Friday, August 24, 2012

I'd Like To Buy A Vowel

A set of rings, spotted on Amazon by an alert friend who posted the link on Facebook.

Eeva' jewelry

Stainless Steel Cz Gem "You're My Love" Engraved Couple Rings Set for Engagement, Promise, Eternity R001 (His Size 7,8,9,10; Her Size 5,6,7,8). Please Email Sizes

 Price: $13.99

The rings are cheap.  Proper grammar, however, will cost you.  I'm guessing the "e" and the apostrophe are an additional $500.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This Is What We're Going Back To

It is May.  The Supreme Court will be ruling on Healthcare Reform in June.  I find myself pacing again, the way I did before Obamacare finally passed in 2010.  This is real, and this matters, and this will affect millions of lives.  If the questions the Supremes asked are taken to their logical conclusion,  the Affordable Care Act is doomed.

The funny thing is, chances are that this will no longer affect me personally.  My son, my cancer survivor kid, has managed to become one of the lucky ones, joining the ranks of College Grads With Good Jobs and Benefits.  He has health insurance. HE HAS HEALTH INSURANCE!!!! Assuming he keeps his job, (say a prayer, cross fingers, knock wood,) he will not be facing a life where he cannot get healthcare due to his lifelong pre-existing condition.  At least not yet. 

But here's the thing:  Millions of others will.  


So it seems like a good time to take look back at the world we will be returning to.    


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our Healthcare System, OR: Crying and Throwing Up. And I'm Just the Mom

It was last Monday, maybe halfway through our first appointment with the chemo doctor, and she was explaining to my son and me all of the potential side effects of his going through chemo this summer.

Higher chance of leukemia, for one thing. Oh, and vascular (circulation) effects. As in, for the rest of his life, my son's heart and lungs will be similar to those of somebody who smokes. Several times higher risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, strokes...

And that's when the tears started pressing against my eyelids, and the coffee started boiling in my stomach, and I wanted nothing more than to flee the consultation room run to the bathroom so I could throw up and cry.

I didn't, of course. This was a meeting of grownups, and we were here to figure out the best option, which right now appears to be chemo. So I swallowed both the tears and the bile and pretended this was what was right. And it probably is.

Understand, though, (and I'm speaking here especially to our politicians, particularly to the Republicans and blue-dog Democrats who think our healthcare system is just fine, thankyouverymuch) that this is not the best medical option.

My son's AFP numbers have dropped from 2200 back into the normal level of less than 8. There is less than a 20% chance that the cancer will return. Given the risks of chemo, it would probably be best, medically, to sit back and wait to see if the cancer comes back. If it were to do so, they would then treat it with both chemo and surgery. 

The problem is that this is more than a medical issue. The peak time for testicular cancer to return is 2 to 5 years after the original surgery. My son will be a college junior this year. Two to five years will put him just out of college and in the workforce.

But, unless he's one of the lucky ones to get a job with a large company, it will be almost impossible for him to find health insurance he can afford once he's no longer on our health insurance. He will have a pre-existing condition, which makes him uninsurable. A return of the cancer then would be disastrous, as would a return of cancer while he's still in school, when he'd probably have to drop out for treatment and, because he would no longer be a fulltime student, could no longer be on our health insurance.

And so, next week, he will start chemo, because it's covered, and because he can do it this summer when it won't affect his schooling.

And so we will be embarking on thousands of dollars of treatment which may damage his health in the future almost solely because our healthcare system is screwed up and may not be there for him later on when he needs it.

It's enough to make you want to cry and throw up

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bright and Sharp

And lo, the first of many, many quilt tops made from the Bali batiks has been finished.
Now I need to figure out how to free-motion quilt on my sewing machine. (Quilt pattern is Scrappy Mountain Majesties by Bonnie Hunter at

Friday, April 27, 2012

For Better or Worse

Me, reading the headlines: "Blind Chinese activist flees house arrest. That sounds like the kind of headline that's going to have a punchline at the end."

17-year-old son: "Hmm. I don't see it."

Uh-oh. These kids are just like me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Word-Lover Musings From a Balinese Mountaintop

Stop laughing. Sarongs are required to enter the temples, okay? 
And these were the only hats we could find. 
P.S. Don't tell Scott I posted this photo

The guide's name was Wayan Bon Jovi. 

