Category Archives: Current Events

Real presents for the people who have everything … 72 hours and counting.

It is now less than 72 hours before Christmas morning.  If you are like a minority of people, your shopping is done.  If you are like most of us, there is still someone that you are planning for that seems to have everything that they may need or even want.

I know that this year it is likely, by no fault of those that buy for me, that I will get things that are less likely to be used, and instead will be objects that I will have to continue to simplify.

This understanding is part of the reason that Summer and I decided that instead of purchasing things for each other, that we would experience a new place as our gifts to each other.  Read more about that here.

So, in the spirit of popular posts for the last days before the biggest shopping holiday of the year, here are some bona-fide ideas to get for people for whom you don’t know what to get, and seem to have everything.

Buy a chicken.

Support a child in a foreign country.

Help the homeless have a meal to eat.

Give the gift of giving.

I know it sounds a little corny, but in this season (as many other bloggers have mentioned and brought to bear for us), we do tend to get caught up in what we can get out of this season, instead of what we can put in.  Even the most devout Christians pine over buying a pink or Chartreuse sweater which we have no guarantee that the other person will use … much less like (just being honest folks).

So instead, take a look at a few ideas here to use your money to multiply lives as opposed to consume resources.  And, on the bright side, you’re guaranteed to get a thanks when they open it … cause no one is going to frown at a gift that helps those that need it. 🙂

1. Local Church.

If you are involved in a local church, sometimes a gift to a cause in your local church keep money local and can make a considerable difference.  See if there are particular projects to which you can contribute.  Building projects, support for local missionaries, building up food kitchens, or scholarships for youth to go to events or complete mission work.  This is a great place to start.

2. Nashville Rescue Mission.

If you are in the middle Tennessee area, consider a gift to this amazing organization.  Much more than a homeless shelter, this program utilizes its resources (all of which are donation – they do not take any form of government assistance) to not only feed and house Nashville’s homeless short term, but also have programs to help totally rehabilitate troubled and hurting lives.  My wife and I have personally given to this organization and we consider them dollars very well spent.

3. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

I’ve written about this place many times before, but will toss it in here as a wonderful place for a donation to be made in honor of someone you know.  This year, I was able to raise 500.00 for the hospital as part of my 30 While 30 Goal list, completing their half-marathon earlier this month.  A wonderful opportunity to share life by giving to an organization that leads the world in cancer treatments for children and operates primarily on donation … also never turning a child away because they could not afford the treatment.

And now, some options on a much more global scale:

4. Samaritan’s Purse.

Provided in the title is a link to Samaritan’s Purse “Gift Catalog”.  In this way, you can make donations to various different projects around the world, ranging from providing clean water, to building a church, and my personal favorite, buying actual animals (sheep, goats, honeybees) to help support foreign communities increase their self-sufficiency.  While it is too late to participate this year, there is a shoebox program that allows you to fill up a standard size shoebox with items to bring joy to a child far, far away.

5. World Vision.

Rachel Held Evans, a blogger I follow had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia to experience first hand the work that World Vision does through it’s child sponsorship program.  I won’t repeat what she has said, but you can read some of the stories here.  This program does not center so much on the individual child that is sponsored, but instead works to improve the community as a whole, teaching skills, helping to develop lasting self-sustainment programs, and increasing the capacity of whole villages to increase their quality of life.

6. Charity: Water.

A charity based on a very simple premise: providing clean drinking water to those that don’t have it.  Charity:Water has an impeccable reputation on the ratio of donated funds that actually go to the on-the-ground projects.  This is an organization where a very small amount of money can make a very big difference.

–          –          –

So, if you’re looking for something that you can’t find at the mall, or you wonder if it will even get used, here are a few options.

Are there some good ones that I missed?  Let me know in the comments! 

Have a Merry Christmas!

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What’s in a cup?

So … every once in a while I treat myself to a Caramel Mocha from Fivebucks .. errr … I mean Starbucks.  It is a guilty indulgence, and definitely not an every day kinda thing, but every so often I do partake in the glorious bean juice.

