Resisting the Tyranny of Christmas Materialism…Or Not

Diamonds = true love. Therefore, lack of diamonds means…?

Owning a home = success. So renting means…?

Top-end equipment = mastery of craft. So crappy stuff means…?

We’ve probably all struggled against these Western constructs at some point. Maybe we’ve found comfortable alignment, maybe we’ve rejected the whole shebang; probably somewhere in between. But nothing raises my love-hate complex with materialism more than Christmas.

I had it all down this year. For my Mate and Sons One and Two: a special book, or an article of clothing I’ve heard them wish for. Everyone else: homemade granola.

Christmas list? Checked off. Christmas shopping? Done. Y’all can fight over my parking space at the mall.

The Mate and I have talked; he feels the same. I wasn’t expecting any gifts less modest than what I’m giving him.

And then my electric mixer broke.

You have to understand something about mixers. There are KitchenAids, which START at $250, and then there are the cheap, hand-held kind–$25. I got a cheapie as a wedding present 29 years ago. It worked fine, but I always told myself, “When this one breaks, I’ll get a KitchenAid. I’m a great baker. I should have great gear.” It lasted 16 years, but when that cheap mixer broke (in the middle of a cake), I zipped out and got a new one…for $25.

“It’s good enough,” I told myself. “Why spend ten times that much? And I’m in a hurry. A KitchenAid…that’s a commitment. I’m not ready.”

“Y’know, REAL bakers have a KitchenAid.”

“I’m a real baker! I’m a big girl! Just look at all the incredible pies and cakes I’ve made over the years with my cheap-ass hand-held.”

“Right. So don’t you deserve the good stuff now?”

“I’m not buying into your materialistic orthodoxy! Good enough is good enough!”

“Oookay…But you could have a blue one. Or purple. Just sayin.”

Fast-forward nine years. It’s Christmas season, and Cheap Mixer #2 breaks–again. In the middle of a cake. I’ve just congratulated myself on successfully fighting off the Demons of  Buy-Buy-Buy. But I have a choice to make.

This time, I caved. Or triumphed. Whichever way you choose to look at it. But from the pride with which I’m now displaying these photos, I guess you know which way I’m looking.

Who's a big girl now? I'm a big girl now!

Who’s a big girl now? I’m a big girl now!

Lesson? I’m going to try and be less judgy about materialism. If something new and expensive makes me or someone else feel fulfilled…I’m going to consider why. That might be enough.




Notes to Self: Everything I Know About Myself I Learned From My New Guitar

Nothing like a major life purchase to force you to look your character straight in the eye. When I bought my first guitar this week, I learned about a few traits. Or re-learned. (Sigh.)

First of all, yes, I’ve owned a guitar since 1981. But that one was given to me in a typically generous but not well-thought-out impulse by my father, who didn’t consult me on what kind of guitar his college-student daughter might like. This week’s purchase was my first EVER. Here’s what I (re)learned about myself:

Trait #1: Good Enough is Good Enough. No matter that the string action of my 1981 guitar is so high I had to have the bridge lowered, and it STILL kills my fingers to play an F chord. No matter that the dreadnought body is so large and wide I get shoulder aches when I play too long. When I have something that works okay, I hang onto it forever, even when I know I don’t have to. Loyalty? Cheapness? Efficiency? Laziness? Eco-friendliness? All of the above?

Trait #2: Big Decisions Make Me Feel Small. Even with one music buddy at my side to ask all the right questions and help me listen for the right sounds; even with detailed notes on guitars researched by another music buddy; even with that second music buddy adding his two cents via speakerphone, I still felt like a little girl in that guitar shop. Overwhelmed. Unqualified. Unworthy. False modesty? Real modesty? Chickenshitedness? Fear of not living up to my own musical hopes and dreams? All of the above?

Trait #3: I Won’t Apologize For Being Cheap When Being Not-Cheap Feels Wrong. I went into that guitar shop with a $600 price limit in mind. I knew that was the low end, and I can give you all the arguments of friends who tried to talk me into looking at guitars over three times that much. “You’ve had that guitar 35 years; you’ll likely have the next one for at least a couple more decades.” “You’re playing so much more now–you’re worth it.” “Think of how much better a musician you’ll be with a better instrument to live up to.” “You can afford it–why sell yourself short?” My answer: I don’t want to feel like my instrument is way above me in quality. I’m 54, I have a wonderfully balanced life, and I’m never going to devote enough time to music to be the kind of guitarist who needs a $2,000 guitar. I’m buying a new guitar for a better physical fit, not an upgrade. Therefore my cheapness is not simply cheapness–it’s sense.

Nice...spendy, but nice...

Nice…spendy, but nice… (next 3 photos courtesy Beth Geever)

Yes, I did try out a $1,000 guitar. I might even have bought it if the fretboard had felt right. But it didn’t. And that $2,5000 one? I tried it too, and it sounded and felt beautiful…except to my gut. Which I listened to.



Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

It's laminate...but it's still pretty. And Guitar Friend #2 assured me only the top of the guitar matters when it comes to sound.

It’s laminate…but it’s still pretty. And Guitar Friend #2 assured me only the top of the guitar matters when it comes to sound.

YES. Come on home with me, darlin’. Let’s make beautiful music together.

Meet "Di."

Meet “Di.”

