Archive for November, 2008

Thrifty Shopping

Monday, November 24th, 2008

It seems counterintuitive that a thrift store would be closing when times are so tight. Wouldn’t the store in which you can get the most items of clothing for the least amount of money be thriving in a tough economy? Apparently that’s not the case in Sonoma County because the Press Democrat reported last week that the Salvation Army is closing two of its stores.

However, when I thought about my recent shopping experiences and what is coming in and going out of my closet, I can see several reasons why thrift stores are also hitting hard times.

In the past, when I had a jacket in my closet that I hadn’t worn for two years, I automatically dropped it off at Goodwill but not anymore. Now, if doesn’t have shoulder pads and looks like it was purchased before Y2K, I’ll take it to a consignment store to see if it might be worth a few dollars to me down the road.

I’m not the only one doing this. I saw an article earlier this month touting consignment stores as a “winner in a crummy economy.” In a survey by the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, stores reported an increase of more than 85% in new customers and 75% are seeing new donors. And this information was reported in August before the stock market really tanked.

You just have to look around Petaluma to know that consignment stores are a booming business. Off the top of my head, I can think of four of them in town and a year ago I wasn’t aware of even one.

Plus just like with the auto makers, thrift stores are also suffering because people aren’t spending money to on new stuff to replace the old. Thrift stores rely on donations for their inventory, so when there are fewer acid-washed jeans dropped off at the donation box that means a smaller selection of goods and fewer sales.

However, at the same time that the Salvation Army thrift store is struggling to glean enough goods to attract shoppers, mainstream retailers are overflowing with merchandise ““ and offering deals that make the prices almost as low on their virginal merchandise as you can get on the used clothes at a thrift store.

Let me give you an example. My preteen daughter and I went to the mall on Saturday. We had a 30% off coupon for Limited Too so I thought that might be a good opportunity for her to choose a sweater that I could stash away for Christmas. She also has outgrown three pairs of jeans since school started, and even though I usually consider Limited Too somewhat pricey, I thought that our coupon would bring the price of the jeans into a more reasonable range.

When we got to Limited Too, we discovered that everything in the store was “Buy One Get One Free” and I had a 30% off coupon. We didn’t end up buying a sweater; they didn’t look as cute in person as they did in the catalogue, but we get her two pairs of jeans and two long sleeve shirts for $40 including tax. That means that I paid about $9 each for the jeans and tops. I’m sure that is more than I would pay at a thrift store”¦assuming they even had merchandise in her size”¦but it’s not that much more to pay for brand-new fashionable school clothes.

Another example: whenever I’m in Target, I make a sweep through the clothing department and check out the shirts on the clearance rack. More often than not, I find a knit top marked down to $5 that ends up being a staple of my wardrobe. I often find myself thinking, why would anyone opt for a down-in-the-heel shopping experience at Goodwill when the choices and prices are so good here?

I suppose one of the blessings of our new economy is that in addition to cheaper gas and lower mortgage rates, thrifty and new are no longer mutually exclusive.

Christmas Cheer Up

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

At times, I’ve certainly lamented the early arrival of Christmas on the retail scene. You see it in Costco in October when the Halloween costumes bump up against the lighted snowman lawn decorations. And I’m probably not alone in wondering if next year, “Back to School” and “Pre-Season Christmas” sales are going to run side-by-side in the same newspaper ads.

But in the last couple of days, I have started changing my mind about early-onset Christmas. I think the early arrival of all things Christmas should be embraced and relished ““ not bemoaned. If the decorations and music and other elements that are part of celebrating Christmas make me feel better, why not start enjoying them sooner ““ whether it is in a store or at home ““ even if it’s before the “official” holiday shopping season starts. And this year especially, a strong dose of holiday cheer”¦so what if it is ahead of the calendar”¦would really help counteract the prevailing economic gloom.

Why did I start to see this differently? It happened because our daughter, Jennifer, wanted to watch “A Christmas Story” DVD. Usually, that’s one of the movies that we save to watch during Winter Break, along with “A Bishop’s Wife” (the Cary Grant version), “Christmas Carol,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” Once we’ve watched them they are packed up with the ornaments and decorations and stowed in the garage until next December.

So I was a little surprised when she asked if we could watch “A Christmas Story” now; she’s still eating her Halloween candy and we haven’t even gotten past Thanksgiving yet. But is there any rule that says just because it’s a “Christmas movie,” we can’t enjoy watching it in the middle of November?

Of course not, so we popped in the DVD last night. For Jennifer, watching it was a way of anticipating all the activities surrounding Christmas that she looks forward to so much. Things like getting the tree, unpacking the favorite ornaments, and decorating it. And then when the tree and the room are fully decked out in red and green, she loves lying under the glowing tree with a favorite book and basking in the holiday spirit.

I enjoyed “A Christmas Story” more than I ever have before because so often when we finally get around to watching it, the pre-Christmas shopping, baking, wrapping, and shipping have left me feeling burned out on the whole Christmas experience. But last night, it was easy to focus on the sweet story of a Christmas wish coming true.

In the past, it’s always seemed a little strange to me that around the first of November, Steve asks me to get out the Christmas CDs. In my rigid thinking, I’ve thought that the window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the only appropriate time for listening to “Carol of the Bells.” But now I get it. Christmas music lifts his spirits and he wants to extend that feeling for as long as possible without overdoing it to the point that it’s not special anymore.

But that makes me wonder, is there any point to putting limitations on little things that make a person feel good? There’s no law against playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and after New Years. What would be wrong with listening to Christmas music in March? Ok, so it would be strange to have Dean Martin singing “Let It Snow” in July, but “Joy to the World””¦that’s a message of Good News that would be uplifting 365 days a year. I might give that a try.

