Financial success and the 20-something woman

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Image via Stockvault.

Last week, there was a little article in Forbes entitled "6 Things That Keep 20-Something Women From Financial Success," by Amanda Abella. I can't remember where I found it--probably someone mentioned it on Twitter--but I read it with great interest, as I've been thinking a lot lately about "financial success" and how the decisions I made, both consciously and less consciously, in my 20s are playing out now.

I thought the article had some pretty large problems, though there were grains of truth in most of the specific pieces of advice. As I started to unpack it in my mind (and in conversation with friends), I thought it might make good blog fodder. As a woman in my (still early!) 30s, in a committed relationship, with a baby on the way, who is in a pretty good (relative to the majority of women my age) financial position, where do I think the article is spot-on? Where does it fail? How closely does it match up with the decisions I made?

Debt

The article's first admonishment is that women screw themselves financially by getting into debt. This one is a no-brainer--getting into a lot of debt early in your adult life will plague you for years. However, the cursory treatment given to the topic doesn't cover it in any meaningful way. The author writes, "we need to start prioritizing our money and cutting our spending habits." Sure. That would help with the consumer debt problem. But to my mind, the bigger issue for a woman in her 20s is college loans. Can you get a college education without taking on significant debt to do so? Some people can, but for an ever-increasing number of us, it's just not in the cards. So is that debt worth it? How do we make that debt work for us? Should we be forgoing college because of the specter of that debt?

I consider myself lucky to have gotten out of undergrad with about $30K in student loans, at a low interest rate, and not to have increased that debt in grad school. Both were conscious choices, though I can't really call them informed. I decided, at 17 and with very little idea of how repayment would really work, that taking on a certain amount of debt was a worthwhile risk to get the elite private education I wanted. It was a lot less than it could have been, given that tuition was already about $27K/year at that point. I got a lot of financial aid. And, even though I've been making payments on those loans for ten years now, I don't regret it in the least. I think, for me, it was the right decision--even if "all" it got me was an unmarketable liberal arts degree (a claim I don't believe, by the way, but that's another topic for another day). However, I think I also made the right choice by refusing to take on further debt to go to graduate school. I had that option--I could have gone to a "better" grad program, and taken on about $20K more in loans to do it. I chose instead to go to the perfectly good grad program I attended for free. Particularly given how little I actually got out of grad school, personally and professionally, I'm very glad I made that call.

The bottom line, for me, is that some debt is worth taking on. No, it's never really "worth" running up a credit card for frivolous, temporary purchases--I've been down that road, too, and can't recommend it. It causes me physical pain to consider how much healthier my savings account balance would be had I never gotten into that trap. But not all debt is created equally, and I think it's short-sighted not to account for debt that may well be necessary, in the service of both education and further income prospects, as something that needs to be carefully considered, but may well give more benefit than harm.

Not Saving for Retirement
The article's second piece of advice is another typical one--save for retirement, starting early. Again, I have no particular quarrel with this advice, but I think the cursory treatment leaves too much unsaid. The financial reality of living on a starter salary, in many places/situations, and particularly in the current economy, doesn't always make saving for retirement as soon as you get your first "real" job a possibility. In some cases, it surely is, and I absolutely agree that those folks should pony up retirement savings as soon as they can. The rest of us have to play catch up.

Having not started any sort of retirement savings until my very late 20s, I am among those playing catch up. It wasn't that the need to save for retirement wasn't apparent to me before then, it just wasn't going to happen when I was in grad school and working part time, or when I was making less than $30K/year and making student loan payments (see that previous debt thing!). While, retrospectively, I could have saved a very small amount, and probably it would be the advice of most financial planners that I did so, it wouldn't have been much, and I have always felt better with that paltry amount in accessible savings vehicles. I'm not saying that's the right way to do it--it's possible I'll be cursing my 25 year old self when I'm 70--but that's been my thought process.

I am, however, saving for retirement now. I'm still not saving as much as I probably should be, but I plan to increase my percentage every year for the next few years, and I'll get up to a better level pretty quickly.

Not Starting a Side Hustle
This was where the article kinda lost me. "Women tend to be creative, whether we're freelancing for clients or running our own Etsy shop," Abella writes. "We also own about 67% of all at-home small businesses. Pretty nice chunk, eh? Women clearly already have it in them to be their own bosses, so why not join the ranks and set yourself up with an extra source of income? Not only can it make you extra cash while working a traditional job, it can also be your safety net in case that traditional job doesn't pan out."

I think this advice is just...bad. First, comments like "women tend to be creative," send me around the bend. What does that even mean? Secondly, how many of those "67% of at-home small businesses" are turning a profit? Abella doesn't say, and the source she uses for that claim? Pretty sketchy. My anecdotal evidence is that most women who attempt to go the Etsy or similar route in starting a small side business end up spending more than they make, even before accounting for the value of their time. Craft-based businesses are very, very difficult to make financially successful, and doubly so if you are doing them as a sideline, rather than as your main job.

Another problem with this advice is that it doesn't take into account that every hour, every minute, of a person's time has opportunity cost. Is it better to spend time in your 20s building a "side hustle," or increasing your skills/working hours in your main job? What about time spent building that all-important network you're supposed to turn to when the employment chips are down?

I'm not again side work--I've had at least one and often two part-time side gigs for the past several years, and mine have been profitable. However, they've also been based on the experience and skills I have built at my regular, full-time jobs. And now, in my 30s with a baby on the way? I'm giving them up. Frankly, 40 hours a week is enough.

I think better advice for a woman in her 20s is to build a variable skill set. You don't want to have to depend on sporadic freelance work or your Etsy store when you get laid-off--you want to find another full-time gig, and the more things you're qualified to do, the easier that's going to be. This is one of those areas where I think I've been really lucky (and I do think it's luck, more than any advanced planning on my part). When I need to find work, I can look in multiple sectors (non-profit, education, technology, etc.) for multiple job types/titles (technical writer, editor, grant writer, grant administrator, researcher, etc.). This makes it easier for me to find opportunities and gives me more geographic flexibility, as I'm not tied to a given market. Building this type of variable skill set/experience set is the advice I'd give a young woman--not start a side business based on your inherent female "creativity."

Not having "the money talk" when a relationship gets serious.
I was glad to see this piece of advice included in the article. Your 20s is often a time when people get into serious relationships, and those relationships often come with a co-mingling of finances. People can be amazingly naive about this, and I am stunned by how many women I know who have been bitten in the ass by it. If you are going to share money with someone, to any degree, you have to work out the logistics of it--in advance--and you MUST protect yourself. It's really that simple. Nobody is going to do it for you, and it's not heartless or mercenary or any of those other words that get leveled at people (particularly women) who are together enough to do it. It's just good sense.

My advice would be not to mingle money any more than is necessary to achieve joint goals (buying a house, for example). I think it's better (safer, mostly) for folks in general to have control of their own personal finances. However, I realize that I hold the minority opinion on that, and that most married or long-term partnered people do share finances. There are more and less safe ways to do that. Your emergency fund (see the next point), should, to my mind, always be accessible by you only. Nobody wants to think about it, but when the shit hits the fan, it is MUCH harder to deal with a crisis without any accessible cash.

On a less dire note, it's important to be able to talk plainly about money with someone with whom you share your life just because so much of what we do and what we think about is money-oriented. Your attitudes about money will shape what jobs you take, how you spend your time, where you live, what you eat, and so on. Many things we don't think of as financial decisions are, ultimately, financial decisions, and you don't want to have to fight about every one of them, or be blindsided by your differences with your partner.

I feel like Mark and I have a good balance on this front. We've always been able to discuss money pretty openly, which I'm told is generally even more difficult for folks who come from such different class/financial backgrounds as we do. We've elected to keep our finances largely separate, though we have combined them more and more as time has gone on. In part, this has been due to the necessity of joint purchases, like our house in Austin and our vehicles, and in part it's been because we're not married and have to use joint financial accounts to prove our partnership in order to quality for domestic partnership benefits. However, we still keep our primary checking accounts separate, have separate credit cards, and have separate savings accounts as well as a joint one. The bookkeeping is a bit more complicated this way, but I believe it's worth it.

Forgoing the Emergency Fund
The article's fifth piece of advice is to set up an emergency fund for the unexpected-but-inevitable car repair, move, health emergency, etc. This is gold-star advice, in my opinion, and though it may be obvious, it can't be repeated enough. You have to have a cushion to fall back on. If you don't, you end up in debt (see #1) or even more screwed if that option isn't available to you. (The credit card trouble I got into in my 20s began with a huge emergency vet bill that I didn't have savings to pay and spiraled from there, so I'm way familiar with this one.) I believe a stocked emergency fund is the single most important savings you have--more than saving for retirement, more than a savings dedicated to a trip or buying a house or whatever.

The article doesn't suggest an amount to sock away in your emergency fund. For me personally, the amount has been variable depending on what I'm making, how well I'm saving, and how recently my emergency account has taken a hit, but I think the typical "3-6 months of living expenses" advice is probably pretty sound and that's what I shoot for these days.

Paying Yourself Last
The author's final critique of women in their 20s was that they so often refuse to "pay themselves first," i.e. to put money in savings before they do anything else. "For some reason," Arbella writes, "it seems to be really difficult for people to save their money. Granted, it's not completely their faults; after all, when bills pile up it can be difficult to make sure you put some money away in a savings account." This lip service irritates me, as it is nothing more than a condescending head-pat to those who simply are not making enough income to cover basic expenses (this is a problem with the article in general, actually). While the advice is good--save first, ideally automatically, even if it's a small amount--the execution is simply not always a possibility for those who are to-the-penny budgeting, which is what it's like for a lot of people right now.

Paying myself first is something I have never been good at. I'm better now, and have been doing automatic savings for the last couple of years, but, like retirement savings, it took me quite a while to get there. This is a financial mistake, I know, and it's one I regret (again, I know how much bigger my savings balances could/should be). However, I think more useful advice would be on how to make savings work. For example, I've read the suggestion that you automatically save whatever raise you get if/when you get a raise or change jobs, and I think that's brilliant. Similarly, the tactic of continuing to pay a bill once it disappears, but making that payment to savings? Love that. (For example, after your car is paid off, keep making your car payment to your savings account.) These specific ways to save help with the transition between not having anything to save and having money to save, and I think that can really helpful, particularly when you're first starting out.

There are things I'd have liked to see included in the article that were simply not mentioned. Given the state of employment (I heard on the radio this morning that 50% of college graduates are unable to find jobs within three months or something like that?), advice on how to deal with unemployment would be helpful. I still remember the first few months after I graduated from college as one of the financially scariest times I've been through, and it wasn't something I felt all that prepared to deal with at the time.

The article also skirts around one of the most controversial, but important, topics in female financial security--children. Having kids is a financial risk for women, full-stop. Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Elizabeth Ty Wilde, Lily Batchelder, and David Ellwood found that having a child "costs the average high skilled woman $230,000 in lost lifetime wages relative to similar women who never gave birth." Though the actual paper is a bit too complicated to analyze here, the group's basic finding was that having children costs all women, financially, and that the higher the financial prospects of the woman in question, the higher the costs. In comparison, "men's earning profiles are relatively unaffected by having children although men who never have children earn less on average than those who do." Clearly, most women are going to have children regardless of this financial risk. However, a discussion of ways in which this risk can be moderated, both on a personal level for an individual woman and on a societal level, would be very welcome in articles like Abella's.

This analysis is, perhaps, overkill for such a short article. I should probably be glad that this discussion is happening at all, however cursorily. But I think it does a disservice both to young women who need and want this advice and to the more experienced women who can share their experiences to be so matter-of-fact about these difficult subjects. There is almost always a chasm between what you should do, what you can do, and what you are doing. We need to recognize that chasm and figure out how to bridge it, not just ignore it or pithily write it off. Further, a full discussion of women's financial issues can't be had without talking about the complicated effects of partnerships and children on women's financial health, and to do so strikes me as disingenuous. Finally, I'd love to see pieces like this one address not just the college-educated, middle-class woman to whom Abella is clearly speaking, but to a wider range of women as well.

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Care package companies: the breakdown

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I am a girl who loves to send a care package (love to receive them, too!). Nothing excites me quite like picking out a bunch of "I hope this makes you smile!" items, packing them up, and mailing them to someone I love. Except, of course, for the actual packing and mailing part. See, I love to CONCEPTUALIZE care packages, and buy things for them, but I'm less into the logistical aspects. And, sometimes, I just can't seem to get it done at all.

So, I started to poke around to see if someone else was doing it for me. I envisioned a company making up and sending out care packages that could be customized, little gifts that would let my family or friends know I was thinking of them, without my ever having to do so much as find my packing tape. And there are a number of these companies, so I thought I'd build a list (because if there's something I love as much as a care package, it's a list) for my own reference, and for your information. This is what I found:

Carepackages.com: Focused on packages for college students, including specialty packages for holidays and themed packages like "healthy options" and "graduation." Packages range in price from $20-$85 (and a few non-college student centered options are included) plus S&H. Most packages seem to consist largely of name brand junk food.

GourmetGiftBaskets.com: The care package section of the site features various food-based care packages for intended recipients including college students, service members, and children away at camp. Packages range from $34.99-$59.99, plus S&H. Focus of most is on junk/snack food, though the children's options also include games, toys, and art materials. The rest of the site, however, includes gift baskets for every imaginable intended recipient, from "mini-baskets" for under $25 through huge executive gift hampers for up to $250.

Care4Troops: Though the focus is on care packages for service members, there are also options for college students and friends and family members. Packages start at $28 and go up, and there are options to design your own packages. Items available include candy, snack foods, and small toys/gifts. S&H is included in package prices.

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Ultimate Party Animal Package from Custom Care Packages, $37.79

Custom Care Packages: This Utah-based company focuses on care packages for students, military members, and missionaries, as well as a few corporate offerings. Packages range from $15.49-$62.66, plus S&H, with various add-on options also available. The usual candy and snack options are included, as are a variety of homemade baked goods. A "party animal" package also includes party fixings like streamers, a mini pinata, balloons, and a mini disco ball.

