Friday, October 24, 2008

Santa Ana

A year ago this week, I was camped out at my brother's house, evacuated from home due to wildfires. Santa Ana winds are fairly common this time of year, bringing hot, dry weather from the east, creating "perfect storm" conditions for a wildfire like they did last year.

Wednesday morning, as if on cue, we woke up to Santa Anas. It had been exactly one year to the day after Rice Canyon (Fallbrook) fire started. This week's Santa Ana is pretty mild. Although it's been warm, the breeze is quite mild compared to last year's extremely high winds.

Homes are still being rebuilt. Avocado trees that lived through the fire were pruned and now have a new growth. It may be a few seasons before they will once again supply Super Bowl guacamole. Other trees that weren't so lucky have been chopped into firewood and replaced. There is a big grove right by the freeway that I pass several times a week, and it is a constant reminder of last year's fire. That and actually being able to see the neighbor's house, formerly hidden behind their mature trees.

A couple weeks ago, when the season's first Santa Ana blew in, I packed a suitcase with some extra things and stashed it in my trunk. "Just in case" I leave home one of these days and don't get to go back, at least I'll have a toothbrush and some clean clothes. Extreme? Perhaps. Some would say I'm inviting disaster. Others would bet against a fire, because I'm prepared.

One family that lives not far from here built a fireproof garage last summer. I don't know the details, but the structure was designed and built to not burn down. It worked. The fireproof garage survived. It was largely empty because they hadn't stored anything in it yet, which is unfortunate because it was about the only thing left on their property after the fire went through.

I'm not sure why this has been on my mind all week, I guess perhaps because it was so memorable. Because I can't forget how narrowly we got by. Because I'm still grateful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


This actually happened in my night class yesterday. I was furiously writing notes, as usual, when I looked up because it had gotten very, very quiet in the classroom. The professor had paused his lecture, and instead was standing in the middle of the classroom staring at a fellow student... who was very busily sending text messages. She was appropriately embarrassed when he called the attention of the entire class to her lack of attention to the lecture, but I just can't find it in me to feel too sorry for her. The syllabus included a comment making it painfully clear that electronic communications during class were his biggest pet peeve. The "no texting/chatting" policy was reinforced by his ranting on the topic for several minutes during our first meeting.

Now, this class is boring. No insult to the professor here, he pretty much told us that upfront, on the first night of class. I personally would have been mortified if I'd been in her shoes. But if I had any notion that grad school would involve a more mature group of fellow students than the last time I was in the classroom, that has been swiftly dismissed.

Sadly, this was not the first evidence that dismantled my notion. On the first day of class (a different one,) I had my laptop fired up and ready, planning to put my speedy typing skills to good use taking notes during the lecture. Unfortunately, the first professor I encountered disallows laptop use in class except for homework. Why? Because he got tired of students chatting online and watching the World Series during class using the university's free wifi.


The problem with policies like this is that they encourage students to live down to them. With every ridiculous rule, a student is less motivated to behave responsibly. The people running my high school tried to legislate everything. When there's a published list of the 35 ways you can get detention, is it really any surprise that the students did everything possible not on the list... virtually ensuring that the next edition of the list has 38 things on it?

I know I'm probably too much of an idealist. I know that my perspective, developed over the years since I was last in school, gives me an appreciation for education that many of my fellow students don't have. But I wonder, if not now, when will people be motivated to take responsibility and pay attention?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

5K Race for the Cure

I guess October's turning out to be kind of cause-focused month, although I didn't plan it that way. Today I ran the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, an event I've participated in for a number of years. At some point I decided it would be really cool to run instead of walk in this event, and promised myself "next year, I'll be out here running across the finish line!"

Well, it took three years or so, but finally, I achieved that goal! The running is something I've wanted to do for me, but this event is about fighting breast cancer. Choosing this event for my first 5K is about a lot of other people. This is for you:

Aunt Joan & my friend Marcia, two very special ladies who lost the fight to breast cancer.

Aunt Pat, Aunt Mary, Aunt Jody, Kay, Ruth & Shirley, all great women who beat the odds and successfully fought the fight.

And for Jilliann, who just started her fight - hang in there! I'm cheering for you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meet Peter

If you were hoping I was going to introduce you to the new guy in my life, you are right. Kind of. This guy is single. He has a good heart, and he's FULL of money.


Here he is:

Some of you might recognize the Peter Fish coin bank. You might have had one just like it as a kid or maybe your kids have one. The Peter Fish change drive kicked off at our church this past Sunday. All the kids and families get to take one home, and are encouraged to drop spare change in it for a three weeks. The proceeds benefit CRWRC, an organization who works to help those "who suffer from poverty, hunger, disaster, and injustice."

Last year, I missed out on the Peter Fish drive. Demand for banks exceeded supply, and by the time one made it to my house... the 3-week drive was pretty much over. So I kept the fish (please don't tell) and committed to doing the change drive anyway, donating the money later.

