Here We Go Again

School starts today…

Which meant that yesterday involved a frantic scramble to organize the massive pile of school supplies that the kids and I threw into an overflowing cart at Target last weekend.

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What $330 looks like

Our kids’ school pools supplies, so all of the crayons, markers, etc. go into a communal stash. This takes some of the pressure off of deciding which cartoon character notebook gets purchased, but still. Last weekend in the school supply section of Target, the struggle was real. At least three moms made a dive for the lone yellow plastic folder at the end of the aisle. It wasn’t pretty.

At the end of last year, I also basically gave up on preparing the kids’ lunches.

Forget this:

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I could barely muster up this:

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This year I’m determined to do better and I’m referencing this list of school lunch ideas from Food.com.

At least for the first week of classes…

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First day from three years ago. They were so tiny! Sniff.

 

 

 

 

Disney Cruise with Star Wars Day at Sea

This is an extremely late trip report about our February 2016 vacation aboard the Disney Fantasy, which was one of seven sailings this year that featured a Star Wars Day at Sea.

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Photo via Cruise Critic

First things first: I am a Disney nerd but not a Star Wars nerd. I haven’t even seen all of the movies, and I’d rate my opinion of the ones I have seen as a solid “meh.” 

However, these probably qualify as fighting words around here, as Spouse and MGM (9) are huge fans.

We ended up booking this trip because of the timing, which included Trixie’s seventh birthday and a spring break week for the kids. The Star Wars day wasn’t the deal sealer on this one, but I knew it would be a bonus for the guys.

Speaking of bonus: our friends P. and T. and their two adorable kids decided to book the same trip, and not only were our cabins close to each other but we were also able to combine our dining reservations into one big table.

Our family traveled to Orlando a day early and spent the night prior to the cruise at the Swan Hotel. This day was Trixie’s birthday, and I had her presents sent ahead of time to the hotel to avoid filling luggage space with wrapped packages.

Once we settled in and the presents had been ripped open, we headed over to Disney Springs to check it out. None of us had been there since it was re-branded from Downtown Disney, and we were impressed. 

Our first stop was Erin McKenna’s NYC Bakery, which is the first Florida outpost of the renowned gluten-free bakery mini chain. Trixie was diagnosed with severe celiac disease when she was a year old, and this was the first time – ever – that she was able to go to a bakery and choose something to eat. Since it was her birthday, I told her she could get anything she wanted. We walked out $50 poorer, but her delight was totally worth it.

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Choices, choices, choices!

Spouse lost his mind at The Boathouse, which overlooks a harbor filled with vintage boats, including his beloved Chris Crafts. I thought he might need CPR at one point, such was his excitement. Also totally worth it.

We boarded the next day. Transport to the ship was smooth, and we were able to check in quickly at the Concierge area in the port terminal.

This time we were in a Concierge veranda cabin on the starboard side, and our friends were in the same type of cabin on the port side. We checked in with the staff at the Concierge lounge and were happy to see two of our favorite cast members were still there and were working our trip.

The itinerary for this seven night Western Caribbean cruise included stops in Cozumel,  Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay, plus three days at sea. Personal navigators from the same itinerary (albeit two weeks earlier) can be found here if you’re interested in seeing what each day was like.

Some highlights of the trip:

  • Brunch at Palo. The four adults in our group did this on our first sea day. I am still dreaming about the grape and gorgonzola pizza.
  • Cozumel. This was a new port to us, and our family opted to take an excursion to Xcaret Ecopark, which was awesome.  We started out by swimming in the underground river, and then both kids needed these juice drinks at lunch.

The access to the animals was incredible. I’d love to go back here again.

  • Cayman Turtle Farm.  Confession: I wasn’t expecting much. All eight of us had booked an Island Tour and Turtle Farm excursion in Grand Cayman, and up to this point the tour had been a total dud. Our guide had spent an hour driving around and pointing out numerous local attractions like Burger King and Subway. We were not impressed. The Turtle Farm redeemed it all. The kids were able to hold baby turtles and there were hundreds of giant sea turtles. (P. and I may have also sent the kids back to the boat with the guys after this excursion so that we could hit a few jewelry stores before the boat took off. We were highly successful in our mission and managed to get the very last tender back to the ship with our new bling. Score!)
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My favorite pic of the whole trip: Trixie was so excited to hold this baby turtle

