Diane Bixler

Author, Dreamer

News-Feed Free

Several weeks ago, I decided to delete Facebook from my phone. Initially, I intended to check the site from my desktop. Well, that didn’t happen, and I’m damn glad it didn’t. Here’s what I’ve discovered during my news-feed abstinence.

I like people more. Opinions are like elbows (I’m being nice here), and we all have at least one. I know I’m guilty of expressing my opinions just as much as everyone else. But when barraged by them on a daily basis, I found myself judging people based on their religion, political, social, and moral beliefs, as well as anything else one felt like posting. Without that daily reminder that all of us have assholes, I mean elbows, I found that I judged less and liked people more.

I miss people. Really, I miss the connection I maintained with those who lived far away. I don’t know what’s happening in Indiana, Pennsylvania, or Texas. I also don’t know what’s happening with my Florida friends, or even my Flagler friends. But this leads to my next discovery.

I have more to talk about with my friends. When I do hang out with others, we actually have something to discuss, and I find these discussions more meaningful. I didn’t know so-and-so had a baby, or this person went on a vacation, or that person has been feeling under the weather. I am actually having conversations about everyday life with others. I can share my own life, and enjoy hearing about theirs.

In contrast, I didn’t learn until yesterday that Nancy Reagan died. I was wondering why flags were lowered, and finally asked. It’s a shame – she was truly a lady. I relied on Facebook for my news, and I am undecided as to whether I miss (or need) the news or not.

With my self-imposed ban on a news-feed coming to an end, I am leaning toward keeping Facebook off my phone and out of my life. I’ll continue to post on my public (author) page, but I’m not feeling a need to go back to relying on a news-feed to supply my life with content. I think I’ll just make my own content and enjoy personal connections when they happen.

Forgotten Memories

I’ve always been fascinated in how the human mind works, and recently two completely unrelated conversations have once again proven there is more mystery than known about our brains.

If you’ve seen me in person, you’ve likely seen the large yellow submarine tattoo on my left leg. My artist created a beautiful Peter Max-ish design from multiple images representing my life. The yellow submarine is indeed from the Beatles hit, and is the center piece to the wraparound art. It’s origin is from a faint childhood memory.

About halfway completed.

I remember many times my dad playing guitar. Growing up in the early 70’s, much of the music I heard him strumming came from the Beatles, CCR, and such. I have no idea why, but I loved the song Yellow Submarine. In one early memory, I remember listening him play every Beatles’ song and waiting for my favorite. Of course, the Beatles’ songbook was in alphabetical order, so my wait only grew with each passing song. When dad took a break and left the room, I “tuned” his guitar so he could play my favorite song. He returned to all six strings horribly out of tune. Of course, I got in trouble, but not too much.

Recently, I shared this story with my dad who listened with great interest, but admitted he had no recollection of my memory. Until that moment, I never thought of the insignificance of that event from his perspective. I mean, surely he must have remembered my favorite childhood memory, right? Nope, nothing. I was surprised, but certainly understood. I’m sure I was a pain in the ass quite a bit as a child, so one event probably wouldn’t stand out amidst so many others.

The cover of the books I bought Theresa & myself.

The cover of the books I bought Theresa & myself.

A few months later, I posted a quote from Watership Down on Facebook. Ok, for the record, I have a confession. I knew the book was about a group of rabbits, but I’d never actually read the book. The quote was cool though, and totally represented my feelings at the moment. So I was shocked when my sister responded her favorite childhood memory was the summer I read her Watership Down. What??? Not only did I not remember reading the book, but I certainly had absolutely no recollection of reading it to her! And this was her favorite childhood memory?!? I felt totally gypped. I should remember this event – All of them, actually, since I’m quite certain it took multiple days to read that story aloud.

The mind works in such mysterious ways, and memories especially fascinate me. I remember scenes from my life, some good, others not so much. Yet, what is significant to me is completely gone for someone else, and vice versa.

Aside from simply sharing my fascination with the mind, I encourage everyone to share memories with others. Let them know what you remember and encourage them to do the same. You may be surprised what you learn and open doors to lost memories fading through time.

Rose-Colored Glasses

Much has happened over the last six months, and so I started this school year blaming my failing eyesight on a multitude of reasons other than my age. My office was relocated into a slightly smaller room, but one that is much darker. I even bought a few lamps to brighten up the place a little. And I gave up my PC at the end of last school year, upgrading to a new Mac, though it does have a smaller screen. Then there was that little motorcycle accident I had, followed by surgery. All valid reasons I was struggling to see clearly.

The computer screen was the first hint – I had to enlarge the font to be able to read. One morning, I realized I had something wrong with a fingernail, but for the life of me, I couldn’t actually see my hand clearly. And then, the final straw, I glanced at a magazine James was reading and I couldn’t read the words. I called that day, and had an eye exam scheduled for the next afternoon.

