Friday, December 22, 2006

Another way to say it

I've become a fan of MySpace. For good, or for bad, I find the networking bumps I've gotten to be worth the time I've spent. While I find alot of absolute sh*t posted, overtly sexual content, as well as a dearth of meaningful banter, I've also found some absolute gems and interesting folks that I never would have known about, otherwise.

A case in point--Bobbi Buchanan and New Southerner, an online quarterly that seeks to highlight and show an appreciation for the values of the South.

Granted, I'm as Yankee as they come, at least in a geographical sense, but I've enjoyed my brief forays south of the Mason-Dixon, as well as having a propensity for southern cooking, particularly chicken fried steak, cheese grits, hush puppies and real southern BBQ.

Their most recent issue has an article worth reading, due to its pertinence to the holidays (ok, Christmas, damn it!) and for its offering of sensible alternatives to consumerism, all the while steering clear of being preachy.

So, if consumin' don't make you weak in the knees, then check out the article and get a few more ideas of how to celebrate, if not this year, then maybe next.

New Southerner Magazine
December 2006 - February 2007

ALTERNATIVES TO CONSUMERISM: Consumers find alternatives to overspending

Toby Wilcher, of Berea, Ky., admits she's as guilty as the next person about getting swept up into the rampant consumerism of the holiday season.

This year, however, will be different. Wilcher's friends will get home-baked goods packed in one of the many baskets she has collected over the years.

A couple of single moms she knows will get free babysitting and maybe even a pedicure, with Wilcher herself providing the services.

Wilcher is among a growing group of Americans finding alternatives to needless spending. Her gifts are not likely to go unappreciated. In a national survey, 70 percent of Americans said they would welcome less emphasis on spending, according to New American Dream.

"One of the things that bugs me is that I feel like I get suckered into giving gifts to a lot of people" out of a sense of obligation, Wilcher said. At the risk of seeming "mean-spirited," she said, she came up with a new rule. "If I don't care enough to call you on your birthday, you are officially removed from my list!"

Those who remain may end up getting the gift of a donation on their behalf to a worth charity. Wilcher's church, Union Church in Berea, holds an annual alternative giving fair each year to support this concept.

Instead of another ugly tie or some unwanted household appliance, the recipient gets a card thanking him or her for the gift donated in his or her name.

Representatives of various nonprofit groups, such as Habitat for Humanity and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, are on hand to help supporters complete the giving process.

"I like this concept," said Wilcher, who goes a step further by using it as a way to gently remind loved ones of the importance of social responsibility.

"I might choose an organization that would never even be considered by the recipient. The racist uncle who has screamed the loudest all year long about 'them damn Mexicans' might get a beautiful card in the mail thanking him for his donation to an immigrant relief organization with the verse from Exodus, chapter 22, verse 21: 'Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.'"

A Homemade Christmas

Kelly Spitzer and her family are planning their first "homemade Christmas" this year. "We're all pretty crafty people," said Spitzer, who lives in Centralia, Wash.

She and her husband, Brian Percell, make everything from blankets to blackberry jam to hurricane lanterns. Her sister-in-law makes jewelry, her brother is a photographer and her father is "a fantastic chef," Spitzer said. "I think he's preparing a gourmet meal for us."

"We've all gotten tired of the consumer culture," Spitzer said. "We are not diehard anti-consumerists, but I do what I can to avoid the frenzy."

Gifts of Time

Stephanie Anagnoson has avoided consumerism both out of necessity, when she was too poor to buy much of anything, and now for personal reasons. A California-based freelance writer and editor, Anagnoson tries to make every purchase a conscious decision.

Like Wilcher, she has used prudence in culling her gift list over the years. Mutual agreements with family and friends to eliminate or minimize material gift giving have worked well, she said. Her family not only did away with holiday gift exchanges, they also stopped giving to one another on birthdays. "We were passing around the same $30 gift card every couple months," Anagnoson reasoned. "It got too obligatory and lost meaning for us."

Anagnoson and her spouse have found that simply spending time with friends is enough of a gift.

"Last year we had brunch at a restaurant on the 24th. It was enough to enjoy each other's company."

"I'm not totally anti-gift. I just think the holiday season has turned into the buying season."

Trash to Treasure

Mary Alberico, of Lebanon Junction, Ky., finds herself in the same predicament every holiday season — broke. But that hasn't stopped her from giving beautiful, meaningful gifts.

One year, Alberico corralled her two young grandchildren out onto the back porch and had them dip their hands and feet in paint and imprint them onto dish towels.

The simple gift brought tears to her daughter-in-law's eyes on Christmas day."

It was so easy — and cheap," said Alberico, who also has sewn handbags, children's hats and clothes to give as gifts.

Alberico's knack for salvage art is another way she avoids spending. She makes miniature Christmas trees with old garland and wire coat hangers, ornaments from burnt out light bulbs, dolls from worn socks and colorful flowers from plastic bottles.

Not only are her crafts much cheaper, but she finds making them much more satisfying than venturing out to overcrowded stores this time of year. "It's like therapy for me," she said. "And everyone seems to like what they get."

Saving a Buck Year-Round

Charles "Butch" Keeney, of Clarksville, Ind., will do just about anything to avoid spending a hard-earned buck — not only around the holidays, but all year long.

Keeney, who works for a car parts manufacturer, has discovered a simple way to beat the high cost of automotive maintenance and repair. His low-cost alternative involves two steps: 1) Buy the part used; and 2) Fix it yourself.

Even people with little mechanical know-how could save money doing some of the work themselves, according to Keeney, who often consults automotive manuals. Rather than buy the manuals, however, Keeney checks them out from the local library.

Married with three children, Keeney has taken has taken on automotive work to earn extra cash. About three months ago, he discovered a treasure trove of bargains at a place called Pull-A-Part, a do-it-yourself used auto parts store. Customers remove the parts they want from cars in a lot located behind the store.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Keeney's garage sounded like a muffler shop as he and his brothers worked on a pickup truck they plan to sell.

"Today we got this muffler and tailpipe, like new, for $15," Keeney bragged. He estimates the parts would have cost $75 new, plus labor for installation. "Now you're talking something like $125."

Keeney said he's visited Pull-A-Part nearly every weekend since hearing about it on a TV commercial.

Inspired by his frugal nature, Keeney's family practices thriftiness in other ways. Sometimes they arrive late enough at the car races to get in free. They don't have cable television, and when household maintenance is needed, Keeney tries to take care of it himself. He and his brothers recently put a new roof on his house, saving several hundred dollars in labor costs.

Bobbi Buchanan is editor of New Southerner; David Buchanan contributed information for this article.

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