Monday, August 29, 2011


Today is the first day of a new school year for my boys. It is a monumental first day of school for one of them. Today is the first day of middle school for Leonardo. I guess that makes it a monumental day for hubby and me too. He is a middle schooler now. We are the parents of a middle schooler now. These are the years that many parents approach with dread.

There may be lots to dread about the middle school years: the anxieties of the developing social pressures, the exposure to more mature things than either the child or the parent is ready for, the body changes, the attitudes, the awkwardness, and on and on. These are the things that make parents cringe. The kids probably don't like these things much either, although I don't think the kids are putting such labels on their angst. A mumbled, "I dunno," is about all most can muster if asked what's up.

But I am choosing today to not focus on the middle school ick that is potentially about to invade our house. I am remembering an anxious little boy starting kindergarten...

...and I recognize the same trace of nervousness in his eyes six years later.

I also remember another little boy who started kindergarten only a few years ago with enough pure excitement to carry him and his big brother through a first day of school...

Three years later, he is a bit more poised and doesn't wear his excitment quite so boldly. But it is still there.

I remember a mom who cried after dropping these boys off each first day of school for many years. Thankfully, no pictures of her in those moments exist. Oddly, there were no tears shed this morning by anyone, but not for lack of emotion or from happiness about a quiet house today. My eyes remained dry from a peacefulness I have in knowing my two young sons' abilities to meet challenges and changes with grace.

We're all growing up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sticks and Stones and Speeding Tickets

My little town has an answer we have been looking for to solve our nation's budget crisis. They have the answer but they are not sharing it. They aren't even hinting at the fact that what they have could be a viable solution to the projected 2012 Federal budget deficit of $1.1 trillion. I am not a student of politics or an economist so forgive any mistakes in these areas. But I think I figured it out and am happy to share my thoughts.

Our little town has installed speed trap cameras in various points across the land. They gave local drivers fair warning that these cameras would be installed, so I guess trap is a strong word. I take that word back. Anyway, the camera will snap a picture of your vehicle's tail end if you pass by its lens traveling faster than the posted speed limit. Citations are then issued to drivers going at least 12 mph over the posted limit. Each citation costs the driver $40. The city retains $31.25 while the remaining $8.75 goes to the outfit who operates the cameras under contract for the city.

The projected annual revenue is $450,000. The city is well on the way to meeting its projection as evidenced by the fact that in the first four weeks of camera operations the city netted $216,000 in ticket revenue. A great start, wouldn't you say? They do estimate that the revenue stream will slow down over time just like the cars as drivers change their driving behaviors. I got all this information from this little article.

My household has contributed to the city speeding revenue. We arrived home from an extended vacation to find three citations in our mailbox. That's $120 out of our family budget. There are two drivers in our household. I won't say who got the tickets, but let's just say I didn't get all three of them. I just got most of them. And unfortunately, we suspect there may be more citations for us in transit since two of the cameras are conveniently placed on two of the major roads exiting our neighborhood.

Just as an aside, so you don't think my husband and I to be unusual in our driving habits. I know specifically four other households in my small circle of friends who also have received mulitple citiations. And there are probably others of my friends who have received citations that I don't know about. So we are normal.

Speeding is not a good thing but most of us do it from time to time. These speed cameras have had their intended impact on us at least. We are trying to drive slower...especially on the segments of roads where the cameras reside. I am even using cruise control on these in-town roads to maintain proper speed . I had never set my cruise control as low as 25mph until recently. And I am also traveling these camera-equipped roads less if I can avoid them. So the intended outcome of changing drivers' behaviors has worked, at least in my case.

So what does all this have to do with the finanical pickle that our country keeps finding itself in? The nation could do the same thing that my town has done and in a relatively short period of time reduce the budget gap. Of course, we already have speed limits on our roads but this new national program would be an additional plan and the resulting funds would go directly to our national coffers. The numbers are too interesting to ignore.

Let's assume President Obama started a similar speed citation system nationwide. Assume a similar 4-week period, use our local revenue facts above, extrapolate them to national levels and assume that each U.S. household receives two citations, the national figures look something like this:

Number of U.S. households - 112,611,029
Number of citations per household - 2
Net $ revenue per citation - $31.25
Net Total Citation Revenue in 4 weeks- $7,038,189,312

Annualized that is over $91 billion. At that annual rate, our $1.1 trillion deficit could be recouped over about 12 years. That's a similar time frame to what has been tossed around in Congress for certain deficit reductions. We'd also have to assume also that in those intervening 12 years our government would be operating at a zero budget deficit. Ahem.

