Sunshine & Vanilla

being eclectic while trying to be less electric.

How BatKid Changed My Life (written November 16, 2013)

Some of you may know I work in the world of non-profits. My job description is hard to describe and would take up far too much of this blog to get into. The short of it is, each year I go out to try and raise money for over three hundred non-profit organizations.

I speak about the need in our communities: the homeless, the animals, the sick, the elderly, the ill.  I tell prospective donors how even a dollar can make a huge difference.  People don’t know the way the dollars stretch – $1 to a local food kitchen is enough to provide a full meal: salad, entree, dessert, drink to a person in need.  That’s only $1.00, imagine what $20, $50, $500 could do.

Working with these non-profits and trying to help raise money for them these past 7, going on 8, years has really opened my eyes to how many people are out in the world  doing good.  I would see employees in workplace giving campaigns donate their time to work on the campaign, to ask their colleagues to contribute (and trust me, asking for donations is no easy task). Employees would donate gifts, baked goods, handmade items as drawing incentives. And, of course, they donated money.

If you aren’t familiar with Miles aka BatKid and the amazing wish Make-A-Wish San Francisco granted him please run to Google right now for enlightenment and be prepared for your heart to swell up five times its size.

I caught wind of the goings on early in the day. Something about Batman and San Francisco, two things I love dearly.  Once I fully turned my interest onto the event, I was done.  I followed along on Twitter and the streams.  I didn’t accomplish anything at work, instead I hid out in my office and watched the day unfold, laughing and crying. I couldn’t think of anything else while Miles ran all over San Francisco in his perfect costume, rescuing Lou Seal and damsels in distress, and fighting to save the City I love so much. My friends joked they didn’t need any other outlet than my Facebook feed to find out what was going on.  I updated at every turn. BatKid stole my heart.

But it wasn’t just my heart.

The day started with a few people coming out to support him and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  By the end it, the crowds of people gathered in support of BatKid were beyond belief.  By the time he’d reached Civic Center Plaza, a place I frequent often, it was packed with people cheering, crying, holding up signs of support.  My brother and I were messaging back and forth, crying the way we Irish are known for, “Look! Look! It’s perfect!”

I spent much of last night reliving the day and thinking about BatKid, about Make-A-Wish, about the world of non-profits.  I mulled over all the speeches I’ve given, I thought about how many people out there need help, and about how many organizations there are trying to help those people but how those organizations need help, too. I thought about all those amazing people who had come together to support BatKid.  All these people who had volunteered to make one day special for a little boy they had never met.  How amazing all these people were!

Then I realized, I could be one of those people, too.

I have a busy schedule, and I don’t have a lot of extra money to throw around, but I have spent my fair share of time doing little more than slothing on my sofa.  What if I took some of that time and really did something with it?  What if, instead of being the person who follows along an amazing adventure from behind a computer screen, cheering my hero along, I became a person who was out there doing?

This morning, I found a volunteer site and began signing up.

I’m going to bake holiday cookies for a place who will deliver them to developmentally disabled people who may not have a Christmas or have family to celebrate with, who may not be able to get out and pick up their own bit of holiday cheer.

I’m going to spend the morning after Christmas preparing “After Christmas” meals for a local shelter and then I’m going to give up a few hours of my New Year’s Eve at that same shelter, prepping New Year’s Eve meals for the residents.

I’m going to spend a Saturday afternoon filling bags with hats, gloves, scarves, ponchos, and holiday cards made by kids to be distributed to those in need throughout the SF Bay Area. And I’m going to spend the next afternoon helping sort and stock a local food pantry.

I’m going to DO.  I’m going to BE THE CHANGE.  I’m not going to just stand by, with a warmed heart, commending all those amazing people out there doing so much good in the world – I’m going to become one.

“Charitable giving,” I always say in my speeches, “Is contagious. When you give, it may encourage those around you to give.  When you speak about your volunteer work, it may inspire others to join you.”  Those aren’t just words in a speech anymore.  They are words I understand far better than I ever have. They are words that I have decided to live.

So thank you, Miles aka BatKid, and thank you Make-A-Wish, and thank you my beloved San Francisco. I think you may have stirred the inner superhero in all of us.

(If you want to look for volunteer opportunities, there is a great site called volunteermatch.org that may assist you.  I found a similar site specific to my local area with a simple search of “[county I live in] volunteer opportunities.”)

 

**Edited to add:  After writing this and signing up for volunteer opportunities, a colleague decided she wanted to help, too, and joined me at the backpack stuffing event, another friend joined in on the holiday baking, and a third joined me at the food bank.  It really is contagious…

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My Unpopular Opinion on the Rolling Stone cover

It seems I have a very unpopular opinion about this whole Rolling Stone Magazine cover thing going on. I don’t necessarily believe putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover is a terrible thing. This is not to say I do not understand what the victims and others are saying and why they think it’s awful.  But I can see what, possibly, RS is attempting.

People are upset by the photo, claiming it glamorizes Tsarnaev and turns him into a celebrity figure.  But this is the same photo media outlets have already been using since the bombing occurred.

Now look at the text in front of the photo: THE BOMBER How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical islam, and became a monster.

Read it again.

