When Did Buying Crap Become A Hobby?

Who's a pretty birdie?

Who’s a pretty birdie?

Most of us work to support our habits and save passion for the things we choose to do in our off-hours.  We pursue hobbies like…

  • Collecting stamps, coins, or art
  • Reading or writing
  • Hiking or swimming
  • Sewing or gardening
  • Playing the accordion

These are all worthwhile pursuits that stimulate the mind or body, and add richness to our lives.  But many of us spend vast amounts of time on an activity that seems to improve neither the world nor ourselves.

When did buying crap get to be a hobby?

We the people love to shop.  It doesn’t matter if we need to buy anything or not; shopping is merely one of a broad menu of leisure options available. “What do you want to do this afternoon?  Go to a movie?  Take a hike in the woods?  I know – let’s go to Costco!”

Need has little to do with these forays into retail territory, and even less to do with the stuff that winds up coming home with us.  Shopping has become at best an entertainment, and at worst an addiction.  Many use it as a way to kill time.

Go to practically any store – food, sporting goods, clothing,etc. – and you’ll see shoppers doing The Browser’s Shuffle.  They lean on their carts and wander slowly up and down the aisles, their glazed eyes as empty as their carts are full.

I doubt this phenomenon is peculiar to Americans, but I suspect we have elevated it to an art form.  We go shopping for the fun of it so often we even have a name for the practice; “retail therapy.”  If we took part in psychological therapy as often as we did the retail variety, we’d be the most well-adjusted society in history.

This seems to affect women more than men and it cuts across all income levels.  You’ll see the same, telltale Browsers Shuffle at Neiman Marcus and the Goodwill, although the quantity, quality and cost of stuff in the cart may differ.

The Shuffler at Goodwill is often a hoarder loading her cart with 99¢ plastic flower bouquets and little, poly-resin statues of teddy bears.   Her Neiman Marcus counterpart,  snagging $99 silk blouses in every color of the rainbow, escapes the hoarder label by the simple tactic of having a lot more storage space.  She also tends to clear the way for new stuff by donating the old stuff as soon as it goes out of style.

For many, shopping provides the thrill of the hunt and a rush of endorphins when the quarry is bagged.  Loneliness, lack of purpose in life, boredom – whatever the malady, retail therapy delivers relief.

I confess to being a thrift shop junkie.  I like to think of myself as a treasure hunter who reuses and recycles in a noble attempt to save the planet.  But I’m really more like a magpie on the lookout for shiny bits to pick up and take back to the nest.

I was at the Salvation Army store the other day when a tchotchke caught my eye.  It looked familiar, so I figured I’d probably seen a similar piece in the pages of a home design magazine.  I didn’t need it and had no idea what I would do with it if I bought it, but buy it, I must.  I was tenderly loading it into my shopping cart when it occurred to me why this item looked so familiar; it was mine.  At least it used to be mine. I had donated it to this very same institution months earlier after a round of tchotchke purging, which I had self-righteously told myself I was doing to help the poor.  In my heart-of-hearts I suspect my motivation was more to free up valuable space for new arrivals.

The bottom line is; I was about to buy back my own crap.

After this little tirade you might be expecting a sacred vow to lay off shopping and devote all my free time to self-improvement.  Nope.  The fact is, I HAVE made a hobby out of shopping, one that is both fun and profitable.   I buy and sell old stuff.  Dolls, pottery – I’ve dabbled in a lot of different collectibles.  My current passion is vintage costume jewelry.  It’s a thrill when I snag a sparkly pendant from a favorite designer.  I make new jewelry out of the broken and less valuable pieces.

This isn’t my only hobby, though.  I do lots of other things like reading,  crafting and hiking.  I also like to do a bit of writing now and then.   I figure I’m OK with the shopping as long as I stay within budget, and get rid of more than I bring in.  And while I readily concede that this particular hobby isn’t doing much to save the environment, it does help make it shiny and pretty.  At least the environment around my neck.

 

 

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In Defense Of The Fanny Pack

There’s still time to get your vacation in before summer’s over, so this is a good time to review some of my helpful vacation fashion tips.

Chillin’ with the rest of the PTA and lookin’ gooooood.

 

I have a fanny pack.  I am not being ironic.  I own a fanny pack, I use it, and I like it. Deal.

