Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deaf in One Ear

I don't know if I will send this to anyone (other than posting it here), but it's what I would like to say, if I do.

Dear Friends,

Some of you know, but I don’t know if you all do, that I am totally deaf in one ear. I tell my boys who are blind (one blind, one legally blind) to tell people things they should know about their disability, and it occurred to me today that I guess maybe I should do the same about my hearing impairment.

Here are some ways I’m affected:

1. I don’t hear ANYTHING out of my right ear. My sister says “Left is right and right is wrong.” But you don’t have to remember which side it is (sometimes even I have to stop and think. LOL). If you are on the wrong side, I will tell you…or ignore you but it will not be on purpose.
2. Sometimes I think I’m talking very softly…just for you and me, but in reality others can hear. Sometimes I think I’m speaking in a normal speaking voice, but in reality, I’m projecting too much. I apologize for that.
3. I have no idea where a sound is coming from. It’s all coming from one place, as far as I’m concerned.
4. If there are a lot of sounds in an area, or one noisy sound, I might not hear the sound you want me to hear (such as your voice), maybe even if you’re on my left side. The sounds are all coming together into one place.
5. If you need to get my attention right away and you feel the only way is to say my name loudly, I will probably understand. But once you have my attention, you can usually talk the same as you would to anyone else…unless there is a lot of background noise. Even then, as long as I can look at you, I can usually understand better when you speak at the same volume you would to anyone else.
6. If there’s a group conversation, and I’m not looking directly at the speaker, I might join in a conversation inappropriately because I’m responding to what I heard before you said the next thing, which I didn’t hear. Or I might respond to what I thought I heard, not realizing I heard it incorrectly.
7. I can sometimes hear things you might think I can’t. Someone used to say, “How did you hear that?!” Yes, sometimes I can hear things that are said across a room, around a corner, behind me, spoken softly. I’m not trying to eavesdrop. It’s just that it depends on whether I’m focused inside my head or aware of my surroundings at that moment, and also on how many other sounds are going on at the same time.
8. But don’t worry. When I overhear something, I either check it out with you to be sure I get it right (if I think it’s important enough) or, more often, just take it no further.

Thanks for listening. :) And I’m not asking you to remember all this or do anything in particular. Just please understand that I’m not trying to ignore you, nor to be annoying, nor stupid. I simply don’t hear as well as you do.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

If I trust in God, will I get what I want?

I've always had a bit of a challenge with trust. Not in all ways. I trust my husband to be faithful to me and love me always. I trust my children to always stay in touch with me in love.

I trust God to always care for us in His loving providence. But do I always act like I trust Him to take care of us? I'm sorry to say, not always. Why not?

Shortly before my dear friend and co-worker died recently - a day or two before she first went unexpectedly to the hospital in what would be her final weeks - we had one of our deep discussions. Somehow we got onto the subject of trust in God. Usually when this topic came up, it would be me worrying about something and her saying simply, "Give it to God" or "God's got it" or chidingly, "You of all people..." In response to that last one, I would think, as we sometimes think toward God, "Why me?" Only I was thinking, "Why me, 'of all people'?" Because I'm Catholic? Because I have a strong faith? Does that mean I'm not going to worry about anything?

That last day, we went further in the discussion. I explained that I trust God, but, I admitted with a smile, I'm afraid he's going to allow things I'm not going to like (it's happened before, right?). She looked at me intently, listening, drawing me out without a word. So I thought some more and I went on.

"But we have to trust him to give us the strength and comfort to deal with whatever He allows." She smiled knowingly, nodded with satisfaction, and we both turned back to our work. Only later did I discover that she already knew that day that her health was taking a turn for the worst.

Does trusting God mean that we think He will give us all our heart desires in this world? No. But if we draw close to Him, He will always give us what our hearts need, what we need to get through whatever He allows to befall us and our loved ones in this imperfect, fallen world.

"God's got it" remains true, even in the midst of the trials of earth. And if we "keep on keeping on" in trust in Him, His peace will be our reward, both now and later.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Review of Zane Grey's New Book: Union Pacific

How can Zane Grey have a "new book", since he died in 1939? His family, or his trust, has published his original, unedited manuscript of a book published in 1918.

This epic story barely falls short of Hawaii by James Michener and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Zane Grey's first historical novel brings romance and adventure to the building of the railroad across America, but also reveals the vices and intrigue that went along with it. I haven't read the 1918 version, The UP Trail, but I have read many of his other western stories. This original manuscript of historical fiction neither presents Grey's usual "super-heroes" nor does it give you "feel-good" romance. It does leave you eventually with an impression of abiding love and heroic perseverance through difficulties.