That photo could be anyone. Any kid in AnyTown, USA.  It’s just another “selfie” pulled off a social media site.  Another photo from some kid’s facebook page. Some kid nobody would ever have thought capable of causing such terrible violence and horrific destruction.  He could be ANY kid.  Of course, he’s not, he’s Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber.  But how did he become that?  How did he go from some kid to mass murderer?

I don’t know if they did it for shock value or to boost their sales.  I have no idea what their motivation was, but when I first heard of all the outrage, my thought was not “Oh, they’re glorifying this person” it was “look at the point they are making.”

Is it any different than the point TIME magazine made in 1999 when they put the smiling school portraits of the Columbine murderers on the cover of their magazine and said “THE MONSTERS NEXT DOOR: What made them do it?”  Or, later that same year, the black and white surveillance photo of the boys with their guns in the cafeteria where the two propane bombs they had placed (which, had they gone off, probably would have killed almost 500 people)?  Many people on various social networking sites may be too young to clearly recall the Columbine Massacre.  I, however, have a very clear recollection of the horror and shock the country felt. Yet nobody decried TIME’s covers.

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, also graced the cover of TIME, they called him the Mad Genius right there in big bold lettering, even though he killed 3 people and injured another 30.

Timothy McVeigh has graced their cover no less than three times.  He killed 168 people and injured over 600 more when he set off explosives in Oklahoma City in 1995.

So is the problem more that it’s Rolling Stone Magazine who has put Tsarnaev’s face on their cover?  If it were TIME, would people be as outraged?  No.  Because TIME is “news” and Rolling Stone is entertainment (though they have a long history of covering current affairs, politics, etc.).

Isn’t it important to educate younger readers, like those who read Rolling Stone, about these type of things?  Isn’t it important to show how the very people reading the magazine are, in reality, not so different than the bomber himself?    We expect people who commit violence upon others to be something so very different than us, but the hard truth is, they’re not.  At least not on the outside.  Sure, most people are not going to go out and inflict mass violence, but who knows who may or may not. How could a popular, promising young man become the monster who maimed so many?

It’s a conversation that should be started.

Friendships across the cables

Someone once told me “If you haven’t met them in person, spent real face time with them, you can’t really call them your friend.”  I can see how some people, particularly non internet people, could think this.  What I can’t do is agree.

I have been an internet person for years. It started with AOL and the message boards.  I met some fabulous people in various “communities” there.  We all had a common interest, mainly writing.  At first they are just faceless words on a screen. You know there’s a living, breathing, person behind the words, but all you really know are their words. Little by little, however, you begin to know those people. You comment back and forth, you send emails, and friendships begin to grow.

As the internet expanded, AOL phased out and some friendships were lost. Others simply moved to new spaces on the internet.  LiveJournal. Tribe. Friendster. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. WordPress. I believe that was the progression of my internet homes, perhaps with a few others thrown in here and there.

There is a certain aspect to the internet I find oddly comforting.  As an anonymous face somewhere out there on the internet, I can express some of my deepest thoughts, fears, tribulations.  I can spill all the things I would normally keep inside to a community of people who have no preconceived notions, no past history, no built in judgements. I am free to say whatever I want, no matter how dark or private, knowing it will be taken just for what it is – nothing more, nothing less.  It’s not that I don’t trust my “Real Life” friends, it’s just different.  Like writing a tell-all memoir under a pen name. Sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings and baring my soul to a sea of relative strangers, over 300 of them in the heyday of the blogging site I joined over 10 years ago.  I’ve always been painfully shy, almost frightened, of sharing my words with people, but behind the screen, in a community of like minded folk, that fear is put to rest and friendships bloom.

To say these people are not really my friends because I have never spent time with them in person is logical, but false. They know my stories, my trials, my tribulations, my successes, my heartbreaks, my loves, my anger, my fears.  They know my story as I wanted to tell it.  And I know theirs.

Over the years friendships came and went. Some carried over to other sites, some stayed just there, and some morphed into “real life” friendships.  Long emails were exchanged, letters were mailed, endless hours of phone conversations, and yes, even in-person meetings.  I’ve met people I grew to know and love across the internet face to face. A weekend in Washington to see about a boy, a deep and meaningful relationship from Chicago that meant more to me than I could possibly convey, a tour of London sights from a lovely English man, a dating relationship from a local area.  I’ve met fans of bands I’ve loved, had coffee with other writers, heck – just two months ago I met up with a wonderful woman and had the greatest time imaginable out in Colorado.  All with people I considered my friends before we ever met face to face.

I have laughed with people across the cables.  I’ve cried with them. I’ve relied on them for strength when I could not find my own.  I’ve reached out to them when I needed help.  They are my friends, whether we’ve met face to face or not.  The electric world allows us to reach more people than ever possible before.  Some of the people who know me the best are people I’ve not met in person.  I hold them all dear in my heart.

This morning one of these people was on my mind.  A woman I have known across the web for ten years.  I hadn’t heard from her in quite some time, since January, in fact. Our birthdays were only two days apart and she’d not replied to my message.  I hadn’t seen tweets from her in ages, hadn’t seen an update on either of her blogs, there was only radio silence.  She had been struggling when I last spoke with her. Life being as it is, sometimes it’s harder than it should be. Sometimes we are forced to struggle more than we should.

