Saturday, November 29, 2008

I see money in my juice containers

"Money is not the most important thing in the world.
Love is. Fortunately, I love money!"

- author unknown

In my last post I talked about stopping to pick up a penny at the supermarket. This was met with derision by some. I use the word derision, because it sounds better than jeering laughter or ridicule. And the very fact that people laughed jeeringly probably means that it's time the government eliminated the one cent coin.
Yesterday one of my colleagues gave me a little cloth bag filled with pennies, and nickels and the odd dime (thank you, Allison). She found this bit of loose change a nuisance and was going to throw it away. Just the very sound of those words is wrong. Then she remembered that frugal Ken would appreciate some pennies. She did admit to pulling out the quarters before handing the bag over.

A discussion then ensued as to what point people would be willing to bend over and pick up a wayward coin. No one would admit to picking up a penny. Some would pick up a nickel, while others would pass up a quarter, but would stop for a dollar coin.

It was time for a little experiment. I placed a penny, nickel, and dime in a well-travelled area of the office to see how long it would take for someone to pick it up. It didn't take long for someone to pick them up. Another admitted to seeing the coins, but would only have picked it up if it were a dollar or two. We then placed a 25 cent coin in the same area, and it got picked up pretty quick, although apparently it was someone different that scooped up the quarter. It warmed my heart knowing that there are others out there who, like me, see value in money, however little it may be.

When I got home I opened the cloth bag and spilled the change out onto the counter. I felt like the King in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, "...the King was in his counting house counting out his money."

In total there was $1.93. To some, the bag was full of worthless coins, but I'm sure if I someone gave you a two dollar coin you wouldn't hesitate to throw it in your pocket.

A forest company executive looks at a stand of trees and sees money. A farmer looks across a dark brown field and sees money. I look at the juice containers on my kitchen counter and see money (which reminds me, I need to go to the bottle return depot).

By the way, if anyone else would like to give me a bag of loose change, just send me a message and I will gladly take it off your hands.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A slave to frugality

“Daddy, you’ve been ironing all day long,” exclaimed my son (the one that can talk). He was right. I had been ironing all day. When the roosters started cock-a-doodle-dooling, or whatever roosters do, I was setting up the ironing board, and I toiled over that hot steam iron for hours. It didn’t help that said son wanted me to iron his underwear for him as well.

“Yes Jack, I’m a slave to your mother,” I replied, as a burst of steam rushed up into my face. Now before some of you start thinking about slave in the leather and whips kind of way, let me put it this way. It’s been so long that I’m convinced my children were (with apologies to devout Catholics) born of an immaculate conception. Although, apparently many women are turned on by a man doing the ironing and laundry. I digress.

To be fair, I’m not actually a slave to my wife, but rather a slave to frugality. The reason I had piles of ironing to do was because instead of using the dryer, which by the way next to your hair dryer and oven is one of the biggest energy hogs in your house, I have taken to hanging our laundry to dry. More often, this was exclusive to the warm days of summer, but this year I decided to keep it going.

My wife asked me yesterday what I’m saving by not using the dryer. “Well dear,” I said in that lingering way that gave me time to think of a good answer. “We’re saving three things…no actually four things…money (most important), the environment (second most important), wear and tear on our clothes (I could care less, but it sounds good), and extending the life of the dryer.” I’m sure they’ll soon be offering me the Nobel Prize, or at the very least Citizen of the Year.

“What good is extending the life of the dryer if you never use it,” my wife shot back in one of those gotcha moments.

Oh, she’ll thank me come Christmas when I have some spare change left from my frugal ways and I can buy her a few extra things at the dollar store, I thought to myself.

So what is it like living a slave to frugality? Well, while others throw pennies away I pick them up. In fact, I did just that at the supermarket yesterday. I walked past it at first, but I gave in, walked back and picked that shiny penny up and put it in my pocket. A hundred of those coppers will give me a buck. A thousand will get me ten dollars and 10,000 of those useless coins will get me…you guessed it $100. Well done. Consider that your math lesson for the day.

Not that I would know, but I imagine being a slave to frugality feels the same way a crackaddict does. When he gets his hands on a rock, he's overcome by a sense of ecstasy. I feel the same way when I score a $10 a night room while on vacation, or find that coupon in the mail for Huggies diapers.

With the state of world’s finances sagging lower than some kids wear their pants, frugality is the latest buzzword. This is convenient because now when my wife complains that we have to fumble through our darkened house wearing low wattage head lamps on to save money AND the environment (I throw that in all the time, because she can’t really argue about the world her son’s will inherit), I can tell her that the IMF, WHO, NAFTA, APEC, UN, UNICEF, WWF, OECD, ABC, XYZ have all told us that in this crippling economic time we need to tighten our belts. I would tell you what all those acronyms mean, but I’ve had the power cut at our house to save money so I can't turn the computer on.

My wife’s in the bath and I can hear her hollering at me. “I’m cold!”

