Friday, August 23, 2013

Teary Speech is Optional

Hi everyone! Thanks for entering my super nifty giveaway for a $50 gift card to Uncommon Goods! The time has come to choose a winner.


I had elaborate plans for this. I was going to create a tournament bracket and randomly select the finalists and then find different ways to advance them (rolling dice! perhaps attaching printouts of their face to toy cars and racing them! drawing cards! I don't know!) because simply picking a winning number with the online random number generator is boring, at least for me. I mean, all the anticipation and build-up, and, boom. One click and it's all over. There was one time that I did a giveaway/drawing and threw everyone's names into a hat and then made my cat pick one. But I've already done that, see, and this would have been significantly more slips of paper to create.

But, time got away from me, and the best of intentions were kind of shot to hell, so I am forced to simply pick a number. I KNOW, I KNOW. It's disappointing for everyone. Mostly for me. But perhaps next time I can devise some elaborate scheme to entertain myself with.

So, without much further ado, the winner is...





And because I know she shares my love of koalas, here is a picture of one doing what I am now choosing to believe is a fist pump.



DISCLAIMER'D: I was selected as part of the Blogger Review Program and received products free of charge  in exchange for a review and promotion of the Uncommon Goods site. All opinions are always my own which is hopefully pretty obvious.

If you are interested in doing a product review for Uncommon Goods, check out their Blogger Review Program here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

STAHHHP

Alternate title: the ultimate in first world problems.

I use the Internet. A lot. A lot, a lot. Obviously. I came of age in the digital era and I was there for the birth of facebook and everything that came after. I've evolved with the Internet and I can navigate it with my eyes closed. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. You need eyes to use the Internet. It's rather two-dimensional.) I've seen it go from Geocities to Web 2.0 and I've seen it go from the hamster dance to Grumpy Cat. 

I've also seen the sprawl of social media and, quite frankly, I think it's kind of jumped the shark. It's everywhere - including places it shouldn't be. It's hard to escape, and even if you don't use it, you hear about it constantly. 

I use it, obviously. I have this blog. I use facebook probably the most (HELLO FAR AWAY FRIENDS!), Instagram a fair bit, Twitter when I feel like it, and LinkedIn because it's there and apparently important and I'm not so deluded to think that everyone stays at the same job forever, myself included. Somehow or another, Pinterest became classified as a social media network, but that's not how I use it. It's a visual bookmarking site, a stress-reliever, a place to browse for clever items, pretty things, design inspiration, and recipes. It is in no way a networking site and I couldn't give a rip how many followers I have. Ask me. I can't tell you. I don't have a clue. My point is: if it's there, I've probably tried it. I have a myspace account somewhere that I can't delete because I don't remember the password. I have a Google+ account that collects dust and occasionally sends me notices that people on the other side of the world have added me to their circles. 

Such is the way of things right now, I suppose. Every other website has a facebook login (which drives me crazy because, sure, it's easier than creating a login, but it's just one more way of tying people to the machine - I don't want everything I do or read to be broadcast to everyone I've ever met, which is kind of what facebook has turned into, because I haven't quite mustered up the nerve to start deleting people) and everything gets "shared" and "liked" and "retweeted" and there are so many new words in our lexicon now that people five years ago would have stared at you like you had a third eyeball if you'd used. "I repinned this photo that so-and-so Instagrammed and it totes got a ton of likes so obviously I had to tweet it too!" VERBS. THE INTERNET HAS BEEN CREATING THEM SINCE THE BEGINNING.

I'm getting older, and it doesn't all hold the same constant appeal that it used to. More often than not, I find myself grumbling about the existence of it all and how exhausting it is and how facebook is turning into one giant email forward/chain letter and how society is heading to hell in a handbasket and perhaps I'm just turning into an old carmudgeon, but maybe I'm just to a point where, hey, the great big world OUTSIDE the series of tubes and pixels is pretty great and maybe we should all just go frolic in a meadow for a while.

My point, of which I swear I have, is that it's getting out of hand. 

