Rainy Day and Monday…..

Actually, we are entering our rainy season, so I suppose that a few soggy days shouldn’t come as a surprise. On the other hand, I am also in a proverbial, “When it rains, it pours,” work situation with a major project that I am crashing on. In the technical writing side of my life, I handle some fairly complex projects for a couple of clients. These usually come with tight deadlines and frequently with ridiculously tight deadlines. This is one of those cases with a need for a particular talent that I have and with only about half the time that I need to do it as well as it should be done. However, there are times when the 90% solution does work. And that leads me to a point about allowing “perfect to be the enemy of good.”

There are indeed jobs that require incredible precision where the smallest error can cause significant problems. For example, we have a nuclear power plant close by and those people need to be really good at their jobs and I don’t want to hear, “Ooops” from a surgeon. On the other hand, in something like a writing situation, you can almost always improve on what you say and how you say it. The same goes for when you are planning an event. There is almost always another “cool” thing you can add. In the Army, there is a phrase of, “the good idea cutoff time”. It is exactly what it sounds like in that as you are developing a plan, you set a time where no more “good ideas” are entertained. There are moments when something is good and meets the requirement, and yes, it could be better, but it’s okay to stop. One of the things about experience is learning to differentiate between those situations where 100% really is needed and when 90% or maybe even less is acceptable. “Good enough” is not always a correct answer, but it frequently is.

About That Worthy Cause……

I can’t begin to accurately count the number of letters, telephone calls, and other means of solicitation that we get every week for a charitable cause. One of the major evaluation organizations, Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), evaluates more than 10,000 charities and that doesn’t count the thousands that aren’t listed with them. (You can also contribute to them, but that’s business reality, not irony.) I do check with them when I receive one of those calls from a group that sounds legitimate, but that I am unfamiliar with. While I prefer charities that keep their administrative costs at 10% or less, I’m okay with up to 20% in some cases, but when I see an organization where well over 50% goes to administration and fundraising, that’s a red flag for me. And officially registered charities are only part of the causes that seek funds – there are the local organizations that exist in every community no matter the size and that doesn’t count if you belong to a religious group that has a tithe or other contribution expectation.

Even major, multi-million dollar philanthropic organizations cannot accomodate all the requests they receive and ordinary people certainly cannot. While I intensely dislike the professional fundraising tactic of constantly asking for more money no matter how much you send, I also understand that is a part of today’s environment. Each of us must decide how we want to spend our charitable dollars and find the ability to politely, but firmly decline the others and particularly ask to be removed from the list. That isn’t necessarily effective, but I have gotten to where I maintain a list of those charities that I have asked to be removed from. Let me for the moment set aside my utter contempt for anyone who runs charity scams and focus instead on those thousands of worthy causes that I simply cannot support. I genuinely try to be polite in these cases because I get it, I do, but I have the criteria that we have developed and we stick to it. All I ask in return is that if I am polite, that the attempt to “guilt me” stops. Once I have said, “No, please remove me from your list,” then I expect an in-kind response. I also recognize that the person on the other end may well have a spot in the script that says, “If the person declines, then say…..”, which is why I politely say no one more time, insist that we be removed from the list and that goes on my list.  That way, if the organization calls again, I check the list at the beginning of the call and terminate the call before the pitch is finished.

I try to divide our contributions so that we provide a lot locally as well because we believe in supporting community as much as possible. It is difficult to say no to worthy causes, but the truth is that most of us can only contribute so much. So please, when I say no, understand that it is not necessarily that I don’t think your cause is a good one.


Green Parrots and a Hawk……

No, the hawk wasn’t chasing the parrots, and as fast as parrots are, I’m not sure they are ever on a hawk’s menu. We had severe thunderstorms and rain on Saturday that mostly blew through by early Sunday morning. The wind was still noticeable and we did have periodic bursts of heavy rain until mid-afternoon, but much of the day was bright and sunny. When I went for a morning walk, I was treated to an array of birds wheeling, streaking, and sitting.on the telephone wires. We had our usual number of buzzards aloft and when they are at a distance, they do have a prettiness about them. (For all buzzard lovers, I do value their role as scavengers.)

