Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Civic Impact of College - Part One

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Our Fading Heritage is the third major study conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the kind of knowledge required for informed citizenship.

Its conclusions are appalling. But lets look at the background.

In 2006 and 2007, 14000 college freshmen and seniors were given a multiple-choice quiz containing 60 basic questions about America - the kind of stuff high school seniors and new citizens are expected to know.

The kind of stuff homeschoolers eat for breakfast.

In both years, both groups utterly failed. And worse, the seniors only had a 1.5% advantage over the freshmen. So, basically, this means that after spending a fortune on college, the students do not gain any appreciable knowledge about America's unique form of self-government. Moreover, the more prestigious the college, the LESS likely the seniors were to know more than freshmen about government, economics, American History, and foreign affairs.

This year, ISI decided to take it to the streets. They asked a random sample of American adults to answer a basic test of only 33 multiple choice civics questions, plus a few other additional questions, then analyzed the data in such a way that enabled them to compare the "civic impact of college with other societal factors."

In other words, do colleges help our students become better citizens?

Now for the appalling part. The answer is a resounding NO.

  • 71% of Americans fail the test
  • Fewer than half of all Americans can name the three branches of government
  • Only 24% of college graduates know that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of an official religion in the US
  • Only 54% can identify a basic description of our free enterprise system
  • Elected Officials score even lower than the general public
Thirty percent of elected officials do not know that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps this is the reason we have gotten into such a mess.

You can read the whole sad story at the ISI website.

If you are very brave, why don't you take the test yourself and see whether you are more knowledgeable than the average citizen?

Then contrast this with the good news about homeschooling and civics education Homeschooling Grows Up, a report by the National Center for Home Education about behaviors of adults who were homeschooled. According to this report, 76% of those 18-24 have voted in a state or national election within the previous 5 years, compared to 29% of the general US population, and a staggering 95% of those 25-29 have voted versus 40% of the general population.

Now, in the wake of the Obama campaign and his subsequent election, those statistics are probably no longer accurate as far as sheer numbers of younger voters in the general populace are concerned, though a case could still be made about whether those who voted could be considered "informed citizens."

Large numbers of young white voters from elite colleges voted for Obama. Tomorrow's post will examine some interesting information about the "civic impact of elite colleges."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

TGIF - The New Employee

The New Employee
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2, by Os Hillman

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Cor 4:7).

What would happen if Jesus took your place for a year in your workplace? Let's consider some hypothetical things that He might do.

He would do His work with excellence. He would be known around the office for the great work He did (Exodus 31:2).

He would develop new ideas for doing things better (Eph 3:20).

He would hang out with sinners in order to develop a relationship with them in order to speak to them about the Father (Mt 9:12).

He would strategically pray for each worker about their concerns and their needs. He would pray for those who even disliked Him (Mt 5:44).

He would rally the office to support a needy family during Christmas (Jer 22:16).

He would offer to pray for those who were sick in the office and see them get healed (Mt 14:14).

He would honor the boss and respect him/her (Titus 2:9).

He would consider the boss as His authority in His workplace (Rom 13:1).

He would be truthful in all his dealings and never exaggerate for the sake of advancement ( Ps 15:2).

He would be concerned about His city (Lk 19:41).

He would always have a motive to help others become successful, even at his own expense (Pr 16:2).

Hmm. Sounds like some good ideas we could each model.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Utterly Off Topic Wednesday: Obama Won - Now what?

The Onion takes a fantastically lighthearted look at something that many of us noticed in all seriousness during the campaign.

Tell the truth - didn't you know at least ONE (hundred?) Obama supporters who didn't respond to reason, facts or anything at all that contradicted their Obama obsession?

What are these people going to do now?

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Sunday, January 18, 2009

You Can Help The World From Your Home Computer

You Can Help the World from Your Home Computer

Robert J. Rosenthal

U ntil recently, volunteer work almost always meant spending time at the location of an organization devoted to a cause you care deeply about. Today, thanks to the Internet, you can often help those causes even more by staying home and working at your computer.

"Virtual volunteering" is the most popular term for this type of online activity. Organizations devoted to human rights, politics, religion, disaster relief, animal protection, the ill and disabled, the environment, immigrants, women's issues and dozens of other causes all need thousands of virtual volunteers.

Your age makes no difference. In fact, if you have an illness or a physical condition that hinders you from volunteering outside your home, you can still participate fully as a virtual volunteer.


As a virtual volunteer, you help organizations with skills they need, such as doing research and graphic design, writing grant proposals, helping students, contacting donors or writing materials that the organizations publish and/or post on the Web.

Example: A few years ago, I was an employee of a real estate development company and wanted to do more for the San Francisco community in which I lived. I contacted the Taproot Foundation, which helps professionals donate their business skills to community organizations, and within a few weeks, I was a member of a volunteer team that was building Web sites for several nonprofit organizations. My job was to write copy for the sites, and like all other team members, I worked from home. I enjoyed volunteer work so much that I decided to make it my career.

The flexibility of virtual volunteering also lets you help an organization across the country or even in another part of the world. Examples...

Family-to-Family (914-478-0756,, an organization that helps feed families in needy communities nationwide, recently appealed for 25 virtual volunteers to work a few hours a month writing grant proposals and press releases, as well as dealing with other media issues. All volunteers could work from their home computers.

Wisconsin and Minnesota-based Nibakure Children’s Village (612-578-6560, recently needed three volunteers to work online two hours a week on fund-raising for an orphanage in Rwanda.

Political parties. The Democratic and Republican parties are nearly always in need of virtual volunteers.

Virtual volunteering isn't for everyone. By working from home, you won't meet face-to-face each day with other volunteers -- something that many people might want. On the other hand, virtual volunteers are often in touch with others by E-mail and occasional phone calls.