Today was one of those mornings.  This particular morning I went in to the local shop (which is close to where I work), and immediately noticed something about the place that day. Continue reading


On Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and Steve Jobs

I had another post planned for today, but after reading a recent story this morning, and hearing last night of Steve Job’s death, I decided to postpone that post to Monday, and have a long, jumbled conversation about some seemingly unrelated topics.

If you can hang on to the end, I promise there is some method in the madness.

Photo courtesy of guardian.uk.co

I had been relatively unaware of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests going on in New York City, until I followed up on a couple of stories this morning about these protests.

This thing confuses me, if I am being perfectly honest.  Maybe my perspective is incomplete, and folks that check this blog can help to educate me.  Really, I invite it.  Until then, I want to share my confused perspective on this event (or events, as it appears they are traveling to other areas).

First, I don’t know what these protestors want.  Here are some quotes from participants:

“We are here to support this movement against Wall Street’s greed,” he said. “We support the idea that the rich should pay their fair share.” – Victor Rivera, a vice-president for the …1199 Service Employees International Union

“Banks got bailed out, and we got sold out.” – Students banging on drums made of water jugs
 
“The state of education in our country is ridiculous,” said Kingsbury, who plans to teach. “The state doesn’t care about it and we need to fight back about that.” – Danielle Kingsbury, a 21-year-old senior from New Paltz
 
Here is an early list of “demands” posted on a website that gained some traction:

“Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending “Freetrade” by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.

Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.

Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.

Demand four: Free college education.

Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.

Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.

These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.”

Here is a more “formalized” and “official” list of demands for Congress.

One of the things that has come about from the protests is a comparison to the Tea Party movement, which began prior to the 2010 congressional elections.  Similarities include: 1) Grassroots development 2) No established leadership 3) Common goals.

I will admit that these similarities exist, however, I am less convinced of #3.  I would wager that if you asked anyone identifying as a “Tea Partier” what the goals or ideals of the Tea Party were, I would venture a guess that 95% (admittedly, a made up statistic) would reply 2 things: “Less government and lower taxes”.  I do not get that impression from the Wall Street protests.

What impression I do get is that people are unhappy, upset, and want things to change.

This is not a bad thing.  At all.  I feel their frustration.  Sometimes (maybe many times) things don’t appear fair or just or equitable.  Sometimes corporations lay people off.  Sometimes they open businesses in other countries.  We can spend days discussing the reasons why or the solutions to solve it, but, to be perfectly honest, that detracts from the actual conversation that needs to be had.

This brings me to my third point of the day: The death of Steve Jobs.

Photo courtesy of thisismynext.com

There has been a lot posted in the last 12-14 hours about his passing, but I think his story has more to do with this day in age than people are giving him credit for, and not just for the impact of his inventions.  Let me share with you some facts about Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs did not complete college.  He dropped out of college after 6 months.  He credits a calligraphy class as the foundation of his conceptualization of elegance in the development of products.

Steve Jobs began Apple Computers with 2 things: A parter that believed in the idea and his garage.

Steve Jobs took that company and turned a sizable profit relatively quickly.

Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company that he founded.

Steve Jobs was asked to return to that company and in 15 years built it to be the largest valued company in the United States, valued at 351 billion dollars, and is second in the world, just behind Exxon/Mobile.

(Just a side note, I wonder how many protesters are listening to their favorite music on an ipod, or communicating their minute by minute tweets and communication on iPhones or iPads … but I digress)

My point is this:

Be angry and frustrated with the state of the economy or government.

Be angry and frustrated, but don’t forget that you can make a difference.  You can build revenue.  You can start a business.  You can be educated (even without going to college).  You can create something that wasn’t there before. 

Do you think that Steve, at age 25, would be with them on Wall Street?  I don’t think so.  You see, Steve didn’t care about that stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Hear it from him:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

The American dream is, and always will be about looking to the horizon, seeing an undeveloped plot of land and making something out of it.  Creating value from innovation, creativity, drive, and perseverance.

It is not about forcing people to give you a job because you think that because they have money it is their duty to do so.

And I have credibility to say that.  I have been laid off.  I have been laid off when my wife was 2 weeks from delivering our second child and with a brand new mortgage to pay for.

I have been there.

I am the child of two parents who lost a family business when I was 10 years old and were left surprisingly unemployed, who, instead of being angry and stagnant, instead worked in any way they could, and built new careers when the old ones went away.

