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Mike Creger: These words made in USA

Ms. Cringle and I made a pact this holiday season. No presents from China. She added another caveat: no chain stores either.

Easy, I said, for last year I purchased most of my gifts in Lake County.

Of course, the hard part is China. The pact was hatched as we recently flew to San Francisco. We realized a sort of dilemma while walking through Chinatown. Could we get something there and remain in the bounds of our promise?

Turns out, there's nothing much to get in Chinatown these days that you can't get from those cheap catalogs or at places like the gift shop at the border with Canada on Highway 61.

It was at that gift shop up north when some of our idealism about buying products outside of China formed. Sure, there are questions about companies moving out of the U.S. for cheap labor and the actual working conditions in those many factories. But what I couldn't get over is the visage of these workers making what can only be called "crap" for the American consumerism machine.

Do they ever wonder: Who buys this stuff? Here we were among all these hats, T-shirts, shot glasses, and oddities touting pride in Canada and the U.S., all made in China. The dichotomy was troubling.

In Chinatown, it was more of the same, although a bit more on the reverse because the product lines were sometimes bizarre for American eyes. These were items you could only imagine in trinket shops in Asia, all with Chinese writing on the packaging. We found ourselves asking somewhat surprised clerks the purpose of some of the items.

There were some big-eyed dolls at one shop that looked hand-crafted. They had no tags, no discernible marking as to their origin. I asked the clerk where they were made, assuming someone was in the back creating the odd little creatures. "In China," she said with the mock up-speech and eye roll of any teenager you know today. I felt a bit sheepish and inched my way out of the store. "Nice dress for your lady?" she clamored after me, holding up the padded red number. "No thanks."

So we ended up with nothing in Chinatown, our one obfuscating pass on the holiday shopping rules. Little Italy was another story, as Ms. Cringle snatched up a too-expensive but too-cute dress designed by someone in Chicago. It was my fault, I pointed it out.

Back in the cold arms of the North Shore, we find ourselves with lots of "no chain" options but the lasting struggle of "no China."

If we fail, we can always measure things by the dead hardwood branch we're using this year for a Christmas tree. We were snowed out of our usual Thanksgiving tree-cutting spot on the childhood farm.

My sister had the ultimate answer for me last year after she drew my name for gift-giving. She and her husband had been to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais earlier in the year and made these nice twig-framed tables. She gave me one and included a kit to make my own.

Nothing more "no chain" and "no China" than your own hands.

But where are those nails made?

Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at 834-2141 or