I know I am simplying things quite a bit here. I haven't considered things like changes in driving habits and their impact on revenue streams. I haven't considered the need to relocate cameras on occasion to capitalize on the element of surprise. These numbers are getting really large and I am certainly out of my league in even discussing these matters. But couldn't we use a little simplification in solving these problems instead of complicating an already very complicated matter with more complications? (Which, now that I type that sentence, reads like a nice definition of what our government tends to do with most everything it touches.)

I would be happy to pay my share of a national speeding citation program if I knew it would contribute to solving our country's financial woes. I've already exhibited my exuberance for our local level plan by writing three $40 checks recently.

A national plan like this would have its drawbacks. Some would not like this idea of a national speeding citation program, finding it in violation of the basic human need for speed or some other such human right. And most of this dissension would fall squarely on the President's shoulders. As the police officer administering our local program stated he is "the most hated man" in our area, likely the President would feel a similar negative response if he implemented a national program. But with his recent approval ratings, I would think now would be the perfect time to set up such a program.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Flashback - Don't Let This Summer End

Today is the first day of the last weekend before the last weekend before school starts. So I'm feeling a little bit blue. You probably think that I am jumping the gun a bit on my melancholy given that we have more than a week of summer before the school doors swing wide. But I'm not. This is that day that everyone should lament. This is the last real Friday when we have an expanse of free time ahead of us, even if it is only ten days. No worries about going to bed early this Sunday night. No planning for that early alarm on this Monday morning. Today still feels like a summer day when you can forget what day it actually is and you can fool yourself into thinking that summer can actually last forever.

We should lament this day because it is the beginning of the end. Summer can't last forever and sadly this summer ends this weekend. This weekend, we'll play like we have all summer. This weekend, we'll stay up late and sleep past eight. But when the end of this weekend arrives, all things will change. We won't be able to ignore what will then be only a week away.

In that week, while I'll be focused on dialing sleep schedules earlier on the clock, purchasing last minute school supplies, and figuring out what size jeans we all need this year, it won't be the end of summer that will be the cause of my melancholy. I can blame it on the end of summer, but that's just a piece of it. The truth is that I'll be sad because it's the end of this summer. The summer before my oldest goes to middle school. The summer when my youngest lost most of his true little boy traits. The summer when the boys' growing independence slapped me in the face. The summer my boys had to face some really hard life experiences for the first time and handled them with amazing grace. The summer that college and everything after seemed to loom too closely in the not so distant future. The summer that was a blur.

So to ease my pain, I am looking back today. Flashing back to July 2010 and my thoughts on the end of summers. I give you again, "Summer Just Isn't Long Enough":

Life is interfering with my blogging. I've been so busy lately that I haven't been able to blog often enough for my taste. It's the summer schedule that's keeping me from it. I know once school starts back, I'll have more than enough time to blog. Only problem is that then I likely won't have as much interesting blog fodder with which to work. The boys provide me with much of my material. And my fun.

Like for instance, who's going to do "The Little People" for me come September?

I suspect none of my friends will be up for that.

And I don't know who will make Produce People for me in the fall.

I guess I could make them by myself. That will be fun...maybe.

But on the bright side I'm sure by the time school rolls around, I'll be really sick of watermelon.

But I doubt I'll be sick of this face.

Or this one.

By September, I won't miss slathering on the sunscreen everyday.

But I'll really miss this.

I think the boys are preparing me for my alone time this fall.

I keep seeing more of their backs.

And the distances they keep are getting farther.

At least for one of them, anyway.

I wish there was a Groundhog's Day in late August. Could we please have six more weeks of summer? That sounds much better than that rigged deal they try to sneak by us in February. I think I'll get to work lobbying for that holiday right away. Anyone with me?

I've got the poster boys ready.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fun With Numbers

I am not a numbers person. That might surprise you if you know that in another life I may have majored in accounting and spent over ten years working in the field of taxation. That life seems so long ago; I am starting to doubt it actually happened. If I did do all that, I must have faked my way through the numbers aspect of it all and skated by on my good looks and smashing personality.

Looks and personality aside, I am not a numbers person in the sense of being good at or enjoying math or its relatives. But I do like coincidences and puzzles and interesting situations that arise involving numbers. I am not sure where I am going with this. And at the end you may likely agree that I am not a numbers person and that I should never have done this in the first place. But let's just see if I can explain what I am talking about.

This year is 2011.
This year I am 44 years old.
I have a son who is 11.
My father is 77 years old.
The difference in my age and my dad's is 33.
The difference in my dad's age and my son's is 66.
This occurrence of repeated double digits intrigues me.

