Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017

And so, once again, it is Christmas, time for the three F’s and a W. That’s Family, Friends, Food, and Wine.

I’ve been doing lots of Christmas-y things all month: Volunteering for Christmas in the City, a big party for families living in shelters, followed by a massive gifting event for those in need (but in permanent housing). Katie and MaureenHere I am at Somerville’s Flatbread Pizza – that’s me in the Santa cap – which did a fundraiser for CITC last week.

While Christmas in the City is hectic, crazy fun, my favorite volunteering gig is at St. Francis House, New England’s largest day shelter for the poor and homeless. I’m a regular-irregular in both the kitchen and in clothing distribution, where I work side-by-side with some of the kindest and most dedicated volunteers you’ll find anywhere. Some are in their 80’s and have been helping out at SFH for decades. (If you have some end of year donation money burning a hole in your pocket, St. Francis House makes an excellent choice.)This is a phenomenal organization that, for thousands of individuals each year, takes care of the most basic of needs for food, clothing, and shelter, on up through career exploration and housing. SFH saves lives and changes lives, and never loses sight of the dignity and worth of those who come in through its doors.

SFH has just purchased the building across the street, and later this month there’ll be a groundbreaking ceremony for the repurposed building. Wonderfully, the annex will include some new units of permanent, affordable housing. Downtown Boston is full of new kabillion dollar condos aimed at financial titans, empty nesters moving in from the ‘burbs after making a killing on their house sale, and the international set looking to park money and/or set up a swank place for their offspring to live while they’re in Boston or Cambridge for school. The housing we’ll be providing is aimed at a different audience. I couldn’t be more thrilled!

I haven’t done any SFH volunteering this month, as I’ve been laying off an ankle with some small tears to tendons and ligaments. (Don’t ask.) But – ligaments and tendons be damned – I’ve signed up for a couple of shifts this coming week. And I’m much looking forward to it.

Overall, I’ve increased my volunteering this year. Just goes to show that semi-retirement is an excellent place to be. The coming year I may transition to full retirement. Maybe.

There’s been other Christmas stuff I’ve been doing, as well, starting with the tree lighting on Boston Common. Oooh. Aaahhh. (I hope they keep the lights up until spring. It’s quite comforting and cheery to have them brighten the way if, on a winter’s night, I find myself crossing the Common. Then there was the Celtic Sojourn concert, and Christmas at the Boston Pops.

As for Christmas-Christmas, I host Family on Christmas Eve, so I’ll have plenty of Food around for the duration of the holidays. Not to mention Wine. So there’ll be lots of good cheer for Friends – I’m expecting a couple of drop ins -  who make their way to my place over the coming week. (Maybe I’ll be able to palm whatever I get stuck with from the Yankee Swap off on one of those unsuspecting friends…)

Christmas Day I’ll spend at my cousin Barbara’s, keeping a tradition going in which at least one part of the Rogers family has spent Christmas with at least one part of the Wheeler family (Mar20171222_150703garet Rogers Wheeler was my father’s sister) since 1946, my mother’s first year in Worcester. Barbara, who was a little girl that year, has been the constant for all those years.

Before I head out to Barbara’s for Christmas Dinner, I will take a walk, keeping a tradition going in which I walk at least 10,000 steps every day – a tradition that I’ve been personally observing since last January. Most likely, I’ll walk through the Public Garden, by Mrs. Mallard and her offspring. Stars of the classic children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings, these little guys live practically in my front yard, and never fail to put a smile on my face. They always have little knit caps on in winter, and while I would have preferred them in something more colorful, these will keep them warm. (At least until the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and they don their Pats caps and scarves.)

There’s another tradition, one falling somewhere between Barbara’s unbroken string of Christmases with at least one representative of the Rogers family, and my newer Fitbit tradition. And that’s Pink Slip’s taking off Christmas week.

I’ll be back in the New Year.

Meanwhile, on Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day, one filled with Family, Friends, Food and, of course, Wine (if you’re so inclined). 

Friday, December 22, 2017

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas tree…NOT!

A few weeks ago, I blogged about this year’s Christmas tree shortage, which I figured – correctly – was not really impacting New England, since one of our few natural resources is the Christmas tree. (Before it was Vacationland, I believe that Maine was called the Pine Tree State.)

But other areas of the country have been hit, and that has been a real boon for the artificial tree industry.

While I understand their appeal – they’re easier to put up and take down, you don’t need to water them, and they don’t shed needles – I am decidedly not a fan of artificial trees. And within the subcategory of artificial trees I am most decidedly not a fan of artificial white trees.

Too Mad Men, too mid-century modern, too bland, too boring.

On the other hand, if you’re going to have a fake tree, there’s something to be said for going all the way and going for white.

“What could be more faux than having a snow-covered tree in your living room?” says Carrie Chen, brand manager for Treetopia, an online Christmas tree retailer whose sales of white trees are up 44.5% this year. (Source: WSJ)

Similarly, Wayfair which I must admit usually does have just what I need, says that their sale of white trees quadrupled from last year. Home Depot’s selling more, too.

What folks seem to do with these artificial white trees is theme decorating, another aspect of Christmas tree usage I do not approve of.

Christmas trees should hold, IMHO, ornaments that have meaning, and you shouldn’t worry about whether they all match. I like the fact that my tree has ornaments from my parents first Christmas, ornaments from my travels, ornaments commemorating dead pets…

All of my ornaments don’t hold meaning, but most of them do.BN-WR237_TREE12_8H_20171219132723 That Empire State Building reminds me of all the trips my husband and I took to NYC. That brass three-decker – a gift from my cousin Barbara – reminds me of where I grew up.

White trees, at least if I go by what I see in the WSJ article, are impersonal – a decorator touch, devoid of interest, devoid of story. Like this yawner. Sure, it adds a bit of color to a room that completely lacks any. But where’s the personal? Where’s the personality?

I guess it could be worse. Check this one out. Talk about “I’ll have a blue-blue-hoo-hoo Christmas.” But the woman who puts it up sees “’so ugly it’s kind of beautiful.’” And BN-WR186_TREE12_8H_20171219120559she sees freedom from having to cope with a real tree with real decorations.

Some are attributing the increasing interest in white trees to folks seeing them on Pinterest and Instagram and deciding they like the decorator look and feel. And maybe Melania’s spooky white White House decorations helped.171128-ryan-melania-tease2_zziuyh Or at any rate helped with the 35% of folks who actually approve of her husband’s “performance” in office. (And what a performance it is!)

BN-WR201_TREE12_360RV_20171219121236I actually didn’t mind one of the white trees pictured in the article, which is pretty in a decorate-y sense. Not for the real tree you’re going to spread your presents under, mind you. Just not bad as an extra.

But I guess when it comes to Christmas trees, I’m an old-fashioned traditional kind of gal. Here’s this year’s addition. Busy, crowded, imperfect. Nothing to Instagram or Pinterest about. But mine all gloriously mine.

Tree 2017

Nope, you’ll never catch me dreaming of a white Christmas tree.


Thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this article my way. If you look closely, you can probably find a handmade ornament of Emily, Kath’s late, great, and completely dog-like cat somewhere in there. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

I think I’ll rebrand myself as a bitcoin company

Admittedly,there are more Google hits for pure unadulterated “bitcoin” – 280,000,000 – than there are for “bitcoin tulip” (532,000) or “bitcoin mania” (977,000) or “bitcoin scam” (6,950,000) or “bitcoin insanity” (478,000) or even “bitcoin bubble” (26,100,1000). And yet…

When it comes to bitcoin, I certainly harbor great suspicion that “bitcoin” and “mania” are inextricably linked.

After all, I lived through the bubble when there were actually real goods and services with the potential to be more or less  exchanged

Bitcoin, on the other hand, sounds like something that could easily have the plug pulled on them if a critical mass of government entities decided to get together and create their own crypto currency. After all, there’s no government in its right mind (or even in its wrong mind) that wants non-governmental entities to control currency, let alone profiteer from it.

So, I vote “tulip”, “mania,” “scam”, “insanity”,and “bubble”as the long run operative words when it comes to bitcoin.

But as I always ask myself, ‘what do I know?’

Anyway, I read with interest yesterday’s Bloomberg article on the number of outfits jumping in to the bitcoin game.

Virtually every day an obscure microcap firm announces a corporate reinvention -- sometimes in name only -- that orients them toward the cryptocurrency or blockchain business. And why not -- the moves have paid huge, often immediate dividends.

Just one of Wednesday’s examples: Furniture maker Nova LifeStyle Inc. quintupled after saying it’s starting a unit called “I Design Blockchain Technology Inc.” The list includes juicemakers, gold miners and a designer of sports bras.

