A blog about "nothing"!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Another one bites the dust........................(a cautionary tale)

This week I was saddened by the news that US retailer Coldwater Creek has officially filed for bankruptcy and will be closing.  As sad as I was, I certainly wasn't surprised.  I feel bad for those who are going to lose their jobs, but as for those in the higher up decision making positions, they kind of had it coming.  I will tell you why.

Coldwater Creek has unfortunately done the same thing that so many companies have been doing over the past decade--trying to be too trendy.  Back when my mom and I first discovered them, they sold high quality goods that had a unique appeal.  They had a nice variety of stuff for sale as well--gift items, jewelry, men's clothing (gasp!), home goods.  I looked forward to the catalog coming because there was always something that caught my eye, either for myself or as a gift for someone else.  And their clearance sales were the bomb, I remember one time getting $1200 worth of stuff for about $250, all of it nice quality and most of it I wore for several years because it was well made and classic styling but still up to date.

About 10 years ago they opened a store at our local outlet mall, my friends and I were all excited.   I shopped there regularly, I even had a credit card that earned points towards more Coldwater Creek stuff (I actually earned enough points to get a lamp for free!).  It was nice having a store close that I could go try things on at and not have to worry about shipping things back if they didn't fit, plus they ran terrific sales.  It came in very handy for someone who worked in a professional office situation.

Then things started to change.  The clothing not only went towards more trendy stuff, but also things that I found very unappealing.  I don't want to wear a bag, I like tailored, well fitting clothes with a classic style.  They also raised their prices considerably.  The final nail in the coffin was when the quality went horribly downhill.  I placed an order a couple of years ago via the catalog and ended up returning the majority of it because even at clearance prices, it wasn't worth it.  Most of the last couple of things I bought ended up headed to the Goodwill because they didn't hold up.  My closet at one time looked like an advertisement for Coldwater Creek--I now own only two pieces of their clothing, a white tank top and a velvet dress.  I can't tell you the last time I set foot in one of their stores.  Sad.

The reason I'm calling this a cautionary tale is that I think the Coldwater Creek bankruptcy should be a wake up call to many of the retailers in the US (and probably other places).  Don't forget your roots, don't forget your core customers, trendy isn't always the best way to go.  I'm concerned because I see too many companies doing exactly what Coldwater Creek did, and in this uncertain economy, it's dangerous.  I'll be honest, if anything were to happen to Lands' End or LL Bean along these lines, I'd be one unhappy camper, but I see them doing this and it scares me.  I read several different clothing related blogs and the comments seem to be the same--everyone has the same complaints with clothing that doesn't fit correctly, quality lacking, and some standby items just disappearing.  I was also surprised to see that many of these people are doing the same thing I am--turning to thrift and consignment stores to find what they are looking for, and saving money at the same time.  While that's great for the environment and the organizations that benefit, not exactly great for retail or the overall economy. 

Solutions?  Reduce the number of items offered and improve the quality of what is still offered.  Quit catering to all of the trends, stick to the items that you are known for and incorporate a trend or two.  The biggie--quality control.  This is a problem everywhere, not just in the clothing industry, and it seems as though no one in positions of authority cares.  We are outsourcing everything which while I'm not wild about, I do realize that not everything can be made domestically.  The problem is that retailers aren't checking items to be sure that they live up to the customers expectations as well as safe to have in our possession.  It's not been all that long ago that we had the scare with children's toys containing high levels of lead.  That never should have happened, but retailers seem to be more concerned with profits than safety.  NOT acceptable.  Today I am cleaning my kitchen and I will be throwing out something that has not lived up to my expectations.  It didn't hold up, and I'm not sure that it's safe to use anymore.  It wasn't cheap, and I see many of the same complaints on this company's website, yet they don't seem to be addressing it.  I won't buy anymore of it and that seems to be the general consensus.  Not good for an item that this retailer promotes constantly and used to be of good quality.  I know because I have one of their older pieces.  They would rather lose customers than improve the quality back to previous levels.   Hmmmm................

The one thing that retailers need to realize is that we as a nation have changed our buying habits considerably due to the economic downturn of a few years ago.  Many families are still trying to get back on their feet financially, so when they are shopping for anything, they aren't buying as much as they used to and they want quality.  We also realize that we don't NEED as much as we thought we did, many families had no choice but to do without some of these creature comforts.  Throw in television influence from shows like "Hoarders"--collectively many of are realizing that we have way too much stuff to begin with and even if finances are back up to pre-recession levels, that urge to buy has lessened.  Plus with the increased technology and the internet, when we do shop, we are much better informed and prepared.  Shoppers are the savviest they have ever been. 

