Dec 29, 2009

Worse Than Sugar

I read that General Mills is reformulating their cereal marketed to kids 12 & under, to contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Two things came to mind.

First, I remembered a discussion in my Earth Science class in the 70s. "Ecology" was a new word, and Woodsy the Owl was telling us daily, "Give a hoot! Don't pollute!" Unleaded gas was just coming to the pumps, and we were encouraged to buy it for our cars. Why, we wondered, did unleaded cost more?

Why does it cost more to NOT put something in?

The answer, of course, was that the lead served a function which now has to be performed by another ingredient, which costs more. "Forget that," we said, as we pumped leaded gas into our cars for thirty cents a gallon.

Second, I applied the scenario of substitution to the sugared cereal. Sugar serves a function in cereal that now has to be performed by another ingredient - but what?

I have not found that information in any of GM's press releases. You can bet I'll be watching, though. There are things worse than sugar.

Another consideration: a "serving" according to GM is 3/4 cup. Serve that to a 12-year-old boy and see how far you get. Although, if the cereal has that much sugar in it, maybe you just want to put on a pot of quick-cook oatmeal and add some milk and sugar yourself. More filling. More healthy. As much or as little sugar as you like. And you can pronounce everything in it.

To whom are you going to show your love by preparing a healthy meal today?

Dec 25, 2009

News Flash: I'm the Parent

Every time I hear a parent or teacher take a vote, I cringe.

Sure it's nice to be democratic if you're choosing what flavor of ice cream to buy. Matters of discipline and education are not, in my experience, best left to popular vote.

"Time to go to bed now, okay?" That little word at the end just ended your authority and asked for a vote.

"Let's take out our math books, okay?" You either are or are not going to work on math. Whose decision is that to make?

"Put your jacket on, okay?" Why, oh, why are you asking for the child's vote? One of you is the parent. If it matters, TELL him (nicely), "Put your coat on. We're leaving."

TELL him, "It's bed time. Kiss me night night!"

TELL your class, "Open your math text book to page 212."

Assert your authority. One of you is the leader. Only one. Who is it?

Who will you lead to excellence today?

Dec 24, 2009

Visiting the Birthday Boy

It's Christmas Eve.

Many people who only attend church twice a year (Christmas & Easter) will be there tonight/tomorrow. Some regulars hate attending on holidays, for that reason. It's too crowded, can't find a place to park, someone's sitting in "my" pew... Can you imagine what the church could do if the Christmas & Easter brigade showed up 52 Sundays a year? They'd have to build new churches! They'd have new members in their classes and meetings and faith formation. They could - gasp! - impact the world for the Kingdom of God!

Oh wait, wasn't that the idea a couple thousand years ago?

Sadly, some don't attend church, even on Christmas. Other church members failed to meet their needs (who is your Source and Supply?) or the preacher asks for money (the electric bill keeps coming whether you're there or not) or the leadership has disappointed them. I am disappointed in human leadership, too, but consider this ancient wisdom, from Father Salvatore Rosa:
St Francis de Sales lived in the Fifteenth Century when priests were notorious public sinners. They clergy of his time were so brazen and bold in the evil lives they led, that people stopped going to Church. St. Francis said that the way these priests were living was a great scandal, and that they were guilty of spiritual murder. By their sinful lives they were killing the faith of many people.

However, he said to the people, if the priests’ sin is that they are giving scandal, your sin is that you’re taking it. If the priests’ sin is that they are committing spiritual murder, yours is that you are committing spiritual suicide. You use their sin to excuse yourself from living your religion. You stop going to church, you stop praying, you stop confession and communion. You say, “Well, if they can act like that, then why should I be good?” You use their sin to give yourself permission to sin. That’s spiritual suicide.

Teens will say "I don't get anything out of it." Guess what - you're there to give (thanks) not to get. "They built a new building and that was ridiculous," says another. Well, attend the church council meetings and make your points known. It's like criticizing politicians and then staying home on election day. Criticizing is easy...

I don't know why people change churches, the joke goes. What difference does it make which one you stay home from?

By the way, there is only one Church.

What eternal Truth will you be seeking today?

Merry Christmas.

Dec 21, 2009

The Ones Who Make Our Lives Easier

A previous post talked about teacher gifts. What about the other people who make my life better & easier? I'm talking about the people you don't think too much about. You only notice if the job DOESN'T get done. If the budget allows, a little Christmas cash is most welcome by those who quietly and efficiently take care of things for you.

I don't have to go buy a newspaper at the store or corner. I have a great newspaper delivery guy. My newspaper is faithfully on my front lawn every morning when I wake up, rain or shine, clear or fog. He's as dependable as the postmen of old.

No traveling to the PO unless I want to. I have a mail carrier who is faithful. That carrier has a sub who wishes to be full time, but is working part time, on the regular's off-day, for years until a full time spot opens up. Rural carriers and their subs use their own vehicles. (You don't have to live on a farm to have a "rural" carrier deliver your mail. Some cities only have rural carriers. It's just a category name.) They get mileage, but they're lucky to break even. Car break down? You better rent or borrow one and get in there to deliver the mail or lose your job.

Monday is recycle pickup. Sure I pay fees to the utility company for water/sewer/garbage, but the guys out in the rain sorting out my bottles from cans make me appreciate my indoor job.

Wednesday is trash day. Stuff at the curb just "magically" disappears. Amazing. Who takes care of that?

Church secretaries have those church bulletins ready to hand out on Sunday morning. The pew pencils are sharpened. The dishtowels in the church kitchen are laundered.

No trophies. No accolades. Just working people faithfully doing their job each day. Each of them contributes to my convenience.

A thank you and a little cash is such a welcome gift. You might just make someone's day. Like they've made yours all year.

Whom are you going to slip a note and some cash this week?

Dec 13, 2009

The Right Way to Give, part III

Many Christmases ago, there was a family at church with a mom, a dad, and two precious little girls. The dad lost his job. Shortly after that, the mom was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. Everyone at church was so moved by the family's plight, that they wanted to help this nice family.

Well, not exactly.

What they wanted to do was buy Christmas gifts for the little girls. And they did. Dolls and strollers and games and winter coats and bikes and dresses and video games filled the foyer of the church. Whee! Those little girls had more toys than a toy store! Gifts were piled higher than the girls were tall.

And the parents still couldn't pay their water bill.

What might have been a better gift? Cash. Groceries. Anonymously paying the family's utility bill. Did you know that anyone can walk into the utility company with a name and/or address and say "I want to pay this person's bill"? You don't have to be the homeowner. They'll take your money.

It's fun to buy toys for other people's children. Paying someone else's water bill isn't "fun." Sometimes, though, meeting basic needs is a better gift.

You weren't giving for the recognition anyway, were you? Were you?

Whose basic needs will you quietly meet today?

Dec 10, 2009

The Right Way to Give, part II

Parents, today's gift-giving wisdom is regarding teacher gifts.

Most students love to give their teacher presents. It might be a special drawing, a valentine, or a bona fide Christmas gift. If your child wants to give his or her teacher a gift this year, then I praise you for raising a generous child. Children do not accidentally become thoughtful of others. You have been modeling generous behavior for him or her.

That said, every teacher I know (hundreds) has enough tchochkes, lotion, and candles to last her an eternity. What do they want? When polls are taken, the most requested gift is - a gift card.

It doesn't have to be much. Even $5 or $10 is a lot to them. Teachers aren't paid much, so a gift card to Walmart or Target is especially useful. Bookstores and office supply stores are also welcome choices. She can buy something she needs for the classroom, or something personal for herself or her family. Many teachers like pizza delivery (for those evenings when there are papers to grade & no time to cook), dinner out, or Starbucks.

Gift cards are not tacky. They empower to the recipient to decide what she most needs/wants.

Empowerment is an awesome gift.

If the budget allows, you might consider token gifts (giftcards) for the support staff who do not get the recognition that teachers traditionally get. Is there a teacher's aide in the classroom? Ask your child. He knows. Are there enrichment teachers, such as computer, art, music, or P.E.? Ask your child if there are other school staff members whom he would like to remember, such as receptionists, custodians, cafeteria ladies, bus drivers, or librarians. These folks interact with your child on a daily basis, yet are often left out of the gift-giving loop.

Sure, with an unlimited budget you could buy gifts for every employee at the school, but most of us live within limits. We have to choose and prioritize. Talk to your child about those adults who are most influential in his life. You will not only learn who works at your child's school, but you will learn more about your child. That's a gift money can't buy.

To whom will you give the gift of empowerment this Christmas season?

Dec 9, 2009

The Right Way to Give, part I

Every time Oprah gives away cars to members of her audience, I wince. First, the cars are donated, so it costs her nothing. She gets to be the Fairy Godmother, giving away stuff. Ford gets the publicity. What do the recipients get?

