Friday, April 29, 2011

Reflections on a royal wedding

There has been a lot of talk about today's royal wedding. I know a lot of people who most definitely didn't watch it and think the hoopla is ridiculous. I also know some people who got up early to watch and have been following the details since the engagement. I fall in the middle ground of being aware and vaguely interested - and I realized this morning why.

I was 6 years old in 1981 when Prince Charles married Lady Diana, the picture-perfect fairy tale.... at least at that point. At 6, it really seemed a fairy tale come true, at a time and age when fairy tales were a major part of my world view. Look at young girls now, obsessed with the Disney princesses. The idea of happy ever after, finding true love, living the fairy tale, seems like the best thing in the world at that age. It's before we've figured out all the bad stuff in the world and realized that the best fairy tale is the one where the princess saves herself. (May I recommend "The Practical Princess" as required enlightened fairy tale reading?)

I remember watching the wedding. I followed the fairy tale as it fell apart. I watched the beautiful princess become more beautiful as she found herself and ditched her prince. Yes, I grew up and knew this was a real marriage falling apart. But Princess Diana was kind of like the book or movie character that holds a soft place in your heart even years later. Over the years, I didn't follow obsessively, but I certainly knew when she left the castle and set out on her own.... and that was actually kind of empowering.

When she died, I stayed up late watching coverage, crying. It was the end of the fairy tale. For anyone who remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot, or still tears up thinking about the Twin Towers, sometimes things move us even when we are far removed. It's not really rational, but it's true.

So this morning I realized that Princess Diana is why I am mildly interested in the royal spectacle. The royal family has changed a lot since her time because of her. And now one of her sons is getting married, starting his own fairy tale, but one grounded in reality. I don't know if I can find the words to explain exactly, but it has to do with seeing something beautiful come from all the pain of the past.

William and Kate have done so many things right. They didn't follow the mistakes of the past. So seeing the glowing bride, the bride who knows what she is taking on, and the handsome prince, who seems grounded in reality, take the first steps on their journey together, is a creating a happy ending to the fairy tale that started 30 years ago. Here at last is the happy ever after.

So, I've seen the picture of the happy couple. And I've heard their vows (played over and over on the radio). And I'm ready to let them have their lives, wishing them a long and happy marriage.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What I believe

I believe there is a lot of good in this world. I believe that most people have good intentions and will do the right thing if given the chance. I believe that ignorance is our greatest threat, not maliciousness.

I believe that we can all benefit a lot by picturing ourselves in the other person's shoes.

I believe in the power of positive thought. I believe we can change the world and that each individual can make a difference. I believe that things may get worse but they will also get better. I believe sometimes we have to lose in order to win.

I believe in love, and peace, and friendship. I believe in happiness. I believe in finding the silver lining. I believe that reading opens worlds. I believe a hug can cure a bruised heart and a kiss can make a booboo feel better. I believe tears can heal. I believe in joy.

I believe we are all imperfect and that's the way it should be. I believe our differences are what offer spice to life. I believe we can learn from each other. I believe an open heart and mind are essential tools.

I believe in luck, but I believe more in hard work. I believe we are never too old or too young to learn something new. I believe in finding our dreams, then following them.

I believe in all that is good and right. And I believe that if I believe, all that is good and right will be true.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Laundry made easy

Laundry never ends. That's just a fact of life. I don't have a particular laundry day, which works great for us. I just throw a load in when one needs washing. It can take all day by the time I remember to put it in the dryer (or for it to dry on the line when the weather is nice), but that's ok.

We came up with a system that makes it very easy. We have 2 hampers in our room, one for delicates and one for regulars.

Delicates go in the lavender, regulars in the green.

We don't have enough whites for a separate load, and I don't usually sort lights and darks unless I have a bunch of new clothes. Really, it doesn't matter. The boys have a basket in their room for their clothes. Theirs just all get done as a regular load (if they do have something delicate, like rare dressy clothes, they go in the hamper in our room.)

Here's where the genius of this system comes into play: I only do a load when a hamper is full. Everything is pre-sorted, so I don't waste time on that task. I usually don't have multiple loads to do on any given day.

