Monday, March 2, 2015

Being Neighborly: On Fighting Isolation

I started by defining a Culture of Fear. Then it's components were discussed. Finally, I wrote a treatise on the origins.

So, read on:

When I defined "A Culture of Fear" I argued that it included three important pieces:

  • isolation
  • paranoia 
  • restrictive fear 

Good Neighbors from U.S. Fish & Wildlife ...
Even if you have a small close knit group of friends and a wider network of acquaintances, I would bet that you don't know your neighbors. We don't know our neighbors due to advancements in transportation technology and higher population density. 

Please, try to think of your neighbors names. Who lives to your right? Who lives to your left? Who lives across the street from you? Who lives over your back fence? If you live in an apartment complex, who lives above you? Who lives below you? Can you name all of them? 

I would bet that you used descriptive nicknames (and probably not nice ones) with more than a few of them.

When I was growing up, we lived next door to "Old Mr. Shut Up," and across the street from "That Huge Asian Family." The first was derogatory. The second wasn't. 

Now that we've established that most of us don't know our neighbors and that it contributes to a culture of fear. Let us talk about how to change that. 

You don't have to get to know all your neighbors. You don't even have to know all their names, but you should certainly be on friendly terms with them. Say "Hello," and wave when passing. Perhaps ask simple questions. I recommend asking different ones each time you meet. If something seems interesting, remember it and ask a follow-up question next time. 

Of course, all of this means that you aren't focused on a screen when you pass them going from car to the house. It means you don't have your ear buds in listening to music or disembodied voices. It means you aren't talking on the phone when you pass them. 

It does mean that you are taking the time to stop and smile when you pass them. It means that you have slowed down enough to interact with each other. 

If you have the time and the funds to do so, invite one family over for an outdoor picnic. Make it a potluck to spread out the burden, and show interest in your neighbors' tastes. The get together might lead to mutual babysitting agreements, carpooling, or other ideas that will help you feel safe, and save money. 

If nothing else make sure that there is one close neighbor, which you trust to watch your house when you are away. If you want to trust them, but still aren't sure, then make sure to get information on them and exchange it. That way if something does happen you know who to go to ask questions about it first. If nothing happens, then you can trust them further as things go on. 

Ending your geographical isolation is the easiest of the three pieces to combat. I'll be back in about a week to discuss working on the general paranoia. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

New Chore Division

Wikimedia Commons
At the beginning of February, we put a new division of chores into place. It's a complicated system to decide who does how many hours. In addition, we had a lot of struggle to get adjusted to the system. However, we are getting a lot more done around the house. It's more picked up, cleaner, and things that have been sitting on the "To-Do" list are actually getting done.

I like it. We may lower the hours at some point in the future, maintenance takes much less time than cleaning from scratch. (Yes, Granny, I finally learned that one), but the system for division will probably stay in place.

Here's the system:

First, you begin with how many people are in the household, and able to do chores. In our case it is three. If each person does an equal percentage of the chores, then each should be doing thirty-three percent (33.3%) of the work.

Well, thirty-three and a third percent, but let's try to keep it simple.

Second, you need to decide how many hours of housework are needed in the course of a week. Since we decided that it was a "full-time job" we chose 42 hours, because that is the closest to 40, without being under, that we could get to.

Third, you need to tally up how many hours each person in the household works. Surprisingly, Will and Robert each work about 70 hours a week.

Well, perhaps this isn't so surprising for Will, but it certainly is surprising for Robert. However, he has school, boy scouts, student government, athletics, drill, and a couple of other things as well.

For me, who has such a very flexible schedule, we put in twenty hours a week. That's two and a half teaching days, or I can put in time on my blog and my writing.

Now you've got the basic information ready. So, the hard part starts - calculations and logics.

Fourth, use the information collected in the third part. Add up each person's hours to find out how many hours are worked throughout the week by everyone. In our case that means that we are at 160.

Fifth, take the 160 and find out what percentage each person works of that 160 hours.

