Archive for the ‘recycling’ Category

Hong Kong: A Great Trip for a Single Woman, but not as Quaint as I Expected

March 3, 2017
Hong Long is a 'high density city. I don't think you are allowed to put ip a building that is under 50 stories.

Hong Long is a ‘high density city. I don’t think you are allowed to put up a building that is under 50 stories.

I was in Hong Kong recently.  It was on my bucket list.  I didn’t have  a lot of vacation time (as I want to take another trip this year), and several people suggested that  five days in HK would be more than enough time.

I got a round trip airfare for under $600 from Chicago.  How did I do that?  If you make  one stop, it reduces the fee by a lot.  Going, my stop was Vancouver (I only had about an hour between planes). Returning, it was in Toronto.

Several websites had suggested getting an ‘Octopus’ card at the airport.  The initial fee is high (HK $50 for the card, and  a minimum of $100 for use), but not only is it good for the airport bus to wherever you want to go, it’s also good for city buses,  the MTR,and the express train back to the airport…& they refund your balance at the end!  It’s great!

Lodging was under $50 per night including tax.  I used Booking.com , Tripadvisor, and Trivago to do the research.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion. it is a large building with many small hotels.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion. it is a large building with many small hotels.

ChunKing Mansion is NOT a mansion.   I stayed at the Everest in Chunking Mansions.  This is an excellent location, right on Nathan Rd, across the street from the Peninsula, an iconic hotel. Very spartan lodgings, a towel was included, and toilet paper, but no soap! It was perfect for one, but would have been cramped for two, and the bathroom was very small.  Had I not traveled in Africa, I might have been shocked at how spartan it was, but you  aren’t planning on spending that much time in your room, are you?  It’s just to sleep, drop your stuff, and shower, right?  I probably should have checked out more places in Chunking Mansion, as it is a large building divided into several sections (and it is not a ‘mansion’, but  a complex of dorm like rooms),  but…although my room was very clean, it was not cleaned the whole time of my stay, and the building is sort of ‘earthy’.  That is,  a bunch of  Asian men from India & Pakistan (they seem to be an interesting mix of Sikhs, Hindus, and Moslems)  sublease the ‘hotels’, and on the first floor, they run  little kiosks  and  food stalls.  This would be a very interesting  study  for  an urban anthropologist, as they are  on the edge of a section of  HK where the subcontinentals live.

The whole area is considered Kowloon, but it is the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR stop.  Right outside the door.

Tsui Tsim Tsai MTR entrance...ther are about 6 for this 1 stop!

Tsui Tsim Tsai MTR entrance…ther are about 6 for this 1 stop!

Extremely convenient…if the  actual train wasn’t  about 1/2 mile away underground!  Actually, the MTR system is very clean, people are around who speak English and are very helpful, but it would probably take about a week to learn the system. Just as in the USA, where one subway stop has multiple  entrances and exits, it’s the same with the Metro Transit Railway of HK.

So, what did I  do on this trip?  I got on the Big Bus, which allows you to hop on & off, to see the main attractions.  I  heartily recommend it, because it goes to just about everywhere, or close by.  They have several routes, and if you buy a 48 hour pass,  it gets you ‘express’ into some attractions.  I took it around for a look/see first, then again to where I wanted to stop.  My first stop was the town of Stanley.

I was disappointed.  Most of what you want to see is along the water, and it’s a row of small shops selling mostly touristy types of things (although there was a dog groomer down there).  There are also several restaurants.  The thing is, where the bus lets you off is a modern mall, with a McDonald’s and an H & M, and I was picturing something more quaint and rural.  It’s picturesque, very hilly (HK is the land of escalators), but not what I expected.  Same with Aberdeen, which many guidebooks describe as a quaint fishing village,  and suggest stopping for a fish lunch—which I was looking forward to.  Maybe 20 year s ago.  It is a harbor filled with small fishing boats, and  these days, women give tourists rides in the boats…but HK come right up to the harbor.

Everyone  says you have to go to Central for the elevators on the sidewalks.  Well, that would be fine if you had something to do in this section of town.  If you don’t, it’s like being in a crowded outdoor mall.

View from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

View from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

My last  tourist site of the day was the tram to Victoria Peak. I was really looking forward to this:  going up to the  top and watching the lights at sunset come on in the city. I live in Chicago, and I have brought many people to the top of the Hancock Center to watch sunset over the city, and sometimes, fireworks.  So, that was the plan.  But this  actually  is what happened:  even with express passes, it took us 45 minutes to get on the tram.  It was really crowded.  Someone told me it was because of Chinese New Year, but whatever.  I know some people waited in line over an hour just for tickets, and had to wait much longer to get on.  So, it’s 3 minutes to the top, and at the top….is a mall.  I kid you not. Right when you get out, there are all these  vendors of touristy things, and they follow you around, because it looks like  one big store….but it is actually about  eight vendors!   You walk around, and it struck me there was a Swatch Watch store at the top, and two ice cream places…and a Starbuck’s.  I was expecting a park.  It was about 3:00 or so, and I saw all these people waiting in line to get back on the tram to go down.  The last Big Bus  leaves at 6:30, so if you missed that, you’d have to get on the MTR…not a far walk, but….I decided to walk down the peak.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but you spiral down, of course, about  3 miles. I wanted to catch a bus, but I got about 1/4 the way down, and  I notices there was a traffic jam going up the peak, and no traffic coming down. About 1/2 way down, I met a Chinese man (Mr. Hu) who was walking down the peak…he was going to the MTR, but  didn’t want to take a cab, and he pointed out to me that nothing was coming down (and also, there was a hospital near the top, so there might have been an accident), and so, we walked and walked.  Finally, we got close to Central, and he flagged a cab to take us to the MTR. The cabbie  tried to take us on a circuitous route (Mr. Hu thought it was because we were speaking English), but  he went with me on the MTR all the way back to  Tsim Sha Tsui, which was very kind of him.  It wasn’t really that long a MTR ride, but I got to see how vast the underground was. Very bright, very clean.

