Made in the USA or… Ode to my White Corner Shelf Unit

In this troubled economy, it seems to have become popular here in the U.S. to “buy American.” Now, I think it’s ideal and patriotic (and all that crap) to buy stuff that says “Made in the USA” whenever possible… However, apparently the mere EXISTENCE of these words on the package of a product, does NOT necessarily ensure that the product is of better quality than something that says: “Made in China.”

Recently I purchased a white, corner shelf unit to put in my dining room. Ohhhh, White-Corner-Shelf-Unit, how I’ve longed for this day when you and I would be united and you would stand up for me in the corner of my dining room and I could place lovely little knick-knacks upon your surfaces! You will make my dining room look like a page out of ‘Martha Stuart’s Living’, and I, in kind, promise to dust you, and clean you and protect you from children, pets or vacuum cleaners that might color on, spill on, scratch, chip or ding you.

OK, sorry to be so dramatic, but it is imperative that you understand the extent to which I have pined for this shelving unit. I dream of it… how perfectly it will complete the room. It is my passion. It is my madness. The day finally comes. I find it! I have a gift card! I purchase it! I take it home! I can’t wait to put it together! I collect and purchase JUST THE RIGHT bric-a-brac in which to place on the shelves once it’s assembled! I open the box! I slide out the contents! I locate the pieces! I read the directions! I do not see all of the pieces! What the #@%$?!?! How can this be? How can it be MISSING pieces? I PAID for it, did I not?

It was enclosed in a box, on the shelf of a reputable store, IN AMERICA! This IS America, after all, land of plenty. Meaning, there are PLENTY of foreign-made goods for us all! Let me be honest… I don’t REALLY care where it comes from, just so long as I can decorate the rooms of my dwelling with calm assurance that the purchased item will look just like it does on the box. America: We want It = We seek It = We find It = We buy It = We have It! How can this be happening? It is an outrage. It. Is. An. Injustice.

This is really terrible. My parents are coming over later this evening to see this thing assembled and adorned, and for crying out loud… My mom made BROWNIES! Now I will have nothing to show them… nothing but an empty corner with a stray ball of cat-hair in it… sort of reminds me of a tumble-weed blowing down a long, lonely desert road.

Several heavy sighs and slanderous-remarks-about-the-incompetent-retail-chain later, defeated, and with slumped shoulders, I pack up the box with the pieces that ARE there, and start to re-calculate my game plan. As if peering into a crystal ball… I can see my future… an agitated phone call to customer service (waiting on hold for at least 10 minutes)… an angry rummage to find the blasted receipt (IF I still even have it!!)… A trip BACK to the store (wasted gas money)…

So I’m angrily SHOVING pieces back INTO the box, packing it up and calling my Formerly-Cherished-White-Corner-Shelf-Unit all kinds of nasty names and I think I happen to include the phrase “stupid-Made-in-China-piece-of-crap”… when I happen to notice stamped right on the bottom of the box: “Made in the USA.”

Christmas Catnip

It has long been a great source of frustration and vexation to me that December and the time surrounding the holidays is dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year” because, well… I find it to be more like the most exhausting time of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. It does have its magical moments for sure. But truth be told… between all of the holiday preparations, commitments and gatherings, nieces and nephews in winter sports and fielding 100,000 questions from family and friends about any future wedding plans… finding time to write has been a little more challenging.

That is why—for this Monday’s post—I am sharing with you something Christmas-ey that I hope will make you smile…

Stanley, my little Christmas helper…

For you fellow cat owners out there you know that all the catnip in the world cannot compare to the sheer bliss found in the bottom of a paper bag… or on the inside of the leftover cardboard tube when the wrapping paper has been used up… or in a pile of crumpled tags, receipts, tape and ribbon scraps. 

And don’t even get me started on their magnetic attraction to the low-hanging tree ornaments. Suffice it to say that for at least one member of this household… Christmas truly IS the most wonderful time of the year.

Have a great Monday everyone… only 12 shopping days left. If you don’t have that special something for that special someone yet… My advice is to get out there and get it over with or else there’s a good chance it will wind up beneath someone else’s tree.

Hummus: The New French Onion?

