Sunday, October 18, 2009

the Text Twist and Family Tree Maker obsessive in me

In general, I don't understand the draw of video games. It seems mindless. There isn't any tangible accomplishment. Most of the teens and children who compulsively play video games are not productive in other areas of their life. Then I found an game that I like. It's called Text Twist. I had a period in time where work was slow, so I tried it. Six letters appear on the screen. The goal is to see how many words you can make from those six letters. If you guess the six-letter word, you get to go on to another round. I feel like I need a 12-step program some days. And at other times, I say I am not addicted because I can walk away for a whole month without turning it on. My score is 800,000. I feel like I need to hit 1,000,000 before I walk away. Addict behavior for sure! I have learned something about myself in the process. I need to work on learning more words that start with vowels. 

And then I found and Family Tree Maker. I have always had a curiosity about my heritage. Now I have a software program that is like crack. Every time I find a person, it leads to another and another. I started with family documents and written history. There were almost 400 names, dates, and descriptions just within the documents I had. In just one short month, I have amassed over 1000 ancestors. This program/web site is amazing. It is productive, but yet, a fantastic diversion. It has given me insight into who I am, a hodge-podge of nationalities and wandering souls. I cannot ever see myself on a boat across the Atlantic, in search of a new life, but most of my ancestors had that courage and fortitude. I have 6 kids. Right now it's all about a good night's sleep and sensible shoes. I can't imagine having 10 or 15 children. One particular gr gr great grandfather had 24 children, most of them living into their 80s and 90s in the 1700s. These were strong and determined people. Many more of them were highly educated than I realized. One side of the family has remained for 6 generations in the same county in Ohio. I guess that means they like each other? they are good people? not the type of family you need to run from? I am in an obsessive, researching, geek nirvana right now. Love it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

the fat-tastic week

Ok, so tired about fat prejudice... 

It is possible to be overweight, 44 years old, and have a PERFECT cardiac stress test. Of course, going to have the test, I was mistreated. Normally the whole fat thing doesn't bother me. I look at the women in my family and add my understanding of genetics and accept reality. Sometimes genetics does equal fate. I am glad. I would rather be the chubby girl who lives in a family of chubby girls who live into their 80s and 90s in generations going back to the Highlands of Scotland. I deal with some inherited tendency toward OCD, toward alcoholism, and toward kidney stones. On balance, I am glad that my forefathers and foremothers were intelligent, educated, and interesting people. They didn't care much about their size. They contributed. They lived long. I am blessed.

When I went to the clinic to have my cardiac stress test, the nurse pointed to the treadmill, making a gesture similar to The Price is Right. Over here we have the "treadmill". Have you ever seen one of these before? We are going to have you "walk" on in to see how your heart reacts. They we will speed it up and quickly take some pictures. She was so patronizing. I go to the YMCA three times per week. I ride my bike 2-3 times per week as often as the weather in Ohio permits. Despite all of this I AM STILL A BIG GIRL. I actually own (and USE) a recombinant bike. I know that my abs are in there somewhere, but I don't define myself by muscle definition. 

Anyway, if you are fit and beautiful and lean, awesome for you. I just happen to not be. Stop treating me like I eat Ding Dongs all day long and don't know what it means to walk. I go to the beautiful central Ohio metro parks every week of the year. Sigh.... If I could get thinner somehow, I would. But there is no point being depressed. I might as well embrace my fat-tastic self! Given the current political climate and push toward nationalized health care, those with prejudice will be writing me off for sure. They will raise my rates. They will attribute higher risk to me. And they will certainly not have a box on the forms for fat but healthy. The last acceptable form of prejudice in America... 

Monday, September 14, 2009

the didgeridoo and the buddha

There comes a point in the lives of identical twins where they choose to live separately. My twins are 22. They have always lived together, at home, at their first apartment, and so on, often sharing a room even when given the choice of separate rooms. When they decided a few months ago that they would have separate apartments for their last year of undergraduate college, I was a little surprised. Last week they started the bro-vorce process. Who gets what? Whose books are these? Which DVD is mine? The funniest moment was when we were standing in the driveway and sorting through all of the clean clothes. I am guessing that two brothers don't usually stand in the street sorting boxers and arguing over the only pair of black socks. It was pretty funny!  It's a twin thing. 

They have split things amicably, although two unassigned things remained, the didgeridoo and the buddha. The didgeridoo is from their sister when she volunteered in Australia last summer. At the time they thought it would be fine to share... no need to buy two. And the buddha statue has been around awhile, too. I don't even know who gave them the buddha, but it is pretty cool. So they decided in the dude-vorce to split custody. One has the buddha. The other has the didgeridoo. They are going to meet in the middle and swap now and again. It made me proud as a mom to know that they were each being sensitive to each other in these last few weeks. It's as if they each intuitively knew how the other was feeling. Of course they knew. Why didn't I think of that? They have spent two decades knowing what each other was feeling, thinking, and doing.