Ocean Park

Ocean Park

The next day, I took the Big Bus and got off at Ocean Park.  Ocean Park is sort of like Sea World and an amusement park. They do some research there,  and  promote environmental education and recycling, and there are a few rides.  I was going to go to Disneyland, but all the  guide sites  said Ocean Park was iconic & not to be missed.  I had to wait in line  about 45 minutes for a ticket to get in. The park is divided into  two sections because of geography  You can take a skyway ride to the section of the park you are not in. There are several other rides, including a roller coaster, which is described as a ‘mine train’ but isn’t.  There is a small  zoo, with both  red pandas and a giant panda, and a  display about how goldfish breeding has evolved.  I can see how a family could spend the day there.  I spend about  three hours.  Of course, there is a huge gift shop, but it sells the usual souvenir stuff:  T-shirts, water globes,  key chains,and stuffed animals.  They really missed the boat:  no dog squeaky toys or chopsticks,

Water between 'Central' and 'Kowloon"

Water between ‘Central’ and ‘Kowloon”

Day  three, in the morning, I wanted to go to the HK Art Museum, but it was closed for renovation.  The cultural center  didn’t have anything going on. Both of these are along the promenade.  So, I decided on a  tour of Kowloon, and took the Big Bus first to the Jade Market, and later, to the  Ladies market.

I felt both were disappointing.  The Jade market is under a big tent, and there  has to be  over 100 vendors.  Many have  small antiques and other jewelry.  If you don’t really know jade, you don’t know if you are looking at plastic or glass.  Bargaining is suggested, but so many young  people come from the rest of southeast Asia, and are willing to over pay, so I didn’t buy anything.

Same with the Ladies market.  Most guidebooks  describe  the ladies’ market as selling toys, clothing, sportswear….but  the irony is…you can get most of the stuff more cheaply in the USA….especially if you live in a ‘major market ‘ (or a community with a large Chinatown).  In fact, the Fodor’s guidebook suggested a  store called ‘Me and George’ for vintage clothing.  I actually found the store, but  it was mostly men’s stuff just crammed in, with  one rack of women’s blouses that were way out of style, and a rack of skirts.  It was a big disappointment.  I probably spent about  two hours at the Ladies Market, and I bought 2 sets of chopsticks.

In the evening, I was interested in taking a dinner cruise during the light show, but the people at the tourist office told me I would have to take a cab to another pier, and the  fee for a dinner cruise was in the $80 range.    Not worth it.  Several online sites suggested a place called Mak’s  for noodles, and there was  a Mak’s in the Ocean Pier Mall.

I have to say  a bit about this mall. First of all, I  missed seeing Mak’s several times, even though it was on the main floor, because they have  one small sign and they are behind  the ‘Greyhound Cafe’ (not sure why it is named that).  People come to HK to shop, and the whole first floor of this mall, aside from a few upscale restaurants, was boutiques offering baby clothes:  Baby Dior, Baby Channel. Stuff, you know, like Beyonce and the Khardasians would buy…not normal people.

Second floor was adult designer stuff…including Stella MacCartney.   & more jewelry. Really really expensive stuff.  Third floor was all electronics.  It just boggled my mind.

In any case, I had dinner at Mak’s, which was just noodles with a wonton…for $13.  Not bad, but really, not worth going our of your way for.

Day four, I took a day cruise,where you can see all the tall buildings along the harbor.  That was nice.  In the afternoon, I shopped  a little west of where I was staying.  The prices were a bit lower, but I saw nothing I had to have.  The guide books suggested  the bird market and the Goldfish markets, but I would have had to do more walking, and seeing animals just to see them isn’t my thing.  I wanted to go to the tea museum, but several people told me it was very small, and  due to construction  in the area, could have been difficult to get to.  So, in the evening, I went to the Promenade along the  harbor, where  some awful musicians played until the official music and ‘light show’ started.

The light show….I was expecting fireworks after all, this is China), but what is was was a few green lasers.  What was really interesting is that all the buildings in Central facing the promenade are all lit up.  That was sort of cool.

Clan housing in a more rural part of Hong Kong

Clan housing in a more rural part of Hong Kong

On Day five, I took a totally different tour  to the area known as ‘new territories’, with a guide and several other people. Apparently, when the British came to HK, they needed some land designated for  agriculture, and  made a deal with the clans in this very rural area  to allow them to keep their land, but not sell it for development.  So, they are allowed to build three story buildings.  They had to live in the buildings, and, traditionally, their children would live in that upper two floors….but real estate  appreciated so much in value that, although  one family member still has to live in the building, most are rented out, and it is the only low density housing (if you can call it that) in the region.  Indeed, I don’t think I saw a building under 50 stories, and most were over 100.  Also, the guide told us that most of it was public housing, and most apartments are about 400 square meters.  Very small. But also,  most  people don’t have children…it’s too expensive.

