"Poor" is the New "Cool"

<--- The Faces of Success

Friends who never understood why we unplug appliances or used only cold water tell me they have no money. "Maybe we'll qualify for food stamps," they say. "We don't know how we're going to pay our bills next month."

When you've been homeless, twice, with kids, you tend to look down on people who say they're poor. "Sure," you think to yourself. "You think you're poor but you still go on vacations. You run out and buy things on a whim." That's not really poor.

Did I just admit I'm a poor snob? I find it's so easy to think these non-compassionate-type thoughts when you've had it rough before. People complain about being poor so often now that it's almost like bragging. I hear it at the grocery store, at the bookstore, at the quilting shop, all places people go to consume. If you're so poor, why are you here shopping?

I am sorry. It doesn't matter if I've been poorer. This isn't a contest I want to win. If you're worried about how you're going to pay your bills, even if you have more than I've ever owned, you're still hurting. I'll listen. I'll do my best not to judge you.

My desk at Habitat for Humanity is right by the front door so I see the hard-working people who own our houses when they come in to make their mortgage payments. I see the people who want to get in line to buy one of our homes. They are nothing like the people I see whining about being poor. We're rich compared to them, even when we're homeless. I got back on my feet, and so will my friends, and so will the people saying they're poor while shopping for fabric.

When my kids were in school, they qualified for free lunches even when we were what I thought was rich. At one point, I stopped applying for them. It just felt wrong. I read that there's been a tremendous surge in applications for free and reduced-price school lunches, but that almost all the applications are turned down. People may lose a job, but they still make way too much to qualify. Do you think those people who make too much money for reduced-price lunches stop saying they're so poor?

If I could tell my friends who are financially hurting one thing, I'd say, "You'll get through it." I'd also tell them to do a bunch of things to save money. Even if it's a little bit, it feels good to feel in control. Here's a few ideas, just of the top of my head:

1. Have a ZDD competition with your family. Whoever has the most Zero Dollar Days, where they spend nothing the whole day (not including bills), wins something. Zero Driving Days are another thing you can do, and see how many you can do within a month. If you do this with your family, it doesn't feel restrictive. It feels like a game. Okay, maybe that proves how weird I am.

2. Use cold water whenever possible: laundry, washing, everything. Since we have electric water heating, this saves us a lot.

3. Unplug everything when not in use. This sounds stupid, but I tried it one month. I unplugged all Charlie's cell phone chargers, all our coffee maker, microwave, TV, everything which was plugged in all the time. It was the same month I used cold water whenever possible. Our bill went from over $150 to under $50.

4. Remember $100 you don't spend is $130 or more you don't have to earn. You have to pay tax, social security, and so on for every dollar you make. So, depending on your tax bracket, you can save a lot by not spending.

5. Eat cheap. Okay, we fail miserably compared to Cheyenneh and Quinn. They budgeted $50 a week when they lived in Astoria, and they stuck to it. In Hawaii, she says they spend about $75 to $100 but it lasts almost two weeks. We spend half that much on coffee (and cream, and honey) alone. But we stopped buying meat, and packaged and processed food. We cut enough from our food expenses to feed Cheyenneh and Quinn and have money left over. The more we make at home, the more we save. The healthier, the better. I could write a book about this. I wish Cheyenneh would.

6. Combine errands to save gas. Who doesn't do this already? Walk if you can - then you get health benefits, too. And while you're at it -- do you really need whatever it is you have to go get? It's fun for me to see how many meals I can make with whatever's in the refrigerator. I've gone three weeks sometimes on what I'd consider "nothing in the fridge."

7. Sell everything you haven't used for six months (three months if you're Cheyenneh) on CraigsList and put the profits in the bank or on your credit card debt; pay that credit card down!

8. Don't be all stingy and cheap with family and friends. Nobody likes a cheapskate. Since everybody thinks they're poor now, you aren't going to get invited somewhere again if you keep making other people pay. Pay your share, do pot luck or don't go.

9. Charlie says there are very few things in life he needs. One of those things is coffee, but he has a point. "Most people on the planet live off less than $2 a day," he says. "And they're probably not whining about it." Figure out what you're going to do tomorrow, next month, and next year to get where you want to go. Try www.mint.com for free budgeting and tracking expenses.

