The Best Part is She’s Homeless!

Thanks to a friend on Facebook (thanks, MB), I found information on a new American Girl doll.  She is fantastically crafted.  She has her own story, like all American Girl dolls, telling where she has been, what social atrocity she has faced and how she has overcome great odds to come home with your little girl.  The best part is:  she’s homeless!

Gwen found herself living in her car with her children after her husband left them.  And, for only $95, your children could be educated regarding social injustice!

How does this now teach children about homelessness and social responsibility?  I’m seriously asking, because I am clueless. I would much rather discuss homelessness with my child and take her with me to volunteer at a soup kitchen or a women’s facility where real women have faced these issues.  I would also like to take the $102.60 ($95 plus tax) I would spend on the doll (not including accessories) and donate it to said soup kitchen or shelter.  This is education.

Being Kari is only 3 and would not understand some of the concepts, Chris and I have not gone into social issues with her; however, the recommended age for these dolls is 8 and up.  Here is a suggested list for parents to do with their 8 and over children to teach them about actual social issues.

It doesn’t really matter where or for what in the beginning, but have them volunteer for things.  Have them recognize that help does not always have to be paid, but rather is appreciated.  Volunteer at church, help set up for library story time, or have them read, play piano, etc. at a senior facility.  This gets them into the mindset of doing for others for the sake of others, and to appreciate the happiness they give to others.

My parents taught me things at the level which I could understand.  And they told me the truth, Santa and Easter Bunny excluded, but they always told me what and why it happened/was wrong, and why the person did it (they were mad, mental, etc.).  This helped me grow up with an acute awareness of what happens in the world around me and a mentality to rationally do what I can to help negate some of these social issues.

Be Open
Freely talk about differences.  Not talking about something creates and unknown.  Unknown in children’s minds translates into something scary or bad.  My favorite phrase, “A confused mind says no,” applies here.  Talk about differences in culture, race, sexual orientation and class.  It’s hard for many people to remove opinions, but by providing children with the facts, this allows them to form their own opinions. Then, answer any follow up questions they may have.

In a practical sense, I feel these solutions teach children much more about life than a mass produced toy.  Besides, children have priceless imaginations that work just fine without $95 dolls.

Confessions of a Thriftaholic

Tonight Chris and I watched Confessions of a Shopaholic.  In spite of all the humor and the typical romantic comedy happy ending, I find myself obsessing over the money spent by the character in the movie.  She had credit card debt, and continued to spend, all the while being trailed by a debt collector.  It is nearly midnight and I find myself wide awake with something near anxiety.

Sure, some of you are thinking this is crazy.  But those of you may not have a problem like me.  My name is Jackie.  I am a thriftaholic.

I make every laptop last until the dying day (just add more memory and keep it plugged in).  I search the Internet for sales on shoes I have researched so extensively you’d think I was purchasing a car instead.  I am so thrilled about my thrifty purchase of my sports compact I tell my students about it at orientation (fyi, I’m a financial aid counselor) as a lesson about buying everything used.

Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping, but I have kept myself to some serious rules to keep my credit card clean.  So, in the spirit of my blog, here are my rules for shopping practically.  Hopefully, they’ll help someone, too!

Start with a list.
Don’t just go out to go shopping.  Research ahead of time.  Find out what pieces are “trends” and see what pieces will be timeless.  Make a list and stick to it.  Also, like the rule with grocery shopping (don’t go shopping hungry), don’t go shopping when you are just dying to shop – stick to the plan!  Do you need jeans?  Tennis shoes?  Boots?  If not, move on.

Back to front.  Left to right.
I know this because I used to merchandise stores.  I used to make people want to spend.  Start in the back of the store where most of the sales and clearance items will be.  If you find what you need there, you will be less tempted to buy the very similar full price item in the front of the store.  The flow of the traffic in a store is also generally right to left.  Make a point to go left to right.  Impulse buys that get you in the store are on the right.

