I recently started to focus on buying organic food. Since reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser while on vacation in 2005 (totally not a vacation book, by the way), I’ve been worried about the hormones injected into our food by the mega-farms to hasten the growth process of the animals we eat. While driving through Nebraska once, I saw many meat cattle farms in which hundreds of cows were penned up together to walk in their own manure because there was nowhere else for them to move. The farms smelled horrible. For miles before and after, even. I worried about the quality of the meat in these pens where they couldn’t move. It had an effect on me that brought me to read Fast Food Nation in the first place.

For the most part, though, I’ve been pretty lazy about following through with buying organic. It’s expensive. It’s hard to find. There are less choices with brands and less diversity of selection (ie, if you’re looking for a particular flavor). Thus is the problem with trying to eat more healthy in this nation: the better food is practically inaccessible to the average person, especially in the Midwest. But I can’t say that I ever stopped thinking about what I learned in Fast Food Nation. Nor could I get the image of that penned up cattle out of my head.

I did make a step to reduce the demand on meat: I made an effort to reduce how much of it I personally ate. Most days, I only eat meat at one meal (usually dinner).  About once or twice a week, I manage to go an entire day by deliberately choosing to not eat meat. I know I’m just one small person. But I guess in the case of trying to conserve our planet’s resources, I have to just comfort myself with the fact that maybe I’m not helping to contribute to the overall problem because I’ve reduced the overall demand by reducing my personal demand.

I try to preach these values to other friends without being too pushy. I can only hope that others also made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of meat they eat. It’s the same concept as how I feel when I trade two or three days a week of my commute to work by car with a bike in the summer. If everyone did that, just think about how much gas would be saved. And it’s not a huge sacrifice–I’m not saying give up your car, nor stop eating meat. I’m just saying reduce how much you consume. I know that realistically if I’m the only person taking these steps to reduce the demand, I’m not really changing anything. Much like my deliberate boycott of Wal-Mart, which my parents are quick to point out, Sam Walton’s kin could care less about since I’m just one person. But at least I’m not contributing to their wealth and seedy business practices.

I don’t want to become obsessed. It’s just that when you look at the high occurrences of obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses in our society, you have to start to ask yourself just what we’re doing wrong. There has to be a cause. I’m completely convinced that our obesity and diabetes rates can be tied to mega-farms and their hormone-injected food (which also accounts for incredibly early onset of puberty for women these days) as well as our over-sweetened food. I am starting to suspect some of the pollution and other irritants in our environment are leading to more cases of asthma. Other illnesses may be tied to high exposure to other things in the products we use every day that are simply not healthy.  I just don’t know what all this means. I’m not a scientist. I can’t conduct experiments with controls. I’m just saying, though, that my mind is starting to shift a little… I’m asking questions.

I guess my biggest moment of revelation happened a few weeks ago when, after having only eaten Kashi shredded wheat (Island Vanilla) for breakfast for about a month, I switched back to my old favorite Post Shredded Wheat (because it was on sale). I was about halfway through my morning bowl of cereal (dry with peanuts added in) that I suddenly thought, “This is way too sweet for my morning meal!” Kashi’s cereal is much less sweet. I guess I got used to it. And it occurred me at that moment why a lot of people I’ve known from outside the US complain that our food is too sweet.

This notion was further confirmed when Crow was looking for a can of diced tomatoes that he was going to use in fajitas he was making for dinner. The ingredients listing for most of the cans revealed that high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar had been added. Why?! Do you pull a tomato off of a vine and pour sugar on it in order to eat it? Um… no!! Tomatoes have their own natural, wonderful sweetness to them; they don’t need additional sweetness! It made me wonder just how healthy the food I’m eating is even when I’m trying to eat healthy. How much of the food I eat every day for a meal contains extra sugar in it?

I started using the application for the iPhone called Good Guide. You can scan products in the store and Good Guide rates the product based on its healthiness, its impact on the environment, and the company’s ethical practices. Questionable ingredients are flagged and noted by the degree of concern. Good Guide also suggests other products of the same type with better ratings that you might consider using instead.  The guide is rated by a group of scientists and environmentalists with no affiliation to said products. Check out the video on their website–it’s really interesting.

I realize that this whole thing sounds probably a bit wacky to my friends and family who have known me a long time. It probably looks like I’m starting to embark down the road to a type of fanaticism that inspires a lot of eye-rolling. Who has preached to me this crazy new age religion of purity in food and products? How have they managed to convert me? What’s going to happen next? Will you be raising chickens in your back yard? Oh, no!

