Wedding Industrial Complex

Not to be confused with the Military Industrial Complex, although one could be forgiven for confusing the two. For about a year, I have had a second row seat to the planning and implementation of the Wedding of the Century.  It has been fascinating in an appalling, watching-a-train-wreck sort of way.  I should not be surprised by anything I hear, yet I continue to be.

The Prelude:  The proposal in a boat, on a lake, with his-and-her families (sworn to super secrecy so as to be able to surprise the bride-to-be) gathered to watch on the shore.

The Ring:  OK, no snarkiness here.  It is a family heirloom.

Destination shower, destination bachelorette party, destination wedding.  And lest anyone balks at travelling the distance for just the ceremony, the beach barbecue the day before, and the swanky wedding reception and dinner with band and booze.

Eleven bridesmaids (and presumably eleven groomsmen), not counting the new-to-me entity of the “Junior Maid-of-Honour” (and yes, there is also a senior Maid-of-Honour).

The $3000 dress …  although I acknowledge that in this world of Say Yes to the Dress, it is probably a very low price for the Dress of the Century.  I still think the required alterations ($500) should be included in the cost of the dress.

The Veil, at $1500.  MOB showed me the picture, and I remarked astutely, “It’s a wedding veil.”   “It has hand-made lace,” she said.  I looked for it, and finally spotted the 6″ wide border of lace.  Well, of course it has hand-made lace, because why else would anyone pay $1500 for a few yards of netting?

The Wedding Planner.  I’m going to assume it was NOT her fault that the invitation to the destination bridal shower arrived two days before the event . . . .

The other (many) Invitations, including the announcement several months beforehand to prepare guests for the official wedding invitation.  I’ve never received one of those before, so I learned something new.

Someone cleverer than me said this, and perhaps it is as true as anything else:

The way we marry is who we are.  

Reuse Reduce Recycle Project

One of those silly online quizzes (you know, something along the line of what color dog were you in a previous life?) tells me I have a “philosophical mind.”  I think what that means is that for more than half my life, I have been wondering what is my purpose in life.  On the down swing of bipolar, my purpose is negative:  I am trying NOT to leave the world in worst shape than it is right now, on a grey maybe-it-will-rain August afternoon.

For the past six weeks or so, I have been on the R³ kick, although what I am actually doing is trying my damnedest to control my environment.  It began because I realized what I most wanted out of my new house is an empty house — but clearly that cannot be, because I need a bed, and clothes, and kitchen stuff, and bathroom stuff, and and and . . .  So the next best thing is to declutter.  We (this includes DH and The Teenager) have been giving away/throwing away at least one item a day, although we tend to count groups of items as one item (a set of towels, a group of figurines, that stack of technical papers from 20 years ago).  The surprise is how easy it has been.  The other surprise is that though we have reduced and recycled so much (well, we think it’s much), it is invisible.  The Teenager’s room is still cluttered, DH’s office looks about the same, I have way too many books and clothes and doodads, and we still have too much furniture.

So what is the Big Picture?

I moved to college with five boxes of belongings.  I moved to graduate school with eight boxes in my little Toyota Corolla (back when the Corolla truly was a compact car).  We now have five dining tables.  Does anyone need five dining tables?  In our defense, three of those tables function as desks, one is a sewing table, and one actually is a dining table.  But still . . .  Then I had a moment of clarity when I was reading an article about a man who bought a 700 square foot house, and immediately started making a list of “cannot live without” things.  As it turned out, there were even more items on the “cannot live without” list that he could in fact live without.

If my purpose is what I think it is, then it should not be easy.  When our neighbor moved out, she rented a dumpster, and managed to empty it twice with all the things she needed during her life in that house.  I am trying to avoid that last-ditch dumpster dump, but not sure if I will succeed.  So everyday, I continue to look at my belongings:  Why are you in my life?  How much “stuff” do I need to remind me of who I am?

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Freecycling, and Filling the Void

When my friend tells me she needs “retail therapy,” she is not being tongue-in-cheek.  In her life, in her mind, shopping fills the voids.  I gave up shopping with her many years ago: it is not fun, it is stressful — and it leaves me just a bit more depressed.  I am uneasy with the greed, I am uneasy with the thought that I could in fact afford to buy most of the things I covet.  But my friend shows me what she buys, and I look, and am reminded of all the things I have given up and given away.  Occasionally I get that “keeping up with the Joneses” sort of envy, but I have become quite adept at dithering, and it seems “needful things” really do have short shelf lives.   I have decided I like that phrase:  “It was not meant to be.”

