Monday, December 12, 2016

Inky Mondays: Noodler's 54th Massachusetts Review

For my first ink review, I will be going with Noodler's 54th Massachusetts.  I ordered this as a sample from Goulet Pens (an AWESOME place to start if you are looking into getting into fountain pens) and of course I paid for the ink myself.  When I first got into fountain pens, I used Noodler's inks because they seemed to be extremely popular.  However, I noticed that I was having problems with them compared to other brands, especially in my Pilot Metropolitans.  Noodler's Inks, especially their bulletproof inks, often tended to clog up my pens and they were very difficult to clean out of the pens.  Just when I though I'd gotten all the ink out, I would find that even more was hiding in the feed or somewhere.  Because of my past issues, I've mostly stayed away from Noodler's inks since then.  However, I feel like I'm missing out on opportunities for some really great colors, so I decided to order some samples and see if I could handle them better now.

I was actually surprised by how well I enjoyed this ink.  The color is lovely.  I think it looks quite blue, but I've seen other reviews saying to them, it looks more black.  I definitely see that compared to other blues, but this is the lightest blue-black ink I have, as you can see in the above comparisons to other inks.  This ink performs quite well in my Conklin Duragraph with Medium Nib.  It is not overly wet, but it is not a dry write either.  That being said, it does produce a very wide line in this nib compared to other inks, which is surprising because this usually only happens with the wettest of inks.  The color really is gorgeous and unique though.  I think it has an almost vintage quality due to the muted hue.

The ink flows quite well, unless you leave the nib uncapped for any longer than a few seconds.  At that point, the ink tends to dry out in the nib, which will cause hard starts when you go to write again.  I have heard some people say that this alone frustrates them to the point where they do not use this ink.  If you are a student, or in a situation where you take a lot of notes, this ink may not be the best for that purpose.  Also, this ink is a pain to clean out of pens.  In order to get it all out, I have to remove the nib and feed from the housing - mere flushing just doesn't do it.  I suppose if I let the pen soak all night in water or even pen flush, the ink might work its way out, but it's faster to just rinse it out myself.  This could be problematic though if you feel uncomfortable removing the nib from your pen, or if you have a pen where the nib cannot, or should not, be removed.
All in all this is a nice ink, but it will not be my go-to blue black.  I will finish using up the sample, but after that I think I will mainly stick with other brands.  If you need a water resistant ink, though, and you do not mind giving your pen a deep cleaning if you want to put a different color in after using this one, then it is definitely something to consider.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


It arrived!  My awesome box from my Secret Santa!

This is my second year participating in a Secret Santa hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  It is known (and hashtagged) on Twitter as #TBTBSanta and even though this is only my second time participating, its kind of becoming a yearly tradition to look forward to.  I was surprised today to find a package on my doorstep from my Secret Santa.  This is PERFECT!  It's really starting to get cold and gloomy here in Michigan so receiving a surprise like this was just perfect timing!

Out of respect for her privacy I will not be revealing who my Secret Santa was, at least not on my blog (though I have thanked her on Twitter and will be sending her a thank-you card in the mail), but let me just got through what was in the box!  First let's cover the three books - one graphic novel and two regular novels.  I LOVE that each book came from a different genre!  The graphic novel, Gotham Academy, has been on my list for awhile and it was a super fun surprise to open that one today!  She also sent me Finnikin of the Rock, a YA (I think!) fantasy that I've seen mentioned from time to time and that people seem to have high opinions for.  And finally...The Night Circus!  I've been wanting to read this one for years, ever since I found out the author wrote it during NaNoWriMo, and I have heard nothing but good things about it.  I know all three of these will keep me busy over the break!

My Secret Santa also sent me some PLANNER STICKERS which contain hundreds of stickers for different seasons and occasions, and will be absolutely perfect for my bullet journal!  Also, fuzzy socks, which I happen to be wearing right now, as it's freezing, and they're super comfy and cozy!  A Gilmore Girls mug dipped in glitter, because she knows how much I LOVE and adore Gilmore Girls, a Ron funko pop (the version of him in the Christmas sweater), DavidsTea ornaments, one filled with Sleigh Ride and the other with Apple Cider tea.  I haven't opened the ornaments yet but I have tried the teas and they are both awesome!!  Can't have too much of these flavors!  And finally, some of my favorite candies - Toblerone and Hershey's cookies and cream bar!  

So if you are my Secret Santa and you are reading this, THANK YOU!  You really put a lot of thought and effort into this box and it really brightened my day!  I hope you are having a wonderful time leading up to the holidays!

I still haven't mailed my box out to my Secret Santa (the one who I gift to, obviously) because I'm still waiting on a few gifts to come through the mail (USPS is already getting backed up due to Christmas it seems), but I'm hoping to be able to send it off at the beginning of next week!
Finally, I cannot end this post without a picture of Harry, Ron, and Hermione all together :).  And...Snape...lurking in the background haha!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Hey all!  So sorry for the long absence!  I actually went back to school!!!  When we moved here to Michigan, I was afforded the opportunity to finish out my degree, and I knew I would be stupid not to.  So I'm now studying Psychology and so far I'm loving it, though I have been SO BUSY with this studying thing (and re-learning HOW to study) that I just have not had the time to maintain this blog. But that's about to change.  My semester comes to a close next week, so I will have all Winter break to write some catch-up posts, and hopefully in the Spring I'll be able to manage my time better (now that I've got a better hold on this studying thing) and still post regularly :).  So here are some things that have happened since August:

  • I started a bullet journal!  Actually, I started and finished one.  This all started with my looking for the perfect planner to stay organized, but when it was obvious no such thing existed, I sort of stumbled into the bullet journaling world.  I have kept a journal since I was in Kindergarten, but this was a new thing for me, and I found a way to combine planning, list making, and journaling all into one notebook.  I'm really digging the Leuchtturm notebooks.  Maybe I'll do a blog post (or a few) totally dedicated to bullet journaling and my method to the madness :)
  • My fountain pen collecting took on a new vigor.  I've been collecting fountain pens since we moved to Colorado, actually, but with going back to school along with the bullet journaling thing, I've cared even more about my writing instruments (hint: fountain pens are the only things I ever use).  I've acquired more fountain pens than I care to admit this past semester, and I've got two more on the way (one is a Christmas present from my husband, and the other is a reward to myself for my good grades this semester).  I definitely plan to do several blog posts about fountain pens in the near future!  
  • I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family in North Carolina, which is always nice.  That used to be a given, but ever since I moved away from home, spending holidays with my family is always a special treat.
  • I still hate my house.  But I've learned to tolerate it.  
  • I've discovered that I DESPISE grocery shopping in this town.  There are simply not enough grocery stores to accommodate the population here, and I've taken to getting meal delivery services like Sun Basket and Blue Apron (trust me, for someone who hates shopping and lives in a place where all the stores near her feel like the day before Thanksgiving no matter what day or time you go, these are WORTH IT!).  I'll probably review some of those boxes as well.
  • I've been in kind of a reading slump.  Part of that is due to reading so much for school that I no longer want to read ANYTHING when I'm done with it.  So it's taking me forever to get through books and therefore I kind of lose interest in them.  I hope I can remedy this over the break.
So yeah, that's it for this quick update, but I hope to post some more detailed blog posts too (and no this isn't a false promise)!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Top Ten Books I Would Buy RIGHT NOW If Someone Gave Me A Fully Loaded Gift Card

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish blog meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish!  Head over there to check out their blog as well as to find other bookish blogs!

This weeks theme is which books I would purchase right now if I had a fully loaded gift card.  Well, there's definitely more than 10 books.  I mean, have you SEEN my Amazon wishlist?  lol!  I'd pretty much buy everything on my TBR list if I could...and if I had the time to read them all.

