You Own a Part of This

by Karen

I missed a Friday post. I remembered it when I woke at 3AM Sunday morning, so at 5AM, still not sleeping, I decided to get up and look at some of my 28 partial drafts. I saw this one about listening to a radio report about the Deep Horizon oil spill. I thought it might be dated and ready to delete, but when I got into it, I decided to work with it. I’ve been working with it for a while now.

10 years ago I heard audio from a Louisiana based employee representative of BP. He was speaking to local fisherman. They opposed use of Corexit, the dispersant BP was using to break up the oil spill ( I did too, and I still do ). The fishermen were pointing out that Alaskan fisheries had not recovered from the use of the same dispersant following the Exxon Valdez spill in vastly smaller quantities 21 years earlier. The BP rep was stressing how important Corexit was to the short term management of the immediate crisis and pulled out a few words that had to have been pre-planned. He said “If you drive an automobile, you own a part of this spill.” It was powerfully delivered and very effective, as though the words had never been uttered before. And, his point is true, at least in some respects, but not fully true in the respect that he was going for.

True, without demand, the wells would not be out there pumping away in the gulf, or anywhere else. But, it’s also true that practical electric cars were on the scene in the 1880s, and that companies like Exxon Mobil pushed the use of fossil fuels to the point of promoting Climate Change Denial in the 1990s. The first calculations on increases in carbon dioxide causing increases in global surface temperature were back in the 1890s. Those calculations were made in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius. The relationship has been known for that long, and still some companies prefer not to acknowledge that human caused climate change is well accepted by the overwhelming majority of people who have enough information to form an opinion on the matter.

Better solutions for a thriving society don’t come from the same place in our hearts and minds that Climate Change Denial did.

Where would we be now if the same dollars and work-hours that poured into promoting Climate Change Denial had funded R&D and the diversification of petroleum and other companies into cleaner technology? You don’t have to give up jobs or market share when you diversify and provide products that are sustainable and wanted. You just get healthier consumers living in a cleaner world who can provide you a return on your investment in brand loyalty over a longer lifespan. We go to better places when we ask better questions, and “How do I control my customers?” has never been one of the better questions. We haven’t honestly needed to buy gas to power our drive for 136 years. The really, really big thing though- We don’t ever need to buy something that hurts us, or others, whether that’s an idea or a product. Think of where we could be if we were asking different questions. Where could we be if we thought about where we’re going before we got there?

It would be convenient to blame the problem on industry and feel no responsibility. We could lay it all at the feet of industries that mislead and misdirect. Customers aren’t in the company’s chain of command, we don’t know about the level of risk they take in providing the products we buy. What’s more, we don’t have any say, right? Not so fast. The part of that BP representative’s statement that gives it power is the part of demand that we customers do own. We own our choices. If we hadn’t started to make different choices with regard to oil, we wouldn’t have multiple sources like this one calling peak oil.

Every dollar we spend is an economic vote and we choose who gets to stay in business and who does not. We own our decisions. I’m not talking cancel culture here. It’s way too easy for cancel culture to involve a quick decision made on the whim of a heavily sponsored influencer with a trending micro-bit of information and a moment’s thought that’s disconnected from everything that makes it relevant, and we can end up rejecting whole things and people when we just need to fix parts and share knowledge. What I’m actually talking about is attentive or mindful consumption.

Research increasingly shows that people are willing, even eager to support businesses and make buying decisions, even pay more based on a broader, inclusive set of criteria. So, why don’t we do it more often?

Well, it’s not as easy as we’d like it to be is it? Life and choices are complicated, and humans are…human. Change is challenging. Between greenwashing, the amount of complication, and kinds of interconnectedness a single product can have, it starts to feel like it could take longer to choose your purchase than to use it. Figuring out who’s doing the better thing takes effort. It even takes effort to choose your criteria. Is it strictly environmental? Do you expect the company to pay workers a living wage? What if it takes the workers on the other side of the world sewing up your new shoes a year to earn a bicycle? And, what about access to healthcare? The guys doing the wrong thing are disguising themselves as righteous (and, not just on the environmental front). Transparency claimed is not always transparency given. People have to figure out not just what’s right, but also who’s telling the truth.

Meanwhile, disasters like Exxon Valdez fade from memory and the Deep Horizon spill happens somewhere else to someone else. It’s not completely a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) thing. We don’t have just oil spills to think about. It’s overwhelming when hurricanes are coming harder and faster than ever before. When those hurricanes along with the extraordinary flooding across the heartland spread hazardous waste in ways the average person doesn’t even know how to think about. The interconnected path of cause and effect as it travels through the web of life and business is not fully knowable, especially when life is coming at us so hard and fast right now. There are so many critical subjects competing for our mind space and dollars that even the people who care the most can’t always figure out which pearls to hang on to and which pebbles to throw out.

It shouldn’t surprise me that so many people miss connections. Connections are my thing, and I still miss them too. But, it does surprise me that people try to separate human costs from natural costs from economic costs, from social costs, from every other cost. I wonder that people who profess to be on the side of one of these can believe that they oppose the others, or think that they could be separable. All of these systems functioning in balance support us, and functioning outside of balance threaten us. We rely on a complete set of systems that fuel each other.  We pollute our own bodies when we pollute the the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. We are altering our life support system faster and more drastically than it can absorb and the effects are coming to a climax.

2020 hasn’t been a year of exceptionally bad luck on a global scale, it’s been the result of millions of little decisions made over millions of moments in time by the influencers and the influenced. Every bit of what has knocked us off our feet was predicted. Yes, every freaking bit, and it was ignored or pushed aside by enough people to allow it to happen in spite of the warnings. We own 2020. It is us. All. Of. Us. I can’t think of anyone who wants to hear that. It’s been a rough year. Nobody wants to be responsible for it, yet here we are. And, there we go. “I really don’t care” isn’t a viable option any more. We’ve used enough “don’t care” cards to get us here, and we’ve got to use enough “I do care” cards to get us there. It’s not always easy. It took me way too long to remember to take a water bottle, but when I do, I’m not responsible for single use plastics and I don’t have to overspend to hydrate. That alone won’t save us, but it’s a step. And, that all we have to do to win this. Start taking steps.

