Friday, July 30, 2010

Obamanomics at work

This is my studly husband, laying flagstone to convert a dead space to useable patio. Several mornings our son has helped, and the dogs are always ready to dig in. Winston likes to get his nose up to his eyeballs in sand. We have to throw him in the pool before letting him back inside.

Ricky's also stained 220 feet of fence and helped our sons remove about 75 feet of shrubbery in an effort to update the looks of our 25 year old house. When we get ready to plant, he will do much of the labor then, too.

A few years ago we might have paid to have most of this work done. We have the resources to hire it done now. Our jobs are somewhat recession proof. Schools and, unfortunately, the IRS are permanent institutions. He's a teacher and I prepare tax returns.

But tax rates are rising, our retirement investments are a little shaky and we still have another child's college to fund. We also need to start saving for when we are in our 70's and have to go to Costa Rica to buy the health care procedures we won't want to wait for. So we are retrenching and doing more ourselves.

Government economic policies really do affect behavior.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Queen for (half) a day

We did have our garage sale a week ago Saturday. Our soccer team raised nearly $1,100. We sorted items the night before, having to wait until the temperature cooled some. It didn't cool enough, though. I ended up awake most of the night with chills and fever from heat exhaustion. But that's okay. It made it easier for me to justify sitting in my camp chair throne all the next morning, confirming prices and holding the money, while other parents did the hard labor.

Our signs, put up before dawn on Saturday, said the sale would be 7:30 -1:00. On Craigslist we posted sale hours as 8:00 - 1:00. Our first customer showed up at 6:45. By 11:30 we were virtually sold out and closed up shop.

We had an unbelievable amount of traffic stopping by, sometimes with ten cars in our little court. It helps when you have good publicity. It really helps when you have fifteen year old boys able and quite willing to direct traffic our way from the nearby intersection.

The boys used signs, hand motions and general hilarity to great effect. At one point they came back to the house for more poster board and markers. They made signs advertising hugs for a dollar. It worked, adding five dollars to the pot. Most of the customers appreciated the good humor of it all. Some curmudgeon didn't, though, and called the police. A cop gently (we think) reminded my son, the guilty one, to stay out of the street.

Whoever called the cops might have been from the family having the garage sale down the street. Our boys had been setting up in the intersection to hide their sign, which pointed the opposite way. That's definitely why we had an anonymous young man sitting in a chair across the street from our house, holding a sign to get customers directed back towards them.

The best part of a garage sale is pricing the items. We tagged the larger items, but everything else was subject to whim, the particular customer and the time of day. People in the first hour paid "full" price. As the morning wore on, the prices dropped.

Since I had the change and was most familiar with the inventory, I generally got final say on prices. What power! I sat in my chair and ruled. For the little girl who wanted a book and bag of crafts, the price might be fifty cents. It's such fun to see a little one deliberate and finally choose and carefully pull out her own money. One woman spent $134 on clothes, dishes, shoes ($2 a pair and we sold about 80 pairs during the day), bedding, a chair and a washer and dryer. My older son, with his pickup and another parent, delivered the items to her nearby apartment. It turns out she had recently moved here and has a husband in a wheelchair and needed everything she bought from us. That was sobering.

Another early shopper bought lots of clothing at $1 an item and then wanted a better deal because she was buying clothes to "send to Mexico." I told her no, this was a fundraiser to help boys afford competitive soccer, but I could make a deal at the end of the sale. She called me at noon and I offered all the clothing we had left, several hundred items, for $50. She agreed. Of course, when she got here, she suggested $40 should be enough. Nope. (I was still queen.) I told her the minimum was $50. Otherwise I would donate the clothes to our school district's clothes closet where I knew they would go to good use. She paid the $50 and we completely filled her car.

Now why was there so much clothing and shoes? Just think about all those fifteen year old boys who have grown 4-8 inches and three shoe sizes in the past year. We sold a lot of boys' and men's items.

My favorite negotiation of the day involved a well dressed couple driving an expensive car. They had stopped by twice, annoying me each time, arguing over a dollar here and there on their purchases. The third time they came by the woman was interested in a lap blanket designed like an American flag.

"How much is the blanket?"

"The blanket is $5.00 and I'll throw in the American flag pillow for free."

"Will you take $4.00?"


"Well, I don't want the pillow, so how much is just the blanket."

"It's $5.00"

"But wouldn't it be $2.50? I don't want the pillow, I just want the blanket."

"The blanket is $5.00, I'm just throwing in the pillow if you want it."

She paid $5 for the blanket, and I guess she did want the pillow, because she took it, too.

Garage sales can be a lot of fun with the right attitude. If you need to rent a queen some time, just let me know. I work cheap.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another day, another five hundred miles

The boys are off again today, visiting college campuses. Up until a week ago, Wiley had only seen one college campus, that of our alma mater Rice University. Before he narrows down his choices next year, we wanted him to get a feel for campuses of different sizes.