I asked one brother today how he was feeling about this new situation. He said, "I have seen my brother every day. He is only a block away, Mom. Don't worry." Then I asked the other brother how he was feeling. He said, "Mom, don't worry. I see my brother every day. He only lives a block from here." I guess hearing it in duplicate is all I needed. Like most things in their lives, if I heard the same thing from both, I felt like it was settled. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the writer's spaz

I have heard people talk about writer's block. But I have never experienced it. I actually experience what I call-- the writer's spaz. I have too much to write about. I have too many opinions. Today I want to write about health care reform, bulging taxes, kids in college, the cost of dog food, my frustration with a wayward adult child, the latest book I read, a trip to see The Addams Family on Broadway, the economy, the child left unattended in the neighborhood, and my photo archiving project. Mostly I keep lists of all of the writing prompts and ideas. I am highly organized in my approach. And I am a terrific archivist-- not the typical scattered writer.

My spastic writing accelerates as a result of two important anniversaries approaching. My wedding anniversary with my first husband and my kids' father, and then two weeks later the anniversary of his death. Those few weeks in mid-September and early October are difficult for me. Perhaps if I write about that a bit earlier than usual this year, I will help me to refocus on the other things happening around me. It's complicated grief. When he left, we divorced, he remarried, and he died all in a timespan of months, it sent me into an arena of grief that most people do not experience. It is a form of illegitimate grief. Most people think that my love for him should be replaced with anger or apathy. Most people think that the betrayal should instantly end my love. It didn't happen that way for me. I do not stop loving instantly after 20 years of loving continuously and completely. I owe my children a complete picture of their father, not one jaded by some months at the end. I am promising myself a longer period of reflection this year. I am also promising myself some time to take photos in the park and ride my bike. And I am giving myself the grace to get through the next 30 days one day at a time. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

the great tomato heist

So, I have been growing tomatoes, loads and loads of tomatoes. The goal was salsa. I was hoping to have some mild, some hot, some grilled pineapple, but what I really wanted was some yellow/orange salsa. My obsession with orange began some time ago. I cannot pinpoint exactly when, but more than 25 years ago I had an awesome pair of orange pumps with a matching purse. I know that sounds strange, but it is my only pair of pumps and my only matching purse... ever... really. I now live in the land of sensible shoes. And Keens doesn't make an orange men's sandal, or I would own it. Anyway... I love orangish yellowish tomatoes. I bought a plant. I watered it. And last week I saw the tomatoes just starting to turn from green into beautiful little orange tomatoes. 

Now before you are bored with my story and lose interest with my obsession with orange, here's what happened. I cut onions, peppers, garlic. I have the jars ready. It's salsa day. I go to the plant in the back yard, and it's as if the tomatoes were all called home by Jesus. Not a single tomato on the plant. How did that happen. The gate's locked. Hmmmm I settle for red tomatoes and make my salsa. 

As I head out later in the day, a man comes by on his bike. What do I see but his basket loaded with yellow tomatoes. My yellow/orange tomatoes. Not kidding. He asks me if I want to buy them. Of course, stunned, I just said, "Hey dude, look at the house. This is where you stole them." Before I finished my sentence he was off. 

Sometimes I think God just gives me a little bit of irony and a big chuckle. And today, God gave me a bit of a sanity check. I would have wondered for a long time where all of those tomatoes had gone. Silly me. Silly inner city jacked up neighborhood. Silly two-wheeled tomato-stealing loony. Oh well... just another day in the 'hood. Next year the orange tomatoes are planted across town at my mom's! 

Friday, August 28, 2009

the homework link

It's back to school time around the United States. I see little kids with backpacks and lunch boxes wandering to the school bus. I also see high school kids with no books, no bag, daddy's nice car, and hoochie wear making an appearance, ready to use social networking to pass their school time. Somewhere in those 12 or more years, there are students who lose sight of the goal. Kids might graduate, but they have less knowledge than ever, fewer analytical skills, and very little problem-solving abilities. 


Schools are funded by different methods in different parts of the country. In Ohio, schools are primarily funded through state funds per pupil collected in a variety of taxes. Schools are secondarily funded through property taxes voted on at the district level. With over 600 public school districts in Ohio, the funding formulas are each uniquely based on property values, and thus the perceptions of residents of the quality of education. A house in a district with an excellent rating can cost multiples more than the same house in a poor or continuous improvement district. Even given the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court School Funding Decision known as the DeRolph Decision, the state of Ohio has yet to fix the school funding issue. Twelve years of funding schools unconstitutionally with the express knowledge that it is wrong. 


