Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dead Trees

Yesterday was close to my ideal Christmas. There was a change of plans when Daisy came down with a fever, so instead of going to a family party, we lounged . . . playing, cooking, reading, watching the Lakers. I took a little ride on my like-new bike - a gift from my husband - and enjoyed the neighborhood at its quietest. The kids spread their new toys in piles across the house and rotated through them, no annoying clean-up time to interrupt their progress.



That clean up is now way overdue, but Violet and I have joined Daisy in spaced-out sickland. The most productive thing I've done today is order a meatball pizza. The Christmas aftermath is always a little sad, but with flu symptoms, it's dismal. I'm searching for the energy to do something about it, and for some reason, it's encouraging to think about the worldwide after-Christmas mess.  What happens to all those orphaned trees?



These trees were dumped next to a pub outside London. I imagine there were that many men who recognized an airtight excuse to stop by the pub.






















There's something sentimental about this picture.






















I wish I could throw MY Christmas tree out the window.






















Do you think the other people ran when the fire started or refused to watch?



Lagging.


















Free roaming.




Vintage.



picture 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/2178552654/
picture 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveparker/3165551720/
picture 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cardboardmonsters/380834794/
picture 4: http://www.flickr.com/photos/collinanderson/2303997318/
picture 5: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/3151796989/
picture 6: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arenamontanus/362447449/
picture 7: http://www.flickr.com/photos/themacinator/3486824889/

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Place


I'm in my happy place. Just got home from celebrating Christmas with my family, and my kids invited themselves for a sleepover with Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle. Their dad and I jetted out of there (see you, suckers!). Now, I can watch Christmas at the White House in peace.



It seems sad to rush home to sit in front of a TV and laptop when given a free pass for the night. But, today was long.  Daisy lost her first tooth yesterday, and when she found what the Tooth Fairy left her around 3:00 this morning, she was wide awake with follow up questions. Around 4:30 a.m., our daycare provider called the house phone, and left a frantic message about not being able to take the girls today because her son was in the hospital. I knew the teenaged son was off on a snowboarding trip and witnessed his driver talking him out of a helmet . . . there wasn't much sleep after visions of snow mishaps and car accidents.



Turns out, the kid's fine but our house . . . not so much. The contractors - or as Violet calls them, "oud uys" - were busy at work today. Another deck demo'd. More evidence of a cover up by the previous owners. Lots of photo documentation. A quick call to a mold expert with concern that we had the bad kind of mold under our house, which might demand our immediate exit. It was benign after all, but not very relaxing around the homefront.



I got the kids away from the construction mayhem for a good deed. I just received a small bonus, so I took them back to the Salvation Army table we passed at our local mall the other day. There were a ton of leftover wishes for bikes and ipods. We decided on a princess bike for a 3-year-old girl. Fortunately, we found one at Sears.



Unfortunately, Violet was out of sorts. She's taking the whole construction thing at home very personally. She cried. She sulked that she missed her house as she knew it, and she "no ike it anymo." She hasn't been feeling very positive about the holidays either. Apparently, Santa is a "oop-ead." And by the way, she doesn't like reindeer. So, when we looked at pink bikes that were not intended for her own 3-year-old self, I should have known it was going to be ugly.



An overeager Sears associate gave Violet an inappropriate talking to that she will probably remember for the rest of her life. The cautionary tale involved houses being skipped by Santa two years in a row, coal in the stocking and big sisters getting lots more presents . . . all because of little sisters who were whiny while their mothers were shopping at the mall. Violet held on to her big sister in terror as she listened, but quickly reverted back to crybaby status after we got a safe distance away from Sears. I carried her and the bike back to the table, Daisy trailing behind, before realizing the Christmas wish involved a helmet.



We put some time into wandering the mall, but there were no kids' helmets. We left for the nearest sports shop, then returned to the crowded mall parking lot. I decided to share a few inspirational words before getting the kids out of the car. . . we will deliver this helmet and then I will take you to McDonald's.  All you have to do is get this helmet to the table. Remember, Santa is watching.