Google it.
My buddies at Google (I LOVE google.  Don’t get me started.) came up with something fantastic a few years back.  Why not add a shopping feature where one can compare products and prices?  And from a simple Internet connection?  Whoa!  By doing a little bit of research, one could save quite a bit.  Example:  I am eyeing these boots, which I should never buy.  I searched to find them for less on Google.  They ranged in price from $161 with free shipping to $225.  The cheapest store even has a five star rating, and is a subsidiary of

Malls are the plague.
If you are trying to save money and find quality items, malls are not the place to buy.  Sure, some high end stores carry nice merchandise, but I am personally a fan of buying quality items once every few years than buying a mall item every year after it fades, frays or other.  I typically shop online.  This is made easier if you are familiar with how the brand fits.  It doesn’t give the same instant gratification some desire; however, it saves hunting around a crowded mall and lugging the heavy finds back to the car.  Seems like more work to me than the gratification’s worth!  Malls carry trends and not timeless wardrobe pieces.

Keep the tags on for twenty-four hours.  Minimum.
Come home with your purchases and immediately throw the bags in the closet.  Forget about them for a minimum of twenty-four hours.  Try the clothes/shoes on again after the wait period.  Do you still love them?  Were they worth it?  Will this item work with the shoes you thought?  If not, you know what to do.  This will keep impulse buying down and allow your head to cool after the shopping high.  When you get home, you are high – full of carefully selected music, vivid colors, rich smells.  It’s all carefully planned to make you want to spend money.

I hope this helps someone out there.  It kind of helped get my obscene thriftiness of my chest.  Kind of.

The Wool Over your Eyes. Or Polyester. Or Silk.

Yesterday, Chris, Kari and I went shopping on Delmar.  Besides taking Kari on her first Metrolink ride, I particularly wanted to scout out some old books, silk scarves, and perhaps some other vintage clothing items.  In searching through the racks at several stores (going from the Vintage Vinyl end toward Pi), I noticed some very concerning items about several of these “vintage” stores:

They accept discount mega-store brands?!
Yes!  They did it!  They have Walmart and Kmart clothes on their racks right next to bebe from 4 years ago.  And they weren’t even “vintage” items!

Someone cried at Christmas when they got that!
This one store must have accepted every darned clothing item that came in, robbed a Goodwill store of everything on their racks, or have an inkling that the demand for bad Christmas sweaters will be through the roof this year.

Some items have been there for how long?!
I saw one tag with an acceptance date of 2006, and tons with 2007.  Audit your inventory folks.  If it doesn’t sell in 2 years, best bet is that it won’t sell.  Try ebay for those items that don’t sell – or put them on a special rack on discount.  Clear the racks for new items, because sooner or later the racks will be full of old items everyone have seen.

And finally, the clincher:

Naming a tacky screen print shirt from 3 years ago as vintage.
Know your labels folks, because obviously some of these places don’t, or they bank on the fact that you don’t!  If you don’t want to be caught dead in some tacky faux vintage recreation, do your research.  If you have a particular piece in mind, do a Google search.  Many of us have smart phones now.  Use them when you’re in the store.  If you don’t have a smart phone, and it’s a large ticket item you have in mind, ask the store clerk to hold it for 24 hours.  Then, you leave, read up on the item to see  if you can find any distinct markings/labels of the brand for the claimed time period, and finally see if you can find one in better condition online, or at least get a general price to be sure you’re getting a fair deal.

What to Expect When…


You encounter a 3 year-old on a metro train:

“Is this the whole set?”
Yes, I guess this is the whole train set.  This set is just really big and it goes all over the city.

“Does the place we’re going have grass?”
We’re not going outside of the city, it’s just a different way of getting around – just like if we were in the car.  The grass question was prompted by Kari’s observation of Aunt Zona (Arizona) having no grass during our vacation last fall.

“Didn’t they just say no smoking here?!”
Yes, but some people don’t listen.
“They’re bad.”

“Does the train have seatbelts?”
No, but maybe with some drivers they should.

“Is this one our train?”
No.  That’s the red one.  We need the blue one.
“Is this one our train?”
Buddy, there is no train here.
“But I heard a train.  Just be quiet, turn your head like this and listen.  And you’ll hear the train!”