Like Charles Dickens, Zane Grey creates memorable characters, life-like people with full-bodied personalities who display weaknesses and strengths.

Unlike Michener's Hawaii, Union Pacific is not cosmopolitan. It focuses primarily on American white men. Although the Sioux Indians are, of course, enemies, the author shows us a brief glimpse of their perspective. But he gives only a passing nod to the black men and Chinese men who contributed to this great enterprise. Most of his white men are "no saints", but his interpretation of his Spanish villain Durade rankled me. I got the feeling that the author wanted us to believe Durade was villianous because of his Spanish blood. In further reflection, he may have meant that was the type of European who often came to the American West. If this were his thinking, I wish it were more clear.

The apparent prejudice toward white men is my only misgiving in recommending this book as fascinating historical fiction for adults and mature young adults.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is the Middle Class Shrinking? I think not!

Recently, I read an article about the "shrinking middle class". Just what is "middle class", anyway? And what was the mind of the writer in saying that the middle class is disappearing? Was it a "sky is falling" article? Or a way of warning us about certain trends? Will readers take it as a foregone conclusion? Or might such articles - unfortunately - serve to stir up bitterness among the so-called "poor" against the so-called "rich"?

You know, reading about this topic made me think of a thought I used to have sometimes, when I was a single person in my early twenties. Was I poor...or was I rich? I remember having one can of beans left on my shelf, and the joy of cashing my paycheck and buying food. But I didn't think I was poor because I didn't quite go hungry. And I had shelter. It may have been a converted storeroom with concrete walls, but it had a bathroom with a shower, as well as a sink, stove, and mini-refrigerator. It was really all I needed. But I know there were people who thought I was poor. Did their thinking it make it so? Did my thinking that I had all I needed make me rich?

Over the years, I have known a number of people whom some would consider rich. Some of them would make a lot of money when they worked, but then - yes, even before the recession - they would have periods of time between contracts. I remember one family who ate a lot of beans and popcorn between jobs...but most people would have considered them rich. At the same time, they were among the many generous people I have known.

Some of the people who are richer in income are business owners who provide jobs for many employees. Shall we try to reduce the income of the "rich" in order to help the "poor"? If we make laws or taxes that cause the business owner to have to pay his employees less - or pay less employees - how will we have helped the "poor"?

Perhaps the best thing we can all do is respect one another. When we don't have a lot of money, we can still treat those who do with respect (and sometimes we might be surprised if we knew what that person's finances really look like). When we do have more money, we should still treat those who make less with respect - as equal human beings. Every honest job is as good as another.

Today, more of us are aware that anyone can lose a job. Anyone can be unemployed or underemployed. And, on the other hand, everyone has the potential to grow. Sometimes someone just needs a good word or a "hand up" (and yes, sometimes someone might even need a handout, given with respect).

So I've been talking about "rich" and "poor", but I started out talking about middle class. I think the middle class attitude is what helped to make our country great. But I don't think it's really about how much money we make, or what kind of car we drive, or how much house we have (or apartment or mobile home). I think the middle class mentality that helped make our country great embodies what I was saying about mutual respect for one another, regardless of one's current circumstances.

When I was a child, I remember something my mom so often said if she wanted to instruct me in proper behavior: "That's not classy." Swearing, bathroom talk, not treating people with courtesy. None of those were "classy". Being classy, as she presented it, had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with attitude, respect, and and the golden rule. Is the middle class shrinking? I think not, as long as we remember to do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"The" Catholic Homeschool Magazine

I don't know if there's more than one Catholic homeschool magazine out there. Definitely, there are newsletters, websites, blogs, and a myriad of resources and support. But the only actual print magazine specifically for Catholic homeschoolers, that I am aware of, is Mater et Magistra, formerly Heart and Mind.

I received a subscription to this magazine, thanks to a give-away on my blogger friend Alicia's Studeo blog some weeks ago.

Being almost finished with homeschooling (my youngest is finishing up his junior year in high school), one might think I would not get much out of an issue focused primarily on the little ones: toddlers, preschoolers, and the primary grades. On the contrary, being passionate about educational methods, and being a writer of children's books, I was fascinated by all of it, and it is a "keeper".

I don't know what the theme of the next issue will be, but I can only look forward with joy to receiving it, knowing what a great job the editor and writers have done with this issue.

This magazine is about wonder and love and all the beautiful things of childhood. I highly recommend it!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Weekly Household Schedule

Tonight I got an idea. Perhaps assigning certain types of jobs to different days might help me to keep my sanity and to accomplish more. So I wrote up a plan. If it works for me, I'll try to remember to come back and tell you about it.