10. Do all the normal things: turn down (or off) heating, A/C, lights; run the dishwasher and washing machine only when full and only on the minimal cycle; check your phones (we're cell-only on minimal plan); use what you have or do without (meaning why buy tupperware when empty peanut butter jars will do?); visit the library; take a walk; and enjoy what you have. Especially enjoy the people in your life: they're worth more than money.

It's depressing to sit around and think of your situation, so get moving. The more you do, the better you'll feel, and the more your friends won't be thinking what I'm thinking when you're whining.


What Does That Even Mean?

The Productive Act of a Future Teacher --->

It seems like the new job is getting in the middle of other people trying to do a job. I'm meeting more people who seem like all they do all day is get in the way of real people doing real work. They're partnering, liaisonning, meeting, and streamlining. As a person who hates meetings, it doesn't seem productive to interrupt real work to talk about how to do work, unless you know more about this work. Am I the only one who thinks this is unproductive?

I was invited to an Eastside economic development meeting yesterday. It was exciting being in a room with all sorts of really smart, really successful people talking dynamically. The speaker was this amazing mayor with a proven record of increasing productivity in the public sector. I was itching to talk to people about being efficient and getting rid of waste.

The first woman I met said she worked with day care centers. "I don't run day care centers," she said. "I work with a company that works with day care centers. We teach and work with them in a variety of ways."

Not knowing what to say next, I smiled and introduced myself to someone else.

"We bring businesses together," the next guy said. "We bring them together and they communicate so they don't all end up doing the same things in parallel. We're helping them be more efficient."

I didn't know what that meant, either.

Except for my Habitat colleague and the guy sitting across me from Verizon, I wasn't really sure what this roomful of people actually did. The Verizon guy was nice but I wasn't sure what to ask him, even though he seemed to do real work.

Instead, I turned to my colleague and started talking with her. Anyone who works long hours for a small non-profit salary, helping low-income people buy basic, decent, affordable homes must have an interesting story.

It turns out her parents are in education. They'd moved back and forth across the country to teach, sometimes working three jobs, and to eventually earn their PhDs. They are teachers, still, and sound like the kind of people who make a real difference.



Take a Note

A Happy Note or Two --->

"The one thing I noticed right away about you," Charlie says, "is that you write notes. There are notes everywhere, living with you."

I read very recently that successful, organized women share this trait with me. I don't know where I read it or how this was proven. I'm not very detail-oriented. That's why I write so many notes.

I thought, actually, that I wasn't doing this so much anymore. I don't have a job and I don't have kids living at home, so there isn't much to do on my To Do lists. In fact, what I have on there is stuff I don't want to do. That's why I have it written down: maybe I'll do it if I know I can cross it off a list.

I know other people write notes, and not just "clean the coffee stain on the rug; email Jane at ReStore about donations; get the goodwill stuff in the car" lists. I know this because I find them all the time.

I find grocery lists in shopping carts about every third or fourth time I shop at Winco. Only at Winco, for some reason. I find little notes across the street at the Multnomah Center Senior entrance. They're not very interesting, just the kind you leave on a windshield. Lately, though, I've been finding notes in Powell's Books books.

I found three last night. The first one was a statement of services rendered, dated Tuesday November 1 2005, from a dentist in Tigard for Scott WynKoop for $180 for a complete oral exam, including x-rays.

The second one was a reading list, to be expected in a bookstore. Unexpected, though was the bright pink paper it was written on. What do you make of this reading list? It included: Aristotle (Poetics), Joseph Campbell (Hero with a Thousand Faces), and Christopher Vogler (Mythic Structure for Writers). A prissy smarty-pants who's really into myths?

The last one I found in the book I gave to Charlie about retiring without money. It was written in Grandma handwriting, and not young Grandma like me. Like my Grandma's handwriting, when she was well over 85. That kind of writing which is hard to read because it was hard to write.

This list wasn't about finances, even though judging by the book, that must have been what she was reading. Here it is: Patient, Gracious, Courageous/brave - spirit of being willing, Fun/light-hearted, uplifting/playfull, optomistic - centered, spiritual, appreciator of beauty and excellence, happy, joyfull, kind, loyal-honorable, generous, and something that looked like wise but was all smeared. She, and I'd bet anything she was a "she," seemed like she had her mind on other things than retiring without money.

