By now, almost everyone who earns one has received their first paycheck of 2013. Depending on your income bracket and your budget the reality of what the expired Payroll Tax Cut means to you is starting to hit home. 2% more out of your paycheck probably didn’t sound like much in the abstract when you hear it on the news, but now that the actual numbers are staring you in the face, the reality is something else entirely.
One night this week, just after dark, our doorbell rang, not a common occurrence for this empty nest. It was the young man who does handy work for us. Bob, not his real name, is sincere, hardworking, and trustworthy. He holds down a full-time blue collar job managing a small warehouse, helping his “moonlighting” customers at night and on weekends. He’s single, has his own apartment, and drives a beautiful extended cab truck that is his pride and joy. We’ve come to know him well enough to know he’s not a party boy; he keeps a schedule and a budget.
When Bob stepped inside I could see how upset he was. Pam, he said, I’ve stopped by to see if you have any extra work for me. I got my paycheck today and the new taxes are going to cost me over $100 a month. I’m not sure what to do.
What I didn’t have the heart to tell Bob is that our fist paycheck came, too, and the amount our budget will have to be adjusted is a bit more than $100 a month. We do know what we have to do: We have to cut back on discretionary spending like how much we give to charity, how often we go out to dinner, and how much we use services such as a handyman.
This story is playing out across the country at every income level. Yes, there is a segment of the population that will be much less effected than others. The $1200 a year loss that has Bob in a panic is pocket change to some, but for most of us the impact of this change in income has consequences.
The ripple effects are already a topic of conversation across the blogosphere and social media: The hash tag, #YourPaycheckIsLowerThisWeek has been one of the top trends on Twitter, and no less than liberal bastion MSNBC posted an article titled “Americans Feel Austerity’s Bite As Payroll Taxes Rise”
I’m no economist but if I read the situation in Washington correctly, better buckle your financial seatbelts because unlike Thelma & Louse, we may not have gone over the fiscal cliff, but this is just the first mile on a very bumpy road ahead.
What does the Payroll Tax Increase mean to you?
I love the start of a New Year for the nostalgia and introspection it inspires. I have a tradition on New Years Day of reflecting on where I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the experiences that mattered and the lessons learned; the cumulative effect of victories won and wisdom gained along the way that I can take with me moving forward. Each year I seem to journey to a different time and place…
I used to have a television program on PBS 39/WLVT called “A View from the Valley”, of which I was quite proud. It was a “live to tape” show shot with no script and broadcast a day or two later with no edits. What happened in the studio was what you saw on the screen, just not in real time. I suppose if someone had used a bad word or keeled over in their chair we might have stopped the cameras but it was never necessary. I was the executive producer and on-air host. The program aired for five years and I loved every minute of it.
With more than a little help from my friends like Mike Bruckner of Muhlenberg College and James Harper from Lehigh University and other well-connected PR & communications buddies, I had the opportunity to interview the likes of erudite and charming Gennady Gerasimov, former spokesperson for Mikhail Gorbachev during the end of the Cold War; the magnetic and dynamic former Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, who was the only human being I’ve ever encountered that I thought actually had an aura around him…an other-worldly light and energy. Such renowned leaders made for great interviews that to this day hold up when I see them…and when I see me.
Beyond my little walk down memory lane, the point of this exercise is how impactful it can be to look back on ones younger self in action. Not just a one dimensional photo or an often blurred memory, but a walking talking avatar of an earlier version of you. Such a journey can be rejuvenating, or not, but either way I promise it will be enlightening, and isn’t enlightenment what we’re striving for.
Not all of us have taped evidence of our more youthful “I can conquer the world” self to propel us in to a New Year. If you don’t, you can still take that journey in your mind. Call up the image of you that believed in luck and miracles and immortality; turn them loose to dance across the room and in to your dreams with wild abandon. Then tomorrow, tuck them in your pocket and venture forth in to the New Year.
Wishing you the blessings of health, happiness, and love, and the wisdom of the past, in 2013.
Technology is wonderful except when it isn’t. One of the times it isn’t is when you need information or customer service and you find yourself hopelessly tangled in a maze of “Push 1 if your problem is X” options or even worse, you hear the dreaded “Welcome to the automated attendant service where we have answers for all your frequently asked questions” . No you don’t, and I want to speak to a live person, NOW.
With necessity being the mother of desperation, I recently went online searching for a phone number that would lead me to a human being who could resolve the issue I was having with my Verizon FIOS service.
