Monday, October 30, 2017

A Birthday

I'm having a birthday this year.

I mean, I have one every year. But a larger and rounder-looking one arrives this year.

And here's what I want for a gift: to do the most good possible.

So here are a few links to my favorite organizations. Please help me help them.

Help provide safe drinking water:

Send a girl to school in a country where education is not free:  

Help people in Raleigh experiencing homelessness:

Stop the spread of disease (including tuberculosis, cholera and ebola) among the world's poorest people:

Help people around the world get emergency medical care:

Help refugees fleeing violence:

Restore trees and stop deforestation in the poorest country in this part of the world:

Help Wake County students whose parents can't afford to keep them in decent school clothes:

Truly, this is all I want. For Christmas, too.


Monday, November 2, 2015

On Thanksgiving

Over the last few years, Thanksgiving--once a major American holiday in its own right--has been reduced to the kickoff for Christmas. No longer satisfied with a rush of customers on Black Friday, stores have started opening on Thanksgiving itself in an effort to whip people into a frenzy. The NFL sponsors want the menfolk parked in front of the television to see all the commercials, while the ladies dash out to Wal-Mart et al. for... something, anything at an unbelievably low price.

There has been little backlash, except a few customers choosing not to shop at all at the stores that opened on the holiday. But recently, camping equipment retailer REI announced that it will not open on Black Friday at all, let alone Thanksgiving Day. I say, "More power to them."

It's time to take back a tradition.

Thanksgiving is not the kickoff to Christmas.
Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for what we already have.
It's peace between neighbors.
It's generosity of native people toward new immigrants.
It's a celebration of the harvest and the security of a season of plenty.

This Thanksgiving, I'm not buying anything.

I won't do any Christmas shopping.
I won't watch live television.
I won't eat at a restaurant or put gas in my car.
I won't do anything reckless that would likely add to the workload of emergency workers.

This Thanksgiving, I will eat, enjoy some company, and be thankful.

And on Black Friday, like the folks at REI, I'll probably go outdoors. Everything I need want to buy can wait until Monday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Signs You Have a High-Maintenance Child

You might have a high-maintenance child if...
  1. You started making emperor jokes before he was even home from the hospital.
  2. You bought six of THE blanket--two to use, two to wash, and two just in case. Plus a back-up lovey, three of the favorite cup, and identical potties for each bathroom. Yes, for one child. No, you've never regretted it.
  3. Forget the cute little pastel sign for the doorknob. Your QUIET--BABY'S SLEEPING sign is in fifteen-inch-high letters on every door of your house. And the last person who rang your doorbell at 2 PM now avoids your entire neighborhood.
  4. She said "shoes" before "mama."
  5. You serve dinner in a muffin tin so the foods won't touch.
  6. You've had to carry him out of an event that hundreds of other small children were quietly enjoying. But that's okay because...
  7. You've mastered the "sympathetic carry": you can carry a thirty-five pound, kicking, screaming child in a gentle way that affirms that A)  you are not going to allow this behavior to go on here, and not giving in to a tantrum, yet B) you are neither kidnapping the child nor dragging him out to the car for a beating.
  8. You wonder if preschool is worth the drama, even after months.
  9. You have read every parenting book published in your lifetime.
  10. You never, EVER stir the yogurt.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Love

We hear “love never fails.” “Love bears it out even to the edge of doom.” “All you need is love.”*
But we also hear, depending on your sources, that twenty-three or forty-one or fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. The odds are worse if the couple lives together before marrying.
Something is indeed failing here.
Last year I heard, secondhand, a point of view that I think does a lot to explain the discrepancy. Tellingly, it was from a single person whose parents had divorced when she was a child. Kim** and her sister, Lisa, who was engaged, were talking about love and marriage, and Kim told the bride-to-be, “Love doesn’t have limits.”
As a happily married person, I am here to warn you that this is a dangerous fallacy. Love does indeed have—it must have—limits. Any way of relating to someone else has expectations and limits involved. That is why your slight acquaintances do not look up your address and pop in for breakfast. That is why you don’t call your doctor’s office just to say hi. And that is why no matter how tired you are or what hour it is or how many nights in a row you’ve been doing this, you do not actually tell your toddler to “Go the F*ck to Sleep.”***

The limits of any relationship have their origins from three sources. First, limits can be imposed by others outside the relationship, including society at large. If your coworker criticizes your work during a meeting, do you stand up and punch him? Not if you wish to remain employed (your employer will presumably terminate you for such behavior) and to avoid jail (assault is against the law). Those limits come from outside any relationship the two of you have and stand independent of your personal inclinations.(Whether he would hit you back is a separate consideration.)

