Hiatus

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Very early in the morning, we're headed out of town. I'm going to use the holiday/vacation as a little bit of a break from the Internet, so you probably won't hear from me again until 2009.

Happy New Year!

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Talking back

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In general, I try not to get into protracted discussions in the comments to my posts. This isn't because I don't care what you all have to say--I very much do. Rather, it's that I don't think people who read the blog usually come back to older posts and read the comments, so discussions in them tend to feel kind of pointless and secluded. If something catches my attention more than once, I generally try to sit on it for a while, and then, if it's still something I want to say something about, come and re-post about it.

Which is what I am doing now, because this particular something has been stuck in my craw for days.

The comments made by Randy about "racial pricing" at the Blue Hanger stores are as follows:

Watch out for racial pricing!!!! I have been to the Blue Hanger on McNeil three for four times. Shopping is hit or miss, as can be expected. What really gets me is the pricing. Yes the prices are posted but Hispanic customers get charged between .25 cents and .75 cents, where Gringos (White people) get charged full price or more. Today the cashier was very nasty when I commented about this. I got the name and number of the assistant manager and called him from the parking lot. He said they have had complaints about this before and offered to refund the amount of my purchases. I don't feel that this matter should be kept "in house". They need to lay down the law with the employees, one price for everyone. I don't mind paying the posted prices as long as the shoppers in front of me aren't getting a 75% discount based on race. (Comment edited by blog owner to remove names.)
The problem is when prices are at the cashier's discretion, I get charged the highest price. Stuffed animals are priced small medium and large. Some of them are the size of a small child. I would think that is a large. One I had that was less than 12 inches in height, but the cashier charged the large size. I have also been charged more than the posted price, and when asked, the cashier's comment was, "That's what the price is." Either they should have no posted prices and let it be completely up to the cashier and all be a guessing game or FOLLOW THE RULES. (Comment edited by blog owner to remove names.)

Here's what I think about these comments:

First, I can't say for sure if I've ever been charged differently than the person in front of me. Why? Because I never pay the slightest bit of attention to what the person in front of me is being charged. Why should I? It makes absolutely no difference to my transaction.

Secondly, I have no problem believing that the prices are different depending on who you are and who the cashier is and probably what kind of day the cashier is having. That's part and parcel of somewhere with discretionary pricing, and I personally have no problem with it. If I'm quoted a price that seems unreasonable for the item I am interested in, I always have the option to not buy that item. I use this option quite often, as do other shoppers at the Blue Hanger stores. No harm, no foul.

Third, if I did notice a disparity in pricing, my guess would be that it has much more to do with personal relationships between cashiers and customers than with race. At the Blue Hanger store, it's pretty clear that there are regular customers who know the cashiers well. Do these customers get better prices? It's likely. Am I concerned about that? Not really, I think it's just kind of the way things work. Anybody who works in retail and says they've never given a break to a friend either possesses a level of scruples that I don't or is just lying. I also think that if Randy shows the kind of attitude at the store that s/he showed in the comments here, s/he can probably expect even higher prices in the future.

Finally, say there is "racial pricing," meaning Hispanic customers regularly get lower prices at the Blue Hanger store. It's still not something I can get too worried about. Why? Because that would make it the one in a hundred, or one in a thousand, situation in which being white works against me instead of for me in this country. Until I can not only recognize the other 99 (or 999?) situations, but rally against them, I have no right to be too concerned about this one.

I was recently involved in a discussion online about "anti-Christian discrimination" in the U.S. An online friend said that she thinks that people who get used to being treated preferentially often mistake the situation for discrimination when their preferential treatment ends--i.e. they are so used to being discriminated for that they mistake equality for bigotry. I wonder if maybe that isn't the case here.

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Confession

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I have a confession to make:

I like the mall at Christmas. I know, heresy. I should hate it because it's a horrible consumerist pit based on slave labor, and I should hate it because it's an annoying cluster fuck of stressed people being mean to each other while the spend money they don't actually have. But I don't hate it. It makes me unreasonably happy. I am just enough of a cheeseball that watching people spent money for gifts that nobody wants to give to folks they don't actually like fills me with Christmas cheer.

Not that I want any part of it--I think my ability to enjoy the scene is predicated on my not having to actually buy anything if I don't want to. But I do enjoy it.

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Winter break reading list

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This is my reading list for the beautiful beautiful upcoming vacation. If I didn't pick the book(s) you suggested, please don't take it personally--it was likely just that your suggestion(s) were not available at my library, or I'd already them.

