Friday, July 31, 2015

What is Fiction Friday?

So, you may have noticed that Fiction Friday posts are initial chapters or prologue chapters for various stories. None of these are completed manuscripts (although some do have more chapters or writing available). Over the next two weeks, I will be taking votes, and the manuscript with the most votes will be the one I focus on over the next few months. I will try to post a new chapter or part of a chapter every week until it is finished!

When I actually finish, I will then go back and clean up any major editing errors and I may even decide to self-publish the completed manuscript. Wouldn't that be exciting? So, if you want to participate in this "fan fiction" adventure, vote now!

Take the Poll!

View the Results!

If you need to go back to see what you've missed on previous Fiction Fridays, you can either click the "writing" link at the top of the page and scroll down, or click the links below to go directly to the chapters.

Contemporaries

Breaking Dawn

Flashes

A Midnight Engagement

Fiction Friday - A Midnight Engagement - Chapter One

April 7th, 1878
Bedfordshire, England

            Angie rested in the drawing room, her lessons over for the day, bored beyond imagination. At nearly 14 years old, she was too old for the playroom, and her over-protective father thought to protect her from the brisk wind and light rain outside. Her half-brothers were grown and long gone. She had already read all of the books in her father’s extensive library. She was too young to be part of “society” and too rambunctious to sit quietly and sew like most girls.
            Her foot tapped anxiously as she waited for something exciting to happen. She heard a quick rap on their front door. A caller had arrived! Her personal maid, Lottie, ran in to the room, her hair escaping wildly from under her small white cap.
            “He’s a fine one miss; I declare this is your lucky day.” Lottie was only a year and a half older than Angie, and the two had been close friends for years. Lottie was the cook’s daughter and they had grown up as playmates. “Tall, handsome, blond wavy hair…”
            They both silenced quickly and rushed towards the large opening to the foyer as they heard the massive door squeak open. The pressed themselves on either side of the open doorway to stay out of sight, winking at each other.
            “Welcome, Marc Andrew von Sheinburg, youngest son of the Count of Limburg.” The butler said, reading the proffered calling card. “Do you have business with the Duke today?”
            “Yes,” Marc replied, with a nod and a brief smile. “He asked me to stop by at about half past three o-clock, but I confess I may be a bit early. I’m not sure of the custom in your society.”
            Angie glanced at the mantle clock above the fireplace, it was hardly three o-clock. This particular businessman must be a stickler for punctuality.
            The butler nodded his head back in congenial agreement. “His Grace is not yet returned from a prior business engagement, but it should not be a long wait. May I take your coat? If you will, kindly follow me to the library.”
            Angie gave Lottie a strange look as the voices echoed down the hall. “Business,” She whispered disgustedly. Then she brightened, she could hide in the study before her father arrived home: a tiny room next to the library, her father never went into, but only used for storage. “Do you still have the key to the study?”
            Lottie nodded, and pulled a long silver key from her apron. “I had to clean it today, some of the boxes had fallen over, and you know how your father hates to go into that room. What will you do?”
            “I suppose I’ll just listen and see if I can catch a glimpse of him. You said he was handsome, right?”
            “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I thought he might be calling for you, with your birthday coming up soon. But I’m not sure about eavesdropping on your father’s business.” A tiny wrinkle formed between Lottie’s eyebrows.
            “My father never keeps any business ventures from me, so what can it hurt?” Angie knew her father never kept anything from her. He gave in to her smallest amount of pestering. Even though she was a daughter and not a son, she was the daughter of his favored third wife. The marriage he made for love and not land, money, or politics. She had only to flutter the long black eyelashes she inherited from her mother, and anything she wanted, her father gave her.
            “Alright, but make sure they don’t catch you.” Lottie knew she had no control over what the Duke’s daughter did, but she did worry she would be blamed if something went awry.
            “I must hurry, before my father gets home.” Angie gathered her childish gowns, lifting the hem above her knees, and nearly flew up the stairs, almost too quickly, as the butler was still at the end of the long hall, headed towards the servants’ stairs.
            She slipped into the study unnoticed and went towards the private locked entry door leading to the library. She thought of opening the door a crack, but figured her father would notice. Instead, she bent down and peered through the large keyhole. A perfect view, but the gentleman caller had his back turned to her. She could only see the wavy dark blond hair, brushing just past his collar. His shoulders were wide and muscular, and he rested an arm casually along the back of the settee.
            She watched him as he gazed around the room, taking in the vast collection of books, art, sculpture, and nearly a dozen tiny model ships encased in glass. She remembered working with her father on the tiny ships, using tweezers and paste to make fantastic creations in a tiny world. Her father had spent hours teaching her the art form, when she knew how busy he was with his business ventures. After she had seen one in London, she didn’t let him rest until he learned the practice and taught it to her.
            Marc picked up the model from the table next to him, and turned the wick higher on the gas lamp to view the ship more clearly. It was such a dreary day outside, even with the curtains open and the lamps turned on, the library was dreadfully dark. With the odd lighting, she could only make out his shadowed profile but saw him smile as he looked at the ship. This was one of her own creations, with a tiny person clinging to the rigging, and a tiny woman passenger standing at the bow of the ship. She felt oddly proud and excited as he admired her work, and she settled down on an overturned trunk to watch her first crush.
            As her father conducted his business over the few hours, she learned more about the mysterious caller. Reviewing his interactions with Lottie later, she sighed at every new fact.
            “Lottie, you would not believe how sweet he was. He was so pleasant and polite even though his background is so different. His German accent is so mysterious. His name even sounds different when he says it. He had to spell it for Daddy on their business agreement. Can you believe that?”
            Lottie sighed in a different way, “I’m not sure I should encourage this crush of yours. He’s so much older than you. I thought he was younger with his blond hair and thin build, but you said he was 21 years old already, he’s not liable to wait for you to get old enough.”
            Angie suddenly had a terribly wonderful idea, “Didn’t you tell me a story the other day about how Betsy Sadler finally caught a man? What exactly did she do? Do you think it would work?”
            “No, no, Angie, you can’t do that! Your father would kill me, and likely you too! And he would definitely kill Marc.”
            “I did hear Daddy offer that he could stay in the cottage house just over the manor wall, so he wouldn’t have to go all the way back to town. I think this could work.”
            Lottie buried her head in her hands as Angie ran about the room, preparing for a midnight rendezvous, which in her childish daydreams she didn’t entirely think through. Lottie was sure she made a good argument against Angie’s plan, and went about the rest of her daily duties with only a few moments of fear and worry over what might happen that night.
            An hour past her bedtime, Angie crept out through her window onto the small balcony. She climbed down a rope she had borrowed from her father’s study. She crept through the wet grass and climbed a tree near the manor wall to help her scale the nearly 8-foot height. She dropped carefully into the mud on the other side, and spied an open window near the cottage guest room. Lifting it as carefully and silently as possible, she entered the guest room. Not certain where to “lie in wait” since the room was empty, she innocently snuggled under the covers and fell asleep.
            The Duke checked on his daughter shortly before midnight. He often retired late due to the busy social schedule he kept most of the year. He peeked in on his sleeping daughter before bed, just to see the angelic beauty in her sleeping form. Only that night, his daughter was not in her bed. Within a half hour, the whole house was in uproar. Every servant was awakened and scouring the house and grounds.
            When Lottie finally convinced her mother to “mention” something about the cottage house, the Duke and nearly a dozen servants crowded through the muddy lanes and banged on the door at an inappropriate hour.
            Meanwhile, Marc had completed his business correspondence and finally decided to retire to bed. Wearing only his nightshirt, he was startled to realize that someone else occupied the bedchamber. When he heard the banging on the front door, he immediately pulled on a dressing gown and went to see what was happening. As he answered the door, the entire party was shocked to see Angie in her white nightgown, staring at everyone from inside the bedroom door.
            The Duke quickly dismissed the servants and pulled Marc into a nearby room, shutting the door. Lottie and the cook huddled Angie close, whispering about what she was thinking and what happened, but she asked them to be quiet as she tried to determine what her fate might be. In the end, it was not what she had hoped.

~~~

            “I swear that nothing happened, I had no idea she was in the house, much less my room. I didn’t even know who she was!” Marc insisted.