I went in search of her this morning and, much to my shock, found out she had passed away.  Just days after our last correspondence. She left behind a beautiful daughter and big gaping holes in all kinds of English fandoms.  I played back our last conversations, the marathon emails we had exchanged, the plans for her to come down this way and  visit some day.  I smiled to myself when I remember her vehement response when I declared myself a non-fan of Patrick Wolf and her insistence that I absolutely MUST give Doctor Who a try.

I regret we’d not been able to meet up when I was in Seattle or when she’d been in San Francisco visiting two years ago.  I regret that I’d not reached out harder in her difficult time, that there wasn’t something more I could do from two states away.

Even though we’d not met. Even though we weren’t “in real life” friends. The truth is “in real life” means little when it comes to some friendships. I may have never hugged her or seen that brilliant smile in person, but today my heart is heavy with the grief it feels for the loss of her.  It weeps for the daughter who will go the rest of her days without her mother.  She loved her daughter so much, was so proud of her, considered her one of her best friends.

Today my heart weeps for the loss of my friend.

Some people may never understand how it is you can call someone you know only across a screen, the phone lines, snail mail, email, what have you, a friend. But she, like many others, was just that.  She was my friend. And I will miss her.

And the Best Live Set of 2012 Goes To…..?

Alright.

Here it is.

I have put this off because it is actually causing me anxiety inside.  It is hurting my grey little heart.

I saw a lot of bands in 2012. Over 80, in fact. Over 80 bands. Including some of my very favorite bands. I’m looking at you Lucero (who I saw about 5 times) and Jackie Greene (who I think I also saw about 5 times). I saw legendary people (hello? Mother effin’ Al Green? Stevie Wonder? Roger Waters for eff’s sake!!). I saw bands I grew up with (Metallica? Literally grew up with… James Hetfield lived in my hometown, his bigass Bronco was a very familiar site).  I saw new bands I’d not heard of before who were awesome (Joe Pug, of Monsters & Men – say what you want, they are really good live). I got to relive the good ole days with a set from Pennywise that turned me into my 19 year old self like you wouldn’t believe.  I saw bands that people love that just aren’t my thing (sorry fun. & passion pit – and you know, Neal Young, I love you, man, I’ve seen you about nine hundred times, but you blew it at Outside Lands this year, just wasn’t your venue).  I finally saw Explosions in the Sky and The Cowboy Junkies after coveting those shows for years and was happy to also catch The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes. There were more, of course, those are just the ones that spring to mind. Okay, Tom Morello’s killer set at Outside Lands deserves a good mention, too, and I can’t really go without mentioning the Chris Robinson Brotherhood because Mr. Chris Robinson makes me so happy inside (seriously, he just makes me want to hug everyone).

So how to pick a favorite set?  How could I possibly pick the best out of 80 bands?  It’d be easy to pick my favorite band and say they were the best, but that wouldn’t really be fair, would it?  Just because I love love love love love a band doesn’t necessarily mean they put on the show that had me walking out going HOLY SMOKES THAT WAS THE BEST SHOW EVER!

A lot of those bands did have me saying that because I love live music more than just about anything in the entire world. Something comes over me when I’m at a show. Maybe it’s because when you’re there, you’re really there. You’re in the moment. You aren’t anywhere else. I’m not thinking about work or some boy. I’m just thinking about being there, enjoying the show and where I’m going to get my next tasty vodka drink.

And so – the two winners, in my opinion…

Jane’s Addiction at the Warfield in San Francisco October 18.
Okay. Now this isn’t going to surprise anyone and those of you who have known me for any length of time are going to cry foul, particularly given what I said a couple paragraphs ago. YES, it’s true, I’ve loved Jane’s Addiction for more than half my life.  In fact, I’ve loved Jane’s Addiction since 1990, which, let’s face it, is probably almost as long as some people reading this have been alive.  I’m not choosing them because they are one of my favorite bands, however (or because of the pavlovian reaction I have that makes me want to lick Dave Navarro). I’m choosing them because the show was impeccable.

The sound was incredible and the show was awe inspiring, nevermind Jane’s Addiction hasn’t played a run of small venues like that in I don’t know how long. I have seen them a bunch of times, dating back to the good ole ’90s. In fact, I saw them earlier in 2012 at a festival and left the show disappointed – to the point that I was unsure if I would go see them again. That is until I found out they were playing the tiny lil’ Warfield.

That Warfield show was off the hook.  Unlike the festival earlier in the year it really felt like the band was feeling it instead of just up there putting on a show. The solos were incredible, Perry sounded amazing, I don’t even know how Dave Navarro makes some of those sounds come off his guitars. It’s like magic. They whipped that crowd into a fervor. Everyone who left said it was they best they had sounded in years.  I left saying it’s probably the last show of theirs I will see, and what a way to go out.  There will never be a show to top it.  It may have been the best show of theirs I’ve ever seen (aside from the great ENIT festival of 1997 which was indescribable for reasons all its own).

AND, tied for Best Show of 2012:

The Afghan Whigs: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, November 8
Now this one might surprise some people.  I didn’t even know who the Afghan Whigs were until a few years ago when my friend (and music guru) [censored to protect the not so innocent] sent me a copy of one of their albums as well as a copy of one of the Twilight Singers (frontman Dulli’s side project) albums.

I had tickets to see the Twilight Singers in 2011, but 2011 was the Year of Cancelled Shows *coughSocialDistortioncough* and so I never did get to see them.  I’m actually glad that happened because I had no idea what I was in for when I walked through the doors of that Afghan Whigs show in November.  Neither did my friend who had never even heard one song of theirs.