The Giant, O'Brien by Hilary Mantel
Bella Abzug: An Oral History by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom
Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
Gospel Hour by T.R. Pearson
The Professor's House by Willa Cather

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Meditations on luck in love

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Recently, a couple of friends have mine have gone through fairly unpleasant break-ups. In both cases, their former partners have behaved in outrageously bad ways, in in neither case have my friends themselves been blameless. The situations have been bad, the folks involved in them have reacted badly, and sometimes, one or both of those folks have just been assholes.

I don't usually find news of a break-up surprising, even if I like both people involved. I have serious doubts about the abilities of human beings to live together happily and treat each other well long term, even if they are basically good folks. This, among many other reasons, is why I generally don't have a lot of love to spare for my friends' partners', unless I'm friends with them already when they hook up. You're really not good enough for my friends until proven otherwise--you have to show me you're worth it before I'm going to waste much time on you.

I have to say, though, that I have lately noticed that there are a few really good partnerships around me. A married set of friends and their daughter are currently visiting Mark and I, after being gone two years in another country. I am in awe of them. He is so kind to her, so in-tune with what she needs. In turn, she is so completely dedicated to him and to their family. Being around them, you see how deep the respect is, and how they really, honestly, do not only love each other, but prioritize each other's happiness.

Another couple, with whom we spend time frequently, are similar. They have children, and they naturally parent very differently. But they do their very best to respect each other's decisions, and to see the benefit of having someone so different as a co-parent. They could be arguing. Many people would be. But they choose to see their differences as a strength rather than a weakness and behave as such.

An online friend recently posted on her blog about something she'd done to help her wife get into the Christmas spirit. It was a small gesture, in the grand scheme of things, but it required time and thought and creativity, and it was another example of being in-tune enough with the person with whom you share your life to know what she needs and caring enough to go out of your way to try and provide it.

These things give me hope. Hope that even though partnering for the long term may not be the easiest way to structure our lives, it can work. Hope that we can overcome our baser urges and be good to one another.

Happy Love Thursday.

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Stuff

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First, thank you for the book recommendations! Several of you recommended stuff I'd already read (and mostly really liked), and others recommended stuff I've now requested from the library. I really appreciate it.

Our friends from Norway (or from here, but having lived for the last two years in Norway) are due any minute. They'll be spending several days with us before moving on to the next leg of their U.S. tour. I can't say how excited I am to see them. A year is a long time, and it has been two since Mark has seen them. I'm also really nervous. I have that sort of first-date feeling, like I need to look my best and don't want to say anything wrong. Isn't that strange?

Oooh, I think they're here!

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Books

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I need some book recommendations, folks! I'm going to be vacationing for a week at Mark's parents' place in Minnesota, and I am hoping for lots of reading in front of the fire time. My preferred genres are biography/memoir, well-written history, and quality fiction. Suggestions?

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Nostalgia

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Mark made me pot roast tonight. It gave me serious nostalgia. When I was in high school, I was the Sunday 2-10pm waitress at a local cafe. Pot roast was the Sunday night special. Every Sunday, the back kitchen (the room behind the kitchen where the flour bags and extra wine were kept) smelled fantastic from the beef roast, potatoes, and carrots melting in the slow cooker. I remember the scale we'd use to measure out portions--was it 6 oz or 8?--and the way the meat and vegetables looked stacked up on the beige and blue plates. I think folks usually had soup or salad first, but I can't remember. Was it $5.95? $6.95?

Gioia, the fantastic cook with whom I most often worked, loved this special, and always told me to "push the roast." That way there was no work for her and she could do her week's prep and not have to stay late. We'd be listening to the CD player--my choice, usually--and she'd be chopping veggies as I dished up roast for my tables. When she heard the Counting Crows, she asked me why I didn't just listen to Van Morrison if that's the sound I wanted.

The other great thing about pot roast nights was that we never sold it all, and that meant free staff dinner. Whether or not this free staff dinner was actually permitted escapes me now, but I know I took it, and nobody ever seemed to mind. I love pot roast--always have. I have a thing for meat you can cut with your fork. My mom made it fairly often as well, but for some reason the memory that came to mind tonight was the roast at Tomaselli's. I think maybe it was that Mark used red wine, and my mom never did.

As I get older, I am more thankful for sensory memory. Smelling or tasting something brings back something much more vivid than the picture I can call to mind when asked about an experience or a time in my life, and it sneaks up on me in what is usually a pleasant way. While you couldn't convince me to spent Sunday nights taking orders and cleaning tables and smiling now, it's nice to think back on it. It's been more than ten years now, and I don't taste the bitter anymore, or smell the charred. In memory, it's all warm and delicious.