I arrived a bit early and checked in with the receptionist. I learning my appointment would be another 15-20 minutes, so I perused the frame selection. One of the young ladies working told me to go ahead and pick out a couple of frames I liked. Ha, ha, ha!

I smiled, and informed her that I didn’t need glasses, I was just there to find out why I couldn’t see.

Yes, I actually said that. At the time, it made perfect sense to me. Finally, I was called in to see the doctor. We reviewed some basics, and started with the standard eye chart. I could read most of the letters, but the bottom row was too blurry. My chin was then placed in a cup-like rest and a machine swung over, covering my eyes. We then started the “which is better, one,” I’d hear a click, “or two?” I was off to a strong start with my right eye – only a couple of clicks. But when we switched the left, there were several twos until we finally got a one. With the ones & twos done, I was presented with several diminishing lines of text. I was attempting to figure out which line I could read when the doc said, “how’s this?” One click, and I could read it all, every last word.

“Wow,” was my only answer. He smiled.

He put more drops in my eyes and I was sent out to wait while my eyes dilated. That’s when the fun really began. Now, I had to pick out frames while my eyesight completely left me. Yes, purple is my favorite color, and though tempting, I settled on a simple black pair of glasses with a slight rose-color insert, framing my world in a tint of red.

After two long weeks of waiting, my glasses finally arrived today, and I was super excited to pick them up. The lady gave me a quick lesson on how to use them, as they are progressives. At one point, she instructed me to pretend I was holding a book. I put out my hands while watching her demonstrate. She said to look through the bottom of the glasses. I looked down, and couldn’t contain my excitement. “I can see my hands!” I blurted out, turning them over and looking carefully at them. She smiled.

I like my rose-colored glasses, even though they are actually black. And I love that I can actually see now. What a difference! It’s difficult walking while wearing them, but I’m a fast learner. Although I think I’ll not use them while driving until I can walk with them safely.

Cats are Jerks

But at least they are entertaining!

The Look! Classic Kirispuu.

The Look! Classic Kirispuu.

I awoke this morning to the subtle sound of cat food being dropped into a mostly-empty metal bowl. Anytime Kirsipuu can see silver, he’s convinced we’re starving him. His way of expressing his concern (and suggesting maybe we should add more food to the bowl) is to pick up pieces of food and drop them into the bowl.

Listening to the plinks this morning, I smiled as I opened my eyes. It was still dark out, which was a good thing, as I had to be at work before the sun rose. I checked the phone – I had a whopping 5 minutes until my alarm would sound. “Couldn’t he just let me have those last five minutes?” I thought to myself. I snuggled deeper into the covers, as if I could fall asleep and wake refreshed in the few short minutes that remained.

The next sounds that emanated from him weren’t so subtle. He ran full force, yowling to ensure we heard him, through the master bedroom and into the bathroom. Once inside, he jumped into the shower and continued to yowl, demanding water. See, Kirsipuu is a bit of an odd duck. He won’t drink water from a bowl, and instead, insists on running water.

He has an obsession with water, and only drinks running water.

He has an obsession with water, and only drinks running water.

James and I thought this was oh so cute when we adopted him, but after several days, we realized it’s actually kinda annoying. We sit on the toilet and watch him drink droplets of water falling from the faucet. Sometimes, if he’s really enjoying his drink, he’ll let the water run down his face, catching it on his paw, and licking it off. James and I quickly learned trusting him to walk out when he was done wasn’t going to happen. Oh no – he loves water (has a bit of an obsession with it) and will lay in the tub, watching it drip, half-asleep, half-awake for hours. He yowled a few more times, swishing the shower curtain to make more noise. I rolled over, convinced the last one or two minutes I had left would be mine to enjoy.

Sleep was not happening, as I was anticipating the sound of my alarm, but I wasn’t giving him the satisfaction of getting out of bed one second before I had to. I lay still, listening, but I couldn’t hear him. I was certain he had given up and that I had won. As a slight victory smile curled my lips, I heard the sliding noise. Just about the time my brain processed the sound, I heard the crash. He’d knocked something off the counter. At this point, I’m just about laughing at the game he and I are playing.

James mumbled something and I told him the cat knocked something off the counter. It was only a few seconds later we heard the same sound, and another item hit the floor. James hollered, “stop being an asshole!” as if Kirsipuu could really understand him. My alarm sounded, and I lounged a minute or so before I finally crawled out of bed to see what he’d disturbed. Fortunately, there was no glassware on the counter, just a few parts to my Halloween costume, so nothing was broken.

Cats are jerks, but at least they are entertaining!

With a Little Help From My Friends

Back in 2007, James was stoked when I decided to purchase my own motorcycle and ride. He actually rode the bike home from the dealership and proudly taught me the basics. Soon, I was brave enough to take off on my own, heading down the street, making a loop around the neighborhood, and returning to James, who was not looking so happy any longer. I asked what was wrong. He replied, “there are two kinds of riders – those who have crashed and those who will. I’m not looking forward to the day you crash.”