She asked me what they sounded like and I said, “Oh. Kind of rock n’ rollish. Maybe a little mellow grunge-y.  Pretty sexy.” Because, how do really describe them?

How indeed?  I walked out of that show feeling like I’d had a goddamn religious experience. That band, live, knows how to build up a song, a set, a sound in a way that I’ve rarely experienced before. They just pound it into you in a way brings more to the table than just, “okay now, listen to this.”

What’s particularly funny about my choosing this show is that Greg Dulli is really a showy frontman and that is not really my style.  Okay, if you’re someone like Marilyn Manson who is putting on a SHOW, that’s one thing (and I saw MM back in the 90s and let me tell you, that was a s-h-o-w and it was awesome – Hole, the co-headliner, not so much).  Lots of people love that and credit Dulli for being an excellent frontman. I find it distracting and, despite being about six rows back, spent most of the show with my eyes closed, reveling in the driving force that was the music.

And it’s a force. It’s… I can’t really describe it.  I think at one point I looked at my friend and all I could really say was some sort of muttered, “jeezus effing chreest.”  I really like live music and I leave the venues happy and smiling and feeling like I just had a genuinely great time. But I left that venue feeling like I needed to go home and have a very long cold shower.  Or, something.

Preferably something.

*

THAT said – my favorite concert MOMENT of 2012?  Guy Venable coming out and singing with Lucero at the sold out show at the Fillmore back in March and the entire crowd singing right along with him.  The shorter video doesn’t show it, but the longer one does… When it was all said and done, Brian gets up and shouts, “That’s my Mother[censoredforthekiddies] DAD!!!!!” and it was just the cutest thing ever!  Also cute was the fact that Rick and Brian had to go get a very drunk Ben from the stage as he seemed as though he just wanted to keep on playing forever.

*

Additional Disclaimer – Of course seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall in its entirety is basically one of my all time dreams come true (especially at AT&T Park). The only reason it didn’t go up as one of the top concerts is because A) it’s really more of a theatrical performance than a concert. And B) I also saw it in 2010 and counted it as one of my top shows that year  😉

My Local/Independent Holiday Shopping Experience

As some of you may recall, I said I was going to try and do all of my holiday shopping through independent and/or local retailers for the 2012 holiday season. So the big question, how did it go?

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate it a 9.  I purchased 90% of my gifts from small, independent and/or local retailers. So far as gifts for my family are concerned, I do things on a price point basis. My nieces and nephews are one price point, my brother and sister in law are up a bit, my folks are a bit further up from there.  The two items I purchased from the large retail chain were add-on items to make the other indie gifts hit the right price point area. And they were add-ons purchased on Christmas Eve in a flurry of “Oh No! I don’t want to gyp these people!”

I will say this about shopping locally, it took significantly more time and thought that purchasing from major retailers. It’s much easier purchasing from someone’s Amazon wishlist than trying to find just the right thing. Additionally, many of the gifts I purchased were not “useful” items, but more of an artistic, or maybe even frivolous air. I’m sure I could have found some of the bicycle items my brother wanted at the local bike shop if I’d had more time. That was the key to the whole thing – shopping locally and independently does require a bit more finesse and a bit more time.  Unfortunately, my completely insane work schedule made shopping a little more difficult for me this year.  That said, everyone seemed quite happy with their gifts.  And not only that, I really enjoyed picking them out. Everything I purchased was purchased with a lot of care and thought, unlike a mindless clickity-click from a wishlist. It felt like a much more personalized shopping experience for me this year, and that really brought me back to the true meaning of the holiday.

Let’s Talk About it Now. Because Now is the Time.

Since the internet allows everyone to post whatever they like without facts and actual data, I would like to post my own bit of conjecture in response to a private message I received regarding a post I made on Facebook. A message that led, ultimately, to someone getting very upset with me because my opinion did not agree with theirs (never mind they inquired about my opinion privately). So, do I think that the gun I posted a picture of is responsible for the death of all those people today?  No. Obviously the gun did not walk into a school and cause the tragedy at hand, a deranged and mentally ill person wielding that gun did.  So why would I post the gun and comment on the 2nd amendment? Because had that individual walked in with a hunting knife and a bat 26 people would not be dead.

In fact, today in China there was a mass attack on children at a school very similar to the one we saw in our on country.  22 children and one adult were attacked.  22 children and one adult were wounded.  Wounded, not killed.  Wounded because the attacker had a knife, not a semi-automatic rifle.  22 children and one adult in China will live to see tomorrow.  26 people (at current count) in the United States are dead today because their attacker had a semi-automatic rifle.

Do I believe had there not been gaps between state and federal gun laws in Virginia in 2007 that perhaps 32 people  would not have died because the gunman would have been flagged AS HE SHOULD HAVE as being mentally incompetent and therefore deemed unable to purchase the guns he purchased “legally?”  Yes.  I also believe if he’d had throwing knives instead of guns, 32 people would not have died.