Why would you write these words down? Who has to remember to be patient and gracious? I'm trying to remember to clean the freaking rug and she's trying to be a better human being. Now that I think of it, someone who writes a happy list might be more fun to be around than someone who writes clean-the-rug lists. Or maybe she's just emotionally forgetful.

On the Same Team

<--- Greenhill Bunnies on the Same Team

One of my wonderful sisters called to wish me happy birthday. I haven't talked to her since I called her for her birthday. We have a lot in common, so this is just wrong and bad. Whenever we talk, since we talk so rarely, we talk for a long, long time.

She and her husband aren't always on the same page about certain things. Who is? You don't have to agree on everything to respect and enjoy each other, right?

Money is the biggest thing married couples fight over. Luckily, this is the single one thing I know Charlie and I don't fight over, as he pretty much hates doing bills more than stepping in dog poop.

Telling him to turn out lights, unplug everything not in use, walk or bike instead of drive, use cold water instead of hot and much more, has proven to him I'm careful with money. Just by a little (or a lot of) nagging, I've earned his respect. I handle the money, I do the budget, I pay the bills. I could buy whatever I wanted and he'd never know. I don't, I wouldn't, and I feel like we're on the same team financially. It's enjoyable to be married to someone who trusts and respects you.

My sister, I suspect, doesn't know this feeling. I know she hides chocolate and candy in her pantry, because her kids tell us, "There's some good candy in the pantry. It's in the back, hidden so Dad doesn't find out about it."

All her family is healthy and skinny so I don't understand why the kids and mom are hiding anything from dad. Not my business but it's uncomfortable when you're told, "Don't tell Dad about the candy."

I know my sister has resentment about their home ownership history. She wants to sell when they outgrow a home and he doesn't want to sell anything. At least that's what she says. She said he was angry at her for five years after they sold their first tiny starter home. And that's after they'd owned it for maybe 15 years and had two more kids, and increased their income dramatically.

They bought another home without selling the last one. He, I guess, agreed to rent it for a year then sell. You know what happened next. So they're both angry.

You can hear the anger if you're around them for five minutes. They have a great life and absolutely beautiful, perfect kids. They're good-looking, interesting people. From my perspective, it looks like they've pulled apart because of abundant finances rather than grown together.

Never having near what they have financially, it's easy to be resentful and jealous. I'm not. It's hard to watch people live together with different goals, who don't respect each others' opinions, or whatever it is people do when they would rather be right than happy. Maybe they're happy -- maybe I'm reading too much into it. I probably am. I hope I am.

I hope my sister never reads this.

Anger Comes Out in the Weirdest Places

Charlie took the day off yesterday. It was a choice he spontaneously made when he stayed up too late the night before. At least that's what he told me when I came home from my meetings and saw him unshowered, unshaven, watching the History Channel while googling something on his laptop.

It's easy to sit inside and do nothing when it's cold and rainy outside. You may save money by sitting in a cold, dark room, but I don't. There's only so much I can take. If I don't have the energy to work, clean, or even bake, I certainly don't have the energy to stop myself from going somewhere and buying something.

So what do you think happened when I came home to my homeless-looking hubby? Lots of whining, of course. Whining like, "I'm so bored." Whining like I haven't heard since I had little kids, or since last time he was bored.

Five minutes later we were in the car, driving to New Seasons. This is why being bored is expensive.

Okay, maybe not expensive, but more expensive than having the discipline to go to work, take a shower, or bake something, none of which was going to happen when we were both trying to survive the crappy day outside.

After staying long enough at New Seasons to see the evening shift begin, we moved onto Powell's Books. I really appreciate that they created this gorgeous store right near New Seasons, so we don't have to get back in the car to continue our lazy behavior.

And we did. We found great seats and lots of books to read. Normal people tend to look at a few pages of several books, decide to buy a few, then take them home to read. We're normal, sometimes.

Then there are the other times. I never thought about trying to read a whole book while in the bookstore. I learned this from Sean. When he didn't have money to buy something, he'd read as much as he could while he was there. When he came back, he'd pick up where he left off.

