Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Seedlings, and The Sea

Dear Friends,

I’ve been away from the blogosphere these past several weeks. My apologies, but there have been many fires to put out and nothing good to share with you that could fill a blog post. From now on, I’ll post here once a week, and the posts will be shorter, but at least they will be more consistent in their timing.
One of the only bright spots in these last weeks has been that the seeds I started a few weeks ago actually sprouted. Until that first tiny shoot of green showed itself above the soil, I didn’t realize how much I doubted my ability to grow anything. Just when I desperately needed something to go right and to receive some semblance of hope for the future (it really has been that bad, but I will spare you the details), the first eggplant seedling showed itself. Now there are Italian heirloom (sweet yellow) peppers, Bull Nose peppers (bell, sweet) like the ones grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, French eggplant (they will bear pretty white fruits with purple stripes, hardly bitter at all), and traditional eggplant for my dad because he wants to make eggplant parmigiana. Since I eat what he makes, I am happy to grow the main ingredient. 
It was the first sign that things were going to turn around. The rhythms of nature also help slow me down. People who know me comment on my “clock speed”. One person said that I was like a dog in that one year seems like seven to me. My sense of time is accelerated, and everything seems to take forever and a day. It can drive those around me crazy, but it’s worse inside me. It’s almost painful to wait for everyone and everything to catch up. Still, this garden thing has helped with my little peculiarity. I look every day, usually more than once a day, to see what progress the little starts have made. It seems a reflection of what I've known for a while, that we are too far removed from nature and its rhythms anymore, and technology has gone beyond serving us and has become our master.

Taking a break from social media was necessary for me. It is becoming such a trend to do so lately I wonder if Facebook's board of directors didn't choose an astoundingly bad time in their brief history to go public. That remains to be seen, but that is where my suspicions lie. 
A couple of weeks ago I ran across this lovely quote from Isak Dinesen, the author of “Out of Africa” among many other literary wonders, on Pinterest, and I wanted to share it with you:

"The cure for anything is saltwater--sweat, tears, or the sea."

 It reminded me how much I miss San Diego, specifically how much I miss the ocean. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves coming and going is one of the most curative experiences I have ever known. I miss the salt air, the sunshine, and the easy-going culture. Who wouldn't prefer the sea over the other two forms of saltwater?

Lately lots of sweat and tears, two out of Dinesen’s three, but the payoff is on its way. By the end of February, I hope to have e-published my first non-fiction project and a short story, unrelated to each other. It's just the way the timing worked out. And then there are the seedlings that hopefully will continue to thrive followed by the five kinds of tomato seeds I look forward to starting in March. And then the next writing project after the current two have been birthed. 
Thanks to all whom have stopped by and commented and sent new friends my way. Best regards to all of you. 
See you next week! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Social Media Highlights Our Relationship With Books

Recently this photograph has made the rounds on Facebook:

In case you can’t read the text, it reads 
“A book commits suicide every time you watch Jersey Shore.”  
I found it hilarious, and metaphorically accurate!  I commented on Facebook that it was representative of all reality t.v. shows.  So many of my friends “liked” and commented on the photo, even friends that don’t read compulsively and aren’t bookworms.  They shared this sentiment at least in part.  To be fair, it may just be Jersey Shore backlash, but I don’t think so.
This question arose from observing the reactions to the photo, “Is reality t.v. actually helping increase book sales?”  I took stock of how often I’d turned the t.v. on in the past month looking for something informative or entertaining, only to turn it off in disgust less than 5 minutes later.  Several hundred channels and there’s nothing on!  Not even on my DVR!  What the bleep, people?  Again, I asked myself if this might not be a contributing factor to the increase in e-book sales.  While my trend-spotting radar says “Yes”, I have no definitive proof, only anecdotal evidence.  As in, my own observations.
In addition to the above photograph, a link to a website called “Book Porn” was Tweeted this past week by Susan Haws, a member of my writers’ group.  The name sounded just awful, but Susan is so conservative, it had to be a play on words.  So I bit and clicked out to  It was not, as I feared, so many books on pornography being sold off a virtual shelf.  Instead, it is photograph after mind-numbing, drool-worthy photograph, of places with bookshelves.  These can be home libraries or public ones, bookstores or works of art made from books.  It is incredible and astounding, and I’m so mad that I didn’t think of it first.  All I’d have needed to do is scan and upload to the internet all of the pictures I have saved over the years of different places and ways people store and display books.  There are some on their site that I have in my scrapbook, and there are some I have that they do not.  Drool worthy ones that I might share some day.  
