Monday, December 29, 2008

Engage in the National Dialogue

I really appreciate this opportunity to be a part of the conversation:

Go to Look under the slideshow banner, where you will see three buttons, currently "Open For Questions," "Happy Holidays," and "Your Weekly Address."

Click on "Open For Questions," register, and start voting on the questions you see and post your own questions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Mom Sent Me This

This is just too cool a city (and an artist) not to share...recycled!!

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Last Night of Hanukkah!

(This photo is of our "neighborhood menorah," at the rotary.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

With Open Arms and Open Hearts

Please read this message from Melissa Ethridge about the upcoming inauguration. I found it helpful:

The Choice Is Ours Now

Friday, December 26, 2008

Meet Zach

A video will play when you open up his website, so make sure your speakers are on:

"He's being a kid. He's being the kind of kid he wants to be."

I stumbled across this kid on YouTube, where I enjoyed a couple of his videos including one where he explains how he packs the backpacks...that video is on his website under "backpacks."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

(And I Don't Even Like Disney)


This is a good song for the year, but in any case, may your Christmas be a magical one:

(or try...)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This is My Wife

Okay, it's not really my wife. But this is what I come home to most days of the week. A big tortilla-making mess on my kitchen table and my wife with sore tortilla-rolling shoulders (and the kids assuring me "we made tortillas for you today..." funny how even though the tortillas are for us, they always say they are special for me). The big excitement-- according to the kids-- is always whether she made flour or corn tortillas. Bless her, I love her...she takes such good care of all of us.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Skills For Life: Responding to Hurt Feelings

Sometimes as a parent, as I try to teach my children important lifeskills, it becomes readily apparent that I am still learning some of these skills.

Take for example, say, hurt feelings. My tendency is to internalize negative stuff. And then I get into a cycle of anxiety where I can't let it go and instead run the tape of whatever happened over and over in my head, worrying and feeling badly. And then, since I can't forever function with that going on, I eventually stuff it. It's something I've periodically worked on with therapists, but never quite mastered...the skill of being open and non-defensive without also internalizing everything negative that happens to me.

What do you do? What are your best skills when your feelings are hurt? (And bonus question: What are the most effective ways you've noticed kids build and practice these skills?)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Worried About Money Again

My January check may very well be a reduced one. So far the word is that they're looking at 5-15% cuts if the board goes forward with across the board cuts. The board is projecting a $63,000 income loss next year, so staff is definitely going to take a hit. But apparently I'm not even going to know what is going to happen until the end of January, just before checks are scheduled to be cut. What will that mean for checks? Will they wait until February to make the cuts? When will our contracts be renegotiated? The decision making process that happens before our big annual meeting is very loosey goosey, and I'm left in an uncomfortable position.

I'm the only one here who has young children. I am the primary "breadwinner" for my family. I have a family to support here for goodness sakes, and survival plans to put in place!!! Since I don't qualify for unemployment and partial unemployment, I need more time than the average bear.

Here's to hoping the one-person personnel committee will actually call me in to meet with him tomorrow or Tuesday so that I get a better sense of the leanings at this time and can advocate to the extent I am able for my work. This is just disturbing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yes! Hanukkah Starts Tomorrow Night!

Hooray! I am so excited. And drooling for latkes!

The Presidential Inauguration

The day after Barack Obama won the elections, G. caught me telling the kids, "We're going to go see Obama get sworn in as president!"

"No way," she said.

"Why not?" I asked, thinking that DC can't be that far from here in MA and imagining a three hour drive or something. Everything is so small here on the east coast.

"We don't have the money, that's why."

"Oh. Well, how much could it cost to drive down there for a day?"

"A lot. First of all, there is gas," (alright, she had me there). "Second of all, there is no way in heck we could put the kids through a drive there for seven or eight hours..." (SEVEN OR EIGHT HOURS?!) "...stay there for all day, and then try to drive back. You are talking about at least two overnights."

"Oh. Well, what if we slept in the car? Or we could camp. Come on, we could bring a cooler full of food and it would be a really memorable adventure."

"Sleep in the car, or camp with two small kids, in January?! Are you serious? No, there is no way in heck I am going for that. Besides, I already said there is no money for gas."

"I guess you've got me."

So I looked up stuff on inaguarations and learned that you usually can't see anything anyway. There are so many people there, there is no way you can actually see the president. And apparently its hard to see even the parade, which is really the only event designed for "common people" like ourselves. My kids would be sorely disappointed to go all that way and not even get a glimpse of Obama.

This made me feel a lot better about not going. I guess I had just wanted to be there with my kids on this very historical and amazing day. It's a day I feel like I've waited for my whole life.

But did you all get the email from the transition team, that more than ever before, Obama wants to inaugural events to not be just for big donors, but for the whole nation? Hmmm. The itch isn't back in full force, but it sure did make me stop for a minute.

Speaking of the inauguration, while I think the g/l/b/t community provided tremendous support for Obama and I don't fault the disappointment of people like my wife regarding Obama's decision about the invocation, the Rev. Ketcham had a good point here. But on the other hand, the Rev. Ford has some good points here too...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Love Actually

A few years ago, my mom gave me a copy of the 2003 film "Love Actually." It is truly great. I forget how much I love it until I sit down and watch it again, often around the holidays.

This is a classic you really shouldn't miss. If you've never seen it before, check your local library for it, pick it up at the video store, or put it on your Netflix queue (here, I'll even make it wasy for you: Love Actually Netflix Link). It's an especially good holiday flick.

I tried to find a good clip that wouldn't spoil too many of the scenes. This was the best I could do, below. Oh, and by the way, the footage at the start and end of the film is all real (not acted).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Toys and Toxins

This blog I just discovered had an interesting post on it about testing toys for toxins. Check it out! It's an important conversation for all of us to be having. How do we balance all this?

My Mom Told Me To...

...update the kids' Christmas list, so I have...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Church-Related Humor

Funny, and a little sad too...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Federal Budgets and Marriage Equality Laugh Break

Some fun things from

This federal budget game is great.

And then there is this marriage equality idea, though I have to agree with the person who commented that this would not really work in the pacific northwest since "partner" is a very accepted term for marriages hetero and queer alike.

Homesick for the Holidays

First, some Home For the Holidays (one of my favorites to watch around Thanksgiving):

I'm really enjoying being in our new home for the holidays. I'm a little bummed the holiday season snuck up so fast because I keep thinking I need more time to savor it. But I look around my house, with my newly decorated Christmas tree, the menorah waiting in the window for the first night of Hanukkah, and the stack of pine branches with which I hope to do something creative (If I wanted to fix them into a garland to twirl around my porch banister, would I need to soak them to make them soft first? What's the procedure for such a project?), and I am totally in the spirit.

It is good to be home, here.

That said, there is a still, small piece of me which aches just a bit. Last year I think it was snowing by this time, which distracted me from missing the rain of winter that I have known so well for a number of years. I miss the rain without any anticipation of snow. There is not the lush green of winter, benefiting from the constant rain, that I came to love in the northwest. Instead I look outside and see barren trees that have lost their leaves and grass that is beginning to turn a bit brown. Here when it rains in the winter, it is an icy hint that it is the season of snow. A long wait from fall to winter seems dreadful. I had read a week before Thanksgiving that we'd have snow showers on Thanksgiving, but as the day approached it was clear that wasn't going to happen. I'll admit I was rather disappointed that it didn't. It made me miss the rain that can feed the earth until the earth is ripe and green all winter long. If it's not going to snow, I find myself impatient with the sleeping earth, the dead leaves, the cold, dry days.

I miss the evergreens too. I love the fall here, with all the colors. There is truly nothing in the world like it. It is magnificent! But I find myself mournful for tall, thick truly ever-green trees with moss covered trunks that make the green tree from bottom to top. My office back in the northwest had a window that faced the edge of a small forested area. I remember the deer and the quiet, still sound of a barely noticeable breeze and the water falling down upon the earth in beautiful drops. And most especially, I remember those giant trees that reminded me each day what a very small part I am of the greater whole. It was a brilliant illustration that life is continual and unstoppable, and in balance in ways not always so obvious.

