October 2013 archive

We’re back from Mexico!

We just returned from our trip to Mexico!  We had a great time celebrating our close friends getting married.  We stayed at an all-inclusive resort called Velas Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta. It was hot hot hot while we were there!

This was our 4th trip with baby and each time it gets more and more challenging!  When I talk about travel with friends who are also parents, we all agree: its easier when they are younger!

This was our first beach vacation in a very long time.  I think the last time we went on a beach vacation was in 2008 when we attended a wedding in Hawaii.  Things have changed so much for us since then!

In my next post I would like to go into some of the things we learned on our trip and tips for having a great beach vacation with a little one.

Eat In Kitchen Makeover Ideas

When we first moved into our house, we had absolutely no money leftover for decorating. We are finally looking at replacing our cheap Ikea dining set that is in our eat-in kitchen.  The previous owners had a round table in that space so I have always pictured getting a round table for it as well.

My requirements are a 40-44″ tabletop, modern or mid-century modern looking and a wooden table top.  I’m not a fan of glass tops and unfortunately for me, most modern round tables are glass topped!

Here are a few options I have scoped out.  Let me know what you think!

I love the way the legs look on this CB2 table.  We saw it in person when we were visiting the SF store and it was the perfect size for our space at 40″ wide.  It also looked well made and sturdy.  The only downside to the legs is that my husband has long legs and likes to stretch out underneath the table (and since I have short legs I don’t mind!).  He won’t be able to do that with this one.  Also, since there is no CB2 store locally, if there is any problem with the table I’m not sure what kind of support we’d get with exchanging it.

I really like the unique legs on this table.  It is also on sale now through 10/21/2013 for $424 and its always nice to save a little bit!  There’s a West Elm store in Seattle so I was going to call and see if they had it in store to view.

My husband liked this one the best out of all the ones I showed him.  It’s quite unique looking which is why I think he likes it.  Its also on sale for $339 until 10/21/2013.  I wonder if the table legs would get in the way of my husband’s long legs though?  Again, I’m going to call West Elm and see if they have it in the store.

What do you think?  Any tables stand out to you?  And what chairs would coordinate?

Where to find Swimwear in the Fall

Fall is upon us and swimwear might be the last thing on your mind.  We’re attending a destination wedding in Mexico next week so I went through my closet and tried on various swimsuits at home to see if anything still fit post-baby.

Not too surprising, but I decided I needed a new one piece swimsuit for our trip.  I went to the mall and to my dismay, neither my local Macy’s nor Target are carrying swimwear any longer.  I’m guessing warm weather cities like LA and Honolulu will still have swimwear year round, but cold Seattle does not!

Here’s what I found to be your best bets for finding swimwear in the Fall, if you need it for a trip or even just for indoor pool swimming!

1. Buy swimwear online!

Macys.com, Target.com, Nordstrom.com and Asos.com all have fairly large swimwear selections online. They aren’t as big as what you’d find in the spring, but there are still plenty of sizes and styles to choose from.  As a bonus, because its the end of the season, there are a few things on clearance.

2. At the mall, go to Nordstrom

Nordstrom stores still carry some styles right now. I found a few suits that were on sale and a few that were regular priced.  Again, the selection wasn’t as large as in the spring, but if you need something in a hurry this would be a good choice.  There were one piece suits, two piece suits and cover ups all in stock.

3. Swimwear Specialty Store

At my local mall, there is a swimwear specialty store called Everything But Water.  Since it specializes in swimwear, it should have suits all year round.

4. Sporting Goods Stores

If you’re looking for a more sporty suit (or don’t mind one), sporting goods stores like REI and Sports Authority may have a few styles left this time of year.

As for me, I ended up ordering a suit from Macys.com and it arrived with enough time for my trip.  I tried on a few but this is the one I ultimately chose!  It was quite flattering all around and I am excited for our trip! :-)

Bleu by Rod Beattie - Ruched Halter One-Piece

Bleu by Rod Beattie – Ruched Halter One-Piece (not currently available, see similar here)

Shutterfly Photo Book Reviews and Tips

I wanted to shift gears a little bit and do a post on photo books, even though they are only tangentially related to shopping.

In the past few years, my husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to take 1 big vacation each year… and sometimes more than 1.  Among other places, we have been to England, Italy, France, Peru and India together!  We love traveling together and we always take lots of pictures to remember the amazing things we’ve seen and experienced.

Once I come home, I try to assemble a photo book in order to tell the story of our trip.

Over the years, I’ve created 15+ photo books for vacations, our wedding and for our baby’s birth.  I still have to do one of her first year!  That is a big project that I haven’t had a chance to tackle yet :-)

My Photobook Library

My Photobook Library – All but 2 are Shutterfly books

The company that I used for most of my photo books, is Shutterfly.  I love the finished product and their software is top notch.  There are several choices of sizes and cover materials but I usually stick with either the 8×8 size or 8×11 and hardcover.  I’ve also ordered a softcover book before, and recently got a 12×12 book as well.

Cover Choices and Quality

Shutterfly offers several choices for hard covers: glossy, matte, padded, cloth, leather and premium.  I’ve only ever ordered the glossy hard cover and the cloth hard cover.  They also offer a softcover matte book which I’ve also ordered in the past.  Hardcover glossy is their standard finish–hardcover matte is an additional $5.00.

