Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pay to Stay

Switzerland is paying every citizen a salary of 2500 francs per month regardless of whether they work or not. The reasoning: if people don't have to work so hard to survive, then they will take the time to pursue in the important things in life.  Art, reading, science, blogging, sky's the limit.

Here is my modest proposal.  Do the same thing here.  Not for everyone, but for parents.

My reasoning:   Almost every issue can really be boiled down to an issue of time, that is, there is not enough of it.  Why do we have so little time, well for the most part its because we have to work so much just to meet the bottom line.  Sure some people work because they enjoy their jobs, but I suspect that a lot of people work because they need the money.  Putting aside the cons for now, here is a small list of things I think may be helped by paying parents a salary.

1. Terrible diet. 

Most people eat terribly.  In Michael Pollen's latest book he quotes an analyst in the food industry about the definition of a home cooked meal.  He found that the number of families that actually cooked meals from scratch on a regular basis had become so low that it was statistically irrelevant, so they revised the definition of a home cooked meal to a meal cooked by opening two different packages.  That's right, a home cooked meal is adding a can of tuna fish to the Kraft mac and cheese.

Why are families not cooking as much?  I suspect because they don't have the time, and they don't have the energy.  The work day is getting more and more stressful as employees are asked to do more with less for less pay.  Wages are stagnate and so are getting smaller every year in relation to buying power.  Something has to give, and more and more we are out sourcing our meals.  The further away from the home the food is prepared, the more processed it is.  The more processed food you eat, the less healthy you become. Processed food is also cheaper.  Higher quality food either costs more or takes more time to prepare.  Paying parents would give them some breathing room.  Maybe they could work a little less and find the time to make home cooking a priority again.

2. High Costs of Child Care.

The cost of child care is ridiculous.  For a typical two income household, most of the second income is taken up by child care costs.  Quality care for one child in Denver, where I live, can cost anywhere from $1000 a month to $2500 a month.  Two children, probably double.   If you wanted to instantly boost the economy, give parents enough to cover these costs.  Parents will spend this extra money.  Parents will put some of it into college funds.  Parents will add more to their investment accounts.  Parents will improve their houses.  If I had the extra cash, I would put the kid in daycare for a while and remodel the kitchen.  This is money that would benefit everyone not just parents.

There is a story going around the internet right now about that mom who was arrested for letting her Daughter go to the park while she worked at McDonald's.  If that mom had the extra money to put that girl in daycare, or enroll her in a day camp at the zoo, etc, she wouldn't have had to make the terrible choice between letting her daughter sit all day around a McDonald's or hang out relatively unsupervised at a park. This would be a huge boon for the working poor, especially single parent households.  Even cheap child care is too expensive for someone working for minimum wage.

3. High Unemployment.

If more parents started working part-time, or became stay at home parents, there would be more work for those seeking jobs.  There would be more money in the economy because parents would be spending more, so there would be more work to be done, and therefore more jobs.  Also, maybe the extra cash would allow parents to get more education to help them find more productive jobs.  I've looked into the continuing education around here.  It isn't cheap

4. Poor work/life balance 

Work should be something you love, but for a lot of people its about paying the rent.  Imagine if your mortgage payment wasn't an issue any more.  Would you be willing to take a job that paid less if it let you have more time with your family?  Would you consider working part-time if you could afford to do it?  Extra income for parents could make a decision like this easier.  Parents with more time could volunteer at schools more often.  One of the best indicators of the quality of a school is parental participation.

I'm a stay at home dad and think this is an awesome idea.  Staying at home with the kids is work, hard work, so why not pay people to do it.  Raising the next generation of minds should be important enough to subsidize.

