Adjustment 101

Okay, I’ve got to confess to someone and since I don’t go to church, You’re It.

I failed miserably this week in practicing what I preach….

Here goes:

I’m at my local store that yes, does get in some of it’s merchandise via truck, but also carries eggs (duck and chicken) from local producers, the gluten-free baked goodies of a local gal, etc., etc.   The owner, who knows me and my world views, asks me, “Hey!  Have you tried some of the goat cheese yet?”

Seems they now carry goat cheese made by a family down in Canon City.   Not true local (like I can walk there) but still in my neck of the woods, a fellow citizen who believes in the things I do, a fellow Coloradoan that is making a living providing the useful (food.)

“Ummm….No…..”

I sort of stammer around, and I’ll tell you why.

When I was growing up, we had goats.  I cared for and milked them.  The milk was good.   I was too young and Mom wasn’t too interested in making cheese – but I remember how good the milk tasted.

Over the past 3 years, the goat’s milk I have tried via purchasing raw milk shares has been…well….it’s been “goaty” – – I can’t really describe it, but it doesn’t taste like I remember it Should taste.

So I’ve become wary…

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I’m somewhat ashamed.    Here I tout “Buy Local!  Support your Local Producers!”  and I’m unwilling to try a local, product made by a family farm, because I’m afraid my taste buds won’t be satisfied?   It would have to be pretty durn rank before I could truly justify purchasing  the raw milk cheddar produced in Wisconsin and shipped to the local store before this goat’s cheese.

(All based on what I state my intent, ideals and goals are…..)

So this coming week, I’m going down and buying the local goat cheese.   And I’m going to give it a really good try, because you see, I love cheese.   And it’s my job to make sure those who are close to me and know how to make it,  stay in business, long term.    No, it may not be just exactly what I want, but if  I’m going to walk the talk, I need to learn to love goat cheese, for now.

And if they’re successful, who knows?  Maybe they’ll start making cow cheese, or perhaps, there will be such a demand for local, artisan cheeses, our local appetites will be the inspiration to an even more local-to-us cheese maker opening up shop.

In short, I’m putting my short-term taste-bud gratification aside for investing in what I feel has to happen for us to see a return to health, wealth and happiness in our communities.

So sorry I forgot for a moment that’s what I committed to….

Thanks for hearing my confession.  I feel loads better now….

Spend Your Way out of Debt…

WTF?!?  Really?

Today’s post title came about via a documentary series entitled, “Turning Points of the 20th Century.”

Apparently, the United States was the last  developed country to go to gold standard.   1900 or 1903, if my memory serves.    Supposedly, this ratification stabilized our economy and allowed us to join the world market made up of all the other countries who had already realized the benefits of tying the symbols of wealth (currency) to something of value (gold).

Unfortunately, President FDR had to take us off the gold standard a couple of decades later.   Why?  Well, according to this documentary, it was necessary because,

“He needed to spend the country out of debt.”

Amazing.   I thought the way to reduce debt was to quit spending more than you had in abundance.   Apparently, that’s not so.

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This tidbit came to my attention 2 days ago.   This morning,  Ms. Capricorn Bookkeeper informed me that some organization is forecasting that by the end 2011, a loaf of bread will cost $20.45.

This concerns her.    Anyone who does the shopping of food, cleaning supplies, etc., for any household knows prices for “essentials” have been steadily rising these past months.    Overall, I’ve seen a $2- $4 increase in many items since last February.    Fortunately, the number of things I purchase for my household at traditional stores is only about 1/4 of my food/cleaning/personal care  budget – 3/4 of my budget goes directly to the producer, and quite frankly, I’m pretty pleased with their prices.    Yes, I don’t always get what I want, right when I want it.   Yes, I need to plan ahead and make do sometimes.   And sometimes, the supplier I count on to purchase (insert item) from once a year, in season, has gone under since my last yearly purchase.   Sigh….

But overall, the bulk of what I spend my money on has not increased that much in price since last year.  Thank goodness!

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I did mention to my friend that the battle cry for recessions, panics, wall street and mortgage industry collapses has always been, “Spend, spend, spend – once consumer spending and confidence returns, everything will level out.”

