Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bringing Out the Shine

{A quick preface: One of the things I love about world building in fiction is the use of a phrase unique to that world. "Frak" in Battlestar Galactica. "Damn the void" in my own work (yeah, shameless plug. So sue me.). In Firefly, one of the best shows EVER on television, it was "Shiny," in reference to something good. }

Yesterday, amid the catching up of family doings with my old friend Patti (her kids are BOTH in high school now, her oldest a senior! Yeah, we feel old.) she told me about the enthusiasm her daughter has for a particular teacher's lessons. Her daughter often comes home with a gleam in her eye and begins a conversation with "Today, Mr. Smith talked about..." and goes on to reiterate everything Mr. Smith said about one topic or another.

"Remember when we used to be that excited about everything our professors said?" Patti asked.

"We were young then," I said. "Everything we heard and did was still shiny. Now, most things aren't so new."

There are things in life that we first gaze upon with wonder and enthusiasm. Events or ideas or even objects we fawn over and proudly share with the world, or maybe even keep hidden from view so we alone can bask in its glory. There is a shine that might blind us to everything else, dazzle us with its brilliance, attract the attention of others. It is all good and amazing.

But sometimes, somewhere along the line, the shine is dulled. The brilliant observations of a beloved professor are chipped away by better techniques and different views. Travel is no longer the carefree romp across the country, but a slog between crowded airports on crowded planes. Relationships, always shiny at the beginning, are worn by time and dinged by life.

The challenge is to find the shine. Not just to experience new things that make your heart race and feel like you're nineteen again. Those are wonderful and should be part of your life. Maybe not skydive every day, but even something as simple as trying a new dish at your favorite restaurant, or trying a new restaurant, can set you on a world of discovery.

No, for me, the real challenge is to buff those things that once made my heart race and have lost their glimmer for some reason or another. The return to a hobby I used to devote all free time. Re-reading a book that made an impact on my younger self. Re-igniting the fire we had before the patter of little feet.

If I can make the effort to see these things in a new way, if I can remind myself why I loved them so, and perhaps find a new facet to admire, they will shine for me once again.

What old passion can you think of that you might re-awaken and say, "Shiny!"?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tax Relief and Economic "Whoa!"

In these tough economic times, I can completely get behind government and private assistance, even bailouts if the Average Working Joe or Jane gets a break somewhere (bailouts being used for million dollar bonuses to executives are totally nauseating). And I can understand if tax payments need to be renegotiated so folks can still maintain a living. But there is an ad for a tax relief service on television that has me fuming.

The ad starts off with an everyday looking couple saying they owed $30,000 in taxes but when they went through this service they ended up only paying $3,000. The next couple (and these little bits always show a man and a woman, whether they are married or partners in some business) owed $100K and paid only $10K, or some such fraction. Each of the four or five bits increases the original amount owed, with the final being $3 million, and the happy couple reveals they actually paid $1 million. That's what this company does, eases the burden. Fine, except for one thing. These people seem more smug than relieved. They come across not as "Oh my goodness, we were so buried by all kinds of financial difficulty that we couldn't breathe and now we can afford food again." but as "Heheh. Screwed the government and, in effect, the rest of you people. Suckers!"

Now, as I said, I have no issue with helping folks when they need a hand. And I'm not going to argue the tax code here (mostly because I don't understand it). What gets me riled, and never ever willing to consider the company, is the attitude portrayed by the couples. Sure, taxes can be difficult to pay, but if they aren't paid many federal programs that do things like provide health care to kids, veterans and the elderly don't get sufficient funds. Schools don't get money, highways don't get maintained, etc. There's less going into the coffers, less to be used for the things we need. If taxes can't legitimately be paid because there are too many other things demanding payment and you need help, that's fine. Get help, pay what you can. But don't sound like you're happy about it. Because for every dollar you aren't paying, some program is losing a dollar.

