Monday, February 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I realize the calendar still says February, but when I have to mow and spray around my barn every two weeks to keep the grass from overtaking the ranch, my thoughts turn to spring. I do enjoy spring, or at least the concept of spring. The green grass, the almond blossoms, the sight of wobbly-legged newborn foals, calves and lambs. I love these things, I am less enthusiastic about the mud.

Some people dream of buying a summer house on the beach when they win the lottery, not me. I am going to buy one hundred truckloads of gravel to make sure every square foot of my place that isn't lawn, driveway, or pasture is buried beneath six inches of crushed rock. Our back entry, or mudroom as we like to call it, is cluttered with the family's mud covered "outside shoes." Eventually, we will put our outside shoes away when the seven-day forecast shows a lot more pictures of the sun than it has pictures of rain. Until then, watch your step coming in the back door.

I started my spring cleaning a little early this year. I was finding pieces of scrap wood in my barn when I grabbed a rotten plank of wood flooring and pulled it up. Big mistake. I pulled on the next one and it came right up too. Two hours later, I had taken a twenty by twenty foot section of forty-year-old floor out of my barn. I didn't mean to, but some of best work happens by accident.

Isn't it funny how when we get in "cleaning mode" it is hard to stop. Once I get dirty and have a head of steam, watch out. If it isn't nailed down or painted, it might get thrown out.

I often wish I could do this in my personal life. I sometimes think about the things I do out of habit, or just because that is the way I have always done them, and I wonder if I could change them. I think about all the stuff that clutters up my time, my thoughts, my energy and my life. I ultimately conclude that I could use a good spring cleaning myself.

I am guessing at one extreme, I could spend all my time in deep contemplation, thinking about God and the universe, and how big He is and how small I am in comparison. It would not be wasted time to be sure, but I am not going to do that, and I know it. At the other end of the spectrum would be watching Olympic curling on TV. I actually spent thirty minutes watching grown men slide a polished rock on the ice, and steer it with little brooms, in a game of frozen shuffleboard. I will never get those thirty minutes back.

I have found audio-books and podcasts to be a great way of using the hour I spend in the car every day to keep my mind busy with useful information or inspiration. I am trying to read more these days, and to continue writing. Sometimes I write a blistering rant about something that has twisted my tail that day, but then when I am done, I read one more time, and then delete it. Anger is another thing that clutters up my life. I have to work on it constantly or like the weeds around my barn, it will take over.

I have also come to the realization that I need to clean up my calendar by way of reducing some on my commitments. Not that the organizations I volunteer my time to are not important, they are, but I need to focus my attention on one or two and pull back from the rest. Being stretched a mile wide leaves you an inch deep. That is not how I want to serve.

Maybe one quiet evening this week I will get out one of my notebooks and write down two columns. One side being the things I can throw out. The other side, things I need to concentrate on, to make me a better me. A better idea would be to have my family fill out the columns; I will bet their lists would be a lot different.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The new language

At times, I forget that not all of us share that same political history. Being in my mid forties, I remember coming of age politically in 1980. The year of Reagan and Carter. For some of you, you were in your mid forties when that election occurred. I am constantly astounded that many of my friends and co-workers were not yet born in 1980. It is a sure sign I am now, officially, old.

Many of my younger friend's knowledge of politics starts at Bush vs. Gore, and some only started paying attention with the Obama campaign. Getting involved in politics at a young age is kind of like dating in junior high. You are all emotion, everything is new, and you believe most of what you hear. Then, you get your heart broken, you gain a little experience, and the next time out, you look before you leap.

Many Americans, having felt anger at George W. Bush and the Republicans, turned to Barack Obama and the Democrats. A year later, they have taken a new stance on politics and politicians. A pox on both your houses.

Like Mercutio, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet-after paying the ultimate price for two quarreling families' disagreement-he cries out three times, a plague o' both your houses! In our modern vocabulary, it would roughly translate to this: to hell with all of you politicians.

So where does that leave us in 2010?

For me it comes down to a simple question. Whichever party understands it, and answers it correctly, may not only win this election cycle, but also win control of Congress for a generation.

The question is this. Why do we live in one world, while Washington lives in another?

In our world, we are told when money gets tight; you cut back, sometimes way back. Sometimes when things are terrible, you lose things you worked very hard for, your new house, your new car. Sometimes you have to get down to the bare essentials in order to stay afloat.

