Online Optics

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Dede & I had both been wanting to get some new eyeglasses for a few months now — we were both overdue for new ’scripts and the rough & tumble nature of being a toddler’s parents had taken its toll on our glasses.   (A nasty heel swipe to the nose in October was the last straw, so I bent my mangled glasses back into some facsimile of proper shape and made an appointment with my optometrist.)

Anyway, like us, many of you probably have often winced at the sky-high prices at the local EyeMasters, LensCrafters or other such "brick & mortar" eyeglass shops.   But you pry open your wallet, pony up the big bucks, and get what you need — at a very premium price.   And since Dede & I both started doing the bifocal bugaloo a couple of years ago, our glasses are all the more pricey.   But this time was different...

When we went looking for glasses to fit Liam last year, we couldn’t find a single store locally that carried a frame small enough to fit a 2 year old.   One shop did offer one pair of glasses that came close, but those were $130 just for the frame and didn’t feature springy hinges, flexy temples, or anything that would inspire us to believe that they’d hold up to a toddler’s torture.   But then another adoptive couple told us about Zenni Optical and the results couldn’t have been better!

So, when it came time for us to get some new specs, we decided to boldly venture into the world of online eyeglasses too!   I picked out a snazzy pair of light, rimless, frames with Transitions-style progressive (no-line) bifocal lenses, treated with anti-glare pixie-dust — all for under $100 shipped!   Dede opted for a half-rimless pair with progressive lenses and some funky plastic-framed sunglasses with a cool hibiscus design on the temples for less than $100 shipped!   That’s a fraction of what a single pair of similar glasses would cost locally!

Buying glasses sight unseen (rimshot) does seem like a daunting proposition, but once you break it down, it’s not too tough.   You just need the dimensions from glasses you own or a pair you like at a store.   For example, my previous frames were 53mm wide by 27mm tall, had a bridge width of 17mm, and temple length of 140mm.   So using those measurements as a guide when shopping online for my new glasses, I looked for a pair that closely matched so they’ fit well and be proportionate for my face.

So yeah, buying glasses online is a little intimidating at first but the incredibly low prices make it easy to venture into the unknown!

And it also helps that there’s a large and rapidly-growing subculture of glasses-wearers who use online optical shops.   Ira Mitchell’s excellent website has a wealth of useful info specific to this.   The GlassyEyes forum is a hotbed of discussions where friendly & knowledgeable folks will help you ease into this new frontier with lots of anecdotal info & suggestions.   For example, having never gone "rimless" before, I was nervous about the thickness of the lens and one of the helpful guys posted a link to a handy Lens Thickness Calculator tool that put my mind at ease.

Update:   In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve gotta admit that those snazzy rimless frames sounded better than they actually worked out to be.   The temples were an Oakley-style straight-legged affair so they slid off nearly every time I bent over.   I don’t fault Zenni for this — I just chose a frame style that was too different and loosely-fitting than what I’m used to.   They’re still well worth having as a backup though.

And when we had Liam’s eyes checked a few weeks ago, his vision had changed enough that he needed new lenses.   But Zenni no longer carries the frame we bought for him last year or any other comparable childrens’ models.   So, based on the excellent reviews on GlassyEyes, we tried a very similar pair from Coastal Contacts.   Thanks to a fantastic half-off seasonal promotion, I bought new glasses for both Liam and myself for slightly under $50, they arrived a mere 8 days after I placed the order, and they’re great!

So, if you’re ready for some new glasses and are tired of getting robbed blind (rimshot) by the high-priced local retailers, I highly recommend trying one of the online stores.   At $35-50 for a pair of glasses, you can easily afford to experiment a little.


Posted by Rob at 12:30 PM 1 comments links to this post

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Food For Thought: Loco For Locavore

Friday, September 04, 2009

One of the focal points in The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the value of eating locally-grown food and although I don’t believe the term is specifically used in the book, author Michael Pollan clearly supports the principles of the "locavore" movement.

What is a locavore?   Well, much like a carnivore is someone who eats meat and a herbivore is someone who eats plants, a locavore is a person who eats locally-sourced food.   The locavore movement has sprouted in the past few years to encourage people to consume more food from regional farms, area farmers’ markets, at stores which carry local products, or even to produce some of their own food.

