REVIEW: September + October BarkBox

Hey! It’s November! Why I am just getting around to talking about these old BarkBoxes?

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would ever write about them again. At some point this summer, I ran out of treats and realized that I hadn’t gotten a BarkBox in a while. I logged into my account and saw it had expired, which annoyed me. Where were all the emails warning me of the upcoming expiration? Why did they not offer me some sort of discount to buy another year? In this day and age, how can something ever expire without you having the chance to renew? I’m a lazy 21st century girl who wants everything to just happen like it’s supposed to. Is that so wrong?

But Huck and Cooper are adorable and deserve treats regularly delivered to their door, so I signed up again. I got these two boxes, and now I’m waiting for another one. In the olden days, I would get an email – an email! – telling me when a box had shipped. I somehow don’t get those anymore. So who knows when the next one will show up.

September BarkBox Review

Here’s the September box:

  • It has the obligatory Etta Says! duck chew, which Cooper eats first every time. It’s his we’re-sorry-Huck-gets-to-go-to-the-dog-park-and-you-don’t treat. He likes treats, but would rather go to the park.
  • The PetProjekt Skrubal football is still in our toy drawer. We’re all full up on fetch toys in the backyard, but the winter cold is tough on rubber, so I’m sure we’ll be pulling it out soon.
  • Huck destroyed the Safe Made Barkeley pennant in less than a minute. Their mission is to create safe, durable toys for pets, but I’d say they failed on this one.
  • We haven’t gotten to the Barkworthies sweet potato steak fries yet, but the boys will be super disappointed there isn’t actually any steak in them. They like sweet potatoes, though.
  • We likewise haven’t gotten to the PetSafe Indigo Smokehouse Bacon strips. Honestly? I haven’t opened them because the packaging is ugly. I know! It’s so superficial. I’m sure the dogs would like them. But the box is unattractive so I keep passing it by.

Here’s the October box:

  • The only thing we’ve gotten into is the Max & Ruffy’s pumpkin patch cookies. Hey, it was Halloween.
  • Oh, wait. Cooper also ate the Hare of The Dog rabbit jerky stick.
  • And he also ate the Heartland Premium weasand strip. What can I say? Huck gets to go to the dog park a lot! (For the record, Cooper would probably be fine, it’s the other dogs you can’t trust. If someone came up to him and was too interested, Coops wouldn’t handle it very well, so it’s safer for all involved if we keep him away from those places. Huck does great, though, and really needs a good tussle now and then.)
  • I don’t even remember putting this Snicky Snaks cinnamon crunch bar in the snack drawer. I should probably dig that out soon. I bet it will go stale.
  • I love this Dublin Dog Snoggz RIP Van Fetcher. There’s another picture of it below, because he’s so damn cute. I haven’t had the heart to give him to one of the dogs yet.
  • The time is nigh for this American Dog Toys Flash & Glow ball – it’s dark every night when we get home from work, and Huck isn’t doing a very good job finding his ball in the dark these days. Of course, he’s never been very keen to switch away from his beloved giant orange ball, so Cooper will probably end up adding it to his collection of toys.

Snoggz RIP Van Fetcher

Seriously. I love this guy. He’s adorable!

If a November box shows up, I’m predicting it will include turkey products. Maybe even a stuffed turkey! I’ll be sure to report back.


REVIEW: October Stitchfix

Today we drove by a lake and it was frozen. It was about 16 degrees at the time. It is November 15. That feels a little soon, you know? We were supposed to have flurries with about one inch of accumulation, and I’m no meteorologist, but I think what it’s actually doing is snowing-snowing, not flurrying. At least it’s pretty outside the window, unlike when it snowed earlier this week and immediately got plowed into a slushy, gray-brown paste.

It is a pleasure, then, to look back on these Stitchfix pictures, which were taken at a time when it was nice enough to go outside without a jacket. Or snow boots.

I have to give props to my Stitchfix stylist this month. She/he took the time to read through my blog to better understand fit and style, and this fix had several good things in it – and none of the brands I have continually complained about. Thanks, Reese!

While I only kept one piece, the others were really, really close.

Daniel Rainn blouse and Mavi Gold jeans

Sigh. It’s so fall-like in these pictures! It was a perfect season.

The one piece I kept was this Daniel Rainn Anika silk blouse. I have a few clients now where my wacky vintage wardrobe isn’t appropriate, and I need to be a leeeeetle more professional. We’re not talking suits or anything. But a silk blouse with skinny jeans is a good solution. I’ve already worn it twice.

I went back and forth on the Mavi Gold Nigel skinny jeans.  They fit great in the waist/hips, and the length was perfect, but at the end of the day I felt my thighs looked a little…plump. For what it’s worth, I have felt this way (the thigh thing) about every single plair of “fashion color” skinny jeans I have ever tried on. I have a pair of tights in this color that I wear all the time, though, so waffled about whether a thicker option would be worthwhile. Weeks later, I’m still on the fence, but they are long gone.

Leota shift dress

This Leota Kerri shift dress was a real heartbreaker, and thinking back on it now, I should have kept it and worn it with leggings all winter long. It fit great up top and the fabric had a dreamy drape, but it was just so short! If only I had thought of it as a tunic and not gotten hung up on it not working as a dress.