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Get Well Sooner Care Package from Hip Kits, $49.97-$59.97

Hip Kits: Hip Kits is another company focused on care packages for college students. Packages are available for holidays, exams, or "just because." Prices range from $19.97-$73.97, plus S&H, with most packages available in two sizes and at two price points. Again, the packages are largely junk food-based, but other options are also available, including a healthy snack options package, a "pampering" package, and a "now what??" graduation survival package.

Beyond Bookmarks: Affiliated with Hip Kits, Beyond Bookmarks offers the same types of packages, but also has offerings for kids at camp, service members, and corporate recipients.

Care Package Cafe: Once again, focused on college student care packages, mostly of the junk food variety. Prices range from $39.95-$49.95, plus S&H. They do offer two "healthy snack" options.

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Mommy's Hospital Overnight Bag Care Package from Minimus, $39.95

Minimus: Minimus has the most extensive offerings I found. They offer packages, called kits, in categories as broadly ranging as Baby & Family, Camp & Outdoors, Romance, Office & Work, and "The Bachelor Guy." Prices are extremely wide-ranging, from a few dollars for basic shaving/toiletry kits to several hundred dollars for train cases full of fancy toiletries. It seems you can find almost anything here. Some of my favorites include the Office Survival Kit (how great as a congratulations present for someone with a new job!) and the Al Naturale Mom-To-Be Kit (maybe as a gift for a pregnant lady about to go into labor?). They also offer an impressively wide variety of military-specific kits and really cool looking care-package-of-the-month clubs for college students and service members.

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Movie Break Package from Semper Finest, $46

Semper Finest: Semper Finest is intended for sending care packages to Marines and other members of the military serving overseas, and also has options for overseas service members to send care packages to their families at home. Packages range from $30-$67, plus S&H, and can also be customized. Offerings are not all food based, with packages including a "Just for Girls" self-care package for deployed women and the heartbreaking "You're a Dad!" package for men whose children are born while they are overseas.

Package To Go: Package to Go is another site focused on care packages for college students. Packages are available on themes or "just because," and most are snack/junk food. Prices range from $35.50-$69.50 and include USPS Priority Mail shipping.

Show Ya Care: Show Ya Care offers packages for college students, campers, and service members, as well as "baby and home" and "just because" packages and seasonal offerings. Prices range from $38-$49.99 and include shipping. Most of the packages are the same type of junk/snack food offerings found elsewhere, but also include small toys, games, and other items.

Sealed with a Kiss (SWAK): SWAK focuses on packages for kids at summer camp. They offer ready-made packages from $25-$62, or customers can build their own for $35-$100. Shipping starts at $11.95/package. Most packages are NOT food based, but rather include toys, games, kids' beauty products, art supplies, etc.

My Care Package: My Care Package offers packages for campers, college students, and wedding guests. Packages range from $51-$69 for campers, with other offering priced not listed on the site. The packages shown on the site are not food based, but rather include toys, art supplies, etc.

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Detox-O-Box from Box-O-Box, $49.99

Box-O-Box: Billing itself as "the world's greatest care package," Box-O-Box focuses on college student packages. Themes include "Movie Night," "Pamper Yourself," and "Detox-O-Box," and seasonal boxes are also available. Prices range from $39.99-$59.99 plus S&H and are largely food-focused, though they do include other things as well.

Camp Pacs: Camp Pacs focuses on packages for campers, with options ranging from $35-$50, plus S&H. There are also smaller, $10 packages available for your child's bunkmate(s) and/or counselor(s). Each care package is customized by age, gender, favorite colors, and likes and dislikes of the camper. There is also an option to create your own package.

The Wrinkled Egg: This one gets my award for most innovative company name! The Wrinkled Egg offers both pre-built and fully customizable packages for students and campers ranging from $35-$100, plus S&H, as well as the option to build your own package. The camp packages are full of toys, games, and supplies rather than snacks.

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Old MacDonald Welcome Wagon from All About Gifts & Baskets, $105

All About Gifts & Baskets: This site offers snack-based care packages for college students and service members, ranging in price from $25-$75 (plus S&H), and also has a few less common options, including pet gift baskets ($40-$65), housewarming gift baskets ($39-$112), and tons of new baby gift basket options ($30-$195).

Care Package XPress: This is a service intended for campers or college students, featuring mostly snack-based packages. Packages range from $36.95-$46.95, plus S&H. One thing I noticed that was interesting was the offer of a gluten-free and kosher package.

Giddy Gift Box: Giddy Gift Box offers care packages for students, campers, and soldiers, as well as general boxes for men, women, kids, and families. Prices range from $9.99-$49.99, plus S&H, with the option to design your own package or add to existing ones. Most packages are snack-based, but the site does offer a few non-snack options.

Baskets by Rita: Baskets by Rita offers mostly care packages for professionals and guests, including a Bar Exam Care Package and a Tax Relief Gift Basket. Most are snack-based, but the caliber of the snacks is a bit higher than the college student-focused services. Prices range from $30-$69, plus S&H.

Kosher Care Packages: This company offers kosher options for all the typical care package types, including students, campers, and corporate recipients. They also do gift baskets for holidays and events and allow custom packages. Prices range from $25-$150 plus S&H. Some packages are available only in the US, others only in Israel.

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Korean Japchae - Sweet Potato Noodle Dinner Kit from Destination Dinners, $35

Destination Dinners: These aren't typical care packages--Destination Dinners send packages called "Recipe Kits" of instructions, shopping lists, and pre-measured spices and specialty ingredients to help you create meals from around the world, with offerings as diverse as Korean bulgogi, Lebanese kibbeh bil-saneeyeh, and Creole-style jambalaya from New Orleans. The kits cost $30 each (plus S&H) and make enough for 6-8 adults. They also offer "Dinner Party Kits," which combine the recipe kits with flatware, table settings, and/or cooking utensils. These range from $40-$75, plus S&H.

Pleasant Surprises: Pleasant Surprises offers gift baskets more than care packages, but really, what's the difference? They have baskets for all manner of intended recipient, with prices ranging from $34.95-$169.95, plus S&H. The baskets feature a lot of slightly higher-end food items, as well as mugs, tea pots, and other small gifts.

Cherry Moon Farms: A general gift site, Cherry Moon Farms has an extensive collection of gift basket/care packages for all types of recipients. Prices range from $19.99-$129.99, plus S&H, and include higher end snack foods, fruits, cheeses, coffee and tea, and spa products.

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Bath & Body Invigoration Basket from Gift Tree, $29.95

Gift Tree: Gift Tree is another gift site with a large number of basket offerings. Baskets range from $19.95-$899.95, and are intended for both personal and corporate gifting. Two that appealed to me were the Bath & Body Invigoration Basket, featuring Burt's Bees products and the Sweet Nostalgia candy basket, packaged in a retro lunch box.

1-800-Baskets: This is the gift basket arm of 1-800-FLOWERS, and they have a wide variety of baskets available in prices ranging from $19.99-$229.99. There are a lot of typical offerings--fruit, cheese baskets, etc, but also a few interesting things, including the New Baby Gift Pail Solution Station and the Award Winning Stubbs® Authentic Barbecue Gift Set.

Art of Appreciation: Art of Appreciation offers gift baskets for individuals and corporate giving, with a wide range of price points. There are baskets for children ($19.99-$69.99), teens ($19.99-$49.99), and adults ($19.99-$149.99). Gift baskets include the typical snacks, teas and coffees, etc.

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Marathon Runner Gift Basket from Well Baskets, $79.99

Well Baskets: Well Baskets offers "healthy" gift baskets for recipients including children, college students, and various types of adult. They have international theme food baskets ($35-$95), baskets intended for cancer patients ($39.95-$165), and an extensive selection of vegetarian and vegan baskets ($15-$425). Some unique offerings I noticed were the baskets for marathon runners ($55-$175) and the memory enhancement basket, which features foods thought to contribute to memory.

Nikki's Gift Baskets: Like the other gift basket sites, Nikki's offers a variety of baskets, for many types of recipients and occasions. Prices range from $19.99-$94.99, plus S&H. Many baskets are snack-based, others include baby clothes, bath supplies, etc.

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Home Away From Home Care Package from Organic Stores, $49.98

Organic Stores: Organic stores offers a selection of gift baskets for babies, kids, pets, and adults (many of which are not made up of organic products, which seems strange). Prices range from $24.98-$137.79 (plus S&H). Most of the offerings looked pretty typical, but I did like the Home Away From Home care package, featuring laundry supplies as well as as snacks, and the Family Game Night care package, which includes snacks and games.

Carepackage.org: A bit different than the others on this list, but I couldn't leave it out. This site allows you to build a virtual care package for woman in need somewhere around the world. There are options to build individual or group packages, with contents including training health care workers, buying school supplies, and providing food assistance.

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Possible lullabies for Buzzy

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So I've been thinking about what I will sing to my kid. There are really two criteria:
1. I have to know the words.
2. It has to be in a pitch/key that I can at least sorta manage.

The list of possibilities, given those criteria, is...a bit odd:

1. "She Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Guy Clark)
2. "Tecumseh Valley" (Townes Van Zandt, no way I can do Nanci Griffith's version)
3. "I'll Be There For You" (Bon Jovi)
4. "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" (Ed Bruce, Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson)
5. "Midnight Radio" (from Hedwig)
6. "Origin of Love" (from Hedwig)
7. "Wild Horses" (The Rolling Stones)
8. "Theme from the Dukes of Hazzard" (Waylon Jennings)
9. "Angel from Montgomery" (John Prine)
10. "The Road Goes on Forever" (Robert Earl Keen)

Anybody have a vote? Another suggestion?

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NewBeauty Test Tube Showdown

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I'm not sure exactly how/why, but did you know there are TWO versions of the NewBeauty Test Tube? NewBeauty magazine's original tube is sold on their site and a QVC version is sold on their's. There is some product/brand overlap between the two, but they are NOT the same. If someone can explain to me how/why that came about, I'd love to know. In the meantime, though, I sampled both spring tubes to see which I would prefer:

The NewBeauty tube I received was very similar to the last one I got. Very similar as in a lot of the products were from the very same companies.

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The tube contained:
-copy of NewBeauty magazine (which I am not impressed with)
-gift cards for $50 off a $200 order, $25 off a $125 order, and $10 off a $60 order at SpaLook
-Olay® Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex (.23 fl oz, estimated value $3.79)
-Memoire Liquide Soliel Liquide Fragrance and Fleur Liquid Body Cream (body cream was full-sized, estimated value $48, two perfumes were sample sized, estimated value $3.52)
-Perlier & Elariia Body Cream (full sized, estimated value $24.50)
-Moroccanoil Frizz Control (full sized, estimated value $32)
-Mally® Evercolor Shadow Stick in Platinum (full-sized, estimated value $25)
-SkinCeuticals Inside Out C E Ferulic and Sheer Physical Defense SPF 50 (small samples not labeled with weight, estimated value $15)
-ybf Plum Eye Liner (full-sized, estimated value $14.50)
-NeoStrata Skin Active Cellular Restoration (estimated value $22.57)
-Dr.Brandt Pore No More Vacuum Cleaner Blackhead Extractor (substitution for dr. brandt® signature BB Cream with Flexitone, estimated value $18)

Total estimated value: $206.88

Clearly, I can't complain about the value of these products. Nor can I complain about breadth--twp body creams, two cosmetics, a perfume, four skin care products, and a hair care product. I also loved the number of full-sized products included. My complaint is that the brands repeat those I've received from NewBeauty Test Tube in the past. My Spring 2011 tube contained two dr. brandt products. Summer 2011 included the very same dr. brandt product as this tube, as well as a lip liner from YBF and an eyeliner from Mally. Fall 2011 had yet another dr. brandt product, as well as a product from Moroccanoil. Given that the Test Tube only comes out four times a year, I'm surprised they can't find more companies to work with.

The QVC tube comes packaged exactly the same way as the NewBeauty tube. In it, I found:
-Peter Thomas Roth Laser Free Moisturizing Gel (.5 oz sample, estimated value $34)
-StiVectin-SD Intensive Concentrate for Stretch Marks & Wrinkles (.5 oz sample, estimated value $13.50)
-St. Tropez Everyday Gradual Tan for Body (2.5 oz, estimated value $11.19)
-WEN by Chaz Dean Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner (6 oz, estimated value $10.88)
-bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash (2 oz, estimated value $4.39)
-Philosophy Amazing Grace Shampoo (2 oz, estimated value $2.15)
-Mally Beauty Evercolor Long Wearing Shadow Stick in Twilight (full-sized, value $25)
-tarte LipSurgence Lip Luster in Fever (full-sized, value $21.84)

Total estimated value: $122.95

So, the value of the QVC tube was quite a lot lower, mostly because of the smaller, sample-sized products it included rather than full-sized ones. However, the brands were, to my taste, better--certainly newer! With the exception of the duplicate Mally eye shadow stick (which was fine by me, because I absolutely LOVE the product), there was nothing included that I'd already seen in a NewBeauty tube. The breadth was also good--two cosmetics, two hair products, three face products, and a body product. And the products that were sample sized were all big enough to get some actual use from.

Were I recommending one of these tubes to someone totally new to them, I think I'd have to slightly favor the NewBeauty tube, just for value's sake. However, for myself, the QVC tube is a better deal, and it's the subscription I'll be keeping. If I get a couple more of them and see that they use the same brands over and over again, I may switch back, or cancel all together. For me, novelty is a really important factor in curated subscription programs being worthwhile. I like to get things I have never seen before and am excited to try, like the WEN cleansing conditioner I am itching to break out. I love old favorites too, of course (I'm never sad to see bliss, for example), but introductions to new products are absolutely key.

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I'm in a bit of a mood today. So, to put my spirit a bit more right with the world, I thought it was a good day to do a giveaway.

