Sunday, December 11, 2011

Do you hear what I hear? It's that time of year for Christmas songs.

Every year in the recent past, I've vowed to count just how many times I hear Christmas songs over the course of the season. The ubiquitous nature of holiday music definitely begs the question.

And this year, I decided to count.

My first taste of holiday music was served up on November 13, way before Thanksgiving. Between then and now, I've tried to count every Christmas song I've heard. And I'm sure I've heard more songs than I've written down.

I've stopped, stalk-still, more than once this holiday season, wherever I've happened to be, in order to make note of another Christmas song. I've stopped at the grocery store. At work. I've made note while listening to holiday hold music.

Long and short, I've heard at least 123 holiday songs since November 13.

That's 123 songs in 19 days. That's 6.47 Christmas songs every day. And there are two weeks to go until Christmas.

Frankly, I think my numbers are skewed a bit low.

Because the 123 total thus far doesn't take into account that I've seen The Nutcracker twice this season. I figured I sought those songs out, so it wasn't an organic reflection of what I'd normally hear just by going about my day.

I didn't add the songs I sing or whistle during those colorful moments when I'm drenched in the Christmas spirit.

Everything might nicely be balanced if it's taken into consideration that I don't watch television or listen to conventional radio. I'm sure my 123 would go up considerably if I'd been logging holiday ads and Christmas specials into my total.

I'm obviously not a conventional retail shopper, but apparently the presence of Christmas songs in a retail environment boosts sales figures. And interestingly, people seem to want it that way. According to music research experts, "a remarkable 95 percent of consumers said they prefer shopping with in-store (Christmas) music. Among this group, four out of 10 prefer to shop where Christmas music is playing rather than music they already know and like."

Despite the anti-consumerism direction I could go with that information, I prefer to refer to the three reasons why people like to hear Christmas music this time of year, according to the article.

First, Christmas music is emotionally evocative. It reminds us of time happily spent with loved ones.

Second, listening to a Christmas song is "a mass-karaoke experience... with 53 percent of respondents saying that they often sing along to Christmas songs."

Guilty as charged, as I mentioned before. No other time of year are people like myself prone to breaking into a Christmas song, either by singing along with the holiday Muzak or by quietly whistling Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas just because it feels good.

Third, Christmas music is unifying. Everyone knows the words to White Christmas, and there's a cultural understanding that we all get it. There seem to be few things we collectively get any more, but knowing the words and feeling the sentiment of a holiday song seems to compel us as a culture to feel like we're all in this together.

Stop the presses - I need to update my Christmas music tally of 123.

I've been listening to Christmas music while I've been writing this, and I'll be adding 18 more songs to my total. The first song out of the gate tonight was perfect for the tenor of my kind of holiday: Nancy Wilson's That's What I Want for Christmas.

I'm grateful for being loved. That's all I need or want.

So I've heard 141 Christmas songs so far this season. Rum-pa-pum-pum.

Enjoy the music.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas on the cheap. Let's get crafty.

Last time, I wrote about Christmases past.

My mom loved Christmas. The interior of her house, from the day after Thanksgiving to the week after New Years, looked like Santa threw up all over the place. She'd spend lots of money and many hours shopping and wrapping and preparing for what was her favorite time of year.

Christmas gave her a good excuse to give.

But times have changed. My holiday iteration is a bit different from the Christmas tradition of liberal gifting my mom established.

Shopping has never been the same since my mom's been gone, so I have little interest in the lure and sparkle of malls or big box stores.

And I'm not fond of crowds.

So needless to say, I don't do the typical kind of holiday gifting.

If your budget is tight and your fuse for high-voltage consumerism is short, I've got a few suggestions when it comes to giving on the cheap:

Get crafty. I have a few vintage typewriter keys that fell off a very old Remington I bought for $5 this summer at a garage sale. The keys are a perfect fit for these totally cool barrette/hair pins I found in Portland for .50 a piece. Once I got home and got busy, I quickly ran out of these cool hair things. I found a lot of 50 of this exact same item on ebay for $4, free shipping. So I'll have plenty of inventory.

In addition to the barrette potential, I have a bag of unused beer bottle lids, old board game pieces, vintage sheet music, light switch covers, dominoes, scrabble tiles, broken jewelry, hotel room numbers, so much more. My collection of hot-glueable and Mod-Podgeable items is embarrassingly immense. The photo shows just a smidge of what awaits whoever participates on a Crafty Day.

