Bookmark This: Blake Lively’s lifestyle website is all-the-way LIVE!

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I like to think that as a fortysomething woman, I stay level-headed about the lighter side of the media that details every nanosecond of celebrities’ existence. It’s all good fun to click through red carpet recaps and magazine profiles, with the occasional salacious bit from Perez Hilton or TMZ. But what good are recommendations on lifestyle from someone whose reality is so opposite of my own in terms of age, income and fame?

 

Granted, the trend of creating a brand around one’s celebrity persona is nothing new. It started with the Oprah and Martha uber-brands. They’ve been perpetuated in varying degrees of success/pretentiousness/outright shilling by Gwyneth , Jessica and Tori. It’s been reported that fan faves Reese and Ellen have plans to jump in the game as well.

 

It could be argued that Blake Lively, best known for one of my former guilty pleasures Gossip Girl, is less of a known entity than any of these actresses. And that may work in her favor, because I find her first letter from the Editor absolutely genuine and inspiring. Add the attractive photography and design, and I am really feeling the visual tone of PRESERVE.us, but it is the mission that got to me sign up for the newsletter. Here’s what this site is doing right…

 

Triangle Druzy Studs by Saressa Designs , $35.00, preserve.us

American-made products from artisans are the focus

Are there two groups more in danger of survival than small businesses and American-based owner/operators? Preserve’s list of vendors creates a finely curated e-commerce lineup of clothing, accessories, decor and food products, all made by artisans that make & manufacture on home soil.  I love you Etsy, but sometimes you overwhelm with choices when I need to focus on the right gift!

 

A range of price points

There are hand-crafted pieces of art that would be an investment rather than a splurge. Also included are several affordable products suitable for self or gifting. In each instance, the buyer has options for placing their idea of worth on items. It’s a pleasant break from the endless pushing of generic celebrity-branded merchandise.

 

Buyers’ product choice determines contribution to the philanthropic pledge

5% of each sale made in the first year will go to Covenant House, an organization that supports abused, homeless or exploited children with food, shelter, and resources. Food purchases go towards meals, Clothing begets clothing, and Decor will add to the blanket goal. This is a delightful extra part of a gift that gives back, especially if word spreads about the cause.

 

It’s different…in a good way

The writing, photography and overall design are a visual treat, like the pricey design magazines I only buy myself on a mundane day…only it’s free and accessible! The editorial component of the site is a palate cleanser for heavy digital media consumers like myself. The content sparks my curiosity about everything from the artisans to the shoot locations. I hate to say it, but you know I can’t help myself…it’s lovely…and lively!

 

I’m totally on board with the blitz of celebrity product collaborations in recent years. My Pinterest board, Cool Collabs is evidence of my obsession. Are you thinking that the lifestyle websites will become a widespread trend, and are you into it? Share your thoughts with me!

Is it Impossible to Spend <$30 at Barneys New York? Not Today!

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Men of style take heed….this is one sale where you just may end up coming out of the store with more loot than your female counterparts! Barneys New York announced final markdowns on much of its designer merchandise…that’s up to 75% off swag for adults, kids and their tastefully decorated homes! Given a random threshold of $30/item, I think the guys are going to make out this time…

 

I found these wood and rubber sandals by Uzurii (above, $29, regularly $85), a sort of hybrid of Havaianas and my beloved Dr. Scholl’s. Still seasonal, and I wear my flip-flops as slippers in cooler temps.   I also love the value on the Long Sleeve Tee with Quilted Shoulders by Petit Bateau ($29, regularly $88). Something to wear to the movies or for layering in colder weather. Few can beat the quality jersey of the layette and nautical tees by this French heirloom brand. But sizes are already limited in the Women’s sale merchandise at all prices…so act fast for optimal success!

Aviator Nation Rock and Roll Tank, $29

Aviator Nation Rock and Roll Tank, $29

 

But I think the stylish guys are spending their money on craft brews and street fairs this summer, because the selection of quality tees under $30 is much greater both in style and size availability. Henleys, tanks, v-necks, crew and pocket tees in solids, stripes, and prints are the budget-friendly buy at Barneys!   Brands such James Perse, Marc Jacobs, Shipley & Halmos, Vince, and Aviator Nation are all at stock up prices, but 1st come, 1st served, guys. Don’t sleep on the private label Barneys New York basic tees and boxers, every guy should have some pieces by a quality brand!

City Threads Chicago baseball cap, $8

 

There are a few cool graphic tees for the kiddos as well. Browse the sale-priced tops from Little Marc Jacobs, Lucky Fish, Munster Kids, Stella McCartney, No Added Sugar and Little Eleven Paris and see if you score…you know, limited quantities, y’all! I’m thinking about hoarding this Chicago baseball cap ($8, regularly $32) from City Threads in sizes 6M to 8-12 for some last-minute stocking stuffers!

 

 

Barneys’ most savvy shopping personnel have provided shoppers with some advice/encouragement/rationale for optimizing the sales event in this blog post

What super summer sales have you been stalking? Check out my Pinterest Board Hot Flashy Finds, for latest news of quick-turnaround offers and deals!

3 Killer Strategies for Shopping Lands’ End-The Fashion Industry’s Hot Performer

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I used to get a bit defensive about the Midwest, especially since I left my beloved East Coast for college, and ultimately, adult life. In the beginning, I used to knock the pizza, pancake-flat landscape, and the outdated trends that refused to die.

 

I got over it, largely because I couldn’t call myself anything other than a Chicagoan due to the years spent here were quickly outnumbering those of my New England childhood. So why are the fashion industry pundits so shocked that a heartland-founded brand is outperforming some of the trendy fast fashion purveyors and mall stalwarts? Don’t they know what parents and other adults who don’t revamp their wardrobe based on every Pantone color trend report realized long ago?

 

There’s something to be said for NOT reinventing the wheel every 6 months. I have developed a tried-and-true approach to shopping Lands’ End, which I use every time, and I haven’t been disappointed in the quality and value yet…

 

Sales and Promotions happen often, but know when they expire…

Whether you’re using a code from a catalog insert, or one from a sale notification e-mail, it pays immediate dividends (20% off an item with e-mail sign-up) to tap into the Lands’ End (LE) social media feed. Current promotions, markdowns and sweepstakes are described on the website, too. They sometimes give a heads up prior to offer expiration, and often vary the type of offers so you can choose what fits your needs. Skim through all issues even if it looks like nothing new because they do include some freshly reduced merchandise in the middle of the catalog at times.

Though the free shipping at $50 of merchandise is becoming more prevalent with online retailers, It’s especially easy to reach that number when there are items for everyone in the family, as well as the home. Additionally, there are always add-on goodies to reach that threshold in the Clearance, Not Quite Perfect and On The Counter deals.

Use the shopping cart to save any and all items you’re considering, and every time you log in, you’ll see what is still available from your “wish list”. You can save less vital items for later, possibly to get at a reduced price…not a bad thing!

 

Use reviews to help you decide what works…for you.

The review system is one of the best I’ve encountered in my extensive web purchasing. The sliding bar that helps determine if a fit is true to size is from real people’s feedback. The reviewers will give you an idea of the look, feel and use for items, i.e. “best for layering” or “dresses up or down”.

Sure, there are axe-grinding customers, but you’ll see through them pretty quickly. Unless you’re seeing bunches of reviews that concern you, don’t get swayed by a single zealot. Remember your satisfaction is guaranteed always and they mean it.

 

Splash around at the Inlet!

Although I am the first person to reserve my excitement when someone mentions an outlet store, I remain endlessly curious about them. These hybrid shops are partially to blame because I have snagged some of my most valued deals ever there!  Not only do they carry the current merchandise and promotions, but you can score on returned, discontinued, Not-Quite-Perfect or off-season items, often at a fraction of the original price.

 

I also like that the reason for the discounted price is printed on the price tag so one can make an informed decision whether an item’s “flaw” is an issue for each buyer.   Trust me, the clearance racks and bins are plentiful and EPIC.

 

On the occasion that I need to return an item ordered from the catalog, I can take it to the Inlet, where any in-store purchases that day are discounted by 10%. If you need to try on or alter items, the associates are especially helpful. They are far more knowledgeable about the products than the employees at the Sears’ in-store boutiques. With the new spinoff from Sears, who knows how long those will last, if they aren’t already all gone!

 

It’s pitiful to admit this, but my midsummer plans are revolving around the Annual Warehouse Clearance Event that takes place in late July in Wisconsin. As a parochial school (uniforms!) parent, deal heaven is 6 days of constantly re-stocked merchandise at up to 75% off…just as I need to start gearing up for the Back to School frenzy.

 

If you haven’t shopped Lands’ End recently, you’re missing out! Check out the garment Q&A, photography and lifestyle features in their blog View From the Lighthouse on a lazy afternoon. If you’re looking for styling ideas, the quarterly Apostrophe is a visually engaging click-through webzine with practical advice. Whether it’s the rise of normcore, or just that people will always need well-made basics with flair, Lands’ End is giving the people what they need, and want to buy!

 

Is there an old school brand that’s been surprising you lately? Have you walked into a store and wondered when everything changed-for better or worse? Tell me what you’ve noticed in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Collaboration State of the Nation-What’s New for Guys this Spring?

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So you might have a dorm-bound manchild that can’t make it home for Passover or Easter this year. Try shopping these cutting-edge collabos to show he’s being thought of by someone with both street cred & shopping creativity!

 

We’re flirting with Spring-like weather in the Windy City and that makes me…Happy! If you’re like 98% of the world population, you’re probably mentally humming that totally addictive jam by Pharrell Williams from Despicable Me 2. No need to thank me for the earworm…anything but that stupid Filet-o-Fish jingle!

 

Anyhoo…Pharrell is the collabo king, do you remember his past projects with Louis Vuitton and Moncler? Well, the latest drops today at Uniqlo, and it is much more accessible in price. Everything included in this line of tees and ball caps (no Mountie hat, though) is $19.90. The theme is uniqueness & creativity, which makes Mr. Williams the perfect spokesperson.

 

Nigo, the former designer of A Bathing Ape in its early heyday, is the creative director of Uniqlo’s ever-changing line of iconographic tees, so we can expect more edge at an affordable price in the future. There are always plenty of styles in women’s and kids’ sizes as well!

Washed Short Sleeve Polo shirt, $22.90, uniqlo.com

Washed Short Sleeve Polo shirt, $22.90, uniqlo.com

 

Also launching today at Uniqlo, check out the newest collection of polos for men and boys from CFDA winner Michael Bastian. He does amazing things to a wardrobe staple by playing with color, trim & patterns. Fingers crossed that the site doesn’t crash from double the demand! Opening a branch in the 3rd largest city in the U.S. might help, too. Ahem…

 

The long, brutal winter has probably taken its toll on the loungewear your guy sports regularly around his dorm. Why not inject his wardrobe with a shot of collabo-cool with some cotton basics from David Beckham Bodywear? Pieces from his exclusive collection for H&M start at $14.95, so you can ensure that he’s still looking respectably casual with a new henley or boxers.

 

Jersey Pajama Pants, $34.95, hm.com

 

Word is that he’ll be introducing swimwear this May, but the silhouettes are looking more Cote d’Azur than Laguna Beach (read: tight & short). I say…Becks in a Speedo? No-brainer!

 

 

 

 

This week’s budget shopper’s pick is the collection of clothing and shoes visualized by skateboard legend Tony Hawk for Kohl’s. This partnership will outfit young men & boys with all the casual tops, tees, denim & woven bottoms they can leave on the bedroom floor. Boys’ & Men’s shoe collections include on-trend slip-ons, hightops & decks.

 

Tony Hawk Men’s Keeper Belt, on sale for $14.99, regularly $24.00, kohls.com

The edgy yet practical belts for young men really caught my eye, but as of press time, every item in all departments was either on sale or clearance! Regular shoppers at Kohl’s know about the Kohl’s Cash incentive program, and account holders can realize an extra 15-30% off when they use their Kohl’s charge.

 

If you’re collabo-crazy like I am, check out my Kardashian Kids review & my earlier Spring Collabo post. All my capsule collection intel is summarized nicely on my Cool Collabs board on Pinterest!

Stocking up on Spring clothing yet?  I’d love to hear news of your deals, tips & scores in the comments!

 

2014 Kids Choice Awards Orange Carpet Trends-A Bit of Skin is In!

Lea Michele in Elie Saab

 

I’m posting this late because I had to scrub my mind of “tramp stamp” flashbacks once I realized that the bare midriff is newly popular. I’ve since calmed my fears that our precious tween daughters will be begging to wear this trend.

But first, let’s look at a ladylike trend you can offer as an alternative. One of the most talked about looks was Lea Michele’s frothy dress by Elie Saab (see above). Bright colored lace is a popular motif this spring, and coral is a very flattering shade for most skin tones. Burberry has another couture inspiration, but you can get your girl a similar version for less than $20!

Kaley Cuoco in Rebecca Minkoff and Selena Gomez in Dolce & Gabbana

Kaley Cuoco in Rebecca Minkoff and Selena Gomez in Dolce & Gabbana

 

 

Prints are everywhere for Spring: graphic, tribal, geometric, florals, painted brushstrokes and artistic scribbles. At the Kids’ Choice Awards (KCA), some of the best examples were a jacket or tunic top paired with matching shorts. Black & white prints are popular during this late spring, but expect to see more colors and less fabric as temperatures rise.

 

Coco Jones

 

I am feeling better about the new crop top craze after doing some research on how to wear it for the new millennium. Most updated looks use a high-waisted bottom to limit skin exposure to a sliver.

 

The example worn at the awards show by recording artist Coco Jones adds the floral pencil skirt to maintain some modesty. Keep in mind there’s no requirement to match both pieces, even though the opportunities to buy a set are plentiful.

 

 

My pick for Fashionista of the Future is the charming Zendaya Coleman. She combines an haute couture Oscar de la Renta boucle top, with on-trend distressed light wash denim cutoffs from Free People ($68). I predict that we’ll see an outbreak of copycat looks inspired by her Chanel boots, which mimic the look of socks worn with pumps. Her high-low mix has the perfect amount of edgy and casual.

Zendaya Coleman in Oscar de la Renta top, Free People shorts & Chanel boots. Image via JustJaredJr.com

 

 

I find her outfit choice both age-appropriate and fitting with the youthful vibe of the event. She kept it discreeet up top to balance out her incredible legs. I must caution you that this 17-year old girl has supermodel height and build, so be careful if you’re trying to duplicate this look at home. She makes it look easy!

