April 24, 2014

Field Trips

This week I spent most of my Wednesday chaperoning a small group of first graders to the zoo.

I am still somewhat sane.

This field trip proved to be quite popular in the parental volunteer department, so I was actually only responsible for one child other than my own, though he was a challenge.  It will suffice to say that it is upon such occasions that I am reminded that some families have very different methods of raising their children, and that discipline, apparently, isn't part of their strategy.

It was lovely weather for the zoo, warming into the mid-eighties.  We met at midday to distribute the sack lunches from coolers.  Another memory-stirring event that left me wondering how in the world we all made it adulthood without teachers icing down our lunches on field trips, or insulated lunch bags and ice packs keeping our PB&J cool each school day.

My stellar memory of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and my grandparent's stories, indicate that meals were once carried to school and work in tin pails, or wrapped in a piece of cloth.  I remember my father's huge metal lunchbox, with a place in the lid to affix the Thermos of coffee.  The only insulated item being the Thermos.  I sported the metal Holly Hobby lunchbox in elementary school when my food wasn't in a plain brown paper bag.  And the bag ruled exclusively on field trips.  I recall wrapping a can of Coke in several layers of aluminum foil for a field trip - I wonder how well that worked.  

My kids have lunch bags with a gel liner that they freeze overnight.  They have ice blankets and ice packs.  They freeze juice boxes and tube yogurts to insure a cold treat at lunch.  

How in the world did we ever survive our room temperature food and drink?  Why aren't we all dead of botulism or salmonella?

Similar thoughts crossed my mind as some of the more, um, intense parents doused all the kids in hand sanitizer before the meal.

We are an over-temepred, over-de-germed, over-cautious society.  And the irony that I made that observation at the zoo is not lost on me.

April 22, 2014

Douchebaggery at its finest

I have no clue who this character, Mike Elk, is.  I gleaned from the linked article that he is some sort of 'labor reporter'.  Reading his bleg post on gofundme, I gather that he is a union member that travels around walking picket lines and reporting on other union member's 'fights'.

Apparently, union reporters don't make enough money to take vacations, so Mr. Elk crowd-funded a recent beach vacation for himself.

Shortly after his 'free' vacation, Mr. Elk found out that he is going to be laid off in June.  He quickly took to gofundme, again, to start soliciting donations to cover living expenses, even though he is two months from the layoff.  He makes this compelling argument:
While I don't mind sleeping on an air mattress, I do still have to pay the bill at Waffle House. Likewise, I need money to pay for plane tickets, rental cars, and really horrific airport food so that we can keep getting you an exclusive in depth snapshot of what is happening during one of the most important union drives in a generation.  
This 'most important' union drive is that of the UAW trying to organize workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Mr. Elk's statement perfectly summarizes the union mentality.  How many people get two months' notice that they are losing their job?  If I had eight weeks' advance notice, I think I would immediately start securing another source of income - NOT commit myself to continuing to do a job that they were going to stop paying me to do.

And I can't imagine any scenario, in which I, as an able-bodied American, would choose to beg people for charity when I have the means and resources to support myself.

April 21, 2014

April 18, 2014

Record Store Day

Tomorrow, the third Saturday of April, is 'Record Store Day'.  A self-promoting event dreamed up a few years ago by record store owners, it nonetheless evokes memories of many an afternoon spent flipping through albums as a kid.

I am old enough to remember when department stores had record departments.  Even as malls became 'the thing' and record stores became stand-alone ventures, there were still great independent shops that did nothing but sell music, and dole out opinions from the shop workers on what the next great band or record release was going to be.

I have always loved music.  I miss albums.  I love the cover art and the liner notes.  I always kept my albums in alphabetical order, but, even if I hadn't, I could identify most of the titles from across the room, just by the look of the spine.  I kept my albums in a wooden fruit crate and would sit for hours, reading, listening, tracing album art.

My children are just as fascinated by the albums as I was.  Most of them I own on a more current medium, but my kids like to hold the albums, open the double record set covers, look at the pictures.

My allowance as a kid was spent, primarily, on two things - music and roller skating.  And I can't help but think that I wouldn't have spent much time at the roller rink if they hadn't played such awesome music.

