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Review: BJ's Wholesale Club Wrapping Paper

Dec 15, 2014


I have a confession to make: I am a terrible gift wrapper. And not only that, but I am terrible despite having two decorative organizational bins full of tissue, bags, gift tags, ribbons and pretty paper I've kept from gifts people have given me. (Yes, I'm one of those people.) (Also, I really liked writing "organizational bins" because it makes me sound like one of those crafty, organized Pinterest people, which we all know I am not. Why I still aspire to be like them is a mystery to me, but you gotta find motivation wherever you can, y'all.)

I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas all that much, but we did go to my grandparents' house in North Carolina almost every year where my Mimi always waited for my arrival before putting up the tree so I could help decorate it. Then she'd pull out all the beautiful packages she'd giftwrapped for me and my cousins. She was always ahead of the game on gifts--even after she died, we all had birthday presents for a couple of years, wrapped and everything.

Now that I'm all grown up, it's been fun for me to have a tree and hang a few of those vintage ornaments from the tree I used to decorate. The presents part? That has been a sad situation for ye old Mary El. I usually stuff gifts in a bag and attempt that decorative tissue sticking out of it, but it always looks sloppy. This year when I went home for Thanksgiving, I didn't even bother. While my mother and sister were slaving away in the kitchen, I manipulatively asked my eager nephews, "Do you want your gifts now or do you want me to wrap them first?" knowing full well they wanted those Bryce Harper t-shirts and Thermashield (or something like that) sweatpants ASAP. Yes, that is what they asked for this year. I will never understand boys.

So when BJ's Wholesale Club gave me $25 to sample their wrapping supplies, I was worried. Not only was I pretty sure my review was going to be a disaster on account of my lack of wrapping skills, but it's the holidays, making wholesale clubs a bit nightmarish. 

Instead, I found one aisle close to the entrance with everything you might need for gift wrapping, and the checkout lines were managed well so I wasn't waiting for an hour to get out of there. 


I settled on a pack of five papers woodsy looking papers with burlap bows, shiny ribbon, candy cane twine and gift tags for $12.99, and a spool of sparkly gold wired ribbon for $8.49 in case I decided to get fancy. I had a few dollars left over, so I gave it to the man in line behind me. It's amazing how such a small gesture can make a person's day (mine included)!

At home, I still had the task of wrapping everything, and I was still concerned. Could I pull off the gift wrapping anywhere near how my Mimi did?

I turned to some 80s music for inspiration and then dove in:



While my wrapping skills are still pretty pathetic, I had fun mixing and matching, and the result was definitely passable, and not one bag in the bunch!


When it was all over, I was dreading the clean-up because I'd made quite a mess, having to cut down the paper over and over and messing up the tape then balling it up and throwing it willy nilly. But it ended up not being bad at all, as I just put all the little things in the original bow sleeve and then slid everything back in the plastic box thingy with a strap and everything!


There's pleeeeeeeenty left for next year, and I'm sure the next couple after that. For under $25, I am set with a variety of holiday wrapping items for a long time, and they're neatly placed together for storage and retrieval. I think Mimi would be proud. :)

Happy wrappy,

2014 American Music Awards: Harry Styles is clearly not over Taylor

Nov 24, 2014


The AMAs are a fun awards show where you get to see lots of great collabs and Taylor Swift having fun in the front row. Come to think of it, Taylor Swift is always having fun in the front row of every awards show. I'd like to think that if I were young and famous, I'd be in the Taylor Circle, or better yet, I'd have my own circle and we'd let the media think we were feuding but really we'd all meet up on the weekends to swim in each other's money pools a la Scrooge McDuck.

While Taylor looked AH. MAY. ZEEN., many others really missed the mark. I mean, I get it, it's not the GRAMMYs, but c'mon y'all. Put in a little effort.


There was so much black on the red carpet, and what killed me is a high percentage was done poorly. However, the majority was just plain dull. Let's discuss.

Mary J. Blige: The woman is an icon and her body seems to defy time, but why would a stylist put her in a dress that accentuates her hips and pelvis? PELVIS!!! The top is actually quite lovely, but who is looking at the top when her PELVIS!!! is exposed?

