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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Do You Do All Day?

Back when I was single and working a full-time job, I used to dream of getting married and 'just' being a full-time mom.  Aside from the obvious desire to share my life with someone and raise children, I really liked the idea of just staying home all day.  All the things I'd be able to do then!  All the books I'd read, the crafts I'd make, and the fun things I could do with my kids--if only I could stay home all day.

Well, now I'm married and home with my kids all day, and I can't figure out where the time goes.  I feel like I'm super-busy, but I can't really point to anything I've accomplished at the end of each day.  My house isn't as clean as it used to be, I have less time for reading, almost no time for crafts, and TV is something the kids watch when I really need to get something else done.

I really wanted to know where my time was going, so I ran a little experiment.  Starting in late June and going throughout July, I kept a log of everything I did each day for five weeks, divided into fifteen minute increments (yes, I really am that anal).  Unfortunately it was a handwritten log, and I didn't try to do anything with the data until I had it all.  It's taken me nearly two months to find the time to do my data entry and analysis.

But anyway, here we are, and the first thing I have to say is: thank goodness for multitasking!  I kept track of when I was doing something with all my attention, as well as when I was doing multiple things at once.  When I added up how much time I spent doing things, I came up with a total of 1,066.75 hours of activities.  There are only 840 hours in a five-week period.  That means I actually did six weeks, two days, ten hours, and forty-eight minutes worth of activities in five weeks.  That averages out to needing 30 hours and 28 minutes to do what I need to do each day.  No wonder I'm tired all the time!

At first glance, it looks like I spend 637 hours, or 59.7% of my time, doing one thing at a time, and 429.75 hours, or 40.3% of my time multitasking.  But that's misleading, because by definition one can't sleep while multitasking, and I spent 264.5 hours (or 24.8% of my time) sleeping or trying to sleep.  (I'm a chronic insomniac, so much of that time was spent trying to sleep, but it's impossible to break out how much time was spent trying, and how much time was spent actually sleeping.  If I had to guess, I'd say at least a quarter of that time was trying to sleep.)  If you just look at my waking hours, I spent only 372.5 hours (or 34.9% of my time) doing one thing at a time.  Without multitasking, I'd be lost.

So what did I spend all my time doing?  Well, we already know that sleeping or trying to sleep accounted for 24.8%.  That wasn't what I spent the most time doing, however.  Taking care of my kids took up 24.9% of my time, and spending time with my husband came in third at 19.3%.  But it's interesting how those numbers broke out.  Of the 265.25 hours I spent with my kids, 174 of them (or 65.6%) were spent multitasking, while the other 91.25 hours (or 34.4%) were spent doing nothing else but taking care of them.  On the other hand, of the 206.25 hours I spent with my husband, for 126 of them (or 61%) my attention was entirely on him, and I only multitasked for 80.25 hours (or 38.9%) with him.  So while my kids get more time with me overall, my husband gets more focused time with me than they do.

Taking care of my family and trying to sleep accounts for 69% of my time.  Self care (the combination of personal hygiene, reading for pleasure, personal 'alone' time, attending worship, spending time with friends, and exercising) accounts for 6.9% of my time.  Professional development (research and writing) accounts for 6.2% of my time, and I waste (watching TV or mindlessly surfing the web) 5.3% of my time.  Some of that is a little misleading, because I'm sure some of the time I called 'research' really should have been categorized under 'mindless web surfing.'  Also, nearly half the time I logged as 'exercising' (9.25 hours) was actually spent driving to and from the gym.  That leaves me with 12.6% of my time to cook, clean, eat, run errands, manage the household finances, manage my husband's company's finances, and do crafts, plus write sermons and lead worship if I'm called to fill in for a vacationing pastor (which I did four of the five Sundays included in my log).  That's three hours and fifty minutes per day of my 30 hour, 28 minute long days.

It's been interesting to see if how I spend my time matches up with my stated priorities.  Overall, the answer is yes, because my family is my top priority, and I spend 44.2% of my total time (or 58.8% of my waking hours) engaging with them.  On the other hand, I see some areas I need to fix.  I don't have enough hours in the day to waste 5.3% of my time on mindless web surfing or TV.  And I'd like to be able to spend more time writing.  While 6.2% might be the best I can do right now, that was two-thirds research to one-third writing.  I think much of my 'research' is just an excuse, and I need to reverse that ratio.  I also need to spend more time on self-care.  You can't see it in the averages, but a lot of my personal time was grouped together in large blocks every few weeks, because I just burned out and shut down, and had to hole up while my husband took care of the kids.  I need to be more intentional about taking time for me and doing something that I find enjoyable (like reading for pleasure) rather than mindlessly wasting time.  I've already begun to exercise a lot more.