“Excuse me,” Lee asked the weary Wal-Mart worker, “where can we find the hummus?” She gave him a blank stare and then squished up her face like he’d just asked for pickled pig’s feet and exclaimed that she did not know. A quick survey of the store and a few more fruitless inquiries later and we gave up on Wally-World as a potential place in which to find the dip that’s sweeping the nation.

“Maybe Meijer will have it.” Lee said while secretly nursing a new hatred for the en-vogue, Middle-Eastern staple since it was now interfering with his ability to watch the Big Ten Championship game. “Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned French Onion? Why, now does it have to be hummus? What the hell IS hummus anyway but a bunch of shitty, random, ground-up vegetables that ‘we’ as a culture have branded as the ‘thing’ to eat now?” he grumbled aloud while pointing the car in the direction of the next big box grocer.

“That’s a good question!” I exclaimed, laughing at his colorful outburst. “What DID ever happen to a good old tub of French Onion dip and a bag of Ruffles to take to a party?” I took off on a rant of my own… “Now it’s hummus this and hummus that… and hummus here and hummus there… Have you tried the HUMMUS? Oh you’ve GOT to try this hummus it is TO DIE FOR. And these are the BEST pita chips around, by the way. Have you TRIED them yet?”

All of the sudden the world around me seems to have fallen in love with hummus. For me, my awareness of this seemingly new love affair started at the office this past summer when my boss began bringing in pita bread and hummus from a local farmer’s market. Everyone tried it and almost everyone liked it (myself included.) Then while visiting a friend in Cleveland this fall, she offered me a snack of what else but pita chips and hummus. Two months later at a tailgate party before the Ohio State / Indiana game, pita chips and hummus sat on the table between the burgers and buns and the cheese plate… right smack dab in the spot where the French Onion used to be.

Now, here I was preparing for our office Christmas party by volunteering to bring pita chips and hummus. That’s right, folks, I have boldly and unabashedly jumped on board the hummus bus. But being on board does not negate the fact that the sudden surge of hummus’s popularity still puzzles me. How did this chickpea, lemon juice and garlic concoction from the Middle East dethrone a long-standing, all-American party favorite? When exactly did this happen?

In 1998, a season 9 episode of Seinfeld was my first exposure to the word. George is troubled by the fact that Kramer and Elaine think his new girlfriend looks exactly like Jerry. Thus indicating that George is “secretly in love” with his best friend by dating a “Lady Jerry.” Kramer even refers to Janet (the girlfriend) as a “Femme Jerry” and a “She-Jerry” further antagonizing an already-tormented George. Seeking some solace that there truly was some chemistry that brought them together, George questions Janet about the genesis of their relationship:

  • GEORGE: You know what’s great about our relationship?… It’s not about looks.
  • JANET: It’s not?
  • GEORGE: No, Can’t be… For instance I remember when we first met, we had a great conversation.
  • JANET: I remember you said I was the prettiest girl at the party.
  • GEORGE: … But after that we really talked didn’t we?
  • JANET: Well, you told me how familiar I looked and that you must have seen me somewhere before.
  • GEORGE: NO! … This relationship has… has got to be about something and fast or I’m in very serious and weird trouble… hmmmm… What else happened?
  • JANET: You asked for a piece of gum because you thought your breath smelled like hummus.

So there is was. And like many a word before it, hummus came to be known by me (and probably many others) simply because of that show. It would not be until much, MUCH later that I would actually try (much less like and embrace) hummus on a personal level.

A Google search on hummus’s skyrocketing fame in America revealed some very recent and fun headlines such as: U.S. Dips Into Hummus and There’s a Hummus Among Us. (Titles, I for one, wish hadn’t already been taken prior to this writing.) The presence of the articles proving the point that some things are definitely shifting in our culinary culture… even going as far as to infiltrate a famed spot on the tailgate table.

So, I guess there’s nothing left to say but: French Onion, you had quite a reign there for a while and damn if we didn’t have some good times in the 80’s and 90’s. Welcome hummus! Enjoy your 15 minutes of fare fame before you get bumped by something even more exotic of which we’ve yet to hear.

Easily Distracted by Shiny Objects

When I was little I was obsessed with clear things. Bottles, containers, glass, clear beads and stones… you name it. If I could see through it, I was completely transfixed by it. My parents have photographs of me as a toddler, sitting on the couch or the floor, playing with little plastic bottles, pouring the contents from one into the other over and over and over.