LIVING AREAS – Monday/Tuesday

Process mail. Straighten.
Pay bills.
Balance checkbooks.
Sort papers.
Make business phone calls.

Vacuum living area.

EDUCATION - Wednesday

Check Peter’s work.
Discuss progress with Peter.
Plan curriculum.
Work on my personal goals and study plans.

Gather library books.
Return library books.
Distribute surplus books.

KITCHEN – Thursday/Friday

Plan meals.
Make shopping list.
Process coupons.
Explore recipe ideas.
Pre-process foods.

Clean refrigerator.
Organize cupboards.
Clean counters and boards.

BED AND BATH - Saturday

Plan clothing needs.
Iron, if needed.
Choose any items to give away.

Clean bathrooms.
Dust bedroom.
Vacuum bedroom and hallway.
Change bedding.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Clutter (or Declutter) the Little Way

The clutter is back. Oh wait. It never left. I tried; I really did. But when you get rid of a few things at a time, sometimes it's one step forward, one step back.

I used Freecycle to give away a crock pot carrier and an oversized duffel bag. I gave a pre-paid phone and a hoodie to a friend. I took my library books back to the library.

Then I cut coupons and checked sales, and over-stocked on groceries. I bought Peter's schoolbooks for next year. I brought home five books from the library.

All of that would be okay if I had ample "homes" for everything. But all of that replaced what I gave away...and what I gave away was already taking up a little bit of "extra" space.

You might be shaking your head at me as a hopeless case...or you might relate. If you relate, then I have a word for both of us: No. We can't give up. What if I had given up a long time ago? What if I had not given things away and taken back the library books? I would have even less space, wouldn't I? (not to speak of a large library fine).

When we can declutter in a big way, it's so much better. But when we can only declutter in little ways, that's good too. And when I can only sit and read, I can get inspiration to keep it moving.

Here I would like to share with you some of what inspires me tonight:

Unclutter Tips These are great tips for deciding whether to keep an item or give it up.

Workspace of the Week: Classrooms are Workspaces, too.
Although I don't have little ones anymore, I love the baskets and the picture labels here...and the idea that our workspace might be a kitchen or a workbench, wherever it is that we work.

And the ultimate jump-start (and follow-through): 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Keeping Papers - The Joy of Notebooks

This morning I was reading through my blog and came across a post in which I promised to share with you more about my organizational system for papers. Me?? I who have papers growing out of my carpet like toadstools? Okay, that was an exaggeration, and leads me a bit off-topic. Yes, when we lived in Kentucky, after our basement carpet flooded, toadstools grew. And not to worry, we tore out the carpet and replaced it with tile...after putting in a sump pump. But I digress.

How is it that I can have boxes and stacks of unsorted papers, and yet tell you how to be organized? For one thing, if I can do it, you can do it. And even thought you might already be doing it better than I am, there might be some little tidbit here that will inspire you with an idea of how to tweak what you've got.

In my previous post on Keeping Papers, I talked about keeping a portable file box with each family member's most important records, eg. birth, baptism, immunizations, diplomas.

My second line of attack is notebooks (also sometimes called binders; in other words, I am NOT talking about spiral notebooks here, but the kind you put papers in and take papers out...and hopefully put them back in again!).

Many years ago I began a "Household Notebook" when I read about the concept at Organized Home.Com. Since then, my notebook habit has grown to one notebook for each of several categories.

I have a notebook for Paying Bills (I call it something else in case anyone ever breaks into my home...although, really, if someone else wants to pay my bills, they are welcome to). In this notebook, I have my bill-paying spreadsheet; my budget; my plan for paying off debt; and copies of the most recent payments (okay, more than the most recent, but that would be the ideal).

I have a Medical Notebook for important information (diagnoses, allergies, surgeries); fee tickets (receipts); and bills. When there's been some mis-communication somewhere and our insurance hasn't paid a bill - and I have to call them (again) - I can readily locate all the information I need. Do I have every single piece of information in this notebook that should be in it? Do you need to ask that question? (Remember my piles.) But again, I always figure that waiting for perfection does not get the job done, and I just do the best I can.

Another notebook I have is my Addresses Notebook. Perhaps this would be better served as a section of a Household Notebook instead of a whole notebook, or maybe this is where I should be putting the directions I print out instead of putting them in a loose file (and never finding them again). At any rate, using a notebook (or notebook section) for addresses is especially handy when you are involved in organizations that pass out sheets (or send Excel spreadsheets) of contact information, such as baseball, choir, or etc.