I'm not really going to take the time to explain each one, as this list of books is pretty self-explanatory.  Not all of these are YA, and I tried to limit it to books that haven't yet been released. So, without further ado, the top ten books I would buy are:

1.  Mirror In the Sky

2.  The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love

3.  Cure for the Common Universe

4.  Orphan Train

5.  The Rosie Project

6.  The Crown's Game

7.  The Smell of Other People's Houses

8.  Dark Matter

9.  A Wizard of Earthsea

10.  My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry

The above list is in no particular order, they are just all books I'd like to read sometime soon and if I had the money I'd just go ahead and buy them (don't worry, OTSP Secret Sister, I won't be buying the books on the wish list even if someone gives me a gift card to buy them  ;).  It's just hypothetical).  Let me know in the comments which books you are eager to read and would buy right now if you had a gift card!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Understanding this Feeling of Loss

If you follow me on Twitter, or even from reading my last blog post, you might notice I've been very "complainy" and negative about my new place.  You might even be rolling your eyes and thinking "Caitlen, get over it, you have more than a lot of people, be grateful that you have a roof over your head and live in a safe area."  I get that.  And I'm trying to be thankful for what I have and make plans for getting my new place to feel like home.  But the issue here isn't that I'm not grateful for what I have, it's that I'm essentially grieving for the place I lost.  And when I say that, I'm not even talking about the physical things I left behind (while yes, I am upset that I didn't bring my nice fridge with us and that I had to leave behind the amazing stove I picked out when we moved in to that house, those material items only play a small role in this sense of loss I have going on).  For some reason, this move was the toughest move I have gone through to date, and I've been trying to figure out why.  While I don't know for 100% sure, I THINK I have it pinned down to the fact that, for the first time ever, I wasn't READY to move.  At least, that's a good portion of it.  The rest is the fact that the last place was the first that was truly mine - not a place I was renting from someone else.  I'll touch on both parts today.

I have always had a sense of wanderlust.  My mother was a flight attendant when I was a kid and that came with the perk of free travel.  During my childhood we would take day trips to NYC, weekend trips to Disney World, go to San Francisco on a whim (ok that happened once, but it was pretty fun), etc.  I learned to love travel from a very young age, and even though I grew up in the same city from birth until I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to experience life in other places.  When I went off to college, I started off at a place about three hours from home.  It was perfect, as it was far enough away that I wasn't expected to go home every weekend (and I didn't need to worry about my parents just dropping in on me - something I oddly worried about but, looking back, am pretty sure wouldn't have happened even if I'd gone to college in the same city), but it was close enough to where if I wanted a spontaneous weekend at home, it wasn't a big deal to load up my car after Friday classes and head home.  But my mind was still elsewhere and I wanted to expand my horizons, so after two years I transferred to a university in TX - a two day drive from home, or, as more often happened, a plane ride home.  That move was extremely exciting.  I lived in TX for almost four years before moving to Kansas to live with my husband (though we weren't quite married at the time - we got married later that year).  I loved TX, and there are many parts about TX that I really miss, but that move was an exciting move as well.  As were the moves after that until we ended up in Colorado.  Though I hated leaving my friends in those other places and there was nothing about the places that I really disliked, each move, whether I'd been there for 6 months or two years, came at a time that just seemed right.

But for some reason, Colorado was special.  From my very first visit there for house-hunting, I was in love with the place.  It wasn't even the people, either - you guys, people in Colorado Springs can be freaking rude.  To the point where if you're driving through the neighborhood and wave, or even if you pass them in a store and smile at them, they respond with a look of suspicion and confusion.  But the view is, obviously one of the best views around, the city had everything I could need (basics like Target, Costco, Barnes & Noble, ample restaurants, even a raw honey shop that I loved to frequent), and for some reason it felt like home very quickly.  I looked at many houses when I was house hunting, but from the moment I walked through the front door of ours, I knew it was the one.  Of course I viewed it twice before putting in an offer, but I fell in love with it before it was even ours.

The house was far from perfect.  The master bedroom was set up to where it was difficult to arrange the room more than one way (the closet was one of those with a sliding door that took up an entire wall, a window took up another entire wall, that sort of thing).  The master bath did not even have a door on it (though there was a door to the toilet closet), and, get this guys, it was CARPETED.  This seemed to be a trend in Colorado (both the door and the carpeting) but the whole time I always wondered who gets it in their head to put carpet in a bathroom.  The laundry was located in the guest bath, and though it had accordion doors for the laundry area, our washer and dryer wouldn't fit with the doors on so we had to take those off and just hang up a curtain.  It made it really difficult to keep the guest bath clean because we always had clothes and things in there, falling on the floor and whatnot.  Both of the guest bedrooms were very tiny.  In one, we had a trundle daybed, and when the trundle was pulled out, both beds side by side literally filled up the entire room.  The living room was also set up in a way that only really let us arrange it one way (at least, if we wanted the TV in there), but it always seemed a little off.  I'm sure an interior designer could have looked at it and figured out what to fix about it, but we set it up the way we liked and it was comfortable.  Overall though, despite these minor shortcomings, the house just felt like home.  I loved being in my house and I always felt a sense of peace whenever I was in the house.  It's just a feeling I can't describe, but when I think about the house I think of the early 4AM mornings we had before hiking trips or ski days.  I think about the time my grandad came out to Colorado to visit and how I was so excited to show him where I lived.  I think about the year or so I had an Etsy shop making soap, and the hours I spent in the basement actually making the soap and lining the individual bars up on shelves to cure.  I think of how much fun the dogs had running around our fenced in backyard.  But mostly, when I think about that house, I think of the sense of peace and joy I had living there.  And even though we had a very easy sale and even made some money off of it (money that we've put in a savings account so we can hold it for a down payment for the next house we buy), I kind of find myself wishing we had decided to rent it out instead.  But we decided against that because there are just too many horror stories we have heard with that.

From the moment I found out we were moving away from Colorado, I started feeling this sense of loss.  When we first moved there, we thought we'd be spending around four years there, but instead we would only be leaving after two and a half.  And while that is longer than we have lived in a lot of other places, it still felt too soon.  There were things I still wanted to do.  I wanted to get another season at Winter Park, for one (our first ski season was there, but then the last one was a Vail epic pass, but Winter Park was always our favorite).  I had also wanted to visit Wyoming and Utah while we lived out west - two states I've never seen.  I wanted to go to Yellowstone.  I wanted to road trip to Los Angeles and see the Big Bang Theory.  I wanted to tour the Vineyards on the western slope.  We didn't have time to do ANY of that.  It's kind of a lesson, in a way though.  Don't put things off, because if you keep procrastinating, you might never get to do them.  We always thought we had more time for that stuff, but before we knew it, we were planning our move.

The time leading up to putting the house on the market and selling was extremely stressful, as we obviously had to declutter and get rid of a bunch of stuff.  We used the same realtor we used when we initially bought the house, so we already had a good relationship with her.  I just wish that, when she asked me what appliances we had planned to exclude, I hadn't told her we planned on keeping all of them with the house.  We thought moving my fridge would just be too much of a hassle, but honestly it would have been worth it (and we were well under the weight limit allowed for the move anyway). We already had a place set up here in Michigan, but it was sight unseen - however, we'd gotten references for this landlord from another person my husband will be working with here who also uses this landlord and likes him, so we felt confident going with him.  The place we are renting is expensive - about $50 more than our mortgage in Colorado, but in an area where property values are extremely low.  So I guess we thought we were going to get what we pay for.  In the past when our friends have rented houses in this upper price range relative to property values in the area, they get very nice amenities such as stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors in many cases, upgraded cabinets and countertops, etc.  So when I told our realtor not to exclude our fridge, I was kind of expecting the same thing.

Boy was I wrong.

I think when we actually got here, saw that the place was a duplex instead of a stand alone house (though our neighbors are WONDERFUL, sweet, and very quiet, so we don't complain really about that), and had 20 year old appliances...well you can imagine how let down I feel.  And it's not like the high rent is going towards upgraded anything else, either.  The cabinets are cheap particle board like you might find in an RV or mobile home.  Countertops are basic formica.  No baseboard, no moulding of any kind, white textured walls that kind of make it seem "dorm-like," walls that we aren't even allowed to paint even if we offered to paint them back before move-out, no fixtures on cabinets, etc.  It's just very basic feeling, and it's the type of house I would expect if we were paying maybe $300-400 less than what we are.  I get why the rent is high - we are in a college town, and the landlord is looking for a demographic other than college kids to rent there.  However, I feel that in order to attract that demographic that he's looking for, he should be willing to update some things in the house.  We are not rich, by any means, but we also are not broke as college students, either.  We're just leaving our 20's, have a bit of savings, and are at that point where we start expecting our standard of living to reflect things besides bare-bones basic.  People in my age range who can afford the rent here are looking for more modern amenities, and while we're not looking for anything overly fancy, I do expect things to be a little more energy efficient (by contrast, our fridge runs all the time, we have a non-programmable thermostat that doesn't even show the current temperature, and well, ALL of the appliances are about as efficient as you would expect 20-year-old appliances to be).  Also, at this price range, I kind of expect a fridge with an ice maker.  That sort of thing.  I get that from a landlords point of view, he's renting out the house, not the appliances (even though the appliances come with the house).  But by that logic, for the price we pay we should have updated cabinets.  Preferably with fixtures that people in my generation tend to prefer.  Maybe even updated countertops.  Perhaps updating things like the thermostat would have been a nice gesture, too.  Little touches here and there that don't make it seem I'm renting a bare bones basic unit.  I have lived in enough places and rented enough to know what to expect at various price ranges (again, relative to area property values and rent), and based on past experience, we're getting ripped off.  But there's nothing we can do about it because we signed a two year lease, and I don't want to complain too much to the landlord because we're expected to be here for 3 years and so if he doesn't renew our lease at the end of two years, I don't want to deal with moving ourselves before we have to.