I discovered Freecycle six years ago, when our contractor listed just about everything from our master bath remodel: sinks, cabinets, lights, shower, tub, fixtures …  I think someone took even the toilet.  It was rather astonishing to me, but then it had never occurred to me that someone might not mind reusing our old (but not decrepit) bathroom for — say — a basement or a rental unit.  Since then, we have sent bits and pieces of our old lives out into the community, and continue to be surprised by our fellow Freecyclers.  We have simplified our lives in many ways, and though I think sometimes that I am contributing to our materialistic culture, I comfort myself that at least it is not new  materialism.

Last week, I finally gave up on my three-shades-of-violet-but-who’s-counting  Farmhouse Yarn.  I was really resenting that yarn because I was (and still am) pissed off with with both the producer and the retailer, and I just knew that all that hostility meant I was never going to like anything I made from it.  So, Freecycle — because yarn, like furry critters, are without sin — and someone out there will love it and create something wonderful out of it.  Maybe this winter I’ll be walking around town, and I will see a school of purply fish hats amidst dancing snowflakes …

The Earth Will Provide (And the Market Will Decide)

Our neighbor, the lifelong keep-your-mitts-off-my-God-given-rights Republican (every once in awhile, we think about taking out a Sierra Club membership in his name, or making a contribution to the DNC in his honor): “I will use as much (electricity, water, gasoline, whatever) as I want and for as long as I want;  I can afford it.”

It is a touchy subject with him, all this unwarranted government intervention in his freedom of exploitation.  He recently received a letter from the city utilities department drawing his attention to the amount of electricity he used compared to his next-door neighbors; perhaps it was an unfair comparison, for we have solar panels and we use less electricity than our array generates, while the people on the other side are not home  much.  But, it is also true that even before our array went up, we used only one-third of the average electricity usage for our city.  Our neighbors, like most people in our subdivision, have a electricity-gobbling twenty-year old refrigerator in the garage, and frequently leave various lights (incandescent), televisions (very large plasma ones), overhead fans, and air conditioner on even when no one is at home.  It is his right, he says: he can afford to pay for what, in our region, is incredibly cheap electricity and water.  Water shortage?  No such thing, because over time (that would be geologic time, I assume) the aquifers will replenish.  Oil shortage?   There wouldn’t be any if the environmentalists would just quit whining and let the oil companies do their work.  The earth will provide — always has, always will.  And if it doesn’t . . . .  well, he likes to point out that “you can’t take it with you.”  True enough, but then what about leaving it behind for, say, his granddaughter’s generation?

In the meantime, “the market” must be allowed to determine the fate of the planet because  it is, if you will, a fundamental expression of evolution.  Hence his objection to various incentives for alternative energy.  I know he thinks his tax dollars should not have been used to subsidize our solar array, but we have been friends for many years now and he would never tell us that.  We all know each others’ positions, though — and we all know we will also never get into a conversation about things like oil company subsidies or hillsides denuded by off-road recreational vehicles.

We will also never get into a serious conversation about climate change.  Suffice it to say, global warming is a modern myth put forth by a conspiracy of left-wing eco terrorists;  there is no irrefutable scientific evidence that it exists.  On this issue, he must have absolute proof — majority consensus is not enough.  Which is interesting because how we touched on the subject was via a comment about his glucose level at his last medical checkup.  It was a bit high, his doctor had told him, and if he wanted to ward off diabetes, he needed to make lifestyle changes.  And he has, he said, by working out for an hour everyday and dropping twenty pounds over the past six months.  Clearly, he had no difficulty believing his doctor — and all without irrefutable scientific proof that he will indeed progress to diabetes if he did not lose the weight.

I do not practice reduce-recycle-reuse as much as I could, or should.  I am guilty of complacency, as though tossing something in the green bin is an act of virtue.  At times the three Rs are not “convenient,” and quite frankly, often it feels like such puny effort for what is ultimately at stake.  What does it take to believe that the environment, like the human body, can take only so much use and abuse before failure?

