Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Part Two: Life of Luxury–counting blessings

Now that I’ve begun, it’s hard to stop.  A quick tour around my house revealed more luxury items.  These are just highlights… I am a very rich person, and I don’t want to bore you.

*****

The Living Room:  Photographs, a comfy couch, interesting magazines and three bean bags.  A well-fed dog lying on a wool rug.  Well-fed cats trying to get to the windowsill without the well-fed dog noticing them.

Dining Room:  Overflowing bookshelves, colored pencils, kid-sized table (with adorable kid-sized chairs) and the thermostat.

Kitchen:  So many it’s a little embarrassing.  Drawers of spices from all around the world, fruit from far away, and Flintstone Vitamins.  Refrigeration and alphabet fridge magnets.  Gadgets that grind, mix, juice, chop and play music (but not one that does all these things simultaneously–I knew there was something I needed).

Bathroom:  Over-the-counter medicine galore, a shower that gets hot, toothbrushes and dental floss.  Soft towels in stacks.

Bedrooms:  Bunk beds, beautiful picture books, extra pillows, and clothes for every season and occasion.  Gift bags  and tissue paper.  More overflowing bookshelves, and a whole bin of yarn that I used to knit scarves… when I did such a thing.

Etc.: Power tools, glass windows on every floor, and a newspaper that gets delivered to our house everyday.  Imagine.

*****

Taking this little tour makes me wonder–is this a list of items to feel guilty about?  Maybe, but I’m not sure that guilt it very helpful.  Guilt is like the mother who scolds, “Clean your plate.  There are starving children in the world.” and the kid who says, “Great, I’m full, go ahead and send it.”  You don’t get very far with guilt.

Instead, I find considering those three money questions again… you remember… “Am I wise?”  “Am I grateful?” “Do I share?”  And the answer to each question is both yes and no.  For now, I think that counting my blessings is one way of moving in the right direction.  Paying attention to what I already have is certainly helping me to be more grateful, hopefully it will help me to be more wise (like when I noticed that I have five fall coats–how did that happen?), and prayerfully it will teach me to share.

So, anybody need a fall coat… or a whole bin of yarn?


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Part One: Life of Luxury

It happened one day when I was sitting in my alone-chair, computer on lap, staring out the window.  I had just come upstairs, and downstairs the radio was on.  On the radio somebody had been talking about the Romneys and about how much money they had–whether in a positive, negative or matter-of-fact way, I don’t remember–when all of a sudden a thought came to me, so loud and clear that it seemed to come from outside.  Surprised, I looked around as if someone had spoken.  The thought came again: “You are as rich as the Romneys.”

You are as rich as the Romneys.

Really?

The thought was so matter-of-fact and direct that I could hardly argue with it.  But, for a moment, I tried.  Umm… Thought… have you seen our school loans?  Do you realize that I am not working for pay right now?  (Mothering and blog writing=satisfying, creative work, not so lucrative)  Yes, we own a rental property, but we make less than $100 a month on it, and the new roof that it needs will cost thousands.  Do you know that I still wonder how we will pay for the girl’s preschool?  Do you know that I am tired of trying to figure out if I can afford a $20  haircut?

I argued for a moment, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  I knew, I just knew, that the statement was true.  It just was.  You are as rich as the Romneys.  I looked out the window again.

It is a little-known secret that the houses in the “bad” neighborhood where we live have some of the best views in the city (also some of the best neighbors).  When I look out the window in the morning, the sun comes up over an expansive valley, with houses tucked among trees and a blanket of fog laid among the hills.  It is the kind of view that would cost millions in a place like Los Angeles.  We didn’t pay the millions–and yet, here was the view.

You should see the stars in the winter.

As I sat, my mind began ticking though a list of luxury items that my family takes for granted.  The computer.  Internet access.  Good coffee.  Bakery bread.  A reliable car–with seat warmers!   Gym membership.  Zoo membership.  Princess dresses.  High-quality shoes.  Money to burn at the Farmer’s Market.  Bikes.  Wine and beer.  Restaurant dinners.

I’m not used to thinking of these items as extravagant.  Aren’t luxury items things like diamond necklaces, thousand dollar purses and million dollar yachts?  But as I sat considering this “rich as the Romneys'” phrase, it occurred to me that if you can buy anything that goes beyond basic necessities, it means that your basic necessities are covered.  Anything more is luxury, and in this way, the Romneys and I are in the same yacht… or… umm… at least the same borrowed kayak.

