Friday, September 27, 2013

Did you know . . .

. . . That in 1963 it took a minimum wage earner 6.7 years to buy a moderately priced house? In 2013, it takes the earnings from 16 years of work to buy that same house.

. . . A movie ticket in 1963 averaged 86 cents as opposed to $7.96 (or more) in 2013.

. . . A tank of gas required 3.4 hours of minimum wage earnings compared to 8.4 hours in 2013.

. . . In 1963 a one pound loaf of bread cost 20 cents and a pound of coffee was 69 cents. In 2013 they cost, respectively roughly $1.41 and $6.01.

A minimum wage earner at $7.25 per hour must work 21 minutes to buy a half gallon of milk; an average wage earner at $23.89 per hour must work 6.3 minutes to buy that same half gallon. At a minimum average of $4,615.38 per hour, a typical CEO needs to work 1.9 seconds to buy that milk.

Is it any wonder that the minimum wage needs to be increased? CEOs’ wages should be cut to a reasonable level so that other workers can earn a living wage.

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Fourteenth Century Soap Opera

Unwittingly, I downloaded a novel similar to “Katherine” which takes place during the same time period and with many of the same characters. The difference is that it was written from the a very different perspective; that of The King‘s Concubine, written by Anne O‘Brien.

King Edward III of England was married to Phillipa who bore him numerous children, only a few of whom survived to adulthood. His first son, who would have been Edward IV had he lived longer, produced a son Richard who would become king at the age of 13 when Edward III died. [I sometimes wish that royals had chosen from a wider range of names, but it is what it is. Ya gotta pay attention to the roman numerals on these guys.]

Anyway, Phillipa and Edward had an arranged marriage but were lucky enough to actually fall in love with each other and it lasted the rest of their lives -- with one, considerable distraction.

During a hunting expedition, Phillipa was thrown from her horse, dislocating her shoulder. It was not realigned properly so it caused her agonizing pain for the rest of her days. She also suffered from something called dropsy which also caused pain and severe swelling. She remained mostly stoic about it, but there would be no more romping between the sheets with Edward.

Knowing what a manly man Edward was, Phillipa decided that if she couldn’t satisfy his conjugal needs someone else would have to. After careful consideration, she hand-picked Ann Perrers for the purpose.

Ann P. had been abandoned as a newborn at a convent and was raised and pretty much enslaved by nuns until Phillipa came to visit one day. Phillipa’s retreat at the convent was intended to help her better cope with her pain through prayer and meditation.

Now Ann was not a pretty girl. Indeed, she was constantly reminded of how ugly she was. Mirrors were not to be had in convents, so she was unable until much later to confirm that, yes indeed, she was ugly. However, she had developed a crafty mind and learned to read, write and do figures -- something rare for females in those days.

Before Phillipa entered the picture, the nuns, in all their wisdom [and greed] made a financial arrangement with a wealthy merchant who would wed Ann and take her off their hands. She was 16 at the time. The marriage was never consummated and Ann’s husband died not long after they wed, so back to the convent she went.

When Phillipa saw this obviously unhappy teenager, living in misery with nuns who didn’t like her, she saw a good candidate with whom manly man Edward could relieve his manly needs.

Edward didn’t take to the idea immediately. But Phillipa eventually convinced him that it was what she wanted, so he gave in. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock when Edward discovered that Ann was still a virgin. She had been married afterall! No prob. He conquered that impediment and they went on to years of unwedded bliss.

Since Edward was still married, Ann became an adulteress and whore and was not at all popular with members of the King‘s court.

Ann was strong-willed and her quick mind fascinated Edward. In short order, he became besotted with her. This hurt Phillipa, but she reminded herself that it had, after all, been her idea. Silks, furs, jewels and more soon eased Ann’s guilt and she really got into being the King’s whore.

Her influence over Edward soon riled his family and court members who wanted a piece of the action. As Edward aged, he became more and more dependent on Ann.

War was a constant feature during that time in history. Someone was always trying to conquer and abscond with someone else’s turf. Even then, Ireland was a hotbed of discontent. France and England constantly fought over and took territory from each other and then fought to get it back again. In attempts to gain or regain territory, marriages between royals were arranged, often leading to disastrous results.

Ann had been banished by her detractors who considered her a dangerous [and expensive] influence over the King. Meanwhile, Edward became more and more demented. When Phillipa died, Edward gave up on living. That’s when things got really sticky. Politically astute/devious members of his family and court realized that Ann was probably the only person who could get through to Edward, so they dragged her back to London.

In Edward’s fragile state of mind, he was angry with Ann for having abandoned him. For whatever reason [probably political] she didn’t tell him that his family and friends had sent her away. They soon kissed and made up, but Edward could no longer “tumble” Ann, so she started looking around for someone else to play with.

Along comes William Windsor, an influential member of the royal court and literally a Knight in shining armor, handsome beyond reason. He, too was politically ambitious and recognized the same attributes in Ann. He could have had his pick of any one of hundreds of court beauties but chose Ann because she held the king‘s reigns. [Pun intended]

Knowing this and the fact that she was not at all pretty, Ann initially didn’t trust the handsome dude. William eventually convinced Ann that, if they put their heads together, they could benefit from their close proximity to the King. Ann had accumulated a good bit of real estate over the years but, being a single woman, her ownership was tenuous. Once a woman married all of her possessions, including her body, automatically became her husband‘s. Ann knew that her enemies wanted to strip her of all her “ill-gotten-gains”, so she agreed to marry William only after he promised that her properties would remain under her control.