There is more.

This year, I am exactly 4 times older than my 11 year old.
Based on my new found knowledge of algebra (thank you 11 year old son), I can say that ratio will never happen again with regard to our ages.

And there is still more.
My sons are 3 years apart in age.
(That may be like one of those unrelated facts included in word problems merely to confuse you; I'm really not sure.)
In 4 years, I will be exactly 4 times older than my now 8 year old son.
That ratio will never happen again with regard to our ages.

So, what does all this mean and does anybody really care? First of all, I have no idea what it means but I suspect it means nothing. These are just the trivial thoughts that came to mind as we made the 9-hour trip back from Tennessee a few weeks ago. I was contemplating who and where I was in the grand scheme of life and this is what I came up with. Math tricks. Uugh.

Second of all, I don't know if anyone really cares. But I do know at least 2 math majors who read my blog and they might actually think this all a little bit interesting. They might even leave some sensible answers in my comments (if they can stop laughing at me long enough to type).

As for the rest of you, I suspect you either:

a) are trying this with your own age,
b) stopped reading a few paragraphs ago and have already swallowed two Advil caplets, or
c) are sure now that the stress has become too much for me and are wondering if it is too late to call and check on me.

If you chose c), I am fine. Really.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Our Beautiful Girl

I have been at a loss for words this week. Someone I dearly love has been set on a new, life-challenging path. My sixteen year old niece, Anna, was diagnosed this week with AML Leukemia. There are no words to describe what she, her parents and the rest of our family has been through this week. There are no words to adequately prepare Anna or the rest of us for what lies ahead.

When I have no words, I turn to my photos and let them do the talking for me. Usually the images start a conversation and then I can join. The conversation today is about a girl. She's not just any girl. She is our special girl.

She is a girl of profound thought and great strength.

She is a girl of deep Faith and her Light shines.

She is a darling daughter, the one a mom with only sons would hand pick as her own if she could.

She is a girl who values family.

She has been a great cousin to my boys from the start.

She loves all her cousins.

On both sides of her family.

She cares deeply for others and brings Love to every situation.

She is a fun girl.

She is a fantastic golfer, on the links...

...and the mini variety.

She is worldly and smart.

She has maturity beyond her years. We forget that she is only sixteen.

She is a typical teenager...

...with a pleasantly atypical teenaged personality.

Anna has determination, strength, passion, focus, belief, humor, all of which will carry her through this. All of which will set the example for our family to follow.

If you pray, however you pray, please add Anna, her parents, her family, her friends, her doctors and her nurses to your list.

We love you, Beautiful Girl!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Schooled - Framing Your Organizational Beast

What do you get when you have two boys who are/were both Cub Scouts, who both either have made or will make a Pinewood Derby car for every year of the five years in a Cub Scout career? The answer: no good way to store and display ten Pinewood Derby cars.

If you search, online or hoofing it around town, you won't find a way to store and display all five Derby cars for a Scout. You can find individual display boxes for a single car, but they are plastic and bulky and who really wants five, bulky plastic display cases? You have to have a fairly large shelf area for all those and that then creates another storage and display nightmare.

So what's a Cub Scout parent with a slightly compulsive organizational bent to do? Make your own custom shadow box.

That's what we did this weekend. It was fairly easy and I'll show you how we did it. I didn't take pictures from start to finish. I remembered after about three steps in to take pictures but you haven't missed much. We (Hubby and I) started with two purchased 12"x12" shadow box from Jo-ann, Etc., 3 feet of shoe molding from Home Depot, a few wooden cubes, wood glue, and black spray paint.

Each 12"x12" box needed to be configured to display five cars which each measures 7 inches in length and 2-1/2 inches in width. I won't force you to do the math because we've already done it. You'll see how that configuration works out but you'll have to wait until later. After we measured, cut and painted, this is what the project looked like.

We cut the shoe molding into sixteen 1-1/2 inch segments. The long flat pieces came with the purchased shadow box frames as spacers. We cut those into six 8 inch segments and left two uncut at 12 inches. Next we started gluing the pieces together to form our custom shadow box shelves.

You probably haven't been able to fully concentrate on the previous steps due to that math problem swirling around in your head. So I'll end your distraction by showing you the configuration.

Each horizontal shelf is eight inches long and they are spaced vertically, three inches apart. The single vertical segment is four inches wide. The shoe molding segments serve as shelf brackets and a lone wooden cube makes a pedestal for a single car.

And here are the finished products.

I bet I could sell these.