Family Recipes is another category of notebook, one which is bursting at the seams. After printing an e-book about freezer cooking, I made an Appliance Cooking notebook and put the e-book in there, adding my own crockpot recipes, and hints for using the rice cooker. (Oh, how I love my appliances.)

Of course, we have our notebooks for homeschooling, too, and I have a writing notebook or two or three. You can organize according to your own needs, hobbies, and passions.

Not all my papers are in notebooks. No, I'm not referring to the unsorted papers; I mean that I also have files in a file cabinet. But I have found that notebooks are the easiest to use for the papers I want to see at a glance - or "grab and go": go call, go copy, or go cook.

What do you need to set up a system of notebooks? Notebooks (yeah, I know you knew that), dividers, something to label the notebooks with, and a three-hole-punch (not all of these are expensive).

Do any of you use a notebook system? I'd love to hear your ideas, as well as input from anyone who decides to try it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

If you have health insurance...

Never mind for just a moment the health insurance debate. That's not what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about is: If you already do have health insurance, how can you avoid pitfalls? (If you don't have insurance, I can only say I'm sorry. I know there are people who manage medical care without it, but it's not my field of expertise.).

Years ago, I remember having insurance but not even giving the details of it a second thought. We had it, it covered anything and everything, and that was that...or so I thought. But then we'd get a bill from the doctor's office. We had entered a world of co-pays, deductibles, in-network benefits and out-of-network benefits.

Later I learned from my mother-in-law about HMO's. When she became involved, Health Maintenance Organizations had just begun and, at that time, she could only choose from a small handful of doctors. Although I think that has changed to where one can usually choose from more doctors, still HMO's often require a referral from the primary care physician in order to visit a specialist. If your insurance requires referrals, please be pro-active in making sure you have the referral - or that your primary doctor gets it to the specialist - before you go to the appointment.

Sometimes your company may change insurance plans. One year we had the same insurance company as the year before, and even the same member number, but the prefix letters that came before our number had changed. At that time I did something that I later thought was really stupid. I threw away the old cards. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy from a doctor's office we had visited. Now I have three policies to keep track of for the past three years. And yes, you really can receive a medical bill in 2010 for an office visit or lab test in 2008. (I'm trying to resolve one of those bills right now.) If that happens, you need to know which insurance company to call and your member number (and prefix).

Speaking of resolving issues, please always be kind and patient when you call the insurance company or medical practice. They are real human beings, with their own trials and tribulations, even their own illnesses, who really do want to help you...provided that you treat them with a little respect. And if it turns out you have a bill that you really do need to pay, don't panic. You can often get on a monthly payment plan.

I used to think that I could just make my own payment plan. "You should be happy that I sent you some money" was my unspoken attitude. I even had a doctor who said, "Send us whatever you can, as long as it's once a month." That's fine, if they tell you that. But unless they do, I would definitely call - no matter how annoying it is, or how fearful you might feel about picking up the phone. If you and the practice agree to a payment plan, and you make your payments, then no one will nag you and you won't be sent to collection for a bill and have it adversely affect your credit rating.

If you really, truly feel you can't make the payments they want you to make, you can ask them if you can make smaller payments. If they want larger payments than you feel you can make, then ask them if they have a hardship plan. If they do, you will need to show your income and expenses, but if you qualify, it might help. At a time some years ago when my husband had just started a business, and we had a large deductible to pay on a four day hospitalization, we got our bill cut in half due to hardship. Then I talked them into small payments on what was left. The woman was annoyed at how little I wanted to pay, and warned me that if a payment was late we would be sent to collections...but it was what I was comfortable with at the time. And in a few years, we had the whole bill paid off in spite of financial difficulties at the time.

So, to summarize, I have learned the following over the years:
1) Know what insurance you have. Do you need referrals? Do you have co-pays? Do you have deductibles? How much are they?
2) If you need a referral for a specialist, make sure it gets there before you do (or take it with you).
3) If your insurance changes, keep the previous year's information in a safe place.
4) If you receive a bill stating that the insurance didn't pay for a visit or procedure, try to resolve the issue with the practice and/or insurance company.
5) If you still owe money on a bill, pay it or make arrangements to get on a payment plan. I've found medical people to be better about this than any other business.

May you be blessed with good health, good care, and prosperity.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thinking Inside the Box

One of our big goals - with a plan and a deadline - is to get out of debt.

And yet, we just bought a used car on a payment plan.

Is this a contradiction? Well, it took some thinking, some looking at conditions, some stress, and lots of prayer, to make this decision, but I think it was a good decision.