Suppose you live in Chicago. Downtown Chicago. And you happened to get Oprah tickets. And you are given a free car. Whee! Praise Oprah!

What then?

Now comes the hangover. Do you have a driver's license? Get one of those. Register the car with the DMV to get a title. Get tags on the car. Couple hundred dollars. Call your insurance agent to insure the car. Couple hundred dollars a month for a new car in a bad zip code. Park the car... where? In a rented space? Couple hundred dollars a month.

Now this "free" car is costing you three or four hundred dollars a month, maybe more, plus annual tags. What kind of gift is that?

Oh wait, don't forget the IRS. How many of the "winners" have to sell the car to pay the $7000 tax on the "gift" in the first place.

Gifts that require financial obligation and maintenance are no gifts at all.

What "free" gifts are you rethinking today?

Dec 3, 2009

Insurance: A Special Place in Hell

I truly believe there is a special place in Hell for insurance executives who profit at the expense (and misery) of those they "insure."

First off, understand that the whole insurance industry is based on extortion and gambling. If you want to borrow money to buy a house, you have to pay "protection money" to the insurance company, or else the bank calls the mortgage & you lose the house. Gambling I've already written about in the post called "Insurance - Bet You Won't!"

Today I read that State Farm and Alfa are dropping wind coverage along the Gulf Coast. (Can't you hear them? "We only want your lucrative car insurance, not anything that might actually cost us a claim!") I wish I could start a business and tell the state regulators what income I demand to make. Those Skyboxes at the Sugar Bowl cost a pretty penny, I bet.

One mom shared with me her insurance woes. This one is about dental insurance. Her family has federal dental benefits. Her family has dental insurance. Premiums are deducted every payday. She had a toothache. She went to the dentist. He had her in the chair for less than 5 minutes, took an X ray, and sent her to an endodontist. Then he sent her a bill for $82. After insurance.

The endodontist had her in a chair for 5 minutes, took an X ray, said the tooth was abcessed and should be pulled. He gave her a prescription for antibiotics and a bill for $40.

Now she's out $122 plus the cost of antibiotics, the tooth has not yet been pulled, but last I heard, she was asking Santa for a pair of pliers for Christmas.

What good is insurance if you still have to serve your family Ramen noodles for 3 weeks, just to save up for advice, let alone treatment??? She can't afford to have the tooth pulled by a dentist, because it just isn't in the budget. The family budget is so tight, her daughter is getting underwear for Christmas. Actually "fixing" the tooth is beyond the realm of financial possibility. Even with insurance.

You have to wonder what the insurance executive, with his $24 million pay, will get his children for Christmas? I'm betting it's not pliers and underwear.

Next time you see someone missing a tooth, don't judge. They probably have the same insurance this mom has.

Nov 27, 2009

Post-GobbleFest Power Shopping

After yesterday's gobble-fest, there is more of me to love today. Fortunately, my weight doesn't fluctuate more than a few pounds since we adopted an exuberant dog who walks me a mile every morning, and another mile in the evening. I like walking this dog because it keeps me healthy, active, and it's free. I don't have to pay gym fees, and I doubt they'd let Kona in, anyway.

I often talk about being a smart consumer, but there are occasions where saving money just doesn't make sense. Not for everyone. Today, Black Friday, with temps hovering around freezing, the reports are coming in about those who camped out in front of Best Buy and other stores, in order to get in on some bargains. Electronics made in China, no doubt.

Me, I'll sleep in my warm bed, thanks.

Power shoppers regard the "discomfort" of lines, ill-mannered crowds, and freezing temps as part of the sport. Like deer hunters waiting in the tree stand, and having to gut the thing after the kill, it's "all part of the fun." The victory is what matters, whatever the cost.

I weigh the sanity of participating in Power Shopping with my need to save a few bucks. Aside from how much money I'll "save," won't I save even more by not shopping? Do I need more stuff? Is it worth a good night's sleep to acquire it at half off? Is the money better spent paying full price and being well-rested and congenial the next day?

Yeah, it is, at least for me.

Choose wisely and choose well. I'm rolling over for another snooze...

How will you choose to wisely spend your time and money today?

Nov 23, 2009

Cancer is Big Business

The USA Mitchell Cancer Institute has been open about a year in Mobile, AL. There is an article in this morning's paper about how successful it has been, and how patient visits are expected to top 40,000 next year.

What irony. Success is defined as many sick people.

Or, I suppose, in the eyes of the bean counters, if they're going to go someplace, at least they're coming to you. There's a lot of hype in the last 40 years about "finding a cure" for cancer. Forty years. No results. Just hype. Every October pink ribbons abound for "awareness" of women's breasts. Hello, you think men haven't already noticed? Please.

I read a book a dozen years ago called Why We Will Never Win the War on AIDS. One reason is the same for which we'll never win the "War on Cancer." There is too much money to be made in treating and politicizing it. No money is to be made if a cure is found.

You won't find me running in Relay for Life. You won't find me sporting pink ribbons. You might, however, find me praying for and crying over those I've lost to Cancer. Or taking my elderly friends to the bank, the grocery store, radiation appointments, and so on.

Substance over style. No hype. No money. Just quietly meeting the needs of the sick and infirm.

Whose needs will you meet in a practical way today?

Nov 22, 2009

Interview Question: Your Weakness?

Although I've not interviewed for a full-time teaching position per se, job interviews are job interviews. Some of the questions, from stories I've heard, are identical and as equally nerve-wracking as for non-teaching jobs.

The one I hate most is, "Tell me about your greatest weakness." My problem is, I don't focus on my weaknesses. I focus on the things I can do with excellence.

Some good advice is to answer the question using the phrase, "My growth areas are..." We all have areas in which we can grow, if doing so is an effective use of our time. I cannot hit the high notes when I sing, sometimes. Should I work on that, or is my energy better spent using the gifts and talents I have?

As a guest teacher in hundreds of classrooms, I can tell you what my weaknesses would be in the position of full time teacher. If a principal ever asks me the weakness question, I'm ready. Here's my answer:

"I missed those teacher's in-services on time-travel, mind reading, and human cloning. It's unfortunate, because I know that those skills would make me much more effective in my job. However, until I have the opportunity to make them up, I operate as effectively as I can within the boundaries that I can only be in one place at a time, I cannot read minds, and there is only one of me."

Come to think of it, those skills would make me a more effective parent, too. Good thing there's no interview required for that.

What can you do with excellence within your boundaries today?

Nov 21, 2009

Judge Not...

It's always amusing to me when supposed adults, who don't want to be told what to do, use the verse "Judge not, lest ye be judged" as their justification to disregard others. They're really saying that anything goes. If no one can judge another, then you can't judge me, and whatever I want to do is fine.

Toddlers don't like to be told "no." They want to do what they want to do, and woe be to the parent or teacher who instructs them in the boundaries of appropriate behavior. If a toddler had the vocabulary to do so, he would tell his mommy to "judge not..."

Do you see the problem here?

Fact is, there ARE boundaries on acceptable behavior in our world, and toddlers had better learn about them before they go to school. What teacher is going to let Johnny write with crayons on the wall or jump off his desk, merely because he tells her to "judge not?" Why do we have laws such as murder being a capital offense if we are not to "judge" others?

Why? Because the verse "Judge not lest ye be judged" is not advising the disregard of right and wrong. Read the verse after that and you'll see "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you again." It's saying don't be a hypocrite! If you tell me that it is wrong to lie, you better not lie.

We are expected, as adults, to judge, to discern right and wrong, and to instruct our children on the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It's not wrong to tell your toddler "no." You're not going to damage their precious self-esteem. You'll instead do the world a favor by instilling in him "other-esteem," the regard for the rights of others.

We'll all be happy.

What boundaries will you set for your children today?

Nov 17, 2009

Teaching Ain't What It Used to Be

I have a friend who is a very enthusiastic 4th grade teacher. She loves to teach. She loves the kids. She is full of energy. She is positive, encouraging, and just a blessing everywhere she goes. Parents request that their child be in her class, because she has such a good reputation.

She is rethinking her career path.

How can someone so excellent rethink something she does so well? Because teaching isn't what it used to be. One thousand teachers a day quit teaching. NCLB has mandated so much record keeping and reporting, there are so many special-needs kids in her class, class sizes have grown because of budget cuts, that she really doesn't get to teach much any more. She spends more time in "redirecting" kids with disruptive behavior than teaching the "normal" students who are there to learn.

Let me get this straight. The teachers don't get to teach. The bureaucrats in the state and national capitals sure aren't in the trenches teaching. It's a cinch they've never tried to teach sugared-up first graders how to subtract. They're passing more and more requirements that strangle the school schedules, leaving no money or time for electives like Social Studies, computer, music, or art. They've removed the element of joy from the profession. Sounds like a recipe for burn-out.

