Monthly Archives: December 2012

Doorbuster sales backfire

30% off! 50% off! Now 75 to 80% off! Makes me wonder how much value the stuff really has. If it was wilting lettuce, day-old bread or over ripening bananas, it would make sense. How much of the markups are to pay for the avalanche of ad mailings retailers consider necessary to stay competitive? Do I really need several pages of newsprint ads for every big box store in town every day? How much for overhead costs of maintaining mostly empty stores on non-sale days? Turns me off shopping is what it does. I half-heartedly clip coupons, store them in my car and let them expire. No worries, the discounts just get deeper. If I really need a few things (and no matter what the discounts, I’m to the point where there are certain things I will never need), I’ll just go in a get them, saving the time of reading the ads and planning my route, the money of driving all over town and buying extra things I notice on the way, and the stress of going out on big sale days. If I pay a little more for individual items, I consider it a simplicity tax, because over all I’m spending less in time and money. My favorite bargains are at the charity-run second-hand stores, anyway.

I looked at some research on retail markups, and here’s the list I found on

  • Prescription Meds:  200-5600% (revolting that these should be at the top)
  • Glasses:  800-1000% (Does that seem right? Is that for all the “free” adjustments later?)
  • Furniture:  200-400%
  • Shoes:  100-500%
  • Clothing: 100-350% (highest for jeans)
  • Cosmetics: 60-80%
  • Cell Phones: 8-10%
  • New cars:  8-10%
  • Groceries: 5-25% (higher for luxury items)

Here’s to a world where manufacturers make good, useful things without polluting and pay workers a fair wage, where retailers charge a consistent, reasonable price for minimally packaged goods advertised truthfully through the web or other low cost, low energy means, and where every community has sources of locally relevant products and skills. Some items could be rotated by season if folks don’t need them very often. Others could be made to order. Music, arts, and crafts could arise from local culture and express true personal, community, and regional soul, and the “entertainment industry” could die a natural death. Here’s to a world where communities would share the wisdom of history and resist a return to less resilient and more global economy.

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Culture & Society, Economics


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As if a severely unbalanced person looking for innocent victims couldn’t find another weapon anyway

I’m okay with gun control, and go ahead, folks, exploit what you can in the news to get it. Except others might advocate school staff having their own cache to defend their kids–have we heard that one yet? After all, school people have already gone through background checks. Either way, weapons are accessible enough. We just take offense at the concentration of violence in one place.

Lets’ work on the roots of the rage. Watch for, care for, connect with frustrated people who hold it all in. Join with  the many parents, teachers, friends, social workers, and preachers that are always working on those roots. But please don’t make it a government program and call it the War on Rage.


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Launching resilient kids

Launching resilient kids

Rolling along home in the big blue van, I put this question to my nine-year-old boy: “What do you think would happen if all electricity was gone, and not just for a few days, but for years at a time? What kind of knowledge and skills would be useful?” No internet, no refrigeration, no fans for the gas fireplace, no automobiles. He’d been resentful of my attempts to limit computer time, take the earbuds out, use his own creativity when he claimed to be “bored.” We agreed that making fire, hunting, cooking, fixing things, communicating, and helping people were essential. His answers were thoughtful, not forced. Just reasonable. Dad wouldn’t have the job he does, but would have to draw on other skills to help support the family. Food would be from the garden, heat from wood, clothes from what we made, and things would have to be made to last.

I’m asking his these questions to help him get at the truths he already knows, or can work out. I get into a groove–I’m on the right track, finally, I think. I’ve been frustrated about my kids’ transformation into modern consumers and loss of interest in manual work and creative pursuits. Now they have mobile devices and can hardly wait to become more dependent on them, it seems. I’ve been so uptight about it I’m unable to have a positive discussion with them about the need to unplug and work with one’s own resources. My oldest son, who used to wish there was no electricity, says I’m from the old days, and doesn’t mean it as a compliment. He ignores the finer points of my arguments (and the facts about how I live) and accuses me of being against all technology. Of course, with all this individuating going on, I don’t expect a “I see what you mean, Mom–you’re right as usual.” All I can do is keep up the static, so to speak.

In this relaxed moment with only J in the van with me, we start making connections. I always was better at questioning than preaching. It’s so natural I might even open up the discussion with my older ones this way. One at a time, I think. It’s the kind of questioning that aims to uncover essential truths, and the foundations of views and lifestyles. Sure, I want to bring them closer to what I see as truth, but also to help them see the reasonableness of it, if it is reasonable. And I’m the parent, with more wisdom, surely. I’ve lived more, read more, thought more. So I have more responsibility. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Or, he’ll eventually come back to it.