We were gifted with a beautiful, handsome tree this year. It is huge! Just huge! Tall and plush, and I just love it. We couldn't afford the gas but drove a half hour to get it anyway because G's brother told us he was working all week, every evening at the tree lot in his town, and we wanted to surprise the kids by showing up to get our tree at the lot. We fit it in one evening at the end of my work day, and the kids were tired and very cranky during the long drive. I just kept telling them to hang in there because we were going to a "very special tree lot." When we arrived, G's brother was not at the lot and G called her brother who said he was not in fact working that evening, but didn't offer to take a five minute drive from his home to see us anyway. This was the third or fourth time we've gone to see this part of our family in recent months-- kids crying and even sobbing along the way-- to no avail. I knew in my heart that I couldn't do this to the kids again, and that we don't have the money or time to invest in this kind of fruitless effort in the future. I knew in my heart that this would be our last attempt. I was sad about this, but we made a merry adventure out of finding the perfect tree, and I took lots of photos. As the kind men working at the lot were netting our tree so it could fit on top of our car, I asked them what farm the trees came from. "Actually," one of the kind men told me, "We get these shipped in from Novia Scotia!" I asked him how long ago our tree must have been cut, and he guessed it had been a couple of weeks.

I miss cutting down my tree from the land belonging to a member of the congregation who used the opportunity to thin the trees out a bit for the health of the land. Here, one of our congregation members has a farm with evergreen trees, but I haven't been invited to cut one down and I don't know of any local Christmas tree farms. There just aren't that many evergreens out here. No wonder the trees at tree lots are coming in from Canada. Heck, in the northwest it was hard to find a tree lot. I am now realizing that may have been because so many folks have local sources. So now I have a beautiful tree that I love and that was such a sweet gift to have been given, but I feel badly because it has a big old carbon footprint, and I doubt it will last more than a couple of days after Christmas because it isn't fresh in the least. It was a bittersweet evening that made me long for the place I had called home for years.

I miss the smell of rain. I even miss mud! I miss the fruit. I miss blackberries growing everywhere, yes, even though they were out of control. I miss Thai food. Really good Thai food. Here if you order a Thai spring roll, you get a vegetarian egg roll. I miss fresh spring rolls and peanut dipping sauce. I miss Chinese food that isn't greasy and thick west coast style pizza. I miss restaurants that serve Tabbouleh that really tastes like Tabbouleh, and mmm...I miss Costas Greek food in Seattle. I miss getting vegetarian "sushi" at the grocery store just down the street from me, for a treat every once in a while when we were too poor to eat out but too tired to make dinner...made fresh every day!

I miss food co-ops that weren't just people getting together to order in bulk, but also a place to shop...even at seven o'clock in the evening when you run out of milk. I even miss shopping in tiny, local stores where I used to complain about selection. I miss it being easy to buy organic food. I miss the college in the woods and the progressive, earthy types, even some of the college students who used to drive me a little batty. I miss the kid from the college who lived in the treehouse above the bakery. I miss neighbors keeping chickens in their yards. I miss Seattle's bus system (and even after we left Seattle, I miss the reliable even if infrequent bus system of the city we moved to). Sometimes buses here just never show up.

I miss the culture of the people. I miss the natural acceptance, warmth, and empathy, that while imperfect, was a good start. I most especially miss the relaxed atmosphere and the collaborative attitudes. I miss the slow, thoughtful pace, and the rhythm of the year. I miss people saying hello to each other and being free with compliments. Heck, I miss the way people got up in each other's business if it meant they could help out.

I miss random things like the Discount School Supply store, and I miss places where we built memories over the years, like the restaurant we stopped at on the way home from the hospital when M was just a newborn or the place we'd always go to celebrate anniversaries.

I might even miss having a huge backyard that we could never maintain (oh, how I love not having a yard to maintain here, hooray!). There were five evergreen trees and a handful of other trees including some fruit-bearing trees. I miss long conversations I would have out there, sitting on the stones watching my dogs play together while I chatted with neighbors or on the phone. I miss my dog Bluey being alive. He was hit by a car here last Valentine's day after his leash somehow came unclipped from his harness and he took off running. I hate even going into that section of town now. I find myself holding my breath through the drive whenever we go out there.

And then there is family. I didn't have any family back in the pacific northwest, though G's brother and his family live there (and I miss them too). But being out here, so close to all of G's family, while a blessing, makes me miss mine. And that makes me miss my hometown too, and perhaps that region of the United States in general as well. I miss snow that would come down like crazy, build up nice and deep, but melt a few days later. I miss snowy days when it was still sunny out. I miss knowing good places to go hiking, and I am sad I haven't really taken my kids hiking yet. I miss camping. Oh, how I miss camping. Real camping too, not just car camping. I miss the way spring smelled out there. I miss the sandwich I had made to order at the Pickle Barrel and the "Big Spud" dish I used to order at Avo's. I miss miso soup, and I miss local coffee shops. I miss Mexican food that you can only get in New Mexico, and I'd even go for a number of treasures in Colorado. I just miss good Mexican food. I miss the dry brown earth, the bright colorful paints, and the adobe of New Mexico, and I miss the flowers and the bike trails in Colorado. I miss bike lanes. I miss the mountains. I miss the smell of dusty roads. I miss sledding without getting cut on ice, and the fluffy snow that makes that possible. I miss the organized, even if loosely, glbt community. I miss used book stores and art supply stores. I miss my parent's yard and their neighborhood. I miss knowing my way to almost everything. I miss downtowns where there really is a "there" there. I miss my mom's art and her artist friends. I miss long summer nights, with a late sunset and warm, dry air.

I know I can't live really close to my family, but sometimes it feels we are really far. I miss a lot of things on behalf of my children, who aren't having in their early childhood experiences like playing sports with "sporty grandpa" and doing art hour with "Leelou." Nor hiking with their aunts and uncles. Nor camping by a river with advice as to where we should go from experienced campers in the family or among friends. Somehow that just doesn't feel like a complete early childhood to me. It just doesn't feel right. Today on the phone M said to my mom that we made cookies for Christmas (meaning, for when we decorated our tree). My mom misheard and thought he said we were visiting for Christmas. I of course jumped in and cleared it up, but it was a reminder of how I wish we could visit just for a short while. Boohoo!

Of course I could make a long post about all the things I love here. I'd start with the ocean and swimming in the summer, and move on from there with gladness. So I am not really complaining. Just feeling a little bittersweet and nostalgic. I've experienced a lot of change in this last year. I guess it catches up with me in little waves every now and then.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Our New President Is Already Amazing on the Job!

So many interesting and great things happening on Check out the blog especially.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Funny Christmas Cards

I've been working on holiday cards tonight, and it's time for a little break.

Here are some Christmas cards designed to get a laugh:

"We never did..."

It's holiday time! I now hear the Fiddler on the Roof song "Tradition" cuing up in my mind. I am a traditions gal. I love celebrating traditions!

A couple days before Halloween, my kids were practicing the song "Away in a Manger," which they will be singing in the Christmas pageant at church. I got down our creche as a visual aid to help them learn the words to the song. This is the creche my mother finally gave me after I begged her and begged her (if memory serves correctly). It was the creche she had when I was a kid, and I have many fond memories of looking at it and playing with it.

Just getting out my winter holiday boxes and going through them to find the creche filled me up with the stories of winters past. As I took out each item, I kept saying to G., "remember when..."

(Hey, remember that older SNL skit with the "remember when" guy. Yeah, that was funny.)

But this is an interesting time of year to study the way memory works. Memories are not straight-forward things. So many memories we carry are influenced by emotions and hindsite and the state of mind we are in when the event happens and then when we try to recall it.

My dad told me that he once took a class in which a professor asked everyone to recall their earliest memory. The professor then promptly informed them that in all probability, the memory was filled with complete inaccuracies.

Back when I took my first position as a religious educator, I heard many varied stories about my predecessors from the congregation I was serving. It is only now that I am beginning to understand the great number of which were likely not particularly accurate.

