Why Do So Many Americans Love Halloween

I visit Abu Sahajj Hakim’s blog frequently to get a different perspective on America. I love and respect him, his writing, and his beliefs. He recently wrote a post about Halloween and I wanted to comment, but I resisted because I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post.
Here’s an excerpt of his post:

Halloween is the most indulgent and frivolous event in American culture. Yeah, yeah… I know your kids love it and it is so fun right! Yeah well, my guess is that in 1767 going to the market place to select a new slave to perform childcare and domestic duties was thrilling and rather adventurous for children (my point is that all things indulged are not inherently noble, which is a fairly obvious point).

Abu,
I want to tell you why I love Halloween.

I am grateful for Halloween because of…
Pumpkin Patch BW
Joyful memories from my youth
A gaggle of about 20 of us kids, ages 6-12 spent hours trick or treating (without adults), returning home with pillowcases full of candy, emptying them on the living room floor and returning to the streets again and again.

The brown house with the orange double doors that handed out football cards in 1978. I still know where it is.

Adults checking my candy for poison, needles, and razor blades. Their unfounded fears were based on legend, but it somehow added to the fun. I remember thinking at each house – Is this the guy that poisons little kids?

Descending on an old abandoned 4-story boarding school we named “Hell House” for pitch-dark games of capture the flag.
Hell House Gate 2006 - The building was torn down a few years ago
Hell House Gate 2006 Chanhassen MN- The building was torn down a few years ago

Hooting, hollering, and laughing in marijuana-hazed theaters showing midnight runs of campy “B” horror films. I know, I know, but it’s a happy memory for me. 🙂
The Theatre in 2006 - they turned it into a Hollywood Video and office, but the marquee is still intact
The Theatre in 2006 – they turned it into a Hollywood Video and offices, but the marquee is still intact

The joy it brings children
I dropped my son off at a Halloween party this morning. He was dressed up as a blue and purple fuzzy monster.The Scariest Monster of All When he entered the party a dozen kids swarmed around him, his eyes sparkled and his face beamed with delight.

The joy it brings my wife
She takes the time to get just the right costumes for the boys. Halloween is a social time where she gathers with family and friends to decorate the house and carve Jack-O-Lanterns. She takes special care to find the perfect candy to give to our little goulish Halloween visitors.

The joy it brings me
I plan to build a Haunted House in my garage for all the neighborhood kids. That’ll give me an excuse to dress up in a silly costume and entertain children – something IT managers don’t get to do very often.

I also plan to have a bonfire where I tell the ghost stories that I write.

Halloween has no religious connotation to me. To me it’s simply a chance for us to escape the blandness of our lives and be creative and frivolous.

Since we live in a culture of fear, I believe Halloween also helps us deal with our fear by allowing us to feel fear in relative safety.

If I could say anything to the ancient pagan Celts and Scots who invented Halloween, I’d say…
Thanks for inventing something so incredibly fun, you’ve brought tremendous joy to millions of boys and girls. Chalk one up for the Pagans.

P.S. Please feel free to share your happy Halloween stories in the comments.

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Achieving Greatness

Yesterday, my wife emailed me this link about what it takes to be great. Reading this article created an idea that I want to share with you.

In this article Geoffrey uses the words hard work six times to describe the key ingredient to greatness. However, I believe you can achieve greatness without working hard (from your perspective). I’ll explain why in this post.

The hard work he describes only looks like hard work from the outside. To the person working and practicing relentlessly, it isn’t hard work at all. It is action fueled by desire and love. The actions are not forced; they are natural because the person working toward greatness is driven by an intense sense of purpose.

Have you ever had times when you were working toward a goal and time stood still? When you were completely engrossed in the task at hand? These moments are incredibly productive and satisfying, aren’t they? I believe that is how hard work feels to people in the process of becoming great. It’s very different living it than viewing it from the outside.