When I heard there was major flooding in the town near my parents home this fall, I didn’t worry about their electricity, water supply, or health. I knew they had stored water in the cistern, lots of vegetables and home preserves in the cellar, a wood stove and fuel, attentive and resourceful neighbors, and abundant personal reserves of other kinds. Same with Hurricane Katrina. They’re resilient. They showed me how to make a life from available ingredients, to be a producer, not just a consumer, to and pass on reusable materials, knowledge and ideas. To be suspicious of new fangled things that make us dependent on people and institutions that we may not always be able to depend on.

Will my kids be resilient when we as a society run out of cheap fuel and other limited resources? Will they be knowledgeable and skilled contributors to the local economy, and teach others what has been passed on to them? I hope I have enough time to do my part to equip them, or at least launch them in the right direction.


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What are you a part of?

What are you a part of?

Be successful. Get a job. Do something with your life. Make an impact. First day of the rest of your life. That’s what was said to the current executives of Monsanto when they were in high school, wasn’t it? And now look what they’ve done, are doing, without shame. That’s what was said to the kids who now have full time jobs as cogs in the junk food and junk entertainment industries, selling their time, paying off student loans, getting the resume filled out. Now that we’re older, we still remember what we stood for, but where has the time gone, and have we made any difference?

Young people, be idealistic. Keep your options open. Don’t be a slave to your pocketbook. Maybe just a bond servant until you get free. Search your heart, and search the market. The market, that market that wants to create and sell so much junk, to buy up the little guy, scrambling to take advantage of the climate of crisis and consumerism instead of fixing things. If you keep your head, somewhere you’ll find something to do that your heart can embrace and that you can be proud to be a part of, looking back in thirty years, and explaining to your children what it was you have done with your life. If it isn’t there yet, find others and make it happen together.

In a system, trying to change things from the inside out? I salute you and wish I could send you flowers and fruit baskets every day. Part of something that was good but has become institutionalized and taken on a life of its own–hold on, be subversive, don’t worry too much if you don’t see results. You wonder, what am I really a part of? Am I a cog, or an individual following my conscience? Thought that since the institution had a great mission statement, it was the place for you? But the methods, the policing, ahh! Keep paying attention, keep inspiring those that still listen, and have your exit strategy should there be too much pressure to betray your conscience, too much soul-grinding. But you might be the light there for someone else for a time. Maybe you can redeem your role, make it subservient to your best ideals, so that through the suffering there’s still hope, and even joy. Maybe you can tame the beast, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can at least give him indigestion.


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It’s been a long time since I saw my mail had been checked. The first time was in Togo in 1987 during a coup, the second was in Israel during the 2008 war in Gaza. Now I’m in my home town, and it happens. It’s an invitation card from my church to participate in the now international movement called Advent Conspiracy. The word “conspiracy” could be tagged as a possible security threat, to be sure. But that was on the inside of the card. Outside, just name of church, our name and address. Maybe a scanner read what was taped inside: “Advent Conspiracy: Worship fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love all.” A Threat? Unpatriotic? Countercultural, yes.

Worship fully. God, not country, God, not security, God, not economy, God, not culture. God, not self. God, not doctrine. God, not tradition.

Spend less. Definitely a threat to the American economy, as seen by the measurers of “economic growth.” Economic growth depends on continuous and increasing consumption. Which depends on production, but not production as in nature, as one stage in a cycle using recycled materials. We all learned about that in elementary school.  It goes like this:  production of energetic organic material by plants using free and essentially unlimited sun’s energy along with surface materials and atmospheric gases -> consumption of plant material by animals and the like, to obtain essential energy and nutrients for life processes -> decomposition of bodies and waste with the aid of organisms, releasing solid and gaseous materials and waste heat  -> production by plants using sun’s energy and these recycled materials…

Our economic system: Specialized extractors use refined fossil energy sources to obtain finite fossil energy stores -> Energy stores converted to refined energy sources and other materials, releasing waste heat and waste materials -> Refined energy sources transported to consumer-producers, using refined energy sources as fuel -> Specialized consumer-producers (manufacturers) use materials obtained through the use of specialized materials extractors (using refined energy sources) to assemble consumable products, using refined energy sources -> Products transported to markets, using refined energy sources -> Consumers “use” products, often  without obtaining energy or essential nutrients -> Used products discarded, or reused then discarded -> Wastes transported, sorted and stored, dumped or recycled, using refined energy sources -> ?