I have been there.

I have spent years of my relatively young life helping children, adolescents, and whole families take stock of their lives, look to their strengths, and build futures better than their todays.

There is no silver spoon in this mouth.

I recently finished a book, written by a Jewish psychiatrist about his time in concentration camps in Germany during World War II.  He has something to say about this day in age as well:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

So, to those of you out there protesting corporate greed, I applaud you for seeing how things are not right. 

Now make something of it.

To those that might be well off, how can you change this world for the better?

If you are a business owner:

-Look for ways to creatively offer opportunities to others.  Look to exchange offering experience for apprenticeship, if you can’t hire directly.  Mentor, in exchange for effort.

-Look for ways to increase commission-based pay.  Let the effort and creativity of others lead to financial gain, especially if you can’t hire full-time employees.

-Look for independent contractors.  Work is work, and there are those eager for work, even if it doesn’t include a benefits package or a union card.

-Is there room in your business plan to offer community classes about something that your company is good at?  Welding, auto repair, anything?

If you are a “regular” person:

-What are you learning every day?  Education is not a prisoner of the collegiate system.  Education and wisdom are eager partners, that are often found in hard work and diligence, as well as in the stories and experiences of others.

-How are you helping others around you?  The government will work to feed people.  The government will pay for short-term stimulus for jobs.  What are you doing to create fishermen(women)?  Who are you investing in?

-Where are you allowing your own ingenuity and creativity to increase your happiness in life?  More times than not, our principal barrier is not corporations, government, taxes, or the economy.  Our principle barrier is ourselves and our beliefs about ourselves.

All I am saying is that when you want to figure out how to change the world, it is less about changing others, and more about looking in the mirror.  If we followed that guide, we wouldn’t even have time to go to a protest, whether it be for Occupy Wall Street … or the Tea Party.

I did not intend for this to be that long, but I had so much running through my head, I had to put it down somewhere.

As always, feel free to share my content with friends, family, and contacts if you think that it might be helpful.

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day 205 – The eve of October – an update:

The short story?  I got my flu shot yesterday, and I don’t feel very well today.  If that shot gives me the flu … I will not be a happy camper.

Just wanted to throw a few blog/list updates out there even in my weakened condition so none of the 4 of you worry.

1. Next week, I think I have finally been able to devise a plan that allows for a more consistent writing pattern to make sure the blog keeps up to date.  I am on the downward slope of the year (we are past the 6 month mark) and lots of things are being done, just with my A/P class currently, my reading/casual time has been cut.  (I am strongly considering adding my textbook and lab manual to my reading list)

2. Tomorrow, I can eat meat.  But can I share a little secret?  There are times when I don’t even miss it.  Watched a documentary last night (Forks over Knives) about some interesting research about animal-based protein, and will be sharing a short review of that probably on Monday or Wednesday of next week.

(on a side note, I have realized that several times I have teased you about something upcoming on Monday or Tuesday, etc., and that it hasn’t always happened on schedule.  Rest assured, as of last night, if I say it’s coming, it’s because it’s already written.  Hope that will make me better at not counting chickens before they are hatched… now, back to point)

3. 5k #2 is in about 2 weeks.  I am feeling much better about this one than the one last month, and am aiming to be 5 minutes under last month’s time (which would place me at about 31 minutes or so).

4. Some upcoming topics on the blog (that are stewing around in my brain and in half-written posts):

-Lessons learned from being a vegetarian for a month (1st one was here – which was about Conviction).  Part 2 is about the Joys of Simplicity, and Part 3 about what it means to Crave.

The reasons why knowledge will trump education every time, as evidenced by recent reports in the Tennessean (local newspaper) about the increase in cost and relative decrease in benefit of a bachelor’s degree.

Addiction and brain chemistry (2 parts).  I am working on a couple of more professional writing posts, gearing up for #27 (Launch my Professional Entity Website).  This will be a 2-parter about how our habits impact our future, and now we know even more about the science of that.

I’ll see you all back here next week!

_Thomas


Goodbye, Mr. Central.

This week, a friend left this world, and traveled to another.