My wife describes working on her business this way. In fact, she doesn’t even feel that it is work. It is the result of her desire, love, and joy – The desire to give the best possible service and product to her customers, her love of books, and the joy the books bring to people.

I feel the same way about this blog. I love sharing stories and ideas with you. I have an intense desire to improve. I believe that sharing inspiring thought provoking ideas is my purpose in life. And that purpose drives me forward with an energy I’ve never experienced before.

I believe a path to greatness lies within each of us; we just need to discover it.

The path to greatness is not paved with hard work; the path to greatness is paved with desire, love, faith, and joy. It only looks like hard work to those observing your journey.

More About the Target – Wal-Mart Post

The Target Store post has become popular beyond my wildest dreams, so I wanted to tell you why I did it. I felt I needed to tell you what I learned about myself – I feel good at Target Stores and rotten at Wal-Mart. I didn’t intend for it to be a scientific study. I took it as a personal opportunity to share my inner world with you.

I understand the economic reason Wal-Mart exists and flourishes, I believe in the free market, so my reason kept telling me my feelings about Wal-Mart were invalid, so I kept returning to Wal-Mart trying to prove my reason correct, and my emotions wrong, like returning to an abusive relationship hoping things would change. I’ve discovered, in the long-run, my emotions always win. I couldn’t find peace until I listened to and understood my emotions. The post was inspired in a moment in September when my wife and I were leaving Wal-Mart, and I said to her “I feel like I am going to be sick. Why do we keep coming here?” It dawned on me – we were acting insane – doing the same thing and expecting different results.

If you can identify something in your environment that makes you feel ill, look for a positive alternative. When I made a final decision to never shop at Wal-Mart again, it was like distancing myself from any negative influence, my negativity decreased and my hope and joy increased.

Oh! And there is another reason I posted it. I believe the world would be a better place if fewer people shopped at Wal-Mart.

Updated 'About' Page

When I started this blog, I didn’t plan the subjects of my posts, but I did intend for them to be about something interesting, helpful, inspiring, valuable, or funny about my journey through life. I planned for each of my posts to have a personal side, about my inner life

Now this blog is evolving and growing and I decided to update the About information. I added a picture and some other things.

But the main addition is a clarification of what I am trying to accomplish with this blog.

In a nutshell…

As my family and I travel through life, improving, discovering, and accomplishing goals, I will share specific things we learn or have learned that I feel can help others live a happy, content, productive, rich, growth oriented life. And I desire to do it in an interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking way. We are going to question the world as we pursue personal freedom and share the answers we receive with you.

Thanks for visiting – I am very thankful for all of you (even the trolls – you’re like the little devil on my shoulder)

10 Reasons Target is Better than Wal-Mart

I feel ill visiting Wal-Mart – Am I alone? Target doesn’t have this effect on me. I feel great in Target stores. 10 reasons why…

Crime
Why did the 911 hijackers buy their box cutters at Wal-Mart? Why do serial killers featured on Court TV buy duct tape and rope at Wal-Mart? Because they feel comfortable there. They’re with their people. Did you know (according to this study) the average Wal-Mart has almost 450% more police calls than the average Target store?

Target Doesn’t Destroy Small Towns
My parents live in the lake country of Northern Minnesota. It’s beautiful; please visit sometime. They live near Park Rapids (pop 3,300) and Wadena (pop 4,200), two quaint small towns about 30 miles apart. Wal-Mart is building a box store in each town. These cities have vibrant downtowns with ice cream confectionaries, candy shops, coffee shops, theaters, dime stores, bookstores, restaurants, and hardware stores. We know what happens when a box store opens on the edge of town, the downtown dies. Economists say that the little shops in town are economic dinosaurs. Maybe the economists are right, but I will still grieve the loss of these special places.

Target doesn’t build stores in towns with populations of 4,200 or 3,300 and it isn’t on their agenda (as far as I know).

