Sunday, November 26, 2006

Start an American-Made Christmas Tradition

I like to enjoy each holiday as it comes along, including Thanksgiving. It’s the last bit of sanity before the winter holidays. I made my pumpkin pies, stuffed my turkey, drank wine with my friends and family. Now I take a deep breath, and turn my thoughts to snowflakes, candy canes, and stockings hung by the fireplace. (Note to elves: dust the mantel!!!)

Yesterday I finished my virtual catalog of gift ideas for the Winter Holidays...Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year...I celebrate as many of them as I can! Not to say that we should all bow down to the Gods of Consumerism, but the reality is that many of us do a lot of shopping in the month of December.

Once again, I will try to put my consumer dollars to work supporting businesses that employ American workers. Last year I managed to find American-made products for almost everyone on my list. It’s not always easy, but I enjoy a challenge. So go forth to the malls and shops and read labels. If you cannot find what you want locally, check out my Holiday Gift Catalog for ideas.

Good luck with the quest, and don’t forget to send me suggestions or tips on companies or products you find! Always remember the reason for the show your friends and family that you love them.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Saturday, November 11, 2006

2007 Pontiac G6: SWEET!

How does a “Buy American” goddess go about buying a new car? Particularly a goddess that likes hybrids and high gas mileage and worries about carbon dioxide emissions?

As a loyal Ford Taurus owner, I was mourning the recent closing of Ford’s Atlanta assembly plant where my Taurus was made and waiting patiently for the Ford Fusion Hybrid to hit the dealer lots. Then, last fall I attended the Washington, DC auto show and checked out the Fusion in person. I confess I was disappointed with the interior, and the car’s profile had a masculine feel. To top off my dismay, the Ford Fusion was assembled at the Hermosillo plant in Mexico and the hybrid powertrain also was going to be imported. I remember asking the Ford representative how my purchase of a Ford Fusion Hybrid would be helping the U.S. autoworker? His only response was that at least Ford was a U.S. company! After that, I figured I would just keep the ’91 Taurus healthy and await new developments.

Then, last week one of “Fairfax County’s Finest” moved up my timeline. I was very politely informed that my inspection sticker had expired FIVE MONTHS ago. Egad. Upon inspection, my friendly neighborhood garage suggested $900 in repairs. Needless to say, I was thrust into car search mode.

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Despite my best intentions, and many promises to visitors, I had never put together my Buy American Auto page. Still, I had done some research and I decided to share my search criteria and data here. I wanted a 4-door sedan, UAW-made, good gas mileage and environmental rating, assembled in USA with maximum amount of USA parts.

I considered the following criteria and data sources:
  • Percent domestic content (defined as U.S. and Canadian-made parts), on a sales-weighted basis by automaker/brand (Level Field Institute, a site funded by retirees of Ford, GM, Chrysler, and their parts suppliers, reminds consumers that American jobs associated with auto manufacturing go far beyond assembly, and the source of the parts that go into the vehicles is an important indicator of the ripple effect of auto manufacturing in the U.S. economy).
  • Union-made: United Auto Workers (UAW) have long set the standard for wages and benefits for all automakers in the U.S., and I prefer to support companies that employ union labor (UAW Made Vehicles for 2007 )
  • Environmental performance, including carbon dioxide emissions (an important contributor to global climate change) and air pollutant emissions (smog and ground-level ozone precursors) (EPA's Green Vehicle Guide)

Based on my criteria, I had selected 2 cars for test drive: the Toyota Corolla, if made in USA, based on its superior environmental performance; and the Pontiac G6. Although some Toyota Corolla’s are made in US, it turned out that all the ones available in my region were Canadian-made (VIN starting with 2).

I went to see the Pontiac G6, did a test drive, and fell in love! What a sweet car! I got a great price, including a $1000 “conquest rebate” for switching from Ford to GM. The car is roomy, sporty, and drives beautifully. The instrument panel and interior styling is excellent, and the driver-side seat has adjustable lumbar support and feels GREAT. It also has driver, passenger, and roof-mounted side impact air bags. All this for approximately $17,000.

I feel like I got a bargain, and I am proud to be driving a vehicle assembled at the Orion Assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan by UAW Local 5960, with U.S.-made engine and transmission.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Henry Ford Museum

[Part 4 of my Manufacturing Travel Log (Previous installments are at Greenfield Village, Dearborn Assembly Plant and Ford Rouge Complex.)]

In addition to a nice collection of old cars, which I expected, The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI had an amazing collection of steam-powered and early electricity generating engines that FAR surpassed anything on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The museum even has part of the steam-powered electricity generation setup used to power the Rouge Factory in Ford’s day. This consisted of 2 of the 12 gas/steam powered pistons that turned huge wheels, maybe 15 feet high? The placard said that Ford brought the machinery to the site, then built the museum around it, which I believe because it was massive!

Combination Gasteam Engine

Combination Gasteam Engine

One disappointment I had with the curation for the steam and electricity displays was that the link was never made between the need to use steam power to turn a wheel, and the generation of electricity. (I saw the same gap in the explanations of Edison’s early electricity generating station in Greenfield Village.)

The Dymaxion House
Another display that was fun was the original aluminum-domed “house of the future”—called the Dymaxion House--designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1920’s and offered as a solution to the post-WWI housing shortage. The house was proposed as a low-cost way to meet the housing needs of returning G.I.’s, and one that could be taken apart and moved to a new location as the occupants moved. Another marketing angle for the house was that it could be manufactured by aircraft manufacturers using aluminum skin technology developed for the war, and would provide continuing employment for workers at those factories.

