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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Equity

On a balance sheet the difference between assets and liabilities is known as equity. In simple terms, it's the amount available once anything owed is deducted from from anything owned. It's what makes a balance sheet balance.

Equity. It's been on my mind lately–not the stuff on a financial statement–but the concept of equity in general. I'm not talking about equal pay, gender roles at home, or even the social injustices of the world. I'm interested in how different individuals perceive, or perhaps approach, fairness.

My husband and I share similar values and agree on most morality issues. (He's probably a bit more pro-capital punishment than I.) But we often take a different stance when it comes to quid pro quo. Case in point:

My husband is an excellent cook. (Meat seems to be his specialty. He's proven his ability to convert a vegan.) I think everyone in the house would prefer him to cook every night. However. He's pointed out several times how this isn't fair. He shouldn't have to cook most of the time. Valid point. So I contribute–mostly during harvest and planting seasons. Despite my lesser culinary talents, I don't have to worry about screwing up, because he's often auditing me. "Did you season that? How much of that did you add?"

But here's the difference between Doug and me. He's keeping a counter. "I cooked the last three meals. You're on to cook the next three. I cleaned the kitchen yesterday. You clean it the rest of the week." (ha ha) Now, I will admit that by the end of harvest season, I'm beyond ready for him to take over the kitchen. But for the most part, I don't keep score. I think I figured out why.

Doug grew up with four other siblings. Everything needed to be divided equally and no one was shown preference. Understandable and commendable. I, on the other hand, grew up as an only child. Sure, I was taught to share with my playmates, but I generally experienced a plethora of attention and received...well...lots of stuff. I know what many of you are saying right now, including my husband. "Oh! Spoiled brat!" But I disagree.

I watched my parents give me things, knowing how hard they worked. Most importantly, I sensed the joy when they gave. Maybe I sensed this from my mom a little more than my dad. Nonetheless, I sensed it. And what's more? I always felt the giving was unconditional. I might've been wrong. Maybe my parents are waiting for me to buy them a swimming pool. And I will. Soon. Because it would make me very happy to give.

Our pets seem to get equity. The cat is entitled to whatever he wants. And the dog just wants whatever the cat has. And they get along beautifully. Just like cats and dogs.

While there are obvious moral imperatives when it comes to the issue of equity ("All men are created equal"), I do believe it's important to understand perspective before judging if something or someone is fair or not. I would also argue if we all quit keeping counters, we might great peace within ourselves.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Just Listen to Music

When I was young, I was always perplexed when my mother shut off the car radio. I'd try to crank it up. She'd politely turn it down. Or off. I knew she loved music, so I didn't get it.

Now I do. As a music aficionado, I never saw myself choosing silence, or NPR, over melodies. But that's exactly what I've been doing! I'm not sure when it happened. It sort of snuck up on me. And while I have always been somewhat geek-ish (even before my mom days), I decided something this week. I have completely amped up my boring-factor. I need more music in my life.

It's intuitive to crave silence after a hectic day. And keeping current on the news is obligatory after a certain age–31, I think. Music slipped from my priority, which is nuts if you knew me when I was young. I had top five lists almost every week. Top five artists. Top five songs. Somewhere along the line, I stopped tracking my top five.

Not that I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to music. Lucky for me, I have a son who hijacks the radio to get his dose of Shawn Mendez or Drake. It keeps me hip. Along with the NPR, of course. And I could probably whip up a quick top five artists list in a pinch.

When I tread on my treadmill, I often watch The Office to get my twenty minutes of laughter. For the next ten minutes, I switch to I Heart Radio. I've been very faithful about keeping my cardio to 30 minutes max. But I'm thinking of increasing my music ratio, which means more exercise minutes. I know what you're thinking. More than 30 minutes of exercise? Crazy! I think I need it though. I've been rotating between Imagine Dragons and Coldplay radio–and with only ten minutes of airplay, I often fail to hear Clocks. A definite top five song.

