31 October 2008

friday photos: halloween edition

No photos yet of the kids in costume, but we've been getting in the Halloween spirit in other ways.

Chocolate Mice:

(Not a great photo, I know, but I swear to you those delicious little mice were impossible to photograph!)

Spider Deviled Eggs:

I made some nerdy Halloween decorations:

And another jack o'lantern masterpiece from Greg: a skeleton/snowman jack o'lantern.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


29 October 2008

i have failed as a parent.

Somebody's been reading right-wing propoganda behind my back:

Evan: I'm voting for McCain!
Me: Oh? Why are you voting for McCain?
Evan: Because he has a better plan.
Me: Really? What's his plan?
Evan: To save the world. And Obama's plan is to destroy the world.


20 October 2008

the political post

I don't write much about politics on my blog. I don't keep my views a secret -- I have my tagline and my "Obama Mama" button (thanks, Jessica!) in plain view on the front page -- but I don't often write about it, in part because most people who read my blog already know or can guess my views, in part because I get really worked up about certain political issues and, for the sake of my mental health, it's best to avoid getting into them too frequently, and in part because I would mostly be preaching to the choir here.

But I can't refrain from doing just one political post this year. There are a lot of things I could complain about, in regards to both presidential candidates, but there is one issue that's been coming up a lot recently, in the debates, in speeches, in election ads, that is driving me crazy: taxes, especially as they relate to economic class.

McCain and Palin have spent a lot of time criticizing Obama's tax plan, arguing (falsely) that it will hurt Joe Sixpack and Joe the Plumber and anyone else named Joe in the middle class. Palin has mocked Biden for saying in his campaign speeches that it is an act of patriotism to pay taxes. McCain has, since the last debate, spent a lot of time deriding Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around." They're hinting that an Obama/Biden administration is the first step on the path that will lead the US to socialism.** Under a McCain/Palin administration, however, good old free-market capitalism will ensure that everyone will make as much money as they possibly can, and hold on to every last cent. No need to share your hard-earned money with any free-loading poor people, or those soulless bloodsuckers in Congress! Sounds nice in theory, doesn't it?

My opinion on taxes is pretty well summed up by former Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." Republicans seem to have forgotten what taxes are actually used for. Presently, I'm not a fan of the large percentage of taxes which are being used to fund an ill-conceived and mismanaged war, but I would happily pay more taxes if it would ensure that every person in America had access to health care, that every child in America had access to a solid, well-funded, free education (including college), that the war would be ended, that more money would be invested in funding alternative energy sources and scientific research, and that failing infrastructure would be improved -- to name just a few.

The problem with arguing that your money should be yours to keep because you've earned it, is that you're ignoring all of the taxpayer-funded factors that contributed to you being able to earn that money. Were you educated in public schools? Do you drive a car that meets safety standards down a paved road equipped with traffic lights? Have you ever taken antibiotics that were tested for safety and approved by a federal agency? Can you call 911 and expect that police, fire, or ambulance will be dispatched to your home or the scene of an accident? Do you have mail delivered to your house and business almost every day of the year, free of charge? Heck, do you eat food or drink clean water?

Without taxes funding all of these aspects so necessary to daily life and to help our society flourish, you might be making more money, but you'd be spending more from your own pocket to make up for the shortfall. It is in the best interest of a society -- it is essential to the growth and prosperity of a society -- to protect public health and safety, to promote law and order, and to educate its citizens. Taxes may fund some things you don't personally approve of, but they fund many more things that we, as a society, require for our continued improvement.

What about Biden's patriotism angle? I guess that depends on your definition of patriotism. Personally, my patriotic relationship to my country resembles my relationship to my children. I love them, I am grateful for the things (both tangible and intangible) that they give me, I am proud of their accomplishments, I am occasionally disappointed in their bad behavior, but ultimately I want to see them succeed, and I will, to the best of my ability, help them achieve success. Part of that necessarily involves spending money to help support them. It is because I love America that I am happy to pay taxes to support all of the things that make this such a nice place to live.