I know. Apparently it didn’t take much to amuse me then either.

For a while I had a clear, turquoise, glass stone with a flat bottom that I carried with me EVERYWHERE. I kept in my pocket for safekeeping and took it out whenever I was bored just to look at it. I held it up to the light and laid it on top of the papers on my desk at school to see how the page changed colors or the words became distorted and magnified through its unique shape and shade.

I was heartbroken when I lost it. To this day, I still don’t know where it is. But on occasion, I think about that treasured gem longingly as though it were a misplaced fortune.

My mother—witnessing this interesting behavior in her child—wondered if perhaps as I grew, the obsession would turn to diamonds, crystal and costly glass items. I cannot say that such has been the case, though I do still find clear things quite captivating. Perhaps it is nothing more than the artist within. I am a designer by trade… a visual person drawn to the properties of light, color and shape as they relate to the world around me.

Though never driven to obtain diamonds, gems or crystal — I will admit that the lovely, sparkly diamond now resting on my ring finger has become quite a distraction to me. I enjoy gazing at it in all sorts of different kinds of light. The sunlight streaming through my window on my commute to work… the flourescent light in my office as my hand hovers over the keyboard… the soft glow of candle light in the evening… the bright bathroom light and resulting reflection in the mirror… and yes, even the lighting in the cat food aisle at the grocery store.

But while I am utterly enchanted by the beauty of this intricately-chiseled stone, I am even more enraptured by what it signifies. The unspoken promises of hope, unconditional love, friendship and companionship captured within its glimmer… Things that sparkle no matter the amount of light or darkness that surrounds me.

A Little Low on “Ho Ho Ho”

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m having some trouble with Christmas this year. I am finding myself somewhat depleted of the whole “holiday spirit” and I really don’t know who or what to blame.

I have no real reason to be blue. I am gainfully employed, newly engaged and have a wonderful family and fiancé with which to spend the holidays. I am practically done with my shopping and proud to say that I didn’t go over board. I put up a sparkly tree along with a few other decorations and am in the process of wrapping. I’ve been watching some favorite Christmas flicks on TV… but that is precisely where the merriment ends.

I have no desire to listen to Christmas music, attend holiday parties or events. The lights going up around the neighborhood don’t captivate me or give me that “warm, fuzzy” feeling they once did. And I swear if I hear one more commercial about “that perfect gift” one more time — I am going to smash the offending broadcasting device with my hammer.

What is wrong with me? Did I lose my Christmas gene on my last birthday or something? Perhaps my “issues” with Christmas have nothing to do with an internal flaw and everything to do with the collective behavior of society. The emphasis placed on material items by manufacturers and the people who buy into it hook, line and sinker… The MUST DO mentality when it comes to certain “traditions”… The excess… The rushing and the rudeness of the masses…

I think what put me over the edge this year was an experience that I had this past weekend. We were doing some shopping at a store on the OSU campus. After deciding that we’d done all the damage we were going to do in that store before moving on to the next, we got in line at the register.

While waiting patiently for our turn, a tall, attractive woman dressed in all black bursts through the door, struts across the front of the store and rushes the counter, ignoring all of us waiting in line as she barks at the cashier: “You have a sweatshirt on reserve for me.” (Yes, I’ve intentionally placed emphasis on the word “me”).

We all turn our attention to her majesty—aware now of the faintest sound of crickets chirping in the background—while trying to comprehend this sudden display of rudeness and utter disregard for EVERYONE ELSE already in line at the counter. Now I know that this story is playing out all across the country right now, most likely coming to a register near you… but it was my first such encounter of the season.

Fortunately, the cashier asks the woman to wait while she finishes taking care of the customer with whom she is the middle of a transaction. And the woman huffs while she must wait like some wretched peasant. We pay for our items and leave the store around the same time as she. And we see that she has parked her shiny, black Lincoln Navigator right in front of the door.

As we back out of our parking spot I couldn’t help but notice a HUGE magnetic cling the size of a billboard on the side of her vehicle. It read in big white letters against a black background: “Don’t forget to keep the CHRIST in Christmas!”