As for sheets and towels, I do those in between.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Decisions, decisions

As a parent, there are so many decisions to make, many of which have such long-ranging consequences that one could easily end up paralyzed in indecision.

We're currently facing the choice of which year of preschool to enroll Sam in. With his birthday falling when it does, he could be in the 3 year old room. But, despite how much he tries to keep up with Wil, I think the 3 year old room, which requires quite a bit of independence (along with being potty trained), might be too much for him. So he's going to be in the 2 year old room. It is much freer, with fewer expectations for sitting quietly, etc, that I just don't think he's ready for.

It's been a tough decision for a couple reasons. The preschool recommends him following through to the 3 year room the following year, then the pre-K class. The pre-K class really prepares kids for Kindergarten, when they will need to do a lot on their own because the teacher just won't have the time to devote to each kid in growing classrooms. And the 3 year old room prepares the kids for the pre-K class. So if we follow the pattern, he won't begin Kindergarten until he's 6. (If he started 'on time' he would barely be 5 and be the youngest in his class; starting at 6 he's be the oldest.)

Because I'm a planner, I'm already projecting where Sam will be in the future, even though he's only 2. Will he graduate at 17 or 18? Because when he starts Kindergarten affects that too.

Why is this such a tough decision? In so many ways, Sam has always been ahead. We have to stop and remind ourselves that he is just 2 because he tries to hard to do everything Wil does. Academically, my guess is he'd be fine. Knowing numbers, letters, shapes, colors... that's the easy part of school at this age. On the emotional maturity side, he's having a hard time being away from Mommy. He was thrown for a loop when Chris was gone for 3 days at a convention.

I guess it really wasn't that hard of a decision when we sat down and talked about it. It was more a matter of overcoming our own expectations. Really, just the fact that I was questioning what we should do gave us our answer. For Sam, he needs the extra hand-holding of the 2 year old room next year. He'll likely start Kindergarten at 6. It won't scar him. Graduating at 18 is still normal; Wil will be 18 when he graduates. And graduating at 17 might just be too young for him. And he won't be all that different from those kids with August birthdays.

As the preschool director said, she has never heard of a parent regretting waiting a year to send their child to Kindergarten, but she has heard several, including herself, regret sending them too early.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Value of a quarter

When the boys were infants, we started savings accounts for them where we are saving for college. But we have also started a system where they can earn money for special treats.

The boys each have a jar. They earn quarters for doing little chores (their first job is feeding the cats). We've also recently added earning a quarter for picking a small bucket full of dandelions (because as much as I'd like to dig them all out, picking the flowers before they go to seed is more likely to happen). Grandma & Grandpa sometimes include a dollar or two in holiday cards and that money goes in their special jars.

Sam's earnings
When they have saved enough, we let them pick something special to buy. Sam is still getting the hang of it, but Wil is learning to wait.

Wil with his jar of earnings
Wil has a list of Thomas trains that he wants to buy. He asks me to count his quarters periodically to see if he has enough. Since he's 4, I don't make him save every penny to buy one. He had over $10 today, so we went to the store where he picked a train ($13). Yes, I covered the difference, but savings that $10 took a long time. At 4, we need to slowly work toward an eventual goal of having him earn the full $13. He's getting the point and doesn't yet understand the price stickers, so that lesson can wait while we build up endurance saving.

Sam had saved $7, so he chose a train too, only a less expensive Chuggington one. At 2, he has a lot less patience and doesn't quite understand waiting for a bigger reward. And that's ok. That is actually the point of this exercise.

Wil already has a list of the trains he is saving for next: Jack, Byron, Max and Monty. Sam really wanted to buy Wilson and Brewster today, so those are going on his list. (It was a fight explaining that he only had enough money to buy one. He's still learning.)

With their spoils: Alfie and Koko
At the store, I paid for the trains. I emptied their jars.... and put the money in their piggy banks. Yep, I'm still buying the toys, but they are learning the value of saving for something, learning to work for something they want, and that money is going into the college fund (their piggy banks get emptied and deposited in their savings accounts as needed).
The piggy banks
As they get older, we'll add complexity, such as saving the amount on the price tag (we'll pay sales tax), then saving enough to cover sales tax, and finally actually using the money they earned to pay for it. We're trying to keep the lessons suitable for their age and understanding.

