Thursday, July 31, 2008

If Ava can't count dollars, it don't make sense

Somehow my daughter had more cash on hand than I did last week. $366. That's how much I found in her personalized piggy bank. I wanted to keep her occupied by hanging with J. and listening to the coins dropping into the bank and couldn't figure out why they weren't making noise.

It turns out J. has been stuffing all her monetary gifts in there, along with periodic loose dollars in his pockets at the end of the week. Cha-ching! So she has her own little savings account now at the credit union.
She enjoyed waving the bills around more than fiddling with the coins, smart investor-in-training that she is. I'm hoping I can teach her to say "miracle of compounding" before she's two.

There's a nifty compounding calculator here that shows if we add just $25/month to her account over the next 18 years and get an 8% average annual yield compounded monthly she'll have more than $13,000 when she gets ready to go off to college!

Clearly, with college tuition costs already in the stratosphere, we'll need to make additional investments for her too, but her little account could help cover the cost of books and incidentals for a couple years, or serve as a down payment on a little condo if she goes to a school where lots of students live off campus. With a couple roommates, she could easily cover the mortgage and finish school with a degree and an appreciating asset, which is still the foundation of wealth building for most families, current housing industry meltdown notwithstanding.

Black Enterprise magazine has a great initiative they've undertaken to help more families of color build generational wealth called the Declaration of Financial Empowerment. As their site explains, the program "seeks to empower you by changing your attitude toward money management and revealing comprehensive savings, investment and consumer strategies."

In the fascinating book "The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality," (PBS review here) author Thomas Shapiro argues that disparities of wealth partly explain "the higher risks of poverty, joblessness and incarceration" in communities of color.

In particular, the relative lack of intergenerational wealth (assets that parents or other family members hand down to their kids to build upon for the next generation) hurts communities of color while helping other communities to lift succeeding generations economically and socially beyond their own achievements. The simple act of being able to graduate from college debt free is a huge leg up for anyone. With no debt, you can take jobs or opportunities that may not pay much (or anything) up front, but provide valuable contacts, insight, and experience. For students with huge loans to pay back, this option is often just not possible. It also means that students from families with intergenerational assets (such as parents who can pay some or all of a student's college tuition) don't begin post-graduate life in the hole financially, which the book points out has its own compounded benefits that grow over time.

We're hoping to both provide a leg up for Ava and teach her to be a good steward of her (and our!) money. The book lays out the academic research for why this matters. But we can look around our own community and see it in action.

Building financial literacy in my child: another important task on my parental duty list.

Presidential politics, technology and the war on terrorists

I saw this image in my inbox and realized a) John Edwards must really be bored now that his campaign is over and b) the Democrats are clearly leveraging social media to connect with younger and more tech-savvy voters. They are at least making sure they have a toehold in that space, regardless of whether Twitter or Tumblr or some other application becomes the next category killer in new/social media.

Conversely, McCain is a self-described "computer illiterate," as referenced in Anna Quindlen's recent article about the importance of technology for today's leaders and even for past leaders. Specifically, Abraham Lincoln, who used the emerging technology of telegraphs to monitor battlefield conditions and make decisions during the Civil War.

I'm not saying leaders need to be friending me on Facebook and moblogging to get my vote. But we're in a world where the terrorists are using laptops and steganography to encrypt plans for destruction. So I'd rest a little easier knowing the Commander-In-Chief doesn't think steganography is a Jurassic Park sequel and that he has some basic level of understanding of how the world stage has changed, how technology can be used positively and defended against, and the challenges as well as opportunities it presents.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go check my Meetup, Evite and Daily Candy calendars to see if there's anything worth Twittering about so I can write about it on my blog and update my status on Facebook.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jazz & golf

Me and Ava enjoying jazz at Interbay Golf while daddy works on his swing. Family outings on warm summer evenings after work almost makes up for the 9+ hours away from them during the day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

4th of July family fun

The 4th wasn't that great in terms of weather, but at least it didn't rain as it has in past years and we did get to hang out with family for the day.

Ava has seven first cousins, including the little girl below who, as the only girl amongst five brothers, felt a kinship the minute Ava arrived. She greets me at family gatherings not with "hi, Auntie Natasha" but "Where's Ava?!" It probably helps that Ava's petite build creates more than a passing resemblance to a little doll, as many people have pointed out. So her cousin, who is almost three and definitely into doll-carrying, is totally digging Ava's portability.

