My Beautiful Babies: Lily & Cousteau

Most of you know that Jake and I have two beautiful greyhounds, Lily and Cousteau, who we often refer to as “the kids.” Lily just turned 10 in March, and Cousteau turned 3 in October. Both came to us through the rescue group Kansas City REGAP (Retired Greyhounds As Pets).

Lily came to us first. When we set out to rescue our “first-born” back in the summer of 2009, we came across the rescue group at a Petsmart one day. After meeting greyhounds for the first time and getting to know the REGAP volunteers, we definitely felt that greyhounds would be a good fit for us. Sure enough, about a month and an application later, we walked into the group’s kennel, Pooches Paradise, and met Lily. It couldn’t have been 10 seconds before she looked at us, leaned against Jake’s leg, and said, “Okay, you’re taking me home now!” We didn’t stand a chance, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made!

So fast forward to January 2011. Lily was (and still is) such a perfect angel, and we had started fostering with the group. The first 3 fosters were darn close to perfect. They were all sweet, loving, well-behaved, and really difficult to let go of when they got adopted. It was the first Tuesday of the year, and Lily and I drove over to Pooches to meet a new boy that we were going to foster. We weren’t planning to take him home that night, but I wanted Lily to meet him to make sure he was acceptable to her standards. He was. So much so, that she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I hate to break it to you, but we’re taking him home tonight.” At some point you’d think I had enough will power to tell my little girl “no,” but of course, I do not.

So that night, we took home Cousteau, a beautiful brindle boy. He had way too much energy, carried our throw pillows around the house, and was terrible at walking on a leash. None of those things changed, but pretty soon, we adopted our second child. Now they are like two peas in a pod. They really have nothing in common, except that they are both beautiful, lazy, loving greyhounds. However, they complement each other well, and together, they make up the perfect pair of canine children.

I highly recommend rescuing a greyhound. They are fast, yes, but mostly they just like to lay around and be loved. Lily and Cousteau have been absolute blessings for us, and every single person I know with a greyhound feels the same way. They truly are angels.

In Kansas City, you can contact KCREGAP at www.kcregap.org for more information. In the wine country here in California, you can contact Wine Country Greyhound Adoption at www.winecountrygreyhounds.com.

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Unexpected Beauty While Strolling “Somewhere Else”

I love Italy.  Our trip to Northern Italy was filled with wonderful sights and smells and sounds.  In the presence of the massive buildings dating back hundreds of years, it was easy to be oblivious to the beauty of simple things.  On my return home, I realized that many of my favorite photographs are along the streets and neighborhoods we passed through on our way “somewhere else”.

The towns through which we travelled are ancient.  Civita di Banoregio, for example, was founded by Etruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago.  There are Etruscan and Roman ruins everywhere.  But for this post, just look at the construction of this wall.  You can see the seemingly primitive, but obviously durable, methods of erecting these walls and this archway.  Raw, enduring, but beautiful, nonetheless.

Houses and streets are built primarily of stone, concrete, stucco nd mortar.  There is evidence of generations of foot traffic. We walked by this hallway in an area of private residences. Like many neighborhoods in Northern Italy, heavy exterior doors open into hallways and common courtyards with plants, bicycles–a favorite method of transportation–and concrete benches.  I love the muted colors leading up to the splash of red.

The path on which Terry is standing goes nowhere.  Throughout the area, towns stand atop hills that plunge almost straight down to the valleys below.  Here the stone wall and wrought iron fence protect travelers from the edge of one of Umbria’s many cliffs.

I love the flags and banners that line this street.  They add just enough color to be fun to the stone and stucco buildings. The banners are important to the culture of many communities, are important in celebration and festivals.  There is even a sport/art requiring the tossing of the banners high into the air and–hopefully–catching them before they fall.

The red and green flowers follow the road from the first door on the right through to the turn in the road.  The massive walls dwarf the red door and the color simply disappears in a vee running through the middle of the photograph encourages the explorer to follow the bend in the road to the next adventure.  It is evident these streets are used primarily by pedestrians, bicycles and motor scooters rather than automobiles and trucks.

Many of the towns through which we walked were older than we could ever find in the States.  It is often difficult to assess whether the residents lived affluent or simple lives, the exteriors of the buildings were uniquely appealing, made more so by the profusion of geraniums of every hue.

Locals described to us that some families lived in homes that had been in their families for generations.  This home appeared to be quite luxurious with elegant touches in the arches, doors, crest on the wall and what appears to be a private garden through the stairway and door in the left corner of the wall.  The ivy softens the harsh stone and balances the shades of muted reds, yellows and greens that harmonize with the lavender on the doors and windows.

