BrownbootIt didn’t even cross my mind to look for cool boots at First. What’s First? Precisely my point. It’s a new concept from Aldo for girls old enough to realize they don’t have to spend their days in 5-inch, excruciatingly uncomfortable heels. There’s a First store at Mall of America (first floor, south side near Gap) and it features unsexy brands like Clarks along with some trendier lines and its own private label footwear – casual and dress for women and men. Having struck out at literally every other shoe store in the mall (unless I was willing to spend $400-plus, which I was not), I wandered into First and fell in love with a tall, caramel brown boot -just slightly rustic, but with a wooden heel and enough sophistication to work with a dress, which is how I wore it first time out to rave reviews. Just $159.99 – and it was on sale, so I paid around $130. And I’ve got to say, even with the heel, it lived up to First’s pledge of comfort. Maybe being too old for Aldo isn’t so bad!

Got an email from the owner of Cuff Luv who invented that instant wardrobe wrap/poncho/sweater sold at StyledLife that I’ve been raving about (see original entry). "I’m always bored when I step into my closet, no matter how many new purchases are hanging there so I decided to design a piece that looks different every time you wear it – without going broke," says Julie Sloan Lowenbaum. "I have to say, I never thought of it for expecting mothers." Well, Julie, glad to open a new market for you! Here are just a few ways to wear the genius piece:

Cuffluvgraytied_5 Cuffluvgrauntied_4 Cuffluvgraybelted_2

The former Fitigues space at Galleria won’t remain dark much longer. Uber Baby has signed a lease to take over the spot, just down the hall from its new Expecting Uber Baby maternity store. For those who haven’t been to the original Uber Baby store on Lyndale in Minneapolis, it’s a hipster baby boutique that shuns traditional pink and blue fare in favor of clothes, accessories and gear with some attitude. Not cheap, but definitely more in the realm of reality than, say, Oh Baby!, which no longer has the corner on upscale baby clothes at Galleria.

HalleOf all the stars to be pregnant at the same time I am, did it have to be Halle Berry? Even Julia Roberts would have been easier – megawatt smile aside, Julia sometimes looks delightfully frumpy in candids at the grocery store.

Not Halle. There she is in her Roberto Cavalli halter style dress – outshining a non-pregnant girl in the same frock, according to the UsWeekly reader poll (Admittedly, I agreed). Last week, in a People magazine feature on pregnancy style, Halle was declared "The Hottie." Signature pieces: Curve hugging dresses, thin knits, chunky jewelry. That description sounds reasonable enough, until you see them on her.

Knocked up or not, there’s no reason for the rest of us even to try.

The headline on this particular article read "Elastic waist slacks? Never!" And I happened to see it shortly after returning from the mall with my first pair of maternity pants. Elastic waist. Let’s call them "stretchy" instead. At least they don’t have the panel over the belly – I’m having enough itchy stomach issues without adding fabric to the situation. They’re charcoal gray fine wale cords, skinny through the leg (Finally! Some non-boxy maternity pants!) with a flare at the bottom. I found them on sale for $29.99 at GapMaternity. There was a little flaw in the fabric at the knee, so I scored an extra 20 percent off.

Don’t misunderstand, Halle – like you, I can still button my jeans (so, it’s the AGs I bought a size too large, not the skinny Hudsons, but we don’t need to talk about that, or the fact that they sit so low anyone behind me is in danger of being mooned). But I see the writing on the wall. At 21 weeks, the growing has only just begun. Hot Halle, preggers for the first time, doesn’t know that. She was quoted saying she doesn’t think she’ll need maternity clothes until her final month. We’ll see. Even with a bod like hers – or actually, because of it, that baby has nowhere to grow but out. Faster than you can fathom, that "cute" bump becomes plain ol’ big. And even the trendy, flowy tops and dresses stop looking so flowy on a swollen middle.

I’ll be watching, Halle. From the comfort of my chic enough elastic waist cords. And don’t even think about copying – I nabbed the last pair.

Cuffluvgraytied_4 Cuffluvgrauntied_2I was so surprised this weekend to find what appeared to be a charcoal gray textured sweater dangling from a post at StyledLife, the hot downtown accessories shop that has stayed away from apparel – preferring to help women and men find new ways to jazz up what’s already in their closets. But the Cuff Luv Wrap ($128) is not any old sweater. Nor is it a scarf. Or a jacket. Or a simple wrap. It’s all that, and more. Store owner Kevin Quinn (I love that he works Saturdays. His enthusiasm for helping customers look their best is what makes shopping here so much fun. That, the great dance music and free Laffy Taffy.) excitedly showed me how the piece can be worn at least nine different ways. Put it on upside down, it ties at the waist. Backwards, it looks almost like a cape. The chic piece is an instant wardrobe, and one size really does fit all. For a pregnant girl like myself, looking for clever ways to to avoid the baggy sweater syndrome, it is ideal. Kevin advised me Cuffluvgraybeltedto belt it while I still can, and try the tie-at-the-neck, flowy style as I grow. Of course, I know myself well enough to realize that without Kevin to tie it on me this way or that, I’ll be lost. While it would be fab to start every day at StyledLife, I had the staff print me off a copy of the tutorial that shows all the different ways to wear my new wardrobe maker. 