Target’s Prices are Competitive
See the Cockeyed.com Comparison

I’ve Never Seen Anyone Wearing a NASCAR Shirt, Purple Sweat Pants, and Pink Fluffy Slippers at Target

Employees (An Anecdote)
Sunday Sep 10th 10:00 AM
Wal-Mart: I smiled at the people greeter. She didn’t greet me or anyone else. She stood there like a zombie looking straight ahead scowling.

After spending 15 minutes looking for a lunch box, I asked an employee where the lunch boxes were. She led us aimlessly around the store with no idea where they were. Eventually she asked another employee working at the jewelry counter, “Hey ya know where the lunch boxes are?”

She looked up from the phone, chewing her gum, said “Nope”, and returned to her telephone.

We didn’t find a lunch box.

As I left, I saw 25 checkout lanes. Two were open. The lines were 15 deep. After 60 minutes, I walked out empty handed and nauseous.

Sunday Sep 10th 11:15 AM
Target: The people greeter smiled and asked, “Can I help you?”

“Where are the lunch boxes?” I asked.

She whispered something into a microphone on her chest, paused, and said, “Behind aisle 8 against the back wall.”

Target had ten lanes open and two with no line. In less than ten minutes, I found what I wanted and left with a smile on my face.

I don’t know if Target offers higher pay or better benefits but I can tell that they attract different employees; employees that care. Wal-Mart employees appear indifferent.

Happy Customers
At the Target store near my home, I see energetic customers smiling, visiting, and laughing.

At Wal-Mart I see people moping around with frowns, yelling at their kids, and everyone looks depressed.

Cleanliness
In my experience, the difference in cleanliness between the two chains is dramatic, especially the bathrooms. I brought my son into the bathroom at Wal-Mart and it was so nasty I’ll never bring him there again.

Better Parking Lots
Wal-Mart: One way, narrow, and angled. I’d show you how bad it is but Wal-Mart could sue me if I post a picture of their store. Yet another reason to love ‘em.

Did you know that most Wal-Marts allow people to camp in their parking lots? Is that safe?

Target: Square, two way, parking lots which are safer and easier to navigate.
Target Parking Lot
Positive Atmosphere
Wal-Mart’s atmosphere is cheap and crass.

Target’s atmosphere exudes progress and style.

Go to each store and soak in the whole scene and you’ll know what I mean.

Wider Aisles
Wal-Mart: I’d show you how narrow, crowded, and disorganized their aisles are but…Wal-Mart could sue me if I post a picture of their store.

Target: Wide spacious aisles
Target Aisle
I have both a Wal-Mart and a Target five minutes from my house. There is no comparison in the shopping experience.

My first priority in life right now is to maintain a positive mental state. I’ve found it nearly impossible to maintain a positive mental state inside a Wal-Mart store. The place oozes negativity.

When I leave Wal-Mart I feel like I should go home and shower, like I’ve just visited a seedy porn shop or something.

When I leave Target, I feel energetic and I want to return.

For more on Wal-Mart watch this movie.

Positive thinking tip:
Visit Target frequently and stay out of Wal-Mart.

This is an opinion piece, based on my personal experiences. I don’t work for Target. I don’t even own any Target stock.

What the Oracle e-Business Suite and Steve Jobs Taught Me

I’ve been a chronic paranoid worrier most of my life and this week I discovered a couple of things I want to share with you about combating worry, fear, and anxiety.

On Saturday, we moved our Oracle e-Business Suite (hardware, software, and data) from our corporate server room to a data center thirty miles away. We dismounted 5 high-end HP Linux servers and an HP SAN, put them in my van, drove them thirty miles, and reassembled them in the new data center. The VP of Information Services made the decision to move our Oracle instances to the new data center because it has multiple power sources, sits on several fat bandwidth pipes, and has state of the art security and fire protection. It was a great decision that added value to our company.