I got an email last night, one of hundreds that I get every day and promptly delete, but for some reason this one caught my eye.

"So-and-so started following you on Etsy!"

I'm sure I've received identical emails before and probably ignored them. But this time, this one struck a nerve. I don't WANT to be followed on Etsy, I don't WANT to have followers, I just want to shop in peace. It in no way benefits my existence to have people watching my every move, see what I buy, see what I tag with a "favorite" (which is sometimes just a glorified bookmark). 

STOP SOCIAL MEDIA-IZING EVERYTHING.

Not everything needs to be watched or followed or shared or linked or tweeted or broadcast to the entire world of friends and strangers alike. Sometimes, a little privacy is in order. Sometimes, I just want to be left alone and be allowed to do whatever I want online without having to be aware that People Are Watching.

Besides, in the case of Etsy, maybe I want to favorite an item and come back to it later. If this gets flagged and someone else is now aware of it, what's to stop them from buying that item out from underneath me? NOTHING. This is a terrible idea. People can swoop in on my lovely finds and buy them before I get a chance. 

It would be different if I was a seller. I would definitely want followers and fans or whatever - FUTURE CUSTOMERS. It makes sense there. But I am NOT a seller, I am a browser and a shopper and I have no need for people to be watching me. I don't like it. And I don't think I can opt out of it.

I know it's impossible to be invisible. I know big retailers watch you like a hawk when you shop with them online, or they track your in-store purchases. I've had some stores email me like HEY YOU LEFT SOMETHING IN YOUR CART YOU SHOULD COME BACK AND BUY IT PRETTY PLEASE. I know without the slightest trace of doubt that big stores like Target watch what I buy so they can more properly market to me - but you know what? If they want to go through all that trouble just to send me coupons and sales on items that I actually want and/or buy? I'm kind of okay with that. I benefit from that. Sure, it's slightly creepy, but thanks to Google, every single thing we do is monitored anyway. I'm sure we've all noticed how things we have looked at online have started popping up as ads in our email or along our facebook sidebar. We can't hide. 

But there is absolutely no need to make everything one big interconnected free-for-all. The phrase "social media" is starting to make me cringe because it's everywhere and it's bandied about by people who really don't "get" it but think they do (looking at you, mainstream media and clueless newspeople). It's the ultimate buzzword these days and you know what? It's a bubble. It's going to pop. It's like the Dot Com whatever it was of the 90s. It's not going to last and I think I am going to be relieved when it's over. I like it, in so much as I can use it for my own enjoyment to interact with my friends. But once it gets beyond that, it's too much. There's no control over it anymore, I can't control what websites suddenly "connect" everything and there is no longer an innocuous place to just kill time or buy things. But it's probably not happening anytime soon and it's going to get worse before it gets better and it's driving me bananas.

I'm tired of collecting followers and I'm tired of it being framed as this awesome thing when someone follows me. It's not awesome. It's creepy and invasive and I don't want them. Not everywhere. It's relevant in certain places, where you're trying to communicate to a large audience to tell your stories or share your thoughts - blogs, Twitter, maybe even Instagram. I can even make a case for Pinterest, even though I prefer to use it for my own personal pleasure, not for impressing the masses. But it's not relevant everywhere and I think Etsy is a great example of that. It's pointless and it defeats the entire purpose. 

Just STOP IT already. Leave me alone. Let me wander the Internet in peace or I'm going to avoid your site and then everybody loses, especially you. There's a lot of places to spend my money. I will most likely choose to do it somewhere that doesn't annoy me. 

I guess I've found the line. And the line is e-commerce. Shopping is not a social event for me. And it just illuminates the larger issue, which is: NOT EVERYTHING IS A SOCIAL EVENT. It doesn't need to be shared or tweeted or liked or broadcast to the Internet. Sometimes, every now and then, it's nice to just fly under the radar and do my thing and quiet the noise from the Internet. Peace and quiet and privacy. 

