Sunday, September 21, 2014

Subscription Boxes part 2

I am continuing my journey through the world of subscription boxes.  Most of the ones I received in this round were food-orientated.  I'm not sure if that has to do with the initial list that I made or if it accurately reflects the larger proportion of food items available in this manner or if the food boxes are simply mailed more quickly.
Graze - the second box.

First, I received my second shipment from  This one had four new snacks in it.  I've now tried 4 of the 8 snacks (overall) that they have sent. I really liked one - the super berry detox - which had a new food to me goji berries.  One was REALLY not for me - sour cream and onion cashews - this was a bit of a surprise since I've always liked cashews and also sour cream and onion potato chips.  The combination of the cashews and the flavoring didn't work for me though.  The other two I felt more neutral ranging to positive.  The fruit and seed flapjack (something like a chewy granola bar only more moist) tasted good, but I wouldn't go out of my way to purchase it alone.   The jalapeno fiesta mix was good; I like the combination and the spice level was just on for my tastes.  However, I'm eating these snacks at work and felt very self-conscious about my breath after eating this one.  I'm actually looking forward to trying the last four items this company has sent - I'm just trying to pace myself to make them last until the next box comes.
The Hatchery Box - nice packaging

My next box was the largest personal disappointment so far.  After watching Nina open her TasteTrunk box, I had high hopes for the Hatchery box I ordered for myself.  However, after poking through the contents (none of which I've been inspired to use yet), I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really a foodie.  This box contained sample sizes of paella spice mix, tea seed oil, mango habanero jam, bbq sauce, white truffle mayonnaise, and salted vanilla caramel sauce.  Only one recipe was included - for the caramel sauce which I thought was one of the easiest items to use without a recipe.  I went on the website hoping to find recipes for the other items - particularly the tea seed oil since I'm not familiar with it - and the recipes are not organized so I gave up. Since the guide sheet in the box listed 2 ideas to use each item, I had expected to see those recipes listed, but I couldn't find them.
Horatio looks at the Hatchery items

The cost of this box was slightly less than TasteTrunk - $25 with shipping as compared to $29 - and there was one more item but all the items were considerably smaller in size.  If an individual was truly a foodie (as we just established I am not), this could be an exciting way to find new companies.  All of the products were made in the USA; four of the six were produced in California.  The website did give information on each company, so you could presumably later order more (either through the Hatchery website or directly from the producer) of any item that you really liked.
The Treatsie box

The other food box that came since my last batch of reviews was the "sweets" subscription from Treatsie.  This company does more than one plan, and I am going to get a box of their chocolate subscription as well.  Be warned that their website says that this subscription is $12/month ... with shipping it is closer to $20.  There were three types of sweets in the box:  triple chocolate cookies, assorted caramels, and cherry & white tea preserves.  The caramels were really good.  I devoured the Celtic Sea Salt and Classic Soft ones almost immediately.  Some lucky soul will receive the salted mocha ones from the assortment since I don't like coffee flavors.  The cookies were good.  I could tell that they were commercially made as they were quite dry and powdery; however, I could also tell that there were high quality ingredients used in making them.  You could taste the different levels of chocolate from the dough and the chips.  I have not tried the cherry preserves yet ... holding out for a day when I have time to make waffles or something like that.  However, this was a pleasant surprise to find in the box - a little tartness rather than another very sugary item.  You can order any  full-size versions of the items from this box (or past ones) on the Treatsie website; I looked longingly at more caramels but restrained myself as I currently have many other treats in the house.
The Be Nice Box month of good deeds for September

The last box that I have to review is actually the one that started me on this plan.  I read about the Be Nice Box in Minnesota Monthly magazine and was fascinated by the idea of subscription boxes.  I was also particularly fascinated by this company.  When you subscribe you are sent a list of good deed ideas to try, supplies to do some of the activities on the list, and a little treat for yourself.  Diana (the company founder) has changed the pricing structure since I ordered, so check out the website for more information on costs and frequency of orders.
Coloring book, paper dolls and shaped crayons

Little theater, kindness seed coins and MY TREAT :)

Kit to make cards for hospitalized kids (or someone else)
My box was themed towards good deeds for kids (or the young at heart).  Some of the ideas on the list included buying school supplies to donate to a student in need, drawing a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk, teaching a kid a joke, and opening the door for parents (and everyone else) with their hands full.  Included supplies (they did all tie to something on the list) were a small sheet of paper dolls, a tiny coloring book, sea life shaped crayons, a matchbox theater, and a card making kit.  The treat for me was a bar of chocolate from Meadowlands Chocolate; I was quite thrilled to see this as I've heard about this company but haven't found a spot in my area of Minnesota that sells their product.

I don't know if I will use every item in the box with a kid - some may just get passed on.  However, they were all very sweet.   I did think that the shaped crayons would be hard to actually use to color in the very tiny drawings of the included coloring book, but they certainly looked interesting.  I had gotten some kindness seed coins as well - which look like great fun to hand out.  I love matchbox theaters, so that was a fun old-fashioned item to see.

The real centerpiece of the box was definitely the card kit though.  The small bag included prefolded cards, envelopes, craft paper, and felt stickers to make 6 cards.  There was also an informational sheet about the charity "Cards for Hospitalized Kids" which will take cards to give to kids in hospitals across America.  This sounds like a wonderful effort to support.  I have lots of card-making supplies already and am scheming for a card creation party for this charity early next year (when work slows down a bit).

Monday, September 1, 2014

Low Effort Retail Therapy - subscription boxes part 1

I haven't posted for a while ... nor have I been working much on Day Zero (though I would dearly love to have the time to work on my goals).  This is the reason why:
Photo: The new curbs surrounding the turn from Chapman St to the parking lot are in ... more concrete work will happen near the entrance and on the sidewalks.