Peppercorn ombre cardiganLet’s start with these Frye boots I got for a great price at a shoe store that is going out of business. Joel and I went in there on a lark on the way to check out a new Arc’teryx store, and it was early enough in the sale that they still had my size. A miracle, since every other woman in the universe seems to be a size 8.5 in situations like these. I was already on the lookout for a flat black boot with a bit of an edge, and didn’t want a classic knee boot. These are pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I can even wear them under bootcut jeans. Huzzah!

The Peppercorn Jackson ombre cardigan was not really my jam. It fit fine and was cozy enough, but when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt extremely top-heavy. Which I am. But I prefer to minimize it whenever possible. (Which does not at all explain my new obsession with giant men’s vintage cardigans, which are way less flattering than this one. But I’m allowed to be fickle.)

31 Bits necklace

31 Bits is a company with a mission to help women in Uganda rise out of poverty. This is something I can absolutely get behind, and I wish this necklace were more my style. I just could not justify keeping it, since I knew I would never wear it, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out who I might gift it to if I had kept it. They have some beautiful pieces on their website, so I’m going to keep an eye on them for sure.

How cute is that bear-wearing-a-sweater ring? It was the only thing I bought for myself when Joel and I went to Budapest last year. He’s a bit chunky and can sometimes get in the way, but I’ve been wearing him every chance I get. Perhaps he’ll be my winter spirit animal!



A rant in favor of Taylor Swift

I love Taylor Swift


You know what would be awesome? If adults would quit apologizing for liking Taylor Swift.

No, seriously. For the last two weeks, since the release of Swift’s new album 1989, I have found myself surrounded by perfectly normal adults expressing massive amounts of guilt for buying it/listening to it/enjoying it. And it’s making me crazy. Nay, it’s annoying the crap out of me.

Listen, adults. You’re adults. You can like whatever in the hell you want. You are allowed to enjoy things that are catchy, popular, and enjoyed by people younger than you. You are allowed to put an album on repeat in the car and learn all the words. You are allowed to relate to the lyrics. You should be able to say, “Yeah, I like it,” and not feel bad about it.


Stop blaming your kids for having to buy Taylor Swift albums, when in reality you’re the one who’s really into her. Stop blaming pop radio for getting her songs stuck in your head, when you’re the one surfing the dial to find the station playing “Shake It Off.” Stop pretending like you don’t read Taylor Swift interviews and think, “hey, that girl has a pretty good head on her shoulders.” Stop pretending you didn’t secretly like that onesie she wore to the VMAs.


You are allowed to like Taylor Swift and also Nirvana, the Avett Brothers, The Pharcyde, Love and Rockets, or whatever kind of music you listen to that makes you feel cool and welcome among your peers. Despite what you believe, liking Taylor Swift does not negate your fine taste in music. Your super-fab vinyl collection is not going to lose value because you download a Taylor Swift album.

You can like Taylor Swift and nothing terrible will happen to you. A rock-n-roll angel will not lose its wings.

So STOP PRETENDING you don’t like it and STOP APOLOGIZING for it.

Here my own brief history of music fandom:

I tell you all these things, because about the time I started burning out on The Next Big Thing In Indie/Punk Bands, I became an *NSYNC fan.

Oh, yeah. If you thought liking Taylor Swift was bad, try being a 26-year-old *NSYNC fan. Especially when, in the olden days, people admired you for your taste in music and envied your access.

Why did I become an *NSYNC fan? Because that ish is freaking catchy, ya’ll. *NSYNC songs are perfect for car-dancing, and sometimes ridiculous, and sometimes beautiful. Those boys said dumb things in interviews while flopping around on each other like puppies and wore some of the worst outfits ever. It was FUN to be an *NSYNC fan. So much fun that I’ve seen them in concert nine times.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I like Taylor Swift for the same reason I liked *NSYNC, because her music makes me happy. I own all her albums. Three of them have been in the CD changer in my car for years. Years. I think she’s a great songwriter – even when she gets hung up on kissing in the rain or dancing in the living room or it being December. Some of her music gives me The Feels, and some of it makes me bop my head or shimmy my shoulders when I’m driving to work. Sometimes she hits a sour note or writes a line that is too cheesy and I feel empathy toward her. She is still a work in progress, but Taylor Swift is the Real Deal.

When my kid is singing a Taylor Swift song from the backseat I don’t have to worry about changing the station, unlike, say, Ed Sheeran, who teaches her that drinking gin and having one-night stands is totally cool. I don’t have to worry about her catching on to the fact that the Tove Lo song “Habits” says “I’ve gotta stay high” instead of “I’ve gotta say hi,” which is how Claire sings it.

But I digress.

If Taylor Swift makes you happy, if Taylor Swift makes your commute better, if Taylor Swift songs sometimes remind you of the poetry you wrote in high school in a good way, please, by all means, listen to Taylor Swift. You’re an adult. It’s your goddamn right to like Taylor Swift. If other people think it’s important to ridicule you for it, they’re not very nice people, and you should get new friends.

I’m 39 and I love Taylor Swift. My formerly cool-kid-validated taste in music is not negated by this fact. (Sorry, but it’s totally not.) I’ll stop listening to Taylor Swift when you pry her albums out of my cold, dead hands. I’m not going to apologize for it, and you shouldn’t, either.


Year 1 done

Well, Internets, I made it. As of today I have been a Minnesota resident for an entire year, and I lived to tell the tale.

