Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Economist endorses Obama

The Economist is not a liberal publication. Trust me, I read it cover-to-cover every week. It is my favorite gift ever from my parents. (Well, that and the piano.) I often vehemently disagree with many of its positions (school vouchers come to mind) - but I learn from each and every one of their articles. I always get the feeling that someone smarter than I am wrote it....and I should pay attention, even if I don't 100% agree.

Here's their endorsement.

This one I agree with. Wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Write to Marry

Today happens to be my 14th wedding anniversary. I'm lucky enough to be married (in my opinion) to the world's most wonderful man - the father of my children, my best friend, not to mention, my own personal in-house IT consultant.

On our street, there are 3 couples who aren't so lucky. They can't get married. They are in love - they live together - (and for all I know one of them provides free in-home technology consulting for the other.) But they are of the same gender. So, by law, they can't get married.

I am a big believer in a caring, loving God. My God doesn't discriminate. In fact, my God identifies most with the outcasts, the downtrodden, the "Different." (Let me tell you, my God *really* liked me in 7th grade...)

So, I don't understand - I really don't understand - why my cool & wonderful neighbors can't get married. They are committed and devoted. They are smart. They pay taxes. They are kind. They don't even care that half the bushes in my yard are dead.

We had a similar vote in Wisconsin 4 years ago. I can't remember if we were supposed to vote "yes" or "no" - but the end result was a ban on some marriages. I was sorely disappointed.

I have to think that the people who voted against marriage hadn't met my neighbors. Because if they had, how could they possibly be against it?

I am hoping that California votes differently.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I don't have to go to work on Mondays, and I invariably end up spending most of the day at the kids' school.

I am especially enjoying the time in son D's Kindergarten class. I get to help out with math groups. Kindergarten math - I should be able to handle that, right?

The group I'm with most consists of three of the most adorable children in the universe. But they don't speak English. Two are Hmong and the other just moved from Africa.

It's a comedy of errors, me trying to teach them math concepts. I have to throw my whole body into explaining the difference between "big" and "small." I count on my fingers. I draw pictures of everything.

These kids aren't dumb - they are far from it. But it takes me 30 minutes to make a connection that "9" = nine = 9 fingers held up = (insert picture of nine cats here.) Finally, one of them gets it. Her entire face erupts in smiles, she squeals and we high-five each other. (nine times.) You would think she just got into Harvard - she is that excited.

Sometimes, the teacher gives me the group with my son in it. The group that is counting to 500 and doing complicated addition and subtraction. Don't get me wrong, I love working with my son. But no one in his group squeals with glee when they get a problem right. No one really struggles with anything, they seem genetically programed to get everything right. Their parents are lawyers, doctors and engineers. Success is all they know. I don't have to draw nine cats. I don't have to count nine fingers.

Lots of people complain about the immigrants at our school. They try hard not to make it sound racist, they cloak it in complaining about "poverty." And yes, poverty does bring problems. Lots of them. I can't sugar-coat that.

But I have to believe that the immigrants at our school are also bringing something good. I can't put it into words, exactly. But it makes me want to high-five, squeal with delight and draw lots and lots of cats.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So much for my plans to move to another country.

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal:

There are no safe havens from the forces battering the global economy any longer.

In rich countries and poor countries alike, markets are plunging, companies are scrambling for credit and cutting their growth plans and consumers are keeping cash in their pockets. The U.S. and some governments in Europe and Asia are spending heavily to stanch the problems in markets and Main Streets globally, but the attempts have not halted the damage.

Who says the US doesn't export anything anymore? We export recession!

And then, just to make us feel better, the article continues:

While markets have been tumbling for some time, Friday seemed to be a day when many people around the world became convinced the economy is in for a long recession.

It makes sense - as the US cuts back spending on goods imported from Asia, Asia will feel a squeeze too.

I know that the list of things that President Bush has done right is short...but I do think he has done a good job with China (economically....I'm not going to get pulled into the Olympics controversy...) The SED (Strategic Economic Dialogue) has made steps in the right direction. (again, economically.) But that can only go so far.