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As promised

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My non-sucky Christmas play list. It is still under construction, but I've been listening to it.


Christmas play list

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Repeat the sounding joy

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Do you like Christmas music? What's your favorite carol?

Mine is a bit odd, since I'm not religious, but I just love the song.

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Favorite version? Lest you think I've totally lost it, how about Bad Religion?

Coming up: a playlist of Christmas music that doesn't suck.

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Love Thursday

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This is what love looks like to me.

sleeping huey

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Paying it forward

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Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of paying it forward. I'm sure you already know what that means, but just to be clear: I am talking about the idea that if someone does something nice for you, or if something good happens to you, it is your responsibility (and should be your privilege) to do something nice for someone else. It's also called "generalized reciprocity." The idea is that what you do doesn't come back to you directly, but will come back to you indirectly when you need it, through the circle of everyone giving.

If there is one thing in which I absolutely believe, this is it. I believe in kindness, and, in a non-specific way, in karma. And I believe that if I do something kind for you, it is just as much to my benefit (eventually, in some way) as it is to yours. At the core, we have to take care of each other in order to take care of ourselves.

This, I think, is why I am so bothered by the recessionary trend towards closing in, saving, hoarding. Fear makes us focus too much on what we may need for ourselves, and close our minds and hearts to everyone outside our immediate circle. This doesn't make sense to me. If times are hard, we should focus on how we can best share what we have, how we can work collectively to make things better, and how we can give to those who are in need. The collective is always stronger than the individual. Why should hard times make us miserly, rather than generous?

It's not just about money or material things, either. It's about giving people the benefit of the doubt and spreading kindness. But it seems that when we're concerned about our day-to-day, we get stingy even with that which is free. This hurts everyone.

It's that time of year when people look back over their progress over the past months and access, and look forward to a date with a new number at the end and make themselves promises or set goals. This is my goal: I want to pay it forward. I want to spread the amazing gifts I have been given out into the world. I've been fairly successful this past year at focusing inward and making changes I needed to make for myself, but ultimately it leaves me a bit hollow. I'm not enough. My happiness and health is linked, completely and inexplicably, with that of those around me, and it's time to focus on them.

How do you pay it forward?

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Year End Meme

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A little bit early, maybe, but I'm in that kind of reflexive mood. For fun, I'm adding answers from the last four years to compare.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you'd never done before?


Buckled down and actually made progress towards financial stability.

2007: Had to wait until the tail end of the year, but I left the U.S.!
2006: Left a well-paying dead-end job for a less well-paying job with more potential. Agreed to spend Christmas away from my family. Bought a new car.
2005: Bought a house.
2004: Got a well-paying job.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I used All Consuming to make a list of resolution/goals last year. Mostly, they are underway or more long-term. I've done well, all in all. I also had a goal of watching one movie and reading one book each week. I made the movie goal (I'm at 69 movies for the year right now), but am falling short on the book goal (currently at 49, many of which I didn't finish). And yeah, I'll make more.


2007: Last year's resolutions, or goals, really, are here. I basically failed on all counts. Bah.
I will probably answer this question more completely once I get back to Texas and my real life and all that, but basically, in 2008, I have to get my shit together financially. Really.
2006: I kept some of them, worked on other's. I'll probably make more. I always make them.
2005: I already went over this, but I kept 3/4 of them from last year, and made 12 new ones for this year.
2004: I honestly can't remember.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


Yep, some online friends had a baby, and my cousin is expecting in February.

2007: All over the damn place! There are four new little boys in my life this year.
2006: A couple of very good online friends had babies.
2005: Nope, though some e-friends are closing in on their due date.
2004: Not that I can think of, but someone close to me did adopt.

4. Did anyone close to you die?


Nope. I'm starting to feel like I'm pushing my luck here...

2007: No, thank God.
2006: No.
2005: Yes.
2004: Not that I can think of.

5. What countries did you visit?

None. :(

2007: Norway! And the airport in England.
2006: None.
2005: None.
2004: None.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?


I can't think of much I was lacking in 2008, honestly. I guess I'd like to be finished paying off the debt the most.

2007: Ability to stick to my goals. Days when my allergies are not killing me.
2006: A feeling of control.
2005: Fufilling work.
2004: An idea what I want to do with my life.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?


Once again, I got nothin' when it comes to dates.

2007: Dates almost never stick in my head.
2006: I don't tend to remember things by date.
2005: Early July--Chance died.
2004: Hrm...can't think of any particular dates. It honestly hasn't been that momentous a year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?