You also need a computer, an Internet connection and a certain amount of skill in using them (but you don't have to be a computer whiz, by any means). Even if you lack these skills, many nonprofit organizations will be eager to help you learn.


Apart from helping an important cause, volunteers can benefit in a way that's often overlooked -- furthering their own careers, especially second careers. By volunteering, you can gain experience in a field that might otherwise be difficult for you to break into. Examples...

If you want to go into paralegal work, you can start by taking a few courses at a local college and then build up your résumé by volunteering online for an organization that needs assistance with paralegal matters.

If you're interested in public relations work, you could easily benefit from writing press releases -- a skill that many charitable groups are in such need of that they coach virtual volunteers on how to do it. Armed with that skill, you might also sell your services to for-profit organizations.


Tens of thousands of organizations, large and small, increasingly depend on volunteers who work from home via the Internet. The easiest way to find one is through the Web-based groups that link volunteers with organizations that need them. These include...

Network for Good, founded by America Online, Cisco Systems and Yahoo (866-650-4636,

Points of Light Institute, a Washington, DC-based organization that recently merged with a similar group, the Hands On Network (202-729-8000,

Taproot Foundation, which puts together teams of working people who want to help charitable groups (415-359-1423, at the University of Texas at Austin (512-232-7062,

VolunteerMatch, my organization, with volunteer opportunities from more than 55,000 nonprofit organizations (415-241-6868,

UN Volunteers, an arm of the United Nations that can be contacted by E-mail at and by phone in Germany at 49-228-815-2000. Its Web sites are and

Even though these organizations link to thousands of nonprofit groups, some groups -- especially those that are new and/or small -- aren't listed. For that reason, it often pays to ask about online volunteer opportunities at your house of worship or at local civic organizations.

Don't be discouraged if a group you would like to work for hasn't used online volunteers. You might interest the organization in taking you on as its first virtual volunteer.

Bottom Line/Retirement interviewed Robert J. Rosenthal, communications director, VolunteerMatch, a San Francisco-based organization that links volunteers with the organizations that need them (

Disclaimer: Bottom Line Secrets publishes the opinions of expert authorities in many fields. But the use of these opinions is no substitute for legal, accounting, investment, medical and other professional services to suit your specific personal needs. Always consult a competent professional for answers to your specific questions.

Bottom Line Secrets is a registered trademark of Boardroom Inc.

Subscribe Copyright (c) 2008 by Boardroom Inc.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TGIF - Jesus Was A Workplace Minister

Jesus Was A Workplace Minister
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2, by Os Hillman

"Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him (Mark 6:3).

In 2005, a movie entitled The Passion was released that chronicled the last twenty-four hours of Jesus' life. During a flashback scene, Jesus was seen in his carpentry shop making a table with his mother standing by playfully observing. It was a very beautiful scene that reminds us that Jesus was a carpenter for most of his adult life. In fact, Jesus was more qualified to be a carpenter than the Son of God in the eyes of the people because that is the history they knew of this young working class man from Nazareth.

Consider that in the New Testament of Jesus' 132 public appearances, 122 were in the marketplace. Of 52 parables Jesus told, 45 had a workplace context. Of 40 miracles in the book of Acts, 39 were in the marketplace. Jesus spent his adult life as a carpenter until age 30 before he went into a preaching ministry in the workplace. And, 54% of Jesus' reported teaching ministry arose out of issues posed by others in the scope of daily life experience. Saint Bonaventure said, "His doing nothing 'wonderful' (his first 30-years) was in itself a kind of wonder."

Work, in its different forms, is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible -more than all the words used to express worship, music, praise, and singing combined. God created work and He is a worker. "My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working" (John 5:17).

So, the next time you are tempted to minimize your daily work as anything less than a holy calling, remember that Jesus was a workplace minister as a carpenter in his community. He has called you and I to reflect His glory in our work.

Reprinted by permission from the author. Os Hillman is an international speaker and author of more than 10 books on workplace calling. To learn more, visit

Friday, January 16, 2009

Introducing EBay Stores

Imagine a storefront all your own, where buyers could go to browse through your merchandise. Your items could be displayed for a month, or even indefinitely. Low cost bulk items for which individual listing fees wouldn’t be economical could reside in the store until you removed them. You could have control over hundreds or even thousands of listings, plus image hosting and customizable pages. All of this can be had by opening an Ebay Store.

Ebay stores are a good solution for bulk sellers who don’t want to spend their money on recurring listing fees. Sellers of antiques, collectibles, and other slow-moving items will benefit from the Ebay stores’ “Good ‘Til Canceled” feature. This allows you to list items indefinitely, subject to listing fees every thirty days. If you anticipate that your goods will take some time to sell, it could be worth your while to use an Ebay store rather than traditional auction listings.

Ebay stores also come with a host of features that allow you to manage your listings, host your images, customize your pages, and market via e-mail. At the time of this writing, a basic Ebay store costs $15.95 per month. Basic Ebay stores come with five pages, 300 product categories, 1MB of image hosting space, and built-in ways to promote your store. The Premium and Anchor store subscriptions cost more, but offer more features and space.

The Markdown Manager is a popular feature. Ebay sellers who use the manager can offer their products at discounted prices. Of course, this is a great way to attract the attention of buyers, or to clear out items that haven’t performed as well as anticipated. Ebay stores also offer sellers the choice of putting their store “on vacation”. That is, when sellers won’t be able to manage their items for whatever reason, the store can be taken temporarily offline until the seller returns. This feature is convenient and helps prevent Ebay sellers from feeling like they are chained to their computers.