            “Nevertheless, she is my daughter. Her muddy footprints on the sheets are evidence she was in your bed, and my servants are not likely to ignore the facts, despite their loyalty to me. She needs some protection from this for her future.” The Duke sighed, resignedly. “She’s my daughter. I can tell that she’s unharmed physically or you would be facing a more serious consequence right now. But I can’t ignore what her irresponsibility has done. You must marry her.”
            “I can’t marry a child, this is preposterous, she’s not even out of the schoolroom yet!”
            “Can we find a compromise, to protect my daughter’s future and everyone’s reputation? I know you are a man of your word from our business dealings. My daughter is headstrong, spoiled, and impulsive. I can see now that something must be done, for her future, if nothing else. What if I send her to a finishing school? We will formalize betrothal paperwork before sending her off to school. In four or five years, when she is fully of age, she can decide whether she wants to marry you, or she can break the engagement.”
            Marc knew that he was on his own in a foreign country. He was facing a powerful, if slightly insane father and a terrifyingly forthright young child. Faced with no other choice, he admitted defeat. “It’s true that I don’t currently have any marriage prospects. I agree to your terms, with one caveat, she must attend a religious school. I can’t imagine what her education has been up until now.”
            “If you weren’t going to India on our mutual business venture, I would wonder at your own education.”

An awkward laugh and handshake later sealed the gentlemen’s agreement for the night. By noon the next day, the paperwork was complete and Marc was on his way to India.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

First Week of Homeschool - Schedule

Next week, I'm looking at "officially" starting our first week of homeschool (although my oldest is telling me that I have to wait until after his birthday, because he can't go to school when he's still only 4). I thought I would post our "light" schedule for August and then what our estimated schedule will be for September. I plan on keeping August as a gentle introduction to "school". The first week, I will only do the 2-year old Hubbard's Cupboard curriculum with James (two days a week) and continue with storytime, gardening, and reading lots of great books. I'm sure Daniel will want to join in this as well. Then, I will add in some fun "school" activities that I know they both like (playing with Cuisenaire rods and Clifford Science Kits).

The second week, we will start adding in a few things at a time. I will try to do 2 days of our Kindergarten curriculum as shown in the schedule.

I'm planning on waiting until September to start the most difficult part of our homeschool routine, no screen time before the work is done!

My current plans for the 2-year old are to let him participate as much or as little as he wishes, and have "alternate" activities available for him to work on in the same room, such as beading, coloring, stickers, puzzles, and other fun toys.

Here are pictures of our schedule and some of our curriculum!




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Investing Personalities

Because I have some financial background in investments and financial planning, people will occasionally come up to me with investment or budgeting related questions. The biggest problem is getting people to follow through on my advice. Every individual person has their own investing or budgeting personality. Finding out your own personality and investing to supplement it, will help your retirement accounts in the long run. Here, I will list a few of the "investing personalities" (without the ubiquitous questionnaire) and how to supplement rather than support them. Next week, I will post a few "budgeting personalities".

  1. Day trader. You may not call yourself a day trader, but you at least check your stocks everyday. You want to know whether your balance is going up or down and what the stock market in Japan is doing on a particular day. The problem is, if you are checking all of your retirement accounts and all of your stock portfolio (which if you want it to be diversified you need 100-200 individual stocks or 5-6 index funds) this will end up being a full-time job. The solution? Put 80% of your retirement accounts in low cost funds of your research and choosing that you would be comfortable holding for 5+ years or until retirement. Set a reminder to look at those accounts every 6 months to rebalance, and IGNORE them until then. Keep around 10% in cash for when you find that "awesome deal" and invest the other 10% in today's "awesome deal". That 20% is not going to make or break your diversification and you won't feel as compelled to sell or buy all of your retirement fund on a hunch. You will also only have to keep up with 2-5 individual stocks or funds and still maintain a diversified portfolio as well as the "fun" of timing the stock market.
  2. Set it and forget it, for years. There are some people who really don't want to look at their retirement accounts at all. They don't want to know how much they have in their account, they don't want to invest it actively. Maybe they are even getting to the point of no longer being sure of their ability to invest.  The problem is, even if you set up the perfect portfolio initially, every portfolio does need to be rebalanced, and if you are still contributing, you may have a lot of cash in the account without auto-investment. For this investor, you should look into the "automatic" options your brokerage may offer. Most employer sponsored plans offer some type of auto-investing, auto-rebalancing, or even paid investment management. Consider all options and expenses carefully. If you have a non-employer sponsored account such as an IRA or Roth IRA, you could also consider an online brokerage with similar investing options, such as Betterment. They will help you set goals, rebalance, or even auto-invest for you. Depending on your total account balance, Betterment can provide goal setting, automatic portfolio rebalancing, automated deposits, a customized portfolio, and more for between 0.15 and 0.35% in annual fees. Sign up here for Betterment!
  3. Perfectionist. You spend hours setting up the perfect retirement portfolio, only to never actually invest in it. Or, you spend hours rebalancing every week, but you never complete the trade. The problem here is that you miss out on possible returns by never actually making those changes or investments. This one doesn't have an easy fix. You can try an automatic or active management firm, so you don't have to do it yourself. However, if you're a perfectionist, you probably won't trust them. Another option is to set yourself a time limit to work on your investments. Set your clock for one hour every six months to rebalance, or two hours to make your initial brokerage and trade decisions, and then ensure that you complete all your investments by the end of that time period.
  4. You don't want to spend hours of your time, because you don't have a lot to invest. If you're just starting out, the best option for you may be a target date account. These accounts do have slightly higher fees (in general) than doing it yourself, and you can't control the investments, but if you don't want to rebalance or set up your own portfolio of index funds, this could be an easy and affordable way to do it. Your target date fund choices are probably limited on what is offered by your specific brokerage or retirement plan. I suggest considering your own risk tolerance before investing and making an investment choice based on that rather than the "retirement date". Also, keep in mind that these funds do change over time, so if you are very close to retirement, but won't be taking any distributions, consider a retirement date 5-15 years further out in the future.
This obviously doesn't cover all of the possible investment strategies, but the biggest problem is coming up with the money to invest. My generation is the first one that has never expected pensions to pay for our retirement, and yet we aren't doing much saving right now either. Here's hoping this post will help with that!

Save big, so you can retire as well as you live now.



Links in this post are my referral links. I may receive benefits if you sign up under this link!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Healthcare Reform or Tax Reform

One of the greatest examples of political failing is, I believe, the Healthcare Reform Act. First, it's hard to imagine that a document so incredibly large actually did so very little. Second, it's hard to believe that no one has tackled the issue of tax reform yet. Third, everyone is now frustrated that their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket cost are going up so quickly.

Rather than beat a dead horse, however. I have a solution to both. Reform the outdated and over-complicated income tax system. Reduce the loopholes and smooth the graduated tax system. If we got rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit, then the "Penalty to work" would be greatly reduced. Here's my quick solution (obviously some actuaries somewhere would need to do some calculations to see how much money would be "saved", but I think it's a pretty good solution without going to a flat tax system).

First, get rid of all the "married" "head of household" and "individual" statuses for a tax return. That will solve the joint problem of people getting married or not getting married due to marriage benefits (or marriage penalty) for middle class 2 income families. Each adult person (21 and older) in the United States, regardless of income, will be required to file a tax return (but it will be so easy, they won't mind). There are no standard deductions or personal exemptions. There are very few loopholes, and almost everyone will pay something. There are very few questions - What is your total earned income from all sources? How many children (under age 22) live with you full-time ($5,000 deduction)? How much do you donate to tax deductible charities (deduction of up to 20% of initial income, limited to $100,000 annual deduction for high income earners)? Health insurance, retirement, home expenses, and education expenses will no longer be tax deductible.

If you are an adult, you must show at least 40 hours per year of community service or pay a minimum of $100 in Federal taxes, regardless of deductions (there will be an exemption for people who are totally disabled, but the definition of totally disabled will be difficult to meet).

The tax brackets would need a bit of adjusting, and I would add a 5% tax bracket and take the top two brackets.

I'm thinking something like this:

After deduction income of
$0-$10,000 = 5% tax bracket. $100 minimum applies, which will be waived with 40 hours per year of community service.
$10,000-$60,000 = $500 + 10% of amount over $10,000.