Other impressions of Hong Kong?  Yes, people come to shop, and I was shocked by the number of designer watch stores.   Tag Heur, Phillipe Pateke, Swatch, Rolex…Rolex stores across from each other!  People still seem to think a wrist watch is status.  I can’t believe that  so many people buy watches that it pays to have so many.   And…jewelry  stores.  In the windows, many (there is a chain that is on every block, and I am not exaggerating), they have  solid gold ‘character’ tchotchkes. Ugly, but  people collect these things…and remember, gold is portable.  Also, in HK, there  is Watson’s, sort of a drugstore with a wider variety of non-prescription drugs than our American stores (I went in for Nyquil, got Melatonin), and several stores specializing in cosmetics.  I also  stopped at several groceries, some offering good deals.

It was very crowded where I was. A zillion tourists, mostly from South Korea, Japan, the Mainland,  Malaysia,  New Zealand and Australia.  Every young person was either glued to a cell phone,presumably following a tour, or taking a selfie with a selfie stick. I have never seen so many.  Nobody watches where they are going.

I am glad I went, but now that I’ve seen it, on to another adventure.

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Vacations for Animal Lovers

May 13, 2016
Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

My passion is  working with animals.  From  before I could read, I knew volume #7 of the Encyclopedia Britannica had the dog pictures.  I used to love  pulling it out and looking at the dog pictures.  Growing up, I lived in a very middle class suburban (Skokie) neighborhood, where, if people had dogs, they were behind fences.  If I saw someone walking a dog, I went crazy. Part of this obsession was because my parents wouldn’t let us have a dog until we were  mature enough to take care of one.  My father  owned his own business,and my mother  had four kids  under 7 years old. Looking back, I  totally understand the logic.  What happened, however, was that my sister and I  took every dog book we could find out of the library. We finally got  our first dogs when I was  nine-years-old.  We  taught that dog all sorts of things.  I took every opportunity I could find to work with dogs. I learned to groom dogs.  I have also titled my pet dogs in performance.  When you work with dogs, you learn your limits.  At one time, I wanted to own a kennel and have a bunch of my own dogs.  When I started working in kennels, I learned that it is  hard to give quality time to more than a few dogs. So many dogs need homes, and many without homes need advocates. What could I do?  If I fostered a dog, I would be cutting into the quality time I spend with my own dogs. and it would change the dynamic in our household.  So, I looked for opportunities where I could help others who  care for pets needing help.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

There are many ways to help when you  can’t foster or adopt another pet.  Most shelter and rescues need help with accounting, marketing, and fund-raising, as well as recruiting  other volunteers.  Here in Chicago, I volunteer as a court advocate for  http://www.safehumanechicago.org  This means, when someone is charged with an animal related crime (neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting are the common ones), I go to court to make sure the judge knows that the community has an interest in this case.  Mostly, it is just being there.  We let the  prosecuting attorney know  we are there, and they make sure the judge knows we are there if the  courtroom is crowded. The police making the arrest also know that we are there.  This makes everyone take animal crime more seriously. Another thing I do is support pet rescues, especially pet rescues in  developing countries.  Now, due to the internet, where you can google ‘animal shelter/country, you can get linked up with  animal lovers in  most places.  In many places, you can even volunteer. I volunteered , via Cross Cultural Solutions, to work with a community based group in New Delhi, India, and some people told me about Frendicoes.  Friendicoes mostly does trap/neuter/release, and has a small shelter.  Virtually all the animals they have are pariah dogs and cats:  that is, they are true street  animals, and really not suited to be pets. Several years ago, I visited Turkey. Via networking, I was able to get in touch with  the people who run the Forest Sanctuary, outside Istanbul.  They had about 100 dogs at the time we visited.  Western Turkey is becoming very urbanized, but the Turks, for the most part, never  kept dogs in their homes.  Also, like impulsive people all over, many  buy dogs and tire of them.  Those involved in rescue are very pragmatic.  They do trap/neuter/release (and one reason for the  protest over loss of park land in Istanbul several years ago was not just  over loss of open space to a shopping mall…but loss of habitat for the street dogs and cats), but also care for  dogs at the Forest Sanctuary outside of the city. They work with a Dutch rescue, and ship many dogs suitable for homes to Holland. I’ve also  visited  ‘shelters’ in Hoi An, Viet Nam (http://www.vnanimalwelfare.org/category/slider/) , and both Lilongwe and Blantyre, in Malawi.  They all welcome volunteers.  Soi Dogs, in Thailand not only needs volunteers, but  people who can accompany a dog (as a courier)  from Thailand to the USA.  The Sighthound Underground and Galgos del Sol also need couriers, and you can volunteer to work in the Galgo kennel in Spain. There are also  animal shelters in more ‘vacation oriented’ places.  http://www.animal-kind.org  can put you in touch with  many shelters needing assistance.  So can Norah Livingstone: http://www.animalexperienceinternational.com/aboutus.html.  World Vets:  http://worldvets.org/volunteer/upcoming-projects/  has volunteer opportunities in  Central America and southern Asia.  If you are more the type who  just wants to observe, or maintain habitat, Earthwatch http://earthwatch.org/has programs, many involving habitat conservation or observation of animal behavior, overseen by scientists. Meeting  other animal lovers and sharing information is a great way to spend vacation time.

The Armchair Activist, Revisited.

