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The Simple Life

Hiding with rabbit.
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I should probably say the simple-ish life. My husband commented tonight how much he appreciates our modest lifestyle. I absolutely agree.

Where we are not modest: we own three cars, we have two computers, we own a digital camera, we eat out monthly, we like to buy things like tools and books. I’m sure a simpler person could comment on all our lavish luxuries, but I’ll focus on those.

The cars, first, are all paid off. Two are identical in color, year, make, model. One was purchased as a parts car a few years after we purchased the first as wedding gift to ourselves. The third was a vehicle my husband needed at the time, so he splurged on something he wanted. He made the last payment on the modest loan a year before we got married.

We live in a 966 sq ft house on a 50’x 100′ lot. It is more cluttered inside than I like, and it’s not as cluttered as what my husband is used to. The funny thing is, we both have places of employment where our work spaces are nearly pristine and free of clutter. I feel a splurge on shelving/organizing tools could be beneficial for the home life. But, regardless, it is modest. I am using the $10 desk purchased before I met my husband, which is on a computer that I bought myself before I met my husband that has been swapped with parts from my father in law and redone with Ubuntu. Read: re-purposed computer with open source software. The digital camera was a gift. Our cell phones are hand-me-downs. Our table, that we love, was a Goodwill special that came with six chairs.

It would be a lie to say we don’t aspire to nicer things. But, we’re trying to keep our priorities in check by making sure my husband has the tools he wants/needs for work before his student discount goes away. We’re trying to keep those priorities in check by paying off my school loans a little bit at a time.

Much of the clothing for us or our son is gifted, from volunteer events, or second hand stores. (Save things like the Drunken Prayer t-shirt my husband must have.)

Lately, my husband has been riding his bicycle to work, which means Levi and I have been taking the car instead of the SUV. We’ve been taking the non-freeway route as it offers fewer encounters with other cars. These steps lessen daily stress. These steps encourage not wanting more. (Although, I do crave a VOLT if GM would get them out to the mass market.)

Levi got birthday/Christmas money. We haven’t let him spend it all in one spot. First, how many toys does a kid really need? Second, I received different budgeting lessons as a kid, but I want to make sure Levi’s are more obvious. So, we’ll stagger the spending.

Our neighbors use small space much more efficiently than we do. But, we certainly don’t really crave or seek the new tv, tivo, dvd, extra special system. I think in part it’s due to our location where thrift in many ways is more celebrated. This is one of my fears when we go back to Michigan (read: five year plan) – that the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality will seep into our subconscious and consume. Instead of getting tvs for free, as I have historically done, will we find ourselves wanting to purchase one?

I sure hope not. I hope we can remember the stress-less-ness of this supposed simple life.

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Michigan Vacation 2011

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”alexis22578″ id=”72157626371000466″]

18 months from our 2009 adventure, we were able to travel back to Michigan. Experience has shown us 10 days is not enough, so this time we booked two weeks. It really looks like 12 full days when you consider one day you fly in and one day you fly out. This time, we traveled in March!

March! I’ve been living in Portland since October 2003. I think the last time I was in Michigan in March it must have been 2003. I didn’t realize how much I missed that crisp air, the chilly nights, the brown grass, patches of snow, and twiggy deciduous trees.

I do miss my home.

I am still glad I am here, in Portland. A point which my husband and I diverge. But, this post is about the vacation, not the time-line for moving back home.

This year, I did a survey of kitchens, bathrooms, and beds. My husband and I are always thinking about our dream house and if we were to purchase a house here in Portland, what would it look like. So, we are house hunters, no matter how cold of a prospect our Realtor should consider us. I am even more interested in how people organize their lives and what guests are given for their stays. Our house, currently, can only offer a lumpy couch.

I was amazed at the little things. The kitchens I most appreciated were open. No walls restricting vision to cooking surfaces, people in the kitchen, kids playing. My mother-in-law, cousin, and sister-in-law had the best laid out kitchens.

It was interesting to note who had the most intuitive organization and who did not. My grandmother’s kitchen was the most intuitive, but I could be biased there because that is my second home so I already knew where everything was. Next up was my cousin and mother-in-law.

My sister had the best guest bedroom. She even equipped the guest bathroom with amenities! Like we were at a hotel! Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste! Extra pillows, pillow cases, and blankets were stocked in the drawers and closets! And, my sister boasted the best guest bed. Although we only stayed one night in her house, it was the most comfortable sleep, for me.

