Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Pretty Little Sussy for Me

Cute little clear crystal earnings by Ally
My late father always called any little surprise gift, a sussy.  I loved getting a sussy from him.  As I assume it is in most homes, my mother was the Chief Gift Giver so when dad went to the trouble to pick something out… well, it meant the world to this sentimental girl. To me, a sussy is something very unexpected and cherished and I love to give a sussy to someone who means a lot to me.  Oh, and I still love to get a sussy.

I got a sussy this week.  My sister's daughter- my niece- Ally, is a crafty little thing.  Where in the world she got that gene I will never know.  I have often joked that my sister and I got the wrong kids because my sister Michelle likes to craft about as much as I like to watch baseball- not so much.  Poor little Ally has to tread through the ever expanding world of craft supplies without so much as a tip from her parental unit.
Beautiful stretch bracelet by Ally
I'm here to tell you that in spite of this, she does pretty well.  She made Christmas gifts for the ladies of our family but they were inadvertently left at home so I had no idea what to expect.  I was
surprised to receive a package this week in which I found the beautiful pieces of jewelry pictured here.

 Because the jewelry was made by someone special to me, it means that much more.  It's a terrific bonus that she did a great job making them.  I get two beautiful pieces of jewelry to wear and enjoy AND I  add to my collection of handmade gifts.

Nothing is as special as giving and receiving handmade gifts.  I don't know if it is because I am getting older and sentimental or if it is simply because it is easier than ever to find handmade items, both locally and online.  Maybe it is nothing more than an organic response to the crappy, mass-market products that are everywhere these days.  Whatever the reason, it is just so important to me.

Let's face it, never before has it been so cheap to buy so much crap in this country.  Unfortunately, in 2011, very few mass-produced goods are "Made in America".  Most of the products we see on store shelves are manufactured overseas, many in China.  For the past 10 years or so, Chinese products have been sold super cheap in the US.  Why this happens is a complicated tangle of environmental, political and social reasons but the dumb-downed version is simple: Chinese workers were eager to leave lower-wage farm jobs for higher paying factory jobs.  These wages were far below US wages.  Chinese factories had extra capacity and were eager to attract foreign investments.  The Chinese government, also eager for foreign investment, ignored violations to the environment and labor.  American companies seized the moment and quickly moved manufacturing facilities to China, where they have been able to save tremendous amounts of money on wages, facilities, and raw materials while avoiding environmental and safety regulations they would find in America.  Like all good things, this too will most likely come to an end.  As China's economy expands, the advantages that kept prices low will diminish leading to an inevitable increase in prices but for now America is covered with tons and tons of cheap Chinese plastic crap.

A river in China from
As long as we continue to have a voracious appetite for cheap products most items will come from overseas and the old line "you get what you pay for" has never been more true.  Cheap products are made using cheap materials and cheap techniques so it is no wonder that it isn't long before these products find their way into the big heap o'trash in the sky.  Obviously inexpensive merchandise is not made to last and it should come as no surprise when it doesn't.  As ridiculous as it sounds, it is often cheaper to replace the product with a brand new one than it is to repair it or even to change the batteries.  That is just stupid and an environmental disaster.  Remember when we used to carefully wrap our Christmas light strings up and pack them away until next year because they were expensive.  We actually bought replacement bulbs when one burned out.  Seems charming doesn't it?  Now a string of lights rarely last more than a season or two before it has to be replaced because, though they claim to "stay lit" when one bulb burns out, the truth is- they don't.  I remember when icicle lights first hit the market they were $100 or more a string.  Now we all have them and they cost less than $10 a string.  In the blink of an eye prices fell and products became essentially disposal.

Factory in China
The amount of holiday or themed items available at national-chain stores is really astounding when you think about it.  I know it seems there has always been a Target, Kmart, and Walmart in every town but  in reality they only began breeding and multiplying in the last 10-20 years.  The mom-and-pop stores of yesteryear couldn't offer anywhere near the number of items that these big stores offer.  There was no way they could turn over merchandise every 1-2 months like Target, Walmart, and similar national stores.  This merchandise overload inevitably leads to big sales.  No mom-and-pop store could stay in business while offering 50%, 75%, 90% off sales after every holiday.  Target is my chain-of-choice and I admit, I absolutely love Target, so I am very aware that every summer they put out a tremendous amount of seasonal red, green, blue, and yellow merchandise.  Every year they offer buckets, coolers, table cloths, picnic baskets, lawn chairs, pitchers, towels, games, …… all coordinating and offered in 4 or 5 colors.  This is EVERY.SINGLE.SUMMER.  How many blue galvanized huge buckets with matching plastic plates and lawn darts does one family need?  I am expecting the 2011 galvanized buckets to hit the shelves at Target after the last straggling Valentine and Easter items are sold at 90% off.  

Handmade items come from the hands and the heart of the person who made them, whether that person is somebody who means the world to the recipient or it was made by the loving hands of a complete stranger.  I am lucky that I get terrific  handmade gifts from my niece; I hope somebody in your life gives you a handmade gift this year. 


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