This site points toward another trend:  The Comeback of the Hardcover Book.  We who love books will always love the sensory experience that comes with holding a book.  Not just the heft of a hardcover in hand, but the smell, the weight of the paper it is printed on, the design and color of the cover and the end papers, the subtle nuances upon which a true bibliophile can base a relationship with a book.  There was even this quote among the photographs on Bookshelf Porn:
"Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us."
Why second hand bookstores smell so good, from “Perfumes:  The Guide” by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.
Another quote on this site is something that I’ve done in my own life, long before ever hearing this advice:  
“We need to make books cool again.  If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”  John Waters
More than once, I’ve had a date pick me up at home and upon entering, the comment was made, “You have too many books!”  It’s not like my home is a fire hazard.  They just don’t all have a home.
“There is no such thing as too many books.  There are just too few bookshelves,” I’d reply.  They might as well have insulted my friends to their faces.  I was deeply offended, and more than a little hurt. 
There was never a second date.  I knew there would not be before I picked up my purse to leave with the guy for the first date.  Once those words left their lips, there was not a chance in hell he was going to get lucky, that night, or ever.  
My mother read to me whilst she was pregnant with me.  She took me to the St. Louis Public Library when I was two weeks old, that is not a typo, and got me my first library card.  The librarian tried to dissuade her at first, but didn’t have an argument for the fact that there was no age requirement for someone to acquire one, only a parent’s or guardian’s signature.  By the time I was two years old, I was reading on my own.  Not Chaucer or Shakespeare, but first readers.  By the time I reached school, I was impatient with those just learning and read ahead because I wanted to know what happened next.  When it was my time to read the next sentence aloud, I had no idea where we were.  I’d been too absorbed in the story, and I was passed over.  The nuns were scary, and I didn’t want to admit I’d broken the rules.  The day the school called my mother and said they would have to hold me back because I could not read, she almost fell off her chair.  They sorted it out pretty quickly, and I was left alone to read ahead after that.  
My point here is, books have been an integral part of my life, and I could never form an intimate relationship with someone who does not himself have at least an understanding of my love of books.  It was at one time my goal to read every book in the library, and I developed a system to get through them all before I realized that not all books are created equal, therefore not all books are worth reading.  Today it is my goal to own a house with enough room to create a library.  Anyone I am with will have to know going in that this is a non-negotiable item.  Indoor plumbing, a library, and a garden.   Electricity is optional, but not the library or running water.  
One of the loveliest blog posts I have seen to date is “A Girl You Should Date” by Nona Merah at  In it she describes why a boy should love a girl who reads, and how to approach her once he finds one such female.  A quote from her post:
"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve." --Nona Mereh 
And finally, I leave you with this link to “20 of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries”:, yet another reason to thank
All this social media chatter around books is good news for writers and the publishing industry.  The last few days I have been held hostage by a manuscript that I hope to get out in e-book form this fall, and another one I’d love to see in hardcover next year.  We’ll see if I break free in time.  Meanwhile, it is nice to know that market demand for reading material is, for whatever reason, on the rise.
Until next time, fellow travelers on the road paved with words, go do your share to increase our collective IQ's and GDP's:   Turn off the bad television shows, and read a book instead!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Upside of Quiet Winter Days

This is my second winter back in Missouri after eleven years in Southern CA, where winter isn’t as wintery as it is here in the Midwest.  Last year was brutal here, with ice and snow, a couple of snowstorms that bordered on blizzards, power outages and subzero temperatures.  Parents who would be stuck inside for days at a time with rambunctious kids and marathon video game sessions flooded the grocery store before each of those storms, filling their grocery carts with several bottles of wine and a few of the harder stuff and cases of beer (which one was the chaser?), leaving the shelves in the alcohol aisle near empty. 