In our world, we are told that if we work hard, come in early, stay late, give more than is expected, we will be rewarded. Sometimes we skip that family vacation to get a work project finished on time. Sometimes we work on our own time at home to make our job easier for everyone at the office. Sometimes we go to school at night in order to finish that degree, to work our way up the ladder.

In our world, we are told that we need to follow the rules, at all times. Sometimes we have to put off buying a needed item, from a washing machine, to a new service truck, or hiring a new employee so we can pay our quarterly taxes on time. Sometimes we deal with mountainous stacks of applications, forms, regulations, impact studies, frivolous lawsuits, inept bureaucrats and endless agencies with their hands out when we try to start or expand a small business.

Then, there are the folks in Washington DC.

In Washington DC, they tell us when times get rough, they are going to borrow and spend their way back to prosperity. Sometimes they just crank up the printing press as if it were Monopoly money. Sometimes they borrow trillions of dollars from foreign countries, money that will be have to be paid back by people who are not even old enough to vote right now. Sometimes a draconian cut, just means they are going to reduce the amount of increase in that spending program.

In Washington DC, they tell us the rich need to pay their "fair share." If you take huge personal risks, start a new business, work 60 hour weeks for a few years, hire employees, plow every penny back into your company, you are now "rich." Your reward for your success? Higher income taxes, more government regulation and maybe even a brand new carbon tax.

In our world, when you do not pay your taxes, your assets are seized and sold, but you do get three square meals a day, in prison. When the DC crowd does not pay their taxes, they are reelected, or they get a cabinet position.

The rules that we live by out here in our world: live within your means, work hard, be honest, do right by others, are so far removed from the thinking in Washington DC, and Sacramento for that matter, it’s as if we are speaking a different language. This language has found its voice in the Tea Party movement.

Those in leadership positions of both parties, who dismiss the Tea Parties across the nation as just a bunch of malcontent, right wing extremists, do so at their own peril. You don't understand them because you don't speak their language. You may be in need of an interpreter, let me help.

The language is very similar to English, it goes like this.

When they say stop spending, they mean stop spending. When they say we are taxed enough, they mean we are taxed enough. When they say they don't want a government takeover of the health care system, they mean don't want a government takeover of the health care system. When they say they are they are tired of politicians talking one way to get in to office, then doing the opposite when they get to DC, well, you get the idea.

Whichever party understands that Washington needs to be brought back into the real world, wins. The party that understands the solutions that work out here, will work in Washington, wins in November. It also helps if you understand the new language being spoken by the electorate.

Will they get it? Stay tuned.

Friday, February 05, 2010

So, how's that working for you?

If you have ever seen the Dr. Phil show, you will recognize his catch phrase. He usually asks this question right after you explain the manner in which you have been dealing with a problem. Okay, I know it's a loaded question. If your way of dealing with the problem were working, you wouldn't be talking to Dr. Phil about it. However, it's a great question because it turns your thinking back on itself. It makes you open your mind to new solution, or at least it should. However, there are some hardheaded people out there. People like me.

Just about the time I think I have this whole, husband, father thing figured out, I fall flat on my face. Again.

Being a man, my default setting is, if things seem fine, they must be fine. If my wife isn't telling me I am screwing up, she must think I am doing a good job, right? If my children don't run away crying when I talk to them, I must not be doing a terrible job, right? Wrong.

Being the sexist pig I am, I will put this onto simple stereotypes; Men are to relationships, what women are to checking the oil. As long as the car starts, and there are no horrible grinding sounds coming from under the hood, the engine must be fine. Actually, my wife is much better at checking her oil than I am at checking our relationship. That is a good thing for her car, not so much for her.

Guys, let me clue you in here. Most of the time, things aren't "fine." Even when she says, things are fine. Fine is like a codeword for, "are you really that dense?" Now I will admit that men hear what we want to hear, and when we hear things are fine, that is usually a relief to us.

Most men, myself included, look upon a face to face talk about what's wrong with our relationship in the same way we would an IRS audit. If we do talk about it, we will take the first item that comes up and say, "yea, I am sorry, I'll work on that." We really don't want to peel back the months, or maybe years of pent up frustration. Too messy, too much danger, too much pain.

Back to Dr. Phil. So, how's that working for you? In most cases, not so well.

