You know what? I have been mystery shopping like crazy lately and have learned one thing I never really picked up before about living in Miami and surrounding cities: There is a ridiculous number of malls here. I've been to more shopping centers than I can count lately, and they're starting to blend together. But it's fun, I'm learning my way around with Siri's help, and hopefully I'll be helping pay the bills when my fees start rolling in...
Another thing I've learned is this: I can usually fill Oscar the Pouch and the belly of at least one of the smaller children (not Rob's or Sophie's - the two of them are never full) by walking around the mall's Food Court during peak hours, sampling everything that's handed out, and save some money on buying actual meals. They don't seem to care whether you plan on buying there or not, or even if you listen to their sometimes long-winded spiel about everything that's on offer, but I usually try and stay. Unless I can't understand them. Then I just say "thank you" and bounce.
So when we found ourselves at Aventura Mall on Wednesday evening, with not a clue on the planet where the expensive kitchen boutique was that I was supposed to evaluate and four hungry bellies (and a pouch), we headed for the Food Court to do my trick. Only, we were there at a bad time, apparently, because no one was out with their red tray (it's always red, I wonder why?), giving out samples in dixie cups. That's another thing I learned: no one here uses toothpicks for the samples. I wonder about that, too; did a guy stab someone at the crowded table next to him for some teriyaki chicken?
We bought some delicioso Thai mango chicken and something-BBQ chicken (I seem to be having as much trouble returning to full-on vegetarianism as I am giving up my Diet Coke habit), lo mein, flied lice, and fried platanos (yum!) for dinner. Chloë surprised me by completely chowing down, even more than Sophie did, I think. Once in a while, Chlo can really pack it away.
So I couldn't find the boutique, left the mall to go across the street, walked around for about ten minutes, went back to the mall, and finally went into Nordstrom (or "Nerd Storm," as Sophia has hilariously dubbed it) to ask for help. I thought it would be in there, knowing how much the coffee machines I was to evaluate cost, but I was wrong. Argh. More walking, and I have a huge blister from Orlando on my left pinky toe.
Rob and the kids were still out in the car by this point, having gone all over Aventura to track this damn shop down, which really cut into my mileage and per-hour fees, y'know? It's a good thing I ended up getting a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and a pretty big fee out of that shop, or I'd have been more upset. I still haven't shut up about that coffee. If I didn't have the Keurig, I might be tempted to buy one of these guys, outrageous price tag notwithstanding.
After the coffee boutique, we headed NW to Sawgrass Mills, a freakin' enormous mall with everything from Old Navy and The Gap to Jimmy Choo and other lux brands. Sawgrass Mills is to the left of Fort Lauderdale, if you're following along on a map. I had to go there to do three valet parking and one retail shop. One of the valet stands no longer exists, though, so it's anyone's guess whether I'll get my fee for a 'closed' shop (sometimes you get paid even if the place isn't there anymore) or not. After we parked at the first place, we had to wander around the mall a little bit to kill time. There were these cool spiral-shaped fountains there, and this one was empty, so we let the kidoodles walk around on top of it. I love the stance and look on Jack's face, like he's in Jurassic Park or something.
We happened across an arcade, Gameroom (which Sophia amusingly decided should be called "Gam-er-OOM" instead of the real pronunciation), so after checking that prices weren't outrageous, I decided to load a game card with a little cash and turn the kids loose. We were the only people there, so they had the run of the place. It's like a giant, grown-up Chuck E. Cheese's in there or something. I've not been to a Dave & Buster's yet, so I can't compare.
We went around, sliding the card for one kid after the other, for about a half-hour. Each kid won a ton of tickets at their games. Here, Sophia was on a machine where she had to jump when the light was on "STOP" to win lots of tickets. Not shockingly, she was great at it. This kid is good at pretty much everything she attempts. Except cleaning her room, but I'm starting to think that's a conscious effort on her part...
I told Chloë, "I don't know why you guys love playing the Claw Game so much. It's almost impossible to win anything!" but they don't care. They'll care when it's their money, I'm betting.
