Special offers! Coupons! Preferred Shopper Rewards!

This time of year, retailers use every marketing tool they can think of to lure shoppers into their stores and persuade them to spend more. Given the volume of sales this month generates, it must work, too.

Actually, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I am one of the shoppers who happily takes the lure. I take advantage of coupons, discounts, and sales whenever possible, including Christmas shopping. I always hope my loved ones never have to return any gifts I buy them, because I would be embarrassed to have them discover how little I actually spent.

But one sales technique confuses me. BOGO.

I don’t know whether to call it textspeak, an acronym, or a catchphrase, but it’s an abbreviated way of saying that, if you buy one thing you can get a second one at a discount: half price, maybe, or even free.

There’s just one problem. BOGO, read literally as an acronym, just means “Buy one, get one.”

Um—isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? If I buy a blouse, say, I expect to get a blouse. I’ve paid for it, after all; I’d better walk out of the store with it in my hot little hand.

BOGO really ought to be BOGOF, for “Buy one, get one free.” Except, of course, that the second one isn’t always free.

BOGOC, maybe? For “Buy one, get one cheap?” Oh, no; that would never do. Marketing people may love to use words like “sale” and “discount” and “value” and maybe even “bargain,” but they hate to use the word “cheap.” No store wants that connotation of “this shoddy piece of junk will fall apart the first time you use it.”

BOGOFL? “Buy one, get one for less?” Accurate, perhaps, but too long and not catchy enough.

Never mind; I give up. This must be why all those clever advertising copywriters settled for BOGO.

I still reserve the right to roll my eyes when I see it. But if you happen to be behind me in the checkout line, don’t worry; I’ll be nice. At least until I get the discount on my second item.

Categories: Money Matters, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

To Swat or Not to Swat?

Supposedly, in some cultures, there is a belief that if you save someone’s life you then become responsible for that person. I did extensive research (five whole minutes with Google) and didn’t find any evidence that this is actually true.

Which makes sense, since the whole idea seems backwards. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it the other way around? The savee, after all, is the one owing a debt to the saver. Not to mention that potential rescuers might be discouraged from saving anyone’s life in the first place, given the potential long-term consequences.

But my real question at the moment is whether this tradition, if it even exists, applies to non-human species. Insects, specifically.

Every fall, when the weather gets cold, we have a mild invasion of wasps. They either migrate inside to keep from freezing to death, or they emerge—and this is not a happy thought—from wherever they have been living inside the walls.

A few weeks ago, when temperatures were falling below zero, one of these wasps took up residence in the kitchen sink. Not the smartest place to settle. For one thing, the stainless steel got so cold overnight that the wasp was too numb to move by morning. Besides, a sink is a place where water can gush forth at random intervals and unpredictable temperatures. Innocent insects are at constant risk of being plunged into a maelstrom that will take them down the drain to a watery death.

I rescued this particular wasp at least twice, plucking it out of the sink before I committed the potentially lethal act of washing dishes. After that, while it tended to stay out of the sink, it still made a nuisance of itself by crawling around on the counter or perching on the faucet. The fact that it didn’t ever sting me in a moment of ungratefulness was due solely to my being careful not to accidentally put my hand on it.

The critter was annoying. I really didn’t want it around. Still, since I had saved its life, I couldn’t bring myself to swat it or toss it outside to perish in the cold. It would have been too much like healing a convicted murderer’s life-threatening illness in order to have him healthy enough to walk to the electric chair. I just couldn’t handle the irony.

So I put up with its presence for several days, moving dishes around it and checking to make sure it wasn’t lurking in the sink before I turned on the water.

Then Monday came. And with it, the wonderful woman who cleans our house every other week. She hates wasps. Unlike me, she had no relationship with this one.

I was conveniently out of the house while she was cleaning. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I can spell “plausible deniability.”)

When I came back, the house was clean. The kitchen counter was polished. The sink was gleaming.

