Better karma

April 24th, 2008 § 2

Last night we volunteered as a family at a soup kitchen. It was the first time we’ve been able to find an appropriate forum (and felt it was the appropriate time) to introduce Alli to this kind of service, and it was one of our more meaningful parenting and life experiences. There was just such an amazing vibe, both among the volunteers and the diners, and it was one of those rare moments in life where I felt the kind of warm chills one gets when communing with the forces of kindness and one-ness in the universe. Altogether just under 100 people from our community came to eat, some of them having waited outside for several hours in advance to guarantee themselves a meal.

Alli was amazing. She helped with prep work, set tables, put out butter pats, and lined up the desserts that she was to serve. She cared to make sure that people were given choices among the cookie combinations set out on each plate. After serving, she skipped around, happily clearing tables and collecting utensils for cleaning.

On the way home, she shared some of her observations with me. She had been a little worried about it because she wasn’t sure what a homeless person would be like. Were they all homeless? They didn’t look like what she had thought. They weren’t all dirty. Where did they put the extra food they got to take with them? Did they have any money?

She was really focused on the money thing for awhile and I finally sorted that out when she asked me if they had to pay for the meal that we served them. When I assured her that it was provided for free, she breathed a huge sigh of relief. She had been worried that they had to pay money they didn’t have.

I think clearing that up curtailed any of her sadness about it, although I anticipate being watchful for that. Our goal was not to expose her to more than she could bear or leave her with a lingering sadness. But I think that acknowledging that bad financial times and poverty exist, within our own community as well as across the world, and that people who are suffering aren’t fundamentally different from us, is an important part of her education in this world. I also think that it can be good for us all to become more aware of our own privileges and blessings, and be more able to recognize when we want or waste more than we need.

Beyond the acknowledgement, I just feel so grateful about having found another way to show Alli that even a 7-year-old has power to make a difference.


April 17th, 2008 § 0

Alli and Zig

We picked Ziggy up from the vet Monday morning. After a weekend of IV hydration, he was a teensy bit stronger. After a few more days at home where we (translated: me, the only Bernstein who can cope with needles) give him daily subcutaneous fluids, he seems to be at least reasonably comfortable, able to eat, purring in spades and moving around without falling down so much. It’s clear that he is suffering kidney failure and that this isn’t going to be getting better. We simply have to monitor him day by day and assess what we think his quality of life is. It could be days, weeks, even months.

As often happens in this world, I think the child here is leading the way: in processing all of this, Alli has expressed a desire to celebrate Ziggy’s life. She’s working on plans for a “100th birthday party” (or whatever his 18 human years translate to). During our first burst of actual spring weather this week, we took him outside for a bit to let his fur feel the wind and to accommodate Alli’s request to get a picture of her and Ziggy together. It was a wonderful moment, and we got to see sparks of the “old Ziggy” peeking through.


April 13th, 2008 § 0

It’s been a hard weekend.

My beloved iPhone and wallet were stolen today. With a little help from my own carelessness at forgetting my purse for a few minutes in the Kohl’s girls’ changing room during an unsuccessful quest for a new pair of Jeans for the ever-growing Alli.

We spent the better part of the afternoon trying to do damage control (getting little to no assistance from Kohl’s, who has effectively no security camera system that I can tell, filing a police report, canceling credit cards, changing passwords, disabling the phone service, etc.). I will spend another few hours this week probably tracking down things that are scheduled to automatically bill to my debit card, which had to be canceled. I am without any access to funds for probably 7-10 days until my new debit card arrives. The financial impact tally to date is about $700. Of course, our insurance deductible is $1000.

And the person who helped him or herself also was so kind as to rip open the packaging of a $50 box of printer ink that I had intended to return to Target. Make that tally $750.

About 2 months ago Andrew’s debit card number was stolen (not the card, but the number, likely off a purchase record from somewhere), and our checking account was depleted after several thousand dollars of fraudulent airline ticket purchases. We were fortunate to have that cleared up and the funds back within about 2 weeks, but the scab from that wound feels a bit raw right now.