This kind of starts to tie into the fact that this place isn't MINE and we have so many restrictions that it's hard to get it to feel like mine.  At our last place, if we didn't like something, we did something about it.  Remember the carpet in the bathroom I mentioned?  We pulled the carpet up and put in tile. Had we been in the house longer, we would have finished the basement.  We would have put in granite countertops and tiled the kitchen (it had linoleum floors).  The appliances that came with the house were old, so we replaced them (and it was easy because Colorado Springs has an AMAZING factory outlet so we got all our appliances for less than half the price as if we'd gone to a place like Home Depot to buy them).  We painted our living room and guest rooms.  While there are downsides to owning a house - like when the motors of our furnace broke and we had to drop an unexpected $1000 to get them fixed - the fact that we could do what we wanted with the place without getting permission from a landlord totally made it worth it.  It's so strange now that we live here but the place isn't ours to do with as we please.  For example, I really want to replace our kitchen faucet with a two-in-one faucet/sprayer like we had at the last place (much easier to fill large pots with water, plus makes it easy to fill the dogs' water jug).  But, even though it's something we can easily reverse prior to moving out, we can't do it without first getting permission from our landlord.  And I kind of have a feeling he's going to say no.  I mean, if he won't even let us paint the walls, it's hard for me to believe he's going to let us change out a plumbing fixture.  And though it's not the end of the world getting used to this kind of sink again where I can't actually move the faucet (though I hope I don't accidentally break it before getting used to it again, because I keep grabbing it to try an fill things up with it lol), things like this just reinforce the fact that, though this is supposed to be our home, it's still not OURS.  Having been a renter way more than a homeowner in my adult life, I never would have dreamed that going back to renting would be this difficult a transition.  And I DO try to see it from his point of view.  What if we painted the walls and ended up getting paint all over the carpets and floors?  While WE know better and always put plastic down over the floors before painting and use painters tape and things like that, HE doesn't know that we know to do that, even if we say we do.  He doesn't know that, if I switch out the faucet, I'll install it correctly rather than causing a leak in the pipes under the sink resulting in water damage.   And I get that.  It would be a concern of mine, too, if we had decided to rent our own house out rather than sell it (though I think the difference is our house was made for people to live in and has been updated as such, whereas the place we are renting out now was built for renters and was never designed with comfort and amenities in mind).  But it's frustrating and discouraging and difficult for me to come to grips with.

And so, I think I just need time to grieve over my sense of loss.  I know it's not the end of the world, and while I'll always miss my old house, I'll move on.  I'll make this place feel like home.  Heck, we already took down the old nasty vertical blinds that were hung over the sliding glass door in the kitchen and replaced them with green curtains.  It is AMAZING how something as simple as curtains really transform a room.  We plan on putting fixtures on the cabinets, too - just not screwing them in.  Instead, we will saw off the screws of knobs and use command strips to attach them.  I'm also looking into removable wallpaper to help disguise the ugliness of the cabinets themselves, and if I like it enough, I may even do something to mask the ugliness of the appliances too.  There are tons of blogs I've been reading about how to make rental properties feel more like home.  So while it'll take a bit of work and probably more $$ than I'd like, we'll get it there.  On that same vein, I'm trying to keep in mind that this situation, though longer than other places we've lived before, is only temporary.  This is not our forever home.  And it's kind of good that we get to experience places we bot love and...well...have no love FOR, before we do settle down in our forever home.  Most people might only live in a few places before they buy that house that they'll be in for years and years, but by the time we get there, we will have lived in MANY places.  We will know exactly what we like and don't like about a house.  What works, and what just doesn't.  It will be easier for us to get that dream house when the time comes, and in the meantime, when we live in the less-than-desirable homes, we just gotta go with the flow.  And when we get discouraged or feel sad that we're living in housing worse than our college housing while our friends paying the same rent as us for their home get nice upgraded appliances, fenced in yards, etc...we just have to remember it isn't forever!  One day our turn will come again for the nicer house too.  And, though we don't have the amenities in our new town that Colorado Springs had, I think there's going to be a lot to like about Michigan.  Trips into Canada, for one thing.  Plus, we can still ski here - obviously they don't have the huge resorts here like Colorado had, but hey, we could have ended up in a place that doesn't even see snow, so I think I'll take what I can get.  Also, one of our friend's family has a cottage in northern Michigan that they have offered to us whenever we want to use it, so that'll be a fun little getaway.  And, probably my favorite part so far about Michigan is the fact that I am a 12 hour drive from my family. This is the first time since 2007 that it hasn't been a multiple-day drive or a plane ride to go visit them, and though 12 hours is still a long drive, I'll take it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I moved to Michigan!

Sorry it's been FOREVER since I last wrote!  I've been such a bad blogger.  I think I had a pretty good reason, though, as we recently undertook a 1300 mile move from Colorado to Michigan!

Selling our house was SO stressful.  It felt like it took us forever to get the house ready to put on the market, and that no matter how much cleaning and purging we did, we still had mountains of stuff left to get rid of or "hide."  In the first part of April, my husband's parents came from Nebraska to help us tile our bathroom floor (which had CARPET in it...seriously, who puts carpet in a bathroom!?!?).  It looked so awesome afterwards, but it sucked knowing that we would only get to enjoy it for a short period of time.  Towards the end of April I then had to make the 9 hour drive to Nebraska by myself in order to drop our animals off with my in-laws (our dogs shed so much that trying to sell our house would have been impossible - there's just no keeping up with all the hair!).  We were so thankful to them for watching them because it really did take a lot of stress off our shoulders and of course we knew the dogs were in good hands.  It just sucks making long drives like that by yourself, especially when most of it is through western Nebraska and eastern Colorado (if you've never driven through that part of the country, just know that you'd better start off with an empty bladder, and don't drink too much water or soda along the drive, or you're gonna be "holding it "for QUITE awhile).

After I got back from Nebraska, we hired a professional cleaner to clean all the parts of the house that we normally forget to do (ie windowsills, blinds, those sorts of things) as well as clean everything else to a better degree than our sloppy selves could ever attain :p.  Then I hired a carpet cleaner - though said carpet cleaner did an AWFUL job and didn't suck all the water out of the carpet after he had shampooed it.  Our entire house smelled SO BAD.  Two days after that, our realtor came to our house because we were looking at putting it on the market that weekend.  She walked in and told us she can't sell the house like that, and that the house smelled like dog, which she noted that our house never smelled like dog when we actually had the dogs in the house.  It was so embarrassing for me (I take a lot of pride in my home) but also infuriating.  She basically blacklisted that carpet cleaning company at her agency, and recommended another company to redo it.  The second company did a great job of getting that smell out, but that person told me that the original person had left 140 gallons of water in our carpets!! (note that we had just a 1700 square foot house and the kitchen and bathrooms at this point were not carpeted).  Thank goodness we fixed it soon, because can you imagine the mold problem we potentially would have had??  All in all, it set us back a week in terms of putting the house on the market, and we had to pay for two carpet cleanings, but it all worked out in the end.

So finally things got straightened out, we got our house all staged, and put it on the market.  You guys, Colorado Springs is a HOT HOT market.  We put our house on the market on a Friday night.  The next day, we had TEN showings, and that night we got our first offer.  On Sunday we had 5 or 6 more showings, and by Sunday afternoon we had 3 offers and were in a bidding war.  In the end, the winning offer was $5000 more than our asking price, AND they paid closing costs.  We couldn't have been happier.  We'd only been in the house for a little over two years, and I was just thrilled we were able to sell it at all without still owing anything on our mortgage, but we succeeded in that goal and even surpassed it.  I was also excited not to have to keep my house pristine for very long and able to leave on a dime for a showing.  After all, we still lived there, and though I don't like a super messy house, it's definitely hard to keep a perfect house all the time.