Never fear. As I found myself scanning products into Good Guide on my last grocery trip, I started to wonder about myself too. I think this is how it started with some of my friends who I consider a bit on the fanatical side. You buy some natural, handmade soap, then shampoo and conditioner. Then you use henna on your hair instead of chemical dyes. Then you’re scanning the toothpaste isle for something that doesn’t contain fluoride.  And the next thing you know, you start only eating products with ingredients you can identify. It’s a downward spiral into a crazy land where you can only understand and communicate with the other inhabitants. And everyone thinks you’ve jumped off the deep end so they avoid discussing food or ecology with you. Then you’re labeled the family hippie and it’s all over.

There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I ate a dish composed completely of organic products, though. Or that I’ve chosen a healthier product over one that is questionable. I still think if I wisely reduce the amount of chemicals I willingly expose my body to, I’m going a long way to a healthier lifestyle. I know it doesn’t erase all the variables–people still get ill for random reasons. But maybe I can eliminate some potential problems that are proven risks (ie, the hormone-injected cattle, food with unnecessary sugar additives). It certainly doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t eat the food I’m being served at a friend’s house because I can’t trust its source. I still like to eat at restaurants, after all (though places like the Mustard Seed Cafe become more appealing choices). And I’m really not rude.

I think if everyone took the time to take a look at the ingredients listing on the products they buy, they’d really start asking questions too. I wish I had a solution to overpopulation and the demand that requires hasty production of goods and food. I guess like with my choice to eat less meat, I just have to hope that other people are making like choices to decrease the demand on the food and goods that are not healthily produced. I have hope. More stores like Mustard Seed Market, Earth Fare, Whole Foods are making their way into Northeast Ohio than there were here just ten years ago. More organic options are appearing in regular grocery stores as well. If companies are made more aware that people are seeking better options, the less healthy ones will go away. (Which, of course, brings that demand problem back. Why can’t you people stop having babies? Just kidding!)

Anyway, I guess I am becoming that hippie relative everyone mocks. Oh well. I have my reusable grocery bags and I’m happy. (SAY NO TO PLASTIC!) Talk to me if you want to know more. Talk to me if you want to tell me more. I’m all mouth and ears.

It’s all in your hands

I’m about to spend money. Yes, I’m trying to fill the hole in my heart, the gulp in my throat, left from a tumultuous week as well as the would-be 10 year anniversary of my wedding. Forget that it’s slightly dysfunctional that I chose to buy large ticket items when I’m depressed. I never spend outside my means; I’ve always got the money for these things. But being in a funk releases the gate of frugality which prevents from spending money on even the things I want dearly. Under normal circumstances, you can only imagine how long it takes for me to buy anything over $100. Money in the bank is better than actually using it for something I need/want. Blame it on my mom for making me such a tight-wad.

Anyway, the fate of what I purchase is in your hands. Thanks to modern technology, I have the means to put up a poll to millions–okay, maybe twenty or so–of you, who might not even know me but through my disjointed laments and incongruent thoughts on this blog, so that you can decide for me the item I will splurge on since I can’t make up my own mind. You can be the deal-breaker. Isn’t democracy wonderful?

So what will it be? A motorcycle for the newly licensed motorcycle operator? Or man-powered bike number 4–an all-season cyclocross–in my garage? (Well, realistically, I will guilt myself into getting rid of one of the other bikes. Probably The Beast–can you hear her crying?)

Right now the poll is tied. I need more votes! So chime in and let me know what you think. Post thoughts and commentary below if you feel the need to justify your vote.

Drooling over Surlys

I don’t know, guys. I know on the poll results reflected a conservative approach to my spending, but damn, I’m majorly jonesing for this bike. Especially after talking to Derrick at Century Cycles and getting a quote and a general description of the components he would suggest using… I’ve done some reading online about steel bikes and, of course, like anything else in the cycling world, there were opinions pro and con. Generally, it comes down to the fact that people who own steel bikes love their steel bikes and they poo-poo aluminum. Light weight nazis will say that only carbon fiber is the material to buy in a bike. Either way, for the purposes I intend to use this bike, I think the steel will be fine. And, to be honest, I doubt I will personally notice the weight difference as much as I do with my hybrid. It’s not like this is made with tons of steel.

The changes my own Cross Check would have include a triple crankset (sorry, I love my granny ring, despite the compact having almost as much gear capacity) and brake lever shifters. I’m sure I’d add fenders and a back rack as well. Speedplay Frog pedals, of course. Terry Liberator seat. This is the stock model from the website, and I’m sure that Derrick chose different components, though I have to admit all of that is a blur in my head.

I really think this would be a great bike to compliment my OCR. I’m sure that I would use the OCR and the Cross Check interchangeably depending on the weather conditions or where I plan to ride, provided both are equally as capable of keeping me at my normal 14-16mph average, which Derrick assures me the Cross Check would.

