Friday, April 30, 2010

Built to last? Don't think so!

Planned obsolescence. According to Wikipedia: Planned obsolescence (or built-in obsolescence). is the process of a product becoming obsolete or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer. Also known as Designed to Fail.

Designed to fail. We are buying products that are designed to fail. Lovely.

Most of us relate this to appliances. A refrigerator cops out after a few years and we’re told it would be cheaper to replace it than to fix it. Are repairmen paid to say that? This makes me untrustworthy of higher-end appliances. Should I fork over fifty percent more that ultimately earns a mere extra year of product life? One extra year? Wow, I’m turning cartwheels. Maybe an Easy-Bake Oven is a better deal.When the Golightly’s lose an appliance, I am instantly zapped back to my grandparent’s basement where a refrigerator from the ‘50’s sits, minding its own business, chugging along like WALL-E (see Pixar). My grandparents use it to hold overflow from the fridge upstairs, replaced many times. This little fridge holds a queue of hams that my grandmother bakes for families in need. She probably bakes over 400 annually. Although she bakes more cake, so the house smells more of cake. Really. There sits the fridge, nearing 60 years old, cranking out the cool air, working as designed. It’s has a likeness to John Henry, though it doesn’t die. I always hate that part in John Henry. If that fridge ever goes down in the line of duty, I believe it will deserve Taps.

We know that planned obsolescence is great for Wall Street but is hard on the planet and our pocket books. Actually, I don’t see how this benefits the consumer in any way. The retail machine probably says it “increases opportunities” for consumers. How many choices of clothing do we really need? Especially when it comes to a greater cost both in money, pollution and waste over time?

Here’s something to think about. The fashion industry has been producing items of planned obsolescence for decades. We just don’t make the connection when we throw out clothes, because they are a lot easier to toss than say - a washing machine. We all know when it comes to fashion what goes around comes around. So acquire a quality pair of pointed-toe and square-toe black dress shoes. Take them to the cobbler for repair. Please tell me you know what a cobbler is, I'm not talking pie.

Cheap clothing may seem wonderful at discount retailers because it’s, ugh, cheap. It hardly lasts. The same thing happens at the higher end, too. Years ago, I bought a darling empire waist t-shirt at a very posh department outlet store for $38. I loved the design and it was very flattering. The original price was over $140 and the t-shirt lasted one summer when it started to wear holes in the fabric. I saved it, in hopes that if I ever take up sewing, the garment is ready for a sturdy reproduction(s).

So what has this to do with thrift? The clothing racks at the thrift store provide a direct comparison of what was produced to fail (whether it be the garment or a supremely trendy style) and what is not. Whether it’s the fabric, the quality of construction or the overall look, the shopper at least has a chance at buying an item that will last.

Many people ask me what brands to buy. I really don’t know. I recommend that shoppers really dig into the bins and racks. If you do, I promise you will learn a lot about clothing – largely because quality is no longer recognized and vendors prefer shoppers keep a blind-eye, ignorant to fabric quality (blends, thread-counts) and construction (adding binding).

A fine example is my famous sturdy black dress, bought for five dollars last spring. It was hand made, nearly reversible to the point that, in my mad dashes to get dressed and downstairs to the morning elixir of coffee, I wore it inside out for months! No one noticed, but many complimented!

Why should we knowingly buy a product that’s designed to fail? Would you enter a marriage knowing it was designed to fail? Buy stock in a company set to fail?

As mentioned in the previous post, I swapped out the fall/winter wardrobe for spring/summer. My annual goal is to have fewer items to donate with each rotation. Fewer items translate to smart shopping. I was really happy to see a lot of my favorite dresses again. They’re timeless. After all was squared away, I realized that I don’t need anything this summer, well maybe a few solid t-shirts. Overall, I am content and love my wardrobe. Even the swimsuit!

I donated: Two dresses, three pants, two skirts, one sweater, two pairs of yoga pants, two long sleeve and three short sleeve blouses and a purse. Whoops, scratch the purse, Petite Poe snatched it. Little Pie’s contribution was more given that she had grown out of many items. Some of those items were hard to part with because of the memories they evoke. But, I’m giving away the garment, the memory will stay with me.

And yes, after I swapped wardrobes, it snowed. Not enough to stick but enough to make it too cold for a sturdy little black dress – for now.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The path to fashion enlightenment

Tis time for a powerfully important ritual performed twice a year. Time to exchange the contents of my closet from fall/winter attire to spring/summer.