Once we had our offer, everything went pretty smooth, despite a few minor hiccups, like their realtor giving me almost no notice for things (ie I was given 45 minutes notice for the home inspector.  My realtor told me to just stay at the house since we were given such short notice, and not only did the home inspector show up, but also four contractors who I had no notification of them coming, which was a bit off-putting because it was still my house, and I had a right to know who would be going in and out of it.  The contractors basically went through all our closets and everything taking measurements of stuff and were at the house for over 3 hours - almost as long as the home inspector himself).  The buyers also asked for some ridiculous things after the home inspection - like, they wanted us to install a wooden railing on the front porch even though it was up to code, and wanted us to put fancy hinged window covers over the window wells, both of which we said no to, though we agreed to certain other minor things.  However, looking back, if I were to sell a house in such a hot market again, I'd probably sell it "as is," because even the minor fixes we had to do added that much more to our already tight "to-do" list in that month we were in escrow.  On top of that, the owners kept asking if their contractors could come by to "take measurements."  The first time they asked, I got a call from my realtor at 7:30AM saying they wanted to come over at 9.  I said absolutely not!  Absolutely ridiculous request.  Then they asked if they could come by the next day, so I gave in and said yes, thinking this would be their only time asking.  Nope I was wrong.  The next week they made a similar request, this time with about 2 hours notice.  My realtor said it's not unusual for them to want to get contractors in, so again I caved.  That time, though, I noticed that things in my plate cupboard seemed to be a bit shifted.  I wasn't 100% sure that they had gone through the cabinets though, so I didn't bring it up.  Then they asked to come again for measurements the week before closing.  I told them absolutely not, because the movers were coming and we were trying to get everything ready so WE could move OUT in time to close.  Apparently their realtor kept harassing my realtor to the point where my realtor basically begged me to let them come over for like 15 minutes, so I grudgingly said yes.  This time though I KNOW they went through cabinets because after I got back, I opened one of the cabinets and my favorite mixing bowl fell out and shattered (it was on a shelf where I never put that mixing bowl).  I was SO mad and felt so violated.  That house at the time was still OUR home and it was insulting that they felt they could just come over whenever they wanted, and not only that, but they were going through cabinets while doing their "measurements," something that they should have told us they needed to do.  But it's over, the closing was successful, and it's all behind us.  But next time I sell a house, that kind of crap will not be going on at all.  They are entitled to enter the home during the due diligence period and inspection period, and after that, they should expect to wait until closing.

Anyway, now we are in Michigan.  We took some time to visit family both in Nebraska and North Carolina.  Because of the housing market here, we chose to rent.  One of my husband's coworkers at this new place recommended a landlord for us to rent from, because we were having issues finding ANY housing that would allow our pets (all the houses we could find online said no pets, or had a weight limit for dogs, and the rest of the listings were basically for student apartments, as we are in a college town).  So we set this place up with this guy back in April, and rented sight unseen.

It's not a BAD place, but we are paying $50 more for it than we paid on our mortgage, and it's a duplex with only 2 bedrooms (basically we are downsizing by a bedroom).  Technically it has an extra room in the finished basement, but we can't use it as a bedroom because it has no windows (and since we don't actually own the house, that policy is actually enforced).  So since we have three beds, basically we've converted the basement "living room" into a guest bedroom.  Which is fine, because the couch we'd originally planned to go down there wouldn't fit down the stairs (the movers tried for like 30 minutes and finally gave up).  But as I was saying, we downsized but are paying more for rent than our mortgage in an area notorious for cheap housing prices.  We lost our fenced-in backyard as well, so it's been an adjustment taking the dogs to the bathroom outside one at a time on flexi-leashes instead of just opening the door and letting them out.  That's going to suck come winter.  Also, the appliances in this house are TERRIBLE and I'm pretty sure haven't been upgraded in the last decade or two.  I am absolutely regretting not excluding our fridge from our house sale in Colorado, because even though there isn't a water line here and we wouldn't have been able to use the icemaker/water in the door, we would have had the space (it was a french door/bottom freezer fridge) and it was MUCH quieter than the fridge here, which vibrates so loud that when I'm sitting at the kitchen table I find it hard to concentrate on anything but the fridge noise, and I feel like I have to raise my voice to talk to my husband when we eat at the table.  The dishwasher is so small that if I cook anything at all that day, I usually end up doing 2-3 loads of dishes in a day because it just doesn't hold everything (my husband says "why don't you just hand wash them?" but when I've got 100 things to do, the last thing I want is to spend 30 minutes scrubbing pots and pans).  I seriously had better appliances in my cheap college housing.  We also aren't allowed to paint at all, which I think is a stupid rule because that's one of the easiest things to reverse (just go over it with white paint before you move out, what's the big deal?).  And the sliding back door and ALL the windows have those vertical blind/curtain things that are SO ugly, and many of them even have stains on them which is disgusting, so I've been on the hunt for curtains/curtain rods that look nice and also won't bust our budget.  The cabinets are made of cheap particle-board, like what you might find in an RV, and with the humidity they stick really bad, and they don't have anything to grab onto, so I'm constantly ripping my cuticles back.  We asked if we could add fixtures to the cabinets and of course got a firm "no."  So our plan is to saw off the screws of fixtures and use command tape to put them on the cabinets, because there's no way I'm going 3 years wrestling with the cabinet doors like this.  The whole place just feels really cheap, which wouldn't be a big deal if we were paying about $400 less in rent, but for what we are paying in the area we are in, we should have updated appliances, nicer cabinets, and perhaps a third bedroom.  It's just really frustrating and has been a tough adjustment.  And it sucks thinking we're going to be here longer than we were in the house we actually owned.  I miss that house SO MUCH already.  It was my sanctuary, the place where I could relax and enjoy myself, and I'm just having a hard time achieving that feeling with this place so far.  Hopefully it'll get there.  We've been working our butts off trying to decorate this place (especially overcoming the white walls and inability to paint) so hopefully with a little more TLC this place will start to feel like home for me.  But for now, I'm homesick for Colorado.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Vinebox Review

Yesterday I received my very first box from Vinebox, a new subscription company that sends you wine by the glass each month.  They are focused on smaller boutique wineries and I believe they are on their second or third month of sending out boxes.  So far all the wines have been from France, and none of them are readily available in the US.  Good news, though, if you like any of the wine they send you, then you can purchase the bottle directly from Vinebox, provided you are willing to purchase at least three at a time.  I asked them about this, and they said it is a requirement that comes with the difficulty of shipping wine, and that it wouldn't be feasible for them to allow customers to purchase just one bottle at this time, but that they are trying to come up with a way for customers to purchase additional glasses of the wine that they like.

The cost of the box is $35/month plus $6 shipping.  I received a coupon for my first box from Cratejoy for $10 off, and so I paid $31 total (including shipping).  The box is curated by them, but not tailored to you - there is no way for you to tell them what kinds of wines you enjoy, or for you to pick the wines that are sent to you.  You also cannot tell them if you prefer reds or whites.  Generally, it seems they have been sending out two reds and one white.  They say that they want to give customers the opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not try and to expand their horizons when it comes to different types of wines.

Without further ado, let's dive in!

Right from the get-go, it is quite obvious that the people behind this subscription box put a lot of care and effort into the presentation.  The box that it comes in is made of a very sturdy cardboard with a magnetic clasp.  This is a box that I will have a hard time getting rid of, since it's so nice, despite the fact that I don't really have anything I can use it for aside from storing the empty vials.  (This may actually be a con, as I don't have the space to be hoarding boxes!!!  I like when subscription boxes come packaged in materials that I have no issues with getting rid of, so they don't take up space in my house)

Upon opening the box, the presentation carries over.  The three vials are packaged safely and securely in foam, and a card sits on top of them, basically welcoming you to this subscription box.  This envelope also contained cards for each wine they sent, along with information about the wine such as where it came from, tasting notes, good foods to pair it with, and advice on how to drink it. The attention to detail is absolutely amazing and definitely made me feel all fancy.  I guess, from their point of view, fancy wine should come with fancy presentation.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

I just LOVE the vials that the wine comes in.  They are so cute.  I am not really sure how they can be repurposed, but my mom suggested keeping them for picnics and things like that, when you don't necessarily want to bring along a full bottle of wine when a glass will do.  So I'll probably hang onto them.  You never know when you might find a use for them.  They could probably be turned into a cool craft idea, as well.

One concern that many people seem to have is, how are they getting the wine from bottles into these vials?  I do not know all the science behind it, but according to Vinebox's website, they have a way of extracting wine from bottles into the vials without exposing it to oxygen, so what you are getting is a glass that, if kept unopened, should be good for 3-5 years.  Why you would want to wait that long to drink it is beyond me though!  :)

OK, presentation aside, just how good does this wine actually taste?  Keep in mind, I am no wine expert - simply a wine enthusiast looking to expand my horizons and palate.