It has been interesting to watch the expansion of green parrots in the neighborhood. When we first moved here at almost the height of the building boom, there was continuing construction as new homes were being added as rapidly as they could be. There was what seemed to be a single flock of parrots that hung out in a clump of trees maybe a mile from our part of the neighborhood. It was on one of my walking routes, so I would see them occasionally. Over the last two years, we began to see more parrots more frequently. I have three basic walking routes that I use and rarely a time goes by when I don’t have parrots flying within easy sight, sometimes right over my head. Their squawks are distinctive and while they tend to be only 2-4 at a time, I have seen as many as a dozen or more. They are one of those birds, rather like the ibis, that always makes me smile. I confess that my bird indentification skill has not progressed appreciably, although it is still on “my list”. For now, though, I’ll just keep enjoying them and if I could ever get a couple to slow down, I’ll get a photo.

Crippled Legs, Not Spirit……

As a stringer for our local weekly paper, I have agreed to a fairly narrow focus and human interest pieces are right up my alley. I was called on to cover a guest speaker at the Rotary Club and that was another of those occasions when I was so touched by the strength of the human spirit that I was grateful to be capturing the story. In this case, it was Nichole Rider, a woman who at age 22, was a trim, athletic college student and basketball team member who had been raised in Wyoming with a love of sports and outdoor activities. She had only a few seconds warning before the automobile accident that broke her neck and damaged her spinal cord plunged her into unconsciousness. When she finally awoke, unable to move, her parents and twin sister had spent sleepless hours not knowing if she would live.

The prognosis was grim – little more than a five percent chance that she would gain movement below her shoulders. In the months that followed, Nichole endured extraordinary pain as she battled the odds, determined to regain as much of her body as she could. The nerve damage that affected her hands was too severe to allow her to play wheelchair basketball, but wheelchair rugby was another matter. Adaptive skiing – sure, she did that, too. Although she spent many hours on the local lakes in Wyoming both growing up and after her accident, it was a trip to Miami where she became involved with Shake-a-Leg, Miami, and fell in love with sailing thanks to adaptive seating and special rigs. Nichole has not only participated  in more than a dozen competitive regattas since then, but also developed sailing and kayaking clinics that she teaches. She is engaged in numerous other activites and supports causes that are too many to list here, but her inspirational story can be accessed at a shared web site of http://www.cleverpig.org/NicholeRider/

Her slide presentations are sprinkled with messages such as, “Say Yes to Life,” and when you watch her deftly manuever her wheelchair (that’s after she’s driven herself in her adapted van), you can’t help but admire her. Nichole is headed back West for a few weeks and then plans to relocate to South Florida where she has a much longer boating season.


Economic Analysis of Dual Incomes……

In the previous post on the discussion about women choosing to be stay-at-home wives and/or moms, I inserted the aspect of economic choice. When I abruptly and unexpectedly became a single parent with a four-month old, I had no real choice of not working. Continuing in my career as an Army officer was up for grabs, and I understood that was a particularly challenging choice that had the potential to become unmanageable. It didn’t, but that’s another subject.

Two income families have become routine and is expected in certain parts of our society, while not so in others. Both spouses working, however, does not always make as much economic sense as it would seem at first glance. There are costs to employment such as commuting, perhaps a certain type of wardrobe (includes dry cleaning), increased costs for restaurant meals because shopping and cooking are time consuming, cleaning and other household services, and the very large expense of childcare if applicable. During the nine-month period between my retirement from the Army and going to work for a small firm, I was surprised at how much money I was able to save by being at home. However, that was not emotionally fulfilling for me and we wanted a type of lifestyle that required supplemental income. I was in a position to earn more than I spent for employment expenses.

Computer technology has significantly enhanced remote work options and if that is viable, then some employment costs become negligible. So, in choosing a single or dual income household, there are two primary components – actual after expenses income and personal satisfaction level. (A momentary digression as I confess that I do view a stay-at-home husband differently from a stay-at-home wife and that is indeed a product of my age and upbringing. I acknowledge that there are times when the wife is in a position to have greater earning power than the husband.)

On the personal satisfaction side, there are a tremendous number of volunteer opportunities, even in small towns, and a wide array of hobbies that can be quite fulfilling. If a couple objectvely analyzes their personal financial situation, the bottom-line answer could be that the second job does not produce significant income, particularly if the second job is stressful to the individual and subsequently the family. The math is not complicated, but it does have to be done correctly and requires several months of accurately tracking expenses. It can be an eye-opener if you’ve never run the numbers and It might be an exercise worth undertaking if you are in a position to do so.

Who Defines “All” in “Having It All”?…..