Genius! We buy enough books to justify this, so I started reading whole books in a sitting. It isn't as hard as I thought. You can skip some of the boring parts and get through a book you probably never would consider buying. I find myself talking about books I've read without buying, so in my mind this justifies my semi-unethical behavior. You don't buy the books in the library, either.

I picked up some books that looked good but they were too smart for my dull day. Instead, I looked at some old used books about writing on the table next to me. I found a book on retiring with no money there, too, and stuck it in Charlie's lap. He's been reading Guinness book of World Records a little too much. A book with less pictures might get him motivated to do something besides obsessively google motorcycles.

Charlie opened the book and seemed to like it. He even read a few passages aloud to me. "All those people like Suze Orman," he said, "who tell you you must have millions in stock and savings before you can retire, they say that only to give themselves business."

He was excited and talking loud.

"Retirement is a new thing," he continued. "We've only had retirement since the 1930's. Social Security was started to move older workers out of jobs so younger workers could work during the Depression."

The guy sitting next to Charlie was listening, too. He leaned over to Charlie and started talking. My sister called so I got up and stood by the door to talk to her.

After about twenty minutes, Charlie brought over my coat and we left. "That guy just started to talk to me. He said he was fired from every job he's ever had because he yelled and couldn't control himself. His girlfriend broke up with him and he was living with his Mother. He was like over forty years old."

"He just started talking to you?"

"Yeah," Charlie said. "He seemed like he wanted advice. I guess he doesn't know I was too lazy to shower today.

"What did he say?"

"He asked me what he should do. You know me, I'm not going to lie. I told him, 'Did you ever consider it might be your fault?'"

Charlie has the gift of being very, very direct. It's annoying when he tells you the truth and you don't want to hear it. "How did he react?" I asked.

"He said he never thought about it like that, 'You might be right,' he said. He got quiet after that so I figured it was time for me to go. I didn't want to know how much of an anger problem he had."

There's free stuff everywhere.


Cheap Takes a Back Seat

Bunny-Saver Kyla --->

When you have money for gifts but you avoid giving, that's cheap. When you invite people out to dinner but you make them pay, even if you invited them and you know they can't afford it, that's cheap. Everybody knows cheap when they see it. It's hard to be around cheap people, and eventually cheap people end up alone.

Being thrifty, being frugal, that's different. If you're frugal, you put off buying something now so you can have something better later. You don't do it by avoiding people during the holidays just so you don't have to buy them gifts. I learned that from "A Christmas Carol."

Frugal is definitely more fun. And fun is better than sitting in a cold condo with the lights off, saving money, being cheap. So for a day filled with fun, we went to Eugene to visit Sean, Kyla, and Kyla's mom Cecelia. They have lots of ideas for fun, and they're funny, too. We leave happy every time. If loving life made you rich, they're all Bill Gates.

The rain and traffic were heavy all the way down I-5. Charlie drives, so my job is to keep him from getting angry at stupid Oregon Duck fans driving down for the game. (Those car flags really set him off for some reason.)

We met Cecelia and Sean for breakfast at the Keystone, our traditional way of starting our day in Eugene. You can pour your own coffee refills, as much as you want -- no wonder Eugene seems so exciting!

We visited the cute kitties and dogs (and Kyla) at the Greenhill Humane Society where Kyla works, and we surrounded ourselves with more books per square inch than anywhere I know at Smith Family Bookstore. We had crazy-good beer and nachos and cake at Cornucopia and got to meet Momo, Kyla's perky and smart grandma. We tried to see a $1.50 movie but we took too long in getting there. Instead we saw Kyla's adorable brother and Dad at the mall, and hung out watching half a bad movie back at Cecelia's.

We probably should have left earlier, as we (Charlie, that is) were going to have a hard time staying awake on the drive home. Saturday night is a good night for bad radio and Charlie needed more than that to keep him alert. I didn't need to stay awake as the Ducks fans and their cars with the annoying flags were back home already. I just needed to get Charlie on I-5. My day would be done.

We drove by a Dutch Brothers Coffee Kiosk, well-lit and open, there was no choice: I felt destined to drink. "Turn here," I said. "It's not a choice."

