Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year End Wrap Up...

I have not been blogging much lately, but it's all good here in Japolina-ville.  Here are my greatest hits of 2015....

1. I'm still pretty much broken up with Target.  I did buy my kids an Xbox there but that was only because I found some unused Target gift cards under a dresser the other day. Suze Orman always says that being unorganized costs you money and she sure is right. 


My husband and I ran in there the other night and abandoned our cart full of stuff once we saw the disaster at the checkout line.   In contrast, we went to Costco in the middle of the day on the Sunday before Christmas and while it was busy there, the checkout was actually quicker than usual because they had all the registers open and no one there was goofing off. I miss ya Target, but my bank account does not.

2. Speaking of organization, my experiment with "Kon Mari ...the life-changing magic of tidying up" rates a 5 out of 10. I'm not done with my whole house but my closet is actually functioning much better with less stuff. 

The folding method that she recommends has not stuck. However, the main theme of the method if something does not bring you joy, get it out of hour house has stuck and I have purged lots of things from my house since reading the book.

3. So far, my son has been accepted to two great colleges.  I not exaggerating when I tell you that the fall of your child's senior year may age you decades. No one told me this and I am mad about that, but I have never felt such relief as when he got notice that one of his top choices wanted him. I felt like every PTA meeting, parent-teacher conference and science fair project flashed before my eyes. Even though he did the work, it was a big Mom win! 
I will need to hire tech-support when he leaves the nest.  

4. My Ebay business has exploded this year (in a good way). I am very thankful for Ebay and the freedom that it allowed me to work AND take care of my children for the past 15 years. I will try to post more on how to successfully sell on Ebay this year but if you ever have any questions, feel free to e-mail me. 


5.  Besides the horrible choices for president, I am thinking that 2016 is going to be a great year. I'm looking forward to a new year with new possibilities.



Despite my lack of regular posts, thanks so much to all you who keep dropping by to read (and sometimes even comment). I love you all. Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanza/Happy Festivus/Happy 2016!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Tips for Cruising with kids...

        I'm a mini-expert on many things. Cruising (on cruise ships) is one of them.  Living here in SoFla means that jumping on a cruise ship is super easy (no flying and great Florida resident discounts). While not exactly as romantic as an episode of "The Love Boat", cruising with kids can make for an amazing family vacation.



 I have some tips for planning a great cruise for the whole crew…

1. Research, Research, Research: All cruise ships and cruise lines are not the same.  Some lines, ships and itineraries are more kid friendly than others. A ship headed from Florida for a week in the Caribbean this summer will be likely filled with kids and teens. One headed on a transatlantic voyage in September, not so much.   Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival and NCL all have great activities and programs for the kids. Just be sure to really check out what you are booking before you plunk down your credit card. Most of the larger and newer ships have amazing things like ice skating, water slides, surfing machines, etc to keep even the crankiest teenager happy but some of the smaller ships in the fleets of the same cruise lines do not.


The newest Royal Caribbean Ship coming out "Quantum of the Seas" will offer bumper cars as an activity!

2. Don't just trust a travel agent, ask a friend or a "Boardie": My best friend got off of a voyage on a Disney ship and described it as being trapped inside a floating Chuck E. Cheese's for 7 days and 7 nights. This was really good advice as she is my best friend and I'm certain I would feel the same way.  If none of your friends are good sources, go search the forums/message boards on Cruisecritic.com. Those people know more than any travel agent. They are normal people obsessed with cruises and can answer any questions from general ones such as "What ships offer babysitting? " to "Does the Carnival Breeze have chocolate milk available in the main dining room during lunch?" (I'm  not kidding, these people know EVERYTHING). There are message boards dedicated to each cruise line and special interest cruises like "family travel")



3.  Sometimes getting two cabins or even a suite may be less expensive than squeezing everyone into one cabin: Cruise ship cabins are generally small. Like really small. My family of four squeezed into one cabin for a weeklong cruise when my kids were little. It was super fun but very tight.   Unlike hotels who let you shove everyone into a room for one price, cruise ships charge by the person so it may be the same or a little more expensive to getting adjoining cabins or even a suite.  If your kids are teens, you may be able to book yourself a nice balcony cabin and shove the kids across the hall in a cheaper inside cabin.
Haven Family Suites on some NCL ships have two bedroom and two bathrooms!