I realize that any shred of cool I might have claimed has just gone out the window, and I hope we can still be friends. My daughters treat me like a leper if we’re out in public and I’m fanny-tized.   I wore one when we went to New York City a couple of years ago, and they insisted on walking several blocks behind me.  I had to keep turning around to keep track of them – I was afraid they would be abducted from the streets of Chinatown.

Me on vaca. What? WHAT???

I don’t fanny-up for important business meetings, swanky events or funerals – there’s a time and place for everything. But they’re extremely practical for a lot of situations. I bet more people would give in to the fanny-allure if they really thought about how great they are to:

tote stuff: Daily life requires a lot of equipment. There are very few places outside my living room where I don’t need my car keys, Kleenex, pepper spray, drivers license, credit card, spending cash, hairbrush, Chap-stick, cell phone and hand-sanitizer.  Any mother of a young child could double this list. You can’t carry more than a Kleenex in today’s skin-tight jeans  – ask anyone who has been to a college or pro football game lately, where bags of any kind are banned.

keep your hands free: I need to keep my hands free when:
– walking/hiking/exercising
– shopping
– sight-seeing
I usually carry a purse, but they can get in the way. They’re heavy, they dig into your shoulder and they slide right down your arm at the exact moment you’re reaching for a fragile, priceless vase at an antique shop.

stay with you: The world is a dangerous place and I’m careless. Put the two together and the risk rises exponentially that my purse will be:
– stolen
– left behind.
I might set my purse down in all the excitement of bargain hunting, and the next thing you know, poof!  It’s gone.   When your valuables are firmly belted around your waist it’s a lot tougher for them to walk away.  And while I might not feel it if a robber dipped their hand into my purse, I think I’d notice if somebody was fondling my midsection.

I was talking about this vital fashion accessory recently with my cousin Kathy, who is a super-chic fashionista, and she said the fanny pack is coming back into style.  Yes!  I knew if I waited long enough I would be fashion-forward once more.  Wait until I tell my girls!

This would be a good time to root around in my closet and unearth some more classic fashion pieces.  Now that the fanny pack is back in style, mom jeans are sure to be cutting-edge again any day now.

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Won’t The Real Peg Schulte Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up?

Peg Schulte, Peg Schulte, wherefore art thou, Peg Schulte?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Society now communicates electronically.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but some occasions still call for a hand-written note.  I think we can all agree that an emoji on someone’s Facebook page doesn’t quite cut it when they’ve had a death in the family.   Phone books are getting pretty thin with everybody ditching their landlines, so how are you supposed to look up addresses to snail-mail?  Online white pages.

For those even more techno-clueless than I am, this is like a print phone book except it’s online and covers the entire nation.   I used it the other day to find an address and afterwards, just for giggles, looked myself up.

There were 139 possible matches for Peg Schulte.

My given name is Margaret.  Most of us Peggys are Margarets; don’t ask me why, it’s one of life’s mysteries.   The list of possible mes was heavy on Margarets, had fewer Peggys and Pegs, and a mere smattering of Marges, Margies and Maggies.   There were also 9 Gretchens.  Huh?

Towards the end of the list they abandoned Schulte altogether and got creative with the last name.  They included such possible matches as:

Scheldt, Shulte, Shilt, Schultdt, Schildt, Schult, Scholte, Shult, and Schilt.

So, Mr. White Pages Computer Algorithm Programmer, you think “Gretchen Scheldt” is the same as “Peg Schulte?”  Really?

The search program must factor in the likelihood that these people’s ancestors started life as “Schultes” (a name, I understand, as common as “Smith” in Germany,) before some overworked and/or clueless clerks processed them as part of the huddled masses at Ellis Island.

The most important point here is that out of the whole, wide universe of possible Peg Schultes, the search gods didn’t list me – the real me – until #66.  This raises some disturbing questions:

  • Why am I half the way down the list?
  • Why aren’t I #1?
  • What does Margaret Schulte of Manning, Iowa got that I ain’t got?

Maybe the 65 Not-Mes ahead of me on the list paid somebody to optimize their search engine SEO.  I don’t know exactly what that means, but my spam folder is full of offers from computer types with bad English skills urging me to do that, so it must be a good thing.

Perhaps they are more famous than I am because they have more wonderful accomplishments.  There’s a lowering thought.

Maybe they’re more infamous than famous because of bad behavior.  I like that possibility.