You all know I love Big Lots. Last time I was there, I hauled in some beauty stuff, as shown:

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-Venus Spa Breeze 12-pack, $8.50 ($9.97 for 3-pack on Amazon)
-Aim Germ Invader toothbrushes, 2 pack, $1 ($3.99 on Amazon)
-Back to Basics Raspberry Almond Reparative Shampoo 11.5 oz, $2.50 ($10.71 on Amazon)
-Back to Basics Fresh Mint Energizing Conditioner 11 oz, $2.50 ($8.99 on Amazon)
-Amenta Natural Clove Daily Moisturizing Shampoo 12 oz, $2.50 ($4.99 on Amazon)
-Philosophy Supernatural Lit from Within cream blushes, $3 each (out of stock, $22.50 on QVC)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Eyelighting Shadow Duo, $3 ($22 at Beauty Bar)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Angel Kiss Lip Gloss, $3 ($17.50 at DermStore)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Art of Blushing, $3 ($19.99 at Amazon)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Kabuki Style Retractable Cosmetic Face Brush, $3 ($11.95 at Amazon)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Amazing Shimmering Face Powder, $3 ($8.90 at Amazon)
-Philosophy Divine Illumination Love at First Light Luminizer, $3 ($29.98 at QVC)
-Philosophy The Color of Grace Heavenly Light Pink Illuminator, $3 ($28 at QVC)

Clearly, I went a bit overboard with the Philosophy stuff. I was just so jazzed to see something so high end so cheap! And the products I have used so far, particularly the Art of Blushing blush and the Heavenly Light illuminator, have not disappointed. Plus, how great is that deal on razors?

SO! I propose a Big Lots Beauty giveaway! I get sick of giveaways dragging on, though, so let's make this one a flash--you have only until midnight tomorrow night to enter! And I'm going to try to figure out how to use Rafflecopter, just to make this official-like. The prize? A gift box of Big Lots beauty products, hand-selected by yours truly. And some Philosophy goodies will definitely be included!

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I originally published this post back in September, but the curated subscription box market has EXPLODED since then, and I've been trying to keep up with it, so I thought it might be good to re-post it and see if any of you wise readers have any additions?

***

I love magazine subscriptions. In part, this is because I love magazines--my attention span is just about magazine article length and I like pretty pictures. The bigger reason, though, is that I love love love mail. And reoccurring mail is my very favorite. I've been a Columbia House used-to-be-Record Club subscriber at least a dozen times. I'll sign up for a sample of just about anything. I just like it when something comes in the mail for me.

Turns out, I'm not alone. Lots of us love receiving mail, and when it's good mail, something we picked out, or, even better, a surprise that was curated for us? (Curated, in this case, just meaning selected based on our likes/dislikes by some sort of authority.) We're sold. That's what drew me to the independent business sample boxes I've reviewed here before, and to Birchbox more recently. And I'm so enamored with Birchbox, I started nosing around for more things like it.

And I found far more than I'd expected I would. Turns out, these "curated subscription services," wherein you receive periodic shipments of something that was either picked for you, or picked by you from options picked for you, are sorta the next big thing. They're popping up everywhere, for all sorts of products, and they're hot hot hot. I found dozens of them. And I did not find any sort of comprehensive list. So, I thought I'd try to fill that space and provide a list.

Please realize that I have NOT tried all of these, or even most of these, services. This list is not an endorsement; it's simply an overview of what I found in this space. And it is, but necessity, a work in progress--most of these companies are new, and some will fail, and new ones will pop up. So please, if you see anything I omitted, or anything that is here that doesn't, as you are reading this, exist anymore, let me know and I'll update.

Now, for what I found:

(A note on pricing: many of these services have a price cut if you sign up for several months at once. For the sake of simplicity, the prices I am quoting are their highest prices, generally for a single month.)

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Beauty

United States
Birchbox: 3-5 deluxe makeup/beauty samples each month, curated, $10 including S&H. This is one I can vouch for--I've had a subscription for nearly a year, I love it, it's more than worth the $10/month.

For my Birchbox reviews, go here, here, and here!

Julep Maven: 3-5 nail polishes and treatments each month, curated, $15 including S&H.

Beautyfix: 8 full-sized makeup/beauty products, selected by you from a group of options, sent quarterly. $49.95 including S&H.

For my Beautyfix review, go here!

New Beauty Test Tube: deluxe makeup/beauty samples, some full sized, curated, sent quarterly. $29.95 + $8.95 S&H.

For my New Beauty Test Tube reviews, go here and here!

Smallflower Bath of the Month Club:curated bath products, sent monthly. $85/3 month subscription.

Added 10/17/11: The Little Black Box: This is one of several monthly sample boxes for independent/handmade beauty products, as well as other things like candles and edibles. Boxes are $20/month including S&H.

Added 10/17/11: Out of the Box Sampler: Out of the Box sampler is another sampler of independent and handmade businesses. It is available for $22/month including S&H.

Added 10/17/11: Makeup Monthly: Makeup Monthly offers clubs for nails, makeup, or beauty care. The clubs are $20, $30, and $35/month respectively, including S&H, and subscriptions are available for 3, 6, or 12 months.

Added 03/05/12: The Look Bag: The Look Bag is a Birchbox-esque sampler box offering 4-5 beauty samples in each monthly offering. It is curated by celebrity beautician Damone Roberts. The cost is $10/month, S&H included.

For my Look Bag review, go here!

Added 03/19/12: The Soap Box: A quarterly offering of 8 mini-sized bath products from Fortune Cookie Soap. $19.99/quarter, S&H included.

Added 03/19/12: Kara's Way: 5-10 eco-friendly beauty samples, sent monthly. $15/month including S&H.

Added 03/19/12: My Glam: 4-5 beauty product samples, sent monthly. $10/month including S&H.

Added 03/19/12: Beauty Box 5: 4-5 beauty product samples, sent monthly. $12/month including S&H.

For my Beauty Box 5 review, go here!

Added 03/19/12: Beauty Army: Up to 6 samples of our own choosing, delivered monthly. $12/month including S&H.

For my Beauty Army review, go here!

Added 04/02/12: Sindulge: Monthly delivery of 4-5 sample products selected by beauty experts after customer chat conferences. $12/month including S&H.

Added 04/02/12: Sample Society: A Birchbox-like offering from Beauty Bar, sends 5 deluxe sized samples and a mini-magazine each month. $15/month including S&H.

Added 05/23/12: CurlBox: For $20/month, including S&H, subscribers receive 5-7 samples of products intended for curly hair.

Added 05/23/12: Beauty Cache: Seasonal/quarterly boxes include various deluxe samples and one full-sized "mystery" item. Cost is $29.95 plus S&H.

For my Beauty Cache review, go here!

Added 05/23/12: Glossybox US: The US-invasion of British superstar beauty box Glossybox, this box offers 5 "travel-sized" beauty products each month, for $21 including S&H.

For my Glossybox US review, go here!

Added 05/24/12: Total Beauty Collection: One-off boxes instead of a subscription, Total Beauty Collection sends 4-6 deluxe samples in each box, for $15 including S&H.

For my Total Beauty Collection review, go here!

Added 10/15/12: Wantable: Wantable is a slightly different model--they create a seasonal makeup kit based on your profile, and send it along with instructions to use it to create several complete looks. Each kit contains 6-7 full-sized items.The cost is $39.95 including S&H.

Canada
Loose Button Luxe Box: 4-5 curated deluxe beauty samples, sent monthly. $12 CND/month including S&H.

Glymm: 4-5 curated deluxe beauty samples, sent monthly. $10 CND/month including S&H.

Added 10/17/11: Sweet Delight Divalicious Sample Box: Sweet Delights Divalicious box focuses mostly on handmade/independent beauty products. Boxes are $26 CND including shipping to Canada or the US.

Added 05/23/12: Glossybox Canada: Britain's Glossybox is also available in Canada! For $15 CND/month, including S&H, you get 5 travel-sized beauty samples.

Added 05/23/12: Topbox: For $10 CND/month (including S&H), Topbox sends four deluxe sized beauty samples.

Australia

Haute Box: deluxe beauty samples, send monthly, not yet launched

Added 10/17/11: The Lust Pack: The Lust Pack is a monthly 5-6 deluxe sample delivery. The cost is $14.95/month including S&H.

UK
Glossybox: 5 curated high-end beauty miniatures, sent monthly. £10.00/month + £2.95 S&H.
Updated 04/02/12: Glossybox is expanding to the USA soon!

Added 10/14/11: Amarya Beauty Box: For £10 per month, Amarya sends at least one full-sized product, along with multiple samples or trial sizes.

Added 10/14/11: Bourdoir Prive: Works just like Birchbox-- £10/month including S&H and they send 5-6 deluxe samples.

Added 06/26/12: SheSaidBeauty Box: For £9.00/month, plus postage, SheSaidBeauty sends a box of five beauty samples to customers in the UK and Ireland.

Added 06/26/12: JolieBox UK For £10/month, plus postage, JolieBox sends 4-5 exclusive beauty samples to the UK. There is also a French version.

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Kids/Parenting

United States
Citrus Lane: 4-5 curated baby products, tailored to baby's age (newborn through 18 months), sent monthly. $25/month including S&H.

For my Citrus Lane reviews, go here and here!

Bluum: 4-5 deluxe baby-related product samples, sent monthly, $12/month including S&H.

Little Passports: information about and "souvenirs" from a different country sent every month, geared towards kids. $11.95/month plus S&H. I really, really love the idea of this one. If anybody out there does it, please drop me a message--I'd love to run a review.

Babba Box: curated monthly box with all supplies needed to do 3-4 projects with a 3-6 year old child. $29.99/month including S&H. This is another one that really intrigues me, and I'd love to run a review if anybody has used it.

Added 10/11/11: KiwiCrate: much the same model as Babba Box, KiwiCrate is a monthly delivery of supplies for craft projects suited for a 3-6 year old child. It is $19.99/month including S&H.

Added 10/17/11: Fluff of the Month Club: Cloth diapers! For $22.50/month including S&H, you receive a cloth diaper delivery. Subscriptions are available for 4, 6, or 9 months, and you choose the style and size of diaper you want.

Added 10/17/11: KraftyKid Craft Clubs: KraftyKid offers lots of different options, with basic clubs, deluxe clubs, and clubs for teachers. They have clubs available for 3-6 year old kids and 7-10 year old kids. Prices vary.

Added 03/13/12: Wittlebee: Along the same lines as some of the clothing basic clubs for men, Wittlebee sends a monthly box of clothes for your child. The box includes 8 basic items (leggings, onesies, etc.) each month and costs $39.99 including S&H.

For my Wittlebee review, go here!

Added 03/19/12: Honest Company: A selection of self-selected eco-conscious diapers and/or household and bath and body products, sent monthly. Price dependent on products selected.

Added 03/21/12: petiteBox: 4-7 "mommy and baby" products sent monthly. $25/month including S&H.

For my petiteBox review, go here!

08/28/12 note: petiteBox is currently suspending services.

Added 03/27/12: Green Kid Crafts: Monthly delivery of three open-ended craft kits for kids, focused on green supplies and international calendar awareness. Available in three, six, and twelve month subscriptions for about $15/month, including S&H.

Added 05/23/12: Spark Box: For $34.95/box , including S&H, Spark Box sends a box of four or more educational toys. You keep them for four weeks or more, and when you return them, you get another box.

Added 06/20/12: Little Pnuts: Little PNuts also sends toys, curated by the age of your child, but they are yours to keep, and they're all "sustainably made, ecologically friendly, organic, and naturally made." The cost is $25/month, but toy deliveries (of 3-5 toys) are only every three months.

Added 06/25/12: StorkStack: For $28/month, StorkStack sends 5 deluxe products for moms and babies from birth-3 years.

Added 06/26/12: TeetheMe: Along the same lines as Citrus Lane, TeetheMe sends a monthly box of 4-5 products, tailored to the age of your child. The cost is $24/month including S&H.

Added 06/27/12: Ecocentric Mom: For $17/month including S&H, Ecocentric Mom offers three choices in boxes--a mom centered box, a mom-to-be centered box, and a box for babies newborn-18 months. All boxes contain 5-6 earth-friendly products in a mix of full and sample sizes.

For my Ecocentric Mom review, go here.

Added 08/27/12: Taddle Kids: Like Wittlebee, Taddle Kids sends a monthly box of clothing. $39.99/month including S&H for a minimum of 8 items.

Added 08/27/12: PickyBunny: PickyBunny is a slightly different kids' clothing service--gently used clothes! Prices are based on the "level" of the clothing brands, from budget brands for $19.99/month to boutique brands for $69.99. Each box contains seven clothing items.

Added 10/12/15: FabKids: FabKids is a children's clothing subscription program focused on girls. Clients pick an outfit each month from a curated selection. The cost is $39.99/month.

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Green Products

Blissmobox: you choose between curated monthly collections of eco-friendly and organic products in several categories (this month had a beauty box, a tea and snacks box, and a romance/sex box, other months have had cleaning/laundry boxes, summer snack boxes, etc.) $19/month + $3 S&H. This is another one I'm planning to try out, so watch for a review in the future.

Eco-Emi: curated green/natural product samples delivered monthly. $15/month including S&H. Available outside the US for $30/month. Currently has a waiting list for new customers.

Goodebox: curated monthly samples of green beauty, health, and wellness products. $15/month including S&H.

For my Goodebox review, go here!

Uncover Me Naturals Soap of the Month Club: monthly delivery of six bars of natural soap. $25/month including S&H.

Added 10/12/11: Conscious Box: a curated monthly collection of various environmentally conscious products, based on a monthly theme. Products include food and health and beauty offerings. $12/month plus $7 S&H.

Added 10/20/11: Herbaria Soap of the Month Club: A smaller scale soap-of-the-month offering, Heraria sends 1 hand-crafted bar each month, for an $88 annual subscription cost.

Added 03/19/12: White Apricot's Green Grab Bag: 6-10 eco beauty product samples, sent monthly. $15/month including S&H.

For my Green Grab Bag review, go here!

Added 05/23/12: Kara's Way: 5-10 eco beauty samples delivered each month for $15/month including S&H.

For my Kara's Way review, go here!

Added 08/27/12: Yuzen: For $26/month including S&H, Yuzen sends a "Zen-inspired" box of about 5 natural and organic products.

Added 08/27/12: WellyBox: For $25/month, plus $4.95 S&H, WellyBox sends a monthly assortment of organic and eco products.

Added 10/15/12: MightyPacks: MightyPacks are filled with co-conscious products for home and family. They are available in every 4 week and every 8 week subscriptions. You can choose between different types of packs (kitchen, bath, or surprise), and they are $30/each including S&H.