At least that's how it was pronounced.  I have no idea how it was spelled, and he couldn't tell me, because he "can't write, can't read, never been to school.  If not for tourists, I be dead in cemetery."
It had the rehearsed sound of a prepared speech, one that was honed each day for the tourists who supported him and the seven other people in his household -- wife, parents and four kids.  In fact, he would repeat this same line later in the hike, almost verbatim.  I didn't mind, though, because there was no question that it was true.  Everywhere we went in Bali, we met people supporting large households on one job, usually something related to tourism.  And without exception, they were cheerful, kind, and hospitable.

But Wayan Bon Jovi was unique.  Three-and-a-half years before, when he'd started hosting these hikes, up Mt. Lempuyang's 1700 steps to the Hindu temples, he had spoken no English.  (English is taught in Balinese schools, but that does you no good if your parents can't afford to send you.)  Yet now he was nearly fluent, despite being unable to read a word.  And not only in English, but also in French, the other language spoken by large numbers of tourists in Bali.  Which means that this man with no formal schooling now speaks more languages than 99.99%+ of my fellow countrymen and women.

C'est le temple
(Balinese temples are all open air, incomprehensible to a Seattlite)

"C'est quoi, ├ža?" he asks a French woman at one of the lower temples, gesturing around him.  What is this? (A rougher, less formal construction than  he would have learned in an actual French class.)

"C'est le temple," she replies. 

"Le temple," he repeats, rolling the word off his tongue a couple of times before storing it away for use on the next French-speaking tourist.  "C'est le temple." 

Over the three or four hours we're together, he practices his English on us in the same way, appealing hugely to my inner word nerd with questions like, "What do you say, 'I wish you to have a good day', or 'I hope you have a good day'?"  The desire to improve, to get better, is palpable.  I find myself thinking that this is a way to take control of his life after forty-some years of having little control due to poverty and lack of opportunity.  The better his language skills, the better the experience for the tourists.  And, with luck, the better the experience, the more they will pay.  Words are currency, almost literally.  For someone who loves language as much as I do, this is both fascinating and touching.

His charge for the 3-4 hour hike up and back, including "temple offering," is 250,000 rupiah, or about $28.  Twice, he speaks with awe about the American tourist who gave him 300,000 rupiah.  And even though his intent in telling us this is obvious, it's impossible to resent him for it, because it is just as obvious that he has worked hard to get to where he is, and he deserves whatever he can make. 

(Oh, and he protects us from the Evil Monkeys.  Which by itself was probably worth the extra 50,000 rupiahs.)

Much cuter when they're behind bars.
(The monkeys, not the Germans)

We reach the top temple, and the view is breathtaking. 

The entrance to the top temple

In the absence of a Christian church, not a bad way to celebrate Easter.

Wayan Bon Jovi and me, at the peak

We have managed to arrive at the temple during the three-day full moon ceremony. At each of the temples on the mountain there are dozens of Hindu temple-goers, many of them carrying offerings on their heads to be left at the temples.  Wayan introduces one of the temple priests as his uncle. "His uncle, not his ankle," the uncle chuckles, pointing at his lower leg. And I find myself marveling at this ability to create English-language humor on a Balinese mountaintop. 

When we leave the peak, we take a shortcut down, avoiding several hundred stairs by heading down a steep trail that's still muddy from the just-ended monsoon season.  My feet keep slipping out from under me, and it's an effort to not catch myself on the cables running beside the trail.  They look like hiker supports, but turn out to be live power lines.  (Because in impoverished countries, they don't have the money to protect you from your own stupidity.)  Despite my best efforts, I fall a couple of times, landing on my hands in an attempt to protect my favorite capris and borrowed sarong from the sticky yellow clay. 

"You okay?" says Wayan Bon Jovi after the second fall.

"Fine," I say.  "It's just very slippery."

"Slippery," he repeats thoughtfully, absorbing the new word.

"Very slippery," I say. 

He nods, reaching to help me up, saying the word once more before filing it away.  I am certain that it will be pulled out again with each future group of tourists until the mud finally dries.  "Careful," he will say, "It is very...slippery." 

Imagining this makes me smile. 

We reach the bottom of the mountain and he pulls out his cell phone and gives my husband his number, insisting we call him and come to visit if we ever return to Bali.  He shows us photos of his family, and of the tourists -- fresh-faced Australian twenty-somethings -- who have taken him up on his offer of a visit.  This kind of hospitality is everywhere in Bali; people are constantly offering to share what they have, even when they have very little. 

