when I have achieved a habit, which rewards me with points, which are redeemable for more habits to track, but I’m still not sure how well that works for me as a long-term motivator.  Perhaps when spring and summer are here and I am walking/running/cycling more overall, I will be more successful and enjoy the overall approach more.

All in all, I think the Basis was a good purchase, and I would recommend it for folks who are interested in tracking activities in a bit more detail than with the FitBit.  I will try to write a follow-up when we get to a point in the year when I am outside and active more!

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