The Backyard Wakes Up

Yesterday I enjoyed some outside time in our backyard.  It was a tolerably warm day before the rains and winds came, and I wanted to enjoy that point in the year where colors have reemerged after winter’s drabness and you can breathe deep of the heady scent of growing things.  Why, there is yellow back there, and green, and even a white flowering tree.  After months of slumber beneath blankets of snow, and rain, and frost, our little backyard is finally waking up.

Spring always seems to be the shortest of the four seasons, with winter hanging on much longer than it should at one end and summer’s heat eager to entrench upon the other.  That just makes it even more essential to get out and savor it while it lasts.

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First Fire Pit Of Spring

Finally! It’s warm enough and dry enough to enjoy the first fire pit of the spring!

Time to listen to Derek and the Dominos’ Key to the Highway, smoke a big cigar, drink an adult beverage, check the scores on the CBJ game, and hope that spring is here to stay.

Teaching Your Kids About Personal Finances

April is “National Financial Literacy Month” in the United States.  In 2003, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring April Financial Literacy for Youth Month, and in 2004 the Senate — apparently concluding that a wider audience should be getting that message — broadened the concept to National Financial Literacy Month.  The underlying concept is to use April to teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

1057a15b2bc0402Like so many well-intentioned Senate resolutions, Financial Literacy Month hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.  April is a good choice — the month where Americans settle up and pay their federal, state, and local taxes is bound to make people focus on their finances — but the statistics and surveys show that Americans, on average, don’t manage their finances very prudently.  They don’t save for retirement, they have too much debt and use too much of their disposable income paying interest on that debt, they don’t live on a budget, and they haven’t put anything away into a “rainy day fund” to allow them to deal with an unexpected crisis.

When it comes to financial literacy, most Americans are still in the pre-school stage.

Recently I ran across an interesting article on how to teach your kids about financial literacy.  The article identifies five “life lessons” that can help to put children on the road to financial self-reliance.  The very first lesson is giving your kids an allowance, earned in part by doing chores around the house, rather than being given money or a credit card whenever they ask.  That basic concept reinforces two important adulthood realities — money has to be earned, and it’s a finite resource that doesn’t appear by magic and needs to be spent with care.  Other lessons include having your child save for a big purchase, getting a first job, going to college, and moving out — all of which have their own, important personal financial elements that will help to give your offspring a solid base on which to address their own lives as independent adults.

These are good lessons, to be sure, but I think that perhaps the most important lesson is what a child learns by observing her parents and other adult family members.  Do they behave responsibly?  Do they have jobs?  At the end of the month, are they fighting about money or fretting about how they are going to pay the bills?  Do they talk about finances at home, and discuss whether to buy a new car or use the money for some other purpose?  Have they established a college savings account or taken other long-term savings steps?  All of these are ways of conveying a crucial message:  people do have some measure of control over their personal finances, they can make choices, and financial matters aren’t something to be discussed in secret but rather are part of the backbone of any family.

Some of us, myself included, were fortunate to have had good family role models that taught us, by how they lived their lives, about the importance of hard work, saving, and investing.  They didn’t need a Senate resolution to tell them that setting a good financial example would help their children and grandchildren to live responsibly and within their means.

A Random Assortment

Few aspects of our household are as random as the coffee cup cabinet.  It includes a painted beagle cup that was a present from a friend, “B” and “K” cups that we got at Target, two southwestern motif cups that we received on our recent trip to Arizona and New Mexico, a white cup that we’ve probably had for 20 years, a set of other white cups that we purchased when it looked like we were running low, and a blue striped cup that seemed to mysteriously appear in the cupboard one day.

We’d be hard pressed to serve coffee at a formal dinner party for eight — which is probably part of the reason we don’t host formal dinner parties.  The motley assortment does give us some freedom of choice in selecting the coffee delivery device best suited to our mood and needs on any given day.  Let’s see — do I feel like looking at a painted dog today, or perhaps I should go with the interesting black and white Native American mug with the wide base, or would the blue striped cup of doubtful provenance with the smallest volume capacity be best?

I’m guessing that we’re not alone in having a riotous collection of mismatched coffee cups in our household.  You buy coffee cups as part of your dinnerware in a matched set, but they tend to chip and break over time.  In the meantime, coffee cups are a common gift item from vendors and friends and get added to the collection.  Before you know it, you’ve got a complete grab bag going.

The only thing that is more random than our coffee cup collection is the assortment of pens we’ve got in jars — and yes, in other solo coffee cups — here and there, many of which don’t work.  At least the irregular collection of coffee cups all are capable of performing their intended function.

Faithful Steed

We’ve had our Acura SUV for a long time now.  I think it’s a 2011 model, and we bought it new.  We’ve carefully maintained it in conformity with the manufacturer’s instructions, have complied with all dealer notices of needed servicing, have gone through several sets of new tires, and have avoided any major mishaps or accidents aside from a few tiny side door dings.