September 5, 2014

In the early 1980s, I met a very interesting woman named Margaret Asproyerakas.   We had been recruited —as volunteer organizers, to recruit other activist to  protest at several Regional  Primate Centers.  We were protesting cruel treatment of animals,and, in our case, the experiments of Harry Harlow (& in fact, they keep replicating these horrible ‘experiments’) but the movement  brought together a disparate group of people with  varying concerns:  treatment of animals in zoos, circuses, rodeos,  factory farms, animals being bred for fur,  people concerned about the environment and habitat loss, animals being captured (and bred) for the pet trade,  the steel jaw leg-hold trap used by hunters, and  product (and medical drug) testing on animals.  In the end, we got about 5000 people to each of the regional primate  centers to protest.  Hardly successful at all, but  it at least got us in contact with each other, so we could help each other.

Remember, this was the early 1980s.  Before the internet.  Successes?  It  became gauche to wear fur, many companies stopped testing products on animals and started promoting themselves as ‘cruelty free’.  Zoos started  addressing  the stress of their  inmates, and finally, in 2014, many zoos are no longer keeping elephants if they can’t keep a social  group.

No, we haven’t affected Sea World or the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and puppies  are still being bred like livestock.  People in developed countries are more aware, however, and we  don’t seem to be as radical as we once appeared to be.  I remember in the early 1990s, I was on public transportation, and I had a button that said  “Dolphin Safe Tuna” on my bag that Starkist was handing out.  Someone asked me, “Do you think it’s really Dolphin safe?”    “I am not sure”  I replied, ” But  this is a response to is all the regular folks, housewives, kids, just people, contacting the company.  We made an impact. They know it is an important issue to us.”

Margaret had an idea for a brochure. It would be printed on an 8.5 x 11 ” piece of paper, on both sides, that could be folded over and stapled together.  It was just 12 little pages. Now,  this was the days before laptop computers as well, so I suggested that we get all the ideas together and type them out, and then put them together.  Margaret did copy right it (1984), but she wanted it to be simple enough for any animal welfare group to copy.

The first page—the cover, was a little cartoon of a bird, a dog, and a cat  around an armchair, with some  copy that   said: “Animal rights activists disable pirate whaling ships, liberate animals from laboratories, disrupt annual baby seal hunts, airlift burros from the Grand Canyon…as much as we may want to help, there may be no way for us to participate in these forms of activism. So…presenting ARMCHAIR ACTIVIST  Easy, inexpensive, close-to-home ways to make a positive difference for animals.”

We left page 2 blank, so any group could copy the brochure and  put information about themselves on that page.  On actual page 1, we started our ideas.  We called it “A penny for your thoughts”: We suggested contacting local animal shelters to find out what they felt was important, and learn from the national groups what  their issues were—and to write letters.  We encouraged  people to write their elected officials as well. These days, it is so easy to email, but back then, we encouraged the sending of  postcards—especially if you were writing the head of a company,  With a postcard, not only did you NOT have to look for an envelope, it forced you to be concise, and every one from the people in the mail room to the CEO’s  secretary would see it and be affected.  This had a huge impact on so many companies.  It still does.  Now we also have Change.org and The  petition site—and  it is so much easier.

We told people to put their 2c in, and when they saw something to say something:

to zoos with  jail like ‘habitats; circuses  which promoted unnatural behaviors and very confined housing;  rodeos;  street fairs that offered pony rides and petting zoos, or allowed  giving away of pet animals;  carriage horses—having to work in terrible heat and cold, in very stressful traffic conditions (I mean, how  romantic is that?), cattle trucks;  live poultry markets; dogs tied up outside stores or left in  parked cars (always an issue…still…), pet shops;  school science classes that demanded experimentation on live animals, including frogs and guinea pigs; initiation rites (swallowing goldfish).

We asked people to check hardware stores to  request they not sell steel jaw leg-hold traps, or glue traps  for mice.  We encouraged people to keep prestamped postcards to  write to sponsors of TV shows that  made light of animal suffering.  We protested  sweepstakes that gave away fur coats ( how many of you  remember Bob Barker on The Price is Right?  Not only would he not be a party to giving  away furs, he ended the show by saying, “Please spay or neuter your pet!”  That became part of Drew Carey’s  contract with the show as well).

We asked people to monitor the classified ads in the Sunday papers and call  people who  offered free puppies and kittens (these days, I would ask you to flag the idiots  who post on Craigslist—they post in pets , farm & garden, & general for sale).  Free pets generally end up either being neglected or  tortured…still. The person who won’t go to an animal shelter & pay the fee—which  generally includes shots & neutering, will also balk at paying for veterinary care and even  dog food.

We encouraged people to watch the editorial pages of local papers, and challenge inaccurate information.  Keep in mind  that many localities in the US still ban Pit Bulls—when  Pits are not the problem—the owners are ( see Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, “Troublemakers”).

We encouraged people to SPREAD THE WORD:  to ask local clergy to address compassion towards animals, or offer to speak to your own congregation, or  boy or girl scouts, or a classroom.  Some newspapers allow people to  post free personal ads, and we encouraged people to  advise pet owners to spay or neuter their pets.  We asked people to order  brochures on these topics , or make up their own, and post them on public bulletin boards. We encouraged  people to  volunteer their time and talents, either directly working with animals or offering to do administrative, book keeping, or fundraising  help for animal shelters .We encouraged  people to make donations-in-kind (shelters always need  towels, blankets, paper towels,  pet toys, collars and leashes…and can sell whatever they don’t use).