So my question is,

“Are we really headed towards things being so bad that bread will be twenty bucks a loaf?  Or is this a clever fear-based mass marketing campaign to get people to rush out and spend their money stocking up on food?”

See, I do sometimes read mainstream media – and the big stories for months have been, “People cutting back on spending – If consumer confidence does not rise, our recession will get worse”.

No matter what you’re spending your dollars on at traditional stores, you’re still spending into the system that depends on your consumption and confidence in order to exist.

(Sort of reminds me of the fortunes poured into the black hole known as the “Stock Market” of 1929 – – pour in enough money, folks, and we can save it!!!)

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Does anyone else see the gross (il)logic of “Spend your way out of debt”?    Are we really willing to continue to buy into, support and try to salvage a system that can only survive using this kind of logic?

Am I just a cynical ole fart that doesn’t have a PhD in Economics, so am simply too dumb and unsophisticated to grasp the real truth?

I’m pretty sure any system that is so complex, the average person cannot grasp or understand it, has probably been made so to hide the simple truth:

It’s not sustainable, It doesn’t work for all or long term and it will, sooner or later, collapse.

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I’m not really an Armageddon/2012 true believer – I really do have faith in human ingenuity, compassion and creativity.  And if everything goes you-know-where in a handbasket, well, then, guess I’ll find out which berries are poisonous in my neck of the woods….

I just get frustrated because history tells me the you-know-what has to hit the fan big time and over a wide geographical area,  before we band together,  put our individual desires for fame and fortune aside and instead focus on the well-being of both ourselves AND our neighbors.

When if we had banded together before and put our time, energy and resources (in other words, our wealth) into what really mattered, the fan wouldn’t have been struck in the first place…

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So, shall we wait until we hit rock bottom before we say, “Hmmm….this ain’t working…..” or are we willing to make some changes now?   Are we willing to change our priorities on what we buy and who we buy it from?   Are we, as consumers, willing to spend our way back to true wealth and abundance by taking what we do have to spend or trade and see just how much of our daily consumption needs we can get from those in our own communities?   Are we willing to invest in ourselves and our neighbors, rather than a far away company that may or may not be providing useful things that have true long term value?

Can we quit ‘making money’ and start generating true wealth and abundance?    Can we insist our symbols of wealth (currency) be actually tied to something of value (wheat, beef, carrots, sunshine, rain, etc., etc.) instead of seeing money as a commodity in and of itself?

Money is paper, folks.  You don’t control how much of it is printed, you don’t control what value it has and you often don’t control, really control, how much of it you can get.

You Do Have control over your own ingenuity and your ability to put your energy into things that sustain life – whether brain power or brawn or a combination thereof – That is what your real resources are.   And you may not think they are valued or worth much “money” today – but I’m telling you, band together with those in your neighborhood who are feeling undervalued by the system too.   Find out who grows food, who aids the body in healing, who knows how to go to the dump and find the parts to make a wind generator… or solar cooker…  They are out there And they are looking for you just as much as you are seeking them.

I say lets spend our way out of debt  – albeit not in the traditional fashion

Let’s invest in ourselves by investing the things we do have control over, our local renewable resources, our creativity and our effort.

I’ll say it again…strength in numbers.

Destination…?

There have been times during my journey when I believe hearing the word “enlighten” or any of its’ various forms, just one more time, shall make me scream.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that “Enlightenment” now sells nearly as many goods and services (or perhaps more) as sex does.

That said, I will share with you Matthew Taylor’s 21st Century Enlightenment, anyways!

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Quick and easy, Mr. Taylor puts forth easy-to-understand concepts that shift our perspectives, open our hearts and minds to a new vision of where we can go and asks, “What, exactly, Is Progress?”

Some of my favorite ideas from his speech:

  • Learning to have relationships with our reactions, rather than be captive of them.   Being willing to move away from our tendency to make “Right” or “True” that which is familiar and “Wrong” or “False” that which is merely strange.
  • Modern Society is based on Three Logics –
    • Scientific and Technological Progress – If something can be designed and developed, it should be.
    • Market Logic – If something can be sold, it ought to be.
    • Bureaucracy Logic – The Rules come before and above the Ends
    • Devoid of Ethical Reasoning, these Logics are limited by their indifference to substantive concern for the collective good.
  • We should acknowledge the healthy activity of Public Disagreement and move away from the unhealthy activity of Public Disparagement.

