Saturday, December 31, 2005

Childhood in a Tin Box

Christmas is a lot about nostalgia and memories. My mom serving my grandmother’s suet pudding with hard sauce. The Christmas stockings that my other grandmother made for us kids. Remembering the year that Santa brought me the small white portable record player, and the stack of Nancy Drew Mysteries (which I sat down and read cover to cover).

This year, Santa brought my son a set of Jacks. They are beautiful gold and silver jacks, with rounded points and a heavy feel. They came in a tin with 2 red rubber balls. My sister and I sat down on the floor to demonstrate how to play. It reminded me of days sitting on the linoleum floor of Mom’s kitchen playing jacks, only ours had sharp ends and we had used a high-bouncing superball.

This time we found that we had lost the knack. Our tosses were wild, we scooted for position on the floor, we strategized over which jacks to pick up, we dropped some, our hands felt stiff. We were playing like middle-aged women. But after a few games, we stopped thinking so much and fell into the rhythm of the game. Our hands remembered what it felt like to be a kid. Toss, swipe, bounce, catch. I always loved the sound of the game. Of course, by this time the kids had wandered off to play their electronic games.

I picture Santa with a special twinkle in his eye as he dropped the jacks into my son’s stocking. Maybe, just maybe, they were really meant for me. Thank you Santa, and thank you Channel Craft.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Buying American for Christmas

Last week, the Commerce Department announced that the U.S. trade deficit reached $68.9 billion. This is such a large number that most of us can’t really comprehend it. A significant part of the trade deficit arises from our nation’s insatiable demand for imported oil. Another component of the trade deficit, however, is consumer purchasing of imported clothing, electronics, and toys.

As we send our consumer dollars overseas, our textile mills fall silent, our furniture makers struggle, and our potteries close. Quintessential American brands--like Levi's, Singer, Lionel, Timex, and Oneida—are no longer made in the USA. What’s more, most consumers don’t seem to know or care where things are made. is my attempt to help consumers find American-made consumer products. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince people to buy American, but I try to make it easier to do. I also try to lead by example, so here is an update on my holiday shopping: of the total dollars spent, 84% made in USA, 9% made in Mexico, 7% made in China.


Product Origin


Union Jean Co.


Northeast Knitting Mills




Hasbro Games


Cardinal Games








GC game


DS game






Flying Shuttle


Channel Craft


Fisher Space Pens


We can choose to support American companies and American workers.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Putting the "Ho" back in Holiday

Don’t we have real issues to debate, or must we argue about how to greet each other during the holiday season? And yes, the phrase “holiday season” implies (correctly) that there is more than one holiday being celebrated this time of year. I have no problem with people who want to wish non-Christians a Merry Christmas, or gentiles a Happy Hanukkah. It’s the thought behind the greeting that counts. (I’m still feeling teary-eyed over the email I received today that says “Happy Holidays from Pizza Hut!”.)

As we rush around in our busy lives, saying Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year is shorthand for “I hope you are well and happy, and safe within the circle of friends and family.” So let’s stop fighting the Culture Wars, be nice to each other, and get back to shopping!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Shipping Grinch

Like many of you, I have been doing a lot of holiday shopping on-line, mostly at (shameless plug for my site!!). I was keeping an eye out for high shipping costs because of higher gas prices this season. Sometimes I find that sites with lower product prices have higher shipping or vice versa, so it pays to check the final totals before deciding where to buy. (Note that the shopping comparison sites don't take into account shipping costs...)

I did encounter an unexpected glitch associated with the “buy American” sites—total shipping charges were much higher than those charged by major retailers. For example, on an order where my purchases totaled $167, the shipping charge was $31! By way of comparison, typical shipping charges (by LLBean, REI, etc) for this purchase total average closer to $12! The reason for this became apparent when I completed the order and was notified that the products would be shipped from the individual manufacturers. In other words, the shipping savings normally associated with consolidating orders had been lost.

So, why is this happening? The advent of the Internet has meant that “virtual stores” can be set up where orders are shipped directly from manufacturers rather than from a retail middleman. This practice is called “drop shipping.” A benefit of drop shipping is that e-retailers are not required to invest in goods up front, and thereby forgo the risk of getting stuck with merchandise that doesn’t sell. There is also much less capital investment required. The e-retailer, in this scenario, becomes more of a service that coordinates transactions between customers and manufacturers. More of the burden for order fulfillment (tracking and shipping) is shifted to the manufacturer.

The absence of a “brick and mortar” store does have benefits for consumers because these e-stores potentially can offer a wider array of products. For the “buy American” niche, this is particularly helpful since many American-made products are not carried by traditional retailers. (I suspect this is because the profit margin is much lower than for imported products, but that’s another post.) All in all, then, I concluded that the extra charges were worth it because I saved shopping time by having all of the items available in one purchase transaction. However, it still came as a shock at check out. I think these stores need to better prepare customers for the Shipping Grinch.