But putting millions of dollars worth of data, software, and hardware in my van and hurling it down the freeway at sixty miles per hour seemed like a huge risk. In the days preceding the move – I had the feeling I get just before I speak to a large group, the sweaty palms, the shakes, and a knotted stomach. I imagined different disaster scenarios: Car accidents, fires, theft, etc.

I repeatedly told myself, “Don’t be silly. Nothing will happen. Everything will be fine”, but those thoughts didn’t relieve my worry and anxiety.

Then I thought, “Sure an accident may happen, but we have verified backups so we can recover from a disaster. It might take a couple of days, but we can recover.” This thought didn’t help either; the anxiety was still there.

Then this thought occurred to me – I drive my family around in the van without fear, worry, or anxiety. An accident could kill or maim any one of us. Then I asked myself this question – If I am not afraid of losing my family, why am I afraid of losing a bunch of hardware, software, and data that can easily be replaced?

I pondered that question for a few days and an answer came to me – three hundred employees, the executives, my boss, and the shareholders are counting on us to get this right. If something goes wrong, they may think I am an incompetent boob and that would be a shameful embarrassment. I wasn’t afraid of losing the hardware or software, I was afraid of what people would think if I lost it.

Fear of public shame or embarrassment is at the root of many of our disabling irrational fears. Fear of public speaking is the most obvious.

Identifying the root of my worry helped. During the move, I was free from fear and we executed flawlessly. During the planning process, I somehow convinced my sub-conscious that I had nothing to fear, but I don’t know exactly how.

The reason I write this stuff is – I intend to transcend fear and I intend for you to transcend fear as well.

Steve Jobs has some good advice:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

– Steve Jobs at Stanford 2005

What to do when Your Vehicle Check Engine Light Turns On and the Warranty has Expired

I wish to share this simple piece of information that has saved me thousands of dollars over the past several years.

Yesterday my vehicle check engine light turned on and I knew what to do.

I have never owned a new car; I always buy used. I usually buy an American model lease back or rental return with around 25,000 miles on it which saves me $10,000 – $20,000 on each vehicle purchase, and that allows me to stay out of debt (which my wife and I abhor). The risk is that the factory warranty expires 5,000 – 10,000 miles after purchase, so I could end up with a useless car less than a year after purchase, but that hasn’t happened.

What has happened is the check engine light frequently lights after the vehicle exceeds 50,000 miles. In the past when this happened, I always took the vehicle to a dealership to have them diagnose and fix the problem. I’d have to make inconvenient commuting arrangements since I’d loose the car for 1-2 days, and a repair was required that cost between $500-$2000 dollars. Since I am a mechanical know-nothing, I accepted the dealer’s word, made the repair, and paid the bill. I don’t recall how many times I’ve been through this repetitive cycle, but it’s been often enough to cause me a lot of frustration.

I don’t remember where I learned this, but several years ago, I learned that I didn’t need to go to a dealership or another garage to find out why the check engine light was lit. I didn’t even need to buy any special equipment to find out why it was lit.

Today I take the car to an auto parts store like Auto Zone or Advance Auto Parts and tell the guy at the counter that my check engine light is on. He plugs a handheld electronic device into my car, and tells me why it is lit. Several times, it said “emissions problem” – translated – A LOOSE GAS CAP! We tightened the gas cap, reset the light, and it didn’t light again for months. Other times it was a plug misfire, which can be a complete aberration. Again, we reset the light and it didn’t light again for months. A couple times, repairs were required, but at least I walked into the dealership with knowledge, which helped me keep the cost down. With knowledge of the problem, they couldn’t B.S. me.

The best part – it’s something you can do in five minutes that may save you thousands of dollars.

You can also buy yourself your own inexpensive Diagnositc Code Reader.

Check out Amazon’s entire assortment of ODBII Diagnotic Scanners.

To some readers this may be common knowledge, but for those of us that are mechanically challenged, it will save you cash.