RidgedaleIf you find yourself reluctant to leave Ridgedale Center, it’s probably the new carpet making the surroundings feel more cozy. The remodeling of Ridgedale is now complete, and while I didn’t find the changes that overwhelming, regulars tell me they love the updated look. There’s a new family-friendly first floor bathroom near JC Penney and a second fountain in center court. But many of the improvements are subtle: new lighting, darker wood. All together, it adds up to a fresh, more contemporary feel. When I visited last week, the expansive center court was bustling. (Mom alert: I prefer the play area here, where there’s space between climbing objects, to the one at Eden Prairie Center, where one big climbing structure leads to more collisions).
The Ridgedale updates got me wondering, once again, if Southdale Center is ever going to get started on improvements of it own. Make that, a total overhaul. Simon Properties, the new owner, has taken over – note the new purple Southdale signs and Simon gift cards. But a spokesperson for the center tells me there’s no word yet on renovation plans. Seriously? They haven’t had enough time to figure something out? I know several tenants are waiting to see what Simon does with the aged place before deciding whether or not to renew leases. Better get going, Simon, before all the good ones are gone.

Nutcracker With every annual department store event, from Glamorama to Christmas, there’s speculation about whether or not Macy’s is going to ruin it. But have no fear: Macy’s does the animated holiday show tradition proud this year with its magical version of "The Nutcracker." I got a sneak peek Thursday night during the media preview party. Heard lots of comments that this year’s display is really top-notch. The show in the 8th floor auditorium of the Minneapolis store opens to the public on Saturday and runs through the end of the year. Be sure to hit the gift shop at the end of the show – it’s much more than silly souvenirs. You’ll find a really nice assortment of vintage toys, stocking stuffers, gourmet candies and a few accessories for the grownups. My mom zeroed in on the $59 embroidered toiletry bags with lots of interior compartments. She recently saw the exact same bags at Ampersand – priced around $15 higher. Go mom!

This week, as my uterus experienced an obvious expansion, I declared this the dress-up pregnancy. It’s much easier right now to find stylish A-line or Empire waist dresses on the racks that will accommodate – or, dare I hope, flatter – my growing belly than pants. And admittedly, I’m pretty pleased with the Anthropologie flutter sleeve, knee-length number I’ve got on today. Only problem is, I can no longer stand up because my tights have cut off circulation from hips on down. Did I really block this out from last time around? I forgot how quickly tights become an issue. Stay in your current size, and they hurt or roll down (the real reason why pregnant women waddle). Go up a size, and they sag. Try the maternity ones and be prepared for complete claustrophobia. No woman was meant to wear hosiery up to her boobs.
Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting here until the pins cease pricking my feet.

It’s safe to assume Maiden Minnesota will become an annual event, based on the turnout for Wednesday night’s inaugural event at the Chambers Hotel. The 200 gift bags – which I’m told included full-size products from The Thymes (I really should have arrived earlier) – were gone within 20 minutes. The stylish shopping event showcased women-owned, Minnesota-based companies and girls, there’s a lot to be proud of. It was fun to see Red Stamp’s sophisticated stationery in person – the company is Minneapolis based, but sells primarily online. (The Russell + Hazel shop at 44th and France offers a small selection of Red Stamp products). Kirke Design had some cool, stretchy shirts and I couldn’t get over the crowd around the Elin & Clara table of decorated belts and headbands. Funny enough, one of the biggest discoveries of the night was actually one of the longest-standing companies represented: Local Motion, the Uptown shop that used to focus on local lines, but now has moved full-force into updated and affordable contemporary women’s apparel, including Free People and lesser known brands. I heard several women, gushing over the cute sweaters and coats for less than $150, comment that they always thought of the store as "granola," but not anymore!
Mommaidenmn Who is that stylish lady? Why, it’s my mom, shopping the Local Motion racks at Maiden Minnesota.

With baby No. 2 on the way, an email this week from Tracy of Edina hit close to home. She’s a would-be SuperTarget shopper who can’t believe the retailer hasn’t figured out that more kid-friendly carts are needed at the store. “I want to do my grocery shopping there, but cannot if I can’t place both my 3 year old and 1 year old in a shopping cart. Target has the traditional carts, which are fine for my 1 year old, but have no place for a preschooler. They have the long carts with the two-seater caddy attached to the back, but there is no place for the 1 year old.” She goes on to point out that most established grocery stores have carts with a backward facing baby seat as well as an attached car for the bigger kid. If Target wants to seriously compete in the grocery game, these are the details that matter.