If you use rent-to-own stores or check cashing locations, the state of Ohio wants to regulate how much money can be charged to you for these services. People assume that the poor or lower class are being taken advantage of. That is just not the case. The chronic poor are poor for a reason. Some things in life are ruled by limiting factors. Much like a reagent in chemical reaction, a limiting factor affects the rate of the chemical reaction. A limiting factor can be food shortages or water shortages in an ecosystem. Just like the size of your stomach limits the amount of food you can eat at one sitting, the amount of education your absorb and utilize is a huge limiting factor to the quality of success and survival in society. If you learn the minimum, and your primary educational objective was to warm a seat and barely graduate, it severely limits future opportunities. You need not excel in formal education, but an attitude of life-long learning is key. And unfortunately, if your parents have imposed the limiting factor of apathy to their child's education, it continues for multiple generations. Dumb + dumb = more and more dumb.


There are people in our society who will never manage their money. They are impulsive, perhaps gambling or unable to self-soothe while they wait for a purchase. There is a segment of our society who will not plan, will not pay back loans, will have poor credit, and will seem to be taken advantage of. A closer look would show that some Americans are indulgent, both complaining that they cannot afford health care while spending hundreds of dollars a month on cigarettes, alcohol, cell phones, cable TV, and flat-screen televisions. It seems to me that if the previous list of daily cushies are more important than health care, then we cannot also listen to the "poor me" complaints. You have shown what is most important to you with your wallet. I have owned a house for more than 20 years in an inner city neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. I see pimped out, rimmed up tires on SUVs. I see liquor stores and carryouts doing a bangup business with the lotto, cigarettes, and convenience foods. I see clothing, jewelry, and shoes on many young men that is more than my monthly mortgage. I see satellite dishes and brand new furniture on the porches. And I see set outs from evictions, beggars on the corners, children roaming unsupervised, and tremendous lines in the emergency rooms. This dichotomy of poor choices and rich toys leaves a chronic shortage for necessities such as rent, baby-sitters, and medical insurance. 


Where does the entitlement mentality come from? It starts in school where students are entitled to be passed from grade-to-grade with little effort. It begins when a child is told that the minimum is sufficient and that dropping out of school at 16 is just another life choice. To paraphrase one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, Mike McConnell, on 700 WLW, if you didn't do your homework in school, you probably didn't learn to plan ahead, you probably didn't learn to save, and you probably will continue your impulsive decisions with money. No amount of nanny state policies can make up for lack of education. If you do not do your homework, we all pay. We all paid for your education. And we are all disappointed what we received for our money. We complain when an $8 movie is bad, why not the same outrage at the takers who are dragging us down. And we continue to pay by paying for the jails, the criminal courts, the fatherless children, the teachers you ignore, the social workers, the free clinics, the medicare, welfare, housing, and health programs. If you just did your homework over all of those years, maybe you could fend for yourself a bit better. 


Kids, do not fall into the minimalist trap. Do your assignments. Develop life-long learning. Expect more from yourself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

the respect I owe the farmers

This is the first year ever that I have tried to grow plants outside. At my age I should have attempted it by now. I decided that I wanted to can some salsa. Being college-educated, my first step was to consult with experts and read. Tomatoes and peppers, how hard can that be? And, of course, now that I am some kind of garden officianado having read about plants online, I will throw in some sugar snap peas, just because they are the best veggie ever.

So, my best girl friend and my husband are my consulting team. I hunted the web, planned the calendar, and started growing seeds. Disaster. Seeds indoors suck. Start over. I bought little bitty plants and planted the pea seeds outdoors. I figured 13 pea plants would be 13 woks of food. Wrong. 13 pea plants yielded one sandwich-sized ziploc bag of peas. Disappointing. Apparently for 13 woks of peas, I am going to have to plant about 400 plants. My neighbors might complain with the entire back yard rototilled for 2 months of pea plants. I think that would require a zoning board, perhaps a permit, not sure. I am pretty sure that the city would frown on an agricultural area within a yard in the inner city. I could try to persuade them that snap peas are so amazing that they are worth the variance, but I doubt that would fly.

Now I have determined that this is tons more work than going to the grocery. Thank you Mr Farmer. I have taken you for granted for many many years. I have been forced to watch the weather forecast. I have to monitor rainfall and tie up tomatoes. I had to put up a little fence to keep the oppossum from nibbling. I made a trip to get "hoops". I have had to restake plants, too. I don't really know what I am doing. So, now I have 3 peppers on 4 plants. And I have about a dozen jalapenos on one plant. But there are only green tomatoes. Really hot salsa with no tomatoes. Now what? I think I am going to eat peppers while they are still good, and then when the tomatoes are ready, I am back to the grocery to get expertly-grown peppers. Now the dilemma is... can I claim that the salsa is homegrown? That label could have some really small legal print that talks about salsa, homegrown, sort of.... thanks Mr Farmer for filling in the gaps!

Those of you with a political and philosophical bent that we should all grow our own food and have "zero impact" on the planet, you need to rethink. I have made 85 trips to Lowes. I have inefficiently watered. I am certain that I had a planetary impact just to get that ziploc bag of peas. I know the snap peas are worth it, but perhaps you should rethink your position. There is a reason why we let experts do their expert thing. There is a reason why last year I drove to the store, bought all my veggies, and made salsa in an afternoon. Pass the chips...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the movie theater

I love Star Trek! I have seen all of the movies. I have watched all of the episodes over and over. I watched the franchises-- The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine. I waited to see the latest movie for several reasons. One was that I do not like crowds. Two was because I do not like selfish people who compose those crowds. 

