Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jack Bauer would say, "A time for peace and a time for war"!

In 1962, Pete Seeger recorded the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” (which was adapted entirely from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible). The Bible (and much later, the song) posits that there is a time and place for everything; laughter and sorrow, healing and killing, and even war and peace. What I have always pulled away from those words is that life is constantly changing and in transition.

For our family, today is no different. Our son started preschool this year. Granted, this is not school and he is only going three days a week, but it’s another step and another stage in the development of our oldest child. As much as we want to keep him at this cute and sweet age, we know he is growing and maturing. We are excited to watch him grow and learn, but so sad to see him become independent (as a parent, it’s always nice to be needed, right?) A time to rejoice and a time to weep.

Our family also just lost a good friend and a terrific music minister to a job in a different city. While I am not the most musically inclined individual (I once was asked to ‘not sing’ in a choir, that’s a story for another column), he is a gifted leader and inspiring musician (or at least I am told by my much more musically inclined wife). We are happy for him and his family to be blessed with such a great opportunity, but disappointed to see them move away. A time to dance and a time to mourn.

Our neighborhood is suffering a loss as our immediate next door neighbors are moving to a new home. You know that old rule about fences making good neighbors? Well, our neighbors have been the exception to that rule. We’ve known them in one way or another since my wife’s freshmen year in college, we’ve shared yard equipment and cups of sugar, and our kids love each other. A time to keep and a time to lose.

My favorite television show recently came to an end. Did I just compare major phases and stages of my family’s growth and development to the cancellation of a TV show? Yes, I did, and I don’t apologize, I am man enough to admit, I love Jack Bauer.

This season of change has made me ask, what would Jack Bauer do in this situation? I think he’d probably say, “There is a time for peace and a time for war.” But that just doesn’t seem to fit this column. So I am going to go with what I believe these many transitions offer our family (sorry Jack, I am going solo on this one). I believe that these transitions offer us an opportunity to grow. They offer us an opportunity to learn and become wiser. And while we will miss our friends and neighbors, our lazy days with no school (and our favorite television shows), the truth is we’ll be stronger because of this season of our lives. A time to cast away stones and gather new stones.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A penny saved is about what I've earned.

My family wasn’t “poor” growing up, but we didn’t splurge on certain amenities. For example, we didn’t have a furnace in our house. Well, my mother, who occasionally reads this column, would correct me by saying we did not have a “working” furnace in our house. We used a wood burning stove to heat our home. Which made my room a sub-50 degree ice box by morning after the stove went cold. We also did not have air conditioning. Actually, I’ll make a point here; we did have air conditioning in one room. Yes mom, I’m going to tell on you. It is true; we only had a window unit air conditioner in my parent’s room (so selfish).

My first car was what I believe was a ’81 Chrysler LeBaron sedan. The LeBaron was Chrysler’s lowest priced model. Yes, my first car was a rebadged Dodge Diplomat (another low selling car). After only a couple months, the felt lining in the ceiling of the cab started sagging down. It wasn’t long before I had to use staples to keep the lining out of my line of vision. Yes, you read that correctly, I did not take the car to the dealership, I simply got a stapler to solve the problem.

This continued on into college where these skills became valuable. My freshman year, living in the dorm, I made great usage out of my hotpot. I lived off of Raman Noodles and macaroni and cheese without milk (to my wife’s dismay, I still prefer it that way). The milk was a luxury my budget couldn’t afford and I could get macaroni and cheese for $.33 a box. Not a bad price for a one course meal.

I still have some of that, what I will call frugalness, in my blood. That could drive a spouse insane, but I think my wife finds it a valuable asset to our family. She was introduced to my thriftiness when we were dating and I pulled out my wallet. Now this wasn’t any wallet, it was my favorite wallet. It was also covered in Duct tape. Yes, Duct tape, the poor man’s fix everything tool and it fixed my wallet nicely.

Today, I drive my wife’s college car, a 1998 Chevy Cavalier with nearly 200,000 miles on it. About 2 years ago, we lost the air conditioning in that lovely land ship. I took it to get an estimate on fixing this chariot, but it came out to be an approximate $1000 fix. A $1000 fix for a car that Kelly’s Bluebook valued at about $600. Yes, you guessed it, I did not ante up the cost for the air conditioning. Instead, for the past two years, I’ve been driving around quite comfortably . . . in the winter. In the summer, I simply try not to sweat through my clothes.

Why do I do this, why do I drive around in a college girl’s car with no air conditioning? It’s really not a character flaw, or mindless penny pinching, really it goes back to my family. My mom and dad worked very hard to give me what I needed to succeed in life. I am the man I am today, because of their sacrifices. It seems only reasonable that I follow their lead, make sacrifices of my own to give my children the same gift. However, I think maybe I’ve sacrificed enough; it may be time for a new car. Then again, it will be winter soon, maybe I can make it another year.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Balancing on the Throne at 20,000 feet

I fly coach. Those three words say a lot about my financial means and/or my willingness to spend those means. However, if a hierarchy of economic power is visible anywhere, it is on a commercial airline. There is first class (or “royalty”) and there is everybody else. Everybody else is technically called “business class,” which is a humorous effort to give those of us crammed into the small seats at the back of the plane a nod of respect. Nonetheless, the thin blue curtain that is pulled to divide the first class passengers and the “business class” sends a clear message – “we are better than you.”