We encouraged people to make crafts, design t-shirts and bumper stickers, and offer to pay for these things. These days,  many people may not be able to permanently keep a pet, but they might help with fostering.  In Chicago, we have volunteers  who play with and even train many  ‘court case dogs’.  These are dogs taken as evidence when  a defendant  doesn’t want to sign over, so the dog is in the city pound as long as the case is active.  Continuances can go on for years.  That’s a terribly long time for a formerly pet dog  to sit in what should be a temporary boarding situation.  Very stressful. We got court permission to exercise these dogs and prepared them for a life  in a home if a judge decided a defendant could not get his dog back.

Margaret’s book was a forerunner to the very popular 50 things you can do to save the earth.  We didn’t address recycling in our brochure, or keeping the size of your birth family small if you decided to have children, but those are 2 more things you can do if you want to help animals.  Recycle your material trash, compost of veggies scraps, cut your  meat (animal) intake and go vegetarian—start 2 days a week.  Go go the Greater Good Animal Rescue site & sign up to do the daily clicks to fund shelters and projects.  It costs nothing.

Now, with social media, more  people are aware of all these ways of changing what is wrong.  I hope you will copy this and share this with friends when they tell you they wish they could ‘do something’.

How to Teach Kids to Learn to Save Money.

April 18, 2014

I don’t know that I would be a natural saver, planner, or budgeter if I had not seen what my parents did.  My  father would come home from work and empty his pockets and put his coins in coin banks.  My mother would make lists & never go shopping without a list.

My mother was the most influential.  My father turned over his paycheck to her, and she was responsible for bills and household expenses.  I am sure they were both on the same page when it came to  how to  plan for the future.  I knew that not all my mother’s friends were as savvy about money, because she opened ‘Christmas Club’ bank accounts with several of them. When I asked her why she had these (joint) accounts, she told me that ‘M’ would not save money every week if  it weren’t for the match my mom made.   I guess I am dating myself, as I don’t think any banks have that kind of account anymore. The idea was that you would open the account  two or three months before  Christmas, put money in once a week, then get a big check at the end.  The irony is that these accounts paid less interest than a regular passbook account.

Back then, in the  1960’s and ’70’s, some accounts paid simple interest, some paid compound interest.  It was known that ‘Savings & Loan Associations’ paid more interest on accounts than banks, and  nobody had heard of credit unions —except union members and farmers.  Certificates of Deposit were new products, and hardly anyone  knew what mutual funds were.  Instead, many people, like my father, trusted insurance agents and their products.  Funny, they were so opaque, but  it was your relationship  with your insurance agent that got you suckered in.

As a teenager, I really had no idea how much it cost to live.  My mother told me that  one week’s pay should cover  my rent and utilities for a month.  That was my ballpark.  I made an average of $20 a day grooming dogs, I am not kidding, Of course, my  share of the rent was $ 35 a month.  A can of tuna was 25c, and you paid for long distance phone service.

I didn’t get serious about saving until I  was entering my  thirties, and going to school and planning to travel.  Long story short, my first  house cost me $23,000, and I sold it  10 years later for $125,000 and bought the next house for $119,000.  This  kind of thing can be done again, with the ‘market correction’.  You just have to  decide what is a necessity.

These days, I try to pay for as much as I can with a credit card because mine gives me 3–5% cash back—which  sort of cuts the sales tax in Illinois.  I also have a record of what I spent at the end of the month.   I learned from my mother to pay off the balance at the end of the month, or  I’d be paying 10–25% more for everything with the fees.  That makes no sense. I am thinking of switching to a debit card, but that doesn’t give me cash back.

So…how do you teach kids to save?  By teaching them what  things cost, first.  Sort of like The Price is Right.  You can set up various packaged goods on a table  and have them guess.  Then, take them shopping and have them do comparisons of the various products.  Take them to different stores as well.  It’s important to teach kids that fresh food in season costs less than   prepared foods (canned or frozen, unless something is on sale or a loss leader).

When they ask for toys  or  luxuries, ask them what  it costs.  Ask them to compare costs or various brands.  Ask them how they plan to earn money, and give them ideas. My father had us separate a bucket of screws, nuts, and bolts into  about 20 different categories.    I think he paid us $1 an hour (minimum wage at the time was $1.60).  Kids can baby sit, do yard work, go shopping, do laundry, help  neighbors. I have also collected cans when I walk my dogs, Aluminum pays 40—50c a pound, Copper pays much more.

When I was in 8th grade, we had a section in a social studies class on  capitalism, and developing a business with a business plan.  Every school should have that, and if your school doesn’t, find out why.  A 10 year old can figure this out.

When I left home, at 18, I had no idea what anything cost, I just had the confidence that if I  shared the rent and household expenses, I would be ok.  I had a friend who had another friend who  moved out and back in to her parents home three times before she turned 26.  She didn’t want a roommate, and she was very fashion conscious.   I had a client who continued to live with her parents for several years after graduating from college. She worked as a trader  (with the internet, you can do a lot more than without).  She managed to save not only enough money to buy investment property, but also to return to school to get another degree. It just depends on your priorities.