Take their total hours worked from number 3 (70 or 20 for us), and put it over 160, then multiply by 100. That means that Will and Robert each do 43.75% of the work, while I do 12.50% of the total work hours for the week.

Sixth. Remember the information from number 1? Now take the information from number 5 and subtract it.

43.75% - 33.3% = 10.42%
12.50% - 33.3% = -20.83%

Seventh. Subtract the information you learned in 6 from 1.

33.3% - 10.42%  = 22.92%
33.3% - -20.83% = 54.17%

This is the percentage of the total of the work hours needed (from number 2, in our case 42 hours), that the person should be working.

Yes, this means that I am doing most of the housework. I expected that. I even enjoy doing the housework, but that doesn't mean that I want to do it alone.

Eighth. Find out what number hours equates to the percentage. To do this, multiply the number from the second instruction (42 in our case) by the numbers that were the result of the seventh section.

22.92% * 42 = 9.625
54.17% * 42 = 22.75

However, those numbers are a little odd. So we rounded. Being nice, we rounded up for the boys, each of them are expected to do 10 hours a week. We rounded down for me, I try to do 22 hours each week.

That's the end. 

Yes, it is a complex system to set up. However, it is the fairest way to determine how much housework each person should be doing. The easiest and fastest way is to set up an excel file, and fill in the numbers.

Being a nice person, I've thrown together a google sheets file with the information: Public Chore Hour Requirements

Here it is embedded:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

End of February Update

This Week

Sunday we had our family meeting. We came to some conclusions and decisions. We reviewed our new way of dividing chores, and I will talk about that in a later post. We also played a few games.

The rest of the week went mostly without incident or things to report.

My Family

Will is doing well. Though he is spending a lot of time at work it is less than usual. Robert is also doing well, getting good grades, helping around the house, and spending every other spare moment relaxing.

My Health

My third round of test results came back. She said my thyroid levels have altered enough so that they are just outside of normal. She wants to wait a month and then retest. I call them back on the twenty-sixth so that I can go in the next day and get more test results back.

The Seedlings

The sage seeds were the first to come up. They are doing very well. The Thyme have also started to make an appearance, but that was only recently. Also the parsley looks like it is trying to come up. Hopefully, I can confirm all four types are prospering next weekend.

I put them in the sunlight as much as possible. However, with the gloomy weather I often have to leave them in the kitchen with the florescent light. I hope that doesn't hurt them too much in the long run.

My Embroidery 

My embroidery was put on hold this week as I turned some of Robert's old things that were unsuitable for the Goodwill into rags. A couple of ripped up, too small t-shirts, a stained one, and some socks that had holes will help make dusting and mopping up spills much easier.

Next week, I hope to show you some actual embroidery rather than some impromptu sewing.

My Writing 

I finished writing the zero draft of the SF-R that was my NaNoWriMo from last year. So, I picked up Running for the Stars again, and began reading through it adding comments and notes. I see a lot of places where I'm going to have to rewrite material, and other places where I'm going to add material. I'm on track to finish the read through today. Monday I will begin reorganizing the list of edits and scene alterations that I want to make so that I can actually write them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

An Odd Tale: Arrow-Odd

I'm reading Seven Viking Romances. The first is "Arrow-Odd." In some ways, this is a classic saga with a young prince full of hubris that needs to be taken down. A prophecy is involved, as is a lot of mayhem and violence. It even has a "happy ending," though barely.

I have several issues with this story. It meanders, which for a saga written during a time when bards told stories orally, is normal. However, it does have some of the bigger elements of more modern storytelling. The biggest of these is an arch-nemesis who appears and disappears in the story. A second point that I have a real contention with is the "happy ending." Granted Arrow-Odd won the fair maiden and ruled his kingdom before dying of "old age." However, it's like the story teller just forgot the prophesy and tacked on the final chapter, to give it closure.

It's a good story full of adventure and romance. I could easily see it done in the same style as the old Xena and Hercules television shows. However, if one is going for the complete story arc then some alterations to the story would need to be made for current generations. I'll let you read the story and tell me what changes you would make.