Wayan Bon Jovi hugs us goodbye as we leave, kissing me on both cheeks.  I reflect that he must have learned that from the French, because it does not seem to be a Balinese custom, and it's definitely not American.  Balinese man, American tourists, French customs.  Three separate continents in one act. 

Small world, this. 

As we watch him walk away, I say a small Easter prayer for this fellow lover of language who has found his way into my heart: 

May your words and hard work continue to help you reach your dreams, Wayan Bon Jovi.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Joys of Jet Lag

Jet lag in Bali meant that I was awake at some time between 3 and 5 most mornings.

But this meant that I could slip outside  and pop into the pool to go for a moonlight swim, all by myself.

Or I could watch the sunrise.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Name Game

Balinese Sunrise.
Which has nothing to do with the post.
I just liked the photo.

In Bali, it is traditional to give all firstborn children -- both male and female -- the name of Wayan. And so our driver (male) was Wayan, our hotel front desk person/manager (female) was Wayan, and our guide up the mountain to the Hindu temple (male) was Wayan.

From Wikipedia:

The firstborn is "Wokalayan" (Wayan or Yan, for short), second is "Made," third is "Nyoman" or "Komang" (Man or Mang for short), and fourth is "Ketut" (often elided to Tut).

And for the fifth, it's back to Wayan again.

When we were explaing this to the family after we got back, my future son-in-law says, "That would be kind of difficult. Except when you go back to your high school reunion and you can't remember someone's name. Then it's just, 'Hey! Wayan! How's it going!' And you have a greater than 25% chance of being right."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Peace Signs are a Universal Language

Cathedral of St. Paul, Macau
back view

The Cathedral of St. Paul, in Macau, is a a ruin. A facade. It was once a real cathedral, starting back in the 1500s, but when there was a fire in 1835 (when Portuguese colonial rule had started to die), it was never rebuilt. Now all that remains is the face, with scaffolding in back for the tourists to climb. And there are a lot of tourists.

Most of them are Chinese, visiting from mainland China. (Macau used to be a Portuguese territory, but in 1999 was handed over to the Chinese, similar to Hong Kong from the British.) Very few of those tourists are Westerners, and even fewer are Americans. And the Americans who do make it there?

Well, when it comes to being tourist attractions, we rival St Paul's.

We discovered this when we made the trek up the scaffolding to look out over the city through the cathedral windows. One of the first things we saw when we got up there were two Chinese guys, about the age of our own kids -- maybe late teens or early twenties. They were posing for a photo that was being taken by a friend down at ground level. And they were posing in a way that's familiar to anybody who knows teenagers -- giggling hysterically, with middle fingers extended toward the camera.

It was such aa familiar, yet unexpected, sight that we burst out laughing. And a friendship was begun.

There weren't a lot of topics we could discuss, since their English was rudimentary and our Chinese was non-existent. But they told us where they were from, and that no, they were not in Macau to gamble. ("Not lose money," said one, which makes sense in any language.)

As we turned to go, one of the boys called out to us: "Wait!" he said, "You take picture?"

At first we thought they wanted us to snap a picture of them, together, but no. What they really wanted was a photo with the Americans.

That there, on the right? It's an index finger

This happened three times that day, all with kids in their late teens or early twenties, all wanting their photos taken with The Americans. And for some reason, all of them flashed peace signs.

I'm still not sure about the Chinese government. But the kids are all right.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guess What I Bought in Bali!

So I had heard that batik quilting fabrics were cheap in Bali. But I had no idea how cheap until I actually got inside the batik shop, where the only thing hanging on the walls was batik fabric. I'd said to my husband, "I want to spend about $200," but I had no idea how much that would buy. Since batiks run $10.99-$12.99 a yard here, though, I figured that even if it was $5 a yard, I'd be getting a great deal.

So I walked into the shop, and the Aussie already standing there says, "It's amazing. Only 22,500 Rupiahs per meter." The exchange rate that day was 9100 rupiah per $1. Or, in other words, less than $2.50 per yard. With a two meter minimum cut per fabric.

I may have gone a little crazy.

My husband was walking in just as the shop owner was holding up her calculator to show me the dollar price. Of my $200 goal, I spent... Drum roll, please...