Whatever the reason I’m in the middle of the Peg Pack, that fact has me a bit worried.  This could have serious consequences:

  • What if I finally win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes and they give my money to Pegg Schulte of Fallon, Missouri?
  • What if Oprah comes to her senses and offers me a regular writing gig, and Margaret Schuldt of Tuckasegee, North Carolina winds up with the fame and fortune rightly belonging to me?

On the other hand, the plus side of being merely one of many is that I can lay bad stuff off onto the Not-Mes.

  • The next life insurance sales pitch masquerading as an Important Document  so I’ll open the envelope
  • My weekly invitation to join AARP
  • All the low, low, limited time offers for replacement windows, hearing aids or furnace tune ups…

I’m forwarding all of that junk mail to Gretchen Scheldt.   She could probably use a furnace tune-up anyway – I’m sure it gets cold in Cleveland, Wisconsin.

 

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Meals On Wheels: Put Some Classy In Your Chassis

Come on in – the dining is just fine!

What would you rather eat?

  •  A grayish-brown burger on a squashed bun, limp fries in a greasy paper bag, all washed down with flat soda pop.
  • Chilled vichyssoise, steak, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and strawberries, served on linen and silver, and accompanied by a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

A typical Monday night meal at my house.

No contest.

So why do most of our meals look like the first option?  Because we Americans live in our cars.   Trips to the bank and the shops stretch into rides to and from soccer practice and we have no choice but to go to the drive-thru, right?

Wrong!

Hello, I’m The Vehicular Gourmet, and I am on a mission to put the “fine” back in dining, even in the car.

Automotive fine dining does present unique challenges, especially since The Vehicular Gourmet recommends keeping both eyes on the road, and at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times.  But we can adapt.

Remember – red with meat and white with fish.

First we set the stage.   If your car doesn’t come equipped with a bud vase, merely attach a perfect bloom to a green pipe cleaner, and wrap it around the steering wheel.  I recommend placing the flower at 12 o clock to leave 2 and 10 free for your hands – safety first!

Eating is just “chowing down” without sterling silver and candlelight (it gives such a gentle glow to a lady’s complexion).   Some jurisdictions frown on tassels and baby shoes hanging from the rear-view mirror, so better check with the local authorities to see if there is a similar prohibition on hanging sterling silver candelabra there.

Spills can happen, especially when you’re keeping both eyes on the road.  That is why I’ve invented the Full-body Damask Napkin.  This snowy white napkin covers the whole lap and most of the chest, extending up to fasten on your shoulder belt.

The elegant Sac Soupcon

Our first course is a classic vichyssoise.  You might think eating soup would be difficult in the car – oh, ye of little faith.  I give you, the Sac Soupcon!  The Sac is tied around the head at mouth-level, like a horse’s feedbag, and you drink directly out of it.  It has an insulated liner so gazpacho stays cold and French onion soup stays hot.  With its black velvet and white taffeta outer covering, putting on the feedbag has never been so elegant.

Which tasty tater shall I eat first? Eenie, meenie, minie, moe…

 

How about hands-free steak?  Cut your filet mignon into chunks, string on a length of fishing line and attach to the top of the door.  Getting a bite of luscious steak is as easy as checking your blind spot!

A lady generally wears gloves in public.  For vehicular dining, we cut the tips off the gloves, and add a jeweled cuff and ring.  Now your fingers are ready to host crisp, steamed potatoes. The potatoes are hollowed out for easy handling and seasoned with a shake of butter-flavored popcorn salt to avoid the mess of butter.  Talk about Fingerling Potatoes!

Asparagus spears are a natural finger food.  It’s the dripping hollandaise sauce that can get one in trouble.  The solution?  Hollandaise Jigglers!  Just combine your favorite hollandaise recipe with some unflavored gelatin.  Take a bite of asparagus, and then pop a cube in your mouth for a yummy combination.

Hollandaise Jigglers just make sense on the go.

 

Miss Manners would surely approve when eating with your fingers is this refined.

The menu was supposed to include a chilled Australian Sauvignon Blanc, but I’m sure my alert readers saw the flaw in this plan.  We can’t serve a white wine with red meat!  To avoid that solecism, uncork a nice, sparkling red grape juice.  With the addition of a tight fitting lid and straw, your best crystal goblet is road-ready in an instant.

 

We’ll end our meal with a luscious serving of Little Jack Horner Strawberries. Marinated strawberries are hollowed out and served with a dollop of whipped cream for dipping.  Put in your thumb, pull out a strawberry, and say – what a good girl am I!