So, what I'd like is for each of the candidates to stand up and say, "Hey! you know all these promises I've been making over the last year? lowering taxes? improving services? ha! ha! ha! - I'm not going to be able to do a bit of it! But I'll promise not to screw anything up any worse than it was the day I got it."

I'd vote for that guy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wednesday was Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty

I missed it, but didn't want to miss out on writing about a cause that is dear to my heart.

Due to some fabulous mentoring programs - Project Northstar and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I've been blessed with the opportunity to be part of a larger community to help lift children out of poverty.

By chance, I wandered into a run-down DC school the month after I graduated from college (almost 20 years ago.) I saw an ad for volunteer tutors for Project Northstar at GWU, where my dad was a professor. I didn't know what to expect, but I decided to show up.

Little did I know, that day would change my life.

A bus pulled up full of kids from a DC homeless shelter. I was assigned to work with one of three triplets. My triplet was rightfully suspicious of the naive "do-gooder" in front of her. I had no frame of reference for her life. I'd just graduated from college and was about to start grad school. I had two married parents, had always lived in a house, and had never been hungry a day in my life.

For the first two months, she would stare at me, sullenly, and call me names. Some of the names weren't very nice. But being young and stubborn, naive and frankly, not knowing any better, I kept coming back. Every Tuesday night, I'd return to the run-down DC school and we'd sit in the cafeteria together, staring at her homework.

Finally, she began to trust me. Slowly, she began opening up. Eventually, we even tackled some of her homework. She was in 4th grade at the time. We managed to meet weekly until she hit 10th grade, and I moved away to Madison.

During those 6 years, I think I learned as much from her as I learned at college. I learned that poverty hits kids and it hits them hard. I learned that underneath those sullen, hungry, angry eyes was a beautiful, smart, kind and wonderful young lady.

I joined up with Big Brothers/Big Sisters when I got to Madison, and have had very similar experiences with my "littles." My first match and I started when she was in Kindergarten. When she was a Sophmore in High School, she moved to Chicago so I started with my current match last spring.

I can not say enough good things about mentoring programs. They take regular old average people like me, and match us with fabulous children. These fabulous children turn us into better people. They make us kinder. They make us more generous. They make us happier. They teach us more about the world than any advanced degree ever could.

And, most importantly, Mentoring programs lift children out of poverty.

Mentoring programs work. I've seen it with my own two eyes with three separate children. It's not enough to throw money into welfare programs (although I definitely thing just about all programs serving the poor need more money...) You have to show kids who grow up in poverty that a different life even exists. How do they know about college if they've never met anyone who went to college? How do they know about marriage if they've never known anyone who was married? How do they know about mortgages if they've never lived in a house?

One of the biggest regrets I have is that I have done a really rotten job of keeping in touch with my first two matches. But I see my current match every week (when possible) and do everything in my power to integrate her into my life so she can see that her future is not hopeless - it can be as bright as we can make it.

And let me repeat: I am nothing special. All I do is open up my life once a week to one other person. Some days we do fun outings. Other days, we just sit around and play card games. This is not rocket science or any great contribution to society. This is just regular, day-to-day old stuff. Anyone can do this. Really, anyone.

Once someone said to me, "Aren't you afraid of the effect she (meaning the poor "little") will have on your children?"

I was flabbergasted, and mumbled "no" and changed the subject. But in retrospect, I wish I had replied, "No, I'm proud of the effect she is having on my children. She is teaching them to be kind, generous and aware of the inequities in our world."

It's hard to accept that we live in a country where nearly 13 million children —18% of all children—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level—$21,200 a year for a family of four.

More related links:
NCCP (National Center for Children in Poverty)
Childhood Poverty
Blog Action Day List of Posts
Neat & Simple Living
On Simplicity
Images of Poverty
Big Brothers/Big Sisters

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thank you, Apple screen-grab program.

I don't break many rules. I follow a lot of very silly rules, in fact, just to follow the rules.

But I draw the line at paying $50 to get a digital copy of a photo of me right after I finished the marathon. Yes, that is what the sports photo company wanted to charge me for the digital rights for a photo. So, I "grabbed" it with the "Grab" program on our trusty Mac, and now I have it for free.