Finally paying down so much debt!

2007: Finally finishing my god-forsaken masters degree.
2006: Getting through calculus, expanding our family to include Ata and Esme.
2005: Buying the house.
2004: Rescuing the puppies.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not sticking with my exercising. Gotta get back to that.

2007: Losing even more control of my finances. And continuing to gain weight.
2006: Not getting out of debt.
2005: Failing to lose any substantial weight.
2004: Taking a year off from school.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?


Nope.

2007: Food poisoning that was pretty much the worst thing ever. Plantar faciitis that makes me angry at God. Allergies that do the same.
2006: Nothing major.
2005: No more than usual.
2004: I smashed my toe, but nothing big.

11. What was the best thing you bought?


Can't think of anything major.

2007: I have no idea. Most of what I bought wasn't worth it, probably.
2006: Our Element.
2005: Again, the house.
2004: Hmm...not sure.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?


Honestly, mine did. I have worked hard and accomplished a lot this year.

2007: My mother continues to amaze me with how she handles her constant pain with good grace. My brother seems to have grown up a lot, which is great. And I am continually inspired by the parenting of my friends N. and Z., S. and C., and S. and T.
2006: Susan's.
2005: My fellow Texans post-Katrina.
2004: Mark

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?


Much of the nation's, surrounding the election.

2007: Michael Vick comes to mind right off.
2006: Most of our national and local politicians'.
2005: Where should I begin?
2004: Mine, but only on occaison. Everyone who voted for Bush.

14. Where did most of your money go?


Citibank.

2007: Gah, I don't know. Stupid stuff I could have done without, mainly. Lots of thrifting. Clothes for my multiple sizes.
2006: Tuition, junk.
2005: Target and The Goodwill.
2004: To the black hole where it always goes...

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?


Making progress. Our trip to Boston last spring.

2007: My trip to Norway. Finishing school. Discovering Buffy. BlogHer.
2006: Howell and Melinda's visit, going home in July
2005: Going to Boston, going to Ann Arbor, cutting my hair.
2004: My Midwestern adventure

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?


That silly one from Juno by the Moldy Peaches comes to mind.

2007: The one Lindsey sings in Angel.
2006: The Leonard Cohen tribute soundtrack, especially the Teddy Thompson track.
2005: Nothing comes to mind.
2004: Pretty much anything by Mary Prankster

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder?
happier.
2007: About the same?
2006: sadder
2005: About the same, I think.
2004: happier
b) thinner or fatter?
thinner
2007: Fatter fatter fatter.
2006: fatter
2005: A bit fatter.
2004: fatter

c) richer or poorer?

richer.
2007: Poorer. Though I actually make more money. Go me.
2006: poorer
2005: Definitely poorer.
2004: richer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?


I'd like to have traveled more. And gone to BlogHer. But those goals were pretty much antithetical to the debt pay down goal, so I guess I'm happy with what I did.

2007: Traveled. I always wish I had done more of that.
2006: Making the most of my time.
2005: Saving.
2004: Excercising

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?


Worried about money.

2007: Making empty promises to myself.
2006: Shopping
2005: Spending.
2004: Sleeping

20. How did you/will you spend Christmas?


In Minnesota with Mark's family. Very much looking forward to it.

2007: In Oregon with the fam. It was great.
2006: With Mark's family and the dogs.
2005: I spent it with various and sundry family members.
2004: Hanging out with the extended fam

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?


With a couple of beagles, yes.

2007: No new love, but the same old love is going swimmingly, which is just as good.
2006: Yes. A couple of times. And stayed in love, too.
2005: Yes, with Leo.
2004: Didn't fall in love. Remained in love.

22. What was your favorite TV program?


I really loved Deadwood.

2007: Buffy Buffy Buffy!
2006: House
2005: Hrm...probably Entourage or The Wire.
2004: What Not To Wear or Plastic Surgery: Before and After

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?


Sarah Palin.

2007: Michael Vick.
2006: No. But I am intensly irritated by some people I wasn't at this time last year.
2005: Yeah.
2004: Yes. I know more people now that I did at this time last year.

24. What was the best book you read?


Fun Home.

2007: Hmm...several come to mind. The Midwife's Tale. Packinghouse Daughter. But the discovery of Marion Winik is probably the best literary thing that happened to me this year.
2006: Counting Coup
2005: Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp.
2004: The Time Traveller's Wife

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?


Over the Rhine.