Charlie doesn't argue when I'm being the opposite of cheap, particularly when it comes to hot coffee drinks.

"You get one, too," Charlie said. "Okay?"

Yeah, I could have said no. Yeah, the $8+ we spent on large hot soy/espresso beverages could have been better spent on, well, anything else. But anything else would have felt cheap. At 11:30 at night, with two hours of driving to go, it felt great to be able to afford this. I got the biggest size and enjoyed every sip. I never felt richer.


No Driving Day #1

The Face of Doing Nothing --->

Yeah okay, I know: I drive a Yaris and I worry obsessively about the amount I drive. That's how Ed I am. Or how cheap I am. One of the two. When you hate the debt you have, you do anything to give you a feeling of control. Not driving feels like not spending. So I stay out of the car when I can walk or stay home.

I couldn't work today, not with the life-changing experience of voting in hope last night. We're still waiting to hear if Jeff Merkley won, as well. If so, it'll be the first time ever that everyone I voted for won. He used to run my Habitat for Humanity office in Portland Metro/East in the early to mid-1990's, so I feel like I'm related or something. He's a good guy. That I know.

I spent all morning looking at the news, blogs, and anything political while texting friends and relatives worrying about Jeff Merkley's chances. At a little after 1:00 PM I realized it was 1:00 PM. I was probably now annoying my friends and relatives who were probably busy doing more important things and didn't need my interruptions.

Showering seemed too hard, and why? Where was I going? Why waste perfectly good hot water? I decided to bake instead.

Somehow staying home baking whole grain bread and oatmeal cookies seemed frugal and useful. I made extra and put them in the freezer. Then I cooked up some leftover salmon and basmati rice for dinner and made a salad.

The kitchen started to get boring so I went back to texting and looking at blogs. Merkley was still behind but only a little. Since we are now out of almost every food item, it seemed smart to go to the co-op down the street and at least get some soy milk. If we have soy milk, Charlie doesn't seem to notice that we have nothing else in the refrigerator. He is SO easy.

Yeah, it could have been a zero dollar day without this random purchase, but I can stretch out the time between shopping if I go pick up this one thing. It seemed like time to get out of the little condo anyway.

At the Food Front the cashier was so excited. You'd have thought she just heard Obama was elected. "How's your day?" she asked.

"Amazing," I said.

"How was your day yesterday?" she asked, still not sure she could freely talk about the life-changing election.

"Even better," I said. "Can you believe it?"

No she couldn't. She told me about her family's voting experiences, her friends, and even her parents. I felt like we as a country did some miraculous thing, like win the war in Iraq. It was nice to get out of the kitchen and out of my cell phone to share it.

And even though I spent money today, it wasn't so bad. I only bought soy milk (three on sale cheaper than anywhere else -- even Winco) and I walked to get it. I looked at the bulk chocolate items but didn't get anything. It wasn't a zero dollar day, but it was less than ten dollar day. That plus baking minus driving seems pretty virtuous to me.

Lil' Doggie

Cherry-Eyed Charlie

We're taking care of Cheyenneh's little chi-weenie, Harley. Apparently when you move to Hawaii, your dog has to be really special as it's expensive to quarantine, vaccinate, and get their bloodwork done if you want to move them with you. I know two families who own dogs because their owners didn't want to go through the trouble.

When Chey and Quinn moved, they put the best dog in the world (besides Lulu), Tyson, in quarantine. He came out even better, but it was expensive and he got fat. Or so Chey says. They'd just bought Harley, so he would have had to be in quarantine during his whole puppy life. We got him instead. He's in Charlie-quarantine, as Charlie has taken over as his new Dad. Harley follows Charlie around and sits on his lap so much that we started calling Harley Charlie. Little Charlie anyway. Or Little Chachi.

He's just the weirdest little dog. He's supposed to be chihuahua, but the breeders who sold him also bred and sold dachsunds, too. People ask what kind of dog Harley is and we used to say what Chey told us: Chihuahua. "That's not a Chihuahua!" people said. "He's too big. He's cute, but funny-looking."