I have loved the Gulf of Mexico for all of my life. Digging my toes in the sand and watching the sun set there, or across the planet restores my soul. I’ve loved a lot of other places over the years, cloud forests and wetlands, rivers and islands. I want those places and the people in them to be the best, have the best, know the best they can. We can’t know everything. We won’t find every connection. We won’t detect every liar. Even the most earnest among us will make bad decisions. But, we do own 2020, and the only way out is through it. We can pick what we love most, we can pick something close, we can pick something reachable or something knowable and we can try to make it as good as we can. Think about choices, ask questions, share information and build a future. Fill out customer feedback. Let businesses know what you care about. Vote. Let the people you voted for know what’s important to you. Spend just a minute or three checking to see which of the companies you’re thinking of doing business with is dumping in someone’s backyard and which one took care of its employees as best it could through the pandemic. Maybe you can’t know which choice is best. Which choice is better? Do that. Repeat.

Hard Wood

I was cruising Craigslist one day thinking about the thick 1950s knotty pine paneling that a friend of mine ripped out of a flip several years back. I gasped when she told me she threw it away. I thought there might some other renovator out there who had the wherewithal to keep theirs out of the landfill. That’s when I found the Savvy Salvager in Avondale Estates. She was working with a builder who was about to tear down some mid century ranch houses and put up newer ones, connecting people like me with the resources we wanted to rescue/salvage. There was knotty pine AND there were hard wood floors. I had been thinking of installing bamboo floors in the new house to get a look similar to hardwoods without the cost. There is also the fast growth rate of bamboo, making it a quickly renewable resource. Re-use trumps quickly renewable resources though and there’s the lasting beauty of wood. If we ripped it out ourselves, actual vintage hardwood was also the least expensive option. We made an appointment and went down to see the house.

I was definitely willing to do the work to get the knotty pine, so Russ and I talked about the floors. The purchase price for access to the materials was attractive, but the success of our outcome was an unknown, so it was a risk. The closing on the house had become uncertain as well, so there was risk on top of risk. We do a lot of things, but we had never demoed something on this scale, or for re-use. Taking it out carefully so it is both pretty and functional was the newbie challenge.

I thought the floors would be a “Russ” job. I said that I would support him however I could, but that I realized it had to be his decision because he’d be doing the work. Russ took the leap of faith, but the job turned out to be bigger than both of us.

Working in Avondale Estates and with the Savvy Salvager was the fun part. I loved her job and would still like to find someone on my side of town to work with in the same way that she does in her area. There is a small neighborhood radio station “AM 1690 Voice of the Arts”. We bought a battery-operated radio because the power is always turned off in a demo house. We listened to 1690 exclusively and really got into our sense of place. It’s the only station I know that periodically plays a bird call (or a whale call). Travel is one of the great joys in life, and sometimes the best trips are not geographically distant.

Avondale Estates is also the home of Waffle House. Our favorite restaurant in town wasn’t Waffle House though. It was not a franchise, Palookaville, home of the world’s best Corn Dogs and adult only milkshakes. Before my first visit I didn’t even like the idea of a corn dog and I couldn’t imagine a milkshake with alcohol, but we knew we’d eat there often and having a reason to be nearby certainly didn’t dissuade us in our decision to move forward. It turned out to be the only place we ate, our exclusive after demo respite. They are famous for the dogs, but the Cobb Salad with Pine Street Market bacon was pretty sweet. The sandwiches are good too and there’s a thrift store on the other side of the parking lot that had some of the best potential I’ve found to replace some of my lost treasures, or to find replacement home goods that remind me of things lost and the people they once belonged to.

I had more trouble with the paneling than I expected. I had to call Russ in when I didn’t have the strength. It was the survival factor. Anyone can sling a sledge hard enough to break something, but it takes superior controlled strength to disassemble with a carpenter’s crowbar. Most of the paneling came out well, but a few pieces broke. I took the picture below when I came to the place where the bathroom medicine cabinet had been up against the paneling. Have you ever noticed the disposal slit for the old fashioned razors? Well here’s what happens.

When I finished the paneling, I became Russ’ helper. I started taking out nails. They were cut nails, big sturdy nails that look a lot like a horseshoe nail. I hammered them backwards and a few would fall out, but I had to grab most and pull with the claw or pliers. One person told me they used a saws all and left the heads in the boards, but I have the slow cooked mindset of someone who will put thousands of hours in a textile project. Sometimes I think I have a finer sensibility and sometimes I think I should value my time more like other people.

My job expanded. Russ, Avondale Estates, the project, the opportunity to thrift in a different direction on the way, my center of gravity was there. I’m not really sure how much help I was. My skill set and my physical strength were growing, but not nearly fast enough and it wasn’t cost free. I was working at the edge of my capacity, both physically and emotionally. There is no air conditioner in a house without power, no fan either, just stale abandoned house smell…at best. In the original scenario Russ was coming over alone after work most days, but it turned out that I went over while he was at work and we were there together after. It was my choice to expand my role, but the work was hard enough that I still felt like a failure. I did more and felt worse about it. Before it was all over, it morphed into Karen does whatever she feels like she can handle and Russ does all the other stuff. To the outsider it may have looked like I was in charge, but really what happened is that Russ let me do the parts I thought I could handle and then he made sure it all worked.

Our uncertainty about, and our commitment to the project intensified with every drop of sweat, every thick heavy cut nail. We still weren’t sure we would get the house we planned to put these boards in, or how many we needed if we did. The seller shut down access after due diligence. We expected a quick closing, so we hadn’t measured and assessed things the way we would have if we had known we were going to try to make decisions ahead of access. So, with all the unknowns and a need to be working toward something, we took another leap of faith and bit on the floors in a second demo house. The price was higher per square foot on this one though. The wood wasn’t quite as nice either and the demo date was more likely to be an issue. Our Savvy Salvager had been clear at the beginning that demo would not be held up if we didn’t finish, so the stress was on. The weather was warmer for this house and we couldn’t open the key door and windows that would have allowed for the best breeze. Russ and I each experienced a death in the family over this time period and moving forward was an act of unfocused determination, a half minded, single minded one foot in front of the other kind of march.

Diligence Due

Well, we’ve made it past due diligence and into the last stages of purchase on a house, but it sure was a coin toss for such an important and long awaited decision. I really appreciate fine workmanship. I respect time and old world craftsmanship, absent in the new standards construction and most other features of the house we’ve chosen. The positives are: a nice layout that’s good for short or long-term purposes, a good neighborhood, the right amount of space in mostly useful places and the right schools. It even has a beautiful (possibly solid mahogany) kitchen bar, but the house is covered in hard coat stucco that has cracks, messy old repairs and mismatched colors that show clearly, even in a low light photo.