And that's pretty much it except for the family celebration, which was mostly fun (one of my feel-good holiday sayings is . . .  the only thing the really makes Christmas is the presence of children and the only thing that really ruins Christmas is the presence of children), but I'm REALLY tired so I'm going to bed now. I'm not even going to edit this puppy. What I am going to do is wear my clothes to bed, so when the contractors' faces are visible through my bedroom window . . . I'll be like, what? I've been up for hours. What kind of slacker sleeps til 9? Either that, or I'll go hide in the other room.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roll_initiative/3139129474/

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Highlight


A stranger graced me with a priceless gift at the Dollar Tree on Tuesday.



Daisy's pick up from school that day was complicated. She was still mad at me from Monday, when I forgot to send her to school with gum drops for gingerbread houses. After she came home with a gingerbread house that really could have used a few gum drops, we sat down and made a list of everything else we needed for this week's activities - school projects, secret santas, etc. - and planned to go straight to the dollar store after school the next day. So Tuesday, Daisy and I bee lined for the car at pick up.



Meanwhile, Violet bee lined for the school playground. On my way to retrieve her, I ran into a mom I needed to talk to anyways . . . I found the kids' belongings strewn in a path to the playground. Daisy was watching her friends in frustration as they swung themselves up to the top of the parallel bars. She tried to squeeze in but couldn't hoist herself up. She asked me to help her, which I did, but she panicked because she couldn't find her balance at the top. I stabilized her then walked away. Another mom intervened. I detected a bit of judgment from one mother to another in the way the mom helped her . . . I really haven't been putting in enough face time with the playground moms recently. I reminded Daisy that we needed to go.



Once I got Daisy ready to walk to the car, I chased down Violet. She was annoyed to be plucked from the playground, so she took it out on her sister in the car. She played her sister like a pro, eliciting lots of screeches and tears. I warned, ordered, yelled then explained the concept of "misery loves company." I could see that we only had one stop in us. So, whatever I was making for dinner that night was going to have some carefully selected dollar ingredients.



Once we got into the store, I was in the zone. The kids ran in opposite directions so I corralled them and reminded them of our list. I blocked the steady stream of unnecessary stuff in our cart and encouraged them not to give up on their searches, while planning dinner and figuring out how to accomplish the school projects. Daisy was frustrated with all the crappy stuff, but I knew we could make it work if we kept looking. Oddly, Violet was tasting her way through the store, licking everything she could grab. I got down at eye-level with her to coach her in proper shopping techniques.



When I stood up, a woman approached me, "Excuse me . . . I know it's none of my business." I thought, oh no . . . are my shortcomings showing again? "I've been watching you and I just wanted to tell you that you're a really good mother." I played it cool . . . oh thanks. That's really nice of you. But I strutted through the rest of the aisles, asking the kids repeatedly: who's your mama? "Um, you are?"  That's right! (In your face, playground mom!)



As far as this blog's concerned, it was the highlight of the week.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mpie/3161107249/

Monday, December 14, 2009

Studs in Sweaters

When browsing Christmas trees on Flickr Creative Commons the other day, I was sidetracked by holiday sweaters. (You don't think I was looking at trees for three hours straight? That would be weird.) I was looking for pictures of women in all their festive glory, feeling nostalgic about when my mom and her friend used to get pumped about adding to their Christmas sweater collection every year. I once worried that childbirth would make me susceptible to this affliction and tested myself by pushing Daisy's stoller through the holiday sweater department at Macy's. I even touched one . . . but felt nothing. What a relief!



I could find very few pics of the ladies wearing Christmas sweaters. It appears that guys have not only taken over that cheerful holiday style, they are sharing lots of clearly labeled pictures.

 



I quickly became bored with the "I'm Core Because I'm Wearing My Mom's Christmas Sweater " look.




