Thursday, April 29, 2010

PC or Mac? Apples or oranges?

My first computer was a Mac, back a jillion years ago when the screen was the size of a large cat's head, if the cat's head were square.

I loved my Mac. Even back in the '80s, when our expectations were low and our learning curve was steep, Macs were intuitive.

I'm sure many interesting books have been written about the rise and fall and rise of Apple, and far be it from me to attempt to put a cogent spin on the history of Apple and Microsoft. I just know what I like.

As you can see from this lovely photo of my messy desk, I use both platforms.

The Mac on the left was used when I received it a few years ago. The box it sits on is simply an added power source; it's not the hard drive. That's the bulb-like part under the screen.

And this computer works great.

It's never crashed, it's never needed maintenance. It does need a bit more memory, which Mr. Fabulous will be installing at some point. He's a smarty when it comes to Apple products.

His Mactelligence speaks not only to his crisp, fresh Apple sensibilities, but to the user-friendly nature of Apple products.

Mr. Fab is totally unfamiliar with Microsoft. He's always been an Apple man.

But there are some of us who use both. I use the Dell on the right in the photo for my job, and I've had my share of PCs and laptops that have proven to be craptops.

And the jury's in. I'd bite on an Apple product any day of the week.

Why, you ask?

Macs rarely crash.

I never get pop-ups on my Mac.

I don't get a lot of junk mail.

I like how those crazy chip head geniuses at Apple stores are bound and determined to make me happy.

I never get those foul messages telling me my security's been breached, and although there's not an app for that, I can buy more security. Kind of like paying the bully at school for protection from bigger bullies.

When I turn on my Mac, my programs appear immediately. No booting up. Poof, it's immediate.

There are so many other benefits, it's impossible to list them all.

And the benefits of Microsoft products?

They're cheaper.

I'm sure there are a few more advantages, but it's true that comparing an Apple to a PC is like, oh, comparing apples to oranges. Apple is fresh for years and years; PCs  seem to have been designed with a very limited shelf life.

My Apple lovefest is clear. I'm definitely no computer box genius. I just know what I like.

And when given the choice, I pick an Apple.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Um, I think there's a little something on your chin....

So these are a few fun finds from this past weekend at the bins.

These were fabric samples from a high-end fabric store. Each was found with a heavy cardboard tag stapled to it, stating its fabric content, cute kitschy name and country of origin.

In these troubled times, someone who once owned a fabric or interior design store was divesting themselves of their fabric samples, to my benefit.

These little bits of fabric heaven not only completely spice up my table when we have company, but using cloth napkins instead of paper napkins does wonders to cleaning up our landfills just a bit, too.

So next time you come by for dinner, please choose from our vast selection of unique and fine cloth napkins, won't you?

By the way - the bajillion squares of classy-ass fabric I got the other day cost me about 50 cents.

And I'm not even showing all the cool fabric samples that weighed as much as a baby sparrow, or whatever other very light thing you can think of. I'll use those other pieces for crazy art projects.

So I'm doing two things at once, by using these coolio fabric swatches to swab the whatever off my chin after dinner. I'm making a bold, individual and crazy fabulous statement that screams in an ever-so subtle way that nothing needs to match, while using richly fashioned fabrics that are the very best napkin ever, and I'm not tossing a crusty bit of my paper napkin dinner spoo into the trash.

Wait ... that's more than two things....

Monday, April 26, 2010

You spin me right round baby, right round....

The Goodwill bins have been very nice to me lately.

The atmosphere continues to be less than Nordstrom-esque, what with the crazy digging behavior that emerges when new bins are wheeled out, the grabbing, the singleness of purpose to be the first to get at the 'new' merch.

And there are the children, running everywhere, many of whom are or soon may be crying.

But lately, I'll forego the negligible atmosphere because of what I've been finding.

The record in the photo is just one of my recent bins scores.

I blogged about the records in an earlier entry entitled Haunted, and didn't mention this particular 78 in that entry. The record, by Billy Murray, is signed by the artist, which was an apparent cache for the person who bought it from me recently.

This record, which I procured from the bins for approximately 10 cents, sold for 128.50.

Woo hoo!

Mr. Fabulous and I dropped by the bins on Saturday, and I found yet another Coach purse, in perfect condition. I found an antique Hanson's dairy scale, a cool pair of vintage children's roller skates, some very nifty fabric swatches from a high-end fabric store that I'll chat about another time, a complete vintage Ouija board, in the box, a 1956 Yahtzee game that had never been used, and a fabulous Italian leather carry-on piece of luggage that's extremely rare and valuable.

That's just a fraction of what I got. And Mr. Fab found a bunch of other very cool stuff.

We combined our finds into one cart so we got a price break, and together we spent a total of $42.