Strawberry fields, forever.

There is never a good reason to abandon fine dining standards.  After all, that’s the only thing separating us from the lower primates.  It merely takes a little planning and creativity to ensure fine automotive dining is on everyone’s menu.

From The Vehicular Gourmet, Bon Voiture Appetit!

 

* Lovely model courtesy of Bizzy-Boo Lovely Models, Inc. (aka my daughter, Liz.)

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Happy 4th of July From A True, Yankee Noodle Dandy!

Independence Day is here.  This day marks the epic battle wherein Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum defeated evil aliens bent on taking over the world.  What many don’t know, however, is that Americans had been celebrating this day for many years before then.

Here’s a brief history.

Mankind used to think the world was flat and if you sailed too close to the edge you would fall off of it.  Kind of like the 19-year-old Chicagoans who come to the local state park almost every weekend, ignore signs warning them to stay on the paths, and fall off the cliffs.  One brave explorer named Magellan (who also invented the GPS) decided to test this theory.  Instead of falling off the world, he discovered a new continent.  Being a modest fellow, he named it after a friend – America Pucci, an Italian handbag designer.

Fast forward a couple, maybe 50 years. Another brave explorer, Christopher Columbus, was sent by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand the Bull to find new lands, but mainly to find gold.  He headed to America and called the people he met “Indians” because thought he was in Indiana. He was much farther south, like around Florida.  You’d think all the New Jersey snowbirds there would have given him a clue, but he didn’t have a GPS.

After that, practically every country sent explorers to “discover” America and get the gold that was supposed to be lying around for the taking.  Many different religious sects also came seeking freedom to worship without persecution.  As soon as they arrived, they fell to their knees to thank God.  They then quickly enacted laws that anybody not practicing THEIR religion would be burned at the stake as a witch, and our basic right to religious liberty was born.

For some, the New World didn’t seem much better than the Old.  Spain was concerned because some people were talking about building a border wall with the Incas, Canada realized they didn’t really need Michigan because they already had all the fir trees and beavers they could use on their own land, and soon they and most other countries left the New World.  We were down to just English settlers.

The English were called Pilgrims. They had come ashore at Plymouth Rock, which was not easy to find among 1000 miles of coastline.  Must have had a GPS.  Life was very hard for them.  They wouldn’t have made it if not for the Indians who, by then, insisted on being called Native New Worlders.  They saved the Pilgrims by teaching them how to cook turkey (Tofurky for Pilgrims who had gone away to college and came home for the holidays as vegans), make pumpkin pie and get jellied cranberries out of the can in one smooth, whole lump.

Fast forward a couple, maybe 50 years, and the Pilgrims, now called Colonists, had just about had it with the English.  They were like an absentee landlord who will evict you in a hot, New York minute if you’re a day late with the rent, but you can’t get a hold of them when the furnace goes out in the middle of the night in January.  Even worse, the English levied a hefty tax on tea. This was before ice, beer or smoothies had been invented, so tea was all the Colonists had to drink.  “No taxation without representation!” became the Colonists battle cry and they dumped all the tea in Boston Harbor.  The EPA hit them with a bunch of huge fines for polluting, and that was the last straw.  We went to war.

We won that war, and afterwards the Colonists quickly imposed their own taxes.  This blow for freedom ensured that cigarette smokers would pay 5 times more taxes than anybody else in the fledgling country.  Additional representation, in the form of being able to vote more, did not go along with the additional taxes.

Fast forward a couple, maybe 50 years, and George Washington, the father of our country, chopped down a cherry tree because he wanted cherry to be our national pie.  But the senators at the newly-formed Philadelphia ComicCon voted to keep pumpkin as the official pie to honor the Native New Worlders and make up for taking their land and killing all the buffalo.  They did concede, however, that cherry pie filling with a graham cracker crust and cream cheese (which had just been discovered in Philadelphia) makes a yummy second dessert for the Thanksgiving table.  This started the noble tradition we still observe today, wherein our elected officials spend most of their time on such vital issues as coming up with national desserts, establishing National Tartan Day and gravely investigating anyone who ever had Russian dressing on a salad.

There you have it.   Feel free to share this brief, yet fact-filled history of our country with others, especially young people.  Heaven knows they need it since schools are only teaching No Child Left Behind and how to put condoms on bananas nowadays.