La Dame Blanche
Vintage: 2014
Region: Bordeaux, France/AOC Bordeaux
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Price of bottle: $25

I have not tried very many sauvignon blanc, but the ones I've tried in the past have only been so-so in my opinion.  Never really loved them, but didn't hate them, either.  Vinebox advises you to let this one sit out for a little, allowing it to warm up a bit and for the flavors to open up.  As I am testing it out, I wanted to try it both ways, so I took my first sips immediately after pulling it out of the refrigerator, and then let it sit for about 20 minutes before tasting it again and finishing it off.

Let me say that the advice they give is definitely good advice, especially if you enjoy more fruity wines.  On the nose, regardless of temperature, the fruity flavors really jump out at you.  Pineapple really dominates, along with guava and maybe even a hint of coconut.  It definitely has an underlying grassy scent, though, and, weirdly enough, the smell of astro turf.  Tasting it cold, the fruit flavors are muted and the grassiness comes out VERY strongly, and it has a long, quite acidic (I guess what they are referring to as "crisp") finish.  Not entirely unpleasant, but also unexpected, as well.  However, after letting this wine warm up a bit more, the taste becomes much more pleasant and balanced.  Those pineapple flavors that I smelled really jumped out at me, mouthfeel gets a bit fuller, and the acidic finish mellowed out and overall this became an incredibly smooth, balanced wine.  It was one that I enjoyed more and more the more I drank it, and was really sad to finish it off.  I would definitely buy a bottle of this if I could just buy one at a time (I don't need three!).  

My rating: 5/5

Castelmaure "Cuvée N°3"
Vintage: 2013
Region: Languedoc-Roussillon, France/Corbiéres
Grapes: Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvédre
Price of bottle: $40

This wine has a lot going on, but it's still very well balanced.  Lighter on the tannins, medium mouthfeel.  Right off the bat I noticed a lot of darker berry flavors - blackberries, plums even, a bit of woodsy flavor, and a tiny hint of licorice.  Unlike a lot of lighter red wines that I've tried, this one does a great job of balancing out the top berry notes with the middle woodsy notes and the base licorice and spice notes.  Seems like a lot of lighter red wines lack the middle notes and tend to feel too thin, for lack of better wording.  

I did not enjoy this wine as much as the La Dame Blanche, but I still really liked it.  This would be a wonderful wine to drink around the holidays, and would be a definite crowd pleaser.  I would not drop $40 on a bottle of it, though, and definitely not for 3.  $40 is a lot of money for any wine, in my opinion - it wouldn't be the type of wine that I buy multiples of, because that sort of wine is meant to be saved for special occasions.

My rating: 4/5

Château Suau
Vintage: 2009
Region: Bordeaux, France/Cadillac - Côtes de Bordeaux
Grapes: bit of a discrepancy here.  According to the card that came in the box, this wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.  But according to the website this wine is 45% Merlot and 55% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Hmmmm....
Price of bottle: $35

I definitely smell the dark fruits right off the bat.  Blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, a hint of something almost sour - perhaps that's from the oak.  Strangely enough, a bit of like, middle school locker room smell.  Damp dirt.  On the palate I get a lot of plum, a little bit of moss, nutmeg, and old wooden furniture that's maybe a bit musty.  Strong tannins and a very long finish.  

This wine tastes like something you would drink in a very sophisticated setting.  Not necessarily a party, but just some sort of high-class non-party event (does that make any sense?).   It is a no-nonsense sort of wine.  It's dark and mysterious and, weirdly enough, it draws up images in my mind of old businessmen smoking cigars in a room with leather armchairs surrounded by mahogany bookcases filled with old, dusty leather books.  I think that might be more of a whiskey sort of setting, but it's just the mental image that pops into my head as I sip on this wine.

I don't hate this wine, but I don't particularly enjoy it either.  This wine is for those who know they enjoy really full-boddied, tannic reds.  Those who take their coffee black.  Those sorts of people.  I feel like one needs to have a purpose in order to drink this wine - a big steak dinner.  It is not for casual relaxed sipping.  I would not buy a bottle of this wine for myself, but it would definitely make for good gifting to someone who enjoys full-bodied wines.  Overall, it is a very well-balanced, smooth wine.

My rating: 3/5

Overall Thoughts

All-in-all, I loved everything about this box - except the PRICE!!!  I get that these wines are on the higher end in terms of price, but I still do not think that makes it worth nearly $12 per glass (and that's not even factoring in shipping costs).  Also, though their website claims that this box is not only for experienced wine drinkers but also for those who have hardly any wine experience at all, I would NOT recommend this box to new wine drinkers, just based off of the wines I received this month.  The only wine I can see a new wine drinker possibly enjoying would be the La Dame Blanche, and even then, I don't think I would have liked it as a new wine drinker.  

Can I continue to harp on the price???  This box comes in at $41/month (with shipping) and includes 3 glasses of wine - and these glasses of wine are only 100ml, so they are more like tasting sizes.  I was able to drink all three wines in my box in one night and not feel the least bit buzzed.  Not that I drink wine in order to get drunk (I hate the feeling), but realistically, if I am paying $41 for wine and I drink all of said wine in a single night, I should be sloshed!  What you get is drastically out of proportion with what you are paying.  I understand there are costs that go in to making a box like this happen.  Those vials can't be cheap, and I'm sure the process to transfer wine from bottle to vial without oxygen exposure can be costly as well.  But there's got to be some corners that can be cut.  Does the box it comes in REALLY have to be that fancy?  Does it REALLY need that magnetic clasp?  I used to run my own business of handmade soap where I had to shop around for boxes to package and send the soap in.  While it is easy to obtain cheaper boxes, you start adding features to the boxes and that price starts creeping up very quickly. I know that each one of these boxes, with its high-quality cardboard and magnetic clasp, comes with quite a price tag and I would not be surprised if it makes up half the monthly cost of the box.  Perhaps the company should consider downgrading to more basic packaging materials (This can be done while still protecting the wine and still giving an elegant presentation).  I'll bet they could shave at LEAST $10 off the monthly subscription cost for the customer.  As it stands, I don't see them having many long-term subscribers, as most people are not willing to pay a higher price for something just because of packaging, and would take cheaper packaging with a lower cost any day.

One thing that has stood out to me - they have received a LOT of complaints about their price.  Many people say that for a few dollars more, other wine clubs out there send three entire BOTTLES of wine, not just three small glasses.  Vinebox's response has been that not only are the wines they are sending of high quality (fair point), but that this gives one the ability to not waste money buying an entire bottle of wine that they are going to hate.  For one, many of those other clubs that send out entire bottles are also willing to credit or even refund you if you receive a bottle that you hate.  Also, I don't know about you, but I tend to spend way less than $41 on a bottle of wine.  What happens if someone hates every single wine they are sent in their Vinebox?  How is that not worse than buying a bottle of wine for half that price and hating it?  Is Vinebox going to be willing to refund you $12 for each vial of wine that you hate?  For the newbie wine drinker, I think it's very likely they will not enjoy many of the wines sent to them, because they are very complex and, especially in the case of French wines, aren't as sweet as the average newbie American wine drinker would like, coming from a palate used to soda and fruity cocktails.  The more experienced wine drinker probably has a better idea of what he/she enjoys, and is not going to be happy shelling out this kind of money for only three glasses.  So I am having a hard time thinking of what demographic would enjoy this box for the price point.

After receiving my first box, I have decided to cancel my Vinebox subscription.  It is a box that I want to love, and I actually do love, but it is just too expensive and what you get is not worth the money.  It was really great to try some nice French wines that I otherwise may have never had the opportunity to try, though.  If Vinebox ever finds a way to get their price down by $15 or so, then I will be one of the first to sign back up.  But until then, we must regretfully go our separate ways, as I can't even justify this for an every-other-month or quarterly box.

If you are interested in subscribing to this box, head over to their website

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Let's talk about alcohol and wine

My history with wine has been a bit tumultuous.  I believe, in part, it was due to the fact that, unlike most people, I didn't really have my first drink (and we are talking about anything besides just a sip of wine or beer) until I was almost twenty-one.  When people talk about partying and getting wasted in high school, I just can't relate because it just wasn't me.  The first time I ever had a sip of alcohol was when I was about five years old.  The next door neighbors were over at my house, and I guess we were cooking out and everyone was sitting around the patio.  One of the (grown-up) neighbors had a beer, and I asked him if it tasted like soda.  He laughed, handed me the can and asked me if I wanted to taste for myself.  I took a sip, and immediately spit it out and, handing the can back to him, told him it tasted like pee.  I think this left an imprint on me, because all throughout high school I never had the desire to drink anything alcoholic, as that memory of the awful-tasting beer was still fresh, even 10-12 years later.