I think I'm going to run this experiment again.  In addition to the changes I want to make or have already made, some things are different now than they were in June.  For one thing, now that the fall programming has begun, I'm no longer being called for pulpit supply nearly every week, so I actually get to worship again.  However, this does cut down on my personal time, because I was taking some time for myself after church rather than going straight home.  Now I've got the kids with me at church.  Also in July, my husband and I attended Readercon 22, which resulted in two solid days where I didn't interact with my kids at all, and my husband got a lot of one-on-one time with me (my 'research' category got a bump, too).  That kind of weekend is extremely rare.  Another change is that my son no longer naps in the afternoon, and I'm experimenting with bringing my daughter down to one nap.  Additionally I've begun homeschooling my son, so he's getting more one-on-one time than he was over the summer.  All of this conspires to take away more of my self-care time, which I really can't let happen.

I'll keep a log for four or five weeks again, and see how it compares.  I think the only real change I'll make is that 'driving' will become it's own separate category, since that adds anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half to whatever I'm doing outside the house, and inflates the amount of time I log exercising or worshiping.

It is a bit tedious keeping the log (and even more so analyzing it) but I highly recommend doing this if you feel like you're not getting anything done, or if you're not sure if your actions agree with your stated priorities.  And as for getting all that time to read, make crafts, and do fun things?  I guess now I'm looking forward to being an empty-nester.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Open Letter to the Extroverts, Morning People, and Other Obnoxiously Cheerful People at my Gym

I don't mean to be rude, but back off and leave me alone.

I realize you're trying to be friendly and encouraging, but your bright and cheerful, "Good morning, are you ready for another workout?" the second I walk in the door is like nails on a blackboard for me.

I am not a morning person.  Yes, it's 10:30 AM, but if it were up to me, I'd still be in bed right now.  I'm also a chronic insomniac, so chances are I'm going on five hours or less of sleep right now.  I know you don't have insight into my life before I walk through the gym's front door, but you should be able to see by my half-open eyes, my dirty pony-tailed hair, and my total lack of effervescence that no,  I'm not particularly ready for another workout.  I've only had--at most--two thirds of my morning coffee (sometimes less than that), and I'm dragging along two toddlers, one of whom also is not a morning person and with whom I've probably already had at least one battle this morning.  Between the battle, the lack of sleep, and the reduced caffeine intake, I probably have a pounding headache, but I haven't taken any ibuprofen because I need to be aware of how my muscles feel during my workout so I don't accidentally hurt myself.

Add to that the depression I've been fighting, and the fact that I'm here at all is a major accomplishment.  So forgive me if I have nothing left to generate phony enthusiasm for another workout.

So why am I here if this is my attitude about the whole thing?  Look at me.  I'm some not-to-be-published number of pounds overweight, and clearly I'm not here because I've embraced the fitness lifestyle that you have.  Simply and starkly put, I'm trying to not die.  Workouts don't energize me; they exhaust me.  Both the cardio and the strength training are very difficult for me--not challenging in the YOU-GO-GIRL-LOOK-AT-ALL-THE-PROGRESS-YOU'RE-MAKING kind of way; difficult like the oh-please-somebody-kill-me-now-am-i-done-yet kind of way.

So I'm not trying to be rude or a killjoy or anything when I answer your gleeful "Are you ready for another workout?" with a monotonous "Sure, why not."  Nor am I looking to dump all my problems on you when I answer your exuberant "Feeling good?" on my way out with an exhausted "I'm hanging in there."  I simply don't have the energy left to lie to you or match the excitement you have and that you clearly think I should have as well.

This doesn't mean that you can't be friendly; just understand that I'm not in the place you are.  Don't ask me questions in such a way that also conveys the answer you expect to hear.  If you aren't really willing to hear the truth, then don't ask me questions at all.  A polite "Good morning, have a good workout" would help establish a welcoming presence without my having to lie, feign joy, or otherwise expend precious resources on answering beyond "Good morning, thank you."  I'm good with that!