2007: Grace Potter and Christine Kane.
2006: Rufus Wainwright (yep, slow on the uptake)
2005: Lyle Lovett.
2004: Mary Prankster

26. What did you want and get?


A lower credit card balance and a lower number on the scale.

2007: A trip to Europe. My masters.
2006: A new car, an iPod, time with my mom
2005: Leo and Atticus
2004: Time off from school, a decent job, a KitchenAid mixer

27. What did you want and not get?


A $0 credit card balance and an even lower number on the scale.

2007: A paid off credit card.
2006: A savings account, a cure for my allergies
2005: Chance to live; a new job.
2004: A clue as to what I want out of this world, God

28. What was your favorite film of this year?


This is England, Juno

2007: I can't think of what I saw this year that were new, but The Farmer's Wife was wonderful.
2006: Kinky Boots, The Science of Sleep
2005: Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line
2004: Hmm...Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, maybe?

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?


I was 29. We went out to dinner with our friends.

2007: I went out to dinner with friends. I was 28.
2006: I was 27. Went out to a great Indian dinner with all of my local friends.
2005: We had a small dinner party at our house. I turned 26.
2004: I was 25. We went to a hilarious stage presentation/showing of Dirty Dancing and to brunch the next day

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?


That $0 balance.

2007: Again with the debt repayment.
2006: Getting out of debt
2005: A different job.
2004: Finding God

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?


Trouser jeans are definitely work appropriate.

2007: Can you believe I spent money on these clothes?
2006: My stomach finally catches up to my ass
2005: "The same clothes as last year, only tighter."
2004: I. love. yoga. pants.

32. What kept you sane?


The animals. My online pals.

2007: The animals. Mark, much of the time. Blogging.
2006: My dogs. My iPod.
2005: Mark, my pets.
2004: Chancey.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?


Obama.

2007: Spike.
2006: Zidane
2005: Viscerally, Angelina Jolie and Adrian Grenier. Emotionally, Johnny Cash.
2004: If "fancy" is code for "want to bang," I'd have to go with Angelina Jolie. Again. Still.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?


The presidential election.

2007: Would you hate me if I said I stopped caring?
2006: Local arts funding
2005: capital punishment
2004: Capital punishment

35. Who did you miss?


The same people I always do. The Nichols', my mom.

2007: My mom. I always miss her.
2006: Tony. Sandy.
2005: Chance.
2004: My mom

36. Who was the best new person you met?


I'm not sure I met anyone new this year...

2007: Hmm....I have made some excellent new online friends. And I am awfully fond of my new small friends.
2006: Minnesota group
2005: Hrm...lots of people, but my two sistercousin's fabulous boyfriends, Jeff and Eric, come to mind right now, since I just saw them.
2004: Em/Brooke/Terri/Flea/Eisbar. It was a great trip.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.

The struggle doesn't ever get easier.

2007: It is not enough to say you are going to do something. You have to actually do it. And international travel is so not that hard.
2006: It is better, sometimes, to be kind than to be right.
2005: Never underestimate the power of dog.
2004: That I actually can make a difference in someone's/something's life with a little effort.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

We sure are cute for two ugly people.

2007: Four legs good, two legs bad.
2006: "If I've got to remember that's a fine memory."
2005: "This is home/it's where I want to be/this is home/let's make a family."
2004: I'll come back to that one. Have to think on it.

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Over my head

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As I implied in that last post, and probably have previously, I ended up a bit over my head with this bath product making business. The problem, as is often my problem, is that I didn't think things through completely before I started. Mostly, this was because I didn't really expect to sell anything. So, even though I didn't sell that much, I ended up overwhelmed. I was short on supplies, so ended up paying a premium for those; I didn't manage my time well, so orders went out late; and I didn't think about packaging and shipping very thoroughly before starting. All of this has added up to a stressful learning experience that ended up costing well more than I earned for the Christmas season.

Why past tense? Because as of today my shop is closed until after the new year. If I am going to do this, I need to do it correctly, with some forethought. So I'm giving myself the next few weeks to put that necessary thought into it, with the plan of opening back up in January with a supply of products ready to be sold, a plan for packing and shipping, better photographs, and a generally more professional outlook.

But where to begin? I think I need a business plan. I can't figure out why it is that I am perfectly capable of thinking and writing one of those out for someone else, but for myself, I just fly by the seat of my pants.