We live in an old house, which generally translates to small closets. Many consider this a ding against the house value, but I don’t see it that way. Small closets force me to alternate seasonal wardrobes from closet to under-the-bed storage bins. Though I do have an odd superstition, leery of pulling out spring attire because Denver weather has multiple personalities. Yup, I alone could irritate the Snow Gods to bring on three feet of white stuff out of spite, just by pulling out a sleeveless linen dress. Perhaps a press release of my pending transition as a forewarning to local weather forecasters might be a good idea. In the meantime, the Yankee Clipper and Radio Flyer sleds remain on full alert and the snow shovel rests on the front porch. Maybe after Mothers Day they can be relieved of duty.

The process of seasonal swapping commands me to inventory the haves and determine needs versus wants. Giant, walk-in closets don’t require that seasonal exchange. Not unless it becomes so packed one can no longer enter it. Besides, forced entry into such a closet comes with serious threat of clothes blindness where one can be inches from the door, but not able to see it thanks to giant clothes drifts. These giant closets should come with a giant warning label or OnStar communication system. This is America, no doubt it has happened, some poor woman stuck in her closet for days. It will never make the news because who wants to admit that?

This process encourages me to treat clothes with respect. Afterward, there is a brief period of mending a seam or sewing a button. How many Americans still do that? How many own even semi-stocked sewing boxes? If you have time to watch corny reality shows, then you certainly have time to mend a few clothes. Besides, these acts have a meditative quality. I find that American culture is losing many simple acts that help us pause, relax and appreciate something. Why? Because when we appreciate what we have there's a big possibility we won’t want more.

Mostly, this process keeps me fiscally responsible. If I have to shop, it's done with greater wisdom and knowledge of my needs. Items I purchase blend with my wardrobe. I don’t buy cheap, trendy clothes that require me to buy more clothes. Ever done that? If you do, just return the offending item and forgo the unnecessary expense. What I buy will be worn.

This process keeps my wardrobe honest. Items unused for two seasons - unless it’s something unique - go to the thrift store. Many American closets are packed with closet filler. What is closet filler? Items that still have the tags on them that have been hanging in the same spot for years. Closet filler distorts perception. There are many Americans who have huge, fully stocked closets supporting hundreds of ensembles, but the owner wears the same seven-day attire. Weird, no?

We’ve been in our house for over ten years. The goal is to reduce the spring haul to the thrift store. Why? Because that means I’m getting to be wiser in my retail choices. The same process is performed with my daughters. Our thrift donation largely comes from Little Pie’s wardrobe, items that no longer fit. My clothes filter down to Petite Poe which in turn filter on down to Little Pie and eventually end up thrift.

My wardrobe is becoming more and more timeless. I believe there’s a misconception of what is (and is not) a timeless wardrobe. Many people equate "timeless" with a conservative style. Trust me, I don’t dress conservatively. A timeless wardrobe is built with a solid foundation of quality clothing. For starters, there’s the little black dress that can go from beach to a fine restaurant depending upon the shoes and how hair is styled.

I’ve come to realize (and it’s a painful realization of how fast time passes) that many of my clothes where purchased after graduating college in the 90’s. Yup, I have gorgeous, timeless summer dresses from the 90’s that still receive compliments.

A wardrobe needs tending, mending and thought to become timeless. Once you achieve that state of fashion enlightenment, the forces of want (and suffering from the onslaught of tacky yearly and seasonal trends) are forgone. The bank account gets added protection too. Fashion enlightenment is better than any strongly fortified fashion insurance policy.

Maybe soon I can tackle Mr. Golightly (he's been insanely busy) for a photo shoot of my twenty-year-old items mixed with thrifted items and you can tell me whether I look like an old maid or whether these clothes are indeed timeless. Some of my older wardrobe was bought in the lower level consignment shops of Chicago's Gold Coast and Boston's Newbury Street.

Please, I dare you to look into the deepest, darkest recesses of your closet. It’s a brave thing to do. Do you like what you see?

Post Script: I kid you not. It’s been raining today. After I posted and went to my closet the rain turned to snow, it's too warm to stick but sheesh! Damn the torpedo’s! Spring has sprung in my closet! I don’t care if I wear sandals in the snow, they’re gorgeous sandals!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Save more does not mean buy more!

An unsolicited email from a major discount retailer appeared in my email in box and the re: line read “Fab Frugality” citing free shipping on women’s clothes.

What? Frugality and chain retailers are like vinegar and water!

No doubt the masses will blindly follow and think they are joining the new frugal movement. We’ve become a society that establishes personal identity by literally buying into a “movement”. Frugality, the new black!

The reality? It’s a sad, distorted marketing campaign; veiled consumerism. Frugality, by nature, completely goes against the basic tenets of consumerism. Don’t buy into marketed frugality!