There are decorator upgrades of personal taste, but widespread overdue maintenance indicating a total fail in the wise allocation of funds. With heavy pet allergens all the carpet will need to come out, and it won’t be fun for us as heavily committed DIYs. The house has potentially Money Pit qualities and it blew me away when due diligence exposed over 36K in unexpected expenses and repairs (those I didn’t allow for in the price), but the seller wouldn’t consider any price adjustment. I’ve had to consider the money I’d flush on 2 or more years renting to make myself move forward on this purchase.

And then there’s comparison to the home I lost. I like brick. It’s low maintenance (if it’s on all 4 sides) like mine was. That brick was straight and square and solid without any settling cracks. The old house had some irritating contractor short cuts. The original plumber had dropped the kitchen ceiling a foot and put the master bath vanity on a wall adjacent to the architect’s plan. I knew it didn’t belong there, and confirmed it when I stripped the wallpaper and saw the builder notes written on the wall underneath. The original plumber saved maybe $40 in copper pipe with these ugly modifications. I spent $5000.00 just getting a certified master plumber to restore the plumbing so I could then return the ceiling and vanity to the original plan. I despise these self centered short sighted short cuts, but the 1979 short cuts in that house were still less offensive than the newer short cuts that I’ll be fixing in this house.

As much as I want to be in a home that fits as many needs and wants as this new purchase, and to get on with normalizing life for my family, a feather could have changed my mind when the seller didn’t make any allowances for the problems exposed on inspection. None. Nada. Whether the seller already knew, or simply didn’t care, I remembered well why didn’t last in real estate.

I was offended, depressed and wrung out when I let the due diligence run out without the price adjustments that condition warranted. It may be the best decision I could make, given what I have to work with, but I rarely pay the wrong price for something and when I do I feel like I’ve been had. But, I was, I am, weary of the suspension of normal life and over ready to be getting on with things.

Friday night between midnight (when the due diligence ran out) and 3am or so when I finally made it to sleep, I was upset enough that I didn’t even want to sit across a closing table from the seller and I didn’t want to move our maple tree to the new yard. There’s a beautiful Tamukeyama weeping red maple that Russ planted in the old yard when we were dating. We’ve talked about moving it. He said it might take an entire weekend, given our equipment and making sure that it would live. It seems a lot of work to move a tree that’s been in the ground for 12 years, but I wanted the tree to move with us because Russ is the person who made me want to grow things again.

The part of this move that I’m struggling to get over is not that it unexpectedly became a seller’s market in my area just before I unexpectedly needed to buy. Life is a crap shoot and you take it as it comes. It’s not that I’m buying a fixer either. I wanted to restore something (if I can actually afford to restore this). I prefer to restore something old, solid and filled with grace. Not something that’s pretty new and only needs restoration because it’s been abused.

What’s bothering me is precisely that I’m tired of people getting away with having others clean up their mess. This seller bought a foreclosure at a fraction of market value, lived in it for over a decade (the decade that included the largest real estate meltdown in history), maintained it poorly and wanted sell for over 2.5 times the original purchase price. Neat trick if you can accomplish it right? Why shouldn’t anyone be happy about the same result?

But, consider this. If I am unable to make the purchase and repairs within the limits of a current market price, then the house isn’t worth what it costs me. If I pay more, I’m giving up future appreciation (that may or may not accrue). I’m giving my future to the seller, a seller who wants the big pay off regardless of having made decisions that don’t lead to that result, and regardless of who’s pocket it comes from. People who want others to pay their tab have always existed, but I think it is a disease, an epidemic drag on the economy and on our spirits that is reaching scarier heights with each passing day.

It’s the disease that killed my marriage. More importantly, it’s a disease that’s killing our country and I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here. From building contractors to big banking, taxes to TV, environmental waste to drinking water, NIMBY’s to Pork Barrel Politics, people are maximizing small amounts of personal gain at a heavy and sometimes extreme cost to others, the exact opposite of Spock’s Law, rather than “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”, the accepted value sometimes seems to be “The wants of the one justify what ever you can get away with”.

It really seems like big business, big politics, big government and their marketing/campaign/”media”/”news” departments have been honing in on and amplifying the lowest common denominator in humanity for long enough to contribute significantly to debasing our society. The evolutionary brain’s survival technique of attempting to minimize effort while maximizing gain was pretty important when the challenge was to get enough calories to last the winter. Granted, it’s still pretty important now that we are living much higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but it needs to be channeled and enlightened. It is hard to overcome our baser selves when there are so many signals aimed at getting us to buy on impulse and maximize the rush, borrowing from tomorrow. When tomorrow comes the dopamine is depleted and it’s harder to get satisfaction.

Business, politicians and other entities constantly appeal to self-interest, they’re tapped in to the brain’s reward system and they use competition, salaciousness and tribalism to inflate the response of baser instincts. That makes us short sighted and easy to manipulate when we need take a long view and act with independent, conscientious thought. We need to be evolving in a changed world on crowded globe. Most of us, especially in the United States aren’t trying simply to survive anymore. We can afford ethics and balance, but too many of us have been worrying about how to get the next fix, anything from the newest cell phone, shoes, 3D TV, junk food, Facebook likes, extreme vacation or actual chemical drugs.

I’ve had a week to let my feelings about my new house and this national shedding of responsibility settle. The bigger, chronic problem is more troubling to me than my own personal run in with the latest reminder of the sickness, or even the one before that. I’ve been busy, so it’s been mulling around in the background, thankfully. Thinking about my own personal response to it all.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work on how I feel about the closing. I’m going to commit to this house. I’m going to make it the best I can with the resources I have and while it’s mine it will be maintained properly. I’m going to ask Russ to take that whole weekend and move that tree, out of the back from my old yard and into the front of my new yard. I’m going to combat the disease in my own way, in my own little space. And, if the time comes when I sell this house, I’m going to do my best to make sure it is a value.

Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.

Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

Real World Dreaming in A Virtual World Game

by Karen

Whole Farm


This is one of two posts about my love-hate experience with Farmville.com. Here, I share how my Farmville design pays tribute to a co-op based farming and crafting educational center that I would like to build. The actual Farmville experience is somewhat tangential for this post. The Farmville context is here primarily because being otherwise engaged in distracting activities like playing a brainless game occupies the part of my mind that is in overdrive and gives me a little dreaming space. So, with no more delay, here is a little trip into the vision of one player.

