Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

The American Dream is not 24/7

We live in a time when we think we can defy the laws of time (if not space or gravity…yet) and we pride ourselves on the fact that our society is always up and running, all day, every day.  It’s some kind of badge of honor to be able to shop, buy gas, or go through a McDonald’s drive-thru any of hour of the day or night. And yes, I realize that many of our goods are produced round-the-clock and that efficiency is part of what keeps prices in check. And that shift workers may need to buy milk and bread when they get off work, even if that is in the wee hours of the morning.

But this “always on” mentality is coming at a high price and I don’t think it’s what God or nature intended.  There’s a really good reason we have darkness each day: before modern times, it enforced a time of rest every day.  There were excellent reasons why God commanded days and weeks (and occasionally years) of sabbath, aka rest, for His people and the land.

We like to think we’ve overcome those pesky obstacles with technology, and we disregard the underlying reasons why rest is good. We’ll sleep when we’re dead, or so the saying goes.  Unfortunately, our choices to run non-stop don’t stop with us; we impose our choices on others, too.

In fact, those of us in the middle class may think we’ve never had servants, but in reality, we have created a de facto “servant” class:  it’s just called by the more politically correct term of “service” or “retail” industry.

And just like the manor lords of old, we expect those employees to cater to our whims and we rarely give their needs or comfort a moment’s thought – we simply expect them to wait on us hand and foot, 24/7.  On the rare occasion we do recognize their presence, it’s often while we are being petty, demanding and impatient “masters.”

Let’s not kid ourselves:  we’re not the modest middle-class folks we like to think we are.  We place more demands on those who serve us than any aristocratic class ever has.

And being a personal servant in the Gilded Era was no cakewalk, but arguably, certain aspects of the work environment was more humane and civilized, and certainly more dignified.

Before you decide it sounds like fun to see a midnight showing of a movie (or attend a movie on a holiday), think about the employees who must be there to sell tickets, pop your corn and make sure everything runs properly.  Is it worth it when you begin to contemplate how many lives you’re disrupting to indulge yourself?

When you decide to make a late-night run to the grocery store for ice cream, look around at how many employees are on hand, just to serve you.  Many–if not most–would prefer to be at home with their families, but they agree to work all night because the store owner wants to earn your business, O Great Customer.

I realize that few people will take up my challenge to bring back Sunday as a day of rest (and truth be told, we don’t always adhere to it, either.)  But can’t we all agree to postpone our Christmas shopping by a few hours and let retailers know (by our absence) that we won’t be enticed by dead-of-night “deals” dangled in front of us?  The same deals could be offered during normal business hours the next day.  It’s highly unlikely that a store won’t be able to serve all its customers if it doesn’t get a headstart on the day.

We didn’t get in the mess we’re in because retailers suddenly got a wild hair to open their doors longer and longer hours.  It started with consumer demands, and the only way the tide will turn is if we withdraw our demands.  And honestly, wouldn’t we all be better off if we gave it a rest?

Happy Monday,

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Swimmer Girl and I spent seven days (or 168 hours or 10,080 minutes…however you wish to parse it out) exploring as much of New York as we could.  We visited the must-see tourist sights and found some places off the beaten path where we tried to blend in with the locals, although I suppose our mannerisms and drawls gave us away.  Here’s an abbreviated version of our week, sans pictures.

The good?
1. The shopping, from SoHo with all its quirky little stores and shops, all the way uptown where FAO Schwartz still has the keyboard floor, to the delight of all who step on it.
2. The shows.  Wicked was wickedly good, but Mamma Mia was Swimmer Girl’s favorite.
3. The food…most of it anyway.  Benjamin Steakhouse was amazing, even if we were the only two unaccompanied females dining there and the only two sharing a steak. Tony’s DiNapoli fed us homemade, fresh and wonderful pasta; 5 Napkin’s burgers  were worth the late-night trip to the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen.
4. The history.  Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, Central Park, Washington Park, South Street Seaport and the World Trade Center memorial each offer a glimpse into various aspects of our country’s unique heritage.  The American Museum of Natural History seems as vast as the nation it tries to encapsulate, and the newer  BODIES exhibit is fascinating.  Wall Street is unabashedly and unapologetically American and the Empire State Building offers a breathtaking view of the city that does not sleep.

