Saturday, November 06, 2010

Attention Holiday Shoppers!

My apologies in advance: this is going to be one of those snarky, holier-than-thou posts wherein I pretend to have all the answers, as if my actions are the One True Way, and anything else is just plain stupid.

Okay. Now THAT'S outta the way!

Because this is the time of year when I like thinking about holiday shopping, and what I want to give as presents, and what I sincerely would like to avoid. Figuring out what to buy (or make) for the holidays can be really cumbersome sometimes, what with diminishing savings accounts holding weakly against a federal government that screams at us "Spend! Consume! Get the economy rolling again!" through every available venue. Here are some ways I like to spread my meagre dollars around, in the off-label hopes of keeping said dollars local, or at least national.

1) "Your kids will play with what you give them" Dept. This one strikes me as so basic that I'm always amazed at how little it sinks in. Simply put: kids play with what's at hand. What's at hand is typically provided by parents…with a large scoop of grandparents thrown in for good measure. This was driven home to me by watching Roslyn play with her mother's old Fisher Price barn & school. She took to the '70s-era Little People like ducks to water, using their smallish peg size to increase her coordination as she worked on mastering the task of simply getting the damn people into their cars/wagons/chairs. Now almost 3-1/2, she has the Sesame Street playset, the castle playset, the Jeep & camper, and a tub full of odds & ends. She loves 'em. Same thing with Hot Wheels: I loved little cars as a kid, so I took great delight in getting her a Batmobile, a police car & ambulance (to rescue Batman when he overturns), and a dozen or so other little diecast vehicles. Add to that some track and a recent eBay find of the "starting gate" (which, with new rubber bands, will propel the cars down the track at a decent speed) and she's got good entertainment for her cars. And her marbles, which zoom along nicely down the orange lengths. You don't need a bunch of fancy-ass crap for your kids to play with: they only know what you give 'em.

2) "Kids don't know from vintage" Dept. This comes quite naturally out of Item #1 above. Once we discovered how much Roz loved her secondhand Fisher Price toys, we (translation: I) started picking stuff up from flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill, and eBay. Some of this stuff comes at a not-inconsequential premium: the "new" starting gate I just got for her Hot Wheels cars was $45 including shipping. But when I take her to our local St. Vincent dePaul store, she makes a beeline for the toy room and immerses herself happily with whatever secondhand junk is there. Yes, she also takes to the über-expensive Thomas the Train stuff when she's at a Barnes & Noble store or Toys-R-Us. But she never kicks up a fuss to really have anything, which makes shelling out a few bucks for the vintage stuff much easier than spending upwards of $20 for a single Thomas engine. The name of the store isn't "Feel Shame For Shopping Here." It's just "Goodwill." Go check it out with your kid, let her play with some of the stuff to see what she takes a hankerin' to…and then go back later, alone, and see how far $20 will take you. I'm bettin' it's a long way.

3) "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle" Dept. Buying vintage means you're not contributing to newly-produced waste. Yeah, there's a lotta plastic in that Hot Wheels track. But it's already here, so buying it is kind of a garbage push (to borrow from blackjack): you're helping to keep stuff out of landfills by recycling toys, which can be your feel-good moment of the holiday shopping experience. And if you DO buy new, you can often have a feel-good moment in other ways, like making your purchase in a charitable way: Roz was looking through a World Wildlife Fund catalog that showed up this season, and immediately latched onto a stuffed killer whale (don't ask). The $50 price tag seemed steep, but keep in mind: that fifty bucks is actually a donation to the WWF, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, who uses 82% of the money you spend for wildlife conservation. The well-made (in China) plush animal you get is just icing on the cake.

4) "Keep Money Local" Dept. Don't feel like sending your hard-earned dollars to China? Want to support your local businesses? Shop at home. Clicking the "complete purchase" button at makes your shopping really easy, but does that do anything for your local businesses? When I shop at the Mega Mall (a lovely flea market in DeWitt), I'm not only recycling toys, I'm putting money directly into the pockets of the booth renters. It's not going to giant mega-corps like Mattel, or Hasbro, or whatever. It's staying here, close to home. When I DO need new things, I go to K-Mart, which started in Troy, Michigan in 1899 as Kresge's. Even though it's no longer headquartered in Michigan (having moved to Illinois once they partnered with Sears), I still think it's a lot more local than that other discount store from Arkansas. I buy Crayola crayons and watercolors there (Crayola being a privately-held company headquartered in Pennsylvania, with manufacturing plants there and in Mexico and Brazil). If keeping dollars (and jobs!) here in America is important to you, check out this site for tons of stuff that will accommodate you.