Announcing that you’re in the cryptocurrency or blockchain business? Is that all it takes?

Yesterday’s juicemaker or bra designer just has to pledge some allegiance to blockchain and, all of a sudden, they’re rich as Croesus?

That bra company? They were innovators. And bra innovation is, after all, well known to be just a cup-size away form crypto currency, is it not?

One fintech company – financial technology to you naifs – is now into cryptocurrency. They pooh-pooh any doubters. After all, no one groks – to use a pre-bitcoin coinage – to what they do. And yet another, Future FinTech group is another true believer:

Formerly SkyPeople Fruit Juice, it still produces packaged food products. Though there’s not much evidence that the company has anything to do with cryptocurrencies or blockchain technology, shares rose more than 215 percent on Tuesday after CNBC anchor Dominic Chu called attention to its business.

Many think of all the excitement about crypto currency is akin to blowing smoke up the market’s ass, so it’s not surprising that an e-cigarette company has announced that it’s entering the crypto currency mining market. And a cigar company has rebranded itself to enter the market as well. After all, the world’s no longer looking for a good 5 cent cigar, but some of it’s hoping for a not-so-good $1 million price tag on a bitcoin.

There’s more, of course.

A medical marijuana company “recently bought a patent for a bitcoin ATM.” Whatever they’re smoking, best to not bogart that joint, my friend.

Biotech, gold mining, electronics, tea… You name it, companies of all stripes are jumping into the bitcoin realm.

Willy Sutton once said that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” Ditto for these bra, juice and tea companies, I guess.

Maybe now’s the time for Pink Slip to rebrand and monetize. Pink Bitcoin? Crypto Pink? Crypto Slip? Pink Blockchain Slip?

If a bra company can do it, why can’t I.

Just wondering, though, whether in the 1600’s, companies jumped in on the tulip mania craze and rebranded themselves to cash in. Tulip teapots? Tulip breeches? Tulip tobacco? Tulip wigs?

Inquiry minds would like to know…

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Not so smart luggage

Twenty+ years back, I decided to replace my luggage. I had a few pieces of matching Lark, in a very nice blue-grey, and they were still in good shape. But I’d gotten them ten+ years back, before wheels on luggage were the vogue. Which meant you traveled not only with your suitcase, but with your luggage carrier. (Remember when these were always falling out of the overhead bins on planes?)

I still have that luggage carrier, which comes in handy if I need to lug a heavy box to the Post Office. And I still have a couple of pieces of Lark that I store things in.

But twenty+ years back I knew I wanted to replace that Lark luggage with something on wheels. So I asked a friend who traveled all the time on business what he would recommend. What he recommended was Tumi, which he said would last forever.

I can vouch for the fact that it’s lasted twenty+ years. There’s a fair amount of travel on those large expandable and carry-on roller bags, and on that over the shoulder duffel. And they’re all still in fairly good shape. Oh, I’ve had to rescrew in a handle or two. And the pull-out handle on the larger bag sometimes sticks. But it’s time. Luggage technology has improved during those twenty+ years I’ve been lugging my Tumi bags. And the wheels on the newer bags go round and round now, not just straight ahead.

So I’ve been keeping a partial eye out at Marshall’s to see what they have that might work for me, given that I’m no longer willing to pay the price for Tumi. I haven’t yet seen the Mr. Right of the suitcase world, but I have been naturally avoiding those that have anything techie embedded in them. I don’t want one that will charge my phone. Or follow me around.

I don’t want to complicate my luggage life. Plus any tech embedded in a suitcase will be obsolete before the suitcase wears out. I want my next luggage to last as long as my Lark or my Tumi bags have. I.e., for the rest of my life.

Looks like avoiding smart suitcases is a smart move – or non-move – on my part.

For the past few years, makers of so-called smart luggage—that’s bags with anything from a USB charging port to motorized wheels—have disrupted the market. Airlines are now taking note with arched brows: Earlier this month, American, Alaska, and Delta Airlines announced a ban on smart luggage with batteries that can’t be removed. The restrictions, which take effect Jan. 15, 2018, apply to both checked and carry-on luggage. United and Southwest are expected to make similar announcements soon. (Source: Bloomberg)

The fear on the airlines part is that the batteries will go boom. Think exploding hoverboards. They’re mostly concerned about problems in the luggage hold, but they’re also banning smart carry-ons, given how often both smart and dumb carry-ons end up being gate-checked. Note that – thankfully – “these rules don’t extend to other products with built-in lithium ion batteries, such as phones and laptops.”

Not surprisingly, the makers of smart luggage are going ballistic.

“It’s completely unfair—it doesn't have any point,” Tomi Pierucci, a ‎co-founder and the chief executive officer ‎of Bluesmart, told Bloomberg, suggesting further that mainstream luggage companies might have had something to do with persuading airlines to enact the ban.

Pierucci is looking for an exemption. After all, his brand “was developed under consultation with the DOT and FAA.” And the makers of the rideable Modobag don’t use lithium ion batteries. Theirs are carbon-free titanium. So they want an exemption, too.

Other smart bag makers anticipated that this might happen when the hoverboards started blowing up. So they’ve put in easily removable batteries.

And some perceive that the fact that the airlines are paying attention to them is a sign that smart luggage has final arrived.

Another sign that smart luggage has finally arrived? Some makers are dumbing down their lines, with companion pieces (like duffels) that have absolutely no brains at all.

Me? I’m still looking around for a better set of wheels for my next luggage. But I will not be considering anything smarter than my old, reliable dumb-bunny Tumi. This time, however, I will not be getting black. I’m sick of having to rope fluorescent bungee cording around my checked bag so I can spot in on the luggage carousel…

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I swear. (Remind me to stay out of Virginia.)

My mother didn’t approve of foul language. Thus, by and large, she didn’t approve of her five children.

Whenever one of us – as adults, mind you – used a word she didn’t like,she would prissily announce that using vulgar language was the mark of someone with an impoverished, limited vocabulary. Which, quite frankly, we all knew was bullshit.

After all, thanks in large part to our book learnin’ parents and my mother’s obsession with all sorts of word puzzles, all of the Rogers children have rather extensive, big old vocabularies. We know what a bobeche is. What the word ‘inchoate’ means (even if we’ve never heard it pronounced). Sesquipedalian? Got. It. Covered.

So, sorry Ma, but phooey on you-ey if you think that only those with limited vocabularies resort to the f-word. (Fuck that!)

Anyway, I so routinely use swear words that I no longer even hear them. Nonetheless, I’m happy AF that texting has provided us with some nice little  - big old vocabulary alert: – acronyms that have a silent “fuck” embedded in them. WTF would we do without WTF?

What prompted me to think about swearing was an article in The Washington Post on a Virginia statute that forbids swearing.

Virginia law demands that residents keep it clean, even in moments crying out for the foulest four-letter words. It’s illegal in this state to curse in public.

“Profane swearing” is a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine, right up there with public intoxication. It’s a law that predates the Civil War. Yet modern-day potty-mouths still get charged under it — in small numbers, but in ways that can raise troubling questions about law enforcement.(Source: WaPo)

Can I hear a WTF? Or do I need to stick to Jeez Louise? In any case, I’m staying the F out of Virginia, that’s for sure.

And I’ll just bet it “can raise troubling questions about law enforcement,” as in arresting someone whose jib you just don’t like the cut of. Maybe because they’re from, ahem, out of state.

“This is an interesting issue, in part because (even though they are supposed to issue a summons for misdemeanors) police often use this statute or a related local ordinance as an excuse to arrest someone, or at least stop them, and then do a search incident to arrest so they can arrest the person on another charge,” [the ACLU’s Claire Guthrie] Gastañaga said in an email.

Pink Slip has been at this blogging thing for a very long time. In fact, in early 2007, I tackled this topic in a post that still pretty much holds. I say pretty much because I don’t have the same – big old vocabulary alert: antipathy I once had toward the c-word. I don’t use it a lot, but I’ve adopted it for occasional use in the Irish sense, mostly when I’m putting myself in Irish mode. (In Ireland, it’s generally used to describe a male who’s more or less – likely more – an asshole.) While I attribute my softening on the c-word to the I’ve spent in the old sod, it may the New England – big old vocabulary alert: ambience that’s making it more acceptable. I saw on Wikipedia that New England is the area in the country where the c-word is most commonly used. (In tweets coming out of Maine – I was going to say emanating from, but didn’t want to put out another big old vocabulary alert – it’s second only to asshole as a twitter vulgarity. 

There is someone trying to get the anti-swearing law off the books:

A conservative on most issues, [Republican state delegate Michael] Webert says his goal is to protect free speech and shrink a bloated state code by removing a law already deemed unconstitutional decades ago under Virginia Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Good luck, Delegate Webert. Until you prevail, guess I’ll stay the F out of Virginia.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Chef of the Future

Although I do watch “reality” TV, I don’t go in for the food shows. Oh, I used to watch the one where Gordon Ramsay barged around yelling at restaurateurs. But the cooking competitions are something I’ve rarely glanced at. Eating I like, but I’m sort of meh when it comes to cooking, let alone competitive cooking. And I really draw the viewing line at cooking competitions that involve kids.

But if I were into them, there’d be plenty of choices: “Top Chef Junio,” “Chopped Junior,”  “Master Chef Junior,” “Kids Baking Championship.” Kids as young as 8 years of age appear on these shows.

On “Top Chef Junior,” which debuted in October and ends in February, competitors ages 11 to 14 appear to have internalized the adult manners of the reality TV “cheftestant”—paring down their stories into screen-ready morsels, taking cleansing breaths during emotional interviews and infusing their dishes with personal meaning. (One contestant dedicates her dessert to a deceased Girl Scout troop leader.) Some contestants already have the beginnings of branded websites, including one with a currently empty section labeled “merch.” (Source: WSJ – subscription required)

Branded websites? Never too young to start building your brand, differentiating yourself from all those boring, nothing eight-year-old kids who just want to play with their Legos and American Girl dolls. Never too young to think about capitalizing on your brand and start pushing “merch” on the 2-11 year old demographic in your audience.

It’s not like there weren’t child celebrities when I was a kid. We had them, and they were called Mouseketeers. There were certainly some brands among them that were more powerful than others. Annette Funicello’s brand sure trumped that of Darlene GIllespie. But these glamor kids were, for the most part, collectively branded. Sure, there was plenty of gear you could by. Disney-as-marketing-genius is nothing new. But I don’t remember any of it being specific to any one kid. (Maybe there were Annette paper dolls or something along those lines.But there wasn’t much. Branded “stuff” was around a show which, as often as not, featured an adult. Thus the Davey Crockett “merch.” The kickin’ Roy Rogers slippers I had. The only kid brand I can think of belonged to Shirley Temple, and her brand was first built in the 1930’s and was later resurrected, via a kids show she hosted and via Shirley Temple dolls, in the late1950’s early 1960’s.

Anyway, I find all this commercialization of children pretty distasteful, that’s for sure.

But what the pint-sized chefs are most valued for is their tears, which the cameras apparently love even more than they love a kid talking about plating his panko-encrusted salmon.

“We didn’t want to pretend that the kids didn’t cry—to me it kind of honored their process,” says Dan Cutforth, an executive producer of “Top Chef Junior.” The first episode featured two other visibly upset children. When it came to crying footage, Mr. Cutforth says, “we kept more than we cut.”

“Honored their process.” If that’s not a mouthful of unplated hokum, I don’t know what is.

The fact that the kid cooking shows keep “an on-set psychologist” around pretty much tells us all we need to know about what’s going on with these programs.

And that is that someone’s exchanging the emotional well-being of kids for ratings.Forget all this about kids being resilient. They absolutely are. But they’re also fragile, not in perfect command of their emotions, and subject to bullying – because for each classmate who’s proud to know someone who appeared on TV, there are likely a couple of dozen who want to make fun of that kid who knows how to plank a slab of panko-encrusted salmon. And for every mini toke-wearer, there are millions of strangers “out there” willing to make fun of them.

And let’s not forget that those clips of kids losing it on TV – especially if the kid is a little nerdy, goofy, or chunky – will live on to infinity and beyond, feeding the insatiable and cruel maw of the anonymous commentariat.

There’s a classic Honeymooners episode in which Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, in one of their famous ‘get-rich-quick-schemes’ buy a load of kitchen gadgets and decide to promote it by making a TV ad for it – in which they starred. The most memorable line is when one of the boys asks the other about the gadget, which is called the Chef of the Future. The question in question: “But can it core a apple?” The answer is, of course, that “Yes, it can core a apple.” Unfortunately, it can’t core a apple without demolishing said apple.

And thus it will likely go with the little Chefs of the Futures who are today starring in all those “reality” competitions. Yes, these kids may know how to plate a dish. And they can probably do a ton of relatively pedestrian kitchen tasks, like coring a apple. But I can’t help but think that these kid chef shows, in hustling these kiddos into reality stardom, are demolishing a number of these shiny little apples in the process.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cereal cafes? Really? Cereal cafes?

As a Baby Boomer, I must say I enjoy seeing the millennials replace as as everyone’s target  - good, bad, and indifferent: consumer  sweeping generational generalizations, all-hail their openness, all scorn their helplessness, and – of course – all that consumer marketing aimed at them. It’s about time that some generation has come along large enough to take some of the attention and heat off of us. (And let me tell you, you young whippersnappers, you’re going to miss us when we’re gone. By cracky, you’re going to miss having someone around who knows how to dial a phone, read a map, and put a penny on the arm of the stereo so the needle doesn’t skip when you’re playing an LP.)

Anyway, I took great delight, a year and a half back, making fun of millennials for finding cereal too inconvenient to eat (dirty bowls and all that), and of Kellogg’s for trying to turn breakfast cereal into a snack. (Here’s my snap, crackle and popping take on that issue of great import. And if you do read it, I know, I know. There’s a point where I use “serial” for “cereal.”)

Well, Kellogg’s back at wooing the millennials, this time by:

opening a cavernous new cereal cafe in Manhattan’s Union Square -- doubling down on a concept that it started in Times Square last year.

The cafe will be about fives times larger and feature an Instagram station with props and professional lighting, designed to help customers perfect their social-media posts. There’s a full cereal bar, giant murals of Kellogg characters like Tony the Tiger, a station to heat up Pop-Tarts and a special iron to cook fresh Eggo waffles.

“We want cereal to be seen as modern,” said Aleta Chase, a marketing executive at the Battle Creek, Michigan-based company. (Source: Bloomberg)

As it happens, I have a millennial niece who goes to school not far from Union Square. I’m guessing she wouldn’t darken the doors of this joint. Unless this cafe becomes an “ironic” setting for the millennials –could Tony the Tiger actually be woke? -  who live and learn in the vicinity of Union Square, I can’t see this going anywhere.

I’m sure Kellogg’s spent a kabillion dollars market researching this idea. And God knows what I know about consumer marketing could dance on the head of a pin with Toucan Sam and Snap, Crackle & Pop. But it seems to me that the cereal cafe idea might fare better near the big state schools. Lots of millennials, but just a tad fewer hipsters than in NYC.

But Kellogg’s is desperate. Cereal sales have been plummeting for years. Thus, the company’s push to start making cereal a snack rather than a breakfast food.

the cafe in Union Square is an attempt to generate some foodie buzz. In fact, it was the slew of pictures posted by visitors to the Times Square location that helped convince the company it needed a bigger space.

I’m guessing that this is the first time in recorded history that breakfast cereal has been associated with foodie buzz.

“We needed something that was more experiential,” Chase said. “There’s a more lasting emotional connection if they experience it firsthand -- that’s hard to do with a TV commercial.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. I have an emotional connection to the Kellogg’s Rice Krispies jingle, even if it wasn’t all that experiential.

But it’s a different world out there.

Breakfast this morning? It might be Cheerios and blueberries. Or it might be plain yogurt with granola and blueberries. Whatever it is, it will be consumed in-house and not in a cereal cafe. And it will not be shared with the world on Insta.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My shopping’s done, and then this. Darn!

Many years ago, there was an ad campaign for business-friendly Massachusetts that used a jingle about “making it in Massachusetts.”

Most of what’s made in Massachusetts is, of course, of the non-tangible variety: healthcare, financial services, ideas. And in the technology lane, most of what’s made in Massachusetts is also intangible. Software, and within that, most of what is made is for business or for technologists. (My career has been mostly in B2B and T2T software.)

But there is, as Scott Kirsner detailed in a recent Boston Globe article, some consumer stuff made here as well. He writes:

For much of the year, I’m a grinch, complaining that Boston startups don’t really grok the consumer mindset. They excel primarily at selling to businesses. All the cool electronics companies are on the Left Coast. And so on . . .

But this week, I’m trying to see the eggnog glass as half-full. You could stuff a pretty big sack full of goodies made by Boston-area companies — or easily dole out one for each night of Hanukkah. (Source: Boston Globe)

So he “curated” – his word – a list of gifts, not all electronic, by the way, that, if not made in Massachusetts (seriously!) are at least designed and marketed here. Here are the items (unlike B2B software) that he thinks can plausibly land in your shopping cart:

Bose noise-cancelling headphones made the list. I see people with these on planes all the time, but airplane noise doesn’t really bother me. But there’s a major reno project just getting underway next door – gut reno, including replacing most of the floors (minor fire on their top floor last summer resulted in “totaled” water damage; those fire fighters don’t hold back when it comes to dousing flames, thankfully) – and there’s the hole in my hall ceiling that lets in the gurgling pipe noises from the floors above. So, yes, I could use some noise-canceling headphones. Would I spring for $350 to have a set that comes with a Google assistant. Probably not. Still, since I’m all shopped out for everyone else, it is time to consider what to put on the “me” list.

I’ve never heard of Brunswick Park, but I just took a look and I’d like in. Or I would have liked in, if – when I donned that machine washable, comfy, stretchy, machine-washable blazer (“apparel for innovators, creators, and makers”) I could look like one of the models. It’s pricey, but seems like it might be worth price. My only concern is the woman’s blazer  - “designed for the woman who kicks ass and takes names from morning to night” is a short cropped-ish jacket with a detachable peplum. Word association: peplum/ugh. Plus, I do believe I’ve aged out of the kicking ass and taking names demographic.

Then there’s Ministry of Supply, which ups the ante with Millennial professional clothing made with a 3-D knitting technology. And the founders are MIT engineers, which makes it quite interesting. (Word association: MIT/unfashionable.) The clothing is cool but, once again, I don’t think I’m there demographic. Plus I’m a bit worried that they describe their clothing as “sculpted.” Word association: sculpted/ugh. Still, I walk by their store on Newbury Street all the time. Someday, I just might stick my head in. Maybe after I lose 20 pounds.

Pavlok invites its customers to “TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR BEHAVIOR. CHANGE YOUR HABITS, CHANGE YOUR LIFE”, and asks you to start out by taking a quiz on what bad habit you’d like to drop – oversleeping, wasting time, nail biting, negative thoughts, unhealthy eating, oversleeping. They make a life-changing wearable, a wristband that shocks you when you behave badly. As long as Trump’s in office, if I chose negative thoughts as my bad habit, I’d end up being lobotomized. Pass! But props for the LOL name.

I have enough problems dodging make-your-own-rules-of-the-road bikers in Boston. I would really not be encouraging any of them to add  electric wheels from GeoOrbital or Superpedestrian to their steeds, as these wheels “can turn just about any bike into a speed demon.” As if these guys don’t go plenty fast enough already (even on sidewalks, and always when pedaling headlong down a street – the wrong way, of course).

Speaker Creatures, are designed for bath-time. Sounds like fun if you’re giving a kid a bath. I’m not. Plus I create my own music in the shower, thank you. Isn’t that what oldies and a good memory are for?

With SharkNinja and iRobot, the Boston Metro is awash in robot housekeepers. Nothing I’m interested in. And the Jibo Robot “which aims to serve as a kind of countertop concierge for your home.” No thanks on that one, too. It’s also billed as “the world’s first social robot.” I can’t begin to fully grasp what that means for the future of mankind. Nor do I want to.

A little less socially, but probably more useful, Franklin Robotics will have a “solar-powered bot that battles weeds” out next summer.

Sonos isn’t made here, but they do tech development in Boston. And Amazon Echo’s embedded speech recognition office “is crafted in Cambridge.” Artisanal software? Lordy, lord. So Bostonians can buy locally if they pick up a Sonos One smart speaker or Echo Dot. And security conscious folks may want to pick up a SimpliSafe security camera.

But wait, there’s more:

Shopping on sites like (pet gear), Wayfair (home furnishings), Gemvara or CustomMade (custom jewelry), or The Grommet (unique products from independent creators) supports jobs in Boston. So does buying a gift card from sites like Rue La La (apparel and travel) or Drizly (beer, wine, and liquor delivered to your door).

There’s a young woman in my building who orders a ton from Rue La La, and I did meet some of their folks volunteering in the kitchen at St. Francis House a while back. But basically the only company here I purchase from is Wayfair because, yes, when I did my reno they really did have “just what I need.” I had to get rid of the Wayfair app on my phone, however. It had the annoying habit of ringing a doorbell every time they had any sort of little promo or whatever to share. That bit of annoyance was most decidedly not what I need.

Thanks, Scott, for the roundup of local products. Good to know that, after all these years, you can make it, make in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The rest of the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gifts

The Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift list is just so long and lush, I had to devote two posts to it. More or less as a public service, mind you. After all, if you didn’t find what you wanted in the first half, surely you might in the second.

Rolls Dawn Drophead Coupés I’m mostly an Uber and Zipcar kind of gal, but if I were to get another car, I might consider a Rolls. And $439,625 for this charmer seems well worth the price. After all, you can’t roll into George and Amal Clooney’s driveway at Lago Di Como – that’s Lake Como to those who aren’t on a first name basis with George, Amal, and the twins – in an Uber or a Zipcar. image If you don’t like the Lago Di Como Blue – or, as the N-M copy says, you believe that “sharing is overrated” there’s a slightly pricier version for $445,750 in Saint Tropez Orange. The prices might seem silly-high, but I will note the cars do come with lambswool floor mats.

Olympia Le-Tan Bespoke Handbags An order of magnitude down the Fantasy Gift price chain, Olympia Le-Tan (who may be related to Gray Malin, Stephen Webster, or the D’Ornanos, whose wares graced yesterday’s post) will whip up six bespoke handbags. Once again, if you’re not familiar with Le-Tan’s work, she “designs witty and wonderful clutches that reflect her obsession with embroidery and literature.” Obsession with literature? NM BooksUmmmm. All four of those witty and wonderful clutches (Psycho, Vertigo, Rebecca, and Casino Royale) are movies. Three made by Alfred Hitchcock. Sure, Rebecca was a novel. And I guess you can call something by Daphne du Maurier literature. But that’s the movie poster on the witty and wonderful clutch, not the book cover. As for Casino Royale, I don’t believe that the works of Ian Fleming are considered literature. Just good reads. And a side note on that Psycho bag: if any man I know saw a woman approaching him carrying a Psycho bag, I don’t think he’d be thinking witty and wonderful. I think he’d be thinking Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close, and dead bunnies.  

Experience the Ryder Cup as a VIP Well, the Ryder Cup is in France next year – at least it’s not at a Trump course -  so there’s that. But for $250K… As the saying goes, first prize: one trip to the Ryder Cup. Second prize, two trips to the Ryder Cup. Nuf said on this one, but I’m not a golfer.

Give clean-water wells, get 250 ornaments At $50,000 this one actually seems worth the price. Sure, that’s a lot to pay for a bunch of paper ornaments, but this is actually a donation to Paper for Water. “Founded by two enterprising young sisters, the nonprofit
offers handmade paper ornaments to help fund clean-water wells for
communities in need.” And if you buy just one of the ornaments for $50, all the proceeds go to this endeavor.

Private New Year’s Eve Party for 300 in Times Square I don’t know 300 people, so this one would be lost on me – even if I did have $1,600,000 (of which a measly $80K goes to charity) to spring for it. Anyway, it’s at the Knickerbocker Hotel, which has been all tarted up – forgive me, I meant “fully reimagined for a new era.” Everyone in your party party gets two nights at the Knick, assuming they’re willing to share their room with one other (significant or not). What a swell party it sounds like:

On December 31, 2018, the sky-high private party will brim with premium drinks, a sumptuous passed dinner, a spirited DJ, and that brilliant ball drop—the most exciting minute in the world. More than a billion people will see it, but only a few will see it like this.

If I manage to keep my eyes open, I’ll be one in a billion watching the ball drop.

Anyway, now that you’ve seen the 2017 Fantasy Gifts, what are you waiting for? Go forth and shop!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Stocking Stuffers? Look no further than the NM Fantasy Gifts. (Part 1 of 2)

One of the things I enjoy the most about the holidays is the annual Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book, especially the chapter devoted to Fantasy Gifts. This year, of course, the Fantasy Gifts take on special importance, as they give us a keener insight into why billionaires can use a tax cut. Truly, when I virtually thumb through the catalog, I completely understand why us blue-state liberal middle-classers should gladly suck it up and accept that we’ll be paying more than we did last year. After all, it’s for an excellent cause.

Here’s what’s in the this year’s goody book.

Personalize your own Armand de Brignac cuvée Part of that excellent cause is making sure there’s someone, knowing there’s a tax cut coming, who’ll feel they can spring for the $150,000 trip to the Champagne Region of France to pick up 24 bottles of your very own personal cuvée. Oh, there’s other stuff thrown in, like a 12-course dinner at a snooty Paris restaurant. And a helicopter tour of Champagne country. Plus five cases of the other five Armand de Brignac champagnes to sip while you’re waiting for your bespoke cuvée to arrive.

Private flight & photo session with Gray Malin For the more pocketbook-conscious (or should I say Birkin bag-conscious), there’s a photo session with Gray Malin for $35K. Now, this would perhaps mean more to me if I’d ever heard of Gray Malin, but I haven’t. So I’ll take NM’s word for it that he’s “famous for his sunny, saturated aerial scenes.” The one-hour session is over LA, so you might want to wait until their hellscape fire is out. Anyway, this gift comes with a post-flight champagne toast with Malin. If you’re friends with the private cuvée folks, maybe you’ll get to sip their bespoke bubbly. (I will note that all of the Fantasy Gifts include a donation to a charity. For this gift, $5K of the $35K price goes the the NM Foundation. There’s a no-doubt worthy charity lined up for the cuvée profits, but here’s the disclaimer: the charity “will retain any profits from the sale of t his Fantasy Gift for its charitable initiatives.” Any profits? Hmmmm.)

19 Madame Alexander Dolls (plus doll house) Sure, Madame Alexander Dolls are lovely. I remember my own lovely Madame Alexander dolls – they must not have been pricey in the 1950’s, or I would have gotten knockoffs for sure – Ginny and Ginette. Too bad I destroyed Ginny’s lovely brunette flip trying to style it. My mother replaced it with a braided blond wig that I think cost three bucks. She figured – correctly – that I couldn’t be bothered undoing the braids. Plus there was the threat of having a bald Ginny doll if I destroyed the second hairdo. Ginette was a tiny little blue-eyed baby doll. Those blue eyes weren’t blue enough for me, so I tried to Magic Marker in eyes that were even bluer. Unfortunately, I took the whites of Ginette’s eyes out, too. My mother did not replace those eyes. Ginette looked fine as long as she was in resting, shut-eye baby doll mode. So, I get why someone would want a bunch of Madame Alexander dolls. But 19 dolls over the course of a year seems excessive. And $8K seems steep. I mean, don’t these dolls retail for about $100 each? Plus that doll house, while sweet, doesn’t look like it would hold 19 dolls. Of course, in this the Age of Narcissism, you also get a custom doll:

…hair color, eye color, and even outfit design for the fortunate giftee, who will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to collaborate via Skype with a top Madame Alexander designer. Will it be a miniature me? A pint-sized replica of a best pal? The dimensions may be small,but the possibilities are virtually limitless. (Source: Neiman Marcus)

The possibilities may be endless, but I’m guessing that more giftees will opt for the mini-me than the best pal.

Sisley-Paris Experience & Products for a Year What might Sisley-Paris be? Well, you’re obviously the sort of person who buys their cosmetics at Macy’s or CVS. Sisley-Paris means “Powerful Plant-Based Cosmetics”, unlike the chemical, bunny-killing junk you’re painting on your skin. Anyway, for just $60K, you get products like their Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream And so as not to be sexist, there’s also plenty of Sisley pour l’homme. Like theimageir Anti-Age Global Revitalizer. I didn’t read the fine print but might “global revitalizer” mean what I think it could? Toss out the Viagra and start globally revitalizing with Sisley? Anyway, on top of all the other goodies in the Sisley goody-bag, you get “a private lunch with a member of Sisley’s founding d’Ornano family in their famous apartment.” Oh. Dear. Oh very, very dear.

A Trip to the Zambian Gem Fields and a One-of-a-Kind Piece of Jewelry I guess Stephen Webster must be to jewelry design what Gray Malin is to aerial art photography. And then some. This gift starts with a trip to an emerald mine, and then a chance to “behold raw emeralds being processed in the sorting house.” Don’t know about this one. I’m flashing on Blood Diamond, and Leo DiCaprio getting shot at. Or shooting someone. I’ve forgotten everything about that film other than the violence. Anyway, for $300,000 you get to go the mines, and then get the emerald of your dreams turned into a ring or brooch or whatever you want to collaborate with Stephen Webster.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Johnny? Mais Johnny doesn’t ride the bus…

The big news in France last week was that rocker JJohnny hallydayohnny Hallyday - France’s version of Elvis - has, metaphorically speaking, left the building. On Saturday, his funeral procession made its way down the Champs Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron – who, amazingly, was called by Johnny’s wife at 2 a.m. the night he died -  spoke at his funeral Mass. A nation mourned.

There’sVee mask Johnny up there to the right. He looks kind of like a weird, devilish cross between Barry Manilow, a BeeGee, and the Vee mask guy. Mostly like the Vee mask guy. I guess it’s a French thing.

New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, who logged a number of years in Paris, had a good piece about Johnny, in which he admitted the France’s affection for the singer was somewhat mystifying. As he wrote:

There is no complete accounting for national taste in pleasure any more than for individual taste in love.

And here’s what Gopnik wrote to provide a bit of context to that “no complete accounting for national taste”:

Johnny—he was never called anything else—for those who have not been paying attention to the French tabloids for the past fifty years, was the single greatest and most beloved pop star of France. Born Jean-Philippe Smet, during the Occupation, by legend he took the name Hallyday from an “American relative.” He came to be called the “French Elvis,” and this was true—but it was not true in the way that, say, Charles Aznavour could be called the French Sinatra, or the great Charles Trenet the French Noël Coward.

To use those names was to approximate, in terms familiar to us, remarkable artists who finally had to be understood on their own terms. Johnny was the French Elvis in more or less the same sense that an Elvis impersonator in Branson, Missouri, is the Missouri Elvis: he dutifully imitated the manners of the master while translating them into his own personal style.

The titles of some of Johnny’s hits suggest the painfully persistent note of wistful pastiche: “Joue Pas de Rock’n’Roll Pour Moi” (“Don’t Play Rock and Roll for Me”); “C’est le Mashed Potatoes”; “Laissez-Nous Twister”; “Quelque Chose de Tennessee.” In each case, the American idiom was laid out painfully, aspirationally, over a straight up-and-down of the scales of French chanson style, with bad drumming added.

The real virtues of rock and roll—the Chuck Berry virtues of high-speed compression and sly wit, the rebellious wink and the laconic put-down—were as alien to Johnny as they were to Edith Piaf. Famed for his Elvisian antics onstage, he was, surprisingly for a French star, less sexy than sexual, real erotic appeal depending, at least in part, on knowingness. Elvis, as he demonstrated with charm in his 1968 comeback special, knew exactly when to swivel his hips and how to curl his lip. He controlled it. Johnny just did it.

Johnny just did it. Maybe so. But I can promise you that he did not ride in the tour bus with his band. At least not in France, in the summer of 1973.

My friend Joyce and I were hitchhiking around Europe, and somewhere in France – near Carcasonne? it was definitely in the boonies – we got a lift with his tour bus.

We’d heard of Johnny Hallyday. And I’m pretty sure I would have seen him on Ed Sullivan, a Sunday night viewing staple in the Rogers’ household. I’m sure that we (my entire family, with the exception of my way-too-nice mother) would have made some fun of him, in much the same way we made fun of dancing bear and spinning plate acts, and Topo Gigio. But I wasn’t familiar with his oeuvre, that’s for sure.

We knew it was the Johnny Hallyday band because his name was emblazoned on the side of the bus. We were pretty excited hopping on. Here we were, a couple of American girls, and we were going to get to meet a French heart throb. Alas, when we inquired about the whereabouts of Johnny, the band members just gave us a Gallic shrug, one of them telling us, “Oh, Jawn-eeee, he does not ride ze bus. Jawn-eeee flies.” Quel dommage! How much fun would that have been? Joyce and I, too, might have been joining France, and their cute president, Emmanuel Macron, in mourning.

We weren’t on the bus that long. We were heading to Point A, they were heading to Point B. This was July 1973, and Johnny Hallyday was touring all over France. Did they offer us tickets to a concert? I don’t recall. (Unlike Blood, Sweat & Tears, who made me so very happy when I waited on them at Durgin-Park in the summer of 1972 when they gave me two front row tickets to their gig.) We parted on good terms. I think they gave us something to eat.

If you want to see Johnny in his prime, here’s a link to his version of “Let’s Twist Again.” And yes, I did get up and do the twist in this honor. And, no, I wasn’t wearing a pajama-looking outfit like the girls in that video.

Au revoir, Jawn-eeee. As Adam Gopnik says, there’s no accounting for national taste.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Holy Day of Obligation in the United States

Growing up, there were plenty of things that separated kids who went to parochial schools from their peers (a.k.a., pubs) who attended public school.  Wearing w a uniform was the obvious difference. And because we wore uniforms, we were warned by the nuns that we were always visible and recognizable to the general public, who would be judging the entire Roman Catholic Church based on the behavior of students from Our Lady of Angels Grammar School. Thus, it was a double sin to swipe a yoyo from Woolworth’s or throw an ice ball at a car. (Not that a goody two-shoes like me would have done either of those things.)

Even at the time, I had to wonder who these folks were who were doing the judging.Worcester at the time was about 2/3rds Catholic, and the neighborhood I grew up in about 90% Catholic. But, whatever Sta (that’s “Sister” in Worcester-ese) said went.

Another thing that separated parochial schoolers from pubs was that, the occasional yoyo swipe aside, parochial schoolers were honest, and pubs were thieves. Thus, on Catechism day, when the pubs, in their anything-goes clothing, came in after school to sit at our desks, in our chairs, to receive an hour’s worth of the indoctrination we got from the opening bell to the final prayer of the day, we were told to take home anything of value, and push our pens and pencils to the furthest reaches of our desks. Because pubs stole.

The best thing about going to parochial school, however, was that we got Holy Days of Obligation off.

Some Holy Days – Christmas and New Year’s (which when I was a kid was called the Feast of the Circumcision – ouchy- but is now a celebration of Mary Mother of God) – were general holidays. Thus no special benefit accrued to Catholic schoolers. August 15th – the Feast of the Assumption wasn’t worth a damn. We were off for the summer, plus we had to go to Mass, which is what the obligation in Holy Day of Obligation is all about.

The good Holy Days were November 1st, All Saints Day and, not at all coincidentally, the day after Halloween. Getting up and going to Mass was a reasonably good trade-off for having the rest of the day to loll around and eat any candy that your mother hadn’t commandeered. The Feast of the Ascension – 40 days after Easter – was another good one. It was typically a nice enough spring day, a good break between Patriots’ Day and Memorial Day, and an opportunity to taunt pubs who, on a nice enough spring day, would of course rather be outside playing than inside learning.

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Many Catholics, let alone outsiders, are under the false impression that the the conception that was immaculate was when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Not so. It refers to Mary having been herself conceived without original sin on her soul, unlike the rest of us poor schnooks.

Anyway, December 8th was a very fine day to have off. It meant you could head down to Woolworth’s to do your Christmas shopping, wearing your civvies, so that no one who saw you swipe that yoyo would judge the Catholic Church based on your behavior. Plus, if you did swipe that yoyo, you’d only be guilty of the sin of stealing, not the sin of causing scandal.

I am not taking the day off, let alone going to church.

And I don’t think that Catholic schools get the day off, either. Too many working parents who wouldn’t be thrilled to have their kids home on a weird-ball day.

Still, it’s fun to recall the good old days, when there was something mighty valuable – beyond learning how to diagram sentences and do mental arithmetic -  about going to parochial school.


Thursday, December 07, 2017

Bah humbug to cyber-scalpers. (Nasty little Grinch Bots.)

I’ve been volunteering the past few years for Christmas in the City, a 100% volunteer charity that puts on a big holiday party for kids living in homeless shelters, and also provides families in need with toys for their children. Between the holiday party and the toy drive, we’re talking thousands upon thousands of presents under one big metaphorical tree.

One of my CITC tasks this year involved working on our wishlist, the Amazon gift registry that contains the toys we could use the most. Each year, we add a few items to it, and take a few items off. The toys on the list run pretty much anywhere from $10-15-ish to $40 (or somewhere in the vicinity of $40). In any case, nothing over $50. At least that was the case when we added new items in November.

Then, what to our wondering eyes did appear but a $30 baby doll that’s now going for $70!

And then there are the Fingerlings. FingerlingNo, we’re not talking fingerling potato here. A Fingerling is a little monkey-like creature that you wrap around your finger. When we added them to our list, they were about $13, as I recall. Now, well, would you pay $50 for this littler piece of crap? I sure wouldn’t, and I hope that no one buying gifts for Christmas in the City does, either. (I just put a caveat emptor warning on our FB page.)

On the news last night, I even heard that they were going for $1,000 on eBay, but I checked just now, and that tulip bulb madness seems to have passed. Still, they’re in the upper-$40’s on Amazon.

Bah humbug to these cyber-scalpers is all I can say.

Mostly, I’m not all that anti-scalper.

I don’t mind the “got tickets?need tickets?” guys outside of Fenway.  I don’t mind an individual standing in physical or virtual line to buy up tickets.  And in real life, I’m guessing that when they’re out there at game time, they’re working for scalping reseller sites. But when the acquisition is all electronic, and a human really can’t compete, that really pisses me off.

I can’t stand it when I have to pay a lot more for a concert ticket because some scalper-bot has sucked up all the inventory the moment the tickets are released. But whoever’s producing the concert doesn’t care, as long as the venue sells out.

Ditto for the scalping reseller sites for sporting events.

But I guess if I want to pay an inflated price for a ticket to see Springsteen or the Red Sox, well, whatever the market can bear…

I suppose I should feel the same way about scalping toys. But I don’t. I hate the cyber-scalpers for running up the price of Fingerlings. They are especially insidious, even though I think it’s really dumb for anyone to get caught up in the ‘toy of the moment’ mania. Still, a pox on the cyber-scalpers’ Grinch bots.

Online scammers with an arsenal of cyberbots are stealing Christmas by buying up the most popular toys of the season and selling them for a hefty markup on third-party sites such as Amazon and eBay.

While the demand for the hottest toys is particularly high this time of year, shoppers are competing against a growing army of bots. For years, scalpers have taken advantage of software robots to scoop up event tickets, but now scammers are employing the same tactics to cheat Christmas shoppers, says MSNBC anchor and economics correspondent Ali Velshi.

"Regular people could never buy them at face value," he tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "The idea that it was bots — scalpers using algorithms — to buy up all the tickets in the first place, and then sell them either via a third-party vendor or independently to people, and this has now moved its way into the hot holiday toy sales industry." (Source: NPR)

We’ve long had these toy scarcities. Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids shortage? Ticket Me Elmo?

But that was pre-“complex algorithm”, which just seems so unfair.

Even though I think it is completely ridonculous to get caught up in hot pursuit of the hottest gifts, which just feeds into our plastic-fantastic, overwrought, junk consumer goods economy.

Can you say mixed emotions?

I guess the thing to do is to try bricks and mortar, where it’s unlikely that someone will be trying to sell a Fingerling for $1,000. Or do what my parents would do, back in my slightly post-Little House in the Prairie childhood, when Christmas was a relatively subdued affair -  a couple of toys, crayons and Play-Do in your stocking, flannel PJs.

If they hadn’t gotten around to getting us (or, in my mother’s case, making us) something that they had planned to – which I promise you was not very likely to be anything flashy from anyone’s gotta have it list – my mother would wrap up a picture of the item. There you go, kids!

But that was when deferred gratification and refusal to be caught up in consumer frenzies were considered best practices for raising kids.

Ah, the good old days, before we had Grinch bots gobbling up all those Fingerlings.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

No Christmas Tree, No Christmas Tree

On Saturday or Sunday – weather dependent – I’ll be going out and getting my tree. I’ll get a Zipcar and head to Boston Christmas Trees in Allston to pick out a nice, six-foot balsam. I don’t go to Boston Christmas Trees every year, but I like to support them, as they’re long term supporters of Christmas in the City, a children’s charity I’m involved with.

Once I get my tree home, I’ll toss it in our building’s tiny front yard, hose it down to remove the allergens – it actually works: I did it last year and didn’t get my seasonal stuffy nose at all – and see if my new pedal-action, supposedly great for one-person Christmas tree stand works better than my trusty, heavy-duty cast iron stand. (The Christmas after my husband died, I discovered that a 6 foot tree is my single-handed tree height limit.) I’ll then let the tree relax (sigh…) for a day or so. Once it’s settled in, I’ll haul out my vast supply of Christmas CD’s and my vast supply of Christmas ornaments and decorate. All will be calm, all will be bright.

One thing I’m not worried about is whether there’ll be any trees left in the Boston Christmas Trees lot.
Maybe I should be. Seems there’s a scarcity of trees out there.

This Christmas, supplies of live trees are tight. Some Christmas tree lots are closing almost as soon as they open, citing a shortage of trees and presaging a potential national run on firs this weekend, traditionally the busiest of the tree-buying season.

Some suppliers blame extreme weather this past year. Some blame changes to agriculture, like small farmers in Oregon, the biggest tree-producing state, turning to grapes and cannabis instead.

But most growers blame the Great Recession.

It takes seven years to 10 years to grow a tree. Many farmers planted fewer seedlings or went out of business altogether in the years after the housing bust, when consumers pulled back spending.

At the same time, total acreage in production declined 30% between 2002 and 2012, according to the latest federal data available. (Source Wall Street Journal – requires subscription)

All I can say is, consider the source. The Wall Street Journal? You mean the folks who think Bob Mueller is the bad guy? That Wall Street Journal?

I’m going with: This is New England, and we’ve got Christmas trees.

Don’t we? After all, the article mentions states like Arizona and Florida that are far away from tree sources. We’ve got Maine! We’ve got Canada!

But, while we haven’t had forest fires, we did have a drought this past summer…


So I did a bit of googling and, sure enough, Massachusetts isn’t exempt from the tree shortage. Supply down/demand up. And because it takes a good one while to go from sapling to something usable, the shortage is likely to be with it for a few more holiday seasons.

Fortunately, I’m not all that fussy. The tree doesn’t have to be perfect. If there’s no obvious bald spots, I’ll be good. Sometimes it helps to have grown up around a grandmother whose motto was, “If a man on a gallopin’ horse wouldn’t notice…”

…the artificial-tree industry is saying traditionalists should see the shortage as a sign to branch out. Trees can be “tall, short, thin, fat, green, silver, white, ombré, rainbow, upside down, real or artificial,” according to a Facebook post by the American Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for artificial-tree producers.

I will say that I’m occasionally drawn to those mid-century modern silvery-white Christmas trees with turquoise or pink ornaments. So Mad Men. But I could never actually go with one of them. As for ombré. Hombre, I’m no fan of fake Christmas trees to begin with. But ombré?

“Don’t be discouraged,” the association said. “That ‘perfect’ Christmas tree is any type of Christmas tree that fits your personality and your lifestyle.”

Me? I’m not discouraged, and doubt I’ll ever be discouraged enough to get an artificial tree (even though some of my best friends and relations have them). As for finding something that “fits”, I don’t exactly have a lifestyle. But I do have a personality, and that personality just says NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO, to an artificial Christmas tree. Talk about no Christmas tree. No can do.

So I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Boston Christmas Trees will have a good enough six-foot balsam, and that my new tree stand will be a dream to use. Look for a picture of my tree some time next week…


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Custom shoes? I’m in!

By the time I was in 7th grade, my shoe size was 9.5 AAA. I was still wearing Stride Rites at that point, and there were only two choices in that size: regular old black and white/brown and white saddle shoes, and some type of black velvet/black leather saddle shoes. I mostly wore the latter through 8th grade. They were cute. Not embarrassing. And they fit.

By freshman year in high school, I no longer wanted to wear Stride Rites. Unfortunately, my foot had grown a bit longer, and narrowed along the way. I now wore a 10 AAAA, with a AAAAAAA heel. The only 10 AAAA shoes available in Worcester Massachusetts were sold at a high-end women’s store, Marcus. They carried 10 AAAA shoes because that was the size worn by the wife of the owner. Unfortunately, they were the sort of shoes that a middle aged woman would want to wear, not a 13 year old kid.

But they did carry a loafer.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Bass Weejun loafer that every other girl in my high school wore. It was a tan suede Old Maine Trotter. What they lacked in style, they made up for in comfort.

But I didn’t want comfort. I wanted the same Bass Weejun penny loafers everyone else wore. So I contorted my feet a bit, pushing them in to a 9 or 9.5 AA – whatever I could find -  that was at once to short and too wide. As a result, I had a lot of blisters.

For my other shoes – the heels I wore to church – I also went with whatever near size was available

My senior year in high school, saddle shoes were suddenly back in. And Stride Rites came in 10 AAAA.

In college, I wore loafers for a year or so. Then clogs, Dr. Scholl’s, work boots, sandals.I don’t remembering size mattering much.

By the time I was out in the work world, and I had to have decent shoes, I mostly wore 9.5 AA. Suboptimal – lots of blisters and slipping out of the shoe. Occasionally, I’d fine a shoe in my size. There was a place in Boston that sold shoes that fit. Mostly ugly, but they fit.

And then I discovered catalogue shoe shopping, and started to get most of my 10 AAAA shoes from catalogue.

And then, blessedly, there was Zappo’s.

In the last couple of years, my foot grew again, length and width. After a brief stop at 10.5 AA,  I now wear an 11 AA.

Not exactly common – and if I see something I like and click on it, I can be about 99.99% sure that it won’t be available in my size. Still, there’s a lot more choice than I had when I was in high school.

And most of what I wear is of the sneaker variety. (Thank you Asics, thank you Brooks, for the variety of colors that you make, even in my giant size. Not all the color combos, but enough that I’m not stuck with boring old white.)

What I’ve long longed for for my long foot, however, is a custom-made shoe.

Now, technologies including 3-D scanning are bringing consumer product companies closer to developing custom-fit versions of mass-produced goods. But despite the futuristic promise in the field, few products have yet broken through to a broad audience.

“It’s something everybody’s chasing in different ways,” said Bill McInnis, who leads Reebok Future, a division working on manufacturing advances for the Boston company.

Reebok recently opened a South Boston store that allows visitors to design features for their shoes. But like many in the footwear industry, the company is looking for ways to custom-make shoes that fit each customer’s foot. (Source: Boston Globe)

Get that 3-D scanner in there.Maybe it’ll be like the weird glowing fitting “machines”, the fluoroscopes of my youth. Maybe it’ll be like the MRI I just had of my ankle. (Nothing serious, just a few small tears in the tendons and ligaments. Occasional low-level pain. Occasional Grandpappy Amos McCoy limping) Whatever it is, I’m heading to Southie. I’ll be first in line to get a pair of custom-sized Reeboks. Can’t wait!

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Sage of Omaha? You can look it up in the encyclopedia.

I don’t know about you, but I always enjoy reading about Warren Buffett. Not that I read a lot about the Sage of Omaha, mind you, but what I do read, I find interesting.

As in an article I saw the other day on Bloomberg with a headline about Buffett’s owning the World Book.

I grew up when people had encyclopedias in their homes. All those GI’s settling down and having all those Baby Boomers who were all going to be first gen to college. Almost everyone’s living room had a set of some encyclopedia. World Book. Britannica. Collier’s. Colliers EncyclopediaIn keeping with having the most oddball version of what everyone else had, we had Collier’s. Here’s what the 1956 edition – which graced one of the bookcases in our living room – looked like. (You can get it on eBay for $70.) The Rogers kids did a lot of homework projects with information gleaned from one of these volumes. (I was in high school before I did a research project that I actually had to go to the library for.) Information didn’t change as fast and furious as it does today, but it still changed, and one of the highlights of the year was the arrival of the annual update volume for the prior year. Coup in the Congo! Yanks win Series!

Even when I didn’t have a project in mind, I much enjoyed just thumbing through a volume and learning “stuff.” It’s no wonder my head is full of so much of it.

Pliny the Elder might claim that his age was the Golden Age of Encyclopedia, but I’m going with the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Proof point? Look no further: we even had a theme song, Jiminy Cricket singing “Encyclopedia, E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A”.

So, yes, it’s interesting that Warren Buffett owns World Book. But World Book is not alone among his more off-beat assets:

Along with large, thriving businesses such as Geico and the BNSF Railway, he’s accumulated a collectIion of head-scratchers. There’s a bowling shoe brand, a maker of vacuum cleaner bags, almost three dozen newspapers, and the manufacturer of Ginsu knives. (Source: Bloomberg)

Bowling shoes? Ginsu knives? (“Slices roast beef so thin, your in-laws will never come back.”) Vacuum cleaner bags? (Achoo!)

And the World Book.

When the first edition of the World Book came out in 1917, its illustrations were as cutting-edge as today’s virtual-reality video games. By the late 1950s the company was printing more than half a million sets a year, many of which were sold door to door. At one point the sales force numbered more than 40,000.

Good God! 40,000 door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen? Yikes! I remember Fuller Brush. And Jehovah’s Witnesses. Maybe World Book sellers didn’t come to Main South Worcester.

Early on during his ownership, what with that mighty sales force pounding the pavement, World Book was a pretty good bet for Buffett. But then came the Internet, and suddenly we had encyclopedia on steroids at our fingertips. Sure, a lot of the content out there is intentionally false or just plain wrong. And a ton of it isn’t curated. But a lot of it is good and true. And it’s perpetually updated. So you don’t need to wait months into the new year to get a summation of what happened the year prior. World Book has gone from throwing off enough cash that it appeared as a line item in the annual report. Over the last decade or so, it was just lumped in with a bunch of other miscellany.

Who buys book form encyclopedias? I would have guessed nobody. But, as it turns out, some people do.