Diana Agron: Grrrrrrrl, why are you wearing a thousand-dollar trash bag? If this were shorter or longer, I think it could be salvageable, but as is, and in black, it's a dumpy, dumpy look. Her slicked back, messy hair adds to the derelict-chic look though, so at least it's cohesive. 

Fergie: This Halston Heritage dress is the kind of dress I would love to own because it's sleek, sexy enough and timeless. In other words, I could get some wear out of it (if I had anywhere to wear it). She brought the Fergaliciousness during her performance, so I'm glad we haven't completely lost the zany stylings of the girl who loves Taco Bell as much as I do. 


Meghan Trainor: She looks cute, yes. And I do like the playful lips bag.


I just thought we'd get a little more color/whimsy out of the new girl who gave us the anthem of the year with "All About that Bass." 

A caveat to my rant about boring black: Two couples did it really well and showed how black can be stunning when teamed up:


Alone, Jessie J. looks unimaginative in an all-white pantsuit, but next to [I know he's somebody but I don't know who he is] the black and white duo looks ab fab. Also...


Jenny McCarthy could have looked matronly in this garment, but next to hubs Donnie Wahlberg and his cabernet tux? That's a good lookin' couple, which, despite having watched Donnie rub his sweaty t-shirt on his crotch, I really like seeing together. 


Is it because Fifty Shades of Grey trailers will not quit? (BTW, I buckled from curiosity and downloaded the first book to my Kindle, I could not get past page six, y'all. What. In the heck. Is all the hype about.)

Jennifer Lopez: Yes, we get it, you have babies and your bod is still insured for $1 million. (Or is that just her booty?) The problem I have with this is it looks like a robe that was cut up and tied around her a few times. She can show it off better than this, and she knows it. Case in point? Her dance number that closed out the show:


Yes, it's a leotard, but use your imagination to turn this into a dress, and it's pretty spectacular. 

Heidi Klum: First of all, I'd like to point out this dress is by Versace. Versace has done wonderfully gutsy things for the fashion industry, but this dress is not one of them. The bands are not placed in a flattering way at all -- how do you make something that is actually unflattering for Heidi Klum? -- and I can't help but see an homage to the pink ice trend of my middle school years. 



I don't mind this look, but I was surprised to see so much of it on the red carpet. That being said, I think vamp done well can look super hot, and it makes a definite statement. You'll notice I left out the obvious vamper, Lorde, because...no.


(*Beauty Tip: If you're going to wear dark lipstick, you must whiten your teeth.) 

Selena Gomez: At first glance, this dress doesn't look like much, although the neckline is quite elegant. However, the real drama came when she turned around:


Olivia Munn: She's not a musician so I think it was just fine to have a look but not make a huge statement. The dress is pretty but nothing that memorable.

Kylie Jenner: Errrrrrrybody was talking about Kylie in her Alexandre Valutier dress. I still don't know how she is contributing to society, and let's not forget she is seventeen, y'all. When I was 17, I thought spaghetti straps were risque. The plunging neckline and super high slit are a little much. Love the shoes though.


Why.

Harry Styles: For those of you who don't care, he's one of the dudes on IHeartRadio chiming, "Weeah One Direck Shun!" And he briefly dated Taylor Swift. Lots of gossip about him having to sit through her performance of "Blank Space" (my favorite line of that song: "Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream"). And now he's refusing to cut his hair in solidarity, I'm assuming? I can't even get into how much I hate this look. Basically, it looks like he smells musty. Also please note, all of his band mates looked like they smelled great.


Ansel Elgort: Oh hey it's The Fault in Our Stars guy! Umm...do I need to talk about the proportions being all wrong or can I just let this one speak for itself?