 

Did you (or your kids) catch any of the looks from the KCA? What trend would you like to see your daughters wear?

 

The Week in Fractionista-Flash Sale Finds and Plenty of Pins

Lucky Brand '121 Heritage Slim' Dark Wash Straight Legs, $29.90, ruelala.com

My picks for this weekend’s flash sales:

 

Ending Saturday, 3/29:

Kids’ Birki’s sandals on MyHabit

 

Ending Sunday, 3/30:

Lilly Pulitzer bikinis, sunnies, dresses & separates on Rue La La

Baby & Kids’ Converse shoes on Gilt

 

Ending Monday, 3/31:

Toddler & Boys’ suits & tuxedos and Infant & Girls’ formal dresses by Calla Collection on Modnique

Colorful Boys’ & Girls’ Azul Swimwear on Rue La La

Men’s under $50 Jeans by Lucky Brand, 7 For All Mankind & Hudson on Rue La La

Infant, Toddler & Kids’ Primigi shoes on Gilt

Calla Collection Flower Embellished Girl’s Dress, $55, modnique.com

 

 

I’m Pinning…

 

Rather than attend to spring cleaning, I started five decor-oriented boards this week, one for nurseries, and one each for young boys, young girls, young ladies & guys’ bedroom inspiration. So much more out there for girls of all ages, my male boards need help!

 

I added lots of new pins to my Freebies, Giveaways & Contests board. There are plenty of Spring wardrobe and cash/giftcard prizes to be had. Lots of sponsors from brands to bloggers are represented. Check them out and click to your heart’s content!

 

Tracksuit by Topshop x Adidas Originals, Top, $100, Pants, $75, topshop.com

 

I just can’t help my obsession with designer/celebrity collabos, as is evidenced by my board. Did you see my latest post about some interesting partnerships for spring? Peep my quickie review of the Kardashian Kids line. No outrageous Kimye quotes or Khloe reconciliation gossip, but just my opinion of the product début.

 

Don’t forget that I pin flash sale news to my Hot Flashy Finds board all week. If I get late notice on a retail sale or giveaway, it might pop up there as well. I just can’t keep the good news to myself!

Spring Collabo Report-Prints Charming!

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Heavy sighs accompanied by fingerless-gloved hand-wringing over here. It’s March and Chiberia is trying to make a comeback, but in defiance I’ve scoured the web for news of designer and celebrity collaborations to perk me up.

Perhaps the uncharacteristic length of this winter will result in early markdowns? See what I did there…silver lining, y’all! I’m taking notes on the following promising partnerships…

 

Peter Pilotto for Target

This launch was one of the earliest and most newsworthy for Spring 2014. The design duo’s bright colors and mixed patterns could hardly be missed in the media dominated by Polar Vortex coverage. The news is that everything has been marked down 30%!

Peter Pilotto® for Target® Shirt Dress, $24.48, target.com & in stores

 

Most of us will pair an item with a more subdued solid, but pattern mixing pros can have a ball with these pieces! The swim separates are fun for a late spring break, and the split asymmetrical hem skirts are trending on red carpets & runways at much higher prices.

Seize your opportunity to grab deals on graphic print tanks, dresses and blouses for spring. Sizing runs very small, so you might need to try a few sizes for the right fit. I hope there are goodies left for you at your local store, because I haven’t been able to order online after several tries on different days. Poor Target.com, this really isn’t your year, is it?

 

The Beatles Yellow Submarine Vans

Sometimes fandom is a trait passed down from generation to generation, so it makes sense that Vans is offering their Fab Four-themed sneaks in sizes for toddlers to adults. The colorful retro prints are based on some of the Beatles most enduring titles. Father’s Day will be here soon…doesn’t everyone know a male Beatles fan who is impossible to surprise? It’s a great way for pattern-shy guys to work a print into their Spring wardrobes!

The Beatles Classic Slip-on, $35, vans.com

 

My mommy-biased pick is the Yellow Submarine slip-on, because who needs an easy-on shoe more than a toddler? Think of it as a way of exposing your kid to culture and history, not inflicting your musical taste on young ears….I say start them early!

 

 

 

Dylan’s Candy Bar for Claire’s

 

Sweets are not a big thing for me, but I do find their depiction in everyday objects endlessly charming. Claire’s has partnered with Dylan’s Candy Bar to create a line of jewelry and accessories that appeal to everyone with a similar viewpoint.

Dylan's Candy Bar WHirly Pop Scented Press-on Nails, $6.50, claires.com

Dylan’s Candy Bar Whirly Pop Scented Press-on Nails, $6.50, claires.com

 

Nail art is so hot right now, and this alliance has created scented press-on nails in vibrant candy prints. I am also a fan of the chunky charm jewelry, lip balms and novelty candies. They will spice up your girl’s Easter basket or care package with a multicolored manicure! After all, Rihanna shops at Claire’s, and she’s had 3 Vogue covers!

 

 

Check out my Pinterest board Cool Collaborations for updates on my favorite Celebrity & Designer Collaborations!

 

ICYMI…Social media is all abuzz about Kim & Kanye’s Vogue cover, but I am more curious about the follow-up to the launch of Kardashian Kids. If you’ve checked out the line, do you agree with my review?

The Kardashians Want to Dress Your Baby Girl In Their Clothes!

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The media frenzy about the launch of Kardashian Kids continues to stupefy me, maybe because the show was on the E! channel all 3 times I hit the treadmill over the weekend! Fans of the famous family packed Babies “R” Us stores to buy a piece of the reality stars’ mystique and online quantities of popular items are becoming limited.

 

If you thought you’d see clothing similar to the kid-sized couture and whimsical boutique items that the sisters’ kids wear, you’ll be disappointed. Most items reflect Kim’s penchant for gold and leopard print, but I much prefer Kourtney’s more colorful and funkier style, and I wish they had shown more of her stylistic influence in developing the line.

 

I’m not knocking their hustle, but I question some of their choices as right for regular families. Call me underwhelmed…nothing tips the scale as either outstanding or awful, it’s just kind of…”Ok, let’s leverage the public curiosity about baby North West via a deal with Babies “R” Us…”

Kardashian Kids Girls 2 Piece Sleeveless Peplum Shirt with Butterfly Appliques and Printed Leggings Playwear Set, $29.99, babiesrus.com

 

These ladies must love doing laundry, because I can’t imagine how else one would keep the light-colored separates clean on a little girl under the age of 24 months. Granted, a sequin-trimmed tutu or a georgette onesie are obviously not meant for utility, but for special occasions and photo ops. So keep it in mind for your baby’s next red carpet event!

 

Since the practicality of most of these items is limited, I find the price points somewhat questionable.While I browsed my local Babies “R” Us, I found several items of comparable quality and appeal at half the cost. They will be competing in store with other lines like Heidi Klum’s Truly Scrumptious, Amy Coe, Wendy Bellissimo & Little Me, many of which include larger sizes and boys’ items in creative, colorful styles.

 

So the focus on babywear is probably meant to position the line as novelty gift items for the hardcore Kardashi-fans. Based on some Instagram comments, there are many that will vie for the chance to pay top dollar for the brand. And non-parents probably will not question the functionality of a white lace bomber Jacket for an infant. Make sure you include the gift receipt just in case…

 

Many commenters expressed outrage at the lack of boys’ clothing. I don’t see the brand being a fit for boys, given the aesthetic of the current offerings. Not a lot of Dads are going to be excited about their sons sporting a “chick” brand. I predict if things go well, a boy’s line might be introduced under a brand tied to the male celebrities in the family. Not a pro or con, but just an opinion as to their marketing strategy.

 

Kardashian Kollection at Sears

 

The Kardashian ladies have been so savvy and stylish with their successful collections for Sears and QVC, I have to believe that the next iteration will be more extensive and original. It will be interesting to see how and when the Kids’ collection will expand to include toddlers’, girls’ and boys’ apparel.

 

If there’s money to be made, you can bet it will happen, as they seemingly have a Midas touch. Plus, they need to keep their own kids in the latest haute couture, and it ain’t cheap to be a pint-sized trendsetter!

 

How do you like Kim, Khloe & Kourtney’s latest venture? Would you buy it or would you pass by it?

Check out my Pinterest board devoted to Celebrity & Designer Collaborations also…Many cool collabos launch this month!

Check Into Special Sizes for Your Kid’s Best Fit!

Bloome Eyelet Flower Sash Dress, $39.60, was $66, belk.com

 

70’s fashions were not kind to kids who fell outside the margins of average sizing. My tall and/or extra thin friends had to have their pants tailored either at the waist or hems, because the right combination of length and waist size was never offered. I (and every other plus-sized girl) was limited to “Pretty Plus” clothing from Sears, dowdy and not at all Kardashian-trendy at the time.

 

My daughter(like me) carries any extra weight around her middle, and is the tallest, fastest-growing kid in the 3rd grade(unlike me). The girl likes a boxy silhouette, and her Dad & I are prudish tyrants about her shirts being long enough to cover the gaps in all seated and active positions. Crack is whack.

 

Around Christmas, uniform-optional days were becoming challenging as everything had been outgrown. Her Majesty needed casual outfits with sleeves that fit and extra inches to the inseam. My observations from my first foray out of average kids’ sizing were extensive, and here are my tips for shopping today’s “special sizes”.

 

What are Special Sizes anyway?

 

Slim sizes are self-explanatory, and plus (for girls), husky (for boys) or half sizes typically are roomier than regular sizes. Some retailers have extended sizes, meaning they offer a wider range of sizes that go beyond the traditional size chart-either offering a non-toddler size 3 or size 18+ in kids’ clothing.

Bongo Junior's Shirred Moto Jacket, $21.99, was $50, sears.com

Bongo Junior’s Shirred Moto Jacket, $21.99, was $50, sears.com

 

Have a young lady in the house who wears plus sizes? Most of the Juniors’ Plus lines use Women’s Plus sizing, but for edgier brands and youthful styles. The relative explosion of styles, brands and shops makes me glad my baby girl won’t have to endure my tailoring and searching woes!

 

 

Don’t skip the product ratings

If you’re unfamiliar with the standards of a brand or seller, peruse the comments of those who have already bought, worn & washed the same item. Keep in mind that usually the most pissed off or genuinely pleased customers take time to write a review.

Read entries from both ends of the spectrum, and you’ll be able to judge whether it works for your budget and the wearer, and hopefully reduce the re-order/return cycle. At best, they give an online shopper hands-on insight on size, quality, shrinkage, and color, which is important because you’ll need to….

 

 

Phone first if you plan to shop (or return) in store

Most of special sized merchandise are online exclusives. Some shops have items in store, but it’s a good idea to verify whether there’s a dedicated department, or just a single rack, as supply varies by location.

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Most brick & mortar stores will process returns for online purchases, but a quick call to either customer service or your local branch will save you time if you need to ship it to exchange for size or color. The website’s option to “find a store” can be unreliable, as it relies on systems that are updated overnight, and many of the salespeople I spoke to expressed the limited supply of new items depletes quickly.

 

Max out the discounts and rewards with a strategic buying plan

Plan your purchase to use a 1st-timer discount if possible, as most websites offer them in exchange for an e-mail address. Check Facebook and Twitter for any codes or coupons, as fans and followers often get a preview sale day before it’s posted on the website.

 

A relationship with a savvy salesperson is also worth nurturing. These folks can become your in-store advocate with a quick call or e-mail to notify you of new inventory, markdowns, and the like.

 

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Boys’ Long Sleeve Poplin Shirt, $29, landsend.com

Remember to add some extras if close to the “Free Shipping” minimum. Stock up on underwear, socks or shoes, they’ll all get worn eventually, especially if they are gender-neutral styles and colors.

 

 

 

 

I ended up purchasing from…drum roll please!

 

Old Navy

Sizes: Boys’ & Girls’ Slim & Husky/Plus, no Juniors’ Plus, but Men’s Extended sizes and Women’s Plus

Brands: Store Label only, but you can shop any of the Gap brands & combine at checkout for one shipment

You’ll Love: Frequent sales & markdowns, Super Cash (Get $10 off every $25 you purchase during the redemption period) and very speedy shipping. Not just basics, uniforms and logowear, but on-trend pieces in lively colors and prints.

You’ll Live With: Limited in-store availability for purchase, but returns taken at the stores which are everywhere. Old Navy not known for hand-me-down quality of items.

 

Breaking Waves Girls’ swimsuit, $21.99, regularly $32, jcp.com

JCPenney

Sizes: Boys’ & Girls’ Slim & Husky/Plus, Juniors’ Plus, but Men’s Big & Tall, Women’s Plus

Brands: Levi’s, French Toast, Van Heusen, Vigoss; Private Labels (Arizona, Total Girl) & Designer Collaborations (L’Amour Nanette Lepore, Olsenboye) & more.

You’ll Love: Girls’ Plus Activewear, Edgy styles for Juniors’, always tons of fashion-forward clearance-priced accessories, jewelry & handbags

You’ll Live With: $99 Free Shipping minimum, but Free Ship to Store minimum is $25. “Unique” Juniors’ Plus sizing is a bit confusing. Boys’ Husky selection is limited relative to Girls’ Plus.

 

Also look into Kohl’s, Justice/Brothers, P.S. Aeropostale, Kmart, Lands’ End, Sears, Macy’s, Gap, Torrid & Belk.

Once you find something under budget that fulfills your standards and your kid likes the look and feel…Buy it in every color, because it might be gone later!

 

What item never fits your kids’ quite right? What are your special sources to achieve the right fit? Dish, please!

Running Short on Ideas? Peep these Holiday Gift Guides for Inspiration!

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What’s your take on the heaps of gift guides that are promoted this time of year by retailers, brands and bloggers? I think they’re great resources, as long as you use your own creativity to make the best choice for your gift recipients.

They are fantastic for re-booting your brain when your list is looking sparse. Non-frequent shoppers can use them to learn customer feedback, trends, price points, colors & new products in this year’s hot categories.

Not loving the color/size range/cost of a particular item? Use guides in partnership with your favorite search engine, and you might find an item more suitable for you. Teens and students often request gift cards, and a quick look at the guides categorized by price point can help you choose an extra item to personalize the funds.

