Just a Day (or two) in the Life

Lest you think I am exaggerating about my way too hectic life, let me tell you about the past couple days.

Halloween: I’m still trying to finish costumes. Big got up and got dressed a little quicker than he has been lately.

(Which is not very ‘quick’. It’s really hard to convince yourself to get up early enough to catch the bus an hour and a half before the sun comes up.) They said no full face masks, so I decided to work on that later.

I also had to get Little up to go to the bus stop since Grandma was out of town.

I had just enough time to finish Little’s Robin mask before we had to go into town.

We got to the school just in time to watch the costume parade. There were several Batman’s, but Big was the only Adam West Batman.

Then Little and I had to take off, just in time to make it to my dentist appointment. Yes, I am crazy enough to see a dentist on Halloween.

After that we had time to get lunch, but Little was not hungry. And adamantly against buckling his seat belt.

(My kids have been having a prolonged battle with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. This means that when they had boils on their hands and I had to keep them home, they were not behaving sick at all, but now we are dealing with appetite loss, crabby behavior, tired, coughing…)

He was willing to put it on to go to the thrift store, so yay! But after that stop, OMG I have never had such a seat belt battle before in my life. For starters, both of us are red heads. We are Very stubborn. He is dealing with all the aforementioned things, and it was just about naptime. He is getting big enough that physically putting him in against his will is not really a viable option, he knows what parts never to bend, and he knows how to wiggle out the other arm, etc. I ended up having to loosen the straps, get him in and tighten it down. And he still wiggled out, so I got him back in and tightened it more. Then he feel asleep before I even got out of the parking space.

I then stopped to get lunch, obviously I had to go to a drive thru. I hate fast food. I know I’m not alone, but I just don’t enjoy it.

After lunch I had to go to pick up Big from school. This also included picking up Winnie-The-Pooh.

A small battle over Little’s seat belt ensued. Then I had to rush to the train station to pick up my mom and grandmother. We have a small car and had to fit three adults (one wearing a walking boot), two kids in car seats, a suitcase, two pumpkins, a walker, and the stuff from the thrift store. Luckily I am very good at Tetris.

Then we rushed home to join the costume parade. We were just late enough that the traffic through town was stopped for the parade. Since we were stopped anyway, the kids and I (yes, from the middle of the backseat between two car seats) jumped out and walked to catch up with the parade. (I grabbed my Alfred coat, but that was all of my costume I grabbed, and couldn’t get Big’s cape or mask either.)

After that the day calmed down. When mom got to the costume contest I went back to the car to get the missing costume pieces, and got back just in time for the family contest. Afterwards we went to dinner at The Holler. Awesome, as always! After dinner we tried to decide whether or not to go to Cerrillos for Trick-or-Treating. Big was super excited and was annoyed when I said he needed a coat. I had just overheard someone saying that it was 16 degrees (Fahrenheit) when they got up. Yes, he needs a coat to go out. Little decided it was too cold before the coat argument even started. We only got around one block before Big decided to go back to the car, skipping over any houses on the way. (Granted this is a rural community, the blocks are big, with only a couple houses on each side.)

Day of the Dead:

Got up crazy early to get big on the bus. I don’t think I got back to bed that day, but we had to get to the gallery and get ready to move furniture. Yay. At two we were expecting a group of people to take a fridge to the ballpark. So we had to empty it, and then started working on clearing off a desk so we can move it.

So right around two: Big got home on the bus, the fridge movers came, the propane guy came to move a giant propane tank, we got a phone call about merchants association dues.

So mom goes to show the propane guy the tank, my grandma writes the check and waits for the guy, I get the kids settled and go realize that the door frame is too small for the fridge. We consider taking down the drywall covering the door that it was probably brought in through. But that goes through the rental unit, and would need to go out through a gate that’s probably also too small, or out the back door and past the propane tank. So we determined to just force it through the too small door. The fridge door came off with a little challenge. The kitchen door came off pretty easily. It’s still too big. So the door jam came off. That didn’t solve it. We had to remove screws because the head of the screw was too thick. That helped, but still did not solve it.

I ended up climbing over the refrigerator into the kitchen, including one of those ‘why women live longer’ in reverse. I stepped onto the dolly that was under the fridge I was trying to get over. I looked around all the places that my mom wearing the walking boot couldn’t get to. Nothing was stopping it, but I could see where it was wedged so I used my shoulder as a battering ram. Finally got it through.

Meanwhile the kids want snacks, so mom made corn dogs and passed them over the top of the fridge. The propane guy determined that he couldn’t move the tank, it was too far, so we need to get people and carry it. He capped off the gas line it was connected to. And the merchants association guy came to get the check.

Ok so we got the fridge to the truck, and roped in more help from the bar across the street. We had the dolly rolling up a ramp of two beams. I pulled it to the point where I had to get on the bed or get squished. I got up, I pulled to the point where the ramp pieces would flip up under the weight of the fridge. One flipped and the other didn’t. The fridge nearly slid off the side of the dolly, except that my arm was in the way. I don’t know what happened at that point, but it seemed that everyone thought they were done, but I had most of the weight on my arm. I had to call out to get them to get the fridge moving again. Everything turned out ok, but my arm has a rather significant bruise.