What kick started me to economic security was  joining an investment club, and learning to do the research. Nobody ever got rich by saving.   Although I do own stock in a few companies, mostly I own  mutual funds. There is less risk and greater chance of reward. Still you have to know what your goals are and what kinds of investments meet your needs.  If you are going to pay someone else to mind your money, and have less than  $250,000,  you are really taking a risk and are going to pay a lot.  I remember when the concept of the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) was introduced in the early 1970s. Contributions were tax-deductible, but you had to keep the money in until you retired or there was a penalty.  I thought that was a great idea.  I had no idea that  Social Security would not be enough, but no matter.    It took me a while to get  with the program, but I  have 3 IRAs and  put as much in as I can.

The work I do, dog grooming, is very seasonal. That means in some parts of the year I am very busy and make a lot of money, but when the weather gets bad,  my wealthy clients leave town, and the rest make excuses.  I had to learn to save for those bad times.    I often do dog walking or over night pet sitting  in those lean times.

My checking account is  attached to a money market. That means it pays interest, but I have to keep a certain balance.  So, I put money in but it is not in the checkbook.  I see it on the statement, but it is not there to spend.  I divide my tips in three.   1/3 goes into savings, 1/3 is in the reserve, and 1/3 is to spend.  At the end of the month, if there is more than $100, it all goes into savings.  My guilty pleasures are  movies, dog shows, and going out to eat with friends.  Also, vacations, and most recently, books.  I live near a recycling center, and in Chicago there are a lot of church rummage sales and used bookstores. No need to pay for a book unless I really want it.  I consign books, clothes, and jewelry that I don’t intend to  use or keep.  I also donate a lot and keep very good records, as  I am self-employed and the tax write-off for ‘donations in kind’ is significant. I upped my  tax refund 40% by keeping track of donations-in-kind and using ‘client valuation’ guides—which you can find online.  I am not very fashion forward.  I buy clothes that are functional and durable, mostly at used clothing stores.  Several  of my male friends have disparaged  my  clothing, but since they are all in debt, I laugh them off.  Idiots.

So—- how can you teach a  child to save money?  Talk over all that I mentioned and encourage them to be curious and discerning.  Don’t pay for everything they want.    Don’t be judgemental if they make choices to spend money on stuff you wouldn’t.

For  more information on  financial education, check out  “RichnessofLife.org”  Great nonprofit doing financial education all over  the USA.

YOU make public policy.

July 19, 2013

I’m an activist. Not a great one, not very visible, but  I figure , I live in America, I pay taxes,  and  our elected officials are supposed to represent ME and my views.  Now,  some of our elected officials think we elect THEIR views…so you have to elect the person who holds the views you hold.  That means doing a bit of research…but I digress.

You really have to ‘organize’ and get with people who hold similar views…to make progress.  However, I know that  the subtle things you do make an impact.

Over  30 years ago, I  worked with 0thers on a campaign called ‘Mobilization for Animals’. This was in about 1983. Our immediate mission was shutting down regional primate centers (affiliated with universities) which housed animals undergoing very painful, inhumane experiments.  We also addressed how zoos were run, circuses,  the wearing of fur, how farm animals were treated, taking of habitat, product testing on animals,hunting, steel jaw traps  the breeding of pet animals like livestock.if  an animal was being exploited,we  ‘vowed’ to  address these issues.
We didn’t immediately get the primate centers shut down, but here’s what we did do:

Wearing of fur became very …gauche.We changed the  public mindset.

Circuses & zoos  started reforming, developing better habitats,not keeping animals  if they could not provide stress-free environments, ans most small circuses shut down. Circe De Soleil—with no animals,became very popular.

Product testing—now cruelty free products have major market share for  virtually all consumable products.

Exploitation of animals…we still have a long way to go, as so many are still abused for  food and entertainment, but  Temple Grandin was able to get  humane slaughter houses built.

Recycling— due to the cost of  importing raw materials, and the  cost of  siting landfills, more Americans are comfortable using  products made from recycled materials than they were  30 years ago…thus creating jobs and saving habitat for wildlife. However, we have to remain vigilant.

Puppy mills…that is, people breeding pet dogs as livestock  just to sell as a product—we have a very long way to go on this one. witness then many pet shops in malls, selling over priced, physically ill pets to  very rich, impulsive idiots who haven’t a clue about how they are going to take care of the puppy, but trust the sellers.

I was asked by a friend to join the board of a NEW recycling center in my area.  We needed an entity to collect   recyclable waste, and a means to promote the idea.
this was in 1985 or so.  Now, most people are recycling something.

In  1990, I was  riding public transportation to school, and a fellow passenger commented on the ‘Dolphin Safe Tuna’ pin (handed out by Starkist at a rally)  that I had on my bag. “Do you really think it is dolphin safe?”  he asked. I said, “I’m not sure, but the  point is that people like you and me contacted them, wrote them letters (this was before the internet) & told them we were concerned, and they are responding to the public, They know we are watching.”

And that’s the point. Now, with the internet, it is easier to make an impact.  I really applaud all the petition sites…because it is a form of reverse marketing back to the  entities—be they politicians or corporations—that really have so much influence over us.  In just a few days time, we can really influence those that put forth a bad idea that  we, regular folks, care about what they are doing.

There are many books on organizing for political or social change, but  2 very good ones are “Made to Stick,” by the Heath brothers, and “The Tipping Point,” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Please join  Facebook, and you will be forwarded all sorts of petitions,a nd  some of them have a great impact.

These People have no Garbage!

March 14, 2013

My roommate and I were watching  a news program on TV, and a couple with 2 kids were being shown how they   throw out—in the garbage, about $300  worth of food a month.  I couldn’t believe it.

I told my roommate, “We don’t even spend $300 on food a month.”

