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Unconventional Ideas - John Andersen


To teens in the first decade of the 21st century

By John O. Andersen, Unconventional Ideas

While hard work and discipline are essential to a successful life, true success is not in an award, or bank account balance. It's in the number of real friends you have, and intangibles such as your ability to enjoy life in deep and profound ways, and to have stood for something far greater than your own comfort, convenience, and bank account.

Time for a Major Food Shift

In other words, let�s shift our dependence from food processing corporations to local farmers, including hyper-local neighborhood urban farmers.

If you�re not yet a member of a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture, become one by next season at the latest.

It�s such a wonderful thing to eat food grown hyper-locally in season.

An inspiring example of understanding and love

Years ago I knew a woman at college. She had been a high school basketball player. I met her through her job at one of the university cafeterias.

We dated for some time.

I graduated and soon lost touch.

A few years back after more than two decades out of contact, she told me through an email that she had come out of the closet, and now had a partner who was female.

She seemed very happy.

The most inspiring part of the story was to hear how her father loved her the same as ever, and both supported her gay partnership and welcomed his daughter�s partner into the family.

That degree of love, understanding and morally praiseworthy action on the part of her Mormon father is truly inspiring to me.

It�s an advanced expression of love and understanding. It�s an unequivocal statement that her father grasps what is truly important in life.

New zero-tolerance policy for willful ignorance

Going forward, I will have zero tolerance for willful ignorance.

That doesn�t mean I won�t respect others� right to an opinion. It simply means when someone expresses an opinion that is irrefutably misinformed or uninformed, I will call them on it.

The facts are available like never before. Use them to get informed. FULL STOP.

Is your family a �shoot the messenger� family?

This something I�m familiar with.

Growing up in a cult, �shoot the messenger� behavior was the default reaction.

As a parent, I�ve had to work long and hard to ensure ours is not a �shoot the messenger� family; that the person who discovers fraud, abuse, and other difficult to swallow facts isn�t the problem, but rather the people who perpetrated the fraud, waste, or otherwise.

To see this requires honesty, integrity, courage, and a willingness to connect the dots.

It�s not easy, but it�s really the only way forward.

Spending less time on the Internet going forward

A week or so ago, I determined to scale back. To spend more time face-to-face, and less looking at a screen.

Yesterday I canceled my social media accounts due to the realization that social media has been addictive for me, and the best way to break that addiction was to go cold turkey.

It�s back to reading books, handwriting using a pen and paper, and having live flesh and blood discussions�all deeply satisfying activities for me.

There are many reasons for this which I don�t care to elaborate on.

Pitching in to Help Start a Food Co-op in a Low Income Neighborhood

By John O. Andersen

I�m diving into this huge effort; an effort to ultimately bring food security to a low-income neighborhood.

Although a late-comer to this undertaking, I�m ready to give my all to make it work.

Back in the fall of 2012, I was in New Orleans. On a Saturday morning walk, I stumbled upon a beautiful food co-op in a neighborhood that included low-income housing. It must have been serendipity.

That find is my evidence it can be done. Quality, local food is not just for the rich. Everyone, regardless of income, can have access to affordable healthy food.

What makes this effort easier is knowing that several great food co-ops already exist in the greater Portland, Oregon metro area. Many people from the area will share their expertise.

Local food security is becoming a top priority in communities throughout the USA as people become more aware of the need to grow and produce their own food completely free of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and other things harmful to humans.

It�s an honor to have this opportunity to join others who are committed to this extremely important work.

Love, Grassroots, Local, Inspiration, Community

Our Southeast Division Weekend Quest 25-27, April 2014

By John O. Andersen, 27 April 2014

Love, Grassroots, Local, Inspiration, Community

That�s what we sought, and to a great degree found.

It was a staycation. We boarded a bus for a 44-minute ride. We got off in a downpour, but soon found our clean, warm, dry, and deliciously relaxing suite at the Clinton Street Guesthouse. It was the perfect lodging, and we really appreciated the breakfasts that always feature homemade dishes, and produce from local farms including the backyard.

