Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dresses galore! But not for me. :(

Do you know how painful it is to go shopping with someone who is not boycotting China?

It's 100.1% difficult. Dillards, Charlotte Russe, TJMax, all stores with wonderful summer apparel that, unfortunately for me, was M.I.C.

Even shopping locally doesn't save me this time. It's not just the chain stores with their fifty million sister-stores world-wide that stock imported merchandise. One of my favorite downtown boutiques appears to only stock Chinese-made dresses. Trust me, I caused a small tsunami rifling through all the tags. And these are CUTE dresses. Airy strapless numbers adorned with sequins, adorable stretchy sun dresses, and cute cardigans tempted me at every turn in this place. Giedre loaded her arms with wonderful stuff and made her way to a dressing room. I followed, empty armed, bearing the title of "official sisterly support and critic" (that sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but anyone who has a sister will understand).

No pain, no gain, right? That's what I need to keep telling myself. I made a promise, and come cute dresses or not, I. must. stick. it. out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Closer to Home: the "hippie" lifestyle is examined

I live in a hippie commune. Oh, it's true.

Dating back to the early 1900's, this rambling old Victorian brags that it's been added on to over the years. My wood floors not only slope dangerously (visualize this: my television stand is propped up with cardboard under one leg, and yet it continues to lean awkwardly to the left), but nails pop up from my floorboards weekly - a definite hazard to the bare foot - and the cats have already disengaged several long, narrow strips of floor. The heavy windows, white paint peeling from years of use, require blocks of wood wedged firmly between window and ledge to stay open. Several kitchen cabinet doors, leftover remnants from the 70's, (no worries - they've been given a new lease on life with a coat of ivory paint) refuse to shut, instead wiling away the hours by cracking open invitingly to any bystander.

But perks abound among the pesky problems. Our apartment - tucked away at the back of the house with not one but THREE exterior walls - has fourteen windows. Fourteen windows! I know this about myself: I never want to live in a dark home. Dusty sunlight streams in through these old windows when I wake up in the morning and I see dusky blue mountains and a fading purple sky through my sun room in the evening. Even though the floors can be hazardous, I praise God that there isn't a shred of carpeting to be seen. Trixie sheds ten pounds of white fur daily. It would be pure hell to vacuum that mess. High ceilings, an airy floor plan, black & white checkered floors, and antique glass doorknobs all make me smile.

Last spring, a smiling neighbor approached me, a guy in his late 20's or early 30's (this place is chock full of us 20 and 30 something's), inviting me to stake my claim in the communal garden space. My rambling 'ole Victorian is extra special because it comes with a lot next door. This space is devoted to a large veggie/herb garden, a fire pit, an odd grill or two and the token roaster, and a large yard that has become The Croquet Field (no, I don't play).

Sure, why not? I thought to myself. I dutifully planted lettuce, green peppers, cilantro, and basil. And then I spent last summer trotting back and forth to the garden, getting my fill of fresh lettuce and tangy basil. It was wonderful! There's nothing better than the knowledge that your dinner is right outside the door, waiting to be picked. This year, I decided to step it up. I bought seeds for cat grass (which is literally growing 3 inches a day on my kitchen windowsill) and lupines. I planted basil in a pot indoors. My thinking was this: why not bring the produce as close to my butcher block as possible? The basil wants out however, so I may have to let it go wild. All of its three leaves are fusing stubbornly to the window and the sunlight it offers. Ah well. The two varieties of lettuce have been joined by bedfellows: purple cabbage, bok choy, and lavender. When it warms up a little, I'll be making another trip to the gardening store. Definitely rosemary, perhaps a red pepper plant or two, maybe some radishes and carrots?

We moved a rickety wooden television stand into our home, after observing its lonely vigil in the hallway. In return, we hauled an unwanted glass coffee table out to the hallway. A few days later, success! It had vanished into someone's apartment. There is an easy give-take relationship in this old house.