“Put on a sweater,” I shout back, “I’m busing recycling Max’s diapers so we can use them again.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm not as evolved as I once thought

On learning that I don’t have any wisdom teeth, someone said recently that this means I am highly evolved. I’m not sure what this means, but it sounds good. I’m sure one day they’ll put me in a museum. I imagine schoolchildren parading past me in wonder, their teacher pointing out this highly evolved 21st Century specimen.

Before someone starts making some exhibit space, I have learned, after some laborious research, that not having wisdom teeth probably has nothing to do with evolution, but rather is a genetic mutation. Somehow the former sounded so much better. Now when introducing myself, I’ll have to admit to being a mutant.

Apparently, wisdom teeth are considered vestigial, along with the appendix and the coccyx, commonly known as the tailbone. The tailbone is a remnant of a lost tail that once assisted in balance and mobility. A tail is actually present in humans for a period of four weeks during the embryonic stage.

It is believed that our third set of molars, or wisdom teeth, were once used for our early diet of coarse, rough food. And because our diet is no longer rich in foliage, our appendix no longer functions as it once did. Some doctors; however, believe that the appendix contains infection-fighting lymphoid cells, suggesting that it may play a role in our immune system.

Goose bumps in humans under stress are a vestigial reflex. They were once a function to raise the body's hair, making our ancestors appear larger and scaring off predators.

So, there you have it. Some useless information, you can share at your next cocktail party.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How things have changed since I was a kid

I'm reading Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir about growing up in 1950s America. Most of Bryson’s other titles are stories of his travels that will have you laughing uproariously (that sounds like an odd word). In fact, a number of times I had to catch myself from laughing out loud while reading on the bus .

Anyway, back to the Thunderbolt Kid. Bryson relates that at this time no country had ever known such prosperity. In 1951, 90 percent of American families had refrigerators, and three-quarters had washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and stoves. Today, of course we take much of these conveniences for granted.

This got me thinking about the changes that have happened in my lifetime. I was born in 1970. I try to associate with people older than I, so that I always seem young. I don't talk much to my twenty-something colleague who was born after Star Wars first came out. She doesn't know a world before email and cell phones and texting.

During most of my younger years, we only had one television in our house—it was black and white (in fact, we didn’t get a colour TV until 1986). There were 12 channels (one of them was in French) and if you wanted to change the channel, you had to walk up to the mammoth set and turn the large dial, which made a loud clicking sound. There was no such thing as 24-hour children’s programs. Cartoons were on Saturday mornings and after-school. And every Sunday at 6:00 PM, by government decree, all families would be forced to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. There were no VCRs or DVD players. Despite this, we led contented lives.

We listened to music on a record player. After some time, the automatic arm on the player would break, and we’d have to place the needle on the record by hand. Inevitably, the record would get scratched and the song would skip, or it would get stuck, and play over and over and over until the needle was lifted. When you finished listening to side A, you would turn the record over for side B. Sometimes you’d leave the record near the window and it would warp.

Then cassettes came along, and you’d sign up for the deal that gave you 100 cassettes for 99 cents. Then each month another crappy cassette would come that you would have to return before they charged you. It was such an annoyance, but you kept reminding yourself that you received 100 albums for a buck. Finally, you’d cancel your subscription. When CDs came along you’d fall for the same promotion, until you got annoyed and cancelled your subscription.

Most houses, ours included only had one bathroom. There were no such things as cell phones or portable phones. Or call waiting. There were no answering machines. If you called someone and the line was busy, you just called back later (I'm still not sure if my friend, Sean, has call waiting). People used pay phones back then. It cost 10 cents to make a call.

When I was in grade 2, I rode my bike to school by myself, and when I came home my parents would still be at work. I’d grab a fistful of Ritz crackers or a bowl of ice cream and watch the Banana Splits or some other program. Elementary school students served as crossing guards (in fact, I won the School Patrol of the year in Grade 7). And there weren’t elaborate graduation ceremonies when we left Kindergarten or Grade 7. We didn't have play dates when I was a kid. If we wanted to play with our friends they just came to our house or vice versa.

There were no superstores back then, nor super models for that matter. Stores were closed on Sundays (part of the Lord’s Day Act), and when they had a vote to see if people wanted Sunday shopping, my Dad voted against it. He didn’t see the need for stores to be open on Sundays. There were no such things as debit cards, or ATMs, so on holidays and New Year’s, lines would appear outside the banks, as people made sure they had enough cash to hold them over until the bank reopened in a few days. Once people finished at the bank, they would head over to the liquor store and stand in equally long lines to load up on drink over the holidays. The only beer available was Lucky and Old Style, or maybe I thought that, because that was the only beer my Dad ever bought. Probably because it was the cheapest.

There were no mini-vans when I was growing up. Cars were made of steel, had chrome bumpers, and were so large that growing families could easily fit. They had equally large trunks. Large families would put a few of their children in the trunks to make room. There were no seatbelts, and no car seats for babies and small children.