I'm still kind of stunned, not only at what we've found, but at how many of these professional binsters have bypassed so many valuable items. Mr. Fab and I have talked about it, and my sister and I have tried to figure it out as well. It's not because the bins are filled to bursting with treasures. Like an all you can eat buffet with nothing but junk food on the menu, so many people go straight for the trashy stuff and load up in a nonstop kind of way.

I'm not complaining. It's just mystifying.

It spins me right round baby, right round - like a record, baby.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mixed media

In honor of Earth Day, I signed up to have my trash company take away the stuff we generate that can be recycled.

In the past, we tossed egg cartons, junk mail and the like in the regular trash. But as of now, all kinds of stuff will be put in this lovely container, in addition to what we're accustomed to recycling.

I'm astounded at how easy it is, and at how much of my trash can be recycled. All kinds of plastic, glass, paper, containers, so much more.

And we don't have to separate anything. We can toss it all in one container.

How easy is that?

So I'm anticipating that, between the composter and the crazy-cool amount of stuff our trash company will take away to be recycled, our messy trashy footprint will look more like a toddler's shoe than a worker's boot.

It's so easy, especially when recycling requires no separating.

Just like electricity and airplane flight, I have no idea how those recycling smarties turn my amalgam of trash into new, cool stuff.

I'll leave the details, and the trash I'll call mixed media, up to them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shake & ache

As I mentioned in past blogs, I used to be an addict. To Jazzercise.

Then kids, distraction, and alternate forms of exercise that were free (i.e., walking) ruled my world.

I'm no mathematician, but I did a little addition and subtraction in my head yesterday, and my previous Jazzeraddiction took place approximately 15 years ago. That would have put me somewhere in my early 30s.
Back then, I had lots of energy, and I knew all the moves. I knew all the jazzy steps - the grapevine, the kick ball change, all that stuff. And I knew the routines, too.

Fast forward 15 years and I'm in my late 40s. Like most people my age, we generally resemble sleep-deprived versions of our younger selves.

My older self feels the jazzerexperience differently. Now I kind of feel like this when I'm done shakin' it for an hour.

Things that didn't hurt back then definitely hurt today. Especially today, because I got my Jazzergroove on yesterday.

So I'm achy today. Which just means I need to climb back on that Jazzerhorse, even if it hurts.

It feels good to get kinetic, and pay some much needed attention to the Back 40.

Sometimes there's pleasure in pain.

Short bloggy blog today. Going to the bins with my sister later, and we may go see Hot Tub Time Machine. I told my kids I was thinking of seeing that movie, and they scoffed at the idea - they think it looks stupid.

I think it looks stupid too. But sometimes stupid is good. Kind of like the relentless Pokemon phase I had to tolerate when my kids were actually kids.

So exercise is higher up on my priority list.

As is wasting time watching a stupid movie.

At least today.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Mr. Fabulous and I hit the bins on Saturday, and I happened across two volumes of 78 rpm records. I had no idea who many of the artists were on the records that were in each volume. The records just looked really really old, and I couldn't pass them up. Each volume, each containing several records, was 49 cents.

I started doing some research, and these dusty old books filled with heavy 78s were well worth the dollar I spent.

I learned about Bert Williams, who was an African American vaudevillian entertainer who actually put blackface over his black face in an effort to deal with racial prejudice. I had no idea who he was when I found one of his records among my bins finds.

But he was considered to be the most influential African American entertainer of the early 1900s. He was a tormented man. W.C. Fields described Williams as, "the funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew."

And there was a recording by Marie Dressler, titled Rastus Take Me Back, which was highly racially charged. This song was among her "coon song favorites." Dressler was an acclaimed Broadway and early film actress at the start of the 1900s. She worked with Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and their contemporaries. Marie even won an Academy Award in 1931 for Min and Bill.

And she didn't even start her career until she was 42.

Then there's the flip side of Marie Dressler's record. It's a little number called I Don't Care by Eva Tanguay.

Eva Tanguay apparently had a distinctively average voice, but she made up for it with a robust, suggestive, enthusiastic delivery. Her songs, their lyrics and her lifestyle symbolized The Emancipated Woman.

She was the Madonna of her time. She loved creative costumes, and in 1910, a year after the Lincoln penny was introduced, she appeared on stage in a coat made of the coins. She had another costume made entirely of dollar bills.

Brittney Spears may have taken a page out of Eva's How To Get Noticed handbook. Eva got her name in the papers by allegedly being kidnapped, having her jewelry stolen and throwing a stage hand down a flight of stairs.

Her boom turned into a bust with the Wall Street crash of 1929. Apparently she lost over $2 million. That's a lot of ching now, and it was a whole lot of ching back then.

There are several other thick records in this collection that found its way to the Goodwill bins, and each has a history that's colorful and compelling.

The compelling part may explain last night.

Ever since I had kids, I'm a very light sleeper. I wake up at the slightest sound. And sometimes without provocation.