Do I think people shouldn’t be allowed to have any guns?  No.  I think you should be allowed to have a gun for personal safety and/or hunting if you so desire. Although, I’ll pose the same question I’ve posed to people who have them – what is the REAL likelihood you will be able to get to your gun, get it out of the case, load it, and disengage the safety in enough time to protect yourself from the “bad guy” who has broken into your home with the intent to do you harm?  (If your answer is you do not store your gun in this manner – locked up, unloaded, and with an on-weapon safety engaged-  then you are an irresponsible gun owner – even in the eyes of the NRA.  If you have children or children who EVER visit your home and you do not store your gun this way, irresponsible doesn’t even begin to cover it).

Do I think there is something to be said about the fact that the US of A ranks fourth in the world so far as gun-violence?  Yes.  Do I find it interesting that countries who have much stricter laws (and enforcement of the laws) have statistical data showing they have gun-homicide rates for their entire country that are lower than the number of gun-homicides in Oakland, California alone?

Do I believe GUNS kill people?  Yes. Guns very clearly kill people, though obviously they don’t do it alone.  When they are wielded by mentally unstable individuals, or criminals, or people who are in a blind rage/state of passion, or people who don’t know how to handle them properly.  If you don’t want to regulate guns because guns don’t kill people, well, why stop there?  Let’s take that conjecture, the idea that GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE and take it one step further.  Let’s just do away with all regulation and let everyone have whatever weapons they choose.  After all, bombs don’t kill people, people with bombs kill people.  Nuclear weapons don’t kill people, people who use them kill people. Weapons of Mass Destruction don’t kill people, deranged people use them to kill people.

Do I find it absolutely disgusting that on the same day this terrible tragedy happened you could find an article by the President of the NRA on a news website touting the biggest success of his organization and 2nd amendment supporters this year was how now people “think guns are cool?”  Yes.  And it should disgust you, too.  Regardless of what your stance surrounding this issue is.

Maybe we should take a look at the fact that this country is one of the very few where citizens can purchase the same level of tactical gear as our police forces wear.  Or that people like James Holmes are able to legal obtain 4 guns, tactical gear, and over 6000 rounds of ammunition (and yes, I know that number may sound a lot more shocking than the reality) in a matter of months.  He spent over $15,000 preparing his cache.  He had over 90 packages delivered to him.  He bought all that ammunition and tactical gear legally over the internet. All in a matter of months. And nobody even said boo.

Maybe the trade off to having your guns is to concede to allowing the government to track a few things in our lives. Like the purchase of ammunition.  Or tactical gear.  Or the sudden stockpiling of weapons and things of the like.  Oh, I know, keep the government out of our business!  Well, amazon tracks your purchases.  Your supermarket tracks your purchases.  Facebook tracks your likes. Most websites and browsers track the sites you look at.  If you think you aren’t being tracked already, you live in a fantasy bubble.

Don’t think that tracking ammunition will do any good?  Think again.  “Law enforcement in Sacramento and Los Angeles successfully used local ammunition recordkeeping ordinances to identify and prosecute felons who purchased ammunition. Between January 16 and December 31, 2008, the Sacramento ordinance led to the identification of 156 prohibited persons who had purchased ammunition, 124 of whom had prior felony convictions, 48 search warrants and 26 additional probation or parole searches. In addition, the ordinance led to 109 felony charges, 10 federal court indictments, 37 felony convictions and 17 misdemeanor convictions. The ordinance allowed law enforcement to seize a total of 84 firearms, including seven assault weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.” [http://smartgunlaws.org]

Maybe we should look at the way the media sensationalizes these types of shootings. I know the names of many of the murderers who committed these horrific crimes. I know their faces. I know a lot about them. They are forever burned in my memory.  But I don’t remember many of the victim’s names or faces.  Maybe that’s something in me. Or maybe it’s the way the media portrays these events. The way they are plastered on every television, newspaper, radio program in existence.  While the killers are not “glorified,” they are certainly made famous and declared notorious, and maybe that’s almost as bad.

Meanwhile, maybe we should also look at addressing the problem of mental illness in this country.

The average handgun costs between $200-500 dollars. The guns used in the type of shootings we see so often here can cost around $2000.  And mental health services?

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Maybe we can’t agree that some guns are just unnecessary. Maybe we can’t agree that people shouldn’t be able to buy law enforcement grade “protective” gear.  Oh and I know people will be “up in arms” about any suggestion to track anything, god forbid we give up a tiny bit of ourselves for the greater good.  But maybe we should urge our politicians to take a look at this problem our country faces and to make this type of health care more affordable.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is many of the same people who want to lessen our gun control laws and make it easier to put guns in the hands of the people are the very same people who wish to do away with our social programs – programs that will allow mentally ill people access to treatment they may need.  Affordable treatment.

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A wise man once said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”

I don’t really start thinking about Christmas shopping until the week of Thanksgiving. In fact, I sort of refuse to start thinking about it until the week of Thanksgiving.

Three weeks ago my lovely sister-in-law sent me a list of things one of my nieces wants for Christmas and I rebuffed her. It wasn’t even November yet!  No way!  No lists! Everything was automatically vetoed. I wasn’t ready to start thinking about it. Never mind Macy’s already had Holiday Lane up at the beginning of October.  Or that CVS had the Hallmark ornaments up in September.  Let them start their brainwashing early.  I wasn’t buying into it.  I wasn’t ready.

It’s not that I’m Grinchy, though I’ve been accused of such. In fact, it wasn’t so many years ago someone gifted me a matching set of Grinch boxers, t-shirt, and some of the coziest (if not most horrific looking) green Grinch slippers you’ve ever seen.  I just think the whole shopping materialistic craziness has gotten out of control.