And the wasp, by strange coincidence, was nowhere to be seen.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: | 2 Comments

“So Rudolph and Darth Vader Walk Into . . . “

“Catalog (noun): A compilation of items you have never heard of and do not need, presented in such a way as to persuade you that you can’t live without them.”

Somebody somewhere must have been selling my address, because an assortment of catalogs have shown up in the mailbox lately. I usually toss them, but the other day two of them arrived just in time to provide reading material while I waited for an appointment.

These catalogs were not selling cheap odd junk, mind you. These, aimed at a more selective and affluent market, were selling expensive odd junk. Like washable cashmere lounging pants, battery-powered nose hair trimmers, indoor flameless marshmallow roasters, and personalized bobblehead dolls created from photographs of your loved ones. Plus a Darth Vader toaster, complete with glowing eyes and the ability to brand “Star Wars” onto each slice of toast.

While each of those had its own particular appeal, two other items caught my attention.

First, the tasteless, creepy, grandchild-terrifying Christmas decoration that no household should be without: the 15-foot tall, animated, inflatable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (only $399.95). Not only does he have an “LED-illuminated bulbous red nose,” but “A quiet electronic motor swivels his head back and forth, implying his natural curiosity, while his pert tail and ears suggest an alertness and eagerness to entertain.” In our neighborhood, that alertness could be a good idea. The real deer who frequent our yard, meeting this outsized interloper, might just decide to test their own natural curiosity and their sharp-pointed antlers against Rudolph’s chubby inflatable legs.

The second item is more utilitarian: a “Cordless Snow Shovel” for a mere $299.99. “Just push a button, and you’re off.” It’s quiet. It has a rechargeable battery. It has zero carbon emissions. (Well, if you don’t count using electricity to recharge those batteries.)

But, wait. We already have two cordless snow shovels. They don’t even need batteries, although their operators may need periodic recharging with hot chocolate. They’re quiet, if you don’t count the occasional grunting, muttering, and whining from their users. I’m not sure about the zero carbon emissions, though; the heavy breathing that accompanies their use must put quite a lot of carbon dioxide into the air.

Oh, now I get it. That’s why we only shovel two tire-width tracks up our long driveway instead of clearing off the whole thing. We’re just trying to reduce our carbon footprint.

Regretfully, I decided not to invest in either of these items. Maybe next year.

But I did think twice about the Darth Vader toaster. One person on my Christmas list, as a little boy, sat enthralled through the first Star Wars movie and, as a teenager, did an impressive Darth Vader impersonation. He just might have loved it.

Categories: Family, Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Smart Clothes

Smart watches that can check our email. Virtual-reality headsets. Smart eyeglasses with teeny computer screens—an exciting idea, maybe, unless you’ve ever had trouble getting used to bifocals. Clothes that can use energy from your movements to recharge electronic devices.

Wearable technology might be mostly at the experimental stage, but the melding of fashion and technology into smart clothes isn’t just for “Star Trek” anymore.

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether technology geeks are really the people we want designing our fashions. Here are a few smart-clothes options I wish they would work on:

• Clothes smart enough to pick themselves up off the floor, wash themselves, mend themselves, and put themselves away.
• Clothes smart enough to convert spaghetti-sauce stains into energy.
• Clothes for toddlers with sensors to alert parents if kids climb up on top of the refrigerator or find the hidden stash of gourmet chocolate.
• Clothes for women of a certain age, programmed to send a flow of cold air through their fibers at the first sign of a hot flash.

In the meantime, while the scientists and engineers are happily playing with wearable electronics, here’s a low-tech bit of design that would make life easier in today’s high-tech world. Pockets.

It makes no sense to me. Right now, cell phones are evolving from accessories to necessities. They’re getting bigger and smarter. They are becoming lifelines to the rest of the world, not just for communicating with other people, but for everyday activities like taking photos, reading, navigating, finding addresses, making grocery lists, and looking up answers to random questions like, “Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?” (It’s a fruit; I looked it up.)

