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By now, you might be a little burnt out on spin classes, stair climbers, and running around in the 80+ degree weather we’ve been experiencing. That’s where the latest fitness studio trend comes in: rowing.

I had experienced rowing in my Throwback Fitness classes, but I had yet to take a class entirely around the old school workout technique. I got my chance when I booked a class at Row City through my ClassPass.

If you’re looking to try something new with your workouts, here’s what I thought of this gym:

The Gym
Space: The first thing I noticed was that the gym itself is fairly small, but it’s still bright and airy because most of the walls are windows. There is only one studio space with about 20 rowers. The main difference between these rowers and the ones I had seen before was that these had a rudder-like mechanism that actually pushes through water, making it more similar to what actual rowing would be like (I guess?). There are no showers or locker rooms, but you can change in the (semi cramped) bathroom down the call. There are cubbies to keep your things while you workout. Water is not provided, but there is a machine to fill water bottles.
Cleanliness: The bathroom is really for the entire floor of the office building, so technically City Row isn’t responsible for keeping it clean. Like I said, it’s not the greatest place I’ve ever changed, but it does the trick. The gym itself is very clean, and the machines are wiped down between classes.
Attitude: Everyone I met who worked at the gym was very upbeat and friendly. The instructor made a point of trying to learn everyone’s name, and there were a few people who were new so I didn’t stick out.

The Workout
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): 7-8. I feel like if I went again, I would get a bit better of a workout. I didn’t love this new style of rower, and it took a bit of getting used to so I couldn’t go as hard as I normally would. I also felt like the lower body moves you do between rowing sprints could have been more challenging.
Experience: Over all, it was a positive experience, and I think I’ll go back. I like rowing as a total-body alternative to work on cardio endurance, and I think then next time I go I’ll be more familiar with the technique.
Afterburn: I wasn’t particularly sore the next day, but right after the class I felt fully worked out. What a really like is leaving a class feeling like I exercised every part of my body, and this definitely delivered on that.

Final grade: B. I was a little disappointed over all because so many people had hyped these classes, so maybe I just went in with my expectations too high. I think I will definitely try it again, but there are other classes I felt like gave a better workout.

Have you taken a rowing class? What did you think?

how-to-plan-kate-spade-party

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love a theme. (Symptom of being an overplanner.) I typically plan one themed (or at least more elaborate) party a year, and since it had been over a year since my Mad Men housewarming, I was due for another.

The party would be to introduce a few of my girl friends. A while back, my friends Ashli and Nikki started a little tradition of planning “glam girls’ nights in” where we could introduce women from our different social circles that we thought would get along. I had said I wanted to host the next one, and then I set about working on the girliest party theme possible: a Kate Spade theme.

Here’s how I decorated, what we ate, what we wore, and how we celebrated.

How I decorated:
The first question my husband asked when I told him the party theme? “What the heck is a Kate Spade party?” Essentially, the theme was lots of color, stripes, and polka dots. In the invitation, I asked all the girls to incorporate stripes or polka dots into their outfits. (More on that later.)

invite

I got my invitations on Etsy from Olive & Star — because a fancy party needs a fancy invite. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail?

My apartment is already pretty colorful, so the rest of the decor was simple. I created a rainbow canopy with crepe paper streamers, had a few balloons in the entryway for when people walked in, and created a photo wall in the kitchen using polka dot wrapping paper and some leftover streamers.

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kate-spade-decor

I also made a few Kate Spade quote prints in Photoshop to decorate the food table, bar, and bathroom. You can download the PDFs for these at the bottom of the post.

What we ate:

veggie-rolls

Veggie Rolls, cheese and crackers, and spicy crab dip made up the appetizers.

Veggie Rolls
Ingredients:
Carrots
Red and yellow bell peppers
Cucumbers
Goat cheese

Directions:
1. Chop carrots and bell peppers into matchstick slices. Set aside.

2. Thinly slice cucumbers into long strips. Spread with 1/2 Tablespoon of goat cheese.

3. Place carrot and pepper slices into cucumbers, roll up, and pin into place with a toothpick.

Spicy Crab Dip
Ingredients:
4 cans crab meat
4 T light mayo
2 tsp chili powder
1 T hot sauce

Combine ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

For dinner, I boiled tortellini and served with a marinara (store bought…I’m only a pretend housewife, remember?) and a kale pesto.

tortellini

Kale Pesto
Ingredients:
4-5 cups kale, washed
1/2 cup pine nuts
4-5 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

My friend Cyndy also brought a salad.