Farmville is off the charts in “cute”, but it doesn’t translate well into the real world (or try). So, my imagineering includes things that are what they seem, but also things that are not so much real world features and what they mean to me is not apparent without the back story. For example: I have a green leprechaun garden gnome in each corner of the farm, a lighthearted acknowledgment to myself that I will need pots of gold for start-up cash. Some features represent key parts of my plan while others are just a bit of available whimsy.

I’ll share my co-op by beginning in the north at the top corner, continuing around the farm clockwise, and then finishing in the center. The general store and co-op in the southeast are the central theme of my vision and they contain the core features, so, if you are the “skip straight to desert” type, be sure to look there.

North

In the north corner there is a castle with three hot-air balloons. The balloons are placed closely together as they would be for an evening glow at a balloon festival. These balloons together with a castle remind me of Malcolm Forbes’s more famous pursuits. But, surprisingly, they are not among those things placed on my farm in whimsy. Renaissance Festivals and Hot-Air Balloon Festivals both present magnet for revenue and education with components that could be carried year ’round in activities as varied as costuming, crafting, cooking, sports, physics demonstrations, history lessons and creative writing inspiration. I have the background to pull off either type of festival successfully (preferably both and about 6 months apart) and to carry the themes through to bring the lessons and the business component. These events could realistically bring tourist dollars to the co-op area and also support to the educational portions of the co-op.


Moving East

Along the northeast perimeter of the farm there is a forest. I like to idealize this forest as a primary forest with pristine riparian zones and areas for recreation, education and conservation. If this type forest does not exist near my co-op location, we may instead visit Public Lands or commercial forests on field trips, in books or on websites where we can teach and learn about the differences between different types of private, public and commercial forests, what makes each type of forest important or unique and why they all need to exist. Often, even the people managing one of these types of forest knows little or nothing about the others. That understanding is, however, important to good management, communication, community planning, strong business interests and sustainability, even understanding the evening news.

The two schoolhouses beside the forest represent balance and two-way learning, educators as students and students as educators. Many non-profit organizations fail to help a community because they view a problem from the outside and preach solutions that worked in a different setting, culture or context, but they fail to adapt to the unique aspects of a particular situation or to listen to the people they are supposed to be helping. I have seen many surprising examples in the documentation of organizations who’s names you know. There have been improvements in recent years and many of the more complex issues in his type of work are now making it into news media, bringing about a more widespread familiarity with relevant complexities, but there is also a greater profusion of material that is churned out by people fed on opinion, sensationalism and fallacy. While better information is available, the water is murkier and in many way we must work even harder than ever to find the pearls and stay on target.

To handle these issues, this program will be about adaptation and two-way communication. We will look to see how other programs achieve success and where they have failed and if they hold a relevant lesson for us. There is a new age in these programs. Some organizations are applying business skills and careful analysis to finding the best ways to create benefits and independence rather than dependency. Finding the promise and the success will be difficult, but it is more achievable than ever before.

In the school as well as throughout the program, everything and everyone will multi-task. For example: The bicycles outside the schools are great for transportation or recreation. There are the more common modern bicycles as well as the old fashioned penny farthings that add extra interest and fun. When compared to each other, these bicycles can also be used to teach a lesson on gearing and mechanical advantage, or a history lesson on when and how the two different styles developed. The bicycles in this area fit into the plan in other ways. There could be rentals, cycling events to promote healthy outdoor activities, a program that repairs and redistributes donated bicycles. Perhaps I might even fulfill another dream through this program, a distance charity bike ride to Patch Adams’ Gesundheit Institute in West Virginia.


The stable is my “lemonade stand”. By that I mean that it represents an opportunity to make the best of things. I do not expect my co-op to actually have stables, but life is about unexpected opportunities and balancing focus with openness. The stable is here to remind me not to get too carried away in my vision to be able to see. In some ways this is the central point of my theme. There is a firm structure and a business plan that show up primarily in the co-op, but the stables really represent the mission statement. If life presents the co-op with stables and someway to manage them in a manner that benefits the program, there should be stables. If something else works, we need only to be able to see and say yes, to follow through an act on opportunity.

In the east corner there are barns. In Farmville the barns are used to store all of the farm loot that you accumulate through play. As an aside, Farmville can be seen as a “green” choice because it gives us a place to use that compulsive, seemingly evolutionary desire to collect stuff, trophies or status, to satisfy that need to keep up with the neighbors, without the accompanying accumulation of real world material goods.

The barn is another building that may or may not exist at my co-op. For now let’s say that one barn is for farm use and equipment, the second is multipurpose. In the fall there may be dances, hay rides or other traditional activities. The storage building beside the barns represents a drop off point for a Freecycle.org type program. Freecycle.org is dedicated to keeping useful things out of landfills. They use Yahoo!Groups to connect people with things that they don’t need to people who could use those things. The program is not designed for people who are selling, rather for those who are giving things away so that the purchase price is never what causes a thing to go in the landfill that might otherwise be used for a new purpose or by a new person. Sometimes those things are big ticket items, but more often they are small, sometimes even broken. Often garage sale left overs make it on, I’ve even seen people put something as small as coupons or as nice as expensive event tickets on Freecycle. There is a sense of paying it forward and sometimes givers even offer to mail paper items. With Freecycle people respond to emails and can meet in a central location, but usually pick things up at the owner’s home. In a small community with low population density a Freecycle group is not likely to already be in place. Since I’d be starting from scratch, I think a program of my own design with a central drop off point might create stronger benefits for this type of area in privacy and total miles driven by participants. I’ve recently heard of a tent in New York that is open 24 hours a day and based on the same principle. There is no need to provide security for the tent because everything is free and the tent is open 24 hours a day. Whether or not 24 hour access might be wise in the coop area would involve many considerations currently unknown.

Moving south, as we approach the general store (my representation of the co-op); there are a well, a pump, and a water barrel all together, here to acknowledge the importance of water. All of the water on Earth has been recycled through natural earth filters time and again. How we use water and how we conserve and care for it, whether or not we allow it to clean itself before reuse, whether or not we use water from aquifers faster than natural processes can refill it, all will dictate our future for many generations to come. Somewhere on my co-op there will be a large mural depicting a local river with a quote that closes one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through It “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

And now for my co-op!