The idea of sticky floors bothers me. Where else can you drop half a bag of popcorn and syrupy soda on the floor indoors and walk away? Why? We spend a gazillion dollars a year on ad campaigns and educational initiatives to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Don't litter. Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute. Then when we go to the theater, our feet stick to the floor. What makes that ok? Of course, that bothers me just the same at the state fair, at concerts, and at sporting events. 

At the theater, the tickets cost $8.50. I could have waited a few months and paid for the DVD. Next time I will. I have seen all of the Star Trek movies and Star Wars movies on the big screen. It's a shame that the trend will end for me. I don't think I can do it anymore. I am an auditory person. I usually don't even "watch" a movie. I "hear" a movie. All of the ancillary sounds of the theater are a distraction to me. Even the obnoxiously loud sound track can't cover up the noises that detract from my experience. 

Hey you, loud guy sitting behind me... shut up. Stop talking. I know Spock bleeds green because he's Vulcan. Thanks for catching on to the obvious. You seems so shocked that Spock and Uhura are lovers. Must you repeat your disgust over and over. I can't tell if you don't like that Spock had always appeared to be asexual. Or perhaps you think that a Vulcan would never do that... well, with the exception of Spock's father. Maybe you are a racist, worried about that cross-racial love affair. Who knows? But you distracted me. You took some beautiful and poignant moments and talked over them, interrupting their power.

Hey you, parents who brought your young and severely disabled son. Jeez, I feel bad for the daily life you live, but get a sitter. Cold and callous, I know. I have raised children. I would not bring a young child to an adult movie anyway. I seem to have more common sense than the average parent. But this little boy was agitated, yelling, groaning, making an almost continuous "raspberry sound", and wildly swinging a hanger. Yes, a hanger. In any other situation I would have smiled at him, shown compassion to his parents, even understood that allowances must be made for the disabled. In a movie made for children, I would have completely understood outbursts. Kids have to be taught, and a children's movie is a place where you can teach those things in a context where everyone has been there and can empathize. But later at night in an adult movie, I don't want to deal with kids. Any kids. Sorry if that makes me unaccommodating and mean spirited. 

Hey you, movie theater owners who kept the a/c set on "weak", who cleaned on a macro level only, and who keep broken down chairs, now you know why I will not return. I can see the movie at my house with good picture, good sound, a comfortable chair in a temperature controlled room, and with the silence required for me to enjoy it. Bonus-- at my house, my feet have never stuck to the floor! 

Monday, June 15, 2009

the oddities of the inner city

Today was just like any other day in the inner city-- entirely too many pit bulls, the pants so low that a new form of walking is necessary, and the base so loud in the car driving past that my picture frames shake. But then there are some other odd things that emerge. 

I leave my house, driving the same route as always-- down the street, past the bar, and five blocks to the freeway. Again today I saw the man and woman with their kids in the front yard. I looked closely and drove slowly. In front of that boarded up house next to the bar were at least 9 children under the age of ten. There could have been more than that, but I am not sure. One thing you learn about the inner city is not to stare too long. It's not good to be a witness. And then I saw something interesting, mom and dad otherwise known as man on a bike and pregnant woman on a bike. It was then that I realized I had seen them before. I had seen them in a parking lot at a local hardware store. You've probably seen them too. They are the pregnant and sad ones who approach your car because they are out of gas. They need to borrow money for gas. Sigh... 

Then I realize, I have seen them somewhere else... at the freeway exit by my house. They sit with a few kids, look pathetic, and beg for money. I am not sure where the other dozen kids are during this adventure, but I will probably dial the authorities next time I see it. I have a feeling they will be moving on before anyone official has a chance to check it out. Most of the boarded up and abandoned houses have temporary residents. Every new school year it's tough to see so many cute little kids roaming around looking for their "new-temporary" home. So many kids have no idea how to get back where they came from. It must be terrifying to have such an unstable life. 

There are a few odd things that have happened living there. I did have a tupperware-selling crack head neighbor. I never did see those awesome blue mixing bowls I ordered. Her husband eventually told me that she smoked crack. He went door-to-door to tell all of the neighbors. Too late. She got me. It was nice that he tried. I felt really sorry for him. He kicked her out, changed the locks, and raised the kids on his own. 