$60,000 - $100,000 = $5,500 + 20% of amount over $60,000
$100,000 and up = $8,000 + 30% of amount over $100,000

Here's the thing, since healthcare expenses, retirement, and home expenses are no longer deductible, there will be a few other changes and adjustments with this new system. First, I would expect that along with this bill, an actual healthcare reform system is put in place to provide free healthcare for all Americans (there should be significantly more tax revenue with this system). Second, I would propose increasing the minimum wage for everyone 21 and older to $10 an hour (teens and college kids can still keep the minimum wage at $7.50). Second, I would ensure that a national maternity insurance program be put in place and charged directly to all employers regardless of how many women they employ. This insurance would cover all women who have been working at any job during 10 our of the 12 months prior to giving birth. They would receive 50% of their income for 12 months or 75% of their income for 9 months. Third, I would reform the Social Security system, there would be a gradual transition to a combination self-directed (if desired) system and an increased pension based system. Fourth, the public education system would provide optional child care between 8am and 6 pm for all children 2 years and older. This program would be free for any parent with kids living with them full-time with income between $20,000-$40,000 per year before deductions.

So here are a couple of examples so you can see how it would work out for an "average" family.

Single person, no kids, $40,000 per year. Taxes paid, $3,500 unless they choose to donate to charity.

Single parent, low income family with 3 kids. $20,000 per year income ($10 per hour). After deductions for their children, they only have $5,000 of "taxable income". At 5% they would pay $250 in Federal taxes.

Two-income earner family with 2 kids. There are a few "choices" here to make (who to say the kids "live with" since each adult has to fill out their own tax form). Generally, the highest income earner will want to include both kids. So let's say Parent A makes $50,000 and claims both kids, Parent B makes $35,000. Parent A would pay $3,500 in Federal taxes, Parent B would pay $3,000 in Federal taxes. Total of $6,500 per year in Federal taxes.

High-income earner. $200,000 one-income (two parent) family with 2 kids. Parent A makes all the income and would pay $38,000 in Federal income tax. Parent B would also have to pay $100 despite not having any income, unless they choose to volunteer at least 40 hours per year.

Here's the thing, most people will probably pay more under this tax system because of the reduced deductions and loopholes. The extra money would go towards the reforms that are actually needed, paying for health care, supporting childcare, and providing national jobs for people who can't find private sector jobs (there should be plenty of child-care jobs, construction jobs, healthcare jobs, etc.).

Because employers are no longer paying so much for health insurance, retirement accounts, etcetera, they are likely to pay their employees significantly more, thereby lessening the tax burden, AND increasing the tax base without raising prices.

Also, because families are not paying so much for healthcare and childcare, even low income families would be better taken care of than when the government has been paying them.

I think it's a win, win, win situation. The real problem is that the only thing politicans hear is the speeches from the many lobbyists who want to add more loopholes or more spending to the Federal budget to meet their own needs. That makes it hard for them to think about the plight of the average American, the massive National Debt, or even how to fix the many broken systems currently in place (welfare, Social Security, employment, schools).

Again, I'm no actuary, but wouldn't it be great if someone in the government ran the numbers to see if something like this could actually work, instead of complaining about what they "can't" do because of partisan politics?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Facebook

I've been thinking about it, and I've made the decision that when "school" starts, I'm probably going to try to take a break from Facebook. I don't think it's really good for me personally, and it's definitely not good for our society.

Just as a couple of recent examples from both sides of the political spectrum. First, I saw a picture that has been shared around on Facebook since January 2014. It stated that the county with the highest percentage use of a food stamps was a rural area in Kentucky that was approximately 98% white and 94% republican. They seemed to think it was ironic.

Here's the thing, that's not irony. That simply goes to show that even the people that are receiving food stamps don't think it's a long-term solution. If you visited their houses, I'm sure they would tell you that what they really need are jobs, and that's what the republicans have been promising them (plus in that region of Kentucky most jobs are coal related, so they sure as shootin' wouldn't vote democrat because then they would lose what little employment is available).

From the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the Planned Parenthood bashers in every way shape or form. Here's the thing about that video, it's one individual person. I think if we all asked ourselves what we wanted to be when we grow up, abortion specialist is not on that list. So, generally, the people involved in those careers are probably not the most moral, upstanding, happy people. I'm not saying that Planned Parenthood is good and I am strongly anti-abortion, but the way to get people to stop sinning is not to shut down the place they are sinning, but rather to show them a Savior. We can't change people's behavior and only God can change their hearts.

With that being said, our government should not still be supporting Planned Parenthood. With everything else that is covered in Obamacare, Planned Parenthood shouldn't be a necessity anymore (since the main reason it was supposed to be around was to cover birth control). If the government is truly not "helping pay for abortions" and birth control is covered under every health insurance plan, then we should no longer need to support Planned Parenthood with any federal funding.

So, here's the point of my political rant. Facebook is not the place to discuss your politics. It's not the place to discuss your religion or share a million videos that may or may not be edited. It's not the place to post pictures of rainbows or breastfeeding or racial hatred. If it were just a way to catch up with friends of all types across the country, or join groups with similar interests to discuss topics in a private group setting, then I would still be a part of it. But I get distracted with all the craziness in the comments and sharing videos that are over a year old just because someone else is still sharing them. I get distracted with wondering why people are trying to convince their friends to change perspective when their own perspective is skewed. I get distracted with what someone else's child just started doing and I'm not spending that necessary time with my own child.

I don't want to be addicted to something that is so unhealthy for me (and I will admit that I have an easily addictive personality when it comes to technology). So, once we start officially "homeschooling" (August 3rd is my current date to start), I plan to quit Facebook. You can find me on my blog, where my rants are much longer, and the quotes are much fewer. Enjoy!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter One

            On a rainy Tuesday morning, Karen’s attitude took a turn for the worse. Normally an easy-going and relaxed person, she felt irritated at the unexpectedly heavy rainstorm and her lack of any rain gear. I should have gone back inside for my umbrella, but I could have sworn I had one in the car. Maybe I should have stopped at a drug store. She sat, listening to the rain beat steadily and heavily against her car’s windshield as she waited in the parking lot.
            Any of her friends would call her “thrifty” in a heartbeat. They loved her, but she hated to spend money on herself. Of course, her choice of parking lots matched this particular personality trait. Working as an administrative assistant, she didn’t feel like she could splurge on a closer parking spot or even a high-quality umbrella. Living with a roommate helped defray some of her normal living expenses, but she still scrimped and saved, with a vague hope of finding something better to do and spend her money on.
Because of this quirky personality trait, she parked a good seven blocks from her office building downtown. The long, wet walk was not something to look forward to. After debating spending the extra money just this once to park in a closer lot or parking garage, she took a deep breath and pushed open the door into the wet world outside.
            Spotting a fellow office worker who seemed slightly more prepared, Karen begged for some Southern hospitality. The kind stranger shared her oversize umbrella as they trudged through the slippery downtown streets. Halfway there, they parted ways, and Karen looked around, desperate for some shelter from the rain. Spotting a dark blue umbrella a few dozen yards ahead, she quickened her pace to catch up.
            “Hi, do you mind sharing your umbrella?” She noticed, as she spoke, that he seemed familiar. She thought he was a co-worker from a different department. She struggled through office party memories, trying to remember his name.
            The tall, somber-faced man smiled graciously, and shifted his briefcase and umbrella to accommodate her. His black hair, slightly damp from a brief encounter of his own with the rain, clung persistently to his forehead above thick, straight eyebrows. His dark brown eyes seemed to sparkle, despite the lack of sunshine.
            If she knew how she looked at the time, she would have expected him to laugh out loud. Her eyes were large and open, drawing attention to the smudged eye makeup she would repair in the restroom when she finally made it to her office. Her hair, usually full and stylish, hung in limp, stringy tendrils, highlighting high cheekbones, making her face seem almost too thin. Her cheeks were flushed from the exertion of walking so quickly and the cool raindrops.  
            After walking about a block together, Karen suddenly remembered his name. “Your name is Miles isn’t it? I think we’ve met before. You work in my office building, don’t you?”
            She didn’t need to make excuses for not knowing his full name. She had only begun to work in the office a few short months ago, and more than 45 people shared the two floors of the office building that her company rented. “Yes, I’m Miles Tanner. I would re-introduce myself properly, but I don’t think I can right now.” He shrugged his shoulders to show his hands were both fully occupied.
