What’s In Your Bag?

Target bag labelAs mentioned in my earlier 1 Bag At a Time article, we’re being more conscious of using eco-friendly cloth bags when grocery shopping and we’ve managed to significantly reduce the number of plastic bags we bring home.

Of the plastic bags that do find their way into our home from the store, we try to find creative uses for them such as wastebasket liners, lunch bags, and mail packing material.   And we noticed on one of the Target bags from last weekend that they’ve listed 10 more ways to reuse their bags.

What other ways have you found to reuse plastic shopping bags?   Post a comment and share your ideas!

How Did Shopping Become a Holiday?

tax-free graphicThe new school year is just around the corner and along with it comes the much-anticipated 2007 back-to-school sales tax holiday.   On the specified days, you’ll be able to purchase children’s clothing, shoes, & certain other merchandise (of less than a $100 value) tax-free.   You can view the tax-free holiday dates for most states on the Raising 4 Boys website.   If you’re in Texas, you can follow this link to view a list of selected items and their exemption status (either tax-free or taxed) that will be in effect on the weekend of August 17-19th.   Now I’m all for having another holiday (especially if I get the day off) but is this occasion really a "holiday" or is it more of a scam?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a holiday is defined as:

A day free from work that one may spend at leisure, especially a day on which custom or the law dictates a halting of general business activity to commemorate or celebrate a particular event.

Sales tax holidays are a temporary suspension of state & local sales taxes charged on certain items that are quickly becoming a huge annual event in many states — perhaps even rivalling that other notorious shopping holiday: Black Friday.   I applaud anyone savvy enough to make the most of this slight savings that this opportunity (potentially) offers, but is this really worthy of being deemed a "holiday?"   And I’m more than a little suspicious of the motives behind this annual outpouring of generiousity.

For starters, it should come as no great surprise that the biggest fan of these tax-free holidays is the retail industry — this feeding frenzy gives businesses a sorely needed influx of income to stave off the pre-Christmas sales slump.   Some retailers that normally might reduce prices during the back-to-school season hold off on doing so and, in some rare cases, may actually increase prices on key items.

Secondly, these tax-free bonanzas steamroll consumers into purchases that retailers want them to make.   For example, you might have every intent to equip your child with a nifty messenger-style bag, but because that type of bag is exempt from the tax-free incentive, you’re subtly steered towards a backpack instead.   This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just so long as you’re aware of the manipulation tactics being used on you.

So, is Uncle Sam looking out for our interests, seeking to help us poor consumers stretch our meager earnings?   Or is it more likely that we’re being ever-so-slyly pushed to shop, shop, shop until we drop — into the poorhouse?   Is this just a scheme to herd us like cattle into the stores where we’ll graze needlessly on goods that we might not have otherwise splurged on without the artificial incentive?

Whatever the case, how will you be spending the tax-free holiday?

1 Bag at a Time

blue bag 1 Bag at a TimeWe’re far from being model examples of perfect environmentally-responsible citizens but we’re at least somewhat conscious of it and do try to do our part whenever we can.   If you want to see an ideal (and entertaining) example, check out Living with Ed.

Recently I read about Lisa Foster’s 1 Bag at a Time campaign and then I was surprised to find that one of our local merchants, Natural Foods Market in Midland, sells these bags.   As a side note, we were hoping this store would be more like Whole Foods (but that’s another story).

I’ve been making an effort to take reusable bags with us when grocery shopping and these bags are better constructed than most.   They’re only $1.99 plus I like the philosophy behind them.

Top 5 Reasons to Reuse a Bag:

  1. The petroleum in 14 plastic bags could drive a car 1 mile.
  2. Americans use over 14 billion plastic bags annually.
  3. It takes 70% more global warming gasses to make a paper bag than a plastic bag.
  4. Paper bags do not biodegrade in landfills.
  5. Cities spend up to 17 cents per bag in disposal costs.

If nothing else motivates you to do this, surely you’re tired of seeing all those plastic bags hanging from trees!

Ikea Haul Photos

Ikea logoFor the uninitiated, Ikea (Dede’s mostest favoritest store ever) might best be described as “the Old Navy of home furnishings.” (You can learn lots more about it via my Cult of Ikea post.)

We’re still reeling from our most recent pilgrimage to Ikea, having lumbered back home from our trip to Ikea Frisco piled up with more stuff in the back of the Element than we’ve ever managed to cram in there before. Here are a couple of photos showing just some of the goodies we managed to haul back:

Ikea Bjursta dining table

Ikea Lycksele LÖVÅS chair bed

That’s How We Roll

We met up with Clems & Brad (aka “Trey” aka “B Dogg”) at Ikea in Frisco on Friday (hey, that kinda sounds like a song) and nearly bit off more than we could chew.

Clems did some last-minute shopping on his way to the airport and picked up a dining table & 8 chairs for the new house.   Without as much as a tape measure, Rob & Clems “eyeballed” the box and decided we could probably make the stuff fit in the Element for the trip back home.

Well, technically, it did all fit, although just barely.   But in the process we discovered that rear-view visibility is really just a luxury.   Once we got Clems’ stuff loaded and him off to the airport – making his flight with less than 15 minutes to spare – we continued on with our own shopping.   A couple of hours later, we checked out but then had to figure out how to get everything to fit for the ride home.   After some careful planning and strategic manuevering (including back seat removal), Rob got everything crammed inside and all the doors closed — and there was even partial visibility from the rear-view mirror.