Jaden Smith: I find it very hard to believe Will let him out of the house looking like this. I imagine Will and Jada were at home watching the awards show and suddenly saw their son on the red carpet and Jada being all, "I thought he was in his room!" and later that night, when Jaden returned, Will being all, "Don't EVER do that again,"and Jaden saying, "I'm just expressing myself," and Will shaking his head and saying, "Nooo. No. Mmm mmm. Not like that you're not. This is where you live. Right here. You live right here. This is home. Just like this. I don't wanna see none of that."


Some of the guys know what the ladies like: dapper and fun. 

Nick Jonas: While I cannot stand and also cannot stop listening to "Jealous", I can't deny that the former Jonas Brother (but still technically a Jonas brother) knows how to dress. I. Love. The double breasted suit. How distinguished is he, and at 22 years old?! (I'm exclusively referring to his suit, not his lyrics or his copy of Marky Mark's Calvin Klein ad.)

NeYo: NeYo('s stylist) obviously knows how to show the people something new and fresh without looking gaudy or over the top. Extra points for pulling off a hat and pocket square.

Lance Bass: I mainly love this look because it looks like *NSYNC but feels like a grown-up. Oh how I wish they would do a reunion tour. 


Y'all already know what I think of Diana and Heidi, so I'll just speak to Mary Lambert here.

The dress is pretty. The cut is okay. Here's the thing: I realize that stylists aren't always the most accommodating when it comes to dressing women who aren't a size nothing. However. This dress does not look that intricate, and I say that because I feel like someone could have made this in a day or two. So why, then, would it not have been made to fit her body? The high-low hemline hits her at such an odd pace, making her knees look wide. Which begs the question: Why would a designer want us to be focusing on her knees? The material is kind of wrinkled, and then you've got this bohemian hair that on a more free-flowing gown would look gorgeous, but here it looks sloppy. And then the shoes are one big missed opportunity. How pretty would a jeweled blue sandal with red toe nails have been? Mary, get a new stylist immediately. 


Julianne Hough: I was surprised that very few people wore "wow" gowns. Julianne brought it in Zuhair Murad, which is interesting from every angle is is a gorgeous shade of orange.

Taylor Swift: Taylor's was the only dress that made my jaw drop. I think it's such a inventive way of rocking the cropped top trend without looking too trendy, and that green is spot on. I also really like that she didn't add much to the look but rather just let it be. This is how you wear the dress without it wearing you. 

Giuliana Rancic: I like how this dress plays with the black and white concept and throws blue in there to break it up. It fits her like a glove and her simple, straight hair pulls the whole look together.

Overall, I think the worst dressed of the night was Heidi and the best dressed was Taylor. What do you think? Did I miss any?

Fashionably yours,

ModCloth Fall Style

Nov 6, 2014

Since I moved -- to save money -- I've found myself with more money in da bank than I'm used to. I mean, that's how it was supposed to work. Less rent = more money in da bank. Why do I keep saying da.

All right y'all, I think you know where I'm going with this. It's fall, I recently lost some weight (albeit weight that I'd lost this same time last year so most of my clothes still fit, but still...), there are new trends to be tried, I'm still single, etc. etc. etc.?

Here's the thing: I really do want to change my relationship with money, and that means not giving too much credence to the above excuses for shopping. That's why I tried to get it out of my system when I went to NYC in September and got this skirt (among a few other things):


The moment I saw it in the window of the retro store, Tatyana, I had to have it. It was a splurge buy at $90 and I couldn't wait to show it off!

But it didn't have to be a splurge buy, y'all, because ModCloth has it for $62.99. Duh! Why didn't I think to look there first? I'm on the website all the time anyway. This is what we call a very specific type of a #FashionFail.

We mustn't dwell on our mistakes, ladies, so in the interest of chic, affordable shopping, I put together a little sampling of my ModCloth style for fall:


Modcloth Fall 2014


I lurv the drapey cardigan (find all their cardis here), and I am especially obsessed with those booties, since this is the first year I'm trying out booties. I know I know, another #FashionFail on my part. Don't ask me why I was so scurrred. Or why I keep talking like I think I'm a rapper.