Hey, if the economy is going to hell in a hand basket, I'm just going to do my part to reduce needless consumption.

I don't remember the marathons in the early days having this type of photo service. There must be someone out there who pays the $50 bucks for the photo, or else it wouldn't exist. I realize that we marathoners are a bit on the self-centered side, but I really can't imagine anyone who would pay good money for this stuff.

In other running-contest-related news, Daughter D ran the most laps of anyone in the entire 3rd grade at school last week. She was pretty proud. Note that she did not run the fastest of anyone in the entire 3rd grade....she just collapsed last. My kind of contest.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Settle for Bronze

Son D announced today that "Daddy is my second-best friend."

"Oh?" I asked. "Who is your first-best friend?"

"Sister D. of course" was the reply.

I paused, then asked, "So where do I fit into the picture?"

"Oh, Mama - you're my third-best friend."

I suppose I should be glad I am even in the running. As soon as his friends make it into the list, I am sure to be bumped out of the top ten.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Viva Viagra?

One good thing about the complicated television system my husband has concocted is that the children don't normally watch commercials. The DVR lets us skip right through them on any recorded show.

So, on the rare occasion when we get to watch a live show - say, a baseball playoff game - the commercials are the most interesting thing to them. They mostly half-ignore the TV when they watch, usually play some game on the side. Until a commercial comes on. Then, they are mesmerized, staring at the TV like it has super-powers.

Between the Brewers and the Red Sox, we've had a few play-off games on this week. As a result, the children have been parading through the house, dancing with each other, singing "Viva Viagra!" at the top of their lungs. That is one of their favorites.

Not sure how to explain that one to them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who Knew?

I finally got to volunteer in son D's Kindergarten class today. It is a wonderful class full of amazing children. My favorite part was working with a delightful little girl who didn't seem to speak much English. But we did just fine. We were counting and identifying numbers. Every time she got one right, her entire face would light up and she would burst into applause for herself.

Afterward, I was speaking with his teacher and she was talking about how challenging it was to teach to the various levels in the classroom. She said, "we've got kids who just came to the country on one hand, and kids like 'son D' who are reading already, on the other."

I corrected her, and said, "You mean another child, right? Son D. can't read." She gave me a puzzled look and told me that, indeed, he was reading. I explained that we spent a lot of time reading at home, but he had yet to read in our presence. She laughed and told me that her second child loved to be read to so much that he too, hid his ability to read to himself.

Son D's favorite part of the morning is when I walked his class down the stairs for recess. Correction: they ran down the stairs, while I attempted to move my very sore legs down a staircase. Going down stairs is never a good idea the day after a marathon. He seems to find my temporary muscle soreness quite comical.

But the marathon went so well that I'm still walking on air, so I can hardly complain about the lactic acid. I beat my fastest previous time (set when I was in my 20s.) However, I'm finding that a 40 year old's marathon recovery is a bit different than a 20-somethings recovery. Pass the ibuprofen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rainy Sunday

I am rather neurotically checking Milwaukee's weather for Sunday for the marathon. At first, it was "isolated showers" and then "chance of showers" and finally today the forecast is for "definite showers" and the dreadful words "isolated thunderstorms."

I don't do thunderstorms. I will run through almost everything. I ran this same marathon in 90 degree weather last year - running past person after person who collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. (Note: I do not think this is wise. Any sane person would have stopped. In Chicago, someone died on that same day at their marathon.) I run through snow. Once I ran a race in a -20 F windchill. (Again: not smart, sane people would stop. My husband got frostbite on his ear just walking from the car to the warming shelter during that same race.)

But I draw the line at lightning. I stop running at the first rumble of thunder and take shelter. For some reason, that danger is much clearer to me. (I rationalize that heat exhaustion and frostbite don't usually kill you, they just put you in the hospital for a day or two.) Lightening, though, for some reason that seems more deadly.

I will be so bummed if 6 months of training is erased by a bolt of lightening!!!!