Saturday, December 30, 2006

Expedition to Find the Perfect Wedding Dress

"The Customer is King." - Unknown

I am going to take the opportunity in this post to discuss the process of shopping for a wedding dress at a very well-known (and sometimes well-loved) bridal shop located throughout the United States - let's call it Dan's Bridal. Before you read any further, you should know that I am shamefacedly using my blog as a public forum for a certain amount of lambasting (and sarcasm), so if you really love Dan's Bridal, you should stop reading now!!!

Last Wednesday, my mother and I started our wedding dress search at Dan's. At first, everything went pretty well. They had the dresses I had marked as my favorites on-line in my size. We grabbed a stack of dresses and headed for the dressing room.

The first thing that bothered me was the corset that the woman gave me to use while trying on the dresses. Call me crazy, but on one of the most important days of my life, being able to breathe is one of the top five criteria I have for it being enjoyable. However, at this point in the day's excursion, I didn't realize that there were other options, which are much more palatable and kind to the bride. Anyway, after putting on said corset, it was discovered that the corset is not enough. A bride must also wear this. (I should probably take a moment here to say that less is more in my estimation. I do not wish to look like this on my wedding day, but neither do I wish to look like this.)

I played along with the petticoat for awhile. Eventually, however, my mom and I decided to try a few of the dresses without the petticoat. This is when the trouble started with our *wonderful* saleswoman, Anette. Anette is a passive agressive woman, whom we quickly learned likes to mutter things under her breath when you don't meet with her approval. At this point, she started muttering about how her boss wouldn't like it if she saw me in a dress without the petticoat. My mom and I decided to ignore her on this one, and this alone would not have annoyed me much. Sure, Anette was trying to sell us an extra item, but that's what salespeople do, right?

The next extra item Anette tried to push on me was a veil to wear in front of my face, in addition to the one I want to wear hanging down in the back. This is something I'm sure I do not want. Could Anette let it go? No, she started discussing how devastated my father would be if he couldn't lift up my veil, because that's the most important part of the wedding for the father. For the record, I have since queried my dad about this, and he did say he would be quite devastated if I don't have the front veil. He then went into a corner and cried, but that's pretty normal for him around Christmas time.

Anyway, this was annoying, but not yet thoroughly frustrating.

Somewhere along the way, Anette had started bringing me more expensive gowns (again, the savvy saleswoman). The first ones ranged between $300-$600. The later ones had prices around $900-$1000. The dresses were indeed very beautiful, but we had just started looking for dresses, and wanted to look around at some other shops.

This is when Anette pulled out the big guns. There was one particular dress that was $1000, but could be purchased that day for $700. Although it was beautiful, and my favorite, it was still quite expensive, and we told Anette that we were not yet ready to buy a dress that day. In response, Anette muttered to herself.

"Pardon me?" I asked. Anette said it was nothing, but then proceeded to tell us, "If I had known you weren't going to buy a dress today, you could have only seen three dresses, so that we could serve other clients." This attitude was disconcerting to both me and my mother. How are you supposed to know what you eventually want if you don't try on many different things? Additionally, other stores did not impose any such arbitrary rule (perhaps it was Anette's Rule), and other soon-to-be-brides were trying on stacks of dresses the way we were. So, instead of taking the bait and buying the dress, or apologizing for the nerve of wanting to try on several expensive items before making a choice, I made sure to tell her that it was a pleasure to meet her as my mom and I made our way out the door.

Suffice it to say, my overall impression of Anette was not positive, but neither was my impression of Dan's Bridal. There must be immense pressure for Anette to earn commission to encourage that type of "customer service," and that type of attitude does not facilitate a comfortable shopping environment for such an important (and expensive) piece of clothing. My mom and I ended up going to a locally-owned bridal shop that not only had excellent customer service, but also had better quality goods for lower prices. I now have the perfect gown*, but it would have been so much nicer to have bypassed Dan's in the first place.

"If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will." - Unknown

*Don't worry, Drek, this is not the actual dress.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Global Warming and Hope

"The earth is what we all have in common." -Wendell Berry

I am trying to finish up my last minute things before our trip tomorrow, and have Fresh Air on in the background. Terry Gross is speaking with Reverend Richard Cizik, who is the vice president for government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, and trying to increase the religious right's understanding of global warming.

Frankly, I am happily amazed to hear such an intelligent, well-spoken man of faith, and self-declared conservative, discussing a traditionally "liberal/democrat" cause. I encourage all of you to listen to the interview as well when the audio becomes available at 3:00 p.m. EST. It's a glimmer of how people on opposite sides of our country's political fence can come together in mutual understanding of common causes.

At this time of the year, it's this kind of thing that gives me hope.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Holidays: What are we really celebrating?

"Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice." - Baruch Spinoza

I just returned from a three day trip for a job interview, and am finding myself overwhelmed by all the things I wish to do before Wednesday to show my loved ones that they are truly loved.