Even though I love having a Christmas tree, I don’t plan to have it up year-round. I’m talking about being happier, not crazier. But I’m with Jennifer…why wait to enjoy the things I like about the Christmas season? Bring on the eggnog and when does Costco get their shipment of trees?

Ready…Set…Knit

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I’ve been on a bit of a treasure hunt this week. I started looking for a sweater pattern to knit for my 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer. I just finished a baby sweater I have been working on and I’m eager to get started on another project. If I sit down to watch “Kung Fu Panda,” I’m much happier if I feel like I’m making productive use of the time. Plus, I find in my advancing years that knitting helps keep me awake in front of the TV.

The sweater that Jennifer would like me to knit is really quite basic, a cozy v-neck pullover, but perhaps with a little bit of style to it. She definitely doesn’t want to wear a sweater that’s a showpiece of knitting techniques ““ nothing with cables that looks like it was knit by the deranged wife of an Irish fisherman or a Nordic ski sweater with reindeer and snowflakes prancing across the front. That’s not her style. And that’s a good thing if there is any hope of me finishing it while it’s still sweater weather in 2009.

So I started searching dozens of online sources for free patterns. I subscribe to a couple of online knitting newsletters but when I started searching beyond the websites I already knew, I was once again amazed at the depth of knitting information available online. There is a huge community of people out there tending to their knitting and sharing information.

However, one difficulty I encountered in my searching is that when I typed “teen knitting patterns” into Google, I found websites for things like scarves and purses that teens could easily knit, but not websites with patterns sized for teens. The internet can be so imprecise.

Anyway”¦what I did discover is that there is a dearth of patterns ““ cute or not ““ for young girls. Apparently the crafting world is a lot like the retail world because in both, this is an age group that is overlooked. I found lots of adorable but boxy sweaters to knit for babies or kids but that’s not what I’m looking for. So I moved onto women’s patterns. I felt confident that if I found an adult pattern that suited Jennifer’s taste that I could adapt it to her size, but so many adult patterns seem over-designed. I didn’t find anything that even remotely resembled the sweaters in the Limited Too catalogue that Jennifer has been admiring.

But give up? Never! Not being able to easily find what I’m looking for online just brings out the competitor in me. Now it’s me against the internet. I know the perfect item ““ in this case the perfect pattern ““ exists someplace online and I just have to track it down.

Am I getting compulsive about this? Probably, because I find myself doing a few more searches when I should be doing something else, like writing my blog. “I’ll just go back to this website one more time; maybe there’s a pattern that I overlooked.” I start clicking on the links to look at the photos of the sweaters. “That one’s yucky, what were they thinking, that one looks like it’s from the 1970’s, that one’s cute for me but not for Jennifer, that sweater gives handmade a bad name, too asymmetrical,” and so forth.

Just so you know that I don’t entirely ignore local retailers in favor of shopping on the internet, Jennifer and I spent an hour or so looking for patterns at the local yarn store. We didn’t find any good pattern options but Jennifer doesn’t consider the trip a waste of time; she found a super kyuto Japanese felting book to add to her Christmas list.

After a few more searches into the double digit pages of my Google search, I found a pattern. It’s not the ideal one that I hoped I could find with  my determined searching, but with some size modifications, it will work. We went back to the yarn store, Jennifer picked out some beautiful plum yarn and we were out in 15 minutes.

So tonight when we hit “play” on the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” DVD, I’m ready.

The First One to Leave the Nest

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

On Friday, our 20-year-old son, Ethan, left the house for about half an hour and when he came back his face was aglow. He had gone to look at a house to rent with his friends, and apparently the place checked out and the timing fell into place for his buddies to all move in. He was so happy when he told us he was moving out the next day.

He has wanted to move out on his own for a while. The open floor plan of our house puts a crimp in his social life. Ethan is right that there’s no way he could invite anyone ““ male or female ““ to come over and watch a movie on our one-and-only TV and not have them right smack in the middle of his parents, two younger sisters, a German Shepherd, three cats”¦and our home-based business that we operate out of what used to be the dining room. Doesn’t that sound like a fun date, bring a girl to your parents’ house and their work place all at the same time? That’s just way too much parental overload for a young guy.

But I think even more importantly, moving out for Ethan means self-respect. Until he makes the transition out of the area to finish his college education at a four-year school, living on his own makes a statement that he is independent and self-sufficient. He doesn’t want to be like the kids he tells me about who talk about having responsibility, yet they actually are still totally dependent on mom and dad for room, board, and spending money.

The practical side of me would have liked to see him continue living at home and save his money for when he goes away to college next year. However, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that what I want doesn’t really matter. What is important is the way he feels about himself right now.

The house he’s moving into resembles the fraternity houses that I remember from my college days except Ethan’s place doesn’t smell like stale beer. However, this place has seen some serious wear-and-tear; I’m sure hundreds of kids moving in and out have dragged their furniture across the wood floor and the kitchen probably hasn’t had a good scrubbing since the Hoover administration. So when I helped him move his mattress in on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think, “He’s trading freshly-shampooed wall-to-wall carpeting and mold-free grout for this?”

Yes, he is and he couldn’t be happier.

He knows the stuff I worry about so when he came back on Sunday to move his desk and computer, he made a point of telling me that his house-mate had gone out and bought Clorox and rubber gloves because they were going to clean the bathroom today. He also wanted me to know that this friend, who is somewhat older than he is, practices a “straight edge” lifestyle. Ethan had to explain to me that this movement came out of punk rock”¦”Don’t freak out yet, Mom””¦and means no sex, drugs, or alcohol. That”˜s music to my ears.

Do I miss him? Absolutely. But when I saw him at his new place, I saw him differently, much more as an individual and not just as my son.  He wants to figure out his place in life for himself and moving out on his own is the first step. I respect that and I’m proud of him.