5) "Homemade is from the heart" Dept. Lastly, don't discount the importance of making your own stuff. This can run the gamut according to your talents, from toys (Grandma makes excellent wooden toys for Roz, including a huge whiteboard art easel desk) to clothes (all you knitters, take a bow!) to food (just say "Yes!" to home-canned preserves) to art (our wedding present from my new sis was a large oil painting of me and Miss Tessmacher). In 1999 I ruined Mother's Day for almost everyone I know by giving my mom a clarinet concerto that I'd written as my doctoral thesis (comments typically included a wail of "Aww, shit, now the card and flowers I got for MY mom seem really petty!). Chances are, you have some latent talent for making something that can be put to good use at gift-giving time. Remember: presents shouldn't be judged by the dollar amount that was spent on 'em, but instead the thoughtfulness and creativity that inspired them.

There. See? Told ya I'd be all "Lookit how cool I am!" I genuinely don't mean to be that way, but these things are important to me, and I thought I'd share them with you if you hadn't thought of them yet, and remind you about them if you'd forgotten. Be well, and shop wisely this holiday season.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Vote (Or Shut Up)

That's the message on a button I wear this time of year. Pretty basic, I think. Vote…or shut up. You want a say? Get to the polls and pull a lever, complete an arrow, or (heaven help you), punch a chad. Whatever the manner, if you don't vote, you don't get a say. Complain, bitch and whine all you want…but, only your vote gets you the right to do any. Or, all three simultaneously.

Vote a party, if that suits you. Hopefully, your party-line vote allows you to best reflect your own personal convictions.

Pick and choose, if that's your bag. A little of this, a smattering of that…Libertarian here, Republican there, Green Party to spice things up.

Choice between two evils? *shrugs* Do your best, man. Sometimes, you gotta grit your teeth and allow that, hey, the dude runnin' for Governor on your preferred ticket is kind of a douchebag. What are the options? Vote a third party? I dunno…have your own conversations about electoral overhaul, voting systems, and siphoning votes from the two dominant parties. I myself did the Hokey Perot-key in '88. I remember that…and, of course, the Republican candidate. No memory at all of who the Democrats ran that year. Funny, isn't it? But, if you worry about vote-siphoning and all that jazz, then vote for the person you hate the least. That sucks, true. But, will the douchebag you DON'T like at least represent a platform that you more-or-less agree with? Consider the alternative: how would the OTHER douchebag handle things? You gotta consider that.

Vote your conscience. Vote your pocketbook. Vote your religion…even though those things are expressly separated by the First Amendment. (Something candidate O'Donnell seemed unaware of, even in the heat of debate. D'oh!) I'd love for you to vote for someone brilliant. (Reference the previous parenthetical remark.) I'd hate to think you're voting for someone you could "have a beer with." You got trouble finding someone to break brew with, that's a whole other kettle o'fish…your Senator/Governor/President shouldn't be included for consideration of a stool-mate.

Know what's going on with your Propositions and other ballot proposals. Understand that hyperbole runs high on all sides…it's up to you to understand the language, and to try to read between the lines. Some ballot proposal seem too impossible to vote against? That's exactly the one you need to re-read more carefully. Got a millage proposal tomorrow? Who benefits from that money? In the run-up to the proposal, did someone claim that money never received is a "loss"? That one really gets me: a local school board, who never had $500,000 to begin with, starts to describe that money as "lost" if constituents vote the millage down. *bzzzt!* Don't work that way! Thanks for playing, now get the fuck out.

Judges, especially "non-partisan" ones who don't run on a party platform: watch out for buzzwords and "code" language. Things like litmus test, or activist, or Constitutional interpretation. This is the way non-partisan candidates express their partisan credentials.

Don't like special interests or the gajillions of dollars they throw around like crazy? Join the club. Do I think that the person who spends the most money flat-out buys the election? Most of the time, you betcha. Who spends $100 million for a job that pays $175,000? Where could that money have gone to better use? Of course, it's not the salary…it's the power. It's the prestige. It's the "I'm CEO…bitch!" moment. But what's there to do? So far, I've not heard any serious candidate say "We need to eliminate all the lobbyists." Why not? 'Cause they all fuckin' use the lobbyist money! So, end of discussion, I guess.

The worst way to lodge your complaint is to not vote. Well…actually, I guess the ABSOLUTE worst way to lodge your complaint is to pick up a bunch a'fuckin' guns and go start shooting people in the name of a Second American Revolution. Setting that aside for all but the most seriously deranged, your biggest screw-up is to not vote. So…go vote. Or shut the fuck up.