We took him on hikes around Mt. Hood. He'd hike better than any dog we ever had. Lulu the bulldog won't go around the block without a fight, so we love taking Harley. A woman saw Harley after one of his hikes and ran over to see him. "What a great little dog!" she said. "What a cute Chiweenie!"

So that's what he is, whether or not his papers say so.

For election day, I was going to give him the gift of getting neutered. I found a coupon, made the appointment, and dropped him off.

Then I got the call. "Did you know Harley only has one testicle?" the Vet said.

I did, but I was hoping I was wrong. Don't these things work themselves out?

"We can't neuter him on the coupon, unfortunately," the Vet explained. "We do so many on these days -- we don't have the time. It's a complicated procedure and it'll cost a lot more. We have to get that other one out of there.

"Also," she said, sounding more expensive as she spoke, "We can take care of his cherry-eyes at the same time since he'll be under anesthesia. The undescended testicle surgery starts at $450. The cherry eye surgery will be more."

I picked up the little, drugged up dog and took him home. He was so much easier while groggy. At 8:00 PM Obama was elected and there were fireworks outside the window. Without the drugs, the little dog would have gone nuts, too. Maybe his other one would have dropped, though.

I know it'll cost more, but you can't be cheap about everything. My daughter is just a kid. She doesn't have extra money for expensive neutering. She not only picked a dog that had an undescended testicle, but one that developed a couple of cherry eyes.

I tried to be cheap -- I found a coupon. But as Suze Orman says, "People first, then money, then things." Little dogs, I would say, are almost as important as their owners.

Revolution Out The Window

Look what was going on outside the Habitat offices! So much horn-honking, you'd have thought Jeff Merkley still was in charge around here. (C'mon Jeff! Bring the votes home!)

With this win, I'm transformed. I have no reason to be cynical. I'm going to be the best citizen I can be. I want to be deserving of the opportunity to live in this great country during this historic time. I'm so grateful!

Day One of the Revolution!

When John McCain made politician-sounding attacks toward Barack Obama, Barack Obama didn't reply. He didn't return the punch, he didn't even acknowledge most of the attacks, and he stayed so steady. He was not even paying attention, it seemed.

I was so annoyed about Obama's lack of attacking back that I wrote his campaign several emails. I told them, "Stop going Dukakis on them! Stop Kerrying the Swift Boaters!" When someone tries to hit you, you hit them first and fast, right? No?

After a while, and particularly during the debates, I saw how well this deflection worked. You can't get someone to get out of control if they laugh or ignore what you say. Deflecting, or turning away (or changing) is very powerful, more powerful than anything you can say.

The revolution starts today. The future is back! And for my part, I'm staying cool. I saw how well it worked to just, well, grow up. Nobody attacks me like McCain attacked Obama, so I can do it. Being above it means not fighting back. You can't be had if you don't believe it, or don't even act like you hear it.

You too, Charlie, my dear husband. No more "going Irish" when you get angry. You can do whatever you want, of course, but I think you're a strong, powerful guy and if you follow Obama's example of staying cool, you will show how cool you are, too.

Steve Case, the guy who started AOL, started a company called Revolution, "a company that seeks to drive transformative change by shifting power to consumers." Somebody who starts AOL has to be consumer-oriented to be in business. The politics of hope say the new President seeks to drive transformative change by shifting power to citizens. Revolution!



My daughter, Chey, had friends like no other in the rural, coastal, very poor town where she used to live last year. There were very rich people, her customers, and everyone else. In her apartment complex were the saddest, poorest people you'd ever see. You could tell -- they were defeated in every way. They made her feel very middle class, even if she was just out of high school.

When you don't have much, it hurts more when you have to be around people who have more than enough. It's easy to believe in conspiracy theories. Otherwise, being poor just hurts. If you can hold out for justice and blame forces beyond your control, you have an easier time waking up.

One of my daughter's friends used to deal with it by talking about a revolution. "Just wait for the revolution," she say. "Then you won't have to worry about bouncing checks. There won't be any banks."

My daughter didn't know how to deal with it, because if she did she wouldn't have talked to me about her so much. She'd say, "I told my friend about my boss not paying me the right wage for the past four months. She answered back with, 'when the revolution comes, bosses aren't going to have that kind of control.' It's getting annoying."