I don't know that I will take part in any official sort of Record Day activity.  There is a lengthily list of special releases to celebrate the occasion, covering music of all types, old and new.  None of it really inspires me to get in my car and drive to our local record store - though the list did stir a desire to add a few new songs to my iTunes library.

Hey, I love records, but what I really love is the music, and the clarity and portability of digital files just can't be beat.

April 17, 2014

Celebrating Small

As a child, my birthday was often celebrated with an adult family member that had a birthday just a day or two from mine.  I don't remember much about them, but there are several years worth of photos of the two of us side by side with our birthday cakes.  One, in particular, has always delighted me - I am probably 4 or 5-year's old, posing behind my Barbie Doll cake, and next to me, with a beer in hand, is my uncle, with a classic 1970's 'bikini cake', which, as I recall, required the integration of two Hostess Snowball snack cakes for the top.

The teenage years centered on friends and less family, and as I have aged, I don't have many specific memories, other than a trip to Benihana on my 18th, that included a broken English version of the birthday song, and a truck and tractor pull for my 21st.  I am still amazed at the things my boyfriends thought I would enjoy.

I am content that this time in my life has brought celebrations back to family, with Boom at college, I have a constant reminder that it really won't be that long before all the kids are gone.  I appreciate that the years have brought contentment in simpler things, a place many people never seem to reach.

I sometimes feel guilty that I am not a big party planning mom.  We shuttle the kids to a select few birthday parties each year, but don't reciprocate with lavish bashes.  Instead, we typically celebrate smaller, and more family-oriented than other people do.  Easter this weekend will center around a family meal, and our annual family egg hunt that includes prize coupons for extravagant things like getting out of chores, extra dessert, and mild sibling torture (the 'make my bed' coupon is popular).

I hope my kids grow to value family over store bought fun.  I hope that a raucous game of Yahtzee or corn hole in the yard outshines Chuck E Cheese skeeball or an afternoon at a trampoline park.  Sure, there is fun to be had for a price, but my hope is that my kids will see more value in family, and the fleeting time we have to spend with them.

April 16, 2014

Remembering Ruth

I went to the best kind of funeral this morning, if there is such a thing.

It was the funeral of a life fully lived, 95 year's worth of hard work, one marriage, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, love, faith, friendships.

There aren't many more like her out there - people who have seen such change in our world, yet remained true to a work ethic and moral base that is nearly extinct in today's young people.

The preacher remembered her thusly, "I knew her long, I knew her well, I loved her much."

I hope that when my time comes, there are those who will say the same about me.

April 15, 2014


Today is tax day, and, I am writing the IRS a hefty check.

I normally try to break even, and have never had to write a check this big before.  It is painful.
For years we have gotten refunds, though tax planning and jacking up our withholding exemptions kept the refund amount small, and allowed us to use our money throughout the year, rather than loaning it to the gummint.
My CPA pointed to what he described as an"Imperfect Storm" of life and tax events that combined to nail us this year.  And, this tax day serves as an excellent benchmark for planning purposes to make sure we aren't in the same position next year.  
What chaps my hide the most is seeing the total tax due, and trying to correlate what government services my family benefits from that justify the amount.  I can't come up with much.  
Financial experts often suggest that people with limited budgeting willpower use an envelope system to divvy out their money.  This involves putting cash into categorized envelopes, and paying for the specific expenses out of those envelopes.  When the envelope is empty, you aren't supposed to refill it from the ATM, or borrow from another envelope.  One of the reasons this method tends to work is because there is a psychological effect felt from paying cash for items.
I have long advocated for an elective system wherein tax payers can choose from an a la carte menu of government services and agencies that they want to support.  If you choose not to pay into the welfare system, then you simply can't ever receive benefits.  All the bleeding heart liberals that want to support deadbeats are likely to think twice if they have to fork over their own cash to do it.
Withholding taxes (and SS and Medicare) from paychecks has made our working class ignorant and apathetic with regard to how big and greedy our government has become.  If every company had to pay their employees in cash each payday, and then the employees had to step up to the next window and pay the government from their fistful of cash, there would be a revolution.