I’m a pretty savvy online explorer; being a good researcher is the life blood of being a writer. After nearly an hour of clicking every link and every page of the Verizon site map, I came to the conclusion they do not want to have those nasty customers bothering them. There was no information that would lead you to real time answers. Even the “automated attendant” said he wasn’t available. It’s pretty bad when a cartoon character and a computer won’t talk to you.
I turned to Google and it was there that I found a wonderful place; GetHuman.com. Here is a company whose motto is “Get Customer Service Faster and Easier”! It’s FREE….and to make it even better, it works. I typed Verizon FIOS in to the search box and up came a choice of five numbers to call and it even rated them according to site user feedback as to how effective that number is at getting a real person on the phone, average wait time, and satisfactory result of the call: Manna from Heaven.
The first number I dialed produced exactly the desired result, a very nice man who said he was located in Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania Verizon Call Center, solved my problem in ten minutes. Why that number is not readily provided by Verizon, I have no idea.
So if you’re looking for information on a product or service, or resolution to a problem, I highly recommend going to GetHuman.com. They even have an app for mobile devices. I hope the remainder of your holiday will now be merry and bright…and much more stress free.
The story of Christmas is about so many things; faith, kindness, and the triumph of the spirit even in the poorest of conditions. So is the story of saving Star…and in the process, saving ourselves.
Super storm Sandy was on her way; the weather maps showed her imminent approach. To ease my concern, I scrolled through Facebook to find comfort in the collective conscience of social media. I came upon a conversation between two acquaintances, one a realtor who had spent the day looking at potential listings. What she found in the back woods of Salisbury Township was a horse that appeared weak and underfed. Confined to a field with almost no shelter, the poor thing had only moldy food and little water…and he was about to be in the middle of a hurricane. Horses are survivors, they can withstand harsh conditions, but not if they’re malnourished or dehydrated.
I messaged the only “horse” friend I have, explaining the situation. Wenda Howe Boyer responded as I knew she would… “We have to do something” was the consensus. We talked options: It was too late to trailer him to a safe place until the storm was over…her trailer was stored miles away, the storm was about to hit, and a horse trailer would get blown all over the road. The most practical option was to take him food and water in the hope that if properly fed, he could weather the storm.
Wenda would go to her barn for supplies, I’d get directions from the other women and we’d pick a spot to meet. After multiple attempts to verbally describe the horse’s location and then to find it on Google Maps, it was clear the animal was truly in the middle of nowhere. The other two women bravely offered to go along to lead us to the horse.
I’m a country girl; I know how to dress for a storm. As I appeared in the kitchen in my slicker fastened with metal bolts and my Wellie boots, my husband, with an astonished look on his face, said, “Where are you going?” After decades of marriage, the fact that I was about to head out in a hurricane to rescue a horse didn’t seem to surprise him. I heard a deep sigh as he rolled is eyes and said, Good Lord; you can’t go out there alone. I’ll take you in the four-wheel drive. We traversed Allentown from the West End to the South side, picking up one of the rescuers along the way. The other would drive her car to meet us.
It was now dark out and the wind was whipping across the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy as four of us sat waiting for Wenda. When her pick up truck turned toward us, I laughed out loud: Her husband was behind the wheel: Another good man following his determined woman in to the fray.
By now, power outages were everywhere. Starting the climb up South Mountain on a narrow road it was hard to see twenty feet in front of the car. Branches and entire trees littered the road. Those that couldn’t be seen could be heard crashing in the woods. A scene from the movie “Twister” flashed through my mind. To add to the tension, after the first two turns, I had no idea where we were.
Finally we turned onto a rutted dirt lane. It was pitch black, rain was coming in sideways, and the wind was now a steady 30 miles an hour when we pulled up to a single-wire fence.
Six flashlights began searching the darkness, when a pair of eyes caught the reflection. He’s here…We found him. Even in those conditions; violent weather, flashing lights, loud voices, he came toward us. Wenda took the lead, carrying a fresh bale of hay in to what can only be described as a filthy, run-down lean-to. Hunger overcame shyness and he took some food from her hand, and then ran off to hide in the darkness.
Assessing the condition of the lean-to; it needed repairs and a good mucking-out, we concluded there was not much more we could do that night. Just as that consensus was reached, an enormous gust of wind, the worse so far that evening, almost knocked us off our feet. It was clear the storm was worsening quickly. We needed to find our way out of the woods and back to civilization, leaving our equine friend with fresh food, water, and our prayers.
On Emaus Avenue, our little band of rescuers peeled off one by one, wishing each other well as Sandy bore down on us. My husband and I retraced our route through Allentown and were crestfallen to turn up our street and find it in total darkness. We were cold, tired, and despite my best efforts, soaked to the skin. There would be no warm house, hot shower or cooked food.