Here’s a sample of holiday guides that kicked off my list this year. I’m mostly about clothing deals, so toys and other categories are less represented in this first look…

 

BABY BOYS’ & GIRLS’ GUIDES

First Christmas Festive Wear via Old Navy

Apparel under $50 via Nordstrom

Scandinavian Knits & Accessories via Hanna Andersson

European Luxe Layette & Baby’s First Christmas via Marie-Chantal.com

Fashion-forward & Affordable via JCPenney

Handmade Everything via EtsyKids

 

 

Boys' Feiyue Fe-Lo classic sneakers, $45, jcrew.com

Boys’ Feiyue Fe-Lo classic sneakers, $45, jcrew.com

BOYS’ & GIRLS’ GUIDES

Minecraft Mavens via Brothers

Girls’ gifts for Beauty Buffs via Justice.com

Made in the USA products for Big Kids via Modestics.com

Preppy Boys’ Needs & Wants via J.Crew

The Kid who Sharpies his/her name onto everything via Land of Nod

Kids’ Stylish Athletic Gear via Adidas

 

 

 

 

A by Adrienne Landau Faux Fur Vest in Merlot, $89.95, was $139, hsn.com

A by Adrienne Landau Faux Fur Vest in Merlot, $89.95, was $139, hsn.com

YOUNG LADIES’ GUIDES

Personalized Teen Girls’ via PBteen

For your Classic-loving cold-blooded friend via Kate Spade Saturday

Under $25 for Fashionistas via PinkSole blog

Jewelry lovers via PinkSole blog

Offbeat Girly Girl under $50 via Betsey Johnson

Faux Fur for Her via HSN.com

Tip to Toe Trends for Juniors via Nordstrom.com

 

 

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AllSaints’ Men’s Leather Jacket Collection

 

YOUNG MEN’S GUIDES

 

Graphic Tee Guy via Plndr.com

Sk8r Boys’ under $20 via Brickharbor.com

Personalized Teen Guys’ via PBteen

Luxe Hipster Guy via Allsaints.com

Plaid/Bargain Lovin’ Guys via J. Crew Factory

Extreme Outdoorsmen via The North Face

 

 

 

HOST/HOSTESS & WORKPLACE GIFTS

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Foodie Family gifts via Williams-Sonoma

Hipster Pets  via Furbish Studio

White Elephant/Gag Gift Ideas via The Dating Divas blog

Mod Travel Gadget junkies via CB2 

Home & Office Soup to Nuts via Crate & Barrel

Upscale audiophile via Details.com

Mid-Century Modern fans under $30 via Jonathan Adler

Personalized Pet Picks via Petsmart.com

 

Gift guides are available for so many occasions…do you use gift guides? On what holidays or occasions do you find them the most useful?

Baby Boy Sweaters in time for Thanksgivukkah!

 

Since my college BFF is Mom to a 9-month old boy/angel, I put together a round-up of sweaters to keep him warm until I can hold him! For Charlie, and the rest of the stylin’ little guys out there, a selection of knitwear that will add the cozy…

Baby boys' Sweaters for November

 

1. Ruum Fairisle sweater, 0/3M-6/12M, $32.50, ruum.com
2. Gap Rugby Stripe Shawl Cardigan, 0/3M-18/24M, $31.99, was $39.95, gap.com
3. Zarria HandKnits Owl Sweater & Hat, 3M-18M, $40, etsy.com
4. First Impressions Hooded Cardigan, 3/6M-24M, $23.99, was $34, macys.com
5. Cuddle Bear Chunky Cardigan, 3M-12M, $23.00, was $46, carsons.com
6. Crazy 8 Reindeer Fair Isle Hooded Sweater, 3/6M-5Y, $20, was $22.95
7. H&M Cable-knit cardigan, 4/6M-12/18M, $19.95, hm.com
8. Polarn O. Pyret Professor Cardigan, 6/9M-18/24M, $34, polarnopyretusa.com
9. Mayoral Varsity Cardigan, 9M-2Y, $35, alexandalexa.com
10.Joe Fresh Jacquard Sweater, 3/6M-18/24M, $12, was $16, jcpenney.com

 

My tip for new Moms… Zahra went through a Chicago winter with ponchos, chunky sweaters and a fleece-lined hoodie with a fleece JJ Cole Bundle Me, and she was perfectly warm and happy in her carrier. It’s perfect for those of us who aren’t spending great amounts of time outside during the winter, just jaunts in between controlled indoor climates. But it only works if your baby maintains a high body temperature.

JJ Cole Bundle Me Urban Infant Stealth, $50, laylagrace.com

JJ Cole Bundle Me Urban Infant Stealth, $50, laylagrace.com

Consider spending the money saved on expanding his wardrobe with a variety of hefty pullovers, cardigans, and hoodies that will serve you well once the weather warms again. Replace winter’s turtleneck layer with tees or button-ups, and he’ll be moving in warmth and style come Spring.

 

Ditching the papoose suit was a bold move that was questioned by every Senior Citizen in Mom’s apartment complex.  However the hubs and I knew that we had a kid whose was always hot (just like Mom), and her long limbs made her miserable in a snowsuit. Bonus-it always catches the cute, overpriced crib shoes that babies seem to kick off in the dark corners of Costco!

 

Ever since,  I always support every mother’s intuitive choice as best for her child. Have you made any choices for your child that ran afoul of conventional wisdom? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Countdown to Sochi-What’s Everyone Wearing?

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I am cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crazy for the Olympics. I watch almost everything, and have forced my family to accept my monopoly of the DVR schedule for a fortnight. Last week the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) revealed the Team USA Closing Ceremony uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren. Needless to say I am getting pumped…so let’s do a drive-by critique, shall we?

 

Shown above on speedskater Shani Davis (Chi-town, holla), we see the double-breasted pea coat, fair isle turtleneck sweater & fleece pants. I love the coat, but I’m thinking that red stripe across the tummy isn’t very flattering to a non-athletic midsection, so make sure the wearer is somewhat trim to allow for the best-looking fit.

 

The pullover is pretty busy, but with POLO emblazoned across the front, at least everyone knows it was expensive. And you don’t want your athletes looking tasteful but indistinct in the Olympic Village, n’est-ce pas?

 

Note to all the Olympians reading this blog…Pack a bleach pen to keep those snowy pants looking clean and mean! Is it too late to open a pop-up dry-cleaning franchise in Sochi?

 

 

For more casual or “village” wear, you’ve also got a bold patriotic flag crewneck, and trim-fitting fleece jackets and half-zips. Various tri-colored polos and tees can provide a basic layer underneath.

 

I am really loving the retro ski-style boots, but I’m glad I don’t need to pack those heavy suckers in a suitcase anytime soon! The line will be available online as of November 15, but if you’re hankering to get some less pricey holiday gifts, try the Team USA online shop, for clothing for all sizes and lots of gift ideas at various price points.

 

I am probably unusual because I’m anticipating the Sochi Games far more than the holidays that precede them. Do you ever buy Olympic-themed apparel or memorabilia for yourself or others?

 

Let’s Do Launch-Stella McCartney style!

I am loving the pieces from the recent launch of Stella McCartney Kids’ collection for Halloween, a.k.a. Stellaween. To be honest, I’d probably buy just one piece of a designer brand like this, and even then probably after a price reduction. My kid just outgrows clothing too quickly, and since I’m not having more kids, it doesn’t make sense.

Arlo t-shirt, kids' sizes 2-10, $60, stellamccartney.com

Arlo t-shirt, kids’ sizes 2-10, $60, stellamccartney.com

But the brand has a well-established charitable relationship, which makes the idea of purchasing the Arlo t-shirt easier to digest. For each unit sold, a donation will be given to PADEM (Programmes d’Aide et Development destines aux Enfants du Monde) for the development of educational and economic initiatives in Kenya.

 

There are also some items that are so darn cute, I would invest in them if I had a gaggle of girls (or boys) that could sport some special hand-me-downs. I’m dying for the Primrose dress because it’s a mini version of the dress Kerry Washington wore on the red carpet a few months ago. The “Boo” umbrella will work for either girls or boys, and it has a wonderful peek-a-boo mask to entertain your little ones on a rainy walk.

Primrose dress, girls' sizes 2-12, $105, stellamccartney.com

Primrose dress, girls’ sizes 2-12, $105, stellamccartney.com

 

I have always admired the work of Linda McCartney, Stella’s mom, a proponent of vegetarianism and animal rights. Stella herself never uses fur or leather in her designs, which is quite a statement for an haute couture designer. I really dig that the Stellaween line features art created by illustrator Rose Blake. For a fun quick kids’ craft, try this Make-Your-Own-Monster activity with her designs.

Boo umbrella, $60, stellamccartney.com

Boo umbrella, $60, stellamccartney.com

 

 

 

Am I justifying a pricey t-shirt for no good reason? Possibly, but I can’t grumble about cost when underserved communities are being helped by a simple click of the mouse!

 

What are your favorite ways of giving to those less fortunate? Do you like to keep it local or spread your help across the globe?

 

Buckle Boots-On Trend & Affordable

Olsenboye Sunday Moto Booties, $49, jcpenney.com & in stores

 

Buckles on footwear, especially boots, are everywhere this fall. Styles run the gamut from embellished biker-tough ankle booties to the restrained knee-high equestrian type.

So many options in details, materials, and colors    are still available. Here’s a few that will work on campus, with style!

Teen Girls' Buckle Boots

 

3. Journee Collection Buckle Midcalf boots, $28.99, was $65, amazon.com

4. Nine West Kenway Boots, $125.99, was $189, 6pm.com

5. Sperry Top-Sider Falcon Rain Boot, $77.95, nordstrom.com

6. Rebels Travis Bootie, $69.99, was $89, piperlime.com

7. Torrid Pyramid Studded Boots, $69.50, torrid.com

8. Aerosoles Sot N Pepper, $79.99, was $99, shoebuy.com

9. Lower East Side Samantha, $34.99, BOGO-eligible, payless.com & in stores

10.Aldo Hakui Ankle Boots, $64.98 was $130, aldoshoes.com & in stores

11.Call It Spring Nadell Ankle Boots, $44.98, was $65, callitspring.com & in stores

 

What’s your strategy this fall for stocking up your shoe rack? Are you adding an investment pair now, hoping to scoop up additional styles on clearance later this season??? Or are you taking advantage of BOGO offers to add to your options? Brag about your best buys to me,      I could use several pairs!

 

Flashy Friday-Stock up on Puma, Yo Gabba Gabba, Tea Collection & Diesel

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I think it’s official, fall is in full effect everywhere by now, and the items on sale reflect the urge to feather one’s nest with cold weather staples. There are bunches of sales on apparel and accessories in sizes fitting babies to college students. DID you know you can call them your babies until their bills stop coming addressed to you? Let me summarize the cream of the crop, so you have some time to pick up a pumpkin or two!

 

Events ending…

Zulily’s Hanna Andersson event ends Saturday, but savvy shoppers should compare the offers at both the retail stores and the outlets. They’ve also got a large assortment of ladies’ Calvin Klein coats until tomorrow.

 

Big Brand Blowout of the Week

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Puma Cherry & Black PowerTech Blaze SL Junior Running Shoe, $39.99, reduced from $65.00

Puma-The legendary sportswear brand is offering something for everyone in Zulily’s event ending Sunday. Women’s, babies’, boys’ & girls’ activewear, watches, equipment, bags, outerwear & shoes are offered. In case you miss it, girls’ activewear will also be offered during a joint event with Fila starting Tuesday on My Habit.

 

 

Babies & Toddlers

Absorba-This classic French brand creates stylish cotton pieces, often with matching blankets or accessories that are perfect baby shower gifts. Get up to 50% off retail until  Sunday morning on Zulily.

 

Conscious Clothing-Organic, handmade cotton tees, pants, dresses & blankets for boys & girls in adorably quirky prints. This Etsy gem is on sale for 50% off on Modnique now until Monday.

 

Yo Gabba Gabba!-It’s just the most fun kids’ TV show ever…and you can get up to 65% off tees, hats, toys & party products on Zulily before Sunday.

Pink Yo Gabba Gabba! Pom Pom Beanie, $11.99, reduced from $20

 

 

Boys & Girls

 

Woolrich-If you’re committed to buying products made in the USA, you’ll love this brand. Selected boys’ jackets, button-downs, long-sleeve tees & henleys are available on Rue La La until Monday at reduced prices.

 

Stuart Weitzman-These girls’ boots and shoes at Hautelook are so on trend, I’m thinking they’ll sell out well before the Monday deadline. The baby girl shoes are also adorable!

 

Tea Collection-Pack away some off-season bargains on pajamas, swim, dresses & separates for both boys & girls on Hautelook’s event that ends Monday. Baby/toddler sizes are also available from this loved brand by San Francisco moms.

 

Young Adults

 

Asics-Both amateur and pro fitness fanatics have made this brand super popular worldwide. The debut of this label on Rue La La includes shoes & apparel for men & women at discounted price points. Think about stashing these staples as holiday gifts for your campus athlete before it ends on Sunday.

 

Diesel Glibbo sweater, $45, reduced from $154

Diesel-Guys can shop for casual tees, polos, sweaters & jeans for 48-72% off retail on Modnique. The Ladies’ Diesel event also ends Monday, with tees, hoodies, skirts & jeans at 41-81% off the retail value.

 

Betsey Johnson & Vince Camuto-The trek across campus in crummy weather is a lot more bearable in one of these chic anoraks, jackets, or coats for ladies. Zulily’s event prices that are discounted up to 75% off the MSRP make footing the bill more bearable for you!

 

Sneaky Peek

Isaac Mizrahi for Girls has an event beginning Saturday morning on My Habit. Check the site for a line that promises playful classics with graphic details and bold colors.

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I feel as though new flash sales are popping up every day! Have you seen this site for “salt, fresh, and fly fishing”? What are your favorite flash sale strategies? What type of products do you find yourself buying the most?

Have You Visited the Fashion Outlets of Chicago yet? Read My Recap First!

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If you haven’t heard about the months-old Fashion Outlets of Chicago (FOC), you might want to start saving up some cash, a personal day at work and some energy to check it out. It’s both different and identical to other outlet malls. My observations as a first-time visitor follow…

 

Like other malls in the category, the super-low prices of the old school outlets are no longer a given. There are non-outlet stores, like Forever 21, identical to the site nearest you. The “Factory” stores (J. Crew, Gap, Guess) feature their own made-for-outlet merchandise, often irregular or made in a different color or fabric from the original issue. Some companies (Hugo Boss Outlet, Neiman Marcus’ Last Call) sell discounted or late-season merchandise from the flagship stores.