Most movie theatres only had one screen, and the lobbies were so small that moviegoers would line up outside and down the block before the show. It was a big thing when the Odeon Theatre expanded to two screens, and even bigger when the Capitol 6 opened. Today, its six screens would pale in comparison to the 20 screen theatres that exist.

No one had mountain bikes. The best and fastest bicycles were 10-speeds. I remember the excitement when I got my first 10-speed. It was baby blue, and it was used. It didn’t matter; it was better than the old bike I had been riding that had no gears. Although some fun could be had with those bikes, because you just pushed the pedals back to apply the brakes. Skidding the tires was easy. Of course, sometimes you would wear the tire down and it would pop. I lost track of the number of times my Dad had to repair my tires.

Come autumn, we would rake (no one had leaf blowers) the leaves in our yard into a big pile, and then we would burn them. Usually it was more smoke than fire. If you looked across the city you could see plumes of smoke rising from backyards all over. Recycling hadn’t been invented. We threw cans and plastics in the garbage and burned the paper garbage, although sometimes some plastic would end up in the fire as well, sending toxic smoke into the air.

Our Halloween costumes were made by hand. Christmas decorations didn’t appear in stores in July, and Christmas trees were still called Christmas trees.

No one ever imagined that one day we would all have a personal computer in our homes (okay, maybe a few tech geeks did). I remember our first computer. I was maybe 11 or 12. It was made by Texas Instruments, and thanks to modern technology I was able to do a Google search and discovered that the computer was a TI99/4A and apparently retailed for about $700. I used it to play games, but every once in a while I would follow the manual, and program the computer, so my name scroll across the screen. Most people used typewriters. If you wanted to make a duplicate copy, you slid a piece of carbon paper between two pages. In fact, I used a typewriter (the apostrophe key was missing) all the way through university (I graduated in 1993).

Coffee was just black or white. And Starbucks was just the name of a character in the Moby Dick story. I only wish I got to walk to school uphill (both ways) in the blinding snow, as the generation before did.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

For some, Obama's dream is still just that

Over the coming days, weeks, and months, much will be written and said about Barack Obama’s monumental victory. He inspired a nation. He gave hope to people around the world. And if just for a moment, the United States was no longer the dirty word (or words) that it had become over the past eight years. In his speech last night, Obama reached beyond the United States, with these words:

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

Much has been made that an African American has finally reached the pinnacle of American politics. For that reason alone, Obama’s victory is a watershed moment in U.S. history. While racism is still rampant, he has accomplished what few ever thought possible. Obama himself alluded to this in his speech:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

What many people don’t realize is that all things are not possible. For many Americans, Obama’s dream will remain just that—a dream. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that no person except a naturalized born citizen, or a citizen of the U.S. at the time of the adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the office of President…

What this means is that most American citizens born outside of the U.S. will never be able to share Obama’s dream of becoming President. The United States is a land of immigrants. In fact, the first few Presidents were born outside the country, yet 232 years after the United States was founded a large proportion of Americans will never be able to aspire to the White House.

In 2003, Senator Orrin Hatch introduced the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, which proposed that a person born outside the U.S., but who had been a citizen for 20 years would be eligible to become President. The proposed amendment failed.

Of the more than 10,000 attempts to amend the Constitution, only 27 have succeeded, but this particular amendment deserves a closer look. If it’s unfair to deny a black man the opportunity to become President, it is equally unfair to deny a fellow American, whose shortcoming, if you can call it that, is that they were born in another country.

And while we're on the topic elections...Americans like to remind themselves, and the world, that theirs is the greatest country in the world. And if that is the case, then why must people line up for four and five hours to vote. It makes no sense to me. If this is what the "greatest" country in the country can offer up, I shudder to think what it might be like in the fourth greatest country in the world.

Yes We Can Obama Song by

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Women at the Top

When Hillary Clinton was still in the running for the Democratic nomination, and even later when the insular, moose-hunting Sarah Palin was tapped as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Republicans, many people started asking themselves if the United States was ready for a female president. To suggest that a woman isn't able and ready to lead the United States is such an absurdity. Even more so considering the countless countries that have had a woman as their national leader, including:

Indira Ghandi - India
Benazir Bhutto - Pakistan
Margaret Thatcher - United Kingdom
Corazon Aquino - Phillipines
Gloria Arroyo - Phillipines
Mary Robinson - Ireland
Mary McAleese - Ireland
Megawati Sukarnoputri - Indoesia
Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner - Argentina
Angela Merkel - Germany
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Liberia
Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga - Latvia
Tarja Kaarina Halonen - Finland
Khaleda Zia - Bangladesh
Luisa Dias Diogo - Mozambique
Michelle Bachelet - Chile
Micheline Calmy-Rey - Switzerland
Golda Meir - Israel
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir - Iceland
Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil - India
Borjana Kristo - Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Helen Clark - New Zealand