I skirt politics in my blog, but this post deals not with the current slinging of political comments, but with the cultural and sociological aspects concerning women who are not pursuing  paid work outside the home. When I wrote my first novel, Orchids in the Snow, about an Air Force wife, I deliberately set in the early 1980s. That was a period when military wives were beginning to question and break away from some of the strict, unwritten social rules that they lived by. I chose to present my characters in a way that was accurate, although it turned out to be not commercially viable from a publishing perspective. That, however, is not the point of this post.

I was one of the inadvertent pioneers in the advancement of women in the Army, and thus my role as an Army wife and mother was not the same as that of my civilian counterparts, but I came to better appreciate their position. That, in turn, shifted my general view of women who chose to remain at home rather than enter the external workforce. When I did research for my first non-fiction book, The Parent’s Guide to Business Travel, that further expanded my exchanges with women who chose to either not work outside the home, to take some time off from an external career, or to pursue a work-at-home option.

In the course of writing those two books, I came to better define my personal philosophy that interestingly connected back to Ayn Rand – bear with me for just a moment. If you recall, one of the themes in Atlas Shrugged is that If you are faced with a contradiction, return to your original premise. It is distinctly possible that you will find a flaw in your premise rather than a contradiction. How does this relate to the rally cry of women who say, “Yes, you can have it all”?

The flaw is in the definition of “all”. In common usage, it is intended to show that a woman can have a fulllfilling external career and a family. I don’t recall how many times I said that myself, and what I now believe is that the real freedom is in defining your own “all”. No single position is intrinsically superior to the other as long as it is a personal choice. The lack of liberation is when a woman is forced (literally or figuratively) into a decision by others’ expectations. Having been suddenly thrust into the role of single-parent, I also understand that being a stay-at-home mom is not always an economic option and I am not going to enter into the discussion about women who are stay-at-home moms based on government welfare programs.

As human beings, we have a tendency to justify our actions and so the, “No, my way is better”, does fly forth with great regularity. There are most assuredly groups who embrace the validity of choice and I hope that we send the message of choice to girls and young women today.

Appliance Aggravations….

This is one of those weeks that causes me to wonder if “Gremlins” do exist. Weren’t they the ones that would wreck havoc in the middle of the night? I had noticed that our dark colored mugs had a residue after being run through the dishwasher and so my husband used one of those super-duper cleaners on it. No luck. Then he tried to put me off by declaring, “It’s not that bad.” Uh huh. On the other hand, it was busy last week and I couldn’t recall the appliance repair guy we’d used before or find his card. On Sunday, however, when the icemaker went out, that was a different thing. With two problems, I called what I thought was the previous guy. It wasn’t, but this one could come on Tuesday. Ice makers, as you may know, aren’t particularly sturdy, so being told that it needed to be replaced wasn’t a big surprise. As for the dishwasher that is a major brand and not very old, the drain pump had gone bad. The residue was a build-up of detergent that wasn’t being properly rinsed and drained. Yuck!

Two major components, plus labor, plus the hassle since of course the parts didn’t come in on Wednesday as intended. If all goes well, the kitchen will be restored by noon and the checkbook will be the only remaining source of damage. It was almost funny having to wash dishes by hand again. We both grew up washing dishes, and actually, I don’t think I had a dishwasher until my second assignment in the Army. It is easy to become dependent on those household conveniences and then you wonder how you ever managed without them.

Back to ice makers though. One of the plans for the dream house (on the five year plan, more or less) is to have not an ice maker in the fridge, but to have a separate, small commercial-grade one. Some friends of our did that and they loved it. Those are far sturdier and aren’t terribly expensive, but do take up space and don’t work well in a small kitchen. Yes, we did have one of the portable ice makers and that didn’t last as long as we had hoped, so we haven’t replaced it.

Hopefully our appliance issues will be over for a while.

Supporting Small Businesses….

A local bookstore I like to use.

This post might be read as veering close to politics, but that is not the intent. One of my FB friends is quite the Liberatarian and also an avid animal and nature lover. She finds great posters from different sources and puts them on FB. The animal ones tend to be cute and often humorous, the nature ones lovely, and I enjoy some of the political ones. When she found one that said, “I’m not against Capitalism, I’m against Corporate Greed. There’s a difference,” I had to agree with that.