Of course, we eat very little mammal.  Maybe  several times a year.There are several reasons for this, which I won’t go into.  I admire vegetarians & totally  admire vegans, but , although I am getting closer, I am not there yet.    But this is not the total reason we average $80 a week on groceries—and that includes cleaning supplies,l office supplies, and toilet paper.

How do we do it? Well, remember, no kids. Kids are very expensive…and the idea they don’t  teach household budgeting in 7th & 8th grad math classes in the USA is  unconscionable. They should send kids out to price  diapers & baby formula. No joke.  But I digress…

I shop sales and buy  in season produce.  Gag me, but I do a lot of grocery shopping at Aldi’s.  I know they are cheaper because their employees are not unionized, but  they are 30% cheaper on  dairy, and at least 10–20% on many other items.  Bring cash or a debit card—& your own bags.  They are cheaper than Walmart—& I would only go to Walmart if they had something I absolutely could not find anywhere else.  Walmart has destroyed small town America.

We, in Chicago, are lucky to have specialty ‘green grocers’, and very close to  home are 2 that  provide phenomenal values on  produce.  Sometimes,  1/2  is spoiled, but even throwing it away, it is cheaper than a chain store…& that’s where we get into the  NO GARBAGE.  We compost.  

I had a pile by the  side of the house, & my  current tenants have a large bin.  We compost  everything we can.  &, we recycle.

In the early 1980’s, I, with several other concerned community members, founded  the first actual community based recycling center in Chicago:  Uptown Recycling Station.  I became involved because of the environmental conservation aspects of it, but other board members  joined on to create jobs for  southeast Asian immigrants.  I think, at the most, we created 4 jobs, but they were living wage jobs with health insurance.

We maintained the  recycling center, but  also got a van & collected ‘set outs’ of glass, metal, and paper, in the very high density neighborhood of Roger Park.  We probably had about 20% of the community  participating  then. Amazing, considering  the  ward was at least  70% rental apartments, &  people moved a lot.
We convinced the  city to  give us a ‘diversion (from the landfill) credit.’  That means  for every ton of stuff we  diverted from  the landfill, which the city would have had to pay to dispose, they paid us.  We were a very, ah, lean operation.

Now, about 30 years later, we finally—finally— got  blue bins for  what is called curb side collection, from the city.  I know people won’t take the time to separate their recyclables from their ‘wet waste’ unless they have kids, but we’re getting there!

The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs (book review)Now all we Need is the Money!

September 13, 2012

We all want to end poverty and injustice.  It’s why I joined Peace Corps:  t do my part.  There are some small things  people can do that make a big difference.    The Grameen Bank was revolutionary.  However, where there is no local political will things get complicated, and unjust.  You can not give people power, They must take it.  Also,  you can’t do just 1 thing.

Worth  reading is Jeffrey Sachs book, The End of Poverty.  It’s much longer than it needs to be, but  he spends about half the book  justifying his credentials.  I have no problem with that.  He’s obviously an extremely talented economist.  He also managed to be in the right place at the right time to be able to earn his street cred.

When I originally hears about his Millenium Developement Goals, I thought he was very arrogant. This guy is, essentially, a jet setting  policy wonk, flitting all over the world and hob-nobbing with elites.  What could he possibly know about  poverty?  Well, he made a point to educate himself.  He understood, that for every  economic crisis he  helped fix, he caused other problems.    That was before he started addressing acute poverty.

What I particularly like about the book, and what absolutely everyone in the developed (that is, North America, Europe, much of Southeast Asia, and a few very wealthy islands) world should understand,is,  what he addresses on pages 252—255 in his Chapter 13:  Making the Investment Needed to End Poverty.  He justifies why governments need to make infrastructure and social investments that ultimately benefit us all.  That  create economic vitality.  That’s it. Bottom line.

The trouble is….the IMF and World Bank are still their own fiefdoms and supported,  for no logical reason, by donor countries, including the USA…And they still allow—heck—they FUND  corruption and mismanagement.

Sachs discounts the impact of corruption (it probably is only 20% of why there is poverty in Africa), and spends a decent part of this book explaining to  World Bank and IMF funders that if they  funded what is proven to work, instead of their cronies’ schemes,  all humans could have a decent standard of living—but they don’t give a shit.  Full stop.  However,  while he is excellent with the numbers, as an economist, he  believes the  amount of aid should be based on a country’s GNP.  In theory, that’s a great idea.  Unfortunately, for the developed world,  were there surplus GNP,  we’d be paying the debt for the  stupid wars we’ve engaged in, as well as the politicians/government workers unfunded pension plans.

Sachs then  expresses astonishment at the Bush era tax cuts to the wealthy, making the rich richer.   While he got the Gates Foundation, and a few other  compassionate uber-wealthy  donors on board—well, he didn’t get Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and a bunch of people who believe that capitalism is really about who dies with the most money. Otherwise, their greed & selfishness makes no sense.  I think that Sachs  realized he’s been working for the wrong team for too many years.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, working in Malawi, where hunger, chronic disease, and lack of political will destroyed a society, I agree with Sachs’ approach, and in fact, there are many small groups trying to help distinct communities. I  support several.  However, Sachs is right:  the capital is there.  Just not the political will.  & face it: our  ‘development’ policy, whether put forth by Republicans or Democrats, is to make the rich richer.

The late Wangari Maathai really did so much in Kenya, and her work was often sabotaged by the Kenyan government.  I  believe  Sachs gives too big a pass to the many  sub-Saharan governments he claims are well-managed, without addressing their political will.