Ebay encourages store-based merchants to think outside the auction block when promoting their stores. Ebay recommends e-mail marketing to keep in touch with your buyers through messages and newsletters. Promotional flyers can be created and included with shipments. Blogs and other web sites can be used to showcase Ebay store, thanks to marketing widgets. Keyword managers make sure your store will get a good page rank in search engines.

And the list goes on. There are far too many Ebay store benefits to list here. For full details, visit

Ebay is a marketplace for the 21stCentury, but some of the old rules still apply. Sellers must first grab the attention of buyers. The products must be superior to (or less expensive than) those offered by competitors. And customer service is still paramount. With Ebay stores, online sellers have a convenient way to achieve their goals.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Martin Luther King Day Activities and Resources for Homeschoolers

Monday is the holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, even though his birthday is actually January 15. In fact, had he lived he would be exactly 80 years old.

There are a number of excellent resources for kids and for homeschool families who wish to study Dr. King in greater depth. Education World has a comprehensive list of resources primarily intended for classroom settings, but that can be adapted for use by homeschoolers, including timelines, audio and video, quizzes, writing, role-playing, and reading.

This example activity is meant to occur in a classroom setting with a group of children. So many homeschool families are ethnically and racially diverse already. There is a good chance you are part of a mixed race family, or have adopted children of other races and cultures. Larger homeschooling families can adapt this activity according to their number and ages of their kids, or several families can get together and try this. You can choose to divide the children up any way you like. The point is to give them an opportunity to experience discrimination.

Not that homeschoolers do not often experience a form of discrimination anyway, but it cannot compare to the racial discrimination that occurred when I was growing up.

From Education World:

Citizenship/role playing. This common activity is used in classrooms everywhere -- but it's one worth repeating from time to time! The activity helps students understand the concept of "discrimination." For this activity, divide the class into two or more groups. Some teachers divide students by eye or hair color; some invite students to select and wear badges of different colors (purple, green, and other colors that are not related to skin color); and others isolate students whose first names begin with the letter "b," (or whichever letter is the most common first letter of students' names in the class). For a class period or for an entire school day, one group of students (for example, the kids who have blond hair, those wearing orange badges, or the ones whose names start with "b") are favored above all others. Those students receive special treats or special privileges, and they are complimented often. Students who aren't in the "favored" group, on the other hand, are ignored, left out of discussions, and otherwise discriminated against. At the end of the period, students discuss their feelings. How did it feel to be treated unfairly, to be discriminated against? Invite students to talk about times when they felt they were judged or treated unfairly. How does this "experiment" relate to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.? (Source: Kidsphere listserv) also has a list of resources and activities that families can do together.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Utterly Off Topic Wednesday - You Escaped, Number 6

While surfing around on yet another blog surfing site called I was saddened today to learn of the death of Patrick McGoohan. He was 80 years old. Same age as my father-in-law would have been had he not smoked himself to death in 1993.

Patrick McGoohan's Number Six was one of my favorite characters in all of television. It has been 40 years since he captivated me for seventeen episodes of "The Prisoner", a bizarre and mysterious show about a man who was kidnapped from his home in London and finds himself in a creepy Stepford village where nobody has an identity, and he is known only as Number Six.

According to member mac-a-licious, The Prisoner was a

Kafkaesque drama of a man with acess to his nation's intelligence secrets who, after resigning his post in anger is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious village where he is repeatedly asked to give information, particularly the reason for his resignation.

A show of unusually high technical quality for its time, particularly for British independent television. Created by it's starring actor, Patrick McGoohan, who had previously starred in the series Secret Agent/Danger Man as the morally responsible intelligence officer John Drake, The Prisoner was a close-ended series each episode dealing with a moral or ethical quandary while detailing the protagonists latest attempt to escape or to beat his nemesis du jour. One of the pleasures of the show was its use of gimmicks and inside jokes, some of which could not be appreciated until the introduction of home video more than a decade after the show aired. Among these are that almost no characters were referred to by name but by number (the central charactor was "Number 6"), a takeoff on the hokey theme song for Secret Agent with its refrain "They've given you a number, and taken 'way your name." Others include a regular change of the actors who portrayed the arch nemesis, Number 2, as each number 2 was defeated by number 6. And veiwers were soon to love "Rover", a monstrous security robot that sometimes killed escapees. A remake of the series is underway: as usual with such I simply ask why?

Ugh. Until I read this review I didn't know they were going to do a remake. Even with Jim Caviezel as Number 6, and the quantum leap in techanical wizardry which will make the Village even more surreal and mysterious, there is no way to recreate the campy '60s atmosphere and acting. Neither is there any way to recreate the precise persona Patrick McGoohan brought to the character of Number 6.

Well, I shall miss you. Time to drag out the DVDs and pay tribute to one of the most original television series ever aired.

New Trial Ordered for German Homeschoolers Sentenced to Prison

Rosemary and Juergen Dudek's jail sentence was overturned on Christmas Eve. However, the family's troubles are not over.

In July of 2008, they were each sentenced to 90 days in prison for homeschooling when a lower court’s sentence of fines totaling 900 euros (about $1,200) for not sending their children to school was appealed.

However, on December 24, a state appeals court overturned the sentence on the grounds that legal errors had been made by the regional court.

“We are relieved and grateful that the appeals court has set aside these harsh sentences,” Mr. Dudek said. “However, we know that this is not the end of the story since new trials have been ordered.”

I wonder if American homeschool families would be as determined to stand up to the government if threatened with prison. I know that when we were first homeschooling, before homeschooling was legal in all 50 states, my husband was pretty adamant that if there were ever any legal issues that he was not willing to go to jail over them. Mr. Dudek said the trial had taught him to overcome the fear of standing up to the German government.