Over the years, I have learned to accept this position in life. I will always be the guy folded into the medium size seat with the XL frame. However, sometimes, miracles happen. Sometimes a commoner marries a prince and sometimes a factory worker wins the lottery. I recently experienced just such divine intervention.

As I was checking in at my gate for my first flight of the day, I learned that our plane had experienced some mechanical issues (always a concerning statement to give to someone who is soon to be a passenger on said plane at 20,000+ feet) and we were going to be delayed an hour. When you are trying to make connections, this is the type of thing that can throw off your entire schedule, as was the case for me on this occasion. I was trying to make a meeting in Washington D.C. and was already on a tight schedule. This delay made certain I would miss it. I shared my disappointment with the man working my gate as he was arranging for me to catch the next available flight. He seemed to understand my plight, but offered no solutions to my dilemma.

When I asked him if I could at least get an aisle seat, he told me it was a full flight and he only had a window seat. I accepted his offer for the last remaining seat as it was the next fastest way to my destination. I thanked him and began the wait for my delayed, mechanically challenged aircraft.

It wasn’t until I was boarding my connector flight that I realized he had given me seat 1A. Now for those of you who fly, you know what that meant. Yes, I was on the other side of the curtain, I was in first class! This unnamed man at the gate had bumped me up to rub elbows with “royalty”. For the first time, as I took my seat, I wished my flight was longer as I wanted more time to bask in the glory of first class.

I learned you can get as much as you want to drink of anything you’d like for free. I don’t indulge, however, my seat mate, drank enough for the both of us. I simply enjoyed my Diet Coke out of a real glass. At one point, I felt the urge to visit the men’s room. As I moved to the front of the cabin, I was stopped by one of the flight attendants. She said, “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to use the one on the other side of the curtain.” Her co-worker, recognizing that I was royalty, interrupted her and said, “It’s okay, he’s up front,” (code for royalty). This flight attendant, immediately apologized for her misstep, apparently she had mistaken me for one of “them”. I accepted her apology overlooking this enormous insult as I excitedly stepped into the men’s room. I knew this would be a true “throne” as only “royalty” were allowed to use this space. To my great disappointment, this room looked just like the one I had visited so many times previously on the other side of the curtain. It was at that moment that I realized, no matter where you sit, the “throne” has a way of balancing out the world.

Don't Insult your Dog, Make the "Dog Days of Summer" Count - Go Vote!

The end of summer is growing near, the temperatures are rising, Election Day is upon us, and the beginning of the school year is fast approaching – it is officially the “Dog Days of Summer”. That term, the “Dog Days of Summer”, got me thinking about two seemingly unrelated topics: 1.) My dog, Tucker; and 2.) Election Day. Before I use my intellectual depth and literary talents (please stifle your laughter) to “WOW” you by skillfully tying these topics together, let me take this opportunity to give you some totally useless trivia information - the term, “Dog Days of Summer” actually comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather typically present in the time period between July and September. Impressed? Well, buckle up and get ready, because we are about to take a random trip into the deranged and disconnected mind of this author.

Growing up, I always believed the term; “Dog Days of Summer” was really alluding to the fact that it was so hot that dogs, who wear a natural coat of fur, must be incredibly uncomfortable in these long days of unbearable heat and high humidity. Tucker, our family dog, has never been much of an outside dog. He prefers the luxury of down comforters, plush pillows, and air-conditioning over the oppressive humidity and pollen-filled air that causes him to pant and itch with allergies. Yes, my dog is a sorry excuse for a dog and would probably lose his membership in the local canine union if they knew about his human-like tendencies and behaviors, but I digress.

Because of this heat and humidity that seems to cause what can only be described as an allergic reaction in my dog, he doesn’t get out much. However, one recent morning I took him to run some errands and while I was out, I drove by one of our early voting precincts. I considered running in to participate in the great American privilege of voting when I remembered I had Tucker with me and he is probably not a welcome visitor to our local courthouse. I continued on to vote another day.

While I drove home past the infinite number of campaign signs, I considered the great American tradition of voting and how unfair it seems that our pets are so harshly discriminated against in not being able to participate. It may be the fact they are subject to our dictatorial-style of ownership, but more likely it is because of their small brains having the inability to make thoughtful decisions at such a high level. I mean, really, how many times can I fake throw the tennis ball before my dog figures out that it is still in my hand, right? To take it a step further down Discriminatory Road, at one time, all across this great land, the position of Dog Catcher was on the local ballots. I started thinking about how that decision was made and imagined the conversation, “Mr. Mayor, we’ve got a stray dog problem, how can you solve it?”

“I think we need someone to catch some of these dogs.”

“Who do you think could do that Mr. Mayor?”

“I think this is too big of a position for any one person to decide, I say we leave this important decision to the people. Put it on the ballot!”

Really? At some point in time we thought this decision was too political to be appointed and we therefore made it an elected position? Can you imagine the heated debates this caused in a community? I can see the campaign slogans now, “Vote Smith for Dog Catcher. He’ll make Strays Squat and Pee in Fear!”

The fact is the dog catcher is no longer on the ballot. Therefore, Tucker supports your participation in the electoral during the “Dog Days of Summer.” He reminds you to not insult your pet by not participating in this wonderful privilege that they can’t share in. However, he quickly points out that even if he can’t vote, he does get to sleep in a plush bed with air conditioning all day long. Pulled it all together neatly didn’t I, how do you like them apples?