The general store and the fruit, flower and farmer’s market stands all represent the co-op portion of my plan. It is the core of the project and will contain farmers market items as well as a craft items. My co-operative is partly modeled after CASEM, a co-op that I visited and studied in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and it will be partly modeled on others. I would like to offer a micro-loan program for participants similar to the model of Grameen Bank. The Rwanda Project is a specific example of how micro-loans are working in foreign countries. I see the micro-loans as a means for participants who could not otherwise purchase supplies for crafting to get a start with the hand up rather than hand out philosophy.

The co-op will offer programs for adults as well as children and we will have leaders who can follow as well as lead. It will have low level goals like teaching a skill or learning facts and it will have high level goals like improving the fundamental quality of life for those who participate.

My co-op will differ from CASEM in that it will provide facilities for crafting in addition to sales space. We will provide for a wide variety craft activities from needle and paper arts to pottery, candle making, design, painting, sewing, paper mache’ and possibly woodworking, weaving or doll making. If someone donates equipment of any kind we will see what we can do with it. One can earn the use of the facilities by working in the co-op for a certain number of hours, by paying, or with a combination of both, what ever fits their need. I see these facilities in rooms across the back of the building with space to market co-op goods in front and cafe’ space in between. Goods from the co-op will also be offered via the Internet, possibly through a vendor like Etsy, possibly through a self-run program, possibly both. Teaching or learning business and financial skills will be an important part of the program from balancing of personal budgets to actual cost-benefit analysis to scheduling and motivation. I plan to build synergy. Volunteers who teach or work may also benefit by attending classes to learn other skills or trades, or they may simply volunteer.

I see this as located in a rural area, supplementing the incomes of stay at home parents or others who would like to earn more. However, the co-op also needs to be located in a area where there is access to brick and mortar customers as well as the Internet customers, near an interstate between rest stops where travelers might wish to stop or near a vacation spot are potential locations. It could also be on an urban edge and help to preserve a family farm or critical habitat. It will have several features to attract customers and visitors. These may include a dog walk-rest station for travelers with pets; a store/eatery, possibly a bakery (people are much more likely to buy a cup of coffee or a trinket for a good cause than to donate, so, I will invite people to support the program in the most comfortable ways possible),

I see a HAM station for education, communication and emergency preparedness (I would love it if the HAM station were in a scale replica of a blue police box, maybe even bigger inside than out. The Dr Who allegory would be great and the real world history and culture that also apply are pretty cool too). We may have an Internet cafe’ with secure internet access, a borrowers bookcase, maybe a download spot for audio books. The co-op will offer things like frozen yogurt, Dole Whips (You ought not to have to go to the Magic Kingdom or Hawaii to get one of those!) or Great Harvest Bread, whatever franchises research indicates to best justified for the location. A co-op branded line of value added foods might offer the best long-term potential, canned in glass Mason jars with a recycling program. The basic goal would be to provide value added goods and services that will draw people to spend a few minutes and a few dollars to support the co-op, and in turn support the community. I want people to drop in for creature comforts, but to leave with something more, and to get that extra something that makes them want to linger, then come to back over and over.

The interior design of the building will use layers of visual interest that teach, amuse, and inspire, perhaps on a rotating basis. People who stop in for a cup of coffee or a light meal will notice something new on each visit. The building may be LEEDS certified construction or renovation, potentially built as a project with a local trade school, or with recent graduates. The emphasis will be on using local labor to feed the local economy. Decor will be part retro-historic, part shabby chic, part local flavor and it will come together to involve the community in as many ways as possible. For instance, I wouldn’t just hire local talent to paint a mural, but also get local talent to teach and create more local talent while producing the mural. Perhaps an artist-teacher could work with a 4-H group, a group of scouts or a group from a school or church teaching the children how to paint. A mural might be in a classroom that would also be available for meetings afterward so that the new artists could enjoy their own work with pride on a regular basis. I would like my co-op to provide a community gathering spot, both in the Internet cafe’ and for other things, perhaps a book club, game night, a Dave Ramsey program, trivia night or what ever else is positive and takes root. My building will have a courtyard with a green wall and a staircase leading to the green roof above.

Many of the building furnishings will come from auctions, thrift stores and donations. If there is an existing building like the silo behind the general store or the light house that could be re-purposed with style, it would be incorporated into the plan. Local memorabilia large and small will add character. The parking lot might use porous pavers laid out with a local historic map design and there will be shade trees for cooler summer parking. A location at a crossroads to other local attractions would be perfect. Adding to the number of local attractions will increase pull to the area. The co-op will offer books, collectibles and art that reflect what is unique about the location.

Next is another feature that bears explanation, the crop circle. Less whimsy than it appears, it is inspired by a woman I heard about on the radio. She plants her front yard with wheat every year. When it is ready she invites all of the neighborhood children to make bread, teaching all of the processes from start to finish. I envision this lesson done on a larger scale than most front yards in conjunction with local schools and the side lessons could be varied as, cooking, home economics, self-sufficiency, the moral of the Little Red Hen, soil conservation, geography, landscape planning or why wheat grows best in the breadbasket of the U.S., even a lesson on where different foods come from historically. Whatever fits the needs of students has potential. Putting a crop circle or a maze in the wheat field could add extra fun for the kids, extra motivation for visitors to stop and see what is happening, maybe lead to additional lessons, but the big picture is in the seeds to bread lesson.

South

Monteverde Inspiration


While the farming portion of the co-op will focus on vegetables, the dairy and pig farms pictured side by side represent concepts I learned in agro-ecology as illustrated by the Monteverde Cheese Factory and the pig farm to which it donates by-products (whey). This pig farm has a wonderful design that has several levels of recycling to maximize the utility of inputs and reduce waste products to near zero. It is the multiple layers of efficiency and waste free design that I wish to carry through to my farm rather than the pigs and cattle. I will carry inspired planning, economy, recycling and minimal waste through in every feature of my design, from farm produce to arts and crafts produced to the furnishings of the buildings.

Beside the dairy are the hen house and green houses. This area moves into tour, tell and touch areas that would be attractive to youth education programs. The south corner is a petting zoo. If I have a petting zoo, mine will not look like the traditional concept. It will be spread around in separate enclosures rather than located in a single spot and will have very traditional animals that you would have seen on farms fifty and a hundred years ago, heirloom or heritage animals. The idea will be to come closer to naturalized enclosures. There might be a variety of chicken breeds, perhaps chickens of the rainbow with a big rainbow worked into the enclosure and coop designs.