Okay, all that stuff aside, let’s get on with the real reason for my post.  Christmas shopping.

This year I have decided I am going to try to purchase 100% of my holiday gifts from independent, American, retailers.

I have often been one of those people who says we should support our local businesses.  I like to purchase gifts from the small “mom & pop” shops on the little main street in my hometown, or the main drag in the town just north of my town.  I like the quirky shops where you walk in and you’re greeted by the person who actually owns the store.  I love wandering into my local record store where the guy behind the counter remembers the music I listened to twenty years ago (even if it’s not the music I listen to anymore).  You’re not going to find that in a major retailer. Heck, you’re lucky if you find the same salesperson there twice in a week.

I’m not going to lie or be a complete hypocrite. I do like some of my major retailers and some of the perks that come with them.  Sure, it’s fun to wander through a small shop and run my fingers across all the merchandise, pick it up and look at it. But it’s also fun to lounge around on my sofa in with my hair all a mess and shop in my pajamas from my laptop.  And, let’s all be honest, it can be easier to find deals online or in major retailers (though independent stores or places like Etsy often have incredibly great prices).

Shopping locally or independently will be a breeze for some of the people on my list.  It often guarantees a unique gift that the recipient will absolutely love and adore.  But, conversely, for some of the more difficult people on my list, people who have very specific things that they want, it creates a very precarious shopping experience.  Some people on my list want what they want and won’t like anything else.  And trust me, the things they want are brand name items, often clothing, and they are known for returning anything that does not fall into the very specific list they provide.  Problems will abound when the things I pick out for them are difficult to return. Say, for example, if they are purchased on Etsy, the Renegade Craft Fair, or an independent retailer in a city 40 miles away.  Principles are principles, however, and they may just have to deal with it.  Of course I will do my best to pick out something I would hope that they would love, but deviating from a list is always a gamble. Then again, they can always regift.

There are pros and cons to both sides of the issue, just as there are to any issue.  And, just like any issue, the decision, if there is a decision to be made at all, really comes down to personal preference and what you feel in your heart is right.

This year in particular we have all be inundated with so much political rhetoric about the state of our economy, the shipping of American jobs overseas, the hits our businesses have been taking, as well as, you know, a whole host of other things.  I did what people say was “my part,” I went to the polls and cast my vote.  But I don’t feel like it was enough.  So I want to do more.  I want to put my money where my vote was.

I want to DO what I SAID.  I want to SHOW what I SAID.  I want my ACTIONS to SPEAK.

So I’m going to shop at home. I’m going to support my local guys. I’m going to stick to the small stores. I’m going to step into the stores I see struggling. I’m going to stroll the streets where I see too many “for rent” signs populating empty windows. I’m going to do my part to support the people in the communities I love.

I’m going to BE THE CHANGE.

Those Little Things Add Up

I never turn off lights.

Prior to last month, you could walk through my house around any given time and you would probably find the kitchen and dining room lights ablaze. The light in the den would probably be on (as would the television).  If I’d been in there for any reason, at least one light in my bedroom would be on.  If it were nighttime, the hall light would probably be on as well.  There were more times than I’d care to admit that I saw the light in the back yard was on but, by then I was usually settled in bed and, rather than getting up and being responsible, I’d tell myself I would turn it out in the morning. And then would, of course, forget.
My desktop computer was always on – always.  And usually the xbox would run until it shut itself off.  Too many nights I left the porch light or the garage light on.  Terrible with the lights. Absolutely terrible.

And it showed.  Last month my PGE bill came in at a hefty $173.04  That’s for one person in a 1200 square foot house.  To wit, that’s far too much.  Something needed to be done. And thus the great “turn out the lights!” experiment was born.

When it started, that’s all I really intended to do.  Turn out the lights.  When I left a room, I would turn out the lights (or turn off the tv, or turn off the stereo).  I really wanted to see just how much electricity I was wasting every day.   I wanted to see the difference between last month’s bill which clearly demonstrated my usual behavior and a bill reflecting my attempt to conserve energy.

It started out easily enough.  All I had to do was abide by the rule: When you leave a room, shut off the lights.  There were slips here and there.  I’d walk into the kitchen and think, “darn! left it on again!” but the more I got into the habit, the more a habit it became.  The more a habit it became, the more I wondered what else I could do to help conserve energy.

PG&E has an interesting function on their website that will give you energy saving tips.  I decided to utilize some of them.  Some of them I implemented about two weeks into the experiment, skewing my results, but it was okay.  I was still conserving!

I upped my thermostat temperature. While the AC is delightful, I do think I take it too far. There really isn’t a need for my house to be a cool 67 all the time.  I followed the guidelines and raised the temperature (though I will admit, I did not raise it to the recommended 78 degrees – I believe I left it at 74).

I also upped the temperature of both my refrigerator and freezer to the recommended temperatures (35 degrees for the fridge, 0 for the freezer).  I had the freezer at -1 and the fridge somewhere below 35, so I wasn’t sure just how much altering those temperatures would help, but why not, right?

I lowered the temperature of my water heater.  PGE recommends you put it to 120 degrees. I’m not sure what I put mine to (weird dial), but I definitely lowered it.  I have to admit, I was wary of doing this as I love a nice hot shower/bath, but in the end?  Didn’t even notice a difference!  The shower is still hot, the dish water is still hot, all seemed normal as could be.