2 weeks ago, during our spring break travels, we received an as-yet-unknown fine for a “ticket” from the Indiana State Police as part of their “Move Over Law” crackdown. A piggybacking group of police vehicles were pulled over on the right side of the road for the sole purpose of catching folks who didn’t move over to pass them. We were on the verge of getting off at a right-hand exit, only probably a few hundred yards away — making a full move to the left lane not the world’s most appealing choice. Admittedly neither of us know about the law requiring a complete lane change “if traffic permits”, but Andrew is one of the most safety-conscious highway drivers I know. He saw the police vehicle on the right side of the road, moved about halfway out of the lane to give space, assuming this was more than safe given that there were no people outside of any vehicle at the time. He figured, as I would have, that he’d probably be a greater traffic risk if he had to quickly get back in the right lane to get off of the exit. According to the officer who pulled us over, she saw him move but because he didn’t officially cross the lane line fully, it wasn’t “enough”. She fully acknowledged her mission, to ticket as many drivers as possible. The “ticket”, by the way, is just a printout saying that the real ticket and fine will be arriving within 4-6 weeks. Because they were just far too busy catching criminals like us every 3 minutes to have their time wasted issuing REAL tickets. I contacted the county who issued the ticket, and they were unwilling to provide any information about the ticket or the fine, other than to say that there would definitely be an over $100 fee for “court costs” (regardless of whether we go to court or not) on TOP of the actual fine. We have no idea what the damage is going to be, although we both sense big $$, or whether we have a leg to stand on in court protest.

In the scheme of life, all of this is a drop in the bucket. I know that many people are so much less fortunate than we are, and that many people suffer far more extensive violence and violation than this. And as I told Alli, who was pretty affected by the stolen phone and wallet debacle, “things” are just that, and the fact that we are all safe and together is what is important. But the anger and sadness over both is proving difficult for me to shed. I’m angry about the ticket situation, not because I don’t fully support the law and its intent, but because I feel unfairly targeted, and I believe in my heart that we (Andrew in particular) are always respectful of others’ safety on the road and in particular that Andrew did not violate the intent of the law here. I’m also angry because this, along with several significant financial hits that we’ve taken recently, is likely to completely topple an already-way-over-budget life situation. I’m angry in general, at this and at the theft, and just really, really sad. Sad that so many people in this world just seem to be lacking fundamental human compassion for others. And of course I’m furious with myself for not learning my lesson the many, MANY other times I’ve forgotten something of value somewhere out of distraction or carelessness. Still, I remind myself, drop in the bucket. Far worse things happen every day to so many others. Do I even have a right to complain?

What doesn’t so much feel like a drop in the bucket is that Ziggy (our eldest cat, the cat Andrew and I adopted together as our wedding gift to each other 18 years ago) is dying. Neither one of us really wants to say it that way, but it’s the reality. After several days of noticing significant decline, a vet visit yielded the diagnosis of severe dehydration and likely kidney failure. Neither of us (nor our vet) were ready to throw in the towel just yet, not yet convinced that he couldn’t be made more comfortable and be given a bit more time without suffering, so he has spent the weekend at the vet on IV fluids. We are to pick him up tomorrow and learn how to give him fluids at home, await a second round of blood test results, and take it day by day from there. Probably going to be another major financial hit in the long run (we’re already probably $800 in on this round thus far), although the money seems impossible to factor into decisions involving life and quality of life for a soul that is small and furry, but a real and very dear part of our family. We’re all sad. I’ve had several gentle but honest conversations with Alli about Ziggy’s age and health, and prepared her for an understanding of euthanasia, something which may be in the cards at some point. They are difficult conversations to have, not just for Andrew and I but for Alli, who is so bonded with her pets and who has seen more than her fair share of loss in the last year or two.

It’s been a hard weekend.