Less than an hour after returning home, while sitting at our kitchen table, bathed in lantern light, a blast of wind with a velocity that made it sound like a jet plane, shook our entire house. The wind seemed to subside, then we heard a creaking and cracking that became louder and louder until it was a giant roar followed by an enormous bang.
My husband tried to open the back door but could only create a gap large enough to extend his arm and the lantern. I heard him gasp. The giant Hackberry tree that stood on the bank up over our patio had come crashing down on the house.
We were relieved to see the flashing lights of the Allentown Fire Dept who came to rescue us in the midst of the storm, and grateful to our friends Vic and Jody Mazziotti for offering us shelter in the middle of the night.
The next day as we surveyed the scene surrounded by engineers, contractors, and equipment, more than one expert commented on how fortunate we were that such an enormous tree had miraculously fallen at a slight angle and not straight down on top of us, how if it had, we would have never escaped unhurt.
I have always believed that the energy you put out in to the universe comes back to you.
Call it karma, or fate, or whatever you like. And so, in the middle of one of the worse storms to ever hit our region, I believe the “horse angel” saved us… Our personal, October version of a Christmas miracle.
Epilogue: The beautiful white horse that six adults risked their lives to save is named “Star”. Wenda visits him regularly with his favorite treat, carrots. Through her contacts she found his owners and has been able to “motivate” them to take a little bit better care of him, although not at the level that she and I think is appropriate. I accompanied her last week to see him and am glad to report that he has gained some weight. He’s a beautiful creature with soulful eyes and I pray for his comfort and safety. I will continue to tell you about him as his story unfolds.
Photo courtesy of Wenda Howe Boyer
My theory about getting older is; we may intellectually be able to look in the mirror and accept what we see…signs of middle age and all. But somewhere in the recesses of our mind lives the younger version of us, the persona we’ve created of who we think we were back then. Photos from our youth often reinforce our memories through the family stories that accompany them. “Oh that was the day you caught a bigger fish than Uncle Johnny up at the lake”.
By the time we’ve looked at those photos a hundred times, we don’t “see them” anymore, we have long ago invested in the younger, mythical version of them. So when recently, out of the blue, an old friend who is retiring and selling her house, presented me with a photo from our shared teenage years that I didn’t know existed, the jolt was visceral. Who was that girl, and where in my self-directed tableau did she belong.
Looking out from the crinkled paper with staple holes in it, was an earnest young woman with a slightly coquettish smile and beehive hairdo, proudly displaying the letter sweater of her current beau. I stared at her for a long time, enlarging the photo so I could study her face. She stared back from within a gorgeous autumn day; one of those rare gifts of Indian Summer, filled with golden warmth and colored leaves. Off to a football game perhaps or about to go for one of the last rides of the season in a convertible.
The photo’s focus is sharp, the colors still crisp, but the subject remains an enigma, unrecognizable in her youth and naiveté.
I don’t know what it says about us as a species, but somehow we humans manage to have a war every ten to twenty years; as if each generation needs it’s own bloody touchstone. For my group of Baby Boomers, it was and is, Vietnam.
Since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”, was dedicated in 1982, I’ve wanted to go there. On each subsequent trip to Washington, time and schedules conspired against me. Last week, I finally made it.
I’ve been to many nationally significant and historic sites, from Gettysburg to Ground Zero three months after the attacks. Each place has it’s own energy; it’s own ghosts that stand guard over their tragic legacy.
For me, The Vietnam Wall holds not ghosts but memories of friends and classmates, including the boy who took me to the Junior Prom. I’ve written of Greg, my other lost friends, and the Vietnam era impact, before. "The Morning Call" continues to carry one of those columns on its website. But I was still unprepared for the gut punch of that long black monolith of loss.
Before I found any of the names I was looking for, tears were streaming down my face. Greg’s name was too high for me to make a tracing. I left a note so he would know he’s not forgotten. Many people do the same. The day I visited, the space at the bottom of the wall held flowers, teddy bears, military insignia, and several bracelets that are only to be returned when the person whose name is on them comes home, is identified, or when the wearer is no longer able.
One bracelet was accompanied by a note that read, “Jonathan, Welcome Home! I apologize for taking 23 years to return your bracelet. It (and another) belonged to my grandmother who wore it until her passing in 2000. I inherited the bracelets partly because I knew of their significance. A few years ago I was able to find out you had returned but was unsure what to do with the bracelet. Since the internet I was able to find out that bracelets of the returned should be left at The Wall, so here it is. I want you to know that generations of my family… The rest is unintelligible, but it doesn’t take much imagining to fill in the blanks: Several generations of an American family thought about a stranger lost thousands of miles from home, every day of their lives.