Now I know that there are a lot of reasons why this would never work in the US.  People have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of government hand outs.  People will ask where would we get the money.  If we were serious about helping people we could find the money.  We spend insane amounts of money on failed fighter jets; why can't we pay money to keep families from failing. There is a lot of evidence that giving money directly to the poor does more to lift them and their kids out of poverty than any other type of help.  This idea would do more than that, it could lift America out of mediocrity.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Story of a Nursery

This week I'm in California designing lighting for Side Show at CMTSJ (Children's Muscial Theater, San Jose) the largest children's theater in the country.  So instead of a deep thought, I thought I would brag about the work I did on the nursery before and after Robin was born.  So here is the Story of the Nursery.

Like every project in an old house, I started working on the nursery with an eye solely to rebuilding the old double hung windows.  Robin was due on the 23rd of June, so I set out to start repairing the windows starting in April.  But the weather in Denver was very strange that year and it didn't snowing until late May.  Sometime in later part of May I decided it was now or never.

I wish I had taken photos of the starting place, but I didn't.  The sashes were rotten and the glass was barely hanging on.  The previous owners had filled the resulting gaps with, I kid you not, hot glue.

This is a different window in the house that I've not gotten to yet, but it shows the level of decay.  Imagine about twice that damage and you get a good idea of my starting place.

On day one I took out the sashes for the windows with my Uncle Peter's help and stepped out on to the roof to remove the storm window frame.  Taking the frame off, we encountered two rather large hornet's nests. That immediately terminated the window work for the day.  I sprayed them down with Raid, and waited the 24 hours to scrap them off the house.

One of the sashes after hours of paint removal.

I took the molding off the interior portion of the window and took it to dip and strip.  There were eight layers of paint to remove.

The view of the windows from the exterior.  You can see all the deferred maintenance in the exterior shakes, and also the awesome lavender of the house trim.

I set about scrapping paint, rebuilding, and glazing all the sashes.  I ran new sash cords and generally cleaned up the windows.  Things were progressing pretty well.

Then I decided that I really hated the wall texture, which to my eye looks like someone let a 5 year old finger paint the plaster.  After again consulting with my uncle about the best course of action, I decided I would just try and scrape down the worst bumps and repaint the walls.  

This proved to be a pipe dream.  I started scrapping down the texture and the top most layer of plaster/dry wall compound started coming off the wall in huge sheets.

The issue I soon discovered was that the top most layer of plaster/drywall compound was applied directly over 4 layers of wall paper.  Some of it quite beautiful.

But it meant that I had to peel that layer and all the layers of wall paper off the entirety of the room.  I'm glad I did it because I discovered an entire row of base board molding that had been covered up.  Along two walls someone had run Masonite halfway up the walls before applying a layer of plaster/drywall.

As I stripped off the layers of plaster I discovered that a lot of the underlying plaster was pretty rotten, which meant that large portions of the walls had to be demoed down to the lathe.

I also discovered some pretty impressive structural cracks.

And a old doorway into the room next door.

I took out the plaster I had to remove and set about filling the gaps with drywall.  I didn't have access to any car larger than my Jetta, so I bought a bunch of 2' x '2 pieces of drywall and set about puzzle piecing the walls together.

This last photo was taken on June 2nd.  Remember that date.  I bought some quick set mortar and filled all the large structural cracks.

On June 3rd I started taping the seams and mudding the seams.

I took a shower and was just about to check my email when Alice Louise called me from the hospital.  She's been sent there by her OB after they detected protein in her urine, which could be a sign of preeclampsia. After a couple of hours they sent her home.  Around midnight she poked me in the back and said that we needed to head back to the hospital.  Labor.  The protein from before was her water breaking.  Next thing I knew:

Robin was three weeks early.  One day past when he would be considered preterm.  He was pretty small, but very healthy.

A few weeks passed before I got back to working on the nursery.  My sister and brother-in-law came over to help.  I applied pounds and pounds of drywall compound to the wall and created a sort of old world smooth texture to the walls.  In July my friend Jay flew out and helped me strip the paint off the remaining molding and repaint.

I did my best to reveal the detail in the corner blocks.