April 11th, 2008 § 0

scrap cat

After finally letting go of the prolonged e-mail ban precipitated by Alli’s extortion campaign, I relented and found an e-mail account with parent monitoring capabilities, so she’s been back in business for a bit, at least with the family members on her whitelist. Her e-mails are often hysterical, including a series of “fill in the blank forms” that she likes to send out to solicit information from various family members, but we were particularly amused by the following exchange with Aunt Cathy and Uncle Jory:

Tuesday, 4/8, 5pm
ALLI: I am just wondering if mabey we could video chat as soon as we can? Like for ixample in 2 days? Well got to eat dinner now! Send me soon! Love, Alli

Wednesday,4/9, 7am
UNCLE JORY/AUNT CATHY: We have a party to go to Thursday night, how is Friday at 7? Love, Uncle Jory, Aunt Cathy and Jake

Wed, 4/9, 8pm
ALLI: No, were going to somebuddes house on friday at 7:00. what are your timeings for saterday?

Thursday, 4/10, 8am (apparently responses are expected during off-business hours)
ALLI: Whaiting!

Bear in mind that none of this, including initiating the plans, was run by the Mommy or Daddy. I swear, homegirl’s going to need her own Google calendar soon!

Before we left for our spring break travels, Alli had apparently left notes for the cats in various places in the house. We’ve been finding one or two every day since returning. The best was the note left in our bedroom, and went something like this:“Max, by the time you find this note, I’ll probably already be in Michigan! Hugs and kisses, Alli”

Last night:Alli is watching a show about marine animals, and beckons, “you’ve got to see this, Daddy”. She then replays a scene in which Jeff Corwin is holding up a sea turtle and says: “This turtle is often hunted for its flesh and shell, which are ripped off to make [some variety of inane things that people do with animals]…”She’s staring at the TV, then at Daddy, in disbelief. Our thought, of course, is that another point has been racked up in her animal rights outrage collection.

And then she shared the nature of her astonishment. THIS turtle, Daddy? How is it still alive????”

This morning, Alli questioned why her lunch needed to be packed because apparently she woke up thinking it was Saturday. Upon being informed that it was actually Friday, she uttered a huge sigh of relief. The following exchange ensued:

ALLI: I was so glad that Daddy told me it was actually a school day. Because I COMPLETELY forgot that I have a group meeting today!

MOMMY: A group meeting?

ALLI: Yeah, for my animal group.

MOMMY: Your animal group? Is this a project you’re working on?

ALLI: No, it’s just a group I started at lunch. For discussing things.

MOMMY: What kinds of things do you discuss?

ALLI: Well, you know, like different things about animals, and about caring for them, and about caring for the environment, that kind of thing. I forgot to write our list of things to talk about for today.

MOMMY: When do you meet?

ALLI: Well, we meet at lunch, at a separate table.

MOMMY: How many people meet?

ALLI: Well, I started the group so I’m the leader. But anyone who wants to talk about animals can be in the group. She then proceeds to list the girls in her cult group. But I was also able to get Emma in finally, because of her dog thing.

I declined to ask about the dog thing.

She later reported that they decided to call it a group because they didn’t like the word club, and no one would understand what it was if they just called it a “thingy”.

Then the best part:

ALLI: The other group is mostly boys. But I really wasn’t interested in that group.

MOMMY: What does the other group talk about?

ALLI: Well, it’s called the chewed-up food group.

You just can’t make this stuff up.


April 4th, 2008 § 0

So yesterday was our laid-back “let’s stay around Lansing” and make time for hanging out and swimming at the hotel day. And Lansing, well, let’s just say it’s been explored and we’re not making reservations for a return trip. It just seems to be one of those towns that hasn’t fared all that well against the decline of the auto industry and recession.

Still, we managed to engage Alli at the small but only mildly depressing local zoo. One of the advantages of low crowds, few animals and small enclosures is taking it slow and getting some serious one-on-one creature face time.


Oh, and I hesitated to include this one, but I can’t resist. It reminded me so fondly of our encounter with the Indiana Highway Patrol on Tuesday:Goats.

(Sorry. It had to be said.)

Off to Ann Arbor.

Grand Rapids

April 3rd, 2008 § 0

In desperate need for an inexpensive respite, we decided to Say Yes to Michigan for the latter part of Alli’s spring break. After a mildly crappy start on Tuesday where we fell victim to Indiana’s Move Over Month Initiative (will surely write more about this later), we had an uplifting day yesterday in Grand Rapids visiting the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Far exceeded our expectations, and highly recommend the visit. Also got to take my macro lens out for another practice round…

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