Shutterfly Hardcover Photobook Glossy Cover

Shutterfly Hardcover Photobook Glossy Cover

The glossy cover has a full bleed (meaning, the photo reaches the edges and wraps around so that there is no border).  You can also choose to write something on the spine of the book and place photos on the back.  There are many design choices for the covers and you can choose any number of photos in the various templates.

Shutterfly Cloth Hard Cover Photobook

Shutterfly Cloth Hard Cover Photobook

The cloth hardcover book has a die cut window where a photo is displayed.  Keep in mind this is not a die cut into the first page of your book.  The photo is actually mounted between the cover and the endsheet.  You can see in the below photo.

Cloth Hardcover Window Photobook Interior

Cloth Hardcover Window Photobook Interior

Both styles of covers have a nice textured endsheet pasted between the cover and the first page of your book which is a bit glossier than this endsheet.  The backcover also features the same endsheet material.

Softcover books do not have any endsheet as they are bound a little differently.

Page and Photo Quality

Shutterfly only has 1 weight for pages, but they are nice and thick.  The pages are glossy and colors look vibrant on the page.  Photos have always printed out nice and clear in the book as long as the original image uploaded was of high enough quality.

Shutterfly Hardcover and Page weights

Photobook pages

Photobook Pages

Photobook Pages

A new offering is layflat pages.  I haven’t had the chance to order this type of book yet.  The photos above show the standard pages which do not layflat.  Layflat pages is available as a premium upsell when you order your book.  The additional cost for my book was $25.00.

Software and Design Choices

The design software is Shutterfly’s strongest suit.  There are 2 modes you can choose from: Custom Path and Simple Path.  I always choose custom since I want to be able to decide where my photos go and what the pages look like.  To be honest, I’ve never done Simple path — this is where Shutterfly lays out all your photos in the book for you.

In Custom Path, first choose a theme for your book such as “travel” or “baby” or “family fun”.  This will establish the look and feel for the design elements.  You can then storyboard your book, meaning decide how many & which photos you want on each page and the software will auto-layout the page.  There are many templates for each page, grouped by the # of photos each template supports.  For instance, if you wanted 2 photos on a page, there are templates for showing 1 dominant photo and 1 smaller one, or 2 square photos, or 1 horizontal and 1 vertical, etc.

At this point, I usually make sure I’m happy with the layout, background and any embellishments that Shutterfly has added for me such as borders, stickers and other design elements.

The software allows you complete control over the # of photos per page, where they are located, how big each photo is, where each text box is, how big the text is, etc.  It’s extremely flexible.

Shutterfly automatically inserts a logo on the last page of your book.  You don’t have any choice in the matter.  (It’s the same with all the Shutterfly cards as well).  It would be nice if you could opt out of the logo, but I think almost all photobook companies insert their logo somewhere in the book.

Shutterfly logo page

Shutterfly logo page

Shipping & Customer Service

The book comes packaged in a clear bag within a bright orange cardboard mailer which protects the book well.  I’ve never had any issues with dinged corners so far.  They typically include a coupon for your next order as well.

Shipping and customer service are probably where I’d like to see Shutterfly improve.  Shipping seems to be done through “UPS Mail Innovations” which is a UPS + USPS program.  UPS delivers to my local post office and USPS delivers “the last mile” to my house.  It is extremely, extremely slow.  Add to this that production of the book takes 2-3 days.  From time of order until time to receipt of the last book I made, it was 8 business days.  I’ve experienced up to 11 days in the past!  Yikes!

I sent mail to customer service a few years ago letting them know how I was dissatisfied with how slow the delivery was (and that it missed their promise date) and all I got was a form letter telling me where to find their shipping guidelines.  Nothing annoys me more than receiving a canned response that doesn’t even address my problem.  I hope that they have improved in this regard since that time, but I haven’t had any complaints since then.

Promotions and Pricing

Shutterfly always has a sale.  This both makes me very happy and infuriates me!  It seems like there are always promotions so you never should pay retail.  You can enter in all of the special codes to your heart’s content and it will apply the deals that work for the items in your cart.  You are generally able to stack 1 “dollar off code” (e.g. $10 off your purchase) with 1 “percent off” code (e.g. 30% off photo books).  The shipping coupon (usually free shipping with purchase of $30 or more) is calculated after all discounts have been taken.  There are often free items being offered, with just shipping being charged so when you’re making an order, it is worth checking to see what you can get for a nominal increase in shipping costs.

Conclusion

I’ve been a happy customer of Shutterfly for 5+ years now.  They have outlasted several competitors which they’ve acquired.  After trying other photobook companies, I think Shutterfly’s software makes it easy to create a book to your specifications while still keeping it easy to use.

Sale Calendar Added

I just added a new page (see navigation bar above for “Sale Calendar“) detailing the biggest sales that major retailers do each year. Typically, these sales are called “Friends & Family” sales and they have the fewest exclusions. Let me know if there are any additional sales you’d like me to add to the page!

Hopefully this page will serve as a resource guide for 2014 and beyond to determine when a good time to purchase items that don’t typically get discounted.

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