I wanted something a little more raw. I like the uncomfortable look in this guy's face, but he's probably out the door to a keg party where he will quickly wash away his uncertainty with a beer bong. Or something like that.




Think about how much harder it would be to commit to a holiday sweater for an entire work day. This guy is making a good effort to look relaxed but the hands in the pockets say, "Why did I let my wife pick out my clothes this morning ... and could everyone just stop staring?"




But some guys can pull it.




Some even feel dead sexy.




Mad props for the more advanced holiday v-neck.




I know this isn't technically a Christmas sweater but the comment on the post captured my imagination . . . the guy asked the girl to give him the feeling he had last Christmas. He must really like to be itchy.




This guy thought his hair looked a little weird. Um, well . . .




I like so many things about this picture. A kitten, a mouse AND a skunk?! A vest and a holiday print turtleneck? The lovely snowy backdrop? The acid-washed jeans? The expression of pure joy? Bravo!




Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kitzbuhel

Growing up, money was tight. But that changed after my dad pursued a job opportunity in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Perks included funds toward international travel every six months. When I was 11 and 12 years old, we spent Christmas in Kitzbuhel, Austria. 


We traveled with families who were living in the same compound.  From a climate of neverending summer, we arrived in a winter wonderland. The town was picturesque with quaint storefronts and cobblestone streets. The bars were of special interest to the adults in the group, as the only alcohol readily available in Saudi was marginally drinkable homemade wine.


But we were there to ski. The first day of lessons on the bunny slope was a shock to my middle brother and I. It was awful. We held on desperately to the lift, skis and poles slipping around wildly. We suffered jolting falls on the way up and back down. We were offended to have been tricked into spending our vacation this way. We talked it over and decided we'd just tell our dad that we quit when we met him for lunch.


Our dad was quiet as we explained to him over goulash and apple strudel that we hated skiing and we weren't going to do it anymore. I don't remember what he said but the answer was . . . you're doing it. End of story. I really don't think he understood how scared we were. The rest of the two weeks included hours of terror as our teacher led us to increasingly difficult slopes. There were moments when I was stuck in the deep snow, charged with adrenaline, that I was literally fighting for my life.  The walk back to the hotel after each day on the slopes was torture: trudging along in ski boots that felt like buckets filled with sand, balancing skis - or maybe it was just poles - on bruised shoulders. What the hell kind of vacation was this? Our dad would walk a little ahead of us, just out of earshot of our whines.


A group of local kids were greatly entertained by their American visitors and followed us around a bit. They loved to watch our awkward skiing - swooshing effortlessly around us while taking pictures of our mishaps - and openly making fun of our baggy Sears ski clothes. We giggled at their names and funny English. A boy who called himself Gayheart positioned himself as our official host.


I appreciated the experience much more when we returned the following year. The snow was thick and billowy. The ski areas were massive . . . you could go the entire day without repeating a single slope.  And the town looked like Christmas should . . . snow-covered roofs trimmed in spiky icicles, an ancient candlelit church giving midnight Christmas mass in Latin, horse-drawn sleighs with jingling bells. I tried to memorize everything, even the gamey broth with rubbery dumplings that seemed to be the specialty of the hotel restaurant.


The second year, I met a girl from Canada in the hotel hallways. Our parents agreed to let us share a room for part of the stay. We had a lot in common . . . our favorite hobbies included telling people what to do, brooding, and writing. Really, our families were relieved that we found each other. We holed up in our room, writing poetry, playing writing games, and ruminating on life's big questions (so much fun). At the end of our visit, the girl asked me in a formal manner if I would be her pen pal, and for the next couple years, we exchanged lengthy letters. It became a competition in who could send the most pages.


To the adults of our group from Saudi, the winter vacay was a hard-earned, two-week party.  I have a memory of sitting on the floor of the hotel lobby with the other kids (my middle bro and I might have been playing poker . . . we passed many hours of traveling that way). The adults were sitting around a large round table just outside the hotel bar and probably had a couple rounds of Schnapps before my dad got up to leave. He was mortified when he realized he was taking the tablecloth with him, glasses and all. The worst of it was the tablecloth was stuck in his fly (try to explain that one). Of course, us kids were always watching, soaking it in to be re-told to anyone who would listen (guess what, Grandma!).