Here's another cousin, who although three weeks younger, has outweighed her almost since birth. We all joke that we need a weight belt before we hoist him onto our hip. He is a happy, rotund little laid back baby who's content to go with the flow around him. I suspect he and Ava will be two peas in a pod - make that three, including his sister - once they're both up and walking. It was nice to kick back for some home cooked food and catching up with family after a barbecue disaster that morning at our place. J. inherited his grandmother's barbecue grill and has been trying to perfect her rib recipe, which of course was not written down, but handed down verbally to his mom, then on to J.

He's been slowly adding his own modern kick and flavor to the mix, carefully crafting his own seasoning rub, and even making a sauce from scratch with diced onions, honey and other mix-ins. In the process, he leaves a barbecue sauce speckled mess in the kitchen every summer. But the ends have always justified the means as he enlists me to taste test each effort. His attempts were good from the start, but each iteration improves upon the last. Still, my stock response is, "Oh that's terrible. Simply awful. You don't want to even bother tasting this. Just put it in the fridge and I'll get rid of it for you. Trust me." Which of course means yet another tasty batch.

On the 4th, after a night and morning spent mixing and marinating, pre-cooking and grilling, basting, tending and basically manipulating several slabs of ribs in a manner that would cost you at least $60 an hour at spa, J. prepared to close the grill lid for the last cooking segment.

From another room, I heard J.'s muffled, "Aaghh!" then a loud thump. Fearing the worst or at least a future filled with wheelchair ramps and head sticks, I sprinted to the front of the house expecting to see J. lying in a crumpled heap, seriously injured, or possibly paralyzed, by some unseen menace.

Instead, and happily, I found him staring down in utter disgust and anger at the now dented grill splayed out on the brick pavers and bark spilling its succulent rib contents and still-glowing coals out into the grill lid.

Apparently, as J. released the lid, suddenly, the two wheels on the grill's back legs, which have never rolled when we actually need them to, rolled right off of our back deck to the ground below. He was beside himself with frustration over the now wasted hours and more importantly, wasted food.

Being a veteran of many a campfire mishap, I suggested trying to salvage any slabs in the wreckage that might have escaped the grill's charcoal disgorgement. After cleanup at the scene and an attempt at rinsing the least impacted slabs, one crunchy, grit-ridden bite sealed the deal: the ribs were destined for the trash.

Well, almost. I told my mom the sad tale and she claimed them for her dog, who received quite a stash of lip smacking treats. We didn't even consider giving them to our dog Isis. Although she can lick her own rear with nary a repercussion, eating non-vegetable people food causes her to have violent colonic issues that I end up being responsible for cleaning up. So no, you may not give my dog a treat off your plate, but thanks for asking.

So after that sad morning saga, it was lovely to focus instead on our blessings and kick back the rest of the day with some of our peeps to enjoy each other and the freedom for which so many before us have sacrificed. Happy birthday America!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lunch with Michelle Obama and a couple governors

Last week, Michelle Obama came to Seattle to stump for Governor Christine Gregoire at Qwest Field's WaMu theater. The cavernous space was filled with a who's who of local Democratic politics, and hundreds of folks who wanted to see Mrs. Obama.

Governor Gregoire has hitched her wagon to theirs as the local paper writes, and did it early on, which has so far been a big coup for her.

But come on: suggested $200 donation to the Governor's campaign for lunch? Sorry: the economy being what it is, I suggested a smaller amount on my check. And I get that it's a fundraiser, but what about the Obama national campaign model of give $25 or whatever you can? That would go a lot farther in building the broad coalition statewide the governor needs to return for a second term.
That said, it was a great lunch with an amazing acappella rendition of the national anthem (see, Democrats are patriotic too!), followed by some good points from Governor Gregoire (the GWB countdown timer bit got lots of laughs), and an inspiring, pragmatic, common sense speech by Mrs. Obama about what's at stake in both Washingtons this November.

Afterwards, Mrs. Obama worked the handshake line and I got close enough to snap these shots.
Whee! She's as tall, gorgeous, smart and welcoming from this distance as she appears on TV.

Former Governor Gary Locke was there too.

And the lunch capped off my second, up close Obama sighting in the past two weeks. Well, sorta. In Portland recently, someone at the Mississippi Street Festival set up this life size Obama cut out for pictures. I hope Ava will get a chuckle when she comes across this years from now.

I already had an affinity for Michelle Obama. But the more I see and hear her, the more I like her. Over at BlogHer, she's blogging too and talking about topics that obviously resonate for me and most women in the country, regardless of political affiliation or whether they have children: the challenges of juggling work and family and how it's getting tougher for everyone, especially those who already struggle to make ends meet each month. Her talk at the luncheon and in interviews I've seen convey her understanding of that struggle that so many working-class folks, and women in particular, are facing.