Total haul: 80.5 meters. Not bad, huh?

Pretty sure I'll be making Bali quilts for the rest of my life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Quilt Show

I went to the quilt show yesterday with my little church quilt group. A very inspiring and humbling experience. Such amazing talent there!

And for the rest of us, an excuse and a deadline to actually finish a couple of quilts.

First, the original Seattle Streets, done, done, done and going on my bed when I pick it up tomorrow! (It only took me six years.) Pattern available on my website for free.

And second, the Stained Glass Log Cabin quilt. (Original pattern available on my website for free. Enjoy!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lenten Musings: The Way, the Truth, and the Lightbulb

Lenten Musings, Part 3

In election years, it would be easy to believe that Christianity is all about making sure the right guy gets into office, and debates over who, exactly, that "right guy" is could easily come to blows. Even among people who consider themselves Christian.

So it's good to be reminded that there's a whole lot more (and a whole lot that's more important!) to our faith, as I was when I read this article yesterday:

Pastor plans Appalachian outreach with solar panels

Go read the article. It's a great story about how an engineer and a minister in Appalachia have teamed up to improve the lives of the poor by reducing their bills for heat and electricity.

Families who receive solar panels pay for them with two currencies: money and time.

One home can cost between $7,000 to $10,000 to outfit, with trees to clear and supplies to buy. Families pay for the panels with some of the savings they start to see on their electric bills each month. The money goes into a general community fund that finances more solar panels on more homes.

"Once 10 families start paying back, there's enough for Family Eleven," said Mr. Seaman. [...]

In addition to those upfront expenses, outfitting a home also takes manpower; Mr. Seaman calls it Philippi's version of Amish barn building.

To pay back their neighbors for their time, families must volunteer by either installing solar panels somewhere else or putting in community time at the church.

Mr. Prusa printed "dollar bills" that are exchanged as currency for the volunteer hours.

The panels pay for themselves in about ten years.

There are a lot of things in this story that could be considered political landmines. Things like alternative energy (in the heart of coal country!) and microfinancing. But the guys in charge made the choice to just get it done and help the poor anyway. In the name of Christ.

You know. Like he asked us to.

Lenten Prayer:

Dear God, help give me the strength to ignore the division and the controversies and just get it done.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Musings: Warts and All

Lenten thought for the day:

"As Monsignor John Tracy Ellis used to introduce his courses on church history, 'Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to discover that the Mystical Body of Christ has a lot of warts.'"
-- Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, quoted in Newsweek

Lenten Prayer:

Dear God, please use us, your people, for good. Warts and all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Musings: Headwinds and Tailwinds

I've decided to take Pastor Cara up on her challenge for Lent, to take to heart this passage: "The kingdom of God has come near; change your heart, change your life and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15. More Lenten reflections to follow, even if they're only pictures or quotes.

Since last June, I have probably put at leats 600 miles on my new rollerblades. Because I love rollerblading. LoveloveLOVE rollerblading. It's the exercise that doesn't feel like exercise. It feels like...flying. There is absolutely nothing like coasting effortlessly down the trail, thinking, "This is so easy! So much easier even than last time! I must be getting in really good shape!"

And then I turn around to go back and am blasted in the face by a ten-mile-per-hour wind, and forward momentum grinds nearly to a halt. And I realize, "Oh, of course. The whole way out I had a tailwind."

It's funny, but I can never feel a tailwind when it's pushing me along. And by never, I mean: Never. Even when I'm trying with every nerve ending to feel the wind pushing me, when I rely only on my own senses I just don't feel it.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why that is. Is it a lack of nerve endings on the backs of my arms, which is usually the only skin I leave exposed? Is it that ears are cup-shaped, allowing wind to glide right over them from the back without any sound entering the ear canal? Or is it just that my body and brain want to believe that gliding along effortlessly is all my own doing?

Over the years, I've learned that the only way I can get a realistic sense of how much I'm being pushed is by ignoring what I feel and looking for objective measurement. The best way is to look at the leaves on the reeds by the trail: If they're parallel to the ground instead of perpendicular, I'd better save some energy for a tough skate back.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I watch the news. Specifically, I've been thinking about how many successful people are absolutely certain they've done it without benefit of tailwinds.

Years ago, when I was 23, I moved from Denver to Seattle. I had very good reason to move from Denver to Seattle. What I did not have was a lot of money. Just $800 and a one-way plane ticket, which would have been plenty in the college cow-town I was coming from, where I'd been paying only $140 per month for rent.

