It doesn’t take a college education to do the math

My little black coat is simple—knee length with five buttons down the front. It’s your basic snowman model. The lining in both arms is shredded. The coat is 22 years old.

Our three kids graduated from high school rapid fire. There were two years when all three were in college at the same time.

An acquaintance, who knew what was ahead for us, asked if she could give me a piece of advice. “Get yourself a good winter coat now,” she said, “because you’re not going to get another one for a very long time.”

So I did. And I have hung onto that little black coat the way a baseball player keeps a glove from a spectacular catch, or a football player holds onto a jersey from a championship game.

That little black coat is a testimony to victory.

To this day, I’m not sure how we maneuvered three kids through college, but we did. Everybody worked. There were summer jobs at Bed, Bath and Beyond (that daughter learned about sheet thread counts and is certified in “lifting”), a lawnmower with roughly 10,000 miles on it (our son had a couple dozen customers), endless babysitting jobs and jobs at a nursing home and a hospital.

Our son likes to say that a robbery took place at the end of every summer. We wouldn’t call it a robbery, necessarily. We thought of it more as a “buddy system.” Everybody contributed their earnings to college expenses.

Like many other families, the kids worked and we worked. Even so, they all graduated with student loan debt. They all paid it off. We all paid it off.

Similar scenarios have played out in hundreds of thousands of homes across the nation.

College is expensive and keeps getting more expensive. The government can’t fix the problem because the government is the problem. Every time the government “helps” by raising the ceiling on student loans, colleges raise tuition. More federal aid to students simply enables colleges to raise the price of admission.

Statistics vary on how many Americans over the age of 25 have graduated from college, but most hover in the neighborhood of less than 40 percent. Why should 60 percent of the population that didn’t go to college be forced to help pay the bill for those who did?

Even more aggravating, why should those who honored the legally binding contracts they signed, and paid off their student loans, now pay on someone else’s loan?

You don’t expect others to help pay off the VISA or Mastercard at the end of every month.  You don’t take out a home improvement loan, remodel the kitchen, then ask, “Who’s in?”

No magic wand can ever erase a debt. The debt will continue to exist and simply show up elsewhere.

Three guesses where this one will show up.

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Smile like a pro

Facing fierce competition in the job market, prospective employees are shelling out $1,000 for a professional headshot hoping to gain an edge.

Apparently the “right” headshot can put you ahead of the pack. It should be an easy sprint to the front with your wallet being so light.

Headshots with smiles are now questionable, even ill-advised in some circles. Pity all that money spent on orthodontia and caps. They should have saved it to pay for the $1,000 headshots.

I also can’t help but think of the line in the musical “Hamilton” where Aaron Burr advises a young Alexander Hamilton, “Talk less; smile more.” If only Hamilton had listened. He could have lived a lot longer.

A number of these pricey headshot sessions come with “face-coaching.”

I don’t know about you, but I could use a face coach.

I have a face that often responds before my mouth does: furrowed eyebrows, the look of shock, the squint that says, “I’ll probably fact check that later,” and the standard eye roll that has been getting me in trouble since age 7.

Although as a parent and grandparent, rapid-response facial communication is extremely useful. You don’t say a word, just give the “I wasn’t born yesterday” look. Or the “Sell it to someone who’s buying” look. It’s high-speed, efficient communication.

The husband could use a face coach, too. I often get a deadpan look from him in response to things I say. He doesn’t have to truly be engaged, but it would be nice if he could make his face look like he was engaged.

Face coach, please!

Face coaching leans heavily toward the somber side. Many of the coached headshots have a look that says, “I’m serious, but a go-getter. I’m listening, but I have ideas of my own.”

Some of the facial expressions are pensive and penetrating, nearly brooding, deep in thought, intensely reflective. More than a few could be mistaken for depressed poets.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; depressed poets make a lot of money. But it could be a problem if you’re applying for a business management job. Then again, maybe you could combine the two—quarterly reports in free verse.