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Food

United States
Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box: This is a cool concept. Each month, they deliver a food and music pairing--a limited edition 7" vinyl two-track along with a downloadable digital mixtape, and the recipes and ideas for a dinner party to go along with the music, along with 1-2 premium specialty ingredients to make them. Not exactly up my alley, but fascinating. $25/month including S&H.

Healthy Surprise: monthly delivery of curated healthy vegan snacks. Prices vary by package size: $33/month + $5 S&H for 5-10 snacks through $250/month including S&H for 70-80 snacks.

PaleoPax: monthly curated selection of 5 paleo snacks. $20/month including S&H.

Steepster Select: 3 2-3 oz pouches of curated premium loose leaf tea each month. $19/month including S&H.

Craft Coffee: 3 12 oz bags of coffee, curated from different small roasters, each month, along with tasting notes. $24.99/month including S&H.

Added 10/14/11: Black Box Dessert Club: High end desserts, varied based on your region, right to your door! This club is not cheap--a single month is $65-$85 depending on the box--but contains 6-8 full size artisan desserts.

Added 10/17/11: Adagio Tea of the Month Club: Adagio makes really good tea. Their tea of the month club, available in 6 or 12 month increments, and in flavored, herbal, black, decaf, and green & oolong varieties, sends two bags of loose tea (enough for approximately 80 cups) every other month. Prices are $39-$49 for six month and $69-$89 for twelve month subscriptions.

Added 10/17/11: Citizen Bean: Every month, Citizen Bean sends a pound of sustainable small-batch roasted whole bean coffee, along with extras. The cost is $79.99 for three months, $129.99 for six, and $219.99 for a full year.

Added 10/17/11: Anchor Chip of the Month Club: Every month, Anchor sends regional, unusual potato chips. Subscriptions are available in 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 month increments of various sizes, starting at $13/month.

Added 03/19/12: Love with Food: Monthly delivery of samples of 4-5 gourmet food products. $14/month, S&H included.

Added 04/11/12: Samplrs: Monthly delivery of 4-6 full-sized products from local food artisans, all packed in a reusable canvas bag. Vegetarian option also available. $29.99/month including S&H.

Added 05/23/12: NatureBox: For $19.95/month, including S&H, NatureBox sends 4-5 full-sized packages of "healthy, locally-sourced snacks."

Added 05/23/12: Yumvelope: $21/month, including S&H, gets you a minimum of six full-sized natural snacks, drinks, and desserts.

Added 05/23/12: Gothambox: For $20/month, including S&H, Gothambox sends a box of food products from your selected city (current options are San Francisco and New York). For every subscription, the company donates a meal to the hungry in the chosen city.

Added 08/26/12: Petit Amuse: For $10/month including S&H, Petit Amuse sends 3-4 samples of small batch, artisan foods.

Added 08/27/12: KnoshBox: KnoshBox is another artisan foods box. For $30/month including S&H, they send 4-6 gourmet, small batch food items.

Added 08/27/12: Sprig: Sprig offers several sizes of boxes, each filled with small batch artisan foods. Monthly subscriptions are available at the $26.95, $55.95, and $99.95 price levels.

Added 10/15/12: Blue Apron: Currently available only in the Northeast, Blue Apron is a weekly grocery subscription service, sending all of the necessary ingredients and recipes for three meals. Price depends on the number being served.

Added 10/15/12: Gfreely: Gfreely is a gluten-free entry into the snack box market. For $19/month plus $5.95 S&H, they deliver a package of gluten-free foods, tips, and recipes.

Added 10/15/12: GoBites: GoBites sends individually packaged, single-serving healthy snacks. You choose the snacks you want, the cost depends on how many you pick.

Added 10/15/12: Misto Box: Misto Box is another one for coffee lovers. For $15/month, you receive four samples of whole bean coffee from small roasters. International subscriptions are available.

Added 10/15/12: Savorfull: This is an allergy-friendly food box. For $15/month, they send "deluxe to full size samples of gluten and/or wheat, peanut and dairy free foods."

UK
Graze: Nutritionally balanced single-serving snack boxes, however many days/week you'd like. £3.49/box including S&H.

Added 10/17/11: The Chocolate Tasting Club: The Chocolate Tasting Club charges £18.95/month including postage, for which you get a box of 32 hand-selected chocolates. The selections are different every month, and recipients can choose between Classic, Dark, Purist and Elements boxes.

Added 06/26/12: Kopi: Priced variably, depending on quantity, Kopi sends UK residents a different gourmet coffee every month.

Added 06/26/12: Tea Horse: For £11.95/month, Tea Horse sends UK residents four different types of tea (enough to make at least 10 cups of each), as well as an informational booklet.

Added 06/26/12: Love Your Larder: The Larderbox, from Love Your Larder, includes at least 5 products each month. It's £19.95/box.

Clothing/Accessories

United States
Jewelmint: Jewelmint is the big player in this space right now. For $29.99/month including S&H, you pick a piece of jewelry each month from a collection curated to your taste by celebrity entrepreneur Kate Bosworth. This is club to which I subscribe and I am very happy with it so far.

Stylemint: Stylemint is from the same parent company and uses the same business model as Jewelmint, only it's t-shirts, not jewelry. $29.99/month including S&H gets you a t-shirt of your choice. The celebrities behind the style and curation are the Olsen twins.

Shoedazzle: Shoedazzle is another big player. It works the same way as the previous two programs, with the recipient making a monthly selection among a curated field of choices. This one is $39.99/month, though, and the selections are shoes and handbags. The celebrity name is Kim Kardashian. Shoes only up to size 11, though!

In the Mood Intimates Gift of the Month Clubs: Several monthly options, all curated, including Panty-of-the-Month, Camisole/Bustier-of-the-Month, and Bra-set-of-the-Month. Prices range from $18-$90/month.

Send the Trend: Similar to Jewelmint, only it includes non-jewelry accessories. Clients pick from among a curated set of options. $29.99/month including S&H.

Threadless 12 Club: I kinda love this one. Every month, you get a handpicked t-shirt from Threadless! Think of the variety you could amass! $200/year for US participants; $250/year for international, including S&H.

Added 10/14/11: Sole Society: Basically the same model as Shoedazzle, Sole Society charges $49.95/month including S&H for your pick from a curated selection of shoes.

Added 10/17/11: Solmate Socks Sock of the Month Club: This one amuses me. Available for adults or kids, you get a pair of funky mismatched cotton socks each month. There are 3, 6, and 12 month memberships--the 3 month is $65 including S&H, and kids' socks are a pair-with-a-spare.

Added 10/20/11:Stitch Fix: Stitch Fix sends a shipment of clothes, based on your personal style quiz, and you keep and pay for those you like and send the rest back.

Added 04/16/12: Dive Bar Shirt Club: Monthly delivery of an authentic t-shirt from a US dive bar. $22/month including S&H.

Added 06/26/12: Intimint: From the same parent company as Jewelmint and Stylemint, Intimint offers a monthly selection of lingerie and lounge wear, based on your style profile. Prices vary, but start at $19.99/month including S&H.

Added 10/15/12: Adore Me: Adore Me follows a similar model to Intimint, with $39.95/month buying a bra & panty set from a customized showroom.

Added 10/15/12: JewelBox: For $15/month, JewelBox sends a piece of hand-crafted jewelry based on your style preferences.

UK
StylistPick: Similar to Shoedazzle, a curated monthly selection of accessories and shoes, based on our style profile. You select what you want to have sent your way. £39.95/month including S&H.

Canada
Panty by Post: monthly curated pair of deluxe panties. $18.50/month plus S&H, international available.

Books and Magazines

United States
Indiespensible: I absolutely love Powell's Indiespensible book club. Every six-to-eight weeks, they sent a first edition of a new, independent book, along with some other "goodies," typically thematically connected to the book in some way, or local to Portland. The cost is $39.99/shipment, including S&H, and international shipping is available for $12 more.

Just the Right Book: Coming from another independent bookseller (yay!), R.J. Julia Bookseller in Madison, CT, Just the Right Book is a curated book club that has options for kids, teens, and adults. The selections are curated to individual tastes and get this--they guarantee you'll like what they send! The service can be purchased on a monthly, every-other-month, or quarterly basis. Prices vary depending on specific program, but average about $24.99/month.

Stack America: This one I'm excited about. Every two months, you receive a curated collection of indie magazines. Lots of it is likely stuff you aren't going to find in your Barnes & Noble. You get at least one magazine, plus extras, every two months. Subscriptions are annual and cost $75.99 in the US, with options for international shipping at higher rates.

Added 10/20/11: Chin Music Press Books Rx: Billing itself as "mail-order medicine for your mind," this club sends a curated quarterly collection of independent literature and art, all chosen to fit a given theme. The cost is $40 for each shipment, including S&H to the US and Canada.

Added 05/23/12: GiftLit: Starting at $24.95/month, GiftLit sends an expert-curated book each month to the child, teen, adult, or family you choose. As a bonus, all books can be returned/substituted by the recipient.

International
Stack: Stack is the international version of Stack America. The basic service is the same, but the magazine choices and shipping options are international, and monthly or annual services are available. Prices vary depending on where you're located.

For Men

United States
Hiskit: Birchbox for dudes. 3-5 luxury samples, delivered monthly, $12/month including S&H.

Manpacks: This one is about convenience, more than curation--men can sign up to get quarterly shipments of necessities they choose--shirts, socks, underwear, shaving cream, condoms, etc. Prices vary based on what's in your pack.

Trunk Club: Trunk Club is all about curation--they send a complete "trunk" of clothes, including 8-12 items. Prices vary depending on what is in the specific trunk. The subscriber keeps/pays for what he wants and sends the rest back.

Added 03/27/12: My Platinum Box: Monthly delivery of 4-5 sample sized men's grooming products. $10/month including S&H.

Addendum 06/26/12: My Platinum Box has grown and now also has a box option focused specifically on health and fitness, the Fitbox. For $10/month, including S&H, you get 6-8 samples of sports nutritional products.

Added 04/12/12: Birchbox Man: An offering from Birchbox just for men! $20/month including S&H for men's grooming product samples.

Added 08/27/12: Mantry: Mantry bills itself as "the modern man's pantry." The specifics are not yet available.

Added 10/15/12: 12Society: For $39/month, 12Society sends man-centered goodies curated by celebrities.

Added 10/15/12: Curator & Mule: Curator & Mule is a quarterly subscription service for men. For $60/season, they deliver 4-5 seasonal and trendy accessories.

Added 10/15/12: Svbscription: Quarterly delivery of "luxury men's products," designed around a theme. This one is spendy--$300/quarter.

Added 10/15/12: Urban Cargo: Urban Cargo is another men's toiletries box, featuring skin and hair care sample items. It's $14.95/month including S&H.

Canada
Added 10/14/11: Bread and Butter: Bread and Butter is a monthly men's skincare subscription, based on a natural product and minimal packaging ethos. Kits are customized to the client and run $35-$49 Canadian each, with free shipping to the US and Canada.

UK
Added 10/14/11: Wibba: Wibba is a curated monthly delivery of "man stuff," further described as "toys, gadgets, games, or gizmos." It's £14.95/month.

Germany
Mansbox: Though I can't read the German site, I believe Mansbox is the German equivalent of Manpacks, offering a subscription service for undershirts, underwear, and socks.

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Art & Craft

United States
Alula: sends limited edition original textile art quarterly. $300/year.

Papirmasse: monthly delivery of a limited edition print by an unknown artist. $5/month in the US and $10/month internationally.

Little Otsu: Another one by which I am super intrigued. For $15/quarter, you get two original "art books." The books are gloriously illustrated mini-books about anything in the natural world. This would be such a fantastic collection to start.

Tota Press: A handmade letterpress card-of-the-month subscription! Each month brings two cards and costs $13 including S&H. International subscription is available for an additional $2/month.

Sunrise Fiber Co. Yarn Club: Each month brings a skein of hand-dyed yarn (you pick the weight), a goodie of some sort, and a dessert recipe that ties in with the yarn colors. Subscriptions are available for 2, 4, or 6 months, at $22/month.

Added 10/14/11: Mercier Beaucoup: Mercier Beaucoup offers 3, 6, or 12 month stationary subscriptions, each month with 3 assorted handmade cards. The cost for the 3 month option is $36, plus $5 flat rate shipping.

Added 10/17/11: Three Irish Girls Pick of the Knitter Club: If you know a dedicated knitter, you probably know about the amazing yarn from Three Irish Girls. The Pick of the Knitter club offers your choice of weight and number of skeins each month, in either a solid or a handpainted colorway. Price depends on the weight you choose and subscriptions are available in three month intervals in the US, Canada, or internationally.

Added 10/17/11: Three Irish Girls Sock Yarnista Club: As the name suggests, this club is for sock yarn. Each month, members get a selected high-end sock yarn, a pattern, and possibly extras. Membership is available in 3, 6, and 12 month intervals, in the US and Canada and internationally. 3 month US membership runs $94.

Added 10/17/11: The Irish Girls Stash Menagerie Club: This is the 3IG variety club, sending a selected type of yarn each month, along with extras. Membership is available for 1, 2, or 3 skeins a month and in 3 or 6 month increments. A single skein 3-month membership is $72 in the US.

Added 03/19/12: WhimseyBox: 4-5 curated craft product samples sent monthly. $15/month, S&H included.

Added 03/27/12: Art in a Box: Monthly curated delivery of one piece of original art from a San Francisco area artist, selected based on your taste profile. $50/month including S&H, minimum three-month subscription.

Added 10/15/12: Brit Kit: For $19.99/month including S&H, Brit Kit sends instructions and materials for a DYI craft project.

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Pets

Toys4Tails: Dog toy of the month club, curated based on your dog's breed/size. Several subscription tiers are available, starting at $14.95/month.

Added 04/01/12: BarkBox: For a monthly $25, including S&H, BarkBox sends a box of four or more dog-related products. Making it sweeter, 10% of each box's sale price goes to canine rescue organizations.

For my Barkbox review, go here!

Added 06/26/12: BestFriendBox: This pet box can be customized for dogs or cats. For $45/month, including S&H, you get a selection of 4+ gourmet pet treats, toys, grooming supplies, and gear for your pet.