It really sucks. Very few things would be as sweet as a night of uninterrupted sleep.

Last night, I woke up around 2.30 am. My bedroom window was open a few inches, because Colorado days have become warm, and the house gets stuffy.

I was laying in bed, awake for a while. Then I heard the sound of someone walking outside. It was a klick-klack sound produced by a woman wearing heels.

I listened for a while, and I wish I'd have gotten up to take a look, but I didn't. I just listened.

Whoever was wearing those loud klick-klacking shoes wasn't just walking down the street. That sound would come lightly, become more pronounced, and then fade off. These steps were lingering.

I know I was wide awake. I wasn't dreaming.

So who wore those shoes last night?

Maybe Marie or Eva, looking for their records?

This collection of music I can't even play by people I didn't even know before yesterday is nothing short of haunting.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plugging in the crystal ball

I recently rented Fight Club on Netflix. I’d seen it years ago, but I wanted to watch it again.

There’s a scene in Fight Club during which Edward Norton finds a phone booth and makes a call. And it struck me like a freight train – when’s the last time you saw a phone booth?

Fight Club was made 11 years ago, and in that time span, phone booths have disappeared from our cultural landscape.

Phone booths afforded privacy. And there was a time, not that long ago, when we required privacy when we made a call. Phone booths provided just such sanctuary.

Fast forward less than a decade. No more phone booths. Assess the landscape further, and it’s evident that the comfort level when it comes to speaking frankly vis a vis cell phones has redefined our topography. We don’t require much privacy.

 Which begs the question: what will become obsolete a decade from now that we currently value?

I’m thinking mainstream television. I don’t think those big clunky boxes will be around 10 years from now.

My tee vee is gradually becoming obsolete, so I can see it coming, like a big fat phone booth.

I subscribe to very basic cable. I get just enough cable to get my tee vee working without the need for rabbit ears. That means general local stations, as well as the food network, the sci fi channel and a couple of other obscure offerings.

But thanks to my computer, I can get virtually any show I’d like, whenever I want. I watch Jon Stewart, Colbert, Olbermann, Maddow, 30 Rock, so much more, all on my computer box.

And I hear that technology is already available on phones. Here’s what a recent Southern California Public Radio segment had to say:

This spring, hundreds of people in Washington, D.C., are testing new gadgets that allow them to watch local TV on their mobile phones and laptops. In part, mobile digital TV is an effort by broadcasters to reach more viewers. But they're also trying to send a message to Congress that they deserve to keep their airwaves at a time when the Federal Communications Commission wants them to give some back.

It's coming, like a pandemic for which we're all inoculated.

The future, that amorphous wisp that's here before we know it, is peeking right around the corner.

What won't we have a decade from now that we take for granted presently?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Photo finish

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that back in the '70s, when I was in junior high, I was a complete geek. I'm reminded of my ridiculous polyester clothing, and the way-too-tight perm my mom gave me that made me look like the sixth Jackson.

That decade wasn't kind to most people. We all looked like we needed a decent haircut, a shower and a reminder of Fashion Don'ts.

I found refuge from humiliation in general and comments about my perm in particular in the junior high school's darkroom. It was the perfect place to soften the glare of just how big a geek I was, and developing black and white photos was a magical process.

That darkroom had a timer just like the one that's now on my kitchen wall.

Oh, so evocative - the clock face that glows in the dark, the gentle hum as the long and short hands make their way home, the unnerving alarm that must have been the prototype for the sound that was produced when contestants got answers wrong on every cheesy '70s game show...

And now we'll use this as our kitchen timer.

Instead of breathing in the toxic fumes of darkroom chemicals, we'll be imbued with the scents of dinner cooking in the oven.

My sister found this fabulous darkroom timer at the bins, and it must have cost her about a buck. And she chose to give it to me! Unlike the veiled animosity and adolescent discomfort that defined our 1970s experience, my sister and I inch closer to a functional sisterhood.

And we've learned to hide our inner geek pretty well, but there are subtle reminders that those traits are relatively close to the surface.

Reference the darkroom timer on my kitchen wall.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Face time with our pet squirrel.

I and those around me tend to find odd, endearing things. And then we get attached.

Case in point: my son found a baby squirrel on his walk home from school the other day. He gravitated to the small, frisky, twitchy rodent, and apparently we have a new pet. He poops at whim. It's a feature I oddly envy.

Today I went into my son's room, where the squirrel is caged, and there he was, comfortably nested in his comfy home.

It seemed so incongruous. Squirrels usually play chicken when I'm driving, or dart in a manic zig-zag up trees. And now there's a little squirrel in my house. The attachment seems to be mutual.

Of course the squirrel is happy. He's warm, he's fed, he's comfortable and appreciated. What squirrel wouldn't want to live this lavish, lush life into which he's descended?