Or at least the idea.

I know the Cub Scout parental market in a small niche, but how much do you think they'd be willing to pay for a custom shadow box to display their child's handiwork?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thaar's a Baar Over Thaar!

No trip to The Peaceful Side of the Smokies would be complete without a drive through Cades Cove. And no drive through Cades Cove would be complete without some wildlife sightings. The Cove is full of deer, wild turkey and sometimes black bears. In the almost forty years that my family has been visiting the Cove, we've seen countless deer and turkey. As for the bears we have seen in those forty years, we can probably count all of them on a few hands. We can definitely recount the stories surrounding those bear sightings.

Like the time we were driving through at dusk, late dusk and were almost at the end of the loop. We were just about to write off that trip through the Cove as a disappointment (read no bears) when we looked up in the trees overhanging the road to spy a few bear cubs clinging in the branches. They were likely waiting on Mama Bear to return. We were happy not to see her and more than thrilled to see the cubs high above us in the branches.

And then there was the time in the Cades Cove picnic area when a big black bear decided that our lunch smelled good enough to investigate. So she ambled over to our table as we quickly jumped in the car. We watched from the safety of our car as she sliced open a box of Teddy Grahams (honey flavored I think) with her foreclaw and munched away. A bit ironic, don't you think?

And we can't forget the black bear who walked right up on the cabin porch and interrupted my brother and sister-in-law enjoying their morning coffee. They were between the bear and what at one time had been the location of his favorite breakfast trash can. The bear waited patiently while my brother and SIL arose from their rockers in a nonthreathening manner and slipped inside the cabin. We all watched from the windows as the bear surveyed the porch, found no breakfast and made his way to the cabin next door. That was a close one.

Another equally terrifying bear sighting for us was one last summer. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the Cove road is open for bikers and pedestrians only. Hubby and I had taken the boys and all of our bikes for a ride around the loop. Hubby and Leonardo had ridden ahead while Helios and I rode behind at a slower pace. As Helios and I rounded a curve, we saw Hubby and Leonardo pointing to the right into the woods and making excited, insistent, slightly panicky faces. They were making no noise but motioned to us to hurry. And then they quickly turned and rode away from us. As we approached the spot where they had been pointing, we saw a Mama Bear and three cubs sitting just a few feet off the road and literally ten feet away from us. Oh my goodness! I said in the harshest whisper I could muster, "PEDAL!" I never want to be that close to a bear and her babies ever again. Nor do I want a bear that close to my babies again.

That same week the Hubby had ridden through the Cove alone and passed a black bear sitting just off the roadway. He said the bear was close enough to have knocked him off his bike. Do you think the bears are sitting by the road watching for someone stupid enough to stop? I am sure there are more than a few someones passing through that would stop.

Our family has a healthy respect for the black bears and will keep our distance from them. Sadly, many visitors to The Smokies are not so respectful (read are a bit dense) of the bears' home and will attempt to get within swiping distance of a bear. These folks even bring their little toddlers (read morsels) up close and personal to these bears. We have witnessed many bear sightings when the tourists get very excited, forgetting that these are wild animals and approach droves. We usually just drive on by shaking our heads and hoping not to read about any of the tourists in the paper the next day. One such occasion was too much for our own Mama Bear to handle. She couldn't just drive on by without letting the throngs of bear paparazzi know what she thought of their actions. As we drove by, my mom screamed from the car window, "Leave the bears alone! Leave the bears alone! Leave the bears alone!" I don't have enough room in this blog post to list the number of times she chanted that phrase but just know that phrase was ringing in many ears that night, both human and bear alike. I suspect there are families all over the nation that retell their own version of this story about the crazy, screaming bear lady hanging out of the back of the station wagon.

And now we have another bear story to add to our repertoire. This one is safe and not too exciting. But it still goes into the Bear Count. Yesterday we took another spin through the Cove and spotted four bears. First, we saw this guy ambling through the pasture.

Yes, that is a bear. He was about 50 yards away from us and our large vehicle. Just the way I like my bears.

He looks cute from this distance.

Then we went around the loop and saw these bears.

Believe me, there is a Mama Bear and her two cubs back there. They were about 100 yards away from us. Just the way I like them, even better. Let me zoom in for you.

I promise you, they are there. They're black, you know, so they blend in with the shadows. And wouldn't you know, there was a crowd gathering just loping distance away from Mama and her babies. They were armed with cameras and little children. Luckily, there were several rangers providing crowd control. After I snapped these fantastic shots from the truck window, we drove on by as we always do. You won't be reading about us in the paper.