Despite the financially comfortable life she and her husband have been blessed to create, she grew up on Chicago's Southside in a working class family and thus I think she "gets" what's happening for working class folks more intimately than the photo-op understanding McCain seems to have. He looked like he hadn't been in a grocery store in ages.

Why do politicians even do those? I think a more telling photo op would be to give the candidates (or their wives) a single, working mom's family food budget for the month and have them buy groceries and live off of it to see if it was actually enough. I think Michelle would do swimmingly, because Black women in particular have a rich history of making a way out of no way.

If you're interested, there are also some videos of Michelle's recent interviews on YouTube. I can't wait to see and hear more as this campaign progresses.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nana's cart before the horse and Ava's feeding herself

Phone rings. It's my mom, who takes care of Ava in the mornings: "Hey, can she have crackers?"
Me: Sure. Wait: what kind?
Mom: Saltines.
Me: Oh sure.
Mom: Good. Because she's been tearing these up!
Me: Well it's good we got that cleared up in advance then.

I actually started giving her Goldfish crackers last night. They don't have transfats, like one of my formerly favorite snack crackers White Cheddar flavored Cheez-its. I'm so bummed those are now banned from the grocery list. I haven't seen a sufficiently tantalizing alternative at PCC or Whole Paycheck Foods, despite the dizzying array of organic sea salt-encrusted, herb enfused, multi-grain laden cracker/crispbread options to be had.

We met up with our PEPS peeps this weekend and caught up with each other and all the babies, who are each progressing at their own unique pace. Ava is the oldest by a couple weeks I believe, so we joked that she'll be the one driving them on teenage escapades since she'll be the first one with a license. Which led to the folks recounting their own teenage car misadventures. Like J. telling the story about driving his mom's car a few blocks away to "ask" if he could borrow it and getting into an accident on the way, totalling it. Ah, good times. Can't wait to regale Ava with that one.

J., a high school basketball/academic star and BMOC, has much better stories from his teen years than me. His stories involve a little partying with the other cool kids, a few youthful transgressions and some escapades that went up to the line but never crossed it, owing to a mom who laid down the law: "You will excel in school or you don't play sports. I don't care if the school district says you only need a C average to play. I say you need a B+/A-. And if I get called up to the school for some problem you've created and I have to take off work, you don't play sports and you won't sit down for a week." Yeah, that's pretty simple to understand, even for a teenage boy. So he had fun, but kept it to a dull roar. At least, in the stories we know about.

In contrast, my stories from high school all have pretty much the same theme: "So I was home studying all weekend and Monday at school I found out there'd been this big party over the weekend that all the cool kids were at. It sounded like it was a lot of fun. The end."

Or "We hung out all weekend at my friend's house reading books from the library and watching a VHS tape of Eddie Murphy's live concert. Then at school on Monday I found out there'd been this big get together over the weekend that all the cool kids were at. It sounded like it was a lot of fun. Then I went to go work on my college apps. The end."

Not the most riveting tales, but at least I don't have to worry that friends from high school or college will come to visit when Ava's a teenager and start off a story with "Remember when we woke up with those rug burns on our face?!" Actually, no, no I don't. Thankfully. More likely it'll be, "Remember we raced to see who could read that book the fastest and we got those paper cuts?!" Such were my extremely nerdy, book-filled young adult adventures.

I guess if Ava ends up somewhere between the extremes of hearing about the party days later and being the one who's presence makes it a party, I'll be fine with that.

On the development front, as I was telling the folks at PEPS that she's been trying to feed herself but hasn't quite managed to get anything in her mouth, I looked down at her on my lap as she carefully maneuvered a cheerio into her mouth with both hands. Two days later, she's on a goldfish cracker binge. Aah, babies. They grow up so fast.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cheap toys rock

Balloon animal: free at party. Over two hours (so far) of enjoyment for Ava and quiet drive time for me: priceless. I gotta get me a bag of those things! And learn how to make balloon animals.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Community comes together

I'm at a community meeting about a neighbor who was attacked over an altercation related to the traffic circle he cared for. He died from his injuries a day later.

It's wall to wall people in here. Several representatives from the City of Seattle including Police Chief Kerlikowski and City Councilmembers Burgess, McIver and Harrell, as well someone from the State NAACP who lives in the neighborhood.

So far, other than some new information about changes in officer staffing thanks to the recently signed police contract, and learning some of my neighbors have had lots of problems with shady characters in the area (drug dealers using the parking lot of the local grocery store as an open air drud market, break-ins with slow or no police response), it's mainly lots of platitudes and nothing tangible offered by the "city leaders."

So basically, just like every public meeting I used to cover as a reporter, there's a lot of heat, but no real illumination.

