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I’m sure you’ve heard of Madame Tussaud and her wax museum in London.  I know I had, without ever thinking very much about it.  Then, via my affiliation with U.S Family Guide, I got an opportunity to visit her Washington, D.C. branch.

Having attended college in D.C., and frequently visiting the area since because my husband is a Baltimore native, I am familiar with and fairly comfortable in the city.  And at one time or another my family and I have visited most of the major attractions.  So it was exciting to get to experience something new to us, particularly at no cost to ourselves.  Yes, I was given the tickets for the four of us in exchange for promoting the attraction on social media and giving my honest opinion on my blog.  My opinions are my own.

We were staying in Baltimore and were able to drive from there right into the city, getting off the expressway only a few blocks away from our destination.  It’s also readily accessible via Metro.  We parked one block away in the Ford’s Theatre garage (bonus tip: Visit Madame Tussauds in the morning and Ford’s Theatre in the afternoon, and see two quality attractions without moving your car.  You can eat lunch in between, like we did; there are many restaurants right nearby.).  This parking garage is safe, well-lighted, and not free.  So come prepared.

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Above are side and front views of the museum.  I love that they used existing structures instead of building something new, so the museum fits right in.

I really have only one critical comment to make about our experience, and it occurred right at the beginning of the visit.  Once you pay for admission you go downstairs where you are invited to sit down and watch a couple of movies, one about Madame Tussaud herself and the museum’s history, and another about the process of making the figures.  We like that kind of thing in our family, and I would recommend that everyone take about five minutes to watch the videos.

But a lot of people don’t like to watch these things, so they just walk on by, and the way they’ve set this up is that they have to walk between the viewers and the screen!  And if they walked quickly that might be okay, but the beginning of the exhibit is crowded so the line started blocking our view.  This is a really stupid design flaw.

After the movies it was straight to the exhibits.  There was a line and I was worried it was going to be crowded.  But once you get into the first of several rooms, people start to spread out and crowding is never an issue.  I was immediately impressed by the first exhibit:

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This figure is a Piscataway Indian, and what I thought was neat is that his tribe was native to the area.  I liked that the company took the time to do the necessary research to personalize the exhibit.  This gives me confidence that should I have the opportunity to visit other locations, I won’t be seeing all the same exhibits.

Next we plunged right into the meat of the museum: The Presidents’ Gallery.  This was so much better than I was expecting.  I had an image in my head of the presidents all in a row, on pedestals, with people two rows deep trying to get a glimpse.  That’s not how it is at all.

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First of all, many of the presidents are doing things, as General Washington is here.  And the visitor is invited to do more than just view–there are many more opportunities like the one above to really put yourself into the moment.  Picture-taking is encouraged, and there were no signs saying not to touch.

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Ten-year-old Lorelei was almost as tall as James Madison, the shortest president!  Which reminds me, this is a good place to point out another flaw in the museum:  the heights of some of the figures are not right.  How do I know that?  Because my husband is basically a genius on the topic of the presidents and knows their heights.  He’s 6’3”, and many presidents who should have been shorter than he were in fact taller.  Also, he found minor factual/spelling errors in some of the printed materials that accompanied the displays.

But I really don’t want to complain too much because we all had a fabulous time, even though by the face he is making below you may not be able to tell that William was having fun.

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We wanted pictures of both kids with all the presidents from Tennessee, but in the end I cropped William out because he was spoiling the pictures!  Lorelei is a much better model. :-)

Now, all these presidents were not in the same room.  There were a few in each room, which helped to spread out the crowd.  It also helped to provide context for what we were seeing.  Some of the presidents were presented in rooms with period furnishings.  Some were placed before murals illustrating events from their time in office.  Others were accompanied by other figures who were important during their presidencies.  As we walled through each room, we were immersed in the American story.

Below, Lorelei shares a moment with Frederick Douglass, as we learned about slavery and the abolitionist movement.

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Below, she was again invited to immerse herself in the scene, even being provided with a costume as she helped General Lee negotiate the terms of his surrender.

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Everyone wanted to take a turn at hanging out with President Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theatre.  This was especially cool since we knew we soon would be visiting the actual theatre!

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Last time we brought the kids to D.C. we visited Theodore Roosevelt Island, site of a lesser-known monument that I highly recommend.

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Eisenhower is one of William’s favorite presidents.  He and Lorelei both immersed themselves in the WWII section.

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Despite an interrogation from J. Edgar Hoover, the kids threw themselves into the Civil Rights Era.

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Lorelei kindly helped President Nixon deliver his resignation speech.  Seriously, y’all, the speeches were actually there, so if you felt like declaiming them yourself you could.

