Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

For the record, we visited the Mall of America on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. This is the third year in a row that we’ve done this. Getting there early

Official MOA app and MegaMallMN2 app

assured us a decent parking spot and we arrived about 25 minutes after the Mall opened. We were there about 6 hours and managed to pick up several Christmas gifts for family and friends. However, for what was accomplished, we should’ve been able to do it in a couple hours or less. While we were there I downloaded a two iPhone apps for the Mall that I thought would help us get our shopping done more efficiently. I’ll let you know what I think of the 2 apps I found and invite  you to comment. Maybe you know a better MOA app or you’ve tried one or both of these app’s yourself and have an idea on how to improve them.

This year was a little different as Lisa needed a wheelchair to get around due to her broken foot, and I was in charge of pushing her chair. We both have a new appreciation for the struggles of moving around a mall using a wheelchair. So I thought using a MOA iPhone App might help a little bit by showing us the easiest way to move from one location to the next. We had a list with some ideas of gifts to buy, but once inside the Mall, the size of the building makes it difficult to know which way to go to find stores. The Mall has plenty of maps scattered throughout main intersections on every level. But my experience is that once you’ve found a map and located your destination, inevitably it’s on the exact opposite end of the Mall. Then when you’re ready to move to the next item, you learn the next store you need is back where you started.

I tend to create shopping patterns at big box retailers and grocery stores to minimize my time and effort. So I really wanted a phone app that would help me figure out how to get in and manoever through the Mall efficiently. Neither app came close to helping minimize time or effort, there is a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps no one at the Mall wants people to shop efficiently…kind of like Casinos that don’t have windows or clocks visible. Maybe if you lose track of time, you stick around and spend more.

Official “Mall of America” App: by Ximarc Studios Inc.

This is a super disappointing app. Here are its main features taken directly from the app About/Help screen:

Official MOA App by Ximarc: The maps don't make use of the phone's GPS capability

  • Takes you to the mall Map screen where you can view a graphical layout of each floor.
  • Takes you to the Retail Listings screen where all the store names can be viewed alphabetically or by category.
  • Takes you to the Favorites screen where you can view, add or remove your selection of favorite stores.

The only labels on the graphical layout of each floor on the map are Nickelodeon Universe and the 4 corner anchor stores. It doesn’t even tell you compass directions even though the Mall itself is marked that way. The maps don’t make use of the phone’s GPS capability so you can’t see where you are in relation to even the 5 labels they provide. The retail listings make use of the alpha listings like the phone’s built-in Contacts app and can be resorted by store category. Unfortunately, you have to toggle back to the home screen to jump to each app function.

After selecting a store from the list, a photo of the store is displayed with its phone number and web address. You can touch the web address and open up the store web page, but you can’t select the phone number and auto-dial the store. I expected to be able to see the store location highlight on the map, but it doesn’t even tell you where in the Mall the store is located. You can save your favorite stores to a separate page, however, unless it can tell me where I am in relation to where the store is, then it’s pretty worthless to me.

MegaMall MN 2 app: by Twistbyte LLC

Store listings with useful filters and toggles

This is a better app than the official MOA app. You can access the main features of the app directly from the map versus having to toggle back to a home screen.The map is oriented properly with the portrait view of the phone. There are compass directions on the map as well as the 4 anchor stores and Nikelodeon Universe. You can toggle on the locations of restrooms, mark and save favorites from the map, toggle to your current location by selecting a store name from the list and it will show you where you are on the map. It also has a built in compass, but the compass isn’t really useful. It would be much better to utilize the GPS capabilities of the iPhone. You can pick a store and toggle to store information, but photos of the store are not yet loaded into the database, however at least a store address (e.g. E260) is provided so at least you can tell which compass direction to search.

