Friday, July 13, 2012

May and June Storytellers: Two Months of Books

I've hit a wall. I have piles of inviting books waiting for me. I plan on getting to them, I do! More often lately, though, on my prime reading time on the bus ride back to New Jersey from New York City (going in I read the newspaper) I feel like listening to music, but those are storytellers in another form, right? I thought about an article on one of my favorite singers, Natalie Merchant, in The Seattle Times, "as teenager she studied folk music from the British Isles and Ireland, and learned to embrace song as storytelling."

..."When people give birth, when people get married, when they're ailing and when they die ... Our culture developed song," Merchant observed.

Do you ever hit a reading wall, despite your love of books? I watched a documentary on the French actor Maurice Chevalier. I had no idea he was an author, and it was noted that because he was such a reader, he was able to be a great writer. I always see the correlation between avid readers and great writers, whether they are bloggers, songwriters and novelists. The more I read, the more I want to write. The creative spark is infectious. Overall, my life feels better when I'm reading. I plan on hitting the books again.
So this is what it is, my tiny reading list for the past two months (I haven't had many blog entries lately either, probably related to a distracted mind). I have a lot to say though! My May and June storytellers: Let's discuss!

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim, 50 cents, garage sale. As an online reviewer put it, "At last, a Nellie Oleson tell all!" What a lucky find! You never know where your next storyteller will find you. Don't let the title put you off (I'm not a fan of curse words, never mind in the title!) I couldn't get over how much I enjoyed this book. Ms. Arngrim is an engaging, witty storyteller. I actually felt a void after reading this. You'll want to be at least a fan of the Little House on the Prairie series to enjoy her anecdotes. Above all, she is an inspiration as an AIDS advocate (best friend and former cast mate Steve Tracy who played Percival Dalton passed away of the disease). She also candidly shares her story of being molested by a family member starting at a very young age and her fight to get an incest exception law off the books (can you believe the laws in California were more lenient if a relative molested you?) This was my favorite storyteller.

Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard, free, the library, about Bard's relocati. How did I find out about it? Searching for keyword "Paris" on Anthropologie's site. Embarrassing, but the truth. There's a suspicious number of 'Americans who go to France to find themselves' books, and an even more suspicious number willing to spend their leisure time reading this (me!) Some pet peeves: I don't want to know when you first slept with your husband (our too much information age), how she kept making fun of her husband's tap dancing classes (watch a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film and see the appeal), and her attitude about things like American tourists wanting to eat early dinners and not late when the French dine. She also got very snippy about her mother's visits, even demeaning a gift her mom brought her. Often in this book, I wanted to scream out, "Get a job already!"

This was an easy read and engaging, but it will be one of my more forgettable books over time. The recipes do look mouthwatering. I did like how she debunked some of our envy over the French healthcare system. When her father in law gets sick, she writes frustratingly about the lack of second opinions and other treatments available to them. Seeing another doctor would be almost an insult to your current doctor. No flying to the Midwest for some experimental treatment.

And there's our national obsession with the French thin woman. She talks about being at a dinner party when she's asked if she wants a small or normal piece and she says normal, and she's asked again if she's sure. She takes the small and talks about the series of small decisions French women make like these. Point made, but American or French, our cultures seem to be overly fixated on weight.

I don't understand the wanting to be thin versus healthy, no more than I understand wanting to be wrinkle free in your 40s and older. Weight loss seems to me always associated with vanity issues. I hate weight loss compliments. I'm a size 14 and when I've lost weight in the past it's usually due to stress, but hey the most important thing was I was thinner, right?  The only time I did lose weight for dietary adjustments was when I was eating vegan vs. vegetarian (for ethical issues), since I was cutting out so much cheese and lots of sweets which were off limits. When I lose weight, I immediately get compliments, so I look so horrible before? Oh the horror stories, readers, the "when are you due?" comments, almost all from women who should know better. I've lost count and stopped crying in the car afterwards when people have asked me. After a fun happy hour sharing sangria with some friends after work, going home at Port Authority some woman was going to let me go because she thought I was expecting, and when I told her I wasn't, she said, "You're not?" Lovely! Then there was the time I saw a former neighbor who said, "Wow, you put on a lot of weight!" What discrimination and comments do others get, I can just imagine. Frankly put, I think people should think more about the factory farms their cheap meat comes from, the pesticides on their food, and how much a farmer earns before issues like my thighs or bloated stomach (or theirs). Do people like Ms. Bard or others spend as much energy wondering or caring how their foie gras was produced as they do about the secret to French women being thin? I had a great beach day this weekend and know that no one there cared how beach body ready I wasn't. I look at pictures of myself a decade ago at a size four and think - too thin, not enough curves. As Forrest Gump would say, that's all I've got to say about that.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 99 cents, the Goodwill in Paramus, NJ. This book sounded so me - gardens, England, a children's classic tale - but as an adult, I really was disappointed by this.  It was tough to follow Mandy by Julie Andrews, another book about an orphan in England and a secret garden that was one of my favorites from this year. I really disliked how overly focused the story became on Colin, and think the line "Master Colin!" is the worst ending for a book I've ever read. I agree with many online reviewers describing it as "boring." I just wish there had been more story here, or less pages. I do appreciate the message of children connecting with nature when now they are always connected to a device, which I'll never get. I always say politicians do not scare me, marketers do. They run our country. I don't even see kids coloring at restaurants, they're looking at some glowing screen. Is Crayola still in business? I hope so.