Ok, so then I went to get the kids because we were going to the Maize Maze in Albuquerque. Only Little took a nap. We went in, got a map, and stepped in to the maze. I decided to let the kids choose turns at random.

We succeeded in getting lost to the point where the map did not bear any resemblance to the maze. Since we got there kinda late, it was getting dark. Unsurprisingly the kids got cold and antsy after awhile. I decided to go back to the entrance just to get out and maintain the fun. After I made that choice we got out pretty quick…out the exit no less!

But the kids didn’t want to hang out, they wanted to go home. Which is fine since it was bedtime. But on the way to the car, Big threw up. Little had done that a few days before, I chalked it up to the cough from the Hand Foot and Mouth.

On the way home Big woke up screaming that his stomach hurt, the seat belt was too tight and that he couldn’t take it. I was really close to home, just had to go over the mountain. But I pulled over and took the seat belt off. He has had some stomach aches for the last several days. I wasn’t sure if it was just how he was sitting and squirming, but his stomach looked distended. I knew that could be a really bad sign and that I didn’t have a cell phone signal. So I had to buckle him back in (looser of course) and get home ASAP. I got home, brought him in, thankfully my mom was sitting right in the front room so I asked her to look at his belly while I got a sleeping Little out of the car. She agreed that Big looked distended, so we called 911. The first responders were helpful, but couldn’t tell us anything. The medical guys were able to tell us that it probably was not life threatening his vitals all looked good, but that he should probably go to the hospital just to be safe. My mom told them the story of my grandfather’s older brother who died of appendicitis before my grandfather was born. The doctor had said that everything was fine and was wrong.

So I drove Big into town while my mom stayed with Little. (So proud of Little: with all the chaos and being woken up getting out of the car, Little put himself to bed.) There is a new hospital in town, thankfully. The old one had a monopoly, so they never cared that everyone called them St. Victim’s. The new hospital is amazingly nice. I have had to accompany three people to the ER/Urgent Care since they opened about a year ago and I have never had a wait. Not that we got in before anyone, but that they just never have people waiting. They get you in right away. It is amazing.

So they got him triaged and into a room. The nurse who took the vitals seemed to think it was a stomach bug that has apparently been going around. But when the doctor came in and looked at the big belly, he was immediately concerned. He left immediately to order X-Rays. After that adventure with a very tired, shockingly co-operative child clearly in pain, they gave him an IV and waited for the results.

Big learned that there is no kids TV on at night. A strange concept to a child with access only to Netflix, VHS and DVDs

Turned out it was just a stomach bug, But it was a scary situation I never want to be in again.

The AI Will Steal Our Jobs!

They say that starting a post with a bolt statement is a good idea, so here you go: Artificial Intelligence will destroy our current economic structure. How’s that?

While that statement may seem like a gross overreaction and sound a little nutty, it is quite possibly true. As we move forward, AI will take more and more of the tasks we currently do ourselves. Right now they are mostly in highly repetitive tasks, such as manufacturing. These robots have already displaced many workers, they are cheaper and more accurate. But the presence of those robots have also opened up new opportunities in research and development as well as in maintenance. Here’s the catch: displaced employees cannot afford the new education necessary to go into these fields.

In the past, new technology has largely been geared towards making human beings more efficient at their jobs. If one person makes more stuff, the price of the stuff goes down and makes it available to more people. This has been the driver of our economic growth and high standard of living. Thus far technological progress has been the facilitator of our modern world.

But we are at a moment when this status quo is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming better than we are at tasks we once considered exclusively the domain of human beings. This means that the jobs that were more nuanced and variable, are going the way of the dodo as those get replaced as well.

For awhile there will be new jobs created by this boom, but eventually those will be taken over as well. Eventually there will be very little, of anything, that human beings need to do.

So now it is not only the ‘unskilled’ laborers who will be out of jobs, but the more technical fields as well. The only people who will be able to make money will be those selling the products that the robots make, this will soon include such diverse things as health care and art to add to the products they manufacture today.

That won’t last long, if no one is earning, no one is spending.

So, now that I have completely depressed you; let me tell you why this could actually be awesome, and what we have to do to make sure that it is.

If you think about it, if robots are doing all the work and there is plenty of everything to go around, why should anyone ever have to go without? The only way this would happen is if we stay on our current economic course. If people need to trade their labor for money to trade for goods and services.

However, if we eliminate the need to pay for those goods and services, why do we panic over the loss of income? In other words, if we make those basic necessities available to all, it won’t matter if the robots do all the work.

Here we get a choice, how do we create an equitable system?

Option 1: Necessary goods and services are provided to all, and money is used to buy luxury goods.

This option is a good middle ground, and very likely to be the solution, but as I see it being implemented, it would be in a simple reactionary way. Like refugee camps, or homeless shelters. Necessities are covered, but living conditions are appalling with no visible path out of the situation.