I recently heard a car commercial daring the view to become an original and buy their car. Add to this that I probably watch two to three hours of network TV a week. We don’t even have cable. I’ve no idea what other nonsense is being brainwashed into the minds of the couch-bound, cable-watching consumer. Part of me is curious and the other part is afraid I’ll get so angry that I’ll spontaneously combust.

I once heard a radio show on Frugality talk about a half-off bookseller only to conclude that one could take the money they save and buy another book or go out to lunch! What? Consumerism loves that kind of thinking! Save more? Spend more!

Word up! When practicing frugality, money saved is just that – money saved! Not money spent because you saved. There’s a big difference in philosophy, practice and bank accounts.

Let’s do something simple. Let’s pull up frugality on
-economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful: a frugal manager.
-entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager; scanty: a frugal meal.

Now, think about it, does buying more because you saved money fit this description? Maybe some times but not all the time. And, I’d say that that small percentage of some times would apply to an item that is a necessity or will be bought in the near future.

Let’s go back to and look up original:
-arising or proceeding independently of anything else: an original view of history.
-capable of or given to thinking or acting in an independent, creative, or individual manner: an original thinker.
-created, undertaken, or presented for the first time: to give the original performance of a string quartet.

Is there anything original in buying a car based on a TV commercial?

Sheesh! I guess it won’t be long until chain retailers will attempt to entice us to literally buying into their notion of sustainable practices and buy their products.

Ugh! My head just fell into my hands in disgust. Not long after I wrote this, an email just came through from a chain-retailer engaged in supremely unsustainable practices attempting to market sustainable products!

I’m off to take my frustration out in my new raised bed vegetable garden built of re-purposed wood and hardware. I’m prepping the soil and pulling out the rocks. Good thing the rocks I need to be rid of are in my garden and not my head! The more I live, the more I believe that consumerism just dumps retail rocks in the heads of the innocent. Give your head a shake. If you sense there might be any rocks, pound your head like one does when they have water in their ears and get those rocks out.

If you're new to The Thrifty Chicks and agree with this post, you might have interest in an our Op Ed written for The Christian Science Monitor, We count calories. Why not carbon?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time Out

Recent stress is taking a cognitive toll on my energy. There are plenty of thoughts for me to write but, these days, I've a lack of energy. I call these days Bad Brain Days and I don't pay bills on a bad brain day because the bank will probably call and ask which amount did I intend to pay, the numerical or the written?

This was the initial post to our sister blog Mommy Golightly. It might help explain my Bad Brain Days. Please read, there is some critical advice in it.

Living in the present is an essential part of a balanced and healthy life. I’m not always in the moment but I sure aim for it and miss sometimes. After this auto accident, I can say I hit the mark of being in the present more often than not. Every night at tuck in, I thank both my daughters "for another day," then I kiss them and wish for more days, months and years. I can wish for tomorrow but I really have today.

I did not truly understood the importance of taking wonder in the present until I was in a serious auto accident coming home from the grocery store on a quiet neighborhood street. Had I been in my husband’s compact commuter car, I would not be here to write this story.

The Story That Changed Me

No person wakes up and thinks, "Hmm, after I read the Sunday paper, I’m going grocery shopping and will be on a quiet neighborhood street around noon so my Pathfinder can be hammered by Four Runner driven by a fledgling driver who will run a stop sign at such speed my car will be airborne, roll, and land upside down perpendicular onto the opposite street.” People don’t write those events in their daily planners. But that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

It happened to me one beautiful Sunday around noon in the fall of 2003. Right before the 17-year-old hit me, behind the left front tire, dangerously close to the driver’s door, I was thinking about what a beautiful shade of blue the sky was and how at peace things felt. I was excited to give my daughters two white pumpkins purchased at the store.

Didn’t I see him coming? Yes, about a half a second before impact. I braked – hard. When people are running stop signs in neighborhoods with trees and gardens blocking the view of corners and they’re driving really fast with no intention of braking, one cannot see them coming. They just appear.

There were four fortunate things about that day: 1) I was alone. My husband and two daughters, ages two and four, were safe at home. 2.) I didn’t die. 3.) There was a witness behind me and came to me right away. Though much younger than me, she nurtured me like a mother and I cried like baby. 4.) The ambulance, fire department and police were on the scene before I even understood why they were there.

I was traveling less than 25 miles an hour, slowing to meet a red stop light on the next block. After impact, the boy’s Four Runner hit the corner curb and sheared off the front right tire of his mother’s car. I crawled out from under my car onto a field of shattered glass to look for that other driver and determine if medical attention was required. It was hard to see because of the blood running into my eyes. The other driver was nowhere to be found. With airbag deployed and not one drop of blood on it, it looked a freshly made bed of white sheets where perhaps I could lay my aching head. I felt like a ghost hit me.