If you like, X try Y:

I already mentioned Xena and Hercules television shows, but Beast Master would also easily fit this description. I know those are television rather than written, but Arrow-Odd was formerly spoken rather than read. I think there are some correlations.

The Odyssey by Homer is also from the era of oral storytelling. In addition, it has adventure and magic, mayhem and romance. I also think that the Odyssey has a much better ending.

If you're looking for more Norse myth, then try any of the Sagas. We have several that I haven't delved into: Prose, Poetic, and Icelandic are the ones that I can name off the top of my head.

If you'd rather watch something than read, try The Vikings from the History channel. It's got adventure, mayhem, and romance, with just a touch of magic.

If the journeys of Arrow-Odd are more your style, but you'd like them a little updated. Try L.A. Mayer's Bloody Jack. There's no prophecy, but she rarely visits the same place twice.

The next story in Seven Viking Romances is King Gautrek. I'll be reviewing that and discussing it shortly as well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Allowance and Chores: A Tricky Subject

This morning the Today Show highlighted a Slate article on kids and their allowances. The article itself makes several points. These include: 
  • start giving them an allowance when they start asking about it 
  • a dollar a week per year of age 
  • raise the budget way up when they can handle it 
  • set budgets for clothing items and let them pick their own and pay for it 
  • don't bail them out
  • don't tie it to chores
The Today Show seemed very skeptical and asked what the source was for this article. What study was conducted or what expertise did the author have? 

I have some things to say about the article. I also have some things to say about the topic. These are related, but independent. 

The Article: Good Theory? Or Internet Gobbledygook? 

Ron Lieber wrote the article. He is a financial columnist for the New York Times and has held several financial reporting positions. He is also a father. However, he has no psychology training.* Because of this, I am forced to point out that what works for one family does not necessarily work for another. 

The article does not cite any other sources. It doesn't include any quotes or studies. It doesn't even include any general references. 

The article is a good article. It is well written and includes a lot of sound advice and thought-provoking information. (If it didn't we wouldn't be talking about it now because it certainly doesn't qualify for the "cute" category of viral.) 

It is one parent's perspective on what works for them, but he did not base it on any science. For new parents, especially those who are beginning to consider allowances, it should be read and considered. However, it should not be considered the be all and end all of allowance advice. 

My Views on Allowance and Chores

Putting Money in a Piggy Bank by 401(K) 2012
Children should start receiving an allowance when they are old enough to ask about money. With that part, I agree. However, it should begin with a very small amount if the child is in preschool. They are still grasping the denominations and value of money. Therefore, most of their personal purchases should still go through their parents. 

For these reasons "a dollar per year of age" seems like a very high amount. In addition, many families probably cannot afford that. Both the article from The Mint as well as that by Williams advocate only giving your child what you can afford "and not a cent more" (Williams). 

I believe that, if possible, allowance should increase with age and responsibility. If children are only buying toys and games for themselves, then they don't need a large amount. If they are responsible for their clothing or putting gas in the car, then it should be much higher. However, before increasing their allowance, you should discuss a budget with them. The children should know what their parents expect of them. Then, the child should be allowed to fail (if they do not learn it from the discussion), and the natural and logical consequences take place. Then the family re-discusses, talks about oversight options and continues. 

However, fewer and fewer families can do this. Because for a family to recover from the "natural consequences" of a child's failure might take weeks or months. 

For example, a single mother with three kids expects her oldest to drive them to school each day. She has to be at work early. However, he spends too much money out partying with friends, and then can't afford sudden repairs on his car. 

Does the mom pay for the repairs and withhold his allowance? Or does she let him save for the repairs? 

The best way to teach the lesson is the latter, but that means that the children have no way to get to school until the car is repaired. There are two options. The first is that she drives them, taking time off from work. The second is that she finds someone else to drive them (and in our current "don't get to know your neighbors" culture, which might be more difficult than you think). 

Many families just can't afford to teach object lessons like that, because they have no way to recover from the teenager's mistakes. 