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There are several reasons in makes sense to favor locally-grown food:
  • Regarding food quality, even if local products aren’t formally certified as "organic," chances are still very good that they’ve been grown or raised using much healthier methods.   The result is better quality, fresher flavor, and more nutritious food.

  • Locally-sourced food is "greener" or more environmentally-friendly.   It has a smaller carbon footprint due to the lower "food miles" — or how far food has to travel from the farm to the fork.   Importing non-regional and international foods can sometimes require vast amounts of fossil fuels & non-renewable resources.

  • Locally-grown and/or produced food is often likely to be the result of more Earth-friendly & sustainable practices.   This translates to fewer unwanted chemicals making their way into your family’s plates.

  • There’s also the satisfaction of knowing that you’re supporting your local economy when you purchase from regional farmers & growers.
Green Blog Diaries offers a bushel-load of great locavore-themed blogs to chew on.   The blogs featured in that roundup are an excellent starting point to discover lots more about the local food movement.   There’s also a great new group blog called Civil Eats that strives to promote critical thought about sustainable agriculture & food systems.

Of course, there has to be a balance struck between lofty ideals versus what’s practical — buying local is far easier in fertile regions than in other, more agriculturally-barren areas.   Some people will be discouraged by the radical narrow-focus surrounding the locavore "movement" and its 100-mile limit.   And there’ll even be the wacky few who drive gas-guzzling SUVs all the way across town to buy locally-grown tomatoes because they’re more environmentally-friendly.

So, what do you think?   Have you already been focusing more on local food?   Do you believe efforts to be more local-minded can make a difference or do you dismiss this as just another pointless yuppie fad?

Remember to post a comment by midnight (P.S.T.) so your name will be entered for a chance at one of the two food-related books I’m giving away to commemorate this Food For Thought series.

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Posted by Rob at 2:40 AM 3 comments links to this post

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Tax-Free Insanity

Friday, August 21, 2009

tax-free graphicThe annual, three-day Sales Tax Holiday begins today in Texas.   During the "holiday" weekend of August 21—23rd, back-to-school shoppers get a break from state & local sales taxes on most clothing, shoes, backpacks, & school supplies priced at less than $100 purchased for use by a student in an elementary or secondary school.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being frugal and realize that even small savings can add up, but just as I wondered how did shopping become a holiday? a couple of years back, I continue to question this insanity.   There’s little doubt as to our government’s underlying motives for this "holiday" — oh sure, we get a little relief from sales taxes on a few select items, but they get a massive shot in the arm from the influx of taxes on incidental purchases — purchases we’d be much less likely to make if not for this artificial incentive.

And really, unless you’re spending hundreds of dollars, an eight percent savings isn’t a tremendous net.   (C’mon, we’re talking about less than a Frappuccino or two.)   In fact, I suspect that if instead of this pay no sales tax all weekend event, retailers advertised a take 8% off on back-to-school purchases sale, the response would be, um, "yawn."

Rapacious retailers are, of course, banking heavily upon this "holiday" to lure budget-crunched consumers into the stores and help pry open their wallets.   These annual sales tax holidays have become a huge event that extend, in many states, well beyond sensible school supplies to include big-ticket items like large electronics, major appliances, & furniture.

And the tax-free insanity doesn’t end there...

Some states also have separate sales tax holidays just for firearms.   Firearms?   Yup, you can get your weaponry & ammo tax-free in Louisiana on September 4—6th and in South Carolina on November 27—28th!

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Posted by Rob at 6:38 AM 2 comments links to this post

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Skinstinct Sets Sail!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Skinstinct logo

We got word a few days ago that the website for Skinstinct has finally been launched!   Our pals Topper & Shannon started their Skinstinct boutique specializing in organic, eco-friendly clothing, skincare, furnishings, etc. about two years ago and they’s just opened their fourth store!   So now you can shop in their stores (if you happen to be in the Chicago area) or on the website from the comfort of your own home.


Posted by Rob at 8:55 AM 1 comments links to this post

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HEB Saves the World

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HEB reusable shopping bagTo encourage more people to switch to reusable products & recycle more, H-E-B Grocery stores in Texas are celebrating Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22nd) by giving out coupons for a free reusable shopping bag when you drop at least 5 plastic shopping bags into the recycling bins located at the front of their stores.