West

Moving west, we find bees in the middle of a field. Beekeeping can provide honey, beeswax and beeswax crafts for sale as well as an opportunity to teach the importance of pollination and pollinators, the variety of pollinators and the struggles that beekeepers and farmers alike are now facing. The lesson would carry through to also talk about dispersers.

Dinner on the Grounds

Continuing west there are two long tables. This is a place for a dinner as a celebration of local and organic foods, connecting people to each other and to their food sources. We may invite the folks from Out Standing in a Field to put on a first class shindig for a special occasion, or we could go the more traditional route with a more lowbrow feast, fantastic all the same. I remember a painting my mother did “Dinner on the Grounds” of the Sunday picnic on the country church grounds as she remembered it from her childhood. This outdoors celebration in connection with our roots and our sustenance is a old as the hills, but the reconnection sometimes requires an event, a happening, to bring people together and back to the hills. Geography of food is a possible lesson for the educational version of this event, history is another and arts still another. On the other hand, it could be a good occasion for an outdoor movie showing or a concert, again, whatever takes flight.

Continuing west we run into the wind farm. These are modern smart grid windmills that can power the co-op, charge cars, or sell power back to the grid. The cars can plug into the co-op building and serve as battery back-up when not in use. If wind is scarce and water is plentiful, the power source would be water. Either might have solar supplements. Pieces of smart grid technology are already in use in many markets, but a small sample of the most complete system possible at my co-op would show a fuller picture and help to spread the design. It would be nice if co-op and especially features like the pottery kilns and the kitchen were self sufficient in on-site wind, water or solar power.

The area from the west corner leading back up to the north represents a recreational area. The forest and the Japanese Zen garden are for walking, enjoying the outdoors, meditating, learning about other cultures or simply appreciating the day. They will be part of the draw for visitors. Aside from being among the most beautiful of gardens, a Japanese garden might provide a basis for foreign exchange students to participate in internships. The Japanese theme is dear to my heart, but there could be a different theme to suit what ever may come. I would attempt to treat the relationship between local and global much the same as the Tennessee Aquarium. While not the largest or showiest, I believe the Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best I have ever visited because it has excellent displays that are primarily local, but it also places what is local in a global context for a richer understanding and greater appreciation of setting.

Central Area

Four trails lead toward the center where we have what Farmville calls the Botanical Garden. It represents the primary greenhouse to me. I actually envision this as attached to the co-op building. I would like for it to have a selection of plants chosen for local knowledge, health, clean indoor air, environmental awareness and of course marketability. I see these plants as fitting into three broad groups. One group will be unique types of fruits. There are a some varieties of fruit where only one selection of that variety is common or known in the continental US, but others exist. Kiwi and papaya are examples. If I can show one or more uncommon varieties in the green house it will give visitors one more reason to stop in. It might also provide a basis for co-op branded products and possibly present the potential for a different type of student internship. A second group would be indigenous plants like orchids and other unexpected plant varieties that seem exotic to help people realize that there are amazing indigenous species in their own back yard so to speak, to learn the advantages of planting native species and to appreciate the biological heritage of the area. A third grouping of plants could be those that are known to improve indoor air quality. I hope that the greenhouse will be an area that is of significant enough interest to stand alone as an attraction.

Somewhere between the greenhouse and the social space I plan to have a green (plant) wall and perhaps the co-op will have a green roof.

Co-op Central


And, finally, dead center is the farmer, me. That’s where I pop in to my Farmville farm when I log on and my dog Red runs in to greet me. I am surrounded by benches and plants because my virtual world neighbors can fertilize my crops faster if I am “contained” by objects, otherwise they must wait for my farmer character to walk everywhere they click. I have contained myself with things that are pleasant and I have placed doves on an olive branch nearby. Inside with me there is an open space. Every time I get the chance, I adopt an ugly duckling to put it in the spot beside me. Over time the bird realizes that it is,in fact, a beautiful swan. A sign pops up to tell me that the bird is ready. I click the transform button and move it over to join the other swans in the lake and the spot opens up again. I hope to sit beside many ducklings and watch as they transform themselves and learn to appreciate who they are and teach me what they know. This is a great center for my farm. After all, transformation is the whole point, isn’t it?

I have left a lot of questions unanswered. Location for instance. Many people think romantically about non-profit work and want to go abroad to exotic locations. That is a good thing, but charity begins at home and you never need to look very far away for an opportunity to make a difference. The right mix of conditions could exist in many locations. I sometimes imagine it near where I grew up in south Alabama or other places in the southeast because these are areas I know well. My actual location could be anywhere the co-op is needed, supported and feasible.

How realistic is my dream? I know that it will work and it can produce the expected results. It needs someone like me with diverse talent, education who has energy and the potential to help people. In the minus column, it will require a lot of start up funding, a small amount by many standards, but a large amount to me. My toughest feat will be in competing for those start-up dollars with large non-profits and their even larger fund-raising machines in a stressed economy. The stressed economy makes the project both more important and harder to fund at the same time. According to a Guideposts white paper I just received, non-profits are down 25% while at the same time I see more and more emphasis on fund raising activities in articles, drives and job postings.

My strong points will be that this plan is unique in how it fits together. It should work to relieve economic and other social woes. It works with people not for them. It will become self-supporting so that charitable funding would decrease over time while the project would be permanent. These are all strong advantages. It would be extraordinary if the sun were to rise on a real world benefit, just as it sets on a virtual world distraction.

Who wants to help me with building a co-op using what ever works? If you don’t know the right person, why don’t you pass this along and see if any of your friends do?

Children Lead a Wildlife

by Karen

This week, March 15-21, is National Wildlife Week and a great time to get outside. From local and urban parks to National Wilderness Areas people seek nature to play, enjoy the view, blow off steam, meditate, pray, study or simply relax. That begins in childhood for some. In fact, some of our greatest scientists were inspired by childhood experiences outdoors, for example Richard Feynman and E. O Wilson.

It’s not just those who go on to careers in science who have important connections through childhood experiences outdoors. Outdoor recreation is connected to health and well being throughout life. I became most in tune with these connections in childhood when I chaperoned a group of middle school children on two school trips. They were pretty much the same group of children on both trips, one to Washington D. C. and the other to a nature retreat in the north Georgia mountains. The children were equally excited about both trips, but turned on for the outdoor experience in a way that I did not see in our nation’s capitol. That’s why I’m writing about the upcoming National Wildlife Week. After sharing the outdoors experience with these kids, I decided to become PTA Chairperson for the Energy and Environment Committee. In that position, I became familiar with some of the programs of the National Wildlife Federation. The programs they had then, for example, Certified Wildlife Habitats, are still going.