We chose a nice baby blue for the walls and a deep blue for the molding.

I didn't touch the closet.

Unfortunately we kinda scorched the carpet while stripping the molding.  Besides all the work on the walls had pretty much rendered the carpet disgusting.  So I decided to remove it.  Alice Louise and I went and picked out some nice bamboo engineered flooring and I set about removing the carpet.  I discovered one layer of carpet, one layer of padding, a layer of linoleum tile, a layer of sub flooring, another later of linoleum tile, more sub floor, and finally the original fir or spruce floor.


After a long day of demo I removed about 1.5 inches of material from the floor.  I then set about installing the hardwood bamboo.

Notice the line of white around the bottom of the molding.  That is how much I lowered the floor.  I still have yet to scrap down the texture on that line and repaint the molding.  I have matching quarter round for the base of the molding, but I've not gotten around to installing it yet.  Now that Robin has moved into the room it has become more challenging to work in room.

One of the best parts of this project was discovering the beauty of the hardware buried under 8 layers of paint.

All is all it was a very satisfying project.  Its mostly complete.  Rock On!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Dog, A Squirrel, and Death

Dark thoughts ahead.  Be warned.  Here's a picture of Maddie with her blood up.

I've been thinking a little about death lately.  Morbid? no, not really.  Just tonguing my own mortality.  A bunch of little things have crept up around me and shifted my thoughts toward that undiscovered county.  On my other blog I illustrated a poem I wrote after a sixteen year old acquaintance was killed in a car accident. Re-exploring that territory reminded me of other kids around my age that didn't make it to college. There were two who accidentally shot themselves in the head (one with a gift they had received as a graduation present at his graduation party.)   A couple were killed doing stupid things in their cars.  One friend fell off a cliff while hiking in Dinosaur National Monument.  We all did really dumb stuff growing up.  Sometimes it's a wonder I'm here.

A teenage boy was killed a couple of days ago in L.A. dancing on his seat on top of a double-decker tour bus.  He didn't see the freeway sign.  That seems like a harsh punishment for cutting a little loose.  He was with a group of students seeing the sites.  The chaperons were downstairs.

Last Thursday Maddie cornered a squirrel in the backyard.  It has chewed its way into the container where I used to keep the bird seed.  Maddie pounced on the bin from the back steps and the squirrel ran.  First into the kitchen where it tried to hide behind the fridge.  Then back out the door and into the flowerbed near the back of the house with Maddie right on its heels.  Maddie caught it and shook it pretty good before I could get there.  I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and she let it go.  The poor thing crawled limply into a corner by the house and panted miserably.  I took my ferocious puppy inside and crated her.  Her blood was up and she really really wanted to get back to that squirrel.  Robin was completely mortified by the whole experience, so it took me a little while to calm him down.  Maddie's hysterical whining and barking didn't help.

I checked on the squirrel a couple of times with the hope that maybe it would recover, but it was not to be. The poor thing stopped breathing and closed its eyes.  When Alice Louise got home, I packed it up and put it in the dumpster.  It was both stressful and sad.

I know it's odd to feel regret over the death of a squirrel.  We have several of the critters living round our house in the trees.  They get into the birdseed and into the walls.  They've trashed the insulation in the shed (why the previous owners put insulation into a shed that is open at the rafters is beyond me).  I guess my regret is really for the way that its life ended.  It didn't end up as coyote chow, or heroically leap in front of a car to save a baby squirrel.  Their was no great meaning in its end, just an angry dog getting in touch with her terrier roots.  But I suppose that's actually the way of the world.  Which is probably where the regret lays down its roots.  The question comes: Will my life and its end have meaning?