Or think of it this way–who do I have more in common with–the mother in Burkina Faso who doesn’t know where her kids’ next meal is coming from, or a millionaire?  In terms of numbers, we’re a lot closer to extreme poverty than to multi-millions, but in terms of experience  both the millionaire and I go to bed at night well-fed, with unlimited clean water available in our indoor bathrooms, locks on our doors, gas in our cars, books that we can read on our nightstands, and another day (likely) filled with luxuries ahead of us.  Sure, my imaginary millionaire may be thinking about taking her private jet to Tuscany the next day, and I may be trying to figure out how to get the kids to ballet while my husband has the car, but neither of us is up thinking about how far the grain will stretch.

The real difference between me and my millionaire isn’t that she is more secure in her wealth (expenses generally rise with income, plus I have simple living skills that she can’t imagine), or that she is necessarily happier (in fact, I think that the reverse is often true).  The real difference is in the degree of our responsibility.  Because in the end, I think that we will all have to answer the same questions.  Were we wise with our money?  Were we grateful?  Did we share?

And to whom much is given, whether in yachts or borrowed kayaks, much will be required.


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Do the Math

Pets are a little like cars… at least financially.

They either cost little-to-nothing (some gas, some food) or they cost your right arm and three toes from your left foot.  That would be the price of car repairs and vet bills.

It’s not that car mechanics and veterinarians/vet techs don’t deserve to get paid a fair wage for all the good work they do.  I’m all for specialized, supportive services–thank you for knowing how to fix my Nissan or my feline friend.  It’s just that I don’t budget for these things that may-or-may-not-happen-at-any-given-moment.  Yes, I know that we should have some kind of pet and car emergency funds, and put money aside every month and then we wouldn’t get caught by the surprises and that would be the responsible thing to do…

I’m starting to hear Charlie Brown’s mother talking.  Wa, wa, wa, waaaa…

About two weeks ago, our small, needy tiger strip-ed cat was bit during a neighborhood cat brawl.  Again.  And the bite swelled up into an abscess.  Again.  And we remembered how much it cost last time at the vet–$150.

Keep that number in your mind.

So we decided to lance the abscess ourselves and then give him the rest of our youngest daughter’s ear infection antibiotic (which she was DONE with, okay?).  We even checked in with a friend who works in a vet office, and he said that it was okay but to be careful with the pus cause it (and I quote from his text) “can be some nasty bacteria.”

Store that information next to the $150 in your brain.

We (okay, mostly cute-husband, but I HELPED) lanced the abscess.  I will spare you the details, but lets just say that it was one of the grossest things I have ever seen… or smelled.  But remember our savings!

One pertinent detail:  It was a long process and I really did clean my hands often.  With lots of soap.  But one time, just one time, maybe after the fourth or fifth round of catch-the-cat-and-squeeze-out-some-more-pus, I have a vague memory of brushing hair away from my face and accidentally touching my eye in the process.  Then I washed my hands and got back in the game.  Really, I hardly touched it.

The next day my contact was bothering me.  Darn contacts.  They cost about $30 a pair and I had just changed them.  But after a day of rubbing and red eyes, I threw them out, remembering that quick eye brush.  A few days later I put in new contacts, but after a day, same problem.  Darn.  Another $30 down the drain.  Glasses for a WHOLE WEEK and everything seemed better.

I put contacts in again.  Wednesday came.  I was in a coffee shop working on my sermon about thankfulness, but I wasn’t feeling very thankful because my right eye was killing me.  It was hard to look at the computer screen but I was paying for babysitting and Sunday was coming but boy-oh-boy did my eye hurt.

By lunchtime I had given up.  I took out the contacts.  I called my husband.  “Honey,” I said sweetly, “please take me to urgent care before my right eye falls out.”

The urgent care doctor didn’t know what to do.  “I can prescribe antibiotics,” she said, “but it would be better if you saw your ophthalmologist.  As soon as possible.”

We drove straight there.  I covered my eye from the sunlight and moaned.  They took me as an “emergency visit” and my ophthalmologist gave me numbing drops(I love numbing drops).  She looked in my eye.  “Wow.”  She was clearly impressed.  “Your cornea is all torn up. And I don’t even recognize that bacteria, but it looks like a Petri dish in there.”

A Petri dish in my eye.  Great.

She prescribed an especially strong antibiotic and told me to throw the contacts away.  For those of you who are keeping track, the antibiotic cost $20, and the two visits were $10 each.

So.

Three pairs of contacts ($90) plus 3 lost hours of babysitting ($21) plus two co-pays ($20) plus the antibiotic ($20)=$141.  Savings from do-it-yourself cat surgery=$150.

BUT… the opportunity to squeeze out pus from your cat’s back and hear the ophthalmologist say the words “Petri dish”?  Priceless.