3.24.2008

Buying Less, and Why Black and Decker Aren't Green

(NB: I really buried the lede here. To help those looking for the point, I've denoted the important part of the story with a line of asterisks, because the preamble came out way longer than I expected and I'm too tired to edit :)

I have been reading A Year Off Sale, where an entire family is spending this year attempting to buy only things they "need" rather than all the stuff they "want." It's very interesting and something I myself have thought about a lot lately. I give a lot of stuff to Goodwill, and recently it started to occur to me that the lifespan of some of my purchases is really short. If I'm not certain when I'm buying something that it's going to fulfill a specific need, I often end up admitting it wasn't quite right or necessary, and it ends up in the Goodwill pile a lot sooner than I'd imagined. Plus, I just feel overwhelmed by "stuff" so often that I have basically been attempting to bring less "stuff" into my life.

This family is doing exactly that, but very admirably and aggressively. I don't have that dedication right now, but I'm glad to see others doing this. If the demand for crap is lessened, maybe companies will produce less crap, and that can only be good for the landfills.

One particular entry about a badly designed appliance reminded me of an outrage I wanted to blog about a few months ago.

I bought a Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven about a year ago. This was to replace the previous Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven I'd gotten in 2000, which had had a broken door for about two years before recently stopping working altogether. We spent about $100 on the new toaster oven. I could have gotten a similar model for about $70, but I fell into that marketing trap where I figured that we might as well get the slightly more expensive model, because it probably was just a little better--more features, better functionality, etc. It was at least slightly larger, and it matched our kitchen decor.

I was very irritated to discover a few months into our ownership that, indeed, the thing didn't work very well, and definitely no better than the cheaper, older model I'd had previously. You'd think it was toasting your English muffin or bagel, because the timer worked and the light went on. But about 50% of the time, the elements just wouldn't get hot. I think the fact that it worked half the time actually made the problem worse; I didn't take it back immediately because I assumed it would work most of the time. Even when I realized it really only worked half the time, I still decided not to worry about it. I didn't want to waste a perfectly mediocre toaster oven.

The plot thickened the first time I burned myself on the handle. When I realized that the handle was partly constructed of a metal that got really hot when the toaster was on, and this metal was located in such a place that you could almost not avoid getting burned if you opened the door all the way, I started to get mad. When I realized that I was accidentally burning my hand every few times I successfully used the toaster oven, I got really mad. What kind of idiots designed this thing? Were they better or worse than the fools who manufactured it so badly that it didn't even work half the time?

One morning when I had a few extra minutes, I called Black and Decker's customer service as I ran my finger under cold water to soothe the latest burn. When I complained about the fact that I was getting burned all the time, the woman very calmly and coolly told me that there was nothing they could do about that, because the user information that came with the toaster oven clearly stated that one should use an oven mitt when opening the door. I found this irritating--they didn't even care about my customer feedback on their poorly designed product and only seemed concerned with covering their corporate asses in case I was gonna get litigious on them (which I had no intention of doing). I was mad, but I didn't argue the point.

Instead, I went on to complain about the fact that the toaster oven didn't actually work half the time. I figured this was also something that they'd want to know about. Interestingly enough, the woman perked right up.

"Oh, well that's a malfunctioning product, so we can replace that," she said.

Great, I figured. I asked her how I should go about returning the toaster oven. What she told me enraged me even more.

"Cut the power cord off the back of the product and mail the cord to the following address with your name and info," she said. "When we receive the cord, we'll send you a new toaster oven."

What was I supposed to do with the existing toaster oven, I asked?

"Please dispose of it," she said.

I cursed them on behalf of Mother Earth.

Isn't Black and Decker somehow responsible for "properly" disposing of their own faulty products? Isn't it irresponsible of them to fill the market with poorly made crap and then refuse to take it back when people can't use it for its intended purpose? And anyway, the toaster oven worked some of the time. At worst, shouldn't I be able to donate it to Goodwill or give it to my friends who'll adopt it, knowing its flaws, because they're trying to save money? (I also couldn't "cheat" by sending a lookalike cord, because they'd asked me for the serial number on the plug's prongs at the beginning of the call.)

After my anger settled down a bit, I decided to take a stand, however small. I just couldn't bring myself to mutilate a working toaster oven, however crappily it actually did work. I just couldn't hasten its journey to the landfill, and I didn't want any new Black and Decker products in my house, even if they were provided free of charge. I know my friends and family get tired of my environmental crusade, but I do feel the little things add up, and suffering with the stupid toaster oven became one small way to avoid creating more trash. I vowed to write this blog post and send them a copy. It took me a while, but thanks to that other blog, I got motivated tonight.