However, "setting a clothing budget and then let the children choose their clothes and pay for them," is something that I am completely behind. Even if you cannot afford to dump it into the children's allowance, you can still set a clothing budget with your child and let them pick out the clothes they like. You can even hand over the cash to let them pay for it once they finish making their selections. 

On the other hand, budget should not be the only thing you talk about before going to the clothing store. The second topic, or perhaps the first, before budget, should be "what you need" vs. "what you want" vs. "what we can afford." Also included might be some discussion of family values and socially accepted values. These may include modesty, topics of printed t-shirts, and what the school's clothing policy accepts. This discussion helps them understand what you expect of them, and what everyone else expects as well. 

Don't bail them out.

I'll say it again, "don't bail them out." 

Almost every article I skimmed before choosing the four to cite agreed with this idea. Children should make mistakes when they are young. That way they do not screw up their credit when they get out into the world. If they spend what they have, and then discover that they need something else - too bad. 

In our household, this functions as follows. If Robert needs something for school supplies that crop up in the middle of the year, he has two choices. The first is to tell me when I am making the grocery list (or at least remind me then). I make the grocery list on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. If he doesn't tell me and he needs it before the next shopping trip, then he has to pay for it himself. If he is out of allowance for the week, then he pays me back on the next allowance day. 

Notice "he pays me back," not "it's withheld from his allowance." I hand him the whole amount, and he has to hand me back enough to pay for what I bought for him. This way he physically sees the money that he is losing rather than the money just being something that he never hand. 

Since implementing this, he has gotten much better at telling me what he needs well in advance, and making sure that it is on the grocery list. 

This "no bail out" strategy goes with just about everything. 

Finally, Lieber said not to tie it to chores because once kids have enough money they stop doing chores. (He also went on to say that we need to make children do more chores, which is something I approve of). 

Whether or not the money is tied directly to household chores is something that the family has to figure out how they want to work it out. For some it works, for others it doesn't. One thing I firmly believe should be true across all households is that children should know that an allowance is a privilege, not a right. It is something that is on the table to remove when the child needs to be disciplined, or receive a negative consequence. It is on the table for budget cuts if something happens to the family's finances. It is not something that must occur in order for life to go on. 

However, if allowance must be docked, removed temporarily, or removed completely, it should be discussed as a family. The children should understand why it is happening, and how long the change will last. 

Works Cited

"Allowances: The Issues." Northwestern Mutual, 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

*That I could find upon a quick Google search. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Planting Seeds

For Christmas, my mother gave me several packets of seeds. I asked for them; I wanted them. However, I had no way of getting them to grow. No starter place for my seedlings, no soil for them, no pot in which to put them.

That has changed.

The boys wanted sand and little rocks to help them build and decorate their models for Warhammer 40K. Now, they could buy this from GamesWorkshop (the company that makes Warhammer 40K) for prices that are astronomical. They could buy them from hobby shops that deal more with people who are building settings to put trains in and all sorts of other things for a moderately high price. On the other hand, they can go to Lowe's and get it for cheap. That's what they did.

We went to Lowe's.

Lowe's also has gardening stuff. Like soil, and terracotta pots, and little places to grow seedlings.

I bought some.

Now, I just had to plant my seedlings. First I gathered my supplies.

These included:
  • my oldest cookie sheet
  • newspaper
  • the seedling planters
  • the seeds
  • water (in the blue cup) 
  • the soil 
  • the terracotta pot (though I won't be using that today)
First I put the newspaper down on the cookie tray. Then I set the seedling pots on top of them. These weren't that expensive. However, if this works then next year I will use egg cartons instead and see if that works just as well or better for less.

After this, I filled each tray up with soil. Yes, I got my hands dirty. Then I watered the soil, just like the instructions told me to. Then I started sprinkling seeds in each pot. I did one tray of each, eight cups. This many gives me some room, in case not all of them pop up. Also, I can trade away some of them for other things in the apartment complex (one guy makes vanilla extract from vanilla beans.) However my cookie sheets only hold four trays, so I did the ones that take the longest to sprout first.