The bad?
1. The blisters.  Manhattan is jam-packed with stuff to see and do at every turn, and every square inch in between.  Most of it is within walking distance of wherever you are. But make no mistake, it is a HUGE city. Even on feet accustomed to running and walking miles every week and wearing comfortable daytime boots and shoes, my feet had the least amount of fun of any of my body’s members.
2. The crush of humanity.  Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by a throng of people, all trying desperately to ignore each other.  (Think “Black Friday” shopping crowds, everywhere, every day.) For those of us who are raised with lots of room to roam, a little of that much togetherness goes a long ways.

The ugly?
It breaks my heart to say it, but….Macy’s.  Going in, I had such high hopes for the flagship store of my favorite chain.  Such a HUGE disappointment.  Bigger is NOT better, at least when it comes to their brand-new “World’s Largest Shoe Floor.”  We bought….oh, let’s just say “several” (*cough*) pairs of shoes on this trip.  But none at Macy’s.  Why?  Because the service was insufferably bad.  I would still love to have a Macy’s right here in Murfreesboro, but they can keep their New York sales force. In the balance, the Clinique counter staff was much more friendly and helpful, so maybe it was an off night on the shoe floor, or maybe it’s something about people who deal with feet that makes them simultaneously snarky and inefficient.

The best?
Spending uninterrupted time with my daughter, admiring the ease with which she figured out the subway schedule and negotiated with Chinatown street vendors, and savoring her first bite of the big apple.  And being greeted at the airport with a big hug from Mr. Official, and once again sleeping in our own beds.

Happy Monday,

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I am blessed with many friends.  A few of them really love to shop.  Among them, a few are less likely than me to shop until they drop; others put me to shame. Some like to scour for vintage finds; others are more into the latest trends and styles.  Variety is the spice of life, and I love all my shopping girl pals.

Here is a recent find that makes me smile every time I see it:over-the-door hanger

And I owe it all to a good friend who went on a spur-of-the-moment shopping spree with me recently. While we were out, she pointed to some over-the-door hangers and mentioned she was looking for one herself.  A few stores later, I happened to spy the one you see here, and I immediately saw its usefulness in my kitchen.  (She got one, too – slightly different style.)

Even though I didn’t know before that moment, this was the answer to my mental debates with myself about this pantry door:  do I take it off and replace it with a windowed French-style door, like Thrifty Decor Chick did?

I could do that, but then where would I put all the spices that are conveniently located on the inside of the door?

Not to mention, my pantry is a true workhouse larder for our canned goods and dry goods.  My little warehouse is efficient, but not necessarily beautiful to behold, even if I blurred the view with some seeded glass.  But this idea was a stroke of luck and genius:  It keeps my aprons handy, and adds a little color to an otherwise stark white door.

So thanks to my dear friend for putting the notion in my head, and being ready to hit the stores – any stores – at the drop of a hat.

Happy shopping,

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Black Friday? Bah, humbug!

I guess I led a sheltered childhood.  Living in a rural, remote area in Colorado, we were 80 miles from the nearest mall.  So all the hoopla about “Black Friday” never really made its way onto my family’s radar screen.

When we were still newlyweds, I worked as a secretary for a small chain of bed-and-bath stores while Mr. Official finished up his degree.  I remember being surprised and dismayed to hear that I would not enjoy a long holiday weekend with my in-laws, but instead we would have to return to Knoxville on Thanksgiving night so I could be at work bright and early on Friday morning.  My introduction to Black Friday was a shock to my sensibilities, to say the least.  And maybe that’s why I feel the way I do about this dark day.

To be blunt, I resent the demands it places on retail employees, even more so now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving day or at midnight.  Those employees are giving up their holiday for you, Black Friday shoppers.

And I question the hype and hysteria retailers have created among the rest of us, although arguably, no one has to buy into this madness.  Shoppers are giving up family time, too – and in exchange for what?  To rush around trying to outwit, out-maneuver, or simply out-push the throng of other avaricious bargain hunters?

It is not our finest hour as mankind.   (Maybe calling it “Black Friday” is appropriate after all.)

