Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gift cards--a cautionary tale

Evan's mother and stepfather are wonderful and generous people. Two birthdays ago, they asked me what I wanted for a gift and, as usual, I went blank. I did know that I'd want more Rachel Comey dresses and Surface to Air shoes so I opted for a gift card for an online retailer that sold both, offered free shipping and had a great range of eco moisturisers, shower gels, etc, I figured I'd most likely buy a new pair of Rachel Comey or Surface to Air ankle boots or shoes early in the fall when they offered their 30% discount. I wanted a pair of Mars booties and those were my default option. I'd purchased from the site before, had had good experiences, and knew that if all else failed, I'd find a great dress or top in their sales.

Alas, they stopped stocking both designers. I wondered if it was just a one season thing and thought I'd wait a little longer. After all, they also stocked Opening Ceremony and a few others, so I'd be fine. And maybe they'd see the error of their ways and restock the designers I liked.

But recently the store seems to have completely changed their brand. I noticed a lot of 30% offers on new stock, but then looked further--all were for cheap ($30-60) dresses and the site now charged for shipping items under $150. A closer look at their site revealed that they were clearly selling off the remains of the old stock (and not always at a big discount) and not restocking anything in the contemporary/independent designer brand. Even the Korres, Red Flower, Ren, Panagea Organics and other high end organic or natural brands and the Envirosax were the dregs of old stock. So, with my gift card lying in my in box and a 30% discount on full price merchandise this weekend, I pretty much cleaned them out of shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers and shower gels (a slight exaggeration, perhaps, but I got a lot of stock and many items were the last one). I now have a huge box coming to my house.

I've learned a lesson here. Don't sit on gift cards! The store may close, change its brand (here going vastly downmarket) or reposition itself into something that doesn't offer what you need or want. I thought I was safe given this site's visibility and its history of stocking what I wanted. But after an hour or so filling my shopping cart, I was actually hard pressed to find things I wanted (other than CDG wallets that cost more than on comparable sites). So I ended up with toiletries. I'm not unhappy as the deals were good and I'd have to buy them anyway, but my preferred fragrances and formulations were often sold out. I also don't know where I'll stock everything (and I still have a Body Shop groupon to spend), but I know that I can put the money I've saved on these items into some other trinket, dress or accessory. Had I waited another month or so, I would very likely have ended up with an utterly useless gift card or a lot of cheap lycra/polyester blend clothing...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Wednesday

I'm on a frugality drive but I'm also low on sweaters. So far, this November has been mild but trouble is potentially ahead. So I jumped on the J.Crew 25% off promo and headed to the sale section this morning. The chunky cashmere sweater I want is basically perennially out of stock and much as I covet it (and need it), I know it's unlikely I'll ever own one. But I was pleased to get the grey version of the cashmere crew neck with buttons, having been so pleased with the navy. At $104, the price couldn't be beat.

I also got the heather henna crew neck henley sweater at $114. With these in my closet, I really just need one thick cashmere sweater to beat the cold, although I am sure if there are any great bargains this winter I'll just stock up. I've realized that I can't wear any other fabric because of my allergies to wool and basically I'll live in sweaters now until March-April.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


After seeing Greasychickenface's original portraits of Turtle and Hector on Erica's blog, I had to order custom paintings of our three cats. Less than a week after I submitted photos, the paintings are done and I'm thrilled with them. At $78 for the three, these can't be beat and will soon be hanging together on our wall. Of course Peeps's colouring makes the challenge all the tougher but she has those patterns down--along with Remy's necklaces and Blue's stoic stare. Here they are:

Sunday, November 20, 2011


In a break from my mad, mad schedule, we headed off to Flushing last night for dinner at the wonderful Dong Bei restaurant, Fu Run, and a bit of after-dinner shopping at a local Asian mall and J Mart (an Asian supermarket, not the South Park K-Mart).

As usual, dinner was first rate. Dong Bei is a Northern Chinese cuisine unlike most Chinese food found in America. We had what has become our usual selection--green been sheet jelly with red oil (a spicy and wonderful salad of nappa cabbage, noodles, cilantro, peanuts, garlic and the red oil), shredded potatoes with green peppers and garlic (the potatoes are nearly raw and look like vermicelli), triple delight vegetables (a more conventional but still yummy combination of potatoes, eggplant and green peppers in a spicy garlic-laden brown sauce), ma po tofu and a leek and egg pancake. The potatoes and green bean jelly are amazing and sublime--I wish I was eating them now.