Yes, my friends, I think I am getting quite old, indeed. Stay off my e-lawn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Uncommonly Clever

In celebration of absolutely no milestone or occasion whatsoever, I'm doing a review + giveaway. Unless the occasion happens to be "because I want to" in which case we should probably also have cake because you never need a reason for cake. BYOC (bring your own cake, I'm not magic). 

Because this post is probably going to be long (hi, have you met me? Brevity is not a talent of mine), I'm going to cut to the chase. Have you heard of Uncommon Goods? If not, you're missing out. They've got oodles of awesome stuff, ranging from cute to clever to OMG I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW. They also donate some money off their sales to charity, which is pretty cool.

When I first discovered them, I lost many hours browsing their site - I did not rest until I was sure I'd seen EVERYTHING they had to offer. I am nothing if not thorough. 

They are also quite helpful in the gift department. Some people are just hard to shop for, you know? They don't tell you what they want, they don't have a Pinterest board to guide you, and/or you don't really have money to spend on them anyway but you're kind of obligated so you should probably get them something, because it's their birthday and society dictates that you get your friends birthday presents. You can pretty much find something for everyone here, and by everyone, I mean "people that are cool" because if there is not a single item on this website that they would enjoy, then I'm really not sure what kind of people you are associating with. You should probably just buy them at Target gift card and call it a day. BUT, that's boring. Practical, yes, but who wants to be practical at a time like this? NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE BORING.

Or, you could do like my coworker and I did for another coworker, and run out to Wal-Mart over lunch and buy a pink-camo cake decorated with little plastic minions (because his last name is Minion and that's a hilarious real-life pun) wearing tiny plastic tiaras. 


What I'm saying is, you can do better.

There's a lot of stuff on this site. I know, I know. This task is overwhelming. Let me help you. Let's pretend we are shopping for a birthday gift for someone. The first thing you need to do is click on the button that says "Birthday Gifts" - and then you can relax, because they've got everything sorted out. They've got stuff for your lady friends and stuff for your man friends and even some awesome hosting accessories for the actual shindig that you are throwing, which I suppose could count as a gift, 'cause hosting a party is hard work. I mean, you have to clean your house and stuff. (Be advised, though, that these categories are not mutually exclusive - there are a lot of things in the "Gifts for Men" category that I would, personally, love to have for myself. So don't rule anything out.) They've also got a lot of really cool artisan handmade gifts - not just jewelry, either, though there is some of that. (And, honestly? I really love their jewelry. A lot of it is out of my price range, but it's really pretty.) This necklace is amazing but more than I generally spend on, well, anything, if I can help it. Plus it's made out of recycled sake bottles. WHO SAYS I DON'T LOVE THE EARTH? 

Okay, okay. Some stuff is expensive. But you'll be pleasantly surprised to know that most of it isn't. You can get a pretty solid and praise-worthy gift for about $25, which is about my normal gift-giving budget for someone that's not my sister. (We tend to overspend on each other, but in our defense? We're fun to shop for.) They actually have a whole collection of Gifts Under $50 which is where I'm guessing most people would be inclined to shop. 

I MEAN, THERE'S A NINJA UMBRELLA. This thing is bad-ass. And it's only $24. 



Sadly, I did not get the ninja umbrella. What I got instead is, I think, better.

THE CORKCICLE.

CLEVER PRODUCT + WINE = WIN. (Know thy audience!)

I've always wanted one of these. And by "always" I mean "ever since I found out they existed." It's basically an icicle that's not made of ice that is attached to a cork (in case you couldn't figure it out by the name) that you throw in your freezer and then use with your opened bottles of wine to keep them chilled. White wine, red wine, doesn't matter. Brilliant, right? I thought so. At least I was convinced that it was brilliant in theory, but I am a woman of science and I needed to see for myself. 


I was determined to be thorough (as I mentioned earlier), which translates to "testing both red and white wines" because THE PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW. 


So much prep work. Science is hard, guys.