The stores web sites are not provided, however you can press a Phone icon and dial the store directly or save it as a favorite. By picking a current location and then selecting store info for your next location, you can see where you are in relation to where  you want to go (current location = blue dot, next Store Location = red dot). That’s as close as you get to seeing yourself actually move across the screen. The store list also uses the alpha listing like the built in Contacts, however they also allow you to filter by category, compass location and/or floor. That’s a nice touch. This app also provides mall hours, a list of the day’s special MOA

Better map, toggling features, ability to show current loc and next store location

Events that pops up event details by selecting the event, the ability to create  your shopping list (and with the iPhone 4S I can use Siri to speak my list versus typing it in). Finally, there is a “Deals” tab, but so far I haven’t seen anything listed there. Considering we were there during the Thanksgiving 2 day sale, I would expect the “Deals” tab to be full. My assumption is the Deals section is a future capability that hasn’t been fully implemented.

The other obvious options to add to either app would be the ability to toggle on elevator  and escalator locations. The elevator locations are especially useful for disabled guests who rely on them to move from floor to floor. The other option would be to include maps of the parking garages and the ability to mark and save your car location to a garage map so you don’t have to remember where you parked. Enabling GPS on this app would also help you with relocating your car.

If you’ve used these apps or know of other ones that are better, please comment as we’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Lisa and I have discovered a small jewel that we think is worth mentioning, especially if you’re looking for a nice “date night”. The place is Urban Olive and Vine in Hudson, Wisconsin. Hudsonis a small bedroom community on the east side of the St. Croix River, but only a short drive from the

Kay Timm has transformed an historic store front into a delightful shop

Friends joined us for Limoncello Marscapone Cake!

Twin Cities. Situated right off Interstate 94, it’s easy to get there and get home without difficulty.

Scattered along the main street of Hudson are several bar and grilles, cafés,  boutiques and art galleries [Art Festival will be in late September]. Running parallel to main street is the water front with marinas and a park with ample picnic areas and beaches.

We think you’ll like Urban Olive & Vine [like their Facebook page here] because the food is terrific and affordable. The ambiance is a mixture of original brownstone merchant store [painted white] in the front and a modern decor in the back. The owner is Kay Timm. She left her corporate job after several decades to pursue her passion and open her own shop. She offers a variety of tea, coffee, custom picnic baskets for a special afternoon stroll near the river, unique treats, several pairings of wine that complement fresh cheese, breads, olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Her menu is deliciously thoughtful and made from scratch. You’ll find surprising specials that are complemented with fresh home grown herbs and served by an attentive staff.

The Antipasta Plate and a local micro-brew

Date night at the UO&V is made special on Friday and Saturday evenings with local, live jazz from 7-10pm. Cleverly billed as “Hudson Unplugged”, it’s a fresh twist when compared to the typical boisterous, blue collar crowds gathering at Pier 500 or the other college-aged venues like Dibbos (yeah, Dibbos is still there.)

Back in our day, the drinking age in Minnesota was 19, but in Wisconsin it was 18. So Wisconsin drew a lot of 18 year olds from Minnesota to drive east. But now that most of us [hopefully] have outgrown venues like Dibbos, the UO&V offers us a new reason to make the trip across the river and rediscover Hudson all over again.

Peach & Strawberry Sangria w/ fresh mint!

Thank you Kay for your creativity and bravery at starting a new business. We hope to be back often!

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We’re going mushroom hunting with the Minnesota Mycological Society this weekend. How complicated could that be?

#2 DSW Boots

Well, much more than we first thought. Utmost on our minds is the warning about the risk of ticks. Having a good friend currently suffering beyond description with Lyme disease for many years now, we’re taking those warnings seriously. So, that meant spraying down our clothing with permethrin this week. Check!

We also needed something into which we can collect our load of mushrooms. So tonight I bought a basket. Check!

Among other things, we also had to find a suitable pair of boots since we’ll likely be trudging through some muddy territory. Being a man, Brent’s first thought was: Fleet Farm. Hmmmm. I went along and we bought two pair of boots. Admittedly, I made the purchase rather hesitantly. You should have seen Brent’s face when I claimed that they just weren’t “cute” enough. C’mon girls, you get it, right?

