Friday, July 31, 2009

Simplicity, Slowing Down and Value in Adversity

There are very solid reasons for making life less complicated. Less stuff => less to take care of.

Less mind clutter (old baggage, resentments, pain, regrets, etc.) => less to take care of.

Less available credit, less to spend, less stuff to have and take care of! => Freedom

I don't like that people are suffering in the economic downturn - yea, a Recession or worse. Yet, there is some good in it, as with all things.

How many of us have become more flexible?

I earn about 20% - 25% of my previous income. I made changes as you would expect. And yes, I'm facing hard choices about some issues. It's not easy. There are still days I let myself buy a $2 cup of coffee. But not often. It was just a bad habit when I used to hit Starbucks everyday. Yeesh, it put pounds on too, over the few years I let myself indulge. Sure it saved me during a divorce, and a couple of moves and really stressful jobs, but like a blanket I don't need it anymore :)

I quit because it became an albatross, not because I couldn't afford an overpriced cuppa joe. It feels like freedom, sweet and light.

The good news - wonderful news - is that I can get by with what I have, and continue to be grateful for what I don't have to worry about (a big house, big payment, etc.).

My kids are healthy and growing up beautifully, my parents are in great shape, and I'm healthy, strong and smart. Most of all I'm grateful and hopeful every day. Being blessed is a constant state, not just something that comes and goes.

I just have to open my eyes in the dark moments / hours when I wonder if I'm on the right path. I reach for my faith and friends :)

Right now I get to homeschool my youngest, explore worlds of fascinating detail with her. I write, consult and encourage people. I give back to the community. I work all the time, and take time to relax at the end of the day. I dance a little, and remember to have simple fun.

There are those who say we Americans have gone soft. I agree. But we also have an amazing ability to pull together, figure things out, be kind, do what has to be done. We come from hardy stock.

When I learned to ski years ago in Vermont, in a much younger body, I found muscles I had no idea I had! I'd danced for years, biked, hiked, swam. But nothing gets to those unused muscle groups like a new sport!

In the midst of adversity we get to exercise muscles we forgot we had. It's not easy watching people figure out how to down-size their lives, to shift their world view.

Many are being forced to do things they never thought they would consider. Yet we have to live life on life's terms.

Once I was lucky enough once to hear Admiral James Stockdale (ranking officer in Vietnam POW camps), when in AFROTC at UGA. We had him as a guest speaker at a military ball, and it was amazing. One thing he said then, which has since been made famous in Good to Great (Jim Collins) is the Stockdale Paradox:
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." (quoted from The Survivors Club, Ben Sherwood - awesome book I'll review here soon)
For instance, renting seems impossible to some homeowners, but is often much less expensive than owning. Sure, we'd all love our hundred acres in the mountains, or a vacation home, or extra bedrooms. Some of us only want to keep the homes we are in. We may not know anyone who has had to give up the house. But it's happening all around us.

And it isn't the end of the world.

Hell, it's how we all lived for centuries, piled up three and four deep in the same bed. Most of the world (hello?) still does.

Yes, moving in with family is stressful, but it also lets you spend time with those you love. Personally I believe grandparents are there to counterbalance our parenting ;) They get to be more loving or more strict. Or both. They are the Elders. Maybe they don't want to live alone, really. Maybe they do, but they get to stretch during hard times too (grin).

What good does even a small sense of entitlement do us? Are we really entitled to big homes, fancy cars and toys, beautiful clothes and great vacations? I don't think so. If you have these things, great. Nothing wrong with prosperity.

But what do we really need? I say we don't need all that stuff. Even my extensive library of books - now trimmed to about a third of what it was (about 300 left). It felt great to give away volumes. To trade some in, to donate to the library.

How many pairs of jeans do you really need? as an old friend used to ask, right before I downsized in 1995 to a house less than half the size of my old home, gaining 3 acres with a stream, chickens, bees, a wonderland for the kids, and privacy. Totally worth it.

A lot of our wants comes from popular culture. We give "them" authority. But we should always question authority. Good solid authority doesn't have to sell you on what is real.

Real is having faith, giving to others, taking care of your family and loving every day you've been given. It's baking fresh, home made bread, and growing your own food, and learning if you don't know how. Real is canning, and visiting while you snap beans, making a chair with care, knitting while someone reads aloud.

Real is slowing down to chew your food. Or letting go of assumptions and seeing someone (or some thing) you know well from a new view.

Sure, entertainment is wonderful - I love movies and broadway shows! But it's a treat, like candy used to be, not an everyday thing you have to have.

Real life takes more time. Walking or riding instead of always driving, preparing meals instead of fast food, growing instead of buying, writing instead of talking, reading instead of watching, listening instead of talking, conversing with kids instead of always giving them the electronic nipple, watching sunsets and sunrises instead of hurtling through time and space. But look what we get. We get our lives back.