For now, these are the things on which I think I need to focus:

  1. Making the enterprise profit. If I am not making money of it, there is no reason to sell. It's fine if it isn't something that can be profitable, but if it's not, I need to stop trying to make it so and go back to a gifting and swapping only policy.
  2. Focusing on a few things with which I am comfortable, rather than trying to make everything anyone suggests. Part of what what threw me through the loop this time was trying to add new products all the time. I need to perfect a few things and then add others slowly. For example, I know I can make bath melts easily and successfully, but I am far less confident about bath bombs.
  3. Identifying attractive and environmentally sustainable packaging. This is my biggest challenge right now--how to package. I hate everything I've tried so far--it's either wasteful, ugly, expensive, unwieldy to ship, or all of the above.
  4. Being a professional. I am really irritated at my lack of professionalism so far. Mostly, this has to do with packaging and shipping times, but also with the lackluster photographs on the products on the site and the way nothing is completely uniform. I'm not really sure where to start with fixing this, though.

That seems like a lot to think about right there, without even getting into the longer list of issues I have. I'm sure I'll be thinking and writing about this some more in the next few weeks. In the meantime, your advice and comments are very, very appreciated.

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What I did today

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productivity!

Next time I get the brilliant idea to open a business, remind me that I'm lazy?

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The giving that keeps on getting

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I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine today. It's a variation on a conversation I've had before, but my friend put it very succinctly. She is not, she said, getting anyone a Christmas gift this year. There is nobody on her list who needs anything, so she's just not doing it. Instead, she's donating the amount of money she would have spent buying her family and friends things they do not need to a local food bank.

This logic is, I think, completely correct. And it made me think--is there anybody on my Christmas list who needs anything? No, there isn't. In past years, I could have made the argument that my unemployed or under-employed little brother actually did need gifts, but he's had a good job for the past year or so, so I think he's got what he needs these days. And really, there is nobody else on my list, adult or child, who needs a damn thing. And neither do I need anything.

So why do this thing at all? Why spend the hours and hours picking things out? Even though I'm doing it in what I consider a "responsible" way this year, with almost all handmade or used gifts, I'm still ending up with stuff for each person, and I am still spending money on that stuff. Why not direct that money to a source where it's actually needed and call the whole thing off?

For me, the biggest reason why not is a selfish one. I love gifting. I love receiving gifts, and I really love giving them. I love plotting and planning what people might want or like, I love shopping, and I love seeing people open things I've chosen for them. The whole thing just fills me with joy. Which isn't to say that I don't feel any Christmas season stress--there are holes on my list that I'm beginning to fret about, I've already spend too much, and the wrapping and shipping elements of gifting when your family and friends are spread to the four winds doesn't thrill me at all. But the good outweighs the bad for me every time.

That's really not a good enough reason though, is it? I take all this time, and all this cash (which I could be using to pay off my debt, or to help any of a million good causes), and I do this thing basically because I like it and because it is expected of me (at least I like it--a lot of people are doing it only for the latter reason). Honestly, that's stupid.

The problem isn't, and never was, the custom of gift-giving itself, though. The problem is that gifts can't fill the space they used to fill when you live in a time and a place and a socioeconomic class where people can and do buy for themselves everything they need and much of what they want. As a child, growing up in a working class family, we got fun stuff for gifts, but we also got a lot of things we needed wrapped with paper and bows. So much so that getting "socks in a box" remains a running joke in my family. That makes sense. It makes something that is needed fun, and there isn't a lot of excess in it. But along the way something has changed. Now, if I asked not what I want, but what I need, I can't come up with anything.

So who can we fix it? I tend to think that my friend is on the right track--those of us who are lucky enough not to need anything, and not to have folks on our list who need anything, should stop this silliness, and put our money towards folks who do actually need things. Alternatively, though, we could stop buying ourselves so much crap year round, so that when gift giving occasions come around, there will actually be something legitimate to request. But I don't really see that happening.

Maybe, with spending half of what was spent last year, some American families are working towards less excess. I know that even though I am gifting, I've tried to be more reasonable this year. My focus has been mainly on the gifts I choose being from sources I feel good about supporting, but I've also just cut down on the number of things I'm giving and the amount I'm spending. And it sounds like both my family and Mark's are doing something similar (though I'll believe it when I see it). I'm seeing a lot of similar thoughts around the net as well, with folks relying more and more on handmade gifts (some of which are homemade, some swapped for, some purchased) and a smaller number of gifts in general. But I have to wonder--does this really imply any cognizance of how stupid and wasteful gift giving has become, or is it simply a response to a bad economy? When the economy gets better, will those gift spending numbers go back up? What would have to happen to make the change permanent?

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Goodwill finds

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Y'all wanna see my Bins scores from today?