I did try the Masi Speciale CX. It was fun to ride in the Lock 29 overflow lot, riding over parking blocks, in the grass, over the railroad tracks, and down the curbs without being jarred the way you are on thin tires and a lighter bike. I wasn’t too impressed with the Masi itself, but I think it might have been the fact that I didn’t think the shifting was that great. I did feel like I was speeding along on the towpath, though. That was pretty cool. The bike felt comfortable and pretty solid.

But, alas, I know that I need to focus on my career and enjoy the fact that I have a job right now while many others are losing theirs. And since the weather is starting to head for summer, I guess I can put off my dreams of a second bike for the fall. The bad part is that I can picture myself riding it. I think it says something about me that I’d still prefer to buy a new bike over grad school classes and a lap top computer. It almost rivals the ski trip I want to take next season.

I have to admit that I even like the color (Beef Gravy Brown–really!). I know y’all think I’m incredibly decadent in my lifestyle. I feel guilty about wanting so many material things. But sometimes I think it fills the hole in my heart where spirituality and love lacks. Dysfunctional, I know. But life is short and I want to be happy. Even if I have to buy my happiness. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Ultimately, though, cycling makes me happy (just as skiing does in the winter). And that connects with me a sort of spirituality, in a way, that I can understand (refer to the entries about TPL). For me, cycling is not just exercise to keep my heart healthy or a way to get around town while saving gas; it’s a way of approaching the world with new eyes and experiencing the moment in all the most physical ways possible through the tight balance between pain and ecstacy that is only achieved from endurance activity. It, as well as skiing, are the endurance activities that I enjoy even when they are painful (whereas running is never enjoyable to me). So, to me, money spent on either activity is not wasted. Nor is money wasted on travel. These experiences make me love life more.

To be perfectly honest, I think that I want a second bicycle more than I want a motorcycle. My mom would probably be happy to hear that.

All my toys

With the weather weird, I’ve been spending a lot of time amusing myself with various toys. Last night, while simultaneously ripping my entire CD collection to my new external hard drive so that I can use the music on my new iPod, I installed a new bike pump on my road bike (which is still on the trainer). Century Cycles had a deal on bike pumps so I had procured a pretty nice new one for just $12 (it was half price). Fortunately for me, it was a nice black pump with some red painted-metal parts–thus, it matches the color of the Giant. So I decided to put the new one on my road bike. It had been in my plan anyway because Michael had jury-rigged a pump mount for my existing pump (I had lost the original mount because I used to keep it in a backpack I no longer always wear when riding) and sometimes the pump would slide around or fall off if I didn’t put it in the mount in an exact position. So now I plan to put my old pump and mount on the Beast, but I haven’t done that yet since the Beast was in the garage and I didn’t feel like dragging it into the house.

I’m having great fun playing with my new 8GB iPod Nano (in PURPLE!!!). As I indicated above, I’ve spent the last several evenings burning my entire CD collection to the 500GB external hard drive I purchased. I’m really surprised how many CDs it takes to even get to 4GB. I’m now glad that I only got the 8GB Nano because it seems as though my CD collection isn’t as vast as I imagined. As of right now, I can put everything I’ve burned so far on my iPod. I removed a couple CDs from the iPod because they are holiday music and I don’t want to hear Christmas songs amidst the shuffle mode of music, but still… I’m starting to feel as though I’m really a music dullard. I should have more music than this! I still probably have about 100 CDs to burn yet, so maybe I will make it to 10GB. I guess I can use the external hard drive to store some other stuff, too.

I also spent some time looking at what Podcasts I can subscribe to for free. While I can’t get entire episodes of A Prairie Home Companion as I’d hoped, I can get “News from Lake Woebegon” and “A Writer’s Almanac” which is another Garrison Keillor feature where he reads poetry and gives a little talk about it. That’s pretty exciting! I love Garrison Keillor–I think he’s a genius. I know he’s a little odd-looking, but I actually find him kind of cute. I think it must be his intellectual genius and his great folksy story-telling abilities. If he taught at a university, he’d have one of those classes where time just flew by because you were so involved in listening to him.

I wanted to subscribe to the “Coast to Coast AM” with George Nory (formerly Art Bell) podcast, but apparently you have to become a member of Streamlink which costs money. “Coast to Coast AM,” in case you don’t know, is a late night radio show that discusses seriously any weird phenomenon you can come up with–ghosts, aliens, government conspiracies, alternate universes, telepathy, etc. It’s great! Ear-candy, really. I don’t actually believe in any of that stuff, but it’s nice to image that life is that exciting. To me, it’s like listening to science-fiction anyway. Can you imagine me, in the dark, holding up a lighter and screaming, “I want to believe!!” like that UFO poster on the wall of Fox Moulder’s office in the X-Files.