Today I chose a rock workout station which began with Awolnation and ended with Journey. Diverse. And awesome. As I lip synched to Don't Stop Believin, I realized how much my soul needs music. I felt my pulse revving and my optimism edging up. Certainly working out contributed, but I happen to believe it was more about the music. After imagining myself on stage, belting out a duet with Steve Perry, I definitely felt happier and less distracted from all of the day's minutia. I don't even like Journey that much! I didn't think. Maybe I do.

I've been brainstorming New Year's Resolutions that don't involve eating better, losing weight, or getting organized. So here it is. It's a good one: Listen to more music–and absorb it completely.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Oyster Stew


When I was a kid, my mother always made oyster stew for Christmas Eve. I loved it! Of course, I never did eat the oysters. I only ate the peppery milk and butter broth—topped with approximately two cups of soup crackers. So this year when my mother said she was going to make the stew again for Christmas, I became nostalgically giddy. And I made a decision. I would try the oysters.

 Beyond feeding and caretaking, I always believed one of my responsibilities as a parent was to ensure a spectacular holiday for my kids...just like mine always were. Of course, this meant buying them too many gifts to open on Christmas Day—the theoretical climax. But beyond the plunder of wrapping paper, my intent has been to create traditions to forever stamp their hearts. I want them to remember the time we spent decorating the house. Or toasting with sparkling grape juice and sickening ourselves with gooey Rhodes rolls. Or rushing madly to take a picture in front of the tree before Mass. Or our annual retreat to the board game closet.

Few might agree the razzle of holidays tend to veil the true meaning of the season. Celebrations have evolved into lavish decorations, food marathons, and gifts designed to exceed expectation. The desire to buy more and do more has become practically instinctual this time of the year. But it doesn't have to be that way, as we all know. A few well-placed traditions, instead of a fiery hoverboard, is what really brings us true comfort.
 
When I bit into the oysters on Christmas Eve, I can’t say I had much reaction. They were fine. A little slimy. I didn’t mind them, because I mostly savored the milk and buttery broth–which reminded me of my happy childhood. And much like my opinion on the the oysters, it’s not the gifts that make Christmas. It’s the broth, or the traditions that surrounds us during this time. That’s the part I love most.

Happy New Year's everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2015

#Yesterday and Today...and Tomorrow

I've had a jumble of earworms attacking me. And it's not Jingle Bell Rock or Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Nope. It's more like:

*she was a daytripper. one way ticket yeah*it's been a hard day's night, I should be sleepin like a log*in my life, I love you more*woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head...

To be fair, those last group of lyrics (A Day in the Life) run through my head almost every morning. But I can mostly attribute all the Beatles brain tromp to a wonderful little show we attended on Saturday night at the Omaha Playhouse: Yesterday and Today, an interactive Beatles experience. Billy McGuigan and his company of brothers and band members (which happens to include an old high school friend, Jay Hanson–oh yeah, I'm totally name-dropping) rock it. I mean ROCK it.

I like music. A lot, really. At one time in my life, a long time ago, I started down a path to pursue it as a career. Quickly I learned there were others who were much more passionate and infinitely more talented than me. These musicians are known as entertainers–those people who lift your spirits with an art form transcending words. I happen to believe (because of my limited experience) it takes much more than sheer talent to be an entertainer (of any kind). I knew Jay in high school and he was a very good, talented musician back then. But I recognized on Saturday night that he's paid some dues to become as good as he is now–a true entertainer.

The night was a tribute to The Beatles and to the McGuigan brothers' late father. In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell attributes the tremendous success of The Beatles to the thousands of hours they played in pubs across England. (It wasn't all talent, goes Gladwell's theory.) The McGuigan boys credited their military father for inspiring them with music at a young age. There aren't many military men who don't ascribe to a work ethic. We watched a heartfelt video which captured the three brothers always playing or singing. Again, hard work.