  • Cabana at Castaway Cay. This was the first time that we’d sprung for a cabana. We split the cost with our friends, and it was money well spent. I highly recommend our cabana, Number 5, as it was not too close to the crowded main beach area yet not too far from where lunch is served. Unlike some of the cabanas further down the beach, it was also sheltered from the wind. The cabana came with a fridge stocked with chilled towels, soft drinks and bottles of water. There was also a basket of sunscreen, plenty of fresh towels and a few magazines. Cabanas also come with free use of bikes, snorkeling equipment, inner tubes and pool floats. Oh! There is also an extremely convenient button in the cabana that you can use to order drinks, which will then be efficiently delivered to your hammock.
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Welcome to Cabana #5

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  • Champagne tasting. The four adults did this on one of the sea days. We discovered Moet Ice Imperial, which is the first champagne designed to be consumed over ice in hot weather. Brilliant! This was delicious. We *may* have used that button in the cabana to get some Ice Imperial delivered right to our hammock.
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Moet Ice Imperial

  • Star Wars Day at Sea. Ok, I couldn’t leave this off. It *was* unique. A few things about this day: you won’t see “regular” Disney characters; it’s all Star Wars, all the time. You also won’t hear the usual Disney music; there are ominous marches playing overhead. This day also brought out a lot of fans, many of whom took the whole costume thing really, really far. I’ve said it before, but I have a theory that adults fall into two categories, those who never miss a chance to wear a costume and those who avoid it like the plague. I’m in the latter camp, so I was annoyed to have to dodge fully grown costumed adults having a lightsaber duel in the middle of the jogging track while I went for a run. Characters roamed the ship during the day, including Storm Troopers who patrolled the pool decks. Dinner that night featured a Star Wars menu and the kids got Storm Trooper or Chewbacca masks. The evening culminated with a show on the pool deck and then every single boy under the age of 15 on the cruise spontaneously engaged in a giant lightsaber battle. I had to drag MGM away at midnight and even then, he said that this was the best day of his life and he nearly cried at the thought of never being able to have so much fun again. And that, Friends, made the whole trip worth it.
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Even I had to begrudgingly admit that the Storm Troopers patrolling the pool deck was a cool touch

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Chewbacca mask/menu

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Best. Day. Ever.

While none of us had any hitches on the trip, we saw two people get evacuated from the ship. The was a first. Both happened during the Star Wars day at sea. The first time a Coast Guard cutter pulled up next to the ship and a door in the middle of the hull was opened (same one used as an exit for ports requiring tendering) and a passenger was moved off the ship. The second time was more dramatic: a Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the front of the ship and sent down a Coast Guard member on a cable, then loaded one of the medical officials from the boat into a giant basket and pulled her up and into the chopper. Finally, a passenger who seemed to have a head injury was strapped to a stretcher and brought up into the helicopter via a cable. I had a bird’s eye view of this from my vantage point in the ship’s spa (Yep – this all happened in the middle of my massage), and my heart was racing just watching the passenger sway back and forth on that stretcher as the cable slowly brought him up into the helicopter. We never heard exactly what happened, so I hope that person is ok.

Overall, this was an excellent trip. Having our friends with us really elevated the fun, and I hope we can do it again sometime soon. As usual, I’m already dreaming about our next getaway…

If It Makes You Happy

I’m doing the solo parenting thing this weekend.

Spouse is re-living his glory days with his college buddies, and from the picture he sent of his feet in front of a campfire (with a caption that Friday evening was fueled by 25 year-old Scotch and Nicaraguan cigars), it sounds like he’s having a blast.

Back at Fancy Pants Ranch, I invited my dear friends J. and B. over last night. We had a lot to catch up on and a few things to celebrate, so this happened:

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My Recycling Bin, which is going to be *quite* heavy to take outside

The three of us also had a blast, but I was feeling a bit rough this A.M.

Fortunately, both kids were also interested in sleeping late and spending the rainy morning as couch potatoes…

Which led me to spend two hours pursuing on of my more embarrassing hobbies: watching corny made-for-TV movies.

Since this was “Hallmark Channel” and not “Lifetime,” it was about two seemingly mismatched strangers falling in love despite obstacles (versus Lifetime’s Woman In Danger trope).

Here’s a screenshot of “Stranded in Paradise,” starring Vanessa Marcil and James Denton.

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Actual screenshot, as this is my TV

There was one part of the film that leapt out at me. Laid-back James (LBJ) is having a conversation with Uptight Vanessa’s (UV) character about Life With a Capital “L”, and it went something like this:

LBJ: The last I checked, you only get one Go Round here. I figured it’s a shame to just go through the motions or live somebody else’s dream. You gotta find your own.

UV: You know, just so you know, it’s not that easy to drop everything and change your whole entire life.

LBJ: I think you’re making it a little harder than it is. You just ask yourself: Am I happy?