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FRACTIONISTA’S TIP Make sure you know what type of merchandise is being sold by politely asking the store staff. Everyone I asked was very candid with me, and it helped me judge how much of a “deal” was set before me. Don’t assume that the outlet items are accepted at the branch nearest you; try on items if possible and clarify the return policy before you buy.

 

WHAT’S HOT…

That it is an enclosed, air-conditioned mall is a big positive for me, as Chicago’s weather extremes are nothing nice. Smart parking eliminates circling for open spots, although I did think I was going the wrong way in a lane more than once.The L-shape layout is easy to navigate, as the Food Court bisects the mall, and the upper level has all the luxury brands.

 

A concierge desk can help you deal with your truckloads of purchases. If the FOC is your last stop before leaving town, Guest Services can check your baggage, issue a boarding pass, and schedule a shuttle to the airport. There are currency exchange and translation services, as well as packing & shipping services. Take a look here to get the total picture.

 

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   …AND NOT SO HOT

 

If you’re looking for an extra special gift, or a luxurious item for your coffee table, you might be out of luck. Home & garden stores have blown a well-located opportunity to sell their outlet goods to Chicago residents and tourists.  If Le Creuset is selling 20 lb. skillets to stash in carry-on luggage, I can imagine how international and domestic travelers would go even crazier for discounted home goods (and apparel) from The Company Store or Garnet Hill.

 

Double check your makeup bag before you visit, because there is no Sephora or MAC to help you replenish your staples. There’s only L’Occitane,  The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works, so…sad face with no Viva Glam lipstick for this chick.MP900315500

 

Unfortunately, the only dedicated plus-size boutique is Torrid. The department store outlets may have some less trendy leftovers, but the choices will be as limited as they are in the flagship stores, if not more so.

 

Campus favorites like DieselMango, and Free People would be welcome for young adults seeking stylish options of quality. These brands have a global and local customer base, it seems like an excellent way to increase brand recognition with travelers from the US and beyond. 

 

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As for the notable omissions in children’s wear, color me surprised that retailers with international appeal like Hanna Andersson, Hatley, and Jacadi are not represented.

 

BTW, make sure your little ones love shopping, as there is no play area for them to amuse themselves while you indulge in some distraction-free browsing. No Marbles or Lego store, just a Disney Store strategically located with eyeshot of an insane candy shoppe. #justsayno

 

The lack of seating was a challenge when I had to hunt for a seat to sip my Tuesday afternoon latte. Several mall employees told me the weekends are exponentially busier, so this will ultimately affect the seating in the food court, which I felt was sorely lacking in appealing fare.

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If I’m paying $5 for a coffee, I shouldn’t have to walk 100 yards to sit and enjoy it. I’m hoping my West Coast fave, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or maybe Peet’s Coffee & Tea will get the memo and open a competing kiosk WITH dedicated seating!

 

 

Though I have re-focused this blog to cover clothing for children and teens, I have a few awards to bestow on the mall in general. I’m calling them as I saw them…

 

Something for Everyone-Shoes-a-plenty!

Incredibly diverse and numerous, the options in shoe stores and shoe departments offer truckloads from which to choose. My favorite is the Converse store, where everyone in the family can be comfortably shod for under $25.

 

Biggest Epiphany-Tory Burch

I know that chicks go loco for Tory Burch, and I was never really moved much by the clothing, which seemed like overpriced country club wear. I have now seen the light via the truly amazing outlet prices on the lovely-in-person leather goods, shoes and bags. They are classic styles in sumptuous materials at splurge-worthy, “real” outlet prices. Grrr…that was money I wasn’t spending!

tburch line

 

Still Don’t Get It-Prada

 

Apparently, They have a VIP-style velvet rope situation at the Prada store on weekends, letting just 5 people shop at a time due to the crowds. Can I walk to the front to see if I’m on the list? What if I have a plus one? When I enter the store, is there a time machine to transport me back to 1992 when pre-knockoff-on-every-corner Prada was relevant? Because at one point, some of the fakes were cooler looking than the originals.

Coolest Kiosk-Infinity Lights

This pod has customizable kits starting at $19.99 including cord kit and easy-to-follow instructions. Choose from 15 different shapes and your unique palette to create a light fixture that matches your kids’ room with an element of creativity and color. This was a completely new thing to me, but maybe I haven’t actually been to a mall with kiosks in a while…

 

Most Likely to Earn Cool Points & Jealous Stares from your Increasingly Jaded College Student, and the Wench from Carpool-AllSaints 

 

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Don’t let the industrial façade of AllSaints intimidate you, a purely wonderful experience awaits you inside this British brand’s boutique. If you favor muted hues, fabrics with an exquisite hand, supple leathers, and hand-sewn details, this is your utopia. An accessory junkie like myself will be elated to find the extensive collection of shoes and jewelry. We are not talking about the dreaded fast fashion here, these are items of quality. The embellishments, the knits, I could swear I drooled!

 

Though more expensive than typical mall stores, this outlet has trend-setting pieces at 40-70% off the flagship store prices, so this is more of a value than a bargain. The sales associates are helpful and product-savvy, even though my head-to-toe treadmill gear made me stick out like Woody Woodpecker among a murder of crows. Very modern, chic crows, that is…

 

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Several stores at the FOC are running Columbus Day promotions until Monday or longer. Will you be braving the long weekend crowds to get some goodies? Let me know if you score something scrumptious!

 

Fall Color Trends-Orange IS the new black!

Hailee Steinfeld in House of Holland ~ (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

 

If I’m considered a “style blogger” (yes, I’m smirking & finger-quoting), the Teen Choice Awards would surely be my equivalent of the Oscars. As you may have read on my About Me page,  I’ve rebooted to focus on Apparel for Kids and Teens. It’s all very new, and blindsided me while I was out scouring all of Chicago for school supplies.

 

While the celebrities may not still be teens, the award voters still are, or even younger. Think about how you only read Seventeen magazine in secret after you actually turned 17.

 

Teens are an aspirational bunch, even if they have no earthly right to wear a pair of $1K stilettos. Take a look, it’s what the hipster kids will be clamoring for as soon as you’ve rebounded financially from buying notebooks and Clorox wipes!

 

I like Hailee Steinfeld (pictured above in House of Holland), but I am loving her styling team! They’ve made excellent choices; she always sports age-appropriate and head-turning looks. She’s already done a print campaign for Miu Miu, so when she endorses the Pop of Orange trend, you can believe it comes from a (relative) fashion veteran…She’s my Best Dressed for this Red Blue Carpet and thus deserves her own tribute!

 

This trend is accessible to you, no stylist required. Some wearable picks for Babies, Boys’ and Girls’ sizes…but what lover of bright color hasn’t borrowed an accessory or two from the kids before?

1. Nike Jr. Hypervenom Phelon IC Kids’ Indoor Soccer shoe, $55, nike.com

2. DKNY Boys’ Neon Print tee, sizes 4-16, $24, was $48, alexandalexa.com

3. Gymboree Straight Chino, sizes 3-12, $20.97, regularly $29.95, gymboree.com

4. Gap Colorblock Shift dress, girls’ XS-XXL, $34.95, gap.com

5. Tapete Orange Flocked Tiger tee, babies’ 3/6m-12/18m, $35, alexandalexa.com

6. Tea Collection Colorblock twirl dress, girls’ 2-12, $35, pacifieronline.com

7. Tea Collection Colorblock pocket tee, 6/12m to boys’ 12, $29, teacollection.com

8. Zatchels 11.5″ neon orange , $184, alexandalexa.com

9. Stella McCartney Kids Kenya Charity Pumpkin tee, 2y to 14y, $54 includes a donation, alexandalexa.com

I suppose this counts as my inaugural award show post. If you’re curious about the rest of the looks, I like the quick loading slideshows of PopSugar. What’s your favorite award show for trend watching?

8 Websites with Blazing Back to School Deals

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Back to School & Summer Clearance sales are insane right now! Here are my picks for this weekend. Most end Sunday, so check the details on the in-store & online offers.

FOOTWEAR

Piperlime is encouraging you to stock up online with a volume discount deal that ends Saturday. Buy 2 pairs of shoes & get 20% off; buy 3 & get 25% off; buy 4 & get 30% off! This deal includes all sale-priced shoes too. If you missed the Zulily sale on Keen shoes, they’ve still got a few styles at reduced prices.

Keen Newport H2, $34.99, was $50

 

Payless is offering 20% off regular-priced merchandise through Sunday, in-store and online. Check out casual slip-ons by Airwalk, bright colors of Champion, and plenty of uniform-ready styles as well. Payless is always a good resource for wide width shoes. I love that they can easily track down your desired size or style at another store with a few key strokes.

 

UNIFORMS & BACKPACKS

 

Lands End is keeping its message simple by offering 30% all regular-priced School Uniforms & Kids’ items until Tuesday. Did you see my pin of my favorite all-time LE purchase? Don’t miss out on the color & size choices you need!

 

Crazy 8 and Gymboree are offering 25% and 30% off their Uniform Shops, respectively. Both stores are offering an additional 20% off clearance items; ending Sunday at Crazy 8 and for a “limited time only” at Gymboree. Both are great stores to add a few fun bargains to wear right now and next summer!

Garnet Hill Signature Skinny Jeans, $24.50, was $34

 

For those more focused on the backpack part of the equation, add Garnet Hill, Hanna Andersson, and Toys”R”Us to your list. I’m loving the free lunch bag deals!

Though mainly for girls, Garnet Hill has a lot to offer online right now. Until, 9/3/13, purchase any backpack and you’ll get the matching lunchpack for free. Or stock up on girls’ regular-priced clothing and receive discounts from $10-50 off purchases of $50 or more. I am eyeing the summer clearance and thinking about how nicely the colored skinny jeans will transition into fall!

 

Rugged Rolling Bag in Monster Camo, $43.40, regularly $62

Hanna Andersson has a good variety of  backpack offerings with matching accessories as well. They carry several prints for both genders, in messenger, classic and wheeled backpacks, as well as smaller packs for preschoolers. You can choose a matching lunch pack in two styles, or a smaller scale preschool pack. Pencil cases, food containers and water bottles are part of the sale as well. A bunch of new markdowns just happened…so try to control yourself!!!

 

Got a Monster High or Transformers fan in the house? Pro sport and character backpacks are in great and varied supply at Toys “R” Us. Purchase a backpack for $12.99 or more, and receive a FREE lunch pack. If you’re looking for options for older boys who aren’t into dinosaur and rocket themes anymore, try this site first! For teens and campus-bound guys, check out my previous post of adult-sized packs.

 

Have you heard that I’ve made some changes to this blog? I’ve relegated all my off-topic tips to my Pinterest boards and arranged them by subject. I’m dying to know what you think of the new direction…please share your comments with me!

3 Conversations to have with Yourself BEFORE Selling your used clothing

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I’ve been Back To School shopping, as a participant & observer, and everyone’s ALREADY tired of spending. Who wouldn’t like some extra income this time of year to balance out the outpouring of funds for supplies, equipment and clothing?

If you start the process of re-selling the outgrown rejects from your closets now, you might have bonus money to put toward some replacements! Of course, you could take your bonus to the nearest spa and treat yourself for all the hard work parenting entails. Here are some things to consider first:

 

EXPECTATIONS

You must honestly ask yourself, “What do I want out of this process?” Is it more important to maximize the profit, or just get…clutter…out…now!!! What’s more important, recouping dollars or getting rid of the excess unused items easily & quickly?

If you want to target a certain price for your item(s), are you willing to wait for a buyer? Perhaps getting rid of it is your priority, and whatever money back you receive is gravy. Would it be more of a fiscal positive for you to donate the items and get a receipt to include with your tax deductions? Perhaps the biggest benefit is the end of heated discussions about the space it sucks up, or how someone begged for it, and then never…wore…it…once…!photo_1473_20060425

 

QUALITY

Try not to think about how much you spent, but consider how much you would pay for the item in its current condition. I wouldn’t expect to pay the full retail price for an unboxed pair of Christian Louboutins from a stranger hawking them on the sidewalk, would you?

The item condition is also an important evaluation. If the item is new and unworn, are the price tags still attached? Was it worn just once, and is still like new? For used clothing, you must judge the evidence of washing and wearing. Is it faded, pilling, worn, shrunken, stretched, stained, or damaged?

Do some research on whether the brand is still in demand. There are sellers trying to unload Ed Hardy tee shirts unsuccessfully, just as there are some who can sell anything by Ralph Lauren. Is the item still considered on trend, or is it a classic style? You might have a collector’s item on your hands.

If you’re unsure, consult an unbiased trendsetter…ideally someone who’s not looking for you to buy him/her new stuff. For example, try an Ebay search for “Juicy Couture velour hoodie” or even “Crocs” and scope out the competition. Click on “Completed Listings” in the sidebar to see what items are selling and at what price. This information will help you decide what price to expect and its popularity at present. Be careful, sometimes this can result in an impulse buy!

 

EFFORT

How much time do you have to devote to the process? If you have a profit target in mind, I suggest self-selling, such as Ebay, yard sale, or the myriad classified ad sites where you can name your price.

However, the effort involved includes research, photography, & writing up listings. I include a lot of details and spell out all my policies and procedures in advance in my Ebay store listings. Anticipating any questions in the potential buyers’ minds equals a smooth transaction for both parties.MC900341865

Ensure that you are open to communication with buyers to close your sale. Do you have a PayPal account, or will you accept cash or certified check? You will also need to package & ship a purchased item, or arrange a meeting for a local buyer. Ebay has practices that prevent shady behavior by both sellers & buyers. Educate yourself on the rules & policies of classified websites and make sure you are comfortable with the process.

If you just want it gone, consider local consignment shops, or franchises like Once Upon a Child(OUAC), Plato’s Closet, or Second Time Around. The only time it requires is schlepping clean items and waiting for store personnel to make their picks. OUAC will also buy gently used toys and equipment. They will issue you a check or a store credit. But they are more selective in terms of condition, style, & brand, and typically accept clothing seen in stores from the previous 12 to 18 months. So you may have a leftover pile of rejects after your visit.

 

Remember, what works for you is personal to your situation. Everyone has different demands on their time, income, and closet space. No judgments, just make your household happy!

Now that you (and yourself) have talked things over, which method will you try first? Do you know other outlets for clearing obsolete clothing out of your house?