“Coast to Coast AM” saw me through the miles between Ohio and Colorado on multiple trips out west because it’s the only thing that you can find on any channel once the channel you’re listening to fades. You just hit scan on your radio, and–woof!–there it is again. I did most of my “commute” between Ohio and Colorado in one sleepless twenty-four hour shot so I needed something to keep my ears entertained while I was chugging coffee and driving across that boring Nebraska wilderness at night. Just the type of place where you might expect to see a UFO in the empty high plains wilderness. I never did see one, but I sure would have loved to!

Anyway, I’m not devoted enough to become a member of Streamlink–the official “fan club” of the show for all the paranoid schizophrenic people who take that show seriously. I wish I could find a way to get the podcast for free; being that I am not up that late so much any more, I miss my regular dose of psychotic ear-candy. I guess I’ll have to go back to reading those government conspiracy and alien books posing as nonfiction that I spent a few months reading several years back. You know, these books that appear in the non-fiction area of the bookstore under “meta-physics.”

My DVD player is completely kaput. I had thought I needed to replace a fuse (and such had been suggested by more electronically-minded folks I know), but that didn’t do the trick. The DVD player is deader than dead. Of course, I want to watch DVDs now more than ever because it’s not working. Especially in the evening when there’s nothing on TV. We’re in that void period of television programming where some shows are in some weird break and I have no clue when they will come back and, if they do, it will be only for one or two weeks. I know, I should just go to my office and, while ripping CDs, do some writing. I’ll get there. But the problem still remains that when there’s nothing on TV, I’ll have nothing to distract me when I’m using my trainer and I need something to watch to get me to sit on my bike for 40 minutes.

So I started browsing Best Buy for some DVD players. I don’t really want to spend the money on it. But with my VCR also broken, I’m starting to think I should replace both–get one of those “two in one” units. Then, of course, when looking at a few of these type, I came across ones that have writable DVD players. And I’m thinking that I could use it to record shows and stop subscribing to my DVR service with the cable company, thus reducing my monthly cable bill, though it’s hard because a DVR is really nice since it finds a show whenever it is on and records it without having any further programming… Decisions, decisions. Maybe I should just buy a regular DVD player with VCR and then much, much later purchase my own DVR.

Ugh!! But why do I need to watch so much TV?! I’m a junkie. Maybe I should just take the broken DVD player as a sign from the Powers that Be that I need to find something more constructive to do with my time. Though, I don’t think the Powers that Be considered my lack of motivation for using my trainer–good exercise in the winter–when I don’t have some show to distract me. It’s not like I’m not doing any reading, though; I’ve read quite a few books this winter. So I’m not watching TV all of the time. Just for Gossip Girl, Heroes, The Real World (yes, I’m addicted, I can’t help it, I suck), Fringe (thanks, L), Ghost Whisperer, and Battlestar Galactica. That’s not that much.

So. I kind of suck because I excitedly await each week for Century Cycles’ next “hot deals for cold days” which is what led to my purchase of the aforementioned bike pump and a Giant jersey the week before. Even though I already know that in the spring I’m going to need to purchase new bike shoes…

I won’t feel guilty about getting hung up on material items–my toys for the enjoyment of life. I did resist the urge, so far, to buy snow-shoes. However, I got an e-mail from Appalachian Outfitters–an outdoors store in Peninsula–that they are having a post-winter/pre-spring sale this weekend on, yes, snow-shoes… They claim 60-75% off!

Yeah, I know. I’m sunk. But it feels so good!!

Economic Stimulus stimulates my philanthropy…

Now that Bush has signed into law the economic stimulus bill, I’ve already decided how I’m going to use my money when it’s returned to me: all of my favorite charities are going to get a piece of the action. The idea occurred to me today when one of my friends announced that he had donated some money to the Obama campaign. While I may later add Obama’s campaign to my personal “charity stimulus” package, I am mostly concerned about some of my favorites, especially those I didn’t get to hit last year such as Planned Parenthood. Some of my normal charities are going to get a little more than I normally give them. We’ll see how far my $600 goes…

And, why not? It was money I didn’t know I have. I surely don’t miss it right now. Times are hard and my guess is that charitable organizations are having just as much trouble gathering funds in this economic crunch as every other business. I never much cared for our government’s hedonistic philosophy of “spend today, worry about the deficit tomorrow.” It’s counter-intuitive to the way my mom taught me look at money. Only ever spending money what I had to spare in the bank, I have never been in credit card debt. My college loans are paid off. My overall debt is no more than I can afford to pay monthly. My mom taught me that if you don’t have the money for a luxury, you don’t buy it. I’ve always been good about saving my money so that I have a nice cushion when emergencies come up. I sure wish our government would do the same with our tax money.

Now, before you get hot under the collar and accuse me of pointing fingers at the Republicans, I will say fairly that no administration is free of guilt when it comes to unnecessary spending. Or this attitude that we should consume and consume, and then consume some more even when we’re in the negative numbers (though, I will smugly point out that under the Clinton administration, we were in a surplus, just like my own savings account!).

