February 29, 2008

YOU NEED TO GET OUT MORE

I was just watching an old rerun of Law & Order, and the detective said that a suspect had an "arsenal registered in his name." Turns out he had five guns. An arsenal! Shoot, they should meet some of the people we know. One of my husband's buddies used his entire PCS weight allowance for ammunition. No joke. Five firearms is nothing.

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IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES

The Girl sent me a depressing study called Still At Risk: What Students Don't Know, Even Now. Seventeen year olds were asked basic questions about history and literature; guess how they fared.

What I thought was quite interesting was that the questions the students did best on were the "I Have a Dream" speech and Uncle Tom's Cabin. So Black History Month is achieving its goals. But I think we need a White History Month to even things out, since only 74% of kids knew which century Columbus sailed to the New World and only 52% knew what the book 1984 was about (apparently 18% thought it was about time travel, backwards!) Kids don't know what JFK said in his speeches, but they know what MLK said.

My kids are going to have to read, at gunpoint if necessary.

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February 26, 2008

IT'LL BE A GIRL, FOR SURE

My husband and I both want a boy. We want a boy really badly. We always have imagined ourselves with a son. And so we laugh that when we finally, finally get pregnant again someday, we will probably definitely have a girl. Such has been our humbling experience with conception woes.

But no matter how much I'd like to have a boy, now that we've worked so hard to have a baby, any baby, this article -- "Sexual Satisfaction: Abortion and your right to accurate sex selection" -- makes me sick. There are so many people out there who would give anything to have a baby, boy or girl, and others are aborting because some stick they peed on gave them pink instead of blue? Some dubiously accurate stick at that? And then they're suing the company because they had a girl instead of a boy.

People never cease to horrify me.

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February 25, 2008

WHAT A VACATION

I just finished reading the book Assassination Vacation. I have never encountered a book that I so thoroughly loved and hated simultaneously.

Some of the negative reviews on Amazon say that Sarah Vowell's writing is self-absorbed. As a blogger, heh, I live self-absorbed. I assume that people are going to want to listen to my talk of knitted monkey toes and reproductive health. So that didn't bother me at all; I found her voice charming and her style to be engaging. I also loved learning about the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinations. There were so many great tidbits in this book, and I came away knowing a lot more about the life and death of those three presidents. I also learned touching info like the fact that Ida McKinley sewed a picture of her dead husband into her knitting bag, a bag which is on display in the McKinley museum in Canton, Ohio. Now that I can relate to, that brought Ida McKinley to life for me.

I loved this book, save for the fact that Sarah Vowell has the worst case of Bush Derangement Syndrome I've seen in a long time. She can't talk about any of these assassinations without mentioning Guantanamo Bay, Rumsfeld, Abu Ghraib, etc. These tangential rants were a huge distraction in an otherwise charming book. And I mean a huge distraction. She starts out the book by sympathizing with the assassins themselves because she hates Bush so much, but quickly says that she doesn't want Bush assassinated because that would turn him into a saint. My lord. She also manages to claim that these three assassinated presidents pretty much got what was coming to them because they were Republicans. No word on JFK though.

I mean, seriously, what are you supposed to do when you come across the idea that the author feels sorry for Bill Brady but not for Ronald Reagan? Ouch.

The book could've been the perfect story of one woman's obsession with following in the footsteps of slain presidents, visiting the historical sites and marveling at the relics. Instead she turns a perfectly good book into a dated rant about the Iraq war. She made her own book irrelevant by forever linking it to 2004. It's her right to ruin her book like that, but dang. Does anyone really want to hear her liken Teddy Roosevelt to Paul Wolfowitz? Or compare Dr. Mudd's prison sentence to Gitmo? Sheesh, give it a rest.

So I don't know what I think of this book. I loved the pages where she managed to restrict her thoughts to the 19th century. But when she wandered, boy howdy did she wander. Blech.

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February 24, 2008

THOUGHTS ON RACE

I had a black roommate in college who would not walk across campus alone for fear of being lynched. One time I invited her and her boyfriend to a party, and afterwards she raved about how nice and accepting my friends were. She said she was surprised she felt so welcomed among the white kids, as if she expected the record to skip and the whole room to stop and stare when she walked in. I said that it really wasn't that big of a deal to the people I know. And that's when she revealed that the converse was not true: "There's no way I could take you to one of my parties because the black students simply would not accept you." Nice.