I hope that this and some of the other recent company closings are a warning for those who are skirting the edge.  I'm holding my breath on some of my favorites, keeping my fingers crossed that they make it through this crucial time.  Now is the key time for retail businesses to get their act together, it's make or break.  I just hope they are paying attention. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why do we have to be mean???

I don't usually post stuff like this, probably because I'm usually a very upbeat person.  This just bothered me so much (and has for a while) that I felt the need to say something.  This isn't directed at anyone specifically, but a general observation.  Why is everyone so mean???

Most of you may know that yesterday in Pittsburgh, PA, a young man stabbed 20 people in the school he was at, some of them seriously.  Every time I hear a story like this, it makes me sad.  What could possibly be so bad in this young persons life that he felt that he had to resort to this?  It has since come out that after he was arrested, he made a comment along the lines of  "I want to die".  Now whether this was a motive for doing this or he realized in a moment of clarity just how awful what he had done was is uncertain as he's completely clammed up at the moment.  But why would someone who is only 16 do this, or want to die?

Last night while looking to see if there was any new information on this story I read an article on Yahoo.  The article told the basic facts of what had happened, nothing out of the ordinary.  What horrified me was the comments section.  Since when is a time of tragedy like this the time to be smug, smart alecky (is that a word?), racist and just plain mean?  This isn't the first time that I've seen this kind of bad behavior on Yahoo.  But last night something just set me off, maybe because this incident was a bit too close to home for me--and I flipped out in a post I made on Yahoo.  After I posted, I thought "oh great, I'm probably going to get all kinds of flame posts back".  You can imagine how surprised I was this morning when I got my e-mail updates and not only had I got quite a few "thumbs up" on my post, but also only one comment and it wasn't a flame at all, but someone who was concerned about this young mans mental state.  Hmmmmm........perhaps I'm not alone in my anger at this latest trend of nastiness.

With all the things going on in the world, the phrase "we are going to hell in a hand basket" comes up frequently.   Sorry folks, I think we are already there!  We live with so many people who feel overly entitled, who don't appreciate what they have, who suffer from overwhelming jealousy and pettiness--all things for which I just don't relate in any way shape or form.  No one wants to take responsibility for their behavior anymore and act like grown up adults.  It's all "me, me, me"--we've lost our common sense and our ability to show compassion. 

So what do we blame this on?  I think our celebrity obsessed culture (particularly in the US) is partially to blame.  Too many people who suffer from all the things I previously mentioned can't distinguish the fact that the lifestyle that many celebrities live IS NOT NORMAL!  Then there is the media, reality television, video games--there are so many outside sources influencing our decision making processes, it isn't funny.  Unfortunately, it has contributed to a phenomenon I call "mean girls syndrome"--which is becoming all too prevalent.  It has to stop.  NOW
Don't be like them.

More and more people are suffering from various forms of depression, we've had more incidents of people "acting out" in anger (and injuring or killing others in the process), and it just keeps getting worse.  Solution??   Good question.  I do think that instead of band aid fixes (medications, laws that aren't enforced, bans on things), we need to really sit down and find out the reasons why people are acting the way they are.  We need to teach tolerance, compassion, encouragement.  We need to communicate--and not via text or e-mail, but sit down and talk with each other.  We are so disconnected with each other it isn't funny.  Nothing distresses me more than to be in a restaurant and seeing a family at a table with all of their noses in their cell phones.  Put the damned things away and spend some quality time together. 

Parents need to parent.  There are too many doing a half-assed job of it.  You made the decision to bring this child in to the world--it's your responsibility until that child is 18 to take care of it.  That doesn't mean giving them everything material under the sun or plopping them in front of the TV and using that as a babysitter.  Interact with your child, talk to them, do things together, even if it is just cooking at home, playing a game, being creative.  Teach them things.  More important--let them be kids.  I see too many of them shuttled off to dance lessons, athletic activities, etc--they are stressed out by the time they are 10 because their schedules are insane and many of them could care less if they participated in these things.  They have little time to play, they are drug from here to there, and for what?  An unfulfilled dream of a parent living vicariously through them?   To make matters worse, all this running around stresses the parents as well which turns this whole thing in to a vicious circle.  Slow down, take a deep breath, and think about the what's and why's behind what you are doing.  And once again, be the parent, the adult in this relationship.  Use some judgement--Jr. is in 6 different activities at the age of 7--really?  Maybe he has expressed an interest in all of these, but be realistic in what he is actually capable of handling and make him pick a couple of them.  Kids aren't automatically equipped with the ability to make good decisions, that's why they have parents!!!!!  I think too many people are overly competitive or worse yet, afraid that if they don't let their children do all of these things, they are "missing out".  The upshot of all of this is we are creating a generation of negative, narcissistic adults who can't punch their way out of a paper bag because they haven't been given the skills.