Funds for the new building will be supplied in part with a Public Library Accessibility and Improvement grant from the Minnesota Department of Education using General Obligation Bonds under the authority of Minnesota Statutes, section 134.45.
I've mentioned that my city is building a new library building.  Two months from today is the contract completion date, and the photo above was taken 4 days ago.  My life is just a tad busy right now with planning how to move around 35,000 books (possibly after we have snow on the ground) plus other items to the new location and making certain that all the ordered new furnishings will arrive at the new building at the proper time and all of the daily tasks that go into running a small library.

I've been looking for ways to combat stress and discovered the world of subscription boxes.  For those of you who haven't heard this term, think "x of the month" club - only the contents are usually a surprise, sometimes run in a theme, and often you can just order a single box to see if you like the contents before committing to an ongoing subscription.  I like to get surprises in the mail, so this sounds like a great way for me to do a little retail therapy for stress without actually having to spend time ... well, shopping.

Horatio's box
I did a little research and came up with a list of about 25 boxes to try.  (Note, that I don't normally spend as much $ on myself as this little project is taking; however, working extra hours EVERY week for a couple of years has cut down on my frivolous expenses in the recent past by not giving me as much time to do recreational things, so I can afford to try a lot of different companies).  My plan is to use a random number generator to choose the next box to order from my (numbered) list of options every night that I come home from work and meet the following two conditions:  I'm stressed out or exhausted by the events of the day AND there isn't already a box waiting for me in the mail.  Then, I'll try to review boxes in batches on this blog - both to keep it active until I get a chance to start working on DayZero again AND because I found other blog reviews quite helpful when putting together my own list of things to order.
Horatio selects his first toy

So, the first box that came was Bunny's Furr and Feathers Funpack.  My cat, Horatio, was firmly in favor of receiving it and had no trouble helping me open it.  This company has products for various pets, and you fill out a little survey about your pet (age, activity level, etc.) to help customize it.  I was pleasantly surprised at the level of customer service.  I had written that Horatio is picky about treats, and they asked me if he had any special favorites via email and seemed genuinely motivated to get as good a selection of items for my cat as possible rather than just whatever they sent everyone else that month.

The toy he loves
The box came 4 days after I ordered it and contained a variety of 4 toys and 2 types of treats.  Horatio has play-tested 3 of the toys and sampled one type of treat.  He really likes two of the toys.  The first one he pulled out of the box was a very fat faux-fur mouse.  Sadly, the construction wasn't solid, and he managed to rip open a seam and extract a great deal of fiber fluff while I was at work.  He doesn't eat stuff like that, so this is not a huge deal to me but might be to other cat owners.
Other items in Horatio's box

The second toy (and his new favorite) is much more solidly constructed.  He "killed" it over and over the first night - purring loudly the whole time - and multiple times since.  The top is made of mop-like material, the bottom (blue) is faux fur, and it makes intriguing crinkly noises.  I think I laughed at his antics for almost an hour with it - well worth the cost of the entire box for me.  He's also played with the boa-like toy; he has others like this, so it wasn't as exciting.  We haven't tried the last toy yet or the package of dried whitefish treats.  He eats the chicken treats (I think more because of the novelty of getting them in the living room rather than the kitchen) but doesn't ask for them.  As I said, he's very picky about treats.  I will probably order him another box from this company at a later date.

The second box to arrive was, ironically, the other item on the list that was not intended for me!  I missed a gift for my friend Nina's birthday earlier this summer, and this company seemed like one made for her.  (Note that I did not take photos of the contents because it was her gift to open.)  The company, Taste Trunk, has 4 different types of boxes; I ordered her the gourmet variety.  It came in a week.  The contents were normal (though smaller) sized food items from small companies with a variety of tastes represented.  Everything was beautifully packaged and wrapped for safe shipment.  Included were cards with information on each item as well as a few recipes.
Nina's gourmet box

The item that I found the most interesting was chocolate pasta!  Something that I did not expect to see in this box since one of the other boxes you can order specializes in sweets.  The item that Nina exclaimed the most over was a grouping of 4 dip (or seasoning) packets with recipes in English and French.  Also included - an artichoke bruschetta spread, strawberry honey mustard, and ginger sesame dressing.

If you are a foodie, this is a good box.  The price seemed fair, and the choices were an interesting variety.  The company also allows you to make your own trunk by selecting individual items to combine from their website; however, I did not see the items from the box (went looking for that chocolate pasta) included so they must be exclusive to the subscribers.

The final box which I have received to date was Graze.  These little snack packs are less expensive than most of the other companies on my list, so I am going to keep my subscription going for a while here.  I've been looking for some portion-sized snacks for work, and this company may be my answer.  This is an actual on-going subscription service (though you can opt out at any time), so you can't order only one box to try.
My first Graze box

The interesting part of the Graze concept is how they determine which snacks to send you.  You have a profile and can choose to "trash" - i.e. ask them never to send you - any of their snacks that you don't like.  You can also "love" items - which I would guess means you will have a higher chance of receiving them.  Or, you can ask for only lower calorie snacks.  You can go in and rate snacks after you receive them or pre-rate based on the descriptions.  (For example, I went through and trashed everything that included pistachios since I don't like them.)  My first set of 4 snacks looks interesting.  I plan to bring the box to work (it's about the size of a book), so I haven't tried any of them yet.  I will be interested to see how the boxes change as I rate more items that I have had a chance to try.

More items discussed in future posts as I receive them ...