Matt McCurdy, a man who was many things, a father, brother, son, and friend, died in his home, sometime in the morning of August 9th, 2011.  He was 30 years old.  As this post goes live, a celebration of life ceremony is taking place to take joy in all the things in which Matt had a hand in his short time on this earth.

I want to use this simple medium to share what I knew of Matt, and things I think that those that were close to him would appreciate as well.

One of my first experiences with Matt was way back in Elementary school.  Matt and I, along with some other (now old) friends, were members of the same Cub Scout troop.  Even at such a young age, Matt was always full of life and hope.  Always had something funny to say.  Always spoke well of those around him.

We grew up, and to be honest, we probably weren’t the closest of friends in High School.  Regardless, Matt’s character and reputation followed him wherever he went.  This was not a bad thing.  You see, Matt’s character was one of honesty, good nature, dependability, and true joy … which seemed to last in spite of whatever situations surrounded him.  His reputation was one that was never seen finding fault with others, always seemed to have good things to say, and was very rarely (if ever) seen having a laugh at someone else ‘ true expense (he wasn’t one to miss a chance to crack a joke, that was for sure, but the boy was sensitive to who could take it, and who could not).

If this tragedy was the first time that Matt faced death head on, it would be astonishing enough.  But while Wednesday was the day that Matt left this world, it was not the first time he faced the prospect.  While in high school, Matt was involved in a devastating car accident just a mile from his home.  With significant head injuries that needed surgery, there was rumor and conjecture at the school that he might not make it.

Matt was a fighter.  He did make it.  Not only that, but he completed his senior year, and was named “Mr. Central”.

While I am attempting to give his memory honor, let me share with you instead the words captioned on that page:

“Robert Matthew McCurdy is the son of Pam and Johnny Knight. and the late Andy McCurdy.  His birthday is February 11, 1981.  He is the grandson of Robert and Mary Nola McCurdy, and Bill and Ruth Akins.  He has a brother, Butch McCurdy.  Matt is involved in the Calumet – Editor, Honor Choir, FTA, Science Club, Football, Soccer, Track, and Baseball.  He is an Excel Card recipient, coach of the Chiefs football team, an employee of the Catfish House, and was a Homecoming and Sweetheart Escort.  His future goals are to be successful enough to where his kids will have a nice house to live in.”

Well done, Matt.  Well done.

We all lost a brother this week, but rest assured, we will see him again.

May you rest in peace, and not be forgotten.


30 While 30: Day 138 – Never stop learning … because noone expects a Spanish Inquisition

Photo courtesy from shirtoid.com

(Because of some recent warnings from my wife on copyright issues with blogs, I am trying to be more careful on what I use here at Thomsthoughts.  If you are interested in the clip from which this phrase was used, simply search on Youtube for “Monty Python Spanish Inquisition” … It. Is. Hilarious. … in a British sort of way)

Recently read this story about the United States post office.  In short, based on usage, costs, and business model, the USPS could go down to as low as 3 days of service a week within the next 15 years.

This got me thinking.  Why is the Post Office having so much trouble?

Well, lets look at what services the Postal Service provides, and how there are many different ways to do those things today versus yesterday.

  1. Sending packages – Aside from the impeccable service that the USPS provides to our military personnel overseas, FedEx and UPS, both privately run, publicly traded companies, are increasing market share in this process, often doing it cheaper, faster, and more reliably than the US Postal Service.
  2. Paying bills – I just payed my last bill for the month.  Let me tell you how these played out: 1) Electric Bill – hand delivered.  2) Water – mailed.  3) At&t (Cellphone) – iPhone app  4) Charter (cable) – online  5) Mortgage – online. 6) Lease payment – hand delivered.  One … one out of those I place in the mail.  All of the other have a less expensive or more convenient option for payment.
  3. Sending lettersUm … anyone heard of e-mail?  In conversation with a friend at work, she shared that while e-mail has been reducing the need for stamped mail in comparison to a year ago, that there is a certain “feel” to writing a letter in your own handwriting.  Did you know that you can make your handwriting into a font?  Granted, you’re reading a post from someone who has specifically on his list to write 30 handwritten letters to people that have impacted him.  There is a “feel” to it.  Even so, “feelings” aren’t the best premise for business growth … well, maybe for TUMS, not necessarily the US Postal Service.
  4. Mailing of contracts or other important original documents – Aside from #1 above, with the fact that overnight and express mail has been mastered by other private enterprises, many important documents have been digitized.  Several times even in the last week, as I complete graduate school applications and fill out a leave request form, I sign my name digitally, using technology through Adobe.