Apparently only 2 prototypes were built, and despite having a number of orders, none were ever produced. The design seemed very ahead of its time, with rainwater recapture to a cistern for watering plants and gardens, overhead lighting with soft colors that could be altered to change the mood of the rooms, a passive ventilation system including a roof vent and outer wall panels that opened, and built-in closets and rotating shelves to save floor space and reduce clutter. The design incorporated the latest materials, including metal surfaces (with rounded corners for easy cleaning) and Naugahyde wall panels. The museum guide also pointed out that having 2 bathrooms was revolutionary in an era when nearly half of homes had no indoor “facilities” at all! (Side note: in checking the spelling of Naugahyde, I found the very cute website about the product and the history—-still made in USA!)

Stephanie, Webmaster

Friday, September 01, 2006

Greenfield Village: Henry Ford’s Celebration of Inventors and Machines

[Part 3 of my Manufacturing Travel Log (If you can't get enough, read Part 1 and Part 2. More to come!)]

Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI was extremely interesting, both for what was there and for what it said about Henry Ford’s interests. Ford relocated buildings that represented important innovations of his day. These included Thomas Edison’s home, workshop, and early electrification station.

In addition, there was an operating railroad roundhouse where steam locomotives were still being repaired and serviced. (The roundhouse had some amazing machining tools, very large and used to make and repair parts for the trains. I was dying to go down to the floor and take a look, but the guide said he could not let me for safety reasons.) There was also an interesting display to explain how the burning coal was used to create steam, which then moved the pistons, which turned the wheel. I had never noticed the box at the end of the piston, where the steam actually came in and forced the piston to move. I still did not understand this fully—it seemed that the steam would have to be pulsed into the box so that the piston could move back into position between each stroke?

A Machinist is Born
1917 Brown and Sharpe turret latheOne of the highlights of Greenfield Village was the machine shop, where we had the chance to actually “cut metal” using a 1917 Brown and Sharpe turret lathe. Both my son and I took our turn to don safety glasses, and make a small brass candlestick. With apologies to “real” machinists, since I will not know the official terms for what we did, here is what I observed.

The mechanism was fascinating and so well thought out: the cutting tools were brought to the rotating brass rod by a mechanism that was hand-turned. We turned the handwheel counter-clockwise to move the bits to the left, and clockwise to pull back when the cut was complete. At the extreme of the turn, the piece holding the various bits (I think this was the “turret”?) would rotate and click into place so that the next bit was in position. I think there were 6 different cutting steps—two were used to drill out the center hole of the candleholder (for the candle), two removed excess metal from the outside of the piece to save wear on the carbide cutter that actually produced the curved shape of the candlestick. A final cut was a blade that cut the finished candlestick from the brass stock. These last 2 cuts were made by turning a separate handwheel that moved the rotating brass “south” to the carbide shaping blade, and “north” to the blade that cut the finished product from the brass bar.

Turned Metal CandlestickIt was a little tricky to keep the progress of the cutting tool at an even speed, and not too fast. The turned piece gets quite hot from the friction, but there was no coolant involved. The docent said that occasionally someone breaks a bit or gets the lathe out of alignment and they have to stop and call their historical machinist. (Now that would be a fun job for someone!)

With one small project under my belt, I begin to see how people get hooked on cutting metal. Time to move the cars out of the garage, and start moving old metal in!

Stephanie, Webmaster

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Green Design at the Ford Rouge Complex

Part 2 of my trip report on the Ford Rouge Complex in Dearborn, MI ... [Part 1 gives my reactions to the tour inside the Dearborn Assembly Plant]

Ford Rouge Complex

Vertical Manufacturing—No More
Another aspect of the visit to the Rouge Complex is the understanding it gives of the complexity of the original enterprise. The short movie prepared by the tour company, which is not affiliated with Ford, emphasizes Henry Ford’s experiment in vertical manufacturing. The complex had its own steel mill, plate glass facility, and foundry, owned sources for the rubber that was used, and had its own deep-water port to bring in needed materials. However, the present day complex obtains its parts from many different suppliers, some of which are still brought in at the Rouge port. The steel mill still supplies steel for the stamping plant, but it is not owned by Ford. The tour guide told me that Ford would only buy steel from the on-site company as long as the price was competitive.

Green Building, Brown Product?Dearborn Assembly Plant Green Roof
A major focus of the factory tour was the “green design” features that had been incorporated in the new assembly building. This included a green roof, featuring layers of material topped by a variety of sedum, designed to lower temperatures in the building and capture some of the rainwater that otherwise would run off. In addition, skylights on the roof were added to increase natural light in the building and lower lighting costs. Rainwater recapture systems, swales and ponds were used for on-site stormwater management (although the guide kept calling it a “storm management” system!).

Wildlife habitat was enhanced with natural plantings, and fruit trees (crabapples and one other that I can’t recall) were planted to provide food for wildlife. Ford even has a beekeeper who manages the bee hive within the planted area, placed to ensure pollination of the trees. Additional green features included the permeable pavement used for employee parking lots, which lessens rainwater runoff, and a system to recapture paint fumes (VOCs) as a source of hydrogen for a fuel cell to produce electricity for the painting facility.