“The latest measures being taken by the government against homeschoolers is
designed to make us afraid and to give up,” he said. “The changes in laws to
make it easier to take away children, and the more aggressive posture of the
Jugendamt in trying to threaten parental custody demonstrate that the
government is trying to intimidate and scare homeschoolers. We must not be
afraid. Fear saps our courage, our strength and our perspective. To win this
fight we must stand firm and trust to the Lord to deliver us.” (HSLDA)

The Germans do not appear to be any closer to relaxing their stance against what they consider to be the formation of "parallel societies" such as could be created when parents teach their children at home away from the watchful eye of Big Brother.

HSLDA continues to work with other organizations to try to help beleaguered
German parents who simply wish to educate their children at home—just as
hundreds of thousands of others do in other parts of the world. To learn more
about HSLDA’s activities and to listen to a Moody prime time radio broadcast
with remarks by Mr. Dudek, please HSLDA’s Germany

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Our Country Is in Trouble

This is for all you homeschooled Geography Bee scholars. This was sent to me by a friend, and if even a tenth of it is true, no wonder the government is in the shape it is in. It is very funny, and sad, that our lawmakers are more ignorant of geography than you are.

Photo Credit:

Why Our Country Is in Trouble
Examples offered by a DC airport ticket agent

1. I had a New Hampshire congresswoman ask for an aisle seat so that her hair wouldn't get messed up by being near the window (on an airplane!).

2. I got a call from a candidate's staffer who wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information, and then she interrupted me with, ''I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts.''

Without trying to make her look stupid, I calmly explained, ''Cape Cod is in Massachusetts. Capetown is in Africa.''

Her response, click.

3. A senior Vermont congressman called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando.

He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that's not possible since Orlando is in the middle of the state.

He replied, "Don't lie to me, I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state!''

4. I got a call from a lawmaker's wife who asked, ''Is it possible to see England from Canada?''

I answered, ''No.''

She said, ''But they look so close on the map.''

5. An aide for a cabinet member once called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas.

I pulled up the reservation and noticed he had only a 1-hour layover in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, ''I heard Dallas was a big airport, and we will need a car to drive between gates to save time.'' (Aghhhh!)

6. An Illinois congresswoman called last week. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:30 a.m., and got to Chicago at 8:33 a.m. I explained that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she couldn't understand the concept of time zones. Finally, I told her the plane went fast, and she bought that.

7. A New York lawmaker called and asked, ''Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to whom?''

I said, 'No, why do you ask?'

She replied, ''Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said (FAT), and I'm overweight. I think that's very rude!''

After putting her on hold for a minute while I looked into it (I was dying laughing). I came back and explained the city code for Fresno, CA is (FAT - Fresno Air Terminal), and the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

8. A Senator's aide called to inquire about a trip package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, ''Would it be cheaper to fly to California, and then take the train to Hawaii ?''

9. I just got off the phone with a freshman Congressman who asked, ''How do I know which plane to get on?''

I asked him what exactly he meant, to which he replied, ''I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these planes have numbers on them.''

10. A female senator called and said, ''I need to fly to Pepsi-Cola, Florida. Do I have to get on one of those little computer planes?''

I asked if she meant fly to Pensacola, FL on a commuter plane.

She said, ''Yeah, whatever, smarty!''

11. A senior Senator called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him that he needed a visa.

'Oh, no I don't. I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those.''

I double checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this, he said, ''Look, I've been to China four times, and every time they have accepted my American Express!''

12. A New Mexico congresswoman called to make reservations. ''I want to go from Chicago to Rhino, New York.''

I was at a loss for words. Finally, I asked, ''Are you sure that's the name of the town?''

"Yes, what flights do you have?'' asked the lady.

After some searching, I came back with, ''I'm sorry, ma'am, I've looked up every airport code in the country and can't find a Rhino anywhere.'

''The lady retorted, ''Oh, don't be silly! Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!''

So I scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, ''You don't mean Buffalo, do you?''

The reply? ''Whatever! I knew it was a big animal.''

Now you know why the government is in the shape that it's in!

Could anyone be this DUMB?


Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Deal with Problem Bidders on Ebay

Ebay is an innovative way for online buyers and sellers to come together and make transactions. A seller's feedback score serves as a way for buyers to know who they're buying from. If the seller has a positive feedback rating, the buyer can feel comfortable bidding on their items. But if a seller's feedback score is negative, buyers take it as a warning sign to stay away. Is the same true for sellers? Do they have a way to keep problem bidders at bay?

Yes, sellers do have ways to protect themselves. Say for instance that you've had dealings with a bidder who took a long time to pay you. Perhaps they even have a history of being a deadbeat. In order to protect themselves from this bidder, Ebay merchants can add the bidder to their "Blocked Bidders" list. This will prevent the problem bidder from placing bids on any of the seller's auctions until their name is removed from the list.

To add a problem bidder to your Blocked Bidder list, simply go to your My Ebay Seller's page. Go to the bottom of the page and click the link for your Blocked Bidders list. Once there, you can add and remove as many names as you like. You can even block multiple usernames by placing a comma between them. If the user redeems himself someday, you can remove his name from your blocked list by returning to this page.

In the meantime, how does an Ebay seller handle a non-paying customer? Sellers can file a Non Paying Bidder report seven days after the auction ends. Seven days is the minimum amount of time sellers must wait before filing this report; they can file it up to forty-five days later.

Upon receiving your report, Ebay will send out a letter to the auction winner. Sometimes this is sufficient to make a buyer pay up. If a buyer pays you after you’ve filed a report but before the warning letter is sent, you can cancel the warning by sending in a Non Paying Bidder Warning Removal. This will prevent the warning letter from going out to the buyer. If a buyer receives three or more warning letters from Ebay, their account will be suspended.