Anyway, I just wish the example that our government set was of the thrifty, saving sort of economics that my mother taught me. I think she could teach a class on how to budget and manage your money to our elected officials. It’s amazing what she did on my dad’s income to support a family of four. I had a childhood where I never felt hungry or the lack of financial stability. Yeah, so I couldn’t get designer jeans like some of the other kids. I am not scarred for life. If we all budgeted and balanced like my mom taught, the credit card companies would be out of business. Which I guess is bad for them, but good for everyone else because they could live within their means. But, hey. I’m just a dumb kid from a hick town in Northeast Ohio. What the heck do I know?

If you are also feeling philanthropic this economic stimulus stimulating season, and you’re looking for some charity to contribute to, you could always pop a few bucks in for my MS 150 ride. Yeah, this is a shameless plug, I should be beaten for it. But please note that this is one of my favorite charities, which is why I do that ride every year. My grandfather H had multiple sclerosis. I ride for him.

Canceling credit cards

I have about five VISA cards. Yes, I know. It’s a sickness. I love getting free stuff from those points programs they run. I don’t carry a balance on any of my credit cards–I always pay everything off at the end of the month–so I’ve got control over my consumerism. Lately, though, a bunch of my credit cards have all become swallowed by Chase. Not to mention the fact that Chase just bought out my mortgage from my original company. I’m a little nervous about Chase knowing my spending habits along with how much I owe on my mortgage. One bank shouldn’t have so much power over me. So I decided that I’m going to get rid of some of my Chase-backed credit cards. What does one girl need with five VISA cards anyway? (I don’t even use them all at once.)

Evidently, closing a credit card is becoming even harder to do. It used to be they’d just ask you why you were closing it and comment depressingly that they are sorry to lose your business. Maybe they’d try to get you to reconsider, but a firm “No thanks” usually smacked them down. Not anymore.

I thought I’d share the dialog that ensued as I tried to close my Chase Priority Club (Holiday Inn) card. I do not exaggerate, this is literally how it went down.

CHASE REP: Hello, my name is [insert name]. To whom am I
MG states name as it appears on the card.
CHASE REP: How can we help you today ma’am? [Please shoot me, he called me “ma’am.”]
MG: I’d like to close this credit card.
CHASE REP: We’re so sorry to hear that. [Who is this amorphous “we”? Are they all connected in one great group mind, like the Borg??] Can you tell me why you want to close this account today?
MG: I just have too many credit cards right now and I want to to pare it down a bit.
CHASE REP: Is there any way we can change your mind about closing your Priority Club credit card with us?
MG: No, I need to get rid of a few credit cards.
CHASE REP: We have a great balance transfer rate right now, for a limited time, where you can get 5% on all transferred balances from other cards.
MG: I don’t have any balances to transfer.
CHASE REP: Well, perhaps you would like another reward points program? Is this Priority Club rewards not useful to you?
MG: No, it is not useful to me at this time. It is the least useful credit card points program I have. That’s why I’m choosing to get rid of it. [Okay, my mistake.]
CHASE REP: Well, we have other rewards programs. Perhaps an airline rewards would be more useful to you?
MG: No, not at this time, thanks. I have about four other credit cards with Chase so you are not losing my business.
CHASE REP: We could upgrade you to a shopping points program or a gas points program…?
MG: No, that’s okay. I want to close this credit card now.
CHASE REP: Is there any rewards points program we could offer you today so that you don’t close this credit card? We can upgrade your card to any program you desire. Tell us what would be useful; we undoubtedly can find a rewards program for you that will fit your needs.
MG, smoke coming out of her ears, but too polite to start screaming at anyone. She really wants to say, “I would like a program where I can cancel my frakking credit card by using a touch tone phone instead of talking to a representative who is trying to earn himself a sweet commission to get me to continue using a credit card I don’t need. This is why you guys keep raising my credit limit; you think I am going to be enticed to go on a twenty-five thousand dollar spending spree [Yes, I had a credit card with that limit once.] one day after years of only buying what I could actually afford to spend. But I’ve got you guys beat. I’ll never do that. And you hate me for it. You want to trap me into your web of consumerism so that I’m paying your monthly fees instead of milking freebies from your stupid rewards points programs.”
Instead, MG replies: NO. There’s NOTHING you can offer me. I want to close this card now.
CHASE REP, very sad and clearly exasperated: Okay, I’ve put the request through to close the account. Please tear up the card immediately. Account closures will post at the next business day. Any amounts remaining on the card will be billed to you in a final statement. [Exaggerated pause.] Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?
MG: NO! Thanks.
CHASE REP: Then have a good evening. [Somehow, I feel he wasn’t that sincere with his goodbye.]