Speaking of men raising children, I have seen some amazing older black men raising not just one or two generations, but in one case, three generations. This amazing man raised his four children while caring for his very sick wife for more than 30 years. Then he raised his daughter's children. And now he raises his great-grandson. I know that some young black men are abandoning their children at record pace. And I know that there is even vocabulary to explain the phenomenon-- baby momma. But there are some unbelievably loving and caring and care-taking older black men that take care of their families beyond what most of us would do. Those older men are so disheartened by the thugs who abandon their daughters and granddaughters. If only those older inner city black men could kick some butt around the neighborhood, the inner city would be a different place. 

the wives of the controversial

The latest reality show craze is NBC's show, "I'm a Celebrity. Get Me Out of Here!" There was talk before the show was on the air that Rob Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was going to be on the show. A judge refused to let him leave the country while charges were pending. So, Blago's wife, Patty, decided to take his place. I started out feeling sorry for her. I guess I thought that she was disgraced by her husband, and then pimped out to make his case for him in the media and to make some money. Then after a day or two on the show, I started to really like her. She's normal. She's caring. She is surprisingly real-- something lost on the fake-fabulous Heidi and Spencer. Those two need to go back to 3rd grade to figure out how to make friends on the playground rather than talk smack and shove like bullies.


And the other wronged woman who has recently made the news is Elizabeth Edwards. I would not think in a million years that I would have anything in common with her. I certainly didn't think that I would like her book and see her as an honest, together, and sincere woman. She's been in a tough spot. Her husband is a cheater. And her determination to take the high road and keep her family together is admirable. It takes a strong woman to deal with cancer and also to piece back together a shattered life.


Two democrat women. Two moms who were wronged by louts, one admitted and one soon to be indicted. I like both women. It's a surprise to me. I don't know why. I guess I had characterized them by their husbands. I should have known better.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the boy scouts

Recently I came across an article about the Boy Scouts of America. They have a new badge that they are offering for the law enforcement exploring program. Scouts are learning about antiterrorism tactics. It seems that these young boys and a few girls here and there are learning how to raid marijuana fields, use weapons to liberate hostages, and even deal with a gunman on a university campus. Is it just me or did the Boy Scouts just take a turn into local, state, and federal law enforcement territory? There is a hierarchy of law enforcement that does not include the Boy Scouts of America. Even two equivalent local agencies have to sign a mutual-aid agreement to act in each other's jurisdictions. The article does mention that these scouts are only supposed to use this training during supervised activities. In fairness, the Learning for Life organization does express it's frustration with the way the Law Enforcement program was portrayed.

There is a place for mentoring or teaching some of the skills of law enforcement. I can see where visiting offices, jails, precincts, and border stations could be useful teaching tools. But have you ever encountered the rent-a-cop who is WAY too serious about his authority? Have you encountered the community crime patrol attempting to arrest and detain someone without the legal right afforded a peace officer? This seems problematic on so many levels. It makes sense that personal safety should be learned. Self defense is good. Self awareness and awareness of one's surroundings is important. Helping people is need is a terrific character attribute for a fine young man. But hostage rescue? Maybe I am missing something, but these are boys as young as 14. Even the high end of the age spectrum is 21 years old. Impulsiveness and the delusion that one will live forever is part of the reason we all pay high car insurance premiums, right? It will never happen to me. I am immune from the gunman's bullets. It's the stuff of comic books. Have you been to a college campus lately? Who are we kidding? Most part-time jobs require the 18-year-old to run the fry maker or the meat slicer. Many of these kids torment their younger siblings in the back seat of the family SUV, but we would start training them for hostage negotiation?

All levels of law enforcement spend years, even decades, training, retraining, certifying, qualifying, and becoming better at their jobs. They train and work every day at great peril and personal risk. They also are entrusted with public safety. At the end of the day, they are authorized to use deadly force if necessary to save the life of an innocent, the lives of fellow officers, or his or her own life. Are those the kinds of powers we want to give to kids who still think that farting is hilarious? Do we really want a room full of independent junior G-men deciding what to do when a gunman enters a classroom?

Every time a student dies in a car crash, our local schools call in the grief counselors. They all talk about things for days. There are tributes, assemblies, and candlelight vigils. What happens when one of the gunmen is the bad guy, but the good kid shoots him? That's a scenario that a child or young adult may not be capable of handling. And it's a dynamic that a school would not want, either in law suit form or in a rash of vigilante copycats.

Most law enforcement would admit that there is a certain amount of the job that is intuitive and instinctual. Similar to the priesthood or rabbinical school, it's a calling. It's not what you do. It's who you are. Those instincts for defensive driving, talking down a jumper, negotiating a hostage release, or knowing when to use deadly force are not really taught. Handling the pressure and stress, managing the emotional toll, and carving out a life in the margins of police work is tough business. I know many boys who tailspin at the mention that they have a zit.

And maybe I am just a little jealous. I am going to pull out the gender card and say that Girl Scouts were NEVER this exciting. We weren't even allowed to weekend camp until 3rd grade. We didn't know what we were missing! I didn't know I could have learned how to guard the Mexican border. I remember as a Girl Scout leader many years ago, we had to have seatbelts, permission slips, all sorts of training. I had to renew my CPR card every four years. I had continual training in safety and first aid. I can't imagine that the Girl Scouts would permit me to train a kid to fight illegal immigration on the Mexican border, permission slip signed or not. Pinewood derby, anyone?

the bank stress tests

As an average American, I have a difficult time understanding the state of our economy and the need for bailouts. Auto manufacturers, AIG, banks, stimulus, so what's a citizen to think? Apparently I am supposed to be grateful that tax-dodging brainy folks are in charge. Instead of feeling reassured, all I have are gut-level reactions that remind me of a slimy lying blind date. I have a pretty good radar for slime. I can't help but think that "it's going to be ok" is going to bite me later. Possibly the biggest bite will be saved for my yet-to-be-conceived grandchildren.