The irony to me, of course, was that the company had built a green building within which it was assembling Ford 150 trucks, not exactly know for their environmentally friendly profile! The other sad part for me was that, despite the hopeful and forward-looking taped message from Bill Ford, the news about tough times at Ford Motor Co. made me fear that all of this effort to be innovative and green would have been for naught.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Assembly Plant

This summer, rather than head to the beach or something else predictable, our family took a “manufacturing” vacation! I figured I’d better get the kids to some facilities before American manufacturing goes the way of the pterodactyl. We hit several interesting spots, so I decided to write a few installments on “the blog” to share with everyone, and maybe make you want to go check out your local manufacturing facilities.

Ford Thunderbird

Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant (Part 1)

As a Ford Taurus owner, I wanted to make my pilgrimage to Dearborn, MI, world headquarters of Ford Motor Co. and site of the renovated Dearborn Assembly Plant (the Rouge Factory) and Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. I was most excited about the opportunity to see inside the truck assembly plant.

I really enjoyed the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, although it wasn’t as complete as I had hoped. Apparently the tour was changed some years ago because of safety concerns, and it no longer covers the welding or painting parts of the work. So, all we were able to see was the final assembly of the F150 trucks. (Another disappointment was that I did not see the Diego Rivera murals—I had thought they were part of the tour, but apparently they are at the Detroit Institute of Arts.)

The new Dearborn Assembly Plant was impressive, with lots of space and natural light. The facility was very clean, and not as noisy as I had expected. The workers did not seem rushed as they did their work on the passing vehicles. In fact, they seemed almost leisurely as they stepped on and off the moving line. When I commented on that to one of the guides, he smiled and said “yes, but remember they only have 43 seconds [to work on each vehicle as it passes by].”

I was also surprised to see how much of the work was still done by hand, by humans. We did see robots positioning the front windshield onto the frames, and there was a noisy and impressive point where the truck cab and bed came together. But, in general, we saw the workers putting on interior components of doors, pressing on rubber seals, and wiring up lights.

When 11:30 a.m. came, the line stopped and workers began to leave their stations for lunch. I noticed that each finished up the vehicle he/she was working on, rather than bolting for the door. I also noticed that a few of the workers stayed at their stations, opening lunch bags they had brought from home. I wondered if this was a way of being frugal, and whether it would make me lonely not to sit down to lunch with my coworkers.

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The workers I watched were much more diverse than my stereotype of a UAW member; many were women, and many were minorities. Apparently the power tools, which were pulled down for use, were light enough that they were easily handled by the women. I also noticed that the workers were young, or at most middle-aged. I wondered it the age demographic was a result of the buy-outs and early retirement packages that Ford has been offering, or perhaps just a reality that work of this type (which requires one to stand, walk, and bend all day) takes its toll on a body after years.

Despite the good working environment, I thought I would be quickly bored by the repetitive nature of the job and the inability to “chat” with coworkers because of the noise.

Each worker or team had a work station with orderly stacked bins of parts needed for their part of the assembly. I read that these stations were supposed to have a 2-hour supply of parts. I assume this is part of the “Lean Manufacturing” ethic, but it seemed like it would have been more efficient to have a day’s worth. Watching the long assembly line, and the extremely large number of small parts involved, gave me new appreciation for the complexity of the relationship between assembly and parts suppliers. If any single part were to run out, the entire operation would have to shut down. Talk about pressure!

The end of the assembly process involved filling the vehicles with fluids, and testing them in various ways (e.g., on a dynamometer). What an interesting idea—that such a complicated piece of machinery could be put together by many hands, in many steps, and the final test that all worked is whether or not the truck starts and drives as intended!

Stephanie, Webmaster

Friday, June 30, 2006

American-Made Tools

Sorry to be such a girl, but my idea of tools is hammer, saw and screwdriver (and yes, I know about the slotted vs. Phillips head thing). Thanks again to Practical Machinist, I now know that there are machine tools, air tools, and tool companies that only sell from trucks (“mobile tool sellers” like Snap-On and Cornwell). Not to mention specialty tools (e.g., for manufacturing of autos and aircraft, for working on railroad equipment and tracks) that are mostly for industrial use (not that it stops the hard-core DIYers from wanting them in the home shop!).

After doing a little research (i.e., Googling and pestering companies for information on place of manufacture), I am happy to announce my new Tools page. This is the first entirely new category I have added since launching 2 years ago.

I always liked ChannelLocks when I was a kid, so I am happy to report they are still around, still made in USA, and now with a sporty blue rubber grip! (I noticed a trend toward more shock-absorbing handles on tools, which is a good thing.) I didn’t find American-made tool sets geared for us girls (smaller handles, maybe some pink?!), but I’m still looking.

So, look for American Made Tools when you shop, and stay tuned as I continue to add to the page. (Recommendations especially welcome on this one!)

Stephanie, Webmaster

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Junk-Free Summer Birthday Parties

I thought I was so crafty when I decided to have all of my children in late summer. I wanted my maternity leave to be in the fall, and after the first child I was locked into the schedule by the seasonality of my maternity clothes. Rank amateur! Each time, the break from work was wonderful, with fresh autumn weather and the chance to stand at the bus stop when the older ones went off to school in September.

But somewhere in the calculation, I forgot that I also was committing to an annual marathon of summer birthday parties! When kids are toddlers, the parties are fun because they’re really parties for the parents and their friends. Then, the children get larger and rowdier, and harder to impress. The little invitees are jaded at the age of four by a procession of clowns, magic shows, moon bounces, piƱatas, and exquisite ice cream cakes. We ran the gauntlet of Chuck-E-Cheeses, laser tag, bowling, Discovery Zone, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

Last summer I decided to have an old-fashioned party at HOME, with a homemade cake and snacks, and kids running through the sprinkler with water guns. It was really FUN! The way kid birthday parties are supposed to be! The truly amazing thing was that the backyard party WAS a novelty to the kids because almost no one (apparently) does it anymore.

