Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thrift and Waste; Stewardship and Stupidity

So on NPR a few weeks ago there was a story of how gas prices have "trapped" an Ohio family with their Ford Excursion and Ford Expedition. For the uninitiated, these vehicles make a Ford Explorer look like a Yugo. With lots of coasting and gentle acceleration, you may be able to squeeze 12-15 mpg out of these things. Krusty the Clown would be envious.

The gentleman has five children and explained that he needed the big SUVs so he and his wife could take the kids to soccer games, etc. But now the they are spending about $200 a WEEK to fill the vehicles. Oh my. So they began looking into selling or trading in the Excursion for something smaller. You see, it turns out he was mostly just driving the Excursion around by himself for his home inspection business, so maybe they didn't need it after all. And here is where we all break out our tiny violins. Because the highest offer they could get after taking it around to several dealers was $11,500, while Kelly Blue Book said it was worth 24k. And they had paid 50k when they bought it new three years ago.

My Word. Fifty thousand dollars?? On what planet does this make any sense? Much hullabaloo is made of gas prices. But if gas prices remained at the roughly $2/gal when he bought the Excursion, he's still capital S Stupid to have sunk fifty grand into a depreciating asset. (and he probably borrowed heavily for the privilege!). Losing 60% of the value in three years and $100/week on gas is fine by him, while losing 80% of the value and $200/week on gas needs a news story? The poor schlub needs to sell the Excursion for 11k, the Expedition for 8k, buy a used minivan for the kids and a compact pick up if he needs it for the business. Done. Quit your whining.

Main takeaway from this post -- when you put everything into cents per mile, depreciation will still be a bigger cost for most vehicles then gasoline. Gas will need to be around $7/gallon before operating costs start routinely exceeding capital costs. So drive the car you have a little longer, and let someone else fall for the new car smell.

In related news, the Institute for American Values has launched For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture. Be sure to take the Thrift Quiz! And remember what our patron said:

Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance. It is the more poetic. It is poetic because it is creative. --G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baseball's Lessons on Eternity and a Father's Love

Game 1 Sunday June 21, 1964. Phillies 6, Mets 0.

The first place Philadelphia Phillies are in New York for a doubleheader against the basement dwelling Mets. The Phils have been perennial also rans since the 1950 Whiz Kids season, but now appear to be the real deal and are winning over the Philly Phaithful. Johnny Callison and rookie Richie Allen are pacing the offense. The pitching staff is led by an off-season trade acquisition from the Tigers, hard-throwing veteran Jim Bunning.As Bunning took the mound that summer Sunday afternoon, a television in the living room of a cape cod in Norwood, PA was tuned in. My dad sat down to watch the game with my grandfather. I don't think that either of them were really big sports or baseball fans. Granddad was an engineer with GE in their old Southwest Philly plant. Dad had just turned 13 and finished up 7th grade. Dad's older brother by 8 yrs, my Uncle Bill, had gotten married the month before, and so it was just Nana, Granddad and Dad. With all that excitement, plus Granddad's own 50th birthday having just passed, perhaps a low-key Father's Day was in order. Just a kid with his Pop. One on one. And so the game began.

The Phils put up a run in the top of the first and another in the second. When the Phils went up 6-o in the sixth on a Callison homer and Bunning helping his own cause with a two-run double, the game was well in hand. But something else was happening. Jim Bunning was pitching brilliantly. Every Met who stepped to the plate was retired. Not a hit, not a walk, not a hit by pitch or an error. No one had reached first base. As the bottom of the ninth came around, dad and granddad joined thousands of other fathers and sons throughout the area in sitting too close to the television and watching and waiting nervously. Charley Smith pops out ... George Altman down on strikes .... and John Stephenson .... down swinging!!!! He Did It!!! 27 up, 27 down. Jim Bunning Pitched a Perfect Game! First since Don Larsen in '56, and the first in the National League in 84 years. And most importantly, time had been spent and memories had been made. In the unexplainable magic that baseball can bring, Dads and Sons spoke without words:
"I love you."
"I'm glad you're here."
"This is gonna be some summer!"

The next morning, Granddad died of a heart attack. Some summer indeed!

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed
utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You
remain forever young.
-- Roger Angell

That's the poetry and mystery of baseball. But we know time isn't ever defeated. Sometimes it goes way too fast. Like from a thrilling Sunday afternoon to a terrible Monday morning. In a memory though, or just a story for me, Dad is still forever young and the Granddad I've never met is still here. And in Another Place, Granddad waits. And there, time really is beaten. There is only now, the hits keep coming, and the rally is kept alive.

William N. Lester 1914-1964. Lux perpetua luceat ei.

Game 2: October 8, 1977 Dodgers 4, Phillies 1

Fast forward. October 8, 1977. The Phillies are in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite a ridiculous loss the night before to fall behind 2-1 in the best of five series, hope springs eternal. Not in the hearts of all the Philly cynics, but certainly in my mom. Mom has scored a pair of tickets to the game. The seats are way up in section 725 at the Vet. The forecast is for a cold rainy, night. And by the way, mom is nine months pregnant with yours truly. Mom is stoked. Dad is worried. As the evening came and they were getting ready to go to the game, I apparently began mildly suggesting they change their plans. The rain began to fall, giving my parents more time to debate whether the hospital or the stadium would be the destination.I became more adamant, and dad convinced mom that the hospital was the place to go. In the delivery room, mom screamed often. Sometimes at me; sometimes at the radio with the game on it. (This apparently caused some consternation among the nurses). I came into the world four minutes after midnight. Shortly after, the Phillies went down to an ignominious defeat and their season was over. In South Philly, misery. At Lankenau hospital, joy.