That was November, and in February I was still staring at an empty fish, when a member of my church committed to bicycling across the continent to raise awareness of poverty and raise funds to support causes that fight it. That was all the encouragement I needed to start collecting change. At first it was kind of hard as the dollars in my wallet disappeared quicker than I was used to. I groaned inwardly when one of purchases came to $1.07, and the next 93 cents were siphoned into the fish. But after a few weeks, I was used to it. I didn't miss the money anymore, so when the three weeks were up, I decided to keep saving my change.

Since then, I've collected $99, which means about $10 a month is feeding the Peter Fish. That doesn't sound like a lot, because it just doesn't buy much here in America. But in impoverished places around the globe, just pennies can make a significant difference in someone's life. Skeptical?

The CRWRC, where the money goes, publishes a gift catalog every year around the holidays, and the 2008 edition is hot off the presses. It shows how a few dollars can help fight poverty. I thought I'd do a litle shopping to see exactly what $99 can do, and here's what I found:

$15.00 = Doctor visits for two children in Ethiopia orphaned by AIDS
$ 4.50 = Blackboard & chalk for literacy classes in Malawi
$25.00 = Provides full immunizations to a child in Nigeria
$12.00 = Training on garden productivity for two families in Nicaragua
$12.00 = One mosquito net to prevent Malaria infections
$15.00 = Nutrition kit for a child in Honduras
$15.00 = Tool kit for volunteers responding to disasters in Canada & the U.S.
$ .50 = Two tree seedlings to help prevent soil erosion affecting farmers in Haiti

For a moment, I let my mind wander... What would I do with an extra $10 a month?
I'm embarrassed to admit that the first thing that came to mind was a couple extra trips to "four"bucks. My mouth waters at the thought of a steamy hot chai latte. (Why ARE those things so yummy!?) It's so easy to convince myself that my few dollars won't make a difference anyway, so why not?

But when I look again at the list I just made, I see a very different reality. A reality where a few dollers does make a difference. By no means will my coins change the whole world. Poverty and hunger won't end overnight. But the quarters and dimes I collect will make a difference to someone, somewhere. No doubt about it.

As for that yummy latte I was pondering a few minutes ago, I'm finding it less enticing as compared to another pretty sweet option: changing the world, one coin at a time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life is Messy

First of all, my life is not messy at the moment. It's just fine. Just don't look in my closet.

Life is sometimes messy. It doesn't fit into a neat box. The plans I make sometimes don't come to be, even with my best planning. Things happen unexpectedly that catch me by surprise, change my path for a day or a year, or expose me to something that challenges my thinking.

Life is shared. This thing called community assures me that I am not alone in this world. Almost without exception I would say that my life has been enriched by the people who've touched it. But receiving this gift from the community means that sometimes it's my turn to give back. To be the one assuring a friend that they are not alone. To pray for a friend in a situation that I don't understand. To be sad along with them when their life is messy.

Sometimes, I look around at the lives of people I know, and I am overwhelmed by the mess. I am saddened by the effects of sin, of humanity, and sometimes, just by circumstance. Why did this person get cancer? Why did that marriage fall apart? Why is another one struggling? Why is that baby in the hospital? Why do people hurt other people? Why do I crumble at the slightest discomfort when there are real problems in the world?

There are no easy answers. It takes more self-control than I have to not say the things that make it sound like there are. But while my mind is busy trying to come up with something to say that is remotely meaningful, know that my heart is aching for you. I am praying for you. You are not alone.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thankful Thursday: 100,000

My car rolled over 100,000 miles today. I remember when Toyota commercials featured their happy owners leaping into the air to celebrate this milestone. The company slogan at the time, I think, was "Oh, What a Feeling!"

After looking forward to this moment for a few days, I actually managed to miss it during my normal commute, noticing as I exited the freeway that I was already at 100,003. Even then, I was not overcome by some overwhelming feeling reserved for this occasion. But I was grateful to have reliable transportation that has taken me a lot of places in the last couple of years, and hopefully will hold out for a few more years and a lot more miles.

I place a pretty high value on independence and the freedom I have to just hop in the car and go whenever I feel like it. Definitely with energy costs fluctuating, I have done that with greater awareness of the cost, but I am fortunate to have the options I do because I have a car.

At the same time, I sometimes think about how great it would be to not have to own a car. In college I lived in London for a semester and loved everything about the convenience of public transportation in a big city. Where I live now, it's just not possible to function without a car, but I would love to live in a place with that option. Part of that is the lessened environmental impact, but the other part of it is that owning a car involves ongoing maintenance and repairs that only increase with the car's age.

My brother and my dad have both helped me out with minor repairs, fixing brakes and replacing batteries, and offering advice on bigger problems. But I find all of it a big hassle. I hate messing with it. I hate taking the car in for an oil change and hearing from the technician about all the other things I should have fixed. Naturally, this is at some cost I find completely objectionable, so I decline... and then suddenly the price is halved. I'm dreading my next tire rotation, because they let me know last time that it's getting close to time for new tires.

