Monday, January 30, 2012

Frugal February

Kapow!  Splat!  Whaaaaah!  That is the sound of our household taking a major financial hit or two or three this past year.  Surgeries, exploding pipes, and unexpected losses combined to make 2011 the Year of the Disappearing Dollar.  PTSD hit, sending us back to the 80s with 16% inflation and fear of layoffs.  Only this time, we didn't have the luxury of years ahead of us, the belief we would forever be in good health, or a new car.  Something had to be done.

We signed up for "Financial Peace University," a Dave Ramsey-created program held in churches throughout the country.  Man O and I figured having a third person lead a discussion about money was better than fighting over who would get to lead the money discussion in our household.  Dave Ramsey is a teacher who tackles money issues with humor. His goal is to get folks out of debt and he pulls no punches.  His motto is "Live like no one else so you can LIVE like no one else."  We weren't sure what to expect but class members shared similar concerns about money or were facing far worse challenges.  We felt confident we could follow the program. So far so good.

Snip. Whaaaah!  Snip. Whaaah!  After lesson two, that is the sound of us looking at the budget and making adjustments.  Man O spends that much on trains? Grandma Juju spends how much on the grandchildren? It was painful but necessary. We have been fortunate over the years to be able to save for retirement but as our bodies, house, and cars age, big ticket expenditures loom. Our budget was examined under a microscope and endured amputations across all categories. Still it wasn't enough.

So we are doing Frugal February.  No impulse buys.  That means no Target runs.  No big entertainment plans.   Man O is taking his lunch more. I am using my A.C. Moore certificate to buy blank cards to cover with already purchased papers. Meals have to be created out of the pantry with the exception of Valentine's Day. But our romantic dinner will still be homemade.  My mother is probably turning over in her grave as I type "no new clothes."  Thank goodness the circus tickets have already been bought and my hair cut is  January 31st.

My word for the year is "Learn."  I have learned a lot in the past few weeks and expect to learn more in the month ahead. Writing about it is my way of staying accountable. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens: UFOs and Yee Haws!

During the Superbowl, I wait for each break in a play, commercial timeout, downed player on the field so I can see the latest commercials.  Some of the ads this year were okay, some fun, some irritating. The number of movie trailers for summer movies seemed greater than usual. Given the audience, trailers featuring a lot of action, explosions and pretty girls didn't surprise me. But what did catch my eye was the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens  starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the story takes place in the mid- 19th century and is played like a western, not a campy send up. At least that is what we are to believe according to interviews with the creators.  I also read we are not to expect steam punk but, again, a true western and that's all right with me. Mash ups, as popular as they are, can go either way. They can be an homage or a parody.  But the more I read about this movie, the more I find myself wishing the summer would get here and not because of the weather!

According to a film commentator, many early sci fi movies were really just futuristic westerns with frontiers to explore, territories being invaded, and the inevitable shootouts between the white hats and the black hats. I get that. Those grainy Saturday invasion movies, Star Trek and Lost in Space were my favorites. But they came after I fell in love with Wagon Train, High Chapparrell, and all those western flicks. Almost forty years later, I will finally have two of my favorite genres in one movie!

Yeehaws and UFOs are a great mash up for our times. We still long for straight shooting sons of guns who can take down the bad guys and ride away with the pretty young miss. We are full of nostalgia for the days when good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. Gray was not an option. The themes of honor, protection and frontier adventure resonate as much now as back when I got up early to watch my westerns and grade B scifi. The swagger and bravado of the guys who live on the range and ride in the saddle are still the same.  Straight shooting, spit in the eye, "this is my land and you aren't going to take it" sort of men do not back down from aliens from another planet.

Science fiction still has its appeal as well. The possibility of breaking the fetters holding us back here on earth. The plays on fear of new technology. There are still scary monsters threatening our borders and our sense of calm. Our aliens are more advanced than we are in some ways and far less compassionate in others. But, in those maybe not-so-classic movies of my youth, they were always destroyed by the earthlings' sense of inventiveness and belief in their planet. We need that reminder yet again.

For all these reasons, I can't wait for the shootout at the UFO Corral.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig aren't bad reasons either.

What appeals to you about westerns and/scifi movies? Do you like mash ups? Why or why not?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Words We Choose

I have been in a writing slump. Hospitals, holidays and lack of inspiration made my brain a blank and my fingers too lazy to type. But I am back at it because of this weekend's horrible events in Arizona. The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others, the death of a nine year old girl born on 9/11, the sheriff's comments about "political vitriol in the media" not only made my fingers itch and my brain fill but made my heart sore. Writing is the only way I know to reduce the pain. Words have a lot of power both for good and for ill.

In reading the many articles and opinion pieces in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting, I discovered Gabrielle Giffords, in her political life, was attacked by those on the left as well as those on the right.  Certain personalities on the right put her in "crosshairs of [their] target map." But liberals also declared her "dead to them" when she voted against the Obama health care plan and later voted against Pelosi as minority leader. Numerous media outlets and "opinionators" are blaming specific people for the shooting. Still others are blaming the media in general. What are they concerned about?  The words flowing in our political water sources and poisoning our own groundwater tables, reservoirs and wells.

It doesn't take much to incite violence in those who are dealing with mental illness or anger issues predisposing them to be violent themselves. With the MD mailbombs, it was something as simple as "see something, say something" and a reaction to that statement.  So words of violence can be expected to cause even more harm.