Our most dramatic story came out of the New Year's Eve festivities on the second trip. I was left in charge of my brothers at the hotel. My parents wrote down the phone number of the bar they would be frequenting and left amidst talk of drinking from a boot. One of the locals had given my youngest brother a marzipan pig, something to be eaten for good luck in the New Year. After my parents left, I let him gobble it down. He proceeded to throw up all over our room at midnight. I called the bar. Someone picked up but the roaring sound of the crowd in the background was the first sign that my parents wouldn't be found. We had been abandoned in a true vomit emergency.


We eventually found a hotel employee who was willing to help us. She wasn't too excited but set her beer down and grabbed a mop. We put ourselves to bed, full of the self-righteousness that would be unleashed on our frail-looking parents first thing in the morning. We must have been very pleasant travel companions.



picture 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frau-holle_kitzbueheler-alpen/3325730374/in/photostream/
picture 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jries/2168656739/in/photostream/
picture 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frau-holle_kitzbueheler-alpen/3257478315/
picture 4: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/travel/2331582/Downhill-cool-in-Kitzbuhel.html
picture 5: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doglotion/63969773/
picture 6: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jsorbie/2156228608/in/set-72157594509539643/
picture 7: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glenmaclarty/1012578926/
picture 8: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opie/3445069829/
picture 9: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jries/2168672181/in/photostream/

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Tree Love

Today was a good day in my underemployed life. I worked for 45 minutes (phew . . . glad that's over). My new routine is to walk by the ocean when I'm done, but it was too rainy and windy. Instead, I picked up Violet a little early from daycare. She wasn't feeling well so when we got home, I set her up on the couch with blankets and recorded Christmas specials . . . hmm, what am I going to do? There's housework, laundry, writing, job searching . . . no, none of that sounds very good. I know! I'll look up Christmas trees on Flickr Creative Commons! A pot of coffee later, here's the fruit of my labors. (My hands are sweaty and shaking but I'm REALLY excited to show you these lovely Christmas trees!)



Livigno, Itlay - What a good idea. Think of the possibilities here. You could use any type of can, bottle, bottle cap . . . basically anything you would normally throw in the trash or recyling. Plus, the person who posted this picture was invited to a Flickr group called Navidad Coca Cola. Someone should really be paying me for this kind of info.



 
Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, Columbia - This is something for the hippies, moms, grandmas, children, nature lovers, hipsters, Volkswagon drivers, nice people . . . everyone else can go back to the previous tree.



Bookstore, somewhere in Australia - Books, blue, and being inside on a rainy day . . . does it get any better? No way.



City Hall in San Francisco, California - Those are cranes. Lots of them. Peace.



Ocean Beach, California - Sweet.



Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Lisboa, Portugal - I actually prefer this upside down but it really is impressive.



Austin, Texas - Divine. Think about the time and materials this baby required. Makes my three hours on Flickr almost seem reasonable.



Tokyo, Japan - I'm hating that cheezy mosaic base but otherwise pleased by the strangeness of this structure.



Stockholm, Sweden - Minimal fun.



Madrid, Spain - This is my favorite. I like the softness and sharpness. I could really stare at this for a long time.



Barcelona, Spain - Solar-powered tree. Spain, how did you come to rock the Christmas tree world?



Englewood, Colorado - Naturally beautiful.


You're welcome.



picture 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/macinate/2052004039/

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Small Acts


This is the time of year when an act of charity is personally mandatory. There's something about the first real cold - and it's icy cold right now even in this part of California - that brings a sense of urgency to the idea of giving. And tis the season to highlight the differences of the haves and have nots.