They also have new materials and new alliances, not just designed to foster an appreciation of wildlife and the joys of nature, but also to combat health problems like fighting childhood obesity. The NWF has partnered with the movie campaign for Where the Wild Things Are and their website features a character doll, Lanie, made by American Girls. Lanie “discovers the world in her own backyard” in her hometown of Boston. She’s the girl of the year and available for just one year.

It is good to have a special time when you call attention to things that are important, but those things are important always. So, if you can’t plan anything in time for outdoors week, or if you come by this post a week, or six months after outdoors week, the kids, the outdoors, the fun and the opportunities for learning will still be around and there are plenty of ways to get involved year ’round. Here are some suggestions from the NWF, but there is no reason to stop there. The first organization that pops into your head is most likely to be the one with which you have the strongest connection.

We plan to attend the Wakulla Wildlife Festival for our celebration. We’ll let you know how it goes!

Goodwill and the Economy Co-Evolve

by Karen

Thomasville, GA Television Display

Thomasville, GA Television Display

As a long-time supporter of Goodwill, both as a donor and as a customer, I was glad to see some of the savvy marketing and new technology that they are using. I was shopping Goodwill and other thrift stores long before Shabby Chic was chic. Back when the economy was growing and conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while also recycling unwanted household items for that same good cause. The deals were better for a shopper when I was not in the majority and the demand was lower, but they are still good now, and given the same deal at Goodwill and an overstock store, I will give the business to Goodwill or another non-profit when I can.

Russ and I have been on a big Goodwill kick lately. We have opened an account with Etsy for some of our current crafts and plan to expand with time. We have seen a few crafts that are “green” using recycled items from thrift stores to become something else. We are looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less.

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

It has been a blast so far. We sought out the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find there in the Secret City? It was a nice store and there was a much larger Science Fiction book section than I have ever seen at any other Goodwill Otherwise there was not too terribly much to distinguish it from other locations.

We did find interesting differences in other Tennessee towns. We found some with new stock as well as the regular recycled donations. I asked if new stock was becoming typical and the storekeeper told me that all Goodwill stores in her district carried new stock, that employees went on buying trips and that some merchandise had come from “the shopping network.” This was news to me, though I did not find anything at this location that moved me to the point of purchase. There are a lot of shifts taking place in charity and overstock outlets as the current economic conditions have a larger segment of the population looking for discounts, bargains and other forms of frugal spending options. These shifts have some charity organizations scrambling to replace good that were once donated as seconds, but now have a market in discount stores. At the same time, the price gap in second hand and second quality stores closes in to reflect the greater demand. New marketing techniques in Goodwill are well timed to fit in this shifting marketplace.

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

The best store set up that I have seen since this renewed purpose to my old passion has taken hold was in Thomasville, Georgia, a part of the Big Bend (Florida) district. Shelves were custom made here to fit above the clothing racks so that while shopping for clothing, household items and nick knacks were right there calling for attention. In electronics, the televisions sets were running just as they would be in a retail outlet allowing comparison. The aisles all had end-caps with merchandise, just like a regular retail outlet. The video, music and other media had shelves custom fit to their size so that the display was easier to process visually and took less space than it would otherwise. I bought a white ceramic owl container because it reminded me a little bit of Woodsy Owl. When I went to the checkout and complimented the college student clerk on the set up as the best lay out I had ever seen at a Goodwill (or any other thrift store) he was really psyched. He spoke enthusiastically about the manager responsible for the set up. Apparently he puts these features in all of his Big Bend locations. The part I couldn’t tell just by looking is that this manager keeps track of what is selling and makes sure that there is a proportionate amount of display space dedicated to those items. I was already impressed before the clerk talking!

After returning home, I found some other interesting Goodwill news. I saw an internet link to some items that had been donated by the newest owner of a cabin that had once belonged to June and Johnny Cash. The claim to fame caught my attention, but it was also clear that there was no claim that the items had been owned by the Cash family. I followed the link until I saw a site with a set up that looked very much like ebay. There were categorized items with photographs. I did not know that I could shop at Goodwill on the internet! Fantastic!

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke is to soft drinks. That is, people often use those brand names as generic, even when they mean to refer to other brands. At seven years into their second century, they seem to be looking forward very well, maximizing their market niche and continuing to do good works. In an ever changing marketplace this is no small task. As fads come and go some things are worth keeping. I hope that after Shabby Chic and “Green” have peaked there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop at economical places where they can recycle while at the same time support a worthy cause. It just makes good sense to support institutions that meet multiple goals and needs the way that Goodwill and other thrift stores do… and when we figure out that amazing new art form, you’ll be sure to find out about it right here!

Sweet SweetWater

by Karen

How many times can you say that you are a fan of a company when you don’t even use the product? I think SweetWater Brewery is great. I even like their motto “Don’t float the mainstream”. It is not about being different for the sake of difference, it just always seemed to turn out that way for me. But, it is not the motto that makes me a fan either.

I had seen SweetWater around in the grocery store and knew that it was a home town microbrewery, but hadn’t payed a lot of attention. Then one day we were at what was then our Tuesday night ritual. Trivia at Mellow Mushroom. SweetWater had a promotion selling paper fish to support the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper. We bought fish and participated in the contest. We won tickets to a brewery tour and party that had the potential to win us a trip to Montana. Thinking about Montana makes me all dreamy, “A River Runs Through It” is one of my favorite Book/Movies. I cross-stitched the closing quote from the book for my father. I love the setting too. I’ve been to Montana for a short visit. Occasionally I apply for ranger or other conservation jobs out there, and would jump at any chance to spend more time there. Russ hasn’t been and so a trip would be a new experience for him, and I just know that he would fall in love too. I’ve bee to a lot of brewery tours, especially for someone who doesn’t drink beer, but the cause was great and the prize one of the best we could think of, so we took our tickets and went to the tour.

The brewery tour was fun, and while I do not drink more than the smallest sample, I have many friends who both love it and consider themselves great connoisseurs. Russ’ favorites are the Blue and the seasonal, Festive Ale. The tour guides are the most laid back I’ve ever seen. I’d like to work for this company, but all the employees share one thing that I lack, an intense love of beer and I’m sure their product is better for it. I drink the occasional Shanty to be social when I am somewhere where people know what that is (lemonade and beer), but that is about it. The party was fun too. The Stonyfield Bus was there promoting the National Outdoor Leadership School and giving out yogurt samples. The River Keeper was presented with a check and the fact that we did not win a trip to Montana was the only thing approaching a downer for the evening.