I swear, it’s easier taking candy from a child and listening to him/her scream at me for the next hour… They are really pushing hard these days for you to hang on to your credit card. I sure as heck hope my American Express card doesn’t give me this much grief when I call to cancel it. I’m kind of pissed at Amex because I’ve had an Optima card with them since 1999 and have racked in over twenty-three thousand points, which I thought I’d be able to transfer easily to my Frontier Airlines or Continental frequent flier card. Those card carriers with the yearly fee can easily do this and it only costs 15,000 points for a round trip ticket on Frontier. So, last Saturday, I was trying to book a trip to Denver for skiing at the end of February and, it turns out, because my card is an Optima (ie, I don’t pay a yearly fee), they won’t transfer points to a frequent flier card, the bastards.

Fortunately, I managed to get around this by booking my trip through Amex’s travel planner and using the “pay with points” option. However, it turns out when you’re an Optima user, it costs 30 thousand points for a round trip ticket on Frontier. I was able to apply all my points for a rebate against the trip; ultimately, I only ended up paying $56 for the ticket. Still, I had to pay when I actually would have had the ticket for free (with bogus processing fees, of course) and I would have had about 5,000 points left to buy a magazine subscription or something. Needless to say, I decided I’m no longer happy with my Amex Optima card and I’m going to cancel it after the next statement. Treat me crappy and you go! (Who really wins with these points programs anyway? Seems they always find a way to screw you anyhow.)

Now, I only have to get rid of one more of my Chase credit cards. I think one credit card with the Evil Empire of Chase is good enough. It’s going to hurt, though, because either my Borders card or my Amazon.com card has got to go. I’ll probably keep my Borders credit card since it gives me better returns in $5 gift certificates. I think I should opt for a gas card of some kind. I can’t believe how much I’ve been paying in gas lately. I filled up last Thursday and I’m already near empty again. I have an Acura RSX that gets 35 mpg with a 13.5 gallon tank. A fill-up is costing me between $30 and $39 these days.

A local grocery store, Giant Eagle, gives you rebates in gas at their special gas station (GetGo) which accumulate based on your purchases. They also sell gift certificates so people play the system by buying gift certificates to the stores at which they need to actually shop (ie, The Home Depot) before going there. I’m not too good at remembering to do this–it seems like too much of a hassle and planning in your shopping. Unfortunately, the money rebates also have an expiration, so you have to use them up even if you have only accumulated $0.10/gallon. The best I’ve managed to get, which was during Christmas time when I was buying gift certificates, was $0.50/gallon. Unfortunately, it was during a high gas price moment when I used it (since the rebeat was also close to expiring), so I still ended up paying $2.50/gallon.

Anyway, I obviously can’t buy enough Giant Eagle groceries or gift certificates to get enough points for GetGo to cover my gas expenditures. Driving 35 miles each way to work (from Stow to Mayfield Heights) is really not helping. I miss the days of my 15 mile/half-hour drive to Twinsburg… If it were summer, I could ride my hybrid to the stores and stuff locally. I hate spending money on gas.

More bitching about new name of Indians’ ballpark

Marketing people suck. I’d like to get my hands on the publicity genius who thought that this was a great new symbol for Progressive Park–or “Regressive Park” as Diane has been calling it. C’mon… surely you could have made a cooler symbol…? This looks so cheesy and half-assed. I’m a technical writer; I know the importance of making graphics presentable, not an eyesore. Bleh. They spent whatever million dollars to buy the name for the stadium, the least they could have done is spent a little extra cash on signage that doesn’t look like a marketing major’s midnight miracle. At least the old logo for the Jake was in the red, white, and dark blue color of the Indians.

What’s with the silver colored bats? In the major leagues, you use wooden bats. These look aluminum. I suppose it’s supposed to inspire a sense of flashy, futuristic newness to us. Look how small the Indians logo is at the bottom. It says to me, “Hey, this is PROGRESSIVE PARK. We’re a big auto insurance company in Cleveland [which recently laid off several people]. Oh, yeah, and that major league team–the Cleveland Indians, I think they are called–also play here.”

Why don’t the buy the naming rights for the team? We can call them the Progressive Indians. Or the Cleveland Progressives. Or how about the Progressive Insurance Agents?

How many insurance ads are we going to be forced to hear during the game? What are they going to do with the Farmers Insurance foul ball post? So many unanswered questions…

I found this picture on the Indians’ website… Some corporate Progressive dork thought it would be cute to have an Indians’ shirt made with PROGRESSIVE across the back (oh, hell, maybe they should put an ad right on all the uniforms). The thing that ticks me off about this photo is that they used my dear Casey Blake’s number! Oh, no, Mr. Progressive Man, you don’t go soiling my Casey Blake’s number with your Progressive advertisement, even for a “cute” photo op. That’s just wrong. You’ve incurred the wrath of Blake’s Babes. Some one’s going to pay.