The landscaping seems to be the responsibility of a few tenants. I think I can dig in whenever - and wherever - I want. The phrase "careful cultivation" has no part in these guys' landscape design. In the early spring, beds are carved out around the croquet field and seeds scattered. By the end of the summer, pink, red, and purple flowers will stand about lazily, interspersed by gigantic sunflowers and shiny tomatoes (I've been told that the sun is better here than in the garden). The result is untidy, and yet visually pleasing. The narrow bamboo-lined path leads visitors through the garden and to the fire pit, where tiki lights burn brightly many a summer evening. The next morning, beer bottles will top the recycling box left on the picnic table.

I don't think most people my age call themselves hippies today. That's the outdated term meant for our parents, aunts, and uncles who were rocking it up in the 60's and 70's. But according to m-w.com, hippie is "a usually young person who rejects the mores of established society and advocates a nonviolent ethic." I feel that by rejecting the processed food of my generation, caring about what goes in my body, and trying to become more environmentally-friendly, I AM rejecting "the mores of established society." Of course, simply living in a place like Asheville brings that about too. ;)

Not only did I get a) my comfortably aged apartment and b) in a wonderfully eclectic part of town, but I got the hippie lifestyle to boot. I already wear Chaocs - check. But I've learned a few lessons this past year. I feel that living here has broadened my concept of community...and my realization of what LOCAL community truly is. In this house, we share our furniture, our produce, and our common space. Neighbors say hello and ask how I'm doing.

I guess to sum it up on one word, I'd say LOCAL has become my motto this year. Which *slyly added* also ties in to our embargo on all Chinese goods. Local garden, local produce, it's all good stuff.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Steps for a longer life...do I buy it?

Being a blog follower means one receives short reflections, written in a dry, enticing, or even humorous manner (your call) in fields pertaining to said person's interest. It's perfect. It could even be comparable to a magazine subscription, although you will miss the slick feel of a paper product in your hands (and that, to me, is irreplaceable, never to be bested by a blog or iPad or anything).

***Side note: Interested in assessing the health of your heart? Try hitting the wrong key on your keyboard while you're working on a blog post and watch the screen melt away, to be replaced by something that looks nothing like your post. Yes, it's awful.***

I felt like a magazine subscriber today when I read the latest post from a blog I follow: "The French Broad - Lessons from an Appalachian Table" (http://www.thefrenchbroad.com/). The writer, Mark Rosenstein, was sharing thirteen tips gleaned from Dan Beuttner's The Blue Zones. The subtitle says it all: “Lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest.” Wonderful, eh?

I thought these tips were very interesting... (borrowed from Mr. Mark Rosenstein)

1. Eat more slowly
2. Focus on food
3. Have a seat
4. Eat early
5. Eat 4 to 6 vegetable servings a day
6. Limit intake of meat
7. Lead with beans
8. Eat nuts every day
9. Buy a case of quality red wine
10. Treat yourself to a "happy hour"
11. Take it easy
12. Eat less

Some of these I heartily agree with. I need to tape number 12 to my forehead...and the kitchen cabinet...and on my table. I love food. I remember hearing a speaker, a slender young woman, declared the very same thing with a smile on her face. I was surprised. But why else is food there except to enjoy (besides for our nourishment, of course? ;) Number four is still a norm at my parents' house, and one that I firmly believe in. It's not always possible, that's for darn sure, but I feel so much healthier after a light meal in the evening. Number 7 and I have become friends only recently - in the past few years. Ahh, but beans are good!

But numbers 9 and 10 take the cake. This is a man after my own heart. What complements a superb meal better than a glass of wine (in my case, red)? When I come home after teaching eight students (that was today), I give myself an hour of down time before digging into the next project. I eat my dinner while reading a book or watching some television, and if there's wine to be had, I'll have a glass in hand. Bliss.

I've ordered The Blue Zones from the library. I'm curious to see what else Buettner has to say.