When I commit to create, I can make items for people with their particular taste in mind. I can't go into a tremendous amount of detail (I don't want to spoil anything for a few of the folks of my Christmas list), but let's just say that every piece I've made is one-of-a-kind, somewhat off-beat, and chosen specifically for the person who's on my list.

And I'm not the only one who's getting in the crafty spirit. A friend came over last week to make some presents and have some fun, and my 18-year-old and his friends joined us. We had a great time.

In other words, the process of making presents for people can be as memorable as what you create.

You're so handy! The other day, someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the broken tiles on my kitchen floor, the outlet that only occasionally works and my clothes dryer that made a sound like I was drying a load of rocks.

I mentioned that I'd love the gift of time spent by a handy friend. Just a day, maybe less. They'd fix stuff that's way beyond my skill set, I'd make lunch, we'd chat - it sounded like a dreamy Christmas miracle.

So there's a thought. If you're handy and you want to give a really great gift, offer up a few hours to someone who's not quite so bright when it comes to fixing stuff. It costs nothing but time, and take it from me - it's a gift that would be highly appreciated.

Think outside the box. We can all feed the Big Box stores with our ching, or we can go local. Give a gift card or a certificate from a small shop or business in your area. Give an oil change, a haircut, a night out at a local restaurant, tickets to a play. Keeping your gifting money local does a service for your area's economy, and it might invigorate your friends and family to try something new; to step out of the box.

Go live. Last year, I blogged about the coolest thing I got for Christmas (

And although the catalogue I recently received from Heifer had a bit of grandiosity on its cover ("The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World"), I don't dispute its sentiment. Contribute on behalf of the folks on your holiday list and you'll measurably change things around the world, for people who would otherwise have almost nothing. Heifer makes a difference.

Get cooking. Tasty homemade treats are such a great gift idea, especially for those of us who have no culinary proclivities. Going one step further with a gift certificate for a homemade meal, especially for busy moms or families in need, is a great way to share without breaking the bank.

And, like crafting, baking, giving away time or keeping your money local, there are a myriad of other ways to show how grateful you are for having good people in your life that don't require spending a lot of money.

Which brings me back to my mom.

My mom was an exception in so many ways.

I'd give anything to spend another Christmas in her presence. Not for what she bought me, but for what she gave me.

Ultimately, she taught me that it doesn't require deep pockets to find gifts that are filled with meaningful, thoughtful, loving intention.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Keeping Christmas simple, part one.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, and despite this rocky economy, people seem to have money in their pockets, or at the very least a balance on their credit cards. Because as you may have heard, this holiday shopping season has begun with vigor (

Right: me (left) and my sister, posing for our family Christmas card in 1964, each in our own way. Note the matching outfits.

Despite the direction I've turned in recent years, I was raised on retail, especially during the holiday season. My parents were devout Lutherans way back then, and my mom was a seasoned shopper. She was crazy about Christmas, primarily because the season signified the birth of Jesus.

And because the holiday season is a time for giving, it gave her a great excuse to go shopping.

My sister and I received lavish and abundant Christmas gifts well into our 30s. Each gift was chosen with care. It was obvious that many miles were traveled in search of what she'd intuited (usually with Kreskin-like accuracy) that we'd want. And she was usually right.

Her mobility waned the Christmas before my mom died, but her enthusiasm for gifting was still in high gear. She couldn't afford to spend energy walking through malls and big box stores.

So the last Christmas my mom was on this crazy planet, my sister and I each received one gift.

We each received a box filled with gift cards from every store we frequented. She and my dad drove all over the city collecting gift cards for my sister and me.

That box of cards, filled with the intention of shopping, complete with the knowledge of what I really  liked, was the best present I've ever received.

Because it took effort. Time. Knowledge. Intuition.

And money.

Hopefully, I have the intuition. I definitely have the energy. But I don't necessarily have the financial resources my parents had.

But meaningful giving can be done on a budget. Despite the early shopping modeling I received from my mom, I've realized that everyone can be appropriately gifted without attending a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale. Everyone can get what they want without going in the red.

And I'll go into the crafty world of artful giving next time.

But for now, I pay a bit of an homage to my mom. She was a shopper. She was a giver, and she loved All Things Christmas.

As an added bonus, she had deep pockets.

For those of us who don't (read: most of us), I'll chat soon about living richly during difficult times.

It's possible.