Because phones are used for so many things, they are increasingly important in a “don’t put it down except in the shower” kind of way. They are always just a ringtone or a vibration away.

So why don’t today’s clothes have pockets big enough to carry them in?

Oh, many men’s clothes do. But just look at the current styles for women. Skinny jeans so tight that, if you have a quarter in your pocket, people can see whether the outer side is heads or tails. Tights. Tall, form-fitted boots. Short, form-fitted jackets. Clingy layered tops. Dresses so short that pockets would hang lower than the hemline.

It might be useful if some of those creative techie nerds would turn their attention to designing better ways to carry around our essential electronics. Phone sheaths in those tall boots, maybe. Shoulder holsters. Necklaces—known, no doubt, as “neck-tech.” Wrist straps. Fashionable phone belts. Phone-holding scarves. Small, obedient, tech-toting dogs.

Except, if we’re honest about it, we know why this is a place that fashion designers refuse to go. Even the most stylish woman outfitted with such accessories would look like a refugee from a bad spy movie or a geek wearing a tool belt. No wonder so many women still lug purses the size of carpet bags.

And come to think of it, those “Star Trek” uniforms didn’t have pockets, either.

Categories: Fashion | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

You know it’s cold when . . .

You keep the butter on the kitchen counter instead of in the fridge, and it’s still too hard to spread.

You wear long johns and thick boots to a classical music concert.

You notice that everyone else in your row at the concert is also wearing heavy boots. (You can’t be sure about the long johns, but you know which way you’d bet.)

A friend who has two indoor cats and three sort-of-tame outdoor cats now has, “temporarily,” five indoor cats.

You keep your exercise clothes in your car, and it takes the first half of your workout just to warm up your tee shirt.

The cast-iron bathtub is so cold in the morning that your feet are still freezing when you get out of the shower.

A stray wasp in the kitchen sink is so cold it is barely moving, and instead of swatting it while it’s vulnerable, you pick it up with a spoon and put it by the furnace vent.

You decide the attached garage is the greatest architectural achievement since the flying buttress.

You use the warm-air dryer in a public restroom to dry your hands, and it feels so good you get as much of your body under the dryer as possible and stay there until someone comes in and gives you a funny look.

You tell yourself that anyone who goes south for the winter is a wimp, and you pretend your feeling of superiority makes you feel warmer.

You look at the calendar and realize winter won’t officially start for another month. It takes five dark chocolate Hershey Kisses and a cup of scalding coffee to help you recover from the shock.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Intelligent Design–Or Not

I don’t know much about design, but I know what I like. Or more precisely, I know bad design when I try to use it.

Like the dangling coffee cup. During a recent trip, we had breakfast in a coffee shop—one that, from its prices and decor, clearly thought of itself as “upscale.” The food was okay, the coffee was okay, and the tea would have been okay had the water been hotter.

And the cups, because of their design, were practically unusable. The basic cup was a perfectly nice classic shape, wider at the top and curving down to a smaller base. It was the handle that was the problem. It was small and perfectly round, stuck onto the cup near the top. Think a donut clinging to the side of a pitcher. Or imagine Mickey Mouse with only one ear, and that a small one with a piercing that had gone horribly wrong.

If you care, you can see a photo of the cup at the website linked below, but here’s a rough sketch:

illy cup sketch

If you put your finger through the hole to pick up the cup, you couldn’t curl your other fingers beneath the handle for support without burning your knuckles against the side of the hot cup. If you tried to pick up the cup by the handle without that support, the weight of the cup would tip forward, spilling half the contents into your plate or your lap.

The only way to actually drink out of the cup was to treat it like a Chinese tea cup without a handle. This meant picking it up with both hands, carefully, at the top, so as not to burn your fingers.

The coffee shop advertised proudly that it served illy (not my typo; the “I” is not capitalized) brand coffee, and the cups obviously came from the coffee company, because “illy” marched proudly in red across the front of each one. When I took a look at the illy website, all became clear. The coffee cups aren’t merely vessels for drinking out of; they are art.

