Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Fridays & Discount Knights

As you may know, I come from a family of modest means. We also have a competitive streak, which can turn shopping into a contact sport. At family gatherings, our conversation centers far more around how much we saved on something than how much we spent on something. We're Calvinist enough to view conspicuous consumption as a rather tawdry sin. (Or maybe those poor folk just don't know how to shop.) Seriously - my father brags that for many years, his hobby was scouring auctions to set up housekeeping for three children (and I can state that my first apartment was decorated with solid wood furniture - not a milk crate or particleboard bookcase in sight) and many a family tale revolves around the finer points of haggling. The running joke is that the motto of our thrifty clan should be "Never pay retail!" We're just too darn cheap to get it translated into Latin.

All this said, I still don't see the point of camping out in front of Wal-Mart to buy a 50-inch plasma TV at four a.m. Think about who/what is up at that time of the night. Muggers and owls. Anyone else is pretty much prey. No, thank you - I'll stay snuggled under the covers (closeout price and and irregular, but I defy you to find the flaw) until the coffeemaker (30% off) kicks on at a reasonable hour. I'll then stuff my feet into my leopard-print slippers (10% off; I really wanted them so I got them despite nearly paying retail) and shuffle to the kitchen to get the milk out of the fridge (25% off, scratch 'n' dent sale).

See, to me, Black Friday is the consumer equivalent of New Year's Eve, which is amateur night. True talent (a fully-spurred Discount Knight) smiles, sips a second cup of coffee, and saunters out around 9:00. Sure, the 50-inch plasma TVs are gone by then, but did you really need one in the first place?

Didn't think so.

So take the money you saved by not getting hysterical over the techno-gizmos and divide it into two piles. With one, do whatever you want. But use the other to help someone else out. Send it to the local food bank or take a couple of "angels" off a tree set up for needy kids (and adults) this holiday season. Or send it to the Central Asia Institute, which devotes donations to building schools (primarily for girls) in Pakistan. Or send it to Heifer International, which lives out the adage of "teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." If those don't float your boat, find another worthy cause - there are plenty out there.

Then count your blessings that you're the one sending the donation instead of the one fervently praying that someone else does.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Beethoven Is So Metal!

Most people associate classical music with tinkly harpsichords and men in prissy powdered wigs (and maybe knickers). It's an unfortunate linking, for classical music is hardly all polite tea and crumpets. It's passion and sweat and hunger and yearning. With kettledrums.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra ("TSO" to its legions of fans) understands this and works very hard to bring the thrill of classical music to a wider audience. Think Pink Floyd style laser light shows, hot backup singers (with a three-octave range!), and a lead fiddle player whaling away on a hot pink electric violin. I know, it sounds quirky (perhaps bordering on bizarre), but FryDaddy and I had an awesomely good head-bangin' time.

Mind you, FryDaddy and I have different tastes in music - he can rattle off arcane facts about metal bands and is a closet Dethklok fan (this is what happens when you begin reading Nietzsche at the tender age of nine; let this be a lesson to you), while my dark musical secrets include the Monkees - but vive la difference.

Some classical lends itself easily to this bass-heavy treatment (Orff's "O Fortuna" leaps to mind), but TSO makes it work with pieces that you wouldn't think would come together. Then again, I've often heard that all you need is a guitar, three chords, and the truth.

Beethoven might not have had a guitar, but TSO lets you dream of what could have happened if Ludwig had gotten his hands on a Stratocaster.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

5 Good Things

It seems that every time I turn around these days, I'm beset by gloom and doom. Let's face it, the economy has everyone as nervous as a hen in a foxhouse, groceries seem to cost $15 more on every trip to the store, some teachers in Charlotte, NC know enough technology to set up Facebook pages but lack the common sense to edit what they post publicly and there has been a spike in gun sales lately - something that doesn't exactly shout "Happy Holidays!"

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's just not that bad, Drake. (Don't ask who "Drake" is - my brother-in-law uses that name as his generic "John Q. Public" reference and I sort of like it.) I'm not saying that the holidays aren't going to experience a certain level of cut-backedness, but there's some very good stuff going on right now.

Such as? Ah, you are a cynical reader. What about:

1. Hand turkeys! One of my favorite goofy art projects. When's the last time you made one of these classics? Grab a box of crayons and a piece of paper - a napkin will do in a pinch - and try this out! Always fun and guaranteed to liven up a staff meeting! (Or an exam - check this out!)

2. Progressive dinners. A group of my friends started doing this a few months ago. In the classic form, the party is a "moveable feast" which goes from house to house as the meal progresses (hence the name). We do it more as a potluck. Whoever is the host takes care of the main course, and everyone else fills in with salad, appetizers, desserts, and so on. For our group, every month has a theme - Italian, German and this month is Russian (FryDaddy had a stroganov recipe he wanted to try out). It's a fun way to socialize without breaking the bank.

3. The peaceful transfer of power. Seriously, I think we forget how extremely rare and supremely cool this is. A hard-fought election, spread out over nearly two years, plenty of nasty things said on both sides, and now - poof! It's like voting tallies are the pixie dust of democracy.

4. Unseasonably warm days. I actually had the windows open for most of today. A good thing, since the Spookster had been muddy and somewhat - ummm, aromatic lately.

5. Candy corn. Gotta love this stuff. And look here - a way to use it to add to a tasty Thanksgiving Day treat! The best of both worlds - slice 'n' bake cookies AND toothsome fat-free (but chock-full o'sugar!) candy bits!

There's plenty of good out there. What have you noticed lately?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Now What?

On Tuesday, I watched Election Night returns with several friends in a sort of impromptu party. I can't deny it - there was a certain tingle of excitement in the air. History was being made and I held my breath as I served as both participant and witness.

But what does it say about me that I learned the identity of my next president from Jon Stewart? Hmmm. Might have to ponder that for a while. We were all watching the Stewart/Colbert report and flipping to CNN during the commercials. I'll admit that I dashed over to Anderson Cooper for confirmation before I believed much of anything.

After all the nastiness of a protracted campaign, I am left with two questions. One, why does anyone put themselves through this? Okay, I know the answer to that one. (Watch the video.) And two, now what?

No matter how you look at it, the "election thing" is done. The country spoke decisively (the days Reagan-style landslides are over; 52% of the popular vote is plenty to be considered definitive with 364 electoral votes in your column [Missouri is really living up to its "show me" motto and hasn't been called yet]) and there are no pending "spoiler" court cases. I'll admit to getting misty-eyed at President-Elect Obama's victory speech, as well as thinking that John McCain showed grace under pressure with his concession speech. I've taken down my yard sign (first one I've ever put up and it was a job of work to get it!), done the happy dance that my state went blue this go-round and am ready to move forward with the business of tackling what must be considered by any sane person to be "a mell of a hess." Winning is one thing - now it's time to deliver.

It's time to quit blustering (or worse, pouting) and roll up our sleeves. Let's get to work, people. We've got a country to re-make. We can't let this chance trickle away like sand through our fingers. We just can't.