Last week, they went north, visiting Austin College in Sherman, Texas and the University of Oklahoma in Norman. They were gone about twelve hours, covered about 500 miles.

Today will be the same, except they've headed south - first to Baylor University in Waco, then to Southwestern University in Georgetown and finally the University of Texas at Austin.

A five hundred mile day trip is no big deal for a Texan. Throw some cold drinks in the cooler and head out. I have often gone up to see my parents for a day - three and a half hours each way. On other family trips, we will routinely drive 1,000 miles in a day, leaving Orlando or Tucson or Keystone at 6:00 am and sleeping in our own beds that same night.

One summer day, when the kids were a lot younger, I made the six hour round trip to Abilene to pick up kids at camp, then made another two hour round trip to pick up another child at a different camp, then headed north with the whole family to spend the weekend with my folks.

That's what you do if you live in the south - a land of vast open space and scarce urban areas.

When Ricky and I were newlyweds living in Chicago, our best friends had family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 150 miles away. They would plan their annual trip months ahead of time, it was such a long way to them. That was the first time I really understood cultural differences.

In England last summer, I visited with a woman on the train. She was quite smug about the British rail system, with its superiority to transportation in the United States. I agreed with her, to the extent you have towns, existing for centuries, every five or ten miles. Our country is quite young and nowhere near as densely populated. It will be centuries more before it is both cost and environmentally effective to build transportation infrastructure outside the packed cities. Give us some time, we'll get there.

I wish our current government leaders would realize that. Instead, we're led by a man who has lived either on a small island or in a large city. For the past five years, he has only traveled locally by cab or limousine, his driving limited to golf carts. He should take a look at a map. His concept of efficient transportation does not apply to the majority of us Americans, sprawled across thousands of miles, who want to remain independent, able to transfer at will from Point A to Point B.

That's why I've started a slush fund. At the first hint of the phaseout of SUV's, I'm stockpiling three of them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So True

"The best behavioral control you can have is a wife."

- Rush Limbaugh

Who wants to disagree?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Generations Ahead

My grandpa was born in 1893. He and my grandma had ten children, one at a time over twenty-eight years, and twenty-one grandchildren, only four of whom are younger than me. The only one I never knew was my aunt, their first born, who died of cancer at age thirty-eight.

My grandparents lived in the same home for seventy years, four rooms plus a bathroom, the toilet only added after I was in elementary school. The four oldest sons settled within a mile of my grandparents' home. When I was a kid, the uncle around the corner also only had an outhouse, but the one up the hill had an indoor toilet, but just for "number one" until they added a septic tank years later. At the outhouse you always checked for toilet paper first, or you really would be SOL. These were important things to know as the granddaughter from the "city" who spent a week and a lot of weekends at Grandma's house most summers and could choose when to spend afternoons or overnights with cousins.

During those summers we built forts in the woods and chased fireflies and locusts in the evenings. I helped bring the cows home at supper time, worked in the acre garden, emptied the drip pan on the ice box, brought canned items up from the outside cellar, gathered eggs, shucked peanuts for fifty cents an hour and helped do the laundry with a wringer washer - filling the tub with a hose and soap, washing and wringing the clothes, then emptying the tub to refill with clean water for rinsing and wringing again. I never did get the hang of milking. I watched my grandma with awe as she caught a chicken, wrung its neck, chopped off its head and feet, plucked its feathers (saved to use in pillows) and cooked it for supper.

When I was being ornery, I would eavesdrop on party line phone calls. Two short rings was one uncle's house, one long and one short another, etc. There may not have been electricity in every room, but telephone conference calls were a snap - just everyone pick up their phone at the appointed time. (And that would be phone, singular.)

In the winter, the living room was heated with a wood burning stove vented through the ceiling. I still remember the winter weekend my parents and older cousins ice skated on the pond beside the house while I was stuck in the house with a cold. Resentful, I played in the fire and tossed in kleenexes to watch them smolder, then erupt. I sure didn't go play in the unheated bedrooms.

One time, when I was five, I got to go to school for a day, riding the bus and everything, with my two cousins: Deletha, five years older and Linda, ten years older. The school had an elementary room and a secondary room. I sat and watched the class, making paper chains and paper dolls to keep busy.

When I was growing up, everyone went to Grandma's for Christmas Day dinner, i.e. lunch. No matter the four rooms, probably about six hundred square feet. The house was big enough to hold the fifty or sixty people usually there. Only two of the ten kids ever moved out of the area. The women cooked for hours. The men were served first, the children second and the women last. The women did the dishes.

Those were great times, the bustle of a large multi-generational family. (I don't recall there being much hustle, though, especially during the hot, hot summers.) The four grandchildren younger than me, including my brother, didn't have these experiences. Modernity had encroached by then - complete plumbing, a propane stove, even a window air conditioner.

I am privileged to have been so much a part of the past. I am sorry my children don't have anything like that.

