Monday, May 21, 2012

What's your splurge?

I read an interesting article in today's Arizona Republic (yes, the actual newspaper! I like newspapers!) about "Strategic Splurges." It discussed the things people still allow themselves to buy during these years of cutting back. For example, one person still takes vacations but now takes smaller trips instead of $4,000 luxury tours, and another spoke about the "essentials" of makeup and quality running shoes.

It is interesting to think about our strategic splurges. I have never been rolling in the dough, but as I make my way through the world over the years I have definitely thought about this concept of being willing to regularly spend a few dollars on things that others eliminate from their budget, while easily doing without things that other people see as essential. I suppose my strategic splurges have always been burritos, coffee, and movies (in the theater). I know there are so many people who can look me in the eye and say "I haven't seen a movie in the theater for a year!" I am not those people. I regularly go to the movies, and even in my direst (retail working) straits, the movie theater was where the entertainment budget went. You just had to be smart and go to matinee shows, and be an AMC MovieWatcher with free popcorn Wednesdays and rewards points.

I absolutely love to go out for caffeine, and I hit up coffee shops in every city (and every different country) I live in. It's delightful to return to the old faves (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Caribou, Biggby) where you know what to expect and get what you love, but it's also fun to become a regular at the indie coffee shop down the street, such as Champion Coffee in Brooklyn, the Loose Leaf Lounge in Chicago, Rosebud in Andong or Gallery Cafe in Phuket. As for burritos, I've organized my food for the last decade or two such that take-out Mexican food is on the menu every week (except when I live in Korea, where I'd take a monthly trip to Seoul to get Mexican eats). People (you might say "busybodies") have often criticized me for eating out a lot even though it's low-priced. I don't think I spend more on food than the people who buy tons of stuff at the grocery store. I have never bought tons of stuff at the grocery store. (And  no, I never go to McDonald's; I'm more of a Chipotle kind of girl.) I don't stock a full pantry or buy snacks to have around the house. I don't buy meat or many dairy products (I prefer soy milk for my health, the animals', and the environment's.) You might be surprised how the food budget all evens out. 

My expendable items have always been TV/cable and new clothes. I only pay for those things when I have extra; otherwise, I go without for years. (I also am generally not motivated to go clothes shopping, but that's another story.) More recently, you might say a smart phone and data plan are my expendables, although is it really expendable if you never even bother to include it in your budget in the first place?  I am so OK with being the last person I know to get a smart phone. I don't see myself doing so until the phone is free and my data/talk/messaging plan is less than $40-50/month, total.

The Arizona Republic's piece actually restored my faith in humanity with its lists of the top 10 untouchable budget items and the top 10 expendable items. The "untouchables" were things like cell phone service, cable TV, haircuts, etc. You could go without those things for two or three years, but clearly not many people choose to do so. The number one expendable item? Luxury handbags! Thank !@$% goodness! I have often been heard to rant about the mind-boggling concept of spending $600 on a purse. I just absolutely do not understand it -- even when there's not a recession and we're not all living in an economic wasteland. There is no bag in the world that could possibly be of more value to me than a plane ticket. I also don't really think Coach or Louis Vuitton bags look any better/different than other bags on display at the mall. The whole thing baffles me, so I'm glad to read that people at least have a little bit of sense to realize how expendable that item is in the budget.

What about you? What are your strategic splurges?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day Trippers

So, Brian says to me, how about we take a little day trip to Blythe? This resonates differently for a person from Phoenix, who spent 25 formative years in cars going back and forth between Phoenix and Southern California, than it does for a person from Michigan who is temporarily residing in the Southwest and innocently looks at the Google map. To the former (i.e., me) Blythe signifies:

1. The state line
2. The middle of nowhere
3. We're almost halfway to Disneyland
4. Should we stop for gas now, or wait until Indio?

Or, coming the other direction:

1. The state line
2. The middle of nowhere
3. We're more than halfway home
4. Should we stop for gas now, or wait until Quartzsite?

But for the latter (i.e., him) Blythe does not have lifelong significance. It's just another place two and a half hours down the road from Phoenix, and so when Brian found out a friend of his from high school is working there (I know. We'll get to that), he suggested we hop in the car and pay said friend a visit. My first thought was a highly sarcastic "Yeah sure, let's spend my day off in Blythe!"  But, as all my tongue-in-cheek snarkiness should be leading you to believe, we of course had a fabulous time in Blythe, at least until the part where we got devoured by evil bloodsucking creatures.