I always have extreme dreams when it comes to presents. Last year I made mosaic trivets (from scratch - no pattern use here) for nine couples in my family and my fiance's family (do make sure to click on the last two links - they summarize the distinctions between our two families fairly well). This year I'm attempting to make close to 30 beaded bookmarks, and want to bake up a storm this weekend. This is in addition to the finals I need to finish grading, packing for our 2 1/2 weeks away, and a 500-word encyclopedia entry that is due by Wednesday.

All of this is making me question why.

Of course there are the reasons that I've learned through too-much introspection: I want to feel that I am an excellent traditional woman in addition to having a career; I want to give people nice things without going bankrupt; I really do wish that I had the time to explore my creative, crafty (not crafty) side more often.

However, although I was extremely proud of myself last Christmas when everybody liked my mosaics, I was distinctly not peaceful. I was stressed out, and quite frankly, obnoxious to my wonderful fiancee.

Thomas A. Kempis writes, "First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others."

I am no longer a Christian. I was for a long time (unlike most of my extended family), but am not anymore. But I still love the winter holiday season more securlarly. This time of year is a time of darkness, and a time of the coming light. It is a time to celebrate loved ones and bring light into their lives. I can think of no other way to do this than through peacefulness.

A Japanese proverb says, "One kind word can warm three winter months." The proverb does not say, "One Tickle Me Elmo doll can warm three winter months," but neither does it say, "One perfect present from Practicing Idealist can warm three winter months." Ultimately, I would rather take the kind word and the peace of my family, over any present, no matter how good it was.

So, I will probably be cutting back on the ambitious gifts. It may mean I'll spend a bit more money this year, or that my family won't get quite so many homemade gifts, but I'll have my sanity, and I won't be stressed out of my mind.

I believe in the light of this season: the physical light that will increase after the Winter Solstice, and the light that I see translated into love in the people around me (both stranger and not). The darkness will inevitably come (because we are talking about family here), but the light, at least for me, begins with peace.

"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars." - Og Mandino

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Cat Fancy

"I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior." -Hippolyte Taine

I'm working, surrounded by my two adolescent kittens. The dog is barking furiously at the door. She wants to come in and "play"* with the kittens. It will be her turn soon. The kittens will be locked up, and she will come in. Until they all learn to get along, which has turned out to be somewhat of an arduous process, we live in a temporarily segregated household. But we're not sorry to have our crazy, blended family.

Back to work...perhaps the wisdom of these furrballs will rub off on me.

*This picture, by the way, is what we wish the cats and dog would do. We're still working on it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Whys Behind Our Actions

"He who has a why can endure any how." - Friedrich Nietzsche

These simple words reflect a deep understanding of human nature. We do seem to be undeterred many times by amazing obstacles in the pursuit of some goal, and we applaud the attempt in others. This tendency is also particularly apparent to me within the field of academia. I've heard it said that Ph.D. students are masochists, and sometimes we are, but in Nietzsche's view, we are simply enduring now for an end state that actually matters to us. In other words, we each must have our own personal why.

We often concentrate in our society on the how. How can I make money to support my family? How can I get my Ph.D. completed in enough time? How can I endure another family holiday without wanting to scream? Some people go so far to say that actually completing our goals is not most important, but going out an attempting to complete them is what matters. So, the emphasize is on the how. Go out and do what needs to be done so that you can hopefully reach some sort of desired end state. The focus is on action.

What we sometimes forget to remember is the why, which is important to question now and then. As my grandfather bluntly pointed out to me this past Thanksgiving, sometimes we don't understand the true reasons behind our labors. His point (minus the unsavory language, and his undiplomatic presentation style) was that once we can grasp the why, we then have the ability to more truly understand ourselves.

In retrospect, I agree. At the time, I was less agreeable to his suggestion. We often labor on for years (or lifetimes) after a goal, which we may not have ever wanted or do not want anymore. We know exactly how, but we would be hard pressed to tell you why. It's easier that way - inertia is a powerful force. Again, to refer to Nietzsche, "The person lives most beautifully who does not reflect upon existence." The trick is that knowing the why is a double-edged sword. Understanding gives you the tools to forge a better how, but along with it is the possibility for psychological pain. For many, ignorance is bliss. But some choose the inevitable growing pains that come with understanding, in the belief that once they reach the other side, they will actually have a greater appreciation for whatever they've deemed worthy enough to fight for.

In this holiday season, and on into New Year's, I will be focusing on trying to identify the why. In the past, I've often settled for the how, and that has brought heartache to me, and probably to any of the rest of you who have ever been frustrated to tears by your family when the how gets shattered by other people's agendas. I wish you good luck in figuring out your whys, and leave you with one last word from Nietzsche:

"A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us."

Sunday, December 3, 2006


"You can't worry if it's cold; you can't worry if it's hot; you only worry if you get sick. Because then if you don't get well, you die." -Joaquin Andujar

I am sick. I'm not going to die, but this is the 6th day of sickness, and I'm really ready for it to end.

Okay, enough whining for now. I'm going to go blow my nose...