But that's the price of the independence that the car allows me. It's necessary to keep the car in good running condition so I will get the most life out of it, and maybe even get a few bucks when I eventually decide it's time for a different car. It's the responsibility I have because I am blessed enough to own a car.

In other words, it's all in how I look at it. So today I choose to see the blessing in it, and be thankful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

True Story Tuesday

You can't make this stuff up. This actually happened to my mom at a popular fast food chain, the one often associated with a clown dressed in red and yellow:

Mom: "I'd like the senior coffee, please, and can I just get it in my commuter mug?"

Red & Yellow: "Oh, I'm sorry, your mug is bigger than the senior coffee, so we have to give it to you in the regular cup."

The girl brings Mom a cup of coffee. Mom pays her whopping total of 45 cents, and pours the coffee into her commuter mug.

Mom: "Do you guys have free refills?"

R & Y: "Yeah"

Mom: "Great! Can I have a refill?"

And that, my friends, is when the light bulb came on at the Red & Yellow.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

30 Days and Counting Down

The Presidential election is in 30 days, and I don't know who I will vote for on November 4. As I put it to one friend last week, "I've upgraded from a tent to a cabin with running water in the camp of the undecided voter." At some points in time I've been nearly sure of where to place my vote, only to return to undecided upon further consideration.

The issues at stake this year, and every election year really, are mind-boggling. There is little, if any unbiased press coverage, and I frequently find myself yelling at the TV news. Don't even get me started on the inflammatory e-mails that have arrived in my inbox lately. The more I think I know enough about the issues to make an intelligent choice, the more I realize that I know very little.

Economics? I don't think those two Econ classes I took 12 years ago are going to cut it. Foreign Policy? Well, I do own a passport and proudly claim a few stamps in it, but I know very little about the countries in the headlines these days. Social policy, Wall Street bailouts, tax cuts, tax increases, party politics, health care, education.... the list goes on.

One of my strongest convictions is that citizens of a democratic government should participate by casting their vote. But I admit that there have been times this year that I've been tempted not to vote this year, because it's just too hard to wade through the issues to discover which candidates values and policies most closely match my own priorities. But I take the responsibility to vote seriously, so I will figure it out and I will cast a vote on November 4.

I remember casting my first presidential "vote" in 1984. The students of my elementary school voted, like the nation, to re-elect Reagan. That year was also the first time I watched election returns on the news, the map of the states lighting up in a patchwork of red and blue. My teacher had sent us home with a blank U.S. map and instructions to copy the TV map with red and blue crayons. After I vote this year, I will do the same thing minus the crayons: watch the news until I fall asleep, waiting to see whether more states turn red or blue, indicating who will be the next President.

It was predicted to be an interesting election year, and I have not been disappointed.


(and it's wordy, sorry)

After finishing this post, I read an article in
Reader's Digest (October 2008) called "The Super Voters," which profiles a number of swing voters, and notes that it is the undecided voters in swing states who will have the most significant impact on this year's election. For one thing, although I've been thinking that it is WAY past time to make a decision about my vote already, I learned that there are probably a lot more undecided voters out there than I thought. Apparently I just know very few of them personally.

Second, the article profiled a Christian swing voter who, like myself, believes that it no longer makes sense to vote on a single issue, specifically, a candidate's stand on abortion. While my views on this subject have not changed, and I remain personally opposed to abortion, I feel that because our president deals with so many complex issues in many areas, this issue cannot be the only issue I consider.

Lastly, the profiles in the article highlight which states will be the ones to watch as the returns come in on November 4. Any of the states mentioned (among others not profiled, perhaps) could be the state that selects our next president. Wondering which ones? Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Missouri, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. (Michigan was also profiled, but this was published before McCain gave up on the Great Lakes State last week.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thankful Thursday: School Update

I've survived two midterms this week, and feel that with passing those milestones I've finally begun to settle into a school routine. My commute is feeling quite manageable, primarily because it's not the nightmare I anticipated. There are enough hours in the day to study. I think I did OK on this week's tests, and will now focus on the next one.

People keep asking me if I'm enjoying school, and I'm not quite sure how to answer that. Two of my professors admitted up front that their subject matter is boring, and I have to say I'm not inclined to argue with them! One can only memorize so much tax law minutia before realizing how maddeningly complicated it is, and wondering if there is any bit of tax code that is not plagued by exceptions and calculations. Now I know why people outsource their taxes.

My favorite class is the introductory class in financial planning, and I truthfully wish I had more time to digest the huge volume of information we are covering. This, after all, is why I went back to school. The other classes cover key information that is also necessary for this work, but it's those classes that are the majority of my time right now, and therefore determine my answer to the enjoyment question: "This is a means to an end, and I am enjoying this opportunity because it is going to get me where I want to go."

It is a privilege to be back in school, to be able to focus on it full-time for the next few semesters so I can earn my degree and at the same learn the skills to start a new career. That's exciting AND enjoyable.