This year, though, winter has been pretty mild.  The sun is shining, but it is getting pretty cold again after a few days of near 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperatures dip below freezing at night, which is a good thing if you know anything about bugs.  If we don’t have a “good freeze” or two over winter, the mosquito, tic, chigger, and flea populations rejoice.  Those critters go forth and multiply as they would do normally, but the existing populations from the previous year are not killed off when there’s no freeze, effectively doubling the population of all those blood suckers.  It makes for an awful summer.  Have you ever had 60 mosquito bites and a sunburn at the same time?  It makes scratching an exercise in masochism.  You have to make some Faustian deal over which is worse:  The itching or the pain from the burn.
Even in a mild winter such as this one, there is a sense of dormancy, of things lying in wait, resting, reserving, and refueling.  This dormant energy lends itself to quiet activities, such as reading, writing a novel (or three, if your like me and can’t focus on one at a time), planning a garden, planning your spring break or your summer vacation, getting in touch with old friends and family members you’ve not seen in too long.  While this is a good time to do these things, we don’t always get them accomplished.  To think of a thing is not the same as doing that thing.  To that end, I have made lists of things I want to accomplish, and each day as I write my daily to-do list I check to see if I am doing at least one of those things from my bigger lists.  Sounds like too many lists, doesn’t it?  Not really.  
This is how I broke it down, a method I learned from reading Alan Lakein’s book “How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”:
Lifetime Goals List
Yearly Goals List (2012, for example)
Monthly Special Emphasis List
Weekly Goals List
The Lifetime Goals List is the inspiration for the other lists.  My big goals are to make a living writing, to produce certain works I have in mind, to get my boys through college, and to travel the world.  
My monthly Special Emphasis List actually has less to do with my Lifetime Goals and more to do with seasonal activities or short term goals.  For instance, every month I like to decorate for that month’s holidays or the season, but I don’t always do it because it’s not written down somewhere and it gets away from me.  However, when I do it, it keeps my house and yard tidy because I get into the nooks and crannies every month and move things around, take things down, etc., for a fun reason rather than for drudgery.  It keeps me cheerful because the decor is never dull.  Floral arrangements change with holidays and seasons, the wreath on the door can be swapped out, from winter to summer the curtains may even change to let in more light.  
Always for the Month’s Special Emphasis List I add at least two family members that I wish to visit because too much time has passed.  This has become important to me since I went to my mother’s funeral in April and realized how many people were there that I hadn’t seen in years, some in decades.  I didn’t want the next time we saw each other to be at one of our own funerals.  I resolved then and there to make the effort.  There are also special, one-off projects; books I want to read (a combination of genre and classic novels); books I ought to read; special occasions and events; deadlines; things like that.  This year my goal was to read a classic novel each month, so each month I write down which title I want to read so I won’t let that goal fall by the wayside.  
My Weekly Goals List is taken from the other Lists, chipping away at the big stuff a little at a time, hoping to move the ball forward on my long-term goals.  In this way, I can see which things I can realistically fit into one week.  I still overdo it and end up carrying some things over, or just crossing some things off because they weren’t as important as I’d initially thought, but since using this method I have become far more effective and get much more accomplished.
The Daily List keeps me honest.  It includes all the little nitty gritty things I am required to do in Life, but also time for writing, and I hold it religiously, even turning off the WiFi and the phone to avoid interruptions.  There is time for reading each day (it’s still not enough!), and finally, some of those things from the Weekly List make it onto this Daily List. 
I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes when I cross off an item from my to-do lists, especially from the larger, more long-term lists!  
This week I will finish up the Alan Lakein book, “How to Control Your Time...” and hopefully I will be able to read Juliet Blackwell’s “Hexes and Hemlines”, my brain candy book for this week.  I need to begin this month’s classic novel, “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin.  The books I ought to read are writing related, about story structure, and writing mystery novels and romances.  
It’s a lot to juggle, but I find it much easier to track with a binder to hold all my lists written on looseleaf paper and a desk calendar which I use to track my writing projects and deadlines, also known as an “editorial calendar”.
My favorite thing to do when it’s cold outside and all the plants look like they’ve died?  Bake something.  It’s so life-affirming, and cozy.  Here’s the link to my new favorite banana bread recipe, complete with cinnamon crunch topping, from www.allrecipes.com  It’s called “Bates Banana Bread”, and it is awesome.  