Of course you do.

cast iron pitcherI know this just looks like a pitcher, so what, but it's actually really cool. It's enameled cast iron! I've not seen anything quite like it before. Anybody have idea idea where/what era it is from? It's not in wonderful shape, but it's not terrible. I think it is going to be a vase or something. It was $0.50.

leaf cuttersThis is a cute little set of mini cookie cutters, or pastry cutters, shaped like autumn leaves. The outside of the case is a bit beat up, but the cutters themselves seem to be new. They are from the Purple Puma Cookie Company, which, from what I can tell online, is in New Hampshire? Anyway, I thought they would make cut cut-outs on pies, and they were $0.25.

little tree blocksThese are new! Don't ever even seem to have been opened. It's a 100 wooden block set, from Target's Little Tree line. It includes shaped building blocks and alphabet blocks in a plastic backpack case. They are headed to a kid for Christmas--I've got several on my list in the correct age range, or I might give them to the Santa program where I work. They were $1.50.

circus trainHow cool is this?? It's a vintage 70's (at least that is what the folks selling them on Ebay tell me) Santa's Circus Train set. It's all wooden and in pretty good shape--one piece needs a little wood glue, and there is one piece (a tractor that is supposed to go inside the last train car) missing. I have no idea what I am going to do with it--it's probably a bit fragile to actually be played with regularly--but I couldn't pass it up. Again, $1.50.

jar of whimsiesMy favorite find of the day, and one of my favorite finds ever. This is a "Jar of Whimsies." My entire line of reasoning in buying it was "wow, this looks cool." But then I got home and looked it up. Turns out these are sold by a cool shop called One Good Bumblebee. They are plastic 32 oz jars filled to the brim with tiny pieces of ephemera, many of them vintage. I haven't opened mine yet--I am getting too much of a kick out of turning it over and over in my hands and looking at it. But I'm sure I won't last much longer.

In researching it, I found out that these Jars of Whimsies aren't just a One Good Bumblebee thing, though they may (I'm not sure) have started there. Mamaphunk at Believe in the Power of Beautiful Stuff posted about a Jar of Whimsies swap here. There are a ton of them on Flickr. There have clearly been swaps for them. And there is at least one person selling them on Etsy. Can I please just tell you how badly I want to try my hand at this now? With as much random and fascinating crap as I have to leave in thrift stores because I don't know what to do with it, this could be a great solution...

I bought a few less exciting things today as well--10 new shaving set mugs at $0.39 each, three new low ball glasses (the awesome heavy-bottomed kind) at $0.39 each, a couple of glass canisters (one of which may or may not be depression glass, I can't figure out how to tell) for $0.50 each...I totaled I think $12 with tax. It was a good day.

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How you know when you read too many blogs

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I had a very involved dream last night about accidentally being at a party intended for A-list mommy bloggers. Dooce was there, and she was very stylish. Alice, from Finslippy, was very kind, as was Suburban Bliss' Melissa. I was super intimidated by Mighty Girl Maggie Mason. And I was really bummed that Eden from Fussy wasn't there, because at least she and I have dogs in common. Then they found out I don't have kids and kicked me out.

What do you make of that?

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I have another mystery for you!

Last week, I thrifted a box of doll house kitchen furniture. There is an original shipping label on it from Sears, saying that the furniture cost $17.92 and the shipping was $0.39. There is no indication of a furniture brand or anything that I can find, though.

vintage doll house furniture

This is the set. It's painted wood, and includes a table, two chairs, a fridge with a top freezer (the freezer has a sort of wooden shelf in it as well), a unit with a sink and cupboards underneath, and a unit with a stove with electric burner stickers, an oven window sticker showing a pie baking, and a bottom drawer.

I forgot to get a picture of the box by itself, but you can sort of see it in this detail from a larger picture:

sears doll furniture box

So what do you think? Anybody recognize these pieces?

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Etsy Christmas List

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I'm in a bit of a mood today, so I am going to make a Christmas list of items from Etsy that I wish lived at my house. Feel free to use any and all ideas. And not just this for me--it's all about supporting handmade this Christmas!

Editing on 12/5/08: This list is in progress. I keep adding to it every day. So I made categories. To make it easier. Because I'm retentive like that.

Jewelry/Accessories

Visual Art

Household

Stationary/Office

Bath and Body


  • MoonsHarvest Bath Bomb Gift Set ($22.75): I realize I am supposed to take care of my own needs in this area, but I'd so like someone else to do the work for once, and these are particularly fetching and VERY well priced.

