God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Don't Understand My Friends

Unless you are new to my blog, you know that I am a proud Democrat. I believe that we have a President who has inherited decades worth of problems and unwise and poor decisions--from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and politicians. Elected officials have too often been led by the myopic desires of us the citizenry who often see the world and country from our narrow perspectives of personal circumstances. The courage to make decisions that are unpopular but in the best interest of the country has not been the trade mark of those we have elected to serve us.

Anyone who believes that prayers are often answered in ways reflecting God's greater knowledge as opposed to what is asked for should apply that same standard to government as it leads. And....those of us being led must allow for such leadership.

I am concerned and confused today as I listen to President Obama's budget and the response from Republicans. I hear partisan rhetoric and blustering, repeating and repeating the same historic party line--beginning before substantial reading of what was presented could possibly have taken place. Is it possible that these responses were boiler plated and prepared in advance? They are devoid of recognition that we, as a Nation, are in a mess unlike any other and remedies must be different than any others. The idea that the current deluge of monumental problems can be solved by personal grit and individual effort is ludicrous.

We need universal health care. It is wrong that in this nation we have millions of people denied medications and good health care. It amazes me that members of congress who have the best medical care available can find reason to deny minimal care to others. So what if the only means to achieve this is through socialized medicine? The truth is that most people do not understand what that means or how it would work--it's just a word to fear. But anyway, that is not what is being proposed even though the great intellectual Joe the Plumber and other fear mongers continue to throw the word around--wanting people to believe it true.

And speaking of Joe the Plumber, we come to another reason I do not understand my Republican friends whom I know to be smart, intelligent caring people. Rush Limbaugh? Ann Coulter? Michael Steele? Michelle Bachman? Joe the Plumber? These are the stars at the Conservative Political Action Conference being held right now. Joe the Plumber is a speaker! Rush is the head liner! These are the people that the hope of the rebirth of the Republican party are listening to this weekend. The selection of gurus is mindboggling.

Steele is saying: ... they (Republicans) will be shining a spotlight on big taxes, congressional earmarks, and stimulus spending fraud through the next election in 2010. These are issues they hope to use to hammer Democrats. "We'll have an opportunity to talk about this for the next 18 months," said House Minority Leader John Boehner.

In other words there is no intent to work with the party in power, in bipartisan ways, to seek resolutions to anything, to care for the American people. The stated, on record, intent is to be obstructionist and hope for failure. Limbaugh said it clearly; the more subtle, sophisticated among our politicians cloak the wish in a superfluity of words--but, it's the same incredible malevolent thought and it is discouraging.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Journey into Nightmare Land

We are reluctantly embarking on a journey which fills me with dread and apprehension. We are remodeling a substantial portion of our house--well, actually, it's only about a fifth of the space but it is still more than I want to spend time and energy on. I am not an interior decorator and I do not love, as others do, spending days upon days making decisions. Of course, I want the end result to look magazine perfect--something that will pop eyes when guests come. But the getting from here to there is not my idea of fun.

The impetus for this endeavor comes from two things:
  1. Broken floor tiles which need replacing
  2. Envy of what friends have accomplished in their house.
When we returned from Italy last year, we found a few broken tiles. Of course, we have several boxes of spares in the garage and so could repair them but that's when #2 comes into play.

They have the "new" big floor tile look as opposed to our 20 year old little tile look. They have a big LCD TV mounted on the wall above their fireplace.

They have a wonderful gas fireplace as opposed to a wood burning one--which pollutes the air (yes, I know, gas is a non-renewable resource.) But, theirs has a remote control--you can comfortably sit on the couch while reading a book (or watching the big TV) and regulate the flame and heat to your liking. There is the beautiful glow of the fire casting shadows on the new cherry wood shelves and cabinets on either side of the glow.

And then---the gorgeous granite counter top in their kitchen--envy erupts in full. Beautiful! Warm. Rich. New. I really need that. Our tile, which was such a wonder when it replaced the orange formica many years ago is now old-fashion and the grout needs cleaning.

Fortunately, we don't need new appliances but I am fearful that once the new floor and counter are installed we will find the need for new cabinets. Of course, we can always just reface the ones we have.

Moving on--since there will be a substantial piece of granite left from the kitchen counter tops, it will be perfect for the bathroom--which means a new sink and commode. As the new floor tile is already slated for that room, which doubles as Casey's reading room, we might as well finish it up.

All of this means we need to strip the wallpaper so that we can paint--which means I need to pick paint colors--bold or subtle? I don't know.