Brian's friend is working a "bird job." I am delighted to report that there is a whole subculture out there of people working "bird jobs," on various grants in various wetlands and wildlife refuges. There are few things I like more than discovering random subcultures I hadn't previously known existed, and here you have four conservation biology degree holders living in a lovely rented house in Blythe's "Hidden Beaches" gated community (yes, you read that right) who go to work at sunrise every morning and plot the birds they see/hear on a certain 300 meter x 300 meter or so plot of land. This lasts for a few months at which time they might move on to another bird job, or go get their PhD in great-tailed grackles, or whatever. Anyway, since they start work at 5 a.m. and all, they are done by 1 p.m., which is when we timed our arrival.

R-L: Brandon, Brian, the beer drinkers
We all had a lovely lunch and chat, then headed to a swimming hole on the Arizona side of the Colorado River a bit south of town. I tell you, I have never felt so much like I was in a country song.  We just pulled the SUV up in the dirt by the side of the road, walked down the sand, and had a refreshing dip, surrounded by trees and marshy grasses and sun and sky. Across the swimming hole from where we entered we could see a channel of the mighty Colorado, and the only other people in sight were two men drinking beer in cans from a cooler under a shade tarp they set up next to their parked pick-up, across the pond. They were in fact playing country music, so I had the appropriate soundtrack and everything. Brian's friend identified the birds that came by, and I listened to frogs and paddled around and soaked up some sun.

After a hard afternoon of swimming and chatting, we headed to an area in the wildlife preserve with a walking path where we got to see a hummingbird nest and two cute hummingbird beaks poking out of said nest. Unfortunately, the minute we got to this walking path, we became mosquito dinner, and the biting was fast and furious, so we had to cut short our nature ramble. I counted about ten bites on each limb, plus on my face and back, way more than fifty in all, perhaps one for each of my prior stops in Blythe throughout my life. Brutal!

To reward ourselves for coming to Blythe, the big plan was to eat dinner at the town's fabulous BBQ restaurant, the Rebel BBQ. The bird crew was dismayed to learn that I had never heard of it, and I explained that I knew Blythe only as the land of national fast food chains. Au contraire! This local BBQ place was full of meaty goodness, scrumptious sides, and a vegetarian portobello mushroom option to boot. We ate a lot and it was a fine ending to our day in Blythe. We said goodbye to the bird crew and headed back down the highway with a new perspective on a town I've previously only hustled through.

Oh, I would also like to point out that there is a Starbucks in Blythe now, too.  Life is good.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Denver Post is awesome! Who knew?

I may have mentioned that there is another great migration underway, this time to Denver. (A decade or so earlier, it was to D.C.) In the last few years, I have come to know more and more people living in Denver, including friends from various origins and periods of my life who all seem to be moving there. Today, I might have finally figured out why--I think the awesome vibe of The Denver Post people could have lured them!

I stopped by the website of The Denver Post today to check out the Denver take on a certain Atlanta Braves story, the tiff between my boy Chipper Jones of the Braves and Colorado Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer. On the home page of the Post, I noticed their "Post Poll" of the day (regarding a civil unions bill) and was delighted by the answer choices; you could vote Yes!, Yes, No, No!, or I Don't Know.

Isn't that awesome? So much better than a three-choicer with only Yes, No, and I Don't Know. That instantly won me over to The Denver Post, which I haven't really read very much. But as a bonus, at the bottom of the article I read there was a little collection of stats about its popularity: "This is the 43rd most clicked article of the day, the 26th most clicked in the Denver area, the 38th most clicked among out-of-town readers" etc. (I'm approximating those numbers right now but you get the idea.) What another fun feature! I clearly might have to add The Denver Post to my collection of newspapers I like to read online. And I don't even have to move to Denver!  But I fully support those who do, and I hope they enjoy happy hour networking with cool new friends like the Post  peeps.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Inventing the Issues While Ignoring the Real Issue:
Attachment Parenting vs. Feminism

What if for today's rant I said the following...

"Modern fatherhood is complicated. Fathers want to be caregivers and nurturers, but also want to be professional powerhouses. We can have both, just not at the same time. This is why working fathers generally experience feelings of guilt and inadequacy."

You might ask me what the !@$%&* I am talking about. You might stumble over the term "working fathers," because there still aren't many socially acceptable other kinds of fathers. You might think, Hmmm, guilt and inadequacy? Really?  And that's because I altered some words in the above paragraph, which was originally written about women, not men. It's yet another anti-feminist screed masquerading as part of an Important Conversation about "issues." This one, by the duped LaShaun Williams, is part of a New York Times forum that has recently been debating the false dichotomy of feminism vs. attachment parenting or, more specifically, motherhood. (I don't even want to link to LaShaun's crap piece, because it doesn't deserve more page views, but I realize that you might need/want to read it to understand my outrage, so here you go.)