For me these photographs bring back memories of a great trip.  I hope they convey some sense of the simple beauty of the hill country.

Springtime in Petaluma

It is cloudy in Petaluma today, but you can still feel spring in the air. The flowers are blooming, the air is warming up, and the scent of fresh-cut grass looms under your nose. Spring is definitely here, and our backyard is finally starting to show it.

Down the street, there are a few beautiful blooming trees. I couldn’t resist playing with my camera for these.

What a beautiful afternoon.

Independent Action: An article by guest author, Terry Christenberry

Guest author, Terry Christenberry.

Please note: the views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the primary authors of Shifting the Balance, however, we think it is important to encourage the free flow of ideas in order to promote collective action and compromise. In order to keep the country “in balance,” we believe we should all work together, and that means sharing and respecting ideas! Including those that may be different from our own.

INDEPENDENT ACTION

Since starting their blog, Meg & Ann have asked me to consider authoring some guest articles.  However, given the stipulation that they be absolutely non-partisan and the fact that my world is finance, I have to date been a reluctant participant.  However, an excellent opinion article in New York Times on Monday April 16, 2012 by Bill Keller has pulled me out of my shell.  The article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/opinion/keller-the-sweet-spot.html ) focuses on the 15% of Americans who comprise the “independent” segment of the voting population.  In this article, Mr. Keller notes that independents get so little attention because “The politics of the center… do not quicken the pulse,” and goes on to say that “the middle is not the home of bland, split-the-difference politics” but rather they are “just not views that all come from one party’s menu.” I am also mindful that while our friends and family often vote differently, we all share many common beliefs, including the importance of a healthy economy.

Mr. Keller identifies several characteristics he believes are associated with independent voters.  In reviewing those characteristics, I quickly noted that almost all fit me.  While Ann and I sometimes vote differently, we are seldom very far apart when considering practical solutions to either economic or political problems.  For example, a couple of years ago, when the New York Times offered a chart that provided readers an opportunity to make their own choices in balancing the budget, Ann’s choices and mine were amazingly close.

The U.S. is now facing what many describe as fiscal Armageddon (The New York Times and others have labeled this “Taxmageddon”).  This coming crisis is because Congress, as usual, has “kicked the can down the road”.  Unless Congress and the President agree on changes to laws currently in place, on January 1, 2013, tax rates on capital gains, dividends, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and payroll withholding rates will increase dramatically resulting in large tax increases for almost all tax payers.  At the same time, extended unemployment, Medicare reimbursement rates, many entitlement programs, national defense and other programs will all be subject to significant reductions. This combination would in all likelihood send the U.S. economy back into recession.

To address our country’s fiscal issues, President Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility on February 18, 2010.  The Commission was charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term, and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.  Specifically, the Commission was to propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, (“primary balance”) by 2015. The Commission was composed of 18 members drawn from both political parties and co-chaired by Alan Simpson, Former Republican Senator from Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, Chief of Staff to President Clinton (and thus came to be known as the “Simpson-Bowles Commission”).  The Commission worked diligently to come up with a workable bi-partisan plan to meet its objectives.  The Commission provided its report, entitled “The Moment of Truth” on December 1, 2010.  The Commission’s plan included a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that would bring the budget into primary balance by 2015.

This group really did their homework and I would encourage all to read the full 66 page report which is available at http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents.  While I am reasonably knowledgeable regarding tax matters and government programs, this report recommended the elimination of numerous tax breaks and billions of dollars in reductions of entitlement programs, many of which I was completely unaware.  I say this only to point out that this was not a broad brush effort, but a very detailed, well thought out plan based on thousands of hours of work by bi-partisan commission members and their staff.  There are many recommendations in the report that I disagree with and would change if I were “king for a day.” I am sure each member of the commission felt the same way.

America’s future under our current policies (today’s existing tax rates and expenditures), the current law (assumes tax increases and spending cuts due to be implemented at future dates under current law all take place and remain in force) and the Commission’s recommendations are shown below.  Which option would you choose?

American business must contend with global competition.  The uncertainly of our country’s fiscal policy and changing regulations are crippling U.S. businesses ability to return to growth and global competitiveness.  Competition with lower cost countries is difficult in the best of circumstances.  It is difficult enough when lower cost countries undercut us on wages, dump government subsides products on our shores or impose unreasonable tariffs on our goods, but even worse when we, as a nation, shoot ourselves in the foot economically with the uncertainty created by warring factions in Washington.