The Southeast Division Corridor is in the midst of a great transformation. While on our day-long neighborhood walking exploration, I found the following:

Over the next 20 years, Division Street between 11th and 60th will become a more pedestrian-friendly, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable corridor. The street will evolve into a series of bustling commercial nodes�connected by tree-lined walkways, multifamily residences, and thematic water features. The whole corridor will showcase energy-efficient building design, innovative rainwater facilities, and a vibrant local business spirit� while providing easy movement by all modes of transportation to, from, across, and along Division.�City of Portland Planning and Sustainability, February 2006, pg 7

The plan is to create 8 nodes of commercial activity along the corridor. These nodes are like villages that provide services to enable people in the neighborhood to get many if not all of their daily errands done by walking, cycling, or taking transit. We love that not because we are likely to move there, but rather the model it will be for other neighborhoods around Portland, and around the country.

Four inspirational findings:

Richmond Elementary School Garden and playground. One of the mothers told us about the garden and the phenomenal Japanese immersion program. We were struck by the number of children playing in the school playground. They were doing unorganized sports like I recall as a child. No adults directing, nor motivating. The adults I saw were all on bicycles; some with trailers towing toddlers. People were out enjoying the weather and socializing. We found the recently completed Nature Walk on the north side of the parking lot a superb way to transform a space.

The Southeast Portland Tool Library had lots of people coming and going. Their website reads>>We are a community resource that provides homeowners and tenants with the tools they need to perform simple home maintenance, tend their yards and gardens, build furniture and projects � while along the way meeting and sharing with neighbors in this community sustainability project. We now have more than 2000 members, 1200 tools, and make about 8,000 loans each year. Really!<<

�Lauretta Jeans Handmade pie. Very good.� Loved the chalkboard that lists the farms they source their ingredients from. Loved the fresh biscuit, the kale caesar salad, the herbed tomato soup, and the strawberry and rhubarb pie with homemade ice cream.

Peoples Food Co-op always makes me feel good inside. It�s about empowerment. It�s about food awareness in action. We enjoyed sitting in there for most of an hour. I anticipate soon getting involved in a local movement to start a food co-op in one of the neediest neighborhoods in the Portland metro area. People�s is my inspiration.


We walked slowly throughout the day. By the time we got back to the B&B, we�d gone probably 3-4 miles. Mandy took a couple of hundred photos. So yes, we walked very slowly.

But it was excellent. The weather mostly cooperated, and we gained a great deal of depth in our understanding of the neighborhood.

Next hyperlocal staycation neighborhood? Probably Northeast Alberta in July.


We�re NOT Off to See the Wizard:



March 15, 2008

Doing the uncommon thing first requires we look at life through different eyes, and consider unusual approaches.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.�

William Shakespeare from Julius Caesar Act II, Scene 2.

Our culture has more or less bought into the idea that going to college is just one of those things you�re �supposed� to do. Increasingly, parents feel they are �required� to finance their children�s education even if it means mortgaging themselves to the hilt or working crazy hours. Few ever dare to question this assumption, at least not in public. Yet, my wife and I question it and are happy to reveal our heretical thoughts to the world. It�s not that we have anything against college per se, just that we see things a bit differently.

Generally, we think college is a good choice for many. It was a good choice for me. I enjoyed exposure to a new world of ideas and people. I made lifelong friends. I expanded my intellectual horizons. And frankly, it was a fun time.

Nevertheless, since the years I attended college, things have changed somewhat. For instance, in many places careerism has all but destroyed the notion of classical education. Not that careerism is necessarily bad, but rather, it seems to me that far too many colleges have transformed themselves into career training factories. Largely gone is the notion of fostering renaissance men and women in embryo, who is more intent on reforming and improving society rather than becoming just another cog in its machinery.

Today�s graduates may have superior vocational training and more marketable skills relative to the graduates of yesteryear. However, their grasp of social and political issues, breadth of knowledge, and writing abilities are probably less noteworthy. Even worse, apathy for these skills is widespread.

Over and over I read statistics that �prove� that even with a much higher price tag, the long-term benefits of a college education still make it a bargain. But sometimes I wonder whose interest is best served by that �proof�: the individual students or that of the massive higher education industry?

Furthermore, I often question whether the �doors of opportunity� that college supposedly unlocks, actually lead to places where people truly want to go. Maybe the �doors of opportunity� are just the passageway into the adulthood of Babbittry.

Could college attendance be a sign of cowardice? Could it be a way to duck from the scary thought of being who we really are inside? Could we do the college thing mainly because that�s what�s expected of us, or what everyone else is doing, not because it�s what we truly should do?