4. Don't assume that your kids will go to the kids "camp" on board: One of my sons loved going to the onboard camp when he was younger. In fact, he pretty much ditched us every night at dinner so that he could attend the fun night activities. My other one took one look at the amazing kids facilities and decided that he'd rather hang with the grown ups. This was fine with us but you might want to just keep in mind that not every kid wants the organized activities



Kids Camp Room on Carnival Cruise Lines



5. Check out the Kids camp rules before booking: Ships separate their "campers" into age groups and I've been told that they are sticklers for not allowing kids to cross over into other groups so that they can hang with siblings or friends. This means that if your kid and his cousin are a year apart, they may not be able to go to "camp" together. There are also rules at how old or young kids have to be to attend organized activities without a parent.  It would be a great idea to know what to expect way before you board



6. Consider the "more the merrier " rule: The last time that we cruised with friends, they brought their Au Pair with them to keep an eye on their three year old. It was probably the best $500 that they ever spent. They were able to hang with their older kids while still having great family time with the little one. You may also want to barter with grandmas, aunts, nieces etc.  Invite them to sail along with you if they agree to babysit a little bit.  I've also found that traveling with friends means that my kids are more entertained and I get more "Japolina Time" to relax .  Furthermore, once you book, your teens may just find out through social media that their friends are booked on the same trip! On one of our recent cruises, there were five other kids (from three different families) that my kids knew. We barely saw our kids all week which might have been a good thing.

7. Spring for travel insurance: Your health insurance may not cover you onboard or in foreign countries. You can buy a policy for a few bucks that not only allows you to cancel your cruise if someone in your immediate family gets sick before you go but also if someone gets sick while onboard. Cruise ships have medical clinics onboard but they can't handle everything so if you have to get (g-d forbid) airlifted off, you will want to be covered.  On one of my cruises, my friend's daughter broke her leg while ice-skating on the first day at sea. My friend did not purchase travel insurance and was in for lots of money to the cruise ship medical center for the x-rays, cast & treatment. It made a bad situation worse.  You can purchase insurance through your cruise line. I always buy it through www.insuremytrip.com as it is much cheaper. By the way, the cruise line could not have been nicer to my friend and her daughter for the rest of the trip. 

8. Pack like you're going to a five star hotel on the moon: What I mean is that if you forget something, you may either have to go without it or pay through the nose for it.   Unlike traveling on land, there is no Target or Walmart at sea. If someone forgets their flip flops or sunglasses , you will be paying five start hotel gift store prices to buy them onboard.  Make a good list and be sure to pack an emergency/first aid kit with thermometer, baby tylenol, etc. Hopefully you won't have to use it but if you do, you'll be happy that you have it.

9. Decide ahead of time whether you are going to let your kids wander without you: During those tween years, I usually let my kids traverse a ship without me but had either walkie talkies or post it notes. I made sure that everyone had a working, waterproof watch and had to let me know where they were going and what time they were going to be back. Walkie talkies don't always work onboard so we had post-it notes. They had to put a post-it note on the mirror in the room which said what time they left and where they were headed. If they wanted to go somewhere else, they had to come back and change the note.  It worked great for me.

10. Have a set of rules written before you go: Besides my post-it note rules, when I cruised with tweens and teens, I had a written set of rules that were handed out to everyone before we set sail. No, I'm not a neurotic drill sergeant and I never hand out lists of anything on land but I saw this on the internet and thought it was a great idea. Rules included "no going into anyone else's cabin, no going into any crew area, no sitting on railings, etc" 

Did I forget anything? What are your top tips for cruising with kids? 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My new photo!