Progressive Big Wig and Indians’ President Paul Dolan
disgrace my Casey Blake’s number.

Corporate America rears its ugly advertising head on another defenseless public arena

Today I had to drag my tired ass grudgingly out of bed for work only to hear the news on my radio alarm clock announce that Progressive insurance has bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field, the ballpark of the Cleveland Indians. We Clevelanders knew for months that the contract for the naming rights was up and that it would not be renewed, but we had hoped that the company acquiring the rights would be kind and keep the Jacobs Field name out of a sense of tradition. We’ve recently had to readjust our lingo when the home of our basketball team, the Cavs, changed from Gund Arena to QuickenLoans Arena. In this day and age, it’s disgusting that every public venue has to come with an advertisement for some local company.

Diane said it best when she e-mailed the following to Progressive (and then proceeded to e-mail the same comment to me):

I just wanted to say that, as a life-long Clevelander and Cleveland Indians fan that I am DISGUSTED by the fact that Progressive has purchased the naming rights of Jacobs Field and is changing the name to “Progressive Field.” The name Jacobs Field honored a family that did a lot not just for baseball in Cleveland but also for the town in general, and the name of the ballpark was a fitting, sentimental tribute to this fact. Baseball has always been the metaphor for American life. Given the recent steroid scandals, I guess that it’s only fitting to corrupt the spirit of the sport even more by turning our ballpark that has evoked so many emotions – good and bad – from a cherished memorial to a Cleveland family into nothing more than a giant advertisement for your company. If Progressive had done something such as kept the name to “Jacobs Field at Progressive Park,” that would have been more in keeping with the spirit of baseball and Cleveland in general. But I guess that’s just not the corporate way.

I can’t say it any better than that. It’s the new capitalist American method of advertisement. And I’m getting tired of it. I’m pretty sure that in the future everything’s going to come with an advertisement attached. Here’s some samples of what’s to come:

This presidential election brought to you by DIEBOLD.

Welcome to the 2012 Depends Iowa caucus.

Christmas Mass brought to you by Yankee Candle. When you’re buying candles for your Advent wreath, be sure you use YANKEE CANDLES for a fresh scent to your religious experience.

This Passion Play brought to you by Home Depot. When the Romans crucify thieves or the Messiah, they always buy their lumber at Home Depot.

Every flush of this public toilet brought to you by Tidy Bowl.

The University of Goodyear at Akron.

The New Church of Rockwell Automation

Perhaps I should name my house The Emhoff Floorcovering Abode since my dad spends so much time over there working on it. That way he can ring in some more business, not just help his daughter out.

Pulllease. This smacks of the commercialism accoladed (and warned about) in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I think I will be adding Progressive insurance to my boycott list…

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…?

This is the time of year when you become inundated with commercials, backed by a popular Christmas carol (it’s particularly ironic when it’s a religious one), suggesting that the only way to your [insert: significant other/spouse/child/friend/cousin/dog]’s heart is through the wise purchase of a specific product. As if your unconditional love is actually conditionally attributed to the types — and price, especially if it’s expensive — of your material gift.

In a particularly irritating ad running locally, a jewelry company tries to convince you that expensive jewelry will earn you the “husband of the year” award not only with your wife, but also all her jealous and gold-digging friends. The plot of this Christmas gift-giving unfolds as you listen in on the conversations between a wife and her female friend and a husband and his male friend. This commercial hits all the stereotypical comments about male and female relations:

1. Men are clueless when Christmas shopping and especially inept when it comes to their wives (who are supposed to be the person on the planet to whom they are closest!).

2. Women love diamonds or expensive jewelry so you must get some for her so that she can be the envy of all her friends.

3. A man’s worth as a husband is based on his financial status and ability to decorate his woman in sparkly jewelry.

4. Women talk a lot and gossip and it’s annoying.

In the first bit of dialog, we hear a man talking to another man, the sound of bowling balls crashing in the background to let you know that these men are talking amidst their man’s night out together because obviously bowling is a man’s activity (forget that I bowled every Sunday for an entire year with my best friend when she lived in Cleveland and played on a bowling league… and it was our girl’s night out activity). I can almost hear Tim Allen grunting in the background as the guy in the commercial brags about how he presented his gift to his wife and she was “speechless.”

“Laura? Speechless?” remarks the man in exaggerated disbelief.

Both men chuckle. Yes, Laura was speechless. A woman, speechless, of all things. Remarkable. Ha, ha, we get it. Because, you know, all women yack endlessly and must be tuned out when they do so.

The second bit of dialog takes Laura’s perspective as she — yes, of course — yacks to her friend. Because, hell, that’s what women do, you know. They get in groups and talk to their female friends about their relationships. It’s just like Sex and the City. We enjoy long conversations in which we emasculate our men and giggle about it.