Mom and Dad's unused tickets from that night are framed and hang on my wall. On Christmas 1986, Dad gave me a book; I don't remember the title, only that it was a sort of baseball historical timeline. But I remember clearly what he wrote inside:

Page 243 tells of a sad, sad night for the Phillies. It was the
happiest night of my life.

Love, Dad

I don't know quite how all that registered in my 9 year old head, but I do know that was the moment I became a baseball fanatic. What might have been just a boyhood phase became a lifelong passion, because in playing, watching and reading baseball I was connected to Dad, and knew he loved me.

Game 3: July 11, 2006 American League 3, National League 2

There have been times watching baseball where I've leapt for joy, yelled in anger, or just plain cried (Joe Carter anyone?). But mostly I know it's just a game. And nowadays, a game played primarily by obscenely rich and arrogant players for even more obscenely rich and arrogant owners. I really love the game because it reminds me how blessed I am, and how precious life is, and how the next day or minute, or next at-bat or pitch, just might change everything. It reminds me of Granddad and Dad watching one last incredible game together. It reminds me of Dad telling me the story of that game as we visited Cooperstown on my 11th birthday. It reminds me of watching the 2006 all-star game as a new dad, with 3 week old Kenny asleep in my arms, looking at him and thinking that just a month before, I could never have imagined the depth and breadth of love a father has for a son, and longing to do anything I could to teach him, protect him and to ... succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and have defeated time. So we could remain forever young.

Alas, I can't do that. But our Heavenly Father can. And in Him, Granddad, Dad, my sons and I are all brothers. And we are young. And there are games to play.

I love you Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kenny's Faith Life

Any parent of a toddler knows that kids tend to get obsessed for a while with each new discovery. Rosey's Simpsons refrigerator magnets, especially Marge, were Kenny's constant companion in February and March. They gave way to a need to always have his favorite crayon, "Big Purple", with him all the time. Nowadays he's rarely without his very own St. Jude Shop $1.29 plastic mini-Mary statue. Also, for every item he points out, we must designate it as big ("be-bay"), medium ("me-may") or little ("leel" or "le-lay") and find comparitive items of the same genre to prove we've made the correct designation. This gets tough on the highways where for every big-rig you must find a medium box truck and a compact pick up or the world as we know it will come to an end!!

All this is a prelude to saying -- Kenny thinks he's had apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.

About a month ago, our dear friend Mary B. was visiting from Los Angeles and came over for dinner. Kenny was so excited to see "Mary". He loved eating that meal even more than usual, playing peek-a-boo with Mary and being very affectionate toward her afterwards.

In the time since Mary B's visit, it's become clear why he was so happy to meet her -- in his head Mary B and the BVM are one and the same. He will now point to the Mary statue at church or his Mary Holy Card and say "Mare, eat!". And I'll ask "Did Jesus's Mom come to eat with us Kenny?" and he nods yes. Or he'll point to the chair where Mary B. sat and say "Bebay-mare" (Big Mary) and then to our Holy Family statue and say "Leel Mare" (Little Mary). (To Mary B.-- Don't worry you're only big when compared to a very small statue!).

So needless to say, since he's met Mary in real life, he's really in to the Hail Mary. At bedtime we try to do an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Through the Our Father, he usually interrupts with shouts of: "Mare! Geegus Mama!". So we speed through Jesus to get to the Mary prayers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Off to Cooperstown (and Utica and Highland Lakes)

Fun long weekend ahead.

Tomorrow we head to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Rosey's never been; despite my numerous invitations. But her old college friend is having a "Getting her Ph.D." (Go Susan!) celebration in her hometown of Utica on Saturday, and Cooperstown is close enough that I successfully made the case. Pray that she at least humors me as I regale her with baseball lore and statistical minutiae! I'll try to hold back on the ride up and save it for the museum proper. K.B.III is coming too of course. I expect he won't quite get it, but being around baseball with my son means a 100% chance of me turning into a blubbering emotional fool at some point. I'll try to explain in a future post; but baseball and fatherhood are intimately connected. And a day in Cooperstown makes them both seem even more magical and mystical.

On Sunday we head down to Rosey's parents in Highland Lakes, NJ. (aka -- the cool, natury part of Jersey that I never knew existed until meeting my lovely Bride) for another day of fun. And then back home on Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Garden Update

Although the overall amount planted is smaller this year, we have for the first time tried a spring crop. We ordered lettuce, spinach, snap peas and sunflower seeds from Seed Savers. They were planted on the enclosed front porch in March, and transplanted outside in early April. The yield has been excellent. We've had fresh salad for a few weeks already, and the snap peas will make their way to a stir fry pretty soon.

Six tomato plants, three zucchini, three pepper, two basil and an eggplant were bought and transplanted. Rosemary, thyme and parsley round out the lineup in containers by the front door.

The sun and rain (and perhaps our home grown compost) have been good. Here's one garden section on May 28th, along with that evenings salad:

And here's the same plot this afternoon. Holy cow, those peas are really taking off!