Oh--forgot taking the popcorn off the ceiling in the family room is on the agenda, as well as putting in recessed lighting which means we can do away with floor lamps.

I've been thinking of setting up a raffle to see who can best predict how long this will take--to help finance it all. The contractor says 2 1/2 weeks for the kitchen--do you think?

So, we are going to keep up with the "Joneses" in our lives. Then maybe we can become the Jones in someone else's life. What a goal!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Letter I (as in eye--not L)

A fellow blogger who goes by Girasoli has challenged some of us to adopt a letter and identify words beginning with that letter which appeal to us, are important to us or have special meaning to us. I guess this is sort of like a blogger chain letter--things I studiously avoid in most milieus; however, this one holds some fascination--mainly, I think, it is "can I think of 25 I words worth a line or two. So--here goes:

  1. Italy--of course, what I word symbolizes me more than this one, my second home, my second country. Although there is no Italian blood in my heritage, without question, in past lives I lived through all that was Rome and is Italy. Just a little bit larger than Arizona, Italy has a mystery and ambiance that calls all who have stepped foot in it to return again and again. I love Italy--my friends, the food, the history, the charm, the color, the beauty--its all.
  2. Ice Cream--well, this is sort of cheating as really it isn't ice cream that I love--it's gelato! Which, of course, is the Italian equivalent of ice cream. It's mandatory when visiting the country to have 3 portions each day and then to join in the search for the best gelateria in the country.
  3. the Islands--as in Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island. Every few years we have an unquenchable urge to again experience the trade winds, exquisite beaches and total relaxation of time spent in paradise. Plus, we have very special friends to see there--they don't come here to us so we need to go to them. Ann, are you reading this? Girasoli, who started me on this topic also lives in Hawaii--lucky woman!
  4. Ireland--have never been there but it's now on the horizon. Maybe this summer--as an excursion from our time in Italy. It's not been a place on our Must See list but, as always, once we have an idea it imprints itself and we become obsessed. So--maybe.......
  5. Ice (as in shaved)--this clearly goes with point 3 as where else can you find the real thing but on the Islands. Even Obama and his girls can't resist. They're drippy, messy but so refreshing--especially with a little ice cream treat at the bottom.
  6. Irene--well, I used to know a girl named Irene until we said goodnight.
  7. Information--I love information until there is overload. Learning is fun. I think I have overflowing filing cabinets in my brain. The problem being that I don't know the filing system.
  8. Iditarod--I knew about this even before the advent of SP. When we were in Alaska, we stayed in a forsaken area where the owners raised dogs for this great race. What I can't figure out is why people do this.
  9. Ideas--What is more fun that having an idea and following it someplace? Well, I guess there are some things.
  10. Illinois--My forebearers come from there. Of course, so does Blagojevich.
I think that 10 is enough for now. You are probably bored--if you've read this far and I need to follow my ideas to more I words. Till--then--as Casey signs out--Ciao.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Serendipity Lost?

Before the internet brought finger tip knowledge, I would begin planning trips far in advance, or I would plan no more than a route and from there we'd wing it. I remember using snail mail to request information from Germany and Austria as we planned our first trip "abroad" and the excitement Ken and I shared when packets arrived in our mailbox.

I remember the anticipation we felt while poring over maps of places which seemed so very far away, scrutinizing the colorful brochures and advertisements accompanying the map--learning of a country through its own propaganda as it tried to lure visitors. That trip we found our lodgings as we went--it was all a grand adventure of great fun. We had my mother-in-law with us and I loved it--I loved her.

Europe wasn't crowded that year as travel was not yet an infatuation of the masses and, those that might have gone were advised by our state department to stay home. There were bombings in Berlin--one of the places we were headed--and other acts of cold war terrorism. Americans were scarce that year so we were treated well as we listened to shop keepers rant against President Regan whom they saw as their nemesis. He wasn't popular in Europe.

That trip gave birth in our souls to the magic of travel--the need to experience new cultures and new people. We learned that the world is small and the unknown is to be explored. We saw beauty and depravity--churches and Dachau--quaint Bavarian villages and the great symbol of the Cold War--the Berlin Wall. We passed through Checkpoint Charlie into cold, drab, silent, oppressive East Berlin. The whole world opened up to us in this trip to just two countries.

Since then we have been to five continents and many countries. We're more sophisticated travelers than we were then. Though, I am not sure that the innocence of the awe and wonder we felt then has been duplicated even as we walked the Great Wall of China or had elephants cross our paths in Tanzania. Maybe while on a magical Galapagos island, standing by the blue-footed boobie--uncontaminated by fear of humans--and watching her gently tap her egg to release the baby inside comes close to the original wonder.