I've finally been spending time in my own garden doing my own "coloring" I guess you could say. I really went to town when the local garden center had their annual 40 percent off storewide sale earlier this month. A sampling below. Did you ever see the Keeping Up Appearances episode when Mrs. Bucket (Bouquet) has an indoor-outdoor luxury bbq for the garden center king and her car is loaded with plants and Richard can barely see? That's what I looked like driving on Route 17!

I've been a fan of Tori Amos, another favorite sonic storyteller, for years, but only really listened to and explored the lyrics of Datura, off of To Venus and Back, this year. Gardens have really been in my life this year, in the written page and in real life. Do you know many of the names of what resides in your garden? I know so very little about my own. The lyrics of Datura, according to Wikipedia, "are derived from the plants that were found in Amos' garden. A list of the plant names was handed to Amos by her gardener. Apparently most of the plants in her garden had died, except for Datura."

I hope you get out into a garden, your own or a public one, this weekend.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Wanted: A Thriving American Reuse Market

Has your blogger been busy starting a store in the guest bedroom? No, this was just a sample of clothing, shoes, bags and other goods Steve and I rescued from a cruel and unusual fate in the landfill. Taking a Sunday drive to go to garage and estate sales to outfit our part of our new two family home, we happened upon a large pile of trash in River Edge, New Jersey, which we were drawn to because we saw a baker's rack and some other items. The woman saw us from her window and urged us to take anything. She needed to move in a hurry she said and was just getting rid of the items her and her three daughters (in their late teens and early twenties) accumulated. Luckily, Steve was driving a used minivan he bought this year, and we were able to take quite a bit. Later in the day, I told Steve, let's go back. I have a feeling there's a lot there and I can donate or give to my family and I can use some of it myself. We left with seven large contractor bags filled with goods. We saved so much, but it still haunts me what we didn't save here, and what's being thrown out every night in Anytown, USA.

A sampling of the bounty now NOT in the landfill:

For my mom: UGG boots (something she wouldn't buy new, but used, in good condition and free, yes!), several pairs of summer and winter shoes (she was actually shopping for the summer sandals and didn't have to spend a dime), some scarves and two tops.
For me: An Eiffel Tower decoration (what a lucky find for a Francophile!), a beautiful Irish wool sweater and matching scarf for winter, several tops, two handbags (I looked up one that said they retail for $1100, but I'm unclear if it's a copy), a beach towel, a blue throw blanket for our bedroom, brown suede boots, and more.
For my sister: A whole new summer wardrobe. I loved how she put it, "Who needs to shop when I have you?!"
My seasonal clothing swap: various sports shirts, Seven brand jeans, bags, other clothes. I co-organize four swaps a year at work, and much of what I brought was scooped up, the rest donated to one of our charities, including Housing Works Thrift Shops which helps out HIV positive and homeless New Yorkers.
Charity shops: The majority of it went to the Goodwill in Paramus, New Jersey, since they could handle the volume and it was convenient to drop-off, but some also went to CATS Resale Shop in Emerson, NJ and Cinema Verite in New York City.