My husband has a good job, but works lots of hours, and I have a part-time job. Our hours and our work locations do not even begin to overlap. Juggling one car for several weeks has been challenging, tiring, and yes, expensive. We have spent more on meals out and meals delivered, as well as more on gasoline. But besides the extra gasoline (on the days I took him to work and picked him up after work), we were putting extra miles on his already-high-mileage car. And, we were not getting it in for an oil change or other service.

We always thought we better get another car soon, but it was a matter of logistics.

We had some cash to spend on a car, but we couldn't spend it all. I was getting stressed because the cars I felt we could afford were almost non-existent (especially as we feel safer dealing through a dealer, and dealer prices are always higher). Yet if we were able to get a loan and buy a car that was, say, two years old, then our monthly payments would be higher than I'd be comfortable with...and this would not compatible with our goal to get out of debt.

I kept trying to think outside the box, but what I think I needed to do was think inside the box, give up the fear for a minute and find out what was possible.

One of our sons made a recommendation that had not occurred to me: Get a loan for an inexpensive car (under ten thousand). "Can you do that?" Turns out, yes, you can. Our credit not being pristine, the bank asked us to make a down payment of about half the price. "Works for me"...and it keeps the monthly payments low, which to my way of thinking is the best of both worlds. We only spend the cash we can afford to spend at the moment and we have wiggle room in our monthly payments. On top of that, we can rebuild our credit scores.

Of course, we plan to pay more than the monthly payments on most months...because we will continue on course to get out of debt!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tribute to My Classmates

"I want to be friends with the popular kids," I told my Dad one day when I was in junior high school.

"Observe how they are, and try to be like them," he suggested.

I didn't say anything more, but inside my head I thought, "You would 'kill me' if I smoked and drank, and necked and cussed, like they do!" I thought he just didn't realize that times had changed.

Not until years later did I realize what my Dad was probably thinking. The "popular" kids smiled a lot and laughed a lot. But, most of all, they showed a genuine interest in others. I'll bet that was what he hoped I might learn. Dad could talk to anyone, but I hadn't yet picked that up from him. I was most comfortable with a pen in my hand.

When I got to high school - with redistricting meaning a whole new set of kids - I found that the "popular kids" were more into getting good grades than they had seemed to be at my junior high. I could relate with that, but I still didn't feel I knew how to "make the grade" socially.

Little did I realize how my social abilities may have been affected by being totally deaf in one ear; not being able to remember faces easily; and not being good at remembering little details (whose dog is sick?). Those things haunt my socializing to this day, although I've learned to adapt a little better. someone who had been abused by an older boy when I was very young, I thought it was practically a sin for a boy and girl to hold hands. I didn't look down on those classmates whose lifestyle may have differed from mine. I did worry about them and how things might turn out in their lives (and then I was the one who went off the deep end into a cult).

At the same time I was worrying about some of my classmates, I admired those same people immensely for all their good qualities. I loved them very much, but usually from afar.

Now, I don't remember many of my former classmates (which face goes with which name?)...and many of them don't remember me, either. But when I hear a name, I usually have a positive sign in my head to go with the name, even if I can't remember many details.

Nine years ago, I was cordially invited and warmly welcomed to my high school reunion. It was one of the high points of the last decade.

Then, a year or two ago, a dear friend of mine who is 17 years younger than I am urged me to join Facebook - so that I could reconnect with high school friends. Really? I only really had a few friends when I was in high school that I really did anything with, and I have email addresses for most of them. But I decided to try it.

I'm so glad I did! What I see, as I watch their posts and comments, is lots and lots of love. I see the love for their families. I see many long-lasting marriages and life-time friendships. I see love for their classmates and their classmates' families.

My classmates and I come from the sixties. We may have been confused at times. We may have done a lot of crazy stuff in our lives. But one thing we have in spades is love for one another, and after all, love trumps all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Little Nest Egg Here; Little Nest Egg There

Even when we - many people today - feel like we're scraping bottom in the financial bucket, even when all around us are losing theirs; even so, if we have a little bit, we can diversify that little bit. I'm not necessarily talking about a little bit in stocks and bonds, real estate or CD's; gold or silver; or retirement funds. Of course, those things are great when we have them!

But what I'm talking about here is diversifying in what might seem like wee, very small matters.

For some of us, it seems to make sense to have money in more than one checking account and maybe even in more than one bank. Since my husband and I both have jobs (although mine is just part-time), we are able to have two free checking accounts in two different banks by using automatic deposits.