They put the kid in the ambulance with me for observation. He cried the entire trip, “I’ve only had my license for four weeks and now I’m going to lose it! How will my mother get to work tomorrow? She’s going to be so mad at me!”

In the ambulance strapped down on the gurney and immobile, I practiced Lamaze breathing to stay calm. “I’m glad my babies weren’t with me,” I told the EMT. He smiled, patted me gently and said, “Me too.” He was very sincere. How do EMT’s remain sane and stable after pulling mangled children from car accidents? Bless all EMT’s. They have my deepest respect as do firemen and police. Next time you see an ambulance or fire truck racing past with lights on, whether you're a man or woman, blow them a kiss and wish them Godspeed. Okay, if you're a man and don't want to blow kisses then salute them. But be assured, if they ever save your life or someone you love, you'll want to kiss them.

I never heard from the boy or his parents and later learned that the police officer on the scene failed to check a simple box, “injury accident.” Why he didn’t, I don’t know. Maybe he felt sorry for the kid. Maybe he forgot. Had this box been checked, this kid would have been mandated to stand before a judge. Instead, he paid his ticket early and received a lesser charge. His ticket was under $100. Once the judge learned about this, the officer was reprimanded. Seems everyone paid dearly but this kid, who walked away with a sore thumb from the air bag.

The kid's parents escorted him out of the ER while I was in x-ray. They walked right by my husband, waiting to learn of his wife’s condition. They offered no words of solace or concern.

So began my convalescence. My husband burned through vacation time and then onto three months of FMLA taking care of our daughters and taking me to countless doctors appointments. Life stood still and painful.

My first diagnosis was muscular damage in the regions of C3 and C4. This took years to fix. Soft tissue damage is very slow to heal and often triggers unhealthy cycles of overcompensating muscles. I wore a jacket several times a week that sent electrical shock pulses to try and strengthen these muscles. I did therapy, acupuncture and took painful cortisone injections to the base of my skull where I could actually hear the long needle going into my head. Mind you I don't usually have any problems with needles but these were different, medical shive is more like it. This cycle of muscle weakness caused headaches the crept up from the back of my head and over the top to my forehead. I called them headache caps but I couldn’t take them off.

After all that I can say, I love acupuncture.

These headache caps were nothing compared to the post concussive headaches from what my neurologist told me was a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, an MBTI. He admitted “mild” was not a fair word. It basically meant that I didn’t need to go into an institution. MBTI’s are receiving more medical research with more soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with them. Not certain if they issue Purple Hearts for them. If not, they should for any person with an MBTI will tell you they’d have rather broken their arms and legs. Bones heal faster than brains and muscles.

For a few months I couldn’t read anything more than a headline, couldn’t follow movie plots, couldn’t even cook soup because I’d forget about it until I smelled the scalding pan. I think one of the saddest things happened six months after the accident. I went to my daughter’s spring recital. I managed to sit through it and tell her she did a great job. Then I raced home to throw up and get ready for the pending headache hell. Watching a group of beautiful first graders sing was too much for my brain to manage. I couldn’t watch snowfall with out tossing my cookies and going to bed for hours with a headache. For several years, nausea was a major indicator that a headache was on its way. So I left little parts of me all over town as I raced to get home before completely incapacitated.

That’s my story. Months later my dear friend Ken of 21 years asked me, “What have you learned?” He wasn’t patronizing. He was curious and sincere. And, he was the only one to ask.

When in chronic pain with two to three serious post-concussive headaches a week and most your time either in bed, at various doctors appointments, or some kind of therapy, you don’t spend much time reflecting. And, depression creeps in as you lose the capacity to do the things that once gave you joy. I’ve always felt reflection is critical to a healthy life so I answered Ken’s question. Follows is roughly what I wrote and I think much of it pertains to living in and having a deep appreciation for present.