If you don’t know anything about why so much of Africa is impoverished, this is a good read  to supplement much of what else is written about development economics. As Americans, we have to understand that  we have allowed our government to support war to benefit elites over  poverty  eradication which, ironically, would have gotten rid out our enemies for good more quickly.

Update:Maximising donations-in-kind

November 2, 2011

I have posted  before on making the world a better place.  These past few years have been difficult for us all, but  we are not running out of stuff.  Since I live in a very  high density (some people would call it the ghetto, or slum…but they haven’t been to urban Africa or Indian…) neighborhood, lots of multi-unit housing,  I find a lot of stuff.

People move all the time, & they  have some very nice things they no longer want. But they don’t have the time to sell it or take it to people who need it, so they  put it by their trash bins. We  alley entrepreneurs take the stuff  to use ourselves or  to give to people who need the stuff.

Shoes & used clothing are the most frequently put out items, but  often I find cookware, small furniture and appliances, and books and toys.  I manage  to  find people who need stuff because we have many non-profit organizations that   provide assistance to the needy.  Some  specialize in  serving  homeless women, some teen mothers, some the elderly.  One  organization (I do some volunteering for them),  Heartland Alliance for Human Needs,  provides resettlement services for refugees.

It used to be that virtually all these people were eligible for  some sort of welfare:  Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or Social Security. Well, the fact it, eligibility has been greatly curtailed since the Clinton era…no joke.  By making it harder to get welfare, he appeased the Republicans (at the time) &  balanced the federal budget.  He also gave people  an incentive to make a way for themselves.  They may not be on the payroll to somebody, but that does not mean they are not earning money.

That’s neither here nor there.  I  don’t know if  mental illness preceeds job loss & displacement, or job loss & displacement preceed mental illness.  No matter.  People are in need.

In the early 1980’s, I was a founding board member or Uptown Recycling Station, in Chicago. We board members were coming to recycling from different interests. Some of us were particularly interested in environmental conservation, and several were interested in job creation for entry level workers.  We got  a loan from a religious order,  some assistance from the father of recycling in Chicago, Ken Dunn, and some help from the city.  This was under the Harold Washington administration. I doubt we would have gotten the help from the administration of any other mayor.  We turned a cute, hippie idea into 3 full time and several part-time jobs for entry level workers, and advanced the cause of recycling in Chicago.

But we did not all live happily ever after. It’s been slow going.  We managed to get the city to pay us a diversion credit.   What that meant was…for every  cubic ton of waste we kept  from going to a land fill, the city gave us money.  We barely made a dent.  We had to nag out elected officials for years to take recycling—for import substitution, seriously.

So, now it is 2011, and an idealist with a plan, Brittany Martin Graunke, got an idea to  put up a waste exchange—or , rather, a clearing house for  donations-in-kind, online.  It’s called http://www.zealousgood.com   She gets nonprofits needing donations-in-kind to pay a monthly fee to post their wants.  I found her  by accident, but  I am hoping to help her  market the site an the idea to area non-profits.  This is not recycling glass/metals/paper/plastics, which is feedstock  for manufacturing, like we did at the recycling station.  It is  repurposing  value added stuff.

I have been self-employed  for a  good long time, and  the first thing my father taught me was, “Get a receipt.”  For years, however, I was  donating stuff  without thinking, and NOT  itemizing the receipts.   By chance, I found a book called, Cash for Your Used Clothing,” which is a client valuation guide approved by the IRS.  Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and yes, the IRS publish similar guides online.  If you itemize on your taxes, and aren’t an active stock/bond trader, you  must take advantage of every tax deduction you  can legally take.   If you don’t inventory your donations, you are most likely  undervaluing  your donation, and paying more taxes than you have to.  Your donation  is actually  whatever your taqx braqcket is.

Because I had managed  thrift stores for  two nonprofit organizations, I know how valuable the  donations-in-kind are.  Currently, Goodwill Industries  reminds their donors that by donating stuff, they are creating jobs for people.  It’s true. It’s a lot of labor to sort, clean, tag, and display stuff (I am sure anyone who works in a retail store will tell you this).  From a nonprofit perspective, I also know that  people donate cash to organizations that take stuff, as they have a social link with that organization.

From the perspective of a donor…I’ve just heard too much whining from  donors about how poor they are (this is a constant refrain), and they complain about their taxes, but I have to do a lot of ‘hand holding’ to get them to inventory and  categorize stuff to maximize a donation that can result in a significant tax deduction.

I know that, due to the  federal deficit, that  our lawmakers are looking to get rid of tax deduction loopholes, but I certainly hope the nonprofits  are vocal about the need to continue to allow this  transfer of ‘wealth’.  It is significant,  I am not in a position to give money at this time, but I know that generally I donate over  $2000 worth of stuff to area nonprofits. I know this, because I inventory and evaluate, and I sell a lot of stuff.

People give me stuff to donate all the time, as they know I would know  someone who could use it.  They ask what I will take. I tell them what I won’t take:  If it stinks, or sticks, we can’t use it.

If you support an  organization that needs more money, take the donations-in-kind and resell the items you  and your clients can’t use.  Encourage yur organization to network with other organizations.  Consider sponsoring a retail store, like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and  several other Non-profits in Chicago (The Ark, Brown Elephant, Save-a-Pet) do.  To me, if you throw away a usable item…you are throwing away money.