Strangely, I keep going back. They have music at some brewery tours. Once there were these guys with electric guitars playing beach and surfer music. I was in heaven. I say that I’m there as a designated driver and I do drive, but I’m really just a fan. I didn’t go to the brewery this year, but there is an event I’m considering. They are hosting a clean up October 24th in SweetWater Creek State Park. The clean up will help with storm damage and other things. The park is one of my favorites and I would like to go, but it conflicts with something else. I’m not sure if I will make it, but if it fits in your schedule, I highly recommend it. SweetWater is serious about its beer and serious about its causes.

Compounding Benefits in all Walks of Life

by Karen

I read a book on Human Resources recently. It posed the question of whether of not there would be a workforce shortage in the coming years. In fact, more than one book posed the question. In light of the current unemployment rate, automation, the increasing life span and the accompanying need and/or desire to work later in life, the question was a surprise. I’ll even say it, it seemed almost silly in the current atmosphere, but the book did address the issue of a workforce that would work later in life, a “longer living workspan”. The author considered the availability of older workers to fill this expected gap in available employees to be overestimated and used numbers from the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) for Healthy Life Expectancy (HALE) to support the argument, saying that though the United States had a long lifespan, it had the lowest workspan in developed countries. While we here in the United States are expected to live longer than people in many countries, we are not expected to spend as much of that time healthy enough to work. There is a gap. As an American I have an interest in the gap and I do not like the expectations at all.

This book was using 2001 figures and I wondered if there were more recent numbers. I went to the WHO database website. In fact, there are numbers updated in 2003. This page has a convenient filter on the side so that you can isolate only the countries of interest rather than page through all 191 internationally recognized countries. Not knowing exactly which countries this researcher chose as “developed”, I picked the G-7 nations of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States According to the 2003 data the United States has improved the healthy life expectancy a bit, however, we still lag behind all of the other G-7 countries in healthy or working life expectancies and Japan remained on top, improving by a much larger proportion. The HALE expectancy for someone in the US born in 2003 is 71 and the same number for someone in Japan is 78. Let’s put the workforce shortage question aside for a moment and focus on something that I find enormously disturbing. Weather or not I am fortunate enough to be able to retire when I wish, I still want to be healthy enough to work because healthy enough to work is also healthy enough to play.

I have been to Japan twice and I love it. What ever they are doing I am likely willing to adopt. So, what is different in Japan and how can I get 7 more years of healthy life expectancy? Stress is known the “silent killer”, but that would not be the difference because they have equal if not greater levels of stress when compared to us.

One thing they do have that we do not is widespread public transportation. What difference does that make you ask? In Japan they use the public transportation and that means that they walk. People walk from the train station to home, to the market etc. They also bicycle a lot. In some places there are bicycle garages. Some are even quite large and resemble American parking decks in many ways.

Is their solution to commuting the answer to my health question? It could be. There are countless articles and studies from reputable, unbiased organizations showing the benefits of walking. Here is what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has to say on the health benefits of walking, or other “moderate intensity aerobic exercise”. The minimum level of recommended exercise is not optional for them, it is built in to every day.

That’s not all though, there are compounding effects when using public transportation. When you take Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit (MARTA) you change your carbon footprint and help to increase the number of summer days when Kennesaw Mountain is visible from Stone Mountain and vice versa. You decrease the number of days when ground level ozone is above healthy levels and reduce the number of SMOG alerts. This also helps us to keep our federal funding for road projects, so public transportation even benefits motorists (in more ways than one).

Change is scary though and we Americans love our cars. I have had more than one friend who didn’t like public transportation and didn’t want it to be funded or built. One couldn’t even really articulate why, she just liked her Suburban and didn’t want to consider anything else for anyone else. I have argued that one doesn’t need to use public transportation to support it or benefit from it. If drivers could support my ability to have public transportation, I wouldn’t be on the road competing for space in and we would both spend less time commuting, and have an over all lower tax burden per capita. Sometimes working through a change in attitudes is worth the work.

So, if you are open to a committed relationship with public transportation what would that be like? It is something I can only dream about. I chose my current home for reasons that at the time were more pressing than access to MARTA. That meant moving into a public transportation black hole, at least as far as commuting into Atlanta is concerned. However, I know people (outside NYC) that do not own, and never have owned a car. One of my grandmother’s never learned to drive. I really thought long and hard about Granny’s decision. It would be easy to see it as a weakness, a disability. My grandmother was born before 1919. In other words she was born into a world that did not consider a woman eligible to vote by reason of gender. She wasn’t weak though. She was really quite independent. In her home town there was a single taxi. She had to plan because there was only the one. If someone was using it, she was out of luck. But she did plan. She went where she wanted to go and had her groceries delivered (from two blocks away).

Pamela and her walking shoes

Pamela and her walking shoes

I know someone much younger though, Pamela, who has a committed relationship with public transportation. A friend and former co-worker who is also quite independent, she never chose to learn to drive either. I don’t know if I could be that committed, especially in a country with the limited options we have here in the US. I would need at least one car for the household. Occasionally I just need to get out of the city. Ironically, I need my car to get away from all the cars! But, Pamela doesn’t feel limited any more than my grandmother did. She does what she wants to do, and I’ll admit that there are times when I’m fascinated and a little jealous of her decision. She has no auto expenses. I love the sound of it, No auto expenses! Do you know what that means?

The average person (not the high end person) spends a little over $600 a month on auto expenses once insurance, fuel and maintenance are considered. Many companies subsidize public transportation for their employees, but let’s look at the numbers for someone who doesn’t work for one of those companies. Let’s take that over six hundred number down to $500 so that it allows some money for both local and occasional distance travel. What happens when your budget gets a monthly $500 shot in the arm? Let’s say that you were able to save that money and get the proverbial average of 8% return on it. Over a 40 year work life that comes to $1,757,147. Yes, better than 1.7 million dollars. I could give up my car and my lottery habit for that kind of money! Yes, a change could do me good.

So to recap, if you have the option and become totally committed to public transportation, you can feel better, reduce health risks, increase healthy lifespan, reduce carbon and other emissions, breathe easier and when it is all done have a big pile of money! It is time for a change isn’t it?

I used the savings calculator here if you would like to check your own figures and see what could happen in your own situation.