Here in Seattle, though, $800 didn't go very far, and it was dwindling down toward nothing just as I was oh-so-close to finding a job and a place to live. I had to make a decision: Keep going, or use my last dollars to buy a plane ticket back. Fortunately, though, I had a third option: call my parents, who were able to send me a check for $500.

That $500 kept me going until I got the call for the job I'd applied for, and it gave me the money to move in with the roommate who would introduce me to my husband. I don't know what life I would have now if my parents had not had that money to send me, and I don't know what person I would have become. But I would not be the person I am now, and I would not have this life.

That $500 was a tailwind. Having a college degree when I moved, paid for by my parents, that I could put on my resumes when I applied for jobs, was a huge tailwind. Even having a mother who read to me, who saw the importance of giving me my own library card at a young age, was a tailwind that helped me make it into and succeed in college.

There are a lot of people who skate merrily through life, like me on the trail, not feeling the tailwinds. They get sent to a good school, graduate from college with no debt, get introductions to good employers after college, and still believe that they have only the same chances as the young man who will be staying weekends at our church for the next few months as part of a homeless program for young adults -- a guy who was never cared for by his parents and who lived in 50 foster homes before he aged out of the system. And yet the people who can't feel their own tailwinds say, If only those people would work harder, they would be just like me.

Former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said it best, "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple."


Lenten prayer for today:

Dear God, help me to feel the tailwinds you've used to propel me forward, and help me do what I can to block the headwinds for others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Quilt top, minus borders, originally finished in 2006.

This year, I decided it WOULD be ready for the quilt show in March. And it is.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the original Seattle Streets Quilt!!

(I love this thing. Have I mentioned how much I love this thing?)

Friday, February 10, 2012

This made my day

Got this in my email from Canada. Made my whole day. So wonderful to see something you've done go for a good cause!!

Hello Laurie,

I volunteer with a group called Blankets for Canada Society Inc. with the Edmonton and Area, Alberta, Canada Chapter. I found your Seattle Streets pattern on the internet, and printed the pdf of it. I intend to use it with the scraps left over from quilting bees at our work bees for Blankets for Canada. I very likely will do a demonstration of it at one of our work bees too. We meet two Saturdays a month and build blankets for those in need of warmth and shelter. The original mandate of Blankets for Canada is knit or crochet 8" blocks for joining together into an afghan. Edmonton has a huge quilting faction and we do probably 3/4 of our 'blankets' as quilts.One or two of our volunteers are quilters with the talent to put their quilts in juried shows. The rest of us play with the fabrics until they are quilt-top size, then get together and tie quilt them at our Bees. But we do get some gorgeous looking quilts, even if the blocks don't meet at the corners properly! (smile).

I will also use it for some of our church quilts we make for the hospital in Mannville, Alberta.

I thank you for sharing this pattern with us. I'll not get to it until the summer, but by then would probably forget to write you.

[Insert big smiley face here.]

(On a related note, I am FINALLY finishing the original Seattle Streets quilt. I realized I was never going to quilt something that size myself (93" x 105"), so I sent it out for longarming. Well worth it! Now I'm slowly working through hand-stitching the binding down, one long inch at a time. The backing was unintentionally a very densely-woven batik, and pushing a needle through it is making my fingers scream, "Owie! Owie!" But it WILL be done before our guild's quilt show in March, and probably much sooner. Stay tuned. This flimsy will soon be a quilt!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Polly, Put the Kettle On (AND: You'll Thank Me For This Tea-Brewing Tip)

So this morning I decided to write about tea. And of course the old nursery rhyme "Polly, put the kettle on" popped into my head. So I was going to start this out by embedding a video of it. I go to search Youtube, and...

Wow. These versions are REALLY annoying. All fake light and saccharine sweetness. (Did I just date myself with the "saccharine" reference? I did, didn't I? But "Splenda-sweetness" just doesn't have quite the same zing.) These songs make me very glad I no longer have small children. Because MY future grandkids will get Disney's Silly Songs. I mean, if "I'm My Own Grandpa" was good enough to give my OWN children nightmares...)

But anyhoo. Tea.