All it takes is a bit of a paradigm shift.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rules of engagement. A few words about time.

Time will do the talking, 
Years will do the walking.
I'll just find a comfy spot and wait it out...
Patty Griffin

After ten days off, I go back to work tomorrow.

Ten days ago, I saw ten full days off like someone who's dehydrated sees a glass of water. A necessary thing.

This past ten days has been a brief step off the wheel. A refreshing drink of water.

And whoosh. Ten days went by in a flurry. Miles were covered, events were attended, friendships were refreshed.

It all seemed to go so fast.

Not unlike summer turning into winter seemingly overnight, time seems to have taken on a disquietingly speedy tenor as the years go by.

Of course I'm not the first person to think that time seems to be going a whole lot faster. Everyone from Homer Simpson to NPR has posited that time seems to fly faster the more it's been accumulated (

The bottom line seems to indicate that the more experiences we ferret away, the faster we seem to perceive them.

That doesn't fully explain why ten days off seemed to fly by like they were lumped into one fantastic memory jumble.

It doesn't speak to why there are days that seem to last forever.

This whole time thing may come down to simple economics.

Saving time.

Spending time.

For instance, sometimes time is saved by doing one thing in order to spend time doing something else.

And there are other times when time is spent in an attempt to save time later.

But there's another component.


Time seems to go much faster when what you're doing is truly engaging. Captivating. Compelling.

And maybe, as we age, we identify and understand more fully the value of captivating moments.

Being truly engaged and interested in the time you're spending is a double-edged sword. The more you're engaged, the faster time seems to pass.

What I've realized lately is time's going way way too fast. So I can try to save it, unthinkingly spend it, or try to slow down and engage.

And tomorrow it's back to work, back to real life.

I want to slow time down a notch. Even the unexciting, rote, unappealing parts.

I've decided I want to enforce a few more rules of engagement.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Black Friday is morphing into Black Thursday. More on Thanksgiving shopping and being grateful.


It's a time for being grateful. It's a time to celebrate kindness, goodness, friends, family, abundance. It's a time to drink a generous mouthful from our collective glass-half-full goblet of good fortune.

When it comes to holidays, Thanksgiving ranks second in popularity, just behind Christmas, according to rankopedia (Christmas, 79.12, Thanksgiving, 59.38.

Everyone has a different intention behind why they prefer one holiday over another. But Thanksgiving seems to have such a genuine motivation. Get together with people. Contemplate the goodness in your life. Give to others. Bake. Cook. Eat. Chat.

Aside from deep grocery store discounts, Thanksgiving seems to remain somewhat untouched by the strong arm of consumerism and acquisition.

Because it's a holiday that's about being thankful, for god's sake. How uncomplicated is that?

Until this year.

This year, many of us will feel compelled to excuse ourselves from the table of thanks a bit early.

Because Black Friday (aptly named because this day puts retailers in the black) has historically unleashed the consumerism tiger.

This year, our culture is apparently deciding to open the cage of seasonal acquisition a day early.

On Thanksgiving.

If you haven't heard, most major retail chains and big box stores have decided to start Black Friday discount shopping on Thanksgiving.

And thankfully, a whole lot of people are fighting back.

A kind of an Occupy Thanksgiving thing, if you will.

Target employee Anthony Hardwick doesn't want to work on Thanksgiving. He wants to spend time with his family. And he's started a movement that's generated over 100,000 signatures in an attempt to convince retailers that people can wait a handful of hours so that he and everyone else can just stop and enjoy some time being thankful

Regardless of how Anthony feels, some stores will be open all day on Thanksgiving.

And retailers have couched this shift by pinning it on consumer demand, but I think that's a load of crap. One Walmart exec mentioned recently that this shift was generated because customers asked for it. Because it's more convenient to stay up later rather than get up earlier.

I don't buy that line of bull.

And I'm not alone.

But the statistics tell the holiday spending tale.

Retailers generate up to 11% of holiday sales on Black Friday weekend (

Part of me is reminded of my last entry - the one where Thanksgiving was moved up in the FDR days in order to invigorate a lifeless economy (

It all seems too coincidental.

Apparently, according to somebody, we must procure.

The sooner the better.

But we don't have to.

My only comment: STOP.

Be thankful. Revel in what you have, not what you might get at a deep discount, that you probably don't even need. Think about people who don't have, and be thankful that you do. Think about keeping your money, your time, your need to get get get.