Jack loves to prove me wrong. He won this humongo ball from - you guessed it - a Claw Game. A gigantic Claw Game, one of four adjacent to each other. He was, to put it mildly, thrilled. So was I - we can use it for P.E. class! Never mind that the thing is as big as he is.
Speaking of huge games, Chloë found this big Connect 4 and had to play that. She won, too, but it's a pretty easy thing to do when you have no competitor...
When Rob helped the kids feed their earned tickets into the redemption machine, they'd gotten 209, I think, for their little bit of money. I showed them all the things that could be gotten for 200 tickets, and they weren't impressed, so I showed them some things they could save up for, and which would they rather do? Miracle of miracles, they decided to bank their tickets for another time. You could've knocked me over with a feather; they've never gone that route when I've tried to convince them in the past!
::SNIFF:: My little babies are growning up.
We went and did another parking shop at the same city mall, as well as the retail store I mentioned above. It was silly, because that store has a similar name to a much more well-known, popular brand (see photo above for hint), and I had to ask in the no-name shop if they were the big-name one. Kind of embarrassing, but I love to embarrass myself, so I didn't care. I like to play games with these shops when they don't give me a specific scenario: I make up something ridiculous, just to gauge the reaction I'll get. This time, I went in there insisting that I had to have a yellow tank top; no other color would do, because I simply did not have enough yellow in my wardrobe. The guy who helped me cracked up; he couldn't help it. If you're crazy and you know it, clap your hands!
We headed back East then to Fort Lauderdale to do a really fun (or at least it was supposed to be) shop that the kids had been anticipating for about a week. I expected a much more professional, business-like outfit than the disorganized, badly-in-need-of-my-services one we encountered, however, which meant a long report was going to have to be written. I love doing the shops themselves; going home and doing the reports is another matter. I don't mind doing them, but I do, admittedly, seem to have a problem getting them done in a timely manner. I make sure to write kick-ass reports to make up for it, though!
We had time to kill, once again, between portions of this last shop for the night, and once again everyone was ravenous, so I checked in to our location on Foursquare to find recommended places to eat. We were in the Las Olas Shops section of Ft. Lauderdale by that point. All of the recommendations were too far to go in order to eat and be back to the place where we needed to return in an hour, so we looked around for inspiration. At first, I thought we'd go to the crépe restaurant - who doesn't love skinny pancakes?! - but then we spotted a cheese-and-whine bistro next door, and yeah, they had me at 'cheese.' I love cheese. Jack, who doesn't, was less than thrilled and refused to eat, so I promised him something else when we got back to Penelope.
If you're looking around for a place to eat in Las Olas, I recommend the Cheese Culture. The food was outstanding, and the ambiance was really cool. It's not a place for kids, and they don't have a menu for them either, but it sufficed. Especially since we ate outside on the otherwise-deserted patio, away from the rest of the grown-ups. People seem to get grouchy when their fancy date nights are disrupted by bickering little ones, for some reason... I want to go back sometime when we have a babysitter.
The girls shared an "Ultimate Grilled Cheese" sandwich, with gruyere and Emmenthaler cheese melted on a delicious ciabatta, and I had a bite. It was splendid! Rob and I each had a "Build-Your-Own" sandwich. I forget what he got, except for the greens on the side that were good but got left behind when I told him we had to dash off to get back to our shop location on time - bummer. I had turkey, fresh mozzarella, baby greens on a baguette with garlicky basil mayonaisse. I don't usually like mayo, but it sounded (and was) good. The food delivery had artistic flair to match the out-of-this-world flavor. The server was a little dingy but sweet, and she agreed we should return on a parents-only date night. I bought a bottle of wine from her, a sweet Moscato that we have yet to open, and she gave me a discount for which I didn't even ask. Nice place.