In the congregation I now serve, I am following the 25 year career of the religious educator before me. For 25 years she served the congregation in many different ways, through times of small programs and large, times of great activity and times of rest, times of trying new things and times of going with "the old standard." Different years called on different skills. There is only one thing I can be sure of, and that is that she wasn't the same religious educator in year 11 as she was in year 4, or in year 5 as she was in year 8. Of course she wasn't the same religious educator in year 25 as she was in year 1, but I am pretty sure she wasn't the same even in year 24 as she was in year 25.

I spent ten months functioning under the story that the congregation had never had a "Coming of Age" program (a rite of passage program for middle schoolers). That's the story I'd been given by multiple people on multiple occassions. In month eleven I discovered while sorting through old files that there had indeed been such a program for some stretch back in the 90s. Then suddenly when I mentioned it, several people said they remembered it clearly, but the stories of how it went varied wildly from what the actual written records.

This kind of thing happens all the time. "We've never done it like that before" is not only a line only a dying congregation uses, it is also a line used by a congregation that really probably wouldn't remember if it had been done like that before. Institutional memory only goes so far.

Heck, when I came to the congregation, I heard lots of stories about the religious educator before me not being a big fan of change. She'd run a very successful program one way for 25 years and wasn't interested in trying anything new. Then I get into my office and find a series of books on Godly Play in her closet-- that's a new methodology-- and I take her out to lunch and discover she had pushed to try Godly Play for some time but hit a wall.

So now its Christmas Pageant time, and I know that this time of year more than any I will hear, "But we've always done it this way," and "That's a new creative idea!" But I am going to assume that neither things are fully true, and try to listen more to the emotional undercurrent. Regarldess of how things were done in the past, those two statements translate (loosely) respectively into: "This is what I remember and treasure," and "I am tired of the same old thing and interested in getting out of perceived or real ruts!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Win an Ergo

Win a Free Organic Embroidered Ergo Baby Carrier Hands Free System from Along for the Ride

They're awesome. I am hoping my brother and my sister-in-law win, or that I do so I can send them one to use with their new baby who will be born this spring.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Request, an Ignore-This-Please Wishlist

It has been requested that we provide a wishlist of presents for the kids. I have been VERY reluctant to do that. I am giving in, but I would really like for this to be read first:

The kids have plenty. Please, do not feel compelled toward gift-giving. We are having a very tight year financially and are celebrating a simplified Christmas. We won't be giving gifts to others ourselves. We are finding tons of meaning in a more spiritually-focused Christmas, and do not have a need to have more gifts under our tree.

All that said, if you are among the folks trying to get a list for ideas, here you go:

Sleep "Training"

Sleep is a wonderful thing. Lord knows I cherish it. I'd rather sleep than do a lot of things. There is nothing like the beautiful feeling of falling into a deep, blissful sleep.

And goodness knows how a sleep-deprived mother misses it. I know. I have been there. So in desperation, I know some parents give in and try to "train" their children into some kind of artifical sleep schedule. I don't want to argue about that with anyone on my blog, as I know opinions about this are varied and passionate. But I do want to share my perspective for anyone for whom it might matter. By sleep train, I don't mean routines. I mean actually trying to impose a sleep schedule on your child through coercive and artifical methods such as cry-it-out (cry to sleep).

Whomever you are, my dear loved one who is considering or starting to do this, I hope you will reconsider. There has got to be a better way to survive your child's early years.

Here are the top ten reasons why I think such a course is usually (I will make no hard line about never, but USUALLY) not such a good idea:

10. Because children need parenting all the time, not just in the daytime. If you fail to parent your child at night, it means neglecting some needs that your child has.

9. Because the person you are really training is: yourself. What are you training yourself to do? You are training yourself to be non-responsive to the messages your child sends you. You are training yourself to ignore your child in his or her moment of need. This is not natural. There is a reason that mother nature has given mothers (and fathers) an instinctual, painful, gut-level response to a baby crying. Everything we are meant to do in the first year or two of a baby's life has to do with a high level of responsiveness. By training yourself out of your responsiveness, you diminish, even if subtly, your closeness with your child.

8. Because even if you can do nothing to soothe your baby's tears, your presence counts for something. It is diminishing to you both to assume that it matters not whether you are there. Have you yourself never been comforted by a loved one, even as you sobbed in his or her arms? Sometimes the ability to stop tears is not the best measure of the difference one person makes in the life of another.

7. Because independence is not a foundational level skill. Imagine trying to teach a child to write before he or she ever sees a letter, to ride a bike before he or she has learned to sit up, or to answer the phone before she or he has ever spoken. Independence is a slowly building skill, and the ability to sleep independently in many children does not develop for many years. While some may be able to train their children to "give up," and to stop crying because those cries go unanswered, this only demonstrates the development of mistrust that one will be cared for. It is a far cry from real independence.

6. Because unaswered cries are stressful for babies. Of course, sometimes some of us will need to put our babies somewhere safe and walk away for a few minutes to get ourselves together. It is hard when a baby cries, and cries, and cries and there is nothing we can do to make it better. But when you choose to ignore your child's needs in order to "train" him or her into some false "independence," you are choosing to let stress hormones rage through your child's body. In the short term, this can lead to vomiting, overheating, and maybe even contribute to risk for SIDS. In the long term, repeated episodes of exposure to stress hormones through "cry it out" could result in permanent changes to your child's neurological system (BRAIN!). These changes can impact memory, attention, and emotion over the course of a lifetime, perhaps even including a predisposition to anxiety and depressive disorders. Also, who wants a child to associate sleep with stress hormones?

5. Because a baby's need to sleep will vary depending on a large number of factors. I am all for routine. Routines help children feel secure, can ensure a child's needs are not unintentionally overlooked when a parent is otherwise distracted, and can increase the chances that everyone will keep their sanity in a family. But schedules, well, they can be good...but are trickier. When you artifically impose a schedule on a very young baby, you will miss those changes in sleep needs that naturally arise from things not limited to growth spurts, work on developmental milestones, and dietary variations. By tuning into my children's needs, I have been much better equipped to recognize when suddenly they need that second nap each day again after not having needed it for a few months, or when they need to go to bed a little earlier or a little later, or when they are too busy learning to sleep and will catch up later. It's a similar thing to following a baby's cues for which case you ensure you don't miss a need for more calories (more meals) for a growth spurt, and so forth.

4. Because there is nothing like the times when your baby falls peacefully asleep in your arms. You can't get this time back, when they are little and cuddly and want to be with you. You just can't. 'Nuff said.

3. Because it is a lie that your baby will still need you to go to sleep when s/he heads off to college. I promise. Seriously, your child will grow to want his or her space and you will someday come to miss these years. Whoever invented the myth that whatever you do when your baby is a few months old is what you will have to do *forever* was seriously misguided. My children's sleep habits have changed more over the last few years than I could even describe. These days, they don't like to be touched even (so sad for me). I just sit next to them.

2. Because closeness with parents in the early years is actually a good thing. It helps children develop a solid foundation for many emotional intelligence factors...the ability to empathize, the ability to be comforted and to comfort others, the ability to read the emotions of others, a healthy desire for closeness and intimacy with others, and a sense of confidence through security (and the assumption that the world is generally a good place where needs will be met). These emotional intelligence factors are critical to a successful, happy life.

1. Because parenting is not about what "works in the short term," but rather about what you want to do for your child over the longrun. Hopefully, we all want to have confident, secure children in the longrun. But actually, it is useful as well to know that in the short-term, many times "cry it out" doesn't "work" for even short term parenting goals. When it does "work," it often requires that you do it over and over again. Night after night. And again with each growth spurt. And again any time your child is teething. And again with each major developmental milestone. It is actually often way more work.

There are many different ways that parents address sleep needs without sleep training. If you are interested in ideas and advice, try this: Nighttime Parenting Discussions.

That's my two cents. For what they are worth.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Feeling Okay

So I posted yesterday about how freaked out I was about the economy and job security. Part of why I was freaked out is specific to how the congregation I am serving has learned to approach money and staffing over the years. I don't think it is in the best interests of the congregation to cut program staff. With enough time, that will hopefully change. In the meantime, as I said, I need a plan B.

In just twenty minutes of conversation, G. and I were able to come up with at least one plan B. It makes me feel good to know that we have at least one option, and that if we thought on this some more, we could likely come up with another plan or two.