Today, when I had some face time with the squirrel, I thought about how the little rodent we seem to have adopted lives a life very similar to a whole lot of humans.

Not unlike our comfortable, caged squirrel, many of us have become accustomed to our surroundings, resigned to our circumstance, drenched in the familiar.

And the squirrel, like we humans who caged him, has forgotten his passionate origins of nut gathering and car avoidance.

Long story short, today I looked into the squirrel's cage and saw myself, saw our species a bit more clearly. It was a metaphorical view, of course.

Like the squirrel in my son's room, I think we all have a tendency to become complacent with whatever comfortable confinement into which we find ourselves caged.

There are just enough of the necessities provided to make it seem like less of a confinement than it really is.

So, like the squirrel, we lose sight of the passions that once were important, because we're comfortable. In the squirrel's case, passion was probably all about gathering nuts, darting about randomly and avoiding cars. For us, it used to be about what we were Going to Be, our hobbies, our obsessions, our passions; and it becomes like the life of our squirrel - all about the growing of the 401K, paying the bills, checking to see what distraction can be found on the computer or tee vee.

I may be delving too deeply finding connections between the furry-tailed rodent in my house and my life - our lives - but the similarities seemed more resonant than the differences during my squirrelly face time today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pass it on.

So I have just a bit more to say about ARC.

There's really so much to say. ARC's a big operation. There's the advocacy arm, which is ARC's mission. Advocacy alone is a pretty big deal. ARC people have their hands in so many advocacy pies, from lobbying and legislation to hiring people with disabilities at their thrifty thrift stores.

Then there's the recycling. It starts with donations that find their way to either the warehouse or a store, and if they don't sell, those donations are packed up in shipping containers and sent all over the world.

Some of the items you used to own may have done more traveling than you have.

Recycling is the cornerstone of thrift, although I'm sure lots of people who thrift don't necessarily consider themselves environmentalists.

Using things more than once just makes sense.

As a case in point, let's look at an example from the ARC Pecos location.

Lovely Shelly manages the store, and during our tour of the back room, she showed me where they store their stuff. And here's a shot of Shelly in the back room, where the magic happens.

In addition to meticulously managing seasonal and incoming merchandise, Shelly told me about how ARC acquired the shelving from a DAV location that closed, and ARC opened a new store using all the old shelving, with pieces to spare. Here's what they have left from the DAV, and they intend to use it again.

I like Shelly's passion. And she knows what she's doing. She explained how her store prices, merchandises and organizes.

She and Kathy told me about what they find in the pockets of donated clothing. Jewelry, money, gift cards, so much more.

And much of what's found in pockets is once again recycled, included as perks in gift baskets that are sold to the highest bidder at fundraising silent auctions.

Isn't that cool?

And wouldn't it be great if every store had that level of consciousness when it came to giving back?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Light, illuminated

So I do have more to say about ARC. About the Pecos store and Shelly, who's so very cool on so very many levels.

But tonight I'm taking a break and showing you this cool shadow.

It's the view I saw when I was laying in my bed the other night.

Sometimes shadows can be illuminating, don't you think?

I rearranged my light sources recently. I’m not the least bit the fan of overhead lighting, so my house is peppered with an odd accumulation of lamps. Lamps create shadows. And a new (to me) lamp found its way to my bedroom, under the very cool non-functional chandelier that hangs from the ceiling.

I love the chandelier. I found it at Goodwill, and I’ve featured it in a past blog. The main part of the chandelier is made of heavy cast iron, and the very detailed flowers are made of delicate, hand painted ceramic. I have no clue where the chandelier came from, who made it, what it’s worth. It’s one of the rare items I’ve found that’s simply priceless.

So back to my point.

I rearranged the lighting in my bedroom, and in doing so, this beautiful shadow is now cast once the sun goes down.

I don’t consider myself easily manipulated. I took way too many philosophy classes in college, and logic has a fond place in my world.

Despite the functional nature of light, there’s something about the inherent beauty light can cast that defies all logic. It’s just beautiful, in and of itself.

Light has a function. When it’s dark, lamps have a function.

Of course there are moments when function has a function. 

And there are other times when pure appreciation of lack of function is worthy of appreciation. Look at the shadows that this piece throws.

Sometimes things that were designed for a particular function don’t deliver what was originally intended.

Sometimes the most illuminating elements in life don’t throw any light at all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Give a little bit.

My recent tour of ARC got me thinking about the idea of giving. Because everything that passes through ARC's warehouse and stores has been donated, and the staff at ARC is completely dedicated to the mission of giving. Each part of the operation is a link in a chain of philanthropy.

Kathy, Shelly and the other ARC folks projected a happiness vibe. Which got me thinking about the cause and effect nature of giving as it relates to happiness and health.

Can being a giver lengthen your life?

Apparently it can.