At one time, I bought into the conventional wisdom that although college wasn�t the only option, most young people should aim for it. Then I met my wife, Mandy. She grew up in Canada and England. Her father�s military career gave her the advantage of living in a variety of places. She is well-read, writes better than most college graduates I know, and is well-informed on a variety of subjects. And, she has never completed a college course.

In addition to Mandy�s influence, my choice to be �downwardly mobile� had a major impact. After more than a generous helping of institutional higher education, and has launched a successful white-collar career, I felt confined. My freedom came from quitting my job and opting for manual labor. That step, more than any other factor, opened my mind to a new perspective.

Our primary reasons for questioning college:

For us, self-education is what sticks.

We think that self-education with passion is the learning which truly becomes a part of us. We�ve found we generally don�t have the same retention of the �learning� we�ve done in order to pass a test or get a degree. We�ve also discovered institutional learning sometimes kills off any interest we have in a subject.

Occasionally people tell me if I hadn�t gone to college I wouldn�t be as equipped to be a good self-learner. To a small extent, I agree, but in a larger sense, I believe the passion to know is what makes a good learner. It�s not the number of degrees after your name.

We prefer learning at a slower pace and savoring it along the way.

My experience with �learning� in college was like drinking from a fire hydrant: too much, too fast. There was rarely ever enough time to let things sink in. Occasionally it made more sense to give up on actually learning anything and switch to �binge and purge mode.� In other words, memorize what is necessary to get the �A� and then purge it from the brain at the end of the semester to make room for the next binge.

Why the big rush to stuff our brains? Learning, if it is to take hold, is a slow, lifelong process. We hope our children won�t feel pressured into the bingeing and purging mode so as to miss the pleasure of taking it slow and savoring all of the joys along the way.

Answers to common objections

Over the years when we�ve been vocal about our questioning of college, we�ve been pelted with a variety of objections. Below are four of the most common ones and our responses:

1. You�re pulling a slick one! You�ve had a �generous helping� of college, yet you�re going to deny your own children the opportunity to even go to college.

We didn�t say we�re against college. We tell our children that college is only one of many valid options they may choose. Equally valid would be a trade school, an informal apprenticeship, or simply getting a job doing something they enjoy. We make it clear it�s more important to listen to their heart than their peer group when it comes to structuring their life. We don�t pressure them to choose one option above another. Rather, we will equip them with the knowledge and tools to enable them to choose from a variety of paths.

2. If your children don�t go to college they�ll be stuck in grunt jobs for the rest of their lives.

There are different interpretations of the term �grunt jobs.� Many people define such jobs as those requiring physical exertion. Personally, I benefit from my physically demanding job. It keeps me in shape, gives me a constant change of scenery, and provides abundant time for contemplation. Not too shabby.

Jobs that punish creativity, make teamplay compulsory, and pressure people to wear a public face that is at odds with who they are inside, could also be defined as �grunt jobs.� If a �grunt� is someone who does disagreeable work, certainly people in such careers are in reality more like �grunts� than an autonomous janitor.

3. What about the intangibles of college: exposure to new ideas, making close friends, etc.? Aren�t those alone worth the price of tuition?

College can be a way to acquire those intangibles. But it�s certainly not the only or necessarily the best way. True learning demands patience, an inquiring mind, and commitment. Shelling out the big bucks doesn�t foster those traits. We like to believe that a lifetime of passionate hounding of public libraries is an excellent way to become educated. And that requires zero financial outlay.

And we don�t need to open our wallets to gain true friendships either. We just need to open our hearts.

4. What if your children decide later in life they want a career that requires a degree? Wouldn�t it have been better to have earned that degree before they took on the responsibilities of work and raising a family?

We think going back to school later in life can be a great way to do it. That is if you truly want to learn something, and really think you need a degree.

Getting through college while holding down a full-time job and/or raising a family can be a long slog. Yet, we feel such a task is not impossible and is actually getting easier with the proliferation of evening programs, correspondence courses, and Internet offerings. Personally, after having entered the workforce, I got much more out of my formal studies. As an inexperienced college student between the ages of 18 and 22, I had only a vague idea of what goes on in the outside world. I lacked a practical sense of how things actually worked or didn�t work. Hence, much of the �learning� didn�t register.

