Monday, November 29, 2010

My love/hate relationship with Walmart

Yes, I know. Big Box Stores are inherently evil. They drive the Mom & Pop stores out of business and contribute to suburban blight by their very presence in the landscape. They encourage consumerism, retail therapy, and those plastic bags pollute the environment. Plus, they're everywhere you go.

At the same time, my local Walmart always has a great selection of fresh produce at reasonable prices. I can buy groceries and pick up a pack of socks at the same location, saving me time and gas that would otherwise be spent driving to another store. I like their garden center in the spring and summer. Much of my garden started from four inch pots of plants I picked up at Walmart over the years. And I love the ciabatta bread from their bakery.

Please understand that I do support the locavore movement. I do try to buy local produce, bread, and plants when it's convenient and affordable. However, our local farmer's market is small and very limited in the winter months. And while I can buy fun, locally knitted socks in a rainbow riot of funky colored wool, they aren't cheap and no one around here makes basic, white athletic socks or a normal pair of underwear.

I also understand why so many people absolutely loathe Walmart with every fiber of their being. It's a big store and some people dislike having to hike from one end to the other. Some people hate to go in for shampoo and a loaf of bread because they know they'll wind up spending $50.00 on items they don't really need. Others dislike how the bulk of goods for sale at Walmart aren't made in the USA and are transported from God-knows-where to get to our particular store. The Walmart parking lot is a sea of asphalt that contributes to heat retention in the summer and funnels oil and other nasty chemicals into the water table.

Some people dislike Walmart because it's so plebian. I once had a supervisor who hated Walmart with a passion. One time I asked him why he felt so strongly about Walmart and he launched into a heated rant over the size of the store, the origin of the merchandise, and the associated urban blight, all reasons I had expected to hear. Surprisingly, he didn't stop there. He also didn't like the people who shopped at Walmart as he felt they were all fat slobs who didn't know any better and he just didn't like to associate with that type of people. In his mind, we should all shop at other stores even if we had to pay more for their goods and services. Strangely enough, Target and Lowe's didn't seem to bother him even though those stores shared the same clientele in this area as Walmart and would jump to be as successful as Walmart given half the chance.

I pointed out that not all of us had a salary that allowed us to shop at other business that charged more for their goods and services. (I wisely refrained from pointing out that he was also responsible for setting my salary.) I also said that some people would rather save their money than buy items from a store with a more exclusive name as 1) they saw no need to spend more for the sake of feeling smug and 2) the more exclusive store probably imported their goods from overseas just like Walmart. I don't recall my supervisor's exact response to my comments, but the conversation rapidly died after that.

In retrospect, I could have asked my supervisor if he ever took his kids to fast food restaurants as I'm certain McDonald's put some of the local burger joints out of business back in the 1970s, but I didn't. I could have also asked if he invested in the S&P 500 as Walmart is certainly part of that stock index. Many people who dislike Walmart and avoid it all costs conveniently forget that it's a heavy weight member of the consumer staples sector when investing their money.

I invest in the S&P. My parents own stock in Walmart. So I shop at Walmart because the stores fulfill a need for me and because I benefit from their profits. On the other hand, rarely a week goes by that I don't come home from Walmart without another war story to tell about their employees or management. Yesterday I bought four Cortland apples from a bin marked $1.67. I assumed they were $1.67 a pound. Imagine my surprise when they rang up at $1.67 each for a total of $6.68. I asked the cashier if that was correct and he shrugged his shoulders. When I told him that $6.68 for four apples was just insane, he shrugged again and said I could go to customer service if I liked.

I liked. While waiting in line at customer service, I overhead an older couple in front of me talking about produce not ringing up at the correct price. The woman in customer service asked the older gentleman, "What can I do for you, sweetheart?" in a bored tone and the gentleman rightly responded, "I'm not your sweetheart." He had been overcharged for both apples and grapes and told the customer service rep that he was outraged at the sloppy pricing. The woman behind the counter immediately countered that the produce department was checking their pricing right now and she would refund the difference. When the older lady and I commented on how high the incorrect prices were, who knows how long they'd been incorrect, and how many people may have purchased produce without noticing the price gouging, the customer service rep got very indignant. "They're changing the prices now! I'm going to give you the difference!" Then she called someone in the produce department to tell them the prices were incorrect and how the customers "were fussing over the whole thing," as if her job wasn't there to attend to customers and make sure their transactions were correct in the first place. In the end the woman behind the counter simply gave us our money back in order to get us to leave. Not the best example of customer service and certainly not the most satisfying transaction I've had at Walmart.