I can’t imagine what budget-minded job seekers do in these times. There are always those photo booths that take four pictures rapid fire then shoot them out a slot. No, of course not. Forget I mentioned it.

Then again, it could set you apart from the pack.

Let me know if it works.

I’m taking Aaron Burr’s side in this one: “Talk less; smile more.”

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From back-a-rub to whiplash in a short time

When our twin grandbabies were chubby-cheeked toddlers and would spend the night on two little blue cots, they often requested a “back-a-rub” to help them fall asleep.

The husband or I would sit, kneel or crouch on the hardwood floor between the two cots with arms outstretched simultaneously giving a back-a-rub to each twin.

The tots would be just about asleep and the adult giving the back-a-rub would be sound asleep, but somehow still upright, when a burning pain would shoot down the adult’s shoulder or a horrible muscle cramp would seize a calf. Instinctively, jumping up for relief and yelping in pain woke the little ones and terrified them, which they communicated by screaming and crying at high decibels. Sometimes for hours. Or maybe it was days. Who knows. High-frequency crying on dual speakers can destroy memory as well as hearing.

Then the whole process would begin again. Back-a-rub, cramp, jolt, everyone awake, back-a-rub, cramp, jolt, everyone awake.

On a good night, we sometimes got ourselves to bed three hours before the sun rose.

Those twins are now preteens, No. 2 and No. 3 in the lineup of 11 grands. As they grew older, they gave back-a-rubs to their baby sister and to their younger cousins, who in turn gave back-a-rubs to their siblings and cousins. Eventually, it came to pass that an adult could be at the kitchen table doing a crossword or finishing a meal and feel a light pressure on the back as though perhaps a butterfly had landed on you. But as you reached to brush it away you discovered a small person giving a small back-a-rub.

As many of the kids grew taller and could reach higher, the back-a-rubs morphed into neck-a-rubs. A neck-a-rub is wonderful during tax season or deciding whether to make a triple jump and crush a 6-year-old at checkers or let the kid win. (Take the jump—always take the jump! They’ll crush you soon enough.)

A competition developed among the kids as they worked the crowd of weary aunts and uncles and aging grandparents, giving neck-a-rubs, and hoping to be the one showered with the highest praise.

When you are the last in a long line of 11, it is not easy being a quiet observer, watching others constantly glory in the spotlight. And so No. 11 began weaseling into chairs behind an adult, or wedging herself between someone’s back and the sofa cushions, to give neck-a-rubs.

They were soft and gentle neck-a-rubs. Feather light. Such a sweet little bug, that one.

Showered with accolades for her marvelous neck-a-rubs, No. 11 upped her game. Her neck-a-rubs became a bit more intense, then downright nerve-pinching intense. This, too, drew comments and she upped her game ever more.

These days her chubby fingers often move from the back of the neck and wrap around the front of the neck as she shakes your entire head. Glasses fly off faces, stands of hair whip the eyes, and you have triple vision as your head bobs back and forth.

If you stop by and No. 11 is here and demurely asks if you want a neck-a-rub, do what we do. Say no thanks but offer to play checkers. The pain is far more endurable.


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Life is good somewhere

A good friend gives us her old newspapers from a small town in Maine. They are entertainment—a sedentary version of date night.

Because we cannot agree on who gets to read the Cops and Courts section first, we take turns reading it aloud.

In the most recent issue, the lead story was from a Saturday ago when local police received a report of a “large snake” inside a residence. The police chief and the EMS director responded. With the mere insertion of a comma, the report noted that the EMS director is also a certified exotic animal and reptile handler, as though this is nothing out of the ordinary. After searching the home thoroughly for a 2-foot black snake, the reptile could not be found.

The report further explained that Maine is home to nine different species of snakes, none of them venomous, and the state’s endangered northern black racer can grow up to six feet. It’s all the news you can use and then some.

Next was a story about a dog spotted along a rural road without food or water. An officer responded and determined the dog to be in “good condition and spirits.”

