Archive for July, 2013

Deal of the week

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

I love getting a deal – and based on the reports about the hour-long wait at the cash registers on the opening day of the new Home Goods store, I’m obviously not alone in the pleasure I feel when I bag a bargain. It’s that “I just scored!” feeling followed by a mental sack dance on the way to the car.

Finding a bargain is really the gift that keeps giving because every time I use the item that I got the really good deal on, I get to enjoy those good feelings all over again; congratulating myself on what a really great shopper I am.

And did I ever feel smug last week when I nabbed a pair of Champion brand athletic capris at Grocery Outlet for $9.99; I’ve seen them at Target for $29.99. Before I tossed them into my shopping cart with the 79 cent Chobani’s and $2.99 Amy’s Enchiladas, I inspected them thoroughly to try and figure out how they ended up in a Grocery Outlet store and what was wrong with them. Why were they were so cheap? Did the factory in Jordan where they were manufactured forget to sew the crotch seam?

Nope. I’ve already worn them and there weren’t any holes, gaps or other imperfections in them. I’m patting myself on the back. Saving money feels so righteous.

Last week was an especially good week for bargains because in addition to that great find at Grocery Outlet, I picked up a couple of items off the clearance rack at the Banana Republic Outlet store. Everything on clearance was an additional 50 percent off. I paid $15 for a really cute cardigan – original price was $59 – and $3.50 for the matching camisole to wear underneath it. Score again.

These amazing deals have prompted me to think about how much quality merchandise there is that can be found at really exceptional prices. I’ve begun playing a little game in my mind; it’s sort of a shopping version of “how low can you go” and still get something that isn’t absolute junk.

Let me give you a recent example of this. I needed to replace my ear buds. I use them almost every day at the gym so I can watch TV while I’m on the treadmill instead of watching the bouncing bottom of the person in front of me. So after yanking the ear buds out of my purse a hundred times or so, the little wires finally pull apart and they quit working.

I’ve purchased them at Target for $9.99. Certainly cheap enough. I know a person could spend a lot more money if they wanted really excellent sound quality but for the purpose of watching reruns of Frasier while trying to keep my feet moving on the elliptical machine, these do the job just fine.

But back to Grocery Outlet – my new favorite store – I bought ear buds there for $4.99. They were every bit as good (or at least as acceptable) in quality as the ones that I bought at twice the price.

And then I saw ear buds at the Dollar Store.  I had to buy them. Could I actually get a pair of serviceable ear buds for $1?

Okay, so based on this experiment, $4.99 is the rock bottom for that particular thing. The ear buds that I paid $1 for were about the same quality as the headphones that you would be handed to watch the in-flight movie on an airplane. In other words, tin cans and string work better.

So that’s the price point for that particular accessory. But I’ll keep on the treasure hunt for other exceptional deals. I’m waiting for a Coach handbag to find its way into the bin of discontinued flavors of Wheat Thins at Grocery Outlet. You just never know.

Random acts of Ikea-ness

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

A few weeks back, I wrote about how Steve had graciously agreed to spend Father’s Day with Jennifer Lynn and me in that most soul-sucking of all retail experiences…Ikea. If there ever was a demonstration of Steve’s love for me, spending Father’s Day at Ikea has to be it.

There should be a sign at the top of the escalator, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” because once you commit to following the black arrow on the maze-like path that guides you through Ikea, you are likely to emerge – this is, if you even make it out at all – disoriented, zombified, blinking at the sunlight wondering where you spent the last six hours of your life.

Before we entirely lost our will to live in the bowels of Ikea’s Marketplace on that day back in June, we managed to grab two shelves for Jennifer Lynn’s room. Of course, there was only one of the matching brackets left in stock and we needed four of them. “Nevermind the shipping costs, we’ll get them online! Let’s get out of here while we still can!”

What we ordered

We did make it out alive and once I recovered, I went to the Ikea website to order four Ekby Hall brackets at $4 each plus $11 shipping. Paying a few dollars to have them shipped versus another trip to Ikea was worth every penny.

About 10 days later, the box from Ikea arrived and sat on a table for a few days while Jennifer Lynn added her creative touch to the shelves with paint and stain. On Saturday, she was ready to have Steve mount the shelves in her room, so she opened the box. Inside it, she found the four brackets that we had ordered on top of a wad of bubble wrap. However, the box also contained a plastic bag filled with heavy-duty bolts and metal shims.

Jennifer Lynn hasn’t had a whole lot of experience with handyman types of jobs but even at first glance, she could tell that this hardware looked like total overkill for what was needed to mount four spindly $4 Ikea brackets.

What we got as a “bonus”

There were instructions inside the bag with bolts and shims. It turns out that Ikea gave us a bonus with our order; we received the hardware and installation instructions for mounting a trailer hitch on a Chevy Venture, Uplander, Pontiac Trans Sport, Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay or Oldsmobile Silhouette.

Let me just add that we have never owned any of these cars with or without a trailer hitch.