Kilwin's, a chocolate shoppe in Las Olas, was just a few store fronts down from Cheese Culture, so I stopped in to peruse the goods. I am first and foremost a chocolate fanatic and second a chocolate-coconut truffle fiend, so I'm forever on the hunt for the perfect one. I found it once, at a candy store on the Jersey Shore, but its match has been elusive ever since. They had huge coconut chocolates at Kilwin's; I bought a couple, and they were all right, but definitely not perfection. Alas, I'll keep looking.
I purchased some more truffles while I was there, though, about ten or twelve. Obstensibly for Robert, though I don't think he's had a single one yet. I bought him the raspberry ones, which he tends to love, along with some mocha, mint, and other delicious goodness I can no longer remember. These chocolates weren't cheap, being in the neighborhood of $23/lb and up, so imagine my chagrin when I woke up the next morning to find the cats had knocked them off the table and used them for hockey pucks!
We returned to our previous location to finish the half-begun assignment and go home. It was late by then, about 10:30 PM. Obviously, we weren't in NYC, but there's a hint for you. The return was more pleasant than the first leg, but they still blew it. Like I said, they need me. Desperately. I'll fix 'em, I will!
Apropos of nothing much, Rob told me recently that I should open my own mystery shopping company. I don't know. I doubt I'd do it, though it would be fun.
I had reports to write when we got home, but I was cold and exhausted. I decided to treat myself to some JAFRA Spa pampering, and it was just the right call to make. I was in smelly-good heaven, relaxed and soft of skin and hair. It felt amazing. I even tried to nap in the bathtub, but I didn't want to pull a Whitney, so it didn't take. Sorry, that was crude.
Ahhh... so refreshed! (That's unretouched Instagramography, there. Thanks, JAFRA!)
If you want to win some awesome JAFRA products, by the by, friend me on Facebook. I'm having a fun FB party online this week and yes, there will be prizes!
On Thursday morning, Rob unfortunately woke up with a pretty nasty cold, so it kinda sucked that we had about 10 hours of mystery shops to do in the Keys that day. And yeah, he is totally playing the part of military retiree these days. Hanging out in the Keys, fishin', growin'a beard... people are always like, WHAT. is THAT. on his FACE?! Haha. Although, one of my friends did say he's kinda smokin' with the beard, and of course I agree. I ♥ my little Fur Face...
The first shop in Key Largo was interesting. It was inside an exclusive, gated village, and the words "hoity-toity" come to mind. Now, I've been in exclusive, gated villages before (and I don't mean gated apartment complexes like the one we live in now), in places like Hilton Head and whatnot, but this was something else again. They had a whole town in there, with grocery and fishing and shoe and other stores, and it was definitely an Old Money community. I felt spectacularly out of place. The gate guard took my driver's license, called up the shop where I ad to evaluate the service, and asked them permission to let me enter. I wasn't expecting that. I'm not a gawker or anything, not too much, but I gawked, y'all.
I had to do a high-end fishing store shop. Rob is a fisherman. He knows what he's talking about. Me, I don't collect and kill animals as a general rule (no offense) (maybe a little), so I had no clue. I tried to inveigle him into coming into the store with me and running the show, but he wasn't down with it. So I had to go in there and wing it. I played up my scenario thusly: I'm getting gifts for my fisherman husband and I don't know what I'm doing, so please help me out. It worked. I bought him four clouser saltwater fishing flies - though he doesn't have a saltwater rig yet - and he was happy with them. Win.
I had to drive south to Marathon after that and evaluate the company there that, uh, well, see the picture above? I can't exactly spell it out for you, because that would give it away. Anyway, the guy I talked to there was amazing. He completely blew me away with his keen interest in environmental initiatives. Y'all know I'm a raging environmentalist, so we really hit it off. I'll probably go back and talk to him some more on my own and have him give my kiddos a tour of the facility someday, too. This guy was GREEN, folks. True green. I loved it. Also, he gave me a way cool "welcome to the neighborhood" gift of 4-5 reusable canvas bags, an electronics charger that shuts down after the device is fully charged to stop vampire electricty suckage, a nifty keychain, lots of information printouts, and more. Color me impressed.