Enjoy :-)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Staying Healthy Without Health Insurance

I haven’t had health insurance for most of my adult life.  My approach is generally to do what I can to prevent illness or accident from landing me in the hospital.  I also have to stay on my feet to keep working because I am self-employed.  There are no sick days or vacation days in self-employment land.  If I don’t work, I don’t eat or pay the rent or the other bills.  Over the years I have gathered information and a small number of things that I have found keep me well so far (knock on wood).  I hope you’ll find something useful here for you, as well.
Oregano Oil has been my saving grace.  It is an oil pressed from the leaves of the fresh oregano plant, so it’s not cheap.  It takes a lot of oregano to fill one gel capsule with oil.  The amber colored capsules are not too large.  I take two at a time when I’m sick or feel like I am coming down with something.  I take 2 capsules 3 times a day, or 3 capsules morning and night.  I do this until a day or so after I feel better, just to make sure whatever made me sick is all the way gone.  The beauty of oregano oil is that it’s a naturally occurring anti-biotic, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, so it pretty much covers everything that ails you and you don’t need a prescription, which I could not afford.  It helps me get over colds and flu and a friend who was plagued by near constant yeast infections found it finally broke the cycle for her.  I first heard about it when someone told me that it was being used to treat staph infections in hospitals.  I am religious about keeping some in the house at all times.  Don’t take it if you are allergic to it, and if you already take medicines make sure you ask your doctor or pharmacist if oregano oil is okay to mix with whatever else you take already.
If I do come down with the flu, I take a homeopathic flu remedy made by the French company Boiron.  They have an excellent reputation in Europe, and my friends and family and I have found this to be very effective in alleviating symptoms and cutting down our recovery time.  Less miserable and back to work faster, can’t beat that!  It’s called “Oscillococcinum”.  No one I know can pronounce it, including me.  I put the oregano oil and the flu remedy in my Amazon store so that people could see what they look like.  If you can’t find them in your local drug store or health food store, you can always order them from here, but mostly it’s to familiarize you with the labels and what to look for. 
My main anti-cancer supplements are Vitamin C (the chewable “Oranges and C” from Trader Joe’s, 1000mg tablets) and my favorite:  Pu-ehr tea.  The tea (pronounced like the English word “poor” but stretched into two syllables) has 70 times the anti-oxidants as green tea.  It comes from 700 year old trees in southern China near Vietnam.  These trees are a prolific and an easily renewable resource, but the quality of the tea can vary greatly.  I find it at World Market for $9.99 per foil pouch.  Each pouch lasts me about 10-12 days, but for keeping me healthy, and considering I brew each batch at least twice, I find the cost reasonable.  Be wary of anything really cheap.  The quality goes down with the price, and so does the flavor.  It is important to note that this tea is from China and must be rinsed.  By that I mean you pour boiling water over the leaves as though to steep it, but after 8-10 seconds you pour the water out.  This is rinsing your tea.  I use a strainer that fits in my cup.  If you don’t do this step with Pu-erh tea, it will be bitter and have an unpleasant aftertaste that no amount of sweetener can mask.  Speaking of sweetener, I use honey with this tea.  I have two cups every morning, and it leaves me too full to eat afterwards.  I have to remember to eat before.  It has that effect, the feeling of fullness, and Asian women call it “a diet tea”.  I am not fat by most people’s accountings, but I noticed my belly was more flat after a week or so of regularly drinking this tea in the morning, and so did one of my friends who tried it.  For some, that is a side benefit.  For others, it could be dangerous.  If you need to eat in the morning, do so before you drink Pu-erh tea.
Co-enzyme Q-10 is good for several things:  It rebuilds gum tissue if you’ve have receding gums and it promotes heart health by reducing the plaque build-up in your arteries.  I take it to keep my heart healthy.  It comes in different sized doses.  I like to take the 100mg dosage twice a day, one in the morning and one at night.  Ask your doctor (if you have one) if it’s okay for you to take, especially if you already take other medicines.