My brother and sister-in-law had the best kid toys – likely because of the two kids residing there. So, the most fun was had at my brothers, for Levi, because he got to play with cousins! It’s really amazing to see the connection these kids have, when they’ve visited no more than 4 occasions in their young lives.

We did better planning this one, I think. I wanted to make a conscious effort to try to visit with people, but I wasn’t going to press any visits given how tired and moody we can get traveling. We had adequate naps and play times, so it felt balanced overall. The last visit we had was such a whirlwind, we all ended up grouchy by the end!

To capstone our trip, we were even able to move our late arriving flight to an earlier arrival. Although, Levi and I still took the next day off to transition from cousins to normal. Thanks to all the family for such lovely visit. Hopefully we can get back before 18 months this next time.

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Allergic Reactions

Levi napping with Grandpa Chris from our last Michigan vacation, where, thankfully, we avoided the ER/urgent care. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr.

It started with a phone call. My husband calling down stairs as he noticed the hives all over Levi’s body. It ended with a trip to theĀ  ER in Lansing. Levi had another allergic reaction. This time it was to strawberries, whereas last week was simply doctor visits due to hives reacting to pineapple.

The hives were so bad, it looked like one giant hive. His neck was swollen to the point I was worried about breathing. When I asked him if he could breathe, he said no. So, not knowing where we are or what to look for, I called his Oregon pediatrician after I shoved a Claritin in his mouth. He said his head hurt. He so was swollen. His eyes were shutting they were so swollen. His lips looked a little blue.

Probably one of those trickiest parts in parenting is acting calm when you are really panicked. I was freaking out. I shoved the Claritin in Levi’s mouth because I was freaking out. His head hurt. He was scared. And he wouldn’t take the only pill I had available to help the swelling go down.

He’s okay. We’re now back at Grandma & Grandpa’s.

In the moment, I call Levi’s Oregon pediatrician, the land of where Urgent Care does not work. They tell me that since he’s having an allergic reaction, we should bypass urgent care and go straight to the ER. The problem is, we’re in the sticks. Urgent Care 1) in the sticks and 2) in Michigan is a much wiser choice. Why? Because it actually acts as triage. You know, the whole point of urgent care. Figure out the problem, do some basic diagnosis and/or treatment, and then send the patient to ER for further treatment, if needed.

We were sent to the ER because we got to urgent care 90 minutes before they closed. Their protocol says allergies must be monitored for 6 hours. That’d put us out of the ER at 3am. Not exactly an exciting evening.

They poked and prodded Levi. They stuck oxygen sensors on his finger, they had him laid out on the bed. The hardest part was inserting the IV. Last week, when we were in the pediatricians office, she just handed him the tiny Zyrtec, and he ate it, like candy. When I gave him the Claritin, he could tell I was panicked even if I was trying to act not, so he refused. When getting the IV inserted, the head nurse prepared for the worst so she instructed the tech and me to hold Levi down. Of course, his heart rate spiked (it got up to 175 bpm), he cried, and he was very, very scared. We needed, though, to insert the IV. As they told me when I was pregnant, it’s better to have the bit inserted in case so they don’t have to constantly repoke. I tried to remind him of watching mommy get poked, but I think he was too scared.

I was able to ask him what was going on, and he confirmed he was scared. Right now, he’s playing with the wooden train set Grandma has procurred from various places (namely Ikea). He has also told me that he wants to go home. I don’t blame the kiddo for wanting the familiar after such a traumatic experience. I’m glad it’s over. I hope we don’t have to do this again. I used to think the ER trips were a one-off thing when visiting. But, now, since we’ve done this so often, I think we need to plan on it. We’ve got the vacation check list moving along, after day one. Visit with Peter’s parents: check. Work on a car: check. Meet the new sister-in-law: check. Visit urgent/care-ER & test Michigan’s emergency response: check. Visit Meijer at midnight: check. An amazing checklist to accomplish after just day one. Maybe this means we can relax the rest of the time.

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For the Love of Food

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Some people are irate with foodies. They find their expensive taste trite with adjectives and insulting to the common man. They are fed up hearing from Alice Waters and Michael Pollan with their organic, free-range fare.

I am tired of having to scour over ingredient lists ensuring that there is at least one thing I can pronounce. I am tired of having to wonder about food security as more and more things come from overseas when there are places in my state (Oregon and Michigan) that can prepare the same things. I am tired of buying local when the product is from a CAFO and when I open it up, it’s rank with age.

I am tired of learning about all the foods that cause cancer in their production and consumption. I am even more tired when a friend loses another loved one to breast cancer because they live in an area where “conventional” agriculture is the norm.