The other victory for me was that I was able to avoid the obligatory goody bag filled with cheap imported junk toys. Instead I ordered Wiffle Ball and Bat sets (from The Connecticut Store) for each child as a party favor. We even played a little Wiffle Ball during the party.

Other great party favor ideas made in USA (and sugar-free!), sent in by Bob in Texas:

So, my message is you can give the kids a good time without breaking the bank, while supporting American businesses and sparing the local landfill.

Monday, June 26, 2006

American-Made Solid Wood Furniture: Not Just an East-Coast Thing

Perhaps it is my East-coast bias, but I always associated furniture manufacturing with North Carolina/Southwestern Virginia/Pennsylvania, with a nod to New England for smaller scale production of pieces by cantankerous Yankee craftsmen! Some of the better known furniture makers have fallen on hard times in recent years, and as with other sorts of manufacturing, it is getting harder to find American-made solid wood furniture.

I was happy to discover, however, that there is a vibrant furniture-making tradition in the Pacific Northwest. While searching for American-made Windsor dining chairs, I came upon House2Home Furniture
, an online store that carries solid wood furniture from a number of American manufacturers. The site features a number of Oregon-based furniture makers, including John Boos & Co. (makers of kitchen butcher block furniture), John Greenleaf (a wonderful brand of unfinished solid wood furniture), Pacific Woodcraft, and Westview Products.

House2Home Furniture
also carries my favorite lines of wooden children’s furniture: brightly painted Jellybeans, made in America’s Heartland, and Little Colorado (you guessed it—made in Colorado!).

Other American-made brands at House2Home Furniture
include Catskill Craftsman (kitchen furniture), Old Adirondack (natural cedar furniture from New York State), Richardson Bro.s (Sheboygan, WI), Maco Wood Products, Country Furniture Mfg (home office, hutch and buffet furniture), and Quality Craft (solid pine furniture made in California).

Solid Wood Furniture at House2Home Furniture

In addition to regional differences in furniture-making styles and techniques, biology plays a role. East-coast furniture usually features hardwoods such as maple, cherry, and oak, whereas West-coast furniture makers often use red alder, birch, and pine. For handcrafted Adirondack chairs, expect natural cedar. (A nice site to learn more about America’s native trees and the qualities of various hardwoods is the American Hardwood Information Center)

I can’t leave the topic of furniture without paying homage to the Windsor chair that started it all. The most beautiful example I found was the individually handcarved chairs of David Spero, on his site Vermont Windsor Chairs. I hope Santa is taking notes!

[Disclosure Note: I have joined the House2Home Affiliate program, so a small percent of purchases made from the links on my site will go to support]

Stephanie, Webmaster

Friday, May 05, 2006

King Louie Spared the Guillotine!

American-made polo shirts are scarce as hens’ teeth, but perhaps will be spared the fate of the Passenger Pigeon. Pine Island Sportswear, makers of polo shirts in lots of great colors, recently decided to take their polo shirt sewing off-shore. Then came the announcement by King Louie International that, after 72 years in business, they would cease all production by June. This was “fowl” news indeed! The King Louie brand of polos and other garments are union made in USA, and have been a favorite with “Buy American” shoppers.

Now for the good news! Michael Lerner, son of the founder of the company that became King Louie International, has reached an “agreement in principle” to buy the sewing plant in Baxter Springs, KS. The company will be renamed King Louie American, and will continue to produce the King Louie label using union labor in USA.

King Louie Logo

Although the company’s market focus has been the promotional products industry, King Louie products have been available to individual consumers thanks to sites like and So celebrate the saving of a great label and 163 American jobs by ordering a King Louie polo shirt this weekend.

Sources: The Joplin Globe (Baxter Springs, KS) , King Louie Saved By Son of Co-Founder


Monday, May 01, 2006

All-American Fundraiser

Every year, our elementary school PTA holds a Silent Auction to raise money for various projects and purchases. Last year’s auction raised about $8000. The auction features items donated by areas businesses (tickets to sporting events, spa weekends, Disneyworld passes etc). In addition, each class is responsible for putting together a themed basket with a value between $75 and $250. I volunteered to organize the class basket for my youngest son’s class because I saw (another!) opportunity to raise awareness about where products are made.

I share the final results in hopes of inspiring others who have fundraisers and have an interest in helping to save American manufacturing. Not to mention, it’s fun to go shopping with other people’s money!

I sent home several flyers with suggested products, prices, and where to buy them. Some American-made products are available at local retailers like Kmart and Lowe’s. Many others needed to be purchased on-line. I suggested that parents go shopping with their children and use the exercise as a chance to talk about where things are made. (I don’t get the feeling that many parents did this.) Parents were also given the option of making a cash donation and leaving the shopping in my expert hands.