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cake

“Naked” Funfetti Layer Cake
The highlight of the food, though, was the dessert. I want to preface this with one fact: I am not a baker. Baking is chemistry, meaning you can’t really improvise that much, and that stresses me out. I almost always mess up things I bake, and even when I don’t, there’s ALWAYS a moment during the process when I am convinced I’ve ruined the whole thing.

Like I said – stress.

I always manage to forget these things when I entertain, however, and decided that I was going to bake a cake.

Not just any cake. A layer cake. Because that’s simple.

I baked a funfetti cake from a box, but I did a few substitutions to make it taste better: add milk instead of water, butter instead of oil, and an extra egg. The buttercream I made using this recipe.

Word to the wise: Just because you’re making a “naked” cake doesn’t mean you don’t need LOADS of icing. I should have at least tripled that recipe to have had enough.

After baking the layers and trimming them to be level (another tip: freeze the layers overnight after baking to make them easier to trim/stack), I started stacking. A few spoonfuls of sprinkles and a confetti topper later, we were in business.

The drink I’m calling the PopFizzClink in honor of our hashtag. Here’s how to make it:

drink

PopFizzClink Cocktail
Ingredients:
1 oz St. Germaine
1 oz pomegranate juice
Champagne or Prosecco

Combine St. Germaine and pomegranate juice in a champagne flute and fill the rest of the way with bubbly. When making in large batches, I recommend mixing the St. Germaine and pomegranate (in equal parts) in a large pitcher to chill beforehand. Then you pour a bit in each glass and top with champagne/prosecco.

What we wore:

kate-spade-guests
Have I mentioned how much I love friends that commit to a theme? These girls did not disappoint.

Everyone incorporated stripes or polka dots, plus there was plenty of color to add to the evening. Plus, I finally got to wear the tulle skirt I’ve had in my closet for months. (Because one day I decided I needed it, okay?)

Even Bogey got in on the action. (Because you know I would not have a party without Bogart.)

What we did:
Since the evening was going to be about introducing people who didn’t know each other, I planned a few games to keep things interesting. (I didn’t want to do too many because I know some people hate party games…just enough to get everyone talking.)

Aren’t You Cute?
For this game, I gave each girl five polka dot stickers at the beginning of the party. Whenever they heard someone use the word “cute,” they were allowed to steal a sticker from them. But if they said it, whoever caught them could steal a sticker from them. The goal was to have the most stickers by the end of the evening.

Meet My Fabulous New Friend
To introduce everyone, I paired the ladies off with someone they didn’t know with questionaires. They would interview their partner, and then “introduce” them to the rest of the group. I stole this idea from Ashli and Nikki’s party because it was such a funny way to hear hilarious stories and get to know each other beyond the basics. Questions included things like “what is your job,” “what is your most embarrassing moment,” “what is your favorite place you have traveled to,” and more.

There Will Be A Quiz
While everyone was introducing their new friends, I wrote down random facts each person revealed. After we had all “met,” I told everyone we were starting a new game where they had to be the first one to identify who had said the things I had written down. Whoever remembered the most (and the fastest) won a prize.

Put a Bow On It
We didn’t end up playing this game, but I think it’s always good to have a back-up in case things start to slow down. The plan was to pair everyone off again and give each team of two a piece of ribbon. They would then have to race to tie their ribbon into a bow first — but each person could only use one of their hands. Teamwork!

At the end of the party, I also sent each girl home with a little goody bag with a face mask, compact mirror, nail polish, and a Ring Pop.

treat-bags

The party turned out exactly how I hoped. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and I had fun learning new things about everyone. Plus: cake and tutus. What more do I need?

Thanks again to the girls for playing along! And a HUGE thank-you to Monica for taking most of these pictures (if you want to hire a photographer in the NYC area, let me know and I can pass along her info).

#popfizzclink!

 

Free Downloadable Kate Spade PDFs
Eat Cake for Breakfast
But first, champagne
Cocktail in her hand, confetti in her hair
She is anything but ordinary.
Coral lipstick
Dressing up begins at age five…
#PopFizzClink
She is a voracious reader…

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I love summer, but I don’t think it could ever be my favorite season. Mostly because, while it is packed with loads of fun things to do, it always comes with a certain amount of stress.