Regardless of whether a person earns a first college degree when they�re 22 or 62, or not at all, they will likely find that enjoying a lifetime of meaningful work (paid and non-paid) requires a lifetime of learning. Some of this may come through taking classes, but we like to believe the bulk of it comes through self-education. The degree to which people succeed at teaching themselves new skills, and pursuing interests for which they have a passion, will to a significant extent, determine their overall state of happiness.


The seeds of learning already exist inside of us. We don�t have to be �off to see the wizard� or pay tuition and room and board to figure this out. We simply need to believe it.

College can be the best option for many people. If it is for our children, they�ll go. But more importantly, we hope they�ll enjoy the freedom to choose from a wide assortment of options without pressure from the outside world to choose one thing above another. After all, they�re the ones living their lives, not the outside world.

Going Hyperlocal: 26 Neighborhood Explorations


The idea first hit me back in January at the opening of the local African film festival where we saw �Grigris.� The film�s perspective was hyperlocal, i.e. at the neighborhood level.

Later I reflected that as a worldview, a hyperlocal focus makes a ton of sense. For one, it�s where we can make lasting, meaningful change without many or any hurdles. It�s also where human actions of compassion, caring, love, and creativity are both abundant and easy to detect.

So why not delve deeper into the hyperlocal right in front of my nose, I reasoned. To do this, I decided to systematically explore on foot 26 Portland-area neighborhoods on my way to work each day.

Trimet�s Blue Line light rail consists of 47 stops. For this undertaking, I started at Rockwood/E 188th, and visited it and the next 25 stations (one per day), ultimately finishing at Washington Park.

This took me over 5 weeks. Each morning on my 1 � hour commute to a full-time swing shift temporary assignment across town, I would detrain at a different stop along the way, and spend approximately two hours walking that unique neighborhood looking for interesting homes, gardens, trees, monuments, innovative businesses, inspiring community groups, and more.

Essentially, what I sought each day was an inspiration; something positive. And I always found it.

Some neighborhoods I explored actually unconfirmed my long held stereotypes. Below are four examples of neighborhoods that taught me when I have an open, non-judgmental mind I�m virtually guaranteed to uncover something delightful.

�172nd Ave: Nadaka Nature Park with an incredible urban garden future, and Chepe�s Pupuseria y Taqueria with inspiration direct from El Salvador. There were also Snowcap Community Charities and the very busy Rockwood Library that has a variety of services including lunch for children ages 1 to 18 throughout the spring and summer.

�162nd Ave: Rosewood Community Initiative which (from their website) ��is a neighborhood space where you can help the community as you improve yourself. Neighbors come here to interact with one another, work on projects and feel safe.�

�102nd Ave: The food court of Mall 205 has only one vendor left, a great mom & pop place: Ozzie�s Deli and Gyros. I had the Majadra which included lentils, bulgur, saut�ed onions, olive oil, cucumber sauce, lettuce, and tomatoes. The other notable place in the neighborhood is the East Portland Community Center on SE 106th. The day I was there it was packed with people: seniors with Meals on Wheels, classes, swimmers, you name it.

�Convention Center: I was expecting a generic walk. And it was until I crossed over the freeway and popped into the Vacuum Cleaner Museum. Then I walked the delightful neighborhood around the Jupiter Hotel, Doug Fir Lounge, K-BOO Radio, Imago Theater, The Farm Caf�, and more quirky shops, things, and people to keep Mandy and I entertained for a hyperlocal future staycation weekend.

Those findings just scratch the surface of the many inspiring places I found by investigating 26 neighborhoods. My takeaway?

If I want to stay current in a neighborhood, I�ve got to walk it regularly. There are always many changes to notice and track. Also, I can�t wait to �finish� the Blue Line with the remaining 21 neighborhoods left to explore. This is something I will pick up starting in June, and finish in August.

After that, I may examine other neighborhoods along other light rail lines, and also return to some of my favorites from time to time on the Blue Line.

In a broader sense, I�ve determined hyperlocal is an excellent perspective, very life-affirming, and perhaps the most positive stance to take in what are very frustrating times at levels �above� the hyperlocal like the city, state, nation, or world. Indeed, the Beatles were right when they sang, �the deeper you go, the higher you fly.�

Hyperlocal is deep. And that may be what makes it amazingly liberating.

Image of Unconventional Ideas - John Andersen