As time has passed, planning has become easier. First it was the increased viability of long-distance phone service, then came the advent of the fax machine--what a wonder that was--and now the incredible magic of the internet. A click, a picture, an e-mail, a question and what took weeks is complete in as long as it takes the person at the other end to answer. Convenience has replaced anticipation; google or mapquest encroaches on the mystery of highway lines and insets; planning endangers the serendipity. The world has become smaller--nothing seems too far away.

Planning is still much of the fun of traveling--the anticipation is palpable. But, I sometimes miss the old way. There was what seemed as pre-bonding with countries when large envelopes arrived with foreign stamps and letters from tourist boards and welcoming bodies. So much of the mystery of what the experiences will bring is lessened with the pictures, virtual tours, web cams and google zooms which the internet brings us.

So--is serendipity lost? Can it still be experienced? Of course, it isn't and of course, it can. No matter the planning and pre-arrangements, there are always curves in the highway shielding what is beyond. There are country roads leading to the unexpected. There are cultures asking to be understood. And...mostly there are so many people to meet. Serendipity is an elixir of life. Without the promise that it's there to experience, we can all stay home, hibernating in our own shells, venturing nothing.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sharing Fluffy

I guess it wouldn't surprise anyone to know that raising a child when you are OLD can be difficult. Racing to the corner doesn't work all that well. Sitting on the floor while developing lego creations is hard--particularly the getting up part. Disneyland borders the impossible. The energy level is just different than it was at 30 or 40 or 50 or ..... Sometimes you wonder if he is being cheated.

But then--bedtime comes and he wants to share snuggles with Fluffy and Nike as stories are told and nonsense songs are sung. Even at 10, arms enfold and giving and getting hugs takes over. Then you know that you are his security and peace. He doesn't feel cheated.

You realize that a child's love comes not because someone is old or young. It comes because the love that surrounds him tells him that he is real, that he is important and, above all, that he is valued simply for who he is.

The pay back is that final kiss and hug just before you say goodnight and leave the room--and then the whispered I love you, gramma.

So--after all--it really isn't all that hard raising a child when you are OLD. It is just very special.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Merit Pay

Tonight Rachel Maddow and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri are discussing the obscenity of the bonuses given to CEO's by CEO's last year. Is there an American who is not incensed and inflamed by the greedy, nose-thumbing, narcissistic behavior of these people? In my mind, their future lies in the same circle of hell waiting to welcome Cheney and his buddy Rumsfield--men who sold out their country for, in the case of Cheney money and personal wealth and in the case of Rumsfield for a desire to be someone important. Both immune to the needs of the nation and its people.

I see great merit in Senator McCaskill's current plan to introduce legislation which would restrict CEO's pay to no more than that of the President of the United States. It seems rather logical that the person who holds the most demanding, responsible position in the world set the pay standard for others. Actually, in reality, these CEO's should be restricted to less than the president.

My question is, what do these men (and women, if the shoe fits) do? How do they earn their yachts, multiple abodes, chefs and butlers? Why should their wives be bedecked in gowns and jewels that our First Lady does not have? Not that she would have them, if she could--her values are pretty firmly rooted and don't include the grandiose.

Which brings me to the thought that prompted this rant. Merit pay.........

My background is in education as both teacher and administrator at the secondary level--grades 7-12. For years debate has swirled around the concept of merit pay for educators--pay based on student performance and achievement. To the uninitiated this sounds good--makes sense. In fact, on the surface, it's a pretty difficult idea to dispute--more or less a desirable goal.

But, as with so many ideas, the devil is in the details and the details are neither simple nor definable. There are so many variables affecting achievement that to use it to either reward or penalize a teacher is nonsensical.

Back to CEO's...it seems that developing a merit pay system for these no more than corporate employees would be much simpler and doable than doing so for teachers--which is impossible.

Beginning with a salary/bonus ceiling below that of POTUS, the actual amount should be based on company efficiency, performance, employee satisfaction and morale, public service and accountability by the company and company contribution to community need. Additionally, there should be a means of outside auditing and evaluation of the CEO--the regulation that was put aside for so long by misguided principles.

It would be interesting to listen to these CEO magnates who, undoubtedly, believe in merit pay for teachers, as they discussed the idea of merit pay for themselves.

The role of a leader is likened to that of a servant. The job is to serve personnel they supervise. It's time that corporate America understand that it serves the American people rather than continue the misconception that the reverse is true.