I mentioned economic class above, and here's where that comes in: so far, all I've heard any politician talking about is the middle class. How do we help the middle class keep their homes, how do we help the middle class send their kids to college, how do we help the middle class afford rising gas prices? It seems like such a long time ago that I was a supporter of John Edwards, but before the primaries he was my top choice, in part because he was willing to talk about poverty, and how to help eliminate it. When he dropped out of the race he was congratulated on making poverty a priority for the Democrats, and Clinton and Obama both promised to keep talking about how to reduce poverty. And now... when is the last time you heard any politician mention poverty? The problem with focusing on housing, or college tuition, or gas prices, is that you're ignoring the people who don't even have homes and cars, and whose children will not be going to college no matter how cheap it is.

I wrote above about all of the societal benefits that are funded by taxes. We pay taxes collectively in order that all citizens might share in what these taxes pay for. That some people have managed to enjoy these benefits while building a great deal of wealth is incredibly fortunate. It doesn't happen that way for most people, and not because of laziness or stupidity, but because there is a lot of arbitrary unfairness built into our economic system. Personally I believe that the work I do raising my children to be educated, responsible citizens is, in the long run, a greater benefit to society as a whole than the work that a professional baseball player does. Yet somehow our free market has decided that a man who gets to play games for a living should be compensated more in one year than I will probably make in my entire life. I'm not asking for pity -- certainly I've made a choice here -- but it's a good example of how skewed our values as a society are. I can obviously see that some jobs require more skill, more training, more education, more time, more physical effort than others, and should be compensated accordingly, but in general the disparity in income between social classes is far larger than is reasonable, and I'm all for Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around" and make things a little more equitable.

McCain has also criticized Obama's proposed tax credits for people who don't pay income tax. Something I never hear mentioned in discussion of these tax credits is that these people who are not paying income tax are not paying because they don't even make enough money to live on, let alone be taxed on. Right now, we are one of those families. We pay no income tax because a graduate student's salary is not enough for a family of four to live on. Without tax refunds and credits, we would be bankrupt by now. Maybe this will sound hard to believe, but I actually look forward to being able to pay taxes, because it will mean 1) that we have enough money to live on with some to spare and 2) that we will be able to repay the government for the benefits they've given us over the last few years.

My family is on the threshold of becoming middle class, and if we ever do get up above Obama's proposed $250,000 cut-off (which was not chosen randomly or arbitrarily, but because the people who earn more than that in a year make up the top 5% in the US), I really will be happy to pay taxes to help the 95% of Americans who are not so fortunate. Especially those closest to the bottom. I don't have any complaints about paying taxes. I might disagree on how those taxes should be spent, but if I have some extra money that could be used to teach a child to read, to clean up environmental waste so that people have clean drinking water, to give someone a new kidney, to rebuild a bridge that collapsed, well, why wouldn't I give that money? Why wouldn't anyone want to contribute to making our neighborhoods and cities and states and our country clean and safe and healthy?
** There's a good article in today's New York Times that explains just how hypocritical it is for McCain to accuse Obama of socialism.


17 October 2008

friday photos: long weekend edition

Last weekend my mom came out to visit, and because of the Columbus Day holiday she got to stay for an extra day. With two full days to work with, we managed to have a pretty busy weekend, and lots of fun.

Saturday was supposed to be Pirate Day up at the beach, and it turned out that there was very little pirate activity going on, but it was a beautiful day to be at the lake. On Sunday we went apple picking and stopped for ice cream on the way home because it was so unusually sunny and warm.

Greg and I also celebrated our eighth anniversary over the weekend, going out to a nice dinner and going out on the town with friends, but we didn't manage to take any photos of those events.

Lots and lots of photos under the fold.

Evan wading in frigid water while fat Canadian geese swim by.

Fun to play in the sand any time of year.

Just before he laid down and started sand-swimming.

I haven't looked it up yet, but we think this is a cormorant.

It was a stunningly gorgeous day.

We made a quick stop at the beach's playground.

They actually love playing together. So cute.

James' best pirate face at the wheel of the not-a-pirate-ship we toured.

Evan riding a lion on the beach's historic carousel.

James rode a rabbit on the carousel.

James was a big help picking apples.

"Look, Mom! I made a X with the apples!"

I wish that all weekends could be so fun. Though, I suppose if they were, they wouldn't be quite as special, so maybe it's better this way.


15 October 2008

i was a girl scout, but i wasn't prepared for this.