After decades of declines, sales of print encyclopedias rose last year and are projected to do so again. Why? It doesn’t hurt that World Book is the last of its kind, a multivolume encyclopedia that’s updated each year.

Whatever the reason – last encyclopedia standing or pure nostalgia – World Book has become a profitable (small, but profitable) part of the Buffett portfolio. And even if it were still a loser, there’s a method to Buffett’s madness.

Because Buffett hangs on to his acquisitions – no quick in and out for the Sage – he believes that sellers want to sell to his Berkshire rather than a ruthless, predatory investor who’s going to come in and strip, gut, and toss. And it’s been working pretty well. If, in 1965, I had had in my possession $100, and had known enough to invest in Berkshire Hathaway, I would be $2 million to the good today.

Of course, in 1965, I didn’t have $100, and I was too busy thumbing through the annual Collier’s Year Book to see what had happened in 1964 (Johnson trounces Goldwater! Cards beat Yanks!) to look at what was going on in money world.

Still, fun to learn a bit more about Warren Buffett. Pretty sage for a guy from Omaha. And good to think that somewhere, there’s a kid paging through the encyclopedia, stuffing their head with stuff.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lights up!

I’m not one of those folks who go all gush-gush over Christmas. Who start decorating in November. Who just can’t wait to see what’s behind the next door on the Advent calendar.

Don’t get me wrong. I do have some bah-humbugging moments, but I’m no Scrooge. I buy presents, put up a tr20171130_195745ee, send cards, entertain, make donations, volunteer, wrap presents, sing carols, bake cookies, go to a concert. But you’ll never catch me singing ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ That would be baseball season. Or fall (especially if the local baseball season is still on).

Mostly what I appreciate about the Christmas season is that it’s a reasonably good antidote to the darkness that’s falling all around us. And what makes it a good antidote is all those lights.

So what I do love about this time of year is that they light up the Boston Common (colored lights) and the Public Garden (white lights). Both right there in/as my front yards.

20171130_195751Last night, I happened to be walking through the Common just as they turned on the lights for the season. In the past, I’ve gone to the lighting ceremony, but this year I had a meeting downtown, so I was just passing through on my way back home.

Countdown: 10, 9, 8. The Mayor pressed the button, and everyone sang “Deck the Halls.”

I didn’t take a picture of the actual Common Christmas tree, but they also light the deciduous trees, so here are a couple of pics I took when I walked by the Frog Pond skating rink. If there’s a lovelier urban winter sight than folks skating after dark amidst the Christmas lights, I don’t know what it is. (Actually, I do know: it’s this scene with snow.)

Last year, they kept the lights up until February. I hope they do it again this year. If there’s one time of year I do actively dislike, it’s January. Long, cold, dark, and dreary.

But as long as they keep these lights on, I’ll make it through just fine.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

No place like home for the holidays. Just ask the AA flyboys.

That glittery gift that American Airlines pilots found in the toe of their stocking? Turns out it was a potential lump of coal for passengers.

What happened was a problem with their pilot scheduling system that allowed too many pilots to sign up for time off during December. Home for the holidays, avoiding some potentially crappy weather, not flying during a stressful time of year when so many travelers are hyped and/or crazed and/or freaked? What’s not to like?

Anyway, American is now trying to figure out what to do with the estimated 15,000 flights that may not have enough crew to fly over the holidays, when there’s no place like home, and everyone in the country who’s not home is trying to get there.

“We are working diligently to address the issue and expect to avoid cancellations this holiday season,” [American spokesman Matt] Miller said. The number of flights involved will decline each day as the carrier reassigns them, he said. (Source: Bloomberg)

The airline is hoping not to have to do any wholesale cancellations, and is offering pilots 1.5x their regular hourly rate. But they may have to up the ante. Kind of like when they try to bribe people to give up their seats on an overbooked plane. Always best to wait until at least the second offer. But, as we’ve learned, you can’t wait too long or you risk getting dragged off the plane. In this case, would AA have to dragoon pilots and drag them on the plane?

American also plans to tap their roster of “reserve” pilots. This would make me a tad bit nervous if I were flying. Just who are these “reserve” pilots? Old guys who may have lost their edge? Young pilots who haven’t yet found theirs?

The computer-system problem will force American to rebuild its staffing schedule, similar to what airlines must do after major weather disruptions, said John Cox, chief executive officer of consultant Safety Operating Systems and a former commercial airline pilot. Revenue will take a hit if American has to scrub many flights. At a minimum, the carrier is likely to face higher labor costs just as investors are stepping up scrutiny of airline expenses.

Personally, I won’t be losing any sleep over American taking a revenue hit. They’ve definitely been more on the naughty side this year than on the nice side. (C.f., passenger dragged off plane. I will note that it was United, however, who invoked some obscure dress code rule for employees’ families traveling standby to keep some kids off of a too-crowded plane.)

The pilots union, the Allied Pilots Association, doesn’t like the solutions that have been proposed so far. They’ve filed a grievance, claiming that the offer “violates its labor pact.” They want to find a solution that’s a bit richer than 1.5x pay.

Flights that are scheduled without a captain, first officer or both originate from Dallas-Fort Worth International, American’s largest hub, and airports in Boston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, North Carolina, according to a company memo to the union, which was seen by Bloomberg News.

I’d be okay flying without a flight attendant or two, but – even though the planes are highly automated – I really wouldn’t want to be captain-less. Or in a situation where God was my co-pilot.

Glad I’m just a little old stay-at-home…

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Turtles all the way down

About half of all people in the US reject the theory of evolution. After all, who wants to be either a monkey’s uncle or a monkey’s nephew?

The percentage seem to bounce around depending on the poll/lunar cycle/how the question is asked, but roughly one-third of all Americans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya. After all, he is half-black and has a really funny name.

A poll taken last summer showed that half of all Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. After all, you really do have to discount all those illegals bussed in from Puerto Rico to pull the D lever on their way to free pizza with pedophiles.

So it really should come as no surprise that there are still folks out there – perhaps even a subset of any and all of the above categories – who believe that the earth is flat.

The movement’s true scope remains something of a mystery — though some flat-earth-related videos have generated millions of online views — but the intent is clear: They are waging war on accepted science — on an understanding of the planet that dates back millennia.

If the Earth is round, they want to know, then why aren’t buildings tilted? Look at the oceans: How does water stick to a ball? And how, if the Earth is spinning at a rate of 1,000 miles an hour, are we even able to function?

To them, images of earth from space are just that — images. The video footage from the moon? Filmed on a movie set. And while they might disagree a bit on the details, they go by what they see. And what they see seems inarguably flat.

“What we observe and what we experience doesn’t seem to match up,” explained Josh Bolieiro of Nashua, during a recent meeting of Flat Earth New England at Revere Beach. (Source: Boston Globe)

I’m no STEM girl, but even I have some rudimentary understanding of why the water doesn’t fall off and why, given that 1,000 mph spin, we don’t all go whirling off into space. Ummmm, there’s gravity. And escape velocity. And, ummmm, wouldn’t you think that, if the earth were flat, someone would have found the edge by now and maybe even have made a leap into the void. Wouldn’t you think that The Edge might have become a tourist destination for those who had already checked off climbing Everest, peered into a volcano, and communed with penguins on the South Pole? Of course, if the earth were flat, there wouldn’t be a South Pole, would there now? But forget tourists. Surely, if the earth were flat, bungee jumping off the edge would be an Xtreme sport by now.

Despite the science on the side of the earth being round, people across the country are taking up the flat earth banner, and flat earth groups are sprouting up all over the place. Thus, Flat Earth New England.

Flat Earth New England…In the home of the august Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’d say I’m shocked, but, these days, I’ve become pretty shock-proof.

Flat earthers, I’m guessing, are just into alternative facts. Which is pretty damned depressing. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Bill Nye, the mild-mannered TV scientist, has called the flat-earth movement “heartbreaking.” The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went a step further, suggesting that flat-earthers should be rocketed into space and allowed to return to Earth only after admitting they’re wrong.

Gotta love that Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Researchers (you know, like science guys) have done studies on conspiracy theories – like the “theory’ that pictures taken from outer space that show our fair planet as round are photoshopped  – tend to crop up when it’s VUCA-time, and the world is just chocked to the gills with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 

“What we found,” says Alin Coman, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, “is that it really goes to this notion of a search for meaning.”

Oh dear…

I’m all in favor of the search for meaning. I mean, if searching for meaning is your thing. (Me? I’m with folksinger Iris DeMent: Let the Mystery Be.) But I’m mostly in favor of taking a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to what’s going on in the observable (provable) world.

But I would like to know just what the flat earthers think is holding that Planet Pancake up. Turtles all the way down???