And as you celebrate this Independence Day, remember those who gave so much so we would be free to drink excessively, get sunburned and blow off various limbs with bottle rockets.

God bless America!

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How Men and Women Differ: Toilet Paper Version

It’s time, once more, for a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride through my brain.  A toilet paper roll-er coaster.  Hang on.

peghamsterintoiletpaper

and….she’s off!

Men and women may look at the same world, but they do not see the same things.

Men tend to be linear thinkers who concentrate on one job until it is done.  Women multitask like a pack of hamsters on speed in a room full of running wheels.

I’m not saying one way is better than the other – they’re just different.  I also realize there are exceptions to every rule, and I don’t pretend to represent every woman Nonetheless, I suspect this will sound very familiar to both the XY and XX chromosomed.

Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way…

The following is a true and faithful account of an actual event, which was experienced by me and my brain while spending quality time in my bathroom.

 

tp1tp2tp3

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Uterus is Smarter Than My Head When It Comes to Babies

Soon I’ll be leaping tall cradles in a single bound!

When you get to be a “woman of a certain age”, like me, it makes you a little sad to realize that your body has retired from the business of producing life. After all, babies are sweet, adorable, and smell like innocence. Apparently my now-defunct uterus is smarter than my marshmallow-soft heart, because as I was recently reminded, taking care of babies is exhausting work best left to the young.

Almost all of our friends are grandparents.  Our 20-something girls have shown absolutely no interest in marriage or  children and I’ve adopted Doris Day’s “Que Será, Será” attitude about the whole thing.  I really mean it, too…for the most part.  But part of me is yearning for grand-kids.

This is where a much younger friend comes in.

My friend, Riko, is a stay-at-home mom with a 4-month-old son.  She brings him along when we get together so I can cuddle, coo and generally make a fool of myself all over his chubby cuteness.  She and her husband live half a world away from their families in Japan, and when I found out she was pregnant I saw myself as his substitute grandma.  I’ve offered to babysit several times but she wasn’t ready to leave him yet.  She recently mentioned their wedding anniversary was approaching.  I renewed my offer, she took me up on it, and I leapt at the chance.

I can’t remember the last time I watched an infant.  My husband and I have a large extended family, but haven’t had many opportunities to babysit due to distance and age differences between our kids and nieces and nephews.  I was a bit concerned that things might have changed a lot in the last 2 decades.  After all, medical science has flip-flopped like a landed fish on the whole babies-on-their-tummies-vs-on-their-backs debate.  But I trusted that the fundamentals would come back to me, and I was right.  It’s like riding a bike.  Assuming one rides a bike with a smelly diaper full of noxious substances.  What I hadn’t remembered is how exhausting the whole business is.

You need the stamina of a long distance runner, the flexibility of a gymnast and the entertaining skills of a clown to do a gig like this.

Riko said her son was a bit fussy in the evenings.  She is a master of understatement.  He was on the verge of bursting into big, fat tears the entire time and it was my sworn mission to keep that from happening.

I tried putting him on his play mat.  No go.  His swing?  Not interested.  Riko had said that holding him while sitting and bouncing on a big, rubber ball generally calmed him down, so I tried that.  Talk about a workout!  You have to balance on the thing by constantly tensing your thigh and stomach muscles.  Trying to get up or sit down while keeping both hands on a wriggly, 19-pound human tested my agility to the limit.  But that and walking around to look out the open window were the only things that kept him relatively cheerful.  I alternated between these activities all evening,  accompanying them with silly faces and made-up songs so stupid I would have been mortified to be caught on hidden camera.

After only 2 hours, my arms were quivering with exhaustion and my back was killing me.  When the anxious parents got home from their anniversary dinner and asked how the evening went, I lied through my teeth without hesitation – Junior had been a perfect angel, all smiles and fun, and didn’t they have somewhere to go tomorrow so I could babysit again?  Then I staggered home and collapsed.

My friend is taking the baby home for a month-long visit, and I’m going to use this time to get in shape.  I’m thinking squat thrusts for those bouncy-ball-balancing thigh muscles, arm curls for the baby-lifting triceps, and sit-ups to work that all-important core.  When they get back to town and I’m called up to pinch sit again, my response will be: “Bring it on!”

Here’s the babysitting par-course I’ve devised:

Totty Squatties

Lungs & Lunges

Kung Fu Baby

Leg Lifts & Lamentations

Falling Off The Damn Ball While Trying To Stand Up

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