Flaxseed oil is an Omega-3 fatty acid.  I prefer it over fish oil because it doesn’t stink.  Nothing worse than burping up fish oil all day after taking the pills in the morning.  Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help with heart and brain function, soften the skin by moisturizing with “good” oils from the inside, improve eye health, and probably a number of other things that I don’t even know about yet.  My main reason for taking flaxseed oil every day is because it helps with ADD/ADHD, and it is natural.  More on the ADD/ADHD topic another day, but for now, know this:  Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help the synaptic gaps close, so that when your brain’s neurons fire, the signal gets all the way to the other side.  What this does, then, is help you complete thoughts, which helps with focus.  It takes 3000mg of flaxseed oil per day to make a difference in ADD/ADHD symptoms according to medical literature, but I notice improvement when I take 2000mg per day.  That is not to say there is not room for even better results with another 1000mg, but I find that my skin and hair get too oily if I take the full 3000mg per day.  I prefer the Barleans brand of flaxseed oil sold at health food stores.  It comes in a black bottle, and I get the version with the blue label since it has the highest lignins, which I find to be the most effective.  I take the 1000mg soft gels, one in the morning, and one at night, but I used to use the liquid version and add 1 Tablespoon to my oatmeal in the morning.  I quickly found I had to cut my usual amount of oatmeal in half as the added oil filled me up so much faster.  Add the oil to the already cooked oatmeal, and keep the liquid version in the fridge.
Ayurvedic medicine (traditional medicine of India) prescribes that we drink a glass or two of water each morning before eating in the morning, usually soon after waking.  The idea is that this water flushes out the kidneys and the intestines, which in turn make your body work far less hard throughout the day.  Most styles of medicine (Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic, for example) will tell you that if the kidneys are not functioning well, every other organ is adversely affected.  It’s simple and inexpensive, effective and you’ll love how much better you feel during the day. The amount of water is based on your body size.  The bigger you are, the closer you want to get to two glasses of water each morning.  Smaller persons should stick closer to one glass.  I drink one and a half glasses most mornings, and use this water to wash down my supplements.
The rest is just staying out of trouble.  I used to be a much bigger risk taker, but now I don’t go out on New Year’s Eve or climb high ladders, am careful on the stairs, and so on, because I have two kids who need me and no medical coverage should something bad happen.  If I get medical coverage again I may take up skydiving, etc., but for now I am happy to be careful.
Here’s to your health!  May you live a long and healthy life :-)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unemployment and Monkeys on Capitol Hill

After recovering from the shock of the news of the NDAA amendment, I have found the silver lining:  We The People can look at this as 93 future job openings, with decent pay and excellent benefits.  If you have and can use common sense (to hell with your morals, it’s clear those are not a requirement for the job), I will vote for you, so long as you are against making it legal for our military to arrest, indefinitely detain without trial, or assassinate our citizens.  Congress’s approval ratings are at an all-time low, so why not go for their jobs?  I don’t care if you want the office of the Crack Monkey General or the Madam of the House of Political Whores, or just to be a junior Senator from Wherever, just go take the seat from its current occupant.  
I just want real people, real Americans to run our government again.  Those occupying Capitol Hill right now give no evidence of being in touch with reality.  It’s as though all that “getting into bed” with special interests has exposed the majority of them to something akin to political syphilis, which has subsequently affected their brains.  They’ve forgotten for whom they work, whom they represent, and why their offices exist in the first place.  They seem only interested in their own needs, wants and benefits.  This vast bubble Congress exists in does not translate into the real world anymore.  They need a reality check, one in which they can lose their jobs and their benefits like the rest of us.  I’d like it if all of those who voted for this Act’s amendment were voted out of office and replaced by people who have lost their jobs, or who can let their existing jobs be filled by someone else who needs one while they go on to Capitol Hill.  We’d solve two problems at once:  Unemployment and a Congress no one can stand, or understand.  
There are even more jobs if we recall and replace everyone in the House of Representatives that votes for SOPA, to be voted on  this Monday.  The ancient denizens of Capitol Hill are not familiar enough with how the internet works to be in charge of making sweeping changes or decisions regarding its operation, but that is what SOPA will do.  The Stop Online Piracy Act sounds good in theory, but in practice it gives the power to a corporation to shut down any website it views as infringing on its copyrights without proper compensation or explicit permission.  Think about a world in which a record company can shut down Facebook at will, or a movie studio can shut down Twitter because someone shares a link to a boot leg copy of one of their blockbuster movies.  That’s it, that is all it would take. 