I knew an Eastern European foreign exchange student who thought he identified with black American culture more than white American culture, so he wanted to hang out with the black students. The first time he tried to go to a black party, they rudely asked him to leave. You have to admire his persistence though; he continued to attend their parties for weeks, being ostracized each time. Finally, a girl who was in one of his classes came up to him at his fifth or sixth party and asked him why in the heck he kept coming back when it was obvious he didn't belong. After many weeks of "proving himself," he finally made some headway, and the black students would say hello on campus and talk to him as if he were a friend.

I know these are just anecdotes, but my experience on a very predominantly white campus was that the black students self-segregated and imagined that they were being oppressed. No one even noticed when my roommate showed up at our "white" party. It was no big deal for me to include her, but she'd be going out on a major limb to bring me into her world. That's not the white students' fault; that's the black students' fault for closing themselves off.

I was reminded of these experiences when I read about Michelle Obama's thesis on race relations (via LGF).

"My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before," the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

I can't speak for Princeton in the 80s, but this was certainly not the case at my school in 1999. And I wonder if my old roommate ever learned to relax around people, all people of all colors, and just be herself. I hope to goodness she doesn't still think she's going to get lynched.

This part of Peggy Noonan's editorial stuck with me too:

Michelle Obama seems keenly aware of her struggles, of what it took to rise so high as a black woman in a white country. Fair enough. But I have wondered if it is hard for young African-Americans of her generation, having been drilled in America's sad racial history, having been told about it every day of their lives, to fully apprehend the struggles of others. I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all." Intelligent, strong, tall, beautiful, Princeton, Harvard, black at a time when America was trying to make up for its sins and be helpful, and from a working-class family with two functioning parents who made sure she got to school.

If Michelle Obama doesn't realize that she made it, that her life is not one "on the periphery," well, that's a damn shame. But it's not white people's fault.

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February 23, 2008

MY HUSBAND IS A HERO

From the comments section of a Dr. Helen post:

I think the problem is that young men come to the realization that they are not really needed. Boys grow up instinctively wanting to be heroes, but the irony is that successive generations of male heroics have made the world safe enough that women no longer need heroes in their lives; they want "partners." It comes out sounding more like a business proposition, and a rather bland one at that.

My husband is the man of the house. He lifts the heavy things, handles the money, deals with car maintenance, watches baseball, and drinks beer. He also goes to war. He doesn't cry and he doesn't complain about having to work so hard. He is my hero, and I chose him because he is a man's man. I most certainly do need heroes like him in my life.

Sorry, but reading Dr. Helen's columns and comments is a depressing activity. I felt the need to defend my husband after all that reading.

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February 22, 2008

GO DO THINGS

Along with registering my gripes with travel, I hereby register my gripes with Doing Stuff. Apparently a completely fulfilling life of staying in your cozy home watching movies that have been deposited in your mailbox is "uncool." We have to Go Somewhere and Do Stuff in order to be having A Good Time.

Lileks, of course:

But in the great middle expanse of your life, you not only want to spread out, you want to be left alone, and this is taking on the characteristic of an anti-social sentiment. You should be walking around the dense neighborhood window-shopping and eating at small fusion restaurants. You should be engaged. If you want to watch a quality foreign film, good, but you should not watch it home; you should walk down to the corner theater and see it in a room full of other people, and nevermind that the start time is inconvenient and you can’t pause it to go pee and the fellow in the row behind you is aerating the atmosphere with tubercular sputum. This is how they do things in New York.

Apparently there's a movie theater in town where you can see a movie over dinner and drinks; you sit at tables and they serve you food while the movie is playing. Or something like that, I've never been. But another hip young couple here is always telling us that we should be Doing Things like going to this innovative movie theater, or schlepping to the big city to go out to dinner, or heading to the beach to surf, or doing yoga, or whatever else they do with all their free time. People look at us like we're freaks when we say we've never been to the big city that's an hour away, that we've never been to the beach, that we don't eat out in restaurants. Apparently we'd have "so much fun, and it'd be romantic too" spending fifty bucks for a dinner I can make at home. And what knitter wants to watch a movie whilst eating food? Movies were invented to help knitters feel less idle; I've gotten good enough that I can watch a movie with subtitles while knitting from a chart, but I still can't do much in the darkness of a movie theater. And certainly not with a plate of food in front of me.

Nevermind that we own French, Swedish, Korean, and Serbian movies and have animated discussions about Obama and deficit spending over our homecooked meals; life is not fulfilling unless you leave the house. The looks I get from people my age indicated that we're simply not cool if we don't Go Do Things.

Call me uncool then.

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February 19, 2008

ALL IN GOOD TIME

My husband saw Castro's face on Drudge this morning, adorned with the phrase "The End," and got super-excited for cake. Sadly, there is no baking yet for Castro. But just you wait.

