Maria 3.0: Shopping for Clothes

Still very weird.

Okay, I’ll try to make this my last post — at least for a while — about all the weight I lost: about 40 pounds. Some of you must be getting tired of it. I’m still in disbelief.

Yesterday, I went to the mall to pick up some clothes. My wardrobe is extremely limited these days and I needed a few things to fill in the gaps. Mostly stuff that was a little dressy, or at least things that could be easily dressed up. I wanted something new to wear to court — and I really wish I didn’t have to think about things like that.

Maria 3.0
Maria 3.0 — AKA, Maria Rebooted. This is one of my Glamour Shots photos. I’m wearing old clothes in this one, folks — clothes I wore when I was in my 30s. (I saved a ton of money on clothes by keeping that old stuff. I remember wearing those shoes at my first job out of college!) I feel like I’m in my 30s, too.

What’s blowing my mind is the size thing. Before the diet, I was a size 14 or XL and really pushing the seams. Apparently, I’m now a size 8 or S.

But I’m in denial. So when I try on clothes, I keep bringing size 10 and M into the fitting room. And they’re just too darn big.

I do want to say that I don’t think today’s sizes are in the same scale as the sizes back in the 1980s when I was a size 8. (I was also a size 6 for a short while, when my activity level and metabolism brought my weight down to a sickly 105 pounds.) In my size 8 days, I weighed 130-140 pounds. Today, I weigh around 155. (No, I’m not ashamed of my weight. Indeed, I’m rather proud of it. Remember, I’m 5’8″ tall; according to this chart, I’m right about where I should be.)

My closet was full of old clothes and I tried on every single item in there. What I found is that I’m fitting into size 10 and 12 from the “old days.” Not size 8. It’s the new size 8, which seems to be equivalent to the old size 10, that I’m fitting into.

Why are clothes sizes different? I suspect it has to do with the fattening of America. As I walk around the mall — and elsewhere — I can’t help but notice all the fatties around me. I used to be one of them. Now I’m not. And I really feel sorry for them.

Yesterday, I was in Clearwater Creek, trying on some of the clearance clothes. A skirt in size 10 actually fit better in size 8. (I didn’t buy it because I didn’t like the cut. I look much better in slim-line skirts than ones that flare out.) A sleeveless knit shirt in size M actually fit better in size S. Small! Can you believe that? I can’t! I was busting the seams on XL in women’s sizes just four months ago!

I caught on by the time I got to JC Penney. I brought both size 10 and size 8 into the fitting room with me. The size 8 fit. I bought a funky tweed-like skirt and a red skirt — if you can imagine that. I would have bought a black faux leather skirt if they’d had it in my size.

Today, I tried to find a pair of plain black Levi’s jeans. What I discovered is that it’s nearly impossible to find ladies’ jeans that aren’t made out of stretch fabric. I used to like stretch denim. I used to need stretch denim. But now I just want regular old denim. Like the kind they sell to guys. I almost bought a pair of men’s 505 jeans in black denim, but I wanted them in 34 length instead of 32. Apparently, Levi’s doesn’t make them. I like the 550s, but really think that with my new, slim figure the 505s would be more flattering. I’ll have to hit the Levi’s store at the outlet mall and try again.

Shoes are easy. I’m still a size 8 or 8-1/2. In the old days, I wore a size 6-1/2. I guess my feet got fatter and stayed that way. Picked up a new pair of plain black pumps today. Can’t wait to throw out the old patent leather pumps I used to wear when I had a “real job.”

I’m really enjoying all of this. What I’m not enjoying is having clothes that I thought would fit but are now too large. I like my clothes to fit properly. And I don’t have an unlimited budget for buying clothes.

But hell — at least I like shopping now. I haven’t enjoyed it so much since my college days, when I worked in a retail clothing store.

It’s all part of Maria 3.0 — AKA, Maria Rebooted. And it sure makes me happy.

Clothes Shopping in my Own Closet

Building a new wardrobe from an old one.