We need food to nourish us. We use food as a way to stay connected with those we care about in the form of shared meals. Why shouldn’t we enjoy it?

Sure, it’s an irony when we describe a meal to a fellow foodie, and we find ourselves apologizing for the “conventional” items on our selves or in the dish – holding ourselves to a higher standard but neglecting to forgive ourselves because of budget realities.

I would rather enjoy the food I eat. I would rather explore and enjoy combinations like fresh spinach, goat cheese, and eggs, scrambled or made into an omelet. I would rather experiment with spicy rice, onions, and tomatoes, after having fabulous combinations at the local Mexican restaurant. I would rather make my own, hearty, whole wheat bread than eat the fluffy, rubbery cardboard you can buy in the store (yea, even the good stuff).

There is something magical knowing I created the yummy scents that are emitted from my kitchen. There is something empowering about turning a fresh mushroom into a delicacy. There is something magical about adhering rice and veggies with an egg when I make my own fried rice. There is something magical about realizing that, yes, I can cook and yes, I do care about the ingredients. Be it because of politics or the joy of cooking. Think me trite, if you must, but I will gladly serve you a slice of my bread and make you a homemade meal, nearly anytime.

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What’s a Career Anyway?

I was a part of a conversation recently where it was mentioned how many people were seeking education outside of a particular organization. This was stated as a suggestion that the overall feeling was there was no career stability in that organization.

My husband’s union benefits are getting the screw. His pay won’t likely increase beyond what he’s already making, save cost of living adjustments, if he’s lucky. The agency has such a bad rap these days, folks in town are more likely to blame the workers than the management. Watch them fix or drive a bus. See how far that’d go.

Logo of General Motors Corporation. Source: 20...
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GM workers took pay cuts that halved their wages several years ago. Before GM was “bailed out.” They went from waiting list, sweet union job, with lifetime security to making $13/hour. THIRTEEN DOLLARS PER HOUR! And you wonder why Michigan is in the crapper.

But, but, but there is no money.

Please, pardon my anger.

Fuck that.

There is money. It’s at the top. The halves are splitting. The divide is getting wider. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Newspapers aren’t helping. They grudge along losing their own jobs and from what I read in the Oregonian, they are all but HAPPY union workers are here are getting the screw.

This is a history of minimum wage increases un...
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Ten years ago CEOs were making, on average, $450 per hour. Ten years ago, if you had made minimum wage increase at the same rate as CEO pay increased, minimum wage would have been close to $55 per hour. Not 5.15. Not 8.40. Not whatever the new federal minimum wage or Oregon minimum wage is. But $55 per hour. FIFTY FIVE! In case you’re not doing the math, that’s $440 per day at an 8 hour shift. I’ve seen it reported (cannot source it right now) that unions represented 35% of the workforce in the 1950s, America’s Golden Era. Today, union’s represent less than 17% of the workforce.

Although there are many contributing factors to the loss of unions, part of this is free trade agreements. Agreements that make outsourcing labor overseas more cost effective for corporations. They can increase their bottom line while… wait, who gets the screw here? Oh, ya, every working person. Why do you ask? Because it drives demand for lower costs higher. That is, if Company A goes to cheap labor country 1, they will eventually be outbid by cheap labor country 2. It’s smokestacking on a global scale.

What is smokestacking? Smomestacking is the practice of municipalities giving coroporations tax breaks as incentives to keep their business in the town. What happens is the next town over, or across the state, or across teh country, and now across the globe, eventually offers better tax breaks. This makes the company feel it has more incentive to move than to stay.

What happens to the town? It looses jobs no longer having its ONE appeal to the company.

After I graduated high school, my sneakily industrial town of Greenville, Michigan, where I spent my growin’ up years, crumbled. It had theater seat manufacturers, tool and die shops, lots of car part manufacturers, and it boasted the largest refrigerator factory in the United States. Most if not all of these are now gone.

A solar company has come into the area, but it keeps laying off its workers. Why? Likely because it cannot compete with outsourced solar panel manufactures!

Map of minimum wage rates in the United States...
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So, back to there not being any careers. Yea. There are really no careers. What is a career anyway? A place where you can cultivate your position. You grow with the job and the job grows with you. You have a second family. A community. A job that allows you the disposable income to do the things you love with responsible budgeting? A job that allows you to pursue the American Dream of owning a car, a house, and sending your kids to a good school?

I’d have to agree. I really don’t think there are many careers out there anymore.

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