And thank goodness for us. The audience.

Music is an incredible equalizer. When your mood is sour or you're just a wee bit upset, what else can either lift your spirit or smooth a rough edge? Obviously, everyone has their musical preferences, but how about them Beatles heh? So prolific, generation-spanning, and stunningly relevant. There was an 8-year-old kid at the show who I witnessed mouthing the lyrics better than most. So cute.

I think most people at the show (except the cute 8-year-old) found themselves transported to another time. (Billy McGuigan ensured this–not only through the fabulous music, but through his witty and playful banter with the crowd.) But as a song began, I found myself a kid in my parents' living room trying to decide between the Red album, the Blue album or Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. Tough Decisions in those days. The least scratched record would win. I loved Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Maybe not everyone's favorite. But I loved the imagery. I loved singing along. I loved the gentle beginning and the jamming chorus–the beloved musical recipe of most. Especially for a ten-year-old girl. I wanted to be Lucy, whoever she was, in the sky. Diamonds would've been nice too.

They say that the majority of families who visit Disney World go back again–what a great indicator of success. Most of the crowd on Saturday night had "roared" they already been to Yesterday and Today, at least once. One lady shouted out it had been her eighth time. Apparently, she doesn't have anything better to do. Kidding. The show is really good. Great actually. We are already planning to attend again, this time with our kids. Could we give a higher compliment? Maybe if we were to skip a trip to Disney for the show. Maybe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

#Home

My husband and I took our annual holiday shopping trip today. As usual, for the most part, the day was fairly enjoyable. But there's always that tipping point for my hubby–that moment when the wrong move, wrong comment, wrong reaction will turn the day into something like a funeral, without the pretty music. That's why we cope by stopping the madness of purchase, no matter what, and catch a movie. Today we went to see Brooklyn. And it was delightful.

There are lots of opinions about immigration right now. This is no political blog, so don't go looking for a stance. But we just watched a movie which artfully depicts an immigrant's experience in the 1950's. In Brooklyn, a young Irish girl comes to America to find a better life. (The movie is a clever, well-acted romance, I'd highly recommend for a date night. Or girls night. Or family night. It's actually quite versatile.) As I watched the girl leave her family and the familiarity of her Irish/Catholic customs and community, it dawned on me how terribly courageous and difficult it would have been (and is) to leave everything you know and love for the unknown. Eventually, the girl has the opportunity to go back to Ireland or stay in Brooklyn. The choice doesn't come easy. I won't spoil the ending. Anyway, she eventually has to define where her home is. Powerful stuff.

What is home?

When Alex was back a few weeks ago on break, she made a comment about when she'd be heading "home," aka Iowa City.  I quickly corrected her by saying, "You are home. You're going back to college." She paused. Then sort of glossed over the subject. The truth is, I get it. I know she loves where she's at right now. She feels she belongs there. I know she also feels she can come here anytime as well and feel...home. But she wants to be in Iowa City right now.

That's the true definition of home, isn't it–wherever you belong. It's almost a state of being, not really a place. When you're home, you're...home. It doesn't matter what house or city you happen to be in. What matters? Are you safe? Are you loved? Can you love?

Home is a pretty easy concept when we share similar values and ideas. It gets more complicated when we vary outside the norm of our traditions. Many people aren't prone to celebrating differences. Just some. I don't think they realize it. But the United States has about as good of a start as any country on the planet. And it all started with some immigrants, a while ago. We're still trying to adjust to each other, I think.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When Ronnie Met Sandy


Billy Crystal once said in the great movie When Harry Met Sally, “Men can never really be friends with women.” The implication? Men’s motivations tend to get in the way. But but by the end of the movie, Harry transforms and best friends Harry and Sally become. More importantly, happily married they end up. We assume anyway. There never was a sequel.