According to Dr. Ann Vincent, internal medicine doctor at the Mayo Clinic, "Several studies over the years have found links between altruistic behavior and improved physical and psychological health. ...altruism makes people feel better about themselves, which often translates into improved physical health. Other benefits that have been attributed to positive emotions include enhanced creativity and ability to cope with stress, and broadened cognition." 

So there does seem to be a mind/body connection when it comes to giving.

Do you need more convincing? How about this article from a 2009 New York Times piece:

When Cami Walker of Los Angeles learned three years ago that she had multiple sclerosis, her health and her spirits plummeted — until she got an unusual prescription from a holistic health educator.

Ms. Walker, now 36, scribbled the idea in her journal. And though she dismissed it at first, after weeks of fatigue, insomnia, pain and preoccupation with her symptoms, she decided to give it a try. The treatment and her experience with it are summed up in the title of her new book, “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo Press).

Ms. Walker gave a gift a day for 29 days — things like making supportive phone calls or saving a piece of chocolate cake for her husband. The giving didn’t cure her multiple sclerosis, of course. But it seems to have had a startling effect on her ability to cope with it. She is more mobile and less dependent on pain medication. The flare-ups that routinely sent her to the emergency room have stopped, and scans show that her disease has stopped progressing.

“My first reaction was that I thought it was an insane idea,” Ms. Walker said. “But it has given me a more positive outlook on life. It’s about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else.”

And science appears to back her up. “There’s no question that it gives life a greater meaning when we make this kind of shift in the direction of others and get away from our own self-preoccupation and problems,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University on Long Island and a co-author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” (Broadway, 2007). “But it also seems to be the case that there is an underlying biology involved in all this.”

An array of studies have documented this effect. In a 2002 Boston College study, researchers found that patients with chronic pain fared better when they counseled other pain patients, experiencing less depression, intense pain and disability.

Another study at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., also found a strong benefit to volunteerism, and after controlling for a number of variables, showed that elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 44 percent less likely to die during the study period.

How giving can lead to mental and physical changes in health isn’t entirely clear, although studies suggest that altruism may be an antidote to stress. A Miami study of patients with HIV found that those with strong altruistic characteristics had lower levels of stress hormones.

By contrast, being self-centered may be damaging to health. In one study of 150 heart patients, researchers found that people in the study who had more “self-references” (those who talked about themselves at length or used more first-person pronouns) had more severe heart disease and did worse on treadmill tests.
And like Ms. Walker, numerous people have reported feeling better after helping others. A 1988 Psychology Today article dubbed the effect the “helper’s high.” Analyzing two separate surveys of a total of 3,200 women who regularly volunteered, the article described a physical response from volunteering, similar to the results of vigorous exercise or meditation. The strongest effect was seen when the act of altruism involved direct contact with other people.

For Ms. Walker, a former creative director for an advertising agency, most of the gifts involved time, emotional support or small acts of kindness. After the first 29 days, she began a new cycle, a pattern she continues. Neither she nor Mbali Creazzo, the spiritual adviser who taught her about the month of giving, knows why it is 29 days rather than 30 or 31 — it may have something to do with the lunar cycle, which is 29.5 days.

Ms. Walker says she now approaches daily giving as a crucial part of her treatment, just like regular medication. She has also found new purpose in her experience and started a Web site,, that encourages giving to improve health.
“Giving for 29 days is not suggested as a cure for anything,” Ms. Walker said. “It’s simply a coping mechanism and a simple tool you can use that can help you change your thinking about whatever is going on. If you change your thinking, you change your experience.”

Dr. Post, of Stony Brook, agreed. “To rid yourself of negative emotional states,” he said, “you need to push them aside with positive emotional states.

“And the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.”

So the jury seems to be in.

There's no down side to giving, even in little ways. 

The coolest part about giving seems to be that the giver gets the most.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Behind the scenes at the ARC warehouse, part two.

So you may have read my last blog, in which I discussed my recent tour of ARC, a major Denver thrift chain.

As I mentioned, ARC's warehouse and stores are amazing places, filled to bursting with thrifty treasures, a skilled management team, a giving mission and generous, content employees.

I touched briefly on ARC's cavernous warehouse filled with well organized thrift waiting to be distributed to its stores. Here's another shot of one teeny section of the warehouse.

The warehouse is really quite impressive, not only for the sheer volume and contents, but for the organization required to store and move the merch efficiently.

But that's not all.

It's not all about getting merch to stores. The warehouse also is the place where items that didn't sell are organized and readied to be shipped to overseas markets that love All Things American.

Overseas markets are particularly partial to baseball caps and shoes. So it's fairly safe to say that the Rockies cap and the Adidas you donated to ARC may eventually wind up on the head or feet of someone thousands of miles away, worn by someone whose language you can't even pronounce.

The folks at the warehouse create huge containers of shoes, hats, clothing, housewares, and off they go.