And if not, is there something that might make me happy? It’s not selfish or narcissistic. It’s just honest. 

But you have to find it yourself.

Laid-back James, you had me at hello!

Lately I’ve had so many moments to contemplate this exact question, and it’s something I’m determined to figure out.

A few weeks ago at Rock Retreat Run (read about it here), I made this list of things I value:

  • Authenticity
  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Independence/autonomy
  • Laughter
  • Happiness

Fortunately, I think the script for my Hallmark Movie is still being written (and let’s just hope that the plot doesn’t go all Lifetime on me).

 

P.S. Spoiler alert: In the end, Uptight Vanessa and Laid-back James fell in love.

P.P.S. It is almost 1 PM and I still have not brushed my teeth. I know.

UNICEF Kid Power Bands

Having active kids is important to me, but I have to confess I’m terrible at getting them into activities like organized sports.

I’ve always prided myself at not over scheduling MGM (9) and Trixie (7), instead letting them organically be kids and not programmed robots.

Except this summer, they’ve both become couch potatoes. Cringe.

Some of that will change when school starts next week (Trixie goes to yoga; MGM stays in thrice weekly karate), but when my friend T. recently suggested getting the kids activity trackers to inspire them to move more, I was intrigued.

Another confession: I didn’t want to invest $100+ on a device that had a high chance of being broken, lost or unused if the kids didn’t buy into my plan of falling in love with seeing those step numbers climb each day.

I was thrilled when I discovered the UNICEF Kid Power Band, which not only has a great price point ($39.99), but also does good.

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Photo via UNICEF

Kids register their bands on a free app and then can go on “missions,” where the more steps they take, the more Kid Power points they earn. The points can then be converted to funding where UNICEF delivers food to malnourished children around the world.

How cool is that?

Trixie loves her band! She and I compete to see who gets more steps each day.

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Stitch Fix Hits

I still didn’t find the nerve to break up with Stitch Fix.

We’ve had some good moments over the past few months.

Here are the highlights:

I was excited when Stitch Fix announced that they were adding shoes. I’ve received two pairs so far, and both were winners. The pair on the left is from Gentle Souls, while the D’ Orsay flats on the right are DV8. Both have seen a decent amount of wear this summer.

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Yes, terrible photography is back

For my most recent Fix, I asked for a breezy white blouse and my stylist delivered with this Brixon Ivy piece. I love the fit and fabric; I just wish I had a laid-back tropical vacation to go with it.

Here’s a close-up of the lace detail on the sleeve:

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Yes, that is my disastrous closet in the background

Next up: two elephant pieces.

The first is a blouse that’s in my regular work rotation, and the second is an infinity scarf with pink pachyderms.

A close up of the print:

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This last item was my favorite. It’s a striped Lemon Tart sweater with faux suede elbow patches:

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This came with me to Chicago for a trip earlier in the summer, and the nights were cool enough to wear a sweater. I styled it with a J. Crew polka dot scarf (similar) like this:

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I haven’t added anything to my fall wardrobe (yet), so this I plan to keep this look going for the next several months.

Run Disney Race Reports – Late 2015 & 2016 Edition

This is an extremely overdue report of three Run Disney events:

  • 2015 Wine and Dine Half Marathon
  • 2016 Marathon
  • 2016 Pixie Dust Challenge
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Photo via Run Disney

When I left off last fall, I was headed on a complicated trip that took me to the 2015 Wine and Dine Half Marathon via a whirlwind trip to Dubai, which was not the most convenient – or relaxing – pre-race preparation.

Spouse was running this with me and we were slated to meet in Orlando on Saturday morning, with the race starting Saturday night. I had two flights to get there: a 17+ hour one from Dubai to Atlanta (in coach, ugh) and then a quick 90 minute jump from Atlanta to Orlando. The first leg was miserable; I was cold, uncomfortable and could not sleep. Thankfully I wore compression socks to reduce some in-flight leg swelling, but I was still pretty cashed once I deplaned.

After a quick shower and some major teeth brushing for me, we hit the expo, which was also pretty cashed. I’m usually not big on buying official race merchandise, which is a good thing because there was none left at this point.

The rest of the day involved a nap and waking up to head over to the race start. We were staying at the Swan Hotel, which was not one of the hotels offering transportation to the starting line, but it was easy enough to walk next door to the Boardwalk, which was. We arrived around 7 PM and the bus lines were long. After waiting about 30 minutes, we boarded and headed to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Bus traffic was also crazy; there were traffic jams and the ride took about 30-40 minutes.