Give more: If people just give, how can other people make a living by selling goods and services? And how can recipients of gifts be motivated to work so as to be able to consume market goods? What about the decreased tax revenue due to charitable giving (possibly balanced by less need for government social programs)? If the food is not locked up and sold in installments, what will happen to the economy then?

Love all: Even people that don’t keep buying things to look good and keep up their homes to the standards set by fashion? People content with their simplicity?

We call it Advent Conspiracy for a reason. Con=against, spire=breath or wind. Conspiracy goes against the prevailing wind. Conspiracies are counter-cultural, in opposition to powerful forces which may be from within as well as without, and carried out by people working together against the wind. Worship fully. Spend less. Give more. Love more.


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Read aloud time: may we never outgrow it

Read aloud time: may we never outgrow it
reading aloud to children

Daddy read aloud time

I used to read aloud to my kids often, and they all have cherished memories of the books we have shared. But as they became more independent readers and I busier, read aloud times gradually fell by the wayside. Yet reading to my kids is one of my favorite activities, for the atmosphere it creates as the kids listen, work with their hands (on drawing, crafts, or quiet toys), and experience great literature and interesting nonfiction.The curriculum plan I use features a fairly large dose of read alouds, but I was slacking off and assigning these as individual reading, along with the other literature they were expected to read. But often, despite the high quality of the reading selections, my kids slide back into easy stuff and don’t get hooked by the more challenging material on the read-aloud list. So I’ve worked a read aloud time back into our day, and I am so glad.

Having my son and daughter settle down with some quiet hand work is crucial. Lately I’ve been having them draw portraits of historical figures from prints, color and label maps, and work on simple embroidery. Lego is okay too if they put it on a blanket and don’t paw through the parts too much. Meanwhile I read about American history (A History of US series by Joy Hakim) and The Landmark History of the American People by Daniel Boorstin, along with other shorter books that focus on important events and people). I am learning as much as my children, because I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, never having studied US history, and homeschooled my first two without bothering to cover it (we focused on ancient times). Thus I have no trouble conveying my real interest. Now and then I have them narrate back key parts, repeat and define important terms, and find places on the wall map. I don’t let them write, look at other books, talk or even whisper with each other, but they can get up and move about quietly to get a drink or something if they remain in earshot. Usually after a daily read aloud portion, they’ll ask me to keep going. When my voice is just about gone, we all take an active recess before getting back to other work. We are all used to the routine now, and it really suits us all in these cooler, darker months. Sometimes we pick it up willingly on weekends, which I can’t say of math or grammar.

I also remember times when my kids balked at having to sit down and listen. It usually was during play-outdoors weather, before we’d established hand work as a means of helping them calm down and focus, and when I had neglected to give any warnings (“Reading in ten minutes–everyone finish what you’re doing and bring something to do.”) or choices (“Do you want to hear a long adventure poem, or a bunch of short ones about nature?”). I might just say something like, “Bring your drawing stuff in the living room and I’ll just read the first chapter, and you decide whether you want to hear more.” I read in my most captivating manner, and rarely fail to hook them. Even on books they tried, and say they “hate.” If we don’t like a book, we talk about why, or learn to put up with weak aspects to benefit from the strengths of the piece. I sometimes have them draw scenes from stories.

We especially enjoy poetry read-alouds. My children were brought up on Sandra Boynton and the like, bouncing along to the rhythm on my knee. Later I had them choose poems to memorize, including Frost, Rosetti, and Kipling. We’ve enjoyed just about everything from Favorite Poems Old and New, the Poetry for Young People series, poems recited by Tolkien characters, and ballads such as “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Occasionally I’ll emerge from the bathroom with my old copy of Immortal Poems of the English Language and read what I’ve found to whomever will listen.

I must confess, I never liked “Language Arts” or English classes. I loved reading, but hated graded school readers with comprehension questions at the end, writing book reports, and reading from the approved list of Canadian literature. The only valuable English class assignment I remember was to memorize and recite passages from Shakespeare (some of which my youngest also picked up from Calvin and Hobbes a few years ago!). Everything I learned about reading, writing, poetry and related topics, I learned from my book-loving parents. They read every chance they could, and brought home piles of bought and library books for us. They are both writers, too. As for poetry, I’ll never forget the time my father and his brother got to reciting poems they’d memorized in school (in a small Newfoundland town in the 1950s). My uncle, a tall, imposing man who ran a hunting and fishing camp and guiding service, actually had tears in his eyes. I’d never seen anything like it.

So read the best stuff you can find, don’t over-analyze, let your listeners receive and respond  in their own way to what they hear. Entice them with treats, give them choices, help them focus, and off you go.


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