You know that I'm semi-anonymous in order to protect the innocent but I just must share my new portrait. It was taken by fabulous artist named Christoph Brown.  He specializes in the art of Etch A Sketch .  Yes, you read that right, Etch A S ketch, that fun toy you used to doodle with in the 70's.  

I'm being serious here. Brown is a California artist that figured out how to draw people on the toy. He also figured out how to make it so that the images are permanent.  I was at an amazing party last night and Brown was wandering around the party doing his thing. I was more than excited when I saw the results.  In addition to being a spot-on artist, he is crazy-fast. This whole thing took about five minutes! Isn't this the best party favor? 







By the way, the  friends who hosted the party are quite private so I don't want to post any other details. However between you and me, the etch a sketch favors were the least impressive part of the entire affair!!!!

Brown's  website is http://etchu.com/  if you want more information. I think you can order one that he'll do from a photo. What a fun gift!!!



 



A fun film for the whole family...

    Even though my children are closer in age to men than boys these days, they are still in love with all things "Space". Paramount invited me and my crew to a sneak peek screening of a new film called Capture the Flag. 




The movie is inspired by the 1960's space race and sees a ruthless billionaire bent on exploiting the source of Helium 3, the clean energy of the future. His plan involves rewriting history to excise the feats of the Apollo XI astronauts and the Moon landing. Enter headstrong 12-year-old surfer, Mike Goldwing, who along with his friends, a small lizard with delusions of Godzilla-like grandeur, and his grandfather, travels to the Moon to thwart evil. Jordi Gasull, a co-writer on The Last Explorer, is creator and co-scripter.

    My boys, their friends and even some grown ups around here loved the film. With all of the horrible images on the news right now,  a few hours at the theatre with some good, clean fun is a great idea. I would highly recommend taking your kids to see it.  It is currently in theatres (It was released on December 4th and is rated PG)

   Thanks Parmount for the awesome hookup! 


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maybe I should become the female Ralph Nader...

If you recall, I had some drama a few weeks back with my love, Target. Without dredging up the whole drama, lets just say that Target and I are still on the rocks.  However, the regional manager and I are on a first name basis and he is really a nice guy. I guess good help is just hard to find here in Miami and I sort of feel bad for him. I'm not done with Target just yet, but I'm going to avoid it as much as possible this Holiday season which may give me enough money to buy Italian shoes.


Speaking of Italian shoes, I had another retail drama. This one has a happier ending.   I pulled out these Tod's Loafers from my closet. They are old but when you spend hundreds of dollars on Italian loafers, you don't expect the rubber soles to ever crumble.

Yes, you read that right, crumbled like a cake. I emailed their customer service center and this is the response that I got...

As I was about to just throw away the shoes, I decided it would be worth the $8.95 to ship them to Tod's. I googled the US's CEO's name and address and mailed him my old crumbly shoes with a short letter explaining my dismay at the obvious defect in the shoes.

I don't know if the CEO actually saw my old shoes or read my letter but someone in New York did because I did get emails from a nice lady named Anna who explained that the shoes cannot be repaired and they would be happy to give me a credit at the Tod's store so that I could pick out a new pair.  Because I did not have a receipt, they would give me the Italian equivalent of a credit. It works out to about 1/2 of what a new pair costs, but I do have a credit in the store and will find something to buy.  Thanks Tod's for doing the right thing.

I have always been a great letter writer, even prior to law school, and I almost wrote a book on how to write effective letters, however, here are my three top tips for getting your letter read

1. Don't email.  My most recent emails to Target and Tod's were not helpful (remember a robot from Target pretty much insulted me and Tod's did not respond at all. )Snail mail is always more likely to get read.

2. Start at the Top. Obviously if you are in a store or even on the phone with a company, try to get your issues resolved at the time of the problem but if you are dealing with something that you would want to know about if you were running a company, write to the CEO or President. Someone from their office will usually funnel your complaint to the right department. It is easy to find out who is in charge as it is usually public record.