There is no perfect solution because this is something that has taken years to manifest.  But I think we all need to slow down, talk to each other, show some compassion--and quit being so damned mean.  Think about what you say before you say it--and how would you feel if someone said the same thing to you or about you.  Words are hurtful.  The internet can be a wonderful tool, but I have noticed that there are so many people who post things online that they wouldn't even dream of saying to someone face to face.  It's so easy to hide behind that computer screen.  Quit doing it.  Just quit it.  NOW.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring is here.......sort of.................and a new use for Cheerios boxes!

The weather here is still bizarre, one day it is warm, the next cold--we've even had a bit of snow!  To say that we are all sick of it is putting it mildly.  The only good part is looking at the long range forecast, it appears that the worst of it is behind us.  It better be!!!

As depressing as it is, weather hasn't stopped me from doing things--a flu bug did instead.  Several weeks ago I was really sick with an intestinal bug that is making the rounds, I don't remember the last time I was so sick--fever, body aches and way too much time spent you-know-where.  Luckily the really sick part only lasted a couple of days, but I've been struggling to recover from it ever since.  It really took everything out of me (literally and figuratively) and I've been having a heck of a time getting back up to snuff since.  I can honestly say that today is the first day I've felt even close to normal, I'm hopeful to be back to my usual self by the end of the week.  Having your electrolytes all of out whack wreaks havoc on everything.

Just before I got sick I managed to finish the worst part of our taxes and to celebrate, I decided to work on something that had been put on the back burner for a while--my Sunshine Family dollhouse project!  Yeah, bet you thought I'd forgot about that, didn't you???  The truth is that after some thinking, I wasn't totally happy with my initial idea, and then I temporarily went back to work, found that cute folding dollhouse that I wanted to incorporate in to the project somehow, the holidays.......it was back to the drawing board.  I'm one of those people who likes to mull things over for a while, think about all options and come up with a plan of some sort.  I finally decided what needed to be done, and I got the next phase of it done.  And since I now have quite a bit finished, I have decided to start sharing some of this project with you.  Some of this was done last year before I got sidetracked, some of it recently (before the flu) and some of it is yet to be done but I promise, I will share all of it with you in installments.

This installment--some furniture made from boxes!  When I was growing up I had a friend who could make Barbie furniture out of milk cartons--a sofa, tables, my all time favorite was the refrigerator she made, it was awesome.  Keep in mind, we were probably ages 8 - 12!  When I was getting out my Sunshine Family furniture, I remembered that the bed that came with the house was poorly made and ended up being tossed out.  It was mostly made out of cardboard and the few plastic pieces it had were extremely fragile and broke quickly.  Flashback to all that cardboard furniture we made--I started digging around in some stuff I had saved and decided to make not only a bed, but a sofa of sorts!  After 8 1/2 years of working as a picture framer, I have an endless ability to make all sorts of things out of cardboard, this was going to be fun :)

I started with two Cheerios boxes.  My husband eats a lot of cereal (I swear sometimes I married Jerry Seinfeld) so there is never a shortage of boxes.  I had saved these for another project that I wanted to do but haven't gotten around to, so they were fair game. 
I started on the bed first, I didn't need to change the width--after all of these years of sleeping in a crappy bed from Mattel, I decided Steve and Stephie were going to upgrade to the equivalent of a Queen size!  I just needed to shorten the box a bit and turn the excess portion in to a headboard:

I did a bit more cutting on the box for the sofa as it didn't need to be quite so big:

After some folding and taping, this is what I had:
I then "upholstered" them using scrapbook paper.  I still want to make some additional things for them, but you get the basic idea.

I need to make some bedding and pillows yet, I remember my mom even made a mattress for my Barbie's--do I want to take it that far?  We'll see, Steve and Stephie are getting up there in years, but I don't think I'm quite up to making them a Sleep Number bed! 
'Til next time! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The name's Stewart........Martha Stewart!