Did you know that taking hot water and dunking a tea bag in it, the way most restaurants serve it, is the worst way to make tea? You will not get the infusion of flavor a good tea requires. For the best tea, you need to put the tea bag in the bottom of your container and pour the boiling water over it.

I have now made your tea-drinking life. Forever. You are welcome.

Also, if you are a tea drinker, you really, really need an electric kettle. I got hooked when my husband and I were in Ireland and England a couple of years ago, where the hotels do not have coffee pots in the rooms. Instead, what they have are electric tea kettles. Plug it in, push the button, wait two minutes for the electric coil to heat up and boil the water... And then it shuts off, and you can lift it up off the electric plate to pour your water. (OVER your tea bag. Just to reinforce the previous lesson.)

They are awesome. And available at a certain red bulls-eye store for about $30. You can thank me later.

Word Nerd Afterword:

Saccharine and Splenda are both ersatz sugars. In English, "Ersatz" means 'substituting for, and typically inferior in quality to.' Or, y'know, kind of fake.

I love the word ersatz, largely because it's one of those words I should have learned as a youngster but didn't. I ended up looking up the actual meaning as an adult. So now every time I see it written anywhere, my brain says, "Ooh! Ooh! I know that one! It means fake!" And the word nerd part of my brain feels all warm and fuzzy and proud.

Etymologically speaking (because I know you were wondering), ersatz comes from the German. Which you have probably already guessed from the "atz" ending. But in German, it does not have the "inferior quality" connotation. From Wikipedia. Because I LOVE this stuff:

Although it is used as an adjective in English, Ersatz can only function in German as a noun on its own, or as a part in compound nouns such as Ersatzteile (spare parts) or Ersatzspieler (substitute player). While the English term often implies that the substitution is of unsatisfactory or inferior quality ("not as good as the real thing"), it does not have this connotation in German. The German word for such product is Surrogat (surrogate).

It took on the "fake and inferior" meaning in English in WWII, when British and American servicemen were taken prisoner and given Ersatzbrot (replacement bread), made with sawdust, and Ersatzkaffee (a coffee substitute.)

Thus the bad rap for Ersatz in English.

I know, right? So cool!

Wait. That was what you were thinking, wasn't it?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Taxes Can Be Fun! (On a theoretical level)

With taxes and the US Tax Code in the news, I have a confession to make: Many years ago, I almost became one of Those People.

What happened was, I was in grad school finishing up my MBA when the school decided to start up a Masters in Taxation program, dedicated entirely to the inner workings of the United States Tax Code.

I loved the Tax Code. LOVED. The. Tax. Code. (Is this warped or what?) We actually had to buy our own copies and carry them around with us every single day. Two volumes, printed on the flimsiest of paper to reduce weight. Page after page after page -- several thousand -- detailing all the ways to get out of paying one's statutory rate. (Because nobody in the 35% bracket actually pays 35%. Literally, nobody, because it's structured that way.)

I had already taken two or three tax courses, and they left me with the same fascination I used to get as a knitter when four or five skeins of yarn would get all tangled up together in a pile and I'd have to separate them. Up, out, in, around, over, wind in, wind out... And eventually, with a lot of hard work, you'd have four or five neat, tidy balls of yarn in place of that huge mess. It was taking the extraordinarily complex and simplifying it enough to apply to real-life circumstances.

(Fascinating, right? Or maybe I'm just easily amused.)

In my tax classes, I would take my assignments, delve into the imaginary tax problems of the imaginary taxpayers, figure out the legal issues, go to the law library and dig into the dusty volumes of tax law... (Yes, actual dusty volumes. Not computers. Does this tell you how long ago it was?) Up, around, in, over, analyze... And in the end I'd write up a tidy little answer and go onto the next problem.

A second Master's would have taken only one more year, and once I finished that? Tax specialists who can analyze tax law are in very high demand. Not by the moms and pops and little businesses of the world, who probably couldn't afford graduates of the program. Our school's graduates would be far more likely to be offered jobs by the multi-national corporations and the uber-uber-rich. Ooooh!

But my dreams crashed back to earth one day in class, when my brilliant, hilarious professor casually said, "If you believe your argument has a 20% chance of succeeding on appeal, you have an obligation to your client to make it." Or, in other words, if the tax strategy you're considering advocating has an 80% chance of being found illegal, you need to make it anyway.

