Wednesday, November 26, 2008

White meat, dark meat or frosting?


From Whole Foods market, $2.99 cupcake. I love elaborate decorations made of buttercream!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Our Tree Is Up!


Yes, Bob and I are big Christmas people. BIG Christmas people.

Gift Cards Are Now an Even Worse Idea

Yesterday NPR broadcast that, with businesses folding right and left, gift cards are not the the way to go this year. By the time your recipient gets around to using that card, the business might no longer be accepting gift cards (yes, they can do that) or could be gone completely.

Bob and I received a Circuit City gift card quite a while ago, but never got around to using it. Last month I heard that Circuit City was going to be closing 20% of its stores in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy and I knew what I had to do: within days we were at a Circuit City in Skokie. It sat across the street from an empty Bennigan's, giving the street the feel of a horror movie, halfway through. There were more employees in that Circuit City than there were customers and I almost felt bad that we weren't there to spend real money. (Actually, I think we did spend about $50 over the value of the card, which was $200 so I guess we did need a few things.)

This experience reminded me of an important gift card approach: when you get a gift card, use it as soon as possible. I have lost gift cards in the past and I rarely feel more irritated than when I've lost free money. But also, now gift cards often lose value over time. They can lose a flat dollar amount or a percentage of their value every year. For those two reasons alone, why would you hold on to a gift card? Spend it on anything!

But now we have an even more compelling reason to spend gift cards immediately, or better yet, to not deal with them at all: the store could fold up completely and then what do you have? A bookmark that cost someone $25 or $100 or more.

NPR relayed the story of an employee who took her annual bonus in the form of a $1,500 gift card which she planned to use to buy her boyfriend a telescope. But then she put off that purchase. And put it off, and put it off. That gift card was for Sharper Image. Yeah. Now she's got nothing but a handful of plastic and the very strong wish that she'd used that gift card immediately.

I could rant all day about how gift cards must be used immediately (use it on anything, whether you need it or not. You can exchange it later), but I know that human nature is to procrastinate on this kind of thing. Why should I get myself down to The Body Shop for a bunch of overwhelmingly fragranced products I don't even want? Or even if it's a store I like, say Victoria's Secret, what's the rush? Victoria's Secret isn't going anywhere.

This is why my pitch today isn't to those of who get gift cards; it's to those who give them. Don't give them. These days gift cards make even less sense than they did before. Between the cards getting lost, losing value or just becoming useless after the business disappears, it doesn't make much sense to give them. Too many businesses are disappearing, seemingly over night. Think of everyone who was holding gift cards for Mervyn's, Linens n Things, Sharper Image, Bennigan's and Whitehall Jewelers when they all bit it.

But there are a couple of reasons that people will still buy gift cards and I realize they probably outweigh all the reasons not to: gift cards are convenient and get you out of having to come up with a real gift. And maybe that's all right since purchasing a gift card is becoming the same as making a donation to the store. In this retail season, that counts as an act of Christmas charity that isn't all bad.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

O, California...

I was born and raised in California and it has always struck me as a legislatively bizarre place. It can be the first state to pass legislation that, say, bans cigarette smoking in restaurants and bars and it can be the first state to make English its "official language." It's a state that has nurtured San Francisco and Orange County. It produced Jerry Brown and Richard Nixon.

Sometimes California makes me proud, for instance when its Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage as a right of all citizens, and sometimes it makes me very, very disgusted. Right now I'm disgusted.

I know that people I'm related to, who shall remain unnamed, voted for Proposition 8 and I don't understand them. Besides wondering how the personal lives of people they don't even know could possibly affect them, I'm stunned at their willingness to alter the California consitution, eliminating a right that had been granted. Changes to constitutions usually broaden people's rights; I don't know if a change to an American constitution has ever limited them.

I'm also disgusted by the media framing this as a black-white issue. While African American voters' support of Proposition 8 was important (about 70% voted yes on it), they weren't nearly as important as Christian voters who are a much larger bloc and two thirds of whom voted to limit constitutional rights. African Americans only made up about 10% of the voting population in the California election, but Christians made up nearly 25%. (By the way, only ten percent of voters with no religious affiliation supported 8, so hooray for atheists!) In fact, the biggest voting bloc responsible for passing this legislation was white Republicans who favored it by a ratio of more than 4 to 1. Republican party members made up nearly a third of votes.