I'll admit it--I'm a Martha Stewart fan.  I have been for a very long time too, probably since just after I was married.  I know she has her share of haters, I am not one of them.  Some of her stuff is a bit over the top, but I have to say that in all honesty, I have learned quite a bit from watching her shows, reading her magazine and her cookbooks.  Even my mom commented that unlike some of the people who do cooking shows "it's obvious to me that Martha is someone who actually knows how to cook, just from some of the things she does in her demonstrations".  Back when she spent time in jail I kept track of what was going on, and organized a "Martha Gets Out Of Jail" party along with some co-workers who were also fans.  What can I say, it was winter, we were bored, we needed a party!
A photo of some of the spread from the "Martha Gets Out Of Jail" party--the punch was made by one of the men I worked with who even got the recipe from the Martha Stewart website!!! 
I think one of the reasons I admire Martha is that a lot of her ideas are throwbacks to the good old days--back to basics kind of things that were typical for our moms and grandmothers, but in the fast paced world we live in, kind of got lost in the shuffle.  With the economy still struggling to recover, some of these ideas are starting to get noticed again.  People are realizing that not only are some of those old ideas less expensive than their modern counterparts, but they are also a whole lot healthier, safer and creating less of an environmental impact.
One area that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately is household cleaners.  So many people are becoming more and more concerned with what they are exposing themselves and their families to while doing something as simple as cleaning the floor, washing dishes or doing laundry.  In addition, the prices to buy all these chemical laden products keep going up and up and up--I'm appalled at the price of laundry detergent anymore.  In fact, it has gotten so out of hand that in some areas Tide is nicknamed "Blue Gold"--and is a target for thieves.  Someone steals a bottle of Tide and then because it is so expensive, they are using it to purchase drugs!!!!  Crazy huh?!?! 
Laundry detergent is one thing that I've been contemplating in the "make it yourself" category, and after an incident I had with a name brand laundry soap about 10 days ago, I finally broke down and gave it a try. (I ruined a brand new shirt!)  For $25 I purchased the following items (excluding the green bins in the background, I had those already)
A box of 20 Mule Team Borax, a box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, a large box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, a tub of Oxi Clean and 4 bars each of Zote and Fels Naptha soaps.  My list of ingredients to purchase came from checking out several different recipes I found online.  Based on different things I've read, this batch of ingredients should last me anywhere from 6 months to a year--or even longer!  I purchased all of these items at the local Walmart except for the borax, I picked it up at the grocery store. 
I made up two small batches yesterday to try--one with only Fels Naptha soap and the other with half Fels Naptha soap and half Zote soap, both mixed with the other ingredients.  I want to see if one works better than the other.  I'm not a huge fan of the odor of Fels Naptha (although it does take me back to childhood!), the Zote soap smells more like Ivory soap.  I'm not going to share my recipe just yet because I'm going to tweak it as I go.  I did do a couple of loads yesterday with it and I learned this--if you have hard water--you need to pulverize the soap, leaving it in small beads will not work very well especially if you use cold water.  This was easily remedied by running the batch I had made back through my food processor when I was done mixing it.  I ran it to the point that the batch of 1/2 and 1/2 started out with pink and yellow beads and is now a nice shade of orange!  I threw a load in this morning with it and it seemed to solve the issue of the soap not dissolving.  Best part is my clothes smell clean--not perfumed.  You can add scent crystals, but to me that's just adding an unnecessary chemical. 
I will keep you all posted as this project progresses--once I am satisfied with a recipe I will be sure to share it.  According to a friend who also makes her own, a batch like I made should last several months.  I am wondering what other things some of these ingredients could be used to make as well for cleaning purposes, I couldn't help but notice that once mixed, this smells a lot like Murphy's Oil Soap.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, you can call me Martha.  I won't be insulted.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Any big plans for the day?  No party or anything here, just cooking some yummy food to celebrate.  I will be wearing one of my lovely Irish sweaters and matching jewelry.  I need to get my CD's out and put on some Irish music.  Enjoy!

Beautiful Celtic Cross at Monasterboice

Friday, March 14, 2014

I think a trip to Dairy Queen is in order................

It's been a loooonnnnnggggg winter.  I got a chuckle out of a Twitter post from Samantha Brown yesterday--"Winter coats are the new maternity clothes.  After what seems like 9 months of winter, I never want to wear mine again."  Pretty much sums up how I feel too!

Yesterday we woke up to snow and bitter cold, (6 degrees F), not fun.  But the upside of it is that in looking at the long range forecast, it appears to be the end of that crap--whoooo hooooo!!!!  Today it's supposed to be in the 50's, and in celebration, I think I will take Miss Laney on a long overdue trip to get ice cream at Dairy Queen.  MMMMMMMM!

Have a great weekend everyone!  Happy Pi day too!  Anyone have big plans?  I'm doing taxes, yuck.

"Mom, you're not pulling my leg, are you????!!!!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Girls Day Out!