First things first: the red wine. The box says you can stick the frozen corkcicle into your red wine and in fifteen minutes, it will be chilled and you can drink it. Because you're not supposed to drink red while cold. Which I do anyway, because (a) I am not a sophisticated wine person and (b) my red wines generally tend to resemble alcoholic grape juice. I don't like dry wines - they have to be on the sweet end of the spectrum. This makes me some sort of heathen, I know, but I don't even care, because I like what I like.

For this particular experiment, I decided to use local wines only. You may not know this, but Iowa is actually capable of growing grapes and making some pretty decent wines. I mean, we're no California, but we do all right. My first wine in this trial is called Serenade and it comes from Fireside Winery in Marengo, Iowa. It's probably about as non wine-like as wines go, which means it's perfect for people who don't normally like wine. Because it doesn't taste like wine. It tastes like Grown Up Grape Juice. More or less. Whatever, it's delicious.


So, here's the thing, that should have been obvious, but wasn't... 


First rule of fluid mechanics: displacement.

If you stick the corkcicle into a brand new, full bottle of wine, you're gonna make a mess. I feel like I should have known this, but in my defense, I was eager to get started and try it out, and also because I forgot about Actual Science in the pursuit of Blog Science. So, it may be helpful to pour out some of the wine into a glass first. You probably don't need to empty as much as I did, but... just be aware. Especially with red wine. Because that stuff can make a nice big stainy mess.

I waited the prescribed fifteen minutes (conveniently enough time for my frozen pizza to finish baking) and dove right in. The wine had noticeably chilled, though it wasn't refrigerator-cold. I suspect that it was the correct level of chillness for normal red wines to be, which, as previously mentioned, I tend to not adhere to. At any rate, it was pleasantly not-warm, and I gave it a thumbs up.

NEXT UP: WHITE WINE.



This wine came from the Prairie Moon Winery in Ames, Iowa, which I've been to before but recently re-visited with my dad and stepmother.

 GRAPES! aka FUTURE WINE!

This wine is incredibly sweet. It went really well with my accidental mango pad thai that I made a couple nights ago when I bought a box of Pad Thai and realized far too late that I hadn't bothered to read the box and that I didn't have half the ingredients I was supposed to have, because the box only came with noodles and sauce. So I improvised and it turned out rather well. They actually recommend this wine for grilling, which basically means it's an excellent summer evening wine.

For white wine, the corkcicle claims to be able to keep it chilled for up to an hour. Which I decided to test by parking the bottle of wine next to me and checking it periodically. The wine had been previously refrigerated and was sitting at room temperature with the 'cicle, if you must know the parameters of this experiment.

Verdict: it not only stayed cool for an hour, but for at least two hours. After that I had to put the wine away and go to bed, so who knows how long it would have stayed cold! I was pretty pleased. I'm curious as to how long it will stay cold if you were to take it outside to a picnic or a night on the patio - I guess I'll have to do more research!

In summary: this is pretty nifty, I will probably use it a lot, and it would (will?) make a fun, clever gift - one of those things that's really cool to have, but you have a hard time justifying buying for yourself. TWO EMPHATIC THUMBS UP.

Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there. I also thought the Fortune Keeper Keychain was cute, albeit cheesy as heck, but I love cheesy things and I love saving the little slips of paper from my fortune cookies (as long as they are good ones, anyway.) Why not carry around a positive message for you when you are crabby or having a bad day? 



It's completely impractical, sure, but it's completely adorable and it comes in a little tin which practically screams "I AM AN EXCELLENT GIFT."

All right, enough about me. You want in on some of this? I KNOW YOU DO. Because the people at Uncommon Goods are - wait for it - uncommonly awesome, I have a $50 gift card to give away to one of you lucky people. 


HOW TO ENTER:

I am going to try to do this a little bit differently (and hopefully more interactive/fun...ly).

Required entry: find something you like from the Uncommon Goods website and pin it to any of your Pinterest boards with the tag #uncommonlyclever. Come back here and leave a comment with the URL to your pin. (I'm going to collect them all on one super-awesome pinboard). OR shoot me an email if you just want me to add you to the board to eliminate all this tagging and commenting nonsense.