The next time I had a sip of alcohol was my senior year of high school.  I went to a friend's house for a New-Years-Eve party in the next city over from mine, about 30 minutes away.  At midnight, his dad brought out what he claimed was an expensive bottle of champagne (note: for all I know, it WAS actually real, expensive champagne, but remember, I was 18 and wouldn't have known expensive champagne if it kicked me in the face.  I'm just having a hard time picturing someone giving expensive champagne to a group of high schoolers, though these people were fairly well off so I guess it's entirely possible).  When he went to pour me a glass, I politely declined, but he insisted, as it was new years eve and special occasions called for special drinks (I think it is interesting that the pressure to drink actually came from a friend's parent, rather than from my friends themselves lol).  He only poured about three or four sips worth into the glass.  It smelled ok, and of course was very fizzy, as it should be.  It kind of reminded me of sprite, and so I thought maybe it would taste like a grape club soda.  OH MAN was I wrong!  You guys, this stuff was AWFUL!  Bone dry super bitter tasting, and I couldn't understand why in the world anyone thought this stuff was fit for human consumption.  I didn't drink any more and when my friend's dad wasn't paying attention, I poured the rest of my glass into the kitchen sink.  As a side note, about an hour later when I drove home, I was TERRIFIED that I was going to get pulled over for drunk driving lol.  Seriously, nervous wreck the whole way home (I didn't know what drunk felt like, and for all I knew, one COULD get drunk off of a single sip of champagne haha).  Don't worry, the drive home was quite uneventful ;).

After that, I decided that alcohol just was not for me.  I decided I must not have the palate for it, plus, as I went off to college, I quickly learned that drunk people can be really annoying, and I didn't want any part of it.  However, towards the end of my sophomore year of college, I failed a really important recital to get into upper division horn lessons (It was called a Junior Qualifying recital, and honestly it didn't matter too much because I was transferring schools anyway and had already been accepted into the other school as an upper division student).  It was a huge blow to my ego and confidence and I felt devastated.  My friend invited me over to her apartment to drink, and reluctantly I gave in.  You guys, this was my introduction to sugary-sweet beverages.  My friend presented me with a Seagrams Fuzzy Navel, and I thought it was literally the best tasting drink I'd ever had.  And that's when I also discovered I was a lightweight, for that 3.whatever percent alcoholic beverage got me drunk when I wasn't even halfway through it haha.  You know the Big Bang Theory episode where Amy takes a bite of ice cream with kahlua or whatever on it, and immediately announces that she's drunk?  Yeah, that was pretty much me haha (though in reality, I was only slightly buzzed - pretty sure I didn't find out what "real" drunk meant until a few years later).  Don't worry, my friend let me crash on her couch so there was no drunk driving involved (I have never driven drunk, and it is one of those things that I find unforgivable).

So began a few years where my drinks of choice were super sugary ones - Smirnoff ice, the Seagrams drinks, strawberry daiquiris, piña coladas, eventually watermelon margaritas, etc.  You know, super girly-girl drinks.  But I still didn't like going to parties and I don't think I ever really got drunk in college.  I don't feel like I missed much in that regard, to be honest.  Like I said - drunk people can be really annoying.  I'm not saying I've never been drunk - no no no, I definitely have experienced the misery of alternating hugging a toilet and having my face pressed against the cold bathroom tile floor because it seemed to ease the nausea bit, lol - but I don't generally drink in order to get drunk.  I think I missed that age when getting drunk must actually be fun - now, on the rare occasion it happens, it usually takes me another day or two in order to get rid of that groggy hangover feeling and I just don't care for it one bit.

So, on to wine.  Several years ago, I was at a banquet for my husband's job (then we were just dating).  There was a certain part of the banquet where we all filled our glasses with wine and made a series of toasts.  To my surprise, I actually really liked the wine that was provided, and this was the first time I realized that not all wine is the same, and that perhaps wine is something I could actually grow to enjoy.  I looked at the bottle to see what kind it was, so that I could buy some more for myself at a later time.  You guys, this stuff was Sutter Home white zinfandel (blech!).  (Looking back, I have to wonder why in the world they were serving Sutter Home white zin at a fancy banquet - though to be honest, I'd imagine many of the people in attendance at this banquet were more beer drinkers and whiskey drinkers than wine drinkers, so it was probably simply the cheapest option to provide for the toast that would be pleasing to the largest number of people). I remember going back home and telling my roommate about it, who replied "oh yeah!  I LOVE white zinfandel! That stuff is the best!"  So I went out and bought the exact same brand and brought it home.  Sadly, it didn't taste nearly as good to me.  Perhaps the special occasion of the ball made it taste better to me than it really was.  However, this ignited my search for wine that I would like.  I started ordering wine-based drinks at restaurants, if not straight-up wine itself.  Keep in mind I did not frequent fancy restaurants, so the wine I was ordering was cheap wine from places like Applebees, and usually was some version of Sutter Home (blech!).  I soon learned that all the cheaper mass produced wines - Sutter Home, Beringer, Two-Buck-Chuck, etc. all seemed to have the same aftertaste.  To this day it is still hard for me to describe, but it's almost like a sweet, but not pleasant, aftertaste, that seemed to leave my throat feeling a bit raw.  I started to think that perhaps I didn't enjoy wine after all (I don't think I was willing to spend more than $6 on a bottle, keep in mind - after all, I was afraid I wouldn't like whatever I bought and didn't want to waste any more than that).

Around 2012, I spent a few months in NC with my parents.  My mom is a strict Pinot Grigio drinker, and she refuses to spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine.  Her go-to brand is Barefoot.  You guys, Barefoot isn't that bad for a cheap wine.  I have great memories of sitting out on the back porch with my mom, sipping on a glass of Barefoot pinot, and, while not being blown away by it, also not hating it.  It may be cheap wine, but it doesn't have that awful aftertaste that brands like Sutter Home have (I'm just going to refer to it as "cheap wine aftertaste" from now on).  However, one day that year I got a bit carried away with my enjoyment of the wine, and got really drunk.  I learned that wine drunk is NOT fun drunk.  I also had a hangover that lasted for 3 days.  Since then I haven't touched a glass of Barefoot wine at all.

My first foray into different regions was later that same year.  My parents were gifted a bottle of wine from Italy when their neighbors returned from a trip to Italy (where they are from).  I believe this wine was also pinot grigio (again - pretty much the only type that my mom and grandad will drink) but man was it good!  I was convinced that the Italians just have better wine, period.  Now I realize that there are great wines from all over the world, it's just a matter of finding them.  And you guys, sometimes the good wine comes from really unexpected places.  I went wine tasting with some friends at a vineyard in Springfield, Nebraska of all places, in the summer of 2013 or 2014.  While it may not be the most complex wine in the world, they have some good stuff coming out of there!  Also, ever since moving to Colorado, I have become a big fan of a lot of the local Colorado wines as well.  Two of my current favorites from here are the Roadkill Red from Colorado Cellars and Sweetheart Red from Whitewater Hill (I am actually drinking a glass of the latter right now).  Both of them are sweeter red wines, but not sticky sweet (some sweet wines go over the top, but these do a great job).  The Sweetheart red has lots of dark and red berry flavors - blackberries, raspberries, even a bit of plum, and it's got just enough acidity to give a little bite, so it almost has hints of a berry-flavored cola, if there were such a thing.  I enjoy it best not quite chilled, but definitely colder than room temp (which, all reds should be colder than room temp, anyway, but we tend to drink them too warm).  My husband tells me the wine tastes like church wine, but he says that about pretty much every wine he tries except for the sweetest moscatos lol.

I'm still a relative novice when it comes to wine, and I feel like my palate is constantly changing.  Sometimes I've tried cloyingly sweet moscatos and Gewurztraminers and thought "oh my, I am DEFINITELY not a sweet wine person!" but then I've tried other Moscatos and Gewurztraminers, and similar styles, that are well-rounded and delicious, and I think ok, maybe sweet wine isn't so bad.  I think lots of times people associate cheap wines with sweet wine, but I think it must take a lot of finesse to create a wonderfully balanced sweeter wine, that isn't just overwhelming with its sweetness and I haven't found that on any sweet wine that I've spent less than $14-15 on.  I don't mind tannins too much - after all, I'm used to them, as I tend to drink a lot of tea, including black tea, without adding much, if any, sugar.  There have been both red and white wines that I have loved, and I don't understand the idea of "only being a red wine drinker" or "only being a white wine drinker."  However, I haven't tried too many good wines that don't fall into the "cheap under-$10 wine" category.  Often when I buy wine, I'll have a look at other options, but for the sake of trying not to throw away money on something I don't like, I tend to just go and buy the wines I've had before and know I enjoy.