And that was when I realized something: Even though I loved tax work on a theoretical level, I couldn't actually devote my life to getting rich people and rich companies out of paying taxes. Because, to be honest, I think the world would be a better place if they actually paid their damn taxes. I agree whole-heartedly with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

But, y'know, that's just me.

One thing I learned, though, is this: If you have any questions whatsoever about the US Tax Code, 98% of them can be answered by looking at the response to this question: What Would Benefit the Rich Guy?

That's not an exaggeration. Because the US Tax Code was almost entirely written by rich guys -- nearly half of our congresspeople are millionaires -- for people like themselves. (As far as I can tell, this is the only way to explain why gambling losses are treated more preferentially in the tax code than medical expenses.)

One example: Charitable donations. Which are generally fully deductible, which is one of the things that helps the US give more to charity than do a lot of other countries. (One of many examples of using the tax code to advance social policy. Just sayin', it's not all bad.)

But let's look at three guys who make charitable donations.

First we have Jim Workingclass, who doesn't make enough to itemize. He makes a donation of, say, $75. He doesn't have enough other deductions to give him a number greater than the standard deduction, so his taxes are exactly what they would be otherwise, and 100% of the donation comes from his own pocket. Tax subsidy for Jim's charity = $0.


Second, we have Tom MiddleManagement. He's doing better than Jim, owns his own home, itemizes deductions, not yet married, and has worked his way up into the 25% tax bracket by making somewhere between $35k-$85k. (We're going to apply this rate to everything and ignore Social Security, Medicare, etc. because you don't have all day.)

So. Tom earns $100. He wants to give it to charity. But, because he earns it through a job, he first has to pay $25 in taxes.

$100 - $25 = $75, which is what he has left to give to charity.

He gets to fully deduct all of that $75, which will save him $18.75 in taxes. ($75 x 25% = $18.75.) Or, in other words, the US Treasury gets $25, the taxpayer gets back $18.75. Not a bad deal -- the government is subsidizing your charity. But not completely. Advantage, US Treasury, if you're a middle income person.


And then we have Tex Richman. (Because I love the Muppets.) He lives on investments, which are taxed at a 15% rate. A few years back, he got a sweetheart deal on some stock, which he got for pennies. (Which I'm going to round down to zero because I'm lazy and the theory here holds regardless.) The stock is now worth $100.

Since you pay tax on appreciated assets only when they're sold, and the stock is being donated as stock, this left our congressional tax code writers with an interesting issue. Do they collect tax on the transaction? What amount will Tex get for his deduction? And if the stock is not actually sold, what should it be it worth on the books of the charity?

Congress could have treated it as a sale, taking 15% of the proceeds, leaving Tex with $85 to donate. ($100 appreciation x 15% = $15 taxes.) And if he paid taxes and got only an $85 deduction, that would put him on par with Tom MiddleManagement. Which would be fair, right? (I mean, aside from the fact that somebody who lives on investments pays a lower tax rate than somebody who works for a living.)


Here's what really happens: Tex donates the stock, worth $100. Because it's a donation and not a sale, the writers of the tax code decided it is not a taxable event. Therefore, the US Treasury gets $0. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No taxes levied whatsoever. BUT he gets to take the full $100 as a deduction. And his chosen charity gets to put the stock on their books at $100, meaning that they don't ever have to pay taxes on Tex's capital gains either. In other words, nobody will ever pay any taxes on this $100 gain, ever, and Tex gets to fully deduct the entire donation.

So he saves the $15 taxes he'd have to pay if he sold the stock and donated the proceeds, AND he gets to take a $100 deduction, which saves at least another $15 in taxes. (More -- up to $35 -- if he has any working-person income taxed at a higher, working-person rate.) So not only is the US Treasury taking in no money on this transaction (and donation to the charity of or Tex Richman's choice), they are actually paying him to make it. (That "they" means "you", Mr. and Ms. Middle-class Taxpayer.)

Got it? Yeah. Multiply by thousands and thousands more instances, and you get the US Tax Code.

And THAT's why I became a full-time mom instead.

I think society is better off.

I know I am.

P.S. No, I can't do your taxes. I still only love the Tax Code in theory. :-)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Light Over Ice

My house, early morning, streetlight reflecting on ice-covered snow:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Not That My Friend is Casting Aspersions on the Intellectual Capacity of European Footballers. Or Anything.