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John enjoyed posing with his favorite president.

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I cannot praise the realism of these figures enough.  They look so real that Facebook asked me to tag them when I uploaded my pictures!  Standing right next to them and looking in their eyes makes you feel like you are really with the actual people, and you start to get a sense of who they really were.

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Every one of the presidents and many of the other exhibits are accompanied by placards that tell you a little something about them and include a some of their own words.

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After President George W. Bush, we found ourselves in a short line to view the piece de resistance, our current president and the British Royal Family.  Only one party is let into this part of the exhibit at a time, because they have a staff photographer there who wants to take your picture for you to buy at the end of the tour.  However, I was extremely impressed that not only were we allowed to photograph this part of the exhibit ourselves, but the photographer asked if we we would like her to take pictures of us with out own camera (i.e. my iPhone).  Because we are frugal, those are the pictures you see below.

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Before the next section of the museum there was an optional “wax hand making” station (also not free) which William and Lorelei begged to participate in.  I believe it was $8 per hand, and they had fun doing it.  While you wait for this to be done (there will be a line) you can look at some artifacts from the first Madame Tussauds, including heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, which come from the originals Madame Tussaud made from their death masks.  Also there was the blade from the actual guillotine that killed them.  Did you know Madame Tussaud was forced to make wax replicas of decapitated heads for display on pikes?  It’s true, and it’s how she escaped the guillotine herself.

Here she is, by the way.  I love these pictures.  I love her delight in her own artistry, and I think it’s fabulous that her legacy lives on.  The company is still run by her descendants.

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Next came the entertainers room.  I’ll be honest, I was much more interested in the presidents.  Not that these weren’t good, because they are.  And very realistic, at least the woman who was kissing the one of Justin Bieber seemed to think so!

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Next was the sports room, which was really small and had only about four figures, none of whom were interesting to me, so I have no pictures.  Last was the media section.

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Then, predictably, came the gift shop (where we could have picked up the pictures they took of us and where we DID pick up our wrapped wax hands), and then out into the hot sunshine to find some lunch before heading over to Ford’s Theatre.

We had a great time, obviously, and I have no reservations about recommending this attraction to you.  Plus I can offer you a coupon:

KIDS GO FREE! Free Child (Ages 4-12) Ticket to Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. with purchase of regular same day adult admission. Present this coupon at the Madame Tussauds box office to receive one free child admission with every purchase of a regular same day adult admission. Valid for up to 6 people. Not valid on online, advance or combo ticket purchase or with any other discounts. Restrictions apply. Promo Code: V373.

http://usfamilycoupons.com/coupon.php?regionid=75&bid=11233&dealid=1317

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If you are my age, you probably grew up reading the Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon in your daily paper.  I can remember being fascinated and excited by Ripley’s observations of the curiosities from all corners of the globe.

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So I was very excited to have been given the opportunity to take my family to the new Ripley’s Odditorium at the Baltimore Harbor when we visited there for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday last month.  I was given the tickets (at 27.99 per person for the four of us, this was a big perk, I’ll admit!) in exchange for my honest review.  My opinions are my own.

It was a beautiful cool afternoon (amazing for May) when we approached the museum, which was not there the last time we visited the inner harbor.  We enjoyed the breeze and the beautiful sights.

Ripley's 1Ripley's 21The museum is located on Light Street, right in the heart of everything as you can see, with an easy walk to food, shopping, and the other attractions.  We also were able to find parking close by, but be prepared–it’s not cheap.

Ripley's 2Now, one of the things I was secretly thinking is that Ripley’s didn’t really belong in downtown Baltimore.  Visiting there instead of the Aquarium (for example) seemed akin to going to McDonald’s for supper instead of eating crabs.  But as you can see above Ripley’s has done their homework to make this Odditorium special and integral to the Harbor.

The sea monster is Chessie, rumored to be a resident of the Chesapeake Bay.  And this was one of several local touches we discovered.

We started by looking at the wax models and other displays in the lobby before heading up the staircase to discover more treasures.

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We saw another local touch almost immediately–this reprint of one of Ripley’s columns on the wallpaper!

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Chessie got a whole display to herself!

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Another local-themed display showcased the life and art of Johnny Eck, a Baltimore native who performed on the freak show circuit back in the day.  It was a sympathetic and nuanced portrait that made me want to learn more about Mr. Eck.