My dad died ten years ago this year.  It seems impossible that its been that long.  A lot of things have happened in that time that he didn't get to experience.  We were just entering the point in our lives where our relationship was transitioning from father and son to something more like friendship.  Sadly I'll never get to have my dad as a friend.  I've been lucky in my life to have a number of surrogate dads.  Michael Ramsaur, Ross Williams, Paul Strayer, Jim Severson and my Uncle Peter all contributed greatly to the person I became.  It does take a village.  And Robin will have a similar set of people to call on in my own friends (his Uncles) if I'm equally unlucky.

All of this of course colors my thoughts about my relationship with Robin.  I'm an older dad.  We didn't mean to wait so long to have kids, we just weren't in the right place in our lives yet.  But it means I'll be 55 when Robin graduates from high school.  My dad passed at 58.  I want to see more of his life than my dad saw of mine.  I want to make it to his wedding.  I guess I'll just have to make sure to duck those freeway signs.

Well, maybe that did get a little morose.  I promise to write something cheery next time.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PrePup Agreement - Do Not Sign

Last Friday, while I waited for my sister to show up for breakfast, I read a piece on that kinda got my blood up.  I've linked it here.  If it's TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read: I totally had to look that abbreviation up on the internet) basically a woman who might become a mom wants her husband to sign a prenup style document outlining all of his responsibilities once the baby arrives.  She wants him to sign it so that after the baby comes, she won't hate him for not living up to her expectations.  His response was pretty spot on.  He called it a prepup agreement, giving the idea exactly respects it deserves: none.

The unsaid assumption is that her husband will automatically be a lessor parent.  She bemoans the fact that he is less organized, more spontaneous.  She wants to set all the rules, yet she doesn't want to be the boss. She wants him to automatically know what to do without telling him, yet she wants it to be exactly as she wants it done.  Warning warning, run run away Will Robinson!  Do not sign.

If this is how she wants to approach motherhood, then she will absolutely hate her husband by the end of the first year.  Moms tend to judge their husbands contributions to the workload against their own contribution. Men, no matter how much work they take on, will never ever be able to match this bar.  Firstly, moms , especially in the first year, will automatically do more for their child.  The husband can't breast feed. Secondly, the mom will always over estimate their own contribution.  This is human nature.  It's why everyone in Lake Wobegon is above average.  Even a 50/50 split of labor will not be so in her mind.  I'd imagine that constantly checking the husband's contribution against the document would make her pretty miserable.  Thirdly, moms are competitive.  If she for a second thought that she was doing less for her children than someone else, she would feel terrible and immediately step up her game.  For the husband, this is a lose/lose situation.  Do not sign.

But the biggest thorn in this article for me is the assumption that husbands will be lessor contributors to their children's upbringing and need some sort of  document to help them step up.  She seems stuck in a 1960/70's idea of marriage and child rearing.  Mom will raise the kids and dad will earn the money.  But that is quickly changing.  Almost every couple I know takes on the effort of child rearing with equal intensity. And it's important to remember that dads and moms contribute different things to the cause.  Most of it is intangible.  For this couple I hope that his spontaneity will provide a wonderful model for dealing with the curve balls of life.  Her focus on organization will be a great boon in teaching time management skills.  His rough play will balance out her over-protective tendencies.   I hope they allow this theoretical kid to eat dirt and run around barefoot, but also instill  the value of personal hygiene.

Dads have gotten a bad rap for a while now.  Just take a moment and think back over how dads have been portrayed in TV and movies for the last couple of decades.  Mostly they are idiots, and usually deserve and get little respect.  (Easy A is a great counter-example to this tread where most of the adults are intelligent caring human beings)  It makes for good television.  But that stereotype seeps into the way that wider culture views dads.  The piece plays into that some and it makes me wary.

I've found that since becoming a parent that when I read an opinion piece by someone who is not yet a parent, I tend to write it off.  It's the equivalent for patting a precocious child who just jumped into an adult conversation on the head.  That's cute dear, but the adults are talking.  Before I was a parent, I did my best not to have opinions about parenting for this same reason. (Or at least I didn't voice them)  What did I know?  How could I judge other's parenting skills?  One of the best parts of being a parent is that now the flood gates of judgmental-ism are wide open.  My brother-in-law likes to point at people and shout "I'm judging you!".  It's all in good fun.