No, Walmart isn't perfect. I would like to see them offer more goods made in the U.S. and even from local producers. I would like for the company to be a little less aggressive in its business practices. And while Walmart does give charitable donations to certain organizations and initiatives, I think it could afford to give a little more considering its global profit margin. On the other hand, Walmart has a substantial profit margin for the benefit of its investors, of which I am one. Like I said, it's a love/hate relationship.

PS: I do use my own recyclable bags at Walmart (and many other stores). I also recycle most of the packaging of the goods I buy. And I'm more likely to buy a t-shirt and jeans from a thrift store than at Walmart....just not my socks and underwear.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November, where art thou?

Wow, November has flown by me. Seems like Halloween was just last week, but today is Thanksgiving so that means Christmas isn't too far away. Whew!

Thing is, I'm not sure what I did with those first three weeks of November. We've been working on the house, mostly caulking and sealing gaps and cracks in the walls. Log homes have some different maintenance needs than a traditional home and I'm not sure I ever envisioned the vast quantity of caulk and Great Stuff we could use in our house. All of this work should improve our heating and cooling bills, but hopefully it will also reduce the number of spiders, stinkbugs, and mice that find their way inside our house. After the initial mouse encounter in early October, Oscar calmed down and didn't seem too interested in what might be in the fireplace. Her complacency lulled us into thinking that maybe, just maybe, Oscar had scared the mouse off and there was only ever one mouse and we didn't have to worry about it any more.

Ha. Oscar has spent much of the last two weeks barking at the fireplace, venturing downstairs into the basement to bark at the fireplace down there, whining and scratching at the wall boards, and otherwise driving us nuts. Apparently Mr. Mouse not only moved back inside, he brought all his kin over for Thanksgiving. So we set out some live traps for the mice, not being able to stand the thought of either Ally or Oscar getting too close to a snap trap (not to mention us having to dispose and clean up after a sprung snap trap). We did catch one of the mice this week, which gives us something extra to be thankful for today. We dumped Mr. Mouse into a tall kitchen trash can and ooed and awed over how cute he was, marveled at how high those little suckers can really jump, quickly slammed a lid on the trashcan, and then Steve liberated Mr. Mouse over at the recycling center down the road. Oscar still won't forgive us for not sharing Mr. Mouse with her. I know it's a little ridiculous to be soft hearted over what is essentially vermin living in your house, but that's the kind of people we are. However, I'm all for setting out snap traps if we can't catch the rest of the mice in the live trap and Oscar continues to drive us nuts over the mice. And if Mr. Mouse runs across the floor and Oscar catches it, then that's perfectly okay, too, because that's just nature in action.

I think the rest of our November has been primarily taken up by the perpetual sharing of germs in our family. Steve has had minor cold symptoms since Halloween, Ally's picked up a cough and sore throat for about a week now, I had a sore throat over the weekend, and now Steve has pinkeye. Nothing really major, just the wretched little low grade symptoms that make you want to crawl into bed and sleep all day. Still, it's not stomach flu and there's something else for which I'm thankful.

Last, but not least, I started volunteering at the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program's thrift store this month. I give them a couple of hours of my time each week and they save some too worn clothes for me that would otherwise be thrown away but I can use the fabric in my quilting. I like the ladies who work there and it's been interesting to see how the store is organized and managed. I interact with other volunteers like myself and several young adults, mostly women, who are required to work there to pay off community service for whatever reason that got them to the courthouse. I also see many of the women who are shopping there for their children and themselves with vouchers from the local public assistance programs.

Overall the experience has made me realized how fortunate I am. I have a stable relationship with my husband and we live in the same house with our daughter. Both of us are actively involved in our daughter's life. We live in a nice house, have clean clothes, and none of us went hungry today. Both my husband and I have our education and my husband has stable, meaningful work. Our parents are still living and we get to visit them on a regular basis. Even better, we get along very well with our parents and actively invite them into our lives. We have our health and our daughter does not have special needs or a learning disability. We don't have any addictions or emotional issues. We live comfortably and don't carry any debts. There are many other things in our lives for which I'm thankful, but lately these are the ones foremost in my mind.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oscar in a Pink Snuggie

Oscar is a miniature short haired dachshund. She's practically nekkid on some places on her body. This means she gets cold and likes to burrow into blankets, dirty laundry, jackets, or anything else on the floor that she can wriggle into to stay warm once the temperature starts to drop. Once, when she was a puppy, she met me at the door wearing a pair of Steve's flannel lounge pants. She had her nose stuck out of the fly and each leg trailed behind her like a pair of tentacles. She's also been known to worm her way down inside the sleeve of a sweatshirt or the leg of a pair of sweatpants. Alas, it's a lot harder for her to do that now that she's bigger.