            “That’s perfectly alright.” Karen fiddled with her wristwatch and adjusted her purse on her shoulder. “I’m Karen Audersfelt; I’m an assistant in the tax department.”
            “I seem to remember seeing you upstairs. I’m good friends with Jason Threat. He works on the same floor as you, but a different department.”
            “Yes, that’s right.” Karen said. Only minimal conversation took place during the remainder of the short walk to their office building. In the elevator, at Miles’s floor, they did shake hands and Karen walked into work with wet hair and clothing to worry about in preparation for the day ahead.
            She gave little thought to that moment at the time, but would come to give it greater meaning and attention in the near future. The rest of that day passed like most other days. The clock dragged miserably for the few moments when there was little work to be done, but when the tasks and meetings became a rushed, hurried affair, it was all too quickly time to leave for the night and the piles on her desk were not any smaller, despite the late hour.
            Karen breathed in the clean air and smiled into the setting sun as she walked back to her car that night. Her hair had dried into smooth chestnut waves. Her eyes sparkled with the change in the weather after the storms had passed. She closed her eyes briefly in the magic of the twilight air.
            The rain had left behind a brilliantly clean sky as a backdrop for the tall buildings. Some of the buildings reflected the red-orange sunset with an almost blinding glow. She stood for a moment on the sidewalk near her parking lot, oblivious to the people and cars rushing to get places. She shrugged her shoulders as if brushing off the beige walls and gray cubicles of her office building. Then, carefully crossing the last busy intersection, she confidently opened her car door, started her engine and drove off. She never noticed Miles, standing on the sidewalk several hundred yards behind her, watching her.
            A few years passed in seemingly ordinary ways. Karen would often fall half-asleep watching television in the evening. She usually ate junk food and TV dinners, or sometimes cooked with her roommate. She played softball some evenings in the summer. She took a few guitar lessons and attended a knitting group at a local coffee house.
            She never stuck with one activity for long, and she began to dread the long, monotonous days at work. In college, business administration had seemed like the only logical field for her to major in, and the job had come swiftly after. Her high GPA had certainly helped, as well as better than average looks, and stellar recommendations.
She just wasn’t sure she was actually the right person for this type of job. Every time she walked into her boss’s window-filled office she was distracted by the vibrancy of the world outside. Every time she saw children playing outside she thought back to her own childhood, and wished for the freedom to feel the wind in her face. For every evening that she finished work without being able to remember accomplishing something interesting, unique, or significant, she wanted a job where she could see the results and actually create something.
            Of course, she was terrible when it came to mechanical work, painting, and even gardening, but she wished there was something she could do that would make her feel more complete. She continued on her chosen path, however, and time slipped past almost unnoticed. Her thoughts and actions matured. She made and lost casual friends, her tiny retirement account grew little by little, and she began to think seriously about making a big change. Unfortunately, Karen never seemed to find exactly what she was looking for to make her existence a little brighter. She went on dates, but talked herself out of pursuing anyone serious until she was happy being on her own.
            Though she often dreamed about real and imagined men that she might spend the rest of her life with, Karen had almost given up on her dreams after only six short years in the business world. She was vested in her retirement plan, she had decent insurance, and she worked short hours compared to some of her friends. Yet, something was missing, and she longed daily for some change.
            Change was about to find her.

Karen was watching the morning news on Tuesday to check the weather and traffic. Normally the morning news was much more upbeat than the nightly sensationalist news, so she actually had the sound turned on. The evening news was so depressing at times that she typically muted the television, if she bothered to watch at all. When the perky blond anchor’s voice turned sad, Karen’s eyes inadvertently swung from her coffee cup to the television screen for a brief glance to see what had happened.
            The face she saw on the screen looked familiar: the eyes a little sadder, a few more worry wrinkles, but the same straight eyebrows and stubborn lock of black hair. Miles, she thought to herself, I wonder what he did to get on the morning news.
            She let her thoughts be distracted for a moment, as she recalled the past 6 years. Although many faces came and went in the office building over the years, she still recognized his face. She recalled hearing snippets of conversation regarding promotions, vacations, and office romances concerning Miles. Yet, she couldn’t think of anything significant enough to put his face on the morning news.
            He seemed quiet whenever they happened across either other during the workweek. Their schedules had seemed to coincide at least once or twice a week. She would catch a glimpse of him in a hallway, elevator, or just outside the building. She rarely saw him where she parked anymore: his promotions had led him to the on-site parking garage, while she maintained her lonely lot on the outskirts of downtown. She recognized him now as a casual acquaintance, and often would smile at him when passing, or murmur a brief hello.
            All of these thoughts occurred nearly simultaneously to her recognition of the words rolling across the bottom of the screen and the reporter’s comments. “Prominent businessman found dead in south Charlotte home.” The news footage of yellow crime scene tape and a thin trail of blood across the welcome mat barely registered in Karen’s thoughts. She sat in stunned silence as the newscast abruptly switched over to the weather forecast.
            After a few more contemplative moments, she attempted to talk herself out of her concern for the man. He was just one more acquaintance gone from her life. No more or less significant to her daily routine than the mail carrier or taxi driver she happened to recognize from time to time. It would certainly be irrational to call in sick to work to mourn a person she never really knew. He was only slightly more personal in her life than a stranger would be.
She barely recognized the tears that were suddenly streaming down her cheeks. She mourned as if she had lost a parent or a loved one. The tears poured out and soaked several tissues before she managed to pull herself together. She tugged off her pink slippers, stepped into the professional black heels she hated to wear, and grabbed her bag for work.
            That particular day at work was uneventful. At times Karen slipped into a sort of haze and pictured Mile’s now tragically sad eyes. She thought over his life, and how vastly different it was from her own. From the news footage, Miles must have amassed a small fortune. His house was substantial, and in one of the better parts of town. The Lexus photographed in his driveway probably had higher monthly payments than her half of the rent.
            From what she knew, the company had promoted Miles to a sales role in the brokerage arm of the company about eighteen months ago. Previously, he had been a portfolio manager with an excellent track record. Apparently, his track record and people skills were more valuable in a client-facing role, and the company certainly seemed to be paying him well for the risk he had taken in changing roles.
            Karen had managed to do enough work by that afternoon that she did not think it was a performance issue when her manager called her into his office. Although her boss wasn’t the most pleasant person to deal with everyday, he was generally fair and much less emotional than the woman she had worked for previously. His job required a certain amount of stress, as he juggled his law degree and CPA certification and the variety of skills required by each throughout the day.
            Karen’s manager was only one of several lawyers and CPA’s in their particular branch of the company. The major tasks of the day generally included answering a barrage of questions from across the country regarding various tax or legal concerns. Karen really had no hope of promotion within this arm of the company, as she had no letters behind her name or widely recognized experience. Yet, she couldn’t think of any area of the company where she might fit in better or enjoy her daily tasks more.
            She slipped past the file room and a few potted plants and knocked gently on her boss’s half-open door before stepping in. “Scott, you wanted to see me?”
            “Yes, Karen. Please come in and close the door. Let me just finish up this e-mail quickly and then I need to speak with you for a few moments.” As he hit the send button, he turned to her with a look that truly concerned her. His face was often expressionless and even stern, but today he shot her a look of surprise and almost happiness, which quickly collapsed into his typical stern look. Unfortunately, the contrast caused more of a shock than a pleasure.
            “What’s wrong, Scott?” Karen asked in her most polite voice.
            He paused, choosing his words carefully. “Have you seen the news lately?”
            “I watched a few minutes of the news this morning. Why do you ask?”
            “This is difficult for me to tell you.” Scott paused again. “I’m not entirely sure if it’s good news or bad news for you.” He leaned back slightly in his chair. “Miles Tanner was an acquaintance of mine. I assume, from the appearance of the situation, that you were at least an acquaintance of his as well, if not something more?”
            “I suppose you could say that we were acquaintances. We spoke briefly in passing once or twice. I would probably say that we were contemporaries.”
            “I’d say that would be at least a minimum requirement.” A noise that could almost be considered a snort followed the unusual comment.
Karen was now thoroughly confused and concerned at her boss’s behavior. “A minimum requirement for what? Scott, am I in trouble for something? I saw that Miles had passed away on the news, but I really don’t know anything more about the situation than that.”