The last thing this article forgets is that a baby/toddler/child/teen/etc is a new person.  S/he will have their very own theory of self and will totally shatter the perfect thought-bound system the theoretical child now inhabits. If they do decide to have children, I wish them all the best in the world, because their lives will be enriched.  But no matter what you do, do not sign that piece of paper.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Last Tuesday - Planes, Strays, and Arachnophobia

I have a soft heart when it comes to stray dogs and spiders.  When a spider infiltrates the house I usually try my best to capture it move it outside. I have a lot of respect for spiders.  They do creep me out on a visceral level, like everyone else, but they do us a great service by capturing and eating flies and mosquitoes. So I try to give spiders a run at freedom.  Even in the dead of winter, when moving them outside is probably akin to death sentence in Siberia.  I've found that the best way to capture them is with a short water glass and a cardboard mailer from Pam, the real estate broker who helped us buy our house.  Then its a quick jaunt to the trees near the compost bin.  Flies like the compost bins, go figure.  Spider paradise?

I also try my best to help stray dogs, which brings us to last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday was incredibly hot.  It topped out at about 98 degrees.  We live in a old Victorian with no A/C, so we make do with a couple of portable condensation coolers which allows us to keep at least a couple of rooms of the house cool.  They work well most of the time because Denver is generally pretty dry. One is aimed into Robin's room upstairs, and the other one migrates between the living room and the bedroom.  Okay, that last bit wasn't important to the story, but just know it was hot, and because of the amount of rain we've been getting, too humid for the coolers to really do any good.

My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were flying back from Michigan and due to pick up the dogs around 3:30pm.  Around 11:00am I got a text from my sister that their flight was delayed and that they would probably be getting over here around 4:30.  So I decided that I would make them dinner so that they didn't have to worry finding food after traveling with two year old all day.  Looking through my fridge I had the stuff to make chicken burgers and a pasta salad, but I needed buns and some ketchup.  So when Robin was up from is morning nap, I fed him a snack and scooped him up to head to the store.  This is when the plan got completely derailed.

Just outside was cute little 8 pound stray mutt.  She immediately ran up to me and started jumping up excitedly on my leg.  She had a collar and rabies tags, but no identification tags.  As she ran in happy little circles that sometimes included the street I decided I had to keep the little thing from a horrible accident involving tires.

My first thought was that she had escaped from the dog park just around the corner.  So I grabbed one of Maddie's leashes and with a toddler on one hip walked over to see if anyone was missing a pooch.  There wasn't anybody over there, which made sense since it was noon on one of the hotter days of the summer so far.  So we walked back to the house while I contemplated my next step.

Baby gates are great not just for keeping kiddos contained, but for keeping dogs separated.  The gate between the kitchen and the dining room was especially helpful because Maddie hated this adorable little dog right from the start.  "Don't you dare usurp my lap space or my food" she's bellow.  How could anybody hate this little girl:

But Maddie sure did.  They other two dogs followed her lead somewhat.  And everyone sure wanted into the kitchen to see the new pup.

I ended up putting Maddie in the crate in the bedroom to calm her down, because she wanted to eat the little girl.  She keep charging the gate and barking, which started everyone else barking.  The usually tolerant Robin was kinda scared by the whole thing and got pretty upset.

After getting all the animals separated I called denver 311.  After a wait of around 5 minutes, I spoke with a dispatcher who took the little girl's tag numbers and told me that they'd get back to me with the owners info shortly.

I posted a picture of the pup on the neighborhood facebook page and waited.  Robin and the little pooch got on quite nicely.

I then got a text that Paige's flight had to make an medical emergency landing in Chicago and would be at our house even later.