That wine color is on the top of my list for fall 2014, and I love the idea of mixing it with minty and emerald greens, mustard and gold. Those Aztec prints -- subtle enough so I don't feel like I'm making too much of a statement about Aztec -- are so graphic and interesting, and who doesn't love woodland creatures? MUST HAVE KISSING FOXEN. Yes I said foxen. This is a look I want to live in all fall and into the winter!

Like what you see? Click here for the latest coupons and discounts to use at ModCloth care of Chippmunk!

Do you have any ModCloth fall finds I should know about? 

Here's to #FashionSuccess!

Rodan + Fields Review and Giveaway

Oct 29, 2014

I recently got to sample four products from Rodan+Fields, thanks to a C&S reader who introduced me to her friend, Rodan+Fields independent consultant Laura Yates. Laura sent me four products to try, including one brand new one, and they couldn't have come at a better time. Whenever the seasons change, but especially when it gets colder, my skin is at its worst. I get dry patches and cracked lips, and my skin begins looking dull as my freckles fade, revealing just how yellowy pale my face truly is. The bad lighting in my bathroom doesn't help, either.


Rodan+Fields used to be sold in high-end retail stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, but a few years ago it moved over to direct sellers. With the Rodan+Fields Clinically Proven Products treat four main skin concerns: Anti-Aging, Dark Spots & Melasma, Acne and Sensitive Skin. I tried a mini-facial to help enhance my skin and a wrinkle filler for anti-aging.


The first product I tried was Micro-Dermabrasion Paste ($78), which Laura sent as part of a mini-facial.I've tried other micro-dermabrasion products before, but they were all a bit too harsh for my sensitive skin. I like how this one doesn't make me expect to be bleeding afterwards, and my skin feels significantly softer immediately after using it. I'm definitely going to whip this out when that first dry patch of the season appears!


The next part of the mini-facial was the Night Renewing Serum ($90). I thought the capsule was pretty small,but the serum, packed with retinol for smoothing skin, was so concentrated that it was more than enough. It felt so soothing going on, especially since I'd just done the micro-dermabrasion, and I was surprised at how my skin still felt moisturized and silky when I woke up the next morning. 


My absolute biggest skin issue is probably my lips, although the second I get a breakout that opinion will change. But for now, lips. Dry, cracking, peeling lips. I also have a terrible nervous habit of biting my lips, and they end up bleeding at inopportune times quite frequently. I tried taking up nail biting as a kid but I found it to be unappealing, so chose lip biting. I really should do more yoga. Anywho...let me tell you about this Lip Renewing Serum ($54). I swear it filled in the cracks over night. When I first applied it, the serum soaked in pretty quickly, and I guess because I'm used to waxy lip balm or gloppy lip gloss keeping my lips moisturized, I didn't expect this to have such long-lasting effects. 

A few days after I did the mini-facial, I tried the Redefine Acute Care wrinkle filler, a brand spanking new product that isn't even available yet. 


My wrinkles aren't too bad yet, but I decided to give it a go around my eyes in the crows feet region.




The patches stuck on easily and I soon forgot I was wearing them. However, I didn't notice any huge difference in the morning. To be fair, though, wrinkles are the least of my skin concerns, so I was not the best candidate to try this new product.


I had two extra, so I let my friend G try them out too, since she's constantly complaining about how wrinkly her skin is (it's not). Here's what G had to say:


I was excited to try this since it was unlike any of the cream-based masks or the Asian masks I have tried before. As soon as I put it on, I thought, uh oh, I have to wear this the whole night? It was super uncomfortable, but that may be because I had it covering the wrinkles by my nose where you get lines from smiling. But I decided not to take them off with the promise of noticeably less wrinkles after one night. This was made more uncomfortable by the fact that I am fighting a cold, so my nose and the skin around my nose was already dry and sensitive. Come morning, I couldn't wait to take it off, and I checked out the fine lines. Yup. Still there.  

G had some extenuating circumstances as well...so here's a little promo someone put together for the wrinkle filler that shows successful before & afters:


I think if you truly have a wrinkle problem, as G and I truly do not, this could be worth a try, especially if you're considering botox!  

Overall, I was pleased with the products I tried, and I especially loved the serums. 