Here is the explanation, taken straight from the website: the illy company has “rethought” and “elevated” the coffee cup to “meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.” The company sells a variety of cups, with designs by a variety of artists, as an art collection. Buying one of these cups gives you an opportunity for “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.” The cup’s shape, created by an architect and designer, “was a full meeting of form and function: a vessel made to optimize diffusion of aromas and retention of heat, while establishing an entirely original tactile and aesthetic experience.”

Well, form and function may have met, but they obviously didn’t get along well. Apparently the designer was so focused on the aesthetic experience that he never got around to testing the cup to see whether an ordinary, non-artistic person in need of caffeine could actually drink out of one.

I have to admit, though, that there’s one way the cup design is a great success. Suppose you pick it up by the handle, and it tips forward and spills hot coffee into your lap, causing you to jump up, drop the cup, and utter several heartfelt expletives. Congratulations! You have just enjoyed “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.”

Categories: Fashion, Food and Drink, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Being Pleased By Small Things

“Little things please small minds.” That line, spoken in the weary tone of someone forced to deal with annoying and inferior beings, was one of the ways my high school algebra teacher reacted to adolescent acting-up. Since this man soon left teaching in favor of selling insurance, maybe he eventually figured out that sneering at “small minds” wasn’t an effective disciplinary tool.

Besides, he was wrong. As someone who is often pleased by small things, I prefer to see this quality as a sign of a large mind—the mind of someone who is present in the moment, noticing and appreciating the details that can sprinkle enjoyment across an ordinary day. Or maybe it’s just a sign of a quirky mind. That works, too.

At any rate, here are a few of the small things that have pleased me lately:

1. Folding down the back seats in my new Honda CR-V for the first time. The process is such a little piece of tidy engineering. One pull on a strap pops the seat cushion up against the back of the front seat. One pull on another strap simultaneously tips the headrest forward and releases the seat back, and when this is pushed flat the headrest tucks itself neatly into a space just its size against the seat cushion. Quick and easy, and Bob’s your uncle.

2. Spending several—well, maybe a few more than several—enjoyable minutes browsing the Internet trying to find the origins of the phrase “Bob’s your uncle.” It’s British, but no one seems to know where it came from or what it means. Those of you who also wonder about things like this can check out a couple of the possibilities here.

3. Being careful, as usual, not to make eye contact with one of our resident cottontails when I passed it in the front yard on my way out to get the newspaper. They seem to think they are invisible if we don’t look directly at them, so out of courtesy we try not to disillusion them.

4. Watching my just-turning-two granddaughter discover that the front wheels on a push bike were too wide to fit between the coffee table and the couch, and then watching her get it into the space anyway—by turning it around and backing in with the aplomb of an experienced trucker parking at a truck stop.

5. Being amused by an eccentric carrot from the farmers market, which was short and fat at the top, narrowed into a pencil-sized curl for a couple of inches where it must have grown around an obstacle, and then expanded again at the tip. It resembled an acrobat in a very tight corset.

6. Over breakfast at a restaurant in western British Columbia, browsing through a brochure about the mining communities at Crowsnest Pass and realizing that “Colliery Tipple” would be a wonderful name for a very dark ale. (A tipple, by the way, as I learned from my geologist companion, is a structure at a mine where the extracted ore is loaded to be hauled away.)

7. Noticing a beautiful iridescent beetle, gleaming in the sun like a purple opal no bigger than my little fingernail, while we were out walking one morning.

8. And finally, I was especially pleased by one last small thing. While we were squatting in the middle of the street appreciating the beetle, the pickup that came past slowed way down and went around us instead of squashing us like, well, a bug.

Categories: Living Consciously, Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Romancing the Stone

It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture: two figures, slightly larger than life-sized. A lovely young woman, kneeling as if to pick up the jar she has apparently just dropped, gazes up over her shoulder at a man standing beside her.