All that being said, I like to shake things up.  I get tired of drinking the same wines over and over again, and want to expand and develop my palate even more.  As most people know, I'm kind of a sucker when it comes to subscription boxes.  So, after being curious about wine subscription boxes for quite some time, I finally caved in.  I'm testing out two - Vinebox and Club W, and both of them just happen to be arriving on my doorstep tomorrow!  I am so excited about both of them.

Vinebox is a monthly box where they send you three glasses of high-quality wine, sourced from a particular region, each month.  They are a new company and I believe this is only their second or third month.  So far, all of the wines have been from France and full bottles have ranged in price from $20 for the cheapest white to $50 for the most expensive red.  You don't get to pick the wines they send you - you don't even get asked what sorts of wines you prefer.  They say the idea is to broaden your horizons, which I get - you may think you don't like a certain type of wine, but that same grape from a different region will taste completely different.  So, OK.  Not a big deal.  It also seems like they are sending two reds and one white in each box.  Probably part of the reason why the box is so expensive, as good reds do tend to be more expensive than good whites.  The box itself costs $35 plus $6 shipping, which is honestly REALLY pricey for 3 glasses of wine!   That comes out to almost $12 per glass, not even including shipping!  That's more than a lot of people are willing to pay for an entire bottle! I skipped Lootcrate and Levelup this month just because I really wanted to try out this wine lol.  This is one that I will probably end up dropping, just because the cost doesn't seem worth it, but I was intrigued enough to at least order one box of it, especially since none of the wines they are currently sending out are readily available in the US. 

I think one of my biggest issues with the box so far is that if you like the glass and you want to splurge and buy the bottle, you have to order bottles in multiples of 3, and you can't mix and match those - it's three of the SAME bottle.   I mean, I guess at least you know, if you're buying three $50 bottles of wine, you have already tasted it and know that you REALLY love it to drop that kind of money on it. They give you free shipping if you order 6 bottles, but if you only order three the shipping cost is $10 rather than the $6 that they charge for the subscription box itself.  On top of that, it seems that you can't order three of one wine and three of another and receive the free shipping.  When I tested it out, it popped up as 2 separate shipping charges of $10 (I didn't actually buy the wine, so for all I know, those shipping charges get removed when you actually go to pay).  I asked them if they will ever make it to where you can order just one bottle (I thought maybe, once you get your box, they might let you order a single bottle for wines in your box or something) but they said that you must order at least three bottles.  So that's kind of a bummer, especially since the wines are fairly pricey.  It makes it harder to splurge on a special bottle of wine.  Even more perplexing is the fact that, according to their website and various interviews they have given, they claim to be targeting relatively novice wine drinkers who are looking to expand their horizons.  That's not really the demographic that is willing to drop $50 on one bottle of wine, much less three of the same wine.  They did tell me that they're trying to work on a way for the customer to order more wine by-the-glass, but even that could get a bit pricey (who wants to pay $12 per glass when they could get a bottle of the cheapest white for $8 more?).  

Hopefully Vinebox will work out their kinks, as they are still a new company, but it is a bit off-putting.  I think the worst thing they can do is not listen to customer feedback, especially regarding their prices.  Maybe to them their prices make sense (gotta pay the bills, after all), but they are probably going to need to be willing to cut a few corners somewhere in order to take away that sticker shock and keep their subscriber base.  I mean, the price of the box itself for what you get is so expensive that it just doesn't seem worth it, especially since you don't even get any perks should you choose to splurge and buy the bottles.  You'd think you would at least get some sort of members discount, or heck, even a rewards point system (get a point for every dollar spent on full-size wine, and so many points = $10 off or whatever).  I can't imagine that many of their subscribers will hang around for long at this price point without getting some extra perks, when there are many other wine clubs out there that give you three BOTTLES instead of three GLASSES for just a few bucks more.  I wonder how many of their subscribers are like me, who are only in it for one box just to see if this wine really as good as the price would make you think it is.   I'm just hoping the wine is AMAZING and makes me go, "OK.  So this is why they charge so much for the box - you're paying for delicious wine."  We'll see what I think of the actual wine when I receive it tomorrow, but so far, it just doesn't make sense cost-wise and I feel they are going to have to change something in order to remain a viable business. The upside, I guess, is that they make it very easy to skip months and even cancel the box altogether right on the website (I think that's very important for subscription boxes - it shouldn't be a hassle to cancel if you want out).  As I tend to dip my feet in to lots of different subscription boxes and then cancel them after a month or two so I can try others, that's definitely an important feature for me.  If you are interested in checking them out, head to their website at

The other box I am receiving tomorrow, from Club W, is definitely the better value.  They have an interesting business practice, as they are technically a global winery.  They work directly with vineyards around the world to create various wines - some traditional, and some off-the-wall unique blends.  Most of their wines are $13/bottle, but they also have premium bottles that are anywhere from $16-35, most being around $20-25 each.  You do have to have 3 bottles minimum in your box, but of course they can be all different wines if you want (or if you just REALLY like a certain wine they have, then they can all be the same).  If you go with all $13 wines, you can get a 3-wine box each month for $39 + $6 shipping.  Or, if you decide to get 4 bottles in your box, then shipping is free.  That makes more sense to me, as shipping is almost half the cost of a bottle of wine anyway - may as well come up with the additional $7 and actually get something for that money, rather than wasting it on shipping.  

I did just that, and will be receiving four bottles in my box tomorrow.  So far, even without having received the wine from them yet, I like several things.  First, you start out by taking a palate test based on what types of food you enjoy, after which they will recommend three (or more, depending on your preferences) wine that they think you will like.  You can choose to add all the recommendations to your box, or you can browse through all their wine offerings and add whatever you like.  Then, once you receive your wines, you can rate them on the website and their computer will use those ratings to tweak its recommendations for you.  Over time, it will get smarter and smarter and hopefully never recommend wines that you won't like.  

Another thing I really like about Club W at first glance is that you are not limited to just once box a month.  Say they come out with a new wine a week after you get your box, and you decide you just HAVE to try it.  You can go and order it (along with at least 2 other wines, as you still must order a minimum of three).  Also, if you don't like a wine they send you, just call them up and they will credit you for it so on your next box you'll get $13+ off (depending on how much the wine that you didn't like was).  This way you don't have to worry about trying out a wine and not liking it, and seeing all that money go down the drain.  Now, obviously, if you abuse this, they are going to call you on it and will stop extending this courtesy to you, so don't lie and say you hate wines that you love (sadly I'm sure there are people out there who would do that).  Also - it goes without mentioning - the labels and names of these wines are SO cute and sometimes just flat out hilarious.  Check out their website and you will see what I mean.

On the downside for the company, I think the fact that it is a subscription box has resulted in a lot of confusion for people new to Club W, as it's not always clear that it is a monthly wine club and that, unless you cancel or skip a month, they WILL send you a box every month (even if you order another box before your monthly shipment date - in fact, if you try to buy an extra box, you have to acknowledge that they will still ship you a box on your regular renewal date unless you go to your account and skip your next renewal), and if you haven't gone in to add wine to your box, they will automatically ship you the recommended wines.  Some people seem to think that it's just an online wine shop and not an actual club (and I get that, because unlike most subscription boxes, you do get to go in and pick exactly what you want in your box and there are different prices for different bottles) and then they rate the company negatively because they get charged for wine the next month when they didn't realize they'd subscribed to something.  They simply thought they bought three bottles of wine and that's that.  Others are angry that, in order to buy wine they are forced to sign up for the renewing membership in order to make an initial purpose. Many of those people were given gift cards to club W and just wanted to make a one-time purpose and didn't want to get roped into a monthly membership of any kind.  That being said, there is nothing prohibiting them from cancelling their membership after the first shipment.  It's just an extra step they would rather not have to take.  