I often tell my kids, "You don't have to like it; you just have to do it."  Well I'm here, I'm doing what I need to do, and I'm putting everything I've got into it.  But I don't have to like it, and I'm not going to pretend that I do for your sake.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Michael Moore and American Values

Last week the Guardian published an excerpt of Michael Moore's new book, Here Comes Trouble.

Full disclosure: I have not read this book.  I have not seen any of Michael Moore's movies.  I'm not boycotting them or purposely avoiding them; I simply haven't gotten around to it, and they're not high enough on my to-do list to put much effort into seeking them out.  If any of them happen to cross my path at a time that's convenient for me, I'll be happy to watch them.

I do know who Michael Moore is, I'm familiar with most of his projects of the last ten years, and I know he has a reputation for being somewhat one-sided.  Good for him.

All that said, I was absolutely appalled and sickened when I read the excerpt of his book in the Guardian, in which he detailed the threats and attempts on his life after his 2003 Oscar speech, and later the release of his movie Fahrenheit 9/11.

In case you didn't click on the link and read the account for yourself, here are some highlights:

  • Upon returning home from the Oscars, he found a waist-high pile of manure (about three truckloads worth) in his driveway blocking access to his house, as well as signs nailed to the trees on his property threatening his safety and well-being if he didn't move.
  • Not only did he receive mountains of hate-mail expressing people's desire for his death and/or poor health, but he also had people leaving threatening messages on his answering machine.
  • So many people came to his house to threaten him that he had to hire a private security company, because the local police were overwhelmed.
  • An assassination attempt with a knife was made when he was an invited speaker at an event (thwarted by his private security).
  • A cup of scalding coffee was thrown in his face by a random man walking past him on the street (thwarted by his private security--his private security agent took it in the face instead).
  • Another random person passing by lunged at him with a sharpened pencil, stabbing the hand of the private security agent.
I know a lot of people were angered by Moore's Oscar speech and disagreed with the opinions expressed in Fahrenheit 9/11, but I don't want to believe that my fellow Americans feel that the appropriate response to a citizen exercising his right to free speech is harassment, vandalism, threats, and murder.  Sadly, I have no reason to doubt Moore's story.

Is this who we are as a country?  Let's put aside for the moment that the charges he made against then-President George W. Bush in his Oscar speech were dead-on correct.  We did invade Iraq for fictitious reasons.  But that's not the point.  Let's pretend for a moment that Moore was wrong about everything.  Let's pretend there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Bush's presidency was achieved legitimately.  Let's pretend that Saddam Hussein masterminded the events of September 11, 2001 and had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction hiding in Iraq.  Let's pretend all that is true, and Moore still said what he said at the Oscars, and still made Fahrenheit 9/11.  As an American, he has that right.

I'm disgusted that people who claim to support our troops "fighting for freedom and democracy" in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan will so violently reject freedom and democracy when it's practiced in their own country.  Americans have the right to have their own opinions and express them publicly, even when those opinions question the motives, methods, and abilities of their leaders.  Americans do not have the right to vandalize someone else's private property, trespass on someone else's private property, or threaten the life, health or safety of another person.  If these are the democratic values we're trying to spread around the world, then the world is right to mock and reject us.  This is not how civilized people treat each other.

I like the ideals that my country is based on, but I don't like the reality we live in.  I don't like the tyranny of the majority, the groupthink ignorance of our history, or the increasing class wars between the "educated elite" and "real Americans" (as if education and a nuanced understanding of the shades of grey that make up the world are somehow antithetical to America).  I don't like that our government follows the version of the Golden Rule that reads, "He who has the gold makes the rules."  And I don't like that, in practice, we consider discipline and self-restraint as weaknesses, and emotionally-charged recklessness and instant gratification evidence of strength and commitment.

And based on reputation alone, I don't particularly like Michael Moore.  But I respect his right to his opinion, I respect his right to express it publicly, and I appreciate his attempts to make people think critically about what's going on.  If you don't want to hear what he has to say, don't watch his movies (you can suck it up and deal with it if he takes 30 seconds of a 3 hour and 30 minute awards show to spring his opinion on you).  And as an American citizen, I wish to apologize to him.  I can't speak on behalf of all Americans, but on my own behalf, I apologize.  I never sent you hate mail, I never threatened you in person or over the telephone, I never accosted you, and I certainly never threatened your life or safety, but I'm sorry you had to experience all those things.  You should never have had to go through that for the sin of expressing your opinion.  I'm sure if I ever get around to watching your movies, I'll find plenty I disagree with you about, but the most I would ever do would be to publish a blog post highlighting what I disagreed with and why.  I'm sure you won't begrudge me my right to publicly express my opinion, just as I don't begrudge you your right to publicly express yours.