I've always liked the concept of having more than one bank or at the least more than one bank account. Suppose that I accidentally (physically) destroy my debit card (it has happened), or someone steals the debit card numbers and the account has to be closed (it has happened to a family member). It's nice to be able to use the "other account" while resolving the issue.

Keeping some cash in our wallets is another way to diversify. Much as I hate to admit it, there are times when I do not have any cash on me...because times have changed. My mom always told me to keep a dime to make a phone call. Later I used to be sure to keep three dollars to buy gas from AAA if I ran out. Now we have cell phones and we buy the deluxe AAA membership that would supply a small amount of gas if we ran out.

But what about the one time when I run out of the house without my cell phone? (Okay, it's been more than once, though I don't forget it often!). Pay phones still exist, even though they are few and far between. And what if you don't have the AAA deluxe membership...or you can just make it to the gas station, but their credit card machine is down? That little bit of cash in the wallet can be mighty helpful.

What about keeping money at home? To me, this brings great peace of mind. I would never presume to tell you how much I think anyone should keep. At times, my home stash has been as little twenty dollars, enough to pay the neighboring teen to mow the grass when our lawn mower broke down. I think how much you keep depends on a lot of circumstances.

Another thing I would not try to tell you (especially publicly) is where to hide money in your home. But let's try to avoid the most obvious places. I read recently that thieves do look for valuables in the sock drawer. Dang. Had to find a new hiding place.

Another place to keep money, of course, is in a simple savings account (how old fashioned). By building an emergency fund, we won't have to run to the credit cards when something unexpected occurs...for those who still have credit cards. For those who do not, it might mean the difference between a car repair or walking...or juggling rides.

A friend recently told me that she's been listening to me and has started building an emergency fund. Then she laughed and said, but she thinks of it more as a vacation fund. I smiled and told her if she can take a vacation on cash, rather than using credit, it's all good.

As Trent says in The Simple Dollar, even buying food in bulk is a way of diversifying. I've often read of people living off the food in their pantry for a week or even a month, while they pay for an emergency that arises. Yes, real people actually do this. I have not been one of them, but having a little extra food stashed away has saved me making a last-minute trip to the store (or a ruined dinner), when I found out I was missing a crucial ingredient.

What if you don't have the space for a pantry? Any place in the house (or apartment) can be used for storing canned a closet, under a bed or sofa. For ease of use, a plastic under-bed storage box or two might be helpful as an alternate small, but useful "pantry".

Can you share other ways to diversify in the little things?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Is Tipping Really All that Important?

"Daddy, you left a dime on the table!" a little girl said to her father as the family walked through the restaurant to go home, causing her father to blush in embarrassment. He had not been pleased with the service. Leaving only a dime was his way of communicating that. I heard this story when I was a young child...back in the 1950's.

When I was growing up, I learned that tips were a way of rewarding someone for exceptional service, not for normal everyday service. The waitress isn't friendly? Don't tip...or leave only a small tip to make a point. Whether or not that philosophy was a good one sixty years ago will not be the topic of this post.

But is that a good philosophy for today? And, in a similar vein, since most people's finances are strained today, does that diminish our obligation to tip?

In the lunchroom at work the other day, I was reading a government poster about minimum wage. Below the list of minimum wages for different ages or occupations, it stated that for occupations where tips are a part of the compensation, the minimum wage is $2.13. $2.13? That's about $17 for an eight hour day, or about $375 for a month. Is that a fair wage? Only if the person really does receive a "fair" share of adequate tips. In some fields of business, tips are definitely an expectation, certainly not an "extra".

But what if the waitress is not friendly and upbeat? What if the waiter spills the soup? Do you know what they might be going through? Maybe a family member just lost his job. Maybe a close friend died, or a child is sick at home. Work ethic is strong. Sometimes a service person has done a lot just to get to work today.

What amount of tip is adequate? And what amount of tip is generous or rewards exceptional service? By the time I was in my teens, 10% was a standard tip for a waiter or waitress. It later climbed to 15%. From what I've heard, occasional patrons, often my age or older, still think that 10% or 15% are good tips...or maybe a five dollar bill, regardless of the cost of the service. But my understanding is that 20% is a standard tip now for a waiter or waitress, as well as for some other services. We can always give more, if we want to be generous or reward the extra mile.

But what if you don't have enough money to pay for a restaurant meal and a tip too? You know what I'm going to say, don't you? No, actually, I'm not going to tell you not to go out to eat. When I don't feel I can afford a meal and a tip, but we have enough for a meal - or we're traveling and we just need to keep the overall costs down - then we go to what I call a "deli-type restaurant". Think: Subway, Noodles and Company, Chipotles. I'm sure there are many more. It's a step beyond fast foods and you can sit down to eat, but tipping is not necessary. On our last trip, we ate most of our meals in deli-type restaurants and then had one nice meal at the Olive Garden.