If you don't use Pinterest, you can just leave a comment with the name and/or link to your favorite item(s). Also, you should probably sign up, assuming you hate free time and need another Internet time-waster.

BONUS ENTRIES:
1. Like Uncommon Goods on Facebook
2. Sign up for the Uncommon Goods email list.
3. Like [Insert Clever Title Here] on Facebook
4. Tweet about the giveaway. Be sure to mention @UncommonGoods, as well as me (@kelalea) to make sure I see it.

If you want to make sure I see all of these things, please leave a comment for each bonus thing you do. If I don't know you did it, I can't count it!

All right, kids. Go play. You have until August 15 and then I shall find a way to cleverly and randomly select a winner. 



DISCLAIMER'D: I was selected as part of the Blogger Review Program and received these products free of charge  in exchange for a review and promotion of the Uncommon Goods site. All opinions are always my own and I do not endorse any company or product unless I find it to be really cool or I can make it really interesting and entertaining. Unless someone wants to write me a check, in which case, I am open to negotiations.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Actually, I Invented a Special Kind of Glue.

The most dreaded of events is upon us. Well, upon me. Whatever.

I almost called this post "I hope your babies look like monkeys" 
but I'm pretty sure the popular kids in my class will all have adorable kids. Life is unfair.

My ten year high school reunion is this weekend.

I've tried to write this post about three times now. Maybe four. Turns out I have a lot of Feelings about this, which is less related to the actual event itself and more to do with the realization that I've been on my own for ten years (what?!) and also coming to terms with the fact that, even though it was all in the past, I still have a lot of hurt feelings from other kids (mostly of the Regina George variety) being mean to me growing up. These will have to be separate posts for later because I don't really want to publish a novella on here.

Anyway.

I’m from a small town. Smaller than most of you not from the Midwest can probably comprehend. My graduating class had 57 people in it. Maybe 58. I can never remember. (That's with three towns combined together, mind you). The rules of Being From a Small Town dictate that you make an appearance every five to ten years, because of reasons that probably exist and are probably stupid. It's probably easier to ignore them if you're from a larger city/school, but in a small town, everyone knows everyone and they will notice if you're not there. (Who cares, right? Well, it's complicated. It's always complicated. And there is not enough space here nor am I probably qualified to delve into the psychology of Being From a Small Town and the effects it has on your Post-Small-Town life.)

As the date has drawn closer, I’ve been filled with an unidentifiable dread. Suddenly, there was nothing I wanted to do less. The idea of spending an afternoon and evening sitting around making small talk with a bunch of people who were mean to me growing up, suddenly seemed incredibly uncomfortable. I know, I know – I need to just grow up and get over it. It was a long time ago. But I find myself mentally regressing into the painfully insecure teenager I was in high school. It’s not a far stretch; that girl hangs out dangerously near the surface a lot of the time.

Here's the thing: I wasn't popular in high school. I think it would be a reasonably fair assessment to say that I wasn’t unpopular, but I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids. (Though I take consolation in the fact that they say that most of the people who are "cool" as adults were incredibly awkward growing up.)

Image source: Pinterest. Lord knows where it originally came from.

I was teased a lot (a lot) in elementary school and I've pretty much blocked out most of middle school because it was so miserable, but by high school I had mastered the art of blending into the scenery. I was just kind of... there. I was the smart kid, the star student, the band geek, the yearbook editor, the nice girl. If people didn't like me, they at least grew to respect me a little - I was wicked clever, even if I was a bit odd and untrendy. (And by graduation, I daresay I had even achieved a degree of "pretty" - which goes a long way in the shallow caste system of the American public high school). Nobody invited me to things, but nobody outright rejected me, either. I was mostly left alone, accepted but not embraced. I never went to a party in high school. I probably wouldn't have gone even if I had known about them. Alcohol terrified me. Breaking the rules terrified me. Getting a blemish on my record terrified me. Yes, I was your run-of-the-mill Goody Two Shoes, and in hindsight, I'm kind of okay with that. The takeaway here is that I got through it, I landed on my feet, and then I ran as fast as I could to the welcoming embrace of higher education. College probably saved me in more ways than I care to admit and if I were to give an Oscar-style speech thanking all the people involved in that, I would get played off stage before I even finished listing the girls on my dorm floor.