In the last 12 months, I have survived:

I did all these things, and never once truly thought I made a mistake in coming here. Sure, there were times when I wondered how in the hell it was going to work, like all those times Huck barked menacingly at Claire and Joel hated him and I wondered how I could ever give up my dog (my family) in exchange for this new relationship. There were times in the dead of winter when I thought I would go completely bonkers from being cooped up, when Joel would go on business trips and I’d curl up on the couch and try not to cry. Sometimes I miss my best friend, who is back in San Francisco, so much that I do get weepy and feel the most alone ever. And, I’ll admit, I have definitely yelled/sobbed at Joel “I can’t believe I moved here!” when times got really hard, but I regretted it as soon as I said it.

For the most part, all these things happened so quickly – I mean, geezus, can it possibly be ONE YEAR ALREADY – that I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that I moved across the country from the San Francisco Bay to the Land O’ Lakes.

Counting Crows in Minneapolis June 2014

I know it sounds silly, but it honestly didn’t feel real to me until Joel and I were standing in a sea of hot, sweaty, drunken bodies at a Counting Crows concert. I could go on for a long time about how August & Everything After is one of my desert island albums, but let’s just say I’ve been a fan since “Mister Jones” (which I kind of hate), even though I know it’s deeply uncool to admit it. I have seen Counting Crows in concert easily more than a dozen times, many of those in San Francisco, which is a very different experience than seeing them anywhere else because it’s a “local” show for them. The crowd is full of family and childhood friends. The band is looser and goofier and it feels like every song is an in-joke.

There is a line in “Long December” that goes If you think you might come to California/I think you should and when they play this song in California the entire audience yells I THINK YOU SHOULD with one voice. I stood there in the sweaty mass in some strange venue in an outer-ring suburb of Minnesota and waited for that moment. I opened my mouth to yell, and then looked around. No one else was gearing up to sing along. Several people were texting, lots were drinking. No one yelled I THINK YOU SHOULD and it was the first time I realized I did not live in California. When I went home, it was not going to be to my house in Berkeley. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I thought I would cry.

I had lived in Minnesota for seven months. And it took the Counting Freaking Crows for it to sink in.

What’s on tap for year two? Winter, which is bearing down on me like a freight train. A wedding, for which we have done absolutely zero planning. A lot more work on the house – painting, new vanities in the bathrooms, new carpet in the basement, maybe a new garage door, a new front door, perhaps some new storage in the basement and garage, a more concerted effort at gardening. Figuring out my ovaries and whether more kids should be in our future.

You know. Easy stuff that is not at all time consuming. Wish me monsters!


Freestyle Friday: Homecoming, the Renaissance Festival, backyard s’mores, SYTYCD on tour, and a restaurant for bears

Like every family ever, we’ve had a lot going on, even when you take our crazy work schedules out of the equation. There have been all sorts of vet appointments (of course everyone needed vaccines in the same month) and doctor’s appointments (stupid lady parts), a clothing swap with ladies from work, a new screen door for the front (to replace the one Huck destroyed almost exactly a year ago), carpet cleanings, a new couch for the basement, chimney cleanings, a major garage clean-up, a fence staining (we couldn’t find time so ended up paying a guy), a major purge of the office, and soon – soon! – we’re having the rest of the wallpaper eradicated from our home and painting the rest of the rooms. As far as I can tell, this is what people in Minnesota do right before the winter. We’re all getting our houses in order so we can hunker down and survive, like squirrels burying nuts.

As summer turned to fall, we have managed to squeeze in some good stuff.

  1. First, there was the Renaissance Festival weekend. Claire managed to go on both Saturday and Sunday, once with me and Joel and then with her best friend’s family. I’m telling you, this kid seriously loves anything “old times.” Given her predilection for dressing up like Little House On The Prairie and sweeping the front steps with a straw broom, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she started asking if we could buy her a costume on the car ride there. Remember how, at the State Fair old-timey photo experience, Claire didn’t want to wear one of the girl costumes and we both ended up being cowboys? At the Ren Fest, she started out wanting to be a Gypsy until she saw the jangling coin belts and gauzy tops. Then she wanted to be a pirate, except at the Ren Fest? Not so many pirates. She decided it would be okay to settle on a peasant girl, which is a cute look for her. Minnesota Renaissance FestivalClaire and a friend at Minnesota Renaissance Festival
  2. At some point, as the temperatures and leaves started to drop, we thought it would be a great idea to buy a fire pit for the backyard. I had one in Berkeley…that I left in Berkeley because we only used it a few times and then it sat around collecting water. We had a great time the night we sat the new one up. The dogs were THRILLED to be outside so long at night with their people. We ate s’mores, and I learned Joel doesn’t really like them, and Claire mostly just wants the chocolate. It was a perfect night to be outside, and I wish I could say we were doing it all the time. Except now, of course, the fire pit is sitting in the backyard with three inches of water in it. D’oh!Enjoying the backyard fire pit
  3. Claire has been really into helping me make dinner lately. Or, shall I say, Claire has been really into playing “fancy restaurant chefs” while I make dinner and she serves pretend soufflé and stir fry and wine to two stuffed bears and a pig. I have to give the kid credit – I only participate in the most rudimentary ways as I cook our actual dinner, and Claire keeps up the ruse with gusto. I love that she’s not sitting in the living room face-down in an iPad! And, it has to be said, she’s way better at cleaning up after a stuffed bear’s dinner than she is about our family dinners. Chef/Hostess/Server/Acrobat Sommelier never has to be told twice to take her milk glass into the kitchen. Hosting two bears and a pig
  4. Our house is about a block away from the local high school, and for the most part, we don’t hear a peep out of them. Growing up, my family lived the equivalent of about two cities blocks away from my rural high school, and we for sure heard way more noise in that house than we do here. A couple of Saturdays ago, we were setting up a video shoot with our dog walker in the backyard (more on that one day) when a drumline started rehearsing nearby. I love a good drumline! However, a drumline is very bad when you’re trying to record audio. When it became clear they weren’t going away, we shut down the shoot for the day and started investigating. Turns out, the high school homecoming parade was happening in our neighborhood. The Color Guard kicked off the whole thing in the street next to our house. We haven’t done anything community-oriented since we got here, so it was pretty cool to be able to watch the whole parade from our front yard. Claire stood next to the street with a bowl and collected a month’s worth of candy, Joel stood in the lawn with Huck, and I got way more excited than was probably necessary about the hometown event happening right in front of our eyes.Richfield High homecoming parade
  5. Last week, Claire and I went to see the So You Think You Can Dance tour. (Look at that schedule. These dancers are going to be completely, totally wiped out by the end of the tour. I’m glad we saw them early!) It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the deep emotional stirrings of fangirling, but I have to admit, I got super excited to see the dancers in person. Goose-bumpy, even. Dancers I barely paid attention to on the show – *cough* Teddy *cough* – were so much better live. I paid an ungodly sum to get floor seats at a reasonable distance from the stage, and it was worth it. Claire still had to sit on my lap to see, but we were near enough that she was totally engaged for the three hours we were in the theater, even toward the end when she was fighting to keep her eyes open. She fed off the energy of the crowd, and learned quickly how to “woo!” and clap and gasp along with everyone else. I would love, love, love to be able to get her close up at a Taylor Swift concert. It would blow her mind. (Just putting this out to the universe, because you never know who knows who.)