After I had put seeds in each pot, I pushed them down roughly to the recommended depth. Then I covered them with more soil.

These happened to be the Scarborough Faire quadruplets: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. Robert has started cooking with these a lot (in the store bought dried form). So, I know that he likes them. Thus, the fresh ones will make yummy additions to the household cupboard.

Now, they are sitting by the window. Not that they are getting a lot of light on this gloomy day. Tonight I will put the seeds, tray and all, on top of the refrigerator. I will do this to help them keep warm, and then tomorrow they will go to the window again.

I'll keep you updated about whether or not they sprout.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Origins of the Culture of Fear

Read from the beginning, with the Definition of CoF, or just pick up from the last piece: Components of CoF. 

It's easy to find the origins of our Culture of Fear, just type "Culture of Fear" into Google, and see what pops up at the top. For me, it is the Wikipedia page on Culture of Fear (aka Climate of Fear). The introduction of the page reads:
"... a term used by some scholars, writers, journalists and politicians who believe that some in society incite fear in the general public to achieve political goals.[1] It is also a term applied to the workplace." 
"Some in society incite fear in the general public to achieve political goals," is the essential part of the conversation here. However, who is it in society who provokes this fear?

The media and the politicians are the people who incite this fear. Then having absorbed it we begin a feedback cycle that continues the fear.

The Media 

Mongolian Media from Mike Messer
Once upon a time, the only way to get news was through word of mouth. Travelers were big news in every town the came to because everyone wants to hear the latest news. Then the printing press came out, and suddenly anyone who could read (and each generation that number grew) could have relatively regular news, depending on the vagaries of weather. Over time, the number of papers being printed went up, and they printed more and more often. During the height of the newspapers, some were published twice daily. Still, only the educated could have the news direct, until the advent of the radio. This invention allowed the masses to access the news directly. Even with regular entertainment programming, more news was needed to fill the airwaves. Television didn't change this, it only added another dimension - sight - to the equation. However, over time the number of channels went up, and the number of news programs did as well. The culmination of this is the 24-7 news channel. They have to include a lot of news to keep their programming fresh over the course of a day, even when they repeat some of the biggest news stories.

Each time the amount of news went on the number of stories had to go up as well. Either the same media was putting out more stories each day or different media were putting out more stories total. In addition, the different media had to compete for readers, listeners, and viewers. This competition made them want to capture the world's attention, and nothing captures humanity's attention like sex or fear. The best stories use both to horrify and titillate their audience.

In the beginning, this was called Yellow Journalism or Sensationalism. Any person could, with a little logic and though, poke holes or ask more intelligent questions about the news stories that the media presented to them. In return, the big news magnates - Hearst and Pulitzer - were "honest" that they "occasionally" exaggerated.

Over time though, regulations meant that the news people were required to double check and triple check their sources. These laws said that they could only put out real stories, and they couldn't elaborate on them too much. During that same time the population rose, and the communications networks improved. They no longer needed to embellish stories, or even make them up out of whole cloth to keep their headlines full of sex and tragedy. They were quick to showcase that how many crimes happened was rising, despite whatever anyone did. What they neglected to mention was that the percentage of crime per person, and thus an individual's risk to experience such a crime, was falling. This lowering risk is because the population was rising faster than the number of offenses committed.

Feeling safe would not help ratings.

So, the media encourages a culture of fear and will continue to do so. All the general public can do is to arm itself with knowledge. When a story worries them, then need to go to the source, and talk to both sides, or at least read each party's press release.

The Politicians

Political Cartoon by Greg Perry via The Tyee
Politicians use fear to get you to vote.

The right wing gets you to fear those beyond our country's borders and the loss of individual freedoms. The left gets you to fear the people next door and the loss of opportunity.

They will spin it different ways for different groups of people. They will alter the language to fit the times, but they say the same thing just about every time.


The media and the politicians push you to act through fear. One wants you to watch their program - either to titillate you or to "help" you. The other wants you to vote for them.

They made this mess, and it's working for them, they aren't going to undo it. So how do we fix it?