Be thankful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Let the wild rumpus start.

As I mentioned in my last entry, it seems that the official crazy shopping season started just as the kids were sorting the Snickers from the Smarties on Halloween.

Christmas is coming, and the season of acquisition has officially begun.

But, as we're reminded multiple times every day - by the media, the advertising, or maybe simply by checking our bank balance - times are hard.

So A+B doesn't always to add up to C.

Where are people coming up with all this money to buy all these things we all seem to so desperately need?

The short answer is obvious.

A whole lot of folks simply don't have the money they used to have.

And that's translating into numbers when it comes to sales. According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales projections for 2011 are holding at 4 percent, up from 2010's 3.5. This forecast (which excludes cars, gas and restaurants), is "cautiously optimistic", and "comes on the heels of seven consecutive months of retail sales growth and better than expected holiday sales."

But as I've mentioned before, challenging times bring out the creative in people.

Which might explain a few things.

According to a recent Seattle News 5 report, nationwide sales at Goodwill stores are up 7 percent. I've read other articles that put it closer to 11 percent.

That number doesn't take into account other thrift chains, garage sales, estate sales, craigslist, and most likely a myriad of other creative ways people tend to navigate through a tough economy.

Have you been to a mall during the day lately?

It's easy to find a place to park, unless you get caught in the net of a freaky-crazy sale.

Have you been to a Goodwill, an ARC or a local thrift store lately?

Sometimes it's not so easy to find a place to park. The aisles are becoming increasingly crowded with fancy-looking people.

It's true. The demo at a thrift store is often that of a Nordstrom or Macy's.

Because people who know brands, who understand quality, who get that there are treasures to be found, can do all kinds of shopping on the cheap.

Thrifting is catching on. Even during the holidays.

Who wouldn't want this tasty item under the tree?

It's a KitchenAid Model KS-A mixer with more attachments than a master baker could use on a good day. I love the color. Kind of a mid-century yellow-green. If you do a bit of digging, you'll see this is a valuable bit of kitchen goodness.

My cost? 14.99 at a thrift store. This would have cost me hundreds of dollars if I'd have bought it at a retail store.

As I mentioned, any savvy shopper knows a good brand when they see it. Times may be tough, but good sense and a fistful of knowledge is tougher.

I do have to share the photo of the chair I found the same weekend I claimed my new mixer.

I had no idea when I bought this chair that it's a recliner, but it is. It's comfortable, very substantial, and it was made right here in America. And when I did a bit of research, I realized that, if I bought it new, it would have cost me almost a grand.

My cost? $10 at a yard sale.

I'm not sure how many folks want a lovely recliner under the tree this season, but that's not really the point.

The point is that people are getting it. They're beginning to understand that there's a usefulness, a true value in finding, using or giving priceless artifacts that are found on the cheap. The initial cost doesn't decrease the item's intrinsic worth or value. The item simply changes hands, and everyone gets what they want.

Thrifting is no longer an embarrassment. For some, it's a curiosity. For a fraction, it's an income. For others, it's a necessity. For a big chunk of people who used to think nothing of buying items at retail prices, spending time and money very generously at a mall is merely a memory.

According to the parking spaces and the numbers, a larger percentage of us has let the wild rumpus start. These folks have stepped out of the box.

And based on the information I've acquired, there are a whole bunch of people who are understanding the value of value.

I'm just looking for a place to park.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Thanksgiving retail retrospective.

As I mentioned in one of my last entries, I've eliminated the magical television box from my house ( But I do watch a few shows on my computer, and I do see my share of ads.

Recently, I saw my first holiday pitch of the season. Sears is apparently having a huge Holiday sale soon, and many things will be deeply discounted.

It's not even Thanksgiving, and retailers have already begun to feed us a generous helping of Christmas food.

It seems that Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year.

But I've learned that's no big surprise.

This crazy consumerism started way back in 1939, when Roosevelt was president. Way back then, our country was in the midst of an economic depression. And there was World War II to think about.

Sound familiar?

But let's back up a bit.

Abraham Lincoln actually saved the date for Thanksgiving in a very official Thanksgiving Proclamation. He'd made official what George Washington had floated: that November 26 would be a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer" for this new, fantabulous nation we'd created.

Lincoln just made it official, in 1863.

Fast-forward 75 years. Now Roosevelt's in office. And, not unlike our current situation, things weren't looking good. The economy was in the tank, and there was that unsavory War to think about.