When internet experts went to Capitol Hill to try to explain how it all works and what the effect would be if they passed this asinine Act and what the COST would be (internet commerce is responsible for 2 trillion dollars per year of our national economy...think we can afford to lose that right now, along with all the jobs that go with those dollars?  I don’t!), should these social media websites begin to be arbitrarily shut down, but those politicians that were raised “in the days of dinosaurs and black and white t.v.” as my son would say, they didn’t want to hear it.  They tuned out, said it was boring, asked, “Can’t we skip this part?”  Yeah, of course, why would we want you overpaid village idiots to understand what it is you are voting on?  What difference does it make if you cast a well-informed vote for what best serves America, as long as you get to lunch on time, and no one messes with your benefits package?  
Maybe that’s why they keep trying to cut unemployment benefits:  They don’t want the funds to run out for their own health insurance and their retirement packages, let alone their salaries. 
With all the cuts in funding to academic research, I bet we could get really good deals on lab monkeys or chimps.  We could save ourselves millions each year by having the majority of seats in both Houses filled with research animals once we’ve trained them in both sign language and Robert’s Rules of Order.  All it would take is a banana and an inner tube and probably a week’s worth of training per chimp.  We could fix the deficit problem in a short amount of time and at a very reasonable cost while also solving a practical problem that presents a great threat to our country:  Congress.  Plus, chimps are much smarter than your average politician and a lot harder to buy, once you have their loyalty.  
I’m game.  Bring on the monkeys, or let’s all run for office.  Either way, we’d come out ahead.  Statistically speaking, we just can’t do worse than we have now.  The average chimp has to be smarter than the average Senator of late.  Satan would be more morally consistent than what we’re currently dealing with, and we wouldn’t feel disappointed and betrayed every time he did something self-serving because at least we would have expected it from him when he took office.  Unfortunately, he’s too busy (and getting too rich) running all of the lobbyists and taking his cut.
Seriously, update your voter registration card, and call your Senator and your Congressman or woman.  Let them know you are going to vote for someone else if t   hey vote “Yes” on this SOPA act.  The NDAA which allows our government to send American citizens to Gitmo without trial or due process is bad enough.  We don’t need our ability to perform commercial transactions over the internet compromised because some weenie at a recording studio got his panties in a wad over $300 in royalties he thinks he should have collected from Facebook.  Give it a rest already.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Surviving This Modern Greek Tragedy And Grandma's Advice

Today’s socio-economic situation and political climate is the modern equivalent of a Greek tragedy where a mischievous god that doesn’t like humans has taken hold of our world and is shaking it to see who falls out and who hangs on.  The longer this drags on the more people I fear will fall out.  The suicide rate is already higher than normal, but there is room for it to get worse.  If we don’t reach out to each other, if we don’t care about and for each other, than I am afraid that the suicide rate will go up even further and we will lose even more to this Greek tragedy before our Hero, in whatever form it comes, arises.  Maybe We The People, the 99%, are the Heroes, and simply by being our brother's keepers, perhaps enough of us will hang on until this shake-down is over.
My grandmother’s advice is what I hang onto today, and pass onto my friends and others who seem like they are hanging on by their fingernails.  She was widowed suddenly with nine children under the age of 18, back in the day when assistance was limited if it existed at all.  When asked how she came through it with her sanity intact, with nine children who became upstanding citizens all clearly bright and hard-working, she used to say, “I took one day at a time.  If I thought any farther down the road than that, I’d have sat down and given up.  It was too much to think about the whole thing all at once.”  
During a really tough time in my own life, she told me, “Sometimes, when it was really bad, I would tell myself to just get through the next 5 minutes.  If that’s all I thought about, the next 5 minutes and what needed doing during that time, and not the whole day or the rest of my life, I could manage that.  I could get through.”  For an Irish Catholic, my grandmother was very Zen in her thinking.  And she was right.  That process is how winners and warriors all over the world and throughout history have done it.  No matter how big their vision or plan to take over the world, they had to do whatever was right in front of them in order to get it done.  
What I see when I look at the landscape of our society today is that we who were once “One Nation, Under God”, albeit with a few people who were further removed from our daily lives than others, we have now become Two, distinctly separate entities.  It’s as though the organism that was American society has now split into two separate living things, living completely apart from each other, with a wide divide between them so that they do not even come close to touching each other.  When we still had a middle class, that was the bridging piece, the class of society where money, goods, education, services and ideas flowed through from the top and became disseminated throughout the rest of our microcosm.  It is now however gone, that middle class buffer, and so is that bridge that connected us and kept us from drifting apart.  I don't know about you, but I don't miss them.
