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My best friend Lindsay here is due to give birth any day now, and she is otherwise totally awesome.  As evidenced by this photo, we are so similar that we often show up at places wearing the exact same outfit, as we did today, at the OB/GYN (for unrelated appointments).  In fact, I’d venture to say that we are similar in most material ways but one.  It’s a difference that drives both of us insane.  And that difference is this: I am capable of  returning things, and she, poor thing, is not.

Once, I ordered $800 worth of suit separates from J. Crew, in different sizes, because the stores do not carry their full line of suits, and I wasn’t sure which pieces would work.  I do this often–I call it “saving time,” or alternatively, “giving my husband a coronary.”  Unfortunately, nothing in that particular batch worked, and I had to take $800 worth of clothing back to the store so they could process my mail order return.  I only recall this story to recount how red Linds’ face got when she threw a tantrum outside the store, and her cowardly refusal to enter the store with me.

As inexplicable as it is to her that I can return with impunity, it is more inexplicable to me that she has clothes in her closet from 2007 with the tags still on them.  Better to burn the money, I tell her.  She never listens.

Maybe you will, though.  Because returning stuff is not a crime.  You SHOULD return, because you work hard for your money, and you don’t need to feel pangs of remorse and recrimination every time you reach into your closet.  Retailers, desperate for your business, understand this.  That’s why they have return policies, and prepaid return shipping labels, and will willingly mail you three sizes of the exact same shoe.

Below, some of my favorite places to buy things, and then return them.

1. Nordstrom: the gold standard.  The urban legend is that the original Nordstrom in Seattle sits on the lot where an old tire store used to be, and that Nordstrom will still take returns on tires.  I’ve never tested that, but I do know that they will take clothing back after you have worn AND washed the item.  Still works after you’ve had the item for, say, a year.  Nordstrom took back a dress after I’d shortened the hem, and disclosed said fact.  I have returned shoes there for the sole reason that they were sprayed with champagne at a wedding.  I have returned half-empty tubes of moisturizer.  For these reasons, I will buy things there when I know I can get the same item at another store, for cheaper, and faster.

2. Zappos: I muse sometimes that I am still re-spending the same $100 I first spent at Zappos back in 2008.  Because that is how many times I have returned shoes to Zappos.  They make returns really, really, easy.  Print the pre-paid shipping label from your computer, package up the shoes in the box in which they were sent, and then leave the item out for USPS or UPS.  If you work in an office, chances are you already have a regularly scheduled UPS person picking up boxes on a daily basis, so you can just take the shoes to work.  Lest you feel guilty about how often you return shoes to Zappos, let me assure you that you will always be able to find the shoes cheaper elsewhere (Endless, Amazon, Piperlime, etc.).  You are paying a premium for the right to return.  Do not waste it.

3. Revolve Clothing: I know the jeans that work for me by brand and style number.  I usually just keep re-buying the same thing (nonetheless, stay tuned for a future post about jeans).  If you are the same, Revolve is the best website to buy your denim.  Revolve has the best selection of denim anywhere, they re-stock popular styles and sizes much more quickly than Shopbop, and you can often find discount codes online (I used “tulip” for 10% off last week, give it a try).  The shipping is free, and it’s 2-3 day.  Return shipping is also free.  Credits are posted within days.

4. ASOS: There are domestic returns, and then there are international returns.  I used to buy a lot of Boden for my boys, but got gun-shy after a return failed to make it back to the UK.  ASOS seems to have it worked out though, because they ship their internationally-designed product to U.S. customers from somewhere in Nevada, and that’s also where they process returns.   ASOS is an overwhelming site, but do what I do: focus on the ASOS house brands (ASOS Collection, ASOS White), which have all the directional, well-constructed stuff you want.  Remember to enter via the US ASOS site, not the UK site.  And remember that when you sort by category, “sweaters” are listed in non-alphabetical order, because, I suspect, sweaters are called “jumpers” in the UK.

Many happy returns.

**I am aware that there is an environmental impact caused by product being shipped and returned by air mail.  Notwithstanding this post, I do generally keep most of the merchandise I purchase, or at least 50% of it.  And because I shop online more than I shop in person, I like to think that I’m saving on gas and other global resources, like time.   It is always preferable to purchase things you love, and to keep them.  But when that isn’t possible, don’t be scared to return!

sweet thing

When I crave sweets, I don’t crave the inconsequential stuff.  I envy people who are satisfied by fat-free licorice, or God forbid, fruit.  No, when my sweet tooth starts throbbing, it throbs for layer cakes with moist crumb and stiff icing, half-baked brownies, and my friend April’s decadent shortbread.  Mostly, though, I crave Russian teacakes.

You might know the cookie by some other name–Mexican wedding cookies, or perhaps, snowballs.  My Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook calls them walnut drops.  Whatever you call it, it’s a simple cookie to get together, requiring little more than flour, powdered sugar, ground walnuts, and a Paula Deen-worthy quantity of butter.