Don't wonder why your child comes home complaining that their teacher is "mean." She had to "redirect" all day, every day, 180 days a year. Don't wonder why Johnny has 3 hours of homework to do in the evening. Classroom time was taken up by the disruptive students, who needed to be "redirected" time and time again.

When teaching was teaching, a lot of teachers were excellent. But behavior management and documentation are not subjects you are taught in Teacher College.

It's about time Teacher Colleges started teaching reality instead of theory, don't you think? Maybe then there would be fewer pie-eyed graduates with visions of making a difference in a child's life. If they raised the bar on admissions, it would reduce the glut of teachers looking for work. If they gave them more student teaching and less theory, these would-be teachers can see for themselves what it's like in the trenches.

Only the truly committed would stay in the program. It would reduce the turnover of teachers leaving the profession in 5 years or less. If there were fewer teachers graduating, the schools would have to pay more to attract the best teachers.

The teaching profession would be valued more if the Teacher Colleges themselves valued excellence over money.

If only, if only.

Nov 13, 2009

To Video Game, or Not To Video Game?

One of the financial literacy examples in our home is the distinction between needs & wants. This identification doesn't deter the kids from wanting video games, however. Once in a while I let the kids buy a game with their own hard-earned money.

It seems like not much time has passed before I see them on the computer, at gamefaqs, looking up cheat codes or "walk-throughs," which is turn-by-turn directions to navigate through each level.

I asked them who they suppose writes the walk-throughs. They hadn't thought about it. I asked them to suppose that the walk-throughs were written by the same guy who wrote the game. He would know all the secret codes, cheats, and passages, wouldn't he? But why would anyone write the game AND write the gamefaqs?

Follow the money.

Yeah. Think about two possibilities.

First scenario. You buy a game, work it out yourself, and it takes you forever to figure out the secret passages. You spend months or possibly years trying to beat the game. Whew!

Second scenario. You go to gamefaqs, look up the walk through and/or cheat codes, and beat the game inside of a week. It's not fun any more, because you've already beaten it. Then you beg your mom for a new game.

Which option makes more money for the game writers?


What "game" are you going to work out for yourself today, preventing extravagant spending at the same time?

Nov 11, 2009

Teens and Parents - a Delicate Balance

Ever since the dawn of man, teens have been embarrassed by their parents. Parents are the un-coolest people who ever walked the face of the earth (unless your name is Aimee, Kelly, or Jack Osbourne, maybe) and no teen wants to be seen with his parents more than absolutely necessary.

This is age-appropriate behavior. If you saw a teenager still clinging to his mommy, you'd really think he had problems. The trick is to get your teen to want to stay in touch with you. You need to know what's going on in his/her life, for safety's sake, but you don't want them tethered to you for ever.

Such a delicate balance.

One mom I know uses a "advise but don't check" method of parenting. She tells her daughter that she can only see PG-13 and below rated movies, but mom doesn't check the ticket stubs to see which movie the daughter saw. The daughter knows what's expected of her. The mom allows her to make her own decisions. Consequences only occur if she gets "caught."

That can work with movies, but as an overall philosophy of parenting, I'm not sure I like that. My parenting is more relationship based. You can't wake up one day and start this with a teenager, however. You have to have started from wee-small.

It goes like this: My children love me, and because we have a good relationship, they don't want to disappoint me. I love them and they know it. They have expectations of me and I have expectations of them. If they go beyond the sensible boundaries I have set, they see the hurt in my face.

I don't yell or throw things - I express my disappointment, that I expected better than that out of them. Their own conscience hurts them more than my yelling.

One of the best things we have are cell phones with unlimited texting. My daughter would rather die than to be seen talking to her mother on the phone. But a quick, quiet text letting me know where she is, she's ok, what time she's coming home - how cool is that? She could be texting Lady Gaga for all her friends know.

My teens are my "friends" on Facebook, but I never "like" or comment (publicly) on anything they post. I am training them to present a good image. I speak to them if there is anything presenting an image contrary to the one they want to present. ("The next time you have a job interview, they're going to see this. Are you sure it's part of your brand?")

Whether in person or electronically, it's important to keep up with them. Start when they're small, build a relationship of love and trust, and let them keep in contact their way. Add the electronics only when they're ready and when the relationship is already established. Those lines of communication allow you to coach and guide them from adolescence to adulthood, in a language they understand.

What language are you using to talk to teens today?

Nov 10, 2009

Hurricanes & Hunkerin' Down

When Jim Cantore visits your town, look out! He's the hotshot from the Weather Channel who wants to be where the action is.

This late in the season, no one was prepared for a hurricane. So when Ida roared up to a Category 2 and headed for Mobile, hurried preparations were made. Ok, we didn't board up, but we checked water, batteries, radio, and counted 52 cards in the deck for our nonelectric entertainment.

I said special prayers of thanks that the temperature was cool enough that we wouldn't have to endure sleepless nights in unbearable heat & humidity, as we did in previous post-hurricane power outages.

Hurricane Ida made landfall two hours ago. she was downgraded to a tropical storm, and J.D. Crowe said "Jim Cantore [was] downgraded to Arrogant Guy Hanging Out on the Beach."

Even though the storm didn't turn out to be much of a storm, we as a family are counting the bonus time as a great opportunity to do things together: bake cookies, play scrabble, and catch up on reruns of "Touched By an Angel."

Yeah, we'll have to make up these school days. They'll whack a day or two off Thanksgiving or Christmas break. But it's so worth it to have a "surprise" day off. I can hardly wait to get going.

Those little pauses give an unexpected opportunity to reflect & reconnect.

What opportunities will you use to reflect, and with whom will you reconnect today?

Nov 9, 2009

Moms: The Original Multitaskers

When we were kids, we used to beat Mom at chess pretty regularly. When we were adults, she told us why. The kid was playing chess. Mom was compiling her grocery list, her dinner menu, her laundry schedule, etc etc.

Multitasking is a myth.

You cannot really focus on more than one thing at a time. Computers have parallel processors. You have one brain. If it looks like you're doing two things at once, you're really only focused on one of them. The real question is, how good are you at switching back & forth between tasks, and how many nanoseconds are lost in the switch? Young brains, some studies say, are better at switching, and so it appears that they are better at multitasking. I say it depends on the individual. I know young men who cannot switch focus to save their lives. If the house were on fire, they'd burn to death before they could take their eyes off the video game du jour. I know plenty of middle aged moms who are experts at it.

What mom doesn't juggle a multitude of pins?

Look at the hats we wear: personal valet, chef, maid, housekeeper, taxi driver, nurse, tutor, coach, cheerleader, household administrator ... There aren't enough hours in the day to do all that unless we overlap. Now we have spreadsheets, PDAs and other electronics to help us juggle our ever growing schedule. We quiz our times tables in the car on the way to school. We pick up fast food and eat on our way to sports practice.

In Home Ec class (now known as Family & Consumer Science) in high school, our teacher called it dovetailing. It's performing two essential activities simultaneously. For instance, while your cookies are in the oven, you start wiping the counters. It's an efficient use of time.

The problem, then, lies in "the moment." I've arrived at destinations barely aware that I drove there. I wasn't focused on my driving at all.


I saw a six-car pileup on the highway yesterday. I wonder how many of them were multitaskers. Today I'm going to be more aware of the present. I may even beat my son at chess.

On what are you going to focus today?

Nov 7, 2009

Splenda, Story Problems, and Stupidity

When money is your god, there is never enough.

I read in the paper today where the Splenda plant in McIntosh, Alabama is "ahead of schedule" in closing. Is this supposed to be good news? Pre-tax profits were $185,000,000. Most of the 120 workers are laid off. Production will continue in Singapore.

Ok, so somewhere in Singapore, people are working and children are being fed. I'm happy for them. But it still doesn't make sense to the ones in Alabama. They did all the right things and lost their jobs. It only makes sense to those who worship money. All they can think of is more, more, more.

When I teach math to first graders, I explain that story problems often have "clue words" that tell you if you are to add or subtract. If the story talks about how you have something, and then you get MORE, you are to add. If the question is comparative, how many MORE do you have than your friend, then you subtract.

How would you explain this confusing story problem? Adding profits equals fewer jobs equals more hungry children, whose bellies won't be filled by Singapore Splenda. Fewer jobs equals more family stress, breakdown of families, neighborhoods, societies.

The gap between the rich and poor grows ever wider. Welcome to Brazil II.

What can you do to help feed those hungry babies today?

Nov 5, 2009

Good New Days

I'm not sure how my mind segues from one topic to another, but I was reminded today of candy I used to eat when I was a kid: Black Cow. I wondered if products we loved in our youth will be once again available to us in Heaven, not that I'm in a hurry to get there.