If you're feeling disgusted that I've written all these paragraphs and not a word about China, this paragraph's for you. I was shopping for pasta at my local greenie store today and wandered down the soup aisle, curious to see if anything would catch my attention. I picked up a package of ramen noodles (nope, nothing like the official "bad-for-you-but-oh-so-tasty brand), curious about the taste and idly wondering if I should buy it (in case you were wondering, it was infinitely more expensive than the other stuff at 79 cents per package. No "5 for a $1" here). I flipped it over, intending to read the ingredients, and lo and behold, "Made in China" stared boldly up at me. Ah well. No soup today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rain, rain, come my way!

I spent over four hours today on car-related activities. It wasn't fun. And the joy was not compounded when I had to ask the guy where my future tires and windshield wipers were made. Yes folks, my car earned an F on the inspection...which translates in a "fail." That was actually a blessing in disguise as my wipers have been defunct for months now. Do you know how difficult it is to say, "My husband and I are boycotting China. Can you tell me where that's made?"

Easier just to think it. Or to type it. Oh, so much easier.

I'm looking forward to the next torrential downpour so I can test out my new Mexican or Korean (he wasn't sure) wipers. ;)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Did someone say shoes?

Forget a new button-down shirt and tie for Easter, we decided. Let's go with dress shoes. These were long overdue, especially when I remembered that the pair sitting in our closet have been Drew's dressy companions for the past seven years. Oh horrors. Badly scuffed in the front, those boring black shoes have always reminded me of the sensible pair worn by Indiana Jones as he stopped a rolling boulder or hung off a suspension bridge by his fingertips. Except that Drew's are black.

We ran into the same-old same-old, however. Every single pair I picked up (and pulled up the tongue for country-of-origin info - does that sound creepy or what?), was made in China.

"What are we going to do?" I wailed.

"Let's go to the discount store," Drew said confidently. The discount shoe store has plenty of Chinese-made products, but I think our hope was that down one of those numerous aisles, we would strike gold. For those who have never been, the Discount Shoe Store is Enormous with a capital E. Envision the union of a small convenience store and Target. The child from that union is the Discount Shoe Store. It's my toy store. ;)

We made it to the store thirty minutes before closing time. A woman on a mission, I raced towards the dress shoes. Marching down one aisle and up another, I picked up black shoe after black shoe while Drew wandered somewhere behind and to the right of me (He says all males get lost in the dust here and I agree. It's best if they just keep a safe distance away from the person who is actually excited about being here - namely, the female).

I finally had success in the second aisle. There were two pairs of dress shoes made in...*trumpet, please*... Brazil. The prices, however...ahh, let's just say they were steep. The third pair (made in Mexico) sent me over the moon with a price ticket under $50.

"Kalabunga! Try this pair on."

They looked sharp. Very sharp. But their comfort level = cardboard. I grabbed one of the pricey pairs off the shelf. Drew might as well try them on, just for comparison's sake. His face wore a look of utter happiness (and that's saying a LOT. Drew doesn't get excited about shoes). "These feel...like walking on clouds," he murmured happily. "The other pair is like cardboard."

So we took the Brazilian shoes went home with us. The argument went something like this...

"You'll need dress shoes for PA school."
"Do you really want to spend longer than thirty minutes in the cardboard shoes?"
"You'll wear these for a few years at least. Total price tag divided by two or three years = not so bad!"

I can't sign off without a plug for the pricey shoes...I am of the firm opinion that pricier shoes are a) made better and b) are actually better for the well-being of your feet. I've got several $100 pairs in my closet (i.e. Chaco, Dansko, Born...) and they are going on five, five, and two years respectively. Do the math and that's not bad per year.

Unfortunately, most of the quality shoes that used to come from Spain and Germany and so on are now being produced in China. That makes shoe shopping challenging for us this year. I've had to say "no" twice now to a pair of the cutest Rocket Dog flats. Understand that for a shoe fanatic, this is extremely difficult. But luckily (imagine me wiping the sweat from my brow), not everything is made in China. Yet.

Feel free to get back to me in seven years and I'll let ya know how Drew's dress shoes are doing...