Sometimes limits come from the nature of the relationship itself, which serves as a framework. My mom doesn’t tell me what time to go to bed nowadays because when I reached adulthood, her authority to do so expired. The bank doesn’t give you free money because that’s not how your business relationship works. You don’t cheat on your spouse because the marriage is a monogamous relationship you’ve entered into together.

Finally, and crucially, limits come from within the relationship. Since most of a marriage is conducted behind closed doors, these limits are essential to this kind of close relationship. Each person sets limits on what he or she will DO, and what he or she will ACCEPT from the other person. So if my husband and I disagree about something and we get angry, I may think of a dreadful, vicious thing to say, but I choose not to say it. My self-restraint is a kind of limit even though it comes from within my self—it’s a healthy limit that puts love ahead of anger. But what if I did choose to say such a thing? My husband would also put forth a limit, probably by declining to converse with me any further at that point.
Likewise, I set limits on those I am in relationship with. My three-year-old is not allowed to hit, kick, or bite. My bank has been warned not to call again to try to sell me anything. And when my husband keeps doing some little annoying thing that is really making me mad, I speak up about it.Civilly.
We hold each other to a standard. If we found ourselves in a pattern of anger, and of behavior that pushed at our limits, we would know it was time to examine our choices and consider changes. Love certainly has limits, but those limits are constructed in love and in loving self-control.

* Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, Shakespeare, and the Beatles, respectively.
** Names have been changed.
*** It’s a real book.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Microeconomics, Rational Behavior, and the Matrix

This morning I went to a great consignment sale at a nearby church. For $43.50 plus tax, I got 18 items of clothing for my preschooler. Awesome.
Then I came home and spent $29 (including shipping) on a single pair of pants online, and they will be used as pajama bottoms. Not the first time, either. In fact, the child owns a couple sets of $36 pajamas despite the propensity to outgrow any article of clothing in less than two years.
Is that crazy?

I've just skimmed One World, Ready or Not by William Greidner. I found it to be just a slightly older and denser version of The Wal-Mart Effect and other books on the high cost of low prices. Essentially, U.S. manufacturing has collapsed because American consumers chase low prices more than any other factor, including quality and country of origin--and since much of manufacturing cost is in labor, that drives production to any of about 150 other countries where workers will take jobs in dangerous conditions for near-starvation wages (and their governments, to be blunt, would rather have the money than the people). And then Americans have few job choices and low wages, but still want a lot of things--so we continue buy what's cheapest, reinforcing the corporate dash for cheaper wages. IKEA is bragging about lowering prices, Wal-Mart is home of the perpetual roll-back... they're not cutting profit or executive compensation.

But I don't wanna buy expensive things. And when it comes to some items, I can't even if I want to. But I am not ready to go join The Compact, either.

There are so many factors to take into consideration beyond price plus tax. Overall quality. Features. Environment. Wages, working conditions and fair trade. Comfort. Resale value or disposal cost. Maintenance, storage, energy use. Do I really need it at all? When you're going down a Target aisle with a three-year-old in the cart, it's nearly impossible to think through all of this... and even if you do, there may not be any choices that are quite what you want.
Ethical shopping. Yuck. No wonder so many people buy based on price, even if they can afford not to: it's the easiest trait to compare objectively. This item has sixteen features, that one only nine--how many of the other seven features would I really use? This one is from Sri Lanka, that one Bangladesh--honest to geography, I don't know the difference (and not having plunked down $600 plus monthly service for a computer phone, I'm not going to find out in Aisle 4). This one says ten cents of the purchase price goes to a charity I like, but the product itself is not good as good for me. This car is a hybrid that was shipped across the Pacific; that one was assembled in the USA from mostly Mexican parts but only gets 23 mpg; do I try to project gas prices over the length of time I plan to own it?

What I need, then is something easier and more objective. A matrix or point system.
Here's my starting point: If you know a website for me to add to the Resources column, speak up! Obviously you'd have to tweak it a bit for your values... and then decide do what to do with it. Do you set a minimum score for all purchases? Do you require clothing to be 50 points, unless it's something you really need for work? Do you assign a value of -50 if the country of origin is Thailand, where corporate greed, government-encouraged worker exploitation and the decadence of rich tourists have reached the outrageous point of parents' selling children into sex slavery?