Eyes Wide Shut: Arbonne

I admit it — I went to an Arbonne open house and despite myself, bought a couple of beauty products.  And now, buyer’s remorse.  Not because I don’t like the moisturizers (they’re OK, if on the expensive side), but because for the second time in my life, I knowingly participated in a multilevel marketing scheme with questionable practices.  The first was Young Living — and I no longer buy that company’s essential oils after I (belatedly) researched founder Gary Young’s background (see also this article by Eva F. Briggs, M.D., and this white paper on Rain Drop Therapy).  While I remain sceptical of many claims made by aromatherapy practitioners, I do continue to use some oils (from other sources) because I love the way they smell.  I am just not under any illusions that the oils will help my GERD or my hyperlipidemia or make meaningful contributions to my immune system, and I certainly don’t feel the need to further enrich the coffers of a scam artist.

And then there is Arbonne International.  I knew when I bought the moisturizers that I was paying for  beautiful packaging and slick marketing materials, and that I was supporting a tightly-run multilevel marketing empire.  I also knew that the products, like anything else from other cosmetic companies, were not necessarily going to be any better than a drugstore purchase; I had learned that much during my dermatology rotation.   The cosmetics industry and the consumer play this game: they tell you how great their products are, and you suspend disbelief just long enough to hope that product X, Y, or Z (or preferably, all three in synergy) may in fact hold back or even reverse (!) time.  I too play this game every now and then when, in a fit of deluded optimism, I buy creams that are supposed to reduce liver spots and other signs of aging.  What disturbed me about Arbonne was the sales pitch at the second gathering I attended as a favor to a good friend.  The consultant was not aggressive — she did not need to be, for we were a receptive audience and she was the perfect “face” for Arbonne: tall, gorgeous, and fit.  But three things stood out from her presentation, and they offended my sense of fair play:

1. “Look what mineral oil does to your face!”  This is followed by the  demonstration of a saltine cracker hardening after immersion in mineral oil . . . .  As if human skin were anything like a saltine cracker!

2. “Mineral oil is carcinogenic!”  Well, yes, but the studies were for minimally processed mineral oil, not for food or cosmetic-grade mineral oil.  Show me a good study.

3. “Other companies use guano — you know what guano is, right? — in their mascara!”  I have not found guano as an ingredient in any of the major mascara brands, and needless to say, the Arbonne consultant did not have one of those “other” mascaras around to prove her point.

Meanwhile, I have two bottles of moisturizer that will probably do what they are supposed to do; pity they are from a company that seems to be somewhat ethically challenged.  “Sunk cost,” DH would say.

American Girl and . . . . History Lessons?

We’re not just a doll company.  It’s the whole education element that appeals to our customers.  We call it the vitamins-and-chocolate-cake approach.”  So says Wade Opland, vice president of retail for American Girl, which just opened its only store (all 8,500 square feet of it) in Colorado.

I am sure all the prepubescent girls “pointing, pleading and screaming” over dolls and accessories at the opening of the Park Meadows store used the educational angle to convince their parents that $95 for a doll, $14 for doll ear piercing, and $10 to $20 for custom doll hair styling were all important components to their understanding of  “historical events and moral or social issues.”   Consider the liner notes for Kit Kittredge, a doll themed around growing up during the Great Depression (quoted in the Denver Post, “Girls gaga at doll shop,” 27 March, 2010):

Kit overhears terrible news just before Christmas — her family may lose their house.  Even with the rent from the boarders, the Kittredges don’t have enough money to pay the bank.”

Or this, at the end of the article:

Avital Rotbart, 13, of Denver, left American Girl smiling Friday after buying a Sabbath bread, candle and tea set — $68 — for her Rebecca doll, themed as a girl from 1914 growing up in a Russian-Jewish immigrant family.

How very ironic, or sad: that would have been a Russian-Jewish family living in New York City’s Lower East Side, where I am sure no immigrant parents would ever have contemplated pampering a daughter with the 1914 equivalent of $68 for something as frivolous as doll accessories.

Last night, The Kid came home from babysitting with a $50 bill.  Needless to say, no clue who Ulysses S. Grant was, which era, which war.  Not surprising, really.  So we finally told her it was the Civil War, and she said,”It was the Union against the communists!

Maybe if I had bought her an American Girl doll . . . .

Spring, 2010

At our house, this is how we know it must be spring:

Specialized Carmel 700 5 Low Entry

With coffee cup and holder, bell, pink streamers, and panniers — what more does a girl need?  Well, maybe a pink saddle cover … 🙂


And perhaps a basket for the guinea pig:

Opie the Spring Guinea Pig