When Edward eventually kicked the bucket, a tangled web of intrigue, slander, kidnapping, and murder followed and weird Richard III became king, causing all sorts of mayhem. [He was the last English King to die in combat and his remains were discovered under a parking lot last year.]

Meanwhile, Ann and William escaped to live out their lives in comfortable wealth -- at least that’s what the novel implies.

I must admit that I love reading this medieval stories because many of my mother’s ancestors were active in those days -- the Campbells, Lancastrian Roses and more. Life was hard during those times, but so interesting!

Monday, September 16, 2013

They don't fool me . . .

. . . manufacturers who are producing smaller sizes of their products and selling them in what appear to be the same size packages as several years ago. Prices inevitably rise but what’s going on now is deceptive at best.

Remember when you could buy a one pound package of coffee? Now it’s down to twelve ounces, having been 13 ounces for a short period. The price for the brand we buy remains about the same, but we’re getting less for our money.

My favorite graham crackers were the first shrinking product I noticed. There was a time when I couldn’t bite off the end of one; now they’re narrow enough that I can. The packaging looks the same and the price has about doubled.

Even toilet paper is not what it used to be. Rolls now seem to be a half inch narrower than they once were. I can tell because it used to be difficult to get it onto the holder and now there’s plenty of space for fingers to ease the roller onto the holder.

Spouse and I enjoy snacking on an oat cereal popular with toddlers. Looking at the box on the grocery shelf, it looks the same as always. However, when you pick it up, the box is much thinner than it used to be. The height and width are not changed which makes you think you’re getting what you expect.

I realize that drought, flooding, the cost of fuel, and other natural and manmade disasters have necessitated price rises. The packaging tricks, however, seem like a deliberate attempt to profit at consumers’ expense. Manufacturers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes that we are paying more for less.

Next time you‘re in the grocery store, see if you can spot these tricks. I won’t even mention the price of meat -- it’s bad enough to make me seriously consider going vegetarian!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mini-Rolling Thunder - 9/11/13

A small procession of bikes streamed by this morning.  I was surprised to hear them because I don't remember them from previous anniversaries of this date.  The pictures aren't clear because it's a hazy, hot day today.  Twelve years ago it was a sparkling-autumnal-gem-of-a-day.

On this day in 2001, I was home recovering from abdominal surgery the previous month.  Spouse worked noon til eight in those days, so was still home when the carnage began in New York.  Of course we had the TV on like the rest of the East Coast, trying to find out what was going on.  I phoned my sister in Illinois and was talking with her when the plane hit the Pentagon.  We heard and felt that.  I started shaking and blathering at that point.  Then hundreds of staff from the State Department (large prisonesque building in bottom photo) started walking and running away from the building.  When we heard a fourth plane was heading toward Washington, I nearly lost it.

Standing on our balcony, watching people fleeing for their lives, I wondered where we could go to be safe.  We live within blocks of important federal buildings and the White House, all of them potential targets.

A young woman who lived across the hall from us asked if she could hang out with us.  She was terrified, too.  Thankfully, she gave me someone else to focus on.  I gathered what wits I could and tried to comfort her.

The rest of the day is pretty much a blur of anxiety and stress.  It took hours in shock to truly embrace the fact that thousands of people died horrible deaths.  It would be days, months and years before victims' families and friends received confirmation of their losses due to the incredible scale of destruction.

For months, the skies were silent except for the fighter jets circling high above Washington day and night.  It was a comfort knowing they were watching out for us.  Still, I felt like I was waiting for "the other shoe to drop."  A little more than a year later, we were again terrorized by the so-called D.C. Snipers.

To this day, I say the 9/11 terrorists failed.  Yes, they caused immeasurable pain and damage, some of it long-term.  What they didn't anticipate was that their crimes would unite Americans and strengthen our resolve to support and defend our way of life.

New security measures are not convenient but have protected us from further attacks.

Now, if we can just regain our rights to privacy . . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sweet Nostalgia

I felt like remembering some happier times for my parents.  Dad has been gone for 6 years now and Mom is 88 and confused most of the time.
This poofy pink dress was one Mom wore when she sang concerts in the public schools.  She had a lovely soprano voice that she freely gifted to our community through our church and our local opera company.  She had lots of fans and fan letters to prove it.  One local gentleman always gifted her with a stem of orchid blossoms following an opera performance.
Dad loved her gift of song but was sometimes a little jealous of all the men who fawned over her following performances.  There was never any reason for him to worry, though.  The two of them were totally devoted to each other and their family.
The baby grand piano was one Mom grew up with and moved with our family us several times.  My sibs and I practiced on it during years of lessons.  It was to have become mine when Mom and Dad were ready to downsize.  Sadly, living in an apartment, we couldn't accommodate it so it went to my Mom's niece.  Her two, highly musically gifted daughters have made good use of it and I think it will remain in the family for another seventy years.
The painting in the background was one Dad did in high school and now hangs with several more in my home.  He could also play the piano and on one occasion, played a four-hands piece with me for family members.  THAT was very unusual and special.