My plan:

Should the congregation decide to cut my salary, they will need to be aware of a realistic picture of what that will mean in terms of staff hours. What I will do as prep is to create a list of all the work I do, and should it come up that they will be cutting my salary, I will let them know how many hours that will give them and ask them which part of my work they would like to cut. This will not be something with which they will have experience, but I think it is important in part because on a reduced salary, I will need to have enough time to have a second job. Also, it will be important for the congregation to have full information about what they are asking of me.

Our plan if I am then working, say for example, 25 hours per week, is to open a home-based Montessori-inspired half-day preschool for six children (in addition to our own). This is something that would be very exciting to offer our community, use both our skills very well, fill a need we believe there is in our community, fit well within our lifestyle, and enhance the education of our own kids to boot because I'll have more time for teaching. It's not an easy road in the least, but it is a challenge I would enjoy and something I feel very passionately about in any case, and I feel really good about this option.

Of course, we are still hoping and praying that I will be able to continue working full time with my current salary, but having a plan I can get excited about feels much, much better.

The challenges will be much bigger if they can't fund my position at all, or if they cut my salary, but not enough to give me time for a second job. I'll continue to think out my approach if either of those end up being the case.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What I've Learned

Okay, I've done a little research, and here is what I've learned...if I understood everything correctly:

1. The good: It looks like there is a such thing as "partial unemployment" if hours/wages are reduced by the employer. This would make it worth it to stick around.

2. The bad: I just saw that it looks like I would be ineligible for unemployment anyway because I work in service of a church.

Plan B

I am really worried about the economy and the security of my job. We had our monthly staff meeting yesterday, and things are not looking good. I am the last person to be hired here, and it is possible that this fact will influence me in being the first to go.

I've never been in such a position, and am completely ignorant. The scary thing is that we used up all of our savings during our move a little over a year ago when I came out for the job (my employer paid for a goodly sum of the move, except that the move went all wrong for a number of reasons including the economy and the struggle to sell our things went haywire). I had hoped we'd have time to rebuild our savings, but we haven't...and that was a lot of money.

G. is starting to look for jobs, but she needs one anyway, even if my job continues to be secure. Despite this, her earning potential is relatively modest. Either way, until she finds a job, I am the sole bread-winner of the family.

I am praying hard and visualizing things working out. But what if they don't? I think it is time for me to do some prep, just in case.

If my employer decides to reduce my salary instead of lay me off, I may need to ask to either be fired (if they aren't satisfied with my work) or laid off (if the issue is truly just the money). My family is already stretched as thinly as we can be. We have a very, very modest budget. We simply couldn't make a lower salary stretch to fit, and this wasn't the agreement I had with my employer when I made the decision to move for this job.

Before I decide what my reaction should be if my salary is cut (which is only one of several potential scenarios...they might also just lay me off or fire me), I need to know if it makes a difference in terms of unemployment whether one is fired or laid off. I also need to know how much unemployment I would be able to collect (assuming I am looking for new work, which I will be) and for how long. And finally, I need to know how long it would take for the checks to kick in. Seems I have some research to do.

I'll keep you posted if I learn anything interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Networking Blog

I've started a blog for the purpose of networking. I am hoping to gather together a group of folks in my region who are interested in a public Montessori school for the city in which I reside and work. Now I just have to start spreading the word (always a daunting task at first).

Anyway, if you are curious what that is about, check it out:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One More Reason to Homeschool

I have had to fight our school district pretty hard since M. turned three to keep him out of public school. It's been really tough having to stand up, only to be battered at every turn. I do it because I have seen with my own eyes the benefits Montessori has had in M's life, because I have observed the public school classroom recommended for M. and seen the sub-standard education offered, and because I have researched the heck out of it and made the decision I feel is most educationally sound.

Even though this isn't the reason I have M. doing partial homeschool and partial private Montessori school, this kind of thing is one more reassurance I've done the right thing:

My local school district has some crazy approaches to behavioral management, and I could totally see this kind of thing going on. In fact, I actually had to request a new school district speech therapist for M. after, among other things, his speech therapist grabbed his arm and yanked him very roughly right in front of me.

Everyday I am down on my knees saying my thanks that I have been able to keep ds out of harm's way, for the most part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Your Vision Is Too Expansive

I have difficulty compartmentalizing information.

This is often a blessing. I am easily able to take a broad view of systems and also transfer information from one system to another. At classes and workshop, I find myself impatient when other attendees have to stop and ask, "What does this have to do with...[fill in the blank with whatever the topic is]?" (Yes, I found college almost painful.) If the teacher or leader of the class or workshop has made the connection, you can be certain that I too have made the connection. When other people are saying things like, "This is nice, but I was really hoping to get some tangible ideas I can take home," I often am sighing inside. My neurons have usually been firing off ideas the whole time as I've connected all types of information in response to what I am learning.

At times, though, my inability to compartmentalize becomes problematic. Today I found that a global perspective I have been taking for granted for some time is not a common world view. I didn't realize until after I pissed someone off (at work, no less) by taking my broad view as a given. Actually, it took me getting upset that I'd pissed someone off. I got upset and called a colleague who listened to me explain my thinking to her, and then she said "I have never thought of it like that before." The subsequent dialogue in my head went something like:


Oh! Huh.

Really? I could have sworn that other colleagues have talked about this before.

Is it just me?

I don't get how this can be compartmentalized.

I am so confused. I am so hurt [that the person I pissed off was so offended].

Sometimes it is hard not to feel crazy.

Postscript: A few days later, I am feeling much better. I called another colleague, one from the west coast whose response to the idea that I think much differently than others was, "you do?!" Ah, it is likely another one of those east-west coast adjustments I am making. So then I talked to a colleague out here who is one of the longest-serving and most respected in our field. And though she has worked for 30 years in the northeast, she also is very involved in the national organization of our association and has a good understanding of regional differences. She is a tremendous mentor for me! I wanted her to help me shift my thinking, if necessary, into a more regionally-appropriate form. But she told me I was spot-on in my thinking, and that more than anything I just have to be patient (and try harder not to scare people so much with my wild west ways LOL).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reflections on the Win...a Night To Never Forget

The night of the election, I drove to an election party at a local bar, my hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel as I heard what I thought was an announcer indicating that McCain had taken Pennsylvania. When I realized finally that they were talking about Obama, I relaxed slowly, not wanting to allow myself to believe until everything was for sure. I wandered into the bar tentatively. I wasn't meeting up with friends, and no matter what was about to happen, it was bound to be an emotional night.

I spent the first part of the evening tucked away in a crowded area of the bar, uninterested in expending the tremendous effort it would be to navigate the crowd only to stand in another crowded area. It was a good sized, diverse crowd. Lots of young folks. A fair chunk of old folks. Some folks were coming back and forth between the congressman's party and this party, but from what I heard, we were the younger crowd with more folks of color and more food and fun. I couldn't hear the reporters on the television, but the visual images were enough.

Obama. Obama.
Two more states for Obama.

Another win for Obama.

Well, that one was expected.

Two women finally started chatting with me, and pretty soon I began shaking hands and meeting the people around me. The mood was jubilant and cheerful, even if afraid to believe. A congregant from the church where I serve spotted me and came over. We chatted for a bit, and then he returned to the folks he was with. The energy was starting to buzz in the air.

The more time that went on, the more confident we all became. We watched the senate majority climb (yahoo!): 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56...

I was getting impatient. This all looked like such good news, and everyone began to feel ready for the announcement of Obama's win. It was late, and I was tired, but it all felt so imminent, and I didn't want to go home without hearing for sure. I distracted myself in conversations with the folks around me: what work we do, how long we have been in our city, in the state, how long we have been voting, what we like to do in our spare time. I haven't done anything social like that with total strangers for a long time.

In a moment of total distraction, I glanced up at the screen just as the announcement came across, "Barack Obama: President Elect." I didn't know if I should trust what I was seeing and hearing, but suddenly the crowd broke out in cheers. This was it.