Added 08/27/12: Pawalla: $26/month including S&H, Pawalla sends six or more goodies for pets, including food, treats, and toys.

Added 10/15/12: Bugsy's Box: Bugsy's Box is another offering for dogs. It's $29/month including S&H and promises 5-7 items.

Miscellany

United States
Lost Crates: Couldn't love this more if I tried. Lost Crates is a curated stationary subscription--each month brings a new crate of pens, pencils, paper, and associated etcetera. It's $38/month including S&H.

Updated 04/11/12: Lost Crates has grown! They now have a wide variety of curated boxes, at prices from $25-$48/month.

For my Lost Crates reviews, go here and here!

Quarterly Co: This one baffles me. You choose a "cultural icon" and receive a quarterly box of physical objects curated by that person. I'm intrigued, however, by the tagline "each shipment tells a story." Subscriptions are $25/quarter.

Added 10/14/11: Good and Lovely: The business model for Good & Lovely is a period pampering pack. On your selected date each month, they send you a box of your selected variety of pads or tampons, as well as whatever extras you request (Midol, heating pads, wipes, etc) and a selection of soothing treats (chocolate, tea, bath products, etc.). The base price is $19.99/month, with more for add-ons.

Added 10/14/11: Ohco: Ohco is a monthly delivery of whatever you select--pads or tampons. They do, however, include health and beauty samples with their shipments.

Added 10/14/11: Umba Box: The Umba Box is a monthly delivery of a surprise handmade item--accessories, home goods, jewelry, bath products, stationary, etc. It's $26/month including S&H and subscriptions are available for 3, 6, or 12 months.

Added 10/17/11: Z Box: The Z Box is a monthly collection of items sold on Zibbet. Two sizes are available--for $8.75 you get 8 samples, for $18 you get 15-18. Both prices include S&H.

Added 10/17/11: Lighter of the Month Club: This one is odd and possibly brilliant. For $32.95/year ($8 more internationally), you get four stickers each month with which to customize Bic lighters.

Added 03/19/12: Cravebox: 4-5 samples of products including housewares, health products, beauty products, pet products, and food, sent monthly. $10/month including S&H.

Added 06/26/12: Bulu Box: Bulu Box focuses on vitamins and supplements. For $10/month, including S&H, you get 4-5 samples of vitamins, supplements, meal replacements, diet products, etc.

Added 10/17/11: I have to point out Global Giving Project of the Month Club. This is a truly great idea. You choose a monthly donation amount, and each month a charitable project is selected for your money. You receive an email each month telling you about the project. How great an idea is that?

Added 05/23/12: KLUTCHclub: For $18/month, including S&H, get a box with at least $50 worth of health, wellness, and fitness products and services.

Added 06/26/12: HomeMint: From the same folks as the other "Mint" clubs, HomeMint provides a curated monthly showroom for subscribers to choose to buy (or not buy) home decor items. Costs depend on the items purchased.

Added 08/27/12: Mystery Tackle Box: One for fishers! For $15/month including S&H, you receive 3-5 lures or other fishing products.

Added 08/27/12: Loot Crate: A monthly box for gamers, Loot Crate charges $13.37/month, plus $6 S&H, for delivery of 6-8 "epic products" for gamers and geeks.

Added 10/15/12: Celebrate Crate: Celebrate Crate is a holiday in a box! Each offering is filled with ideas and supplies for a themed celebration. The cost is $20/month including S&H.

Added 10/15/12: Dazzley Box: Dazzley Box is a general women's subscription service, sending 5+ surprises a month, which may include beauty products, food, or other innovations. The cost is $19.99/month including S&H.

Added 10/15/12: Hammock Pack: Hammock Pack bills itself as a "door step getaway." For $25/month plus $5 S&H, you get everything you need for a themed "get away" without leaving your house. This is one I really want to try.

Added 10/15/12: La Bella Box: La Bella Box sends a variety of boutique products. For $20/month including S&H, boxes include 4-5 "generously sized" samples of small boutique products.

Added 10/15/12: Love Club: For $12/month, including S&H, Love Club sends samples from all types of indie businesses.

Added 10/15/12: Pop Sugar Must Have Box: This one has been everywhere lately! For $35/month including S&H, you get a variety of full-sized "must have" products, including beauty, fashion, home, fitness, and food.

UK
Not Another Bill: Probably the most clever of the programs I found, this subscription promises something in your mail each month that is NOT a bill. It could be just about anything, but it'll be something that the curator, Ned, is surprised and excited by. The price is £15/month including S&H in the UK, £18 in the rest of Europe, and £20 in the rest of the world, all including S&H. Couldn't resist this, so I'll be reviewing when mine arrives.

Jangneus Design: This one is delightfully quirky. Each month will bring a colorful, Swedish-designed cleaning cloth--you pick your color scheme. Subscriptions within the UK are £25 for the year, including S&H.

In doing my research for this post, I was very indebted to:
Subscription Commerce (#SUBCOM) Matrix by Sean Percival
Boxing Up Social Commerce: Hot Opportunity? by Paul Marsden
Blissmo Launches Monthly "Blissmobox": Delivering Curated Eco-friendly Products to Your Door! by Priti Ambani
What Will The Big Winners in Subscription Commerce Look Like? by robgo
Several articles at Springwise

Added 10/14/11: Subscription service startups are the hot new thing by Harrison Weber

Added 10/14/11: Directory of Subscription Commerce Clubs by Paul Marsden

Added 03/19/12: Subscriptionboxes.com

Added 05/23/12: 10 Kid-Friendly Subscription Boxes Parents Will Love by Jeana Lee Tahnk

Added 10/15/12: My Subscription Addiction

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Curated subscription review: Kara's Way

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As I mentioned last month, one of the biggest areas in which the curated subscription service model is exploding is "green beauty." There are now, by my count, at least five natural beauty boxes available. One of them, Kara's Way, debuted just this month, and I'm thrilled to have a review of their first box for you!

Kara's Way runs in the typical subscription box model--for $15/month, you get 5-10 natural product samples. The boxes are mailed from the West Coast by the 15th of each month. For my review box, I received a shipping notification on the 15th and the box showed up on the 17th, so shipping was very quick.

The box was a small, plain cardboard package. Inside, it looked like this:

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Some of the products inside the tissue paper were individually wrapped as well, giving the box a nice gift-like feel:

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Once I got everything unwrapped, this is what I had:

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From left to right:
-2 oz Thayer's Cucumber Witch Hazel (estimated value $2)
-1 oz Beyond Coastal SPF 15 Daily Active Sunscreen (estimated value $4)
-Keeki Lip Shimmer in Sassy (full-sized, estimated value $5.49)
-.27 oz Naturelle d'Argan Argan Oil (estimated value $7.78)
-.5 oz Watercolors Nail Polish in Valentine (full-sized, estimated value $9.99)
-single L.A. Fresh Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover towelette (estimated value $.50)
-single L.A. Fresh Oil-Free Face Cleanser towelette (estimated value $.50)
-small sample (no size indicated, estimating .5 oz) Native Touch Blue Corn Sugar Scrub (estimated value $.75)
-small sample (no size indicated, estimating .25 oz) Native Touch Rooting Bear Rub (estimated value $1.25)
-really tiny Native Touch soap sample

Total estimated value: $32.26

Overall, I thought Kara's Way did a great job with their first box. Some of the products, like the Keeki lip shimmer and the L.A. Fresh towelettes, were things I'd seen in other boxes already, and the Thayer's was already a favorite of mine, but the sunscreen, argan oil, and nail polish were all totally new to me. I was happy to see that the box contained two full-sized items (the lip shimmer and the nail polish) and three good-sized sample items (the witch hazel, the sunscreen, and the argan oil). The Native Touch samples were, to my mind, too small to be of much use (the thumbnail-sized soap sample would have been best left out, I thought), but given the total number of products included, I was OK with that. I was also impressed by the breadth of the products sampled, with representatives for body, face, hair, nails, and makeup all included. I also liked that the box included both well-known green beauty brands like Thayer's and L.A. Fresh and indie lines like Native Touch.

With the exception of the argan oil, none of what was included in Kara's Way's first box was what I would consider a "luxury" product. Mostly, the samples are of fairly widely available, economical, green beauty products. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, though, so long as the samples are larger sized and the value remains reasonable, which, with this first offering, it definitely did. I will be very curious to see how Kara's Way continues to compete in what is rapidly becoming a very crowded green beauty subscription box market.

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Maternity photographs

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Getting my picture taken is not my favorite thing in the world. It's not even in the top million. Though I am more and more satisfied with my looks in general, I hate the way I photograph. Mark feels similarly. So, it was with great trepidation that we decided to have maternity photos taken. A friend of mine is an up-and-coming photographer, and she offered to take the pictures for free, and suggested a beautiful spot to do it (Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, for locals), so we bit the bullet.

And you know? It was fun. And while some of the pictures make me cringe, others are not bad at all. Though you all might like to see a few:

I don't love this picture of me--we took most of them without my glasses, and I don't look like myself, and my hair looks really strange and flat--but I love it of Mark.

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This one is kind of awkward (it was a hard position for me to get into and hold), but I like the slightly mischievous look of it.

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I couldn't tell you why I like this one, I just do.

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I mainly think this one is funny. Funny enough, I guess, to make up for the double chin.

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I think this is my favorite of the ones of just me. I like that my belly looks as enormous as it feels, and the expression on my face isn't too forced. Not crazy about my shiny-face makeup, but we'd been at it for quite a while by the time we took this one and I think I was sweaty.

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This is another one I can't quite tell you why I like, but I do. It may just be the rose arbor.

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This is one I am trying to like. Again, I think I look strange to myself without my glasses. My eyes are all squinty and small.

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This one I love for the light, and the giant belly.

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I love how Mark and I both look slightly awkward and odd here. It feels authentic.

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And finally, the last picture we took, the most serious of the bunch, and my favorite:

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It's possible I'll do another session with the same photographer friend--she'd like to do some more and I don't think I'd mind it. Any of you photographers or picture subject pros out there have tips to look less strange in the next bunch?

All photographs courtesy of Barbara Loxton.

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Some people really don't mind being pregnant. Others even like it. It is tempting for me to believe that these people are insane, but I think the reality is that they are some combination of luckier and more patient than I. I do mind being pregnant. In fact, I really actually kinda hate being pregnant. There were a few second-early third trimester weeks there where it wasn't too bad, but mostly, it's been an endless pain in the ass, of one degree or another. And now, with just a bit over five weeks left until this baby's estimated arrival date, I am not afraid to tell you how very sick I am of it.

There are a million reasons I don't like being pregnant, but one thing that is sticking in my craw right now is something that is, for a lot of people, a minor issue (or not an issue at all). I am so damn sick of the clothes I have to wear. Maternity clothes are fugly. The non-maternity clothes I've been using to fill gaps where I can are less fugly, but limited. I feel like I've been wearing exactly the same thing for the past three months, and a lot of it doesn't even really fit this expansive belly anymore. Getting dressed irritates me every single morning. To complicate things, a friend is taking some maternity photographs of me this weekend, and she has instructed me to not wear black or white close to my face, and to avoid patterns. Which pretty much leaves me with...nothing.

So, last night, I decided I had to do something to stem the tide of irritation my lack of wardrobe was causing. Late pregnancy, it turns out, has a way of magnifying minor irritations into big freaking deals, and the last thing I wanted was to continue to be furious about my lack of style. Buying any more clothes is, at this point, pretty well out--nothing fits and the whole thing is an exercise is frustration. So, I thought maybe I'd buy a few cheap spring/summer accessories and use them to "freshen" the clothes I've been wearing.

I made only two stops--Target and Burlington Coat Factory. And, when I got home with my booty, I did feel better about my options. There are many wonderful things about accessories, but perhaps the best is that they almost always fit.

This is what I got:

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-Mossimo® Red Teagan Tote (Target, fuchsia), $34.99 online, $10.49 on clearance at my store
-Mossimo Supply Co. Red Cloche Hat with Pleated Band (Target, coral band), $12.99
-Charles Klein hammered "gold" bracelet (Burlington Coat Factory), $4.99
-Lime green and turquoise beaded wrap bracelet (Burlington Coat Factory), $4.99
-Blue and brown wooden beaded bracelet (Burlington Coat Factory), $4.99
-Charles Klein multi-stand coral and gold bead necklace (Burlington Coat Factory), $7.99
-Exhilaration narrow patent belts (Target, teal and purple), $10.99 each

Some of these things were, at least ostensibly, practical. I'm increasingly worried about the effect of sun on my skin, so I'd been wanting to buy at least one hat I could wear to shade my face, and I adore the straw cloche I picked up. I wanted to get a couple of hats, but I have a big head and a lot of hair, so they didn't all fit. I've also been needing a bigger bag, and for $10, this cute fuchsia one will totally work for the time in between now and diaper bag time. Belts I've been wanting to try (I've seen some cute maternity looks with them above the bump), but none of mine are big enough right now, so I thought a couple of shiny bright ones might do the trick. For the most part, though, I bought these things to cheer myself, and my wardrobe.

This was, of course, indulgent. I'm not going to try to argue otherwise--to go out and spend $75 on off-gassing Made in China discount store baubles that aren't really needed is not every going to be anything but indulgent. However, at this stage in pregnancy, I think indulgence is warranted. Yes, I could have thrifted better stuff, cheaper, and generally that would have been my approach, but I don't have the time or the stamina to do that right now. These items are about a different kind of value, which has little to do with their inherent worth or longevity. When I put on one of my new bracelets with the same old maxi dress I've been wearing for months this morning, I *did* feel better about it. And that has value. In fact, right now, it's pretty priceless.

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Pregnant adventures in benign sexism

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I am one of those women who has always felt very much "like a girl." As is, I think, not the case for everyone, it's always been clear in my head that however you conceptualize gender (a binary or a continuum or an artificial construct completely), I fall, by nature or nurture or for some other reason, pretty well on the female end of it. This has been at odds, sometimes, with how I've been treated--I assume due to my size, but maybe for other reasons as well, I've not always been treated as "girly" in some of the same ways I've heard other women describe. I've not too often felt that I was being protected, or coddled, or that I was on the receiving end of acts of chivalry.