This is your dream town, right? They assess dogs for good health as well as good spirits.

How does that work? Wag your tail if you’re happy, bark twice if you’re despondent.

Meanwhile, in another nearby town, officials used a $2,700 grant to buy “guardian angel lights” for all their public safety employees. The angel light is clipped to a collar or vest of law enforcement, first responders and construction site workers to improve visibility while on the job.

Where we live, construction workers often jump on top of the orange barrels to avoid being hit and I’ve not heard of plans to buy them, or law enforcement, guardian angel lights.

This is not to say that small towns are without drama. A near heart-stopping item reported that someone phoned in an open door at a residence. The responding officer found signs that someone appeared to have been in the building.

I’m reading, biting my nails and screaming, “Behind the door! Look behind the door!”

The story continued saying that the officer “found items lying on the floor.” At least he didn’t find bodies on the floor!

The officer was able to contact the residence’s “key holder” who said he had been working in the house and may not have secured the door. “The residence was later secured.”

Raise your hand if you are 100% certain you could leave home with the lights on, the doors wide open, and all your belongings would still be belonging. We’d like to hope so, but we’re not about to run a test case.

Of course, I can’t say where this place is because everyone would want to move there, gobble up property, tear down all the trees, throw up subdivisions, open franchise fast food joints and a Dollar
Tree, and it wouldn’t be the same.

But know this much—life is good. In a small town. Somewhere. At least for a week.

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Would your dad make a good President?

We don’t often talk politics in front of the grands because it’s just all too terribly depressing. For us. We’re not that concerned about them. They’re young and may live long enough to see the nation rally.

But somehow, in a FaceTime call with our son, five grands crowding around the phone’s camera and his wife in the background fixing dinner in the kitchen, the conversation turned to Presidents.

One of the kids said their dad should be President.

This was stunning as our son’s driving ambition is to get through the week, make it to the weekend, spend time with his family, then start the cycle again Monday morning.

We asked why their dad should be President and someone fired back, “Because he’s never been a politician, so he’s not crooked!”

We may not talk politics with them, but clearly someone does.

We asked if their dad had any other qualifications.

“He builds stuff!”

This was followed by murmuring and a consensus that a good leader should know how to frame a house, lay tile, build tables, install drywall and fix a leak in the roof.

Another voice shouted, “He’d make a good President because he’s very strictish and scary sometimes!”

Strictish and scary—definitely global-leader qualities.

“He works a lot!” another yelled.

Heads nodded and clearly they all agreed that he works a lot.

“He works OVER hours!” a 6-year-old exclaimed.

“Maybe if he was President, he might work less!” someone else yelled.

Sure, there’s always a chance, but that one is doubtful as evidenced by our daughter-in-law in the background shaking her head “no.”

The husband then asked the group how their dad was with finances.

Nobody answered.

Then another yelled, “He should be President because he’s a percussionist!” which in essence was a non-answer answering the question about finances.

The 11-year-old, who had been outside, appeared and we asked if he would vote for his dad for President. He was quiet, perhaps he was stunned by the question. After 20 seconds elapsed with no answer, we said we’d put him down as “undecided.”

Then came another pitch for the presidency: “Dad would make people work hard and do their share.” This came from the 13-year-old who helps run the house and thinks her younger siblings could all do more.

“He’d be tough on crime!” someone shouted. “Like litter!”

They’d come to the end of their endorsements and I said, “What about your mom becoming President?”

Well, hooping, hollering and great excitement filled the room, and not just from our son but from the kids as well.

“What would your mom do for the country?” I asked.

“She’d give everyone a goat and a bunch of seeds to plant!”

Fabulous! A 21st Century take on “a chicken in every pot.” A goat on every lot!

“Did you know goats mow your grass?” someone asked. Well, if that wouldn’t cinch the nomination, what would? Food security and lawn care all in one.

There is a far greater chance of winning a billion-dollar lottery ticket than either of these two running, but it was an interesting discussion. Try it in your family. We might just reframe some of the things that matter most.

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