Past delicious cakes include:
Saddam's broken neck
Zarqawi in smithereens
Milosevic burns in hell
Bush wins and Arafat croaks
Saddam being dragged from that nasty hole
Uday and Qsay get what's coming to 'em (before I blogged)

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February 18, 2008

TRAVEL

From an interview with Tyler Cowen:

My colleague and co-blogger Alex Tabarrok makes an interesting point. If you knew your life were much shorter you would travel to those places you always wanted to see. If you knew your life were to be much longer you would have more time to travel; again you would travel more. So, are you trying to tell me that your expected lifespan is just at that length where you shouldn't travel more? I don't buy it.

In case I haven't solidified my weirdo credentials enough on this blog, I will add more fuel to the fire: I don't really like to travel, and I'm not convinced I'd do more of it if my life were shorter or longer.

Maybe I'm just traveled out; I have been a lot of places. Or maybe I don't like the opportunity costs; I seemed just fine with travel when my parents or my college scholarship were footing the bill. I traveled the world on someone else's dime with nary a peep. But now that it's my money where my mouth is, it's suddenly not so important. I am sure that if we ever have kids, it will become more important to us, to help them see the world. It might be worth the cost then. But for now, we are oh-so-content to spend free moments in our own house.

There's no place like home, right?

I've also never been able to let go of something Paul Theroux said, that "travel is an expensive kind of laziness." You take pictures of stuff you know nothing about, just so you can show other people that you've been somewhere cool. And then speak with authority about the place. God, I hate the authority in travelers' voices. Spending the weekend in Venice does not mean you understand Italians or their way of life. I lived with a Swedish family for two and a half months, and all I can really say is that I understand that particular Swedish family. I don't delude myself that I now grok what it is to be Swedish.

I also know that one bad experience (or conversely, one good one) can change the way you feel about an entire country. I hated every aspect about living in France, but I'm self-aware enough to know that I lived a series of unfortunate events that molded my opinion. If I'd lived somewhere else with different people, like my distant relatives, I might view the entire country differently, and I probably would've continued my French career path. My bad experiences in France contributed enormously to who I am today: I discovered anti-Americanism and spent months defending my country to prejudiced Europeans. The irony is that I wouldn't be as American as I am today if I hadn't spent time in other countries, arguing why the United States is not the Great Satan.

The thing about this "expensive kind of laziness" is that travel is emotional while educating yourself is dry. My feelings about France are gut not brain, and quite separate from any knowledge I gained in my ten years of French study. My husband has never been to Iran, but I'd wager he knows more about Iranian history than many Iranians do. Because he reads books and learns facts. Sure, he doesn't have the glossy tourist photos to prove he knows Iran, but ask him about the Iranian Revolution and he starts a hundred years ago with names and dates. That's more valuable than a picture of us smiling in Tehran ever could be.

All in all, I think travel is overrated as a means of learning about the world. If you want to go see some place that you've studied and explored intellectually, I think that's fabulous. The most rewarding trips I took in Europe were to see things I'd studied: my visit to see the Iceman and my quest through the streets of Paris to find where Jean-Paul Marat was killed. But a picture of me in front of the Sphinx is no substitute for reading a book.

And I guess I'd rather read the books in the comfort of my own home than travel somewhere to get the photo taken.

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ECO-

I thought this concept was wild:

The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water.

My husband and I have ecoanxiety, but our eco- is for economics. I get so excited when I find balls of yarn on sale for a dollar, but I stress too because it's an extravagance I don't need. We could be saving that dollar. I wrestle with myself in stores all over town because even though we save plenty, there's no such thing as saving too much for the future. So I guess I understand the feeling, even if I don't understand tying oneself in knots over the environment.

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February 15, 2008

SLEEPER CELL

The husband and I have been watching the show Sleeper Cell lately. I remember reading reviews when this show came out that it seemed too PC because the members of the terrorist cell were all white. But AirForceWife recommended the show, and I know she wouldn't give it her stamp of approval if it were too hokey or actually-America-is-the-bad-guy feeling.

We have watched several episodes so far, and I really like how nuanced the show is. It shows all the different types of Muslims: the "jihad means inner struggle, Islam is a religion of peace" type, the "jihad means killing every single American" type, the "we should kill soldiers in Iraq, not plot terror attacks on innocent Americans" type, the conflicted "others are hijacking my religion" type, and even the goofy white kid who becomes a Muslim to tick his mother off. Plus it shows white people who mean well but who just don't get how hard it is to be a non-psycho Muslim today. I think it's really well done; it lures you into feeling sorry for some of the characters, and then you have to shake yourself and remind yourself that they're murdering a-holes. It's complex, and I like that.

