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Monday, April 16, 2012

Support the Troops: It Ain't Just a Bumper Sticker

You've probably seen a few gazillion "Support the Troops" bumper stickers. I often wonder exactly what those folks are actually doing in concrete terms to support the troops. When it comes to helping folks out, I'm a firm believer that the thought doesn't really count. Action does.

For a long while, I raged against our current (known) wars, because I didn't agree with their premise. I still don't, but I realize now that it's far more complicated than I previously understood. I also didn't realize that many of our troops feel that when we protest the premise of the war, we are also raging against the men and women who serve. That shocked me. I thought it would be obvious--I'm protesting this because I want you to come home in one, safe, healthy piece! But that's not how it can look on the other side. A pilot buddy told me that many of our troops feel forgotten. Can you imagine living your life in service to folks who pay you no mind?

So, I decided to show my support in a tangible manner. I signed up through Adopt a Platoon and started sending a monthly package and a weekly(ish) letter to a random stranger serving overseas. I've not heard back from either of the guys I've sent stuff to, but that's not surprising. Dudes are at war in a mountainous region, after all. But at least they know that someone back home who is not related to them--an absolute stranger--cares and knows they're still there. It ain't much, but it's something.

I'd be lying if I didn't confess that I do have a personal connection to all this service and its too frequent attached ache. Currently, my brother-in-law serves in the Air Force (it's cool. He's got a cushy job and doesn't really enter the fray these days). My grandfather was a gunner in WWII. He was a POW and lost a lower limb as a result of his capture. His prosthetic later played a role in an accident that resulted in his death. I had two uncles who served in Vietnam. One was killed in a freak accident on his way home; the other committed suicide several months after he returned home.

What folks don't mention when they talk about men and women "making the ultimate sacrifice" is how that sacrifice creates ripples on the surface of so many lives for so many generations. And suicide is far too common a solution for far too many soldiers who are suffering.

On a side note-- For those who want to rage against the men and women serving, thinking they should all become conscientious objectors (or are all stupid and just following orders or any of the other innumerable, offensive things I've heard): Your personal opinion about the war probably doesn't mean shit to someone who's trying to pay the bills. When you're willing to go to jail and leave your family to fend for themselves in service to your ideals, lemme know. Oh, and just how much of your salary goes to support the legal fees and monthly bills of those who risk a court marshal? You can start by sending a good hunk of your paycheck to Courage to Resist. If you can't manage the above, just shut up.

Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes! Ways to support the troops and their families:

Adopt a Platoon (if you know of any other orgs like this, let us know in the comments section).

Take a gander at this lovely song by an Army wife, Olivia Perez-Breland. She has several links on her side bar that will lead you to wonderful organizations that help veterans and their families. The song featured in the video on her blog will be available on itunes shortly and a portion of the proceeds will help the Fisher House.

The government has an excellent page full of resources over at United We Serve. Scroll through the page and see if you can't find something that calls to you.

The Coalition for Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans also has several resources for soldiers and suggestions on how civilians like you and me can help.

Operation We Are Here is a lovely little organization that has a great piece on their page about what to say and what not to say to families and returning soldiers (e.g., "did you kill anyone?" Seriously, dudes? Seriously?).

Of course it's always a good idea to check out your local Veterans Administration to see what volunteer opportunities they have. There also might be a few stellar organizations in your area. Here in Los Angeles we have an extremely impressive organization, New Directions, which provides so many services, it's mind boggling.

If you're looking to fill a staff position, why not Hire a Hero? (Check out this MMA fighter and former Marine's awesome non-profit: Hire Heroes USA.)

I know, I know. So many causes. So much to do. We can get overwhelmed and you can only do what you can do. But it's pretty easy to send a letter. Even easier to send a donation. As I said, it ain't much, but it's something, and every little caring act matters.

Edited to add from lovely suggestions in the comments section:

Operation First Response
"Operation First Response, Inc., supports our nation’s Wounded Warriors and their families with personal and financial needs. Services are provided from the onset of injury, throughout their recovery period and along their journey from military life into the civilian world. Financial aid varies as each case is based on individual needs ranging from rent, utilities, vehicle payments, groceries, clothing, and travel expenses."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Frugal Tip: Don't Be a Dumbass

This can go in a number of directions. Don't be a dumbass: Live below your means. Don't be a dumbass: Save your money instead of buying stupid crap. But this time, I have to point the finger at myself, because, well, I'm the dumbass. Oh, yeah, you're right. What's new about that?