Backpack Picks: Big Man on Campus edition

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WOW, the first Friday of August is here! Time to start cramming in all the summer bucket list items into your schedule while you can…

 

For those parents who are sending man-sized boys off to college, I found a few items that will keep your guy from toting his stuff around campus in a Whole Foods bag. That way he can use it to shop with and get a 10 cent rebate on those energy bars he eats by the dozen!

 

 

 

 

Skullcandy Rasta backpack, $50, journeys.com, Free shipping-also in stores

Samsonite Tectonic Large backpack, $67.99, was $95, jcp.com

Ivar Revel backpack, $99, containerstore.com, also available for store pickup

Swiss Gear backpack, $42, was $50, target.com, Free shipping-also in stores

L.L. Bean North Ridge backpack, $59.95, llbean.com, Free shipping-also in stores

JanSport Market Street Messenger bag, $39.99, jansport.com

Now I’m re-thinking the tech case graduation gifts from June…Do these a-pocket-for-everything backpacks really get used? Are they putting the humble laptop and tablet cases out of work? I need to know before the exchange window closes!!!

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Read Divergent yet? Love Scandal? You could work with President Fitz!

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Listen up Chicaogoland…Tony Goldwyn, a.k.a. President Fitzgerald Grant on TV’s hottest drama, Scandal, is in Chicago filming the movie Divergent. The cast also includes Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ray Stevenson, and Zoe Kravitz. They are casting extras TODAY & TOMORROW that live in the area, and no previous experience is necessary!

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You’ve earned me, Fitz!

Let me back up a bit. The movie is based on the young adult novel of the same name penned by Northwestern grad Veronica Roth. The first in the trilogy is Divergent, and the second installment, Insurgent was just released this month. Both are currently on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

The backdrop of this fictional series is Chicago, and since the author lives here, the shoot locations should be interesting. Here are the details taken from the ONLY official Facebook page for extra casting…

Divergent is looking for Males/Females, Ages 16 to 24 to play TEENS, all ethnicity.

You should have a clean cut, sharp, polished appearance.

You should be available for a costume fitting on Thursday, May 16th or Friday, May 17th. Times are from 8:30am (on the half hour) until 5:00pm.

We are checking availability to work on the following dates: 5/26, 6/12, 6/13, 6/14, 6/15, 7/5, 7/6, 7/7

Send an email to extras4divergent@gmail.com: Subject Line: TEENS

1) Attach a recent photo as a jpeg format along with name, email, phone, age, height/weight and measurements:
(Men: Suit/Jacket, Shirt (neck/sleeve), Pants (waist/inseam), and Shoes. Women: Bust/Waist/Hips, Dress Size and Shoes.)

2) Include the date/time available for the costume fitting and list ALL the dates you are available to work.

3) Please note: You MUST be an Illinois Resident with either a valid Illinois Driver’s Licence or State ID – State which one you have in your possession.

4) Finally, if you attended the open call or were previously contacted by us regarding an online survey – please let us know in the email.

“Clean cut appearance” translates to no saggy pants or skankwear,YO! Even if you can’t or don’t qualify for this opportunity, you can register for work with the casting agency by clicking the “Extras” tab at this link. I hope it works out for you, holla back with any stories…

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In an occurrence as rare as the Cubs winning the World Series , I will be watching the season finale of Scandal on LIVE, non-DVR’ed television tonight. Who’s got cliffhanger predictions? Comment below!

HOTFlash-Del Taco free item with purchase on Wednesdays in May

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A special shout-out to my Michigan, California, Ohio & Alabama readers, and all those in the Del Taco snacking areas. This doesn’t include my stomping ground, but I love a free item with purchase, and I must spread the word!34359738375_20130502043690

The deal is every Wednesday in May, from 3:00-9:00 p.m., you can choose from 3 free items to add to your purchase at no extra cost. Like the Facebook page for other coupons and deals if this afternoon’s freebie doesn’t appeal to you. If you can’t make it today, you’ve got 2 more opportunities this month!

Who would win the war for your Mexican(ish) fast food dollar, Del Taco or Taco Bell? Is it wrong to be thinking about tacos when you’re still sipping coffee?

 

HOTFlash-A Mid-May Freebie from Krispy Kreme & Foursquare

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There’s an awesome excuse to get together with a friend today…a Krispy Kreme freebie!

Just check in on Foursquare at Krispy Kreme with a friend today, May 15th, and both of you get a free doughnut! The free flavors are Key Lime Cake or Key Lime Cheesecake, so you could go splitsies with your pal and taste both featured flavors.

While you’re there, enter the Key Lime Staycation Giveaway, for a chance to win a prize pack that includes summer staples such as sunscreen, beach towels, and of course gift cards! Over 200 are being given away, so why not take a chance?

Check this link for a list of participating locations. You can download the FREE Foursquare app for iPhone here, and the Android app here. If you can’t make it today, they are repeating the offer on Wednesday, May 22. Who doesn’t love a freebie you can plan a May day around?

If you’re a lime lover, Pinterest is full of Key Lime recipes…What’s the best, worst, or most unusual Key Lime flavored food you’ve ever heard of or tried?

 

 

Who Knew?…It’s Haagen-Dazs Free Cone Day

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I can’t believe this event almost happened without me noticing. It is my goal to have a post related to every frozen, caffeinated or sweet treat freebie in 2013 on this blog. I might still be safe….Because today is Haagen-Dazs free cone day!

From 4:00 – 8:00 p.m., you can get a free cone of your favorite flavor. This is for participating U.S. shops only, so check this link to find a location.

Taste one of the new gelato flavors and tweet your critique using the hashtag #TWITALY for a chance to win a trip for two to Italy! Go to  www.twitalytrip.com for the deets.601719_10151408379020811_1227743361_n

 

It’s a perfect day for ice cream in Chicago today…what’s the weather like near you?

 

 

2 Tech freebies to simplify spring & summer

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Lil’ Scout only has five days of school in June, so we’re barreling toward the home stretch of the school year. I’m hoping the following tech resources will help me streamline(and remember!) all the phone numbers and names I’ll collect at the upcoming end-of-year programs as well as the summer activities that will follow quickly after…

SignUp Genius

Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a commitment on a paper sign-up sheet and forgotten the details once you had a quiet moment to yourself to put a reminder in a meaningful place…Let’s just say we’re just lucky we live in a city with stores that are open late!

SignUpGenius is a big improvement on the volunteer coordination program that flopped at Lil’ Scout’s school last summer. The professional look will motivate volunteers, increase accountability and lessen no-shows, miscommunications, and 18 trays of brownies with no napkins.

The step by step wizard helps you customize your template with logos or pictures, and the fields that suit your group. It has a recurring feature to set up hundreds of future dates instantly. There are plenty of privacy settings, so the right people are privy to the information they need, and updates are funneled through a key contact.

afd6aab379fe44a7c5df5a7c006b2795Volunteers sign up online, and enter what time, place and materials they will be responsible for. You can preview who’s attached to what before you commit, so you can carpool with your neighbor or avoid that Type A Mom (that’s me) from last year’s class.

I love the bulk e-mail function for thank you notes, invitations, and updates. Finally, I’m saying goodbye to the “Reply All” e-mail threads that plagued me with others’ back and forth arguments discussions. No more worrying that my thank you note is still sitting at the bottom of a 1st grader’s backpack!

Automated text or e-mail notifications are easy for the admin, and seems less like nagging and more professional. Each user has a list of all signups, and it integrates with Pinterest, Facebook & Twitter, as well as Google calendar & Outlook for further utility. Preview the list of features at this link to decide if this site suits your group’s needs.

The free version pays the bills with banner advertising (no annoying pop-ups), but if you opt to pay, it is ad-free. Many underwriting organizations have specific advertising rules that you wouldn’t want to violate, so be sure to check with the brass.  Either way, they will not sell or share your e-mail addresses, so you can notify the conspiracy theorists that their information is safe.

 

The Ringya app for iPhone and Android

Tired of digging for an obscure computer file to locate contact info for your kids’ classmate who needs to carpool to pottery class? Maybe you just haven’t gotten around to inputting the info from the lengthy contact list from the company retreat into your phone. You need the Ringya app to do the heavy lifting, and you can ditch those extra papers and files in minutes.

Just take a photo of a document or e-mail a digital file and the app will digitize the information into rings, or organized lists. You can email or text individuals, sub-groups or the whole ring. It also allows for manual input and updates, so any changes are automatically shared within the ring.

The key benefit for me is the contextual caller ID, that tells you at a glance whether it’s Sandy, Mia the goalie’s stepmother, or Brandy, Maya from swim team’s mom. Onscreen you’ll see the name, title and ring name(s) the number is associated with. Since I am getting progressively worse at putting names to faces, I can only imagine this becoming more important as time goes by.

Still not sure if Ringya is for you? Skim the Frequently Asked Questions, to see how it could simplify work and home contacts. The kicker…You can download the iphone version from the AppStore or get the Android version on Google Play…both are free, with no ads!

 

I dropped my phone in a giant cup of coffee, so I’m temporarily back on my old phone. Does anybody know of any new apps for BlackBerry?…Anybody?…Please drop me a comment, I’m dying to spice up the old technology!

Tax Day HOTFlash-4 tension-relievers for the ultra-stressed!

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Still stressed even though you finished your tax return? Just can’t let go of the pent-up anxiety? Try these promotions to help you let go until next year…and hope for a giant surprise rebate, or at least not an audit!

Office Depot-Print this coupon and get 25 pages of free black & white copies.They are also offering a coupon for 5 lbs. of free shredding. Both offers expire May 1st, so find your closest location at this link.

HydroMassage-From now until Friday the 19th, you can receive a free HydroMassage experience coupon to use at a provider near you. After you select a location here, call and schedule as all locations may not participate in the promotion.

AMC Theatres-Still not fit for company? Take yourself to a movie and get a free small popcorn with this printable coupon. Offer ends after tonight, so find a location with this link post-haste!

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Trojan-Los Angelenos listen up! The company known for its family planning products, is giving away free vibrators from 12:30-5:30 Pacific time.The details of the Pleasure Cart can be found on the Facebook event page. And have your excuse for leaving work prepared in advance!

 

I don’t really know what to say after that…If you know of some great tax day/week promotions, tweet me @MsFractionista with the deets. Has anyone indulged in any of the promotions in my previous post? Let a Fractionista know…

 

 

Tax Day HOTFlash-17 deals for today and beyond

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Tasty treats are coming your way today, but let’s review some quick strategies to ease any extra tension. These are supposed to be stress-busting bonuses, am I right?

Research any deal for which you need more details on the brand website and Facebook page. Locator links are included below, so call your local branch to determine their participation, need for reservations, or whether a coupon or rewards account is needed. Planning ahead might not be necessary, but you’re not the only person who knows about these deals …thanks to me and my big bloggy mouth!

 

Monday, April 15

images (4)Arby’s-Free value-sized curly fries or small potato cakes with coupon. Go here to print coupon and enter sweepstakes to win $500 cash. Locate your local Arby’s at this link.

Beef O’Brady’s-Get 15% off your bill, excluding alcohol. Find your local branch here.

Boston Market-Try the newest addition to the menu and get 2 St. Louis Rib meals for $10.40 with the “We Love the IRS (Incredible Rib Special)” promotion. No coupon necessary! Locate one near you at this link.

Bruegger’s Bagels-Get a Big Bagel Bundle (13 bagels and 2 tubs of cream cheese) for $10.40 with this coupon for Facebook fans. Find a bakery near you with this link.577944_10151220548254125_797240127_n

California Tortilla-Mention code “1040” and receive a free chips & queso with your order, no coupon needed. In case you’re wondering, there aren’t any locations in Cali, but East coasters can find one with the locator here.

Carvel-Last day to get an 18-pack of Lil’ Oreo Rounders for $10.40. Like the Facebook page and print this coupon to get in on the deal. Find a Carvel near you with this link.

Chili’s-Like the Facebook page and get a printable coupon for a free appetizer or dessert with meal purchase that doesn’t expire until Monday, April 22nd!

Cinnabon-Get 2 free Cinnabon Bites when you stop by from 6-8 p.m. Indulge in some sinful goodness using this locator.

Famous Dave’s-Through Thursday 4/18, receive $10.40 off a meal purchase of $30 or more with the 1040 Savory Tax Deal. Your nearest Famous Dave’s site can be found here. Not all locations are participating, so call ahead!

536972_10152202432189057_945601801_nGodfather’s Pizza-Rumor has it you can get a large pizza for $10.40 today. I was unable to find a link anywhere, so call your local joint to verify, you can locate it here.

Great American Cookie Company-Get a free Birthday Cake Cookie, but only at the locations listed here

Krispy Kreme-Buy any size milk and get a free original glazed doughnut through Sunday, April 21. It’s your last chance to try the Oreo Cookies & Kreme doughnuts!

Scholtzky’s-Get a free small Original Sandwich with the purchase of a 32 oz. drink and chips. No coupon is necessary, locate one near you at this link.

Sonic-Half off all drinks, slushes & teas. Discover your nearest location here

Souper!Salad!-Pay just $5.99 for an adult buffet with this printable Tax Day Coupon until Thursday the 18th. Find your nearest location at this link.

White Castle-Get 15% off your total with this printable coupon. They also have two active  free Angus Steak Chili promotions right now.  Slide on by your nearest branch by finding it here.

 

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Wednesday, April 17

Panda Express-Show via mobile or print this coupon for a free serving of the new Samurai Surf & Turf menu item. Only valid in-store at participating locations. You can find a branch (ha, because pandas eat bamboo!) at this link. Sorry, no more puns!

 

Do you feel conflicted about treating yourself with less than healthy foods? I don’t have to do the taxes (love you, Boy Scout!), so for me that’s treat enough! Share how you’re treating yourself for counting those beans.

 

 

Vet visit freebies to show your love on National Pet Day!

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Yesterday was National Pet Day, and the best gift you can give a pet beyond daily love and attention, is the gift of good health. I have been lucky to share my life with mutts and alley cats that have seemed impervious to any prolonged afflictions. When they’re happy & active, you let those appointments lapse, and before you know it, their last checkup was 18 months ago!

Two national veterinary hospital chains that are currently offering a free first visit coupon for new customers. Added together, that’s 1,340 locations nationwide-hopefully one is a short distance away…603109_591711134179770_762516090_n

 

Banfield Pet Hospital is conveniently located inside PetSmart stores, the “big box” of pet supply stores. If you need one-stop shopping with easy access to day camp, supplies, boarding, training and medicines, this might work for you. Make sure to sign up for PetPerks to earn customer rewards, deal alerts and a treat on your pet’s birthday! Go here to find the branch closest to you. Just fill out the form to get the coupon to bring to your first scheduled exam, and the exam is FREE!