Since I became a mom, I’ve justified baking sweets by incorporating whole grains into recipes.  I’ve dutifully reduced the sugar in my cookies and quickbreads and mixed in flaxseed and wheat germ arbitrarily where it seemed to make sense, but as any baker knows, even a small tweak of this type can result in disaster.  Then, recently, deliverance: I found the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, and now my whole grain baking is making all sorts of sense.

The Russian teacakes shown here have no white flour in them.  Instead, they are made with butter, walnuts, oats, and barley flour, plus a little lemon zest to balance the richness of the nuts.  Barley flour is higher in protein and fiber than regular flour, and contains very little gluten.  It has a mild, nutty taste that works beautifully in baked goods.  Even better for moms and dads, most of the sugar in this cookie is in the coating, which you can easily adjust to your liking.  The recipe below produces a cookie that is dense, crumbly, lemony, and perfect with a cup of peppermint tea.

In short, crave-worthy.

Russian Teacakes

Recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook

1 1/3 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole barley flour

2/3 cup chopped walnuts

10 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar

1/2 t salt

1 T vanilla extract

1 t almond extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 cup confectioners’ (or powdered) sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment, or use them without, ungreased.  Grind oats, barley flour, and walnuts in a food processor for 30 seconds, or until finely ground.

Beat the softened butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  You can do this by hand.  Beat in the extracts and the zest, then the oat mixture.  Roll the dough quickly in your hands into teaspoon-size balls.  Place on the cookie sheets, leaving about 1.5 inches space between cookies.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes.  They will only have begun to brown on the bottoms.  While the cookies are baking, place the cup of sugar in a plastic bag (a clean used plastic bag is fine for this).  Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then toss in batches in the bag of sugar to coat.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 40 cookies

Note: the King Arthur cookbook suggests tossing the cookies in the sugar a second time, once cooled, for an all-white appearance.  I find that the one coat of sugar is the perfect amount of sweetness for me, but if you want a cookie that is sweeter and looks like a white snowball (or if you need a pure white cookie for a holiday cookie tray), toss away!

forever 34

Merino sweater, Forever 21 ($24); Olive poly maxi skirt, Forever 21 ($20); Clog boots, Hasbeens ($400 retail, but scored mine for $149 at Aritzia)

My first blog post, and I’ll get right to the point: if you aren’t already, you should be shopping at Forever 21.

I should begin by stating that I don’t believe in age-appropriateness when it comes to fashion.  It’s clothing.  Have fun with it.  There are things you should hesitate to buy at a Forever 21 (e.g., anything with “lace,” grommeted clothing, and probably, underwear), but for the most part, the store will feed your craving for fast fashion, and satiate you for cheap. Put another way, if the choice is between paying $19.40 for an acrylic sweater at F21, or buying a $78.00 acrylic sweater at T.B.D., I’m going to go with the first option every time.

I do realize Forever 21 is owned by ultra-conservative Christians, which makes me feel even weirder about how many of their t-shirts say “I’m going to steal your boyfriend” on them. But those Christians are Korean (like me), and can really knock off a Marni necklace, to boot. Bottom line, when I can leave a store with a bag full of clothes for $50, I will happily ignore the fact that “John 3:16” is printed in tiny letters somewhere on that bag.

A few tips for those new to F21:

1) If you see something that catches your eye, pick it up and take it with you.  Because if you don’t, I can guarantee that you will never find it again.

2) Love 21 is the line that is cut a little looser and generally seems to have a more grown-up aesthetic.  Some stores have separate Love 21 sections, others have the line mixed in.

3) Don’t let the glare from the ten shades of fake gold scare you off from the accessories section.  My go-to for cheap hoop earrings and cuffs.

4) Don’t be afraid to alter for the perfect fit.  Will you feel dumb bringing in clothes from F21 to your tailor?  Guaranteed.  But with what you saved at the store, you can spend a little extra cash to get the fit just right.  In the photo above, I shortened a maxi skirt about 10 inches to show a little ankle between the hem and the top of my clog boots.

5) Don’t get me wrong: 95% of the clothes at F21 are indeed terrifying.  You will need to work to unearth your treasures.  Go with a friend and tag-team.

Ok, you say, maybe I can find a fun outfit for date night there, but I can’t find work clothes there!  But you can!  I’m a 34-year old lawyer and a harried mom of two–if I can do it, so can you. When I see a trend, and I’m not completely convinced of it, I will usually hit Forever 21 first to try it out. This fall, I’ve had a hankering for skirts, and not the short kind. I mean the long, Catherine-and-Heathcliff, swish-when-you-walk kind of skirt that you can wear with knee boots and a cozy sweater. I’ve posted three outfits, all of which I’ve worn multiple times to the office this fall, most of the components of which were sourced from–you guessed it–Forever 21.

Rust wool-blend sweater, Forever 21 ($20); Paisley rayon-blend midi skirt, Forever 21 ($20); Faux suede wedge boots, ASOS ($50)

F21 mixes well with basics in your closet. If you have a black sweater and knee boots, this is an easy look to pull off, and allows you to flirt with the 70's trend. Missoni-style midi skirt, Forever 21 ($15); Merino v-neck sweater, Club Monaco ($68); Leather knee boots, Steve Madden ($140)