I give it my stamp of approval too.

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February 14, 2008

AMERICAN DREAM

My husband found a link: Homeless: Can you build a life from $25?: "In a test of the American Dream, Adam Shepard started life from scratch with the clothes on his back and twenty-five dollars. Ten months later, he had an apartment, a car, and a small savings."

I just love this. I thought Spurlock was full of baloney. Actually he was full of baloney, as he had his employer intentionally lower his wage to make his point.

Good for you, Adam Shepard.

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February 13, 2008

VIGILANTE

Most bloggers talk about current events; I, on the other hand, like to discuss movies that are ten to sixty years old. That's how I make sure I'm not saying the same thing as everyone else. I talk about the outdated stuff.

At any rate, the husband and I watched the movie The Boondock Saints last night, and it got me thinking about vigilantism. Many of our modern heroes are actually vigilantes: Batman, Spiderman, Jack Bauer, Dexter. They right the wrongs that slip through our justice system.

But, I mean, why are there so many wrongs to right?

I re-read last night Bill Whittle's section of Responsibility dealing with prairie justice. He's right that if you read that section to someone from 1880's America, they wouldn't get it.

The idea of punishing the property owner while rewarding the thief would so violate their common sense, their keenly developed sense of responsibility, that they simply could not believe what they were hearing, and that is because for those people, cold, hard reality stalked them right outside their front door, and moronic inversions of cause and effect would quite simply get you killed. That’s why it was called common sense…it was the Minimum Daily Requirement of intelligence and logic that one needed to survive on a daily basis. Those who didn’t have it were too stupid to live, and had been eaten by wolves or prairie dogs, depending on just how stupid they were.

Reality has receded far from the front porch in modern America, and in those isolated towers of law offices, bureaucracies and faculty lounges, all manners of thought inversions can grow and prosper. I recently heard of a woman who sued a car dealership. It seems her son had stolen a car from said dealership, gone on a joy ride -– drunk, of course -– and gotten himself killed. The woman claimed that if the dealership had maintained adequate security, her son would not have been able to steal the car and he’d be alive today.

This is madness.

What has happened in the last 100 years that has made us, as Whittle puts it, lose sight of "the difference between perpetrator and victim"? How did we get from Jack McCall to OJ Simpson?

We watch these vigilantes on TV and we cheer them on for doing the job that our police and courts cannot do. But isn't there something inherently awful about that? Why do criminals slip so easily through the cracks?

I think the best part of The Boondock Saints was the very end where they interview folks on the street for a documentary about the making of the movie (here on YouTube, at 2:30). The opinions were split on whether the brothers' vigilantism was moral or immoral. That end segment made the movie.

Prairie justice was harsh, but I'm not sure we're always better off these days. Sometimes I just want Dexter to go chop up some bad guys.

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February 10, 2008

HELPLESSNESS

Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself.
       --Bradford Wiles, quoted by Glenn Reynolds

The other night when we were out walking Charlie, the neighborhood watch guy was out. He warned us that they were looking for two stray dogs, a pit bull and a rottweiler, who had been roaming the neighborhood. These dogs had already mauled and killed another dog, right in front of his owner on her front lawn. Animal control had been out and set a trap, but they weren't having any luck luring the dogs. He told us to be careful.

We just got back from a walk again today, and as we rounded a corner in the neighborhood, I spotted the rottweiler coming slowly from between two houses. We immediately turned, and I don't think the dog ever saw us. But it certainly was unnerving to walk the rest ofthe way home with our backs to where we'd last seen a dangerous dog. I couldn't help but wish we had some way to defend ourselves. I remembered reading Glenn Reynolds' article again the other day, and I felt Bradford Wiles' sense of helplessness.

And my husband is now uneasy that we're safe in our home while danger lurks outside. He's a sheepdog, and he feels awful about letting the wolf roam free. But we don't know anything about the legal ramifications of the situation; can one just go outside with a pistol and Atticus Finch a dangerous dog? Animal control has tried and failed to catch this dog, so the whole neighborhood is at his mercy.

I also worry about the many dogs in the neighborhood who are tied up outside. A vicious dog could come attack them in their own yards, and they'd be at a serious disadvantage if they're on a ten-foot leash.

And I worry about taking Charlie on another walk tomorrow.

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THANK YOU, MSNBC

MSNBC is always good for blog fodder.

