Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes words really do fail

to express exactly what I'm thinking.

Yesterday in Congress Park, a love-triangle between a mom trying to reconcile with her ex-husband and a man living in their basement who couldn't let go of his love for said mom turned ugly. Basement man came upstairs brandishing a weapon and fired at Dad who was clutching a 2 year old son in his arms as he ran away. The bullet went through Dad's hand and into the 2 year old's chest, killing him. Mr. Shooter is on suicide watch.

According to the shooter he is sorry. He didn't mean to shoot anyone.

I really shouldn't have read the article or listened when Tim talked about the article. I have a two year old. I ache for his father. And I cannot let go of the image of a bullet burning through your palm as your son goes limp in your arms. Unbelieveable.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oprah's "America's Thriftiest Families"

Apparently Oprah's got groundbreaking news for us:

This recent episode taught us that it is possible to live off of $58K take home per year. You just need to do simple things like plan your menus, cut your children's hair at home, clip coupons, shop for deals, and buy things on sale. The show focused on a family they called "America's Thriftiest Family" who did all of the things above and managed to have about $80K in the bank while paying back their consumer debt at 3X the minimum payment.

OK. A moment to look at their take-home: It's about 4,800 per month. I'm not saying that it's impossible to be thrifty when you're a solidly middle-class family, but when your take home (after taxes AND 401K contributions) is nearly $60K annually, you're not the family I'm looking to for my advice. Perhaps that's classist of me. Maybe. But for this family, thrifty is a lifestyle choice, not a necessity.

For example, "Oh, look! You can give up haircuts! And cut your own hair at HOME!" For a family who spends over $500 per year on haircuts, the thought of giving them up may be drastic! And THRIFTY!! That said, there are gads of us, from my father and brother who clip their hair themselves to my son's less than stellar mama-given haircut, that wouldn't fathom spending $500 per year on haircuts. For many of us this isn't a line-item to cut out of the budget because it's not there to begin with.

I wanted to learn how to be thrifty. What I learned, instead, is that thrifty is a gift to the socioeconomically advantaged. When you're middle or upper class, you "Live Simply" or are "America's Thriftiest Family."

When you're struggling to pay your bills each month, you're simply living. Without haircuts. With menus not only planned from store advertisements, but planned to make use of every ounce of everything that passes through your doorway. You're shopping Goodwill for the kids' clothes not because it's the green, earth-friendly choice, but because it's the only place you can get a cart full of clothing for $40.

I'd like Oprah to take a look at our budget, to be frank. I think she'd find that even her "America's Thriftiest Family" has fat to be cut. Paper towels? Luxury. New clothing? Luxury. Store bought bread? Luxury.

What I want to see is America's Thriftiest Family doing all of the things Oprah described and more. Rather than whittling away just their budget, let's whittle away their Environmental Footprint, the trash they throw out each month, the lasting scar they leave on the earth. Let's whittle away their exposure to crappy modern television, 24-hour news stations, constant internet, and always-on-cellular phones. Let's whittle away their driving to that which is necessary. Let's take all that excess income and dump it into the flagging stock market, turn it into long-term savings to support a simple life. Let's get them to start supporting locally grown agriculture -- give up their imported Mexican Avocados and start eating rich locally grown foods, supporting and sustaining their local economy. Let's do all of those things and more.

It's a good lifestyle choice. I don't mean to demean the actions taken by this "America's Thriftiest Family," but I do intend to point out that many Americans are doing this - by choice, by necessity, by thoughtful commitment.

That, my friends, isn't a curse of poverty. It's a gift. Pure wealth.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Also, you should all know

I have a fantasy hockey team named the Fighting Grammarians. Their logo is an apostrophe, which looks like a comma, but I'm telling you it's an apostrophe. And I'm thinking this should be their mascot. Can you believe that? It's graffiti! Now I'm not a huge fan of graffiti, but man. This? It's amazing.

Photographs and memories

A year ago today, we had a funeral for my stepfather. Other than the funeral, I cannot honestly tell you what we did that day. So instead, I will tell you about a picture that captures, in my mind, so very much of our childhood with David.

The picture is of two household items made into people by the industrious innovation of three young girls. It was taken in the basement of my mom's old house in Kearney, so I can only guess that Erika, Kirsti, and I were all between the ages of say 9 and 12. I don't have the picture. I think it's in a box somewhere in my basement or my mother's basement. I know David took it. He had been helping us during the most trying of our times as we manufactured these two "people".

The little one was a vacuum, decorated in a variety of dress-up box items. Honestly, I don't remember the little guy much, so dwarfed was he by his ironing board wife. His ironing board wife? She was beautiful, her beach ball face covered by a tangled gray wig, broad shoulders belying a stocky body with an old western shirt that covered pert tennis-ball breasts.

The thing is, this was a snapshot. It was mere moment from a history of what I consider to be amazing parenting, from the physical challenge of chasing after David in the summer heat of Washington, DC or chasing lightning bugs in the wilted evenings in Clifton, TX to the mental challenges of Mad Libs, create-something-out-of-nothing games, and, as we got older, God, philosophy, and politics.

And as often as I smirk and say "I didn't sign up for this" when my children embarrass or frustrate me, I realize that David did. He signed up for this wild rogue tween who tested and pushed and screamed and pushed and who now, as an adult, couldn't be any more grateful.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In memoriam

This morning I stood in the pre-dawn cold with my back to the sunrise and watched the mountains cut a jagged edge into the night. Tracing them with a finger, I felt lonely and overcome with memories of last October 1st, when I watched the sun burst forth over an Omaha skyline from my stepfather's hospital room.

I had no idea that morning would be his last. He watched the sunrise and I sat with my back to it, chattering incessantly in ways that people chatter when they are too nervous or have too little faith to allow silence to take over. In the quiet hour while the sun climbed the sky, he sat and watched and I fretted, paced, ran errands, and just kept moving. To this day, I'm not sure what drove me that morning to yammer, except a deep fear of the downtime, the quiet time, the passive acceptance of what was to come.

Two months after his death, I would read the last book that David and I talked about: Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk. He was reading it in the months before he died. His bookmark still sits on page 272, the last hundred or so pages awaiting his keen eye and academic's pen. When I read the following passage, I reflected on my final moments alone with David, as we sat vigil that October morning:
Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than always pushing to 'get the job done'.

Our vigil wasn't liturgical, but those moments were imbued with an abiding faith on David's part that I struggled for. If I have any single regret of the last weeks and months in David's life, it is that in his final hours I was unable to sit, quietly, and listen. I regret not remembering that silence isn't always as important as noise: often it's more important. The ability to sit, to wait attentively in stillness, was probably the most important skill I learned that day.

On that day, I witnessed a man of deep and abiding faith embrace his end, his beginning, his everything. I will always remember it as one of the most stunningly painful moments of my life, but witnessing his faith, peace, and grace as those he'd touched in his life gathered around and supported us also made it among the most intensely beautiful experiences I have had. There, in our quietest of times, was the still small voice.

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