On that note -  Club W is not the easiest to cancel, and it's another major complaint I have seen.  While it is very easy to skip months by going into your account online, you do have to physically call in order to cancel your membership altogether.  Not gonna lie, as someone who hates talking on the phone, that bugs me a little too, as I don't tend to keep the same subscription box for very long since there are so many I want to try and it would be cost prohibitive to keep them all.  I've also read some reviews from people who claim that they skipped a box, but were charged for and shipped their box anyway.  This worries me a bit, as we are getting ready to move and there is going to be at least one month very soon that I will definitely have to skip - I don't want them sending wine to a house I no longer live at, and I definitely don't want to have to pay for that!  I can only assume that those people waited until too late to skip (it tells you to skip at least 48 hours before the renewal date).  My plan is to screenshot the page when I skip it so that if I run into issues, I can show them that I did actually go in and skip it, and that the problem is on their end.  Hopefully that won't be necessary though.  I've learned that lots of times when a company has both stellar reviews and awful reviews, the awful reviews come from people who don't understand how something works, or who just screwed up and want to blame it on the company.  We'll see though.  

Despite some bad reviews, there are even more good reviews of Club W, and I am very excited to try it out. If you are interested in trying it too, please use this link to do so: .  By using my referral link, not only will you get a $13 credit towards your first box (basically a free bottle of wine), but I will also get $13 when your first box ships!  So that's a pretty good deal!  :)

Just please, if you order these boxes (or, with any drinking whatsoever), drink responsibly.  Don't drink and drive - remember, you can be over the legal limit and not actually feel drunk.  If you are going to a friend's house to drink, either have a Designated Driver (who is SOBER, not just "less drunk"), or arrange to spend the night at a friend's house.  Or, if neither of those are options or you are going to drink at a bar or restaurant to the point where you are over the limit and/or not safe to drive (I know I personally can be under .08 and I still won't drive), please arrange for a cab, an uber, or whatever.  If you can't afford that, then you can't afford to go out drinking.  Please don't seriously injure or kill either yourself or some innocent person just because you made the CHOICE to drive drunk.

That is definitely more than I planned on writing about both of those clubs tonight.  I'll update hopefully tomorrow with pics of both of the boxes and a little comparison (as much as I can do, as I definitely don't plan on getting drunk by tasting all the wines lol!).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Uppercase vs Owlcrate January 2016

Well, today was very exciting, as both my Uppercase and Owlcrate boxes arrived!  I started subscribing to these boxes last month.  I'm always interested to see how they stack up against one another!  I ended up getting spoiled for both of these boxes because of Instagram (curse the people who live close to the Uppercasebox or Owlcrate headquarters/shipping origin location lol.  They get their boxes so quickly :p).  So I already knew what to expect, but I was still extremely excited to finally receive them.

First, let's take a look at this month's Uppercase Box.

First off, it should be noted that the name of this subscription box is actually a misnomer, as it actually comes in a bag and ships in a USPS padded envelope.  It actually works out great, though.  The bag is reusable, and I use it to store things like swag I get from these boxes, pens, bookmarks, you name it.  Who doesn't like getting things that they can reuse?  This box is the cheaper of the two, at $23/month plus shipping (it ends up coming out to $29 total for those of us in the US).

The book included in this box was Truthwich by Susan Dennard, which I was super thrilled to receive!  This book has been hyped up for months, and it was on my TBR Wishlist.  I can't wait to dig into it!  All the reviews I've seen have been positive, so this is a win!  The only issue this time is the book is one of the taller hardcover books, and it kind of got jammed down into the bag.  Since this subscription doesn't actually ship in a box, the edges are slightly bent.  Not a huge deal for me, but I can see it being annoying to some people.

The other "big" item included in this month's box is a pair of socks from Blue Q.  They have an image of a person reading a book and "sup, nerd?" printed on them.  Delightfully adorable and something I think any book nerd would love.  Plus this is the perfect time of year to get socks.  My feet are always freezing on these cold Winter evenings, so cute socks were just the thing!

We aso got a poster/map to go along with Truthwitch.  I am happy about this, because I always love visual map references whenever I am reading.  

Coloring is the "big thing" these days.  The folks at Uppercase are definitely keeping up with this trend, because they included a Childlike Wonder Coloring Book from Emma Margaret Illustration, which is this month's Uppercase Exclusive (each month they include something unique and exclusive to the box).  I am not big into coloring, so to be honest, this probably won't get much use from me, but I am definitely in the minority in that regard so I think it's a good thing they included it.  

Finally - my favorite part about Uppercase - the community feel to it!  A bookmark was included with a website and codes to enter when you get to certain page numbers.  These codes give you access to things such as videos, discussions, added content, and more.  I love this feature because it makes this box feel that much more interactive.  It almost gives this box a book club type feel.

If you are interested in subscribing to Uppercasebox, go to their website.

Now, on to Owlcrate.

Owlcrate is a bit expensive, at $29.99 plus shipping, which ends up being about $36 total for those of us in the US.  This box is great for those who love bookish swag, and lots of it.

At first glance, it is obvious that Owcrate has more STUFF than Uppercasebox.  It definitely puts heavy emphasis on the swag you receive.  Each month they have a different theme, and the book and items tend to go along with the theme.  This month's theme is Fantasy, which had me extremely excited, but honestly I feel a bit let down.

I subscribe to these boxes because I'm such a huge bookworm, and for me, the book is the most important feature.  However, for the second month in a row, Owlcrate sent a book that I'm not too thrilled about.  It has crossed my radar a few times in the past several months, but the synopsis didn't seem like something I'd be interested in reading, so I had no plans of ever getting it and reading it.  Not to mention, from reading the synopsis, I never would have pinned this as a fantasy novel.  It seems more like a historical fiction/alternate history with fantasy elements.  Of course I will still read the book, but it's definitely not a top priority of mine.

For the first time ever, Owlcrate included a full-size Funko Pop figurine from Harry Potter.  I know a lot of people were really excited about this, and I think within a day of announcing that one would be included, this box was completely sold out (to give you an idea, the box from December is still on sale).  I'm slowly warming up to the Pop figurine craze, but the whole concept still somewhat puzzles me.  I guess it's the fact that they are cute?  I consider them to be this generation's version of beanie babies haha.  Anyway, the figurine included in my box was Severus Snape, which honestly was my last choice.  I was really hoping for Dumbledore, or at least a character a bit more colorful than Snape.

I think the item I enjoy the most about this box is the lipgloss they included from GeekFire Labs.  The scent is white chocolate mint (though it just smells more like mint chocolate to me) and it glides on my lips really smoothly.  Perfect for the dry winters we have here in Colorado!  Thumbs up for this item!

Next we have several items from the artist Evie Bookish.  This artist is well known amongst book nerds for creating beautiful designs.  She sells her items on Society6 and Redbubble, and you can get her designs on phone cases, coffee mugs, computer cases and skins, notebooks, etc.  The two items of hers included in this box are a bookmark from the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, and an art print inspired by Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass.  The print is currently displayed on my refrigerator, and of course I can never have too many bookmarks.

Last in the box was a set of...paper dolls?  Honestly I'm kind of confused by this item.  Not sure I've played with paper dolls since I was about 7 years old, ie too young to be reading YA lol.  Honestly I don't think these are going to stick around long.

If you are interested in signing up for Owlcrate, check out their website

So, what's the verdict?

Honestly, all around, Uppercasebox.  It costs less, the swag they include is usually something you can use (ie the socks and the coloring book, and last month was a wooden bookmark and a calendar).  Plus the books that Uppercasebox sends tend to be so much better.  Like I said, last month was my first box with both of these, but I have read most of the books that Uppercase has sent out, and I've loved all of them except for The Wrath and the Dawn.  Owlcrate, on the other hand, costs a lot more - close to $40 in the US (rounding up).  The books they've sent out for the last several months have not been the greatest.  In fact, I look at each book and think to myself, out of ALL the amazing books that released in the month prior to that box, THAT is the book you chose?  The ratings on Goodreads for the books they choose tend to be, on average, half a star lower than those sent in the Uppercasebox.  While Goodreads ratings should be taken somewhat with a grain of salt, that is still a significant trend.  Not only that, but the items they include in the box tend to feel more "junky" to me.  I often find myself sitting there thinking, "ok, this is pretty, but what am I going to do with it?"  I feel guilty just throwing stuff like that away, but lots of times it just ends up contributing to clutter in my house. Even though they are both YA boxes, perhaps Owlcrate is still aimed at a younger crowd (late high school and college age) whereas Uppercasebox seems to appeal of those of all ages who read YA lit (I mean, who doesn't like adorable socks??).

Note: both of these subscription boxes are bought and paid for by me.  I did not receive any compensation from either Owlcrate or Uppercase box for this review.