I can't even begin to describe to you what that moment was like in that room. We were screaming and laughing, and we were all embracing one another. Strangers and friends all in one moment. A woman who moved to the United States from Kenya eight years ago stood in front of me, hands clasped together in the air for a long time after the first rush of cheers had died down. Another woman kept pounding her fists on the bar, and saying, "Now we are one. Now we are one." A woman originally from Rwanda stood staring at the television screen with tears streaming down her face. All of us were crying.

I wish I could convey to you better what it was like, but I can't. It was so visceral. It was this palpable healing energy. It did not fix everything, but it was needed to soothe our souls. I have never in my life experienced something quite like it, and I know I will be lucky if I experience it again.

There is a great post on one of the blogs I follow about the bittersweet moment this was, when on one hand so much progress was made and on another, so much ground was lost: But the words to a hymn come to mind: "We will get there. Heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will."

There is a long road ahead of us. It will be hard. It will be full of pain and difficult decisions and hardship. Justice will not always be served. But I can see Obama isn't wasting time, nor disengaging from the public discourse that was the campaign: I am impressed.

I have been very teary since the election. My children may remember into adulthood the way we talk about how we have the power for positive change, and the way President Elect Obama has reminded us of that and called us to keep on keeping on. This is huge. Huge. May we never forget, and may we Get. To. Work.

Yes we DID!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow is Election Day.

This is such a historic moment that I actually get chills thinking about it:

Vote. Vote. Vote! Don't forget.

And please join me in voting for hope, and for the promise that is America. Let's get to work!

Love ya'll,

I Love My Mother-- I Am Proud To Be a Member of My Family

The Horoscope that Has Scared the Living Daylights Out of Me

(And I don't even know if I believe in this stuff)

Here it demons right there in my weekly horoscope:

And my monthly horoscope:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Pumpkin

So here is my pumpkin this year. Amazingly, it actually looks even better in real life! I was so excited it actually turned out fairly well, I haven't taken photos of any of the other pumpkins we have carved so far (and they are all really cool!). I'll snap a shot soon. Below is the "in the light" obligatory photo. There were two major mishaps, but hopefully you can't really notice them. I'm gonna try and fix them before tomorrow night. I also might add "vote" or "vote hope," mainly to add some ventilation:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good Deeds and Little Warrior

You may recall and

Little Warrior is almost done with her last scheduled treatment. She keeps saying "On Halloween, cancer will be over." Please pray with me that it will be, and send her and her whole family all the loving energy you can muster. And please, if you can do something good for Love Through Action, do that too.

Friday, October 24, 2008


It's pumpkin carving time. G. and I have a general (not every year, but every year we can manage it) tradition of carving elaborate pumpkins. It's probably the most artistic endeavor in my life all year. I have made some pretty cool pumpkins, but every year I get nervous I will have to go back to basic jack-o-laterns because I am not sure of my abilities. We'll see what I can pull off this year!

Anyway, a buddy online posted a link to a political slant on pumpkins this year. Some of these are very elaborate, and I thought I'd post just for fun:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hi "Mindy"!

So I have this really good friend, who I love dearly. She lives back in my old state. I miss her dearly. Anyway, she keeps trying to call me on her way in to work every morning, and keeps missing me by a hair. I can't find her cell phone number, and I know her best time to chat is on her way to and from work.

This time when she called she said she was going to check my blog to see what is up in my life recently. So this is my shout out to her.

What's been going on in my life lately?


The kids are both doing well. M is doing a one day per week Montessori program at a center for otherwise homeschooled children, and we are doing Montessori-based homeschooling the rest of the time. He is absolutely thriving! It is wonderful. I'm thinking of pulling him out of all his public-school based therapies. They are poor quality (private would be so much better) and really not the direction we are wanting to head. So many things he does in the public schools undermines the great stuff happening in Montessori for him. In any case, he is talking up a storm and wants to know about everything right now. His favorite subjects at the moment are (1) what exists "behind the walls" and (2) what exists "underneath the floor." He wants to know about wires and electricity, and pipes and plumbing. He also asks the question, "What is in that?" about everything until we get down to talking about "invisible" science, like atoms. He is such a curious, thougtful boy. I really need to brush up on my science.

K. can't wait to turn three and start going to the Montessori center too. She is super interested in letters. She loves for me to write words on her magnadoodle, and then she takes letters from her alphabet puzzle and moves them on top of my letters until she's spelled out the word. The first thing she asks for me to do every morning and the last thing she asks for me to do every night is to read to her. She is all about books, books, books all day long, though make no mistake about it...she is also on the go! Even when we read, she is twisting and turning and squirming. Even more than the average two year old, she is not one to sit still. She is a mover and a shaker! I'm thinking she might want to take dance. Actually, both kids would probably enjoy gymnastics or dance classes. K's favorite song is a "babywipe" song M made up. It's too hilarious, and she sings it nonstop. It's only words are "babywipe, babywipe," but it is sung with such a tender, sweet voice that even the word "babywipe" is no endearing.

We're getting closer to K's adoption. Not there yet, but things are looking pretty good. We really wanted to fly back for it. We owe M's birthfamily a visit so we're going to have to fork over the money at some point...but right now we just don't have it. I would have liked to visit you, and G's brother and his family while we were at it. Looks like we'll be doing the proceedings by phone and notary/certified mail though.

I had my 72 hour EEG but don't have the results yet. I think I am supposed to go see the epileptologist some time this month, but I forget when. G is looking for part-time work. She definitely doesn't want to teach preK again until the kids are older. She is looking for work that she can keep at work, rather than take home, and something she can do without a lot of thought. Something like bartending. I think that kind of adult time will be good for G too. My work is going okay. Not shortage of challenges to keep me hopping and of course everyone is worried about budgets for the upcoming year, especially since we (1) we have already used all of our heating oil money for the budget year through January and we just had to turn on the heat at the start of October, and (2) we are about to begin a capital campaign, just now as the economy hits the fan. But so much of my world is filled with graces and blessings, and dare I say that God is present. The work is good. So good.

I hope we'll talk soon. I can't wait to hear how you and A. and B. are doing.

Your Friend S.

P.S. Both kids have decided to be firefighters for Halloween!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Funny Scam?

About 9:30 this evening, I pull into the parking lot of a supermarket. The parking lot is not terribly bright, but fairly full, as it serves not only the supermarket, but also a craft store, a party supply store, and a couple of restaurants. I need to pick up a single item for church and head back to work, but I'm in the middle of listening to an interesting NPR segment on investing, so I sit in the car for a few minutes.

I notice a young lady, perhaps in her twenties, messing around with something in the trunk of her car, which is parked not far from mine. It doesn't look like she is loading groceries, or anything, but I don't make much of a note of that in my mind at the time. A few minutes later, a man, perhaps in his thirties comes and speaks with her, and then he comes over and signals me to roll down my window. I think perhaps their car had a dead battery, and I roll down my window sympathetically (having had a dead battery in my own car recently, ahem).

The man says, "Excuse me? Do you by any chance listen to hip hop?"

I tell him I do "on occassion," not really knowing where he might be trying to take this conversation. The fact is, I really enjoy music (of many types), and do in fact listen to hip hop, but can't listen to any music frequently because it bothers my sensory issues. When I do listen to music, these days it is mostly on my sattelite radio, and rarely a single artist I've selected in particular to listen to. If you ask me to name a favorite recording artist of any genre, I wouldn't be able to name any names because of my memory problems in combination with the fact that I just don't select a whole lot of music to listen to right now.

So the man then introduces himself by a name, and I swear that name is Chewbacca. (It wasn't until I got back to the church that I realized why the name sounded so familiar. Yep, Star Wars.) He also points to the young woman he was just talking to and says she is his girlfriend. Anyway, he says he is a rapper and that he has a CD he wants me to listen to and tell him "what I think."

Um, okay. I figure he wants to sell me something, but I am willing to give him a couple minutes of my time for him to make his case.

So then he proceeds to pull out a CD with absolutely no label on it. More on that in a second.