I didn't realize just how fortunate I was until I gained a window into the lives of some students over the years. Some kids studied the holidays as portrayed on TV like bitter anthropologists. Occasionally, one of them would grill me sarcastically after the winter break. Once I had kids of my own, it might go something like this: "I bet you had a Christmas tree, didn't you? I bet your kids had presents. Were they wrapped? Were they all excited for Santa? Were they like . . . oh San-ta! I was good this year. Oh!"



No one really has TV-perfect holidays, no duh. What teenager - or adult - isn't at all bored, disappointed or annoyed by forced family celebrations? I already knew that some families choose not to celebrate or suffer an unexpected tragedy that ruins the holidays. What I didn't realize is some families don't have a plan at all. The kids don't know what to expect. The circumstances might involve poverty, illness, or addiction but the end result is the same: basic needs left unfulfilled while the rest of the world seems to be rolling in peace, love and joy.
 


The first December I was unemployed, I took a walk in my neighborhood at night, and instead of enjoying the sights and solitude, I couldn't stop noticing how much people seemed to have from the outside looking in. I couldn't stop thinking about my bank balance and how much my neighbors' light displays must cost. I couldn't stop thinking about what I couldn't afford to give my kids . . . tickets to the Nutcracker, tuition to the better preschools, and home-cooked feasts that looked something like the Sunset magazine spreads (might have been inflating my cooking skills a tad).



Then, I came across a mom on Craigslist who was asking for clothes donations for her little girl. She said she had been injured and was struggling to keep her apartment, living on food stamps. I sent her a huge box. I have no idea what was true or not. She was asking for clothes and probably hoping for money. But all I had to offer were secondhand clothes and toys. And it was time for me to stop worrying about what I lacked and focus on what I could provide.



Last December, I bought new toys and kids' jackets for a local nonprofit collecting donations. I found myself down there on Christmas Eve morning. There were people lined up down the block and around more than one corner, waiting for donations. White delivery vans stuffed with clothes, toys and food, slowly navigated through the crowds on their way out of the parking lot. Seeing so many in need was stunning. I noticed a range of facial expressions . . . indifference, impatience, sadness, embarrassment . . . but what still haunted me hours later was the all-encompassing vulnerability.



Later, at my in-laws' Christmas Eve dinner, I sat at the formal dining table with the fine china and silver, classical music in the background. After a multi-course gourmet meal, most of us were still sitting at the table, about to transition to opening the mountain of presents surrounding the tree, and I couldn't shake the images from the morning. I decided to talk about what I'd seen and fully embarrassed myself by breaking into sobs (hello, my name is bleeding heart liberal). I couldn't articulate why I was so upset at the time.



I think I was touched because I felt just how tenuous my own financial situation was, yet I also experienced a tremendous amount of gratitude for what I had (don't worry, I won't be making a list). Though a small act of charity might not amount to much when considering the behemoth problem of poverty, I think it helps both the haves and have nots. And I think we are all kind of both, in one way or another.


picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3089531148/

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tutu Drama


My daughter Violet loves a fancy dress, or as she would say: tutu. The more puffy and sparkly, the better. It's been that way for most of her three and a half years, and she has converted some of her little daycare friends to her dazzling style. Although I make sure she wears warm layers in the winter and reserves some of her more formal pieces for special occasions, I let her wear what she wants. I do enjoy seeing a kid's personal style develop.



Because of my tutoring schedule, Violet is picked up for daycare around 8:00, five mornings a week. Our morning routine is crunched and she's not happy about it. I'm not exactly stoked either. In my perfect world, mornings would be reserved for sleeping.



Then there's Daisy who is expending a lot of energy to keep things together in school but falls apart when I pick her up. There have been threats of running away and lots of crying.   



During yesterday's group email, Tabitha and Bindy weighed in on the latest in my parenting saga. I love them for taking it on, getting deep into those details, and making me laugh. I don't know what I would do without them in my village. But they're not the boss of me.



Bindy Star, how is Violet’s therapy going? Did they discover why she is dropping the first consonants?