Steve thought I was nuts, but I washed everything we found (except for some items that had tags on it, which gives them a higher resale value). I didn't know where it was stored or if it was clean, so in good faith all my clothing donations were freshly laundered. You don't want to go into the landfill Elmo, do you? No way, let's go to the Goodwill!
I felt bad for the woman. She was going through a divorce and had to move in a hurry. I think people don't declutter and this is what happens - they get overwhelmed and have to discard when moving. I spent a lot of time and energy on these items since I was distributing them to various places and people, but I can't believe there wasn't an hour in the day on the owner's part to run this stuff over to the Goodwill. Thousands of dollars spent, dozens of hours shopping, and then, I don't have an hour or two in my day? I'm really saddened that people are slaving away in other countries to feed the American appetite for cheap fashion and things go so readily into the landfill, some never even worn.
I don't understand all these little girls clutching logo bags (fake and real) around in one hand and their phone in the other. I don't even like logo bags for women. As for companies like Coach declaring their products are "handcrafted in China" I declare I will never give you a dime of my hard-earned money for your false status symbol bags you are conning American women and girls to buy. Katy Perry might be maxing out her credit cards in her song Last Friday Night, but I don't march in that army, and I don't have her bank account. What message our we sending about money when we are done using our latest trendy whatever, we throw it out when someone else could have gotten it for free at a clothing swap or from freecycle, or some great charities could have benefited.
It was a lot of work, but it was worth seeing my donations for sale at the Goodwill. These shoes were not my size or style (too bad they weren't 7 1/2 size ballet flat fans), but these were priced for $15 at Goodwill. Instead of the landfill, this shoe is giving an American a wage and keeping demand down for one more new pair of foreign made shoes.
Certain brand names always draw strong interest, but when I look at these Seven jeans, I just see another "Made in China" label and a clothing manufacturer charging a premium to the consumer.
There was a Dateline NBC piece recently about Americans who were now out of work and struggling financially, some having to go to food banks. Like anyone in hard times, cut backs were needed, but I found some of the items mentioned in the piece hard to swallow as struggling like cutting cable, eating meals at home and shopping at thrift shops. Each could warrant it's own blog post, but for our topic here, I'm tired of the media associated thrift shopping, like acts like hang drying laundry, as, "Oh, that's what poor people do." I don't understand the snobbery against second hand goods. There's a line in the Sonny and Cher song, "Baby Please Don't Go" where Cher sings in the character of a young struggling woman, "I never had no money. I shopped at the secondhand store." I shop at the secondhand store, and always will even though I have the means to shops at traditional stores. If people don't like my lifestyle, I'll compare credit card debt notes. I have none.

WalMart is running ads about their low-price guarantee. Why is it okay that we brag about low prices on some items (never mind no questions asked about how our food, clothes and other items are produced), but there's shame associated with getting something at a swap or from the Goodwill? Steve and I attend a black tie dinner each year with his chef's group, and this year I was thrilled to find a vintage dress at an estate sale for about $10. I got so many compliments that evening and he kept saying don't tell them where it's from, but I'm proud of who I am. I didn't go to Nordstrom and spend $200 for some Chinese made dress. I recycled and I got a huge savings.

Retail therapy, America needs it for sure. Just not what the traditional retailers want.

I always think back on the free shelf I saw in Telluride, Colorado. Why can't we have this in every community?
Steve and I ponder this issue often and how we can make a difference. I do the swaps, I buy the vast majority of our clothes and household items second hand, we rescue things from the trash. We're not registering for our wedding so I can rip open overpriced foreign made goods in front of my friends and family when I'm getting things for a dime at garage sales and recycling in the process. But we want to do more. I'm sharing this post with you in hopes that some seed will be planted somewhere.

I tried to plant a seed with the woman throwing it out. She came up with excuses about hearing the Goodwill or other places shreds things for rags. Even if they do that with a minority of items, at least it's being reused. I just wore at our Independence Day bbq a cute Old Navy summer dress from the Goodwill I paid about $6.50 for. I assure you that wasn't shredded for rags, and I'm so glad its previous owner took the time to drop it off. When I don't want it anymore, I'll give it, not throw it, away. When I mentioned what a shame it was so much was made in China and other countries, she said there's no way around it. This consumer respectfully disagrees. This isn't about being perfect and making ideal choices all the time, but I largely don't give these companies my money. Yes, sometimes I do, but mostly I swap. I rescue from the curb. I thrift shop or go to garage sales. I vote using (and not using) my dollar.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section about the epidemic of waste going into American landfills, and how we can solve it.

Find a charity shop near you at the
Find a Freecycle. group near you
Shop estate sales (where the entire contents of a house are for sale). Find one near you.