I turn it on and listen, and we chat for a few minutes. He swears that he is well known, that he has been on MTV and everything, but that he and a whole lot of other rappers are starting to just sell their own stuff independently because the record labels are ripping them off. He tells me that if you calculate it, most rappers working with big labels make under $1 an hour. He claims that the rapper "50 cent" makes 50 cents. He also talks for a bit about his favorite musicians, naming 80s rock musicians he thinks I'll recognize. He asks me what I had in my CD player before he came to my car, and I honestly tell him "nothing," which catches him a bit off guard.

I start flipping through the songs, and periodically he tells me to go to a particular track. He is obviously directing me to tracks he thinks I'll like, all the more "mild" sounding, cheezy love song ones (bleh!). I say, "So you are trying to sell these CDs?" Yep, he tells me. "Well, I don't have any cash on me, but how much are you trying to sell them for anyway?" "$10" he says.

I notice one track is skipping a bit, and he doesn't seem to hear it but does direct me to another. Then he directs me to one that he says has some vocals from his daughter "Jewel." This skips as well, and I look at him puzzled and he says it has never done that before. I eject the CD, and we thank one another: he thanks me for actually being willing to listen, saying most folks are scared to even talk to him, and I thank him for sharing his CD with me. We re-introduce ourselves, and then I go in and buy my falafel mix and get back to my car to see his car is gone.

The whole encounter was polite and pleasant. He seemed nice. I actually enjoyed talking to him. But the way I figure, it has got to be a scam.

For one thing, the CD had no label. As in, no sticker on it. You can get labels and make them up yourself on a computer for like $10. If he was any kind of singer, wouldn't he want to present his name, his image on his sample? He didn't even write his name with a Sharpie marker on the CD. For another, if you are trying to sell your rap/hip hop CDs, wouldn't you find a better target market than sitting outside in the parking lot at the grocery store and hitting up random people. Especially if you are well known and have been on MTV. Wouldn't you at least be selling over the internet or something? Which reminds me, I paused and said in a hesitant voice that I listen to hip hop "occassionally." I am sure he could tell I was hugely ignorant about singer names. That makes a great target for a scam...not such a great target for building up CD-purchasing customers.

Now that I am back at the church, I can't find a rapper with his "name" or anything similar on the internet.

So what do you think this could have been about? I'd like to think the best, but truly this situation was all off. My first guess is that he has burned various songs (not his own) onto a CD and is trying to sell it for $10 a peice as his own.

Although I suppose he also could have been trying to get me to take out my purse so he could rob me. Robbery is a not-infrequent crime in my city. Then again, my purse was sitting on the passenger side of my car the whole time, so I suppose he could have robbed me in any case, if he had really wanted. He also could have been trying to find out if I had a CD player in my car, and what type (easy to take out or not) or a stash of CDs, which could be stolen and sold.


Friday, October 10, 2008

This Looks Really Interesting

On one of my mommy groups, a mom posted this as a must-see:

I just started watching it, and it looks interesting. Join me! And post your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What a Disappointing Debate

Last night we saw McCain and Obama in the second of just three opportunities to go "toe-to-toe." The result: a disappointment.

I hate to admit it, but McCain faired much, much better in the "town hall" approach to this debate. I already have done my research and long ago made my commitment to Obama, but McCain tugged on me just a little last night. I don't agree with his proposed policies, but his arguments were made in a much more cogent and intelligent manner last night. I saw the type of leadership in the way McCain talked that has-- at least in part-- made me such a big fan of Obama. His comments on domestic policy were surprisingly well-laid out (this is such a weakness of his), and I felt like Obama just kept repeating over and over the same things he said in the first debate. I thought Obama did a steller job in the first debate, but I didn't want to hear it a second time, you know?

Both candidates, of course, were a let down this time around in any case. That's been talked about everywhere. Especially on that last question, "What don't you know and how would you learn it?" I wanted to hear something genuine, but hah, it goes without saying that such a thing would be expecting too much in these final countdown days. The whole debate was just, well, blah. And as much as I respect Tom B., I felt like rather than pushing on the time limits, etc., he should have been expending his energy pushing for some *real* answers and not just rhetoric.

Oh well. Here's to hoping the third debate is better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Sure Do Live In a Very Different Place

A little over a year ago, I was completing my sixth (?) year of living in a town with weekly--sometimes multiple per week-- protests against the war.

So far I haven't seen any of those here, though I understand there was a second annual "peace vigil" last night at the other UU church in town (I couldn't go due to other things in which I was involved). Today, however, while driving home from work, I saw my kid's favorite park, which spans several blocks, completely surrounded by what appears to be people fresh from church, holding anti-abortion signs that said things like "Jesus saves and heals," "abortion is murder," and various biblical quotes relating to children.

I found myself thankful that I didn't have my kids in the car so I wouldn't have to explain what the anti-abortion signs were about. Why oh why did they choose a children's park of all places to conduct their protest? That just seems so, well, anti-family values. Shouldn't a mom have the right to shelter her three or five or seven year old from the concept of abortion? Thinking about their choice of venue makes me raging mad, actually. And I noticed that very few kids were playing at this usually very busy park.

[Edited to add: Please see my post-script comment in the comments section, where I name an "adoption is the loving option" sign as the most offensive among the signs]

Now, don't get me wrong. For one thing, I am fairly pro-choice in terms of political policy, but have in recent years become semi-conservative about abortion on a personal level. Though I would support a friend in her emotional process should she choose to have an abortion, I wouldn't ever be the one to suggest it. For another, back in my old town, there were certainly occassional anti-abortion protests, but it just seemed like such a striking contrast to my old town having never seen a protest here against the war, which also involves debate over things like "murder." I actually think if there was an anti-war protest here, there would be a lot of anger about it despite the fact that most Americans are very critical of the war.

On a lighter note, I am not a Sarah Silverman fan, but she did have this hilarious episode on her show where she unwittingly becomes an anti-abortion protestor. It is very funny, and if you can put up with Silverman's type of humor, and a totally irreverant and immoral take on abortion (remember, Sarah Silverman has even joked about cancer), I recommend it. I couldn't find the whole episode online, though, so instead I leave you with a clip from the end:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Our Strategies For Keeping the Heat Turned Down Lower This Year

...Okay, so check to make sure if weather stripping isn't it. Other ideas...

  • 2 Layer Minimum: All family members have happily agreed to wear long underware under our clothes. Sweaters are encouraged but do not count as a layer.

  • Socks and Hats Required: We plan to wear socks all winter long. Two layers of socks, with wool on top, or even just wool socks by themselves are preferable. Slippers make a great addition but are not necessarily necessary ;-). Hats are a must at all times outdoors, but also are great when folks get chilly indoors. If one of us is cold during the day, we'll try a comfortable hat before turning up the heat.

  • Tea as the Standard Drink: During the winter, we plan to drink warm drinks throughout the day. Options include warm milk, apple cider, or our current favorite: tea. The children enjoy a child-friendly herbal (thus naturally caffeine free) tea, lightly steeped. They like Celestial Seasoning teas such as Sleepytime, Chamomile, Peppermint, and the Berry one (can't recall its name at the moment). They have yet to try the Orange Zest tea. Coffee is also an option for adults and hot chocolate is a favorite among everybody on special occassions. All of us will drink something warm not just during the day, but especially before bed.

  • Warm and Spicey Foods: Cooking and baking not only keeps the house warmer, but eating warm cooked meals helps to warm people. We won't be having meals that are served cold this winter...hardboiled eggs, most types of sandwiches, etc. Since everybody in our family likes spicey food, we'll also be eating plenty of that because it can noticeably warm us up.

  • A "Downsized" House: We will be closing off a number of rooms for the coldest months of the winter. We don't have multi-zone heating, but we do have radiators that can be shut off individually in rooms, and as I understand it, this can save on heat. I know a woman who has shut down the entire upper level of her house, setting up bedrooms on the first level (which she decided to make the "open for business" level due to the location of the kitchen on the ground level). I guess that is always an option. We have three rooms downstairs that could be transformed into bedrooms with a little creativity if absolutely necessary.

  • Cold Means Get Out: The library and the ecotarium (to which we have a membership) are two of probably several places we can go that will not be keeping heat any lower this year than last year.

  • Rice Pack Warmers: We have at least one already, and could make or inexpensively buy several more. Heated in the microwave for a few minutes, these can warm beds before bedtime, couches, and even chairs throughout the house. They can also be used by any of us if we just feel a little chilly.