If you came away from Black Friday patting yourself on the back for the deals you snagged, even after factoring in the stressful hours you stood in line or jostled for a parking spot, I hope you’ll consider how many employees were present in each store you visited and the hours they gave up with family just so you could shop on Thanksgiving or some dreadful hour on Friday.

It is my hope that we can step back and ask ourselves if this frenzy really makes sense, or if there’s a saner alternative – like having the stores open at their regular time- or even opening late – on Friday.

*Employees could enjoy the entire Thanksgiving day and evening with their families.
*The sales and deals would be exactly the same.
*The crowd would be exactly the same – if you’re a Black Friday shopper, you’ll be there when the doors open, whether it’s midnight or noon.

As with my feelings toward a Sunday day of rest, I’m not advocating any laws or government interference with private companies – they should be able to open their doors when they choose.

But as consumers, we can vote with our wallets and feet. Let’s sustain and reward small businesses with our purchases – and not just on Black Friday.  If enough people refused to patronize the stores during these ungodly hours, they would return to a more sensible opening hour – they are in the business of making money, and they won’t do something if it isn’t profitable.

As for me, I’ll leave the ruthless bargain-hunting, parking space fights and crowded stores to those who are willing to put themselves through the ordeal.  And I extend my sympathies to the retail employees who are forced to participate in order to have their jobs.

Happy (?) shopping,

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Confession: as my blog name bears witness, I am a dilettante:  a dabbler in many things domestic, but flighty, flitty, fun, and even a little flaky.  If you were looking for that super-focused, relentlessly driven to pursue perfection blogger’s blog, you’re in the wrong place.  I can be over-organized one minute, and a disaster-looking-to-happen the next.  I can be crafty some days, but if the project doesn’t get finished while the wind is in my sails, it might stay unfinished for a long time.  Maybe even forever.  I’m more like Tigger than Pooh.  My interests vary widely and my attention span is shorter than I am (and that’s saying something.)

Which may explain why I’m suddenly thinking about Christmas before my best and favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) has come and gone.

I agree with the turkey.  No trees, no red-and-green until next week!

But this isn’t just a case of me jumping the gun, or getting my holidays out of sequence.

Last year, Mr. Official did a 3-day stint in the hospital right before Christmas and it taught me a hard lesson about procrastinating on important aspects of the holidays – like um, shopping for gifts.   This year, we’re headed down to the Florida Keys mid-December, so I’m even more motivated to get my ducks in a row early, even though this early bird stuff makes me feel like a duck out of water.  Yeah, I’m wearing out the hunting metaphors.

So now I’m going to let the cat out of the bag.

Spill the beans.

And give myself a pat on the back.

Because for the first time in a long time (oh, heck, let’s be honest:  first time EVER, maybe????), my Christmas shopping is nearly completed (I have 4 or 5 items left to purchase) and it’s not even Thanksgiving.  I started knocking it out with online purchases several weeks ago, and on Saturday, I declared open season on the outlet malls in Gatlinburg.  Unlike most of the rest of the world, I don’t do Black Friday shopping (for a plethora of reasons), and by the time we return home from our Thanksgiving trip, we’re knee deep into December and I feel I’m way behind before I even start. 

Anyway, the tagged-and-bagged gifts are cooling their jets in the back of my closet, and I can now resume our regular Thanksgiving programming.  In case you’re wondering, my idea of a perfect “Black Friday” is a late, leisurely breakfast and then a few hours of ambling through some local stores and antique malls.  I’ll think warmly of all of you trying to outgun each other from store to store.  As for me, I won’t be enduring crushing crowds or interminable lines to stand in – I might snag a few good bargains or just enjoy browsing.

Starting next Monday, I’ll share my weekly plans and ideas I’m using to save Christmas – and my sanity – in the hopes I can help you keep yours, too.

I adore this season with my whole heart, and I believe we can pull it off with our own individual style, grace and aplomb, without setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.  Some realistic prioritizing and a little ingenuity can give us the sweet rewards of a joyful low-stress holiday that we actually remember with fondness.

If you haven’t done your Christmas shopping yet, here’s a sanity-saving tip I found helpful this year. I carried along a pack of big, bright Post-it notes and a marker, along with my trusty list of recipients and gift ideas.  As each purchase was completed, I slapped a sticky note with the recipient’s name on the gift receipt (be sure to ask for those if there’s any chance a return is in order), and tucked them both in the bag with the gift.   When we got home, everything was consolidated and everyone has one bag with all their stuff.  I don’t know about you, but we have several family members with similar tastes, styles and sizes; the intended recipient can get a little fuzzy when we start the gift-wrapping frenzy.