Stepmonster’s first parent-teacher conference (AKA 3rd-grade math is evil)

I am incredibly lucky in my step-parenting situation, in that Claire’s mom is very supportive of my desire to be part of Claire’s life. Still, I was a little bit surprised to get a text from Joel last week inviting me to attend Claire’s parent-teacher conference, even if secretly I had been wanting to go. I felt honored, and then a little bit freaked out. What in the heck happens at a parent-teacher conference?

Claire and I discussed this at length on the way home from school.

“What if I mess it up?” I asked her. “What if I don’t do it right?”

“Amanda,” she said, “It’s not like you’re exactly learning anything. You just have to sit there and listen.”

“But what if I say the wrong thing?”

“You won’t. You won’t even have to do multiplication.”

That part, it turns out, was true. I didn’t have to do multiplication, which is a very good thing. (Lately, helping Claire with her times tables, I can’t believe how hard it is for me to remember things like 9×4.) I did, however, initially sit in the wrong seat in my haste to make myself as small and unseen as possible. I also found myself making dumb jokes in an attempt to liven up the room when we learned that Claire has been initially stumped by addition and subtraction. The teacher smiled kindly at me, but did not laugh. I’m sure Joel was wishing he hadn’t brought me.

We quickly realized why math has been troublesome: 3rd-grade math is now stupid hard and complicated.

The teacher showed us the five different methods students can use to get to the answer for addition and subtraction. The standard method – the one I up with – is now called The Old Way or something similar, and in its place are these ridiculous formulas for breaking numbers apart and putting them back together. All three of Claire’s parents stared at this worksheet in stunned silence, and then laughed uncomfortably. We have college degrees. We are all successful in our careers. And not a single one of us could figure out how in the hell to decipher these methods. How is it easier to break apart 437 and 93 and THEN add them? How is 400+30+7+90+3 easier? HOW? Are they just screwing with us?

You know those contests, where the ice cream parlor or whatever puts a bunch of gumdrops in a jar, and the person who guesses closest as to the number of gumballs wins free ice cream for life? Last school year, Joel was doing a shoot for Cheerios in our kitchen and Claire was his hand model. The food stylist was going through a giant pan of Cheerios with tweezers to find the EXACT RIGHT ONES, and Claire was obsessed with guessing how many Cheerios were in the pan. Turns out, she was already doing 3rd-grade math. Because estimation is another method. If you round 437 up to 440 and 93 down to 90 and then add 440 and 90 and then subtract 3 and add 3 you will also end up with the right answer. Because 8 year olds are, I guess, good at holding all those rules and numbers in their heads? At 39, I can barely follow the logic.

Counting Cheerios is like doing math

I have friends who are teachers and other friends with kids in elementary school, so I know we are not alone in this sentiment. Modern math has, apparently, stumped an entire generation of parents. The teacher, to her credit, admitted that it could be confusing and assured us that Claire could do math The Old Way as long as she got the right number.

I just.

You guys.

By the end of the year, Claire is going to be learning fractions. I can barely remember anything about fractions, except that it’s the one with the common denominator thing. As a kid, fractions and I did not get along. As an adult, I usually only encounter them in cooking, and otherwise convert everything to percentages in my head. If they’re teaching fractions in six different illogical ways, I’m going to have to get my own homework tutor just to help Claire with hers.

I am in danger of failing 3rd-grade math, which is a new low for me.