So, by the end of today I had three different pairs of boots in front of me. They all have their benefits and their down falls. I’m curious which pair you think I should pick!

#1 Fleet Farm Boots

Benefits: reasonably priced, most durable and sturdy, best traction
Down falls: least “cute,” worst fit

Benefits: pretty cute, best fit, most versatile
Down falls: highest price, perhaps a little high of a heel for hiking

#3 Target Boots

Benefits: darn cute, lowest price
Down falls: merely a “decent” fit, not overly versatile, a little “much” for mushroom foraging?

Vote for which pair you think I should keep!

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Here are a couple of random things I noted today:

•  I noted that even with the economy in despair, the MOA and REI were packed today. I suppose people are about fed up with bad weather and the rain drove them to search for indoor activities.

• Brent was actually the one to notice this one. I bought a couple items at “Forever 21” (yes, even though I bypassed 21 a while back). When I got the bag home, Brent noticed that “John 3:16” was imprinted on it. Never having shopped the store before, this was new to me. I learned, with the help of Google, that the storeowners are believers from South Korea. Seems there’s all sorts of thoughts about this store online. From my brief experience today, all I know is I like the verse and I got a couple of really cute tops at a great price.

• I noted that I LOVE how Brent and I finally have a good system down for syncing our electronic calendars. He looked at me kind of goofy when I gushed this remark to him just now, but I really do love it. It’s helping manage our lives better already. We’re doing this with a combination of iCal and Mobile Me. It has taken two years to figure it out, but we’re finally getting there.

• I noted that it takes great discipline to not buy the store out when you shop REI. Brent and I had a couple goals as we fit ourselves for two new hobbies. I’m sure this will be the subjects of future blogs, but we needed to pick up some Permethrin. We hadn’t heard of it either, until getting into mushroom foraging and needing to repel and kill ticks. And we needed a few biking supplies. Do you think spring is actually here so we can hit the trails?!

• Speaking of REI, we noted that if you want to take one of their free bike maintenance class, you need to register early. We didn’t. It filled up. Bummer.

• I noted that it must be prom season. While at the mall, I saw dresses for sale all over the place. There were groups of girls wondering the mall in their fancy frocks and girls piled into fitting rooms, trying on assortments of them. It was here that I overheard this conversation:

“This is a good dress for you. It’s cute, but doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard to be cute.”

“Oh! You’re right! That’s true.”

“Unlike the other dress. In that one, you looked like you were trying too hard. Especially since you’re only a freshman, you don’t want to overdo it.”

“Oh! You’re so right! I would’ve never thought about that. It’s true. What about shoes?”

“Well, I will be getting new shoes, but then switch into tennis shoes when I get there. That’s what EVERYONE does!”

“Oh, that makes sense, ok.”

First of all, this conversation reminded me why I’m thankful to no longer be in high school. Secondly, I wanted to tell the freshman that God created her uniquely, not to rely on this “friend” for all her opinions. But she’s still young. She will learn.

There you have it. Random observations from a Saturday out and about town. Do you have an observation or two to share from your day? We’d love to hear them!

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One of the things you do leading up to putting your house on the market is check out the competition. You want to know what places like yours are going for and how much renovating and decorating is required to make yours stand out in the crowd.

That’s why we stopped by the open house down the street a few weeks ago. It was a well-staged unit, but we knew enough to recognize it was greatly overpriced. From what we could gather, the sellers are in an unfortunate situation all too common in today’s housing climate. If we read the realtor correctly, the couple had bought into an ARM that was coming due. Because they had bought shortly before the collapse of the housing bubble, they were upside-down on their mortgage, meaning they probably didn’t have a lot of options to come down in price. Bummer.