Similar to not checking the oil, by the time you actually see or hear a problem, it might be a very big problem. One that could have been prevented if you had done some preventative maintenance. Like the old Fram oil filter commercial, you can pay me now, or you can pay me later. I have seen what the cost is when you ignore a problem; I don't want to be in that situation again.

If you don't spend much one on one time with your spouse, I would advise getting out of the house and going to a nice, quiet spot. It may be dinner and a movie, or it may be just a empty parking lot where you both can really throw a fit without anyone you know seeing you. Whatever works for your situation. One thing I do know, one date night or one yelling match will not solve the problem. A lot of stored up emotion takes time to come out, and there may be a few rough times before it starts looking better.

In my experience, when you find out how badly you have been screwing things up, no matter the faults of the other party, you will know what you need to do to make things right. The problem I have is, after things truly work their way back to being fine, I tend to relax a bit. I start to revert back to my old behavior, because I am a guy, and not a very bright one at that.

Maybe I will get a life size cardboard cutout of Dr. Phil to put on my closet door, with a sign that says, "hey jackass, how's that workin' for ya?"

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Will America hit the snooze bar?

From the left and from the right, pundits, politicians, activists, and the grumpy guy down the street are always saying America had better wake up. If you are on the left, you were decrying the pending doom of our planet due to man made global warming, or how we could never win the war in Iraq, if you were on the right, you were predicting a titanic increase in spending, deficits, and government regulation. No matter where you came down on those issues, the refrain from both sides was, "Wake up America!"

The only honest assessment I can give you is this; Americans enjoy their slumber.

Sure, the alarm goes off from time to time, and we are jolted from our dreamworld, at least for a short time. However, in the end, we roll over hit the snooze button. Why do we do this? My short answer is this; paying attention is hard work.

It is much easier to come home from work and turn on your favorite sitcom or drama, sit down in from of your computer, or put in that DVD from Netflix. Who wants to read a piece about a Senate hearing on this, that, or the other? Who wants to read about the city council, or board of supervisor's meeting? Who want's to keep track of just how much of your money was promised to someone else today? Judging from the tremendous amount voter apathy, and the vast numbers of those who don't understand the issues, not many Americans are awake right now.

Every election cycle, we hear one side or the other declaring a mandate from the people. Really? Even in the last election, where we were told about this huge influx of newly active, informed voters, the actual turn out was about 56% of eligible voters. That was only up a few percent from the last election. I'm not sure you can have a true mandate from 52% of the 56% of eligible American voters. This goes for Republicans as well as Democrats. If the GOP makes some headway in the 2010 election cycle, the plaques on the offices in DC will change, but I have to wonder if there will be any real, fundamental change until Americans start showing up, awake, informed, and in larger numbers.

We see a bit of this in the Tea Party movement, and in the last few statewide election in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. But a word of caution, as much passion as there is in these grass roots efforts, I remember the legions of Obama volunteers, meeting in homes, on campuses in 2008. They thought they were going to change the world too. What a difference a year makes.

You may ask, so what do want me to do? I work all day, come home, make dinner, make sure the kid's homework is done, and the laundry gets from the hamper to the washer. Where am I going to find the time to become informed? I don't know, most everyone has these same responsibilities. I would suggest that becoming informed is not that hard a task if you are willing to take a few minutes each day to make it happen.

In some ways, I miss the days of political ignorance. I just went along living my life, hoping some jackass behind a mahogany desk would not screw it up too badly. When I really started looking at the difference between my gross pay and my net pay, that is when I started to ask, who are these people, and what the heck are they doing with my money?

Here is your first assignment; know the players. This is a vital first step, one that many politicians hope you never take. Start locally and go up from there. I don't live in an incorporated city, so I don't have a city councilman or mayor to worry about. Living in Esparto, my first representative is Duane Chamberlain, the 5th district supervisor for Yolo County. From there I go to the State of California, and my local Assembly district, District 2, and Assemblyman Jim Nielsen. Then up to the State Senate, District 5 and State Senator Lois Wolk. The to the Governor.

Okay, get up and stretch for a second, we are almost done, now on to the Feds. My local Congressman in the 2nd District is Wally Herger, then on to our two Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. From there it goes to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Who knew there were so many people to complain to?

The first step is knowing who they are, then what they are doing with your money and freedoms. Next comes working to support or working to replace them as your representative.