Here's how they compress the clothing, which will then be placed in a shipping container and distributed all over the world:

But it doesn't stop there.

ARC partners with numerous associations and organizations to sell cars. Here's Kathy, showing me all the letterheads of the organizations they assist with car sales.

Seems like a lot, but look. The stationary takes up a whole wall.

There are photos that line this room that show some of the cars ARC has assisted in selling. Some cars are classics, from antique roadsters to tour busses.

Everybody wins.

In addition to a precision shipping and receiving operation and car sales area, the warehouse also is the nerve center for drivers who pick up donations, and there's a call center populated with people who get the ball rolling by scheduling donation pick-ups.

The warehouse is an energizing, busy place, and the energy seems to spring from the eventual outcome of all their efforts: giving back.

I know retail. And I never felt this level of purpose toward a larger end result than I did at ARC's warehouse. Because the people who work at ARC know that ultimately they're helping people, namely the developmentally disadvantaged. ARC folks know that the discards we send overseas will benefit a completely divergent, appreciative population. And ARC's eye toward environmentalism is the cherry on top of the tasty thrifty sundae they've crafted so beautifully.

I'll blog later about what retail chains do with their unwanted merchandise. It's not a pretty story, especially when we all know there are people all over the world who would gladly take America's discards.

And I do have a bit more to say about ARC's retail operation, specifically the location I was privileged to tour.

Long and short, ARC is first in line where we all need to stand.

It's about helping those who are less fortunate. Recycling. Giving back.

From what I could tell, folks at ARC are all about the Mission. And the mission, in this case, is helping, recycling, giving back.

It's a very consciousness-driven business model. And it's a model we can all learn from.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My rock star visit to thrifting behind the scenes. It's all about the mission.

I recently had the opportunity to take an extensive behind-the-scenes tour of the Denver ARC headquarters, as well as a glimpse into how the Pecos ARC store works. In all its detail.

I haven't blogged for a couple of days, simply because my head was too busy spinning with all the cool stuff I saw and learned a few days ago.

I really had no idea what ARC was all about before my tour, aside from my simple knowledge as a very frequent ARC shopper.

And in thinking about all I absorbed during my generous 2-hour tour of both warehouse and retail store, it's hard to know where to start.

Let me start with an analogy, and a visual.

This is what I saw when I walked into the ARC warehouse. This is just one of many rows and rows of merch, and there's another storage facility that retains even more donated items.

For folks like me, this warehouse was like a stick of gum was to Violet Beauregarde....

These are the items stored at the warehouse. It's very controlled. The ARC folks know exactly what they're doing.

It's overwhelming.

And that's why I intend to blog about the ARC in several segments. It's just too much to blog about in one entry.

Let me simply preface by saying that everyone I talked to within the ARC organization was so very nice.

They had no idea who I was. I write a blog about thrifting. And they treated me as if I were a reporter from the New York Times. So generous.

And they're very committed to the mission.

Kathy, the director of corporate communications, is so very much more than her title.

She cares.

And everyone seems to care within the organization.

After almost 50 years on this crazy planet, I think I have a pretty good Bullshit Detector. And I had no sense that I was being bullshitted by Kathy. She loves what she does, much more than standard retailing, because the outcome of her labor benefits people who need a benefactor.

She, like me, was born and bred in retail. Kathy was a manager of a Montgomery Wards store back in the day. And I was the copy chief at virtually every high-end retail chain in Denver, when retail chains had advertising departments.

So we have a lot in common.

The most conspicuous common thread is our love of thrifting. And Kathy knows a whole lot about her stores, her market.

As I've shown in the first photo, there's a huge warehouse.

But there's so much more.

This will take a while, the ARC experience.

I'm thinking it will take a few blogs.

That means you'll have to come back.

As will I.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Telecommuting gives me gas.

I have a very odd schedule. 

Let me preface by saying that I don't expect anyone to commit my schedule to memory, because I barely can. Here's how it goes:

I work every Monday from home, every Tuesday at my job, every other Wednesday and Friday from home and every other weekend at my job.

So Tuesdays are the only days that I have to deal with rush hour traffic. I need to be at work at 8 am, and if I don't leave my house by 7:13 am, I'm invariably late.

And Tuesdays I work until 5 pm. I rolled into my garage at 5:47 pm yesterday.

I'm no mathematician, but I'm thinking I spend an extra hour and a half, on average, just getting to and from my job every Tuesday. And I have to supply my car with gas in order to get up earlier in order to leave earlier in order to drive for a few ticks shy of an hour in order to get to my job by 8 am in order to not get a demerit if I'm just the least bit late.

In addition, I have to dress like a professional on Tuesdays.

Thank god this hoop-jumping only happens once a week.

Most people do the drive-to-work dance every freaking day. 

Which leads me to my topic. Telecommuting. It's such a good thing.