The High Cost of Commuting to Work

As I was commuting to work this morning, I thought – How much does it cost me to drive to work? Not the gas, the car, and the taxes I pay for the road, but how much does the lost opportunity cost me? If you took Economics in College, you likely learned about opportunity cost.

In economics, opportunity cost, or economic cost, is the cost of something in terms of an opportunity forgone (and the benefits that could be received from that opportunity), or the most valuable forgone alternative, i.e. the second best alternative. – Wikipedia

In this post, I am only going to look at opportunity cost, not environmental cost, not social cost, nor other externalities. What does it cost you in lost opportunity to commute to work based on what you know today?

My first example is a couple I know that purchased a house in a location that requires them to commute 1.5 hours to work each way. So they commute 3 hours every workday.

The opportunity cost based on the above definition is the dollar value amount they produce per hour when producing goods and services (this is the economic value of an hour of their time). Since they are skilled technology workers we will set that at $100 per hour for the couple. Since they are both knowledge workers, they don’t need to be in any specific location to be productive, all they need are the tools to be productive, computers, software, and network connections. Based on this information I came up with formulas for the cost of commuting.

Example:
(Commute time * Productivity per hour) * Days Commuting per year
(3 * 100) * 230 = 69K

Based on similar formulas I calculated the following numbers:

  • Yearly opportunity cost – $69,000
  • Lifetime (30 years) opportunity Cost – $2,070,000
  • 8-hour work days spent commuting per year – 86.25
  • Lifetime (30 years) work days commuting – 2587.5
  • Number of work years spent commuting – 11.25

That’s right! They will spend the equivalent of 11.25 work years driving to and from work. I defined a work year as 230 8-hour days.

Using the same formulas these are my numbers based on my 1.25 hour daily commute time.

  • Yearly opportunity cost – $28,750
  • Lifetime (30 years) opportunity Cost – $862,500
  • 8-hour work days spent commuting per year – 36
  • Lifetime (30 years) work days commuting – 1078
  • Number of work years spent commuting – 4.67

Makes working from home look attractive doesn’t it?

5 Steps to Start a Business & Purchase Wholesale

It’s easy to set yourself up to buy goods from wholesalers. You can do it from your home office. Follow these steps and PRESTO, you’re ready to go in search of suppliers.

1. Apply for an EIN (Employee Identification Number) at The IRS
You can apply for a number online. It’s instant!

Be sure to read Top 5 Reasons for Rejection of an Application

No need to become a corporation now – unless you have employees or plan to sell a product that may trigger a lawsuit. Sole Proprietor will work fine for starting out, it’s easy to upgrade if you decide to take your business to the next level and become a corporation.

2. Apply for a Tax ID number in the state you live in.

After applying for an EIN, wait a few days before applying for a State Tax ID number. Your state will need your EIN so you want to be sure the IRS has it in their database.

Google your state’s Revenue Department (example Florida).

Since I live in Minnesota (definitely NOT a sales tax free state) I went here: http://www.taxes.state.mn.us/. On the front page under the Business header is a link to Register for a Minnesota Tax ID Number. If you are fortunate enough to live in a sales tax free state you will need a disclaimer form. You can find this on your state’s Revenue Department website.

3. Get a credit card just for business.

Wholesalers want you to establish a credit history before giving you terms – like Net 30 Days. They want you to pay up front with a credit card the first few times you place an order.

I like to have a card that gives cash back. This only works if you never carry a balance. If you plan to carry a balance, even for a short period, go for the card with the lowest interest rate.

4. Choose Business Name

If you plan to sell online on your own website or eBay you need to answer these questions:

  • Is a domain name available for the name I want?
  • How about eBay? Can I create a user name that is the same as my business?

If you are a Sole Proprietor you don’t need to run a check on your business name. But, if you plan to become a corporation later, you should run a Business Name Check in your state. You cannot legally use a name that someone else is already using in the state you live in. To run a check, go to Google and type in Corporate Name Check Your State (example Wisconsin).