What if a buyer fails to pay you, but you have no way to contact them to request payment? If you are involved in a transaction with the user, you can use Ebay’s “Search -> Find a Member” feature. You will need the buyer’s user name as well as the transaction number. The search will return their name, city, state, and phone number. This gives sellers an opportunity to send out letters or even call the buyer to discuss payment.

Finally, feedback is also a possible recourse for sellers, but it should be applied sparingly. A seller should leave negative feedback on a buyer only when they really feel that the buyer is detrimental to other sellers. Anytime you leave negative feedback, you run the risk of retaliatory feedback from the offending party, even if it’s undeserved. Negative feedback can be costly and time-consuming to remove from your record. Most sellers simply use warning letters and their Blocked Bidder list to distance themselves from deadbeats.

Ebay, like any marketplace, has its share of good customers and bad customers. Luckily, sellers have several ways to separate the good from the bad, and to pursue the money they are rightfully owed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

TGIF - Your Secular Work Is Ministry

Your Secular Work Is Ministry
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2, by Os Hillman

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Col 3:23-25).

I sat across the table from the well known seminary professor and former missionary as he asked me a very direct question: "So, Os, tell me about this faith at work movement." "Well, there's really nothing complicated about it. I believe every person's work can be viewed as a ministry if done with a motive to glorify God based upon Colossians 3:23," I responded.

"How can you say that if you're not sharing the gospel in that job? You would have to be actively sharing your faith for it to be construed as ministry," he argued.

"No, that's not true. The work itself is ministry because the word for ministry and service come from the same Greek root word, diakonia. When you are serving others even through your secular work and do it with a motive to glorify God, that's why it is ministry. In fact, the Bible says you'll receive an inheritance when you do," I said.

We continued bantering back and forth on the issue. I continued, "God created even secular work to meet human needs. Man began to divide work into spiritual and non-spiritual terms which introduced a form of dualism in the third and fourth centuries. But God never secularized our work. He desires our work to be viewed as worship."

We concluded our meeting in disagreement. However, a few months later I met my friend at a booksellers convention. "Hey, you were right Os! I've done my study and work really is ministry because it is service. This man went on to write a book on the subject and said this; "Think about this. If you are filling someone's teeth, you are ministering to your patient. If you are playing in a symphony orchestra, you are ministering to the audience. If you are flying an airplane, you are ministering to the passengers. If you wait on tables, you are ministering to the customers. All of that clearly fits under biblical diakonia."

It was the first time I'd ever won a theological argument with a theologian!

Reprinted by permission from the author. Os Hillman is an international speaker and author of more than 10 books on workplace calling. To learn more, visit

Friday, January 09, 2009

70 year old grandma imprisoned for selling illegal lead-tainted baby sweaters

"We interrupt this program for an urgent announcement..."

For the last several weeks I have been showcasing eBay selling as a way to make money from home, as it has been for me for the last ten years.

Imagine my horror when I learned of new legislation that could trash your new eBay career before it even begins!

And mine.

On Feb. 10, parts of the Consumer Protection Safety Information Act are set to take effect. The law, which was passed without fanfare during the summer as a response to the flood of products recalled for unsafe lead levels at that time, requires stringent lead testing for all products sold to children 12 and younger. The standards also require testing for toxins found in some plastics. For clothing items, the problem might be buttons, snaps, zippers or other fasteners.

Did you catch the "ALL" in "all products?"

At least for now, that includes one of a kind wooden toys produced by crafters worldwide, those cute little baby booties your mother-in-law makes when someone has a new baby, the gently used children's clothes you were planning to try to sell over at the consignment shop, and any other kind of new or used product aimed at children sold on eBay, Craigslist,, and countless numbers of free classified ads in newspapers and newsletters and bartering clubs nationwide.

Did I mention the thrift shops who are the beneficiaries of your donated toys and clothing to Vietnam Veterans of America or other charitable groups?

At a time when downsized and desperate American families are flocking to thrift stores and consignment stores to save money, and attempting to sell prized collections to make money, it is incredible that in a matter of a month, your daughter's prized collection of "new-in-box" Barbies that you were expecting to liquidate towards her college tuition will be worthless fodder for the landfill.

According to KVUE-TV in Austin, TX. Adding to the confusion and frustration is the fact that the U.S. Consumer Products and Safety Commission is not returning calls or e-mails to the countless re-salers and even journalists who have tried in vain to get clarification on what the law means to garage sales and how it will be enforced.

Here are some other articles that will give you more information about the ramifications of this law, from -
St. Louis Today
Cool Mom Picks Transformer's Resource
KVUE-TV Austin, TX
LA Times
Moms in the Right

The LA Times article notes, "Many retailers and thrift stores appear to be unaware that the law is changing. Of half a dozen Southern California children's thrift stores contacted by The Times, only one had heard of the law. Organizations such as Goodwill say they're still investigating how the law will affect them because there is so much confusion about what will be banned."

It is important for us to contact our lawmakers and the minions at the Consumer Protection Agency while there is still time to comment and get some straight answers about the scope of this law.

UPDATE: Good News for Thrift Stores!

The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement today which said, "Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards."

eBay stores, however are NOT out of the woods. World Net Daily reports:

The act's broad wording could extend to new children's items sold on eBay, Craig's List, Amazon. Critics also say landfills will be hit hard if stores, distributors and families simply throw their untested items away rather than face prosecution. And clothing, toys, furniture and books at large retailers could become more expensive to cover third-party testing costs.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Find Your Niche Market on Ebay

Many of us dream of working from home by selling products on Ebay. But what would we sell? And how would we know if a market exists for the items we have? To avoid listing items that nobody wants, or items within an already flooded market, some research is in order. The goal of this research is to find your niche on Ebay.