I returned to Wickenburg on Saturday and after a few minor difficulties getting into the house — a long story to be covered in the future sometime — settled down and began cleaning up the detritus of a 29-year relationship with a man who has become a stranger to me. Fortunately, he has at least one other place to live and, indeed, has already moved out. So Penny and I pretty much have the house to ourselves.

Folks who follow my blog know that I’ve been dieting all summer. I’m still losing weight — mostly because stress has taken away my appetite and keeps me on edge. The total weight loss so far is 38 pounds. That’s about 19% of my starting body weight. So I guess you can say I’m 81% of the woman I was in May.

I bought some new clothes in Washington and donated my “fat clothes” to Goodwill. But I didn’t bring all my clothes back to Wickenburg. The reason: I had a bunch of old clothes stored away in my closet — clothes from when I was thin.

Pants Outfit
This dressy pants outfit fits better than ever before.

Over the past three days, I’ve been trying on old clothes and shifting them from the back of the closet to the front. Yesterday morning, I tackled the jeans and slacks. I’d pull a pair of pants out of the closet, check the size, and then try them on. Then I’d walk into the bathroom where there’s a big mirror, and I’d check out the fit. And every single time, I’d say to myself, “I can’t fucking believe it.”

You see, with the exception of one skirt and a few pairs of jeans, I was able to get my body into every single item I tried on.

Including a denim skirt I’d made from an embroidered pair of jeans when I was in eighth grade.

In many cases, the clothes I tried on were too big. They went into the Goodwill pile. The clothes that fit got rehung on hangars at the front of the closet. Those few items that were too small — well, I’ll hold onto them just in case I keep shrinking.

Cocktail Dress
I don’t think I ever actually wore this dress. I think it was too small from the day I bought it.

Yesterday afternoon, I started on the dress clothes. I took the size 14/16 Lane Bryant dress — you ladies know what I’m talking about — off the hangar and bundled it up for my mom. Didn’t even bother trying it on — I know I’d be swimming in it. (It’s going to be very long on my mother.) I found a slacks outfit with a cute little short jacket and put the jacket on — 10 years of age fell off me. It looked sharp! And that little cocktail dress I wanted to get into? No problemo! Can’t wait to start wearing it on dates.

I continued going through clothes this morning and will likely continue tomorrow. It’s not just the closet — which I’m almost finished with — but it’s the dresser drawers and the storage bins under the bed. There’s just so much of it.

Short Black Skirt
A wardrobe essential: a short black skirt. I have four of them.

What I’m really glad about, however, is that I didn’t do this last year. I almost did several times, but the task was too daunting. If I’d done it, however, I would have thrown away the skinny clothes and then I’d have nothing that fit me now!

At this point, my car trunk and front passenger seat are completely filled with bags and laundry baskets full of clothes and old purses for the local thrift shop. I’ll drop them off on my way out of town this afternoon. (I’m heading down to the mall to get a makeup consultation and then have dinner with a singles meetup group.)

The best thing about this shopping spree? It didn’t cost me a thing.

Trader Joe’s and the Rise of the Lazy, Stupid Consumer

How stupid, lazy, and wasteful have we become?

There’s a Trader Joe’s store walking distance from my Phoenix office. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, when I need a break, I take Charlie Dog for a walk over there, buy a few things, and come back. Yesterday was one of those days.

I have mixed feelings about Trader Joe’s. I think their merchandise falls into three evenly divided categories: great, meh, and horrible. Every time I try something new that I’ve bought there, I can assign one of those categories to it. And despite what many loyal Trader Joe’s customers apparently think, there’s an awful lot in that last category: products to simply avoid because they suck. Still, people rave about the place. I go there because of the things that are great; the fact that it’s the closest place to get milk, eggs, and butter; and because going there is a good excuse to take a walk in the middle of the day.

Yesterday, however, I saw something there that not only floored me, but it reminded me of how stupid and lazy American shoppers have become.

I’m talking about the Guacamole kit.