It had been storming like the dickens in the Keys between the first two assignments, and there came a point where Sophia and I really had to pee. Water rushing down the windows didn't help that situation much, you know? So Rob drove us right up to the door of a Hom Depot, and in the ½-second it took us to get out of Penelope and into the Depot, we were completely drenched. Which meant we were freezing when we returned to the air-conditioned van after emptying our respective bladders. That's probably what helped along my cold, from which I'm now suffering. Anyway, it was quite the tropical storm. When we got to Key West a couple of hours later, the roads were all rivers. Lakes. I haven't seen that much rain since 1995, during Tropical Storm Gordon my freshman year at U-Miami.
We arrived in Key West much earlier than we needed to be there, so we drove around a while and returned to the souvie shop where I'd bought my red wrap dress/skirt/thingy the week before. I think I showed it to you? If not, here it is:
It's amazing versatile and, I think, pretty flattering, depending on how I tie it. For twenty bucks, I can get several styles of dresses, skirts, and tunics out of it, so I wanted to get a yellow and a teal one, too. That I did. I accidentally bought the floor-length ones, though, which is okay but not ideal. I'll just have to tie them the other ways that don't work with the red one, right?
After that, Rob wanted to go fishing. He knew we'd end up down there way earlier than my assignment required, so he'd brought down a few poles, a cooler, and a bucket to prepare. We drove around on a wild goose chase for a while, trying to find a decent place to fish, before someone in a Circle K just told us to go the marina. You're not supposed to fish there, but he said they were cool about it, since it was the end of the charters' day. Worse thing that could happen was they'd tell us to leave, so we went.
The fish weren't biting for him, though. I think he was disappointed. I was, I know that much. I may not like to catch 'em and clean 'em - although back in my Mote Marine Lab days, I was pretty good at filleting the snook for the grouper and snapper - but I don't mind cooking and eating them these days. I'm trying to quit... but not that hard! ;)
After an hour or so, he packed it up, and we went off in search of dinner and gas for Penelope. We didn't want to eat out anywhere, needing to save our cash, so we ended up at the Publix nearest my next assignment. Rob and the kids stayed in the car while I shopped for sandwich fixin's on the cheap. Bologna and American cheese it was; I splurged on good rolls. I got back in the car and told the kids, "Here are your choices: You can have boloney and cheese, or you can not eat. That's it." Guess what? They ate.
Finally, it was time to head over to one of the movie theaters on the island for my last assignment. Sophia was my date, having won the title of "Best Behaved Child" (can you believe it?!) after our trip to Orlando earlier in the week. We had planned to see The Croods for her sake, but it was 3D, and no upgraded movies were allowed for the job, so we went to see Iron Man 3 instead. It was the only one left that was semi-appropriate for an 8-year-old. I wasn't terribly excited, not having seen IM or IM2, but I was happy to have my fun baby as a companion. She did not disappoint.
The movie turned out to be really entertaining. It held my interest from start to finish, and hello?! I knew this already, but the movie reaffirmed it: Robert Downey Jr. is farking HOT. Oh, my word. I may have drooled. Cute butt, too. I think wardrobe did a really good job with him (as did his parents' genes). Honestly, though, I didn't expect to NOT be bored throughout the movie, and there wasn't one single second of that. I don't normally go for superhero movies - not since Christopher Reeve as Superman, anyway - but this was extremely well-written and -acted. In a nutshell, I liked it. Go see it. I'd even watch it again. And not just for RDJ. Much.
We got home from Key West at something like four in the morning on Friday, and I had all those reports to do. But I didn't. I tried, man. I tried. I was beyond exhausted by that point, though, and went to lie down "for a little bit." You guys, I didn't even get up until 9 PM on Friday to pee or anything! Crazy. So I missed a bunch of shops that I've since rescheduled, all my reports were late (ahem, but what else is new?), and I had a killer migraine. I needed that sleep, though, so it's all good, I guess.
And now? I have more shops to do. See ya!