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The variety of exhibits at a Ripley’s Odditorium is astonishing.  You never know what you are going to find around the next corner.  There are many human oddities, like Mr. Eck and these photos below:

Ripley's 9 Ripley's 18There are examples of human ingenuity, like this giant penny made of pennies and this replica of Hogwarts Castle made of matchsticks:

Ripley's 7 Ripley's 15And there are genuine artifacts from all over the world, both rare and old, that Robert Ripley collected on his travels, like these items pictured below:

Ripley's 19 Ripley's 20 Ripley's 17Ripley’s also goes the extra mile to entertain, covering every inch of the space right down to the bathrooms:

Ripley's 11There are also many interactive exhibits, both old-fashioned and newfangled!

Ripley's 10 Ripley's 8We spent about an hour and a half going through the museum.  We (John and I) could have spent much longer–it’s 15,000 square feet, after all!  But the kids were always running ahead, all excited, and calling back to us to see what was around the next corner.

Our tickets also entitled us to a visit to the 4-D Moving Theatre and the Marvelous Mirror Maze.  The Maze was fun, and not too difficult to navigate although we did lose John at one point.  It didn’t take very long, though, and I expect you might be disappointed if you paid for just that experience and it was over so quickly.

I had no idea what to expect from the theatre.  It wasn’t my cup of tea (because that kind of thing makes me nauseated, frankly!) but I thought it was very well done.  It’s like an Imax theatre only the seats also move and there some other effects that I will leave out lest I spoil the surprise, but it was a very realistic experience, probably worth the price of admission.

We had a great time and I am happy to recommend the Baltimore Ripley’s Odditorium (in fact, I DID recommend it to John’s cousin later that afternoon!).

Ripley's 23 Ripley's 22But if you go, watch out for Chessie! BELIEVE IT . . . OR NOT!

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How would you like to win a free dinner for you and five or your friends at a restaurant?  What could be better than a dinner you neither have to cook yourself nor pay for?

Restaurant.com is celebrating 20K partner restaurants across the nation with the Plates of Thanks Sweepstakes! Twenty (20) winners will be selected randomly to receive a free party for up to six people at a participating Restaurant.com restaurant.

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How to enter:
(1) During the Promotion Period, visit http://www.restaurant.com/sweepstakes
(2) Social media: To enter the Sweepstakes, go to the Restaurant.com Twitter page to follow them, or go to the Restaurant.com Instagram page to follow them. After you follow Restaurant.com, snap a photo dining out, tagging either Restaurant.com’s Twitter or Instagram with a caption that indicates the photo is part of the Sweepstakes for an attempt to win a prize. All entrants must use #PlatesofThanks in their photo caption to be entered to win.

This is a sponsored post, meaning that I will receive a gift card for having shared the foregoing information with you.  And now I’m off to enter the sweepstakes.  The last day to enter is June 21, 2015.  Good luck!

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You will no doubt have noticed that I have written several sponsored posts lately–this one included–and since that’s a departure from the usual here, I want to give you a little explanation.

I was referred by some of my blogging friends to U.S. Family Guide, a resource for family fun which also connects bloggers and family attractions.  That means my readers get coupons, the attractions get publicity, and my family and I get free admission to some awesome attractions.  Obviously, I’m not going to lie and say I enjoyed visiting this places if I don’t, I promise you that!

So the flurry of recent activity in this regard is because it’s almost summer and time for family fun.  I am excited to have a coupon offer that local readers can take advantage of.

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My readers will save $3 off Adult and $2 off Child Admission to all of Ripley’s Attractions in Tennessee.  You’ll need to make your purchase online and enter the following promo code when you check out: USFAMILYGUIDE  Click here for more information about this offer and about U.S. Family Guide.
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I’ll bet you weren’t aware that there were so many Ripley’s-owned attractions in Gatlinburg.  I know I wasn’t, even though I have visited some of them in the past.   The Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze are all owned by Ripley’s and are included in this promotion.  I’ve been to the World Records Museum, the Odditorium, and the Aquarium in the past, but it’s been many years and I know they’ve been updated since then so I am very excited.  One of the coolest things about the Aquarium is a tunnel that goes right through the shark tank!

I’m not sure when my family and I will make our visit but I will be back to tell you more about it when we do.  And in the meantime, if you use my promo code and visit for yourself, I hope you will come back here and comment!

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A few months ago, I was honored to be chosen as an “Off the Shelf” reviewer for Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.  Y’all may have noticed by now that I love books.  So why wouldn’t I be thrilled to have the opportunity to read quality books (for free!) and talk about them here?  My first review follows.  My only compensation was the book itself, and the opinion is my own.

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A Story Unfinished:  99 Days with Eliot is the story of every parent’s worse nightmare–the death of a child.  And even more tragically,  about knowing that death is inevitable before in the eyes of the world that child’s life has even begun.  It sounds sad, and of course it is.  But reading it will lift you up, not drag you down.