Folks were reluctant to spend.

But retailers seemed to have a bit of sway with FDR. They created something akin to a shopping lobbyist organization. A consortium of retailers convinced Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week on the calendar. They thought that changing the date would compel people to let loose of some of their money. Reinvigorate the economy.

It's become somewhat of a trend.

And we seem to have moved the retailing yardstick as time has passed.

Now, we're fed a steady diet of consumerism weeks before we carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

Perhaps it's a reflection of the times.

Or maybe we can tip our cap to FDR.

History seems to repeat itself, whether we know it or not.

Because desperate times call for desperate measures.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Recycling comes in many forms. Case in point: Haunted.

In the interim between now and when I finish researching and writing my next new entry, I thought I'd recycle an entry I posted last April. Between then and now, I've done occasional digging through the Goodwill Outlet bins, and I've found my share of treasures. But few have been more memorable and educational than this collection of records. It's amazing and haunting, the pieces of the past that people throw away...

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 the movie 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 Lady Gaga 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 Outlet 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. 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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cafe 180. A fresh angle on going out for lunch.

Imagine a restaurant that has a creative, healthy and totally tasty menu, a lovely atmosphere and a friendly group of workers that truly wants to be there. Considering the cost of virtually everything has gone through the roof during these troubled times, one would only expect to pay top dollar to dine at a restaurant that boasts the triad of good food, pleasant ambiance and a helpful, happy staff.

But as I found today when I took myself to lunch at Cafe 180, I could have paid whatever I wanted, no questions asked.

Because Cafe 180 functions on the "eat what you want, pay what you can" concept.

And it seems to be working just fine.

I arrived at Cafe 180 around 11:30 am. The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and to be honest, I didn't want to arrive right when they opened, because I didn't want to be the first and only person in the place.

What I found was a flurry of activity. A very inclusive, community feeling. Everyone seemed to feel good about where they'd picked to have lunch.

And why not? It's a crazy-simple, trusting, genuine concept, and that intention spreads among the restaurant's patrons. According to the website (, the restaurant's mission is "dedicated to eliminating hunger and social barriers associated with food by feeding all people regardless of their ability to pay, in a dignified and respectful manner."

Just like you may have just done, I'd visited the Cafe 180 website, and frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I walked in the door. Part of my brain thought the place would be crawling with fringy, radical hippie types who'd try to sell me on something more than lunch.

So not so.

There's a chef who's essentially in charge of the cooking, and he's surrounded by an amalgam of volunteers who are busily preparing lunch.

Today's kitchen help ran the demographic from teen to senior. Everyone took such care with what they were doing, and they looked like they were having a great time.

And they weren't making a dime, because they were all volunteers.

The open kitchen was operating in high gear when I ordered my lunch. I chose three items from four categories, and within a few minutes, I was presented with an apple walnut feta salad, a bowl of creamy tomato basil soup and a turkey bacon spinach wrap.

It was so good. And I could have paid anything I wanted.

Despite what some might assume when presented with this concept, it's an idea that works as well in practice as is does theoretically. Naysayers may think that the pay-what-you-can theory would have slackers and takers coming out of the woodwork to take full advantage, but that's obviously not the case. Because people are essentially good.

And these community-based restaurants that cater to peoples' essential goodness prove that serving the greater good isn't just a lofty theory. It's been tested with success at SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe, located downtown at 2023 E. Colfax, as well as Cafe 180. Neither of these restaurants are links in a corporate chain;  they're simply the outcome of out-of-the-box thinking put into action.

Contributing, as a volunteer or as a patron, makes going to these restaurants so much more than just going out to lunch.

And these local, independent restaurants aren't alone. Panera, a multi-million dollar publicly held chain of restaurants, has had great success with its test store in Missouri which operates with the same pay-what-you-can sensibility (

When I left Cafe 180 today, I wondered how the world would be different if this gentle form of bartering and volunteerism  were expanded into the realm of goods and services. The possibilities seem limitless.

So this entry is as much a review of a fine restaurant as it is a recognition of a fresh concept that's as refreshing as the menu. I'd heartily suggest stopping by Cafe 180 for lunch (3315 S. Broadway), and while you're there, you can sign up to volunteer. Or visit the website. You'll find a link to the menu, the philosophy, and suggestions of other ways you can give.

In a world that seems focused on how tenuous our economic thread has become, how life is about attaining and retaining, it's refreshing and satisfying to see an other-based, giving, caring, community-centered retail model flourish.