5. Open a Business Checking Account

It’s best to have a separate account for all business transactions. If you are not a corporation, tell your bank you want to set up a DBA (Doing Business As) account or they may not deposit checks made out to your business name. Get your business name on your checks. I like to use small, local banks, because I find them more helpful getting my businesses off the ground. Don’t pay more than $10.00 per month for a basic business account.

Congratulations! You are now a business. You are free to seek out wholesalers and buy until your hearts content. Be careful out there, many businesses call themselves wholesalers but their prices do not reflect that. They are usually middlemen and take advantage of people who don’t know better. Anyone who advertises We Cater to eBay Sellers is probably too expensive and million other people will be selling the same junk.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Skip even offers a program for buying wholesale.

God, Heaven, and Other Controversial Beliefs

When I posted 10 Things I learned from my 4-Year-Old, it started a flame war in the comments section and I believe it is an opportunity to write about beliefs.

It may surprise some of you that dogmatic religious beliefs aren’t for me and my son is free to believe anything he wishes.

  • I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist and I once believed the things they taught (they told me my dog wouldn’t go to heaven because it didn’t have a soul and eating bacon could land me in hell)
  • Then I believed I was an atheist
  • Then I believed I was an agnostic
  • Then I believed in New Age teachings
  • Then I looked at Lutheranism

None of these belief systems – as a whole – work for me.

I intended the post to inspire people to think and ask more questions and many readers were inspired. However, some commenters flamed me as an ignorant brainwasher of children, and I empathize with them, because I used to be a lot like them. In the past I believed anyone that believed in God was a weak-minded ignorant fool and I usually told them so.

I used to hold this belief – I believe I must be right. Combined with atheism, this was the most destructive belief I have ever held. It led me to listen only to people that agreed with me. It led me to repeat mistakes without learning from them. It led me into an us vs. them mentality. It led me to insult and impugn people who didn’t agree with me. For me, atheism and a need to be right led to a grander myopia than my Adventist beliefs. The moment I shed those beliefs my life permanently changed and I gained incredible personal power. I saw a new reality full of new ideas and new possibilities.

So now I have decided that I don’t need to be an Adventist, an Atheist, an Agnostic, a New Ager, or a Lutheran, but I can learn things from them all. I have decided that I am not a belief system, but an independent being free to choose the beliefs that work best for me. I can read the Bhagavad Gita and discuss it with Hindus, I can read blogs written by Buddhists, I can discuss the teachings of Christ with a Christian, and I can discuss the war in Iraq with a Muslim. For me, beliefs are powerful tools I can use to achieve results, so why limit myself to just one set. If I were to accept one rigid set of beliefs and never change them, I believe I would be trapped believing the same old things and expecting different results. Insanity!

I’m getting great results with my current beliefs, but I have a big goal – I want to help as many people as possible realize their dreams. I believe achieving this goal will require learning and applying powerful new beliefs that I haven’t yet discovered.

I do believe in God and that belief seems to work very well for me right now. Maybe it doesn’t work for you, and that’s okay with me. But if you are open to the possibility of anything, I believe you will learn far more than if your mind is closed to certain possibilities.

I tried to persuade my son to believe that our cat (Maui) was okay and happy in heaven, so he would think about Maui’s death in the most positive possible way. But of course, the truth is, I don’t know what happened to the life-force that allowed Maui to meow, hunt, run, and purr for the last 18 years. I’m guessing his life-force just changed form, like liquid water turns to vapor.

My point is – My 4-year-old taught me not to accept overly simple answers to big complex questions. I will keep asking big questions so maybe someday I can learn the truth.

For more information on changing your beliefs see Steve Pavlina’s blog. It describes it far better than I can. See these podcasts specifically.
Beliefs
Overcoming Fear
Beyond Religion
The True Nature of Reality

P.S. Don’t bother putting insults and flames in the comments. I’ll delete them. If you want to have a meaningful discussion, disagree without denigrating.