New Rubbermaid and Elfa Shelving

We’re in a 1,300-foot town home. As you might guess, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for storage. The house we visited was similar to ours, but they came up with a creative storage idea and we wondered why it never occurred to us. We opened their front closet that was in the same place as ours. The difference, however, was that unlike all the coats that filled ours, shelves lined these walls. These shelves turned it into a pantry filled with canned goods and other food items. The light bulb went on!

A trip to Fleet Farm, Home Depot and The Container Store and we were on our way! Brent, once again, is my hero. He spent Saturday afternoon installing new shelves which leaves more room in our Tupperware cupboard. If you think that sounds minor, you have not seen me wrestle with this cupboard, time after time, after time. It usually won. But that was before the closet victory!

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Yours truly at Macy's - comfy furniture & HDTV

So this might not be news to most of you married guys out there, but I discovered something interesting this weekend while shopping with Lisa. There are mini-man caves scattered throughout department stores with couches and HD TVs tuned to CNN and other channels. Many of them are located at or near women’s dressing rooms and some are just located in the middle of the store underneath escalators. The guys congregated there were talking sports (NCAA was this weekend’s topic of course) and others were simply catching up on sleep. This is new to me because obviously before getting married, I never had a reason to go into the ladies’ section.

A guy sleeping at Herberger's

Lisa and I just celebrated our second anniversary at the end of January. And if you follow this blog, you know that we try to weave in some of our story about what it’s like to get married late in life and bring two full houses together under one roof. Last year was about slimming down our total possessions to something manageable within 1,350 square feet while building up our savings nest egg for a move to a slightly larger house.

A year later, we’re doing well with the space we’ve got. We’ve worked hard to take out two things for every new thing that comes in the door. Recently however, the long winter has forced us into the local malls the last couple of weeks; we are anxious to buy new spring clothes as we anticipate a late Easter at the end of April. This was really the first opportunity where I went along with Lisa as she shopped for accessories, shoes and a cardigan to go with her new spring dress.

The incentive for me to go along was that I needed to get out of the house as much as Lisa. I had already purchased a couple new shirts online and my stuff was delivered to the front door via FedEx, so I wasn’t shopping. I was tempted to stay home and watch basketball, but the need to get out was too great. So off we went.

I noticed a trend in the stores. The higher end department stores had comfier couches, better TVs and more seating and not quite as many guys. The lower end stores had more guys, less seating and limits to the available channels. I also noticed that there were definite age groups represented depending on the store. The more expensive stores had a younger average age and the lower end department stores had a lot more retired guys.

Guys hanging out under the escalators - like a hobo camp!

My conclusion? These stores are missing out on a huge opportunity to market to a captive audience. If the stores dedicated more square footage, provided a few amenities, food, drinks and a more manly environment then shopping with the Mrs would be a much more attractive option. I’m thinking pool tables, Comcast Sports packages, chips, pretzels, and computers for surfing CBSSports.com to see how picks and brackets are doing. What would be even better would be if the store could have a bag of socks, t-shirts and underwear bagged up for me while I relaxed, I could just take my stuff with me while my wife perused the aisles on foot.

In fact, we guys could support each other when asked which outfit looked better. We’ve all been there. “Honey, do these earrings and necklace go with this outfit?”

This is the critical moment that all men fear because you think it’s a trick question and you’ve probably screwed up in the past. There can be no hesitation in the answer or you’ll be at the store for another hour. The truth and a confident answer is what is required. “Wow dear! You make both of those necklaces look hot! I really like the one on the left (or right).” You pick your favorite one, that’s really all that’s needed at this point. Don’t overcomplicate it guys. And for a nice touch, take out your iPhone and have her model them. When she asks why, tell her the truth, it’s because you need a nice reminder of her with her new necklace, dress, sweater or whatever it is later in the week. Then put a reminder on your phone to ask her what day she’s going to wear the new whatever it is. That way she’ll know you were paying attention. It only takes a couple of minutes, but she’ll appreciate you later for the thought.

In the meantime, enjoy company of the other guys at the make-shift man caves.

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