Appreciating the Human in Celebrity

This is rediculously insane....
Tattoo of Someone's "Celebsession" from Poisonheart's Flickr

Recently I decided to get back into doing things I have always loved:  reading, music and movies.  Going through school for the past 8 years got me a handful of degrees, but I missed out on a lot.  I would consistently miss movies in the theater, buy the latest bestseller to collect dust and I let my music fall to the wayside.  The third is the saddest of all, because I was pretty good at one time or another.  As I am gradually working on that, I have decided to also tackle more manageable feats:  catching up on reading and movies.

I decided to start with the Twilight series two weeks ago today.  I wound up reading the whole series within a week.  I kept finding myself speed reading through the books, but I need to break that grad school habit and enjoy the literature!  Although these are young adult books, I found them as a good read myself.  I also have a new appreciation for the movie, whereas before I found it a bit lacking.  The books are a must to get the whole story – it really will enhance the movie experience.

By reading the books, this has also opened me up to another word:  Twihard.  I enjoy the series and I totally wish Stephenie Meyer would finish Midnight Sun; however, there is a healthy balance of “twihard-ness”, if you will (see:  Inked Twihards).  My friends at work joke about the Twilight chocolates and secretly wanting “Team Edward“/”Team Jacob” shirts (although we all do enjoy looking at Taylor Lautner shirtless, I believe we’re all Team Edward), but we are not in anyway violating someone’s personal rights by being “Twihards”.

In searching for info on Google about whether or not Stephenie Meyer would, in fact, publish Midnight Sun (the whole story about the leaked copy saddens me – that violated Stephenie’s privacy as an artist), I found news about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart “being a thing”, Rob wearing the same shirt twice in a month, and Kristen’s “pregnancy”.  I was just shocked at how disrespectful everyone was!

Coming around to my main point for writing this post:  celebrities still deserve personal rights!

Be practical, folks!  Who would want to have a camera in their face 24/7?!  Imagine not being able to walk the dog in gym shorts and uncoordinated sneakers?  And, worst, your love life as an open book for everyone to read.

What does it absolutely matter to anyone who anyone is dating!  Appreciate celebrities for their work, for their charitable efforts and for them as role models.  Sure, when I find a public figure does drugs or drives drunk, etc., I am appalled because they could be doing so much better with the resources they have (charity, investing, etc.) as well as being a positive image for others who are less fortunate.

I’m not trying to harp on others in this post, but I feel we should appreciate the art these people create rather than gossip about their personal lives.  I know some will also argue that celebrities chose this life.  No.  They chose to do what they love/are good at doing, not to be stalked and trash-talked.  I also understand some of these rumors are started by publicists – but why is that?  Because of our curiosity and they do it because we as a group eat the rubbish up!

While in Frankfurt airport about 8 years ago, I saw Jay Leno.  You know what I did?  I smiled and gave him a little wave from where I was sitting at my terminal fifteen feet away.  He just so happened to smile and wave back.  What ruined this?  My friend Christy jumping up suddenly revived out of her jet lag induced stupor and screaming “Omigod!  It’s Jay Leno!”  Jay promptly took off and hid in a first class only bar after Christy chased him across 5 terminals.

This proves that celebrities are people too.  Jay Leno smiled, and waved.  He also ran for his life when Christy was about to alert an entire level of the sleepy airport to his presence.  How much more human can you get!  Whenever I see a celebrity or public figure, I always do the same:  smile and politely wave.  Why?  Because I hope they recognize my little gesture as appreciation for their work and respect for their personal space, and experience some of us out here who are not waiting to tackle them.

In short, exactly how practical is it to stalk celebs?  Is that something you’d want for yourself?  And, no, don’t start on this “they asked for it” argument.  Would you like your private vacation pictures smeared all over the Internet? And, in all honestly, although we all swoon for one celeb or another, 99.9% of the people on this planet will not catch that celeb’s eye – it will just so happen to be one person of their choosing.  And I highly doubt the person hanging from a tree in their yard snapping pics will be ‘the one’ for them.

So, as a healthy homework assignment, why not write a handwritten letter (no email) to an artist or public figure you respect!  This must be a cohesive letter – no “OMIGOD!  I want to marry you!”, but an actual appreciation for their work, activism or just for their being human.  Perhaps even get some nice stationary and use blue/black ink for goodness sakes!  Be elegant about your appreciation for their work – something I bet they rarely see – but put genuine humanness in this letter.  If you have trouble finding a mailing address, let me know.  I have skills with the Internets.