After eating, we browsed Asian pop culture stores, beauty products and ephemera, then picked up a few basics--pocky sticks, hot oil, chillis in oil, dan dan noodle sauce. I took pictures of the beautiful packaging that may end up below. And then I went back to continue writing lectures and grading. As a consequence I dreamt about Turkish German relations in post-wall Germany and its cinema but that's another matter for another day--specifically Monday, 12.30-4.30 p.m.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Into the 21st Century

I finally got a smart phone--a low end Android model--but I finally joined the 2010s in technological terms. While I really wanted an iPhone, the cost seemed prohibitive, particularly as I already have an iPod, iPod Touch, MacBook Pro and am on schedule to get an iPad soon. It's clunky in places and I've already sent one illiterate email message, but at least I'll now be able to access Yelp when there is no wifi or pick up emails from hotel rooms without paying for onerous internet access.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh J. Crew, Please Make This In My Size!

I was flicking through tonight while catching up on work emails and saw these beauties. I wish they'd make them for adults--after all, I can't imagine there is that much demand for children's cashmere... I often wish stores would display the same flair and imagination they use for children's clothes for their adult designs. Certainly, I'm way too big to fit into these but if they were in adult sizes, I'd be delighted.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Surface to Air

About two years ago, Cindy bought a pair of Surface to Air flats. I had never heard of the brand and almost squealed when I saw her grey flats with multiple straps and rose gold toe caps. Right there, I knew these were the shoes I'd been looking for. A few months later they turned up on sale at Lambs Ear in Seattle and after some discussion and thought (would they fit?) they were mine. They've turned out to be the most comfortable and beloved shoes in my closet. I wish I'd known about the brand earlier as I'd have certainly got a second pair in that style (it is not one that they've remade, more's the pity). I next purchased the classic multiple stripe wedge in black suede, which has been enormously comfortable, especially for a high heeled shoe. Then I got a gladiator flat on ridiculous markdown.

Despite my efforts at frugality, I had to go to the Surface to Air sale last week. Indeed, I was disappointed that I missed other of their sales, particularly given my continuing search for another pair of the buckled flats (for when mine finally give up the ghost) and a pair of the wedges in the leopard print--I curse the decision not to get them and a pair of blue and white oxfords I also missed (both were fall 2009 I believe). I hoped the backstock at the sale would extend that far back but a quick google search disabused me of any hopes in revealing earlier sales.

I couldn't go on the first day because of work (missing out on the $69 cork wedge sandals, alas) but I did get another pair of the strapped buckle wedges in taupe suede with a cork heel for $99 (these ran small and I sized up to 41) and the pair of open wedges in black that I wanted all summer (again $99 and this time I took a 40 as usual, but they were on the big size). The hunt for the other pairs goes on but I am happy. Now to find another pair of ankle boots and a flattish pair of shoes for winter.

Here they are:

Friday, November 4, 2011


I'm trying to be good. Work hard, limit my spending, focus my efforts on the books and not waste time. I'm also trying to eat better. I'm generally pretty good but the spate of fall events--from the Jewish holidays (Evan's mother is such a great baker), a few birthdays, a wedding and Halloween--have all taken their toll. Yesterday I looked at my abdomen and I was appalled. Flab is returning and Christmas is around the corner. I wore some old clothes as part of my Halloween outfit (Dina Lohan) and the silk Jill Stuart top I wore was tight--I remember never wearing it, in part because it was too dressy, in part because it quickly dated (it was part of that 1930s retro from the mid-2000s) and also because it was so big. I bought it on sale and the L was the only remaining size--the S and M both would have worked far better. No longer--if anything it is on the tight side, as in near sausage casing. I'm disgusted with myself but also frustrated. I work out, I try to eat well and I'm even trying to reduce my wheat consumption (hence a spelt scone from Whole Foods the other day that was overly sweet) but I don't feel full unless I eat some carbs. Unless I eat a ridiculously restrictive diet and work out constantly, my body doesn't want to give up this new layer of flab. And I find it tough to concentrate when I'm hungry. But that doesn't mean I splurge on brownies, bagels or fries. I eat apples, hard boiled eggs with a single slice of multigrain sour dough bread (all organic) or a few nuts.

I don't know what's going on. I fear some of it is age--past 25, 30 your body changes. As the nights start to draw in, I think I'm going to have to take some more drastic measures and try some kind of modified Atkins diet (no bacon, meat, fatty foods, but certainly restrict my carbs and fill up on vegetables and select fruits).