The only upside? It actually did help bring some of us neighbors together. I met another mom with a baby and invited her to the National Night Out celebration on our block next month. We may eventually get together for a play date.

Frankly, I don't think there's much you can do in the short term to change the mentality of a person who would sucker punch an unarmed elderly man. But we all know there are things we can do to help prevent another generation of kids developing that kind of mentality: give them a safe, supportive place in the community where they can spend their out-of-school time with caring adults who can help them develop life skills, self-respect, respect for others, and help them find their passion in life.

So why are the "leaders" not talking about funding or other tangible support for these types of programs at community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA/YWCAs, Big Brother/Big Sister, and similar organizations? Councilmember Harrell mentioned his involvement at local community centers, but didn't issue a call to action or tell people how they could help (volunteer, donate).

I think at our next block watch meeting, I'll suggest this to my neighbors and provide a list of ways to get involved. Sometimes people just need that nudge or want to know where they can expend the pent up frustration in a more constructive way. I'll try to use my communication background to facilitate that.

I can attest that volunteering with these programs, in schools or as a mentor is a win-win for all involved. I'm still in contact with young ladies I've mentored over the years and they're all in college now and thriving. It's been great to watch them mature and become these amazing young women. Imagine if every kid in Seattle's most under-performing schools could have someone in their corner like that through graduation? Obviously, someone in addition to parents and family members, who should also be supporting and advocating for them. I know we'd see far fewer young adults with sucker-punch mentalities.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hot weather happiness

The past two weeks in Seattle have been wonderful weatherwise as the long overdue summer heat FINALLY made an appearance, like a friend who always shows up "fashionably" late for gatherings but is so much fun once she does that you can't be mad at her.

When the temperature gets up over 68 degrees, I take every opportunity to get outside and bask in the sun's loving embrace (with SPF 30 or more of course) since I know, maddeningly, that the dreary winter weather will also eventually reappear to literally rain on my parade. Kind of like the annoying guy you met through your brother-in-law who invited himself to your gathering and amazingly, didn't realize you don't really care for his company, despite the blatantly crestfallen look on your face that you made no effort to hide when you opened the door and saw him standing there - empty handed as usual - asking where the food and drink were. Yeah, really.

So a couple weeks ago when I was called for jury duty for the first time but not picked for the trial, I wasn't too sad since it was pushing 72 that day. J., Ava and I jumped in the car to enjoy the last of the early evening sun over on Alki in West Seattle. We got a bite to eat then spread our blanket at a quiet neighborhood waterfront park and watched the water sparkle and occasional runner and people walking their dog pass by. Ava doesn't seem to mind the sun or be as cold sensitive as I am. She loved practicing her pulling up skills while I lie still in my black shirt trying to draw every sun ray to my core.
That weekend, I had a heat-gasm as the temperature soared to the low 90s, which most Seattleites define as the fourth concentric circle of hell; circles one through three being places where they value job growth over the protection of natural resources, places where people are openly intolerant, places where dressy means 'no jeans,' and places that don't recycle.

We set out for Canada, but our heart (and gas budget) wasn't in it, so after a leisurely stop at the Tulalip Outlet stores, we turned back and lounged at Gas Works Park in Seattle, which, in retrospect, we should have done from the outset. Ava looked fetching as usual in her colorful linen summer outfit, courtesy of our friends with a daughter a year older.
She was quite taken with the geese and pigeons bobbing about, and a family of Scottish visitors who sounded like Mrs. Doubtfire were all quite taken with her, coming over to make faces, squeeze her toes and generally fuss and coo, which she reveled in.

Summer in Seattle is really hard to beat: hot weather, no real humidity, sparkling blue water everywhere and snow-capped mountains in three directions. If I can figure out how to be a snowbird before I turn 40, we'll be set.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

See you at the finish line suckers!

Ava decided to get a15 year jump on prepping for her learner's permit. Wait until she finds out she can no longer call and drive in Washington without a handsfree device.

Yes, young lady: you do need to pull over to firm up times and meetup locations for that playdate. I don't care how hard it's been to finally catch up with your "peeps" from PEPS. I'm not going to tell you again.

Reminds me of this New Yorker cartoon:

I'll have a pinot & a bib please

We hit Portalis Wine Bar in Ballard tonight, where we stuffed Ava (and ourselves) with yummy buttered mini-baguettes (lightly toasted on the outside, soft in the middle), and tried the grilled shrimp with balsalmic reduction for dipping, and field greens with tiny bits of watermelon all drizzled in balsalmic vinaigrette.

J. had a glass of Walnut City Wineworks 2007 Pinot Noir which he described as "the bomb," which is why he probably won't be invited to hang with the sommelier crowd at Vinexpo next year.