As far as getting ready for hard times - do it. Get your house in order. If you have to, move down to the smallest place you can stand, and get rid of the things that don't matter. Suze Orman says to get a cash reserve. Dave Ramsey says to pay off all your debts and don't worry about your credit score - don't owe anyone.

If you have to get off the credit "grind" then do it. If you can pay your debts, do it. If you can't, be careful in considering what next. Live in integrity, but take care of your own.

Here is a new website I found today, from someone who knows their stuff about surviving hard times. Check it out. I like Jim's style and there is lots of information here. You may not be ready to move off into the country, but there is good sense in being prepared for emergencies.

But it starts with a mind shift. If it were your last day on earth, what would really matter to you? That fancy car or truck, or just being with those you love?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Professional Journalism

You cannot make good decisions with inaccurate or very incomplete information. If you try, you will fail. This isn't my rule, it just is. You may accidentally make a good decision, but it's a fluke. How many major decisions do you want to make on a foundation of quicksand?

Now, how good is your source of information for local, regional and world events? Is it Yahoo or Google or Fox News or the local radio station between songs?

If you ingest primarily junk food, you get fat and unhealthy. Whether you inhale (breathe in) actual junk food, junk movies, junk books, junk news, junk opinion, junk friends, or junk religion, you will see predictable results.

Walter Cronkite's passing two days ago was a sad moment, tho I was generally too young to remember his tenure as one of the most famous television anchormen of all time.

I'm doubly sad to hear of this loss because the state of our country is so very dependent on professional journalism.

How do you find good solid information? The internet? How many of us check multiple quality sources for information on major issues of our times, such as "cap n trade" legislation, which is an attempt to limit pollution emissions? The issues involved will affect every man, woman and child for possibly centuries and could hold the future of our survival - both economically and environmentally.

I've taught my kids: be very careful with whom you associate. Your friends will help define you. They will be smart and loyal and watch your back, or they will draw you into trouble and bail on you when their self-interest is at stake. Good friends will challenge you at times by telling you something you don't want to hear. Honesty and dedication to the friendship is crucial for real trust and credibility.

I propose that your source for news is just as critical a decision. It defines how you think, who you are in your world, and what you believe.

Further, you can't overstate the critical importance of accurate information to support democracy. It is one of the most fundamental underpinnings to our form of government for and by the People. I would rank it as high as the Rule of Law (meaning we have laws and follow them, and don't tolerate rampant corruption or favoritism) or habeus corpus ("show me the body" in court, and file charges or let them go) or the framework of the Constitution itself.

Think about it. If we cannot rely on professional journalists to give us accurate and unbiased information, how can we make informed decisions on any issue?

My deep suspicion of all radicals stems from two things: I usually cannot discern their point thru the filter of rhetoric, and their agenda creates bias that cannot be trusted.

In short, they make me work too hard.

Why should I pay any attention to a news source that is questionable (biased) if I can simply get good reporting from an organization that is still dedicated to the facts, "Just the facts, ma'am." as Agent Friday politely requested.

Why should I have to question every assertion and research their twisted facts because they cannot maintain the journalistic standards to stay out of the story as much as possible? The whole point of journalism is to report the news, not skew it.

Cronkite was not unusual except in his huge popularity. Indeed in his generation the "infomercial" quality of modern journalism would have been beaten back into the swamp from which it slithered.

My father was a journalist - award winning in his writing for south Florida newspapers. I was very sad when he left the profession. Of all the things he did in his life, I considered it the most powerful and important. My mother has also been a successful reporter. Like Cronkite they considered it imperative to keep personal agendas out of the story.

Has anyone noticed how even the evening news on the major networks is now conducted by "anchors" walking around, ad libbing and being "personable"? Anchors are more like ringmasters, than true conductors, with performing seals and amazing animals to wow us. Has our short attention spans actually reduced us to mere entertainment sponges? Do we expect to be simply spoon fed fascinating tidbits of zero substance, sound bites and oversimplified "analysis"?

If so, then we will get what we have asked for, or allowed ourselves to be lulled into... apathetic passive watered down democracy, run by only the radicals who give a damn enough to pay attention and push their agendas.

It is an ethical issue, because so much is riding on holding high journalistic standards. And remember, the FIRST thing to go in countries that are losing their right to self-determination is credible public news sources, ergo their freedom of information. Witness Hitler's Germany, the (former) Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, North Korea, and countless other war-torn countries. If you control the news, you control the people.

I have to be blunt: any extreme news source is the equivalent of Howard Sterns (altho I do defend his right to be morally decrepit and a poster child for idiocy) and well paid strippers. It's just entertainment. It isn't journalism.

If you don't get the difference, then please do consider yourself part of the problem. :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bitter Sweet Independence, Service and the cost of Freedom

Fireworks are one of the greatest fun things to watch! I'm full of wonder at them, thrilled and moved by crowds and music and the magic to stand in awe, and also to remember all the hard struggles of our country.

My prayer is that we don't ever lose sight of the key ingredient in democracy - people who care and therefore, pay attention. Then act.