            “Well, you’re about to. Miles’ estate planning lawyer was one of my closest companions in law school. We remained good friends for many years, but he unfortunately passed away a few months ago from a sudden, massive stroke. Since he was operating a very small law firm, I have helped from time to time with some of the smaller cases. His partner is extremely ill equipped to deal with the amount of work left behind. When Miles’ name came up this morning, in connection with yours, I knew I had to take that case.”
            “My name came up?” Karen was incredulous now. “How in heaven’s name could I be involved in anything to do with Miles? As I said before, we were only…”
            “I know, I know.” Scott interrupted her. “I believe you. Let’s just say that Miles was a man with unusual interests and leave it at that.” He took a deep breath. “Miles named you personal representative of his estate. From what I have seen of the will so far, I believe he also left the majority of his estate to you.”
            “That’s not at all possible, Scott. I swear to you that we didn’t know each other. Wouldn’t he have informed me?”
            “Well,” Scott paused, letting his thoughts catch up with his words. “As I’m sure you’re aware, you can decline to serve as personal representative and the court can appoint a successor. Also, if you’re uncomfortable receiving a bequest, you could disclaim your interest in his estate. That would cause the mess of figuring out what would actually happen to the amount you disclaim, but at least his family wouldn’t come after you.”
            “He had family?” Karen’s innocent curiosity only highlighted her ignorance of the situation.
            “No wife or children, if that’s what you’re concerned about. Actually, I believe his parents are deceased as well, and he was an only child. However, I have often seen cousins, aunts and uncles, and relatives that are even more distant come out of the woodwork in cases like this. If you do accept the appointment, be prepared for anything.”
            “Would you accept the appointment?” Karen knew he wasn’t the right person to ask, but she had to get someone’s advice. “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
            Scott paused and then leaned forward in his chair. “I can’t tell you what to do in this situation. You’re young and inexperienced and it’s a big thing to do for someone you barely know.” He let out a small, impatient sigh. “However, I can tell you that if you become Miles’ executor, I’ll work by your side to get everything accomplished and help you through the rough spots of settling his estate.”
            “OK,” Karen said. All of her friends knew that she typically made speedy, but well thought out decisions and then followed them through to completion. “I think I will accept. How does that work?”
            Scott looked sternly at her, but then smiled again. “We’ll need to go to court briefly to sign some papers, but it won’t take too long. Does Friday work for you?”

            “Friday’s fine, what time?” Karen made a few notes on the pad of paper she had brought in with her. This meeting had not been what she thought. As Scott went over a few more details and things to keep in mind for Friday, Karen thought of Miles again. She didn’t know why he had entrusted her with his estate, but she had a strange feeling that her life might never be the same again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Billionaires, Trump, Marriage, and Politics

First, I feel the need to address America's obsession with billionaires. I browse the free e-book lists at Amazon fairly recently, because I love reading my Kindle. I do have to laugh at the number of books with Billionaire in the title recently. Billionaire's weddings, billionaire's kids, billionaire's divorces. Here's the sad truth, there are only about 2,325 billionaires in the world (as of 2014). Their average age is 63. Of the male billionaires, 89% are married, 6% are divorced, 3% are single, and 2% are widowed. So if you want to marry an already married old man, then you might have a very slim chance of getting a billionaire. A better strategy would be marrying a millionaire and helping them reach billionaire status at the average age of their late forties. Not quite as romantic though.

All the dozens or hundreds of romances you can read with the just turned 30 year old self-made billionaire who has been single his whole life are probably not very realistic. Not to mention the personality conflicts that would be bound to crop up with all these "normal" women who fall into the lives of the "normal" billionaires. Just look at Trump if you want to see what your "normal" billionaire could turn into. Married 3 times, reality TV star, and certifiably insane.

Let's take a brief pause here to cry over the state of American politics (and media coverage of politics). The most talked about "republican" candidate right now is insulting war heroes, giving out personal cell phone numbers, and has been bankrupt 4 times. Yet, he still has "supporters"? What are they supporting? Are they supporting his "image" or the fact that they think he would actually be good for this country.

I suppose with the amount of debt we have, he could see our country through bankruptcy or debt renegotiation's with all his experience, but do we really want our country to have to go through that?

Back to romance novels and marriage now... Here's the deal, most arguments in marriage involve money. We've had a few low dollar money mistakes recently, which when compounded with the roof (which was out of our control) could make things stressful. But, you know what, having millions or billions wouldn't make us immune to those arguments, they would simply make them more stressful. Can you imagine losing $10 million to a Ponzi scheme? Or considering which charity to donate $2 million to this year? Those are huge decisions, even if you are a billionaire, and I imagine the stress would be more than the $350 car payment you are agonizing over at home.

The reality is, romance novels are designed to take us away from the real world. You can't let the image presented in those books change your view of the real world. In the real world, we don't have the money to do everything we want. But, if we live in the United States, we have the most opportunity. We can give generously, eat bountifully, and drive wherever we want. We can buy clothes frequently, eat out occasionally, and enjoy beautiful scenery. We live in one of the best countries int he world, so let's not focus on the image of the political candidates or romance novels, but let's do some work into the real world around us and figure out how to make that world a little better with some hard work and pro-active decisions.

As a newlywed friend told me recently, "this marriage thing kind of rocks." We don't have to have the picture perfect guy beside us, we just have to keep working at "this marriage thing" because if it doesn't rock today, it will tomorrow with a little hard work and tender loving care.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tiny House

The tiny house craze sweeping the nation is interesting for many reasons. For one, you would think that it would be a money saver. For another, most Americans cannot imagine living in 64 square feet of heaven. I had the opportunity to shop at Ikea the other day, and they had a ton of "small living" options. You could purchase furniture for a whole apartment that would fit in 256 square feet (etcetera). Not exactly the smallest "tiny apartment" or "tiny house" but still interesting to walk through.

I read a post on another financial website about saving money by living in the smallest location possible. They were basically talking about a downtown apartment in a big city. Well, here's the only problem with that. It may be cheaper to sleep (unless you're comparing a closet-size Manhattan apartment to a 4-bedroom house in the South) but it won't necessarily be cheaper to live.

His suggestions included the fact that all you would be doing was sleeping and maybe eating in the apartment, and everything else could be done within walking distance. That may be a great idea in theory, but I think that's the big downfall of a lot of tiny houses, it's only a theory. When it rains or you're not at work or you work from home or your dog or kids are driving you insane, you kind of have to throw those theories out the window. Even with my insanely busy social schedule last week, There were still times when the kids needed to be at home for naps, or I needed a place to work from home, or we wanted a big chair that the two kids and I could snuggle in and read, or a place to lay next to my husband and watch TV or an adorable "table" and chair set that I bought for the kids homeschool room.

We could probably lose the formal dining room and not miss any space, and some of the rooms we have are larger than they need to be right now. But, that gives us the option to do other things with the house when the kids are older. If we decide to have more kids, the dining room could be a bedroom for an older child, if they don't do well sharing a room. If we continue homeschooling, the sunroom will make the perfect school-room and doubles as a guest room for my parents when they visit.

I definitely agree that location is highly important when choosing a place to live. But our "things to do" is fulfilled by being in suburban American. Most of our neighbors have kids around my children's age. There is a culdesac and walking trails and a pool in our neighborhood. All of these "free" things are included in our HOA fee, but if you were in a downtown tiny apartment you would have to buy a gym membership, and museum passes, and you would need to eat out at restaurants because you can't fit cooking equipment in your tiny apartment, and dry cleaning, and taxi rides since you have nowhere to park a car. I'm just saying that while the idea is great, you aren't always saving money by living in a tiny house. For people interested in country tiny house living, think about where you will buy your groceries, and what you will do in your tiny house with small children or three big dogs when it rains.

HOAs can definitely have their problems and drawbacks, but suburban living appeals to Americans for many reasons. I use very little gas even though I drive somewhere almost every day, because everything is nearby. I live in a safe neighborhood, I live in a community where people know each other. I live in an affordable house, and can drive 15 minutes to the city (with free museums and special events) or 15 minutes to the country to ride a horse. Sure, my house needs a bit of work, and is probably a bit larger than we need right now. But overall, the reason we purchased was the neighborhood and location, and we were willing to give on a few of our "must have" items for the house that was perfect for us.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fiction Friday - Breaking Dawn

Chapter One

            Dawn sat at her computer, staring blankly at her e-mail program. She scrolled down to the bottom one more time, thinking that maybe she had missed something in the last sentence. Maybe this was supposed to be a joke. Her fiancĂ©, Patrick, was on vacation for a few days. He said that he needed some time to think. This e-mail meant a lot more than a vacation, and he obviously was not thinking at all.