Also, for inspiration for your project, consider this post by Alison Byrne Fields regarding her genuine, human pen pal relationship with John Hughes.  A good read about the psychology behind the obsession from the Psychology Today archives:  Seeing by Starlight:  Celebrity Obsession.

No No, Nike

Bad Nike!
Bad Nike - UPS receipt to ship defective shoes back to Nike

I have been running and working out fairly regularly since I was fifteen.  My shoe of choice for training?  Nike.  My shoe of choice for running?  Nike.  My shoe of choice for just hanging out?  Nike.  Today, something changed.  It wasn’t the shoe’s fault.  It was Nike’s.

In May 2008 I purchased two pairs of Nike Reax running shoes:  a pink pair and a blue pair, of course.  I coordinated the shoes with my workout clothes of the day.  I went to the gym 5 times per week, weight training for 2 of those and running on the treadmill for 3 of those days.  My pink Nikes held up great.  My blue ones did not.  The same exact shoe, and the faux leather on the left blue shoe where the lace holes are started fraying, then it became a tear.

I contacted Nike in August 2009 after my friend said there is some sort of warranty for defective shoes.  I called, got the claim number (CL090811003591) and sent the shoes in for replacement via UPS on 8/27/09.  Paid $9.29 for trackable shipping (more if you count the box, gas to get to the store, time and the fact I had a cranky preschooler with me).  It arrived at Nike in Oregon on 9/2/09.  This canned letter was printed and mailed to me on 9/3/09.

Can letter from Nike
Canned Letter from Nike

So, this morning, after receiving the letter (and steaming from the ears) I called Nike.  I talked with one person, who said the dates on the shoe’s tag indicate the manufacture date on the left and the tag manufacture date on the right.  My shoe has 5/13/07 on the left and 9/24/07 on the right.  I argued that the shoes didn’t reach market until at least October 2007.  The representative said, “Could be.”  So, why again does the warranty start even when the shoes are sitting on Nike’s warehouse shelves?  Why am I being punished as the consumer for purchasing your overpriced product in the first place?

I asked for a supervisor, who basically told me the rules again and then told me some antidotal story of how a lady called to get shoes replaced that she purchased 5 years ago and argued that she hadn’t worn them in 3 years, but now wanted to wear them again.  I told “Laura” this wasn’t relevant to my situation as the shoes were purchased in May 2008, NOT May 2004.  She then repeated the rules to me and told me how clear they are on the website and sorry I did not understand them from the website.  On top of it, she said their materials start to break down within 2 years.  So, maybe I should start running in my Docs because I’ve had them for twelve years?

I then told her I would be blogging this, tweeting this, facebooking this and that my blog is indexed by Google and Technorati.  She paused for a long while.  She then said they didn’t want to lose me as a customer.  I told her that was already done based on the content of the phone call.  She hoped I didn’t let one bad incident ruin my relationship with Nike.  You know, Laura, I hoped Nike wouldn’t let this one incident ruin their relationship with me.

I purchased these shoes in May 2008 for $100 and Nike will not give me a replacement pair after they broke after wearing them for 4 months.  Please share this blog.  We the consumer shouldn’t be abused by big businesses.  I’ll post a picture of the broken shoes when I get home tonight.

Share, tweet, email away!

Buried Alive

Buried Alive
Chris captures Persi buried alive!

About four weeks ago, one day when the girls (Kari, my 3 year-old, and Persi, my 6 year-old niece) were being particularly wild, I told them if they were good and took a nap, I’d build them a sandbox.  They were good the rest of the day.  I promptly went online to get ideas and sketched up a plan.  I cut the wood and gathered supplies.  The following several weekends got a little hectic, so the main event was postponed until this weekend.  Considering most plans I found were just not detailed enough or cost $4.95, I figured I would type out my detailed plan here for free!