Cafe 180 and its counterparts prove that there are many ways to serve the greater good, and whether by volunteering or just stopping in for lunch, supporting the concept and witnessing its success makes a difference.

And making a difference is a delicious thing to do.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cutting the cord. A few words on life without a television.

We used to have a TV in the kitchen. After the kitchen was repainted this summer, I decided to put the TV in the garage.

Unplugged, on a shelf.

I cancelled cable, too. Why have cable if there's no TV, I say?

Life without a television hasn't been that difficult. It's actually been quite pleasant. I feel like I bought some time.

Considering what I've read lately, it might be a good thing to rethink watching television. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American spends over four hours each day watching television (that's 28 hours a week, two months non-stop for a year).

If the average American lives to be 65, s/he will have spent a total of nine years watching television.

Time (which I'll get into in a future entry) is just too important to me the older I get.

And what can be accomplished in nine years? Children can be conceived and can grow well into elementary school in nine years. A person could graduate from high school, go to college to become a doctor and open their own practice over the course of nine years. Relationships can begin, end and begin again. A seed can grow into a sapling and become a tree that produces shade over the course of nine years.

Do I really want to spend that span of time in front of the television?


Despite this lack of a conventional mechanism with which to watch my favorite shows, I don't go without.

And I do keep informed. Despite my lack of television, I know what's going on in the world.

Because now I watch everything I like on my computer. The difference between life with a TV and life without is that I decide when I'm going to watch. It takes a conscious effort. Television isn't an easy companion; it's not background noise.

And the internet as a media delivery system is a growing trend.

According to a recent New York Times article, watching television in the conventional manner, commercials and all, is going by way of the newspaper. "More viewers than ever are using their laptops ... to watch shows they once saw on a TV screen. The problem is that even legal online services only generate a fraction of the revenue that cable does. ... And if more viewers begin 'cord-cutting' - canceling their cable subscriptions in favor of online options - it's hard to see how television producers could avoid the same kinds of cost reductions that are killing newspapers. That would mean fewer 'Mad Men' and more 'Real Housewives'."

So we have a few choices when we cut the cord. Maybe even more than we think.

Everything old is new again. Case in point: podcasts.

Podcasts are the modernized version of the golden days of radio, and they're filling a lovely audio niche. Best of all, the podcasting world is completely unregulated.

Podcasts can be found from many sources, but anyone with a smart phone is just an app away from Stitcher (my favorite). Stitcher automatically streams without synching or downloading.

Stitcher lets me know how much I've been listening. I have my own queue of favorites. Radiolab. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. The Onion. So many more.

Since last April, while I've been driving, cleaning my house, working in the yard, working at my job, I've listened to 1,034 hours of content.

Because podcasts are unregulated, the content podcasts have to offer is like a beautiful playground no one but you and your friends know about. Anything goes.

So, in short, there are options to Life After Television. There's the Hulu, the Netflix, the scores of other internet options. Life without a screen opens wide with podcast possibility, thanks to Stitcher, Itunes and other services, which are, in large part, free.

In my experience, there was very little static when the Television cord was cut. I feel like I gained some time, some money, and some silence.

I think I have a bit more remote control.

It's been good to cut the cord.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The best job in the world, revisited.

Like watching a rerun on tee vee, I'm reconstituting a blog I wrote last summer. I really liked this entry. Plus it has a bit of a tie-in (with a less serious tenor) with what I last wrote about, and it also dials into what I'll be blogging about next. So relax, enjoy, and reflect on my Vanna White envy. And stay tuned for the next bloggy entry!

The kids are in Mexico, and I have a few days off. So after watching the news yesterday, before the cool of the evening made it comfortable to work in the yard, it was time to play Jeopardy.

Alex Trebek is such a smarty pants; so cool, so calm, so capable, so willing to solicit interesting and usually embarassingly geeky Important Moments from his brainiac contestants, so chameleon-like in his ability to accurately pronounce obscure words and dialects.

Ironically, right after Jeopardy, it's time for Wheel of Fortune - arguably one of the most insipid shows on tee vee. Usually, I race to turn off the television when Wheel of Fortune comes on.

But yesterday, I wasn't so quick on the draw. Wheel of Fortune had its moment in my house before the show was summarily dismissed with a quick "no freaking way" muttered under my breath. But the show was on long enough for me to get a glimpse of Vanna White flipping over letters. And I had a twinge of jealousy.