Pregnancy has changed that. Unlike some other women, pregnancy hasn't really made me feel "more female," but it's certainly changed others' treatment of me in ways that I identify as female-specific. People (men, in particular) rush to open doors. Nobody wants me to carry anything. I am asked how I am feeling at least ten times a day. As I get progressively bigger, people are more and more helpful, or at least are trying to be. And I'm not going to lie--it's nice. When I feel badly or am having trouble getting around, it's REALLY nice. But these kinds of gender-related niceties don't come without a cost, another side to the coin, and I've noticed a good bit of that side since I've been pregnant as well.

One example that has come up over the past few days is in Mark's and my interactions with two older men, both of whom are pediatricians we're interviewing. The first interview was terrible for all kinds of reasons, but the sexist undercurrent of it was definitely one of them. First, the doctor assumed that Mark and I were brother and sister. I didn't figure out until later that his confusion came from my selecting "unmarried" on his intake form. When we told him we were the baby's parents, we just weren't married, he was puzzled and seemed perturbed, then said something about how that must be normal in "hippy, granola land" (I had previously mentioned being from Oregon). Whatever. That kind of thing happens less and less, but it does still happen. Later, he asked if "Mom" (that would be me) would be returning to work after the baby was born. No questions about "Dad's" plans. And so on and so forth.

The second interview was much better, and we may actually use that particular pediatrician. However, as I reflect on it after the fact, there were even more sexist assumptions involved. The question about "Mom" returning to work was repeated. The doctor mentioned having evening hours available for appointments "so that Dad can come, too." An anecdote about not knowing whether to call the nurse advice line or go to the ER was illustrated with a frazzled, uptight stay-at-home-mom and a father who "just wanted some dinner when he got home from work!" Most tellingly, though, even though Mark and I were both right there, the doctor addressed only me when discussing all of the baby health decisions one makes in a child's first few months of life, then addressed only Mark when discussing insurance and payment.

I can practically hear somebody out there thinking that these things aren't a big deal, and have to be written off as part of the cost of dealing with past generations. And there is some truth to that--I don't believe that any of these assumptions would preclude this doctor from providing good medical care to my baby (which is why he's still in the running). I also think, to some degree, they are par for the course when one is having a prolonged personal discussion with someone two generations older. However, these things ARE a big deal. The assumptions on which these comments were precluded are invasive, and they are harmful. Though the sexism to which I refer in the title of this post may appear, and be intended to be, benign, it's really not. The same set of assumptions that led our pediatrician candidates to ask if I'd be going back to work, but not ask the same question of Mark, are the ones that help make it harder for a woman to get hired or be taken seriously in her job. The picture the doctor painted, of a frazzled, possibly hysterical stay-at-home-mom keeps scads of women second-guessing their own judgement, intelligence, and choices. Assuming that I'd make our kid's medical decisions and Mark would pay his/her bills does both of us a disservice (aside from being simply untrue).

I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to address this type of ingrained sexism. Yes, I could have argued with each assumption as the doctor made it, but how likely would it have been to have made any difference in the mind of a man who has been practicing medicine for 50 years? I could refuse to take my child to a sexist doctor, but I'm not at all sure that would leave me with a provider at all. The best thing I can think to do is continue, as a parent, to live my life the way I have tried to so far, rejecting archaic gender assumptions in my actions. Yes, I will be returning to work. Yes, I can pay that bill. No, I don't need to ask my husband (and no, we aren't married anyway). My hope is that these actions, taken by me and millions of other women, will slowly change assumptions. I have to admit, though, that the hope feels a little pie-in-the-sky. I am realizing, as I get progressively more pregnant and as I reflect on parenthood, that it may be even harder to wiggle out from under gender-based expectations as a mother than it is as a non-mom. Another new challenge.

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Curated subscription review: Wittlebee

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Wittlebee is a fairly new entrant into the crowded curated subscription field, and I love the concept. For $39.99/month, they sent a box of 8ish clothing items for your baby or toddler, customized to the size, gender, and taste preferences you specify. Wittlebee is sort of a combination of the curated subscription model (since their stylists pick out the actual items you receive) and the subscribe-for-convenience model. Given the rate at which kids grow, and how busy parents are, this combo seems to make good sense.

For the purposes of my trial, I told Wittlebee that I would like 3-6 month sized clothes in gender neutral styles, that I was specifically in need of short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts and onesies, pants, shorts, and pajamas, and that I preferred bright colors to pastels. I further indicated that my child's personality was "hippy," (other options included
things like "princess," "diva," "mix & match," "casual," "preppy," and "sporty") and that I needed clothes mostly for around the house (rather than, for example, "Cold Weather Cuddles" or "Hot Summer Days"). There is also a free-form space where you can put in any specific preferences, or you can request a personal consult with a "mom stylist." I didn't do either of those things.

I neglected to make note of when I ordered my box, but I am fairly sure it came within the two week window the site mentions. It didn't seem to take long. The packaging was nice--a heavy cardboard box with the yellow tissue-paper wrapped clothes folded nicely inside, exactly like what Wittlebee shows on their site. A promotional sticker and small bee logo toy were also included. When I unpacked the box, this is what was in it:

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The contents:
-Baby Lulu pink and silver striped hat
-soft blue hat with no label
-Kidcosmic black, green, and white bib
-American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Karate Pants in Red and Olive (retail $12 each)
-Cottonseed Short-Sleeved Onesie in Sunflower (retail $16)
-American Apparel Infant Baby Rib Short Sleeve One-Piece in Red (retail $11.50)
-Baby Avenue onesie in white (can't find online anywhere)
-Cottonseed Long Sleeve Lap Tees in Tangerine and Turquoise (retail $16 each)
-Cottonseed Short Sleeve Lap Tee in Pomegranate (retail $16)

If I only count the value of the pieces I could find online (all the clothes except the white onesie and neither of the hats or the bib), that's $99.50 worth of clothes, at full price! I can't argue with that, especially since I got my box with a 1/2 off coupon, so I only paid $20!

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the things Wittlebee sent. I'd not heard of Cottonseed before, but their t-shirts and onesie are made out of thick, soft cotton, and I think they'll be very useful. American Apparel I am less excited about, because I hate that particular company, and I'd prefer Wittlebee not use them at all. The additions from small boutiques like Baby Lulu and Kidcosmic were really cool as well, I thought--a good mix of big companies and smaller ones.

One thing I noticed right off was that the items I received were very, very basic/plain. Looking at the boxes other people have received, I think this is probably because I asked for a box for a baby, and I asked for it to be gender neutral. I suspect offerings for older kids are a bit more creative. Wittlebee is also pretty gendered in how they set up their style questions (very few options are the same for both boys and girls), so the stylists probably don't have a ton of gender neutral items on-hand to choose from. That said, my stylist clearly paid attention to the preferences I indicated--everything was the right size, I got short and long-sleeved shirts, onesies, and pants, as I requested, and all the colors were bright and gender neutral.

From what I can tell, Wittlebee is doing an excellent job with the service they're offering--keeping busy parents from needing to replace kids' clothes all the time, introducing fun new styles and brands. But it's not a bargain service--$40/month is, to me, a lot for kids' clothes, even if they are three times that much new. I also don't have a good idea, yet, as to whether this size box, monthly, is really necessary for a kid--do they ruin/outgrow things that fast?

I think Wittlebee is something I'll try again when this baby is a bit older and I can thrift wearables for him/her less easily. At that point, I hope Wittlebee will have introduced a quarterly option, like Lost Crates has done, as I think that's more my speed at this price point. If you have the disposable income and don't like to or have time to shop for kids' clothing, though, I would definitely give them a try. Take a look around online for coupon codes, too, as I have seen several 50% off your first box codes floating around.

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Lands' End, you're slaying me!

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Not too long ago, I featured some great spring pieces on sale at Lands' End. Stunned was I, then, to pop over to their site to check something out and see even more wonderful pieces for summer. I absolutely LOVE their current collections! So, even though it's been less than two months since the last time I told you how much I love them, I'm going to do it again. Most of these things have no hope of fitting my pregnant and immediately post-partum self, so I thought I'd pass them on to you instead.

The real high point, in my opinion, is the dresses. Lands' End is just making wonderful dresses right now. Some examples?

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Women's Regular Short Sleeve Cotton Modal Drapeneck Dress, shown in Cayenne, $55

I love this dress. The neckline is so flattering, and the pima cotton/modal blend should be a great, soft, wrinkle-free fabric. One of the reviewers on the site says that the dress feels like "a high quality t-shirt," and I love that idea.The simple cut would be flattering on tons of bodies, and I adore that it's available in four bright colors. Yay for moving away from neutrals! It is available in regular and petite sizes XS-XL. A similar dress (same fabric and colors, different neckline) is also available in plus sizes.

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Women's Regular Sleeveless Cotton Modal Pattern Fit and Flare Dress, $55

This dress is made of the same pima cotton/modal blend fabric as the previous one, so it would again be soft and wrinkle-proof. I love the "liberty blue floral" pattern, and the fit and flare style is so flattering and versatile. It is available in regular and petite sizes XS-XL and plus sizes 1X-3X. If you aren't into the floral, the same dress is also available in a bunch of solid colors.

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Women's Regular Surplice Dot Embroidered Dress, $120

I love a shirt dress, but I love this one extra much because of the awesome cayenne with embroidered white polka dots fabric, and the fact that the wrap is faux (secured at the waist). The idea of a wrap dress always serves me so much better than the reality. Everything about this dress looks perfect, though--the cap sleeves, the v-neck, the just-above-the-knee hem...love it. It is available in regular sizes 2-18 and petite sizes 2-16.

Though the dresses are my favorite of Lands' End's summer offerings, they aren't falling down in other areas, either. There are some really cute tops available, including:

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Women's Regular Lightweight Pleat Scoop Shell, shown in Navy Print, $30

I love the print on this shell--available in navy, sisal (beige-ish), and chesterfield (mustard). The large abstract florals just do it for me. I also like the scoop neck with the self-fabric trim, and the easy breezy fit. It's made of jersey, so it's going to appear pretty casual, but it's summer, there's nothing wrong with that! It's available in regular and petite sizes XS-XL and plus sizes 1X-3X.

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Women's Plus Size Dot Shell, shown in Blueprint Embroidered Dot, $65

I LOVE this plus-sized only shell! I believe it is the same fabric as the shirt dress above, but available in blueprint (navy) and cayenne. It looks to be made of sturdy sateen cotton, and it's got a nice wide neckline with just a little bit of ruching that I think would look great on a number of figures. I also like that it's a bit long in length and has a subtle, figure-enhancing gather in the back. It is available in plus sizes 1X-3X.

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Women's Regular Lightweight Cotton Modal Drape Shell, shown in Algae, $25

This shell is a very basic piece. It's also probably my all-time favorite shirt cut. I love sleeveless shirts, and one like this one, made of high quality but lightweight jersey, with a super-flattering draped neckline? Can seriously do ANYTHING. Even though they won't fit right now, I'm still tempted to buy a few of these (and you save $12 if you buy any 3 regularly priced knitted tops right now!). I also love love love the available colors, including this great green, Palm Pink, and bright Blueberry. This top is available in regular and petite sizes XS-XL and plus sizes 1X-3X.

I don't know that I've ever paid much attention to the shoes or accessories at Lands' End--I tend to be a bit single minded when I'm shopping on the site, I guess--but I took a look around today and they have some really cute things. None of the shoes come in my size, but if you're more average sized, I'd definitely check them out. These are my favorites:

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Women's Parker Mid Wedge Knotted Espadrilles, shown in Rich Red Gingham, on sale for $39.99

Espadrilles kill me. They are such a fun throwback. And this gingham fabric (they're also available in blue or khaki gingham, chambray, and plain black) just makes them cuter. They're a 3/4" platform and a 3" heel, so they'll give some height, but they look comfortable, too. I think they'd be super cute with any of the dresses, or with shorts or cropped pants. Best yet, they're on sale for $40! These area available in regular and wide sizes 6-11.

No trip to Lands' End online is complete with a garner at the sale section. My favorite sale pieces are:

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Women's Emma Classic Ballet Shoes, shown in Wood Violet, $24.97

How cute are these inexpensive ballet flats? They come in a ton of colors (my favorites, besides the purple, are gunmetal and persimmon), and they'd be SO versatile. Size availability depends on color, but ranges from 6.5-11 in both regular and wide.

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Women's Regular Sleeveless Pattern Pique V-neck Dress, $34.99

I LOVE this dress. So tempted to buy it with the rationale that it will fit me someday! The tri-colored stripe, the gently draping v-neck, the soft cotton...it couldn't be more perfect. And it would be versatile, too--totally cute with a cardigan over it for work, all the way down to thrown over a swimsuit. It's available in regular and petite sizes XS-XL.

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Women's Regular Fit 1 Refined Stretch Ankle Pants, shown in Black, $44.99

I believe I have mentioned before that if you're going to wear cropped pants, especially in a professional setting, I think a slim fitting, not-too-short pair, like these ones, is key. I love these pants--they read very Audrey Hepburn to me. I love that they don't hit mid-calf (what an unflattering place for a hem!), but rather just above the ankle, and I like the small, flat cuff. They're available in four colors: black, toffee, navy, and "Venetian blue," and regular and petite sizes 2-18 (with some sizes not available in all colors).

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Women's Regular Ponté Knit Shift Dress, shown in Harvest Pine, $34.99

I love ponte. I love versatile shift dresses. Stands to reason, then, that I would love this simple, stylish ponte shift dress. And for $34.99, I love it even more! The slightly pleated neckline is fantastic and I love that's not just available in black, but also dark green, as shown, and claret red! Size availability depends on color, but sizes run from XS-XL, regular and petite.

The usual Lands' End shopping caveats apply--pay really close attention to size charts and reviews, because sizing can run crazy big. Be ready to return things if they don't work. But seriously, for those looking for high quality pieces that don't scream trendy? LE is doing better and better. I'm impressed.

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Out of my element: nursery design

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So I'm not much of an interior decorator. And if you know me, you know just how much of an understatement that is. I LOVE nicely decorated spaces, but it's just not something I have ever done. We have a hodge podge of furniture and, despite living in our house for nearly three years now, haven't done so much as painted a wall (and they're all beige!). It's just not my thing.