Guacamole KitAs shown in this unfortunate photo — unfortunate because I snapped it with a man standing behind it, making the sign look as if it has legs and I really should know better (sheesh) — Trader Joe’s sells a “Guacamole Kit” for $4. It also sells 4 avocados for $3. On the same table.

I looked at the Guacamole Kit. It came in a plastic box — you know, the kind you might buy “box-o-lettuce” or some other kind of fresh produce in. It contained the following items:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 roma tomato
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 lime

Guacamole Kit, Close Up and PersonalI know this because I took a picture of the box, too. The label not only lists the ingredients, but it provides instructions on how to assemble these things into guacamole.

Wow. It’s such a good thing that Trader Joe’s puts these difficult-to-find-and-grasp ingredients in one handy box. I’m sure there are people all over the world denying themselves the joy of fresh guacamole because they simply lack the skills to gather six ingredients — half of which they might already have in their refrigerator — without getting lost in the produce aisle. And those instructions! The absolute key to success! Who knew that the avocado had to be peeled first? But wait! The recipe calls for salt and there was no salt in the box! Oh, no! What do I do?


I see this as a way for Trader Joe’s — obviously a smart operation, given the way so many shoppers revere them — to cash in on the laziness and stupidity of its shoppers. People who would rather let Trader Joe’s pack whatever ingredients they need into a plastic box than spend an extra 2 minutes picking out the ingredients, making sure everything was unblemished and ripe. (I don’t know about you, but I like to gently squeeze an avocado to test for ripeness, especially if I plan to eat it within the next 24 hours.) People who can’t be bothered to think for themselves.

Which is possible, given the high percentage of Trader Joe’s shoppers who are on their freaking cells phones while they shop.

Maybe that’s the target market. Cell phone shoppers.

If people actually buy these kits, it’s genius on the part of Trader Joe’s marketing wonks. After all, they’ve put produce with a retail value of about $2.50 (if purchased separately) into a plastic box and can get people to pay 60% more. In other words, people are paying $1.50 extra for the plastic box and a label with a recipe.

And how many of those organic-food-loving Trader Joe’s shoppers do you think will actually recycle that box?

It’s stupid and wasteful.

But it’s an indicator of how lazy the people in this country have become. We don’t want to buy anything unless someone, somewhere has done all or part of the work for us. We eat at fast food joints instead of packing a bag lunch. We buy processed foods so we can microwave a meal instead of assembling and cooking a handful of fresh ingredients. We buy pre-packaged “kits” — often with “flavor packets” — to make the few “fresh” food items we eat.

All along the way, we subject our bodies to excessive use of questionable ingredients that have the potential to damage our health: salt, sweeteners, fat, chemical additives, preservatives.

But hey, it’s quick and easy, right?

And that’s all that seems to matter to us today. Taking the easy way out.

And the Trader Joe’s Guacamole Kit is just another indication of how lazy and stupid the American consumer has become.

Shop Smart for Services: Avoid Dealing with Middlemen

I cannot stress this enough.

As usual, I’ll use a story to illustrate my point. I’ll try to keep it brief.

The Flight

Today, Flying M Air did a 2-hour charter for two men from Texas. They’d come to Phoenix to do a rather unusual aerial survey. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to go into details of what it was all about, but I can say that it required me to fly low and slow over a bunch of commercial properties all over the Phoenix area.

The flight was booked last minute in an odd way. I got a call from a local airplane charter company who told me that these two guys had shown up to charter a helicopter — which the airplane charter company did not have. Could I take these guys on a survey flight? I spoke to one of the clients, got a few quick questions answered — including their weights, which I needed to calculate a weight and balance for the flight — and told them my rates. Then I hung up and got ready to meet them at the airport in less than two hours.

I was just leaving when my phone rang. It was XYZ Company (not their real name), which I wrote about at some length here. The short version is that XYZ is a booking company that markets itself as a provider of aviation (and other) services but doesn’t own a single aircraft. Instead, it hires third party companies (like mine) to provide the services,

The XYZ person on the phone told me they were sending two clients to me. She then proceeded to describe the job I’d booked directly with the client.