Looking for something to get you in the true spirit of the holidays?  I heartily recommend Grisham’s 2001 novel “Skipping Christmas” as a timely read this time of year.

The book is far better than the movie “Christmas with the Kranks”  and it articulates what many of us have felt about the approaching holiday season.  I don’t advocate skipping Christmas, but I do want to enjoy it it the way it was meant to be celebrated, instead of dreading it.  So how do YOU save – and savor – the holidays?

Happy Monday,

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One thing leads to another…

Last week, I found myself gravitating toward the Le Creuset store while swimmer girl and one of my “other daughters” (friends of swimmer girl that I happily adopt on a temporary basis now and then) were prowling through yet another boutique.

I love my Lodge Dutch oven. (Remember?) But even I know the gold standard of Dutch ovens is Le Creuset – unless you are a Staub fan. They’re both made in France and both makers are extremely proud of their products, which is reflected in their hefty price tags.I had no plans to buy another Dutch oven, but it is fun to look. (I took a long gander at the Staubs while in Williams-Sonoma a few days later. Again, killing time while the girls bushwhacked their way through the labyrinth of shoe stores and other shops.)

Anyhoo, back to Le Creuset. As soon as the clerk heard me utter the word “Lodge,” she put on her best French-American accent and tsk-tsk-ed me for buying a cheap Chinese import. (Yes, Lodge cast iron is made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, but their enamelware processing is in China, thanks in large part to the laws that make it impossible to manufacture them on American soil.) I gently rebuffed her overtures and promised that if/when my Lodge fails, I will be looking to upgrade to the real deal. In the meantime, I’ll live with the chips in the rim of my Dutch oven.

I found two treasures while I was there. One was a marked-down jam/marmalade jar in “flame” (aka ORANGE) 

and a small cassoulet in the same screaming shade:

In generalities, I was familiar with cassoulets and the distinctive shape of the dish they are prepared in (and why), but I bought this cute little number as a small side bowl for vegetables or relish.  (Another terrible faux pas in the eyes of the Le Creuset store staff, I’m sure.)

After I left with my purchases tucked away, I started contemplating cassoulet.

And the fact I’ve never made one.

With weather starting to turn cooler, it’s more conducive to heavy, rich dishes full of meat and beans.So I did a little research, satisfied myself there is no “right” way to make one (it’s a regional food, much like gumbo or chili – everybody’s got their opinion as to what ingredients are authentic and which are blasphemy.) I’m ready to take a stab at it for Sunday’s big meal.  Lardons (salt pork), chicken (because you can’t find ducks, let alone duck leg quarters in just any old grocery store), cannellini beans, chorizo and all the spices are on hand to give it a whirl.

And…I will cook it in my Lodge Dutch oven, which surely elicits a “Sacrebleu!” somewhere in the universe.

Happy cooking,

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This week is fall break for us.  As we have done for several years, we’re soaking up the last bit of summery goodness on the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

Yesterday began with worship, then we headed toward the impossibly beautiful, pastel tinted town of Seaside for an afternoon of sightseeing, boutique rummaging, and…eating out.

Yes, I know.  It was Sunday:  my self-declared day of rest from consumerism.  And there I was, shopping and dining with everyone else.

A most fitting sign outside one of the shops that was closed for the day.
Seaside’s post office stood quiet and still, too.

What can I say?  My goal is not to foist or bind this “day of rest” idea on anyone, nor am I advocating we return to laws that would force compliance.  It is only to gently encourage all of us to give some serious consideration to taking a weekly break from the consumer “rat race.” And – if enough of us were to do it on a regular basis – it might eventually lead to retail store owners giving themselves and their employees the gift of a weekly break, too.

Our regular programming will resume next Sunday.  But for today, we’re honoring a tradition that swimmer girl and I look forward to from the minute we begin firming up our itinerary for the annual trip.  And some traditions are worth honoring, even when they hang in the balance against other goals and ideals.

Happy fall,

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