WE the People are a critical part of the checks and balances in our system. Yes, there are the three branches of our government: The presidency, the judiciary and the congress. But there is also us.

We decide to serve - in the military, in government or in other public service. We decide to get involved, to make our voices heard.

The bad rap that government has gotten is well earned, in many cases. But many many more public servants do a good job, care about their work and their role as servants.

Nothing is harder than dealing with the public, and of course no one should stay in a job they don't perform well. But your one bad incident with a DMV official doesn't make them all incompetent.

I just wrote a scathing letter to Sprint for, once again, screwing up my bill. However, I made it clear that I blame their IT systems. Their employees cannot be so incapable as a group!

I include teachers as public servants, especially those in public schools. Take a moment and think of all the great experiences you had in school. I know the system is plagued, and in Georgia we have more problems than most states (with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country). But most teachers are not power hungry or abusive. Most are devoted to the kids, our kids, and are good people. Their devotion shows because they stay in it despite overwhelming bureacratic demands, children without adequate home support or self respect (and therefore don't respect anyone) and with ridiculously low pay.

Memorial Day just passed, but this weekend I've been thinking about not only our dead, but also our living veterans and soldiers. I read an estimate yesterday that over 300,000 of our military has suffered TBI (traumatic brain injury) which included PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, from the Middle East wars.

5,014 have died in combat in our two Middle East wars. Now multiply those 5,014 deaths by - what? How many lives are irrevocably changed by a death?

Is it 20 family and friends who are deeply affected by the loss of each life? Many many have more like 50 people or even a hundred who knew them well enough to grieve deeply. If we use 50 each, that's about 250,000 people directly affected by the loss of EACH of our service men and women.

If we add the number of wounded up, there have been 34,508 to date
. We don't know how serious the wounds (there doesn't seem to be a "level" system readily found to break down these figures), but almost half of them leave solders out of commission for at least 72 hours. If even just a fourth of those casualties are critical, then that is over 8,000 serious injuries.

Using the same logic as above, if there are even just 10 family members who lives are deeply changed, heavily affected by a serious illness(es)/wound(s) in a service member, that is 80,000 people.

I think of the dead and injured as being the center of concentric circles of love and care. There are their immediate family, and then close family and then close friends, and then good friends and then their communities. Everytime I hear of a death or injury from the wars, I know there are hundreds affected. Ripples of pain and fear and grief.

Now how many soldiers suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)? One estimate is 1 in every 8 soldiers returning from combat. Some estimates put PTSD at 30%, over time, for Vietnam vets. More soldiers from WWII than ever are seeking professional help to deal with their untreated mental suffering.

The good news is more new veterans are seeking help - about 60% according to the story linked above. But that still leaves up to 40% who aren't getting help. The walking wounded. Unaided they will turn to many other means to medicate their pain - alcohol, drugs, estranged from family, divorce, etc.

So the news is grim.

I'll end on an even more sobering thought. While at least (from a ball park guess of the figures above) a million Americans are deeply affected by the war and it's devastation to our troops, here are some numbers on lives lost in the Middle East, just in Iraq since 1980.

It's difficult to quantify how many Iraqi lives have been lost, in the midst of so much turmoil, in the middle of a war. But the link above at least attempts to look at both lives lost in the war, as well as under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Over a million Iraqi lives lost. Men, women and children.

Evil must be fought at every turn. And we must be careful and wise in our willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of others. More than anything we must continue, imnho, the deadly serious conversations about our role in the world - as keepers of Democracy, as moral and ethical leaders in the world, as role models and as defenders of the innocent and helpless.

We cannot leave a power vacuum in Iraq - and I've always said we must finish what we started. But it will cost us.

Democracy is not easy. Nothing good ever was.

It isn't conferred, but earned.

It's messy and frustrating and maddening at times. But we owe it to ourselves, our founders, our children's children, especially to freedom fighters every where in all of history, to continue the struggle.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rutgers University Press: Flatlined: Guy L. Clifton, M.D

I want this book! Heard a review of it on NPR and this guy made a LOT of sense. I wanted to read it during Healthcare debate. But now (October - yeah, I'm catching up posts) it seems unlikely anything substantial will be passed.

Rutgers University Press: Flatlined: Guy L. Clifton, M.D

Sadly, it may take a freaking pandemic to get us serious about reforming healthcare in general, and making sure people have access to basic care specifically.

It is crucial that we offer bare necessities if we are to be a free, democratic, and civilized society. I know it's scarce resources, but are we really willing to let people die, in huge and increasing volumes, due to lack of basic care?!

bad news, found a new button from google :)

Dramatically increases my ability to do short posts. Watch for tsunami.

Climate Change

love this post - but ideas and links are getting stuffed into small corners, nooks and crannies in my laptop... how to do the dusting?

Climate Change

Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?

I love this - and yeah, am fixin to start this!
Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week? - Well Blog -

Awesome - Helping Teens

Joe's Place / A Community Partnership

Love This Group

Center for American Progress Publications