The 1% circulate money but it is traded solely with each other in those higher echelon circles.  The trickle down theory has never worked, not once since its inception.  For instance, the Russian billionaire heiress who bought a NYC condo or penthouse for $88 million last month.  That is money that will not trickle down to the rest of the economy, I’m sorry.  It’s staying up there with the other super wealthy.  It’s the same with luxury cars, other real estate investments (which are setting records, by the way, especially in NYC), yachts, etc.  All of these assets are traded within their very insular world.  
The 99%, the obvious majority of us, are starting to mirror the behavior and spending patterns of the 1%.  I don’t know how many of us realize that yet, but I see it unfolding and I believe it’s impact will be felt this year.  Look for news reports to start commenting on it in a few months.  The story will be some version of what I described above, except with Everyman’s level of spending rather than King Midas’s.  At this level, the money that we used to spend on products and services provided to us by corporations will start to be directed to a more home grown source, someone small, someone local.  In other words, we will stop buying from the 1% and start buying from each other.  The longer this economic madness goes on, the more insular I predict we will become as a group, just as the 1% have.  The 1% can’t actually continue to thrive without our economic participation, and by cutting us out of the loop (outsourcing jobs, layoffs in the thousands that leave more money for the handful of corporate executives who run the company into the ground and then leave with huge bonuses and payouts), they leave themselves with fewer and fewer people who are both willing AND able to participate in their gluttony.

And isn’t that how we see it?  Corporate greed, gluttony, the raping and pillaging of our middle class economy?  Even if we hold a milder view of what is going on, the flavor of the month is going to be “local” and “small business” or “personal” for more of this coming year than I think they oblivious 1% can anticipate.  I am more than happy to start buying the majority of whatever I need to live as close to home as possible.  Maybe you can try it, too?  
I don’t know how to fix the economy.  I suspect that no one person does.  However, I do know that those in charge love their money so much that if they start getting less of it, they may be more motivated to equalize things again, to stimulate the economy and to create jobs somehow.  I don’t need an $88 million apartment.  I just need to get through the next 5 minutes. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Golden Parachute Vs. The 72 Hour Emergency Kit

The very rich in our society have gone and shot themselves in the foot, but do they know it yet?  Have we, the 99%, realized it yet?  By keeping all of the money circulating only at the very top, they have eliminated the very reason their assets hold any value.  As We The People, or the 99%, continue to be shut out of economic circulation due to outsourcing of jobs, downsizing, layoffs and pay cuts so that the one guy in charge can have an obscenely large bonus or golden parachute even after he runs the company into the ground, our ability to participate in the economy is further narrowed.  
This economic stranglehold is the very reason the 1% will lose their shirts.  The 1% as we know them have eliminated too much of the market share in too many sectors by causing money to no longer flow throughout the lower strata of society.  With no middle class, there is no buyer.  No buyer, no value.  Things (assets, products, etc.) are only worth what someone is willing to pay, and money itself will lose value if we all start looking to other means of exchange outside of the dollars that are being controlled by, well, not us.   
By holding onto the majority of the money in our economy, those with the most are going to make assets and currency worth less and less as We The People look within ourselves and to each other to ask the relevant questions of our time:
“How much do I really need to live?” The answer is, “A lot less than the market is trying to sell me.”
“How can I get what I need without having to deal with people whom I have never met and who don’t give a damn about my quality of life, about whether I live or die?”  That answer could be, “I can make, grow and re-use what I can, and buy the rest from someone I can meet in person, exchange names and shake hands with, someone I can trust and with whom I can build a personal relationship.”  
We buy less and less as the Great Recession wears on.  Maybe there are spikes in spending here and there, but the long-term picture looks like frugality is here to stay.  We trust less often anyone we don’t know personally with our money, or whatever else it is that we need to keep us alive.  The fact that I am not the only person I know looking to grow more of their own food is telling.  Food is so basic, if we are concerned about that, then we are not likely to go stimulate the economy with our old spending habits.  That behavioral change is the lever that will stop the economic wheel from turning as it once did, hence the devaluing of assets.