I turned off my desktop computer.  I rarely use it. The only time I actually need it if I’m not right in front of it is if I want to watch something on the xbox.  Other than that, why is it constantly on?  Constantly running. Constantly sucking up energy?  Off it went!  I also started unplugging things. Not everything. Not the coffee maker or the printer, but things like my chargers. Why leave a battery charger plugged in long after the battery has been recharged?

I adjusted the cycles on my dishwasher and also my laundry machines.  I washed clothes in warm water rather than hot (they recommend cold water, but I’m not there just yet).  I turned off the 3rd rinse and the drying portion of the dishwasher cycle.  I paid more attention to the dryer cycle so I didn’t needlessly run it longer than it needed to run.

Interestingly enough, not only did I stop leaving lights on, I stopped turning lights on Of course I didn’t stop using my lights entirely, but I stopped using them unnecessarily.  My house gets a lot of natural light pouring through the windows – why did I constantly need to flick the switch and fill my home with that artificial stuff?  Now I put off the use of my overhead lights until they actually become a necessity, usually in the later afternoon or on the cloudier days.  I don’t need lights to wash my dishes when the sunlight is streaming through my kitchen window.  I don’t need lights to read when I can sit on my cozy couch in front of the window or, better yet, head outside and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.

And then I anxiously awaited the new bill to post online.  Would it even make a dent?  Would my efforts to lead a less electrified existence pay off at all?

I finally got the bill yesterday and was actually quite surprised and dumbfounded.  I went from 781kW in July to 611 in August.  Even better than that – I saved $85 dollars!  I went from $173 to $88 a month in charges.  I, effectively, cut my bill in HALF.  I had anticipated a difference, but nothing like that.  Just by implementing all those little things, those little changes to old habits, I was able to cut my bill in half.

When I look back to the start of this “unplugging” adventure, I realize I never actually looked at it from a money saving perspective.  Sure, I knew my phone bill would go down if I got rid of the smartphone and the associated data plan, but I didn’t expect something of this nature.  I didn’t expect these little things to add up the way they have.

Total savings on dropping smartphone:   $37/month
Total savings from dropping cable, switching to different carrier: $45/month
Total savings from becoming a more energy conscious person:  $85/month.

Total savings?  $167/month.  And still decreasing!  Wow!!!!

Over 30 Days Without a SmartPhone – How’s it Been, REALLY?

The reaction people have when I tell them I don’t have a smart phone continues to amuse me. On more than one occasion my little flip phone has been referred to as a dumb phone.  My good friend J. was there once and responded, “No, it’s not a dumb phone, it’s a phone.”

I like that.  It’s not dumb, it’s just a phone. It does what it’s supposed to do with very few additions. It can still take photos, though they’re pretty bad. It still receives and sends text messages. I can even update my FaceBook status if I really want to.

Okay, that’s all fine and good, but how has it been going really?  Have I been suffering withdrawl? Have I plummeted into a deep dark depression without the ability to look into the lives of my friends and favorite celebrities every nanosecond of every single day?  Have my fingers grown stiff and paralyzed without their constant flicking across endless apps and time sucking games?

No.  No.   Oh, and no.

Have I missed my smartphone?  Sometimes, but very rarely.  In fact, the first time I genuinely missed it was this past weekend at the Outside Lands Festival.  I was surrounded by people staring at their phones.  They were checking in, they were looking at the schedules on the nifty Outside Lands schedule, they were looking at the map, they were snapping photos on Instagram, they were tweeting about the bands.  They were doing the things I used to love to do on my smartphone all while filling those empty spaces between bands.

And then, of all people, Tom Morello, said something early on Sunday morning that really resonated with me.  In fact, it was something that was very similar to something I’d recently said to another friend in regard to my habit of lugging my camera around with me everywhere.  He said, “Be in the moment.  Put that shit (cameras, etc) down, and be in the moment.”  Another artist said it later in the day, it seemed to become a theme – the way you start thinking about something and then suddenly it’s everywhere.

Be In The Moment.

Isn’t that really what the point of my “unplugging” and living a less wired life is all about at the root of it?  I wanted to stop giving only some of my attention to things all the time. I wanted to stop devoting only part of myself to things.  I wanted to give things all of my focus. I wanted to Be In The Moment.

I wanted to go out to dinner with my friend without the urge to  pull out my phone every two minutes.  I wanted to relax at the beach without the need to check out FaceBook and see what everyone else was doing.  I didn’t really need to read all my celebrity tweets while enjoying a weekend BBQ with friends.

As an aside, at what point did it ever become acceptable to have your phone on the table during a social occasion?  At what point did society say, “Yes, it’s totally okay for you to be interacting with someone or ten other someones during this dinner date we made last week?”  When did it become okay for someone to start typing away on their telephone while their companion was mid-sentence?

Oh, that’s right. Never. And yet, apparently, everyone seems to think it’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong here, I haven’t forgotten. I, too, was one of the worst offenders.  I have never claimed to be anything other than one of the worst offenders.  It was a driving force behind giving up my smartphone.  Because I became so disgusted with myself and this poor behavior.  What’s strange is, now that I’ve made the change in my own life, I’m much more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else. Tap away, society.  Do as you will. I can wait for you to finish whatever is so important on your phone for us to finish our real life interaction.  It’s all good.