Article #1: The best-kept secret to home-heating savings

Solar panels look bold on a rooftop, and a Toyota Prius looks hip in the driveway. Geothermal heating and cooling has none of that sex appeal, yet perhaps unlike the others, it can clearly save you money -- and a lot of it.

"The problem is that we don't have some big, fancy piece of equipment outside," says John Kelly, head of a Washington trade group for geothermal companies.

This is just too rich. You know there are people out there who are dying to go green, but only if it's ostentatious. You mean geothermal is the way to go, but my friends and neighbors won't be able to tell I'm doing anything? Nevermind. What a riot -- it's good for the environment, but they're having a hard time marketing to ecotards who only want solutions that shout "Look at me, I'm saving the planet!"

Article #2: Smoky bar triggered fatal asthma attack

The secondary title on this one was "First case of secondhand smoke causing an immediate death, study says." You know they couldn't wait to print this one. A girl goes to work in a bar and dies from an asthma attack. Smokers killed someone! Smokers killed someone!

But she wasn't exactly winning any Healthy Teen awards:

Rosenman said the woman had asthma since age 2. Her asthma was poorly controlled. She had made four visits to her doctor in the year before her death for flare-ups, and had been treated in a hospital emergency department two to three times that year.

Although she had prescriptions for an assortment of drugs to prevent and treat asthma attacks, she was reported to only use them when she was having breathing difficulty.

On the evening of her death, she had no inhaler with her.

Maybe the headline should instead read that secondhand smoke triggered a totally unnecessary death. It's a shame that she didn't take her life-long asthma seriously enough to be properly prepared for an attack. That's not smoke's fault; she could've walked by a lady with massive perfume overload and had the same result. And don't work in a smoky bar if you have asthma, for heaven's sake. Smoking is gross, but this hysterical secondhand smoke nonsense is too much for me. And now we have some study that says that a teen with asthma just walked into a bar and straight-up died because of the smoke in the air. What a boon that will be for the End Smoking Everywhere types.

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February 09, 2008

WHO PICKS THESE MOVIES?

I felt an a-ha moment when I saw today that Crash made the list of Worst Oscars Ever. I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it was an overrated piece of garbage. And I disliked it for the same reasons that I disliked Brokeback Mountain: it was all agony and no hope. It was depressing for the sake of being depressing. I couldn't stomach a straight love story with that message.

And now I just spent twenty minutes looking for an old quote I read about Transformers so I could tie this blog post up with a pretty bow, but I can't find it so I am giving up. No poignant ending.

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February 05, 2008

CELL PHONES

toothpaste for dinner
toothpastefordinner.com

Our cell phone contract is almost up, which means we're eligible for phone upgrades and such. We went in today to find out about fancy-pants phones like Blackberries. And the sales lady looked at us like we were the freaks for not wanting to pay $140 a month towards cell phones. Um, nope.

And if that weren't enough, we spent the rest of the day at the DMV.

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February 04, 2008

HOW CAN WE MAKE JACK BAUER A PANSY?

The husband hated the last season of 24. I was not ready to let go just yet. But somehow, I think I might be able to stop watching now. Also, Butterfly Wife might need a new name for her hubs; seems Jack Bauer is going wuss on us.

On May 31, the show’s head writers went in for a meeting at the studio to present their first big idea: sending Jack to Africa. In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. “One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he’s done in his life,” Mr. Gordon says.

You know what would make 24 even better? They could feature a big gay pile to stop terrorism.

AirForceWife lent us Sleeper Cell; looks like we'll watch that instead. And I could use more Deadwood when they make it.

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THREE CHEERS FOR OLD PEOPLE MUSIC

I loved this exchange between mom and teen about the Tom Petty halftime show.

We were surprised that they chose Tom Petty. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. I half expected 50 Cent to come out halfway through and start doing a rap version, followed by Marilyn Manson screeching "Mary Jane's Last Dance" with Faith Hill on backup or something. Looks like they've maybe given up on the "get artists from all different walks of life and make them sing a song together" idea. "Also, make one of them wear a sweat sock on their arm. That will appeal to the youngsters." Blech.

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February 03, 2008

CAN'T WAIT

Mmm, only an hour left until I get to start eating foods that are terrible for me! We're having beefy cheese dip, basil-pesto cracker spread, and Paula Deen's version of pigs in a blanket. Oh yeah, and there's some football or something, whatever. We ate salad for lunch so we can gorge ourselves in front of the TV.

Also, I had a laugh today when CaliValleyGirl asked me how we pay such low taxes. Um, that's what happens when one of you has a job with an annual salary of $900. Knitting teacher doesn't exactly pay the bills.

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