It makes me sick that we are still buying in to these nonsense ideas of "working mothers" vs. "full-time mothers." Parenthood is not a part-time versus full-time thing. Once you have a child, you are a parent -- all of the time. Parenting is not a career. It is an aspect of life. No other family relationship is constantly paraded as something diametrically opposed to going to work. "Oh, I'm sorry, I had to choose between being a good sister and being a lawyer."  No, you never hear that.  But we are constantly subjected to these invented debates about mothers, and only about mothers. Never, never, never about fathers. Never are fathers asked what they are going to do about their careers when their partners are about to give birth. No one is starting a New York Times forum to talk about all the men striving to be the perfect fathers, and what "sacrifices" they will have to make in order to do so. In short, no one expects men to give up anything, ever, whether they have kids or don't have kids, but society insists that women necessarily give up something, whether they have kids or don't have kids.

Feminism fought against this double standard. It did not fight against mothers, or children, or fathers, or men, or households, or baking cookies. It fought against this hideous double standard. Furthermore, feminists rightly pointed out that the idealized notion of the mother-housewife who always stayed at home while father trotted off to work with his briefcase is a myth. It's a myth that was derived from and served to perpetuate the invented "nuclear family," the industrial revolution and the expansion of society into oil-consuming suburban sprawl. Of course when you make every family consist of two parents and three children and a dog and a white picket fence, you need an adult to take care of the young'uns, at all hours of the day. Enter the nonsense notion of the Perfect Housewife. It's a load of crap, and the sooner people realize that, the sooner we can have a real conversation about parenting issues, work, family, and life. We can't really have that conversation when people cling to the idea that the Perfect Housewife is necessary, or sacred.

If you try to conjure up an image of an 1700s-ish rural or semi-rural household, what do you see? Probably a woman who worked full-time at home, yes. Why? Because she had to WORK full-time at home. From churning butter to scrubbing floors, from mending clothes to chopping vegetables, there was more work to do. No electric appliances, no Target down the street to go pick up another six-pack of socks and t-shirts. To sit here at the turn of the 21st century and act like women had always been at home "parenting" all day, until feminists came along and ripped the babies from their arms, is absurd.

Our society has shifted from one with millions of home-centered tasks to one where most of the housework is outsourced. Not just to the people we hire to come clean it once a week, or to come mow our lawns for us, but I mean the bread baking is outsourced, and the clothes making, and the milking and many of the other things that were formerly flat-out required in each household. (Which, by the way, likely consisted of various relations and not necessarily just one father, one mother, and two-point-five children.)

And by the way, this whole "attachment parenting" business is such a dismally jargon-filled world. Parents have often had babies in their bedrooms, but now that we've named it "co-sleeping" we can have a post-yuppie Important Conversation about it. Breastfeeding, I'm told, is part of this invented "attachment parenting." Interesting. I thought breastfeeding was, you know, only how mammal species have perpetuated themselves for millennia. 

I'm so tired of sanctimonious speeches about Motherhood. I find it depressing that I am going to spend my entire life in a double standard world that criticizes women who do what is demanded of men, while rewarding men for refusing to do what is demanded of women.

"When we bring children into this world we also agree to sacrifice parts of ourselves," LaShaun writes. If this is indeed true, then let's hear a little discussion from all the fathers about sacrifices, up to and including being expected to sacrifice their careers for the good of their families.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vote for Jill Stein's Clean Laundry and Shiny Waxed Floors

If you know me, you know that the Democrats and Republicans get on my nerves and I look forward to the day when Green Party candidates (and other third, fourth and fifth party candidates) get equal attention from media, voters, pollsters, and the like. This year, 2012, we have a presidential election (you might have heard!) and the Green Party has a candidate (you might not have heard): Jill Stein.

Now, I happen to have known for a while that Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate. Why? Because I get e-mails and Facebook updates from the Greens, which is to say that I have heard nary a Jill Stein whisper outside of two extremely narrow channels, channels with an already fairly locked in audience. I am all kinds of frustrated that, as usual, the Greens have the clearest, most honest policy and a seeming inability to get out the word about it to even tens of thousands of people, let alone millions. However, in an effort to light one candle rather than cursing the darkness, I headed to Jill Stein's official web page to look for a good statement of her beliefs or some other excellent link to share with people, that they might learn about her and consider their options outside of Obamney. I clicked her bio, to see if it might be a good link to share with my friends, and began reading:

"Dr. Jill Stein is a mother, housewife, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate."