My main concern in this is that we are one disaster away from civil unrest, be it another economic downturn or a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a combination of two or more of these events occurring closely together.  If you look around you now, there is no supporting evidence that you should leave the assurance of your survival or that of your loved ones in the hands of someone else.  It just takes too long for rescuers to respond, and depending on the magnitude of the event, resources could take even longer than the usual 72 hours to get to you and bring you relief.  
I implore you to take responsibility for yourselves and start to stock at least 72-hours worth of food, water, medicine, fuel and batteries, flashlights, and the like.  The more of us that do this, the less likely there will be violence or civil unrest in the even of a disaster.  People will take to the streets if they think their survival is at stake.  The lower the number of the affected is, the better off we will all be.  
No, I do not believe the world is going to end sometime this year.  I do believe that the likelihood of a natural disaster happening wherever you may reside is high enough to warrant a 72-hour emergency supply since that is about how long it usually takes for help to arrive.  Remember how many died after Hurricane Katrina because they had inadequate food, water, or medicine?  It’s not hard, it isn’t expensive, and it doesn’t take long to put the supplies in a backpack, a duffel bag or small suitcase with wheels.  Pack 3 days worth of clothes, non-perishable food, water, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and a first aid kit.  A sleeping bag and a tent are smart things to add in case you have to evacuate and there is not adequate shelter available.  You would not be dependent on anyone else for shelter from the elements if your home is uninhabitable.  Make up a bag for each person in your household, and then keep the packed bags by the door you most likely would escape through in an emergency.  
This is not a hysterical move.  This is what you do in order to prevent hysteria in the event of a disaster.  Help will likely not come in time to make you dinner the first day, or even breakfast the next, or to bring you pain relievers and flashlights, etc.  What medicines do you take regularly?  See if you can keep 3 days worth in your boogie bag by the door, in its original container.  You are more likely to make a mistake under duress and take the wrong kind or amount of medicine than under normal circumstances. I pack ibuprofen for pain relief, for example.  The more people are prepared to take care of themselves during a disaster, the less stress and strain we put on available resources when help does come, and the more we in turn can help others in need.
2-liter bottles are an inexpensive way to store water for the house.  Once they are emptied of soda, I wash them out with soap and water, rinse them well, fill them with tap water and keep them in the basement.  In my area disaster would most likely be a tornado, though a major earthquake on the New Madrid Fault is possible, and the water and power will likely be disrupted.  We won’t last long without water.  Staying hydrated and staying clean are even more important to prevent illness and the spread of disease following a disaster than under normal circumstances.
I follow Peggy Layton’s advice in her book “Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook:  Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe in a Crisis” and put one 2-liter bottle of water in each bathroom and by the kitchen sink for brushing teeth and washing hands if disaster cuts off the water supply.  It is smart to start with a 72-hour supply and then work your way up to a one-month’s supply, then three-months worth, and so on.  This is the method described in Layton’s book, start small and work your way up to a year’s worth.  Her approach is very sensible.  She’s not a fringe-type who suggests you fill your garage with ammo or anything crazy.  She is level-headed and realistic and tells you why she recommends what she does.  The idea behind her philosophy is to be prepared for the unexpected, to be able to help yourself as well as others during hard times.  We’ve become so accustomed to everything being instant and automatic that we’ve forgotten how to fend for ourselves.
A Perfect Storm would be the near-simultaneous occurrence of an economic collapse or at least another downturn from where we already are, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, both of which would have devastating consequences on our economy.  It’s foolishness to rely on anyone else for something that is so necessary to life.  What if they screw up the emergency response the way the Bush administration did after Katrina?  If everyone has enough to get them through a month or even six months, then the likelihood of civil unrest following a disaster goes way down.  
The 1% have traded in the opportunity for the majority to live decent quality lives for multi-million dollar golden parachutes, vacation homes and condos, yachts, etc., and left the majority of the rest of us scrambling for survival.  This leaves our country in a precarious position. The lesson King Midas has already taught us is that you can’t eat your gold and it doesn’t love you back.  We can illustrate this lesson to the 1% by opting out when and where we can, buy local, shop small businesses, buy Made In The USA, or don’t buy at all.  Vote with your dollars, folks.