I am an unabashed capitalist while fully promoting the sharing aspects that conscientious corporations engage in. What that has to do with supporting small businesses is this, using any of the large chain stores as an example. If you live in a town that has only small businesses, and a large store is prepared to move in, it is true that a, “Mom and Pop” place can’t compete price-wise. They may very well be “squeezed out”, although at times, that is the right thing to happen because maybe they were looking to move on and/or retire. If not, and the hope is to hold on, then a degree of re-invention and new marketing will be in order. A small operation cannot usually compete with price or inventory with a major store and in defense of large stores, there are families who truly need to save every penny they can and it is nice to have a greater range of choices.

The success of small businesses lies with those of us who don’t have to shop for the absolute lowest price and in offering goods and/or support and personal service that the large stores don’t. Networking is of utmost importance to these businesses and if they have a FB page you can “like” or a web site where you can provide testimonials, that can help. Small businesses don’t have a lot of money for marketing and spreading the word about a small business that you patronize is more important than you may realize. Or maybe there is a small business that you haven’t tried yet that you can. I don’t mind going out of my way a bit and paying that slightly higher price if I am also getting the service and product that I want. And in some cases, the price isn’t greater, depending on the situation. So, next time you need something, check around and see if there is a small business you can support.

Sunrise Service in a Danger Pay Area…..

If you look at the post title and ask, “Huh?”, let me take a moment to explain. The term may actually be different now since I have been retired from the Army for a number of years. Military members deploy all the time as a normal part of service – there are assignments to foriegn countries and major war games that are played, many humanitarian type projects that a lot of people are unaware of, etc., The continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have altered that balance somewhat, but the point is that when you deploy to an area where there is an environment in which someone may be actively trying to kill you, it is designated as a Danger Pay area for administrative purposes.

When my husband and I deployed to Desert Shield, which preceded Desert Storm, as logisticians we were not in the forward combat units. We did have a few SCUD missiles launched in our direction although never close enough to cause damage in our particular locations. And although the actual combat part was over fairly quickly, redeploying hundreds of thousands of troops and equipment is not a rapid matter, plus it was only right that the units that had arrived in-country were scheduled to depart first. All of this is to say that we were in the desert of Saudi Arabia for Easter that year. I do not regularly attend church services, but I do often go to an Easter Sunrise service.

That Easter morning, I joined my brothers and sisters in arms as we gathered in the sands of a desert that had been there thousands of years. We were in a part of the world where three major religions began and in that quiet dawning, if you looked out on the expanse of sand and sky, it looked much the same as it would have in the time of Christ. We removed our helmets, standing with them tucked under an arm or dangling from curled fingertips and said a prayer for those who had been lost, and a prayer hoping that no more would be. It was a short service as the sun rose in the sky, the soft morning colors transforming into the bright blue of the day.

Tomorrow, those soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen who are deployed in harm’s way will gather for a similar service and I will send a prayer for their sakes. It is not only them though, but also their friends and families who wait for their safe return. And I will include in the prayer the people everywhere who are tired of war and conflict, who genuinely want to live their lives in peace. May we chose to take that path someday.

Considering a Community Support Agriculture Arrangement…..

Sample of produce from Teena's Pride CSA

I’ve posted before about the richness of agriculture in this area and a couple of weeks ago I attended a luncheon to honor a woman who is one of the local pioneers in community support agriculture (CSA). She did not come from a farming family, but married into one. Tragically, her husband died young and she was left with two toddler sons and 500 acres that she had not remotely considered running. She was determined, however, to try her best and what she accomplished was pretty incredible. One of the things she did was develop a line of miniature vegetables and later expanded into Community Support Agriculture, an effort that her youngest son now operates as she has moved more into an advocacy role. Her passion is genuine and she provided the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for the luncheon. We have a few Farmers’ Markets around and fruit and vegetable stands dot the roadsides, but I really wasn’t knowledgable about CSA.

I confess that my vegetable likes are significantly more limited than my husband’s and I am not certain that we would be able to consume the quantity of vegetables that come with the weekly box. If, like me, you are not familiar with a CSA, you buy a certain size “share” from the CSA, then receive an assortment of what they grow each week for the duration of the growing season. In some cases they deliver to individual homes, although in this case, you can either pick up from them or from a designated grocer. The farm is not too far from where we live, so that is what we will do if we decide to give it a try. The other thing is that if we don’t need a pick-up for a particular week, they will contribute our portion to Farm Share, and we appreciate the work that they do.

I’m leaning in this direction, so if any of you have tried this, please do let me know about your experience.