“I was speechless,” seconds Laura, confirming her own inability to talk when usually words just flow from her flapping, yacking mouth.

Both dialogs go on to explain that husband Brian was told to shop at this particular jewelry store by his father who — ha, ha — was told by his mother where he should shop for his wife’s gift. Because all women want the same thing, of course, and the mother-in-law knows best. I have to hold myself back here because I could see my own gold digging mother-in-law making such a request for jewelry, but for herself and not me. (She did once ask us for money, but I digress.)

Anyway, the irking suggestion here is that husband Brian does not know his wife enough to buy her a suitable gift. Diamond or no diamond, Brian should know what his wife wants for Christmas without the help of his mom. Man, when I used to Christmas shop for Mike, there was no end to the number of things I ran into that I thought, “Wow, that’s perfect!” The more you know someone, the easier they are to shop for. Geesh, I’ve dated guys I’ve known less well and I still knew what to buy them for Christmas or their birthday. You kind of get to know someone the more time you spend with them. This bit of dialog perpetuates the myth that men and women are totally incapable of understanding and knowing each other even when they’re living with each other.

The best, most romantic present I ever got from my husband was a Swiss Army pocket knife. Seriously. I wanted a Swiss Army knife so badly because they come in handy in just about any situation. Back in those pre-911 days, I could still carry one in my purse without getting frisked at the airport, so it was ideal. In addition to the standard knife, mine had folding scissors, a can opener, a screw driver (this has been oh-so handy), tooth pick, and tweezers. Yes, tweezers! My husband knew this to be the perfect gift for our first Christmas we spent together because he knew me. Much cheaper than some piece of jewelry I’m likely to lose.

Okay, I’m not saying it’s bad if you enjoy the glitz of expensive jewelry. Personally, I’d rather just continue to buy my costume jewelry because when I lose an earring, as I’m wont to do, I don’t feel as though I’ve just thrown away some perfectly good money. The last expensive piece of jewelry I owned was a pair of opal earrings in gold mountings that my grandma H gave me for Christmas one year. She had taken my great grandmother’s necklace and had all the opals mounted in earrings for her daughters and older granddaughters. I had them for several years, but lost them sometime in early 2000. I must have left them in when I went to bed or something because I haven’t a clue where they went. Because they also meant as an heirloom, I felt especially bad that I lost them. I guess I just shouldn’t wear expensive jewelry — just keep it in my jewelry box like my engagement ring so that it never gets lost.

These commercials also suggest the process of buying someone a nice gift is tedious. I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas shopping. I can barely contain my glee when I’ve managed to find what I think is the perfect gift for someone I care about. I look forward to my friends and family opening their gifts more than I look forward to receiving gifts myself. That’s the true spirit of Christmas. “It’s better to give than to receive” makes more sense as an adult than it does when you’re a selfish child. Maybe with all my philanthropic donations to charity have helped cultivate an appreciation of the positivity you get back when you selflessly give without the expectation of return.

I’m afraid these commercials tell men all women want jewelry. I know that the objective of the ad is to target men into buying expensive jewelry from the particular jeweler… but, still, couldn’t they do it in a less patronizing way? I think it’s insulting to suggest, as these commercials do, that men are stupid and oblivious to their wives’ desires; and it’s equally as insulting to insert any other 1950’s stereotype about women. Some of us would find skis or a bike seat a more suitable — not to mention useful — gift than jewelry.

When I was married, I always tried to break these stereotypes because they’re just dumb. When I found myself stuck in a gaggle of women complaining about their husbands, I would just smile and say, “You know, my husband’s great to live with.” Of course, that caused a bunch of smirks and comments about “the honeymoon stage.” Still, you have to ask yourself when we’re going to get beyond these ideas of how we think we should act around everyone else in regards to our marriages/relationships. If you’re expecting your partner to be unresponsive and completely inept at understanding you, then when you’re in an unsatisfactory relationship, you’ll just think it’s par for the course. Instead of looking for the person who fulfills your needs as you would like, you’ll settle for a sub par person who only partially meets them. This may eventually lead to a divorce when you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person who is not attentive to you. It takes the communication, trust, commitment, and selfless love and sharing of both people in the marriage to make it work.

This may be a simplistic way of looking at a larger social problem. I just get tired of commercials — and television shows, too — that perpetuate antiquated stereotypical ideas about relationships. I think feeding into the stereotype without trying to change it is half the problem. Couldn’t we suggest instead a loving relationship? Here would be my commercial:

Laura: Oh my God, Brian! It’s just what I didn’t know I wanted!
Brian: But I knew because you’re my wife, my best friend, the one person on the planet I know best. I didn’t even need to ask my mom what I should get you.

Okay, you can see why I don’t write marketing copy…