Without breaking the bank, I could not find a basket made in USA so I painted a wooden craft crate and used that for my “basket.” I attached a list of contents, including information on the manufacturer for each item. The final basket (shown below) had a value of $225 and contained the following items:

All-American Fundraiser

At Home



Martha Stewart Bath Towels (2)

WestPoint Stevens

Hand-painted mugs and matching bowl

Hartstone Pottery (Zanesville, OH)

Cast iron griddle for pancakes, pizza, or biscuits

Lodge Manufacturing (S. Pittsburgh, TN):

Colonial Treats: Sally Lunn Bread Mix, Syllabub Mix

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Backyard fun: Miracle Bubbles, Cherry Water Bombs, Wave Hoop, Wiffle Ball/Bat

Imperial Toy Corp. (Los Angeles, CA)

Pioneer National Latex (Ashland, OH)

Maui Toys (Youngstown, OH)

Wiffle Ball, Inc. (Shelton, CT)

Fashion Socks (childs and adult)

Wheel House Designs (Stowe, VT)

Sterling Silver Charm Bracelet


On the Road



USA Travel Guide, Great American Vacations

DK Eyewitness Guides, Fodor

Half-gallon Beverage Cooler

Igloo Products (Katy, TX)

Camping Mess Kit

Open Country Campware/NESCO (Two Rivers, WI)

Snoopy and Batman Playing Cards

United States Playing Card Company(Cincinnati, OH)

Crayons and Crayon Case

Crayola (Easton, PA)

Eldon (Madison, WI)

Mary-Kate and Ashley Notebook

Mead (Dayton, OH)

Storage Crate by Contempo Industries (Woodstock, IL)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Celebrate an Anniversary with Hartstone Pottery

I have written before on this blog about Hartstone Pottery (Zanesville, OH), and it’s a great comeback story! A pottery closed, then reopened. Workers laid off, then rehired. Working hard to preserve an Ohio tradition of hand-painted pottery. Battling low-cost imported pottery for a place in the American market.

After being closed by its corporate parent, Hartstone Pottery reopened last year thanks to six earnest investors who believed in the product and the workers. A growing number of their wonderful designs are once again available on plates, bowls, mugs, and bakeware. If you haven’t checked out their on-line store, this is a great time to visit.

In honor of their One-Year Anniversary back in business, Hartstone Pottery is offering a 40 Percent Discount on all web orders! (Enter code FRIENDS2006, good until May 11). So, if you need a special gift for a special Mom (HINT, HINT), or just want to refresh your dinner table, take advantage of this discount and show your support for the workers and owners of Hartstone Pottery.

Hartstone Busy Bees Bowl
Hartstone Pansy Tea Set
Hartstone Texas Pride

[Disclosure Note: I am not affiliated with Hartstone Pottery.]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kinder, Gentler Wal-Mart?!

Wal-Mart has announced a new plan for entering the urban market, which has in the past been unreceptive to the retailer. The company plans to build Wal-Mart stores in inner-city areas that historically have been served by smaller “mom and pop” stores with a smaller range of goods. To help cushion the potential impact on existing businesses, Wal-Mart says it will hold workshops with area stores to offer business strategies and with local suppliers to offer advice on doing business with WalMart.

The debate continues on whether the benefits of having a Wal-Mart (e.g., those low, low prices! and service jobs) are offset by the disadvantages (e.g., those low, low wages, anti-union corporate mentality, and Goliath-type competition for smaller businesses).

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer, with 1.8 million employees and $11.2 billion in profits in 2005. Wal-Mart knows it has a public relations problem, and the new urban strategy seems partly a response to that. The company has become such a lightening rod for criticism, however, that it seems unlikely that any single move will transform its image. Still, maybe this heightened awareness can lead to positive changes?

Your Turn: vote in the blogpoll to the right. What do you think about Wal-Mart's new leaf?

Stephanie, Webmaster

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Marketing to Moms

Selling happiness. Marketers never sleep, as evidenced by the mailer today from Safeway. “Joyful people are more compassionate toward others, which in turn makes the world a better place.” Attached to the flier—a packet of Pepcid AC. “ENJOY! Life. Food. Fun. Just One Tablet.” How many tablets for world peace??

Sport Utility Vacuum. Hoover recently started marketing their new high-end vacuum, designed to compete with Dyson. The Hoover SUV will be made in USA, so I took a look. Because of its high price, the marketers decided that “the man of the house” would have to be in on the purchase. The result is a flash ad that makes the SUV sound like a monster truck. My reaction to this is that the “man of the house” may get involved in the purchase, but I bet the “woman of the house” will be the one pushing the thing around!

Mothers’ Revenge. Here’s a marketing idea I am developing for SPAM. For all the cooks who have suffered the pained moans and groans of kids who do NOT like anything with onions, anything with olives, anything with capers, anything with freshly picked rosemary (I’m giving you my secret recipe for Italian Country Chicken…), I have devised the following reality slap.

Mothers' Revenge

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Search for E-Quality

No surprise that the Internet is littered with junk sites. The worst are the automatically generated lists of links, based on a few keywords. The resulting pages are usually just an excuse to run Google ad boxes, with no original content or even meaningful groups of links.

As an example, here’s a few of today’s new “sites” linking to

Even worse than these link fields are the sites that “scrape” entire pages from my site and post them, surrounded by Google ads. These make me so mad I’m not going to post the URL.

Why does this bug me? Because I spend a lot of time building content for my website, and in most cases I do NOT use Google ad boxes because the ads served would not be for American-made products. Why in the heck should someone else get financial benefits from my work? Grr… Also, although these junk sites are fairly apparent, they clog up the search engine results so that true sites are harder to find. So, is the Internet democratic or anarchic? (And, is “anarchic” a word?!)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back on the Job

Cancel the APB, the missing blogger has been found!