Many Ebay sellers provide their goods within one niche. Others have a handful of niches that they specialize in. The key is to find a group of products that you're already familiar with. Perhaps you've been a collector of antiques for many years. If so, you probably know when you come across an item that could potentially sell for a good amount of cash. Likewise, you have a good idea of which items are likely to collect dust on your shelves. You can put this knowledge to work for you on Ebay. Your expertise with antiques gives you an edge over many competitors.

Once you have a good idea of the niche you wish to fill, it's time for the second half of your preliminary work. Start a spreadsheet that lists the different types of items you would like to sell. Then add a monetary value to each entry. This reflects how much you can expect to purchase the item for. Be realistic; you want to lay out an accurate portrait of how much money you will be spending to build up your inventory. Optimism won't help in this circumstance.

Expand your spreadsheet to include other niche markets, just in case. These can be items you enjoy working with, have expert knowledge of, or something you've always had an affinity for and think you could be successful with. Remember: no matter what your niche is, someone will buy from it as long as you list quality items at reasonable prices. Estimate the initial cost of each item, including shipping and sales tax. Then prepare to immerse yourself in Ebay as your research begins in earnest.

Go to Ebay and search through the completed auctions. This allows you to see the actual price that items similar to yours have sold for. Is the average price something you could live with? Remember to factor in shipping costs. Also, pay attention to the quality of the sold items when deciding whether this niche is something you wish to pursue. Items in “mint” or “like new” condition will bring considerably higher prices on Ebay than worn, scuffed items.

Now reflect on your findings. Did the completed Ebay auctions fetch your target price, or were the closing bids uniformly low? Did any of the items fetch a surprisingly high amount? If you were unimpressed by your findings, go back and consult your spreadsheet; it’s time to start researching another niche.

If your observations were mostly positive, you may have found your Ebay niche already. In that case, go out and start building up your supply. Don’t go overboard; you’re still in the testing phase. Purchase a dozen or so items at fair prices. Then list them on Ebay.

For many sellers, waiting is the hard part. But you’ll need patience for this phase of your niche-finding project. Monitor your listings and see how they perform. If they do well, you can build up your stock even more and increase your listings. If they don’t quite live up to your expectations, you can go back to square one. Pick another niche from your spreadsheet and start researching it.

The key to finding your niche on Ebay, as with many challenges in life, is simply to never quit. If you have a wide variety of interests, you’re more likely to find a profitable niche that you will enjoy filling. Think of all the things you enjoy doing, making, or collecting. Then come up with a list of ten items related to each. This sort of brainstorming is a sure-fire remedy for pushing past your seller’s block. Let your imagination roam, and you’ll carve out your Ebay niche in no time.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Utterly Off Topic Wednesday - AlphaInventions

About a week ago I came across a very interesting blog traffic generator called AlphaInventions. The brainchild of Cheru Jackson, it enables you to scroll through blogs that have been recently updated, and perhaps leave a comment while the blogger is still online. Cheru's stated purpose was to promote interactivity between the bloggers and the readers.

My first thought was that it was like an auto-surf program, and so it is. But it is also more than that. Not only has the traffic on my blog increased, the quality of the hits has increased as well.

These are not just hits, but actual new readers and subscribers.

I have used other blog traffic generator sites with mixed results. Oh, I got hits, but not readers. They were only surfing for traffic so their site would get traffic. I'm sure there is some of that going on here as well, but there is also a lot of thoughtful commenting and digging back into older posts and new subscribers. Just in the last two days I have had ten new subscribers.

So, I don't know exactly how it works, but it's a hit as far as I am concerned. Thanks, Cheru!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Make Money Selling Antiques On EBay

It’s been said that antiques and collectibles are some of the hardest items to start selling on Ebay. It’s also known that these items have potential to become the biggest sales. So what should an Ebay newcomer know before they list their first antique or collectible for auction?

First, the market for antiques and collectibles is a slow moving market. If you need to turn a fast profit, you would do better with seasonal, general, or limited lifetime items. Ebay is a wonderful marketplace for antiques and collectibles, but these items aren’t usually fast sellers. This is because there is such a limited supply of rare items, coupled with the fact that demand is also limited to people who both want and can afford the items. As you can see, you should prepare for certain antiques and collectibles to be with you for a long time before the right buyer comes along.

Another obstacle for new Ebayers is the high buy-in cost of an antique business. This merchandise doesn’t come cheap. Furthermore, finding a great deal on a rare item has a lot to do with luck and connections. Merely wanting to be an antique dealer isn’t enough. You need to have a passion for, and strong knowledge of, your merchandise. To offset the high cost and limited sales potential of antiques and collectibles, use a variety of sales channels. Listing on Ebay is a good decision, but Ebay alone might not clear out your inventory. Look for online and offline auctions dedicated to antiques. Get to know your local dealers. They are often a good source of information.

If you do have expert knowledge of your items, make sure buyers know. They will be more likely to buy from you if they know you’re experienced. They want to know that they are getting an item of value, not a cheap (or expensive) imitation. By demonstrating your knowledge of antiques and collectibles, you are reassuring buyers that their money will fetch them something rare and wonderful. Buyers will also be more likely to spread your name and bring repeat business if you treat them well. Be known for your outstanding customer service as well as your high quality items.

Finally, stick to brands and trends that have lasting value. Certain brands are known for their rarity or their resilient workmanship and beauty. These will always be in demand. As for market trends, watch out for hot fads that are here today and gone tomorrow. If you know enough about your product to capitalize on a buying frenzy, go for it. Just be aware of the risk you’re taking. You could end up with an inventory full of merchandise whose proverbial ship has sailed. A safer bet is to ignore the rises and falls of the market and focus instead on items that will always be wanted.