  • Blankets, Blankets, Everywhere: Reading books under blankets on couches can be a fun activity for everyone! Blankets can also be used by any person who wants one for his or her lap while doing a puzzle, playing a card or board game, drawing, writing, or otherwise staying put in one place.

  • Fans on Reverse: I have heard that putting a fan on the "reverse" setting, if one is available, helps disperse heat throughout the room. I will be checking to see if either of our fans has this setting.

  • All Appliances Run During the Day: In the summer, we have a rule that we don't vacuum, do laundry, cook, or run the diswasher during the day because it makes the house hot. Now that winter is here, this can be part of a great strategy to keep warm during the day. At night it is great to run appliances too for heat, but it is easier to stay warm at night under the covers than it is during the day.

Other things we'll possibly do? I am going to keep my eye out at the thrift shop for soft, wool clothes. Unfortunately, we can't do just any wool clothes because wool is very itchy and none of us tolerate itchy wool. But maybe we'll find something. If not, I am at least going to buy wool *socks,* no matter where I have to buy them. I also am going to look around for heat-resistant radiator reflectors to put on exterior walls behind radiators to prevent heat escape, and hopefully we can swing it (assuming cost) to get our radiators fully serviced this winter. If the project looks manageable for non-do-it-yourselfers like us, I'll use 2" certifoam insulation around rim joists, which are in between floor joists in the basement, to help keep the floors warm. If we have enough when that is done, we will also get flannel or fleece sheets for the beds. And finally, I hope to make "draft dodgers" for doors between rooms, especially rooms we won't be using.

My Tight-Wad List

In many ways, I am super privileged to even be making this type of list. Eating out? Organics? Come on! Many, many folks live without these largely "middle-class" luxuries. But for us, these all represent a significant lifestyle change. And some of these will sound pretty extreme. No pain, no gain, I guess. More like, "let's survive the new economic realitities." But really, weren't many of these just how people lived 100 or 150 years ago?

  • NO eating out EVER, except for really, really, really special occassions... I know this is the usual for most folks, but for us, eating out has essentially become the biggest part of our (formerly $200) monthly "entertainment budget." In fact, we did overspend in our entertainment category on a not-irregular basis, and most months, eating out was the only culprit. We cut the budget to $100 upon our move, and thought that was all we could realistically expect of ourselves, knowing how busy we are and what a big change that was for us already. But not too long after, we realized we had to make this into a really significant lifestyle change. No more entertainment budget. None. Ever. This is the change I resent the most.
  • Far fewer organics. While the change above is the one I resent the most, this one is the one I worry about the most. The organics order of priorities is: (meat, which we don't eat), dairy, then fruits and veggies, then grains. While we have gone through other times in which we have been able to buy organic fruits and veggies only when they are the almost identical in price to non-organic, we've never had to cut out organic dairy. Now, however, we will be able to buy organic dairy much more rarely.
  • At the same time, I commit to recontacting our raw milk source, which is competatively priced (though we will have a drive to pay for to pick it up, so I will have to crunch the numbers). We will try making our own yogurts and cheeses if we can get enough milk for that purpose. This will require a significant shift in use of time. I am most looking forward to this change, though I am dreading contacting our source only because I contacted him last year but never had the time to follow-through and feel guilty. Also, next year, if we do the CSA (and given that we are having to cut down on our other organics and that the CSA is low cost, I am inclined to say we will as long as we can get a payment plan), there will have to be a moratorium on buying any other produce. No other produce expenditures at all. Ever. Somehow or another, we are going to have to live with eating only leafy greens when that is the only thing in season.
  • Soda almost never. This one has long been a goal of mine, but I've put if off far too long in fear of the withdrawl period. I'm in withdrawl right now (actually, I am sipping on a soda I found after hunting desperately in the pantry for just one unopened can), but I have reduced my soda intake by about 75% in the last week or so. Soda is going to have to become a drink for only very special occassions. Withdrawl symptoms include exhaustion, extreme headaches, complete irratibility, mood swings, unquenchable thirst, physical intolerance for changes in blood sugar, anxiety, and trembling muscles. On the plus side, I think I am finding some anecdotal evidence for the outlandish theory that my soda intake has something to do with my neurological issues. I am in the middle of a 72 hour EEG, and I have had almost no "events" to record.
  • No more canned beans or soups, and no more instant/convienence foods and frozen meals. These can all be cooked at home more cheaply, even if cooked and frozen ourselves.
  • No cell phones. We should have one contract ending this month, so that is good. But we might have to pay to get out of the contract on the other. We'll keep our prepaid phone for emergencies, but we recently discovered it is not working very well (keeps shutting off even with a charged battery, and has to be plugged in to work even half the time).
  • Changes in transportation. I've talked about this for a while, and have begun making some changes. Since moving, we've cut down on a great amount of driving. This will have to continue, and the next phase will be even more difficult because the bus system here is so incredibly unreliable and once it starts snowing (due to the fact that snow here turns to thick sheets of ice that never melt until the spring), biking (not that I even own a bike) is simply not possible. G and I found a garden wagon at Lowes on sale for $50. I think we are going to get it because it is large and would fit both kids plus a couple bags of groceries if not more. It also has these big, sturdy wheels that will work well for many surfaces. This would make walking to and from the grocery store more possible.
  • Lessened use of heat. See my next post.
  • A significantly changed Christmas. This year we will use a couple gift certificates we have saved after receiving them over the last year as gifts, etc. to buy the kids Christmas gifts. We'll be making all other gifts. Mostly, we will reduce by a good deal the amount we do gifts for the season. We also will modify the way we do Christmas cards, if we do them this year at all.
  • Natural lighting only during the day. To understand what a big deal this is, you have to understand where we live. Where I grew up, after it snowed, the sun would *eventually* come out and melt everything and bring some light for a while. Not here. Here, once it starts snowing, you don't see the sun again until the spring. It will be grey straight through. Also, as I mentioned, the snow here doesn't melt. The snow here becomes white ice once it hits the ground. Every time it snows again, a new layer goes on top of the old, which makes the first even more solid and compact. Think of the most painful kind of snowballs, and you know the kind of snow I am talking about. You can tear a pair of jeans on the ice just trying to shovel your driveway. In order to avoid SAD, we'll need to shovel our way out and spend time outdoors even when it is super cold and the ice on the ground is at thigh-level. And because the sun will be behind the clouds, I am talking about more than a few minutes outside each day. Time to get out the snowsuits and think of cheap activities to do when we are stuck home in the snow.
  • No lights after 8pm. The kids are in bed asleep by that time, so they won't be impacted in any way. But this means, if G and I are still up (what an incentive to go to bed early), if I am just getting home from a meeting or whatever, I will go by candle-light, or the light from the computer if G is watching a movie or working on the computer or something.
  • 90%+ homeade homeschool supplies. I can't really spend money right now on our Montessori lessons. I am going to have to find a way to collect cheap stuff to make the lessons from.
  • Home computer use limit of five hours per day total for the family, and turned off between useage. ALL other appliances unplugged when not in use.
  • A return to dial-up? No home internet? After the changes above, our monthly budget includes only food, medical care, mortgage, and basic utilities, except for the internet and driving back and forth to visit G's parents and sister (an hour and a half drive). We can't reasonably cut the latter. G's parents are advanced in age, and our visits with them are important. Also, we combine it with a trip to K's therapist, who is in Boston which is on the way. However, we are changing our lifestyle so much for this winter that I also don't think I am quite ready to say no more high speed home internet. That said, a few months down the line, I'll probably reconsider.

The good thing about all this? I think if we are successful, we are going to spend less time goofing off on the computer, and more time playing games, writing letters, and at the library. I think we are going to be getting better sleep and become more in tune with the natural cycle of the day.

Money, Money, Money, MONEY

While our elected leaders continue to debate what to do over one significant facet of the economic crisis we are in, life goes on for the rest of us.