 

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VCA Animal Hospitals are national stand-alone vet facilities with locations in 41 states. You won’t have the temptation and hassle of walking through a superstore, so this is a benefit for pets who have more anxiety about the process. If you’re a prospective client, go here to fill out the form for a FREE first pet exam!

 

 

 

Does anyone have the lowdown on pet insurance…is it worth the cost? How about 47846_10152555590460596_1778487764_nprescription medicine programs, are they any cheaper than at the vet’s office? My pets low-maintenance over-the-counter types, so please share your insight with me!

HOTFlash-Ben & Jerry’s and Pinkberry freebies for midweek pick-me-ups!

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Today is Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s to commemorate the 1979 anniversary of Ben & Jerry’s first year of business. They have even created this Facebook app to help you select a partner for your trek for treats. Not all locations are participating so go to this store locator to see the closest place to score a free cone.

 

 

Try their classic ice creams, or economize your calorie intake by trying the new Liz Lemon Greek Yogurt. I might try a scoop to compare it to the new Pinkberrygreek on Wednesday. Read the details about the freebie running every Wednesday in April in this previous post.

I’m learning that frozen yogurt is not always as healthy as it sounds, due to added sugars or fillers. Have you made any switches in the name of healthy eating that were not worth the taste tradeoff?

5 Cool Products that benefit Autism Awareness resources

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Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect 1 in 88 children. Chances are you know a kid or family affected by one of the various diagnoses. Annually, the average extra costs for care of a child with ASD average at roughly $60,000 per family.

Nonprofit organizations fund research and offer support to families that lack the financial resources to help their children flourish. Why not show your support with a purchase of an item that profits the groups that are providing relief to families in need.

I adore the puzzle piece motif, but there are some items that show your allegiance with the cause with more subtlety. My picks follow, but check out the sites for more products…every purchase gives back during Autism Awareness Month!

Coleman Light It Up Blue LED lantern, $29.99

 

The Light It Up Blue LED lantern from Coleman will help you show support and awareness during Autism Awareness Month. Let the lantern shine on the blue setting in the window of your home or business, symbolically shining a light on the unique talents and abilities of people with ASD. After April, it can be used on the white or blue setting in an attic, campsite, treehouse, or anywhere you need extra light!

 

 

Girls’ Baseball Raglan tee, $28

 

 

 

 

Boys’ Baseball Raglan tee, $28

 

 

 

 

 

This baseball style jersey from Sevenly.com is perfect for all kids. Both colors are bright and beautiful-for your boy or girl. Pick up one for his/her siblings as a reward for being supportive!

La Folie necklace, $49, stelladot.com

 

 

 

The natural color variation of the smoky quartz & amethyst gems in the La Folie necklace make each one unique. Stella & Dot’s textured gold-plated brass teardrop is a lovely focal point for casual & dressy outfits. Make a dent in your Mother’s Day gift lift this April and a portion of the proceeds will go to the HollyRod Foundation.

 

 

 

Why not gift a friend who is dealing with the challenge of parenting an ASD kid with a bottle of One Hope Wine‘s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon? The gift and tacit show of solidarity will be appreciated!

2011 One Hope Cabernet Sauvignon, $18.99/bottle, onehopewine.com

 

 

Keep Calm and Shine On cinch bag, $5.50, autismspeaks.org

 

 

 

 

 

This lightweight cinch bag is perfect for toting a few extras and can be tucked in a locker or a glove box when not in use. Buy a few extras to share since the price is light on the wallet!

 

I learned a great deal putting together this post, and there is so much more to know! For more products,events and resources, take a look at my Autism Awareness Month board on Pinterest.

 

Give yourself a pat on the back because all forms of charity are necessary and valued! What is your favorite way to support a cause? Do you like to write a check, donate goods or services, or volunteer? 

 

HOTFLASH-Free Pinkberry Wednesdays-Pinkberrygreek nationwide rollout!

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Spring Break week has me all out of whack, so the delivery of this bulletin is too late to take advantage of today. I am already planning next week around this deal when Lil’ Scout returns to school.

Every Wednesday in April, from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., Pinkberry is giving away a free snack of Pinkberrygreek, now in all stores nationwide. This guilt-free bonus has just 80 calories and 15 grams of protein per 5 oz. serving. There are no added sugars or preservatives.

So, we’ve missed the freebie this week, but with those nutritional benefits, why not treat yourself anyway? Go ahead and sign up for the Pinkcard, because you get a free yogurt after every 10 purchases. You will even score a free yogurt with toppings on your birthday.

The app allows you to track your reward status and even send electronic gifts for any occasion. The flavor finder helps you hunt down your favorite flavor at the nearest store. Sounds ridiculous, but I have heard more than one person confess to their addiction. It’s a healthier snack than vending machine fare or street meat!

While we’re on the subject of customer loyalty, check out my tricks for maximizing bonuses from retail rewards programs in this post. Just some things to consider before you give up the e-mail address.

 

Are you a fro-yo junkie…or ice cream traditionalist? Do you have love for one of the national chains, or is your allegiance to a local spot?

Get the Most from retail e-mail sign-up promotions

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Even though companies should respect the customers that keep them in business every day, April is Customer Loyalty Month! I love a theme, so I’ve decided to investigate the first perks offered by national retail and restaurant chains in exchange for your e-mail sign-up.

Since I recently had a conniption about Chili’s registration offer, I’m pleased to report that they have impressed  me with a variety of fair to middling promotions. I’ll be sure to update you on any standouts as my e-mail promotion relationships evolve. I can admit when I’m wrong!

 

For now, some tricks for maximizing the promotions:

 

Give in to your inner snoop, & do some research first

Use your resources to get an idea of which programs are worth the effort, and which programs just clutter up your e-mail inbox. Ask your acquaintances that are frequent shoppers or diners. Often, a sales associate or waiter will be most helpful at summarizing the perks.MP900433070

Sometimes, a rewards account must be initiated in-store, as with Pinkberry or TCBY. There are programs, such as Tablemates at Outback, where joining a group, or table, accelerates the earning of rewards. So asking around and browsing the website before you plan to sign up or buy is important because…

Timing is crucial, so note expiration dates & other time-sensitive conditions

Some companies have the process down to a science and you can expect an immediate response with a coupon. Others may have a time lag of 24 hours or more. So you can’t always expect a timely deal on your phone when you’ve already ordered the appetizer.

Retailers and restaurants want to strike while the iron is hot, so the deals that are sent to you upon sign-up are not valid indefinitely. The shortest I’ve seen so far is a 4-day redemption period! Also be aware that programs like Birthday freebies often require membership for a set period of time prior to the actual day.

Plan purchases & strategize sign-ups

I go to Target at least once a week, and I am asked if I’d like to open a REDcard and save XX% off my purchase. I’d rather use it on a new Kitchen-Aid mixer than a greeting card, so I am waiting to use that one-time bonus on something more pricey.

Some of the Free Shipping deals may have a minimum purchase to qualify, so brainstorm your upcoming gift needs to meet the threshold for the promotion. The Gap will let you combine items from all their stores into one order. Frequent online shoppers use Ebates, or other programs to earn cash back on their purchases, so it’s worth looking into because you might be able to double-dip on rewards! Apply the double-dip check to any airline, credit card, hotel, gas and bank cards or programs you have as well.

Keep it in the Family

You may be the gatekeeper for the family perks, but there’s no stopping you from leveraging all those who benefit from your savvy consumerism. Loyalty programs that have birthday deals, like Cold Stone Creamery or Baskin-Robbins, will prompt you to register family members so they can enjoy a deal when their birthdays roll around as well. I won’t tell if you won’t!

 

If you come across a killer introductory promo worth repeating on a later purchase, sign your spouse up with an alternate e-mail address, and cash in a second time! Account look-up via phone number is becoming the norm, rather than a physical card, so make sure everybody gives the digits even when you’re not there to supervise.

 

 

What rewards programs are worth the effort and dollars you spend? Have you ever gotten an outstanding deal or premium for giving out your e-mail for promotional purposes? Please share, I’d love to know!

Baby,Toddler and Big Girls spring holiday dress deals

Every year I bemoan the lack of girls’ Easter dresses that are appropriate for a Sunday in Chicago. This year the stores are carrying mostly sleeveless, and strappy sleeveless dresses at that…Fear not, I have managed to scare up some affordable charmers with a bit of a sleeve… but start hunting down that cardigan now!

Baby & Toddler Girls’ Dresses

1. Floral dress, 12M-2Y, $15.90, was $26.50, ruum.com

2. Pumpkin Patch Tulia Tulip dress, 6/12M-24M, $39.50, nordstrom.com

3. Embellished Jersey dress, 1.5Y-8Y, $14.95, hm.com

4. Marmellata Jacket dress, 3M-9M, $18.75 was $25, jcpenney.com

5. Youngland Woven dress & knit shrug, 12M-24M, $16.50 was $22, jcpenney.com

6. Ruffle Sailor Dress, 3/6M-5T, $19.24 was $34.95, gymboree.com

7. Checked dress, 3/6M-24/36M, $32.90, zara.com

Girls’ Dresses

1. Ponte di Roma dress, 2/3Y-13/14Y, $29.90, zara.com

2. Disorderly Kids Dot Flounce dress, 7-16 plus, $16.00, was $32, jcpenney.com

3. Striped ponte dress, 12/18M-4Y, $19.99, was $26.95, gap.com

4. Lily Floral Sash dress, XS-XL, $19.99, was $26.95, crazy8.com

5. Pinky Floral Lace dress, 7-16, $18.75, was $25, jcpenney.com

6. Tiered Ruffle Tee dress, 8-14, $24.50, was $39.50, factory.jcrew.com

7. Pleated Lace Combo dress, XS-XL, $21.90, forever21.com

8. Bright Side dress, 10/24M-12, $30, was $42, hannaandersson.com

9. Flower Ribbon dress, 3-12, $17.14, was $34.95, gymboree.com

 

Check out my Pinterest board entitled Kids’ Easter & Passover dress-up bargains for more options and ideas for spring!

 

What are your favorite colors for dressing up for Easter or Passover? Do you favor pastels, neutrals or brights?

 

HOTFlash-1st Day of Spring Freebies- DQ, Rita’s & Frozen Peaks

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It’s bitterly cold in Chicago today, but that’s not stopping me from thinking ahead to this summer’s plan to swing into Philly to see my big sister. I’ve never been there when the humidity and heat aren’t mega-oppresive, necessitating multiple trips for water ice. That’s Phillyspeak for Italian Ice, which is everywhere, BECAUSE IT’S DELICIOUS.

I’m sure the locals all have their faves, but I have always liked Rita’s for its proximity to my sister’s house, and it is a life-saver! For the past 20 years on the First Day of Spring, they have given out free cups of Italian Ice. The promotion starts at noon, and ends at 9:00 p.m. Last year they gave out 1.2 million cups! No coupon is needed, go here to find the Rita’s nearest you…and have one for me!

So this is probably a tradition for most people after 20 years, and their competitors at Frozen Peaks have responded with a deal as well. Today, from 4:00 -7:00 p.m., you will receive a free 5 oz. Froyo while supplies last.If you’re in NYC or New Jersey, go here to find out if you’re close to a branch!

 

Lil’ Scout and her Dad will eat cold stuff anytime-we often stop at the Italian Ice spot, and then get a coffee for me. No Frozen Peaks or Rita’s in Chi-town, but they might patronize Dairy Queen to celebrate the vernal equinox, as it is March, a.k.a. Blizzard Month.

 

The promotion is a Buy One Blizzard (at regular price), Get One (equal or smaller size) for $.99, a pretty good deal for those who don’t need the heat to get their ice creamy fix. Some locations in Michigan have reported a free cone deal for today from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., but you might want to call ahead if it matters to you. Find your nearest DQ here before March 24th when the BOGO promotion ends!

I drink iced tea all year, but only make it from scratch during warm weather. Are you always up for icy treats like my family, regardless of the soul-crushing cold outside? What’s your out-of-season habit that others find…umm….interesting? 

HOTFlash-Bloomin’ Onion Freebie & preview for March Madness!

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It’s been so long since I needed to recover from partying on St. Patrick’s Day, but back in those single chica days, my body needed more toxic fuel before I felt myself again. This Outback Steak House freebie might be perfect timing if the same is true for you!

So the deal is when Ryan Newman (#39) finishes in the top 10 of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, the following Monday the Bloomin’ Onions are free with a purchase. No coupon necessary, just mention it to your server. You can check the final results, or if you want an e-mail notification, go here to sign up.

If you plan on visiting Outback during the NCAA tournament, you might want to vote on the free appetizers they’ll be offering on March 26th and April 2nd. Sounds like an easy way to make sure you get a break from party clean-up for at least one night!

What is your tried and true hangover cure? Does it work for someone who has to take a nap after a 2nd glass of wine? I am down for something new-please share!

Last Minute St. Patrick’s Day baby & toddler bargains

Adding a piece of holiday-specific clothing to the pile of clothing that hasn’t seen much wear? Perhaps not wise, but with our yearning for spring’s arrival, St. Pat’s Day practically goads us into buying some new duds for our littles. The trick to rationalizing the cost is finding options that are used everyday, for Easter or beyond. Here are some babies’ & toddlers’ bargain buys to pick up and keep them pinch-free.

Baby & Toddler Girls

1. Carter’s 2-pc. legging set, NB-12M, $7.00, was $13, jcpenney.com

2. Old Navy Sueded Fleece pants, 12/18M-5T, $8.00, was $12.94, oldnavy.com

3. Old Navy Jersey dress, 12/18M-5T, $7.00, was $9.94, oldnavy.com

4. Janie & Jack Dot rainboot, infant to big kid sizes, $29.99, was $39.00, janieandjack.com

5. Marmelatta chiffon striped dress & capris, NB-24M, $18jcpenney.com

6. Little Maven by Tori Spelling Dress, 6M-24M, $20, jcpenney.com

7. The Children’s Place Striped Icon Top, 6/9M-4T, $8.39, was $14.95, thechildrensplace.com

Baby & Toddler Boys

1. Old Navy Slub-knit graphic tee, 12/18M-5T, $7.99. was $10.94, oldnavy.com

2. Gymboree Tartan plaid shirt, 3/6M-2T, $12.59, was $26.95, gymboree.com

3. Circo Boys’ Long-Sleeve tee with Removable Cape, 12M-5T, $8.50, was $10, target.com

4. Little Maven by Tori Spelling Boat Shoes, baby sizes 2-4, $12.00, jcpenney.com

5. Janie & Jack plaid cap, NB-10/12, $13.99, was $22, janieandjack.com

6. Carter’s Sleep & Play, NB-9M, $8.00, was $16.00, jcpenney.com

7. The Children’s Place Faux-layered graphic polo, 6/9M-2T, $8.39, was $14.95

Since we are down to the holiday wire, I chose stores that are likely found at your nearest mall. Just some ideas for you to swing by and pick up, should you be so moved.