If we plan ahead, we could create this as a positive way to keep everyone happy and healthy. But it would still leave the wealthy with power and influence over those who just get by on the basics with little upward mobility.

Option 2: Basic universal income.

The results of this option would be very similar to the plan ahead version of option 1. People would get some support, (although that income may not cover everything they need depending on health, implementation, and local economic variation.) but would still struggle to grow. Any growth would depend on the movement of currency to people from all walks of life. This would require that anyone attempting to improve their station from subsistence would have to advertise essentially, to gain the attention of those who do have money to burn. It would just be redistribution of the wealth between the wealthy.

Option 3: Preemptively create a non-monetary based system. No money means that all basic services would be available to all add needed. And anyone willing to grow would not need to convince someone else to part with their money, but only to show that they are providing some benefit to society. Without competition, the existing barriers of the economy would break down.

Everyone could be required to work a certain amount of time in service to community or society as we grow to reach the time of robots doing all of the work. As robots take on more of the workload, the required human workload would be readjusted and distributed equally. Less work for humans would not result in lost jobs creating starvation in a land of plenty.

As a bonus to this idea, if we got rid of money, there would be a huge number of ‘jobs’ that surround the redistribution of wealth that would disappear with it. This means that the starting workload for each person would be much less work than we currently do today. These jobs would include things like cashiers, loan specialists, stock traders, bankers, accountants, investors, and sales to name a few.

Even if we only eliminated that workload and required a lot less work to keep the status quo, I suspect that we would actually make progress toward a work-free future faster. Without all that time spent on the redistribution of wealth, the free time that people would gain would go towards hobbies.

Everyone has a few things they enjoy doing in their free time, and some of those have the potential to drive us to the future. Some people enjoy listening to music or watching movies. Some people enjoy creating neat things. Some people enjoy robotics and coding in their free time. Giving people more free time, and unlimited access to education (one of the most basic services provided) would spawn a massive outpouring of growth in many areas, including STEM. There are many people caught in the day to day grind of living paycheck to paycheck who could do so much for our world if we can unchain them from the money train.

This does require a whole new way of thinking. But in a world without scarcity, we do not need to create a system of artificial scarcity, which is how money works.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Welfare and Socialism

Today there is a great debate over how much assistance should be given to people just by right. The main arguments go something like this;

“Can I get some help here so my kids don’t starve?”

“Work for it.”

“I work as much as humanly possible, my pay is too low.”

“Go to school to get a better job.”

“I cannot afford to go to school, I can’t even put food on the table.”

“I did it, why can’t you?”

And so it goes. Families that have both parents often find that they have more take-home pay if only one works, due to the expenses of child care. I cannot even begin to imagine how a single parent family is expected to do it.

As with most problems, I think that both sides have the best of intentions, and there is something that just doesn’t convey. I will try to do my best to represent both sides, but I know that it will probably become clear where I stand on this issue if it is not obvious already, and from my other posts.

This is an issue now because the pay that many workers receive does not allow them to maintain a basic standard of living. The national minimum wage is woefully inadequate to support even one person. In fact, many states have higher minimum wages, and many cities are even higher than that. According to citylab.com there is only one state that pays more than bare minimum for one person to get by on.

Many people’s first reaction is to tell the person working at this low wage that it is all their fault. They must have made bad choices in the past, and now they have to pay for that mistake. While some people may have had the opportunity to go to college, or join the military and chose not to, not everyone has that luxury. If your family needs money now, a kid, even still in high school, may need to work to help their family get by. This means that college gets put off until later, if ever. The military is a great option, provided that you meet the physical and mental health requirements. (Not to mention that some people choose not to join for political, religious, or ideological reasons.) There are many people who are in minimum wage jobs not because of their own errors, but because of the cards that life dealt to them.

But let’s imagine that we are talking about someone who had made the grade in high school, could have gone to college, but chose to put it off for whatever reason, a common enough scenario. In the meantime, they get a job and try to get a place. Now they are not living with mom and dad anymore, and they have a whole place to themselves that needs rent to be paid. This makes it very challenging to get together the necessities for school, especially if a second job is needed to pay the bills. While their is some financial assistance available, it is more challenging than getting that assistance straight out of school. (And many of these programs fall into that category of government aid that we are debating here anyway.) The question then becomes how long should they suffer for that one bad choice?

There is also the increasingly common scenario of someone who followed all the rules, they made good grades, went to school, got a degree, worked their own way through school with as little debt as possible. Now that they are out, no-one is hiring in their field. And when they do find an opening the competition is fierce. Employers have their pick, and usually will chose someone who offers not only the educational background, but experience as well. The question then arises, “How do I get experience if I can’t get hired because I have no experience?” In some industries, the answer has been internships, but, potentials for illegality aside, this is a system that does not work in all fields.