Business is desperate for a plan!  (Probably why Herman Cain got initial support for his ill-conceived 9-9-9 plan:  at least it was a plan.)  Simpson Bowles is also a plan!  It is a well-researched, well thought out, bi-partisan plan to put our country on sound fiscal footing.  Yet subsequent to its submission, the Commission’s report has been virtually “swept under the table” by the Administration and Congress alike.

What do Mr. Keller’s article and the Simpson-Bowles plan have to do with each other?  A lot, I think. I believe it is time for independent thinking voters-whether they consider themselves Independents, Democrats or Republicans-to take lessons from the far left and the far right and “shift the balance” of politics by making our voices heard. Implementing a well researched and well thought out plan should be a priority.  We need to come together now by immediately passing legislation implementing the Simpson-Bowles plan or a similar well thought out plan.

Failure to act now will almost certainly mean nothing will be done as we get closer to this year’s presidential election.  Failure to act now will also mean that actions after the election, no matter which party’s candidate is successful, will be taken in the approximately six-week period between the election and year-end, resulting in “kick it down the road” or “cram it through Congress” legislation that is likely to be ill-conceived and poorly drafted.

A Kansas City Weekend

Jake and I were in Kansas City for a quick visit this weekend. Jake was in the first of three wedding we’ll be attending in KC this year. We barely sat down for a second the whole weekend, but it was great to see family and visit some of our old favorites.

Our first stop on Saturday morning (after a brisk run around Loose Park, of course) was Jake’s personal request: breakfast at Eggtc. It’s definitely one of the best places around, and for us it’s very convenient. Right at the intersection of 51st and Main. I highly recommend it. Plus, the restaurant on the corner has such wonderful phrases painted in the window.

Later in the day, Mum and I drove out South to drop Jake off at the church to get ready with the boys. On our way back, we stopped at one of my personal favorites: Topsy’s. I’ve been going there since I was a little person. They make a delicious cherry limeade.

On Sunday, we were lucky enough to get to see some of the family on our way back to the airport. My cousin Jon and his wife Dana are pregnant, so Mum and I (okay, mostly Mum) put together a little celebration brunch. A short visit, indeed, but always wonderful to see the Mesle clan. My granddad, who turned 97 last October, still joins us in the festivities.

So after a very short weekend, Jake and I headed home to California. We are always sad to leave Kansas City, but it does make it a little easier that we get to come home to sunshine, coastlines, and wine country. It’s a good life.

For the Beauty of the Earth

Today is Earth Day, a day focused on the protection and celebration of our natural environment. Earth Day is a global celebration.  The health of our environment is important here in the U.S., in Central America, in Africa, in Europe and throughout the world.  Our very survival is dependent on clean and adequate water and a plentiful harvest.

So today, we celebrate the beauty of the earth:

We are grateful for clean water for bathing, drinking and farming:

We recognize the importance of our oceans, lakes and rivers and their role in providing food, transportation, drinking water, and other necessities and pleasures in our lives:

We respect the importance of protecting our water, our air and our soil so that we have adequate food to eat and water to drink here in the United States and throughout the world.  We recognize that adequate food and water are important for the health and security of our own families and for our worldwide populations.

While none of us can individually solve the problems of environmental pollution, we can each help to protect our world resources by planting trees, recycling trash, avoid polluting our water, soil and air and reducing our energy consumption.

As we honor the importance of water, earth and air in meeting our basic necessities, we are also grateful for nature’s beauty in our parks and gardens that feed, not the body, but the soul.

On Earth Day 2012, and every day, we wish you well and ask you to GO GREEN.

The Beautiful Women of Crystal Bridges

3 1/2 hours South of Kansas City, just off 71 Highway we arrived at Crystal Bridges Art Museum.  It is beautiful.  It is well-funded.  It is worth the trip.  The works of art inside and outside of the buildings would excite the best of collectors.  I have included just a sample of the beautiful women, memorialized in art, scattered through the gallery.

The Goddess Prosperine  by Hiram Powers ( 1840) is poised and elegant, as is the lady in the oil painting behind her.

Summertime, Mary Cassatt (1894) reminds me of summers on the lake.  The ducks are just a bonus.

Female torso — I failed to identify the artist when we visited the museum, but isn’t she beautiful?

Roses of Yesterday, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, 1924.  She represents youth and innocence.
      The Reader,  Mary Cassatt (1877) reminds me of Joe in Little Women.
If you enjoy these works of art, take the time to visit this first class gallery. You will not regret it.