I said as much during the parent-teacher conference and later regretted it. I most certainly do not need to get Claire pre-worrying about fractions or the difficulty of future math problems. Math is already not her favorite. She doesn’t need me validating those feelings with my own pent-up angst about getting a D in Algebra II.

The rest of the conference went off without a hitch. Claire is a great kid, well-liked by her peers and always willing to be helpful. She is curious and asks questions. She shows enthusiasm for new things. She’s awesome. No wonder I like her so much.

Besides expressing my dismay at the math, I sat quietly and didn’t ask questions. I was proud to have a seat at the table, but also not quite confident enough to be part of the conversation. And though the ice was broken by our shared abhorrence at New Math, I felt a bit like an interloper. I imagine next time will be easier.


The one about weight

A couple of weeks ago, Joel and I were taking pictures for my September Stitchfix post and it was not going well. I rejected photo after photo. Nothing could satisfy me. I felt slouchy and schlumpy and puffy. At the end of the shoot, half of the pictures featured me looking down, hair falling forward to obscure my expression. The others caught me frowning or half-smirking. Joel handed off the camera with a look of defeat, without comment.

When I look at pictures of myself these days, all I can see are the 10-odd pounds I have gained since moving to Minneapolis – all in my face. It doesn’t help that I’m closing in on 40 and my face is sliding downwards toward the unavoidable jowls of both my mother and grandmother. But it’s the weight, really, that bothers me.

Pick-me-up photos for days when I'm feeling hefty

Every now and then when I’m taking outfit pictures for Instagram, I take an extra photo or two to remind myself that I’m not overweight. I might be OVER MY PREFERRED WEIGHT, but in general, clothing still fits and looks pretty good on me. I keep these pictures in my phone for days when I’m feeling particularly bulky. They remind me to put things into perspective, at least as much as one can when one is having a body-image meltdown.

Here’s the truth about me: In 2007 I got on the scale at a doctor’s office and it said 181. It had been a long time since I’d been on a scale, and I had no idea I weighed that much. I have always been curvy, and curves hide a lot. I signed up for Weight Watchers online that very day, and between May and December of that year I lost 42 pounds. At my absolute lowest I weighed 139, which was, frankly, too light for my frame. I settled in at about 145.

At 5’8 and 145 pounds, I could suddenly wear almost anything I wanted. I was pretty reliably a size 6-8, and it opened up the magical world of vintage clothing – before, I had been too heavy to fit into vintage without really hunting. Now, I could go into any store and walk out with gorgeous pieces. For the first time in my life I started really defining my own style. I had always been particular about certain pieces, but in the year that followed my weight loss I became addicted to unexpected color and vibrant patterns and lush fabrics and the perfect fit.

Statistically, I was bound to gain back some of the weight. Eighty percent of people do. We start eating normal meals again, fewer Lean Cuisines and more foie gras. We lapse in our food journals. We have sports injuries and surgery and illnesses and go through divorces and lose friends and start new relationships and move across the country where we experience winter for the first time in 12 years.

So it’s not shocking that I’ve gained weight in the last six years. In fact I’ve gained back half. Because of my aforementioned curves, almost all my clothing still fits, but I see that weight every time I look in the mirror.

I have tried half-heartedly to get rid of it. I jumped back into Weight Watchers for a few months, and then for a brief period of time I used MyFitnessPal to track food and exercise. I bought another FitBit to make sure I wasn’t being too sedentary. I tried to limit dessert to the weekends. For one glorious month I worked out at least a little bit every day. (It helped that Joel was traveling a lot, so I was only beholden to myself in the evenings.)

The scale hasn’t budged. Even on my very best weeks when I am doing everything right, it just sits there. When I look at myself in the mirror, naked, I see all the extra me.

I first mentioned this back in August, following a total meltdown on poor Joel, who is naturally thin and can eat whatever his sweet-tooth’s heart desires without ballooning up. That particular discussion happened after he promised Claire we’d go out for ice cream – again – and I realized that I was eating a lot of not-great foods to keep up with them, feeling like I’d be a buzzkill if I declined dessert. Since then, I’ve taken to tossing out off-hand comments about being “fat,” which exasperates Joel. He thinks I am perfect as-is. I feel anything but perfect.

I never, ever talk about this stuff in front of Claire. My weight issues are not her issues, and I am not naïve enough to believe she is not already very aware of how size matters in our screwed-up world. At our house, we are not allowed to talk about how skinny she is. We compliment her on her height and strength and the callouses she gets from the monkey bars. She’s going to have body image issues on her own soon enough, but I don’t want her to get them from me.

Over the last months I’ve been undergoing a lot of tests to figure out why my ladyparts are malfunctioning. I’m going to a new doctor at an actual reproductive clinic and unlike last time, I feel like we will eventually get somewhere. (For family reading this, all signs point to nothing serious, so please don’t pre-worry.) Since hormones can greatly contribute to weight gain, I’m calling this phase one. Phase two involves a nutritionist, because I am done trying to guess how to best feed myself – and, also, it’s entirely possible that my own perception of what I should weigh is the wrong one, so I’m looking forward to talking to someone about that, too.

Like so many weight-worriers before me, I mostly just want to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I’m not trying to impress Joel or anyone else. And I want to know that I’m healthy, that going into middle age (WOAH) I’m doing pretty good, eating the right things, maintaining my bone density and muscle tone, all that stuff. I want to be a role model for Claire, not the overly sensitive person I am right now.