I walked out of that shop with a beautiful $600 guitar, and one more (re)discovery:

Trait #4: I Value Family and Friends Above Everything, Even Music. I would never have considered going guitar shopping without their encouragement (my Mate’s especially), and I never would have returned home with “Di” without their help.

So I’m curious. Any major purchases in your life had that holding-up-the-mirror effect on you lately? Please share!

My Favorite Catalog is the One I Don’t Receive: Do You Know About Catalog Choice?

Do you love receiving unsolicited catalogs in the mail? Then by all means, don’t read this.

You know that scene in “Dead Poets Society” where Robin Williams’ character makes his students rip the intro out of their poetry textbooks?  “Begone, J. Edwin Pritchard!” “I don’t hear enough rrrrip!”

That’s who I think of when I use Catalog Choice to rid myself of the disturbing wasteful downright stupid unwanted catalogs clogging up my mailbox. “Begone, ‘Bed, Bath & Beyond’! Never darken my doorway again, ‘Jockey’! ‘ Walmart’–I said good DAY.”

I LOVE Catalog Choice. I love knowing I DO have a choice, and a method, of reducing the amount of costly junk mail swirling around me–and when I say “costly” I’m referring to the whole process, from cutting down the tree to my fellow citizens having to haul all that recycling off our island.

Never tried it? Here’s all you do: Go to and create your profile. It costs nothing. (They do ask for a donation, but again–your choice.) From there, every time you receive an unwanted catalog, all you do is log in, type the name of the catalog you wish to divorce yourself from, enter the codes printed on the back of the catalog, and–hey presto, it’s out of your life. (Catalog Choice even includes a way for you to report bad catalogs who refuse to listen to you the first time and keep showing up, though this hasn’t happened to me yet.)

Of course there are those catalogs with whom I enjoy a happy, lifetime relationship. (Talking to YOU, REI–and thanks again for opting out of Black Friday.) I would never “Catalog Choice” them out of my life. ‘Cabela’s’? No thanks. But ‘King Arthur Flour,’ you can snuggle on over here…


We probably all have more “losers” than “keepers” when it comes to catalogs. Want to share your top 3 keepers? I’m listening. (But for the rest–tell ’em to get lost.)


#OptOutside (Like I Need Another Reason to Love REI): Turning Black Friday Into National Go Outside Day

Except for an old jacket and an even older daypack labeled LL Bean, from back in my former life as an easterner, ALL our outdoor gear is REI, either their own brand or bought there. The Mate and I are faithful citizens of REI Nation. Which is why I’m extra pumped to feel so proud of Recreational Equipment Incorporated for their recent announcement:

REI will close for “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, the most important shopping day on the U.S. calendar. They want us to go outside and play.

I LOVE this. “If only this would catch on,” was my first thought. And guess what: it has! According to King 5 News, Seattle retailers Outdoor Research, Gregory Packs, and Clif Bar, have Opted Outside now too.

The #OptOutside movement speaks for itself, so I don’t feel the need to say more here.


Except this: how about supporting the idea? Save our shopping urges for another day? Anyone who can, let’s all go outside on Friday, November 27–anywhere outside, just nowhere near a mall– eating our Clif bars and wearing our REI gear proudly.



Christmas Shopping. Shopping, Period. Is it Really an X-chromosome Thing, and If So, Am I a Guy?

I’ve said this before: You know those license-plate frames, “I’d Rather Be Shopping At Nordstrom’s?” If I owned one of those, it would have a big red slash through it.

In other words, I’d rather be doing almost ANYTHING than shopping at Nordstrom’s. Or any place attached to a mall.

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

But still, I entered the gaping maw of the Beast this past Monday in order to “allow” my husband to buy me my (late) birthday gift, a gold chain to replace the one I lost this summer.

I’m still feeling guilty about going to a chain store (HA! pun SO not intended!) to buy that chain. Somewhere out there is a lil’ mom ‘n’ pop jewelry store, and I’m positive that my missing $$$ in their till is probably what will make the difference in sliding them into bankruptcy this year. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Pop.

But you see, husband & I were in Eugene…we weren’t expected at our friends’ house for another hour…we had some time to kill…and my birthday was six weeks ago…and there are NO jewelry stores that sell plain old jewelry on our island. (Adorable earrings made from shells and crystals–yes. Gold chains–no.)

And…chain stores are way cheaper. And gold is expensive already. Dang it–still feeling guilty. ANYWAY.

As soon as I walked into the mall, I remember why I rarely walk into malls, and my husband felt it even worse. At Christmastime, yet! At least it was Monday–“Cyber Monday,” in fact–so it wasn’t all that crowded. But the music and the displays were still overwhelming. I picked out my chain, tried it on, watched husband pay for it, and we got out of there. I swear he was shuddering.

Later, we compared notes with our friends, who have two middle school-aged daughters…who adore shopping. Their mom, who’s more like me, sighed, saying she forces herself to go to the mall with her girls from time to time because they enjoy it so much. Didn’t I do that with my kids?

Nope. I have BOYS. They “love” the mall as much as their dad does.

That led to a spirited discussion of whether and why boys are less into malls than girls. Is it because boys are less into clothing, and malls are more about clothes shopping than, say, Legos, or electronics?

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

We decided we needed more “data.” Not the kind where you do actual research. I mean the kind where I ask,

What do y’all think? In your experience, are girls truly more into shopping than boys, or is this just a stereotype? IF this happens, what, in your opinion, is driving it?

And then I sit back and wait to hear what you have to say.