A side effect of being a planner is that, often times, I tend to overplan my life. Besides social engagements, I also plan my workouts, when I clean my apartment, when I run errands, and virtually all of my recreation. (Yes, I have actually set aside time in my calendar for “chilling out.” I have a problem, I know.)

Lately, I feel like my calendar is stuffed to the brim, and when a friend asks if I can hang, I’m wracked with guilt when I can’t find a time slot. This only ever seems to happen to me in the summer time.

Plus, everything feels more stressful when you’re sweating out an 85-degree day, amiright?

When I started writing this post, I had the idea that I was going to commit to more relaxation — less planning. But there’s a part of me that resists that reasoning. After all, I’m young and only have a few serious obligations in life (AKA, no children yet). Shouldn’t this be the time that I cram my schedule with the things I enjoy doing? Because I do enjoy all of my plans when they’re happening. And if everything is getting done, is there really any harm in feeling busy?

Maybe it’s the previously mentioned guilt that is throwing a wrench in the machinery. It’s probably not possible to do everything for everyone, no matter how much I wish I could.

So basically, this is a story of me being a good little Midwestern girl who wants to please everyone.

Sigh. I’m such a cliche.

I heard a quote on a show one time that was basically: “You need to change your dialogue. Instead of ‘I’m so overwhelmed,’ say, ‘My cup runneth over.’” So essentially, I need to think positively about the fact that I’m busy to make it easier to handle.

And wait patiently for fall.

Is there a season where you feel like you’re just barely keeping it together? Would you rather overfill your life with happy things or risk missing out but keep your sanity?

I’m pretty thrilled to announce that I have completed the Spring Simplification List (with a couple caveats, I suppose).

BEDROOM
Move bed back

Hooks for hats and bags
Move trunk into bedroom
Hang curtains
Fix pictures over drawers

LIVING ROOM
New coffee table or TV dinner trays

Clean up corners
Map for over couch
Organize desk area
Create more organized entryway

CLOSETS
Straighten linen closet
Clean out front closet
Reorganize crawl space

KITCHEN
Get Norden IKEA table
Sell dinner table (added to Craigslist)
Clean out pantry

(The newly checked off items are in purple.)

First, the desk. Some of you will remember my post last week talking about how I wanted to spruce up our computer desk. Well, for once I actually accomplished a goal within a couple of days. (It may have helped that I had a little party Saturday, so I had extra motivation.) After a quick trip to Target, I had this:

desk-overall-1

desk-decor

Of course, with a close up of the GREATEST TAPE DISPENSER EVER.

Next, the new coffee table. I have been coveting this one from West Elm for literally two years, but I just couldn’t in good conscience shell out $600 for a coffee table. Plus, you know my thing about buying new-new furniture. (And people very rarely sell these on Craigslist, probably because they’re perfect.) So, in typical me fashion, I scoured online for something similar, preferably pre-owned.

I searched for months, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote this simplification list at the beginning of spring. Finally, a week ago I found my new table.

photo 2

photo 3

It even has a lift-top like the West Elm version! The biggest difference? I paid $75 to a guy in Brooklyn for mine. Win.

Now for the list caveats. Obviously, there are three things that have not happened yet: art over the dresser, selling the kitchen table, and finding an IKEA Norden table.

For now, I’m sticking with the table we have. It’s fine. It doesn’t provide extra storage, and I will still sell it if anyone contacts me, but I’m holding off on buying anything new for a while. So for now, this one will do.

I still have every intention of finding something for over the dresser, but I think it’s time to retire this list. Obviously I’ll let you know when I find the right thing.

Even with those little asterisks, I still feel pretty accomplished about checking off a lot of those things. Cleaning out the crawl space and finding the new coffee table have been plaguing me for the better part of a year, so it’s pretty dang satisfying knowing they’re done.

Guess it’s time to think of some more goals, huh?

If you’ve partaken in any experience involving the service industry with me, it has probably come up how much I hate poor customer service.

To me, there are few things less excusable than a CS rep telling me there is “nothing they can do,” especially because I don’t really consider myself all that difficult to please. Did I come into your eating establishment looking to exchange funds for food and services? Ok, then let’s do that. Did you lose my luggage on an international flight? Ok, then I’ll wait here while you find and return my bag. Have a purchased a plane ticket through your airline? Then I look forward to you getting me where I want to go on the agreed upon date. Did we have an online agreement that you were going to accept my PayPal transaction in exchange for a new skirt? Fantastic, see you in 5-8 business days.