So, I'm going to spend the day reunionating with the peers of my rocky adolescence, and it's going to be... well, I don't know how it's going to be. Awkward, probably. It’s not like we are going to do any serious catching up. Everyone just wants to get together and drink beer with their old high school comrades and probably gossip about the people who aren't there. Which is great and all, except I never fit into that scene, I don't really drink much, I'm kind of over the whole gossip thing, and anything I may want to know about everyone's lives can be easily looked up online. It’s kind of redundant to have a reunion anymore these days. Mark Zuckerberg saw to that.

Also, I had always kind of hoped to show up fabulous to the Ten Year Reunion, but it's so hard to tell what you even need to be able to feel (or appear) accomplished these days. I don't jetset around the country or the world, I don’t have a husband or a house or a baby or a super-impressive job; what I do have is an extra sixty pounds and a lingering wariness. 

I was all set to skip it. I could make up an excuse, I suppose, but I probably would have simply not shown up. Kind of a (probably immature) statement about how I felt about them. Not worth my time. I spent too much time worrying about their approval back then; I don’t need it now. Despite how far I have come and how much more confident and comfortable I am in my own skin (most days, anyway), there is something about this particular crowd of people that cranks my insecurity level up to eleven and makes all my old self-doubt come rushing back.

My sister married a boy from my graduating class, which allows the added bonus of her attending my class reunions, which means, by default, I have someone to hang out with no matter what. (And as an extra added bonus now, I would get to see my nephew!) Except up until about a day or so ago, my brother-in-law was scheduled to work, which meant that they probably weren’t going to make it. Which made the whole prospect even more unappealing. Fortunately, he was able to get the day off. Nephew snuggles are imminent. ALL IS SAVED.

In the meantime, my friend Stacey, who is one of only a small handful of people I still talk to, coerced me into going, because she was coming all the way from Denver, so dammit, I was required to go. ("Handful" being a generous measurement – I mean, my former best friend from high school didn’t even invite me to her wedding last summer, if that gives you any idea of how far apart we’ve all drifted - and we even went to the same college, so it's not like we fell out of touch right away.) She is going to fly in and her brother is going to unceremoniously dump her on my doorstep at an ungodly early hour for a summer Saturday morning, we are going to acquire brunch (though it might be early enough to still qualify as breakfast), and then we are going to road trip the hundred or so miles up to my hometown.

This is how I envision our drive going:


Where, upon our arrival we going to meet up with people we haven’t seen in five to ten years and are either going to sit around and awkwardly stare at each other and/or drink adult beverages and/or do both. 

And I'm probably going to be like,


Because I won't really know what to talk about or what to do with myself and it's going to be weeeeird. That's the thing, really. The impending weirdness and awkwardness. 

Have I used the word "awkward" enough times to get my point across?

I’ve been fretting over this all week, to be honest. (It probably would have been longer, but I'd kind of put it out of my mind as a Thing That Was Happening in The Distant Future and then before I knew it, suddenly it was August.) I hate that I care so much, but I do. I have incredibly high anxiety levels about this for reasons that I can’t even understand or figure out. It’s silly. I went to my five-year reunion (we had a five-year reunion) (it’s what small towns in Iowa do) (apparently not everyone does this) and had a decently okay time, though I was pleasantly inebriated by the end of the night, which probably had something to do with that. (Let’s be real: these things happen when you are 23. God, was I 23? I feel like I’ve been in my late twenties forever. I don’t even remember being that young.) It won’t be awful.  It might be (wait for it) awkward but it won’t be the nightmare I’m making it out to be. Probably. Fingers crossed.

Did any of you go to your high school reunion? How did it go?