As Trey would say, “That’s how we roll around here…”

Rob & Dede in front of Ikea Frisco

Rob's Honda Element completely stuffed with Ikea goods

Update:   Wanna see just how much stuff we managed to bring back with us?   Click here for photos of our Ikea haul.

Shopping the Perimeter

We caught an episode of Queer Eye a couple of weeks ago where a nutritionist met the “straight guy” & Ted at a grocery store to help them learn how to shop for more healthful food. Nothing particularly new about that. And they started shopping in the produce section. Nothing new about that either. But then she dropped a line that was simplicity at it finest…

Always shop the perimeter of the grocery store first.

Nothing earthshattering there, but still, as I was doing some shopping this morning, I was recalled and was impressed with that simple notion. The perimeter of the grocery store is where you find fresh veggies & fruit, bins of raw nuts, the bakery, seafood counter, meat market, dairy cabinets, etc. In other words, it’s where you find the freshest, least-processed, healthiest foods. Genius!

An added bonus: along the perimeter of the market is also where you usually will find an inexpensive, freshly-cut bundle of flowers to take home to your sweetie…

Roses for my sweetie!

Digital Camera Use #16

Some of the best ideas are so simple, you’re almost ashamed that you didn’t come by them sooner.   Last year, I was shopping for new glasses and Rob wasn’t able to go with me, so with the help of our friend Candy and a digital camera, Rob was still able to help me decide on my selection.

Last month was Rob’s turn to get new glasses.   While I was available to go shopping with him, he couldn’t see well enough without his glasses to see how the new frames looked on him.   Once again, we pulled out the trusty digital camera and the problem was solved.   So I snapped 2 pictures (1 straight on & 1 profile) of each of the frames that he was interested in.   Rob reviewed the photos on his PC at home and even emailed out the ones he liked to get second opinions.

Tip:   Make a note of the frame names & models in the order that you take the photos so they’ll be easier to find when you go back to buy them.)

So, shopping with the digital camera saved Rob from making a bad decision (see second photo below).   Instead, he went with the very stylish Robert Mitchell 301 frames at EyeBastards.

Robert Mitchell 301 frames   "Dork Fish" a.k.a. Special Sale Frames

(Okay, Rob never really considered the "Special Sale" frames, but I couldn’t resist posting that photo!)

I’m betting that some of you have come up with clever or innovative uses for your digital cameras, too.   Post a comment and let us know about ’em!

Our Belated New Year’s Resolution

Those of you who know us well know that we’ve developed a keen interest and real respect for Tibetan people and culture over the past couple of years. I think our interest in this began with the movie “Seven Years in Tibet”. This movie led us to want to know more about the Dalai Lama and Tibet, so we also rented Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” and the documentary “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion”. Another very interesting DVD we rented was “Robert Thurman on Tibet”, which is really more of a lecture than an actual movie.

(Robert Thurman, father of actress Uma Thurman, is a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Director of the Tibet House in New York City, and a personal friend of the Dalai Lama.)

At any rate, we were completely unfamiliar with what the Buddhist religion is about, the reasoning behind the Chinese takeover of Tibet, and the story of the Dalai Lama’s exile to India. So these films were real eye openers for us. “Snow Lion” paints a vivid picture of Tibetan culture and the devastating genocidal affects of the Chinese occupation. The imprisonment and torturous treatment of the Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns is particularly shocking and reminded me of the unthinkable treatment of Jews by Hitler’s Nazis back during WWII. Robert Thurman’s accounts of Tibet and it’s people is very fascinating and thought-provoking stuff!

For more information about His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and the Tibet effort, visit the official website of the Central Tibetan Administration or consider reading The Dalai Lama’s “An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life”. This book gives an overview of the fundamental Buddhist principles and aims to show how Buddhist practices can lead to a more compassionate and happier life. The concepts presented lend themselves to being applied by anyone, regardless of religious beliefs. I’m impressed by how the Dalai Lama isn’t on a mission to convert people’s religion, but rather turn their hearts and enrich their lives through compassion for others.

So this all brings me around to our belated New year’s Resolution. There is a compelling argument about how to force China to abandon it’s Tibetan occupation made in more than one of the films I mentioned above. And that argument is that the Chinese government will leave Tibet when it finally becomes too much of an economical burden, which could be brought about by a widespread boycott on the purchase of Chinese-made goods.

So, it seemed like the conscionable thing to do is join in this effort. So, we’ve made a serious effort to avoid buying anything that has a “Made in China” label over the past couple of months. And while this is not necessary an easy feat, it makes sense to us to our little part in casting a vote with our dollars. Will this work? Can a collective effort to cause a lapse in consumer demand in Chinese goods really cause Tibet to be free again? Hard to say, but you can read more about this activism campaign effort at Boycott Made In China.

What do you think?

The Cult of Ikea

Ikea logo

We love Ikea.   Turns out, Ikea loves us too!

Oliver Burkeman’s interesting 2-part article, The Miracle of Älmhult at the online newspaper Guardian Unlimited is a revealing & impressive look at the Swedish icon Ikea, its tireless founder Ingvar Kamprad, and the cult-like mindset that drives the innovative furniture company to succeed & thrive in the global marketplace.