As for the rest of America, please try to understand that freedom and democracy means accepting that people have a right to question their government's leaders and actions without risk of harm or retribution, and that doing so is not un-American, as many of you claim, but rather is a very important aspect of being an American.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let's Blame the Immigrants!

The US economy is in the crapper, everyone's feeling the squeeze, so of course it's time for the next round of "Let's Blame Immigrants for All Our Problems!"

The following post has been making the rounds on Facebook (again):  SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT ... If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U. S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 yrs ...No wonder we are a country in debt. Re-post if you agree. 

Let's look at this piece by piece.

As far as I can tell, the claim that you get 12 years of hard labor for crossing illegally into North Korea is based on two American journalists who received that sentence in 2009 for "illegal entry and 'hostile acts.'"  What were the 'hostile acts' they committed against North Korea?  That government never specified, but convicted them anyway.  (I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that the two journalists were reporting on the trafficking of women.)  In any case the two journalists were pardoned and deported two months later when former President Bill Clinton visited that country and requested their release.  In the last couple of years, four Americans have been arrested and convicted of illegal entry, and all four have been pardoned and released.  Most recently, in April of last year, an American was accused of illegal entry and 'an unspecified hostile act' (he was a Christian missionary).  He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor, but also received a pardon and deportation.

 It's difficult finding news about Afghan shootings that don't involve US soldiers and/or the Taliban, but I did find something claiming that the penalty for resisting arrest in Afghanistan is being shot.  The only story I could find about the shooting of migrant workers illegally crossing the Afghan border involved Afghan migrant workers sneaking across the border out of Afghanistan into Iran, where they were shot.

The two Americans who just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border actually got three years for crossing the border, and five years for 'spying for the United States.'  They are also political tools for the Iranians to highlight the alleged mistreatment of Iranians in US prisons, and most likely will be released as bargaining chips for something else the Iranians want.

Those are the facts regarding those three countries.  Now the obvious question: DO WE REALLY WANT TO PATTERN LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AFTER NORTH KOREA, AFGHANISTAN, AND IRAN???!!!  Are these countries we wish to emulate?  If so, then why are two of them part of the so-called (by us) Axis of Evil?  And Afghanistan?  Talk to any American vet who's been over there, and ask him if he was there fighting so that we could be more like them.  I dare you to.  And if you've posted this quote on Facebook, or supported someone who did, don't try to claim now that no one is saying those countries are better.  That's exactly what you're saying when you state or support such comparisons.

As for the welcome wagon that is supposedly waiting just this side of the border handing out free housing, health care, jobs, education, et al to the sneaking illegal immigrants--um, really?  What jobs?  Below-minimum wage under-the-table jobs where they're little more than slaves, constantly living under the threat of deportation if they complain?  Or maybe you're referring to those who tried the indentured servant route, and are now working in sweatshops or brothels?  Or maybe you're talking about the migrant workers who do back-breaking work at the fruit farms of Georgia for minimum wage plus performance bonuses, which sometimes earn them upwards of $20 per hour.  Yeah, them.  When Georgia recently passed a new law designed to drive out the illegals, farmers were unable to hire enough local legal workers to do the work, even though Georgia's unemployment rate is over 10%.  More Americans would rather collect unemployment that work at Federally-approved pay levels with the potential of earning nearly three times that rate, if their performance warrants it.  When crops were rotting in the fields because there weren't enough workers to harvest them, the farmers hired probationers, a group of people who usually have a very difficult time finding work.  Most of the probationers quit, and the very few who stayed weren't nearly as productive as the illegal immigrants who had done that work before them.  Crops are still rotting in the fields.  There is no special employment plan for illegal immigrants at the expense of American citizens.