Check out my earlier post to green up your man…and don’t miss my St. Patrick’s Day clothing bargains board  on Pinterest with extra picks for everybody!

I have very little green in my wardrobe. I think I’ll be staying home because I’m better off with orange tones…How do you sport green on St. Patrick’s Day-just a touch or all out Oscar the Grouch? 

TGIFractionista-International Women’s Day & Daylight Savings Time!

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Pardon the tardy post, but Lil’ Scout’s snow day on Tuesday has us all out of whack. So, enough already with the hibernation, we’re getting out to enjoy the last (hopefully) traces of the wintry weather!

Today is International Women’s Day!

And let’s not forget this is Women’s History Month…we deserve more than one day to celebrate our achievements! Flex your female empowerment muscle by educating yourself and the next generation of young women. The International Women’s Day page has news, events and resources. Locally, the Chicago Public Library has a variety of book discussions, artist talks, films, and storytelling events. Show gratitude although we may not be at a point of perfect equality, we have it much better than many women across the globe in terms of expression, civil rights and personal safety.images (3)

Last weekend to ice-skate at McCormick Tribune Skating Rink -through Sunday, March 10

The rink at Millenium Park is slated to close after this weekend, so it’s your last chance to showcase your triple salchow in front of a downtown audience. It’s free if you own skates, or pay just $10 to rent skates. It’s open from morning until early evening, so pick the time that suits you. Full details including hours of operation are at this link.

St. Patrick’s Day parades begin this weekend in Chicago

Saturday (3/9), the Forest Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins at 1:00 p.m. on Madison St. This event has more than 70 units marching, making it one of the larger suburban parades. Less than 10 miles from downtown with a charming retail district, It’s definitely worth the trip.

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On Sunday (3/10), the reinvigorated South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade will travel from 103rd to 115th Streets on Western Ave. There is a mile run before the parade, which is scheduled to begin at noon. Check out the website for security, parking, & alcohol guidelines that have changed the complexion of this formerly raucous event to make it more family friendly.

Bring Your Own Friends (BYOF) Day at Ikea – Nationwide - Saturday, March 9, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.372902_529528373735040_1621415904_n

Your local IKEA is hosting a special event with discounts, giveaways, expert advice and food specials. Get there early if you expect to cash in on the free blue bags and gift card giveaways. Even if you don’t plan on joining the fray, go to the Facebook page and RSVP, as IKEA donates $1 for each response to Save the Children’s Early Steps for School Success.

Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier - Saturday, March 9 – Sunday, March 17

Ready for a burst of spring but not willing to spend your free day outside yet? It’s a great time to jump-start your warm-weather plans by checking out new products, sitting in on how-to seminars or cooking demonstrations, and seeing some living plants in full color. There is a hands-on kids’ activity garden as well. Check out the website for a list of events. Tickets are $5 for those under 12, and $15-19 for adults. It’s less expensive to order tickets online, and weekdays are discounted (and less crowded).

images (9)If you’re just needing a bit of greenery without the cost,  product booths and seminars, check out the Chicago Park District Spring Flower Shows at the Garfield Park and Lincoln Park Conservatories. You may remember that I did a short blast about them in an earlier post. There is no admission fee for these, but a suggested donation for Garfield Park’s renovation.

Krispy Kreme doughnut freebie-Sunday, March 10

Visit your local Krispy Kreme Sunday morning, and they will reward your cheerful nature in spite of losing an hour’s sleep with a free Original Glazed Doughnut! No coupon necessary, just your regular polite and thankful self will suffice. Check this link to find your nearest shop…and indulge yourself a little!images (1)

 

Other than coffee (and maybe doughnuts), which I consider every person’s basic necessity, what’s your favorite way to “spring back” from getting cheated on sleep?

Add green to his wardrobe for a pinch-free St. Patrick’s Day

Arizona Plaid Flannel Shirt, $13, jcpenney.com

I grew up outside of Boston, and have lived in Chicago all my adult life… but I never heard of this get-pinched-if-you’re-not-wearing-green-on-St.-Patrick’s-Day malarky until recently. Since I’m not cool with random folks pinching my man, I’ve assembled some discounted duds that will keep yours & mine pinch-free!

Since the day is fast approaching, these are mostly from mall stores or discount chains, so you needn’t worry about adding cost for shipping, or worrying that it won’t arrive by the day. I don’t believe in clothing that specifically references one day a year, so these are pieces that will blend in with his clothing all year…take a peek!

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1. King Size Lightweight Long-Sleeve Tee Shirt with Pocket,was $17.99, now $7.20, kingsizedirect.com

2. Puma Clyde Script, was $60, now $35.99, zappos.com

3. American Rag Varsity Mini Stripe Shirt, was $29.98, now $19.99, macys.com

4. Abercrombie & Fitch Skinny Jeans, was $78, now $22.90, abercrombie.com

5. Dickies Relaxed Straight Fit Weatherford Pant, $34.99, target.com

6. Mossimo Supply Co. Straight Leg Twill Pants, $24.99, target.com

Check out more frugal finds on my St. Patrick’s Day Clothing Bargains board on Pinterest!

I can’t get Boy Scout to wear anything (besides black, brown or grey) but sage green, so it counts…Do the men in your life have any colors they refuse to wear?

HOTFlash-Chili’s loves kids…maybe not anyone else?!

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I think I like blogging about deals because there is something for everyone and there are always surprises. While clicking around for mall restaurant deals last week, I signed up for Chili’s promo that touted a free appetizer with e-mail sign-up.

Don’t get too excited about the southwest egg rolls or app of your choosing, the coupon they e-mail you is only good for free chips and queso dip. And the coupon expires 15 days after you sign up! It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch if you ask me…not even a month to use the promotion-that’s cheap on top of cheap, Chili’s.

I HOTFlashed my readers last Monday about the Outback Free Bloomin’ Mondays, which I felt was a more straightforward way of getting butts into booths. In the spirit of fairness I planned to write a post about sit-down mall restaurants to compare their loyalty programs and freebies before I unleashed my displeasure on Chili’s.

Now I’m a tad less pissy because this Monday-Thursday (3/4-3/7), Kids Eat Free at Chili’s! With a purchase of an adult entrée, anyone under 12 can enjoy a kid’s meal at no charge. It’s limited to 2 kids per adult, and more than one coupon per table is allowed. This deal is an upgrade on the less-than-impressive free appetizer!

I got a coupon e-mailed to me, but I found 2 links for a printable coupon online…try here….or here. I’m guessing if you do the e-mail sign-up, they might send you one as well.

What are your favorite sit-down chain restaurants? Do you know of any “member’s only” perks that are worth sharing? Please dish with Fractionista…(pun intended)!!!

 

7 lucky St. Patrick’s Day craft ideas

Printable add-ons for treats from Caramel Potatoes

I love all the creativity on the internet, but I am aware of my shortcomings that prohibit execution of all but the most basic, inexpensive and quick craft projects. The key limitations would be:

1. Tiny hands continuously shaking from the iced tea/cola/latte monkey on my back…

2. 100% of available patience is applied to parenting one bright and well-behaved 7-year old. Yes, that’s all I have. Patience is not one of my virtues…

So, I am crafty-not artistic, but the resourceful kind. I leave the actual creativity to others whose work elicits audible comments as I surf and pin to my palpitating heart’s content. I hope you’ll save some time and/or cash. You can say you used your own two hands and bask in the compliments!

Inaugural craft-oriented post here, so let’s start with easy St. Pat’s stuff…neat printables & easy ideas…Let’s have fun anticipating Spring!

Set of Printables from Caramel Potatoes-vivid enhancements for Hershey’s Kisses (see above), Skittles & granola bars plus other labels & tags-so many ideas!

DIY golden lucky charms from One Charming Party

 

 

Help the kids make golden Lucky Charms with these 3 easy steps from One Charming Party-also check out their bag toppers for these or other favors…

St. Pat’s Day door hanger printable

 

 

 

A printable St. Patrick’s Day door hanger from FamilyShoppingBag.com for that grumpy teen leprechaun in your house!

 

 

One stop online shopping from Party City-you can get ideas and buy everything in one place for sweet table displays, drink recipes & favors!

Sweet table inspiration from Party City

Printable lucky pillow box from Good Gravy Designs

Printable lucky pillow box from Good Gravy Designs

 

 

Print this pillow box from Good Gravy Designs on card stock to assemble and fill with special treats for your nearest and dearest..

 

 

 

 

Feature this DIY Yarn Decoupage Vase from the Mod Podge Rocks blog as a centerpiece or utensil holder for your St. Paddy’s Day spread-you’ll keep it out all year long!

 

 

 

Printable Subway Art from Today’s Fabulous Finds

 

Use these St. Patrick’s Day Subway Art Prints from Today’s Fabulous Finds as a visual backdrop for your celebration-choose from several color combinations…

 

 

Check out my St. Patrick’s Day Crafts board on Pinterest for more ideas…There are too many to detail in one post!

Last St. Patrick’s Day, we had a 70-degree day, and Lil’ Scout & I marched in the parade with her school. What is your personal harbinger of spring days ahead?

TGIFractionista-Starbucks’ freebie, free museum days this weekend

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TGIFractionista is being published early this week to hook you up with the Starbucks’ promo that started Wednesday afternoon, so go, see, do, enjoy this weekend!

Starbucks at Target free pastry with purchase-now through Sunday, March 3

Looks like Lent is cutting into Tarbucks’ ability to move baked goods. From now though Sunday, Target’s in-store Starbucks cafes are giving away a free pastry with the purchase of any Grande or Venti sized espresso beverage.

Seems like there’s no time restriction, but you will only score free carbs while supplies last. It might be a good idea to have the Facebook page link handy in lieu of a coupon for back-up. This is making the chaos of parent-teacher conference day a tad more enticing!

Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) opens 2 new exhibits of modern art

100 years ago, the AIC was the first art museum in the United States to show the work of the ground-breaking artist Pablo Picasso. To pay tribute to the century-long relationship between the artist and the city of Chicago, the museum is exhibiting 250 of his drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculpture and prints until May 12, 2013. Exhibit-related events such as a stroller tour, gallery talk, lectures, films, and a luncheon are on the schedule so there is something for everybody…

Also, check out the exhibit of Kara Walker’s cut-paper silhouettes paired with pencil and mixed-media drawings, titled “Rise up Ye Mighty Race“. Her work is meant to provoke a dialogue on race & gender through stereotypical images, and would be an intriguing field trip for the last week of Black History Month.

However, the images are R-rated, definitely not for the little ones. The presentation is set to close August 11, see the museum hours here. If you’re an Illinois resident, the AIC has free admission from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays…Check out their home page for student, teacher, and other museum pass discounts!

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian-First Fridays are free!

If you’re interested in a smaller-scale museum and don’t feel up to schlepping to Downtown Chicago, you can check out the Mitchell Museum every First Friday of the month at no cost. You can check out some artifacts, the museum shop and still have a big part of your day (and energy level) left to hang out in Evanston.

Navy Pier has TWO big freebies-ongoing

The Chicago Children’s Museum, which is housed inside Navy Pier, is free on Thursday evenings from 5:00-8:00 p.m. for all visitors. Also, visitors aged 15 & younger can enter every first Sunday of the month at no charge.

This Sunday, the Neighborhoods of the World series will present Celebrate Mexico, a showcase of authentic Mexican music and dance. This global celebration will highlight a different region, including Africa, Greece & Lithuania, each Sunday through April 7.

If you’re interested in more museum freebies, it’s a good idea to check the institution’s website to plan your trip. This page from TimeOut Chicago summarizes the most popular places, with links included. Good times are ahead!

What is your favorite museum? Any new exhibits that I shouldn’t miss? 

 

HOTFlash-A deep-fried freebie!

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Outback Steakhouse’s Free Bloomin’ Mondays!

I am going to catch heck for endorsing a chain restaurant since I live in Chicago, which is known for its steak houses. But I used to tear up Chili’s Awesome Blossom with cosmopolitans & co-workers in my single gal days, so I know that sometimes you just…go there!

So the deal is when Ryan Newman (#39) finishes in the top 10 of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, the following Monday the Bloomin’ Onions are free with a purchase. No coupon necessary, just mention it to your server. You can check the final results, or if you want an e-mail notification, go here to sign up. Go get your deep-fried fix for free today!

Confession time…What’s the one toxic food that you forbid yourself from having? Have you ever found a healthy alternative that comes close to satisfying you the same way?

5 Quick Avocado Recipes that are NOT guacamole!

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I’ve recently learned lots of folks are using avocado in sweet desserts including puddings, popsicles & frosting. I’m not ready to go there yet, but I have rounded up some recipes that force me out of my guacamole rut to try some new recipes for the high-protein fruit.

Of course, I only do quick & easy with easy-to-find ingredients. I can get exotic ingredients in Chicago year-round, so I’ll try to suggest accessible substitutes.

Banana Avocado Dip with Plantain Chips- via Martha Stewart

Banana Avocado Dip with Plantain Chips

 

If you don’t feel like dealing with hot oil or can’t get plantains near you, substitute store-bought plantain or banana chips. A 3-minute vegan appetizer that uses up your about-to-be-overripe fruit? Winner!

 

Avocado & Tortilla Soup via avocadocentral.com

Double the recipe, freeze any leftover broth, and add fresh avocado & tortilla strips to serve a second time, anytime.

Avocado Chickpea Salad with Vegan Pesto

 

 

Avocado Chickpea Salad with Vegan Pesto by Vicky of avocadopesto.com

 

This high-protein entrée salad is satisfying & full of fresh herbs. Using a vegan pesto makes it both vegan & gluten-free, so it’s also perfect for potlucks. If you like a bit of cheese in your pesto, try this easy Arugula Basil Pesto recipe.