Fundamental Advice

  1. The state of shock has no emotion and has no sense of time.
  2. A simple mind is not a stupid one.
  3. What you are today will not be who you are in a week, month, or year.
  4. Appreciate your health; aside from love and a safe place, nothing else really matters.
  5. Multi-tasking is overrated.
  6. What’s the rush?
  7. Value the everyday routine. You’ll dearly miss it when it’s gone. I cried the first time I did laundry and folded my girl’s little clothes.
  8. At age 36, I finally accepted that I am an adult. I’d been a responsible bill paying, tax paying, home owner and mother of two for years. However the completely selfish, adolescent whines of this 17-year-old along with his total ignorance as to what he did to another person put to rest all of my previous objections of accepting full on adulthood.
  9. I have an internal guidance system. It’s my voice but it’s not me and calmly directs with the simplest words of in life-threatening conditions. “Lock your arms to the steering wheel, push back into the seat, you don’t have an airbag. You’re going to roll, be small. It’s over. Get out! Get out! Get out! Go find the other driver.” My rear view mirror was level with the heating controls; all but two windows were shattered; the driver’s front side was like crumpled aluminum foil with flaking paint chips and there was this little tiny space left for the driver. I was covered in radiator fluid. The drive shaft was bent. Doctors and physical therapists cannot figure how I came through without any broken bones. I told them, “I drink milk.” I do and always have. Below is a photo of the front of the car near the driver's side.

Practical Advice
  1. Unless secured, groceries become weapons in a roll over. A soup can wedged open the back window of the Pathfinder. Groceries were all over the car and street.
  2. Insurance claims adjusters can act with unconscionable manners. The kid’s mother’s insurance adjuster attempted to dodge reimbursement of our daughter’s car seats, mandated by state law. We had three seats for a whopping $300. “Seats are a standard item in a car. We do not reimburse standard items,” and they expected us to suck this hook, line, and sinker. That’s when we hired an attorney because we knew these folks, though they did not contest fault, did not have our best interest at heart. It wasn't personal. It was business.
  3. Research and buy the safest car seat you can find. This is not an item you run over to the store to pick up, like milk. I understand car seats can become annoyances and feel causal. Looking at those empty car seats upside down in my mangled car taught me how important they are.
  4. From the very beginning, be prepared to drive again. Don’t let a fear of it even start to simmer. I remember looking at my mangled car and thinking, “Damn! I have to drive again.” Immediately accepting that did me world of good and saved me from a lot of future anxiety, something I really wouldn’t need when I had a mountain of recovery ahead. This can become an overwhelming fear; a fear so huge it gets in the way of just living.
  5. Slow down at right of way intersections to give yourself a shot of catching a stop sign runner. I’m not attempting to induce a fear, just an awareness.
Comic but Relevant Advice
  1. The kid who hit me called me a “lady”. Ladies have set blue hair, wear coats in the summer, and smell like mothballs. Thanks KID. Your were a KID and behaved like one. You were a minor who abused your privilege, not right, to drive.
  2. It’s a big bummer when you roll into the ER on a gurney and all the attending physicians are younger than you. Aren’t doctors supposed to be older than their patients? I thought that was a natural law like gravity.
  3. I was taken to the nearest hospital, the public hospital. I was the only patient not handcuffed to my bed. I was so proud!
  4. Don’t try to be tough. You want drugs. When offered, take them. Nobody’s going to think you a better person for turning them down. You will have enough hell to manage besides physical pain.
  5. I have two guaranteed methods for weight loss. 1) Be your own general contractor on an eight-week kitchen remodel. 2) Suffer a brain injury. I dropped 20 pounds in a little more than a month. The injury closed down the part of my brain that said, “Eat!” And when I finally did eat, my stomach had forgotten what to do with food and it was painful.
In Retrospect

Exactly what happens at 16 or 17 years of age that creates a pressing need for a teen to drive? Parents, I understand you are tired of playing chauffeur. I am a mother who chauffeurs; I get it. Those three years of changing diapers was tiring too. But that didn't mean that I made my daughters sit on potties all day because I was sick of changing diapers. Years of constantly explaining why they couldn't have everything they wanted was tiring too. But that didn't mean that I caved in and gave them credit cards to buy things on greed, ignorance and impulse.

I fear 16 and hope the driving laws are raised to 18 by the time my children are of age to drive. My children will be more at risk of dying in a car crash when they are teens than they will be for catching West Nile Virus. But, what does the media focus on? Of course I have my opinions on teen driving based on experience and, based upon my experience, I feel very entitled to these feelings. I'm not certain why, but I do not believe we take that act of passing the keys with the serious nature that would be wise to accompany it.

After all that I have lived through, I have learned to take a step every day. Some days, it's very tiny step, minuscule. Other days, it's so huge I felt like a flew. Most days, it's just a step and that is good enough because it is movement. My movement feels a bit lighter on this planet and that makes me understand my fragility but it also makes me strong. Most of all, it makes me Mommy Golightly.

Below is a photo of my daughters ages six and two on a family vacation exactly seven days prior to the accident. They are feeding chipmunks. My youngest was a bit nervous, but intrigued by these "monkchips."