I told her I’d already booked it with the client and that the client was going to pay me with a credit card at the conclusion of the flight. I was trying hard to keep XYZ out of it. It didn’t matter much to me — I’d get paid the same amount whether they were involved or not — but I simply don’t like the way XYZ does business. But the caller told me that the client already had credit with XYZ and that XYZ was willing to pay me for the 2 hours of flight time up front with a credit card.

I didn’t want the client to pay me and still be on the hook with XYZ, so I took the payment. I then called the client and told him what had transpired. He seemed happy enough.

I went to the airport and did the flight. It was far from an ideal setup. For some reason, the client expected me to know the addresses of the buildings we flew over. As if flying a helicopter 300 feet off the ground while watching for obstructions and other traffic and talking to an airport control tower wasn’t enough of a workload for me. They were completely unprepared to get the location information they needed — hell, a handheld GPS, which I could have provided with enough notice, would have been a real handy tool.

But the client seemed satisfied with the flight. It was a nice day to fly and I was paid up front. So how could I complain?

The Lesson to Be Learned

I do, however, want to use this story as a lesson to folks shopping around for services — perhaps for holiday gift-giving.

There are several points to be made about what transpired. Although these points deal specifically with XYZ, they also apply to similar organizations that act as booking agents for services:

  • XYZ Company makes money off every flight it books. It typically marks up my services by 30%. So yes, if you bought an hour of flight time from me, it would cost you $545. But if you bought the same hour of flight time with XYZ in the middle, it would cost you about $700. In today’s story, these guys spent $300 more than they could have for the same service.
  • XYZ Company does not give refunds. For any reason. If you need to cancel a flight, you get a credit for the amount you paid. You have one year to use it elsewhere. Since I don’t (usually) take payment in advance, when you book with me, you don’t need to worry about refunds or credits. So if XYZ had been unable to book the flight with me, these clients would probably be stuck with a credit.
  • XYZ Company charges a fixed price for the service you say you need. So if you want 2 hours of flight time, you’ll pay for it up front. If you fly only 1-1/2 hours, you’re out of luck since they don’t give refunds. But because I charge charter clients based on actual time flown, if they fly less than expected, they pay less than expected. In fact, I typically overestimate flight time so folks feel good when the final cost is less than they thought it would be.
  • XYZ Company can’t be relied upon to get a reservation handled correctly. This is a classic example: they booked an airplane when the client clearly needed a helicopter! These guys flew in from Texas for this survey — imagine if there weren’t any helicopter charter operators available to do the flight on such short notice. They would have made the trip for nothing. Another time, they booked a 5-hour survey flight for a client that required landing illegally in a wilderness area (which I was not going to do). And I can’t tell you how many phone calls it takes to arrange a flight for a client with XYZ in the middle. Right now, I’m waiting for a yes/no answer on a flight they’ve called me about four times already — and I still don’t know if it’s going to happen.

Yet time after time, people turn to companies like XYZ, relying on a middle man who knows nothing about the provider’s capabilities or operations. The chain of communication is never properly established, services are misrepresented, clients and providers get unpleasant surprises at job time.

And the buyer of the services is paying a 20% to 40% premium.

What are they getting for this extra cost? Well, they don’t have to call more than one company that appears in Google’s search results.

You see, that’s how these companies get the calls. They buy up domain names and Google AdWords. They set up generic websites for local helicopter tours or airplane tours or balloon rides or skydiving. You search and they come to the top. You look at their site and you think they’re some big adventure travel company with airplanes and helicopters and hot air balloons all over the country. You call and they assure you they can help you. So you stop looking and let them do the work.

Is that worth 30% more than you could pay?

If you think so, fine. Like I said: it doesn’t affect me. I get paid the same amount, whether you book through me or them.

But in a day and age when everyone is so hot for deep discount deals like the ones Groupon offers, it seems so very strange to me that people would be willing to give money away to a middleman just because he knows how to dial a phone.