After months of bailouts and federal money, 18 of the 19 banks have now passed the "stress test". But the banks are still losing money. Apparently it is possible that more than $600 billion could be lost due to consumer default in the next two years. Now the governmental leaders are stepping in and requiring a new hoop. Ten of the banks are now required to release stocks for investors to purchase. Those 10 banks have 6 months to raise investors or else the treasury will become a shareholder. More government intervention. More government control. More uneasy feelings.

As the Treasury positions itself to become a major shareholder in a bank here and there or an automaker, I am supposed to be reassured that this is a good move? I don't know if there is a positive correlation between government involvement in business and that business being a successful venture. Most often the government solution is bureaucracy, paperwork, and layers of inefficiency. Then the second tier of the government solution is a need for taxpayer funding. The largest social program at this time is Social Security. There is an enormously complicated bureaucracy, and a large IOU in the vault. When it comes to having a good credit rating, good solvency, and good debt-to-income ratio, it seems that the Treasury is not the best bet.

When is the "stress test" for the American taxpayer? Will someone come door-to-door and assess my ability to pay more, my ability to do with less, and my willingness to ignore my instincts? For now, I will just add another line item to our family budget called more. Right now that might be enough to buy a bag of Fritos, but somehow I think that they'll take it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

the memory of a child

When parenting toddlers, what is the first thing you figure out? They need constant reinforcement and repetition in order to remember. Put your shoes on. Put your coat on. Did you go to the bathroom? As kids get older and with enough reminders, they internalize those day-to-day things. Soon enough it's time to start teaching the "what ifs", and to address those things that they may not perceive as an outcome. Teaching kids to foresee consequences and to plan for possiblilities is by far the most challenging of tasks.

As a nation, it seems that we are stuck in toddler mode, unable to foresee consequences, and even in need of chronic repetition. How can we even have a discussion about complex ethical topics such as torture when we can't even remember as a nation that we are at war? After 9/11 it seems that there was a national mindset, not 100%, but as close as a republic can ever be. We had been attacked. Our innocent citizens were killed. There were unanimous and nearly unanimous votes in Congress. There was a national mandate to both have a war on terror and protect our nation from future attacks. Because we are toddlers, we forgot. After nearly 8 years, we have gone on to other things. We have forgotten our outrage. We have not only forgotten why we went to war, some of us want to prosecute those very people we charged with taking care of "the problem". We handed off the responsibility of tough decisions to others. Now we criticize. And now we accept what some Congressional leaders are saying about their stand on the issue years ago. They think that if they say, "I didn't know about waterboarding", that we will replace that in our memories as the accurate truth. Even though the truth of the time is that they fully knew about methods we used to get information. If they say it long enough, our toddler minds will be fixated.

As a toddler nation, we took our broken toy. We gave it to the repairman. We got it back fixed. Then we complained about how it was fixed. Too much glue. Too much time. No gratitude for those charged with fixing our toy. No memory of how upset we were at the broken toy. Americans suffer from a toddler's attention span. The only thing we remember about the last 7 to 8 years is what was repetitively told to us... "it's George Bush's fault"... and we remember the new definitions. We are too immature and short-sighted to look back at the old ones. The word "torture" is just the new word in a long list of words that we are supposed to redefine.

Maybe ask John McCain if intense interrogations in order to receive vital information to protect the innocent is the same as what truly was torture in the Hanoi Hilton.

If there is not a further step into maturity as a nation, we will spin in toddlerdom as long as someone has an advantage in keeping us there. We will be gullible to the whims of vacant leaders. We will swarm like 4-year-olds chasing the ball on a soccer field.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

the Mexican border and unemployment

Why not solve two problems at once? We have high unemployment among all age groups, particularly the college-aged kids. And we have a border that is as porous as a loufah. Why not have a reality show for young adults where they live in dormatory style housing, guard the borders in shifts, and party in shifts? Tequila is already available nearby. No weapons allowed, for sure. That doesn't mix well with partying young adults. Give them all of the technology from home... phones, computer, internet access, social networking. Which generation is better at texting, emailing, facebooking info around the world? We can have houses competing for prizes. The partying house v. the women-only house. The frat-boys v. the nerds. The preppies v. the emo kids. Heck, even have a sober house v. a stoner house. You never know, right? As a nation we have allowed Jerry Springer to thrive on the air dredging the trailer parks. Let's combine our voyeurism and our technology to solve some problems! Wouldn't the taxpayers of the border states be more willing to pay for dorms and booze? Most of us who have kids in college are already doing that! It would certainly be cheaper than the hemorrhage of money going to hospitals, schools, and social programs for the law-breaking border crossers. All that's needed is an ad campaign and a network.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

the annoyances of the day

Why does the stamp price keep changing? I have a drawer full of one-cent stamps, two-cent stamps, and more. It's a regular old math puzzle! I get ready to mail a bill. How much? How many ridiculous stamps fit on one envelope? And how does the stamp-reading machine know that I have affixed the correct amount? Annoying!