I recently heard a segment on NPR about telecommuting, and it resonated. Here's the bottom-line:

"Currently less than 3 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommutes the majority of the time (not including the self-employed), but 40 percent hold jobs that could be done from home. If those employees who could telecommute did so just half of time:

  • The nation would save 453 million barrels of oil (57 percent of Gulf oil imports)—a national savings of $31 billion per year
  • The environment would be saved from 84 million tons of greenhouse gases a year
  • The energy potential from the gas savings alone would total more than twice what the U.S. produces from all renewable energy source combined.
  • National productivity would increase by 6.2 million man-years or $200 billion worth of work each year 
  • Businesses would save $194 billion annually in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and turnover
  • Employees would individually save between $2,500 and $11,000 in transportation and work-related costs".

I particularly find that last bullet point compelling, because it directly affects my bottom line.

I understand that not everyone is in a position to work from home. A crazy computer box is essential to the whole telecommuting idea, and the "open the pod bay door, Hal" control that technology has introduced into our worlds is a blessing and a curse on so many levels.

Global and personal benefits aside, effective telecommuting comes down to productivity and trust. Employers need to trust that the folks working at home are actually working. Because despite all of our sophisticated technology, employers trust what they can see.

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear it fall? And if an employee works from home, are they really working?

I'm sure the trust issues will work themselves out eventually. Because the tangible telecommuting savings are significant, and the personal benefits are beyond measure. It's a win/win on so many levels.

I save gas, money and time, I get to spend more time with my kids, and my employer has a happier, less stressed worker bee.

That sounds more like a win/win/win/win/win/win.....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice

I do have a ‘real job’, and I work every other weekend with two amazing women. When the workload becomes banal, we stretch our mental tether and ask each other sometimes rhetorical and sometimes revealing questions.

Sometimes the questions are of the ‘if/then’ or ‘what if’ variety.

Angel is the master.

  • If you had to lick a public toilet seat or shave your head and eyebrows off, what would you pick?

  • If you could only survive on one food for a week, what would you eat?

  • If you could be anywhere in the world, where would you be?

  • If you could have any do-over in your life, what would it be?

  • If you could be any other race, what would it be and why?

We all contribute questions, but Angel’s are always the best. This past weekend, I asked my work pals this junior high-level question: What age-appropriate celebrities or public figures would you ‘do’?

The origin of the question sprung from a conversation my friend Miriam and I had as we were lounging on my back porch on a hot summer day a few years ago. It’s obvious that we’re both complete geeks, simply by the nature of the question. We were discussing something we’d heard on NPR, and the conversation eventually evolved into which NPR host we’d go out with.

Dorky, huh?

My answer was a no-brainer. Scott Simon, purely on the tenor and quality of his laugh. And of course he’s whip-smart and funny.

Miriam chose Ira Glass. She thinks he’s dreamy.

So having had an interesting ‘who would you do’ conversation with Miriam, I was curious to hear who my work friends would choose.

Lois came up with that guy from Grey’s Anatomy who was fired for his anger issues. In the eyes of Lois, he’s angry, but he’s hot.

Angel called me last night and added Ty Pennington to her list.

She’d previously mentioned Guy Fieri, which was a shocker. Guy seems so rough-hewn, and Angel exudes a stunning yet accessible style, warmth and class. I could never see Guy and Angel together.

As for me, my answer to the who would you ‘do’ question is Jon Stewart, Nathan Fillion and Bill Murray. Bon Jovi’s not bad, either.

Do you not concur? I think most women in my demo may also think these men are super-cool and dreamy.

These gentlemen share a triad of attractive characteristics that have nothing to do with what’s on the outside. They all have a sense of humor, they seem passionate, and they’re smart.

And my point?

Lists are good. For people like me, a to-do list is a portal to productivity, and with the right audience, lists can be fun.

I understand that Lois, Angel and I will never tick any names off our celebrity hottie list.

These questions we ask, these lists we make at work are benign and entertaining. Most lists are dry and functional. And most of our lists look like this:

  • Grocery store.
  • Go to work for many hours.
  • Laundry.
  • Appointment-making.
  • Blah-blah-blah-bligations.

In short, it’s good to make lists, on so many levels.

And some lists are much more interesting than others.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hung out to dry

As has been established in previous blogs, I'm forgetful. I lost my garage door opener for a few days, consistently misplace my keys and still haven't found the dozen or so light bulbs I bought last year and stored some place I can't recall.

I'm a single mom of two teenagers. Go figure, being forgetful.

I think, way down the line when I'm asked to accompany one or both of my kids to therapy, I'll use the standard 'I did the best I could' line.

Because I do.

Like when I bought a very cool retractable clothes line at Goodwill recently. I figured there's nothing more nurturing, to the planet or my kids, than to provide that 'dried on the line' freshy freshness. My dad fashioned a very ingenious pulley system that would accommodate for line tension between my house and the big tree in the back.