He is a step away from the woman, gazing back at her with his hand extended, perhaps beckoning or reassuring. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything practical like giving her a hand up or offering to help pick up the jar. It looks more like he’s encouraging her to look at him.

True, he’s well worth looking at. His thick, curly hair is a bit much, but he’s handsome, with an interesting face and the kind of toned, muscular body that comes from regular visits to the gym. This is obvious to the most casual observer, because the only thing he’s wearing is a strategically-placed piece of drapery.

The electricity between them fairly crackles. The piece is like the cover of a romance novel captured in stone.


Of course, maybe romance, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The kind of love the artist intended to portray is open to question. Because this sculpture, by Bruce Wolfe, (there’s a better picture here) is in the mission church in Santa Barbara, California, and represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It depicts the moment he speaks to her, after she has come to his tomb and found it empty.

Maybe the intensity between the man and woman is religious. But my guess is that any fan of The Da Vinci Code who believes Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married would find supporting evidence in this beautiful artwork. Or maybe Mr. Wolfe was just following a venerable tradition, going at least as far back as the Renaissance, of using religious themes as a vehicle for portraying the human body with a minimum of covering. Just think of Michelangelo’s “David,” or all those images of Adam and Eve with and without their fig leaves.

On a side note, the first time I saw actual fig leaves on a tree in Turkey, I was surprised. They’re large, all right, but their shape doesn’t lend itself well to modest covering. They look almost like hands with the fingers spread apart. fig leafThere’s a lot of open space in a fig leaf. It would take several of them, layered carefully, just to create a fig-leaf Speedo.

But fig leaves and draperies aside (don’t we wish), I saw this sculpture recently in the company of another woman who, like me, is respectable and responsible and old enough to know how to behave in public. And we came close to getting the giggles like a couple of 13-year-old girls at a Mr. Universe contest. We had to move on to another section of the church before we embarrassed ourselves with our whispered but decidedly non-religious comments.

But not before she summed up our reaction. “Wow. That’s a hunky Jesus. I’d follow him.”

Hmmm. As a strategy for religious conversion, that just might have its merits.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kayak Spelled Backwards is Still Kayak

I love water. I drink it by the gallon. I find it soothing in the shower. I enjoy hearing it drum on the roof during summer rains. I even—don’t tell anyone—appreciate using it, warm and soapy, to wash dishes.

Just don’t ask me to dunk my head under the stuff. I like to keep my essential elements in their proper places: water is for drinking, air is for breathing, and I prefer my nose to have free access to the latter. (I developed this firm belief long ago, during swimming lessons on chilly June mornings at the Gregory municipal swimming pool, under the inexperienced tutelage of a teenage boy who kept his blue-lipped little charges in line by threatening to duck them.)

I also tend to believe that little plastic boats are meant for toddlers to play with in the bathtub. If, theoretically speaking, I ever wanted to learn to paddle a kayak, I would be inclined to do so at Rapid City’s own little Canyon Lake, on a summer evening so calm that the resident mallards could use its still water as a mirror. Not in anything larger or more active. Rapid Creek, say, or the Missouri River, or Lake Michigan.

And certainly not an ocean. Oceans have waves. And seaweed. And sharks. Besides, that immeasurable quantity of water is more than I care to get personally involved with.

How on earth—er, on water, then, did I ever wind up out on the Pacific Ocean in a flimsy plastic kayak?

The friend we were visiting in beautiful and charming Santa Barbara, California, had planned the kayaking expedition, and I couldn’t think of a graceful way to say no. I merely hoped secretly for some small act of God—not an earthquake or anything, but maybe a thunderstorm (drought-stricken California could use the rain, after all)—to prevent it. I was like the bride who knows perfectly well she’s making a serious mistake, but she doesn’t know how to back out once all the family members have been invited and the bridesmaids’ dresses have been bought.

God chose not to act. So I ended up on a beach on Santa Cruz Island with a dozen other people who all seemed absurdly enthusiastic about the idea of paddling along the rocky coast in shallow plastic boats.