So I wasn't all that stoked about this whole "decorate your baby's nursery!" thing. But Mark wanted to paint, so that the baby's room, at least, would not be beige, and we've started to collect things. So far, this is Buzzy's nursery:

Baby's room

We haven't actually purchased the crib yet, but that's the one we'll likely get. Mark and his wonderful parents painted the room Glidden True Turquoise with bright white trim this weekend, and put up the bamboo blind. The rug is from Ikea and I've had it for years, but I think it will be perfect. The changing table is thrifted. The crib sheet is on my registry, and if nobody gifts it to us, I'll buy it (from Target). The Oregon print was a gift from my BF.

So, what else do we need? Storage! I think we're actually going to go with putting the big wire shelving unit I used in the room when it was my closet back in, with lots of bins or baskets for holding baby clothes. I may try to make due with what we've got, or I may get new (read: matching) receptacles. Buzzy's going to need a bookshelf, so I'm hoping to thrift one. My mom made two beautiful blankets, so those will definitely be in there. And I want to get curtains--maybe just white, since there is already quite a bit of color going on. What else? Suggestions from those who are more decor inclined?

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Curated subscription review: Citrus Lane

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In March, I told you about my first Citrus Lane box. Since y'all were interested in the products in that box, I thought I'd go ahead and review April's offering as well. And April was just as good as March!

As before, the packaging was fine, but unremarkable--a branded cardboard mailing box and a layer of tissue paper. I apparently didn't photograph it. Inside, I found:

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The box theme was "Bed & Bathtime Fun." The included products were:
-Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Baby Wipes, full-sized travel pack (estimated value $2.39): Can't complain about this extremely useful item! I figure these will be our first diaper bag wipes!
-iPlay Organic Woven Terry Hooded Towel (estimated value $25): This towel is a very nice addition to the box--it seems to be of really high quality. We have, for some reason, amassed a ton of baby towels already, but this is the nicest one we have.
-Satsuma Designs Bamboo Flannel Wash Cloths & Reusable Wipes, bundle of three (estimated value $12): These are adorable. They're made of thick, soft flannel and are plain white with colored edging. I think they will definitely be useful.
-Juice Beauty Antioxidant Serum, deluxe size sample (estimated value $45 for 2 oz, sample is about .33 oz, $7.43): This is the "mommy" addition to the box. I've been getting a ton of Juice Beauty samples all over the place lately--anybody know what's up with that? Anyway, this seems imminently usable and was appreciated.
-My Dentist's Choice Tooth Tissues, full-sized pack (estimated value $4): These puzzled me at first, but apparently they are for wiping the gums/new teeth of babies who are to little to brush. I have a hard time picturing that, but I guess it's worth trying?

Estimated box value: $50.82

As before, Citrus Lane included a cute insert the detailed each product, as well as gave coupon codes for most of them. A $15 gift certificate to Eco Mom was also included in the box (and it's an actual gift certificate--no minimum purchase required). There was also a little bit of information about establishing a bedtime routine for a baby, and some book and lullaby CD recommendations.

Overall, this box was very well put-together, with all of the items being of a high quality and useable. I have absolutely no reason to complain about any of it. With the possible exception of the tooth wipes, I think we'll put each item to good use in the coming months. Absolutely no qualms about keeping this subscription active, and recommending it!

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Over this past weekend, my brilliant friend E imparted to me the following wisdom: once you have kids, you never finish anything. She went on to explain that since her twins were born, she's never completed any task, as she's always being interrupted and moving on to the next thing without finishing whatever she's doing.

Being the overachiever that I am, I am apparently already exercising expertise in this area of mom-dom. It's not about distraction, though--this one is intentional. I'm quitting the Third Trimester 30 for 30.

Why? Lots of reasons. Dressing my rapidly expanding body in consistently inconsistent spring weather is hard enough without further limiting my options. My feet are currently so swollen that I can't wear any shoes besides flip flops. I'm so unwieldy and look and feel so little like myself that taking daily pictures feels a bit like being tortured, especially since I still can't get the self timer on my camera to take a decent shot. And I feel like I am taking up precious time blogging really boring outfits when I could be posting about more interesting topics. Basically, it's just not fun anymore, and I'm not learning anything, so I'm ditching it.

There is also a possibility that I'm going to be housebound, or something close to it, before the 30 for 30 period ends. I had some concerning test results yesterday that have my midwives thinking I may be developing pre-eclampsia. There is more testing happening over the next couple of days, so I should know more by the end of the week, but if I do have pre-e, it's possible I'm going to end up on bed rest for a few weeks, and then induced at 36 or 37 weeks gestation. Nerve wracking, and not exactly a great fashion opportunity.

Thanks for your support during my attempt at a 3rd Trimester 30 for 30! Hope nobody is horribly disappointed not to see the muumuus I will be wearing from here on in. ;)

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Curated subscription review: Beauty Army

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Beauty Army's slightly different take on the curated subscription box model has had me interested for quite a while, so I was stoked when my name finally came up on their waiting list this past month! The difference between Beauty Army and other services is that you pick your own samples--from a set of curated options. This is, for me, both a benefit and a cost. I lose the element of surprise, which sucks, but I'm also more likely to get stuff I can actually use.

Beauty Army allows you to choose six samples, from a selection of nine. Your possible selections are based on a survey you take on their site. The cost is $12/month, including S&H, and recently they've rolled out the ability to skip months when none of the samples appeal.

I selected my samples on April 10. On April 13 I got a shipping notice for my box. Surprisingly, the box didn't show up until April 21. That's reasonable, just a bit longer than these things typically seem to take.

Beauty Army does a good job with packaging. This is what arrived at my house:

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The matte black box with its pink camo interior is definitely reusable, though I haven't come up with a good use for mine yet. The products are wrapped in black tissue paper.

These were my products:

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They are:
-Babor Anti-Stress Anti-Jetlag Cream, .5 oz sample (estimated value $72 for 1.7 oz, or $21.18): I haven't tried this yet, but I'm excited about it, as it looks a bit different than the typical skin cream and is formulated specifically for fighting stress and fatigue. I figure with a new baby, I might need that.
-Mama Mio Boob Tube, 1 oz sample (estimated value $45 for 3.4 oz, or $13.24): Choosing this one was a no-brainer for me, as I've been falling in love with Mama Mio products throughout my pregnancy. I haven't noticed any chest sagging yet, but I hear it's in the mail, so hopefully this will help!
-BeFine Night Cream, 1 oz sample (estimated value $30 for 1.7 oz, or $17.65): I am a sucker for a moisturizer, is the truth. And I've tried and liked other BeFine products, so I choose this one. Again, haven't tried it yet (I try not to keep more than 2-3 types of a given product open at a time and I have two going in this category right now), but I look forward to using it.
-Weleda Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion, .34 oz sample (estimated value $19 for 2.5 oz, or $2.58): This one is a lower value sample, I guess, but I love Weleda and knew I'd use this, so I snapped it up. I've used it before and know that I like it and it treats my skin nicely, so I'll probably save it for travel.
-CellCeuticals NeoCell, .33 oz sample (estimated value $47.50 for 2 oz, or $7.84): This one I chose just out of curiosity, as I've heard about it/seen it around a lot lately and am interested in the idea of skin "resurfacing." I haven't built up the nerve to try it yet, though.
-Freeman Beauty Pssssst Instant Dry Shampoo, 1.76 oz sample (estimated value $6.99 for 5.3 oz, or $2.32): In all honesty, I knew I wouldn't use this, as my very-dry hair has no need for dry shampoo, but I selected it as a good swap candidate, and I have already sent it on to a friend, who says it works great!

Total box value: $64.81. Can't argue with that!

Overall, I am very pleased with my first Beauty Army experience. Next month, I hope I'll be a bit more excited about my options (and have more non-skincare options to choose from), but I really can't complain about the quality or value of the products, or about the gift-like packaging. I look forward to seeing how this one plays out.

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What's the opposite of a minimalist?

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For years, I've been reading about minimalism. In my head, I call it "The Cult of Minimalism," because there seems to be an almost-religious fervor to it sometimes. And something about reading about it has always both appealed to and irritated me. I'm alternately fascinated and turned off. (For those who haven't felt inundated by minimalism, I'm talking about books like Living the Simple Life and The Simple Living Guide and blogs like The Everyday Minimalist). I get the idea, and I don't disagree with the general premise that we have become huge over-consumers and it takes a toll on everything from our wallets to our psyches to the planet. However, it seems that no minimalist philosopher is satisfied with preaching minimalism for just those reasons--it has to go farther. We have to believe that minimalism will make us HAPPIER.

And that's where it falls apart for me. I don't think minimalism would make me happier. My attempts at, which have all been abysmal failures, haven't made me feel much of anything other than frustrated. Not only have I not reached enlightenment, I never even get to self-congratulations. Minimalism, for me, has simply been something at which to try and fail.

Yesterday, I read a minimalist blog post over at Young House Love, which, as a home renovation/decor/design blog, I don't think of as a place where I'm going to find a ton of simple living advice. The Young House Love family, as it turns out, are minimalists when it comes to grooming/personal care and cleaning supplies. The blog post listed the small handful of each type of products they have and use.

I am the polar opposite. I'm not much of a minimalist about anything, but when it comes to grooming/personal care stuff, I'm whatever the minimalist opposite is (suggestions include maximalist and maxinista). I'm a collector. I'm, I'll cop to it, a hoarder. And, upon first reading, the post at YHL made me feel gluttonous, spoiled, and like a big freaking slob (OK, so the slob part is actually true, but I won't digress).

Then I started thinking about it, and you know what? There is nothing wrong with NOT being a minimalist. I hoard beauty products because I love them. They're a hobby. If they weren't important to me, it would be easy not to collect them. Other people collect other things, which are important to them. And yes, some people place little or no value on "stuff" at all, and have only what they truly need, and that's admirable. But of all of the admirable lifestyles and qualities towards which I want to work, it's honestly not that high on the list. I'm OK being a "stuff" person.

So, in the spirit of fun and because, after I got over my butthurt, I found peering into John & Sherry's shower and makeup bag just as appealing as I always find that kind of voyeuristic blog posting, I thought I'd show you some of the least minimalist areas of my house. As I looked around for what to include in this post, it occurred to me that I'm not the only non-minimalist who lives there--Mark likes to collect things that are important to him, as well. We're opposite, in some way--I have an easy time throwing things away, and a hard time not bringing things in, while Mark hates to throw things out but rarely brings in anything new--but we end up in much the same place.

First, a couple of Mark's non-minimalist cabinets:

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This is a cabinet filled almost completely with tea and tea-paraphernalia. Dude LOVES his tea. I can't make any excuse for the complete lack of organization--I took these pictures on the fly on a typical Wednesday night, no staging, so this is reality. There are, by my count, five teapots in that cabinet, as well as four cup and saucer sets, two alternate tea-making devices, and at least two French presses (though we actually own five, and that's more me than it is Mark). There are also no fewer than 50 varieties of loose and bagged tea, some of which have been with us for at least ten years and can't possibly still be any good. It's a battle I refuse to fight. If tea is his thing, let the man have his tea.

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This is our spice cabinet. At least it's a bit better organized than the tea zone! I'd say this cabinet is pretty well Mark's pride-and-joy. The picture doesn't make it clear, but that bottom shelf? Holds, at last count, 17 varieties of salt. With the exception of the small selection of vinegars and honeys at the right side of the middle shelf, everything else is dried spices. Does he use them all? I'd say 75% of them are in pretty regular rotation.

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This terribly lit picture is our bar. OK, to be honest, it's one of our two bars--we also have a standing wine bar, which is just as crowded. I'd say Mark and I are equally responsible for this collection--we both really love barware. Nothing in this picture (besides the actual liquor!) was purchased new--it's all either been gifted (the awesome art deco champagne glasses, the highball glasses, most of the shot glasses), handed down (the silver-rimmed cordial glasses, as well as several items you can't see in this photo), or thrifted (just about everything else). Turns out bar ware is really, really easy to thrift. So much so that I've pretty much put myself on a time-out from buying it lately, since there is no place left to put it. However, I love having it, I think it's a neat collection, and some of it (pint glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, high ball and low ball glasses) gets used a lot. Some of it (ice bucket, margarita glasses, martini glasses, shot glasses, swizzle sticks) never gets used, but I still like having it around.

And, because I'm being honest, I'll now move on to my "collections." Blessedly, Mark and I don't share a bathroom. This means that the master bathroom, which is "my" bathroom, is free to be completely overtaken by my stuff. Which it is.

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These are the products currently living in my shower. I actually don't think it's too bad--it's certainly been worse--but compared to the three bottles in the YHL shower, it's a lot. They are:
-Lush Turkish Delight Shower Smoothie
-Veet Hair Removal Gel Cream
-Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp Care with Eucalyptus Shampoo
-Herbal Essences None of Your Frizziness Conditioner
-Australian Bush Botanics Body Scrub
-Lush It's Raining Men Shower Gel
-One Love Organics Skin Savior Waterless Beauty Balm
-Balea Sensitive Shave Gel
-Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser
-Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
-LaRoche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel

With the exception of the Veet, which I need to throw away, every one of these products gets used within a typical week. There's also a razor in there somewhere, but it ducked the photo.

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This tray sits next to my sink and holds most of my non-shower daily use products. These include, in the cup:
-toothbrush
-Tom's of Maine Sensitive Toothpaste
-floss
-thermometer
-scissors
-nail clippers

And outside the cup:
-Tom's of Maine Long-Lasting Wicked Fresh! Mouthwash
-Suki Concentrated Balancing Toner
-Arcona Tabula Rasa Pads
-Skin Perfection Seven Seas Mask
-Degree Ultra Clear Red Satin Deodorant
-tweezers (those should be in the cup)
-hairbrush
-Origins Ginger Souffle Whipped Body Cream
-Bliss Lemon & Sage Body Butter
-Clairvoyant Beauty Depuffing Cucumber and Cranberry Eye Gel
-Korres Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizer
-Dr. Hauschka Rose Body Moisturizer
-Bio-Oil

Again, almost all of this is used within any given week, much of it every day. The only exception I see is the Tabula Rasa pads, which are way too harsh for my skin and I should get rid of.