I was raised to believe we are a nation that takes care of its own, and then some. That everyone should do what they can to help those in trouble. Folks receiving such things as tax aid should be, first and foremost, legitimately deserving, and yeah, even grateful that there is help to be found. Not grovelling and feeling like they are lacking, but appreciative. And even if you feel more smug than relieved, at the very least don't let the rest of us suckers feel like suckers.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer, We Shall Miss Ye...Sort of

By most of the country's standards, summer is still in full swing. Even if school has started, there are plenty of hot days and at least one long weekend to go before it's over. Not here in the Soggy North. School will not start until the 20th (too soon, according to my oldest child), but looking out my window at the blowing rain, listening to the furnace kick on despite the thermometer setting of 63, the carefree days are essentially over.

Over for the kids, anyway. Hehehe. I'll try not to gloat as I sit in my quiet house, sipping a second or third cup of coffee whilst donned in flannel pajamas. I'll consider their hectic schedules as I make the difficult decision whether to shower before or after "Regis and Kelly." I promise not to smirk as they labor over pages and pages of homework while I flip through the latest issue of People. I promise not to do these things because I am a good and kind mother (snerk).

But hey, I've done my summer duties. We spent some grand quality time together, had visitors and participated in all kinds of activities, went Outside for ten days to visit family and friends. All in all, it was a very good, fun summer. And now it's time to get back on schedule, continue focusing on our goals and dreams. If I can do that in my pajamas, so much the better.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Alaska Adventure Coming to a Close

The Nephew's visit is almost over. He arrived about three weeks ago from New York with my Mom so he could attend Science Camp here in the Soggy North. During camp, he and my daughter canoed, kayaked, trekked on a glacier and learned a lot about the various ecosystems that thrive in our area. His favorite activity during camp was climbing a wall of ice at the glacier. Scary, but cool (no pun intended : ). In all, according to the two kids, "Camp was epic!" I think that means they liked it a lot.

He spent another week here being very tolerant of my youngest using him as her personal jungle gym and not doing the activities I thought we'd get to do. Rain and the absence of my husband contributed to a somewhat uneventful final week, but he didn't complain. Didn't act bored or frustrated.

There was one final adventure. On Tuesday, Nephew and Daughter got to fly in a four-seater float plane from here to Valdez, a town about 45 air minutes away. They were to help demonstrate remote operated vehicles (ROVs) made by kids in the 6th grade (my daughter's class). The kids built models of vehicles that could maneuver in the water and aid in "oil spill" clean up. The "oil spill," in the name of environmental safety, was stale popcorn for this demo. The project got the kids' creative juices flowing regarding engineering and design. It's amazing what a 12 year old's mind can come up with and accomplish when they are interested. No two ROVs were alike despite the limitations set by purpose, size and the number of propellers allowed. Very, very cool.

So off they go with Lindsay, the Education Coordinator at the Prince William Sound Science Center, with the intention of returning at 8pm that night. The weather was iffy here, with fog rolling in between the mountains, but flyable. I trust the pilots here, especially if they are older. The saying goes, there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are few old, bold pilots. I like mine to be calm and in control but know when flying is to risky, especially if my kids are aboard. At about 4 or 5pm, I get a call from Lindsay. The weather is worsening where they are and the charter company won't be able to get in. She, my kids, and two other Science Center folks have to spend the night in Valdez. They'll catch the ferry at noon Wednesday and return to us at 7pm Wednesday. The kids have no toothbrushes or pajamas; I would not want to be near their breath the next morning. I gave them some money for lunch and dinner, but that's all. I know Lindsay will take care of them, so I'm not worried. In fact, they had a fabulous time. In a way, I'm glad they got stuck. It's an adventure they won't soon forget.

So all in all, with Science Camp and the Valdez Adventure, Nephew has had a pretty decent visit. He's a good kid (Nice job, sis!) and I'm grateful we were able to spend some time with him.

Tomorrow we head to Anchor-town to begin his return to the Right Coast. My kids and I will accompany Nephew to Seattle. We'll see him off on his plane and then catch a flight to Spokane to visit the in-laws for ten days. Then school starts a week after we return, Yikes! Summer is winding down, but it's been a good one.