You see? Not asking for the sun and stars. In fact, it has been quite a while since I had to tangle with a corporate office via angry email.

The system breaks down, though, when other parties don’t hold up their end of the service industry deal. For example, that not-so-hypothetical skirt I mentioned.

On June 4th, I placed an order for a skirt and a top. The order was shipped within 12 hours. On Jun 6th, I tracked the package and saw that there was a “Delivery Exception” alert, and the FedEx trail went cold in Groverton, OH. Immediately, I went to ASOS.com to find a way to contact customer service to find out what happened.

What I was met with was a Machiavellian version of an FAQ page where I had to confine my concerns to about five different options in order to proceed to actually submitting a question. Since “My package is stuck in Groverton, OH” was not one of the pre-written problems, I could not do this and therefore could never get to a point where I would submit my issue. (I’m being snarky, but truth be told, NONE of the options were even close to my issue. The only potential problems related to shipping I could find were “how do I track my package.”)

My last resort, it seemed, was contacting the company via their Twitter customer service account, @ASOS_HeretoHelp. I tweeted my issue (briefly, obviously) and received a quick reply to send them a direct message with my email address and order number. I immediately complied. A full day went by. No response. So I tweeted again and got the following response:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.10.19 AM

As you can see, a day after that they replied to tell me. Here’s the issue: They had not replied to my DM.

If I hate bad customer service, then I despise being lied to. Now we officially had issues.

Still trying to be reasonable, I gave it 24 more hours. Then this:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.12.06 AM

Ok. They’re busy. I can understand that. (Lying I can NEVER understand.) This wasn’t a life or death thing, so I was still trying to be reasonable.

On June 16th (FIVE DAYS LATER), I start to lose my cool.

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I have issues with this. First, this is not the first time we had discussed me DM-ing them, but it IS the first time they’re making an excuse why they couldn’t answer me. Why wouldn’t they ask me to follow them from the start so they could reply? Why would that have ALREADY TOLD ME THAT THEY REPLIED if they never really did? Why are we having this conversation on TWITTER when they have my email AND phone number? WHY HAS IT BEEN TEN DAYS OF BACK AND FORTH?

Fully irritated now but still trying to be nice so they would help me, the following exchange took place:

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If you’ll note the time stamps, even after following them, I still had to follow up twice to get a reply (not a DM reply, just another tweet) asking me to again send them my info. I mean, was I being punked?

Finally, I received a DM confirming the issue and confirming my address so they could send me a replacement order. Yay! Progress! Right?

Things seemed to be going well; I was told a new order was being shipped. Since this wasn’t my first rodeo, I thanked them and asked for a reference number. ALWAYS GET A REFERENCE NUMBER. They told me I would get an email with all the information in the next 24 hours. (Seeing a pattern here?)

On June 23rd (four days later), I DM’d them again that I had never received said email. Then, 24 hours later, this happened:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.21.37 AM

Um…what?

So now you are telling me that you lost my order, but I have to not only call to straighten it out, I also have to find said contact information on my own? Last straw.

Not seeing another option, I called FedEx, who told me there was nothing they could do but I should call the USPS. I tried that, but again was met with an automated voice system that did not recognize “delivery exception,” “lost order,” or “LET ME SPEAK WITH A HUMAN BEING” as voice commands. So I looked up the Groverton post office and called them. A human answered, I explained my situation and that the tracking code said the package was there. She said it was NOT there, it had been returned to the customer. I told her I was the customer, and no, no it hadn’t. She said she meant it had been returned to ASOS.

Hand to God, I had one of those Zack Morris-style break from reality moments right here. ASOS had the package? The same ASOS who had just sent me on this wild goose chase to Ohio? THEY HAD IT THE WHOLE TIME? I thanked her and hung up, and then immediately planned my destruction of the company.

Of course, I’m kidding. Kind of.

But I went back to ASOS.com to see if there was a corporate contact email (I go big), and now saw that because my order was past its delivery date, there was an option to email the company directly if I had’t received my order. HOW CONVENIENT.

I sent the following message:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.28.18 AM

Within literally an hour, I received two emails: one from PayPal telling me I had received a refund from ASOS, and the other from ASOS telling me they had canceled my order and sent me a refund.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am happy they at least sent my money back quickly, but I really resent them just making the decision for me. I didn’t want my money back. I wanted my order.