Anyway, as I've mentioned recently, I've had some health issues as of late. Sure, genetics play into my woes, but it's really comprised of 99.9 percent years of stupid decisions and a lack of self-care. I am a typical rescuer lunatic. Yanno, the kind of person with a messianic complex so deep that he/she worries about everyone else and utterly neglects self, AKA a Dumbass. We dumbasses do good work, no doubt, but ultimately to our own detriment, making continued good deeds rather difficult. Some of my brethren have deep seated self-esteem issues and think they are only worthy when giving to others. Fortunately, I don't really have that issue. I tend to lack patience with that sort of thang (shitty self-esteem is a form of entitlement, me thinks. I mean, c'mon! Everyone has value but you? Really? How did you get to be so special?). I've got a bad combination of an alarming level of laziness, disdain for entitlement and a deeply rooted belief that the only life worth living is one that's lived in service to others. (Contradictory, I know. Lazy, but dedicated!)

What this looked like over the years: I have to run to 14 different meetings for the NPO that is paying me jack shit to work 60+ hours a week. No time to cook! Let me just run through this fast food joint a couple of times a day. Exercise? Suck it. Family history of diabetes and heart disease? Um, so? What's your point? I'm in the homeless capital of the United States! We have work to do, people!

Spend the vast majority of your life doing the above and you're gonna end up in deep shit, which is where I found myself. I have been going through the odd process of learning that self-care is required to properly live in a life in service and that taking time for self is not a manifestation of the indulgent tirades of entitled twats* hell bent on self-absorption. Self-care is actually something called "common sense." One day, I hope to have some of that common sense thing.

Being the frugal freak that I am, I must admit that the most painful part of this process hasn't been the various treatments and behavior changes. Oh no. It's been the cost. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, the cost. I have a perfectly horrible doctor through a perfectly fine HMO. Under their version of "care," I found myself getting worse and worse. So, I started paying out of pocket to see some hippified doctors who, like me, feel that pharmaceutical interventions should be a last resort. These stellar docs have given me discounts on care. (Thanks, ladies!) But I had to stop working for a bit, which resulted in an inconsistent income for a few months. I had to get a long-term car rental to get to and from various appointments in the nightmare sprawl that is Los Angeles. I had to spend a lot of money on supplements to help repair years of damage from a shitty diet and zero movement.

Essentially, for three months my income was reduced and sporadic while expenses increased by (say it with me now) $1600 per month over that same period. That's a hair under $5,000 and that's only for the intensive portion of things. The costs moving forward will reduce significantly and my income is back up to its old healthy self, so I'll be able to dig myself out of this hole by summer. But I'll still have more going out the door than I would otherwise for at least another year thanks to my idiocy. I also have to make some difficult decisions about quality of life issues, which may result in relocation or any other host of potential expensive changes.

Of course, not everyone who gets sick is a dumbass. There are so many conditions that are completely out of our control. I wonder about folks who don't have the luxury of a salaried gig and low expenses. How does a mother of three who makes minimum wage with no health benefits cope if she gets sick? But that's another discussion for another day.

Next week, I turn 39. I should be smarter by now, I know. But I am grateful that this changing tide has resulted in a new way of living (albeit at a snail's pace) that will ultimately result in a greater quality of life. I'm grateful for supportive, qualified medical folks and a compassionate employer. I'm grateful that I have a good measure of control over these health issues. Grateful, grateful, grateful. More than anything, I just hope that at some point, I will no longer be among the ranks of dumbass and will be awash in common sense. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away in the garden, pinching my pennies, and learning the fine art of good self-care. Feel free to join me (anyone want to toss a medicine ball around?) and share your tips on good self-care (please don't confuse that as a request for die-ting tips!). I'm new at this, after all.

*again, apologies to my feminist friends who find this term offensive. I would simply suggest that you stop associating your body with this term. I mean, really?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How Technology is Changing Us (a TED talk)

Hello, everyone! I'm back at work post medical leave and doing dandy, albeit busy as can be. I hope y'all are doing well. I heard a rumor that this is financial literacy month. Let's all celebrate by tracking our spending!

In other news, I wanted to share this incredibly interesting and powerful TED talk by Sherry Turkle. Once a champion of the internet and social media, Turkle has changed her tune in regard to the power of technology. In this talk she notes the ways in which technology is changing us on both a personal and cultural level, and it ain't all good. I realize the irony of posting this on a blog, but...well, yeah.

I was hooked when she mentioned a new "skill" that people are trying to develop: Maintaining eye contact with someone while you text. That's right, children! It's important to impart the illusion that you are listening, instead of actually being fully present and learning how to listen deeply to the person sitting in front of you. Shocking.

Some gem quotes: "...people can't get enough of each other, if and only if they can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control." And another, "We expect more from technology and less from each other...the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship."

At the end of the talk, she gives a battle cry of using technology to create our best selves and relationships, but doesn't really talk about what that looks like. I felt like the talk was asking us to actually put down the glowing rectangles and learn to reengage with one another on a level that requires focus, patience and attention.

It's a powerful talk. I hope you can find an extra 20 minutes to watch it.