3. Don't be overdramatic or embellish. In your letter write out the problem in a short and sweet fashion. Get to the point but don't lie. Someone could seriously lose their job so keep in mind that only the facts are what needs to be said.

4. Don't complain about nothing. My issue with Target was ongoing and bad.  There was a consistent problem with my Target store not being customer friendly.  Writing to the CEO of Pizza Hut because one delivery took too long or if your pizza did not have enough pepperoni slices is probably not worth anyone's time.

5. Always write good letters too. Don't be a complainer. For every bad letter that I have written, I have tried to write a good one. Either following up from my original issue OR just writing about a good employee or experience. I became BFF's with one of the clerks at my local Walgreens after writing a letter to her manager about how she always is so friendly and helpful and I have received personal responses from CEO's of Cruise Lines and hotels after writing about great experiences. 

So pick up those pens and let me know what I should get at Tods!


Monday, October 19, 2015

Totally 80's party...

I was invited to the 50th Birthday party of a much, much older dear friend. The party was held in the ballroom of a South Beach hotel and the invitation said to arrive as your favorite 80's character. Being a big fan of that era, I was excited to see what costume everyone showed up in.  I have not been to a costume party in quite a few years and I have to say that it was extra fun because it was a large gathering and I did not know many of the other guests. Trying to figure out who the people were and who they were dressed as was a really fun party activity.


There were a lot of duplicate costumes. In descending order, here were the top hits. (all costume photos are from Amazon.com)


10. Madonnas. They were there in all shapes and sizes. 

9.  Robert Plant Girls.  The more of these, the better. They looked amazing and even went up on the stage at the party with one of the  Robert Plants and lip synched to the famous song. 

7. Top Gun and sexy top guns. Lots of guys showed up in these jumpers and their women were in the sexy version.

6. 80's big hair rockers. All the bald guys donned wigs and were unrecognizable. 

5. Scarface. Hugely popular here in Miami.

4. Magnum P.I. I'm sorry but I still have a crush on Magnum P.I. The fact that there was more than one at the party was like a bonus. 

3. Ghostbusters. One of these guys had a fire extinguisher and was using it to pretend to be busting ghosts. It was funny the first 50 times. Afterwards, not so much.

2. John McEnroe. Easy but very good costume. 

2. Dynasty and Dallas stars. This was popular among the women because they could really go all out with the hair, makeup and jewelry. I actually mistook a woman that I know as one of these but she was actually not in costume. Ooops.

1. Richard Simmons. There were two at the party but it was such a funny costume that there could have been more. 



I went as Private Benjamin. This was probably a poor choice given that I am  the physical opposite of Goldie Hawn. The blond wig that I ordered was far too terrible to actually wear outside of my home so I pretty much looked like an army vet with a "Benjamin" name patch. I had fun anyway and I was the only Private Benjamin there! 


Sunday, October 11, 2015

I think that Target and I are back together!

     I promise that this is the last that I will write about this subject but I wanted to update everyone on my Break up with Target

  

  When we last left this saga I had written a letter to the CEO of Target explaining my sadness at the lack of service at my local Target. I first got a form-like email back from someone offering a lame generic apology.  I wrote back to that email and told Target that I was insulted by the email.  I copied the CEO on that email and within hours I received two phone calls from two mucky-mucks at Target. Both of these regional supervisors were nice, apologetic and begged me not to give up on Target. They showed me the love that I deserve after shopping at their store waaay too much.  They listened to me rant for a few minutes and promised to work on it. They both gave me their cell phone numbers and told me to call or text anytime that things were not great at Target.

    I did actually head back to Target later in the week and there seemed to be more cashiers open so maybe my complaining did work. 

    Now onto a much more interesting topic, a costume party.  I am invited to fabulous birthday party where I must attend as my favorite 80's personality.  That would be, of course, Madonna, however, I fear that the entire room will be filled with Madonnas and I don't want to be boring. Any suggestions?