At a 30-week prenatal appointment, Matt and Ginny Mooney learned that their unborn child had a genetic condition–Trisomy 18–that would result in his death within hours or days of birth, if not before.  But baby Eliot defied the doctors’ expectations and lived for 99 precious days.  His parents chronicled his brief life in their blog, and those entries make up a portion of the book.

Knowing only that their time with their son would be brief, the Mooneys took full advantage of it, cherishing every moment.  The shortness of Eliot’s life seems like a tragedy, but having feared he would die in the womb, each of those 99 days felt like a gift to the Mooneys and was treated as such.

This isn’t your typical biography.  For one thing, you know in advance how the story ends–or at least how THIS part of the story ends.  You know going in that Eliot dies in 99 days.   And the story isn’t told in a linear fashion.  Matt mixes the story of Eliot’s life with flashbacks and previews, and adds his insights.  This was a little disconcerting to me at first because I didn’t expect it, but I think it works well for what he is hoping to accomplish with this book.

Because it’s ultimately not just the story of a baby’s life; it’s about what his parents took away from the experience, and what we all can learn from it.  Yet I don’t want to make it sound preachy, because it isn’t.  Matt believes in the goodness of God and the redemptive value of suffering, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the pain:  “We do not get to pick the ways in which God chooses to reveal himself.  Please understand what I am not saying.  The loss of Eliot is bad, big-bucket Bad, and I make no attempt to tie a bow on our own experience nor the immense pain I come across in the lives of others.  I miss him every day.”

People debate whether God causes bad things to happen, or ask why He doesn’t prevent them, or say that is He doesn’t prevent them, it’s just as bad as if He causes them.  Some people believe that every death and every tragedy is part of God’s plan, and directly willed by Him with a purpose that we cannot hope to understand.  Certainly all of us know that sometimes good things come out of bad things.  Matt writes about this toward the end of the book, in talking about his journey to pick up his adopted daughter, abandoned in a Ukrainian orphanage because she was disabled.  This was for me the most profound moment in a book that is overflowing with profound moments: “But for losing my son, I would not be in this car.  I would not be in Ukraine. . . . If Eliot were here, I would not be here.  The absolute worst thing in each of our lives was the thing that brought us together.  Without walking a road of pain and misery, our paths would never have crossed.  But they did.  Lena is my daughter.”

Off The Shelf-V3

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Junk food is as addictive as cocaine.

That’s a pretty provocative statement, and it comes straight from the press kit for Diet Rehab, a book by Dr. Mike Dow, the cohost of Freaky Eaters, which would probably impress me if I watched t.v.  I don’t know yet whether I believe it or not, but I am getting ready to find out.

That’s my copy of the book, which I now disclose to you that I received for FREE in return for reviewing it.   I have not read it yet.  But I’m going to have a little fun with this.  If it makes any sense at all, I am going to do what it says and share the results with you.

I know one thing I like already:  that blurb at the top stating that “You’re addicted to bad food and it’s not your fault.”  For someone who has spent most of a lifetime feeling guilty about every morsel consumed, that’s a refreshing message.  More on that later.

So the plan is that I will read the book this week, then start following the “28 days of gradual detox” the following week.  Once a week–let’s say on Mondays–I’ll share with you how it’s going. (This will definitely not involve any scales.  A tape measure MAY be used.  We shall see.)  At the end of the four weeks I will pronounce judgment on the book.  I’ll explain the theory and the procedure as we go.  If anyone wants to join in, let me know and I will send you instructions!

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Value Vision

This is a SPONSORED post.  What does that mean, exactly?  It means that I received–for FREE–the item that I am writing about in exchange for posting a review of it here.  The good news is that I was going to write a post on this topic anyway, so it’s not going to sound fake like some reviews I have read.  Also, you know I wouldn’t lie to you, even to get freebies.

A couple of years ago I started to notice something strange–if I needed to read the dosing information on a medicine bottle, I had to hold it farther out from my face to bring it into focus.  Sometimes by the time I got it into focus, it was too far away to read!  At church, too, I started holding my hymnal out at arm’s length.  Now, I had an inkling of where this was heading, but I wanted to ignore it.  It wasn’t that big of a problem anyway.

But then I started having more and more trouble driving at night.  I can’t really explain what the problem was–I just couldn’t SEE.  If I was somewhere unfamiliar I had difficulty finding driveways and making turns.  My vision problem was becoming a safety issue.