So, this is me, just putting it out there. I’m not super pleased with myself right now, and I have a vague plan to figure out what it might look like to change that. I have zero goals beyond understanding what it looks like to be healthy. I’m trying to let that be enough, for now.


REVIEW: September Stitchfix (and a rant)

Last month I didn’t post about my Stitchfix. In fact, I didn’t even photograph it. I tried everything on in a huff and promptly shipped it back, and then fired off a sternly worded letter.

You see, last month I got four pieces of clothing – two tops and two dresses – and one necklace. The necklace was okay, and I might have even liked it had I not been so annoyed by the clothes. Every single piece had a wrap front. Every. Single. Piece. Three of them were so low that when I tried them on you could see my bra at the point of the vee where the fabric crossed over. The other piece had a very high neckline, but because of the draping of the wrap front, it added about 20 pounds to my torso.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Um, so what? Wrap fronts aren’t the devil?” But you would be wrong. When you have a large chest, like I do, wrap fronts are the devil 99% of the time. This is why I have sent back every single wrap top Stitchfix has ever sent me, and why I have repeatedly told them to stop sending them. So why, why, why would they send me FOUR OF THEM IN ONE BOX. (And don’t even get me started on how all four pieces were brands I have repeatedly asked them not to send, because they are always too short-waisted or just too damn short.)

So. I sent a letter. In it, I mentioned that I’ve been getting Stitchfix for well over a year, that I always send very detailed feedback, and that I regularly blog about my preferences. In fact, Stitchfix has featured me on its blog twice. I reiterated my measurements and body type and confirmed that the sizes in my profile were correct. About 24 hours later I got a very nice email which is most assuredly the same one they send any time they get a complaint about the stylists not paying attention to preferences. In that letter I was told that a) I should consider going up a size, b) it sometimes takes a couple of months for the stylists to find a groove with a new customer, and c) it’s helpful to leave detailed feedback on each Fix.

I was furious. When asked to rate my customer service experience, I gave them a very low score and sent another note to say how they had once again proven they didn’t pay attention to feedback. They have never responded to this one. I went to Type-A Parent conference and told anyone who could listen how annoyed I was, how I had always stuck up for Stitchfix whenever anyone asked me how they could possibly pick the right things. In fact, I defended them in this blog entry right here.

And yet, I didn’t cancel. I went ahead and had my September Fix shipped. And I ended up buying all the pieces. Damn you, Stitchfix. DAMN YOU!

I did not purchase all the pieces without reservation, however. I found myself in one of those situations where it was actually cheaper to keep all the pieces – because of the 20% discount you get for doing so – than to send any of the pieces back. And, in fact, one of the pieces I bought I sold to a friend because it wasn’t right for me.

Market and Spruce Chloe chevon-striped maxi skirt

Here is that piece, the Market and Spruce Chloe chevron-striped maxi skirt. What you can’t quite tell from this picture is that it’s pulled up about two inches above my waist, I’m wearing four-inch heels, and it’s still dragging on the ground in back. Had it been about six inches shorter, I might have kept it. Instead, I passed it on to my friend Lizz who is wonderfully tall.

41Hawthorn Wrenn V-Neck Jersey Top and DL1961 Kenny Tall Straight Leg Jeans

These are the only two pieces I would have bought, had the discount not made it silly not to keep it all. The jersey of this 41Hawthorn Wrenn top is super soft, I love the color, and while it’s not normally a neckline I try, it works. It should be good for layering under all the chunky vintage cardigans I plan on buying for winter.

And the DL1961 Kenny jeans. The jeans! These are the most expensive jeans I’ve ever bought, and they’re worth every penny. I am heartbroken that DL1961 doesn’t seem to have this cut available on its website, because I would buy another pair right now. Why are they so good? Look:

DL1961 Kenny Tall Straight Leg Jeans

They are slim without being skintight. They are mid-rise without being mom jeans. And my ass looks fabulous. Who wouldn’t want a dozen pair?

All that said, after wearing them a couple of times they’re a wee bit saggy. They do have four-way stretch, and they were a 30 waist, which is too big to start. I know they’ll tighten right back up after a wash, though, and they’re not annoying saggy. They’re still better than any pair of jeans I owned before.

Skies are Blue Sia Floral Embroidery Peasant Blouse

I would have sent this top back for a couple of reasons. First, as you can see here, it’s a bit see-through. Ya’ll know how I feel about that. I will for sure have to wear a camisole under this, and I don’t own a nude one. Second, the embroidery is in a weird pattern/spot for my shape. If I stand up really straight, my chest bows the print backwards. Joel didn’t feel that was a big deal, or even that it was as noticeable as I at first thought. The fabric is soft and it wears effortlessly, so I’m looking forward to having it around for fall.

La Made Jasmine Scoop-Neck Striped Sweater

This would have also gone back, not because it’s not okay, but because it’s JUST okay. It’s a very thin knit, which doesn’t do much in a Minneapolis winter, and until I looked at this picture I felt the stripes were unflattering. Now that I see it from this perspective, though, it’s kind of good, right? I’m wearing it under a pair of overalls right now and it’s working out great.

Lisa Lehmann Horseshoe Necklace

This necklace did not come in Stitchfix, but I’ve been looking for a horseshoe for a really long time and I was thrilled to find this one at the Type-A community bizarre. The designer is Lisa Lehmann, and she has a lot of super cool things for sale on her website.