Then I wondered what was so great about them, other than that they reminded me of childhood. People always talk about "The Good Old Days" when they were carefree and had no worries.

I don't remember mine being so good, and I had plenty of worries.

I was bullied in the nice, Catholic school to which my parents made huge sacrifices to send my siblings and me. The teachers liked me, but the kids were awful.

I was worried about grades. A's were acceptable. B's were not.

I had to walk to the convent for guitar lessons, and as a tiny 4th grader, that guitar was awfully heavy. I could not ride a bike and carry the guitar, so I walked on guitar lesson days.

I don't remember going hungry particularly, but we did have a large family, and Sister Angela (God rest her soul) used to give me Holy cards as a reward if I'd gain a pound.

That was many years ago, and I don't remember it generally being a happy, joyous time.

Today I have confidence I didn't have then. I have a much better self-image. I have knowledge and wisdom. I am focused on doing for others, instead of me me me. That, my friends, is the hallmark of maturity, whether age 8 or 80.

Being happy with oneself and one's life, and having hope for the future trumps sitting around complaining how much better the olden days were, and that you can't buy black cows. Eat a Milkdud. Same candy, different shape. Whatever.

What's better about your present life?

Nov 3, 2009

Playing With People's Lives

Something is going on in Ukraine.

Supposedly 70 people have died of swine flu. Now it seems the number is closer to 1500, and the symptoms mimic pneumonic plage. Is it a bioweapon unleashed? By whom? Cui bono? (For whose enrichment?)

I'm not trusting the official party line about the 70 who were tagged "heart attack" or other causes, and I'm not trusting the "aerosol inhaler" version of the swine flu vaccine. The last thing we need is a hefty dose of toxic droplets floating around the air.

Heaven help us.

Pneumonic plague occurs when Y. pestis infects the lungs. This type of plague can spread from person to person through the air. Transmission can take place if someone breathes in aerosolized bacteria, which could happen in a bioterrorist attack. Pneumonic plague is also spread by breathing in Y. pestis suspended in respiratory droplets from a person (or animal) with pneumonic plague. Becoming infected in this way usually requires direct and close contact with the ill person or animal.

Pneumonic plague may also occur if a person with bubonic or septicemic plague is untreated and the bacteria spread to the lungs.

Nov 2, 2009

Dogs & Babies - The Litmus Test

If you ever want to make some change in your family, work, or community, take the litmus test of dogs and babies to help you decide if it makes sense.

Should we set the clocks ahead an hour in the spring, and back again in the fall? Litmus answer: No. Dogs and babies are on their own schedule, and just because you want to snooze for an extra hour in October, your dog and/or baby will not let you. He or she will be raring to go at the usual time. This policy of time change makes no sense. Several states acknowledge this fact. My state, unfortunately, does not.

Should we tax families to death so that a single wage earner cannot sustain even a lower-middle-class lifestyle? Again, litmus test answer: no. Babies should be with someone who loves them. Who loves them more than their mamas? Dogs want you home. They're not interested in waiting all day for life to begin.

Should we decorate a Christmas tree? Sure! Babies love the bright lights, and dogs... well, never mind.

Everything I need to know I learned from my dogs and babies.

What did you learn today?

Oct 31, 2009

They Think We're Stupid

Do the math, friends. How big a savings is this, really?

Oct 30, 2009

Them Dry Bones

Today I subbed in a 5th grade music class. Being this near to Halloween, which most people (not I) celebrate, the song we sang from the music book was "Them Dry Bones." This is a lovely Negro Spiritual, even though they now call it an African American Spiritual. I learned it when I was in grade school. I was glad to see that it had some residual use in a music curriculum, even if the teacher who wrote the lesson plan had to tie it to Halloween to do so.

The slaves, picking cotton, were in a bad situation. The cotton, in its pod, hurts your fingers to pick. Their fingers, when they were done, were surely cut, bleeding, and in pain. The slaves had, as do we all, every day, 3 choices:

1. Change the situation.
2. Get away from the situation.
3. Change the way you feel about the situation.

They could not escape lest they be killed. They could not change it, as they could not change the heart of the slave driver with the whip. All they could do was change the way they feel, so they held strongly to their faith.

They were probably not given off Sunday mornings to go to church, so they brought their "church" or their spirituality with them out in the cotton fields. "Them Dry Bones" is a song about the prophet Ezekiel, who was calling those things that be not as though they were. He commanded the dry bones to get up and walk, and muscle and sinew came upon them and they walked.

He didn't look at the bones or think a thought. Ezekiel SAID to the bones, "get up and walk." Words have power. The power of life and death is in the tongue.

What positive power will your words bring forth today?

Oct 27, 2009

The Tenth Leper

The book of Luke, chapter 17, tells the story of how Jesus cured ten lepers. They all went off happy. Only one returned to thank Jesus.

This story is interesting because society does not encourage the kind of thoughtfulness displayed by the tenth leper. We in America have so much that we are "used to it" "expect it" and "demand" service from any and all.

Think about the people who make your life good: the cafeteria ladies at your children's school, the bank teller, your church secretary, the custodial staff where you work, the city maintenance worker watering flowers to make your town look nice. Sure they get paid to do their jobs, but how much better do you think they'd work if every once in a while someone said to them, "Thanks for all you do. I really appreciate you."

Even better, write a letter to their boss to go in their personnel file. They'll never forget your kindness.

Try this for one day. Plant random seeds of kindness wherever you go. Practice being grateful. Watch how great you feel at the end of the day. You'll get hooked and want to do it again, I bet. Better yet, you'll make many people happy, set a good example for others (your children?), and make the world a better place, just because you were here, purposely acting grateful.

I wonder what ever happened to the other 9? Did they adopt an attitude of entitlement? Did they demand cures for every other disease they contracted? Gotta wonder. When my children thank me for something, it makes me want to give them more. That's not such a stretch.

Gratitude is endearing. Entitlement is not.

Whom will you, the tenth leper, appreciate today?

Oct 26, 2009

First, Pick the Right Parents

The popular myth is that any kid can grow up to be President. Sadly, this is not the case.

At the time I became politically aware of issues, legislation and candidates, I prayed that my children would *not* want to be President. There were so many compromises made just to get to the House, the Senate, or the Governor's Mansion, that it occurred to me "any kid" cannot afford just to waltz in there. Even when we elected "someone good" to the House, they always ended up voting for stupid bills and I found myself wanting to get rid of them once more! They have to make alliances with PACs and special interest groups to get the funding to advertise & run an effective campaign.

But even being rich on your own doesn't do it. Ross Perot is proof of that.

This morning, I read that Barack Obama is related to every President except Martin Van Buren. Why does this not surprise me? How does a foreign-born "outsider" waltz into the White House? It wasn't just the political compromises and financial alliances. Like royalty, he was born into it, groomed since birth. says this:

BridgeAnne d'Avignon, who attends Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, traced that Obama, and all other U.S. presidents except Martin Van Buren, are related to John "Lackland" Plantagenet, a king of England and signer of the Magna Carta.

The student and her grandfather, who is a genealogist, spent this past summer designing the first known family tree chart in history that shows the presidents' direct relationship. BridgeAnne's grandfather has researched president genealogy for 60 years.
So there you have it. If you want to be President, it's very simple.

Pick the right parents.

Oct 23, 2009

Jesus is Not at Target

For several years now I've needed to replace the rope-light nativity set that has graced my yard each Christmas season, from the day after Thanksgiving, until Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas.) I did not realize how hard it would be to replace a seasonal decoration. The Christmas stuff starts filling the store shelves before Halloween, after all.

However, not only can I not find a rope-light nativity, but I cannot even find the nativity, period. There are snowmen and angels and Santa and gifts and candy canes, and every other secular decoration you can imagine. Where is Jesus?

I shop every store in my area, with limited success. I say limited, because Hobby Lobby did have a nativity set for sale last year that was several thousand dollars over my meager budget.

What bothers me is the vast array of Christmas decorations that includes things heretofore un-Christmaslike. Some years ago, Christmas penguins showed up on the store shelves. Penguins? They live at the South Pole; Santa's at the North. What's up with that? Then there were some Christmas flamingos. They're a tropical bird, but ok, people around the Equator probably celebrate Christmas, too.

But Christmas PIGS?

Yes, this year, at Target, we are treated to the additional option of a 30-inch glitter wired Christmas Pig. Since they're made in China, I have to wonder if they're 2007 leftovers from the Chinese Year of the Pig. Target is smart enough to snap them up at clearance prices, and sell them to Americans who, by all accounts, have forgotten whose birthday Christmas celebrates.

I thought this was bizarre and unique until I discovered there is a whole industry of Christmas-Pig themed merchandise: ornaments, scarves, books, and of course LOTS of tchotchkes.