Ebay is famous for its antiques and collectibles, and for good reason. This nontraditional marketplace with its enormous global following is the perfect setting in which to list hard to find items. And sellers who deal in antiques are some of the most satisfied merchants on Ebay. Often, they get to buy and sell items that they are fond of, which makes their online auctioning seem more like play than work. Each transaction does take some effort, but the rewards are worth it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Make Money by Thrift Selling on Ebay

Thrift selling is exactly what it sounds like: selling lots of unique items on Ebay that were obtained at a low cost, usually at thrift stores or flea markets. These items are occasionally worn or damaged, but buyers like them for their low cost and uniqueness. Thrift selling might not sound very profitable, but it can be – if you do it right!

Thrift sellers have a lot to do. Their business is one of bulk; they will often have hundreds of individual items in their inventory at a given time. This makes for lots of auction listings. Thrift sellers can’t afford to lose track of their goods or their listings, so excellent book keeping is an absolute must. If you plan to sell thrift on Ebay, use a book keeping program that you’re comfortable with. Excel is a good low-frills spreadsheet program. Use it keep track of your stock, your auctions, and your shipping.

Spreadsheets are also excellent tools for tallying your net profits over time. Use them to see which items have performed well, and which should be replaced.

While you’re organizing your virtual inventory, take time to organize your physical inventory as well. You don’t want to have to dig through a messy heap of goods to find the one that needs to be shipped. Instead, use meticulously organized spaces to store your products. Label each space or item with a post-it note containing the listing number. That way, you’ll know you’re shipping the right item.

There are also auction services such as Vendio that will help you with manage your inventory, and are much easier than spreadsheets. Google "eBay inventory management" and you will see a selection of possible solutions, both free and paid.

On Ebay, a seller’s reputation is vital. Since thrift goods are often used items which might have a little damage, be completely honest in the item description. Disclose any damage the item has sustained, and include photographs of the worn or damaged areas. Specify that buyers purchase the items “as is”, and emphasize that you do not know the items’ histories and are not responsible for item failure. It might sound harsh, but you need to protect yourself.

Even better, come up with your own rating system for the condition of your merchandise. A worn corner on a book cover might be a 1 or 2, while a hole in fabric might be a 5. Use consistency and a well-defined rating system so that buyers know what they’re paying for.

There are tools that thrift sellers can use to make their lives easier. Bulk listers are programs designed to make many listings at a time. This is a real time saver for merchants with hundreds of simultaneous auctions. Turbo Lister is the most popular bulk listing program. It’s free and available for download on Ebay’s web site. Other programs are available for low subscription fees.

Thrift items come at a low price, but they can be costly if the size of your inventory leads to mistakes. Keep everything neat and easy-to-find. Use software to help manage your listings. And give buyers your honest assessment of an item’s condition. Whatever you sell on Ebay, you want to maintain a great reputation. Become known as a go-to seller for quality thrift items and wonderful customer service.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How to Take Winning Ebay Auction Photos

Though there have been millions of items listed on Ebay, there is one characteristic shared by most winners: they have a good photograph. Ebay is a virtual marketplace, but buyers still like to see what they’re paying for. Auction listings that include quality photos reassure the buyer that they are making a good purchase. That means more money is your pocket, just because you snapped a picture!

But all Ebay photos are not created equal. Here are a few tips for making the most of your item photos.

First, make sure your item is in top shape before photographing it. If your item is dusty or stained, buyers won’t want to make the purchase. Before you take the picture, wipe down any merchandise with a hard surface. Wash clothing or other soft items. You want the merchandise to look its best.

If a product is worn or has a few scrapes on the surface, carefully document these through your item description and photographs. It might seem counter-intuitive to point out flaws in the item, but it pays off in the long run. You don’t want to get a reputation for dishonesty. Plus, minimal damage rarely puts off Ebay buyers, particularly if the item is rare or discontinued. They’re looking for a good deal. As long as the product is in working condition, a little wear and tear is often deemed acceptable. For instance, the picture of the GeoSafari unit below shows that the box is very worn, but the unit itself is clean and in working order.

Here is an example of a photo I uploaded to a website when I was selling a Franklin Library edition of "The Agony and the Ecstasy". This was before eBay's own photo hosting allowed for enlargements. The item description advised the buyer to click on the photo to see the enlarged version so they could see for themselves if there were any flaws in the cover.

Another thing your buyers will want to know is if an item is in good working order. The GeoSafari unit below was photographed at an angle showing that the lights were on, indicating the unit was working. You can also show older console video game cartridges are operating by taking screen shots of the game in play.

When setting up your photography session, aim for natural light and good contrast. Take pictures near a window when the sun is shining. Avoid using a flash if you can; flash photos often turn out too bright and detract from the item’s detail. For best results, light products should be photographed on dark backgrounds, and vice versa. Take pictures from two or three different angles if possible. Do ensure that the item is displayed by itself, unless it’s a part of an entire lot for sale. And when you take the picture, get as close as you can without distorting the image. You want the item to fill the camera screen.

Take care when selecting a surface and background on which to display your item. Too-reflective surfaces can reveal the photographer’s image, and messy or busy backgrounds can distract from the item. For a professional look, use a very simple surface and background that show off the item well.

Many Ebay sellers use Photoshop or similar programs to clean up their photos before listing. This is fine, as long as the resulting picture is still representative of the item. Try to keep colors and hues as close to the original as possible. Photoshop can be used to lighten up too-dark pictures or to sharpen images. Save the photos as 400 by 300 pixel JPEGs of the highest quality. That way Ebay won’t reduce their resolution too much when it resizes the uploaded images.

Ebay sellers should consider using Ebay’s built-in image hosting service. It’s cheap and reliable, and it’s subject to Ebay’s technical support. They let you list your first image for free. Every successive image costs just a few cents. This convenient service is worth investigating.