Here are the facts, as I see them.

Vanna's job requires virtually no measurable skills, save for dressing up in a series of flowing evening gowns and knowing the difference between a consonant and a vowel. Her job requires no re-training or job description re-tooling, because as I see it, our alphabet isn't going to change much in the foreseeable future.

Vanna doesn't have to worry about anyone snatching her job away from her, because frankly, I think the audience Wheel of Fortune attracts would form some kind of awkward, walker-driven uprising if she were ever to be replaced.

She's the Teller to Pat Sajak's Penn. She can sashay through her job saying nothing, projecting nothing but a glam smile and a rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet, and her job is done. 

Vanna gets to play dress-up five times a week, and The Wheel often goes on location. She gets to flip letters all over the world.

Best of all, she gets paid a rumored $5,000 per episode, not counting special appearances, residuals, board game income, et cetera.

In short, she's currently on my Very Short List of women who have The Best Job in the World.

I was just a little bit jealous as I defiantly flipped my television off yesterday at the sound and sight of Wheel of Fortune.

I attempted to assuage my jealousy by comforting myself with the knowledge that I'm attempting to craft ideas by actually stringing words together, as opposed to simply getting all fancy-looking while flipping lit vowels to the freaky glee of excited contestants.

I'm running as fast as I can on my personal wheel that involves over-thinking things, underemployment,  and a complete love of everything casual.

No high heels for me - I have bunions.

But no matter how hard I tried, my heart was a bit tipped in the 'I wish I could do so little and get paid so much' direction yesterday.

I have to admit it. I wish I had her job.

Okay, I said it. What's a 4-letter word for what I'm feeling? The word has an N and a V.

I'd like to buy a vowel.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy yourself.


  [awl-tur-nuh-tiv, al-]  Show IPA
a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility: You have the alternative of riding or walking.
one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen: The alternative to riding is walking.
a possible or remaining course or choice: There was no alternative but to walk.

affording a choice of two or more things, propositions, or courses of action.
(of two things, propositions, or courses) mutually exclusive so that if one is chosen the other must be rejected: The alternative possibilities are neutrality and war.
employing or following nontraditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment: an alternative newspaper; alternative lifestyles.
Logic (of a proposition) asserting two or more choices, at least one of which is true.

I was driving home from work the other day, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of disconnection.

So. About my job.

What began as a place that, when I started there 13 years ago, was so organic, so interesting and interested, so fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, has changed.

My job has become somewhat sterile.

It seems that things have taken a turn where I work, and it's a party to which I'm not invited.

And I willingly decline the invitation.

Because I'm not data- or protocol-driven, which is the direction things have turned. And I prefer to see my world in blasts of interesting color as opposed to black and white.

Unfortunately, black and white is what my job has become.

So I've accepted that I'm not cut out for what I perceive the corporate environment has become: a quiet, sterile, unnatural, uncomfortable place.

But let's be clear. I don't devalue sterility completely. I see the value in tracking data, in compelling people to comply.

But the process of collecting that data has created a monster, I'm thinking. The chase has devalued the beauty of individuality. And the absence of individuality has proven to create something I don't like.

As I was driving home the other day, I realized even more profoundly the importance of accepting who we are, and who we're not; of who I am and who I'm not.

To put it a bit more personally. I understand I'm not the corporate type.

And I'm really not that old.

Because I come from an age that wasn't monitored with every step I took. I wasn't photographed at every intersection and at every monetary transaction, I wasn't tracked by what I buy at the grocery store, I wasn't available in any form once I got in my car, because the only way anyone could communicate with me back then was hanging on the wall.

But that was back then.

The world has become a different place. Very slowly, we've all come to willingly accept that what was once just ours belongs to everyone. Our data. Our personal lives. Our freedom of movement. Virtually everything has become accessible to virtually everyone. Very virtually.

So there are people, all over the world, who are recognizing that the organic, collective, personal expression of the uncomfortability with How Things Are has some value.


Occupy yourself, I say.

Become comfortable with however you define your alternative.

I prefer # 4, #6 or #7. Refer to the definition that started this entry.

I completely agree with the lovely, messy, loud, world-wide mess that started as Occupy Wall Street and has gone global.

I hope that, in the long run, this becomes a movement that compels people to occupy themselves a bit more consciously.

Because everyone is alternative, depending on your definition.