I took a sabbatical of sorts, and was hanging around machinists. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland when I googled into the Practical Machinist bulletin board. Lots of talk of tapers, lathes, tig welding, turrets, and tailstock. Although I can argue global warming with the best of them, I confess I had no idea what most of the discussions were about. All was not a loss, however, because I discovered that some machinists like to buy American-made, and some have a sense of humor. To whit, the following example of board banter:

Machinist 1: I was watching James Bond, The Man with the Golden Gun. James visited the shop of Mr. Lazare, who has a custom weapons design shop on the show, and I saw a small lathe in the right hand side of the room. Can anyone identify it?

Machinist 2: Naked women in every scene and the machinists go: "Hey, didja see that scene where they had a palm tree growing up through a 4 jaw chuck? Was it a Cushman about 1933?" No wonder machinists are dying out. They're too dumb to breed.

On the manufacturing front, it looks like Hedstrom Corp. (Ashland, OH), makers of spring horses, teeter-totters, and other fun kids toys, is out of that business. The only remnant of the company I could find is Hedstrom--Ball, Bounce, and Sports Inc., makers of sports balls, and Hedstrom Plastics, specializing in rotational molding for custom applications. I also discovered that Dura-Craft, the Oregon-based maker of wonderful dollhouse kits, has gone out of business after 30 years.

Each company that I take off my site feels like another knick. I know these are businesses that were people’s lives and livelihood. As a consumer, I have lost the opportunity to buy their products. The truly discouraging thing is that I am surrounded by well-off folks who don’t care at all where products are made, or under what conditions.

So, forgive me for losing my sense of purpose. The good news is I’m back on the job and it could have been worse!

Stephanie, Webmaster

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

USA WORKS Update and Product Reviews

A few months ago, I wrote about the dilemma facing customers and retailers who liked USA WORKS jeans but were concerned that they were being temporarily imported due to a fire at a Sapko sewing plant. Many readers participated in a blog poll on this topic, and a majority of you said you would feel better about continuing to support Sapko if the company would talk about their plans on their website.

Yesterday I noticed that the company has done just that—the Sapko website even has photographs of the burned facility. Since we got what we wanted, I think we should tell them thanks. I like this company and I like their jeans. I’m looking forward to the day when I can once again get USA WORKS with the pocket tag that says “Made by Hard Working Americans for Hard Working Americans.”

Product Reviews
In the interest of product research, I’ve been shopping again. (You wouldn’t expect me to recommend something without trying it out myself, would you?!)

  • I’m loving my Truck Jeans because of the stretch denim, though I confess I am having to get used to low-rise jeans. Needed a longer belt, so Natural Reflections to the rescue! Conard made me 2 belts, and a special-order child’s length too. Very nice leather and quick service.
  • C&C California: I was very happy with the clingy fit of the extra long sleeved tee, though the sheer tee really needs to be layered, which effectively doubles the price—ouch! The best selling point is the wide range of colors and the very quick shipment. I am layering with A.S.Tees.
  • American Apparel: The Classic Girl Sustainable Edition tank is totally soft and made from 100% certified organic cotton. It makes a great layer under tees. Thanks to my niece for that one! (Buy Classic Girl T-Shirts from American Apparel.)
  • Perfect pj’s: I teamed up Boxercraft tartan flannel lounge pants (available from with Wickers mid-weight tees to create cozy pj’s that didn’t make me look like my grandmother. I love my Wickers!! They’re almost sinful.
More later on new additions to

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Do Buy: Danish Havarti

Danish FlagWith all due respect to my friends in the Wisconsin dairy industry, I recommend that all of us go out and buy something Danish in support of the good people of Denmark.

I regret the offense taken by Moslems to cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed. I support the right of any people to march in protest and to use the economic power of the boycott. That said, the publication of ANY cartoon is no justification for violent public displays and the torching of embassies.

I am weary of hearing “Death to (fill in the blank)” in the name of religion and/or national pride. We humans share the globe. We hold a variety of religious and life views. Mutual respect and tolerance are needed if we are ever to understand one another. Dividing the world into “us” and “them” in the name of religion, governing philosophy, physical appearance, or whatever is surely taking us down the wrong road.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Farewell to Dan River Mills

Almost unnoticed, the Dan River Inc. textile mill slipped quietly under the waters of the global economy. Dan River was best known for its bed-in-a-bag comforter, bed skirt, and sheet sets. It’s hardly news when a U.S. textile mill ceases production, but this time it feels personal. Virginia-based Dan River filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2004, and emerged from bankruptcy a year ago, only to be purchased by an Indian firm this year. The small paragraph in The Washington Post (Metro Section, January 15) read like an obituary: “Plant Closing to Cost 500 Jobs.”

Gujarat Heavy Chemicals, which bought Dan River last month, plans to idle the Virginia mill and move the remainder of production overseas where it is cheaper. Maybe U.S. labor and environmental standards will be applied, but how will we know?

As with Timex, Pfaltzgraff, Levi and others before it, the brand will survive but the American jobs will not. There will still be Dan River comforters and sheets, but they will be made in China, India, and Pakistan. I wonder if consumers will even notice? In March, nearly 500 former Dan River employees will line up at the unemployment office and I will keep reading labels and looking for products still made in USA.

Monday, January 30, 2006

American-Made Blue Jeans

It’s hard to imagine a wardrobe without denim jeans. What started out as hard-working wear for men has evolved into a fashion basic for men, women, and children. The old-style dungaree (from the Hindi “dungri” meaning a coarse cloth) is still around, but increasingly the jeans market is dominated by stretch denim that dresses up or down.