Whatever you put in your yard is ok, ok? Me, I'll keep looking, and I'll let you know if I ever find Jesus. Watch this space.

What (or whom) are you seeking today?

Oct 20, 2009

It's In the (Shopping) Bag

Reusable shopping bags have become all the fashion. Stores want you to buy their reusable bag (with their logo on it, of course) & bring it back to reuse, presumably to save the environment. Yes, all know how environmentally responsible big corporations are. Well, it saves them from having to buy bags, increasing profits. It gives you one more thing to buy, increasing profits. And I suppose their logo on the bag encourages you not to take it to a competitor's store, increasing profits.

The sales clerks hate them because they slows down the line, but CEO's rarely ask the opinion of those in the trenches.

Target and CVS have started paying shoppers to bring their own bags. Not much, but it's nice to pass some of the savings along. Aldi's has always charged for bags. I used to shop there quite often. I liked their paper bags. They hold canned goods and boxes of cereal very nicely. (Have you ever had the corner of a box of macaroni rip your flimsy plastic bag? Sure you have.) If I forgot my bags, I'd use a cardboard carton from the store, or buy a five-cent bag from them. Sam's Club doesn't have "free" bags, just the reusable ones, at 2/$2.74. (Have you noticed how it's hard to buy just one of anything at Sam's?)

Some of us shop on a whim. I might be picking up kids from school and remember that I need cheese for the dinner I'm making that night. I stop at a store on the way home to buy cheese, maybe an extra loaf of bread and some jelly while I'm there... and I did not happen to bring my bags because this was not a planned trip. My choices:

1. Pay more to shop in stores that offer "free" bags.
2. Carry bread, jelly, and cheese out of the store without a bag. Um, too much to carry. Not likely.
3. Shop where they leave cartons lying around for my use - assuming I have cash, since these store don't often take checks or credit cards. Um, not likely.

Remember when I said that being disorganized costs you money? Yeah. Even if it's just the cost of a bag.

H'mmm. I think I'll just wallow in my guilt of ruining the environment and paying extra for the free bags. The stores can feel smug in their environmental do-gooderness. Maybe the tide will turn and ten years from now all those recyclable bags will be at the Goodwill, and people will go back to paper bags.

At that time, I'll try not to be smug and consider myself ahead of the pack.

How are you going to balance care for the environment vs care for your family today?

Oct 19, 2009

How I Beat Addiction

Every time I see the price of cigarettes going up and wonder, "Who can afford to smoke?" I remember how I was when I smoked. Almost no one quits smoking because the price goes up. Addicts will go without food. They arrange their budgets and their lives around their addiction.

The title of this post is not "How TO Beat Addiction." It's "How I..." because this is what worked for me.

I had several addictions, but let's talk about smoking. I smoked for about 17 years. This is something you usually don't just wake up one day and say, "Well, I guess I won't do that any more." Much more to it than that. I had decided that I wanted to be done with the slavery, the smell, the expense.

The first step in quitting is wanting to quit. When you want to quit more than you want to smoke, you will quit. So I prayed for the desire to quit. That's right - I asked God to help me want to, because I knew if I wanted something badly enough, I would make it happen.

Then I asked for the means, or ability. He gave me that as well. He directed me to knowledge about the process and an online support community. My nonsmoking family members could not support me. Only an addict in withdrawal knows what it's like to be an addict in withdrawal.

Smoking is really two things: a nicotine addiction and a smoking habit. By using "divide and conquer" I was able to compartmentalize the factors and work on one at a time. I used the nicotine patch to fight the addiction part while I worked on the habit in my head. I ate Chex Mix and Cheezits to crunch out my frustration (I'd deal with the weight later - I was busy saving my life at that time...) My doctor gave me something for anxiety - "Don't kill anyone," she said with a laugh. She was at one time a smoker. She knew. With the support of my "Quit buddies" I laughed, I cried, I encouraged others, and in so doing I encouraged myself. I pretty much brainwashed myself by using positive affirmations all day, every day. I love being smoke-free. I enjoy having clean-smelling hair. I am proud to be smober!

Change is sustained by accountability.

More than anything, I did not want to have to go back to my friends and admit failure. They were cheering every milestone: one day, one week, one month... How could I let them down?

We shared and compared, much the same way mothers compare their babies. By talking to those who were a week ahead of me, I knew what to expect next week. By talking to those who were a month ahead, I knew what to expect next month. By talking to those who just finished their first year, I just kept thinking, man, I want to be mellow like them!

It's been a dozen years. I am free from the slavery of addiction. I do not have to plan my outings around smoking. I do not have to get nervous if I'm in a meeting or seminar all day in a nonsmoking facility. I don't have to worry about offending people with my breath. I don't have to give up food to pay for my addiction. Best of all, I'm mellow. Haha, as mellow as someone with a high-strung personality can be, anyway.

You can't make anyone quit. And you can't quit for anyone else. It's personal. Intensely personal. When you want to quit more than you want to smoke, it will happen. I promise. Find some (cyber or F2F) friends to share your journey. We're better together.

What good decisions will you make today?

Oct 14, 2009

Who Wants My Stuff?

One man's trash is another one's treasure, as the saying goes. Why send stuff to the landfill when there might be someone nearby who wants what you have? Consider the following:

Threadbare sheets, towels, and blankets. The Humane Society where I used to live collected these to use on animals as they came out of spay/neuter surgery. Puppies don't care if they're not 400 thread count.

Ink cartridges. Every school I know collects these for recycling. It's a money-maker for the schools. Office supply stores such as Staples & Office Depot accept them also.

Old cell phones. Cell Phones for Soldiers provides one hour of talk time for soldiers stationed abroad for every old cell phone donated.

Furniture. There exist, in almost every town, thrift stores such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Vietnam Vets, that sell used household items. If you have a couch that is in decent shape, donate it. Most times, the store will pick it up for you. If they tell you they would love it but cannot pick it up, then ask your tax adviser if you can hire two men and truck to take it there, and deduct that cost, as well as the value of the couch, as a charitable donation on your taxes.

Household items like dishes, pots, pans, silverware, lamps, and decent bedding. When two adults combine households, you really need to assess how many toasters any one family needs. Catholic Social Services (call your local Catholic parish to get the number) has a refugee resettlement program in many cities whereby families are arriving here from war-torn countries with nothing but the shirts on their backs. They are setting up households with nothing and would welcome a fork, spoon, or coffee cup.

Eyeglasses. The Lion's Club wants them.

Clothing. When our family was struggling financially, people would give me bags of clothes, saying that they didn't want to donate them to Goodwill "because they just sell them." The giver wanted to give the items to the person who would actually use them. I received the items gratefully but gently informed the giver that when you donate to Goodwill, "you bless people like me." I was able to buy a winter coat at a bargain price that I never could have afforded at a store. Every time I wear that coat, I bless the person who generously donated it to the thrift store.

I take a tax deduction of 14 cents/mile to deliver my bag of clothes to the charity drop off point.

Books and magazines. Libraries usually have a book sale, either annually or ongoing, to raise funds. Donations are most welcome.

Office supplies. If you have obsolete stationery (letterhead or envelopes) donate them to a preschool or elementary school. The lower grades send letters to Santa, and the envelopes can also be used to send notes home. Pencils are welcome at every school and almost every grade (I say almost because there are classrooms where they use the "fat" pencils instead.) In fact, you might check out the teacher's lounge and see if it is in need of a pencil holder, pencils, stapler, tape dispenser, and sticky notes.

Shoes. Believe it or not, there are charities that specialize in accepting & distributing donations of used shoes. Soles4Souls is one, Shoe Bank is another.

There may be many other willing recipients of stuff you no longer want. Call your church secretary (or the secretary of the largest church in your town) because she is often a link in the chain of those who need, and those who donate. She might have just the person who needs what you have.

You can't take it with you. Be a channel, not a reservoir.

Whom are you going to bless with your stuff today?

Oct 7, 2009

The Debt You Deserve

A hammer is a tool. It can hang a picture. It can also knock a hole in your wall. Credit is a tool. Used wisely, it’s very useful. If my refrigerator goes out, I will be out the door to Lowe’s to get another, Mastercard in hand. Before the bill comes, I will move money from my savings account to my checking account so that I can pay the bill in full when it arrives.

Credit used foolishly, is slavery.

Next time you see a TV commercial where the guy, usually selling big-ticket items like furniture or cars, says, “We’ll give you the credit you deserve!” I want you to substitute the word “debt” for “credit.” Now give a listen: “We’ll give you the DEBT you deserve!” Doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it? That’s what they’re counting on.

Those "easy payments" become uneasy real fast when you've lost your job. The credit you deserve is nothing but debt. You're spending tomorrow's prosperity today, without knowing what tomorrow may bring.

