Saturday, November 30, 2013

Afterthought #22 - More Good Spending (or Not) Ideas

Recently I wrote about US government spending on war (Just a Minute).  Today I’m thinking about the buying and spending mania that starts to pick up just after Halloween.

I bypassed “Black Friday” store sales the day after—and in some cases the afternoon of—Thanksgiving, designed to help businesses put their earnings in the black. And I won’t be shopping online on “Cyber Monday,” either.  I know I’m not the only person who’s fed up with these tactics to entice us to spend.  Twenty years ago, Adbusters Magazine organized Buy Nothing Day, encouraging people to refrain from purchasing for one day – a full 24 hours – on the last Friday in November, which is generally the busiest shopping day of the year in North America.  This year, I’ve learned about two other activities to counter this shopping frenzy:

Cider Monday - Shelf Awareness reported that on the Monday after Thanksgiving, often called Cyber Monday because so many people shop online from work that day, The Toadstool Bookshops in New Hampshire are inviting people to Cider Monday. They’re offering free cups of cider and “promise no crashing websites, and our 'servers' won't be overloaded.”  Other bookstores in the Northeast are doing the same; maybe there’s one near you.

Giving Tuesday - #GivingTuesday™
is a campaign initiated in 2012 to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season.  In my community, the Lopez Community Land Trust is a partner in this initiative that celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.  Maybe there are #GivingTuesday™ activities where you live, too.

Am I a Scrooge?  Do any of you participate in alternatives to the spending season?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Just a Minute

Numbers ending with more than two or three zeroes baffle me. When I hear statistics, I often forget whether the figures cited were in the thousands or hundreds of thousands; dollars, whether hundreds or millions.  Can’t even imagine billions and trillions.

So, a recent mailing from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) challenged my comprehension.  The AFSC letter opens with this astounding number:

“The United States budgeted $653,110,000,000 of your tax dollars on the military this year.”

That’s way more zeroes than I can grasp.  To help number dyslexics like me, the AFSC’s letter breaks down the calculations to the expenditure per minute:

“$1.2 million spent every single minute for war and so-called defense.”

Now that the realities of the amount come a little closer to numbers I can fathom, the digits of my blood pressure start to climb.  I agree with the assessment of the AFSC—“That’s too much money.”

Based on President Obama’s 2013 federal discretionary budget request

The source the AFSC cites for this federal spending breakdown is the National Priorities Project, a 30-year old organization that “opens the federal budget door for people to understand how and where their tax dollars are spent, and how and when they can influence budget decisions.” With this information, the AFSC has launched a new campaign, One Minute for Peace. The organization knows that while peace isn’t easy, or free, investing in peace costs far less than making war. The AFSC has been doing just that in times of war and times of peace for nearly 100 years, and they have some good ideas about how to sow the seeds of peace in the U.S and throughout the world.  Their letter asks me to help them raise the equivalent of just one minute’s worth of the federal military budget (that $1.2 million) to programs that help people in need.

Here are some of the ways the AFSC would use that one minute’s worth of military spending:

·        $285,000 for trauma healing and livelihood-restoring assistance to women in Burundi through counseling, micro-loans, and training.
·        $200,000 to help Somali refugees in Kenya through post-traumatic stress counseling, peace and reconciliation workshops, and simple necessities like fuel-efficient stoves.
·        $207,000 to support peace initiatives for youth in Indonesia to counteract rising intolerance.

I rounded up some of the numbers to make it easier to deal with all the zeroes, and they add up to just under $692,000—about 33 seconds worth of the annual U.S. military budget.  AFSC asks us to imagine how much more they could do if they had a full minute’s worth.

Someday, I hope organizations like the AFSC won’t have to spend their time and resources organizing fundraising campaigns like One Minute for Peace.  But until that day comes, I’ll write checks, most with just a couple of zeroes, to groups like the AFSC. It’s money well spent.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saturday Bread

It’s become a Saturday ritual. We huddle inside a small building, our hats and gloves giving off that scent of damp wool, our chilled hands cupped around mugs of fresh-brewed coffee.  Thanks to our friends Sage and Nathan, soon we’ll be nibbling apple or pumpkin scones­—or maybe one of each—still warm from the couple’s wood-fired oven at Barn Bread Bakery. 
The caffeine and sweets fuel us to decide which of their artisan breads to buy. Will it be Pain de Campagne, Flax Sunflower, Raisin Coriander, the twisted baguettes called Tordus, or the naturally leavened gluten-free round? I savor the smells, have a mental debate about which variety to buy, and end up unable to settle on just one.
Sage and Nathan moved to Lopez Island, WA a couple of years ago from Berkeley, CA where Sage apprenticed with baker, Eduardo Morrell, at the Marin Headland Center for the Arts. Eduardo taught her to use simple ingredients and traditional techniques to make naturally leavened bread and baked goods and then bake them in a wood fired oven.  When Sage and Nathan arrived on Lopez, Sage continued to bake bread in a tiny home oven; within a few weeks she was baking more bread than she could give away to new friends, so she painted a sign and took her loaves to the Farmers’ Market. One customer, Ken, loved the bread and offered the use of his wood-fired brick oven.
After that first summer, the couple launched themselves wholeheartedly into a baking business and made hundreds of loaves of bread for Lopezians. The owner of the farm where they live in a converted granary offered them space on his land to build their own brick oven and bakery.  You can read more about that process and their successful Kickstarter campaign at Wood-fired Bakery on Midnight's Farm. Oh, and along the way, Sage and Nathan gave birth to their daughter, Eden.

On Saturday mornings, Sage and Nathan make it look easy, but I know much happens behind the scenes.  Sage mixes dough, lets it rise, weighs it and shapes the balls into rustic loaves, often with Eden overseeing from her perch in a backpack.  A couple of hours before baking time, Nathan gets the wood fire going in the brick oven. He’s mastered the art and science of maintaining the right temperatures for whatever is baking. Conversation pauses every time Nathan slides the long-handled wooden paddle into the oven and pulls out scones, golden loaves of bread, or pizzas bubbling with melted cheese.

Pizza? Yes, after the scones and breads bake, Sage and Nathan weigh out more dough and shape it into pizza crust.  While you wait, they top it with organic tomato sauce and ingredients like kale, roasted peppers, mushrooms, onions, mozzarella, pepperoni, and sausage, and slide it into the oven. 

Condensation forms on the bakery windows as we linger, adding to the lore that’s already developing around this hand-crafted business.  Like the bicyclists who didn’t even make it to the end of the driveway before they turned back to get more scones. Or the locals who stop in early to get scones fresh out of the oven, then return at noon for pizza. And the unanimous opinion that sharing Saturday bread with neighbors is a ritual worth repeating.