James came home yesterday waving a flier for Cub Scouts sign-ups. I was really hoping to avoid this scenario altogether, but since this is the second flier we've had sent home, in addition to seeing a sign-up booth at his school's open house a few weeks ago, apparently they've been advertising it so much that it's finally wormed its way into my son's consciousness, and he's decided that he wants to be a Cub Scout.

I'm conflicted. Greg and I are not fans of the larger Boy Scout organization because of their discrimination against gay people and atheists, not to mention the gender exclusivity. Yet the idea of James being able to socialize with other boys while participating in the kinds of outdoorsy, crafty, practical activities that we try to promote for our boys anyway is appealing to me. And it's very appealing to him.

I just spent some time with the Google trying to find alternatives to Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts that are open to anyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else, and such groups do exist (the Spiral Scouts and Campfire USA are two that looked good to me) but unfortunately there don't seem to be any chapters in our area.

So what to do? I guess I've already decided that despite its good qualities, Boy Scouting just doesn't measure up to all of my values. I just wish there were something to offer James in its place. I shouldn't worry, though; Greg was never a Boy Scout and he's the best outdoorsman I know. And he's already well on his way to teaching the boys how to enjoy and appreciate nature and the earth. So James may be disappointed by our refusal of Cub Scouting, but he won't be deprived. And, I suppose, with the additional things he'll learn from us about inclusion and acceptance, he'll be even better off.


10 October 2008

friday photos: fall is pretty edition

We are in the height of autumn here in western New York and the colors couldn't be prettier:

(The faces could be a little nicer, but the leaves are pretty.)

(Ignore the pinkish/purplish clouds please; our old camera is having color issues lately. But the foliage colors are pretty accurate.)

And let's not forget the pretty colors of fall produce, too:

(This is not a great photo, but this is some purple and golden cauliflower I found at the farmer's market, which tastes pretty much exactly like ordinary cauliflower, but is much prettier.)

Can I work the work "pretty" into this post one more time?

The weather forecast for this weekend is beautiful, and my mom will be visiting, so we are going apple picking and hopefully spending a lot of time outdoors enjoying a lovely autumn weekend. Should be pretty nice.


09 October 2008

best ever trip to the doctor's

I had an appointment this afternoon with a new doctor. He is an odd little man, and apparently he's very busy, because he had a brusque, impatient manner.

No chatting, no small talk, he didn't even ask what I was there for, but just launched into an examination. He listened to my heart first.

"Sounds a little crooked," he declared. "You need to eat more food."

"What kind of food?" I asked.

"Umm... like some pretzels or stuff," he said dismissively as he exchanged the stethoscope for another instrument. This one, I'm not sure what it was, he jammed into my ear and exclaimed incredulously, "It's 20,000!"

Then, another instrument, this one with explanation: "Now I'm going to look in your ear with this telephone." A brief glance into my ear through the instrument: "Whoa, it's pretty dark in there."

Next the good doctor asked me to photograph him with each of his instruments individually.

"Are you a real doctor?" I asked suspiciously.

"Mm-hmm," he answered, and that was all I could get out of him after that.

"Alright then," I said, "let me take a photo of your best doctor face."


08 October 2008

scene from the bus stop

Waiting at the bus stop with Neighbor Girl and Neighbor Girl's Dad:

James, to kid across the street: Hey, Captain! Hi, Captain!

Me: James, why do you call that kid Captain?

James: The first time I met him, he just told me his name was Captain.

Neighbor Girl's Dad: And Tennille?

James: I can kneel! [drops to knees on the sidewalk]

Me and NGD: [cannot contain laughter]

It's my least favorite part of day, morning, even when I don't have to drag myself out of bed and down to the bus stop in the chilly autumn air, twenty minutes earlier than the scheduled time due to the unpredictability of the new bus driver. (Of course, it's the days we're out there twenty minutes early, in the rain, when she comes nearly on time, and the days we only make it out ten or fifteen minutes early, we barely catch the bus.)

But early mornings are made infinitely more bearable when you spend the worst part of it with a thirty-year-old guy who cracks pop culture jokes and starts singing "Substitutiary Locomotion" when you mention the kids have just watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Then it's actually a pretty good way to start the day.


06 October 2008

monday photo

There's nothing like blowing bubbles to cure a case of the evil-Mama-is-making-me-wear-a-sweatshirt-outside blues: