Monthly Archives: October 2009

Birthday Lists

My six-year-old has been planning his birthday party feverishly for some time now. 
This morning he very carefully made up a guest list–it has four people on it–three cousins and a two-year-old we used to watch pretty much 18 hours a day until he moved over to the rainy side of the mountains. He  even oriented all the letters the right way except for the Z's. I didn't have the heart to point that one out; there were three of them.
He knows–and has documented–what he wants for breakfast, lunch, after school snack and dinner; what kind of cake, movie and presents. 
Now I just have to keep track of the lists for the next 161 days or so.

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The Invisible Cabinet

In the (approximately) twenty-four hours since I removed the cabinet from this room, I have had the following conversation with no less than eighteen different children:
"Wow. It looks clean in here."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. . . . [clearly puzzled] it almost looks like something is missing. . ."
"Like maybe something from right there?"
"Ummmmm. No….. Yeah. Maybe?"
"There's something missing," I assure them.
They look very confused for a moment. They stare at the empty place on the floor. Finally they ask, "What's missing?"
"The cupboard."
"What cupboard?"
"The white cupboard that used to be right there."
"Where?"
One ten year old kid remembered that there used to be something there he jumped off of. My fifteen-year-old daughter didn't even figure it out until she'd eaten two meals in here, sitting right next to where it used to be. "I just thought you mopped, or something." Ye-ah–because when I mop it's the equivalent of removing four hundred pounds of unwanted material from the floor! The thing was solid wood, eight feet long by four feet tall and almost three feet deep! When I told my two teenaged boys (joking! I was joking!) who helped me move it that I'd changed my mind and wanted to put it back, I think they actually wanted to hurt me; they didn't think I was funny. 
It was a big, heavy cabinet. But apparently it wasn't very memorable, was it?

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Decisions, Decisions

We have a piece of furniture in our house and every child who has ever visited, within minutes of crossing our threshold has found their way to this cupboard and discovered that if you nudge the door just so, not only will it bang shut with a lovely echo, but it will promptly pop ajar, ready for another go. 
Every kid figures this out. If they can walk, crawl or roll, they will make their way over to the door and begin banging it. They will bang it with their feet while they read, with their backs while they play legos, with their hands while they stare into space–just so long as the reassuring bang, bang, bang never is silenced.
"Stop banging the door" falls onto deaf ears, of course, so we thought we'd thwart them with some of those little rubber stick-on door cushioners. They either fell off or were removed. We bought white felt ones that came with an adhesive strong enough you could lift a mini-van with it and put them on in the dead of night–stealth like. They matched the paint exactly; I couldn't even see them. 
The toddlers picked every pad off, the first day. Bang! Bang! Bang!

Wood screws? 

They don't actually use the cupboard for anything else, honestly. Okay, they climb it and jump from the top; they hide behind the doors when their parents come to pick them up;  the babies like to empty the toys from the bottom drawer and sit in it; it's an indoor jungle gym. It's a ridiculously large Lego box. 
Someone just dumped 16oz of dry roasted peanuts on my feet. Well. It was knocked out of her hand by the two who are playing "tunnel tag" between my feet.  Did I mention that I don't buy peanuts? This same child brought a 16oz jar of peanut butter complete with dinner fork with her for breakfast last week. Yum.
Moral dilemma: the choking prone children are asleep and I just finished mopping an hour ago. Do I a) pick up one million peanuts by hand and replace them in the jar (grrrr!) b) sweep up the peanuts and throw them away (wasteful) c)make the children pick up the peanuts (hahahahaha–yeah right)  d) let the fowl of the floor eat as many peanuts as they please and skip snacktime d) made a paste from the peanuts and glue the cupboard door closed. 
Bang! Bang! Bang!

The broom wins–as any good housewife knows: if in doubt throw it out, right? Hmmmm. I wonder if the cupboard will fit in the trash . . . I bet the door would.

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Create

Those of you who blog on Vox. That little "Create" button at the top of your screen there? I love that. It doesn't say, "Post" or "New Document" or anything else so dull. 

Create.
Gets you to thinking–this idea of creating, doesn't it? I am one of those people who go through rather pronounced emotional cycles. I feel things intensely; most days I wake up intensely happy, sad, or angry just as a result of what I dreamed. 
Anyway, I have realized that I am most genuinely happy when I have created something–a blog post that made you laugh or cry or question; a lesson that held seventeen teenaged girls in rapt attention; a quilt; or just order where before there was chaos. 
Anyway, ran across this little sound blip from a larger (and excellent) address about the creative aspect of our natures which was given at a Women's Conference one year ago. When I first listened to this talk, it electrified me, and every time I read it, I again feel truth resonate in my soul. A very short clip that someone has set to music and images:


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Wiggle Room

Todd D. Christofferson spoke yesterday about internal versus external behavioral control. If you have ever had to discipline children of any age, it gets you to thinking. I'm transcribing from my own imperfect notes, but he said something like this:

"The societies in which many of us live have, for more than a generation taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as value judgments. As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. 

"One columnist observed that  'Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become.' 

One of the major causes of the current economic recession was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct–particularly in the US housing and financial markets. More and stronger regulation may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the end it is only an internal, moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay."

[ From a quick google search, I think this columnist he refers to is Walter Williams].
Anyone who has ever tried to teach children recognizes the truth in this; you can come up with one thousand different rules that any child can weasel his way around, but there isn't much wiggle room in concepts like "Be kind" or "Be honest". And where else do we start except for in our own homes and the immediate realm of our own influence?

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DIY Funeral

Okay, here's the deal:
In Washington State, you have to come up with a serious bundle of cash for the priviledge of dying. Or for the privilege of surviving someone else's death rather, if you don't want to store the body in your freezer–which, in Maryland, is actually legal. 
I did that research I promised–had some pleasant conversations with several cemetery owners and various government officials–and the facts are thus: here in Washington you must notify the coroner of a death and get a death certificate. At that point you can either call a funeral home or you can contact the county health district for a permit to transport a dead body. (Traffic tickets can get astronomical if you're pulled over with a corpse in the backseat.) 
If the funeral home will be in charge of the body, obviously they take it, embalm, wash, dress, paint, etc, and the entire process is taken care of for a possibly very grief-stricken family. This will cost the family anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000
The body then must be buried in a licensed cemetery. Plots around here cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on where you buy it. The open/close fee–for whoever digs the grave and afterwards buries the coffin–ranges from $750 to $1200.  With the exception of two new "green" cemeteries in Washington state, all licensed cemeteries here require, at the least, a polymer or cement liner which costs anywhere from $800 to $1,200. 
Are you adding this up? Carry on–there will be an endowment fee added to the cost of the plot to ensure its upkeep and this fee is based on a nebulous percentage nobody was eager to discuss clearly. But at the very least, the total for plot, liner, and the cost of opening and closing the grave will set you back a minimum of $3000. What's that you say? If you add up all the above minimums the total is closer to $2500? Ah, but that's the trick. One cemetery might only charge $750 for a liner, but they'll charge $250 more to open the grave or to maintain the plot. 
The barebones minimum, economy burial, including funeral home care but before the cost of a casket or marker, was $5982. The most basic headstone available–a flat, 32"x20" piece of granite–and yes, it must be granite–will cost you $1140 for the stone itself, plus $385 minimum to set it, and a $92.25 fee for maintenance. So your total now is closer to $7,600 before the cost of the casket which can cost anywhere from $1000 to $15,000.
So we're looking at close to ten grand even with an economy package. I asked the lady out at the Moses Lake Cemetery if that figure is accurate, and she agreed–according to her, statistics show that dying is number three on the list of biggest expenditures in your lifetime–right behind your house and your car. 
Being the cheapskate that I am, I'm thinking, where can I cut costs? How much room is there for DIY skills when it comes to disposing of a corpse? They won't let me use my own property (unless I battle the zoning commission to declare said property a cemetery proper, form a corporation, deposit $25,000 in an endowment fund, etc, etc.) so that's out. I'm looking at three grand for just the plot, the liner and the digging, since they won't let me do that, either.
I looked at two green cemeteries in Washington that don't require coffin or liner but the plots there are $3000. Three thousand seems to be the agreed upon minimum for a bit of dirt to decompose in. I asked the cemetery people if more than one family member died at once–say, in a car wreck–if we could bury them all in the same bit of dirt.  Maybe a mother and a baby in the same coffin, said one. Absolutely not, said the others. 

Since I don't really see the difference between decomposing in one or a thousand years, I can skip the embalming and for a small daily fee just rent space in the mortuary's refrigerated section until the funeral. If the family does the transport, that'll save three grand. I probably won't look like a picture perfect mannequin but if you really want one last look at me, get out the photo album and peruse the images of me there, when I was, you know–breathing.

You could save on a casket, since those aren't required, but unless the family wants to sling the corpse over a collective shoulder, as it were and do the old heave-ho into the pit, you'll need something to carry the body and it must have folding handles, according to cemetery personnel. They can, if you really, really, really don't want a casket, provide a cremation tray, which will run you three to four hundred dollars.
But that's as DIY as it gets–the stone, the plot, the liner, those are all non-negotiable. Someone has to pay. Washington State discontinued indigent burial assistance almost twenty years ago (as have most states), so I asked the powers that be what happens when a family is too poor or if there is no family and the funeral directors confidently informed me that usually they charge whatever the insurance will pay. But what if there is no insurance? I asked. The answer? Someone in the family or close to it can generally be found to cough up $1000 for the cost of cremation.  Still not chump change, to be sure, but significantly cheaper.
Even at that price, when I start counting the cost, really, of not just one death, but of all the living-now-but-eventually-dead people I know, I'm thinking we should get together and buy a piece of land out in the country somewhere, come up with twenty-five or thirty grand or whatever it's going to take to turn it into a cemetery, and start our own. People could dig their own graves and they could bury their entire family in the same hole if they wished. In bedsheets even. And who needs landscape maintenance? We can plant a tree on each grave and let the wildflowers take over. When I asked one local cemetery owner if she would ever consider developing a part of her 85 acres into a "green" section like this, she was aghast. "Maybe one day," she said, "But it would cost a lot of money–from an ecological standpoint I see how it's a laudable thing to do, but a people think that a "green" burial like you are describing will save them money but in reality, it will cost significantly more than a standard burial. People don't understand that."
For the love of a five dollar Wal-mart garden spade and some tunneling worms, WHY?

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