This is not a black-people-versus-white homosexuals dynamic. There weren't enough black voters to control this one and they certainly weren't behind the big bucks. That would be the white Christians. It's true that more African American voters came out to the polls this year, but more significantly, more Christian voters, many of whom happened to be black and Hispanic, but most of whom were white, cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 8.

I guess it was just too soon for California to see the light. I believe they eventually will, but by then they'll have $%^-ed up their constitution. Most of the people in my family are solidly left of center, politically, but on this proposition, certain members voted to the right of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yeah.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Representing

Last week I felt the beginnings of a cold. I made it go away because I was heading to Iowa to canvass for the weekend. I felt the symptoms again on Tuesday, but tried to ignore them as I headed downtown. Over two hours of standing and watching CNN election results on a huge screen with thousands of others had me feeling not great. I limped off from the crowd to a less populated place on the grass where others were sitting on blankets.

I pulled my hood over my head against the chill. I looked around and couldn't believe some people were out there in t-shirts without sweaters at all. I saw that it was almost 9:30 p.m. and wondered why I wanted to stay. I was thirsty and in pain. I wanted to go home and watch the rest of it on tv. I knew if I called my husband, he'd encourage me to come home. So I called my friend, Robert, in New York.

Robert didn't argue with me. He just said, "Regina, you have to stay!" I whined, but I knew he was right. I hung up with Robert and lay down on the ground, hoping that a cat nap wouldn't leave me unable to warm up again.

At a few minutes before (after?) 10:00 p.m. CST, Obama was projected the winner. I scrambled to my feet and didn't have any trouble staying on them for the rest of the night. I had my second wind.

There are many things I didn't realize until later (such as, that I should have stocked up on t-shirts and newspapers), but one that's finally sinking in is how many friends and family find it important to know someone who was in Grant Park on election night: me. I had no idea that I was also there for everyone who couldn't be, but who wants to be able to say that their cousin/sister/friend/etc. was.

Oh.

Well, then I'm even more glad I stayed. I probably would have stayed anyway, just from inertia, but thanks for the pep talk, Robert.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

YES, WE DID

I was in Grant Park on Tuesday night, not in the actual event, but standing with thousands of people just outside of the fenced area. When CNN called it for Obama, everyone started yelling and cheering and hugging each other. I stood there stunned for a minute before I began to clap and cheer also. Couples embraced, people cried, including me. The huge jumbotron showed the words "Obama" and "president" and it was an incredible moment.

Maybe you saw the images of Chicago's Grant Park. Everyone was just celebrating. We quieted down to politely watch John McCain's concession speech, applauded him (I thought it was a really good speech) and then waited for Barack.

We had to wait through about five piped-in songs (maybe he was talking to Bush?), before he came out. Barack Obama. Our home town guy. It felt amazing to be watching a presidential acceptance speech in my own city. I was also happy to be surrounded by thousands of people who supported him, many of whom had worked hard to get Obama elected. I hadn't attended any rallies and hadn't yet felt that energy.

Afterwards, we spilled out onto Michigan Avenue where vendors hawked t shirts, buttons, and hats. I bought a couple of buttons, but didn't get my favorite shirt that I saw: "Yes, we did." I greatly regret not buying anything but two buttons because I realize I should have stocked up.

Energy was high and I think people were reluctant to go home, even though we all work in the morning. There were MANY police officers out, very prominently. Even when I got back to my neighborhood, Rogers Park, which is an hour train ride from downtown, there were several police officers standing in the train station, which is the end of the line.

But I haven't heard of any incidents at all. We were just happy.

Amazing night. I got three hours of sleep and that's why I didn't blog yesterday.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Eve

I'm downloading NPR podcasts about the election and carrying them around on my iPod. I'm also carrying a radio that I plug in when I want more immediate news. When there's no election coverage on the radio, I go back to the iPod, on which I listen only to election discussions. I've also got my BlackBerry and an actual paper copy of Newsweek for when I feel like reading instead of listening.

More news. I want more news.

Tomorrow night I'm considering going down to Grant Park in Chicago even though I missed out on tickets. I live in Chicago. This is where It's Happening.

I already voted. I can't believe there are people who chose not to vote early because they prefer to vote on election day. If the lines were hours and hours long for early voting, why does anyone think they won't be there for hours on election day? I think the polls are going to be a nightmare tomorrow. Any of you who restrained themselves from voting early, let me know how long it takes you to vote tomorrow.