Denim trivia: if you look closely at your jeans, you will see that the denim has a diagonal pattern in the weave. As every school kid knows, weaving takes a filling yarn over-under-over-under the warp yarns (the same technique applies to lattice pie crust!). For denim and other twill fabrics, however, the filling yarns go under and over two or more warp yarns. This creates an offset pattern from one row to the next. The addition of spandex fibers allows the denim to "give."

American jeans used to mean Levi, Wrangler, and Lee, to name a few. Today, Levi jeans are made overseas. Wrangler and Lee brands are owned by VF Corporation, which also owns Chic Jeans, Riders, and Rustler brands. VF Corp. has manufacturing plants located in the United States, as well as other parts of the world. So, while MAY be possible to find a pair of Wrangler or Lee jeans made in USA, it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Likewise, jeans made for LLBean, Landsend, and the GAP are imported.

Luckily, there are a surprising number of American-made jean options available. For a definitive (almost) listing of jeans still made in USA, see Stephanie's Guide to American-Made Jeans. (I tried to include the tables here, but blogger doesn't seem to like them!) I have divided the brands into two categories: traditional “serious” jeans and up-scale luxury jeans. Admittedly, my groupings are somewhat arbitrary, but jeans that cost over $100 a pair (and some up to $200 a pair) cry out for special treatment!

There is a confusing array of these luxury jeans, featuring hand sanding, grinding, and “destroyed effects” (i.e., the price includes having someone wear them out for you!). I did not find much to distinguish among the high-end, couture jeans; all the brands I list appear to be made in USA from imported (primarily stretch) denim. One stand-out is Truck Jeans, a brand of fashion jeans made in USA from imported denim, offering blasted and “destroyed” effects for under $50. The label in my Truck Jeans says “Made with American hands in the USA.” How cool is that?!

Here's an interesting article on the booming luxury jeans market: Explosion of pricey premium-jeans market has created intense competition and, some say, a bloated inventory for retailers. By Jennifer Davies (San Diego Union Tribune, October 5, 2005)

One final note. I did not include USA Works jeans in the table because they are presently being imported. However, Sapko International, which makes USA WORKS, says they are on track to restart USA production (in Wisconsin) and hope to begin shipping domestic USA WORKS by late third or early fourth quarter 2006. I’ll update the table as soon as I get confirmation that American-made USA WORKS jeans are once again available. (I took down the Blog Poll on whether or not we should buy imported USA WORKS to show support for the company. The results were 50% in favor, 42% opposed, and 8% undecided. Since that time, the company has posted a note on their website with their commitment to restart US production as soon as possible--yeah!!)

As always, I welcome comments, additions, and corrections. Let me know what you think of Stephanie's Guide to American-Made Jeans.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Village Traditions: Celebrating Craftsmanship and Natural Materials

Visiting is like taking a leisurely trip through the unspoiled countryside of northern Vermont. The site offers simple, beautiful products made from clay, wood, and leather. Creamy pottery and hand blown glass by Simon Pearce, bowls of cherry and walnut, pieces of Vermont slate, and handspun pewter bowls and vases. The pieces seem carefully selected to please the eye and sooth the spirit, and many are made in Northern New England.

For the Italiano-files among us (just call me la Bella Stephania!), VillageTraditions also offers a sublime selection of handmade Italian pewter cutlery and soft Italian leather goods. The shopping experience is made perfect by the many beautiful photographs of the Shelburne area. Take a trip with your mouse, feel the tranquility, and reconnect with the timeless beauty of goods made by hand from natural materials.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Organize This!

Today I received an email that shouted: “Make Your Home Clutter-Free!” “Tackle Your Toughest Storage Tasks!” “Shop Our Problem Solvers Collection Today!” Now how in the heck did they know? Have they been peeking??

Okay, I admit to having an “organization problem.” Not for lack of purchasing various organizers, however. Just last week (and, no, this was NOT a New Year’s Resolution!) I went off to Staples and bought a lovely storage/filing container (HOMZ, made in USA) and some pocket folders (made in Mexico). The idea was that I would file newspaper clippings, story ideas, USA-made product information, and correspondence and reintroduce myself to my desktop. As evidence that buying organizers can motivate, energize, and organize me, I attach the following Before and After photos. Can you tell the difference?!

[January 21, 2006: UPDATE! I received an email today about an organizational "life-in-a-binder" system called JOYS: Just Organize Your Stuff. The website says "JOYS is committed to providing high quality, fairly priced, made in the USA products." It looks like a very well thought out set of checklists and reminders, packaged in a beautiful binder. Check it out! Maybe there's hope yet . . .]

Music to get you going on Friday after a tough week—and it WAS a tough one. (Though I am thankful not to live in Russia, where temperatures are 20 below, and not to be a coal miner.)
"Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be alright"
--from The Middle, by Jimmy Eat World, the “Bleed American” album released July 2001.

New additions to this week:

Stephanie's Valentine Gift Picks!

Auburn Leathercrafters (Auburn, NY)

Drew’s Boots (Klamath Falls, OR)

Eldreth Pottery (Lancaster Co., PA)

Hartstone Pottery (Zanesville, OH)

Louisville Stoneware (Louisville, KY)

Our American Heritage (Paoli, PA)

Soft Star Shoes (Corvallis, OR)

Keep those emails coming—it’s great to hear about companies that I can list! Next week: Product Reports and a summary of American-Made Blue Jeans. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hartstone Pottery is Back!