Had a great shopping day in Pittsburgh yesterday with my favorite shopping buddy Heather--we covered a lot of stores!  I chuckle when I think about how Heather and I ended up being friends, we had known each other for years, she graduated with my sister-in-law and niece.  It wasn't until they were remodeling her workplace, she worked downstairs of where I worked, and while they were displaced, I offered her and her colleagues the use of our extra computer.  While she was in our office, we discovered how many things we had in common, and we've been great friends ever since.  I blame her for my thrift store addiction as well, so yesterday I introduced her to several places that she had never been to:  Trader Joe's, Whole Foods (my first trip too!) and Gabriel Brothers.  My station wagon was full of bags by the time we were on our way home with lots of clothes, shoes and goodies.  A fun time was had by all :)  In addition to some yummy food, I found this gorgeous hydrangea at Trader Joe's.  They are one of my absolute favorite plants, and I loved the idea of having it indoors to enjoy for a while and then I can plant it outside later.
The only brand new clothing items I bought were a jacket, a pair of Keds (yes another! I can never have too many) and a nightgown.  Thrift store shopping was difficult, it looked as though they had been cleaning out the racks lately, not a huge selection, but I still managed to get three shirts, a sweater and two pair of shoes.  The one pair of shoes still had the tags on!  The other pair doesn't look as though they were worn, maybe one time possibly, no wear at all on the bottoms.  I recently ordered a dress from Lands End to wear to a wedding we have to go to in May, and after I got it, realized that I didn't have shoes that really went with it.  I kind of had a particular style in mind, and was so excited when I found them yesterday--for $3.95!!! (the pair on the left)
I think with what I have purchased, I am officially ready for spring/summer!  I have an order from Lands End that is supposed to arrive today, two pair of pants and a pair of shorts, fingers crossed everything fits.  I am having a hard time picking what size to go with, I've lost just enough weight that some of the things I had from before are way too big, but other things still fit, it's weird.  I'm not 100% sure what size I really am either since no two companies are uniform anymore, argh!  I've weeded out a lot of stuff that didn't fit well from last season along with a few items I was just tired of.  I need to make one more trip to the Goodwill and the consignment store to drop off, and I think I'm finished.  Until fall!   Final tally for the day: three shirts, a sweater, a jacket, three pair of shoes and a nightgown:  $63.  The jacket at full retail was marked over $100 on it's own.  Not bad.
This morning I was thinking about all of the great reasons to shop at thrift stores.   There are so many!  I thought I would list some of my reasons here:
1)  The obvious one--to save money!  It is simply amazing how much new or near new stuff ends up at thrift stores.  The one pair of shoes I purchased would be $36 normally, I picked them up for $6.99--that's $29 I didn't spend and can keep in my pocket. 
2)  To find unique items.   Yesterday I found a Bradford Basket for $1.95.  Bradford baskets are comparable in quality to Longaberger, but the original company is no longer in business, it burnt down a couple of years ago.  I was so excited to find it as I knew exactly what it was, and it is a very useful size.  They also had two very large Steiff bears--they weren't cheap, $250 each, but to someone who knows about bears and collects them, that's a good deal.  I was surprised to see them, I can't imagine giving away a bear that was that valuable, I would love to know the story behind it. 
3)  Try out stuff that you might not otherwise.  I've found a lot of clothing brands that are generally more expensive than what I would normally spend.  A perfect example of this are the Denim and Company shirts I've come across, all of them brand new.  Denim and Company is a QVC brand and not super expensive, but by the time you add in the shipping prices, more than I am willing to spend for something basic like a t-shirt.  I have picked up several brand new ones for a fraction of the cost.  And my opinion on them is unchanged, I still wouldn't pay full price....but I'm only out $3 for a shirt instead of $20 or more.
4)  Find brands/items that are no longer manufactured.  Companies come and go on a daily basis, and it's especially sad when one of your favorites is gone.  I've come across several things from defunct companies as well as items that the style has dramatically changed on recently in their original form. 
5)  It's good stewardship.  Every time you buy something at a thrift store, that's one less item going in to a landfill.  And most thrift stores are run by companies that donate the money to good causes.  If you purchased just one item per month at $1 from a thrift store, that's 12 less items in the landfill and $12 to a charitable cause in a year.  Multiply that by 2500 people--30,000 items not in the landfill and $30,000 to go towards helping others.  Think about it!  And if that $1 item you purchased was a $10 item you saved $9 or $108 per year.  That's a low example too. 
Have a great week everyone!  We have snow in the forecast again for tomorrow, I'm starting to think winter is never going to end.  Hard to believe the first day of spring is only a little over a week away.