The conditions when we left the resort were hot and humid, but by the time we got off the bus the temperature had dropped several degrees and the wind had picked up. There was lightning in the distance and I had a bad feeling about the race. Let me also say that at this point, I was not feeling too hot. Even after a nap I was still exhausted from the travel. My legs felt heavy. I knew the race was going to be a push for me to complete. I was focusing on Getting It Done and making it to the famed after party where racers can enjoy EPCOT until 4 AM.

We then started to see people moving from the grassy starting area towards the ESPN stadium. Tweets were coming out that the race was being delayed due to weather. We slowly walked with everyone else into the stadium, where we were officially on hold.

As more than an hour of limbo ticked by, I started to think that Run Disney would either need to cut the distance from 13.1 miles to something less or entirely cancel the race. There was no way all of the runners could complete the course AND get to the after party with enough time to enjoy it by 4 AM. Standing between hangry runners and the Wine and Dine Expo was not going to work.

Finally the announcement came that we could head out to the corrals. Spouse and I were in different ones. I had submitted a proof of time and was in corral D; he did not and was in the last one. Once in the corrals, there was an announcement that indeed, the race was going to be cut to a shorter distance. If they announced the shorter distance, I didn’t hear it, but in the end my watch said that we had done 6.75 miles, so this became a Half Half Marathon.

Personally, my exhausted legs and I were ok with this turn of events. Many, many other runners were not.

Since I was fairly early in the corrals, I didn’t get caught up in a lot of foot traffic, but Spouse did. I think I finished in about 1:07. I waited for him at the finish and he crossed nearly an hour later. His corral started about 40 minutes after mine, which accounted for most of the time but he also reported areas that were so congested he had to walk.

We’d taken advice from a lot of other bloggers and brought fresh clothes for the party. By the time we hit EPCOT it was after 1 AM. Neither of us was particularly hungry, which was good since the lines at most of the booths were loooooooong. We both had an artisanal wine and cheese plate and I had a sushi roll from Japan, while Spouse waited in line to get a beer and something from Germany. We made it to nearly 4 AM and were able to walk back to the Swan Hotel via the International Gate, and then we promptly collapsed. The one thing that I did right about this trip was to NOT return home on Sunday; we gave ourselves an extra day and came back on Monday. On Sunday we slept late, ate lunch and spent a leisurely day together, followed by dinner at Il Mulino. We came home on Monday without a hitch.

Considering everything, would I do the Wine and Dine again? Probably. However, if you follow Run Disney events you would know that they’ve changed it to a morning race and added a 10k, plus a 10k/half marathon challenge option. It’s also a moot point for this year since I was shut out of the 2016 registration, which filled with lightning speed like always.

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Ironically, I have less to say about the 2016 WDW Marathon than the Wine and Dine, even though it was essentially four times the distance of the latter.

2016 was my fourth time on the course, but it was my friend L’s first marathon and that made it really special.

The week leading up to the race held an unexpected event for me: my 94-year-old grandmother died. I spent most of the week helping with arrangements and then attended the funeral in Wisconsin on Thursday.

L. and I met up in Orlando on Friday – two days before the race – and hit the Expo. Most of it was the same as before except that we had to go to a different area outside the stadium to pick up our wristbands for the Race Retreat (side note: whenever possible, spring for the Race Retreat; it’s totally worth it).

On race day we were up and out the door before 3 AM. Transportation was smooth and we waited in the Race Retreat tent until it was time to head to the corrals. Even though it was her first marathon, L. had posted some amazing half-marathon times and was placed in corral D. I was in G, so we split up at the start and before I knew it, we were off.

I knew this wasn’t going to be my best marathon (it turned out to be my second worst), especially since the week leading up to the race was really stressful. I took a short walk break after 8 miles and then spent the rest of the race taking unscheduled walk breaks every 30 minutes or so, usually for about two minutes at a time. I did a lot of bargaining with myself to get to the next mile, run through one more song on my playlist, etc. 

Eventually I reached Hollywood Studios, which is my favorite part of the course. The last five or so miles of this race always seem to go quickly for me, especially since the crowd support along the Boardwalk is so strong. I rounded my way through EPCOT and crossed the finish line in 4:59, which took a push at the end to squeak in under the five hour mark.

As I mentioned above, this was my second-worst marathon time. (Worst was my second marathon, which I trained for while I was postpartum and completed when my daughter was less than eight months old; the finishing time was 5:03). This was also my ninth marathon, so I am not new to this rodeo. While I am a lot older than I was the first time I did this race (January 2006; 4:24), I also determined that I need to get leaner and train differently to improve my running. This is something I’m working on now. L. was more successful in her race.