For now, I’m going to continue to get Stitchfix each month. I am hoping that I will get better pieces as a result of contacting customer service – surely there’s a note in my file – and I get too much joy out of it to quit. However, I won’t be recommending it without reservations anymore.


July Stitchfix

April Stitchfix


Freestyle Friday: Self-realization, cocktail attire, vintage capes, vegetables, and the love of Taylor Swift

Ladies and Gentlemen! I have officially hit the blogger milestone where I realize that if I always wait for fully-realized posts to magically appear, I will never hit “publish.” So, like all bloggers before me, I’m going to try to put all the snippets I can’t quite turn into full posts into a single entry each Friday. Don’t hate me for being a joiner, m’kay?

Wearing Gene Shelly at the AICP Awards in Minneapolis

  1. A few weeks ago Joel told me his company had gotten tickets to some fancy awards thing and promised I’d be able to wear a cocktail dress. For someone who has dozens – literally, dozens – of vintage cocktail dresses, this last part was super important in my agreeing to attend. (As an aside, when will I have a lifestyle that will allow me to wear them all? WHEN?) So I got super excited, and then the night of the event came, and he downgraded the event to “well, people are going to be coming from work, so it won’t be super fancy.” Screw that. Just because everyone else thought it was okay to wear skinny jeans doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s also not how I roll. We bailed after the very un-fancy cocktail party, but I still wore this 1950s/60s Gene Shelly beaded dress and carried a fabulous vintage Lucite bag. Usually Joel is pretty good about taking my picture when I ask, but he was feeling feisty that night and got frustrated by my need to have it turn out just right. I’m pretty sure this picture happened immediately after I said, “I don’t want a tree growing out of my head.” The pic isn’t even that great, but I’m sort of posting it out of spite. (P.S. Geez Louise! My legs are very, very pale.)
  2. Speaking of being fancy. Last week we were all standing around the coffee maker watching coffee brew (fascinating) when Cooper started barking and Joel said, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that Cooper likes to bark.” He then looked at Claire, who was sitting on the floor inexplicably taking 20 minutes to tie to her sneakers, and said, “And Claire likes to lollygag.” Claire looked at me and said, “And Amanda likes to be fancy.” I was wearing a skirt, I think, or a dress, like I have every day this summer. “And what else do we know about me?” she asked. “What?” Joel and I asked. “I don’t like to be fancy.” And that, my friends, pretty much sums up the difference between me and Claire when it comes to fashion.
  3. The last thing I need to be buying is a fancy (there’s that word again) cape that can only be worn on the occasion of Joel being nominated for an Oscar, but if I had a spare $350 I would already own this yellow silk velvet beauty from the 20s. It’s too pretty to live its life in an archival garment bag in my basement, but in case any of you come into a massive amount of money you know what to get me.
  4. Speaking of vintage, I recently went to the Type-A Parent Conference where people were really lovely about listening to the elevator pitch about The Befuddled Stepmonster but mostly just wanted to talk about what I was wearing. Which was, every day, a different wonderful vintage day dress from my collection. I haven’t yet figured out how to incorporate my vintage into the blog, but after the conference it was pretty clear I need to. While I noodle it, you can always get a (nearly) daily dose of it on Instagram. It’s almost winter in Minnesota so there will also be pitbulls in sweaters from that account, if that’s more your speed.
  5. It entirely possible that my own enthusiasm for Taylor Swift’s new song, “Shake It Off,” will result in Claire not liking it at all. This morning in the car on the way to school I heard the opening refrain and got excited. Like, maybe excited to an embarrassing degree? “Have you heard this song?” I asked her. “You will love it. It’s so good. So catchy!” And while she gamely tried to sing along to the first verse, somewhere in the middle I noticed she was instead playing with a woman she made out of a stick and a leaf, and not listening to Taylor Swift at all. It’s possible my heart broke, just a little. I imagine this will be a string of things Claire doesn’t like because I like it, although it’s also possible she just wanted to play with the stick-girl and will totally get on the T-Swift bandwagon by the next commute.
  6. I know I am not alone when I say my least favorite part of feeding my family is the vegetables. We each have a fruit smoothie for breakfast almost every day, with carefully hidden kale/spinach inside, but once we move into the day I am complete rubbish at veggies. I’d love to just put some starch and protein on the plate and call it a day, but the guilt. Oh, the guilt! Tell me, Internet. How do you get veggies on the plate at every meal in a way that is tasty and doesn’t take forever? There is only so much broccoli I can steam, so many bell peppers I can sautee, so many green beans I can cook in the bag. (I don’t eat tomatoes or mushrooms, Claire doesn’t like corn or peas – unless hidden in something else, and Joel won’t say it but he doesn’t really like any veggies at all unless they’re in a salad with blue cheese and/or covered in a sauce – honey don’t protest, you know it’s true and I love you anyway.)

Classic rock and corn dogs*

We bought tickets to see Journey at the Minnesota State Fair from my phone on a grassy hill at Claire’s birthday party. This was meant to be our only foray into the “big Minnesota get together,” or whatever folks call it. As you know, we ended up going twice.

For the second trip, we had five goals:

  1. Eat a steak sandwich (Joel)
  2. Eat a funnel cake (me)
  3. Ride the Skyflyer (me)
  4. Ride the ski lift tram thing (me)
  5. Get our Journey on with Arnel and those other guys (both)

We accomplished four out of five! No one else was very excited about the sky tram, so we skipped it. Next year I’m going to insist, because it’s one of the only ways to get out of the crowds and relax.