             Hey Dawn!

            Just wanted to let you know I got a great job in Indianapolis. I found a cool roommate, and he has an awesome house really close to downtown. I already passed the credit check, so I won’t be paying my half of the mortgage anymore, and I really don’t care what happens to my credit. You can keep paying it or refinance in just your name. I know my name is on the deed, but I don’t mind changing it if you can refinance. I don’t think you’ll really be able to live out there in the country anyway, but good luck!

~Patrick

P.S. In case you can’t tell, I’m breaking up with you, but you can keep the ring. It wasn’t that expensive anyway.

            What a bastard, she thought. What kind of person breaks up with their fiancĂ© via e-mail? He deserved bad credit, but Dawn really wanted to make this work. She just needed to bring in enough income for the bank to refinance in her name and she would be able to live her dream.
            Ever since middle school, Dawn’s answer to the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” had been farming. She wanted to own a ranch or an orchard or cornfields. She wanted a white farmhouse miles from any major city, and maybe she wanted a few cows or horses or goats. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, and she had always thought the rolling green hills nearby were beautiful. Unfortunately, her budget had led her to some mostly wooded hills in southwestern Indiana, but she was trying to make the most of things.
            Patrick proposed two years ago, just before they bought the property and moved out to the country. The land they bought was over 100 acres. The house sat on the front corner of the lot, and needed a lot of work. About 40 acres were cleared when they bought the property, and they had plans to hire someone to clear more land and build a small barn. Unfortunately, Dawn was struggling just to pay the mortgage. She made a paltry amount each year from selling corn, but after paying to rent equipment and hire labor, she didn’t have anything saved up after two years of hard work.
            After frowning at the computer for a few more minutes, Dawn decided to call in reinforcements. She picked up her cell phone, checking the signal carefully, and then dialed for help.
            “Hi, Dawn. What’s up?” Jessica asked, after seeing the caller ID.
            “My life is over!” Dawn whined into the phone.
            “It can’t be that bad, what happened?”
            “It is that bad. Not only has Patrick moved out, he’s not going to help with the mortgage anymore, and I’ll have to sell the land and move. I put all my savings into the down payment for this place. I know if I sell it now, I’ll end up losing money. What can I do?”
            “Let’s meet up at my place for coffee and talk it through. I know you’re great at coming up with creative solutions, and I want to hang out with you anyway. I can tell you what I’ve been doing as far as working with the bank on loans for my new store.” Jessica smiled, “Plus, I’m trying out some new recipes for cupcake icing. You’ll have to help me pick a few favorites.”
            Dawn’s sweet tooth made her smile back, despite the drying tears on her cheeks. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. I can’t wait to see you.”
            Jessica laughed, not entirely sure if Dawn was talking about her or the cupcakes. “See you soon.”

            Jessica had moved next door about the same time Dawn and Patrick moved in. She was lucky to have found a girlfriend her own age so close by. It seemed like most of her neighbors were retired or middle-aged farmers. There weren’t very many young folks this far out in the country. Next door was still a couple of miles away by the time you travelled a few curvy roads and driveways, so Dawn hurried to get ready. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Socialization

I'm sure many of you wondered where I disappeared to when I missed my regular post yesterday. Well, my kids social calendar was just too busy to spend time online. I apologize for the lack of time to write the post, but my normal "blog writing time" which is usually when I'm working scheduled hours at Tutor.com (summer is usually a slow time so there is a lot of waiting) ended up being actual tutoring time, so I have neglected my blog the last few days. For the first three days of the week, we have had a playdate every morning or afternoon for at least 2 hours (and up to 4 hours).

Many people are concerned about "socialization" when it comes to homeschooled children. I think what they are really worried about is their children ending up like they've ended up as adults. As adults, we become isolated if we don't actively seek out deep and meaningful friendships. As children, my son "misses" his neighborhood friends when they go on vacation for a week, but they still "love" each other when they get back.

Kids are so flexible and easy to love at this age, that it's hard to imagine how they can miss out on socialization by being home for a few hours a day rather than at school for 6-8 hours. Yet, this remains a justifiable fear for many homeschooling families (or their relatives, pediatricians, or friends). I won't go so far as to use the phrase "indoctrination" (although I've heard there is a movie by that name, if you're interested), but what many see as "socialization" I see as ritualization and anti-socialization.

Here are a few of my opinions about public school (or private school) versus homeschool. Again, this is a blog, so this is my experience and opinion, please do your own research to form your own opinions.

  1. Socialization in private or public school is about learning to get along with peers who are exactly the same age as you and generally live in the same area of town or same social status as you. Socialization in homeschool is learning to get along with any person you come across. Old or young, well-educated or mentally handicapped, neighbor or visitor, and every personality under the spectrum.
  2. Socialization in private or public school includes learning to follow rules that you will never use again (walking to the bathroom in a group twice a day, learning to be quiet when you feel strongly compelled to say something, learning to raise your hand, learning how to deal with a bully, learning to eat in 20 minutes, learning to drink less water because you need permission to leave the room, learning to sit for hours a day).
  3. Socialization in homeschool includes finding time to be bored and to be alone, time to play with Lego's, build family relationships, volunteer, start a business, or learn through play. Socialization in public school includes learning how to find time for friends when you are in school for 6 hours, on the bus for 1.5 hours (or 45 minutes round-trip if riding in a car) and completing 1-3 hours of homework every day (either on the bus, while eating, or if you're a rock star like I was, in other classes).
Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly don't think that every family should homeschool. I actually think the best plan for "school time" would be 2 teachers and about 5-10 kids of varying age levels in a "cottage school" type environment (for a much shorter time frame). But, let's not assume that our schools (public or private) are really "socializing" our kids. We may be forcing them into an experience that we ourselves had, but they will not really be getting the individualized experience that they could have in a well-run homeschool or cottage school.

Right now, public school is more of a daycare system than an educational system. So, I'm not saying that public schools are unnecessary, they've just become something very different from the one-room schoolhouse of days past. I actually think the public school system is a relatively good daycare system, and can provide some education opportunities during that time. However, there is really very little "natural" socialization that takes place during the school day.

Also, those of you looking at private school, please keep in mind that private schools generally have fewer students per grade, so those "socialization" opportunities are more likely to be all the same type of kids, in the same social classes, in very small cliques (or closed off groups). I did go to a laid-back private school for a couple years, which was a good transition for me to learn the basic "rules" of a classroom, and I already had some friends there, but I did see many examples of bullying and general meanness (and this was at a "Christian" school).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Roofing Woes

Here's a hot tip for anyone considering home improvement projects, get quotes before you have a problem. We fortunately got a couple quotes for a new roof when we bought our house, although we hoped to be able to wait 2 years, since we had some other home improvement projects that were pretty expensive as well. However, when our roof started leaking (3 months after we purchased the house), we had to get serious about a new roof.

My husband answered honestly when calling to get price quotes that our roof was currently leaking. Shockingly, all the "new" quotes we got were 30% or more higher than our original quote for a non-leaking roof. Fortunately for us, one of the companies was willing to honor their original quote and can come out quickly. The highest quote we had couldn't even come out until the middle of September!

On another note, if you are buying a house, please keep in mind the cost of potential repairs. We don't have the money saved up yet in a home improvement fund, but we are fortunate enough to have other savings that we can use for this huge expense without going into debt. Now, if only our siding can wait a few years to be repainted without causing any more damage...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Concert Goings

I've realized a few things since attending a Dave Matthews Band concert on Friday night. For one, I am extremely out of date with regards to fashion. Frankly, I'm okay with that, because I've never been fashionable, but I usually at least have some idea what the fashions are. Not anymore!

It was fascinating to watch what people wore because it was fashionable regardless of their body type and whether or not it actually looked good on them. I am always amazed at what clothing makers can get away with convincing people they need to buy. Most of the fashions right now look terrible on everyone regardless of their body type or shape.

I have also never been fashionable when it comes to alcohol consumption. I saw quite a few people doing things they probably would be embarrassed about in the morning if they remembered it. The unfortunate thing about smart phones and Facebook is that most of their pictures were probably all over the Internet the next morning. There were also quite a few people that needed medical attention.