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Boycott Black and Decker! Their products are terribly designed and badly made, and they're environmentally irresponsible! Write to them here and tell them how you feel!

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3.23.2008

Wonderful Lurkers

My call to lurkers in my last post had the laughable effect of seeming to invoke writer's block in most of my friends/readers. I've heard from several of them that they want to comment but haven't because they're...

...still thinking about the right answer (true overanalysts after my own heart)
...eager to help but haven't a clue where I should go on vacation
...unable to figure out how to login in order to leave a comment
...secretly enjoying watching me beg for comments and receive only one (OK, I made that one up)

It is nice, however, to hear from people in response to something I wrote here, and I don't mind if it's in the form of a text, IM, or (gasp) real-life conversation!

In other news, insomnia strikes again... Could it be the two-hour nap I took earlier today when I had a major headache?

3.18.2008

Where to go?

A few years ago, we took an awesome vacation to Vietnam. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary there, and it was supposed to be the beginning of a tradition of taking an annual awesome vacation to somewhere exciting.

This was our last real vacation. A few months after we returned from Vietnam, we bought our house, and weeks later, I got pregnant. The budgetary restrictions that accompany one's first year of homeownership, the physical limitations of pregnancy, and the demands of new-parenthood naturally combined to keep us rather homebound since then. Yes, I did squeeze in a few great trips, but we haven't had real "vacations."

This year, we decided to get serious about it. I think I realized things were bad when my first anniversary of being back at work after maternity leave passed, and I had used, maybe, 1/4 of my vacation days for the year. As my company doesn't roll them over, that time was just gone--precious weeks of lost "me" moments, donated free of charge to my employer! (It is, I suspect, something all too many Americans (certainly my coworkers) do on a regular basis.)

Nick and I sat down and decided we had to force ourselves to set aside money each month for a travel fund, which we have been dutifully (and sometimes painfully) doing. So, now that we theoretically have the funds, the question remains: Where to go?

Here are some of our choices:

  • Hawaii ASAP... based on research, it seems that Maui is the best island for us, but that's about as far as we've gotten in that planning. Anyone know of an awesome condo or hotel we would like?

  • Tokyo in October... This would be a trip I could partially combine with work, because there's a big annual gaming show there. I have always wanted to go to Tokyo, and a lot of my friends and colleagues would be there, so it could be an action-packed week of work followed by vacationing and relaxing.

  • Croatia in September... This is a place we've been wanting to go for a while, and that would give us decent weather while still having enough time to plan and research. Supposedly plane fares are expensive, though.

  • Honduras... Our friends are planning a trip there and have invited us.

  • Cote D'Azur, France... To visit Nick's family. I've spent all of one evening in the South of France so renting a house there for a few weeks seems heavenly (but logistics have proven daunting).

  • The Tyrhennian Sea... I just like the sounds of this, mostly because it's where one of my favorite movies, Evil Under the Sun, is set.

  • Some South Pacific isle... Nick has wanted to go somewhere like Fiji forever, but I just haven't got a clue where to start in the planning.

  • Brazil... I've got family there and have seen just enough of the country to know I really want and need to go back!


  • Keeping in mind that we have a toddler, where would you recommend we go? (And to my wonderfully lurking audience, now would be a really great time to chime in!)

    P.S. Thanks to Nick for the blog post idea!

    3.16.2008

    Motherhood Mythbusting: Boys' Clothes


    DSC_5410
    Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

    There's no doubt that clothes for baby and toddler girls provide far cuter and far more options than those for boys. And when I found out I was having a boy, I'll admit that I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to dress my little doll in embroidered jeans, Mary Janes, and frilly dresses and fluffy sweaters in every color of the rainbow.... (And seriously, the sea of primary colors and horizontal stripes in the boys department does get dull.)

    But the nice thing I've discovered is that I still just adore dressing my little doll. I look forward to it on the weekends when we're hanging out all day and I get to pick out each and every item in his "ensemble." When Nick or my mom puts him in something that doesn't quite look right, if I have time, I will (unfortunately for Alex) pick out the offending pieces and replace them with more suitable ones. It's silly, I know, but I can't help but admit it. I love putting together outfits for the little guy.