Who thought that a grocery cart combined with some stone flooring would be fun? No one wants that jackhammer sound, not to mention the breaking-of-the-eggs. Every entrance has that silly stone, and sometimes it's strategically placed inside the store. Why? And can we fix the self-check out voice? No one really likes a woman nagging them to "place the item in the bag"! And that reminds me, why do I have to place it in the bag anyway? A sheet cake that feeds 30 doesn't fit!

How about those email cutsie (meant to make me cry) forwards. Annoying. Stop sending them to me!!! REALLY!! And I'll throw ecards in there, too. Buy a stamp. Well, buying a stamp is frustrating, too. Nevermind.

How irritating is it to have an 18-19-20 year old asserting their "rights" while they eat my food, use my shower, and borrow my car? I have news for you. Adulthood is something that you aspire to, not something you are bestowed with on a particular calendar date. If you live off of me, you are not an adult. Quasi-adult, semi-adult, dependent-adult, welfare recipient.... NOT an adult. Pay your way. Drive over to visit me in my house in your own car without borrowing gas money... then we'll talk!

The changing definition of friends. Annoying! Just because you have 435 facebook friends does not mean you really have friends. Just because you tweet and twitter your way through your day doesn't mean you are important to other human beings. I can twitter P Diddy on his Blackberry about the situation with Que, but that doesn't mean P Diddy is coming to dinner. If you missed that last reference... watch MTV like the young folks. Real friends cry with you when your husband leaves. Real friends support you and love you, quirks and all. Real friends actually have a conversation now and then, wonder when they don't hear from you, and share events... not just "did you see that photo of Morty puking on MySpace?"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

the demise of the newspapers

Why is our government bailing out automotive companies, banks, insurance companies, and mortgage companies? As a capitalist (and libertarian), I am confused as to why government is in the business of rescuing companies, lenders, and borrowers from their situations. We have laws in place for individuals and companies to deal with losses-- bankrupcy.

If the current administration and the complicit congress are going to bail about something or someone, why not bail out newspapers? At least the newspapers are an integral and necessary foundational piece of democracy. For all of their editorializing and slanted reporting, the demise of newspapers, new rooms, and journalists, is a true national tragedy-- the beginning of the end of the free press. The younger generation will have difficulty determining a legitimate source. We have the most varied and available news in the free world. Do we really want to be relegated to internet blurbs and wiki-news? If that is the direction we are headed, someone needs to tell the education system to modify the curriculum to include logical reasoning and analysis, moreso than the current schools do. Give me a liberally-biased newspaper on my driveway instead of Twitter-type news from self-important undereducated blowhards any day!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

the fragments

There is so much misunderstanding and misinterpretation with mental illness. The ill keep their facade in motion by fragmenting their lives. Not one person in their world has the entire box of puzzle pieces. It takes years to intervene and make changes. In fact, sometimes intervention is not successful when the stories told by the ill carry on with a life of their own. Her husband knows some things. Her parents see odd behaviors and accounts of events that don't make sense. The siblings are drawn into drama. Co-workers observe behaviors. The children of the mentally ill are subjected to it all. They have the longest effects and most unstable existence when their parent is untreated and ill. All of these fractional parts of their lives are used in a manipulation as fuel. If the husband hears terrible things about the inlaws and the neighbors hear terrible things about the husband and the kids hear terrible things about their father and the co-workers hear stories about the kids... then over time, alienation and defensiveness keep everyone from effectively tackling the illness itself. Everyone is so distracted with the offenses and slights and attacks that they have lost focus on the common denominator that ties them all together-- the manipulation of the ill to keep the focus off the illness. The loudest voice should be a rational voice, but it's not.

We wonder why the mentally ill are resistent to treatment. If there truly were a doctor who could see the whole picture, diagnosis would be much easier. It wouldn't be easy, but it certainly wouldn't waste so much time. Those who struggle with mental illness are not reliable sources. Why would a psychiatrist ask questions and expect accurate answers from someone unaware of what day it is? Why would a psychiatrist put more faith in a fragmented and confused mind than in the people around who can "testify" as to the effects of illness? In order to deal with a problem, there should be a detective phase... a gathering of accounts and stories and events. Use multiple sources. Gather information from people who live with it. Grant an open forum to those who suffer along side the ill. There will be agendas. There will be anger and resentment, but a good psychiatrist can discern and sift and find insight.