It’s long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. On Ebay, a picture can be more valuable yet: it can bring you buyers.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What to Do When Your eBay Item Isn't Selling

Ebay is an exciting frontier for sellers. There are few other businesses which allow you to make a steady income from home, selling items you choose to sell. And with Ebay’s global following, there are plenty of buyers out there willing to spend money on your merchandise.

So what if your auctions aren’t performing as well as you would like? It happens to most Ebay sellers from time to time, but flagging auctions aren’t the end of the world. Increasing your sales might be as easy as revamping your price structure to meet current market trends. You should also take a look at your listings to make sure they’re as complete and buyer-friendly as possible.

First, check your prices. What have other, similar items been selling for lately? You can check by using Ebay’s advanced search function. Check the box at the top of the listings to see only auctions which have been completed. This is a good way to study market trends and to learn whether your prices are too high, too low, or right on the money. Search for similar items to see how much competition you’ve got. If the market is saturated and prices have fallen off, try selling another type of product until demand once again outweighs supply.

Starting your auctions off at a low minimum bid is actually a great way to get more bids. Buyers see an item listed for a dollar, and they are tempted to place a bid. Others will follow suit, and soon the item will sell for more than you’d expect. Dollar bids bring out the thriftiness and competitiveness in Ebay buyers. Let them fight over your item, and you’ll end up with more bids and higher profits in the long run. The only caveat is that you don't want to set the opening so far below anticipated sale price that eBay flags you as if you were trying to avoid higher listing fees.

Auction listings are at least as important as the items you’re selling. If yours are too short or don’t accurately describe your merchandise, buyers will notice. Also beware of typos and misspellings in your item descriptions. Avoid using distracting graphics or garishly bright text. To provide an easy-to-read listing, either use HTML tags to format the text, or use one of Ebay’s auction templates. Buyers won’t waste time on something they can’t read. You probably wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time struggling through a poorly written, disorganized auction listing. Neither will your customers.

You want to build up a reputation for being an honest seller. If you don’t provide enough details about your products – especially if the goods are used or lightly damaged – buyers will feel like they got duped when the items arrive. And unhappy buyers lead to negative feedback, which directly impacts your reputation and your success on Ebay. Strive for a feedback rating close to 100%. If your feedback number or positive score is low, buyers will go elsewhere to make their purchases. Luckily, you can increase your score by making purchases.

Finally, eBay now requires that you be clear about your refund and exchange policies. If you don’t accept returns, say so. If you do accept returns, clearly state your requirements. You will also need so specify a handling time in your listing. Buyers like to know that you have a firm set of rules in place before they risk a purchase.

And, of course, accept a variety of electronic payment methods. You want to give buyers every possible chance to buy from you. According to eBay's website,
Checks and money orders are no longer allowed as payment methods on eBay. All items appearing on must be paid for using either:

* PayPal (funded by PayPal account balance, credit card, debit card, bank account, PayPal Pay Later, PayPal Buyer Credit or eBay gift certificate)
* Credit or debit card payment to a seller (through a seller's Internet merchant account)
* ProPay
* Payment upon pickup

In January 2009, all of the approved electronic payment methods will be integrated into eBay checkout. For example, if a seller offers credit or debit card as a payment option, buyers will be able to directly enter their credit card information securely in eBay checkout and their payment will be directly routed to the seller's Internet merchant account.

We are also working with other electronic payment providers currently included in our Accepted Payments Policy to integrate their services into eBay checkout in 2009.

Keep up with your competition, make sure you are following eBay's TOS, troubleshoot your listings, and you’ll soon turn those flagging auctions into real moneymakers.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Using the Library In Your Home school

Today I commend to you a blogger I ran across on Alpha Inventions. NEWS, VIEWS & SERENDIPITY: Do Your Children A Favour is a great post by Amitabh Mukherjee that is about the benefit of taking your children to the library, and of course I couldn't resist its applicability to homeschooling. Both my grown children still carry library cards bearing their 5-year-old "signatures".

If you do not already use the library extensively in your home school, now is a good time to start, not only because it is free, but because what they will learn is way more than will be found in the books.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

TGIF - The God of Time (Happy New Year!)

Many of you have crossed over into the new year already. Happy New Year!

As we in the US close out the year, let us resolve to make every minute count. It is the one thing we each have in equal amount.

If we have wasted time in 2008, let's redeem it in 2009. If we have neglected God, let's embrace Him in 2009.

The God of Time
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2, by Os Hillman

For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him (Eccl 8:6).

How we use our time is a good indicator of the god we choose to serve. There is a god whose name is "the urgent" that can rule our lives if we are not diligent. The wrong use of time can lead to misery. The right use of time can result in fulfillment.

"You need to take time to turn to God. Do not pray only when you have set aside time to do. The busier you are, the more you must practice turning to God. If you wait until the time is convenient, there is little doubt that you will end up spending little time with God. Try to come before God both in the morning and the evening. Pray during and between all your other jobs as much as you can. You cannot retire too much from the mindless chatter of the world. Learn to steal this time in little snatches, and you will find these moments the most precious part of your day" said Francois de Fenelon, a sixteenth century Christian leader.*

The amount of time we spend with anyone or any activity is a good indicator of the value we place on that person or activity. Time equates to money for some. For others it can be a cruel dictator. It is the physical evidence of what is at the center of our lives.

People can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the lack of available time, but the will to set a priority for the time they have. Time can be the evidence that convicts our soul that our devotion has waned.

What does the evidence of time tell you about yourself? Today, give God the time needed to develop a relationship that is meaningful for both of you.

Reprinted by permission from the author. Os Hillman is an international speaker and author of more than 10 books on workplace calling. To learn more, visit