Really? I thought to myself… And all this time I’ve been wondering where in the world my “holiday spirit” could possibly have gone.

Spike my Egg Nog… Please

Tis the season for beautiful twinkle lights and fancily-wrapped presents… A time to celebrate the joy of giving and count one’s blessings whilst surrrounded by those we hold dear. Yet for many people… Tis the Season of Overcommitment. Overcommitment of time. Overcommitment of money. Overcommitment of energy. Overcommitment of worry and resources.

Years ago, for me, this used to be (sing it with me, you know the tune) … The Most Stre-ess-ful Time of the Year… They’ll be much over-charging and customers barging for the Greatest Deal… Yes the most Stre-ess-ful Time of the Year!

I know it doesn’t exactly rhyme, but I think you get the idea.

In two words: It sucked. There were cards to be sent… Shopping to be done… Pageants to rehearse… Concerts and live nativities and office parties and gatherings with friends and gatherings with family to attend… Obscene amounts of food and wine and chocolate followed by more obscene amounts of food and wine and chocolate to be consumed… and before I knew it I didn’t know what was buldging more… The bags under my eyes, my muffin top over my favorite pair of jeans or my Visa envelope come January.

I am now on a personal mission—you might say—to restore the joy and peace that is, by the way, SUPPOSED to be the purpose of the season in the first place by ridding myself of the commitments, obsessions and stresses that typically accompany holiday-related things.

I don’t send cards. My friends and family don’t need to hear me paint a far-prettier-than-reality picture of my life by reading some fluffed-up letter full of superlatives and exclamation points.

I set limits on gifts and I stick to them. And when in doubt about what to give to my seven (COUNT THEM… S-E-V-E-N) nieces and nephews… money is always a safe bet — and an amount of money that I can actually afford as well.

I don’t do pageants. Someone else can stay up until midnight every night for the three weeks leading up to Christmas and sing the solo. I’m done. I much prefer the sleep. I might attend the pageant… if I feel like it.

I choose carefully the events that I commit to. At 36, I am beginning to understand my physical and mental limits when it comes to the amount of myself that I have to “spread around.” If I feel too thinly spread. I just say no.

The food, wine and chocolate… OK… THOSE are OK. They are called “coping mechanisms” and that’s why I’ve learned to keep a larger size of jeans in the closet. That can be our little secret. Let’s just call it Christmas Grace, shall we?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not a scrooge or anti-holiday. I do find infinite joy in lounging on the couch and staring at the twinkle lights on the tree late at night while watching Cousin Eddie slurp egg nog from a moose cup in his black dickie / white sweater combo on National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

I do find infinite peace in closing my eyes during the Christmas Eve candlelight service while the soloist (who isn’t me) sings my favorite Christmas Hymn, Oh Holy Night

And I absolutely find infinite enjoyment in watching my nieces and nephews glow as they show me their loot on Christmas morning with all the excitement they can possibly muster after only four hours of sleep.

But just in case you DO see me at a party or pageant or family gathering this holiday season, please do me one solid favor… and spike my drink already. Trust me, it’s really best for all of us.

Gratitude

I had a different plan for my post today… I’m working on something in the spirit of the holidays about a little guy you may or may not have heard of called The Elf on the Shelf. And while I cannot wait to share it with you… I have decided that he will have to stay on the shelf for another day.

Today I just want to express how truly thankful I am to have so many amazing friends and acquaintances from literally all over the globe. There are my childhood friends and school mates who remember Lee and I from that very first day in the 5th grade… and then there are my college buddies who remember how much I worried whether or not I’d ever fall in love.

Fellow dude ranchers from Colorado and mi familia from New Mexico who taught me how to  “grow up,” “suck it up” or “get over it” when I inevitably encountered my initial doses of reality and first snags of adulthood. And all of my new friends that I’ve met since returning home to Ohio as an (eh-hem) “grown-up” … and the really new ones that I’ve bumped into here — in the blogoshpere.

I feel so lucky to have the opportunity—thanks to this technology—to have what feels like one big cyber-party during such an amazing time! Thank you for tuning in and for your lovely comments, encouragements and displays of mutual excitement. I can’t possibly tell each and every one of you what your words have meant to me, but with a few key strokes and clicks of the mouse… I might begin to scratch the surface.