A wiser alternative: learn to say “no” to yourself, save the money, and pay cash for what you want. For a car? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not. It’s doable. Maybe you can’t afford a brand new Mercedes, but can you pass by the Coke machine, bank the $2 every day, and a couple of years from now have enough saved for a Plymouth? Just for giving up soda? If you lose the “Yeah but I gotta look cool” mentality, you’ll find that being free from slavery is more refreshing than “cool” ever was.

Fast food and convenience food are terribly expensive. How to cut back:

Pack a sandwich for lunch and skip the fast food. No time in the morning? Make time on the weekend. Buy several pounds of deli lunch meat, several loaves of bread, and set up an assembly line of sandwiches. They go into the freezer so that all you have to do is grab one to go in the morning, and it’s thawed by lunch time.

Make a big pot of spaghetti, chili, or soup on the weekend, and save portions in freezer bags. Quick suppers will be waiting in your freezer. Cook a casserole and double the recipe. Freeze half. Two weeks from now you won’t think of it as leftovers; it will just be dinner.

A stay-at-home mom with 5 kids was able to save up to remodel her kitchen and pay cash. Yes, cash. How? By not being caught up in the need to impress. The Oldsmobile was good enough. She bought meat that was marked down for quick sale (and cooked it that night for supper). Cheaper cuts of meat tenderize just fine in a crock pot. She fed her family nutritiously but economically for years.

Now that the economy has turned, she has money in the bank, investments that are solid, 50% equity in her home, and many of her friends are mighty impressed. This mom who wasn’t trying to impress anyone, is in an enviable position. This could be you.

How much will you save by saying "NO" to yourself today?

Oct 6, 2009

Credit Card or Debit Card - What's the Diff?

A credit card (normally Mastercard or Visa) is issued by a bank who has decided that you are loan-worthy. You get to use the card for purchases now, and they send you a bill. You pay the bill a few weeks after the purchase. What this does is buy you time to get your money together for something you need now. It also offers you the convenience of not being interrogated by TSA agents at the airport, because anyone who pays cash for an airplane ticket *must* be a terrorist, right? Uh, ok, moving along...

A debit card (which may carry the MC or V logo) is an electronic form of payment whereby Walmart (let's say) sucks the money out of your checking account immediately instead of billing Mastercard who, in turn, bills you. The money had better be in your checking account when you make the purchase, because if you overdraw, your bank will be happy to charge you a $29 overdraft fee while you sip your $3 latte.

The ugly truth is that banks make more profit in overdraft fees than anything else. They're not about to give up that cash cow.

What can you do? How about doing the math? Learn to keep track of the amount of money in your account. Each time you buy something and swipe your debit card, subtract that amount from your running balance. Simple arithmetic. If you know, to the penny, how much money is in your account, you *can't* accidentally overdraw the account.

It's not hard. It takes discipline. The upside is, you learn discipline, and save a fortune on overdraft fees. The downside, well, the 10 seconds it took you to write down the amount in your register is not worth complaining about.

Use credit as a tool. Would you take out a bank loan to buy a latte? Then why use a credit card? If my refrigerator goes out tomorrow, watch how fast I whip out my credit card at Lowe's and buy a new one. The weeks between purchase and payment will allow me to move money around in my accounts, have a garage sale, whatever it takes so as to pay the entire balance off at once.

Never let the balance ride. The banks love when you do this, so why pad their pockets? If you only charge what you can pay each month, you never have to worry about the APR on the card, because it will not apply to you.

More on credit as a tool in our next blog entry.

What new financial literacy items will you plan to learn next?

Oct 2, 2009

Get Your Free Smiles Here!

Every day, I go to public places such as stores, the post office, schools, where I might pass by hundreds of people. My eyes are always looking around. I am aware of not only what is around me, but whom. I try to make eye contact with as many people as I can. I smile at hundreds of people every day. Some of them smile back. Some of them walk past me as if they did not see me, even though they might have passed within inches.

What's their deal?

I have to wonder what makes someone so inwardly-focused that they fail to connect with other humans. In our frenzied pace we might not have an opportunity to engage in a lengthy conversation or discourse on local politics. That's ok. I was just looking for eye contact, a silent connection that communicated, "hey, I'm here too." Is it just their personality, or do they really have too many friends and no need of further human contact? Have they been hurt so many times that they just don't take chances any more? And is hurting me going to relieve their hurt?

I'm giving away smiles and getting relief from my loneliness in return. You can, too. It costs nothing. In today's economy, it's a bargain. Try it.

To whom are you going to give away smiles today?

Sep 30, 2009

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

Remember the old TV show "Let's Make a Deal"? Monty Hall would say to a lady in the audience, "I'll give you fifty dollars if you have a hard boiled egg in your purse." Sure enough, the exuberant lady would pull out the egg and collect her cool fifty. She came prepared. She had watched the show often enough to know what kinds of things Monty was likely to request.

We can only give what we have.

Had the lady not brought along the egg, she could not have presented it at the appointed time. Ok, thanks, Captain Obvious. What has this got to do with anything? It's about relationships.

Miserable people give away their misery. If you don't have joy, you can't give joy. If you only have misery, then that's the only item in your "bag." Do you wonder why some people leave you feeling drained every time you're near them? Misery drains your energy. It's hard to keep people propped up all the time. Maybe you'd be doing them a favor to let them prop themselves up once in a while.

Joy comes from giving & serving others.

When you get out of yourself and start living for others you build joy in your heart. Only when you have it then are you able to give it away. Forgive the ones who spread misery. They can only give what they have. Maybe you can share with them the secret to having the joy they need, instead of propping them up.

To whom are you gong to bring joy today?

Sep 29, 2009

Rebate Card Ripoffs

The first rule of Financial Literacy is (are you taking notes?):

Everyone wants your money.

We got some new cell phones last summer. The advertised price was "after rebate" because if they told you that you'd have to front the money, you might not want to buy such a costly phone. So let's say you really like the phone and you agree to the after-rebate price.

Now the fun begins.

The sales representatives gives you reams of paperwork to turn in to get your rebate. You dutifully cut the box apart to send in the code printed on the side. You send in forms, receipts, etc. and now... you wait. Weeks later you get a text message on you phone saying they received your forms. Weeks later still, you get a message saying your rebate is on the way.

On that fateful day, you go to your mailbox to find.... cards? What?

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You don't really get a rebate, you get a prepaid Visa card that is supposedly good at any merchant who takes Visa. When it's activated. What?

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You will get instructions with the card that you have to phone a toll-free number to activate your card. Furthermore, you have to know the last 4 digits of the cell phone number to which this card is issued. They'll give you a hint: the last digit.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. If you buy more than one cell phone, be sure that the phone numbers do not end in the same digit. If they do, how will you know which cell phone digits to use to activate which "rebate" card?

Maybe you're a lucky guesser.

And maybe you'll be lucky at the checkout at Walmart, and get a clerk who actually knows how to redeem these dumb things for your purchase. If your card is less than the purchase amount, good luck.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. You are responsible for knowing how much (to the penny) is on your card. If you have forty-two cents on your card, you have to tell the clerk "I have forty-two cents on this card" so she can program in the forty-two cents to deduct it from what you now owe. Hope she figures it out before the card expires.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. AT&T secretly hopes that you'll give up in frustration without redeeming the full amount of your card, because if you let it expire (120 days) before you figure it out, they get to keep the money.


Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. Canada doesn't even let AT&T use them. They get checks. Wish our lawmakers were looking out for us as well. Good luck with that.

Everyone wants your money.

Who are you going to hold accountable today?

Sep 23, 2009

Teens & Jobs

Talking to teens today. All others, listen in if you want.

We all wish our parents had that "magic money tree" growing in the back yard, but the fact is, most teens have jobs to support their lifestyle. Wearing a hairnet & nametag may not be your career goal, but it is a first step in the working world. It builds character, and gets your foot in the door.

Teen unemployment is the highest it's been in 60 years. Have you applied for a job and then wondered why you never heard back? There may be some valid reasons besides the economy. Consider these pointers.

1. Timing

If you are applying for a job at any kind of restaurant, do NOT disturb them during their lunch & dinner rush hours. A good time might be 2-4 p.m. when they have time to speak to you. If a store sells clothing, Saturday afternoons are dreadfully busy. Try Tuesday mornings instead. If you must go in on a weekend, try to arrive within the first hour they are open.

2. Dress

What do you look like when you walk in? Do you dress smartly, as one who would well-represent the company? Or do you look like the creature from the Goth Lagoon? If a store sells clothes, they want a sales staff who has some sense of fashion. Banks and law firms sell "confidence" and so do not want tattoos and piercings. If you're applying for a job detassling corn, at least wear the clean jeans without holes in them.