My god. Are we really still doing this?

First of all, she's a mother. Great. Fantastic. Dr. Stein, this is your campaign page, your first shot to define yourself for a nation that needs a presidential candidate, and no matter what career accomplishments you have that are relevant to the topic at hand -- that is, your qualifications for the presidency -- you are first defined as a parent. Why? Because you are a woman. This infuriates me, and it makes me wonder how many male candidates' bio pages list "father" as their first qualification and/or facet of identity.

Secondly, housewife?  Housewife? To whom exactly are you pandering here? Mormons? Evangelicals? The quiverfull movement?  To begin with, it's a horrible word that plays into the idea that every family should/does consist of two parents, one male and one female, one working outside the home and one working inside the home (and of course we know which is which, because "househusband" isn't a word), one nuclear family to benefit the rich capitalist owners of the means of production with Dad traveling and using oil on a commute to work before returning home to environmentally destructive suburban sprawl...OK, but the word "housewife" in itself is another post for another day. Let's talk about its use here, in the first line of her bio, before her career accomplishments that have relevance to whether she is qualified to be president. And let's ask ourselves if she is, in fact, a "housewife," what with all those other jobs she clearly does and has done. And let's ask ourselves, once again, if any man would feel compelled to include "homemaker" on his list of jobs.

Needless to say, I'm not sharing this particular link with anyone. Instead, I'm thinking long and hard about who Jill Stein is and who in her campaign organization thinks this method of kowtowing to stereotypes and patriarchal bullshit is a way to win votes or drum up interest.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Disgust/Frustration 2012

I think that as the time gets closer, I can officially say that I am thoroughly unimpressed by my choices when it comes to 2012 U.S. presidential candidates.

I wish we could have a political convention like those of 1876 or 1880, when there was legitimate doubt as to the outcome and in the end a dark horse snatched the nomination. The delegations had to vote for sometimes dozens of ballots and do lots of shady wheeling and dealing to eventually select a nominee.  My boy Rutherford B. Hayes, one of my favorite obscure presidents, was the Republican nominee in 1876. The 1880 Republican convention held in Chicago was particularly exciting, with arguing and drunken shenanigans and stomping of feet and yelling from tabletops before James A. Garfield got the nod. If only something exciting like that were in store for us on Mitt-Romney-selection day.

Possibly even less interesting than the Republican party this year? The Democrats. After four years, what I feel about Barack Obama is remarkably similar to what I felt about him last time around: decidedly uninspired. Of course then, my lack of inspiration was at least poked and prodded by the hyperventilating of everyone around me babbling on about "Change" and whatnot. Every time he opened his mouth, people heard something that I could not, try as I might. They heard fantastic visions and bold dreams and some promise for the future where I heard the same generic cliched rhetoric of any run-of-the-mill politician.

But the problem with being Just Not That Into Obama is that people tend to associate you with the anti-Obamas, who, as far as I have been able to observe, say a lot of bizarre shit ranging from goofy to incendiary. No, thanks! I'm disappointed in Obama for many reasons (mostly to do with not prosecuting torture, not closing Guantanamo, war-on-terror-blah-blah) but it's hard to find anyone to talk about that stuff because they're too busy freaking out about their fever dreams of socialism. (As if!)

Unlike 2004, then, there's no one to vote against and also no one to vote for. In 2004, it was a matter of having a conscience: if you did anything but try to remove Dubya and the Warmongers* from D.C., I have serious doubts about your morals. This year, like 2008 and 1996 and 1976 and most election years, frankly, there's just not that much at stake. The candidates are largely the same. No one's going to save us. No one's going to achieve world peace, or even try very hard to do so. (Or even try a little, from the looks of things.)
*someone please start a band with this name?

Obviously, if it comes down to the least of all the evils, one can turn to the Green candidate, in this case, Jill Stein. The Green party tries to do a bit for social justice, but I wish they would do even a fraction of that with social media and getting themselves out there. Why doesn't everyone in the country know Jill Stein is running? (Or any other third, fourth, fifth party candidate?)  This is such a perfect year for a third party candidate too, with so much disappointment in both the Republican and Democrat nominees, with the batshit loony wing of the Repubs siphoning off lots of them and leaving reasonable Republicans looking for something better...sigh. The big money two party system continues to rule the day, with about as much integrity in its "competition" as you'll find in the war on drugs.

While we were living in Korea last year, I joked that I really didn't want to come back to the U.S. for 2012 and have to suffer through the presidential election. Actually, it's turning out to be less horrifying or even eye-roll inducing, and instead it's boring me. Someone, anyone, convince me to care!