It is frightening when even getting a minimum wage job has the same pitfalls I just discussed. Increasingly I hear about people needed to go to two or even three interviews just to ‘flip burgers’! There are so many people actively looking for work, that employers can be, and are, very picky even for supposed ‘entry level’ jobs. If people did not have to work 2 or more jobs to get by, there would be more jobs to go around.

Having established that living itself can get in the way of trying to improve oneself, lets talk about that a bit. There is enough food in the world to feed every person on the planet, and plenty of housing for all homeless, at least in many ‘developed’ nations like the US and the UK. What gets in the way is not supply, but rather, means. In some cases creating the infrastructure to distribute food might take some time, but is within the realm of possibility. In the case of housing, the largest struggle is simply the legality of it.

There are many people who have ‘made it’, and proudly proclaim that they did it all without any government aid. That may be true, they did not file for need-based assistance programs. However, they certainly have benefited from for more socialist type of structure. The type that you don’t need to apply to use, it is available to all. Some examples of this would be public roadways, utilities, and emergency services. These things are generally agreed to be for the public good and are therefore made available to all. Parks and Community Centers are other great examples.

My question is, why are these things thought of as public rights, and the things that are considered human rights and even necessary for life, are things that must be paid for? I have no problem with money. Money is a fine way to distribute wealth and luxury goods. However I do not believe that anyone, no matter how lazy, should be denied basic necessities of life, or the internationally agreed upon human rights.

Ideal Education

Okay, I have been putting A LOT of thought into this concept, and it will most likely take many more posts to really flesh out. The reason I have not posted sooner is a fear of not explaining my thoughts coherently enough, so please bear with me.

Children are inherently curious and they love to learn. I see this every day in my 2 year old. Schools today do an excellent job at stamping out that curiosity, and in the U.S. at least, it is getting worse. I will address these causes and specific problems at another time. This is my thoughts on an, admittedly Utopian, educational system.

  1. Everyone chooses what, and when, they learn. If a child starts learning letters early, they can be in the letter class. If someone has a difficult time, they can re-take the class at any age, and as many times as they choose. (Preferably without stigma). This also gives people the ability to balance school with their own lives, whether that is being a kid (see Finland) or raising kids.
  2. Classes are broken down into small units. Rather than having to figure out how to teach letters, sight words, and sentence structure in one class, each student can move on to the next building block at their own pace.
  3. Each teacher creates their own curriculum. All classes on the same topic must cover the same material, resulting in the same end knowledge. However the path to that result can be wildly different. This allows for differences in development and learning styles.
  4. There is a certain level of knowledge required to vote. This would be very elementary. Reading, some basic understanding of numbers (to comprehend the facts behind the issues), basic political systems, and FINDING AND EVALUATING SOURCES for instance. Just the bare necessities to be an informed voter.
  5. Each job would have certain qualifications. Rather than having a bachelor’s degree that shows a person went to school for a certain amount of time and focused on a general field, they could say, ‘I want ___ job, I need to take these certain classes.’ This would make people far more qualified for the job they want.
  6. Education is free for all. No matter how high the level of education, if we want to move forward as a society, everyone needs to be able to better themselves without setting themselves back.
  7. No grades. You either know the information at the end of a course, or you don’t. I hate tests, so finding a way to establish this might be a challenge.

I hope that this brief outline gives an idea of how this system would function. I would love to hear input, and work with others to create a new system, and find a way to implement it.

 

Chapter 17 (WIP)- Where Do We Go From Here?

Jessica sat on a bench looking up at an apple tree. Rodney stood up. “My brain is fried. Jessica, what would you like to see next?”

Jessica nearly jumped out of her skin! “wha-wha-whoa!!!’ Her initial shocked question became even more shocked as she fell of the side of the bench jumping away.

Rodney spun around and tried in vain to catch Jessica as she fell, confused, to the ground. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“Last thing I knew I was talking to a detective about a shooting.”

“Whoa! Ummmm…. That is uh..um…..interesting? You have been sitting here with me for about an hour telling me all about money, economies and artificially restricted supply chains.”

Rodney helped Jessica back up to the bench. “Thank you. I don’t know how I can ever exist here if I keep just getting dropped in at random times.” She rested her head in her hands in frustration and recovering from the shock she had just encountered. She sat silently for what seemed like eternity. Her mind raced through the real world and the dull day-to-day work and hospital filled haze of the last week. She thought about this amazing world she had concocted in her head and how real it seemed. Then it occurred to her that she seemed to be interacting with the world here even when she was not. She had been telling Rodney things when she wasn’t there. He thought that she was in the same history class as he was too, apparently. She tried to make sense of all of this chaos, until she realized that dreams don’t have to make sense. They are just dreams. She was just so desperate to escape her real life that she created this imaginary world, so she might as well enjoy it. “Ok, enough about me. Got anything interesting around here?”

“Well, most of what you wanted to see is pretty close. Let’s save the vehicles until you are a bit more um-” He struggled to find the right word, “stable. So how about we check out some of that automation?”

“That sounds good. Since we are thinking about food, maybe we should start there.”