I don't typically dress my dog up but I have been known to buy her a sweater if I thought 1) it would keep her warm and 2) it would actually stay on her. Like the stereotyped dachshund, Oscar is built like a hot dog with stubby legs. The length of her legs makes it easy for her to step out of the arm holes and neck of most doggie sweaters, so she usually just "walks" out of any sweater I've bought her.

Yesterday I found a fleece Snuggie For Dogs! at the thrift store, size small in shocking bright pink. Knowing full well that this was probably not going to work on a dachshund, I paid my 50 cents down and brought it home.

Oscar was less than enthusiastic about my new purchase for her.


She walked out of it in about two minutes. I think I could add a few strips of hook-and-loop tape to secure it better around her body, but I'm not sure it's really worth the effort. For starters, the length of the fleece barely covers her chest and leaves the rest of her back and belly exposed to the elements. Those are critical heat loss areas for a dachshund. I'd probably be better off just making one myself with extra length and closure ties for Oscar's um, unique build. Plus I can use whatever color fleece I want. Preferably something not Pepto-Bismal pink.


Just take the picture and be done with it, Mom. And for heaven's sake, get me out of this thing!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mixed Messages

Ally's daycare center sends an information sheet home with her each day. It's basically a daily report card on how Ally did that day, whether she ate all her lunch and played well with the other kids, or if she ran with scissors and didn't keep her hands to herself. It also lists if she took a nap and how long it was if she did.

Lately Ally hasn't been behaving very well at nap time. I know many toddlers have given up their afternoon naps at three and a half years old, so I'm not surprised that Ally is starting to do the same now. However, she's still expected to stay on her mat and be quiet during nap time, typically about an hour, so her classmates can still take one if they want. She can look at books during this time if she likes. What she can't do is run around the room screaming like a banshee, although this has happened more than once this past week. When Ally acts up during nap time and disturbs the other kids trying to take a nap, she's sent to the director's office for a stern lecture. Yep, she's already been to the principal's office multiple times at the ripe old age of three and a half. A repeat offender, even. It's our fervent hope that she doesn't get herself suspended from day care before she's four.

At any rate, sometimes the director tells us about Ally's behavior when she's been less than good and sometimes we hear about it from her classroom teacher and sometimes we hear from both her teacher and the director. Sometimes it's just a note on her information sheet that gets sent home. I've begun to notice that sometimes Person A describes Ally's behavior with a little more frustration and concern that Person B does, even when relating the same incident. And now there's the information sheet that was sent home yesterday.

Nap time: 1:40 to 2:45 pm
Written in black ink: Had a hard time staying on mat. Ms. A
Written in blue ink in a different hand: Ally had an awesome day! She took a great nap and listened so well today. Ms. D

Clearly some of the staff at the daycare center have different opinions on what constitutes good and appropriate toddler behavior at nap time. At this point I'm inclined to shrug my shoulders and let the daycare work it out with Ally as long as she doesn't actually set the center on fire.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Magic Beans


Scarlet runner beans always make me think of the magic beans from a fairy tale. Anything with purple and black markings like these should either grow into a bean pole to take you to the giant's castle, or maybe down into the land of the dead. I guess your destination may depend on whether you grew up with fairy tales from Disney or those from the Brothers Grimm.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unstoppable Force/Immovable Object

Last week a friend emailed me to ask how my birthday was and how my family was doing. I told him that I'd had a good birthday, but we were in the throes of having a three year old. Whiny, uncooperative, stalling, refusing to pick up the toys and grunting should someone ask a question. And that's just me. Somedays Ally is worse that that.

The grandparents cannot understand how Ally can possibly be as bad as we say she can be. Of course Ally is generally angelic and a delight to be around if you're her grandparent. To clarify, Ally's not bad; it's her behavior on some days that we can do without. I've been telling myself that her behavior, even on the worst days, is still perfectly normal for a toddler. Although I loath to start pinning labels on my daughter, now I'm beginning to wonder if we're blessed with a strong willed child. I'm hoping this is a phase she'll outgrow rather than a label she will grow into fully.

I spoke with another friend of mine last week who has a daughter just a couple of months older than Ally. She confided that she's begun to spend a lot of her time yelling because her daughter doesn't listen to her. I know how she feels. Both of our families try to give our daughters multiple chances to do as we ask before we escalate with sterner language and ultimately take away privileges due to bad behavior. Somedays I can talk until I'm blue in the face and Ally simply will not even look my way until I raise my voice and threaten to take away TV time. Then she'll burst into tears for many minutes before ultimately trying a stalling tactic to delay doing whatever it is I ask anyways.