I was drenched in sweat from wrangling four dogs and a kiddo who was rapidly approaching nap number two, so I did what anyone would do in my situation and went into the kitchen to bake buns for dinner.  Robin settled into his second nap and we waited.  and waited. and waited.  After about 2 hours I called 311 back to make sure they had the correct contact info for me.  (they did).

I continued to wait.  I prepped the chicken burgers and then set about reading.

Around 5pm I decided to call 311 back and ask them to send an officer over to pick up the little pooch.  I didn't really see a workable way to keep the little girl around over night.  I guess escalating the request to a pick up got attention, because I got a call from animal control within about 5 minutes of getting off the phone with 311 with the owner's phone number.  A couple of calls and texts later, the little girl's (Grizz) owner showed up and took her home.  Hooray.

When my sister's plane landed I got another text.  Something had bitten Jack's face in Michigan and now he had swollen up like Quasimodo.

Some benedryl and a couple of chicken burgers later, everyone was happy, if exhausted.  All in all it was a good day.  But darn was it hot.

The next day around 3:30pm the animal shelter called me with Grizz's tag info.  I guess better late than never.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Last Saturday

Last Saturday:

It is a fine tradition (Do it once and it's novel.  Do it twice and it's tradition.) to take pictures of the boys and photoshop them doing extraordinary things.  Nobody falls for it, but its fun.  Plus I get to practice my photoshopping skills.

Robin Chin - up:

 Jack's one-handed pull-up.

Clearly I've improved in my skill level since I doctored the photo of Jack.  If you look closely you can see the pixels, and my sister's shadow and shoe.  I also did a terrible job on his shirt.  Hopper is also missing an ear.

The shot of Robin was easier because I had a cleaner background image.  Plus I've learned a few tricks about manipulating masks that made it easier.  The biggest challenge was adding a shirt to him to cover up Alice Louise's hands.  It doesn't look too bad, but you can still see the pixels.  

Jack Goes Camping:

Most of the time the ideas to shop things come from my Brother-in-Law.  Usually its to punk his mom who worries about Jack in the wilderness.  If you're wondering there was a huge fight but Jack emerged king of the jungle deep woods.

Why do I bring these photos up?  No real reason except that maybe these photos represent our hopes and fears for our kids.  It might be a leap, but perhaps we want our one year old to be able to do a chin up on their own to prove to the world how special we already know them to be.  Actually, the photos are just for fun.  Everyone knows a 13 month old can't do a chin-up. 

But it brings up another more serious point which is that these kids are going to be more photographed than we every were.  Sure our parents took photos of us, usually on special occasions.  Casual photography used to be a lot more difficult.  You had to actually put film into the camera, and them you were limited to 24 - 36 pictures on the roll.  Then you had to get the film out without accidentally exposing it.  Then it was off to the developers, where you had to hope you didn't mess anything up.  It was a lot of little inconveniences that added up to less documentation of our youths.  But these kids will have a pretty clear record.  That's pretty exciting.

But it also means that mistakes made could hang around a lot longer.  Photos are no longer just a print on a piece of photo paper, but are now easy to distribute digitally to the whole world with the click a button.  And once released it's almost impossible to completely delete its presence.  This is something I worry about.  As our parents grew up in a world without computers, we grew up in a world without social media.  So we don't have experience to fall back on to inform our decision.

I was bullied a lot in Middle School and some High School.  But the bullying ended at the school door, and so was a school only problem.  I grew a thicker skin eventually, probably because I had that breathing room to mentally refute the mean things said to me at school.  I'm pretty sure that if I met those folks now, they would be nice and considerate adults.  Middle school kids are just mean.  But in this generation bullying can follow you everywhere, spreading online.  And kids these days are nothing but online.  

And so I wonder how to deal with it.  I'm sure I'll be the parent I need to be when the time comes.

Well, I wandered pretty far afield from the start of this post.  But it's another post in the month of July.  Two posts makes it a tradition.  Maybe I'll even try for three.

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