I picked up on this 'when the revolution comes' language. When gas prices went way past $4 a gallon, I told very conservative people that there's a revolution coming. They sort of laughed and changed the subject. They were probably as weirded out as my daughter was with her revolution friend.

I brought it up more and more. It got easier to fit this language into a conversation about banking, real estate, and especially about the stock market. I never got tired of it. It was a good way to see what people thought. They'd laugh or they'd agree with me; one extreme or the other. Everybody reacts when you say 'It's the revolution coming."

Conservatives and older people bring up Marxism, Russia, or something crazy and foreign when they hear the R word. When people go too far and talk about revolutions that overthrow absolutely everything, that is delusional and only something conspiracy theorists would envision. That's not the revolution, that's anarchy. Maybe they, and I, should be using the word 'change.'

Today's a good day for change.


Thinking about Shrinking

I'm married to a huge Obama fan. You know, the kind of person who gets on his laptop before he brushes his teeth, just to find out what the polls say. He can quote Rachel Maddow since he watches her so many times. It's amazing how much one person, one older person can change.

I don't know how it happened. When we were dating, he'd say, "I loved Ronald Reagan and I'd bet you did, too." I'd change the subject. I'd change the subject during the Iraq war, and I changed the station when he left it on Fox News and left the room.

I figured I only had so many battles to fight. First I had to wrestle with that big, furry, dyed caterpillar on his face. You can't see everyone's politics written all over their face, but you could see Tom Selleck when you looked at Charlie. The eighties are coming back now, but five or six years ago they were embarrassing.

The mustache and the Reagan-lover have gone. I can't take the credit, but I like the results. It's nice being able to freely talk back to the TV, and to be able to freely see all my husband's face.

So now my Obama-adoring husband says, "Did you know 40% of the world's current population lives on less than $2 a day?"

I got all intellectual on him. I figured this would be better than bursting out in tears. It's hard to admit how lucky we are to be born here and now. Especially now.

"It's different," I said. "When you're not in a market economy, you don't really need money the same way we do. People grow, farm, or produce what they can. They trade the surplus to get what they can't produce. It's not like they only have $2 a day to go shopping."

"Still makes you feel pretty guilty," he said.

We talked about it more and we figured there must be a few more things we can do. The less we need, the less we spend and the less we mess up life for everyone else.

"Think of ten things we can do," I say, "and tell me in the car." We tend to be boring in the car. Having a subject to discuss is good for everyone stuck in a car in the rain.

"First," he says, "we sell the car."

"Can we do that?"

"No, but it's a goal. Let's work toward it. Someday, okay?"

"Okay," I say. Our car gets 38 miles a gallon, and more when I drive. It's not wasteful, but it's still not public transportation. We do our best to have ZDD (zero driving days) as much as possible.

"Second, we sell everything in our storage unit which isn't much anymore, and we sell anything around the house we haven't used for a while. Other people can use our things and I want to pay down our credit card."

"Our credit card has $7001 on it," I say. "We have a tile saw and some tupperware in storage. But it's a start."

"Third, we Goodwill our closets. There must be something we haven't worn that someone else can use.

"Fourth, we do things we can do for free. We can run, walk, do sports, play games, bicycle, and of course go to bookstores and the library.

"Fifth, let's eat closer to nature. Be mindful and eat nothing processed.

"Six: Zero Dollar Days/Zero Driving Days. As many as possible, as often as possible.

"Seven: Only cash. Credit cards are evil.

"Eight: Help Habitat For Humanity on Fridays. It may not help our finances, but it will help our soul.

(I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro/East for twenty hours a week already. It really works for anything you might be worried about.)

"Nine: More reading books/less TV.

"Ten: Continue to unplug everything to save vampire energy; use cold water as much as possible; turn off lights; keep the heat and A/C down or off; keep our tires inflated and drive slower -- all that Jimmy Carter stuff we should be doing anyway."

That's the end of our car conversation. Somehow we ended up at Powell's, the mecca of all things good. We read lots of books and decided to buy a $5 magnet for my Mom's birthday and a couple cups of coffee for $1.50 each to compensate. It felt like we were starting something good.

I wonder if I have something like Charlie's mustache or views on Reagan that will change soon.