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But what really caught my little database building, love of logical thinking mind, was the following:

“Rationality can tell us best how to get from A to Z, but without Ethical Reasoning, we cannot discuss where Z should be.    What we aim for can be as Important to our Well-Being as what we achieve.”

In closing, he quotes anthropologist, Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Way to go Mr. Taylor!   I’m with you!

See Mr. Taylor’s Full Lecture

Would Baboons Like You?

Thursday nights are “Tamrah’s Pick” of what to do after dinner.    I really look forward to my nights, because its the only time the male personages in my house will sit through a chick-flick or documentary…

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Last night, we watched National Geographic’s “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” (2008).   Not as much of a downer as you might think.  Yes, they cover what chronic stress does to your body.   And they highlight the main cause of stress in populations.

But they also tell you what fixes and repairs the damage done.

Though they covered many studies, much of the program focused on the work of  Robert Sapolsky and Sir Michael Morat.

Want to guess who the test subjects of their studies were?

Baboons and British Civil Servants.

Hmmm…..

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Baboons first – Mr. Sapolsky has spent 30+ years studying baboon populations in Kenya.   Here’s the highlights:

  • Baboons spend approximately 3 hours a day foraging/eating.
  • The other 9 hours, they fill with picking on each other (I suspect because they don’t have Xboxes, TV or an Iphone to keep them entertained.)
  • Baboon society is of strict hierarchy – Alpha males pick on subordinates (usually females and non-alpha males), who in turn kick, chase, taunt those below them (teenagers and children)
  • Thousands of blood tests over the years have shown – If you’re near the top – Low Stress and better health.    Bottom?   Oober Stress and attendant stress-related health disorders

The baboons all eat the same diet.   They all have the same health care plan.   To date, none of the baboons have been observed drinking beer, smoking cigs, driving a classy car or showing off their designer jeans to those in the clan who can’t afford them.

(The levels of chronic stress in the “low-class” baboon population tells me they probably would smoke and drink, if only they had access to such things…And I bet the alpha-males would just love a red sports car…)

Those at the lower rungs of the social scale exhibit many chronic ailments that in the human world are associated with Poverty, Malnutrition, etc., etc.

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While Mr. Sapolsky is learning how aggressive, underhanded and backstabbing baboons are, Sir Marmot is half a world away wondering if the strict hierarchy of the British Civil Service produces the same kind of health problems as observed in the baboons.

The answer is Yes.

  • The lower down the hierarchy, the less autonomy and control, the higher the stress and the bigger number of sick days.
  • The higher up the subject was, more job satisfaction, lower stress and better health

Although wages were not the same, all civil servants have access to the same healthcare.   They all work in the same physical environment.   But those at the bottom suffered from more health problems than those at the top, which, in turn, kept them at the bottom (apparently, poor job performance does not result in promotion at Whitehall…)

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What’s the good news?   The most fascinating portion of the program was the following:

A few years back, one observed colony of baboons took to dining at a local dump place.   Turns out, some of the dumped meat was contaminated with tuberculosis.    A large portion of the group died.

Want to guess which ones didn’t make it?

Yup.  The aggressive alpha males.  They all died.   The females who were left (who previously preferred to spend their days grooming and engaging in positive social interaction, which by the way has been scientifically proven to repair  vital parts of your working parts and boost your immune system) comprised nearly two-thirds of the remaining population.

The surviving males were, as Mr. Sapolsky joked,

“In scientific terms…they were the ‘good guys’.”

He was amazed to note that over the next 10 years, this clan not only survived, it thrived.

In the baboon world, if you’re male, then part of becoming an adult means hitting the road and finding another group to join.   Seems aggressive baboons who encountered this clan had a serious adjustment phase (usually about 6 months.)

Coming into this clan with aggression, taunting, kicking and in general, exhibiting “good” alpha male qualities did not result in the usual rewards.

The program didn’t say so, but I suspect the new males spent the first 5 months or so yelling,

“But this is how it’s done.   It’s always been this way!  Survival of the fittest!  You touchy-feelies need to get with the program!”