Star she won't start therapy until january, just before she starts preschool.

mornings are rough w/her. if i'm behind on laundry, she never wants to wear what's in her closet and it turns into a monumental struggle with lots of crying and yelling (for both of us). her dad had to take over this morning. she even got a spanking. it's driving me crazy.

daisy's also going through something right now. her behavior has been excellent in class. she even got an award this week . . . but as soon as i pick her up she yells at me and throws fits. so i chew her out and give her time-outs. it's uglier than normal.

Tabitha Can’t you just tell Violet if she doesn’t wear what you pick out she goes out naked? As for Daisy, don’t speak to her when she’s talking to you like that, and tell her you won’t speak to her until she can speak to you politely [I love this part . . . don't talk to her but you tell her you're not talking to her]. That’s my back seat know it all parenting advice for the day.

Star yes, we've tried the naked threat. also, just counting to three then wrestling her into whatever we pick. it helps to pick out her outfit the night before. but she's not going to be able to dress in her fancy dresses when she goes to preschool.

i'll actually try the no talking thing w/daisy. yelling doesn't work. the only thing that seems to work is if violet is naughty, daisy is suddenly an angel.

Tabitha So let her wear the fancy dresses. She’ll get ridiculed and that will be the end of it. Now I’m really done with advice.

Star it's not about that. preschool won't allow it bec they get dirty and have full access to paint whenever they want. it's agst the rules.

Tabitha What are they supposed to wear?

Bindy We don’t own any fancy dresses for M, so it’s not an issue. Pack them up and hide them from her. Especially in the winter when it’s too cold for those types of clothes.

I agree with the silent treatment for Daisy.
 
Tabitha Perhaps if you explained the situation they would let you do it for one day. Then make sure they have her get good and dirty and ruin the dress, and all the kids mock her and make fun of her, so she’ll never want to wear a fancy dress again!
 
Star your whole ridicule technique is cracking me up.

they're supposed to wear playclothes. if girls wear dresses, they don't have full skirts that can get caught on things and wear pants underneath so they can cross their legs [as in criss-cross apple sauce].

i'm not taking violet's clothes away from her. she's just got to learn the whole time and place concept.

it's not really about fancy tutus . . . it's about control. you have to let them think they're in control in a way. meanwhile, guiding them like little puppets.


Bindy And in preschool they need to be in sensible clothes, no skirts. Pants and shirts.
 
Tabitha Even if you put pants on under the dress? Like leggings or something?
 
Bindy Just take the damn dresses away!
 
Tabitha Seriously! It’s not a NEGOTIATION!
 
Bindy True that. It’s hard sometimes, I forget that I don’t have to always reason and compromise with my kids. They are kids, and they don’t know any better, but I do. So no negotiation, unless you are actually willing to budge a bit and know that beforehand.

Bindy I dunno that I agree that kids have to feel like they are in control. I mean, yes, they should get choices, like you can wear A or B, but both choices should be in the realm of what is appropriate.

But here I am preaching shit I probably don’t practice the whole time. So don’t listen to me. But really, you could just take away all her dresses and only let her wear them on weekends.
 
Tabitha Why do they have to think they’re in control? I don’t get that part.
 
Tabitha There’s bound to be resistance at first b/c she was always able to wear them before.
 
Star i don't negotiate and reason on this. i'm not taking away her dresses bec if it's not that, it will be something else. violet has gotten to the point where she can get herself dressed on her good mornings. for me, it's more about channeling their strong wills than squashing them. i want them to be strong when facing the world yet cooperative at all times w/their mother :)

i don't mean they actually need to be in control but at this stage of development, they want to be in control and it's important to use that to encourage their independence. so if i set things up so she has limited appropriate choices like you said and she feels in control then we both win [so maybe they have a LITTLE point].

i'm out. talk to you later! [Notice how I deftly avoided further commentary. Of course, I would be offended if they DIDN'T tell me what to do.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wake-up Walmart