Every time I have been involved in the treatment or care of someone with mental illness, there has not been a forum for my opinion or my observances. Even when the child lives with me. Even when I observe behaviors that no one else sees. Even when I have seen "crazy" up close, there is not credence given to my account. Psychiatrists need to change their method of diagnosis. They need to consider the firsthand accounts of those who live with fractured minds. They can dismiss or find fault with our accounts, but they should, at a minimum, attempt to determine it's legitimacy. The only thing more desperate than living with someone with an untreated fragmented mind is knowing that there could be help for that person if a professional would just listen. Living with the mentally ill day-to-day is enormously stressful and futile, but giving up hope is worse.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the basement

My husband hates the work project. No matter how little or large, if it can be classified as a project, it needs to be an active attempt to procrastinate. And when it comes to his house, I let the procrastination rule. If it doesn't cross my radar, I am content to let it be.

We were married for four years until I decided that the garage was ridiculous. Never has my car ever gone in the garage. At one point we had five cars to shuffle and reshuffle in the driveway like a crazy game of who's out first, who's home next. It was crazy with the teen drivers. One day, I opened the garage, could not see the floor, and decided it was bothering me. It bothered me to see the half-empty boxes of madness from his ex. It bothered me to see her handwriting on a box of old shoes labeled blankets. All around the garage was evidence of her mania, her depression, her hoarding, and her chaos. Finally I decided to clean. It took three hours. Just three hours to unload memories but mostly junk-- broken pieces of a broken life. Who needs one shoe or one mitten? Who needs an empty rusted coffee can? Who needs random newspapers, pieces of paper, or boxes and boxes of knotted up yarn? If her mentally ill mind could be represented in a visual, tactile form, it would be the garage. Things stashed. Things saved. No reason. No order. Mislabeled and completely useless. Cover the floors. Pile it up.

When I have a break in work, I am looking for a spot to clean. It's a compulsion to have more order. And it's a hope that filling up the landfill will also clean the house of some dust that is causing me to need allergy shots, meds, air filters, and kleenex. I thought that the basement would be a great place to start. But then the chaos emerged. The disturbed mind dwelled there, too. I should have known. Most normal people stash things in the basements and the garages. Why not her? Should that phone bill have been paid? Is that Bible one that she read? Mice would have had enough used tissues to build their own Hilton. Why was there a suitcase full of papers with four large garbage bags folded up neatly thoughout? Why were there eight tubes of chapstick with her brush and her unopened, never-paid attorney bills? Why would she save empty paint bottles, broken playdough jars, and a baby apple juice from 1989?

After two hours in the basement, I understand why my husband doesn't like the word project. It is a pseudonym for pain, loss, grief, heartache, and memories better left in the dust. Maybe procrastination is not such a bad thing. If my heart broke every time I moved a box, I might not move it either.

Monday, February 9, 2009

the user manual

Why is it that a replacement cell phone costing hundreds of dollars, a longer contract, and your firstborn child doesn't come with a user manual? Last week my pda phone started giving some oddball messages. The latest message was telling me that my phone wouldn't be connected until I connected to the wireless radio. Huh? So, when the phone is having some internal meltdown, it's time to trade up.

I need a user manual. I don't want a searchable pdf. I don't want to print 220 pages. I want a little book... a reference guide... What's a girl to do? I want to actually read it. I know. That is highly unusual. Maybe there should be an option to pay $5 more and buy the manual. I know it's called a Smartphone, but it won't run itself. In order to run more than 2% of its features, it needs a smart owner. Smartphone + user guide = smart momma.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

the pajama day

When you go to college, why don't they organize the careers into useful categories such as essential jobs, slacker jobs, and pajama jobs. I love snow days in the midwest. There is ice everywhere. The snow just keeps coming. And I can work in my pajamas all day if I want to. Truth be told, I am self-employed, so I can have a pajama day any time I want to, but I rarely indulge. Most of us who own our own businesses work many long hours and little time off. The news reports are filled with traffic trama and delay drama. I sit here with my laptop and my TV. Rough, I know. They talk on the news about only "essential employees" should take the two hours to clean off their car and then risk their lives for a job. How is "essential" defined? And are we medicating ourselves as a nation because we know deep in our soul we are "non-essential" to our workplace? Sad!

Of course, in the local college, if they talk about being in a pajama job, they should really mention that quarterly taxes BITE IT! If more Americans were in pajama jobs and had to write a check directly to the federal, state, and local governments, maybe we could finally get that tax issue addressed. Every few months, there is that tangible reminder that I may be working in my pajamas, but there are people watching cable TV in their pajamas and not working at all. Every few months I write those checks... about as often as I write tuition checks for my college kids. Transfer payments... I work.... someone else lives it up!

Even though I am bitter quarterly, there are still some great days in my bunny slippers. Think about it kids (bio kids, step kids, and other transfer payment recipients)... stay in school. Don't limit yourself. Take classes. Dream big. Work hard. Study and do better. At least... do something. Even if you rise to the level of a non-essential slacker, I would love to move you off of my dole!