The clan liked their new way of doing things.  They knew it worked.   Daily life was so much better.   Their reply?

“Either be nice and participate in mutual grooming and bonding activities, or hit the road, Jack.”

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I’ve pondered for many years why we humans seem bent on having hierarchies/groups (and the freedom to cause misery for those below us or not of part of “our crowd”)

– seems like we don’t know how to organize ourselves any other way.

No matter how much we hate being at the bottom, or left out,  once we have achieved a higher level, or acceptance into a community, our mindset has changed:

“Hey, I had to work my way up – I paid my dues.  Now I can enjoy my success.   If those whiners at the bottom would just apply themselves…”

Okay – but there’s one group of baboons that won’t have us, unless we change our perspective….

The Morgan Docterman Free Spirit Award

For the past three years, I have attended the Woodland Park High School Awards Assembly each May.

In 2008, I attended because my son, Morgan, was a senior.

In 2009 and 2010, I attended because I was awarding his memorial scholarship to a graduating senior.

You see, Morgan died from bacterial meningitis 10 days after he graduated.   He never went to college.

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Morgan spent 5 years telling me he didn’t care about his grades, because he didn’t want to go to college.   I wasn’t worried one whit about his intelligence, productivity or ability to contribute to society.  But I did know his view and mine did not fit in with the culture we inhabited.   I figured it was my job to make sure his current choices didn’t ruin his future opportunities – in short, I told him to try to find a way to work within the system even as he yearned to change it.

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Now, each year, I sit for an hour or so, listening to what our country’s future leaders are told is important and what they are rewarded for.

I hear inspirational speeches from military representatives, knowing that those who join may not live long enough to take advantage of their earned educational benefits.

I listen to who did well at the Stock Market game – (I consider playing the Stock Market akin to playing penny slots, just more expensive, with less honesty and entertainment value…)

And then it’s my turn at the podium.

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In the aftermath of higher education, making money and serving your community speeches, I get up and tell everyone who is willing to listen that I don’t care what your grade point average is.

I do care what your passions and talents are.

I don’t care if you spend the award money on tuition, books or a van to cart your drum set to the next gig in.

I do care if you have a dream that needs funds and there are no scholarships available for what you deem important.

I urge the graduating class to question the status quo, never give up on their dreams and break the rules even while attempting to follow them.

I inform the school, the community and a bunch of teenagers that I think their individuality, dreams and passions are more important than what their ACT score is.

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I imagine there is widespread relief when I shut up and sit down.

I also think there are a few disappointed seniors, who did everything their teachers, parents, school counselors and society in general have told them ensures success – and I just informed them their transcripts, letters of recommendation and the need for eight years of education to do what they want to do, doesn’t  cut any ice with me and won’t win them Morgan’s award.

To my mind, those kids have a wealth of resources available to compete for.

The girl who wants to visit Japan and write about it, doesn’t.

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So today, when I watched the RSAnimate clip of Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture, “Changing Education Paradigms”, I was heartened.   Someone else feels the same way.  Given it’s popularity on the net, there are several someones out there.

And now I have a beautiful and entertaining way to share my thoughts with others, via his eloquence.

Thank Sir Robinson – you just made my year!

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UPDATE* Spring 2015 – I’ve noticed an uptick in visits to this long ago published page, here recently, and I assume it’s because somehow, this little blog found it’s way into the search results for scholarship opportunities for seniors –

YES! I could research and find out, exactly, what the stats indicate is what –

NO – I’m not going to so research – quicker and easier to write an update for you-

Long story short, those who boldly committed to funding this scholarship in the their first 72 hours of grief disappeared after year one – I held on till a divorce and then stroke rendered me incapable of funding it myself – to those who received the scholarship, know I still pull out your entry letters and thank you notes, to read and remind myself of the difference my son made in the lives of others – 🙂

To those who came here, only to find this scholarship now defunct – I apologize – but know I’m still working on rebuilding a life that includes enough abundance to start funding this again – – cuz, I DO believe you need that camera, drum set or  travel funds to that summer internship you worked so hard to snag…

Until that day arrives, sorry if this little link led you astray – but know, I applaud your creativity, passion and dedication to your craft – You Rock!