Here's a typical morning exchange between Ally and myself:

"Ally, it's time for you to eat your breakfast."

"I want to play with my toys a little more."

"No, it's time to eat breakfast. Today is a school day and you don't want to be late."

"A school day?"


"Today is a school day?"

"Yes, Ally."

"And I don't want to be late to school?"


"Late to school today?"

Deep breath. "Yes, Ally. You don't want to be late to school today."

"But why?"

"Because you'll miss out on fun things at school if you're late because you took too long to eat your breakfast."

"Oh." Pause. "I want to play with my toys."

"Ally, please go to the table and eat your breakfast before it gets cold. Now."

Sobbing and wailing commences. "I don't want my breakfast to get cold!"

(That's usually the point where I begin to growl and gnash my teeth.)

I want to give Ally a chance to make the right choice and exhibit the correct behavior we expect of her, but at the same time I don't want to be a pushover who doesn't keep a firm stance and ultimately lets Ally have her way. It's an epic power struggle between a toddler desiring autonomy in her life and a mother just wanting her daughter to pick up all those foam blocks for once.

It would be a lot easier if we just started swatting some toddler butt after just one or two warnings, but that's not typically our philosophy in child rearing. Not unless we really need to make a point and all other tactics have failed. And even then it leaves me feeling drained and exhausted and like a failure myself. I often think Ally is far better at being a toddler than I am at being her mother.

Raising a child isn't easy. Sometimes I wonder if I'd waited this long before having Ally if I'd only known what raising a child was like. I could use some of that youthful energy I still had back when I was in my late twenties. Now a lengthy bout of "I don't wanna!" with the accompanying wails and tears saps my energy and makes for a generally miserable evening. Still, I consider myself lucky in that our daughter is bright, healthy, and generally happy except for the occasional cold breakfast.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November and the Post-Halloween Wrap Up

I'm having a hard time adjusting to November this year. October is my favorite month, full of warm days and crisp nights, pretty leaves and pumpkins all leading up to Halloween. Then BAM! November hits me upside the head. This happens every year so you'd think I'd be used to it by now, but this year seems different. It's cold. And dark. And I'm tired. And now there's the time change again.

I'm sure this November is really no different than previous years and my perceptions are merely a reflection of the fact that my fortieth birthday arrived last Saturday. Yep, hello middle age...and look, you brought midlife crisis with you! How sweet.

Actually I had a great birthday with a delicious chocolate cake with fudge icing and free access to far more Halloween candy than anyone should ever want. One benefit to having a cute toddler is that people truly want to give extra candy to her on Halloween night. I couldn't believe the weight of the candy in Ally's little black plastic treat bucket when we stopped trick or treating Sunday night. She was having a hard time holding it up but she wasn't exactly happy about handing it over to me, either. I don't think it's occurred to Ally that her parents are shamelessly raiding her candy stash when she's not looking. This will be much harder to pull off next year, but until then Ally is blissfully ignorant of any Twix bars or Reese's peanut butter cups that may be missing from her candy bucket.

Ally dressed up as a cowgirl princess for Halloween this year. Or rather I dressed her up as one.


She was very excited about the princess part, but not so much the cowgirl part. I told Ally that she didn't have to be a cowgirl princess, that she could be a princess of the wild west if she wanted to be that instead, and she seemed perfectly fine with this idea. Of course as soon as we started trick or treating people asked if she was a cowgirl princess, which she objected to, but then Ally wisely kept her tongue as soon as the candy started flowing into her treat bucket. By the end of the night you could have called Ally a three-headed vampire alien ghost clown and she would have nodded sweetly as long as you were dumping those little packages of Skittles into her bucket.

Normally we don't have a lot of candy in the house. Most of our sweets tend to be homemade baked goods. Ally gets those little Dumdum suckers at one of the local restaurants and sometimes a couple of marshmallows at home, but not candy bars or chocolate. (No, I hide the chocolate for myself, rotten mother that I am.) Her Halloween stash is the biggest pile of sugar, fat, and artificial flavors and colors that she's ever seen. Thankfully she doesn't seem obsessed with consuming it all at once. Ally may ask for a piece after school, but she's just as likely to ask for some fruit. And if we let her pick out the kind of candy that she wants, Ally is perfectly satisfied with one or two pieces of candy after dinner. This means we're going to have that candy in the house for an awfully long time, or at least until Steve and I eat it all after Ally's gone to bed at night. Oh wait, I hear a Nestle's Crunch bar calling my name right now.


"What was that?"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nearly Wordless Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

Maple seedlings



Purple asters

Shagbark hickory







Virginia creeper


One of the white oaks...maybe overcup oak?


Wild grape(?)