I am happy to be free.

I can’t lie to you, however, because I said I would be honest.  There are things I miss.  Giving up my smartphone has all but destroyed my twitter account. I’m not sure I’ve logged in more than twice this month.  Instagram is gone now, too.  I miss seeing my friends’ photos more than I miss posting my own, for I can always bring an actual camera places with me, but many of the people I followed there are people who wouldn’t normally take photos.  I miss checking in places, odd as that may be. It was fun looking for the place and checking in with excitement, “Old 97s! — at the Fillmore, San Francisco” and I’m certain next week when I’m sitting at the airport I’ll miss having the phone to waste away the time with, for it was an excellent time waster.  But really?  That’s about it as far as the negatives go.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised.  I truly believed after a month, I’d be running back with my tail between my legs just begging for an iPhone 4.

When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships – Andy Warhol

“Hi, I’d like to cancel my cable please.”

I’ve spoken these words before several times, twice for the reason I spoke them a couple of weeks ago.  The reason wasn’t because I was moving or switching companies or suffering financial burden.  The reason was simple, I no longer wanted cable. I no longer wished to have a hundred channels of time-sucking drivel pumped into my house at my expense.

Before I go ahead and alienate everyone, let’s get some things clear right off the bat. I am not an elitist. I like television.  I loathe 90% of all reality television, however. And by loathe, I mean loathe, detest, hate, would rather rip out my eyes with a red hot spork than guess who is going to get some rose or get kicked out of some pricey house or god forbid watch those kids on the shore make spectacles out of themselves in my beloved Florence (for god’s sake, talk about giving Americans an even worse name out there).  Okay, okay, I’m sorry, maybe I am a snob after all.  I do love to watch Gordon Ramsay on just about anything, even if he is cursing out the young folk and making them cry. Don’t even get me started on the mystery basket on Chopped.  AND YES I AM TOTALLY ADDICTED TO JUDGE JUDY! That’s right. The worst of the worst. I love Judge Judy. I wish I could have her job. I wish, for just one day I could sit up there and tear those clowns apart.  What kind of idiot would agree to go in front of Judge Judy anyway?  Seriously.  So, yes, those are my reality shows.

Aside from those shows, once my beloved LOST came to an end (yes, I’m still talking about LOST, deal with it), television held little interest for me anymore. In fact, the second time I canceled my cable was two weeks after LOST ended.  Oh sure, there was Alcatraz (canceled) and Person of Interest (sensing a theme here?), those were pretty good.  I don’t know why I missed every single episode of Mad Men this season (how does that happen?), but I guess I’m over that one.  So what will I miss, really, by not having cable?

THE WALKING DEAD.  Yep.  That’s about it.  That and American Horror Story, if it ever returns.  It’s true I may shrivel up and die if I don’t find some way/where to get my Walking Dead fix, but other than that, I’m doing okay without cable. And here’s why.

For one thing, I have an xbox and with the xbox comes Netflix/AmazonPrime and their wonderful streaming. And with their wonderful streaming comes my current obsession:

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Okay, so I’m kind of cheating, right?  It’s not like I’m living 100% without television. But then, I never said I was!  I just said I’m living without cable.  The difference here is, rather than sitting in front of the tube for three hours, getting up and realizing I just wasted three hours on mindless drivel I actually didn’t care about, I’m taking time to choose what I’m watching.  And, also, by default, I’m spending far less time in front of the television.

What have I been doing with all that extra time?

Well…

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I’ve been kind of crafty

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I’ve done a lot of research into and adopted a paleo lifestyle

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I’ve spent more quality time with friends (and viewed beautiful art)

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I’ve read

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I’ve found new ways to get out in the world and exercise

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I’ve taken the time to pamper myself

What else have I done?  I’ve walked a lot more. Just yesterday I walked to get my groceries. I’ve been going to bed much earlier. My house is cleaner. My yard is slowly coming back to life. I’ve been writing a little here and there. I’ve been listening to music so much more. Oh music, I forgot how much I love music filtering throughout my house all day long. I prep my lunches for work the night before to erase some of the chaos in the morning. I’ve been walking the dog and spending time training him. I’ve been playing with my cats. I’ve been multi-tasking less.  I had my parents over for dinner and we languished about playing cards afterwards. And when they left, rather than flopping on the sofa, I cleaned everything up and curled on the sofa with Cooper to polish off a chapter in my latest read before heading into bed so I could get up early and get an early start on my Saturday. I actually spent time chatting with a friend on the telephone. I’ve been taking photos with something other than my phone again.  I registered for a class. I’ve been d-o-i-n-g.

The truth is, I could have made the choice to do all these things even with cable and my little smartphone.  I could have simply chosen not to turn on the television.  But now I have the added bonus of saving even more money each month.   And here’s what’s crazy.  To cancel my cable and keep my internet and landline with the company I was using the cost would have gone from $80 to $110 a month. To just keep the internet would have put me around $70/month.  Yes, it would have gone up.  So I canceled everything, switched to different company and now have a landline and internet (which is just as fast) for $45/month.

So not only have I, once again, dramatically improved the quality of my life by “regressing” as some might call it, I continue to save money by doing away with technology I, personally, feel was serving only to pollute my life.

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