3. Resume

Have a resume with you, even if the company doesn't ask for it. You can always offer to leave it with them in case there are openings in the future. Be sure to have all the names, address, and phone numbers of all your personal and professional references with you, so that you aren't phoning home every 5 minutes.

4. Mom

Speaking of phoning home, leave Mom at home. When I see helicopter moms helping their offspring fill out an application, I know they mean well. But I also wonder if Mom is going to be there every day to help Junior do the job, too.

5. Gratitude

If you are granted a moment to speak to the manager, remember that he is doing you a favor. Shake his hand (no dead fish - practice a firm, but not bone-breaking, shake). Thank him for his time. Good manners will take you a long way. If you are called in for a formal interview, be sure to get the manager's name (& correct spelling) so that you can follow up with a brief thank you note when you get home. No, not an email, not a text message. I'm talking about a real hand-written note of thanks for his consideration, in an envelope, with a 44 cent stamp, delivered by the US Postal Service.

Thoughtful people are always in demand. Going the extra mile is the edge you need in this economy.

6. Electronic applications

These are a bit trickier, as you don't have the opportunity online to impress anyone with your warm smile and firm (but not bone-breaking) handshake. The best thing you can do for this kind of application is spell everything correctly, and don't leave blanks. If the application includes psychological testing questions, be your best (human) self. There might be a question like "Have you ever been tempted to steal..." and if you say "no" they'll know you're a liar. So yes, it's ok to be truthful on these tests. Also, pay attention to duplicate questions. They may ask the same question (worded slightly differently) more than once, just to see if you'll answer it the same way. Again, if your answers don't match, you're a liar.

I always tell the truth. If their computer doesn't like me the way I am, then this is not a job I'd be happy in for long. I'd rather work for a human who shakes my hand without breaking bones, anyway. That "good manners" thing works both ways, you know. Good luck.

Whom will you impress with your good manners and thoughtfulness today?

Sep 22, 2009

Textbooks – What a Racket!

At one particular parochial school, parents are required to buy textbooks for their children. New textbooks run about $75 from the school office, but Amazon usually has used ones for about one-fourth of that price.

One mom searched Amazon for a 3-year old Math textbook for her son. There weren’t any available for less than $60 - used! I suppose the seller thought it was a case of supply and demand. If we think you MUST have this book, you’ll pay what we ask.

Smart Mom said “Oh, yeah?”

She searched a little more and found Glencoe’s Mathematics: Applications and Concepts - Course 1 in the Florida edition instead of the Alabama. They look the same on the cover except the tiny state outline in the corner. Why would Florida children be required to learn different math concepts than Alabama’s children? For a 75% discount, it was worth the risk of finding out.

She ordered the Florida book.

When it arrived, she compared it to an Alabama version, and found a few differences. The operative word is “few.” At the beginning of the book, there are pages thanking that state’s “contributors,” some pages on preparing for the state’s achievement test, and some pages aligning the concepts in the book with the respective state’s standards. That’s it.

By the time you reach page 1, there is no difference!

Glencoe publishes identical books for two states (or maybe 50 for all we know) with a slightly different cover and a dozen pages of state-specific information before Chapter One ever begins. From page 1 to page 679, the student will be on the same page as his peers, with a book that, bought used, will help his family buy groceries for another week.

What a racket.

Moral of the story: don’t let the school tell you what you have to have, unless they are willing to buy it for you. Don’t get sucked into paying too much for textbooks. The publishers are laughing all the way to the bank. Mom saving $45 for an extra 5 minutes of research proved a good use of her time.

Be smart. Shop around.

On what purchase are you going to compare prices today?

Sep 21, 2009


There was a weird sun-rain today. That's when the sun is shining and yet it's raining. While waiting at a stoplight, I saw a most amazing double rainbow. If you look above the first rainbow, you'll see another one, which reflects the first.

As if the rainbow were not impressive enough, how incredible is the technology that allowed me to snap a photo of it on my cell phone, and send it wirelessly to my computer at home?

Suppose the only things you had tomorrow were the things you are grateful for today?

For what (and whom) are you giving thanks today?

Sep 19, 2009

Beautiful Distractions

I taught a Vacation Bible School class years ago that, simply by chance, turned out to be a class of boys. We used drama to memorize our verses. We used action to play out the Scripture. We charged from one station to the next like the good Christian Soldiers that we were.

The pencils maintained their pristine points, while the workbooks gathered dust on the table.

If I'd had ONE girl in that class, I could not have taught the same way. We'd have had to do the workbooks at some point. I was so grateful to be able to reach & teach the boys without workbooks.

William Campbell Douglass II, M.D. has a newsletter about common sense medicine. He talks about the distraction that pretty women pose to men in academic (or other) settings. Here's what he says:

Their drop-dead good looks make our minds turn to mush.

When I had a few moments free from the distractions of the pretty women in my life, I read about a study in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology that looked at how these women damage our thinking.

The study asked men to perform a simple memory test. Then, they repeated the test after talking to other men, and talking to beautiful women. What they found was unsurprising: The more attractive the woman, the worse they did on that test.

Women, on the other hand, performed about the same on their tests no matter who they spoke to, proving once again that whoever called them the weaker sex was probably weak in the head.
Single gender classrooms work.

A respected medical journal verifies what my experience teaching all-girls, all-boys, and mixed classes has long ago taught me. "Male and female He created them." They do not think alike. I'm thankful for the differences. And I'm thankful for this information because every time there's a single gender class to teach, my hand is going up fast.

How are you going to use your knowledge to help someone today?

Sep 16, 2009

School Fundraisers

Here they come again - the neighborhood children with fliers of products for them to sell around the neighborhood. You've seen them: cheesecakes, wrapping paper, soup mix, so on. The schools are in a pinch. I buy their stuff. I support my schools, and my neighborhood kids. But $10 wrapping paper is getting old. Gift bags (reusable) are more eco-friendly. And I've tasted that cheesecake. Sorry - um, no thanks.

Here's a cool idea I read about here:

This fundraiser has almost no overhead. You get a LaZBoy recliner donated (out of somebody's basement) for a day. You sell raffle tickets (this site said 25 cents, I'm thinking a dollar) and if your name is drawn, you get to sit in the recliner during each of your classes. The Student Council (or whatever group is doing the fundraiser) members put the chair in your first period class. After class, they come and move the chair to your second period class, and so on.

What kid would not love this?

Most middle and high schoolers I know have a dollar to spare, and every one of them would take this chance. The best part? Money is raised for a good cause, kids are spending their own money, not Mom's, and I don't have to eat nasty cheesecake that will go straight to my hips, nor wrap Christmas gifts with paper that will be out to the trash on Dec 26.

Wrapping paper - $10
Cheesecake - $14
The memories (and yearbook photos) of "LaZBoy Day?" Priceless.

How are you going to help your school raise funds today?

Sep 14, 2009

Isn't That Special?

A friend of mine is considering changing her children's school, because they won't let her daughter have her cell phone on an overnight retreat. The child has medical issues, and the mom wants to be sure the daughter can reach her.

I completely understand the school's policy. This is a Christian school, and the retreat is a religious experience. Texting your friends will not add to your spiritual growth. I completely understand the mom. "The policy is 'stupid' because my child has needs that other children don't have." Well, ok, I don't agree the policy is stupid. I agree that Mom might have a legitimate concern.

Her child is special.

I don't mean that in the Olympic sense of the word. I mean it as, "no one loves my child more than I do, and the lioness claws come out if I think my child needs defending." My children are special, too. I'm guilty of defending them. Every mom is. That's why kids have moms - to speak for the voiceless, to defend the young. It's a great system.

Changing schools is not the answer.

Every school is going to have a policy you don't like. Until you've met the other 29 kids in your child's class without health issues and seen what they do with cellphones that do not add to their spiritual growth, you would not appreciate the school's policy. It's not pretty.
Teens across the country are being charged with child pornography for sending inappropriate photos from their cell phones, and lives are being destroyed because of bad choices made by immature teens.

So you can't blame the school for having a policy. What you can do is sit down with the principal and find out what your other options are. Can an adult keep possession of the girl's phone during the retreat? Can the girl use an adult's phone to check in a couple of times each day to say "Hi it's me nothing's wrong" ? Can she skip the retreat and do an alternate assignment like a project, report, or essay?

Schools and parents are never going to agree on everything. It's because each side has information that the other doesn't.

Share the information. It can only help the kids. Especially the special ones.

Who are you going to (nicely) defend today?

Sep 12, 2009

Achievement Tests

When I was in lower grades, we used to take what were called "achievement tests." They were computer graded tests (bring two sharpened number 2 pencils, fill in the bubble) that were designed to assess your achievement. What have you learned? How do you and your school rank nationally? The teachers stressed the importance of doing our best and following directions exactly, because these were important tests. And yes, they are. Achievement is good.