When one unfortunate soul (who I believe was actually on drugs since I didn't see any alcohol around him) decided to lay down in the grass at the back of the lawn seating area, rather than stopping to help, most people decided to laugh at him, take pictures, or step over his feet. Some ladies nearby eventually took pity on him after the concert staff roused him and suggested he move out of the way. The ladies shared some of their food and gave him a chair to sit in and then politely listened as he shared some of his lined notebook paper writings (either a manifesto or songs he had written). He eventually moved on and I saw him wildly dancing a half hour later and almost mowing people down despite being in a relatively sparsely populated area of the lawn.

I never understood the appeal of either being one of those people or being around those people. We were apparently very lucky in our parking spot because we exited the parking lot before most of the other cars. We found out later that some people were in the concert parking lot for over 3 hours because two cop cars got smashed in by drunk drivers.

My husband said that the concert venue shares some of the blame. When they sell 24 ounce beers and "giant" margaritas, they should expect that people will overindulge compared to purchasing 12 ounce beers or regular size glasses of wine. Especially when people are allowed to purchase 3 of these large beverages at a time. I agree that they help perpetuate the problem, but the real problem is that people feel compelled to either medicate their lives or try desperately to "fit in" regardless of whether it's good for them and their friends.

Speaking of medication, I just wanted to chime in and say how terrible it is that our government is so concerned about marijuana use that they won't approve it's medical use (nationally) despite clear anecdotal evidence of huge benefits in multiple areas. Of all the things that our federal government should have a say in (interstate trade, medical law) they should most certainly deal with this problem before "public opinion" problems. Our government is so focused on making laws based on public opinion that they've neglected to actually do anything to help people or our country.



Friday, July 10, 2015

Fiction Friday - Flashes - Chapter One

** Poetry Friday has been renamed Fiction Friday, as my fiction post has become much more popular than my poetry. Enjoy! **

            My name is Meagan Wright. I am named after my grandmother on my mother’s side. I am an American mixture of Irish, German, English, and Scottish heritage. Several of my mother’s Irish ancestor’s were reported to have certain psychic powers. I suppose, if I believe in that sort of thing, that’s probably where my problems originated.
            I’ve heard of photographic memories and telepathic people. I consider myself to have more of a videographic memory. The images that flow through my head seem like a historical-fiction action movie. I receive glimpses into the life of some other character from the distant reaches of the past like a movie clip.
            Typically, my visions occur after some traumatic or emotional experience. The flashes are probably related in some way to what they call “feminine intuition”, only much more vivid.
            I may have experienced these visions as a child, but the first one I remember was in my college years. I lived in a somewhat run-down apartment building right on the edge of campus. Rent was less than the dorms, when split with three roommates, and I enjoyed the semi-privacy afforded by separate bedrooms.
            I tended to keep to myself, and ended up having three different roommates move in and out of my dorm room my freshman year. A separate bedroom was a luxury after a school year filled with loud music, late-night typing, early morning risers, prank phone calls and some frightening female drama.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Reflections

As I was walking down the aisles in Target the other day, my 2-year old was very concerned with the "lights" he saw in the floor. I tried to explain that they were reflections and told him to look up, but he was so focused on looking down at what he could see easily. He was trying to step on them and was very worried when they kept "moving" as he walked along.

I started thinking about all the reflections we focus on in life. We focus on the reflections of Facebook, TV, Pinterest or the media. We think that what we see there is the real thing, but it's just a distorted image that people want us to look at.

We also might not focus on the little reflections of our own behavior. When I'm paying attention, I can recognize my own phrases and attitude reflected in my children (for better or worse). So, if I look closely at their behavior, I can tell that their patient and kind attitude towards someone younger than them is a reflection, as well as their anger and frustration when things don't go their way. Seeing my behavior reflected in them is a huge responsibility, but also a good way to adjust my own attitude and behavior when necessary.

When I was a waitress, I remember that there were a few customers who would be grumpy no matter what. I also recognized that occassionally, by continuing to smile and be friendly (and serve lots of coffee) I would sometimes get a smile in return. My cheerful and upbeat presence would sometimes chase the gloom away. If all the people around you are grumpy or gloomy, think about whether you are reflecting them or they are reflecting you. Either way, spend some time focusing on your behavior, not theirs, and see if you can get them to reflect something more positive.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Preschool Curriculum Decisions

I was recently asked to help design the preschool curriculum for the homeschool co-op at church. I really enjoy the preschool age group, as long as it's not my own kids (or at least not just my own kids). They are at a very unique age, where they are learning so much, just through being in different environments. However, they are also at a difficult age, because they are learning how to purposefully misbehave and they have a LOT of energy.

My basic plan for the co-op is to have 15 minute "learning sessions" with free play in between. So, 15 minutes of talking about the weather or singing songs or playing games, and then 15 minutes of free play. The times can be flexible, but 10-15 minutes is usually sufficient for an attention span for a 2-4 year old.

I have also been looking through an amazing book I found at the Homeschool Gathering Place called Science Play. Science Play (Williamson Little Hands Series) (Williamson Little Hands Book) It has a lot of really great ideas that I plan on using, and most of the materials are things that I can easily collect from our recycling bin in a couple of weeks.

I've also thought a lot more about what to do with my soon to be 2.5 year old when we officially start homeschooling next year. I'm sure that he will enjoy following along with most of the activities my Kindergartner completes, however, I will need some individual time for phonics and mathematics instruction for Kindergarten.

My plan for now is to do "homeschool" lesson plans 3 days a week (we have the co-op on Tuesdays and I plan on making Thursdays "field trip" days). I will use Mother Hubbard activities for preschool for 15-30 minutes, then focus on Kindergarten for 1 hour and each child can follow along with whatever the other child is "learning". I think this will help them both stay focused and keep me from having to deal with constant interruptions. I also plan on allowing them each 15-30 minutes of computer (or Kindle or TV) time while the other is studying. Fire HD 7, 7" HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers, Black

Hopefully this works out, and if not, I'm not too worried. Often, when we're making these decisions (curriculum, type of school, when to start school) for our children, we feel like the weight of their whole life is on our shoulders. I've made my decisions for this year, and now I need to rest in God's hands and let him guide my child's future.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

$1.25 a Day

The "extreme poverty" rate (based on global purchasing power) is currently set at $1.25 (U.S.) per day. When I see people who complain about how much they "have" to spend on groceries per month, I want to shout at them that they have so much already just to live in this country! In one of the popular financial blogs I read, there was a very challenging post by someone wondering what he could buy for $50 a month as a grocery budget. It was a challenging thought, but I was more challenged when I realized that people living in extreme poverty live on only $37.50 per month (for everything, not just food).

That means that well over 1 billion people currently live on less than this one person's "extreme" grocery budget. (Poverty Benchmark)

So, I have a challenge for you. It doesn't have to be a week's challenge, or a month's challenge, but try to live on $1.25 per day for food. Again, this is not meant to be long-term as it will probably be unhealthy. It's also not meant to be exact, because the equipment and supplies (i.e. oven or running water) you use will be significantly different than someone living in extreme poverty.

Why do this challenge? One reason is to empathize with people across the world who do not have access to the many benefits we have in the United States. As a second reason, figure out the difference between what you spend on this "extreme" budget and your "normal" grocery budget, and contribute your "savings" to a world poverty relief organization (see below under "charities" for ideas, or support your own favorite charity).

For example, my grocery budget is about $3.65 per person per day. So if I lived on an "extreme" budget for 1 day a month, I could contribute $115 (additional) annually towards eliminating world poverty (4 people x $2.40 x 12).

What can you eat for $1.25 per person, per day? First, I would suggest looking at what you already have on hand from the list below. My reasoning is that you should not go out and purchase something "special" that you won't eat on other days, otherwise you are increasing your food budget, not decreasing it. Then plan your meals for the day around those items you have on hand. Focus mainly on starch and non-meat protein, limit portion sizes on "meat" to 2 ounces per person. Try to only eat fruits and vegetables that you already have on hand or that you've grown yourself for a more realistic $1.25 per day meal plan. Also, you should drink only water and very few processed foods.