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L. and I met up in the Race Retreat tent after we finished. Due to her faster time and earlier corral placement, she’d been done for about 45 minutes by the time I staggered in. After a ten minute massage and a giant plate of breakfast, I was feeling like a human again and we headed back to the Swan Hotel, where we were staying. L. showered and left less than an hour later, so I was now on my own.

One really interesting thing happened: I got to see the end of the race. From the hotel balcony I had an eagle eye view of the course, right where the path leading from Hollywood Studios crosses the bridge to the Swan and Dolphin. There were still a lot of runners out there, and I decided the best thing I could do was to go down and cheer them on.

I think this was the first time I’ve been a spectator, not a runner, at a race. It was so much fun. I was waiting to see the legendary Balloon Ladies (the last people to start the race and the pacers for the course cut-off), but I missed them. I did see the course close as bikers and Disney people put cones across the path.

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The end of the race

I would definitely do this race again.

My final recap is the 2016 Pixie Dust Challenge, which is part of the Tinkerbell Half-Marathon weekend.

Photo from Run Disney

Photo from Run Disney

This is absolutely one of my favorite races and something I look forward to every year. 2016 was the fifth anniversary of the event, and I was in the Legacy Runner group.

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A list of the Legacy Runners that was at the Expo – and I’m on there!

Being a Legacy Runner gave me a special bib and a gift, which was a small mirror. I was oddly touched by it all. I’d also forgotten that I’d sprung for a warm-up jacket when I signed up – a departure from my usual avoidance of buying official race merchandise ahead of time, which I consider a bad omen because I am superstitious like that – so I was pleasantly surprised to receive it at the Expo. It was soft, fit like a glove, and I wore it several times during the weekend and since.

For the Pixie Dust Challenge, there is a 10k on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday. This year I was staying at the Sheraton, which is about a 15 minute walk from the starting line (one of the reasons I love this race is the easy accessibility of the starting line, as well as the many real bathrooms to use pre-race). When I woke up on Saturday morning, it was raining. Not just sprinkling, this was full-on rain. I scratched my plan to walk to the starting line and decided to take the shuttle bus. This almost turned out to be a huge mistake. After waiting with several other runners for 20+ minutes for the bus, it finally arrived and we were dropped off on the far side of the park. There was still at least a 10 minute walk to the starting line from there. Fortunately, the rain had cleared by then so I was able to stay dry, but I reached my corral (B) right as the Star Spangled Banner was being performed. This was a bit too close for comfort.

The race had a slow start. Many runners were cautious on the still-wet pavement and I had a hard time getting through congestion for the first 1.5 miles. My usual 10k goal is to finish in less than an hour, but I wasn’t sure that I would make it due to the slowdowns. At the three mile mark, though, my watch said 32 minutes and I decided to push it to the end. I finished in 59 minutes and change, so this worked out.

Conditions were much better on Sunday. I was still doing some bargaining in my head. I decided that it would be ok if I walked a bit, but I needed to steadily run at least the first half of the race. When I got to the six mile mark, I also knew that there was a really boring part of the course coming up from miles six to nine. I was feeling ok and decided to keep going until mile eight and then consider a walk break.

When I got to mile eight, I discovered that the Red Hat Ladies and their awesome crowd support were stationed there this year instead of in their usual spot outside of Downtown Disney. These ladies gave me quite a boost and I quickly went through miles eight and nine.

At mile 10.75, I decided that I would take that walk break, so I did for about three minutes. Next I decided that I would take short breaks in miles eleven and twelve, but when I reached 11.75, I felt good enough to skip them and kept soldiering on. I finished in 2:09, which is also not my best half (1:54) but not my worst.

This race also racked up some serious bling, especially since I’d also signed up for the virtual She Rocks race and used the half-marathon to complete the distance.

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The medals are (left to right): She Rocks, Tinkerbell 10k, Tinkerbell Half Marathon, Pixie Dust Challenge and Coast-to-Coast (for completing races in Florida and California in the same year).

Not counting Castaway Cay 5ks, I’ve now completed 16 Run Disney events. It feels slightly dorky to admit that, but hey! There are worse habits to have.

 

Team USA Podium Jackets

Like almost everybody else, I’ve had Olympics Fever for the past two weeks.

The jackets Team USA wore for the medal ceremonies caught my eye.

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When I checked Nike’s online store, I found out that they were available for purchase. Score!

And then I saw the price: $450.

Yikes!

Even for a spendthrift like me, that’s too steep.

Here’s hoping they go to the outlet and are 90% off in a few months…