When you are a kid in a big family as I was, someone always comments about you. You've gotten tall or fat or skinny..... You are constantly told who you are the spitting image of. I didn't believe that part at all. I was always told I looked just like my cousin Mona Faye (three years older than my mom!) and my cousin Linda. Well, my aunts and uncles were comparing me to the children they remembered. I would look at my cousins and think "no way." But then I got a little older, and sure enough, I do look remarkably like Linda. I saw that when I was in my thirties and she in her forties. She died of breast cancer at fifty, so I don't know how the trend would have continued. At an uncle's funeral last year, when I was close to the age of Linda when she died, her grown daughters were taken aback by our resemblance. They told me they could almost see their mom one more time.

I probably would have caught up to looking like Mona Faye, too, in another ten years or so. But she died last week. One day she was cooking and sewing and volunteering and enjoying life, the next day she collapsed and they discovered two tennis ball size tumors in her head. She would have been seventy-nine in a few days. I was not quite up to the long drive necessary to attend her funeral. It would have been interesting to see her one more time, a glimpse into my own future.

It is very practical being on the low rung of a long family ladder. I've watched my aunts and uncles and older cousins age from their twenties and thirties to their seventies and eighties. It gives me direction. I know where I'm going and have a pretty good idea when I'll get there. I've watched them navigate the world's technological changes and their own inevitable physical declines. I'm proud to say that in most cases, my family has managed it with grace and humor and no unreasonable expectations, a very good roadmap to follow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another day, another comic speaks the truth

We're having a soccer team yard sale at our house next weekend. Among the mounds of items we are contributing - four laundry baskets.

When I had four kids living at home in a multi-story house, baskets were at a premium, for a variety of uses.

Now, not so much. We just have the fifteen year old doing the laundry basket-closet thing.

Hmmmm. Maybe I'll put five baskets in the yard sale.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lost and Found

From time immemorial, Man has been the Hunter. And Woman requires it.

Personally, I consider it one of my missions to make sure the men in my life keep that skill honed, now that they are no longer required to hunt for food.

Let me amend that. Whenever my mom needs an ingredient from the pantry or one of their three freezers, it's "Ted, go find the ........" Same here, except in my house it's more likely to result in Ricky having to go to the grocery store.

My dad, unasked but oh so appreciated, once spent fourteen hours searching inch by inch through the shag carpeting of my childhood bedroom to find a lost earring. That, my friends, is hunting.

In my own home, I only make a perfunctory search before calling in the expert to find my phone, purse, book, sweater, shoes, shirt or the important piece of paper I just had in my hands. It used to be the eternal search for car keys, but now I have two sets and work diligently to keep them either in my purse or on the key rack.

A couple of weeks ago my wallet was missing in action. I had it at lunch with my friend, but by evening realized it was not in my purse. It's a flat, black wallet that easily fits into a back pocket and holds my cash and the six or eight important cards I have.

I looked everywhere. He looked everywhere. We searched the car, both cars, the driveway, the house, the pockets of my clothes. We did it again. We have two bank cards, but daily checking showed no unauthorized activities. I put off canceling the cards and going to the DMV to replace my driver's license (it has the rare good picture!), all the while feeling totally stupid that I'd truly lost my wallet.

It is weird having no credit cards and no identification. I paid cash for everything.

Last Saturday, over a week after the disappearance, I had a message. Someone had found one of my bank cards on the side of the road, near where I had lunch that fateful day. Hallelujah! The suspense was over, at least partially. Unfortunately, the nice man was out of town for the holiday weekend and I could not confirm which card he had and a more precise location of the find.

But never fear, my hunter was here! We drove to our best guess of the location. Ricky parked beside the road and we began searching. It had rained nearly every day so the ground was soggy and the creek beside the road was full. I got some comfort that the rest of my cards were likely washed away and unusable.

Then Ricky found my Eddie Bauer rewards card ground into the mud. But that was it. At least we were in the right spot. I waited at the car while he looked one more time, going down a ways, then coming back on the other side of the street.

Crossing the street back to our car, he found the other bank card. Score! Then another card and another. Then the wallet itself, with the remaining cards, including my driver's license and most important this year, my medical insurance card.

My best guess - someone stole the wallet out of my purse during lunch, took the cash and tossed the rest out the window during the getaway. They were probably a little disgusted since my cash was mostly ones. The amazing part is that my wallet lay in the middle of a busy street for over a week and I recovered virtually everything.

Actually, the hunter recovered it. I just watched.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Our Calling as Citizens

As posted by Roger Clegg of the National Review:

1. Don't disparage anyone else's race or ethnicity.

2. Respect women.

3. Speak English.

4. Be polite.

5. Don't break the law.

6. Don't have children out of wedlock.

7. Don't demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex.

8. Don't view working and studying hard as "acting white."

9. Don't hold historical grudges.

10. Be proud of being an American.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July!

Friday, July 2, 2010


If you have one, insert his name here.