My first virtual catalog, posted for Fall 2004, featured hand-painted pottery by Hartstone Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio. I loved their Pumpkin Patch pottery design for autumn celebrations. I also included their Funny Farm pattern in the 2004 Holiday catalog.

Hartstone Pumpkin Patch

Hartstone Funny Farm

Then, in 2005 I was distraught to hear that the pottery was being closed by its parent company, Carlisle Home Products. In past years, Hartstone Pottery had made blueberry pottery for LLBean and hand-painted soup tureens and other pieces for Crate and Barrel. As these larger accounts were lost to cheaper imported pottery, the Pottery struggled to remain profitable. Finally, Carlisle Home Products decided to pull the plug.

The closure of Hartstone Pottery not only meant the loss of jobs in Zanesville, but the potential loss of an artistic heritage in an area with a long history of handmade, hand-painted pottery. I also learned that the closure was impacting local potters who had relied on the Hartstone kilns to have their own pottery fired. I resorted to EBay to buy up a few pieces of Hartstone Funny Farm, while sending offers of free web advertising to Carlisle and Hartstone, and urging support for the company on local web boards. I didn’t have much hope that the company could be saved.

But, finally some good news. An article in the local Zanesville paper reported that a group of investors was working to save the pottery. Today I checked back, and was delighted to see that the Hartstone website is back on line! The Original Hartstone Pottery has reopened and is producing a limited number of their pottery patterns. I am hoping that more will come on-line as they grow the business. If you love hand-painted pottery, here’s your chance to support a wonderful enterprise. Welcome back, Hartstone Pottery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why I'm Drinking More Coffee in 2006

For those who felt that I set my sights too low for 2006, here is an important "news story" (Disclaimer: not a true story) by David Deckert. Enjoy!

SEATTLE (PA) -- SEATTLE MAN ARRESTED FOR INDECENT EXPOSURE -- Police in downtown Seattle arrested a man for indecent exposure today. Mr. Michael Feldman of 714 SE James St., was arrested after police determined that he was carrying neither a cellphone nor a latte. He was taken into custody and cited with criminal non-possesion of caffeine and failure to provide an annoying ring melody in a public place. He was later fined and released under his own recognizance.

Police first became suspicious of Mr. Feldman after they observed him briskly crossing a busy street at a crosswalk while failing to stop and hold up traffic. The officers reported that since Mr. Feldman did not seem to be carrying any sort of coffee they stopped him for questioning. A brief search determined that neither was he carrying any sort of communication device.

"He didn't even have a pager," said Officer "Buck" Simmons of the Seattle Police Department. "We figured he must be one of them anarchists, so we gassed him just to be on the safe side."

Mr. Feldman apologized for his actions and said that he hoped that no innocent bystanders had been affected. He explained that the unexpected sunny weather had "put him out of sorts" and that he had neglected to don his cellphone before leaving the house. Mr. Feldman later told reporters, "I guess I was too busy looking at that blue sky." Said Officer "Buck" Simmons, "He just kept looking up. Like at the sky or something. We thought he was a psycho."

A similar incident happened last month when a Mr. Jeffrey DuChamp was arrested and faced the same charges. Those charges were later dropped when it was discovered that Mr. DuChamp was Canadian, and he was summarily deported.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mapping Visitors to

Yesterday I discovered a really COOL little web techy tool that produces a map of the most recent 100 visitors to my website, The service locates IP addresses on top of Google maps to provide a geographic view of the location of visitors to my site. There is no end to the wonderful bits of code that are available for free!

Check it out by clicking on my visitor log. If you’re looking for yourself, be aware that the data only updates every few hours. Isn’t this fun??!!

While on the topic of websites and techy developments, I pass along this prognostication from Scott Adams (quoted from his 1997 book, The Dilbert Future)

“In the not-too-distant future, anybody who doesn’t have their own home page on the World Wide Web will probably qualify for a government subsidy for the home-pageless.”

So, if you are webpage-deprived, make 2006 the year that you get a homepage, get a blog, or at least get a mapped visitor log! Happy New Year (again, still)!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year, 2006!

That popping sound was the housing bubble bursting, but I’m not worried because I’m diversified (I own GM stock). All the columnists (the paid variety, that is) are reminding us of Tsunami and hurricane aftermaths, union-busting, outsourcing, wars and death. I choose to leave 2005 summarizing and hand-wringing to them, and focus on 2006.

Back when I worked in cubicle land, I used to post my New Year’s Resolutions outside my work station to forewarn my co-workers. Heading the list every year was “Be nicer.” Number 2 was usually “Keep my workspace clean,” followed by “Exercise more.” My friends know that I never kept any of these resolutions. Now that I am older and wiser, my resolutions are much more practical. So here goes:

2006 Resolutions

  • Drink more coffee, and make sure it’s not tested on animals.
  • Stop donating money to every cause that knocks on my door. (This per my financial advisor, Bob Tresley.)
  • Start as many projects as I want without feeling guilty if I don’t finish all of them.
  • Apply my Type-A, detail-oriented, dictatorial skills to helping people who don’t even know they want help.
  • Write to politicians.

I have an unshakeable conviction that 2006 will be a great year. People (and I include Republicans here) are basically good, talented, and hard-working. We have a lot of things to work on (raising living and working conditions, educating our kids, decreasing our effects on the environment), but we’re going to get there. I’m confident that I can make a difference, and have fun doing it. So I raise my glass of Sparkling Cider and wish all of you a Happy New Year!