My dw G and I, like many Americans, are feeling vulnerable at this time. For us, perhaps more so than some of our friends and family. The reasons for this are:

1. Though the political focus, at least for the time, has shifted to Wall Street, and as an extension, Mall Street (a caller on an NPR show had a good point that Main Street has already had its crisis, which came about with the "Big Box Stores," and that now, Mall Street is really the next street down from Wall Street)...fossil fuels are still a *huge* issue.

For folks out west, most of you probably see this crisis primarily in terms of transportation. For many of us in New England, our homes are heated by oil and we are seeing immediate and direct effects of the crisis. In my home, oil is not only our source for home heating, but also hot water. Worse still, we live in a particularly cold and snowy region of our state. The winters here are very difficult.

It now costs well over $800 to fill up our oil tank. If we were to heat our home and use our hot water normally, we would need to refill our oil tank every two to three weeks. Obviously, this is not financially feasible even for folks securely in the middle class.

2. G became a stay-at-home mother last year. This has really held our family together on so many different levels. It has truly been a blessing. We knew when we bought our home (which was truly *cheap* for our area) that she would need to return to work at least part time. We envisioned her working two or three evenings per week, and us continuing to maintain a schedule similar to what we have now with her at home. However, now that we have been in our new home for a few months, we are really aware of how close we are teetering to financial doom. G needs to get a job and *fast,* especially before winter hits, but even sooner. It looks like she will need to work three evenings per week for sure.

Definitely time to batten down the hatches. So my next post will be my tight-wad list. What's on yours?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Signed This

Check out this bail out proposal, and maybe even sign it if you like it:

From U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

My Political and Economic Feelings Last Week

By the way, I am thrilled about how I feel post-debate because this was a little bit of how I was feeling last week:

Let there be hope.

How It Went Last Night: Part Two (The Debate)

As for the debate, it is funny because the economy is said to be Obama's strong area, but I thought he really picked up speed after a while in the foreign policy discussions. By the end, I felt he was smokin'! I almost was sorry to see it end.

Of course I don't agree with everything on either side, but Obama did exactly the thing that makes me want him to be president: he gave a highly intelligent and cogent presentation that didn't rely on knocking down his opponent with criticism but instead on peeling back the layers of complex issues and looking at each thoughtfully and carefully.

Listening to a little of the post-debate talk this morning on NPR on my way to work, it seemed folks felt neither candidate came out significantly more strongly than the others, though I know there was a lot of commentary in newsmedia this morning, much of which said Obama led just by a hair. I was surprised more folks didn't see the same thing I did about how he really gained some momentum in the last half of the debate.

I admit I got a little annoyed with one of the commentators this morning who said that Obama didn't show "the fire"...the willingness to attack his opponent that "his supporters want to see." What?!? I am among his supporters, and it is hard to believe that I am the only one who wants a president who will attack ideas (not people) in a calm, and reasoned manner.

Last night a commentator on CNN characterized it as "intellectual generosity." The commentator was using the term as a negative, saying that such intellectual generosity doesn't win elections. However, as a voter, I see such intellectual generosity as a tremendous asset in a president. It seems to me that "intellectual generosity" is a good sign of being able to consider and weigh information from all sides of an argument, and to make determinations based on reason rather than theoretical ideology.

I don't dislike "dirty politics" simply because it is awful to see opponents attack one another. I dislike dirty politics because I think it highlights a character flaw that is significant when selecting national leaders. That is, the inability to be reasoned participants in the political process and to reach out for common ground. If there is one thing a president needs to be, it is reasoned and able to mobilize a wide range of people.

Oh, and by the way, I am absolutely *horrified* about McCain's "spending freeze" option he said he thinks worthy of consideration. That is, the spending freeze on everything except the military and veteran's benefits (and then he sort of murmured something about other entitlement programs...thank heavens there was some measure of logic there). Did I hear that correctly?! Do we really want a guy for president for whom such a thought has even crossed his mind? Um, military state?

...Especially with the economy in the state it is in when more and more folks are going to need help to be well enough to keep the economy going...

That really came out of nowhere because I have to believe that Obama would have been able to list out dozens of important programs and the people impacted who would be in deep trouble if this happened. Not to mention that entitlement programs (that is, as I understand it, programs which are legal obligations of our country for eligible entities...the government's bills, you could say) are among some of our larger expenditures. But you can't just say, "oh forget them! Let's seriously cut them out." Not only because it wouldn't be legal, but because it wouldn't be moral or ethical when you actually consider, oh, just for example: foster children, who otherwise have nothing.

One of my only regrets about the debate is that Obama didn't have much to say about that.

But you know, it really seemed the way McCain said it, like he just pulled it out of the air. And that is one more thing that freaks me out about the guy as a candidate for the U.S. presidency. His impulsive nature seems to outrun his ability to reason when under pressure. Unfortunately, his impulsivity leads him only to those things he knows well: the military, for example. That doesn't leave much room for hope for those of us who are working poor or struggling middle class.

Perhaps McCain's own statement was enough said.

On a final note, as well as I thought Obama did, why oh why is Obama continuing to let "off shore drilling" be characterized as a "bridge" or interim option by McCain? Why oh why is "off shore drilling" even still on the table for either candidate? That is crap! I am telling you: just look at the science.

How It Went Last Night

I really, really enjoyed getting out and watching the debates. It was so much less lonely than watching them just by myself or with G. Politics is so much more fun when in a group. It was great fun to hear the laughter, groaning, or "what did he just say?!" type comments rush through the crowd.

It was a smallish crowd, but a crowd nonetheless. Maybe 18 or 20 other folks. The restaurant was not very conducive to mingling, however. There was the U-shaped bar that was very large and took up most of the room, and then several booths on one side (the far side from the door). When I arrived, all but one of the booths were filled with small groups of folks who had come together. The booth side of the bar (again, that would be the far side of the bar) was also filled with people who appeared to be present in pairs or small groups. Near the arched part of the "U" there were four or five folks standing and chatting, and after I sat down they went over to one of the booths. I would have had to "pardon me" my way through them to get to the other side of the bar. That wasn't very motivating because what would I have actually done once over there? Everyone seemed to have arrived there with people they knew, and were sitting and in conversation with one another. I couldn't even tell who was actually there for the party and who was just there as a patron of the bar.

I couldn't think of a comfortable way to break into conversation. It just didn't have a real "party" atmosphere, with folks mingling. I kept thinking of less shy people in my family and circle of friends, and wondering if they would have thought of a way to break through despite the lack of mingling. I hate being shy!

Anyway, I sat down on the side of the bar with open seats, next to a couple (the only people sitting on that side). They left about a half hour after the debate started. Apparently they were just patrons of the bar, not attendees of the event. A couple of guys sat down behind me and seemed to be watching the debate, but at some point before the end they changed over to the sports channel, so I am not sure they were there for the party either.

I took out my laptop only to find the battery was dead (I had wanted to charge it for an hour ahead of time, but had locked myself out of church just an hour before-- long story-- and that developed into its own issue, so I wasn't able to get to an outlet on time). I had brought along my electrical cord, but couldn't spot a place to plug it in. I ordered a drink and an appetizer and tried to sit sort of leaned back in my chair so it was obvious I was open for conversation. But people remained seated pretty much the whole party through. When the debate ended, I was hopeful that folks would start chatting and mingling, but if it happened, it wasn't during the time I was there. I stayed for a little while, but it was late and I was getting really, lots of folks got up and left.

I bet if the restaurant had provided a simple appetizer or two to party attendees, and circulated among the crowd with those, that would have really helped to make it more of a "party" atmosphere and therefore a good mingling atmosphere. Perhaps they would have had to close off the bar except to those attendees in that case, but that would have actually been better too because then there wouldn't have been the question of who was there for what reason. I certainly would have had an easier time overcoming my shyness if I knew that everyone was there for the party like I was.

In the future, I would want to come early so that I hopefully don't get seated out of where the party is going on. I definitely think I would bring my laptop, and maybe wear a campaign button (which no one seemed to be wearing last night?). Those seem like good visible signals of who is attending for the party. And now that I have an idea of what to expect, maybe I can think ahead of time about some good icebreakers to use with the people who will surely be sitting around me since I will be on the correct side of the bar LOL. Good icebreaker suggestions are certainly welcome!