Extreme Budget

  1. Starch (avg. cost per serving)
    • oatmeal ($0.15 per 1/2 cup dry or 1.4 oz serving)
    • flour ($0.14 per 1 cup dry)
    • cornmeal ($0.15 per 1 cup dry)
    • rice ($0.10 or so per 1/4 cup dry serving)
    • "clearance" bread (avg. $.89 per loaf, 22 slices = $0.04 per slice)
    • brown sugar (at $1.50 per 1 lb bag, this would be $0.04 per Tablespoon)
    • white sugar (approx. $0.17 per cup)
  2. Protein (avg. cost per serving)
    • eggs ($0.17 per egg)
    • peanut butter ($0.12 per 2 Tablespoons)
    • chicken ($0.35 per serving, 2 oz. boneless, 4 oz. bone-in)
    • dried beans ($0.25 per 1/4 lb dry beans)
    • fish ($3 per lb = $0.38 per 2 oz serving)
    • cheese (at $3 per lb = $0.28 per 1.5 oz serving)
    • milk ($3 per gallon = $0.19 per 8 oz serving)
  3. Other (fruits and veggies, fats, snacks)
    • carrots ($0.20 per 3 oz. serving)
    • bananas ($0.29 per large banana)
    • cantaloupe (if on sale for $1.99, 1/8 of a large cantaloupe would be $0.25)
    • juice ($2 per 1/2 gallon = $0.25 per 8 oz. serving)
    • apple (lunchbox size, approx. $0.33 at $0.99 per pound)
    • sweet potatoes ($0.89 per lb, approx. $0.30 per medium sweet potato)
    • frozen veggies ($1 per bag, approx. 5 servings = $0.20 per serving)
    • raisins ($0.25 per 1/4 cup serving)
    • celery ($0.15 per 1 large stalk)
    • romaine lettuce (1 head is $0.99, approx. 10 servings per head = $0.10 per serving)

Sample meal plans

  1. Breakfast ideas: oatmeal and brown sugar (19 cents, 32 cents w/ 1/8 cup of raisins), cornbread and milk (45 cents), toast w/ peanut  butter (20 cents), pancakes w/ butter and brown sugar or peanut butter and banana (25-35 cents).
  2. lunch ideas: bread and peanut butter sandwich (20 cents, 35 cents w/ 1/2 banana on each sandwich), homemade tortilla chips and cheese or cheese "quesadilla" (35 cents), salad (30 cents depending on toppings, dressing should be 1 tsp oil and vinegar).
  3. snack ideas: homemade tortillas with butter and sugar (approx. $0.10 for 2 homemade tortillas plus minimal butter and 1 Tablespoon white sugar), celery and peanut butter (27 cents), 1/2 apple and peanut butter (28 cents), homemade granola bars or no bake oatmeal cookies (15-20 cents), 
  4. dinner ideas: homemade pizza (40 cents per 1/8 large pizza, depending on toppings), rice and beans (35 cents), fish and rice (48 cents), chicken and rice (45 cents), 1.5 eggs and 1/2 serving cheese + bread (45 cents), rice and veggie soup (35 cents).
Now, take the sample meals (prices listed) or come up with your own low price per serving combo (if you're curious, you can select a third world country and look up their typical meals, adjusting for what's "in season" or "cheap" in our country). Add them up to make sure you stay under the $1.25. Be sure to add in any additional snacks or beverages you eat throughout the day. If nothing else, you may be hungry on a "$1.25 per day" meal plan. So, think about that the next time you are in sticker shock at the grocery store, or throw away food without eating it.

Here's a sample day...

Oatmeal with brown sugar and 1/2 cup milk. Total breakfast - 27 cents
Cheese quesadilla - 35 cents
1/2 apple and peanut butter - 28 cents
rice and beans - 35 cents
Total = $1.25

Now, after seeing the "sample menu" or coming up with your own that fits the $1.25 a day, are you a little more aware of what you eat and how much it costs? Add to that an average of a 6 k walk to fresh water (3.7 miles) and you can see why much of the world is literally starving. I'm not suggesting a long-term solution for all Americans to live on such an extreme budget, but I would suggest thinking about what you eat and making some tough decisions at the grocery store. Buy fruits and vegetables in season or grow your own. Spend time making food yourself rather than buying convenience foods. Focus on "using up" what you have in your pantry or fridge before it goes bad.

Then, take those "savings" and put it towards a project that will help reduce poverty in our world. 

Charities

"Christian" charities I support include Samaritan's Purse and World Vision.
"Non-Christian" charities to consider include The Hunger Project and Care.org.
"Local" charities for food support include - Feeding America, and "in-kind" donations to local food banks or "backpack meals" for kids.

Monday, July 06, 2015

All-America City

Before we moved to Garner, I knew that there were signs all over town saying "All-America City (2013)". However, I didn't really know why they were plastered all over town. I couldn't fathom what made Garner an All-America City, and I didn't have any type of hometown pride in any of the other cities I've lived in. Since moving here, though, I see why they promote this award so much and how fitting it truly is for our town.

First, I don't know all of the criteria for the "All-America City" award, but I do know from Wikipedia, that it is given by the National Civic League to 10 communities each year whose "citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results". I'm not sure what challenge was tackled the year that Garner won, but I have definitely seen evidence of community here that I haven't seen in any of the other towns or cities I've lived in.

As one example, we have already attended the Easter celebration and the 4th of July Celebration (on July 3rd) at Lake Benson Park. During both of these events, literally thousands of community members park in the grass (or walk or ride their bikes) and endure all types of weather conditions to celebrate with their community. You don't find many people wandering alone, but they sit in groups and call out to their friends and neighbors as they see people they know. In the group we joined for the July 4th Celebration, I met a family that I had seen before at the library story time. 

Speaking of the library, when we lived in "North Raleigh" there were 3 different libraries within 10 minutes or so and they were always crowded, but it was very hard to meet people there. At our local library, despite the construction and the number of people who attend the various programs, you generally see many of the same faces from week to week. I generally attend the 10:30am Tuesday programming (for "toddlers") but there are literally dozens of events each week at the library. It may not be fancy or even very kid-friendly (wooden-edged steps to sit on and sharp nails sticking up through the ancient carpeting). But it is full of community, I don't count every week, but I would guess at least 10 families come to each story time.

There's more "community" at the church I attend in Garner than at any of the other churches that I've attended, other than maybe Stroudwater Christian Church in Portland, Maine (which had a 15 minute break in the middle of the service just to go talk to people). I've met more neighbors in the past few months than I met in Louisville, and the neighborhoods here are much more diverse than most other sections of Raleigh. It truly is a "melting pot" of America. Considering just the number of languages, cultures, and colors represented on the soccer field (almost all of whom listed Garner as their address) I would say we are as close to "All-American" as you can be.

We talk to each other in the grocery store, we help each other move, we watch out for each other while we're out of town. We don't flaunt our wealth or hate people who have more or less than we do. We live together, play together, and eat together. I love the fact that most of the "chain" stores are on the outskirts of town, near the highways or interstates. In town you can find Jessica's Handmade Donut Shop, Aversboro Coffee Shop, Mojo's Grill, and dozens of other unique, out of the way places to eat, drink, or shop. You won't find many quick change oil places, because most people around here do it themselves. It's not the place for a Melting Pot or a Ruth's Chris, but it's definitely the place for a S'more or a barbecue. I loved seeing all the shelters full at the local parks on the 4th of July, despite some bad weather that rolled through. I love the fact that my calendar is filling up with playdates and events.

The only thing I'm maybe not as thrilled about (despite the fact that it is adorable) is that my kids are developing quite the Southern accent. We haven't lived here that long, and I'm not sure who in particular is influencing this deep Southern accent. My best guess is that it's just due to all the community. My kids talk to people at the grocery store, people at the library, people at the pool, and people at church all the time. Also, maybe it's just easier for kids to speak "Southern" than any other accent. Although, since most words turn from one syllable into 2-3 syllables, that may be a bit of a stretch, literally.

So, this 4th of July weekend, I was thinking a lot about our country and community. Despite the struggles that we're going through on a moral or political level, I wanted to take some time to enjoy the freedoms that we do still have in this country. The freedom to be with other people and celebrate our nation. The freedom to meet in churches and celebrate our religion. The freedom to live, eat, and play in relative peace. I pray that our nation returns to God, but I also thank Him that we can still enjoy what this country has to offer. Happy 4th of July, and a special thanks to all who serve or have served.

Watching the NC Symphony before the fireworks.