Washington is filled with memorials to heroes who saved the nation and warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice. Each generation’s war has its marker; Korea, both World Wars, and Vietnam. Only The Wall holds the names of its fallen: Black slab after black slab of courageous young men and women who never came home.
I wonder what this current generation’s Iraq and Afghanistan memorial will look like?
As my European friends would say, I’m “on holiday” this week. Translated in to American, that means I’m on vacation, so I was not planning to post my regular “Woman Warrior Wednesday” feature. Then, out of the blue, came these photographs of Zarghona, the young Afghan girl I found dying in a hospital in Kabul in 2006, now looking very happy with her family.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a story about Zarghona, for a woman’s global communications network, "World Pulse". The WP story was based on the last information I had about her, which was several years old. Retelling the harrowing story of how so many people had come together to save Zarghona from a terminal heart condition, and how after seeing her on my last trip to Afghanistan, I had no further information on her, prompted me to reach out to Dr. Ismail Wardak, the Afghan doctor who had been instrumental in bridging the language and culture barriers we had to cross to save her.
The result of that effort are the two photos you see here: Top, a smiling Zarghona with her parents, and below, with the wonderful Dr. Wardak, one of Afghanistan’s leading orthopedic surgeons. What do these photos tell us?
Do they tell us that the media focus on the woeful condition of the Afghan National Army is accurate? Do they confirm the hyperbole of the pundits and talking heads, many of whom have never been to Afghanistan or have little first-hand knowledge of the Afghan Army, or for that matter, of our extensive US efforts to train them, that when they portray the ANA as unable and/or unwilling to defend their own country, the media are ill-informed?
The Afghan people are frequently stereotyped as ignorant, unaware, or unwilling to build their own future. I challenge you to look at these photographs of this family: A father who is a professional soldier, like many of our own warriors; a loving stay-at-home wife and mother who when her child was dying, never left her side, and a young teenager with a sweet smile, who now has a healthy and hopefully long future ahead of her…
Look at them and tell me that Afghanistan is not filled with it’s own warriors, men, women, and children, who are fighting a battle, each in their own way, to live their lives in peace and security.
After some well placed and well timed hints from me, my husband agreed to take a week off so we could have a “summer getaway”. Nothing fancy, a rented place a block from the water off the Chesapeake Bay. The plan was to sleep, eat, and read. In exchange for his willingness to go away when he’s so busy at work, I, the news & technology junkie whose entire professional universe centers around electronic media, had to agree to “unplug”; a big commitment on my part.
August is usually a good time to for this sort of thing because so many other people are doing it…trying to grab that last gasp of summer before Q4 starts at the office and the kids go back to school.
We certainly picked some week for our summer vacation, a week when our country has suffered two enormous losses: Thirty of our best and brightest warriors in Afghanistan, and millions of dollars in our IRA and investment accounts.
I imagine my husband and I are like many Americans this week, we continued with our lives and our plans, but the relaxed, atmosphere that usually envelopes us on vacation was nowhere to be found. There is a sub-current of sadness that is hard to shake: A sense that it is disrespectful to be carefree when so many have sacrificed so much.
Just as the shock of the tragedy in Afghanistan was easing, the financial markets began a freefall resembling an out of control carnival ride. My “unplugged” promise went quickly by the wayside as the Dow Jones average plummeted. Checking my email, I found a message from the investment firm that we use, urging everyone to stay calm. I sent a quick little reply of support to the operations manager…thinking she could probably use a friendly message, only to have her write back to say that this recent dip has been the last straw for many. Her recounting sounded like a scene from a movie about the Great Depression; people banging on the door, screaming “sell, sell” over the phone, demanding their money in cash.
No matter where you are right now in this great land, from sea to shining sea, it’s a discomforting time for Americans. The families of our fallen soldiers are suffering and need our comfort, while our country is, perhaps, in the process of being changed forever.
I’m going to be glad to get home…
Woman Warrior Wednesday: Jessica L. Wright, Acting Principle Dep. Asst. Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then Brig. Gen. Jessica Wright, was summoned to Washington, D.C. At the end of a long day, which included learning that a good friend had died at the Pentagon, she and a few colleagues stopped at a little out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant. A group of men with cords in their ears arrived and Wright found herself face to face with her commander in chief.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Wright looked like any other citizen. One of her friends said, "Mr. President, this is Jessica Wright, and she’s a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard." When the President and Mrs. Bush were leaving, he walked to the table and said, "General, be ready." "Sir, we are ready," came the reply. Keeping one of the largest National Guard forces in the United States "ready," became the responsibility of Major General Jessica L Wright, the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania; the first woman ever to hold the position.