Why did I put off getting glasses for so long?  It’s stupid, really, to have always been so proud of my 20-20 vision.  It’s not like I earned it.  But to me, more than anything else that age has done to my physical self, glasses seemed like a tangible admission that I am no longer as young as I once was.  I can color my hair, I could lose weight if I really wanted to, but I can’t correct my vision.  (Yes, I know about Lasik.  No, I am never letting anyone near my eyeballs with a laser.)

For a while I was extremely depressed about all this.  What with everything that’s happened since, it seems silly now.  But at the time it seemed like a terrible milestone.

The eye examination itself wasn’t so bad.  I hadn’t seen an eye doctor in 20 years–my husband made me go when we were first married–so I was pretty amazed by the technology.  Last time I had my eyes examined, I was looking at 3D pictures of flies.   So that part was fun.  And our eye doctor has an iguana in his office, so that was pretty cool.

Two parts of the trip to the office pretty much sucked, though.  The first was trying on the glasses.  Having never worn any before, I did  not even know where to begin.  And because I have a fat and doughy sort of face with no bones to speak of, none of the glasses looked good on me.  The only ones that did are enormous 80s style glasses and I guess I will just have to wait for them to come back in.

The other part was the price. Oh my goodness.  My husband and I both had exams and got glasses.  I was having an eye allergy too so I had to get two kinds of exams.  And we had a balance of $60 when we got there.  But our total bill was almost $1,000.  Believe me, it was just a fluke that we happened to have that kind of money that day.  But we did, so we took care of it.  My husband has worn glasses for about 30 years, so his are essential, and as I said, for me it was becoming a safety issue.

Here I am the first day with my new glasses.  Don’t I look happy?  Lorelei told me they were hysterical.

Not knowing what I was doing, I let them give me bifocals.  I SHOULD have gotten one pair for the driving problem and one for the reading problem.  The optician told me to wear them all day for awhile to get used to them, and then I could just pull them out when I need them.  I couldn’t stand that.  I felt too tall when I wore them (don’t know how else to explain it).  I was dizzy and whenever I looked down I felt like I was going to fall because I could not judge my steps correctly.  I ended up leaving them in the car (where they do help immensely for night driving) and continuing to hold things at arms length to read them.

The reading problem has been getting worse.  Some of my books had print so small that I could only read them in bright light.  I wished I had the reading glasses but I could not afford another pair.

Enter 1800specs.com.

“1800specs aims to make stylish prescription eyewear affordable for everyone. The average pair of glasses in the US sells for $150–and that’s including the Cosco’s and Walmarts of the world–and of course many of us pay several times that. It’s outrageous, there’s no reason glasses can’t be made available for as little as $20 a pair. It’s a necessity, a question of health and often the ability to support yourself. It’s just wrong to make people overpay like that.

What is 1800specs.com?  It is a website where you can order your glasses yourself, way cheaper than you can get them from the optician at your eye doctor’s office.  I’m not kidding; the cheapest pair is $20 and they are not ugly–they are the SAME ones from the optician, just at a better price.

Did you know that your prescription is your property?  It never would have occurred to me that I could take it somewhere else; I think most of us are conditioned to take it to our doctor’s onsite optician or to whichever one he works with.  I had no trouble at all getting mine, but some other people who were trying this service had to fight with their doctor’s office to get it.  That’s not right, and it’s not fair.

Once I had the prescription, I looked at it in confusion.  It made no sense to me.  I wondered how I was supposed to convey this information to the people at the website.  Would I have to scan it and fax it?  I needn’t have worried.  The site is so easy and completely self-explanatory. It asks you if you have your prescription and then little boxes just pop up for you to fill in the numbers.  After that, the screen pops up with the frames that will work with your prescription.

Perhaps you might expect a few basic choices?  You would be wrong.  There were probably hundreds of choices.  I was overwhelmed by them all, because I am such a novice at this that I have absolutely no idea what is in style or what looks good on me.  They have a solution for this–a Favorites feature so that you can save and compare your top choices until you make a decision.

The ordering process itself was as easy as it should be on any website these days.  I ordered my glasses on October 17, and they arrived today.  Had I been paying, my cost would have been $50 plus $6.95 for shipping and handling.  Not bad, huh?  I can only get one free pair but I am so pleased that I will probably order a $20 pair with the other half of my prescription so I won’t have to deal with those bifocals anymore.

Now some of you might be wondering about the fit of your glasses.  Mine fit fine, but I am told that any optician will make minor adjustments to your glasses for free if fit is a problem.  And did I mention that 1800specs has a 365 day return policy if you are unsatisfied in any way?

I am so excited to have my reading glasses, and I am thrilled to be able to share this great money-saving service with my readers who wear glasses.  Please share this post with anyone who you think would benefit from it, and tell me in the comments if you are going to give 1800specs a try!

My Glasses

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