I spent a lot of time shopping online for Cyber Monday.  Having more time than money means I get a little obsessive about each purchase. I was planning to get a Hello Kitty boombox with a few CDs this Christmas for Daisy, my six year old. First, I looked at Toys R Us and after looking at the customer reviews, realized that all the Hello Kitty, iCarly and other kid-crack-themed boomboxes don't last. Then I found a cute turquoise boombox that was rated well . . . but with shipping, the total was $50 at three different sites. That was more than I wanted to pay so I did something that's against my shopping religion and *gulp* looked at Walmart. My retail morals couldn't compete with $30 delivered for the exact same thing.



Walmart - as well as Amazon - had a record breaking Cyber Monday. Apparently, Walmart has had a bit of a PR makeover in recent times by carrying more organic products and overhauling some of their more outrageous management practices of the past, such as forced unpaid overtime. But mostly, it's the economy. I read somewhere that after the recession was in full force, we heard less about the evils of Walmart because people couldn't afford to argue with the bottom lines of their rapidly shrinking budgets. It's true for me . . . when I was fully employed, I would have gladly paid $20 to not shop at Walmart. But with the money I saved on the boombox, I can afford to make my dog's Christmas with that Snuggie blanket she really has to have (joking . . . I'm totally going to wait for the after-Christmas sales).



It's not that Walmart was ever really affected by bad press before the recession.  In the last ten years, it's become the largest retailer in the world, number one on the Fortune 500 and America's largest employer. Someone is shopping there. But what has Walmart done wrong, besides killing the unique character of shopping areas across the country? My memory of the specifics, as described in Nickel and Dimed in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, was dim. It's been several years since I read her firsthand account of being a Walmart employee.



So, in the afterglow of cyber shopping, I decided to refresh my memory and found wakeupwalmart.com. Here's a sampling of how Walmart continues to rip off its employees, U.S. taxpayers, and pretty much everyone on earth. 
In 2008, the average full time Associate (34 hours per week) earns $10.84 hourly for an annual income of $19,165. That’s $2,000 below the Federal Poverty Line for a family of four. [http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/08poverty.shtml]

Last year, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott earned $29.7 million in total compensation, or 1,551 times the annual income of the average full time Wal-Mart Associate. [http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/20/business/fi-briefs20.6]

A 2004 estimate by the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce found that Wal-Mart's low wages cost taxpayers up to $2.5 billion a year in the form of federal public assistance programs. ["Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart," A Report by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce]

A 2008 report by the National Labor Committee found that workers making holiday ornaments for Wal-Mart in Guangzhou, China were paid only 2/3 of the legal minimum wage, often worked 95 hour weeks, and were forced to work for months without a single day off. The report also found that children as young as 12 worked in the factory and that workers handled dangerous chemicals without even the most rudimentary form of protection, leading to serious skin rashes and sores. ["A Wal-Mart Christmas: Brought to You by a Sweatshop in China," The National Labor Committee, December 2007]


Now I wish I would have just spent that extra $20. It's not that Target or Amazon are angels but I don't think they are blatantly raping the economy in quite the same way. I'm choosing not to do the research at this specific moment because I'm not sure how my household budget would work without Target. So, let me stay in my blissful state of corporate ignorance just a little longer.



But here's what I do to repent for my shopping sins. Whenever I get a little birthday money or whatever, I try to throw a few dollars at organizations like Trade as One. Its mission is to "use sustainable business to break cycles of poverty and dependency in the developing world. We all have a conscience, and we want to give people the chance to use it when they shop." This organization is affiliated with a church in my community; a parent of one of my daughter's classmates invited me to the holiday fair last year. I bought beautiful Christmas cards for $40, made by impoverished women with HIV/AIDS in Africa.  I love the fact that this local church networks with other churches of different denominations worldwide to promote responsible business practices. It seems to me that churches should be about acceptance and helping others and really, it all comes down to economics. I just realized where I'll be spending that $20.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/galaygobi/114527025/