Supplies needed
1 box of 3″ galvanized nails
Staples (size does not matter)
(2) 8′ cedar 2″x12″
(2) 10′ cedar 1″x12″
(1) 12′ cedar 2″x4″
(1) 4’x4′ piece of 1/2″ plywood
(1) 6′ pine 1″x3″
(26) 1′ landscape blocks
(1) 6’x8′ tarp
(15) 50 pound bags of pea gravel
(10) 50 pound bags of play sand
1 roll of landscape fabric
1/2 gallon exterior paint
Garden staples (optional)

Tools Needed
4′ Level
Circular Saw
Speed square

Sand Box in Place
Sandbox painted and in place

Of course, the landscape blocks, garden staples and pea gravel are all optional, but we chose to create a base for the girls to step out, dust off and get their shoes back on.  This bed of pea gravel also aids in drainage, so the sand won’t be setting against wet ground after a rain fall.  Where we located the sandbox was on a hill just below the level of the driveway, so without the pea gravel raising the sandbox off the ground, the sandbox would become a wet mess after a rain!

We started with an area approximately 6′ x 8′.  This pad has housed everything from a picnic table to a chicken brooder, and already had 2 landscape timbers in the ground on the lower sides forming an L.  We added 1 more landscape timber on top of the existing L to make it 2 timbers high.  We then laid down the landscape fabric over the dirt and overlapping the timbers so rocks wouldn’t leak out of the area.  If you need, insert staples into the fabric so it doesn’t move around.  We then enclosed the remaining L with landscape blocks stacked 1 high.  The supply list above has only landscape blocks and assumes the ground you’re working with is level (more needed to create a retaining wall).  The soil somewhat eroded over time, so we needed to level the inside of the play area with pea gravel first.  We poured 10 bags of gravel in the area, leaving 5 for filling in later.  We took our level and checked the level of the gravel and used the level to also spread it out.  Trust the level, even if the gravel looks otherwise to your eye!

Enjoying the New Box
Kari and Persi enjoying their new sandbox

Once your base it set, you’re ready to start cutting wood!  Notice I have chosen cedar here instead of pressure treated wood.  I prefer cedar considering I do no want the kids touching chemicals all the time.  You could use pine, but cedar holds up extremely well to the elements, and should at least be used where wood will be making contact with the ground.

Cut the cedar 2″x12″ into (2) 4′ pieces and (2) 3’10” pieces – these are your sides.
Cut the cedar 1″x12″ into (4) 5′ pieces – these are your seats.
Cut the cedar 2″x4″ into (12) 1′ pieces – these are your supports.

Assemble the sides by placing the 4′ pieces on opposite ends and the 3’10” pieces between the 4′ pieces, forming a box.  Nail 3 galvanized nails into each corner on the outside.  Nail 1 support into each corner on the inside with 2 nails – these just provide support for the box and keep pressure off of the nails when the box is moved around during construction.

Now, for the fun part – 45 degree angle cuts!  We decided to have the seats sit on the sides of the box exactly in the middle of the seat board for best support.  Cut a 45 degree angle off one end.  Measure the width of your sandbox at the edge where the seat will be.  Find the midpoint of the seat board (long) and put a mark on the side opposite the angle cut.  Use your speed square to draw the other cut.  Opposite seats should match, so you could use one as a template for the other.  You do need to measure!  Do not assume your wood is precise! (i.e. 2x4s are really a hair under 2 and a hair under 4)

We chose to put 3 nails in each seat.  We then attached a support at each corner and the midpoint of each seat on the outside edge of the seat.

Get your paint clothes on and start painting.  We had the girls help us with this part and they had a blast.  We did two coats on everything to ensure durability.

After the paint dries, flip the sandbox over in the grass or on some sawhorses, and attach the landscape fabric to the bottom with staples.  Place the sandbox on the gravel base and fill with sand!

Sand Box With Lid
Sandbox with top

While the kids are enjoying their new play area, the final piece can be constructed:  the top!  The top needs to be bigger than the hole so it doesn’t fall in.  Chris put 3′ 1″x3″ boards parallel to each other on the underside of the top to keep the top ‘snug’ in the sandbox.  Measure the inner dimension of the sandbox, but be sure not to put them too close to the exact measurement.  Give an inch of wiggle room.  Add top and cover whole box with tarp when not in use.

I would not recommend placing anchors in the play area for the tarp, but rather use a brick or two on top.  Also, do not let children lift the top by themselves!  Be sure to remove top for them and replace after play to keep sand clean.