Learning I would be in a two-person kayak with my partner, equally inexperienced at paddling but at least able to swim, helped. The wetsuit helped. The snug-fitting and reassuring life jacket helped. The guides’ patient, thorough instructions helped. I especially appreciated the part about “you don’t have to go into any cave or channel you’re not comfortable with.”

None of that did anything to alter the fact that, if we tipped over and went under water, I would probably lose my contact lenses and spend the rest of the outing unable to see the front end of my own kayak.

But we didn’t tip over. We managed the paddling with an astonishing degree of coordination. We saw harbor seals and sea lions and dozens of coastal birds. We negotiated the inside of a cave. We learned one can hold a kayak in place by grabbing a stalk of kelp and using it as an anchor. We got safely back to the beach after an hour and a half, with no harm other than tired arms that felt more limp than the kelp.

Am I glad I did it? Yeah, probably. After the fact, it’s always gratifying to know you did something you were afraid to do.

Was it fun? Um, well. . .

Okay, I did grudgingly began to consider the possibility of the potential that, with some practice and some kind of solution to the contact-lens issue, kayaking might eventually begin to be sort of fun.

At least on Canyon Lake.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Finding the Key

I may not be the tidiest and most organized person in the world. (Okay, based on the state of my desk, a photo of which I have NOT included here, an unbiased observer might conclude that I’m not even in the top ten percent of tidiest and most organized people in the world.) Still, I keep track of things reasonably well.

Things like car keys. I have had a driver’s license since 1967. I have owned cars and carried my own sets of car keys since 1970. I’ve kept careful track of every one of those keys. Even when it didn’t matter much, as in the case of the little white Datsun station wagon that could be started just as easily with the house key as the car key. (My then-teenaged son was the one to figure this out; I prefer not to know exactly how or why he made the discovery.)

In my entire driving history, I have never lost a car key. Until now.

I bought a new car last week, my third Honda CR-V. That’s “new” as in “2014, fresh off the lot, only 38 miles on the odometer” new. It’s the first time I’ve ever bought a car that somebody else didn’t own first. It feels luxurious to drive. It allows me to talk on my smart phone with its audio system. It has enough bells and whistles to be exciting, but is still familiar enough to be comfortable.

And, instead of browsing through the manual, learning how to use all the great technology this car offers, what have I spent my free time on since I’ve had this car?

Trying to find the second key for my previous car. In my defense, it’s my partner’s key rather than mine. But since he’s been gone all summer, I’m afraid the person responsible for that key vanishing from the top of his dresser has to be me.

The one place I know it can’t be is in the car. In getting it ready to sell, I cleaned the glove compartment, under the seats, under the floor mats, all the little compartments in the console, the cup holders and side pockets in all four doors, and the “hidden” drawer under the passenger’s seat. I found several fast-food napkins, two stray water bottles, three old tubes of lip balm, a peppermint, and seven pennies. No key.

I emptied out my purse and turned it inside out. I found cough drops and cough drop wrappers, unused but battered tissues, 57 cents in odd change, four faded store receipts, a few expired coupons, and two old grocery lists. No key.

I checked under and between the seat cushions in the couch, two recliners, and the rocking chair. I found a handful of lint, a nickel, an unexpected dollar bill, and an embarrassing amount of popcorn. No key.

I examined every reusable bag I routinely carry in my car, plus every reusable bag that’s ever been in my car. I checked the gym clothes bag, the library book bag, the craft/project bag, the big shopping bag, the small shopping bag, and the three string bags. No key.

I looked in every jacket, coat, and pair of pants in every closet in the house. By the time I got done, I had had my hands in more pockets than a Tammany Hall politician. No key.

But there’s still hope. I’m not ready to resort to this yet, but I know there’s one last strategy that’s sure to work. All I have to do is cough up $150 to make a new key. Within hours, like magic, the old one will turn up.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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