After receiving my forced refund with zero explanation except an email saying I was getting refunded (and raging about my apartment for a good 45 seconds while Bogey looked on in concern), I settled in to write an email of my own. A specific kind of email. An angry grandmother email. (Total disclosure: First, I fired off a round of bitter tweets and may have spent a few minutes making sure the CEO of ASOS didn’t have a Twitter account of his own. I was taking them down, guys.)

In my email to corporate customer relations, I laid out the entire scenario. I explained to them the number of times I had been deceived with false information, how long I had been a regular customer (two years with five orders in the books), and how duped I felt now that I knew how little they cared about their customers.

And wouldn’t you know, within the hour I had some responses. An actual human being emailed me back apologizing an offered me my original 10% discount if I wanted to reorder. (I had already reordered the skirt because I was worried it would sell out, but they refunded me the discount.) Even their formerly useless Twitter account sent me a 15% off code (it’s good for a month if anyone wants it).

I’ve often said that if a company makes even the slightest effort to make something up to me, I will be placated. And this case was no different — I was still mildly irritated that it took all this fuss to accomplish what generally just takes a few clicks online, but at the end of the day, they apologized and got me what I wanted. I hung up my angry grandmother hat and went on with my life.

But here is where ASOS actually restored my faith in humanitytheir company.

This morning, I woke up to a long email (again, actually written by a human being) from their corporate customer relations department. She apologized again for what I had dealt with and assured me that this was not their standard of service. Apparently there was a “training issue” that led to my shoddy service on Twitter, which I can generally kind of believe. Then, to make it up to me, she said they wanted to pay me back for the skirt I had reordered. They’re giving me the skirt to retain me as a customer.

You guys? That is gold star-worthy.

I really do like ASOS for their good prices and wide variety, so it was truly a relief for me not to have to shun them forever. (Because I NEVER forget, you guys.) It’s also just nice to find a company who cares about their customers, especially when “making it up to me” means a minuscule sacrifice to their bottom line. They’re a multi-million dollar company — they can give away a skirt here and there.

In short, thank you to Jean and Lola in the consumer relations department for treating me like a human being, actually saying the words “I’m so sorry,” and actually doing whatever was in your power to make the situation right. You are awesome and exactly the type of people who should be in the service industry. If your bosses are reading this, you should give those women raises.

Phew. That was a long story. But to sum up, here are my tips for getting customer service to take you seriously:

1. Don’t be shy about making a fuss. You have to be intelligent about it — it’s easy to ignore those obnoxious people who scream about every little thing, but a detailed, thoughtful email is much easier to take seriously. And don’t underestimate the power of a negative social media campaign.

2. Memorize this phrase: “I have to believe this is not your standard of service given the success of your company.” I’m not kidding — companies take their reputations very seriously. Odds are, what you dealt with was not their standard, and they will do what it takes to uphold consumer opinion.

3. Be as reasonable as possible. If I had just started screaming and swearing or something at the beginning, Jean and Lola would probably not have been so lovely to me. Being mean to customer service people gets you no where, in my experience.

4. Keep a record. It helped that all of my communication with the company was online because I had a written record of dates and actual phrasing to back me up. It’s hard to argue with facts or go back on your word when I have it in a screenshot.

5. Practice good business karma. Okay, I don’t actually believe in karma. But I do believe in rewarding people for good behavior. Now that Jean and Lola made things right, I will continue to praise the company and remain a customer.

Anyone else have any bad/good customer service stories they want to get off their chests?

Our computer desk has been a bit of a trial for me.

In our first apartment, I never really loved how it looked (apologies for that atrocious photo), and in our new apartment, it’s the first space to start looking cluttered after I’ve given the apartment a deep clean. And because organizing the desk area is on the simplification list anyway, I figured now would also be a good time to figure out an organization system that actually works.

And it wouldn’t hurt if it was also pretty, right?

Here’s what I’m thinking of adding:

Desk Details in Gold

Cute, right? Y’all know I love anything white and gold.

I also need to spend a little time styling our bulletin board. I really like these inspirational ideas from Pinterest (click images for sources):

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Just because our bulletin board is functional doesn’t mean it can’t also be pretty, right? And now that I’m working from home a couple of times a month, it helps to have an organized, aesthetically pleasing place to work.

Do you have a home office? Is it more utilitarian or more stylish?