It’s been a good, reliable car, one that we’ve driven across the country — to Maine and back, and down the east coast, and on a dog delivery trip to Texas, and on other long road trips.  It’s always gotten us to where we want to go, and we use it with confidence.  We’ve gotten attached to it, as people often do with cars.  We haven’t named it, but I’ve enjoyed driving it and how it handles, and I also like the fact that, when I approach the car from the front and see the grillwork, it always looks happy to see me.

But . . . it’s time.  The car has more than 150,000 miles on it, the air conditioning system is on the fritz — which would be a concern if spring and summer ever actually arrive in central Ohio, which admittedly seems unlikely at this point — and when we’ve driven new rental cars we’ve noticed that advances in car technology have left the poor old Acura in the dust.  Whether it’s rear-facing cameras, dashboard computers, or other high-tech gizmos they’re putting into vehicles these days, car companies have made some significant improvements in the last eight years, and we don’t have any of them.

So, it’s time.  Today, we’ll go car shopping for the first time in almost a decade, and take a look at what the auto manufacturers have to offer.  If we find something that strikes our fancy we may trade in Acura for a new model.  But before we do, I want to acknowledge and salute the faithful service of our faithful steed.

UJ And Man’s Best Friends

Regular readers of this blog will remember my brother UJ, who has posted occasionally about his adventures and travels.

52812917_2017707298284358_42568911224307712_nLately UJ has been volunteering at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, where his principal activity is walking the dogs and, in the process, giving them a little bit of the human attention that dogs seem to instinctively crave.  Then, he posts about his exploits and the different dogs he has met on Facebook.

UJ had not previously indicated, from outward signs at least, that he was a big dog lover.  For example, I don’t think he’s ever had a dog of his own since he left our parents’ home, where we had a cantankerous “teacup dachshund” named George.  However, when one of his friends suggested the volunteer activity at the Shelter he gladly took it on, and it’s clear that UJ and the Franklin County shelter go together like hand and glove.  The Shelter has acknowledged UJ’s dedicated volunteer work with some posts of its own, like the photo to the right.

It’s interesting, too, that the focus of UJ’s Facebook posts has changed somewhat since he started his volunteer work.  After a few posts about what he was doing there, it really became all about the dogs he was walking and their desire to be adopted.  UJ will walk the dogs, take some pictures and video, and then post something about the dogs and how good-natured and easygoing they were.  And, UJ and his Facebook posts publicizing the dogs he’s walking have helped the dogs at the Shelter who are up for adoption find homes — including homes with some of UJ’s Facebook pals.

I’ve been a critic of social media, and I still think it has contributed mightily to our current polarized political situation.  But UJ’s efforts at the Franklin County Dog Shelter show how a little volunteer work and some social media attention can really have a positive impact.  I’m proud of UJ’s good work, and I think his use of Facebook to help orphan dogs find a human family illustrates what is the right role for social media in civic affairs — to let people know about what’s happening in their communities, and how they personally can make a difference.  Kudos to UJ!

Rethinking The American Home

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on the annual effort of the National Association of Home Builders to present its vision of the “New American Home.”  Since 1984, the NAHB has built a New American Home somewhere in the United States.  The underlying concept is that, in the process, the NAHB will try out the latest building and energy technologies, consider the functionality of different floor plans, and innovate with new materials.

dji_0028-editBut what’s happened is that the New American Home has gotten a lot bigger and a lot more elaborate.  The first New American Home was 1500 square feet, but since then the standard has changed considerably.  The 2018 version, pictured at right, is close to 11,000 square feet, with eight — 8! — bathrooms and both an elevator and a car elevator in the garage.  The 2019 version will be 8,000 square feet with an “inner sanctum lounge.”  Prior versions of the New American Home have included amenities like a waterfall off the master bedroom suite.

The article wonders whether the concept of the New American Home hasn’t gone off in the wrong direction.  Rather than going for increasingly elaborate McMansions out in the suburbs, why not focus on condos, or smaller houses in urban settings?  Why build “homes” that exceed 10,000 square feet and have 8 bathrooms when American families have grown smaller, not larger?   These are all good questions in my view.

For years, home ownership has been a core part of the American dream — but that doesn’t mean the home has to be some sprawling monstrosity on an acre and a half of property in a gated community.  When immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1800s they built neighborhoods like German Village, where I now live — a neighborhood right next to downtown Columbus, where the houses are small (ours is less than 2000 square feet) and are placed cheek by jowl with commercial buildings and apartments.  It’s a great community, and just about everything we need is within walking distance.  We love the convenience and the neighborhood feel.

I like living in a smaller space.  We don’t need 10,000 square feet to rattle around in, and I wouldn’t want to pay what it costs to get that amount of personal space, either.  I think it would be interesting if the NAHB revisited the New American Home concept and tried to develop homes that are smaller, less expensive, and closer to the downtown cores, and don’t contribute to still more suburban sprawl.  Wouldn’t home designers welcome a challenge to build homes that don’t require endless space, where creativity is needed to make use of every square foot?