If you'd like to try these or other Rodan+Fields products, Laura is offering C&S readers a special deal to join the Preferred Customer Program. Members of the program get 10% off orders and free shipping, and Laura will waive the $19.95 enrollment fee. Just email her at lbdyates@gmail.com and mention Cupcakes & Shoes

Want to try the mini-facial for free? I've got two of them to give away! Enter below -- winners will be announced Wednesday, November 5, 2014. 

xoxo,

Celebrating Irlen Syndrome Awareness Week by sharing my story

Oct 24, 2014

Today marks the last day of Irlen Syndrome Awareness Week, which I just found out about, and I wanted to participate in spreading the word.

What's that? You've never heard of Irlen Syndrome?

Well Lucy Lawless, aka Xena Warrior Princess aka Diane Swanson has heard of it.


About two months ago I took on a new project that would require me to work onsite with my client. We consultants know that this is a grand opportunity to connect with your clients, really hear what they're saying and assess and capture the whole picture, giving you, the consultant, the most ideal opportunity to do your best work that is directly applicable to your clients' needs.

Being the seasoned communications professional I am, I recognized all of this immediately and was excited to jump right in, building relationships and giving my fresh perspective on the organization's toughest communications challenges. Unfortunately, I didn't expect that one day in I'd be stricken with blurred vision, a monster migraine and vertigo.

My seat was in a narrow room that is floor-to-ceiling white, which immediately caused some visual problems for me. I've been getting migraines since I was 25, about the time I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and I always assumed the migraines were associated with that. I learned to manage my headaches with Excedrin and taking short breaks to go outside in natural light during my work day, to give my eyes a break and recharge. I know fluorescent lighting can sometimes set off my migraines, so I'll often request a glare reducer for my computer screen and bring in a lamp if I have my own office and can turn off the overhead lights. And I always make sure to get my desk ergonomically set up so I don't add strain to my neck throughout the day.

Granted, I was breaking a few of those rules the first day, but something was different. Streams of light surrounded my periphery, especially around light sources, like my computer screen. The room was turning upside down and the words on my screen were blurring. Every cell in my body felt as if it was contracting, squeezing, trying to escape this invisible force that was encroaching on my brain.

By the time I had a vision of myself crawling out of the room, collapsing and awaking on a gurney with my new boss, client and all my teammates gathered around me in shock and concern as the handsome doctor shook his head and said, "Classic case of a phantom brain tumor," I innately knew that A) My brain was still working just fine; and B) I needed to get away from the white room.

I told my boss I wasn't feeling great and I was going to finish the work day in the lobby near a window. Ten minutes later the whole episode had passed and I felt normal again.


During those 10 minutes I googled my symptoms and found an interesting website, irlen.com, a site dedicated to Irlen Syndrome. And 10 minutes into exploring the site, I was convinced I had Irlen Syndrome. 

(Please note that I do not condone googling symptoms and self-diagnosing major health problems. I have a neurologist that I check in with regularly for my migraines, and if the information on the the website hadn't been so aligned with my specific combination of symptoms and visual issues, I would have called him the next day to get in for an appointment.)

Irlen Syndrome is a visual processing disorder that affects 15% of the general population, 50% of individuals with reading and learning difficulties and 30% of people with ADHD and autism. Irlen Syndrome has also been linked to traumatic brain injury in athletes and others.

According to the website, Irlen Sndrome is caused by a defect in one of the visual pathways that carries messages from the eye to the brain. This defect causes a timing fault in processing visual information. Filtering out specific wave lengths of light helps the pathway to function normally.

For me, black and white patterns like houndstooth and stripes set off the same feeling I had in the office, but on a much smaller scale. I realized, by sitting in a white-saturated room and staring at a screen with black letters, I had essentially been forcing my brain to endure looking at houndstooth for six hours. 


The Irlen website has a test you can take to see if you might have Irlen Syndrome, and you can also change the color of your screen to see if a particular color helps your brain restore the defective pathway. (Mine's purple.) (In fact, when I change my screen color to purple, I instantly have the sensation that cool water is rushing over my face.)