Reaching a goal rocks.

My boys played soccer. Each year after the awards banquet, they'd come home with some sort of trophy. Up it went on the shelf for Mom to dust. As I dusted the trophies, I felt bad that I didn't have much pride in them. They didn't represent anything more than attendance. You show up, you get a trophy. Big deal. A trophy should represent an achievement, otherwise it's just a piece of plastic gathering dust on your shelf.

A certain athlete is alleged to have used steroids to beat another athlete's record. I can't say if he did or did not use steroids, but if he did, then he knows in his heart that his trophy is worthless. Steroids are cheating. Or put the steroids-users against other steroids-users, and the non-users against the non-users. At least that levels the playing field.

How would you feel if your teenager bragged about beating a 6-year old in chess? Where's the competition? What has he achieved?

Which brings us back to the first point. I remember being quite proud of my scores on the achievement tests. My children derive a great deal of self-esteem when they master some academic material, or reach a goal.

No one has to "teach" them to feel good about it. Self esteem is derived from mastery.

I've never won a trophy. I don't want one, either, unless it represents an achievement. I don't need more plastic to dust.

Who are you going to encourage to achieve today?

Sep 11, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

A while back, I had some really good news. It had been a long time since this had last happened, so I was pretty pumped. I ran into a former friend of mine at the post office, and greeted her warmly and shared my good news - I was sure she'd want my life's update. Well, she was polite, but that's about it. She left abruptly.

I pondered this all the way home. Was she mad at me? Did I say something wrong?
Yeah, I did. I should have asked how she was doing. In my excitement about my news, I forgot that maybe she had news, too. I recalled times when people told me all the great things going on in their life, and my envy prevented me from sharing their joy. Maybe my friend has recently gotten some bad news that she needed to share, but didn't feel comfortable popping my bubble.

Then I remembered other times when my feelings were hurt by well-meaning friends. Do the friends even know how much they hurt me? Probably not. And I didn't, at the time, realize that I was probably hurting my friend at the post office. Only later did I think that it was even possible.

Next time I run into a friend or used-to-be friend, I'm going to be purposeful about talking less and listening more.

The world does not need someone to talk; it needs someone to listen.

To whom are you going to really listen today?

Sep 10, 2009

Mother Guilt & Personal Responsibility

As a mother, I'm inclined to take the blame for everything that's wrong in my family's world. You're cold? Let me get you a sweater and fix hot cocoa. You're hungry? Here's some food. From the time they are infants, moms are programmed to respond to their needs. If Mom is smart, there comes a point where she must allow them the privilege of taking responsibility for fixing their own problems. It's tough to let go, though, because I can do things better and faster.

They might make a mess, but they'll also learn how to fix a sandwich.

There is a policy in my house: I only wash the clothing that is in the laundry room. That makes sense, of course, since that's where the washer is. However, it doesn't stop children from complaining that the item of clothing left under their bed is not clean and ready to wear when they want it.

I suppose it's easier (although childish) for them to complain than to discipline themselves to keep their clothing where it belongs.

Then there is the inevitable frustration of clothing that found its way in the laundry room too late for the last load. When I hear "I need this RIGHT NOW and it's not clean!" then I have to take a deep breath and realize that this could easily turn into a "I'm so sorry, what can I do to make you happy" guilt fest, or a shouting match. One of us has to be the grown up. So I say something like, "Let me get this straight: I failed to read your mind, and now you're angry?" This usually buys me time as they puzzle through what I just said. My point, though, often comes through: if you want something, tell me. If I can help you, I will. If I think you need to help yourself, I'll make that clear, too.

Don't allow yourself to be bullied by people who want you to do what they should be doing, by those who expect you to read their minds, or by those who want to absolve themselves of guilt by putting it on you. You have enough problems of your own - don't take on those of others.

Who are you going to teach to be self-sufficient today?

Sep 9, 2009

Spend it Before You Leave, Please!

I worked at Kmart in the late 70s. They paid us in cash. Yes, cash. We'd go, one at a time, into the Personnel Manager's office. She and a store Assistant Manager were there. She'd hand you an envelope with your cash, and ask you to count it before you leave, to verify you were paid correctly. The flap of the envelope documented your hours, pay, and deductions.

As you can probably guess, more than a little of that cash stayed behind at the store before we left for the day. I need peanut butter, I have cash... it follows.

What a great sales strategy for them. Had they given us a payroll check, and we took it to the bank, cashed or deposited it, then came back to the store to spend our hard-earned wages, some of those dollars might get spent elsewhere in the meantime.

Since bank accounts are free in many places, there's no excuse not to have one, but let's say you don't have an account. There are places that will cash your payroll check, such as Walmart, and your local bartender. If he knows you, and your boss.

Chances are not good that your company will cash your payroll check.

Today, you don't get a check any more. If you don't have a bank account for direct deposit, (which is required for government jobs and probably some others) then you get a debit card with the money "pre-loaded." It's all electronic, electrons bumping into other electrons as the so-called money "moves" from the company's account to the employee's.

We're back to the Kmart opti0n now, aren't we? I have a debit card with funds loaded. I think I'll swipe-swipe my little card at the checkout as I pick up peanut butter on my way out the door...

We've come full circle.

Now instead of spending our cash before we leave, we're swiping our debit card before we leave. Careful. It's easy to get "spendy" on payday. Especially when it doesn't look like money.

On what are you spending your hard earned money today?

Sep 7, 2009

I Was Always on My Mind

The road to hell... as they say.

I heard Kevin Skinner on "America's Got Talent" (love him!!!) sing an old Willie Nelson tune. The lyrics are something like, "Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time. But you were always on my mind..." No I wasn't. YOU were always on your mind.

Love compels to action.

If you are thinking fondly of someone, yet fail to communicate that thought, you may as well never had it at all. How hard is it to pick up the phone & say, "Hey, I was thinking about you - how are you doin'?"

Do you know how much joy you can bring to someone for a mere 44 cents? Let me clue you in: many elderly people are probably not on SMS, email, Twitter, Facebook, or Linked In. They do, however, go to their physical mailbox each day. If you see a funny cartoon that reminds you of your 5th grade teacher, cut it out, drop it in an envelope (with or without a note) and send it on its way. Took you all of a minute and a 44 cent stamp, to bring untold joy to another.

What a bargain!

I know couples who have been married 50+ years. How does that happen? By being generous of time and action. You do for each other, you give your time, your attention, and all those acts of love daily: fix coffee, pick up socks, laugh as his or her jokes, send a text message saying "Thanks for being mine," bring home a single flower, help with the dishes... It's not a big deal; it's a thousand little ones. You don't stay married by being selfish. Two selfish people can barely stay married 6 months. For God so loved the world that he gave.

Love = giving.

You have to give to be happy. It's an essential ingredient in marriage, the secret for positive relationships and successful families.

Who is on your mind today?

Sep 2, 2009

Move, or Get Run Over! Technology in Education

I saw an advertisement for a slide rule today. The ad made me laugh. "Bow down," it said, "to the original pocket calculator." Yeah, they helped guys in the 60s get other guys to the moon. But I didn't go to high school in the 60s. I went to high school in the groovy 70s where digital LCD electronics were just becoming popular. We joked about a classmate of ours who was age 18 and still a sophomore. We snorted that he must have had a "digital class ring": Class of 76, class of 77, nope, better make that 78...

At the dawn of the digital age, calculators were still very expensive and couldn't do much beyond the basic 4 functions. And yet our teacher was trying to teach us the slide rule. I saw the future and refused to be restricted by the past. I refused to learn it, period. I got a 34 on the math portion of my ACT without a calculator nor slide rule. I did not see the need to learn abacus, either, thankyouverymuch.

Turns out I was right.

I agree with the educator who said (tongue in cheek) that any teacher who spends education money on maps & globes needs to be shot. This is the digital age, the web 2.0 age, the era where the internet has the information you need, and can locate it faster & more efficiently than kids spinning a globe. Some educators feel that learning 50 state capitals is useless, as one can easily look them up. Well, memorization is not a bad skill, but when it comes to actually finding Montgomery on an Alabama map, well, Google Maps beats kid-with-Rand-McNally hands down.

I like chalk boards and white boards, but Promethean boards are engaging and interactive. The students, who grew up on PlayStation, X-Box, and Wii, have remotes that let them "vote" or select an answer, and the teacher can see at once who voted and who did not, and who does and doesn't understand the concept. It's the same lesson, only in a language that students understand.

Let's get rid of the maps & globes, World Book Encyclopedia while we at it, and bring in the iPhone. I have literally a world of collective knowledge at my fingertips and you want me to learn slide rule? Get out of my way. Old methods of learning are quaint. Some are even groovy, but they're the language of a different generation.

Which generation of students are you teaching today?