Mom always told me the key ingredient in a good marriage was humor. Dad never gave me advice on the making of a good marriage. But we did watch The Bold and Beautiful together. I learned quite a bit from that.

When a child looks back and mostly remembers joy, laughter, and a sense of security, a couple should feel a sense of accomplishment about their time together. There’s a reason I still hang around the house at the ripe old age of 46. The home I grew up in valued knowledge, generosity, work ethic, and comedy. All of these values were easily found in a bean field, at the kitchen table, or watching Saturday Night Live.

Fifty years! What a gift you have given us by celebrating fifty years of marriage. Thank you for enjoying each other’s differences, finding joy in the world together, and passing it on to the ones you love the most.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Profile of a Trick-or-Treater

As a country-dweller, I don't usually have the pleasure of handing out treats on Halloween. But thanks to Harvest Fest and my mother's shop on the square, I found myself in the fray of costume-adorning fiends last weekend. Not only did I find it FANTASTICALLY FUN, but I also found it to be a great study in sociology. Here are my findings.

Treat beggars can be divided into categories. Methinks these categories could possibly be indicators of one's future. Seriously. I think I saw glimpses of bankers, thespians, and, of course, robbers–sometimes all in the same clan. My classifications are fairly broad. But I think they're comprehensive.

The Sifter: This is the kid who holds up the line, digging through every kind of candy, or every flavor  to find the one she wants. "Do you have watermelon?" Even though there are twenty kids behind her, and her mom knows there are TWENTY KIDS BEHIND HER, you sift through the basket, looking for that elusive piece of watermelon candy. Why don't you take this yummy piece of Reese's I'm planting in front of you?I think to myself as she nonchalantly brushes it aside.  But then it's found! She nods knowingly at me as if to say, "I knew you could do it."  Her mother says, "What do you say?" But she doesn't need to say anything. She knows her presence was thanks enough. She's the girl who knows what she wants and how to get it. She'll let no one deter her vision. Forget Arendelle, this little Elsa will obviously be CEO of JP Morgan someday.

The Grabber: Two handfuls, five scoops–or as many as can be managed before Mom says, "STOP! THAT'S ENOUGH!" And then two more scoops after that. The little fish obviously thinks diabetes is an achievement to attain, or is quite possibly running an illegal candy shop and plans to sell his stash for pure profit. There might be some issues with this one's future. Despite the impressive display of dexterity with those fins. I'm just saying. This one's probably bound for someplace like...Etsy.

The Trickster: The only real trick we experienced this weekend were the repeat beggars. Obviously, we handled it. No damage was done in giving out the extra candy. The Trickster is really on the same page as the Grabber. Yet, the Trickster is smooth. She approaches, for a second or third time, with her costume slightly altered (a Scream mask, this time without the blood...), then she asks all politely, "Can I have one or two?" Of course it works! We know what she's doing, but what grouch shuts off candy for a kid? Especially one with a bloody Scream mask. (I won't speculate on the Trickster's future. Lots of options here.)

The Rule Follower: I wonder if Rule-Followers really have any fun at all on Halloween. I mean, they probably say they have fun because they think they are supposed to have fun. But there's a certain, tortured look on these souls. Their costumes are immaculate–and they are still wearing their hats or masks, otherwise, well, you know, it wouldn't be right. But what's most amusing about this group of kids is their willingness to communicate their values to the "other" kids. "Only take one piece!" "You already took one!" But really, they are a perfectly polite group of kids. After gingerly taking the top piece of candy, whether they like it or not, they look up to ensure their gratitude is noticed. "Thank you." It's sadly adorable. These kids will all be bankers someday. Most likely compliance officers.

In truth, there wasn't one kid I didn't lose my heart to just a little bit. No matter what the origins, Halloween has become a strangely celebratory holiday–for all ages. It's fun. It's strange. It can be spooky. But mostly, I think, it's a great way to celebrate our individuality.

Mom and me...as Star Wars Fanboys. The kids loved us.