So how did this end up in a package that was shipped from some massive Ikea warehouse in Covina, CA? I keep picturing the person packing the box with our brackets and I just can’t get a handle on how the trailer hitch hardware also got packed in there. The randomness of it is really amazing. An empty Slurpee cup, small animal, sex toy… those I can fathom an explanation four. Trailer hitch mounting hardware…not so much. This is confirmation that Ikea has never been known for its quality control.

If Jennifer Lynn and I ever work up the courage to make another trip to Ikea (Steve has already politely declined to join us), I’m going to pass on buying a package of Swedish meatballs.  Who knows what I’ll find in there.

Volunteer Appreciation

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

You may be familiar with the phrase, “America runs on Dunkin.” After working as the volunteer coordinator for last Sunday’s Art & Garden Festival in downtown Petaluma, the phrase that keeps running through my mind is “events run on volunteers.”

If it wasn’t for the volunteers, Petaluma’s favorite events – and I’m sure our community isn’t unique in this – wouldn’t be held. Events that are produced by non-profit organizations such as Butter & Egg Days, Salute to American Graffiti, Art & Garden Festival, and Rivertown Revival to name just a few, would not happen if hundreds of volunteers didn’t consistently sign up and give of their time and energy.

A few of our awesome volunteers

I appreciate that volunteering for an event takes a lot of trust on the part of the volunteer. They are trusting that they are going to be given training to do their job, that their willingness to work won’t be taken advantage of, that they will be given the necessary tools to complete their job, and that they will be treated respectfully.

I know how important this is because I’ve showed up to volunteer and felt very unprepared for the task at hand – like a couple of years ago when Steve and I arrived Infineon Raceway to work a beer booth as a fundraiser for our daughter’s cheer team. We ended up being assigned to a cocktail booth and when we got there, we felt like we had arrived in a foreign county – we were totally out of our element.  The “booth” was actually a plywood structure that looked like it had been constructed in less time than it took us to drive there. In it, we found liquor, one lime, plastic cups, a couple of shot pourers, and that was it. No instructions about how to set up the booth or what to expect. We quickly discovered that the required skill set was well within our toolbox, but we had a very uncomfortable few minutes.

That’s something I think about a lot as I’m asking people to volunteer. I don’t want people to have a lot of surprises when they arrive to work their shift. And I also want to let them know what to expect out of the experience. Things like telling volunteers what parking will be like, what will be their specific task, will they be working at a fast or leisurely pace, can they take a break…everyone naturally has questions, and the better job we can do preparing them for what lies ahead in their volunteer job, the better experience they will have and the more likely they will be to return as volunteers.

Every time I work with volunteers, I see something I missed that could improve their volunteer experience and nurture the relationship. I think that is what really keeps people volunteering year-after-year – the bond they form with the organization and the people who represent it…not the free t-shirt.

A slip into the past

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

My daughter, Jennifer Lynn recently asked me, “What’s that thing called that women wear under dresses so that you can’t see through them? Oh yeah, a slip.”

Last summer, Jennifer’s aunt bought her a sweet dress off the sale rack at Anthropologie when we were on vacation in Santa Monica. The only problem is that the dress is made out of sheer, ivory-colored, cotton fabric that has about as much coverage on her skin as SPF 30 sunscreen. Since Jennifer tends to dress very conservatively, she is on the hunt for a solution for what to wear underneath it.

For most girls, wearing something that has a revealing silhouette or exposes their underwear, really doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.

I’ve stood in line behind women in Starbucks where I could literally read their bra size because their tank top didn’t fully cover their bra and the little tag happened to be flipped up. I’m still a little traumatized by the woman I saw last week who was in the waiting room with me while we were both getting our cars smogged. The hot pink thong under the flowy white summer dress is an image that doesn’t easily fade from memory.  It keeps coming back to my mind like a scene from a scary movie. While I was both horrified and fascinated watching her come in and out of the waiting room, it was the eyes on the guy writing up the smog certificate that really had my attention. What was running through his mind? I don’t want to know.

Long gone are the days when we kept a supply of safety pins on hand so that if a shoulder strap on our dress, didn’t want to align with our bra strap, we could pin the two together from the underside. Having your bra strap show would have been considered very low class. If we bought a dress, we made sure we had a slip to wear underneath it. I remember sorting through the circular racks of slips in the lingerie department– full slips and half slips – all with varying amounts of lace and coverage. It makes me laugh to think about how many layers of elastic women had circling their waists before the liberating 1960s arrived…bikini underwear hadn’t even become commonplace yet.

Today, looking for a slip for Jennifer to wear under her dress seems to be an anachronistic exercise. A quick internet search came up with these options – either the body-shaper, super-sexy, tuck it all in and push it all up Spanx kind of slip or ones that are on the same website as the housecoats, Muumuus and incontinence underwear.

But we haven’t given up. There’s always eBay where I’m sure some enterprising millennial is selling off the stuff in the bottom of her mother’s dresser drawers. I think Jennifer will be quite happy slipping into something retro.