How do you teach your kids the value of a quarter?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Federal budget is just like any other

The federal budget involves income (taxes collected) and expenses. The US government is in debt, just like the vast majority of Americans. So while we are all trying to pay off credit cards and cover house and utility payments at the same time, the government is trying to pay off debt and keep itself running. 

There are two things anyone on a budget can do when expenditures outstrip income: 1) cut expenses and 2) increase income. For a lot of us, #2 is pretty hard unless you go on a successful job search, so cutting expenses is the way to go. And that's what Congress has currently been trying to do, not because they can't increase income but because they choose not to. How can Congress increase income? By raising tax rates, reducing tax breaks, eliminating tax cuts, and generally making those who don't pay their fair share do so (see this enlightening video if you think big corporations pay too much). 

So why are we cutting services to the most needy while not increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations? The old investigators' axiom is to follow the money.

Want to better understand the budget? Here are some nice graphics to help. Perhaps the most disturbing to me is this one.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Celluloid dreams

There are a lot of lists of 'must-see' movies out there, including the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies, Academy Award Best Picture winners, the IMDb top 250, Yahoo! 100 Movies to See Before You Die, and TIME All-Time 100 Movies.

I've seen a lot of those movies (including 63 of the AFI list), but there are a lot of movies that don't necessarily make these lists that I'd like to recommend. So here goes:

Some of my all time favorite movies include The Philadelphia Story, 10 Things I Hate About You
(my favorite Shakespeare adaptation), Love Actually, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Arsenic and Old LaceStar Wars, The Princess Bride and An Affair to Remember. I could watch these over and over.

Movies I think everyone should watch are Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Really, the issues raised in these films are well-treated and still relevant.

My favorite Hitchcock film is To Catch a Thief, although there are so many good ones, that's a tough choice. Also noteworthy are Notorious, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). I'm actually a big fan of Hitchcock's films.

And yes, there are a lot of old movies on my lists. You really can't go wrong seeing a movie with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, James Stewart, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly.

OK, I realized I forgot to add a movie to my list here: Mamma Mia!


Something amusing happens quite often in our household. I'll make something for dinner. Chris will come home.... and laugh because, whatever I made, he had the same thing for lunch. Pizza, tacos, sandwiches, pasta, burgers...

I figure there are two explanations:

  1. He has a yummy lunch and sends out food vibes of how much he enjoyed whatever it was and I pick those up and make dinner. 
  2. We both are in the mood for a particular meal and he just takes the opportunity of being near so many restaurants and having to get lunch to eat it while I wait to make whatever it is until dinner time. 
I like to think it's the latter - that we're so in tune with each other but miss on the timing. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Truth about telephones

I admit: sometimes when the phone rings, I don't answer. We just got caller ID last week, so it doesn't always have to do with who is on the phone; I used to not know and still didn't always answer!

Here's the truth about telephones. They are there as a convenience.

There, I said it. Just because my phone rings and someone wants to talk to me doesn't mean I have to talk to them. Sometimes I'm busy. Sometimes I just don't feel like getting up.

And do you know what I've discovered? A lot of calls can wait. The easy ones are the telemarketers (we must be on every charity's list) because they just hang up and call another time. Most people leave a message. And I call back at my convenience, which is often just a few minutes later.

If it's really important, I get a call on my cell phone and/or an urgent message.... which I answer or return. How often does that happen? Maybe once a year?

Anyway, I've been hearing lately about how some people are upset when their calls aren't immediately answered. They take it as an insult or whatever. I'd say most times it has nothing to do with the caller.

So just relax, leave a message, and I'll call back soon. I promise. Right now I need to sing our special song* to my boys. And we can't be interrupted.

*What's our special song? "Can't Help Falling in Love", popularized by Elvis, from the movie "Blue Hawaii". When Wil was an infant, it was one of the few songs I knew all the words to so that's what I sang. And it always calmed him immediately. To this day, I can sing it to both boys when they are upset and it usually will calm them down by the end. When they want a song before bed, I have to sing it to each of them, with Sam holding my hand for the final verse (listen if you aren't familiar; it's very sweet.)