Buffet restaurants are another option. Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Steak House, Golden Corral are some possibilities where you don't receive full service from a waitperson. Instead of thinking "no tip" here, we think "less tip". In some of these, you still have a host or hostess who brings you drinks, refills, and clean plates. That person still deserves a tip; it just doesn't have to be the same as for a full service restaurant.

To help with how much to tip, as well as who else, besides restaurant waiters and waitresses, should be tipped,I recommend doing online searches. But then, when you do, use your judgment. I've been surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) to find out about services I maybe should have tipped and have not in the past. We can always learn and grow.

I've also been surprised by some sites saying you need not tip this or that service person...or to tip only a little for this or that. I have family members who depend on tips as part of their income, so I get frustrated when someone suggests not tipping...and I have found counter suggestions to each these suggestions.

I've read that some customs have changed. For example, years ago, it wasn't customary to tip the owner of a beauty salon. Now, many sites say that it is. Maybe we've learned that small business owners are not always "rich", especially today...and that they, too, like to be rewarded for a job well done or for their effort in serving us.

Another suggestion I've questioned is related to massage therapists. I have a family member who does massage therapy and I recommend: Yes, tip 20%, just as you would a waitress (or more, if you wish). Someone said they want to be relaxed after massage therapy. So decide before you go in how you will pay the tip (cash or otherwise), and the minimum amount you will tip (you can always add more), and then: Relax.

Some sites also question tip jars at coffee shops. I believe that is optional, but I can just say that yes, the money is divided among the employees, who try very hard to get hundreds of different drinks just right.

With these caveats in mind, if you have a doubt about who or how much to tip, you can learn a lot from searching various tipping websites.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Keeping Papers - The Portable File Box

Have you ever gone on a paper chase? I see you nodding. Yes, I have too...usually in a panic about one thing or another.

Some of you have read my posts before about the papers on the dining room table (and in my purse, and on the chair, and falling from the chair to the floor). Where do all these papers come from, considering we have computers these days? It seems I have a compulsion to go through each paper individually to decide its worth, put it in a pile to file, or in a bag to shred. Yes, I do need to systematize that first sorting process better.

Even though I have lots of papers - and the occasional panic attack while searching for one, many of the papers I need can be found at a moment's notice. And that's what I'd really like to share with you today. How do we keep track of papers that we really need? It took me years to develop simple ways to keep track of papers.

First and foremost, I keep the really essential papers in a portable file. I started this box when we lived in Los Angeles and were taught to prepare for an earthquake. In this box is a file for each person in the family. Each of the files contains three manila envelopes or sub-folders: medical, school, and certificates. These files are not comprehensive; just the essentials.

The medical files principally include immunization records (particularly helpful if you relocate or even if you change doctors).

Included in the certificates files are such documents as birth, baptism, passport for anyone who has one, proof of a disability, etc.

The school file might include report cards, but primarily any diplomas. This isn't the place for all those projects...though you might want to keep a newsclipping or poem that's especially precious.

An automobile file can carry the vehicle title, but not all the maintenance receipts. In other words, this box is just for the essentials.

Does this box have to be perfect? Is mine perfect? No. As I used to say, "It's better to do a half-way job than no job at all," meaning: Don't procrastinate because you don't have every detail down pat. My folders don't all contain every paper that they should. And they do contain some things that should be elsewhere. But at least I know I can put my hand on most of the most important papers at a moment's notice.

Next time I will tell you how I keep other papers. In the meantime, do you have ideas about how to keep the most important papers? Or how to tweak the system?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My New Thinking about Goals

Yesterday was the fifth Friday of the month, which meant that we didn't have our weekly homeschool co-op and yet I had the day off work.

I had planned that after working with Peter on some schoolwork in the morning, I would then spend part of the afternoon either meeting a friend or doing some of the weekly grocery shopping...or both. But the friend had something come up and I ended up moving the shopping plans forward to today.

It turned out to be a very productive day! Peter and I were able to work on a couple of important, time-consuming, homeschooling projects before going out in the evening to his semi-monthly teen group.

What a wonderful feeling I have when I feel like I am getting my priorities right. Do you feel that way too?