You can also take a look at some examples of how people with Irlen Syndrome see common things. I identify with most of these, especially the "rivers" appearing between words on a page:





After I took the test, tried out the screen colors and watched the video, I realized I've been dealing with these visual problems for most of my life. The migraines may have started when I was 25, but smaller manifestations of Irlen Syndrome have been making me feel dizzy, lethargic and nauseated since I was a child.

Founder Helen Irlen says, "Millions of people worldwide are suffering from Irlen Syndrome and not finding answers because they don't know this issue exists. Simply wearing specialized tinted filters can completely change how a person functions on a day-to-day basis. We have an obligation to educate the public about the problem and this easy solution."

If you think you might have Irlen Syndrome, you can get tested at an Irlen Center. I have not, but I've found that just being aware of it and understanding what's going on with me has helped me improve my working environment. I requested a larger monitor and brought in a lamp to break up the harsh fluorescent light of the overhead lighting, and my boss found me a new place to sit that isn't nearly as stark as the other office.

I think more people than realize it or are even reporting it probably deal with Irlen Syndrome, and it's something that doesn't have to impair you all the time. We need more research and technology to made everyday life easier and more comfortable for those of us afflicted with it. One thing I'd love to see is Microsoft Office and Google offer a screen color option similar to that on the website. What a simple fix to a crippling problem!


Spread the word and let me know what works for you!

Stitch Fix No. 10: Summer to Fall Fashion

Oct 17, 2014

This is a little late, but everyone loves a Stitch Fix so I'm posting it anyway. The sad part is, I already picked what I wanted, but tell me what you like and don't like anyway because it's just plain fun.


***


I've got that *summertime sadness...because we're nearing the end of this blessed season.

*Editor's note: I don't feel all that sad anymore because I just bought new booties.


*Editor's note No. 2: From here on out I'll just write in the present because that one line about summertime sadness is all I actually wrote last month.

There's something about the 10th anything that feels like it should be memorable. 10th birthday? You made it a decade! 10th date? You officially have a boyfriend! 10th cookie? It's time to rethink your life choices.

In like fashion, my 10th Stitch Fix gave me probably the best piece yet, anchoring my belief that this is the best thing that's happened to fashion since Coco Chanel. 


It started out similarly to my first -- four pretty good things and one bangin' one. 


A-line skirts are not my favorite cut, but I thought this dress was paneled quite well, making the A-line cute and flattering. The panels also made the top fit perfectly and added the right amount of structure for a curvy figure. 


Royal blue is one of the prettiest colors, I think, but oddly enough, it's not a color you find all that often. This blouse was extra special because of the lace detail in the back and along the sleeves. 


This top was an interesting concept -- an abstract print with a zipper on the front instead of the back, which has been the norm the past couple of years. I'm just not sure who this would look good on, though. It billows around the waist and tapers at the hip, which is not a good look for anyone.
I thought this was a really lovely take on a basic blouse. I'm a big fan of short sleeves that cover the top, flabby parts of my arms, and the pleating details on the sleeves, front and back give it a feminine shape. I even spotted Gabrielle Union wearing a similar style on Being Mary Jane


(If you haven't seen it, go on Netflix immediately and watch the movie first, then blast through season 1 get excited for season 2 which airs "soon". Come onnnnn BET! Tell us when it's coming back!!!)

I consider myself to be an accessories junkie, and now that I'm looking at this again, I don't think I styled it well. This would work much better with a maxi dress, but even then, the hammered gold Egyptian look isn't my fave. 

So...you may have guessed that I kept the green blouse. Even before I saw it on Gabrielle Union, it paid for itself when I got picked up on the street by an actual guy with a job and everything. We had three fantastic dates, but, much like Justin Bieber, he was just too young for me. And also he stopped calling. Actually, he only called one time so really he stopped texting, but whatever, semantics

Want to give Stitch Fix a try? Sign up here and remember your $20 styling fee goes toward your purchase! 

Read about my past fixes here:


Here's to the next 10 fixes!