To those who know Wright, her history-making appointment was no surprise.
She grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a self-described blue-collar family, where "everyone worked." Her grandparents were coal miners, her mother worked full time, and her father held down two jobs, which may be why her parents insisted she get an education. Wright attended a small college in West Virginia where she graduated with a degree in social work.
Finding a job proved to be difficult, so she came home and enlisted in the National Guard, where, she says, “One opportunity led to another”.
One of those opportunities was flight school. "I was young and adventurous. There were people who didn’t think women belonged in flight school. They kept telling me I should be a nurse. Those people are still around. They’ve just gotten older, not wiser."
Upon graduating from flight school, in 1978, Jessica Wright became the first female Army aviator in the Army National Guard. Wright’s bio is filled with firsts, like being the Army’s first maneuver brigade commander; and it’s replete with honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and Senior Army Aviator badge.
In the fall of 2010, Wright retired with the rank of Major General from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. After such a career, many might rest on their laurels…or oak leaf cluster.
In November, 2010, Jessica Wright joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where she currently serves as the acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, at the Pentagon. In that position Wright is a key advisor to and responsible for all matters of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, as they relate to the men and women of the Guard and Reserve, with specific responsibility for all manpower, medical and personnel policy matters supporting 1.2 million members of the reserve components of the United States Armed Forces.
Jessica Wright continues to serve her country and her fellow soldiers, while providing an outstanding role model for women who want to build a successful military career.
Note: Portions of this post are from a previous interview I conducted with Major General Wright, and which appeared in my column in The Morning Call on January 2, 2004
You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and writers: So here we are on “Woman Warrior Wednesday” without a Warrior, at least until Friday, when we’ll profile GEN Jessica Wright. Instead, we’re doing the “old switcheroo”; bringing “Friday Finds” to you today.
Considering that the weekly deadline for ordering from our “find” is midnight tonight, this is actually good timing…
When I first heard about "Pure Sprouts", I was excited: Organic produce and foodstuffs delivered to your door…in the Lehigh Valley! Sounded more like something you’d find in West Chester County, NY or Darien, CN. Once I became a customer I was hooked.
Despite some misconceptions about exactly what “organic” means, it’s the lack of chemicals, hormones, or pesticides being used to grow & produce the food, the importance of eating such produce, meat, baked goods is no longer up for debate. Numerous studies have shown many of the chemicals sprayed on our foods have carcinogenic effects at worse and degenerative effects at best. My favorite example of this is from the website/blog "Healthy & Green Living" where a student used sweet potatoes to demonstrate that those sprayed with the common agricultural chemical Chlorpropham were “dead” while organic potatoes were still alive enough to sprout.
But I digress: Back to Pure Sprouts and their wonderful service and selection. Once you’ve landed on the Pure Sprouts website you can determine if they deliver to your zip code by entering it in the designated box. If they do, simply “sign up” and begin cruising through a virtual farm, field & store of fresh produce, prepared foods, baked goods, and gifts. When you have your basket put together, simply check out and wait for all your goodies to arrive on your doorstep. It’s that simple…and that delicious. Right now my two favorite items are organic cherries (very hard to find even at farmer’s markets) and baked stuffed organic tofu which I sauté with mushrooms, spinach, and soy sauce; Yum.
Pure Sprouts is Lehigh Valley owned and operated by young wife and mother, Lori Stansberry, and her family. The fact that the business is primarily woman owned and operated makes it even more appealing to me. Another bonus, especially in these times, is that many of Pure Sprouts offerings come from local farms and producers, so you’re shrinking the carbon footprint of how much fuel and energy it takes to feed you, (My Conservative friends are rolling their eyes right now) and you’re supporting multiple local businesses; a true Win/Win.
If there is any downside at all, it is that you will pay a bit more in some cases than you would if/when you can find similar items at a grocery store. Both Wegman’s and Giant have been steadily increasing their supply of organic produce, and when they have strawberries or broccoli or the like, it is usually less expensive than at Pure Sprouts, but it’s also not delivered to your door, and the selection is hit or miss.
So fire up the Weber, get out the virgin olive oil, chop up some fresh herbs and serve up a wonderful summer mélange of organic grilled vegetables. Enjoy!