Shoppers, Do Your Homework!

Slick product packaging and marketing ≠ best products

mophie juicepackThis morning, while on Google+, I read an update by one of the people in my circles. He was recommending a product called mophie juice pack powerstation. This is a portable battery device that you can use to charge cell phones and tablet computers when you’re on the go and a regular charging source is not available.

Lenmar PowerPortI’m interested in devices like these. In fact, the other day, I’d added the Lenmar PowerPort Wave 6600 to my Wish list. At first glance, this product seems to do the same thing.

There is, however, a $30 difference in price, with the Lenmar being the cheaper of the two alternatives.

Making an Objective Comparison

I looked briefly at the two devices. The mophie was 4000 mAh; the Lenmar was 6600 mAh. I thought higher was better. So I queried the person who’d recommended the mophie. His response was that if based solely on power, the Lenmar looked better. He then talked about portability and battery quality, suggesting that the cheaper unit might not be as good quality as the other.

Of course, I had to dive in and find out. So I looked up the specs on both of them — the above links will take you there. What I found was that Lenmar’s rather plain vanilla site provided specifications that included battery type, voltage, capacity, unit size, and unit weight:

Lenmar Specs

The specifications info on mophie’s site, which was slick looking and modern with lots of trendy lowercase product names and headings, didn’t provide any details about the battery at all, although it did provide unit dimensions (it was a bit smaller) and shipping weight (which I suppose could be helpful if I wanted to carry it around in its original packaging):

mophie specs

To be fair, mophie’s features page did mention that its battery was 4000 mAh and it could output up to 2 amps.

I downloaded the user guides for both, looking for more information. Lenmar’s was a 3-page black and white guide with two of the pages in languages other than English. It provided lots of details on what the device could do and how to use it. mophie’s was a slick-looking 2-page color flyer with a first page that read like a marketing press release. (How else could you describe a heading that read “Here’s a rundown of why this is the perfect device”?) Nowhere did it say what kind of battery the device had or how much the device weighed.

Then I started looking at actual features. The Lenmar device had two power out ports: one at 1.0A max and the other at 2.1A max. They could be used together for a total of 3.1A max output. That means I could (theoretically) power an iPhone and an iPad at the same time. Or an iPhone and a GoPro. Or two GoPros. The mophie, by comparison, had just one power out port rated at 2.1A max. (This, by the way, contradicts what the website said — 2A — but it’s close enough.) That meant I could only power one device, like a single iPhone, iPad, or GoPro, at a time.

So here’s what I saw:

  • Lenmar had a basic Web site and ugly manual pushing a product that had a 6600 mAh battery and two ports capable of charging two devices at once. Price: $44 on
  • mophie had a slick looking Web site and manual pushing a product that had a 4000 mAh battery and one port capable of charging one device at a time. Price: $80 on

Which one do you think I picked?

Questioning Motivations

I started bring up these points on Google+ in comments to the original post about the mophie unit. I was very surprised that the person who posted the recommendation about the mophie didn’t seem the least bit interested in seeing whether the Lenmar unit was a better value for the money. Instead, he claimed he was familiar with mophie and that he knew their products were worth what they charged.


Then I noticed that the same person had made several other product recommendations recently and I began to wonder whether he had some motivation to push certain products — beyond his own experiences with them. And that’s when I realized that I was wasting my time trying to have an informed discussion about the two alternatives.

The Point

Yes, this blog post does have a point. A few of them, in fact:

  • Don’t take social networking product recommendations at face value. You can never be sure about the motivations of the people who push products.
  • Don’t make a purchase decision without examining alternatives.
  • Don’t let slick or trendy looking product design, websites, or marketing documents blind you to a product’s true feature set.
  • Don’t think that the highest priced product is always the best quality alternative. These days, price is not always an indicator of quality.
  • Do choose products that meet your needs at a price you’re willing to pay.

Is the Lenmar product better? I don’t know. It certainly seems to have a better feature set for nearly half the price. That’s enough to get me to try it.