Sausage by Cynthia at Minnesota State Fair

We rode the Skyflyer first and both felt super queasy after. It doesn’t even go that fast! I think it’s the angle at which you’re spinning around, sort of under and over the horizon at the same time. Somehow it seemed right to use these sausages to settle our stomachs, which might seem like an odd choice, but it worked. This sampler included the wild rice with jalapeno and cheese, the Tuscan (with mozzarella) and the Swedish (with potatoes). Maybe it’s another sign that I’m a real Minnesotan now, ’cause the wild rice sausage was my favorite.

Minneapple Apple Pie at Minnesota State Fair

The pumpkin pie was so good, we went back to Minneapple Pie and tried the apple.  I was expecting the filling to be gooier, and this one was surprisingly dry. Nothing was wrong with it, per se – the apples were tender, the crust/ice cream were still delicious – but the pumpkin pie wins for me by a mile. If my grandma’s pie recipe weren’t so good, I’d consider driving out of the way to go eat it.

Frozen apple cider at the Minnesota State Fair

Andrew Zimmern’s yearly list of foods to try at the fair took us to the horticulture building, where we got these frozen apple cider pops. There’s nothing in there but fresh apple cider, and it was only $1.25 a pop. That, my friends, is a DEAL. (The Minneapple pies were $6 each with a scoop.) It was perfect on a hot day, and made me crave fall and apple cider donuts.

Dahlias at the Minnesota State Fair

I am so, so glad we went to the horticulture building, because there was an entire room full of prized dahlias. Dahlias! I didn’t even know how much I loved them until I was in a room of them. Each and every one was simply stunning, but I loved the pink ones with yellow-orange centers the best. If you’re ever sending me flowers (hello, Joel!), please send dahlias.

Milkshakes at the Minnesota State Fair

I’ve never been much into milkshakes, but they’re a favorite of Joel’s and his brother (seen here in his Befuddled Stepmonster debut) was dying to try one of the new fruit flavors. I dunno. They got these at a stand in the side of the cattle barn, which signals that the milk is really fresh. I’m pretty sure it was just Clover out of the gallon jug, and Joel’s vanilla tasted pretty standard to me.

Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar at Minnesota State Fair

Okay. We need to talk about these Sweet Martha’s cookies. Sure, they are freshly baked on the premises (from dough you can buy at the grocery store). And sure, you can buy a giant tub of them with a handle and carry it around all day eating cookies until you burst. Yes, they serve milk, which is a very good thing. However. People wait in line for these cookies forEVER and they cause major traffic jams. On the first day we went, we passed by this exact same location on our way out of the fairgrounds. The crowd was easily triple, and it took us 15 minutes to get through it.

It’s just cookies, people. Can it really be worth the wait? And, let’s be honest, do people really need to be eating a bucket of cookies? IT’S A GIANT BUCKET. When we passed by after the Journey concert there was still a giant line, and they had run out of buckets. I thought someone was going to set the building on fire in protest, and I’m only sort of kidding.

Steak sandwich at Minnesota State Fair

Joel started planning how we would eat this steak sandwich for dinner before the concert about 10 minutes after we bought the tickets. It’s a pretty good steak sandwich, as these things go. There’s onions, peppers, cheese sauce from a can (I’m just guessing) and a giant pile of meat on a super soft bun. All things considered, I’d rather have eaten another corndog, but only because I can make a better steak sammie at home. I followed this with a roasted corn chaser, but ya’ll have already seen that.

Funnel cake at the Minnesota State Fair

In my opinion, a fair just isn’t a fair without a funnel cake. At the end of the day, they aren’t even that delicious, but I always had them as a kid and I always get them now. Truthfully, this one was sort of mediocre. If Joel’s brother hadn’t helped, we would have thrown half of it away. I’m sure I’ll still get one next year.

Me at Joel at the Journey concert at the Minnesota State Fair

We bought the best available tickets for the Journey concert, but didn’t pay attention to the seating chart, so we were all sort of surprised when we got there and walked up and up and up and up to the very last row of the sold-out show. Thank goodness for jumbotrons.

Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair

You would think that the view from the top of the grandstand at night would be spectacular, but aside from the marquee itself, it was pretty underwhelming. The grandstand is situated to the side of the midway, so we couldn’t really see the rides at night, and as things started shutting down it was barren beneath our seats.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a music critic, so about the concert I will only say this: there are a lot of guitar solos in a Journey concert. Depending on your feelings about guitar solos, that’s either a positive or a negative. For me? It was a lot of guitar solos.

The true bummer about the whole evening was that we were unable to see the giant fireworks display at the end of the concert. Our seats were so high that the fireworks were above the roof on the grandstand, and there were so many people between us and the lower levels that we all sat there forlornly craning our necks. At the last moment we ran down and caught the finale, which was cold comfort.

On the way to the car, we stopped for one last cream puff. They had run out of whipped cream right before we got there, so we stood outside the stand and watched them dump gallons of cream into a giant Hobart mixer. If possible, the second cream puff was more creamy than the last, enough cream for a family to share and be satisfied. And that’s what the fair is about, right? Creamy, indulgent, excess. Yum.

*To be clear, we didn’t consume any corn dogs on this day, but the title was too good to pass up. My apologies for getting up your hopes about hot dogs and fried cornbread on a stick.