Who's just handing out drivers' licenses?  I've been licensed in four states, and all four times I had to provide a birth certificate and/or a Social Security card and/or a US passport (plus several other documents to prove residency).  It's true that some illegal immigrants may be forging or buying stolen identification papers in order to get their licenses, but that's not the same as just being handed the licenses.  Oh yes, and those licenses obtained with forged or stolen documents?  Those allow the illegal immigrants to work at legitimate jobs where they pay taxes that benefit all Americans, including Social Security and Medicare, which, because of their phony SSNs, illegal immigrants will never benefit from.

Qualifying for food stamps varies from state to state, but I believe income verification and proof of identity are universally required.  And I also wonder--whether a person's here illegally or not, do we really want people starving to death within our borders?  What does that say about our national values?

The only free housing I'm aware of in the United States are homeless shelters, and the only ones envious of people living in homeless shelters are the people living on the streets because there's no room available in those shelters.  And those people aren't likely to be reposting anti-immigration rhetoric on Facebook while they wait for a bed to become available.

There is definitely no free health care here.  Most people without health care, whether they're illegal immigrants or American citizens, don't go to the doctor until it's such an emergency that they have to go to the emergency room, where they have to be treated regardless of ability to pay.  Doctors and hospitals charge a much higher rate to the uninsured than their 'negotiated' rates with the health care providers, and that virtually guarantees that individuals without insurance won't be able to pay for the emergency services they received.  This isn't an immigration problem; it's a health care problem.

I've already addressed housing, and I'm not sure what child care benefits the post is referring to.  Exemptions for children in the tax code?  They're paying taxes, and they have children.  I don't think that children here illegally are any cheaper to care for than those with American citizenship, and the important point to remember here, again, is that they're paying taxes.

The belief that illegal immigrants receive free education can be attributed to two things.  One is the K-12 public school system, in which case the assertion is true.  It's also true that each of those illegal students is responsible for money going to their school system, thanks to the prevalence of attendance-based funding formulas.  If you want to see a school system tank, yank out all the undocumented students, and see what's left for the citizens in that district.   The other possible source for this belief is the controversy over allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition for state-run colleges and universities.  I know of one person in Massachusetts who has repeatedly lamented the fact that she has to pay for her kids to go to college, while the illegals get in for free.  In truth, the program (at least in Massachusetts) is that all Massachusetts students who attend a Massachusetts community college and graduate with a 3.0 or higher GPA can enroll at UMass Amherst and have the in-state tuition waived (though they'd still be on the hook for the $10K in additional fees per year).  The controversy stems from the fact that most of the community colleges aren't very diligent at determining the residency of their students, so out-of-state students and illegal immigrants might slip in, too.  (Granite Staters and Mexicans together at UMass--oh the horror of it all!!!)  The people who are complaining about having to pay aren't sending their kids through community college and expecting them to make the grade; that's why they have to pay, not because illegal immigrants (and New Hampshire residents) are hogging all the free tuition.  There is no free tuition.

I have to claim complete ignorance on the tax-free business for seven years.  My husband and I have set up our own company, and I don't remember seeing any exemption in the corporate rules that said if we could prove illegal status, we wouldn't have to pay corporate income tax.

Some of these claims that I don't know about may be because they're holdovers from the Canadian, UK, Australian, or even Indian versions of this electronic rant.  It's been circulated in all those countries.  Sorry folks, you're not that original.

And as a final note, I've noticed that there are a quite a few Christians getting behind this post, usually the same ones who use the bible as justification for denying marriage to gay couples.  Please take out your bibles and read Leviticus 19:33-34 (it's just a little bit past that verse you love so much that proclaims that a man lying with another man is an abomination): "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."  If you're going to demand biblical authority for the laws of this land, then start with this one.  The treatment of the alien is mentioned far more often than homosexuality, and much less ambiguously.

There are real problems facing this nation, but blaming illegal immigrants for them won't solve anything.  I don't know if it's accurate or not, but a number I've seen invoked is $113 billion being spent on illegal immigrants.  $113 billion seems like a big scary number.  But our total national debt is over $14 trillion (and rising), and that $113 billion is less than one percent of that.  Now, I'm a big fan of 'every little bit helps,' but I'd be willing to bet that illegal immigrants contribute much more than $113 billion to the US economy.  So let's stop with the hate and the blame, and take a hard look at they systemic failures that got us here.  And then let's figure out what we can do about it, rather than just point to people we don't like and make them our scapegoat.

And if you want to repost something because you agree, please check the facts first, rather than continuing to spread misinformation that detracts from finding real solutions.