The 18 pieces of clothing I got at the consignment sale were a great value because they will meet a need (clothe a growing child). I bought before it was urgent and avoided buying something with higher cost and lower value when the kid will simply not fit into 3T's another day. They were bought used (no environmental cost except the sellers' dropping off, my picking up and the church's having lights on for the morning), and are in good to new-with-tags condition. Only four items were made in the USA, none from organic cotton--but since I am buying them secondhand, I am not directly reinforcing a behavior on the part of a manufacturer or seller (except that consignors will want to continue to keep their kids' clothes in good condition).
What about comparing what I paid to retail price? Because they're a boutique brand, three of the American-made shirts retail for $40, but I would not pay that for a shirt for a child even if it were organic cotton: the high risk of stains means the potential for higher cost per use for clothes intended for school or church. Other items would probably have been $4 to $20 each at a store or in a catalog.

By buying used on items that would not score very high on my matrix (made from unsustainable materials and energy by underpaid workers; shipped here from Indonesia/ Lesotho/ Sri Lanka/ Bangladesh/ China/ Kenya/ Nicaragua/ Dominican Republic; perhaps originally sold at Target, a not-locally-owned store), I saved money... that I can put back into the clothing budget and spend on the $29 organic fair-trade pajama pants from a pretty web site... or otherwise use on an item that would be a great value (like an organic domestically-made shirt to go with them) or meet a more urgent need (food)... or--and I admit this is heresy--just save it and not spend it at all.

I can't cast a ballot to change corporate policies (impossible unless you own an awful lot of stock--I don't!), but I can encourage behavior I approve of by voting with my dollar: whenever possibly, buying products that match my values (and if the price is great, so much the better). Survival first, of course, but then stewardship.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In gratitude

I'm feeling good today. The biggest annoyances I have to deal with right now are a misguided collections company that keeps leaving messages on my cell phone (Do I sound like a Patrick to you???--and no, I apparently can't block numbers on my cell phone) and the C------- address label company people who took a week to finally admit that hmm, they don't know what happened to the rest of my order and they will send a new set right away.

So life is good. We're healthy yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! The housekeeping is... well, within my definition of under control. Thank you, FLYlady!
The weather's pretty nice. I got some great exercise this morning at a Nia class.
Kiddo is taking a nap today (and it's a good thing, because we did not sleep through the night last night). And I figured out how to keep my sweet little angel from climbing up on the windowsills(!) during naptime in any case. Yes, it involved removing (more) furniture.
Lots of good things on the calendar in the next couple of weeks. A playdate with friends we haven't seen much lately. Tea with friends. An estimate for some work I finally planned all the details for.

In other words, there's a lot to be thankful for. And in the midst of being busy, it's good to remember to actually be thankful for it. May you, too, be blessed with feelings of well-being and abundance!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One way to be happy

The other day I had tea with friends, and I felt great afterward. It wasn't the caffeine or even the awesome quiche. My friends are great people! It's not just that they're fun to hang around with (though they are); I mean great people. The kind of people I admire. It's energizing and thought-provoking to be around them.
When I thought about it afterward, I realized...
A) that applies to all my friends, not just the ones who were there (and to my husband, too, actually), and therefore
B) I've kind of done it on purpose (Not, you know, in the New Year's resolution sense of purpose, but I naturally want to spend more time with people I look up to), and
C) I should have started sooner! Wouldn't that be great advice for elementary-age kids: "Make friends with those whose character you admire"?

Since I'm not a very outgoing person, I don't have a zillion friends--but my friends rock. They're generous with time, gifts, help, whatever (case in point: recently I mentioned I was sick and someone brought chicken soup to my door in minutes!). They're hard-working and they get a lot accomplished, yet they also take the time to celebrate and to build relationships. They're educated and thoughtful, even visionary.
Come to think of it, they have the qualities I wish I had more of. While I'll never be as diligent in my work as M, as funny and warm as L, and so on, it's nice to be reminded that I can try. (What do my friends see in me? I think they think I'm organized--ha!--and they sweetly tolerate my tendency to give advice without being asked.) Admirable friends are motivational posters you can call for advice, or just call to mind for inspiration. They're different from the far-off heroes of history books and documentaries because they talk with us. They respond to us.

I recommend this friendship strategy to everybody. If there is too much drama in your friendships, you're befriending people who are too dramatic. Stick with people you like, trust, and respect.