The point?

At one time, the United States Postal Service was the best at doing what it did … At one time.  It isn’t anymore.

Also in the last few weeks, Netflix (a popular way to get media – movies and teleivion shows – for home veiwing) reported that they were going to be raising their rates, as reported in a story here.  Now lots of folks are upset by this change in rates (increase of about 60%), but I will allude to how ridiculous that is in a minute.

Also recently reported, Redbox (oh how I loooooove Redbox) is increasing in it’s market share (as in 35% of total DVD rentals), demonstrating an effective method of renting movies with almost no staff, and relying on almost total automation.

But I have a question for you:

When’s the last time you stopped at a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video to rent a new release movie?

Yeah.  Seriously.  Remember when about 10 years ago, it would cost you $5 for a 48-hour rental, that would beat you up on late charges if you didn’t get it back on time?  (As I alluded to earlier … you netflixers … the increase really isn’t that horrible, is it? – and if you don’t like it, visit a redbox … or soon, stream from one)

No one expects a Spanish Inquisition.

Now, some people have the skill to anticipate market and resource changes and can capitalize on them.  Life Coaching is a great example.  This is a profession, largely unregulated from it’s similar or related professions (counseling, psychotherapy, etc.), that has exploded in the last 10 years or so, all based on the premise of helping ordinarily well-functioning individuals plan for their life and reach their personal goals.  It is a lucrative endeavor.

It’s not just that.  It’s Google.  It’s Hulu.  It’s Thirty-One.  Name them.  Name the businesses, ideas, and advances that weren’t present even 10 years ago.

You can’t ever stop learning.

Read a book. Take a class. Learn a trade.  Apprentice with a master.  Experience new things.  Consider your purpose.  Always commit to learning.

I consider myself a life-learner.  As I prepare two graduate school applications for a late fall deadline, I have those good feelings creeping up again.  Feelings of excitement and anticipation of sitting in a classroom and of listening to someone about something I may know little about.  I love learning.  I have a growing list of books that I am trying to read in this year.  I have subscribed to about a dozen RSS feeds, and dozens of Twitter’ers (sp?) because for a while, I though I was capped.  Sure, that sounds arrogant, but when you have excelled to a degree of plateau in your profession (independently licensed in a terminal degree) you tend to think “you’re there”.

Well, you’re never “there”.

Don’t be Blockbuster Video.  Be the next Redbox.

Don’t be the Postal Service.  Be the next Fedex.

Don’t be the person you were yesterday.  Be the person you will be 10 years from now … today.

_Thomas

(Disclaimer – In no way do I mean to portray a disdain for the honor and diligence of the US Postal Service.  My comparisons are simply a result of their current operational and business paradigms, not a testament to their continuing work helping people communicate with others and get things where they need to be)


30 While 30: Day 126(7) – Have a little help from my (blogging) friends…

(As it was mentioned over twitter, I am unsure about what happenned to this post.  Regardless, I am using it today as my Wednesday + “Book Review” post.  Enjoy!) 

Today, I wanted to share with you some of the blogs out on the interwebs that I am currently following (or attempting to follow).

In my progress on #26 and #27, I have greatly increased the amount of content I read digitally.  Not so much books (like I do with my Kindle app on my iPad – by the way which is awesome – especially while running on the treadmill … no annoying pages to turn), but moreso small batches of content, blogs, articles, and news.  All of this really in an effort to learn as much as I can in a short amount of time, find ideas for articles on this blog, and to increase my eposure to other ideas out there about personal development and change, especially as it relates to this year-long experiement I am enduring.

(Disclaimer: I do not endorse any of these officially, and to be honest, some of them are very new to me.  You are getting a real glimpse of where I am and what I am looking at, and at the stage I am at. Read: figuring out if these are even worth reading in the first place.  They are also in no particular order, and this isn’t even a complete list … yikes!) Continue reading