Skype conversation between me and a soccer-loving friend about the apparent turn-around of a previously tantrum-prone European player:

Me: That interview that talked about [certain European player] growing up and maturing may have been true. He's starting regularly and scored again today.

Friend: He sounds like he had therapy. The simple fact that he recognized his actions were the result of his father's lack of love doesn't sound like the type of thing a professional athlete would conjure up himself.

Me: What, you don't think they talk about these things in the locker room?

Friend: Oh, right. That and cold fusion.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snowmageddon 2.0

The meteorologists predicted Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday. Today?

Not so much.

My husband went out on Tuesday and plugged the Christmas lights back in. (I had been planning to take them down this week, but the weather had other ideas.) Don't Santa and the angels look happy?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snowmageddon Arrives In Seattle

They were saying 12 inches.  Now they're saying 2-4.  Whatever.  It's still enough to cause mass hysteria. 

As I have said before, though, it is not our fault. Seattle is VERY hilly, and when we get snow the temperature hovers right around freezing, so we get freeze-melt-freeze-melt-freeze, and by the third day every horizontal surface is a sheet of glare ice.

But it sure is pretty when you can sit inside and watch the snow fall. (Even prettier since it only happens a couple of times a year and you know that chances are you won't get to see this view again for a long time.)

From my windows:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is Ver' French

I was working out today to a French soccer game I DVRed from the weekend.  (Because, y'know, what else would one work out to?)  One of the bonus clips was an interview with the Colombian goalkeeper who plays in Nice.  He gave the interview entirely in French, which I thought was impressive. 

So it amused the heck outta me that the French channel subtitled his French.  In French.  With grammatical corrections. 

To quote the woman on the train to Euro Disney a few years back, "Is ver' French."

(Technically she was talking about strikes.  Which are also ver' French.  But it applies to the language, too.)

I think the French are a bunch of word nerds.  Like me.

Except, y'know, different.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Seattle Streets Quilt from Fran

Getting emails with photos like this one always make my day! 

This is a Seattle Streets quilt from Fran.  (She says it's more gold and less pink in real life.  I say it's gorgeous regardless.) 

We're  having one of those cold, dark, dreary, can't-decide-if-it-wants-to-rain-or-snow kind of mornings, and looking at this photo is like curling up in front of a warm fire!  Nice job, Fran!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Driving Forces

My husband can be a bit...driven.  He has things to do, and he wants to get them done, y'know?  And this can be reflected in his driving. 

The other day we were in the car together and I noticed that his pace was rather...sedate.  I gave him a questioning look which, after twenty-five years of marriage, did not need translation.

He grinned.  "Y'know," he said, "it's so much easier to drive the speed limit when you're being tailgated by a BMW.  I suddenly feel abiding!" 

I love this guy. 

(I am also unusually law-abiding in the presence of tail-gaters.  Pretty sure this makes me a good person.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

New Year's Resolution Workout Guide for the Middle-Aged

Ladies and gentlemen, here is your official

New Year's Resolution Workout Guide for the Middle-Aged

Day 1: Lift weights, all muscle groups! Then do sixty minutes on the elliptical, maximum setting! Revel in Endorphin Euphoria the rest of the day!

Day 2: Use all four limbs to haul yourself out of bed. Spend five seconds contemplating walking the dog to the corner and back before abandoning the idea as too strenuous. Climb back under the covers with an ice-pack and lie there whimpering.

Day 3: Repeat.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The End of the World As We Know It

From a friend with a new iPhone:

"Now customizing iPhone ringtones. Download the most popular app, go to the most popular category.....

'Fart Tones' "


Almost enough to make one wish the Mayan calendar thing were real, innit?

Editorial note: I realized toward the end of December that I barely wrote one blog post a week. Managed only 52 for all of 2011, mostly because I kept waiting for momentous things to write about. And waited... And waited... So I've decided I'm going to post more in 2012, no matter how little momentous stuff happens. Which means that some days it could be just two lines of fart humor.

Apologies in advance.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Words With Family

Tonight we were out at our favorite Indian restaurant, celebrating the New Year with family. My older son started talking about the "Words With Friends" the internet word game he's playing with his girlfriend while she's at job training in Atlanta.

"I could never play Words With Friends," I said. "I would get completely addicted."

"Yeah," said my son, "and nobody would want to play with you, either."

Pretty sure he was talking about the vocab that comes from my obsessive word nerdery.

Yup, almost positive...