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The windowsill holds yet another collection of currently-in-use products, though none of them are daily users. They are:
-almond oil (I put this in the bath when I have super dry skin)
-Flutterby Beauty Honey Bee Moisturizing Mist
-Haunt Batik Skin Glossing Oil
-another Haunt skin glossing oil (not sure which one)
-Aveda Smooth Infusion Style Prep Smoother
-Moroccan Oil Glimmer Shine Spray
-Macadamia Natural Oil Healing Oil Treatment
-Oscar Blandi Protein Mist for Restyling Hair
-Orofluido
-Jonathan anti-frizz balm of some kind
-some other kind of hair oil
-Alterna Bamboo Style Boho Waves Tousled Texture Mist

This is stuff I don't use so often. I wash my hair twice a week, and I put some sort of oil in it afterwards (usually the Orofluido), but that's the only regular use these products get. I'll occasionally use the body oil sprays after a shower, and even more occasionally try to do something else with my hair that requires some other product, but most of this stuff is just sitting there, expiring.

That doesn't seem all THAT bad, right? Well, you've seen my makeup before, so there's that, too. And then there's the stuff that's not in use yet...

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This is my sample product drawer. Yes, it's as big a drawer as it appears to be. I get a lot of curated subscription boxes, plus I buy a lot of things that come with free samples. When I get a sample of something, it goes into this drawer if I think I'll want to try it someday. If not, it goes into my swap/giveaway box. Then, when I'm traveling and need a small size of something, or when I want to try something new, I raid this drawer. Several of the daily/weekly use products you saw in the previous pictures started out living in this drawer.

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This is my full-size product drawer. When I buy something full-sized I am not ready to use yet, or get something full-sized in a subscription box, it goes in here. This drawer also holds the extras of things I buy in multiples, like toothbrushes and deodorant. I try not to keep more than 2 or 3 of the same type of product open at once (for example, two shower scrubs or two moisturizers), so that I have variety on a day-to-day basis, but keep my counter/shower clutter down some. Things that are waiting for their turn live in this drawer.

There's also a top drawer, but it's pretty sparse--it just holds things I use often that aren't out, for whatever reason, like eye makeup remover, face wipes, face wax, etc. There is also a shelf of perfumes and toners (for some reason, I have a lot of toners) that I forgot to photograph. But this is most of it.

Yeah, like I said, not a minimalist. But I'm oddly un-attached to this stuff, in a way. If it all burned in a fire, for example, I wouldn't miss it. I'd probably just start re-collecting it. And I LOVE to give it away. For me, it's more about the draw of new items, of trying new things, and of having a lot of options, than it is about holding on to specific things. I think I'm a bit odd that way--maybe more of an accumulator than a hoarder?

There is something oddly freeing about taking pictures of your cluttered up stuff and trying to make sense of them, to explain them to someone else. I kinda recommend it.

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I really love this top. I hope it fits after pregnancy. It's not maternity--it's Jones New York, and I picked it up at the thrift store. The asymetrical hemline and drape of it just makes me really happy. I've been trying to wear it for weeks, but it looks odd with any of the cardigans I chose for the 30 for 30, and it hasn't been warm enough to wear it without another layer. Finally!

And I still don't like these pants.

Also? Atticus wanted to make an appearance in the pictures this morning. I think his tabby pattern compliments my outfit nicely.

Also also? I kinda hate how I look with my hair pulled back.

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Don't I look hilariously stern in this one?

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I'm wearing:
-#1: Old Navy Fold-Over Wide-Legged Linen Pants, gray
-#21: Jones New York asymetrical hem sleeveless top, black, thrifted
-#24: Nine West leopard print flats

with:
-Mossimo Long & Lean tank top, black
-resin bangle bracelets (gift)

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Grace+Lush=BFF Forever (again)

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A long while back, I explained why I was ditching Lush. In a nutshell, I thought they'd gotten too expensive. There were other reasons--I had a bad customer service experience, I thought they were greenwashing, and so on.

And so I proceeded to try just about every other option for Lush-style bath goodies that I could find, including a long stint of making my own.

Folks? I'm back to Lush. Nobody does it like Lush does it. And recently, I had an absolutely gold-star customer service experience from the company, as well.

Backing up...earlier in this pregnancy, I took a lot of baths. This was mostly for pain relief, and also for relaxation (I also find baths to help with nausea, though I have no idea why). I didn't get a lot of the early pregnancy smell-aversion that some people get, so I still enjoyed my baths highly scented. During this period, I used up all of my stockpiled Lush (which was stockpiled from the after-Christmas BOGO last year, so I guess Lush and I were never COMPLETELY broken up...). Then, around Easter time, I heard Lush had some great seasonal stuff available, and I made an order.

I ordered the Carrot Top reusable bubble bar, a Donkey Oaty bath bomb, a Hippy Chick bath bomb, a small bottle of the limited retro Slammer shower gel, an old-favorite In the Nude bath melt, a bar of retro Honey Waffle soap, and the Immaculate Eggception. My order came to $61.45 with shipping. Is that expensive? Yes. However, Lush has begun to introduce products that are multiple-use, and that helps drive down the per-use cost. For example, the Carrot Top bubble bar is good for about four baths, and the amazing Immaculate Eggception is good for at least 5.

When my order arrived, the box was crushed and most of the products were broken. The Donkey Oaty and Hippy Chick bombs were in pieces, the Slammer bottle was broken and it was leaking, and the Immaculate Eggception was cracked open. Disappointed, I took to Twitter:

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I wasn't really expecting a response from Lush--mainly, I was whining. So I was surprised when, less than an hour later, I received a DM from Lush, apologizing and asking for the order number and my email address. Then, shortly after that, I got a very nice email from a Lush representative named Brandi, who verified my address and asked me to detail the damage to my order. When I sent her the list, she replied that she would be sending out replacements for all of those items the following day!

And she did. She did better, actually, replacing the two bath bombs and the Egg with the exact same items, and replacing the 3.3 oz shower gel with the much larger 16.9 oz bottle! She did this even though I told her, with the exception of the shower gel in the broken bottle, that my busted up items were usable!

That is the kind of customer service I believe companies should be giving. It's the kind that keeps me coming back, especially when the products under consideration are optional luxury items, like what Lush sells.

And the products themselves, now that I've had the chance to sample most of them? Fabulous. The Egg, in particular, impresses me. Yes, the $13 price tag for it was high, but I've gotten three baths out of one so far, and I still have half of the shell left (it's basically a large, hollow bath bomb with another bomb inside it). I am also really stoked to see the reusable bubble bars, as I have trouble making Lush's regular bubble bars work correctly (they have to be crumbled under running water and mine tend to get all gunked up and not make as many bubbles as I know they should be).

Since I'm so late in writing this (how long ago was Easter again?), several of the seasonal/holiday products I mentioned aren't available anymore. Sorry about that! However, Lush has a new crop of seasonal/holiday products available for Mother's Day, and I like the looks of them! Were I to be going on another Lush spree again so soon (and I'm not, I swear...), here's what I'd be considering:

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Madame Butterfly Bubble Bar, $8.95

Like Carrot Top, this is a reusable bubble bar that you swish through your bath water to make bubbles, and it should be good for several baths. There are several of these available now, but this one is rose petal and lemon oil scented, which is right up my particular alley. It's limited edition--available only until Mother's Day!

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Happy Mother's Day Wrapped Gift, $56.95

This is the Mother's Day motherlode--it's a reusable tin (and it's a cute one, too!) full of Lush products, including all three of the Mother's Day reusable bubble bars (The Mum, the Mum Tulip, and the Madame Butterfly) , a slice of Miranda soap, a Butterball bath bomb (one of my favorites!), a Tiny Hands moisturizing bar, a small Ocean Salt cleanser, and a small Dream Cream lotion. What a haul, right? I love Lush's packaged gifts--they do a wonderful job with presentation and they're almost always full of really interesting products.

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Uluru Bath Bomb, $5.95

Not specifically for Mother's day, or even a new product, the Uluru is a retro bath bomb that Lush has reintroduced, and I'd love to try. It's scented with desert rosewood oil, lemon myrtle, and sandalwood, which sounds like a really nice combination, and I love the orange and pink color.

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Canadian Maple Soap, $7.95

I'm generally a fan of Lush's bar soap, especially my beloved Honey I Washed the Kids, and I am thinking this Canadian Maple soap, available only online in the retro section, might be similarly awesome. It is made with maple syrup, which, like honey, is a moisturizer, and I'd bet it smells wonderful.

And, of course, were I to be shopping at Lush, I'd pick up another bottle (or, perhaps, a case) of It's Raining Men shower gel, because I love it so very, very much.

So, I'm back to recommending Lush. Highly, as a matter of fact. Yes, the prices are still high, but the products are markedly better than any others I've tried, so I've come to see it as paying for quality. And yes, it's a bit greenwashed, but who isn't, these days? Their customer service has me sold, and I'll continue to support them.

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3rd Trimester 30for30 Day 17: 5+13+26

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Warm weather makes this SO much easier. I wasn't sure I'd like the sort of dull purple color of this shirt with the navy and white skirt, but I do. Also, I cannot say enough good things about this skirt. I LOVE it. So much, in fact, that I bought it in two more colors, and think it will be my late pregnancy staple item. Pretty good for a non-maternity skirt, right?

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I'm wearing:
-#5: Land's End Pattern Knit Convertible Skirt, navy stripe
-#13: Liz Lange for Target Maternity Short-Sleeved Ruched Basic Tee, Flat Iris
-#26: Me Too bronze wedges

with:
-H&M white tank top
-Forever 21 charm necklace

So why only one picture today? Well, the rest of them all looked like this one:

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Bet I wouldn't have had such a smug look on my face if I'd know my necklace was caught on my boob...

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Curated subscription review: Barkbox

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Yay, a new variety of curated subscription club! For $25/month (S&H included), Barkbox sends "four or more" products for your dog. When you set up your account, you select a dog size, so the products are at least somewhat tailored to your specific needs. A percentage of the proceeds from each box goes to support dog-related charities. Good deal, right?

I got my first Barkbox in April. The company sent me a complimentary box to review, so I cannot speak to ordering and shipping speeds on this one.

The box I received was a regular cardboard shipping box, branded with the Barkbox logo. When I opened it, it looked like this:

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Inside I found:

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From top left:
-Carob Chip Little Eatz, 3 oz package (estimated value $3.99): I'm always game for new pet treats, but these ones, unfortunately, are wheat based. We don't feed any of our animals wheat.
-Barkbox promotional t-shirt, size medium: I honestly think Barkbox did themselves a disservice by including promotional items for their company in the box. People do not want to pay to promote you. This item didn't add value, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
-Barkworthies 5" Bull Ring (estimated value $5.95): Again, a reasonable addition to the box, and I liked that they included the bigger version of this product, as I have a big dog, but these are not something we use for our dog.
-K-10+ Calcium Supplement and Vitamin Supplement, 1 of each (estimated value $34.99 for 14, or $2.50 each): I thought these were an interesting addition, because they're a product I wasn't aware of, and I can see the utility of (it's not easy to get a dog to take a vitamin). However, only including one packet of each doesn't really make them useful to trial, so I'm mixed on how I feel about this inclusion.
-Eco Dog Planet Doggy Waste Bags, 20 ct (estimated value $9.99 for 60, or $3.33): These are biodegradable bags made of tapioca, which I thought was kind of interesting, but other than that I am non-plussed. It seems like every pet-related anything you get includes poop pick-up bags, and we tend towards using bags from Target or the supermarket, which are a little...sturdier.
-Freezy Pups Kit (estimated value $19.99): This kit was the box's "big item," and it was definitely the one I thought was the coolest. It's a little dog-bone shaped ice cube tray, which comes with four packets of mixes to make dog Popsicle treats (each one will make a tray of treats). The mixes are made of real food, too! The Juicy Apple mix is just dehydrated apples, the Sweet Potato N' Maple just sweet potatoes and maple syrup, the Chicken Soup just chicken broth, carrot, and a bit of salt, and the White Cheddar Cheese just cheddar, whey, milk, and a bit of salt. AND they're all organic. I think this item is really, really cool.

Total estimated value of box: $38.26

All told, my feelings about my first Barkbox are mixed. With the exception of the Freezy Pups Kit, there was nothing in it that excited me, and it's not likely we'll use any of the other products. However, the treats, bully ring, and waste bags are legitimate inclusions, just not things we happen to use, so I can't really fault the company for that. The t-shirt, as I mentioned, was, to my view, a misstep in marketing. I liked the inclusion of the vitamin packets, but they suffer from the too-small-to-be-useful-sample issue (which is a bit inevitable with something that high value). I would have liked to see a toy included, as the box seemed to rely a little heavily on treats, with three treat items. Overall, I think Barkbox would make a great gift for a new dog owner who is not up-to-date on the items available for dogs, but I'm not sure it would be worth the cost of subscription for a seasoned pet owner.

For the sake of being complete, I took at look around at other Barkbox review to see if other people's received items were more or less useful. The heavily reliance on treat items seems to be standard--the January box reviewed at PuppyDust included two bully sticks, a bag of treats, and a food additive, and the other April box reviews I found included the same or similar items as mine. Barkbox should probably be aware that treats are going to be a difficult thing to lean on so heavily, since dog owners are increasingly picky about what they give their pups.

Would you like to try Barkbox? Use the coupon code NOONEWATCHING for $5 off your first box! And do come and let me know what you get!

Barkbox provided the box I reviewed. This review is not otherwise compensated and all thoughts are my own.

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Yay for some warm weather on May 1! I'm hoping I can go completely crazy later and take my cardigan off!

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I'm wearing:
-#8: Merona Draped Neck Value Dress, Xavier Navy
-#9: Old Navy short-sleeved open-front cardigan, cream
-#24: Nine West leopard print flats

with:
-painted shell necklace (gift shop)
-brown bangles and wooden beaded bracelet (Ebay or Etsy...)

This dress has been pregnancy gold. I've been wearing it for several months, it seems to grow with me, and it is SUPER comfortable. I kind of wish I'd gone with my initial impulse and bought it in several colors.

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