When we used to be in a certain multi-level business, we used to hear different motivational speakers. A couple of them talked about setting goals for each of six or eight areas of your life. I would try, but then I'd get overwhelmed and just forget it all. Of course, I did have unspoken, unwritten goals, just trying to be a good wife and mother and raise our children. Somehow I managed that without breaking it down into planned, written goals...except perhaps for the lesson plans I made for our children's schooling.

For a couple years now, I've been striving toward written goals. I keep thinking I should include a number of areas of life, that I should expand the list. But every time I start to get past the first two, I can't seem to get the wording right. I change my mind. I'm not really sure what I want to pursue in this area or that. Slowly, something has begun to dawn on me.

Two major goals are enough for me! What a revelation. Maybe someone else can handle six or eight, or maybe another person can handle only one.

I'm not advocating forgetting everything else. Yes, life definitely needs to be balanced. And we can improve ourselves. I'm not saying I won't make a change in my diet along the way, or find a way to exercise a little more, or keep learning new things for my job. But do we need to set conscious, major, long-term goals for all of it? For some of us, I think that can be too overwhelming.

My two major goals (in case you're curious) are:
1) To help our youngest son Peter get through high school, and do all we can to help him prepare for college to pursue his career goals.
2) To get ourselves out of credit card debt.

Yes, like any good goal, I have dates set for the culmination of both of these goals. Both of these goals generate enthusiasm for me rather than the discouragement I get when I start trying to set too many goals at once.

When we reach these goals, I will probably know what new goals to set. By then, I should have the emotional energy and mental clarity to set a couple of new and equally exciting long-term goals.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Morning Revelation

The earliest dental appointment I could get was right in the middle of my work-day. Since I work only part-time already, I decided to just request the day off.

Being a morning person, I was up early that day, as usual. To my dismay, I discovered that we didn't have any eggs or milk, and we were low on bread. For once, my kids' occasional complaint that "there's nothing to eat" almost rang true. I would run to Trader Joe's, even though I had hoped to have a quiet morning at home.

Driving home from the store I looked at the southern sky and what a delight it was! Sandwiched between the gray cloud cover and the clouds meeting earth's horizon was a band of light...a wide horizontal swath of color: blue and yellow. Running vertically through it all were vertical white rays of light. All I could do was gasp in awe at the beauty, and thank God for His creation.

While I drive to work each morning, I often pray, "Please this..." and "Please that...". "Please help this person" or "bless that person". And there's nothing wrong with that. It's all good. But sometimes it might be even better to slow down and look at His creation, too, do you think? The prayer that is worried, hurried, and harried is still prayer, and He wants us to ask. But how good for our spirit is the prayer that lifts our heart joyously to the good God!

If we take our focus off the cares of this world for a few minutes, what wonders we can see.

What beauties lift your heart to God and renew your spirit?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Man and His Dog

A Tribute to Chicago

Paul's guide dog was here with us only days before he got sick, so I remember him well. I remember his tail waving excitedly when he wasn't working and I remember his focus when he was.

The bomb-sniffing dog at the airport - brought to check an abandoned bag - barked angrily at Paul's guide dog; but Chicago, true to his training and his mild nature, remained calm and still. That day we waited in the longest lines I have ever experienced...and Chicago waited more patiently than any of us.

Finally we reached the counter, so late that a supervisor had to call the gate. There was still time, but I would have to accompany Paul to the gate myself. The agent came with us to security so that Paul could bring what was supposed to be a "checked bag" along on the plane. As we neared the security counters, our agent told Paul to take off his jacket. While he did that, she disappeared. In trying to find her, I ended up getting us into the wrong lane, so by the time she found us we had to switch lanes, and then switch lanes again. The poor dog was having to weave with us through crowds of irritated people and around narrow angles, but he went along complacently through all of it.

Finally we headed down the long concourse, the gate agent calling Paul's name over the intercom. I asked Paul if Chicago would mind running, and off we went. I'm guessing the run may have actually been Chicago's favorite part of the trip. In the hurry, I didn't get a chance to tell Paul good-bye properly, nor to tell Chicago good-bye at all. But I will always gratefully remember Chicago's faithful service to Paul for the past year and a half, and his loving nature.

Chicago's service may have been short but it was a life well-lived. He was Paul's ever-faithful companion as Paul finished earning his college degree. Chicago gave him moral support and the help he was trained to give, as Paul adjusted to his blindness and continued to attend classes, student government sessions, Knights of Columbus meetings, and Newman Club get-togethers.

Nor was Paul the only one who benefited from the friendship. Chicago could not have had a more gentle and affectionate master, cheerfully praising him for being a good doggy and for his good work...playing with him and petting him when he was off-duty. Chicago gave every sign of living a very happy life.

He will always live on in our hearts.