  • ShopRed Leaf Women's Spa Gift Set ($48): ShopRedLeaf is the Etsy store I wish Crushworthy was. The packaging is so beyond gorgeous. I want. And I especially want to try their "bubble bath dough," which is included in this nice gift set and also sold separately. I do wish the ingredients were listed, though.

That was fun! I'm in a much better mood now!

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Charley Harper

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I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but I'm a big, big fan of Charley Harper. For those who don't know the name and can't be arsed to click the link, Harper was "a Cincinnati-based American Modernist artist. He was best known for his highly stylized wildlife prints, posters and book illustrations." (from Wikipedia). He died last year.

Ever since Dooce posted about it quite a while back, I have been lusting to own this giant book, Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life. They have it at Anthropologie, and I've been known to brave that madhouse just to flip through it. However, I am too cheap to pay $100 or more for a book, even a big nice once, so I've decided that it is something I will one day be thrilled to find in a thrift store, and until then, I will lust from afar.

charley harper memory gameBut maybe you and your kids won't have to appreciate Harper's work from afar. Today, I was thrilled to learn that there is now a line of Charlie Harper stuff at, of all places, Old Navy. For serious. I think my favorite thing is the memory game, shown here (available for $14.50), but there are also a collection of three infant/toddler sized t-shirts ($10 each), a peg puzzle ($12.50), letters and numbers board books ($9.50 each), a combo flashcards/floor puzzle set ($14.50), and a coloring book ($9.50). If I wasn't married to the idea of used and/or thrifted gifts this year, I'd so have already made an order. One of each, please!

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Halls a little less decked?

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OK. So we're officially in a recession. As far as I can tell, this is news to exactly nobody. I personally am very lucky to have been very insulated so far--my focus on frugality of late is based on my own stupid debt, not on any reduction in my salary or job-related hardship (though, of course, higher prices do change things a bit for me, just like anyone). However, even I am aware of an increase in hardship around me.

However, I saw something today that really drove it home. According to a survey done by the American Research Group, the average American family plans to spend $431 on gifts this Christmas. That's a 50% reduction from last year, when the average was $859. And even last year's average was a reduction from the years before that, as every year from 1998-2006 averaged over $900 and as much as $1,052 in 2001.

What does this mean, besides fewer gifts and disappointed retailers? What it implies to me is folks either not having or not being willing to use consumer credit. Most of those middle class big spenders in years past had to have been putting some of that grand they spent in December on plastic, right? I mean, it's not like saving for Christmas gifts is the American way. So why not just do that again this year? Could it be that people are still paying interest on the $859 from last year? It's hard for me to believe that we've really collectively seen the error of our ways, so there has to be a more basic reason.

Since I've started using mint.com (and a huge thank you to whomever recommended it to me in the comments here--I love it), one thing I've been really interested in is the feature that compares Mark's and my spending to the "average" American family's spending. Surprisingly, in most categories, we're below average. Our mortgage, car payment, fuel, utilities, and entertainment spending are all well below average. Our food spending is slightly higher than average, but not substantially. The only place where we spend substantially more than the average family is, unsurprisingly, pets.

Our collective income is not substantially below average. And we feel like we're barely able to keep up with our bills. So how are all of those people who spend more than we do and make less doing it? And with added child care costs we don't have? The answer has to be credit, right?

So where does it end? How much is this trend towards frugality (and even new "hipness" of frugality) really making a difference? Are those who are making inroads towards spending within their means still a fringe group? I think it's too early to tell, but knowing that people are planning on a 50% reduction in their Christmas spending certainly implies that's the case.

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Welcome, December

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NaBloPoMo is over, and I did it! It's actually gotten not too difficult after three years. I'm going to try to continue posting daily, though not with my schedule of days. I like the discipline of it. I'm toying with doing themes each month, so I post at least 1-2 times per week on a theme. We'll see.

In the meantime, I need to take a look at how I did in November money-wise. Mint.com will tell me!

I spent:
$700 towards credit cards
$226 towards student loan
$100 towards savings

$146 on "Hobbies" (bath product stuff)
$100 on "Clothing" (there are some non-clothing GW purchases here too...)
$69 on "Shipping" (swaps and bath product sales)
$47 cash & ATM fees
$41 on eating out
$32 on gifts
$30 on doctor's co-pay
$15 on CDs
$11 on gym membership
$5 on "Electronics & software" (new headphones)

Total flexible spending: $496

Clearly, I am not happy with that total. I don't have $500 month to blow. The major areas I need to cut are my bath product supply spending (which I knew) and my general thrifting spending. I'll focus there this month.

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