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.