While I’m not 100% sure, these look to be H-E-B-branded versions of the 1 Bag at a Time reusable bags that Dede wrote about last year.   They’re made of non-woven polypropylene from yogurt cups, syrup bottles, straws, medicine bottles, etc. — typically one of the least recyclable plastics.   These shopping bags are sturdy, water resistant, allergy-free, & shaped like the paper sacks that used to be popular at grocery stores so they have a flat bottom to make ’em easy to fill & unload.

By the way, have you ever wondered about those little numbers with the arrows around them on the bottom of plastic containers?   They’re called Plastic Packaging Resin Codes and they indicate the type of plastic that an item is made from.   These codes are designed to help consumers know how to recycle various plastic products & packages.

So, mark your calendar to remember to drop by for a free bag next Tuesday, April 22nd so you can do your part to help H-E-B save the world!

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Posted by Rob at 8:40 PM 5 comments links to this post

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Discover Green Deals Daily

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Given the ever-increasing emphasis on environmental issues, you may have been inspired to start doing whatever you can to "green" up your life a little.   Problem is, until recently that’s been a bit of an expensive choice to make.   But now eco-friendly options don’t necessarily have to be more costly, thanks to...

GreenDeals Daily logo

GreenDeals Daily (which is sort of what you’d get if you mixed one part eco-blog with two parts Dealcatcher) helps you find bargains on environmentally-friendly products & services and provides information & tips for ways you can save both money and the environment at the same time.   What’s more, the site owner, Jean-Paul Davidson, donates 5% of the revenue from advertising & affiliate links to Carbonfund to help defray the global warming impact of their servers & web surfers.

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Posted by Rob at 9:27 PM 2 comments links to this post

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Bag and Baggage

Monday, October 15, 2007

A comment from Pelf Nyok on Dede’s What’s In Your Bag post from earlier this month prompted a little thought & research on a simple but intriguing plan.   Increasingly, retail stores are beginning to charge for those insidious plastic shopping bags that we all seem to take for granted.   The amount charged is relatively trivial, but the hopes are that this plastic bag tax (or "PlasTax") is enough to influence a change in consumers’ behaviors.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised & proud to discover that Ireland pioneered a nationwide plan, the Plastic Bag Environmental Levy, back in March ’02 to impose a 15¢ charge on plastic shopping bags to encourage the use of reusable bags and help change people’s attitudes about litter & pollution in Ireland.   This was raised to 29¢ early this year to further encourage the adoption of reusable shopping bags.   The money gathered by the levy has been used for environmental initiatives and has reportedly led to more than a 90% reduction in use of plastic shopping bags and a dramatic reduction in litter throughout Ireland.   Although some retailers switched to supplying (untaxed) paper bags, many simply stopped supplying bags altogether.

So what do you think — should more retailers begin charging for the "free" plastic bags to encourage consumers to be more mindful of their choices?

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Posted by Rob at 6:06 PM 4 comments links to this post

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What’s In Your Bag?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

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!

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Posted by Dede at 1:52 AM 2 comments links to this post

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How Did Shopping Become a Holiday?

Friday, August 10, 2007

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?

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Posted by Rob at 6:31 PM 5 comments links to this post

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1 Bag at a Time

Saturday, July 21, 2007

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!

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Posted by Dede at 11:08 AM 4 comments links to this post

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Ikea Haul Photos

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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.   We 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:


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Posted by Rob at 11:21 PM 1 comments links to this post

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That's How We Roll

Monday, October 09, 2006

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.


Posted by Dede at 9:53 PM 0 comments links to this post

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Shopping the Perimeter

Saturday, September 16, 2006

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!

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Posted by Rob at 7:44 AM 2 comments links to this post

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Digital Camera Use #16

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

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!

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Posted by Dede at 10:13 PM 0 comments links to this post

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Our Belated New Year's Resolution

Monday, February 07, 2005

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?

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Posted by Dede at 9:46 PM 1 comments links to this post

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The Cult of Ikea

Saturday, July 10, 2004

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.


Posted by Rob at 6:24 AM 0 comments links to this post

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