Words can harm but they also can heal.  Jesus used words of hope and love to make an impact, sharp at times, but not threatening. A man who died a violent end, he lived a life of peace. An example to all, his words still survive to give us guidance. But for those who have put pen to paper or spoken out through time, it can be more of a challenge to get the words right. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, "so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." I would like to focus on the good. Words can  inspire us to reach toward God, reach toward a higher purpose in our lives.  Those words can be found in fiction and non-fiction, books and newspapers, blogs and tweets. What responsibility we have as writers or simply those voicing our opinions to carefully choose the words we use, the lessons we teach.

What lessons do I hope will be taken from this tragedy?  Strong words should be allowed in political and personal discourse. More than just allowed, they are a right. But strong words don't have to be violent words. More importantly, where are the positive words in our lives? How much do we use positive words to inspire and move us forward? Will the speeches of Congress be spoken in a more positive manner after this event?  I hope so. They have already cancelled any votes this coming week out of respect for the situation and have time to reflect. But will we think about the influence we have with our words in our writing and speaking?  Will we set forth good examples and be more positive about those we disagree with or, at least, less prone to use words of hyperbole and caricature? I hope so. I know I am going to watch the "words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart" and hopefully, with God's help, choose wisely.

What words are the most powerful and positive for you? What writers have inspired you in a positive manner? How can you be more positive in your speech and thought?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unexpected Lessons from Underwear Wars

I thought it was a marvelous combination, two things my two year old grandson loves: dinosaurs and underpants. I bought the book Dinosaurs Love Underpants after “browsing the book” on-line and reading stellar reviews.  When it arrived, I cracked it open and began to read for the fun of it.  The book started out with engaging pictures and a fun style of narrative.  Cavemen wore underwear coveted by T. Rex and Stegosaurus.  I laughed and thought how much my grandson would enjoy it.

I read on and, suddenly, it wasn’t a fun read any more. When I previously read the synopsis, how did I miss the description of the war between cave dwellers and future fossil producers?  Worst of all, the dinosaurs are killed at the end.  They did not disappear. They did not die out. They were killed. I envisioned my grandson thinking his beloved stuffed dinosaur would be attacked next or that Barney was at risk (okay, so I wouldn't mind if Barney disappeared).  I did not want to be paying for therapy for years to come.

Trying not to overreact,  I asked myself, “Was this book age appropriate?”  I came to the conclusion it might be for a ten year old. But then, what ten year old reads picture books these days!  I marched into my local Barnes and Noble to return the book. I was not going to donate it to the book drive they were holding.  I was not going to be responsible for another child upset and worried. Fortunately, the manager was sympathetic.  He told me his kindergarten daughter came home traumatized after being read a book about Thanksgiving featuring many of the pilgrims dying of starvation.  He said the questions she asked were hard ones to answer for one so young.Age appropriateness was part of why I turned the book in but there was more to it than that

I learned several lessons from my ill-advised purchase. Most importantly, the violence-desensitized world has filtered into more than just our movies and television programs; it is in our children’s books and more. Secondly, read the whole book before you give it to a child.   Third, if we do not speak up about what is and is not appropriate for children, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Do I believe this book should be banned? No. Do I believe a child should be allowed to pick this book out and read it without parental supervision? No. Am I reminded I need to screen my grandchildren’s books and gifts carefully in the future? Absolutely.

Oh, and I picked out a new book for my grandson, Dinosaur Train. No violence but Granddad, the model train builder,  read it and was upset the train derailed! Back to the drawing board...or should I say, bookstore.

What do you need to look at more closely in your children’s lives, regardless of their age?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pillow Power

I want this pillow. I want it bad. Maybe it is my warped sense of humor but I love this profile of Alfred Hitchcock and the nod to his great horror flick, The Birds.  I loved that movie and the chills it gave me as a child. But I think I love this pillow more.  It has the power to make me smile, to rejoice in creativity, and to remind me we all look at life and art a little differently.

How did I find Mr. Hitchcock on a square of wonderful goldenrod fabric?  It was part of an act of desperation. My body hasn't been cooperating lately. I had an MRI this week to help figure out why. I am  turning 50 in less than a month and it is bothering me more than I thought. The list goes on. I needed to be distracted. Thanks to a suggestion by my daughter-in-law, I ended up on the  website looking for cute little headbands and adornments for my two week old granddaughter. This website of handmade items is a wonderful smorgasbord of crafts, art, homemade clothes and more. I have known about it for years but was thrilled my DIL and daughter both wanted gifts from the site this year. They appreciate creativity too! But the thing about Etsy is once you start looking for one thing, you get sucked into looking at all the ways people express their creative bent.

How did I end in the pillow section after the headbands? I love the pop of pillows, period.  Pillows can be one of the most affordable ways to jazz up a room. They are also sized and priced so anyone can afford these bits of art.  Pillows are popular. On Etsy alone, there are over 74,000. I narrowed my search for the day by only looking at appliqued pillows, all 5400 of them made of cotton, burlap, leather, or felted wool squares, on page after page after page.

Some of these textile creations made me smile. I was reminded of my dog Hildie as I looked at the daschund pillows, the most popular dog pillows. Some pillows made me think.  Pillows scream messages like "go clean up your room" or admonish "make love, not war" or whisper "Je t'aime".  Pillows remind me of places I have been or want to go with their scenes of Paris or London. Some pillows left me scratching my head. Who wants a pillow with a decapitation crime scene on it? 

Ultimately, pillows got me out of my funk and off the computer. As I scanned nature themed pillows with birds and fall leaves, I was struck with the urge to go outside and enjoy the beautiful autumn day.  Pillow power. So today I am thankful for these stuffed bits of art but even more thankful for the creativity of the artists who make them.

Have you ever had a special pillow? Have you ever thought of handmade pillows as art? Is there a craft that has made you smile when you needed to get out of the doldrums?

Peace, Julie