Now that its sunny and warm in Colorado almost every day, it seems like a no-brainer to hang the clothes out to dry.

And, according to Mr. Electricity (I'm sure that's not his real name) who writes about saving energy, it's wildly economical to take advantage of that big yellow ball called the sun to dry clothing. On average, clothes dryers cost 35 cents per load in energy. I'm no scientist, but last I checked, drying clothes outside with the aid of warmth and sun is free.

Additionally, Mr. Electricity offers these helpful tips about air-drying clothes:

  1. Air-dry your clothes instead of using a dryer. This idea is getting more popular. Fewer people believe that clothes dryers are a necessity vs. three years ago. If you don't have anywhere to hang a clothes line, you can still use a clothes-drying rack. Tip the Planet has an excellent article about air-drying clothes, covering every possible angle, including clever things like retractable clothes lines.
  2. When replacing a dryer, get one with a moisture sensor. That way you'll never run the dryer longer than you have to. Make sure to clean the sensor occasionally, too, so that the waxy buildup from dryer softening sheets doesn't impede its ability to sense moisture.
  3. Get a front-load washer. Front-loading washers tend to leave less water in your clothes than top-load washers. (They use a lot less water, too.)
  4. Use a spin dryer. A spin dryer is a little machine that spins your clothes around really fast to remove excess water (and detergents bonded to the water). After a couple of minutes in the spin dryer, you put your clothes in a regular clothes dryer, where they dry in 30 minutes less time than usual. Based on 8 loads a week, 30 minutes of drying time instead of 60, and 10¢ per kilowatt-hour, a spin dryer saves about $97/yr. ($100 less the $3 cost of running the spin dryer itself.) A spin dryer costs about $130.
  5. Clean the lint filter after EVERY load. Your dryer takes longer to dry when it's trying to push air through lint.
  6. If you use fabric softener sheets, clean your lint screen with a toothbrush and water occasionally. Dryer sheets can cause an invisibly waxy buildup on the lint screen which makes it harder for the dryer to push air through it.
  7. Wash and Dry very early in the morning, or at night. If your utility imposes a charge based on demand, then do your laundry in off-peak hours.
  8. Close the door in summer, open it in winter. Closing the door to the room the dryer is in will keep it from heating up the whole house summer. In the winter, keep the door open, to grab some of that extra heat.
  9. Add a wet towel to remove wrinkles. If you leave your clothes in the dryer too long and they become wrinkled, you can easily cure this by throwing a wet towel in the dryer and drying again. This saves you from having to either iron all your clothes, or wash them and dry them all over again.
  10. Run around the house naked. Then you'll have less clothes to wash. (But not if it's so cold that you'd compensate by turning up the heat, which would more than negate your savings. On the other hand, if it's summer and this lets you run the AC less, then you'll save even more.)

As you can tell, Mr. Electricity not only is a wealth of knowledge; number 10 on his list would indicate that he's a bit of an exhibitionist as well.

But back to my retractable clothesline story...

I got both of my boys into the act one warm Colorado day, and they helped me hang a load of laundry on the line.

Just as I was affixing Connor's very heavy, lined Carhart pants on the line, the retractable line snapped, and our load wound up on the lawn.

I have yet to fix my retractable line, but I have every intention to do it soon.

I don't want to be hung out to dry in the savings department.

Because 35 cents a load may not seem like a lot in the short run, but it all adds up.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Great expectations

Sometimes we expect more than we get.

Sometimes the expectation is completely within reach, based on personal fortitude.

For instance, I used to be a Jazzercise junkie. Then I had two kids, and I tried taking them with me to the Jazzerdaycare at the location to which I'd become addicted. The kids hated it, and I didn't blame them.

The last place I'd want to be for an hour would be in a small room surrounded by a bunch of crying, petulant, hyper children with nothing but a crapload of worn toys slathered with kidspit and veiled sadness to keep them occupied while mommy sweat it out.

So I stopped going to Jazzercise, despite my inherent love of the music, the kick ball change, the grapevine and the ultimate go-to move, the Jazz Hands.

And this morning, at the persistent suggestion of my lovely post office friend Wanda, I went to Jazzercise once again. I signed up. I took the kool-aid. I'm back in the game, with great expectations of losing some of this junk in the trunk.

Great expectations happen in so many ways. The meal that sounds so good on the menu, the haircut you want to look just like the picture.

And then there's the amalgam of expectations.

Tomorrow, my friend Anne and I are meeting at Jazzercise to get our exergroove on. We'll get all sweaty and jazzy. And then Anne and I have plans to go to the bins.

I'm excited about the Jazzercise, because I just reignited my new great expectation with that past obsession.

And after all my chatty hype about what's to be found at the Goodwill Outlet, Anne's excited about heading to the bins after our sweatfest at Jazzercise.

I hope neither of us is disappointed.