 

 

Avocado Bacon Orzo by Lindsay of pinchofyum.com

This is so simply delicious you might serve it as a side for dinner, and still want to take the leftovers for a lunch main course. Bacon, avocado, pasta…need I say more?

Daphne Oz’s Grilled Halibut with Avocado Relish-via The Chew

Grilled Halibut with Avocado Relish

I prefer tilapia, or whatever the catch of the day might be. The relish might be interesting with a pork or chicken cutlet for fish-phobes.

Please check out my Avocado Month recipes board on Pinterest for some super-fast kid-friendly ideas, as well as some avocado buying and storage tips.

I’d love to hear your feedback. If you tried any of these dishes,  how did you personalize the recipe to fit your needs? Has anyone used avocado in dessert recipes before? 

TGIFractionista-President’s Day-a bargain & culture-packed 3-day weekend!

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So many options this month, and this 3-day weekend is packed with opportunities to go, see, do…and buy!

Macy’s Celebrates Black History Month-now through Saturday, 2/23

At select locations, Macy’s is hosting children’s book events, teen dance parties, film discussions and photo exhibits in tribute to the late Gordon Parks. Participating stores and dates are listed here. Enter the sweepstakes to win a trip for two to the American Black Film Festival in Miami, a $1,000 Macy’s gift card, and a book of Gordon Parks’ photographs.

Looking for a cultural activity outside the retail landscape? Try this government database, or try starting with the links I posted previously.

Or maybe you didn’t get what you wanted for Valentine’s Day? Check the President’s Day sale details to see if anything you want has extra savings this weekend.

“Year of the Snake” merchandise for a limited time!

Chinese New Year celebrations don’t end for another week, so enjoy its themed products by diverse brands such as MAC, adidas, GymboreeBuild-A-Bear Workshop. If you know a snake fan, this is the time to shop! Just for fun, share this Chinese zodiac information and gender predictor with friends who have an interest.CNYadidas

Subway has free cookies for President’s Day!-Monday, 2/18

One day only, Subway will give you a free cookie with any purchase while supplies last. They should be nicely fresh since they’ll be baking like crazy all day. Delicious deets at this link.

 ……And in Chicago weekend biz-ness……

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Free Forever 21 gift cards at Oakbrook Center-Saturday, 2/16

The first 300 shoppers at the newly renovated 20,000 sq. ft. Forever 21 at Oakbrook Center will receive a gift card of $5-150. Most will probably be $5, but that will buy a few lip glosses at this glam bi-level emporium for cosmetics, menswear & womenswear! Doors open at 10:00 a.m. YIKES.

Hotel Lincoln Pop-Up Market-Saturday, 2/16hotellincoln

If you’re looking to shop local and enjoy the neighborhood experience, this is the schmooze and spend opportunity of the President’s Day Weekend. The year-old boutique Hotel Lincoln is hosting 14 retailers for an indoor mall complete with complimentary sparkling beverages. Vendors will have cosmetics, home decor, fashion for men & women, and gourmet doughnuts; there will be something for everyone.

“Tax Free” weekend at The 900 Shops-Saturday-Monday, 2/16-2/18

Starting tomorrow, the 900 North Michigan Shops, one of Chicago’s  upscale malls, will offer a discount of 9.25% to buyers to offset sales tax. If you’ve eyed an item at J. Crew, Club Monaco or 36 other stores, this is your chance to eke out some extra value on a pricey purchase. Download this access pass to present at the register for the deal.

900 shopstwilightIf you drive, parking is $10 for the day when validated with purchase, which is less than half of what you’d usually pay for an hour or less (not a typo). Take the opportunity to stroll along the Magnificent Mile and shop without having to schlep your stuff home on public transportation.

 

Chinese New Year parades-Saturday & Sunday, 2/16-2/17, 1:00 p.m.

Saturday’s Argyle Street parade may be considered the attention-seeking little sibling of its Chinatown counterpart. The smaller-scale celebration will still have a ton of entertainment value, and not just because it’s free. Scheduled groups will feature martial arts demos by Shaolin monks, fireworks, dance groups, marching bands and floats.CNYparadedragn

The Chinatown parade on Sunday is the showier lotus, adding the Miss Friendship Ambassador to the mix of marching groups. It’s larger, older, and after all, you’ll be in Chinatown! Peruse this link for information and coupons for local businesses. Choose whichever parade suits your schedule, but you’ve got to love the afternoon start time for both.

Last Call-last weekend for….

Both Chicago Theatre Week and the Chicago Auto Show are closing after this weekend. There’s still time to enjoy some of the plays I talked about in last week’s edition, so check it out!

With so many cultural activities and such great bargains on winter merchandise this month, how are you budgeting your disposable income?  

Hot Flash-Drinky Drink deals…take two!

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7-Eleven $1 Coffee Wednesdays-Wednesdays through February 27

Under the category of “How did I NOT know about this sooner?”, the winner is…7-Eleven!!! That’s right, on Wednesdays through the end of February, you can buy any size coffee for a slim dollar.

Find your nearest branch here… Few restrictions apply, but I’m guessing they will not let you leave with a Big Gulp of coffee.hotpeets

Peet’s Coffee & Tea BOGO-now through Sunday, February 17

I finally found a link that works for this offer and I’m thrilled because I love Peet’s coffee. It doesn’t include bottled drinks, but apparently all others-hot, iced, coffees & teas are part of the buy one, get one deal. Just print this coupon or show it on your mobile to redeem. Find a Peet’s near you by consulting this link.

This is cheering me up from my ongoing sulk about missing out on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf deal. I do feel lucky that Chicago has so many great indie coffee spots.

Is there a national chain (coffee or otherwise) that you wish would open near you? Have you ever been successful in lobbying for a local branch of a retailer? Do tell! 

Hot Flash! Drinky Drink Deals-non-alcoholic version

There are a bunch of beverage deals to entice you to indulge while you’re out and about this week. Some exclusions apply, so carefully check the product offerings & dates…

Starbucks BOGO-now through Thursday, February 14, after 2 p.m. only…sbhotcup

Now through Valentine’s Day, get one free Hot Chocolate, Vanilla Spice Latte or  Caffe Mocha with the purchase of one drink of equal or greater value.  Find a Starbucks using this link and print the coupon to treat one of your sweeties!

CBTLlogoCoffee Bean & Tea Leaf Valentine’s Day BOGO-all day on Thursday, February 14

I got hooked on their drinks back when I had a Los Angeles client back in my single days. I’ve been married for 10 years and I’m still waiting for a Chicago branch. Well, my Michigan/West Coast/East Coast pals can have one for me at participating locations. The offer deets are here, and your can find your nearest location using this link.

Jamba Juice Dollar Days-now through Friday, February 15, 9-11 a.m.

Recharge from too much Valentine’s dinner booze with a sixteen size smoothie for just $1 during the hours above. Coupon is not necessary, but check this link to make sure your location is participating. Jamba Juice has no love for Chicago? What??

orgsmthieHey, check out my update regarding additional drink deals that extend through the month of February!

 

TGIFractionista-Happy Chinese New Year & Wear Red!

2013 snake

Xin Nian Kuai Le (shin yen kwi luh) or Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year’s Day is celebrated on Sunday, February 10. Traditionally, the New Year is a time for a succession of family gatherings held at home. Try this link to 26 of the most popular Chinese takeout dishes, and save money by preparing them yourself. Most are  quick and easy, so you can relax afterward by popping in a movie like Year of the Dragon (R), The Last Emperor (PG-13) or Mulan (G). Tipping the chef (instead of the delivery guy) is encouraged!

 

Bloomingdale’s celebrates Chinese Culture

If you have a hankering for some retail therapy, Bloomingdale’s is hosting some Lunar New Year-themed events at their 59th St., South Coast Plaza, San Francisco Centre, and the Chicago locations, North Michigan Ave. & the Medinah Home store. Through February 10, customers can pick a red envelope with a chance of drawing a special-edition shopping tote, a bMoney gift card valued from $8-888 or other prizes.

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Bloomingdale’s will have pop up shops for some apparel and home brands in store. There are a bunch of free activities for adults and kids celebrating traditional Chinese music, dance, folk art, and cuisine. Go here to check out the happenings at the store near you.  I want to snag a limited-edition reusable “Little Red Bag” inspired by Bloomingdale’s iconic brown bag for myself!

Macy’s deals & events for Heart Health Month

Macy’s is offering several ways to support the Go Red for Women initiative, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. If you visit the store and buy a Red Dress pin for $2, you will receive a 20% discount on your purchases. The discount is just 15% for some departments like fine jewelry, but if you haven’t finished your Valentine’s Day shopping, this might work out pretty well for you!red dress pin

If you’re looking to wear something to show your support of Women’s Heart Health, check out The Go Red Shop. The dresses and pendant have reasonable price points, and Macy’s will donate a portion of each sale to the American Heart Association‘s Go Red for Women movement.

If you’re looking for other merchandise to support the cause, try the Go Red for Women online store. Other national sponsors and ways to contribute are at this link. These may not be the most romantic gifts for Valentine’s Day, but they make perfectly thoughtful & practical gifts for your mothers, sisters & others.

 

And if you’re in Chicago, it’s a busy time for bargain-hunters…

 

Black History Month events at Chicago Public Library!

The Chicago Public Library is commemorating Black History Month with free events for the whole family. Activities include films, storytelling, crafts, lectures, and author-moderated book discussions. Encourage your 5-12 year old to enter the Poetry or puzzle contest for prizes.

CPLmainniteBookmark this page and support your local branch this month. These wonderful free resources need to be taken advantage of, or budget (and jobs) will be eliminated! Break out of your routine your routine and patronize!

 

 

Choice deals on Chicago’s amazing  theatres!

Living Social has two interesting theatrical deals for Black History Month & Chicago Theatre Week, if you haven’t made plans for a special evening yet. The Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville has performances of “Imitation of Life” at a 50% discount. I love the old movie with Lana Turner, this story should make for great live theater!livnscllgo

If you want to treat your kids to some culture, half-price vouchers for “Bud, Not Buddy” at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts are available for February 15-18. It is based on the Newberry-Award winning book of the same name, a perennial pick by Children’s Literature experts.

****Remember, there’s still time to enjoy the Chicago Park District & Chicago Restaurant Week events that I hyped in last week’s edition!

I was a feminist until I visited the Lego Store

 

I grew up with a newly divorced mother during the time of Women’s Lib, Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and women gaining ground in the workplace. My mom worked two jobs, so there was never a question whether the 3 females in our house were feminists, both by default and by choice.

Self-reliant, independent sisters doin’ it for themselves since 1979. Thanks to Mom, Aretha Franklin & Annie Lennox!

But I blew all feminist credibility by losing my mind in the Lego store, because I happen to love the controversial Lego Friends product line-candidate for worst toy of the year! I might have even squealed. Thus began my descent into shoddy womanhood…at least in some people’s estimation.

 

Any parent with access to a website or a parenting magazine knows the positives of construction play. Accelerated understanding of math & science; social, spatial & language skills, hand-eye coordination, the list goes on…

 

And of course, the giant building brick set was the first toy gift I requested for my daughter. The huge multicolored pink set that would guarantee my daughter would become the engineer, scientist or mathematician to follow in my father’s footsteps. I had it all mapped out, including our retirement to the West Coast to be closer to any future grandchildren.

Perfect plan, except she refused to play with them on sight, and every time I tried to re-package them as a new toy over the years until she outgrew them. I thought maybe she just needs a playmate to enjoy them, wait until preschool… Nope, still not interested in Legos of any kind for years.

This finally changed last January when we were shopping for a classmate’s 7th birthday gift. I have she has been frantic to get her hands on each and every set ever since then.

The knocks on the product line are that it perpetuates condescending gender stereotypes with a dumbed-down version of the male-targeted Lego sets. The Friends’ “Heartlake City” (more corny than condescending) has more leisure-oriented locations such as 2 different pools, camper & speedboat, and domestic areas for pets, cooking and grooming. The Friends sets are also more prefabricated, less customizable and direct our girls toward limited traditional role play.

The traditional “City” sets have gainfully employed, action-oriented occupations as a theme. Male-oriented sets encourage inspiration, imagination and creative play, (not to mention aggression and conflict).

 

Lego should refine these sets to include more of the features that engender the benefits of traditional Lego play to engage a wider cross-section of girls. The women and girls I know don’t like being boxed in by someone else’s ideas of what they should do, they like to create their own experience!

Lego has bungled the opportunity to an extent, but I at least give them a little credit for trying, especially once you take a look at where they’ve been. I’d like to highlight some positives about the product line:

  • Multicultural characters-A younger generation may see this as a given, but I grew up with limited choices of products that represented what I look like. The ice blond blue-eyed doll monopoly of the past didn’t even represent most Caucasians very well, so the availability of diverse skin tones, eye colors, hair textures and ethnic features still excites me!
  • Positive Role Play-The sets’ intended role play naturally reinforces the ideas of relationship building, friendship, sharing & nurturing-all great ideas toward the cause of sisterhood and teamwork. That trumps any stereotype in my book.
  • Interesting Occupations-Select the Invention Workshop or the (Airplane) Flying Club sets to spark ideas of future careers-More of these, please, Lego product managers! Even the “caregiving” sets (salon, stables, bakery) are real life businesses  that populate many towns and cities. Role play that places girls as business-owners has value that can be reinforced with real world experience.
  • Accessibility-There are various price points from $5.99 to $99.99, so there is something for every budget-stocking stuffer to Big Blowout Gift! The larger sets are more challenging, with different levels from novice and up, within the recommended age range of 5-16.

 

DEALS- You know that’s what I”m all about, anyway!

 

  • Right now at Lego.com receive a FREE Skateboarder Mia play set with any Lego Friends purchase!
  • FREE Shipping at Lego.com for orders over $99, if you have more than 1 Lego gift to buy.
  • If the parent in you just can’t stomach buying the misguided Friends sets, customize your own set pieces, figures & colors using the Pick A Brick. It’s also great for replacing those missing pieces!
  • Need some new ideas? Whether a novice or a seasoned builder, check out this book by a FEMALE former set designer for LEGO. There are a bunch of Lego books that also qualify for Amazon’s Free Super Saver Shipping!

 

I believe most kids are more intuitive than the patronizing marketing messages directed at them. As a parent, your dialogue with them is far more powerful than a $400 Star Wars Death Star play set anyway.

 

Which do you think deserves the worst toy of 2012 status? Have your kids ever asked for or received inappropriate or offensive gifts? What’s your strategy for handling these sticky situations?


 

 

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