Rodney thought for a minute. “The delivery is by vehicle, so that can wait. And preparation, well I’m not sure you ready for that.” He paused. “Why not? I can tell you about some of the infrastructure on the way.”

Jessica stood up to follow. “I know, most of our infrastructure is automated too, but people have to maintain it, don’t they?”

“Everything has sensors and routine maintenance is done by specialized robots. Initially building those and the sustainability overhaul took a lot of labor, but now it basically runs itself.”

Jessica thought for a moment, “I know I don’t know a whole lot about how modern life runs, but I’m pretty sure that in my world no one has bothered with a ‘sustainability overhaul.’ Is that just to make it something that allows it to be run by robots, or does it have to do with the environment?”

“Well, yes it got set up for the robots, but it was primarily because of the environmental damage we were doing before.

“For instance, to replace old fuels, the roofs, windows and sidewalks collect energy from the sun. Tiny windmills line the edges of most buildings. The roads were replaced with parks like this one. It’s not really my field, so I couldn’t tell you all the things they do. I know they are more pleasant and clean up something that would have wreaked havoc on the world.”

“That must have been expensive!” Jessica exclaimed before she realized how illogical her comment was in dream land. But she didn’t was to offend Rodney again, so she tried to play along. “But I guess that is kind of a non issue here, as long as people are willing to do the work and the materials are available.”

“The people who did that work knew that as soon as it was done everyone would have less work, most were passionate about the benefits. Some needed the hours for something they wanted. The more things that people don’t really want to do gets taken over by machine, the more that people get to do the work they love.”

“That’s really awesome that people here were able to get together in time to do something before the world starts going all to hell. Where I’m from, the people who are in a position to orchestrate something like that refuse, and tell everyone else that it’s not happening.”

Rodney was confused, but that quickly became concern. “Why would they do that? And how would people let anyone who would do that get into a position of power?”

Jessica started explaining about elections and loyalties and disheartened people and betrayal and power, before she stopped and just said, “Money”.

Rodney wanted to ask why people would put up with a system that caused so many problems, but he could see that Jessica was wondering the same thing. And his confusion was no match for her frustration.

They walked in silence for awhile, before Jessica stopped. ” Can I tell you something?”
Rodney was encouraged by her trust. “Sure, what is it?”

Jessica took a moment to figure out how to say what was on her mind. “I have been frustrated for a long time by the way things work in my world. This place seems to have all the solutions.” She paused for a chuckle, “Which might be why it seems like a dream.” She became serious again. “In my world I work all night long, every night of the week, just to have a roof over my head and food on my table. My boss won’t pay more than they have to, I have no time to look for a better job. Then one night a kid comes in to steal money and shot my coworker. Now I have not been working for awhile to recover. I don’t know how I will pay my bills. And on top of that I spent some of that time in the hospital. Each hour there costs more than I make in a whole week. I am beginning to wonder if I am making up this world as a coping mechanism. Each time I am here, it feels more real than the last time. Sometimes I think I am going crazy.”

Rodney took Jessica’s hands. “Do you feel this? Is this real?”

“It feels real. But how—“

“Never mind how. Never mind what other people think of it. You are here right now. Maybe you are only here in spirit, but does that make your experience of it any less real?”

Jessica was beginning to cry. No matter how many times she thought that she had released her stress and anxiety, it kept creeping back. She looked at Rodney, who lifted up her face to look at him.

“It’s alright. You will be taken care of here.”

Jessica sobbed, “But it is there that I am worried about.” Rodney gave Jessica a great big hug.

“I know I can’t help with there in any way but through your mind. How about we fill your mind with solutions, and try to find a way for you to make a real difference back home.”

Jessica pulled back and looked at Rodney. She was beginning to trust him, in spite of the strangeness of this place, these people, and his own persistence. “Thank you.”

Chapter 18 – False Expectations

Table of Contents

Millennials

I am coming to terms with the realization that I am a part of the ‘Millennial’ generation. I had been under the impression that this was a group that was a few years younger than me, but from what I gather, I am actually right in the thick of it.

Why did I have that impression? Probably because I do not associate myself with the stereotypes. OK, yes it is stereotypes, and I know how much worth to put into those, but forgive me for not wanting to be grouped with people who are considered ‘entitled’, ‘lazy’ and ‘narcissistic’. I know that, like most stereotypes, this describes only a small percentage of my generation, but you know how it goes, the bad apples ruin it for everyone.

I have actually been having a hard time finding someone to tell me, or anything online, that actually sums up ‘the quintessential millennial’. I keep finding things on ‘how to market to millennials’, which, now that I think about it, really does sum up how many people of my generation think of themselves.

We are a generation who has been molded by marketing. I know that this is true of other generations too, but I think that it is very obvious with people my age. We are obsessed with physical beauty. Any small imperfection that people find in themselves they tend to latch on to. That said, there has been a lot of push back against this lately. Women especially are learning to fight back and to be proud of who they are without bowing to the ideals that are being pushed on them by the media. Men are having a harder time, I think that it partly because the media has less specific standards to be met, but instead reinforces ‘what it is to be a man’. Stepping outside of those confines is also more socially unacceptable for men. Women are allowed to do masculine things, but men are not really allowed to do girly things.

We are a generation that was raised in a time of great prosperity in this country. We were raised with the expectation that growth would continue, and the world would keep getting better. People would continue making gains with regards to equality, income would continue to rise (not that they really compared it to inflation), if anyone paid attention to the problems of global climate change, they saw that more people were making strides to conserve, for whatever reasons. We were promised that if we did well in school, and got a degree we would be set for life. It didn’t even matter what the degree was in, as long as we had one we would have an easy time finding any job. All in all, the world was a very promising place.

Then, just as we were finding our place in the world, everything changed. With 9/11 we were told that America was the victim in a religious war, and certain people became ‘the enemy’. Suddenly we were told to be afraid all the time, of anyone who was not like us. The government created a way to not only keep a pulse on the fear of the nation, but to control it. Soon the economy fell. My generation was in various stages of starting their careers, some people were looking for a first job, others were just getting out of college.

This is when people really started to get disillusioned. Right now, a college graduate has, on average, tens of thousands of dollars of student loans. We were told that loans were the way to go. We have to build our credit, and once we graduate, our job will easily cover the bills, no problem. Now, where is that field of jobs, ripe for the picking? It does not exist. People who lost their retirement are not going to leave their jobs, so no jobs are opening up. Companies are more careful about how many people they need, and more picky about who they hire. All of the people who were laid off in the aftermath of the crash are out there looking for jobs too. And they have experience on their side, and on their resume. That is not to say they have it easy, no-one is hiring, and the longer you are out of work, the harder it is to get a job.

So now people without a job do not have the luxury of finding the right job, they have to take what they can get. In my case, as for many others, this means a job that starts at minimum wage. I am lucky that this company actually does raises, but most do not. I am lucky that I am making enough to get by, but many others do not. They need government assistance just to make ends meet. The requirements that they must meet in order to continue receiving assistance are already enough to show that these people are not just lazy, as they have been made out to be by the media. In order to qualify for many, they must have, or be actively looking for, a job. Many of the people on these programs have more than one job.

While I may qualify for some of these programs, I have not chosen to take advantage of them. Partially due to the stigma associated with them, and partly due to the trap they often catch people in. In order to qualify, certain income levels must be maintained, but if you make more than that number, the amount of benefits you lose far outweighs the gained income. I am lucky enough to still be able to make this choice, although luck is the only reason. Sometimes things happen in life that cannot be planned for. Sometimes those things turn out okay, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, even if you have a backup plan, it cannot cover the realities of life. And once that plan gets used up, it just takes one more case of bad luck.

My generation may act entitled, but I guess that is what happens when we are promised the world and then the rug gets pulled out from under our feet. We are being judged by the people who reaped the benefits of that golden age. They do not understand why we are struggling so much, and they think it must be because we are lazy. We have been told all of our lives that if we are just that much better, that much prettier, that much stronger, we will succeed. So is it any wonder that people latch on to these things as the things that will make them happier?

Please, stop blaming us for the economy falling apart, we were handed a broken plate and expected to return a meal on a silver platter. Please, stop telling us that our failure to thrive is our fault. Please, stop telling us that it is our own fault that we are struggling. I am not blaming you, I am just telling you how it is for us.

 

Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Happy New Year!

This year I am looking forward to a lot of big changes that are already in the works. I am also doing everything I can to create even more.

I hope that my readers are enjoying my content, but I am considering seperating out my costume blog from the rest. Even though it is all me, I am working towards developing a costume business and do not want my political beliefs getting in the way. However this means creating interesting content for two seperate audiences, while starting a business and working full-time. All the while trying not to ignore my family and other responsibilities. I also know that since I have been sending people all to the same site, that would inevitably lead to confusion. On the other hand, it is better to do it now while I am still just starting out. What do you think?

I need to finish building a few things and taking pictures, but as soon as I am done I will set up my Etsy store and share that with everyone. I will be endeavoring to provide high-quality pieces ranging from the elaborate to the simple. I am working on some toys now, but my costumes will also be available. Everything will be made-to-order, so we can make sure that everything is just right. This will also be the main channel to contact me about special orders. I always love a challenge!

I look forward to the possibility of making money doing something that I love. I know this will be a challenge, but if I can make it work, it will be better for myself and my family. Wish me luck, and I wish you all the best for all of your New Years Resolutions!

Geek Culture

Like many people of my generation, I am surprised to find what was out is in. I was always the type to like what I liked, no matter who said what about it. This has always been obvious in my clothing choices, but it is not the only thing.

My personal geek has always been history. When I graduated from college with a B.A. in History I decided I could stop calling myself an ‘history nut’ to calling myself an ‘Historian’. I have never made the change.

But there is also books. I love to escape into a great story. My teachers used to have to slow me down. I was told that I would not have time to read all of Little Women in time to finish my fourth grade book report. In fact sometimes it is a book that gets me into history. Reading a book about King Tutankhamun’s tomb is what got me into studying Egypt for several years.

And then there is the clothes. Historical clothes, fantasy clothes, elegant clothes, funky clothes, kids dressed like grown-ups, grown-ups dressed like kids. Most anything that was not the norm was fair game. (That said, more recently there have been a lot of people pushing that same box in places I won’t even go.

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Like this rendition of a bubble dress)

When I was young I resisted a lot of ‘geek’ things. I had a personal ban on sci-fi, was wary of fantasy, knew nothing of Anime, and rejected Video Games. But I always felt a kinship with this type of geek. We were all outcasts, we knew what it was to be left out of the clique. But somewhere we had a feeling that some people, maybe even the ones who hassled us the most, did it because they were afraid to let anyone know they were like us.

Later on, with the re-birth of Goth, I found the first outcast clique I felt like I could fit in with. The fun clothes were just up my alley, and I did not keep to the ‘all black’ rule, as my Morticia Morticia dress might show. I remember one day I was wearing a lime green floor length dress that I had made with black lipstick and some friends started to debate whether people who saw me would assume I was a Goth or a Raver. I had a lot of fun with the fact that I could find makeup in totally wild colors, and I would spend the hour and a half morning bus ride designing elaborate Venetian style masks out of eyeliner.

By this point Lord of the Rings was out, and I was a big fan. I still had not seen Star Wars, but I was beginning to be exposed to Anime somewhat, and I was more computer savvy than most people my age, although by no means a computer geek. Compared to them I live in the stone ages. (And might prefer that). I was already in the SCA and was finally feeling like there were people with whom I could fit in, something that, outside of Madrid, I thought was impossible in elementary school.

It was not until an awesome college professor who specialized in Shakespeare had us analyze A New Hope that I finally got over my ‘no sci-fi’ rule, although I do still find a lot of it not to my taste. I still have trouble getting into video games just because they have a tenancy to eat so much time. That said, I have my weaknesses. I play Sims, Tetris, Bloons and Civilization far more than I should, and I play Minecraft (much to the amazement of my students when I was substitute teaching) on occasion. I love going to cons, of any sort. It is another place where I feel at home in my crazy costumes.

These days, with the popularity of geek I find that I feel almost disappointed, now that the people who would have been my bullies behave like they are my pals, I get a bit put off sometimes. As many people know it is easy to tell a true fan from those who embrace the geek because of the popularity. And sometimes, because I am a late-comer to some of the geek myself, I feel like I am either placed in that category or I am being deceptive to people who think I have been a lifelong fan. On the other hand, there are so many things that do play into my lifelong geeks, that I feel like finally the fad has joined me.

Steampunk is a perfect example. It is technology, albeit fictional, that I can understand on some level, it is history, sort-of, and it is clothes! Victorian is one of my favorite periods, and recently it has shown up in several places. In my own mind I make a distinction between

vic
true Victorian

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the idea of Victorian   (Dracula, Melodrama, etc.)

as well as

 

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Goth Victorian

and

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Steampunk

But I like all of them and I think that it is awesome that something so different from modern fashion is having its own ‘retro’.

 

Growing up where I did I have not really had much opportunity to go to conventions, but where I am living now is part of the nerve center for some of it, and I really want to go explore it more.

Should I have Kids?

This is a common question these days, and I know I struggled with it. For many people the answer is obvious, for others it is not. I know that when I was trying to make this decision I looked to others to tell me what to do. Obviously that is not the best way to make such a personal choice, but it is easier to just do what you are told than to make a choice, or to be the one held accountable if your decision is not the best. In order to possibly help, I will tell you a bit about how I made my decision.

When I was little, I always wanted company. I lived in a small town with very few children my own age. I always wanted siblings, and I would often pretend that I had them. But I was a very bossy kid, and I found that my imaginary friends didn’t complain, so I usually pretended to be a mother. I remember imagining a line of millions of babies following me around no matter where I went.

In elementary school, most of my friends were several years younger than I was, and I spent my recesses ‘mothering’ them. I taught them some arts and crafts, as well as playground games. But really only a few of them do I really remember, they were the ones who I played with a lot, but it was mostly an ever-changing group of younger kids that were willing to listen. At this time, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was that I would make a great mother.

It may seem odd then that by high school I had decided unequivocally that I would never have children. By this point I had not really spent much time with young kids in several years, the most I had really seen of them is grocery store temper tantrums. All of the anti-teen pregnancy campaigns had worked better on me than intended. I was completely disgusted by anything baby. Pregnancy sounded miserable, and the physical changes like bigger feet and un-losable weight did not seem worth it. All for an outcome that did not sound so great to me; sleepless nights, diapers, burping, feeding, cleaning… I could go on. And the kids themselves seemed like nothing but trouble, at the time I was not a perfect angel, and I knew people who were way worse. The spoiled kids at the store didn’t help either. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I enjoy my freedom, and I did not want to be tied down. That said, I had always known that if for some reason I did end up with kids, I would do the best I could for them, but I was terrified that it would not be good enough.

I kept this attitude until long into my marriage, but it was wearing through a bit. I knew that a lot of what had shaped my opinion was about teen pregnancy, and since that is not where I was in my life anymore it was not a bad thing at that point. My concerns still were there, but the more that I spent time with people my age and older who had good kids, the more my fears about spoiled kids and rule breaking subsided. I was still scared stiff by the idea that I would not be good enough. I spent several years debating whether or not to have kids. I knew my husband wanted kids, and that he would be a great father. He never pressured me, the only time it even came up was when I talked about it, but I did want to give him something special, which might be part of why the idea kept coming up at all.

After awhile of doing a lot of soul searching, internet searching, and pros and cons lists it occurred to me that I would be happy with either outcome. This may not sound like much, but for me it was an epiphany. Still terrified that I may not be good enough, I knew that I would not be as bad as many parents. I also was beginning to form ideas of how kids learn behaviors and the different things that people can do to shape them, so I told myself that I would do whatever I could to make my kids the best they can be, and they would not be the spoiled ones in the store, but rather the (probably more numerous) ones that I had never really noticed because they were so well-behaved.

We stopped trying to avoid getting pregnant. After awhile, a close friend, who was deliberately waiting, got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that I was jealous. I thought that the world had decided that I was not worthy of kids. I was rather surprised at how hurt I was. We did not change anything that we were doing, but this realization helped me to know that the decision that I had made was not a bad one for me.

Soon enough, I did get pregnant, and we had our son. Now we are expecting our second child. I am very glad to have kids, but I would never tell someone that they should. There is one argument in favor of having children that I would like to take this opportunity to dispute. I do not think that they fill any void that I had before. I know that many parents would think that is a horrible thing to say, but in reality my life was complete before I had kids, and it is complete now. Think of it like a pie chart of my family. Each family member has their own slice, but there is not some void represented that a child would fill. Each kid also gets a slice, but before the pie was still at 100%.

I know that some people are not cut out to have kids. I know that some people’s lives would be unsuitable for raising kids. I know that some people cannot afford kids. I know that some people just don’t like kids. I have been there and I respect that. If that is you and you are struggling to decide because you feel pressured by others, stand your ground. Down the line you might change your mind, or not. Either way it is okay. Right now, you come first. It is your happiness that matters. If you think that you could not be happy taking care of children, then don’t let others talk you into doing it. Your unhappiness would affect your kids, if you cannot be happy with it, they will not be happy.

I don’t care what other people say, you do not need kids to be happy. Lots of people are very happy without kids. This idea comes from the old-fashioned notion that people are supposed to have as many kids as possible. Many religions still encourage large families. I cannot say that is a bad thing, but we do have to put it into a modern context. The reason behind this is so that people would be ensured that someone would be able to take over the family business. Kids were less likely to survive into adulthood, and having more kids increased the odds that some would make it. People also needed the labor to help take care of the land, or produce whatever it was that made the family money. This is not such an issue now either. There are plenty of people already in the world to do this labor.

We are at a point when overpopulation is becoming a problem. For this reason I choose not to have more kids than would replace my husband and I. Two kids, that’s it. That said, with better health care and longer life-expectancies, we are still adding to the total.

Money is another big contributing factor. While at one point having kids made the possibility of earning money easier, today raising kids is a huge financial cost. Even though most everything that my son has is second-hand, mostly gifts, the cost in essentials like diapers and food is noticeable. If you feel the need for your kids to have all-new things and a full nursery you will be feeling the pinch a lot more. That is not to say that my kids are lacking anything, I just have a different idea of what is essential than many people do. I believe that my kids will benefit more from the time and effort that I give them than the money I spend on stuff for them. I would rather save it for experiences and college than to spend it on stuff.

Ultimately the decision is yours. Do not let others make it for you. Notice how you feel in reaction to events in your life that may play a role. Put thought into it. Consider other’s opinions, but know that what is right for some people is not right for others. Make sure that you balance what is important to you with what would be necessary for raising kids. Right now I am putting off a lot of travel I would love to do so that when I do it I can share it with my kids. Right now they are too young to appreciate it, and we are taking the time to establish ourselves so that we can do this when they are older. I realized that my life did not have to end when I had kids, but some things do get put on hold.

Remember kids are a lifelong commitment, if that scares you right now, it might be better to wait. If you are nervous about the commitment, it is healthy. It means that you are taking everything into consideration, and it is a lot. Just think it through and be patient. Not all of the fear will ever go away. I am still terrified that I will not be good enough for what my kids deserve. I am still afraid for the world that they will be inheriting. But I made the commitment, and I am sticking to it. The fear helps motivate me, but it was not that long ago when I was frozen by it.

I am not saying that this is the natural progression that everyone will follow, because it is not. Everyone is different, some people know the answer before they ask the question. I was there for a long time, on both sides. I understand both, and I know that the answers lie within.