This past Monday morning, about 4:30, I finally joined the latter of the kinds of riders. I was heading for my morning workout, and turned down the dark road leading to the parking area. I remember seeing headlights turning on the road behind me – a fellow Crossfitter, for sure. Who else would be out at the airport at such an obnoxiously early time? Looking up, I was approaching the stop sign. I let off the throttle, and prepared for a rolling stop and turn.

I’ve heard, when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. So I knew I wasn’t dying, because it wasn’t my life I saw, but a deer. Not just any deer, but the perfect specimen of deer. There were no horns, so I presume it was a doe. She stood at least 10 feet tall at the shoulder and consumed all the light from my headlamp. She was the perfect shade of deer brown, and her tail was lifted high and proud, as she ran across the road. I grabbed a handful of brakes, heard the squeal, and the bike and I fell to the left. I watched her do a cute little hop as she bounded off into the woods.

My first thought was along the lines of “oh crap, I’m falling off my bike” which was followed quickly by thoughts of my brand new ink. I’d just gotten a thigh piece started only four days earlier, and both legs are already covered knee down. I knew I was dressed for my workout, spandex shorts and a tank top, meaning lots of exposed skin (I know, I know – quiet!). But as soon as I hit the ground, all thoughts of ink faded, and screaming pain shot through my left knee. Well, I thought it was the pain screaming – it was actually me. I knew for sure my left leg was shattered. I saw the tailpipes of my bike sputtering in front of me, and I could feel the heat from the exhaust. It only lasted a few seconds, then the bike died and headlights covered me. Whoever was heading to Crossfit was now parked behind me. At least they stopped. I’ve heard of bikers crashing and surviving, only to be killed when run over by other motorists.

I sat up and yanked off my helmet. I know, another no no, but I had to see my leg. As soon as I saw it was in one piece, I calmed down a bit. No bones sticking out, just a little blood. See, that wasn’t so bad! One of my new Crossfit friends was calling 911 and attempting to calm me down. She helped me get my backpack off, so I could retrieve my phone. At that moment, all I wanted was James. Except, when I dialed his number, I remembered he slept with the ringer off, and his phone in another room. So, I started the game of “phone a friend” to find someone who was willing to drive to our house and wake him up. And that’s when you learn who your real friends are – lying in the road at 4:30 in the morning waiting to see who answers.

I secured someone, and knowing James was on the way, I felt relief. This was replaced pretty quickly by surprise, when I realized I was surrounded by men. Ha – Men in uniform! Damn – they were quick! Of course, they forced me to lay back down, immobilized me, and got me onto a stretcher for a fun-filled ride to the emergency room. Looking aside before they ran off with me, the last sight I saw was another Crossfitter holding my helmet, a very dark expression on his face. That actually concerned me, and I realized not only was I going through my own trauma, I’d probably just scarred a few other folks with me. So I thought quickly and threw a thumbs up in their direction, assuring them I’d be back soon. It was probably a pathetic gesture, but I meant well.

The ER visit was short (I’ll leave out the gory details), but filled with good news. I had no broken bones. My wounds were cleaned and covered and I was released to James. The instructions were simple – immobilize my knee (I was sported with a brace), walk with crutches, and no weight bearing. Oh, and you might want to follow up with a real doctor to make sure nothing else is wrong. By 9:00 am, I was back home. I didn’t realize it, but the real fun was about to begin. Since being home (and upon writing this, it’s only been four days), I’ve learned quite a few things I’d like to share.

  • Road rash smells bad. Maybe it’s the goop or maybe it’s just the open wound, but the stench was pretty nasty. And if I could smell myself, well, I felt for James.
  • When injured, you are allowed (and encouraged) to take pride in the small steps. Sometimes, those small steps are literal. My first trip to fetch water from the kitchen was huge! It took 10 minutes, but I was so proud of myself.
  • For every proud moment of accomplishment, there will be at least two demoralizing ones. I’d rather not share those. Just saying.
  • In addition to small steps, you must accept the fact that everything will take longer. Heating leftovers for lunch, grabbing a bottle of water, walking to the bathroom… Just allow plenty of time and don’t rush!
  • It’s okay to ask for help. I learned quickly what I could and could not do, and James did have to bail me out of a predicament or two. Maybe three. Kinda goes hand in hand with the demoralizing episodes.
  • Apparently bladders shrink when you’re on crutches. I mean, I’ve heard that as we age, holding it through the night is more difficult, but I’ve found myself rushing for a bathroom around 2 in the morning since the accident. Every morning. This wasn’t an issue before life on crutches. Which leads to the next point…
  • Clutter is not your friend. A 2 am trip to the bathroom becomes life threatening when you’re hobbling along in the dark, trying not to wet your pants before you get to the bathroom. Remember, everything takes longer on crutches!

All in all, I’m quite blessed and lucky my first (and hopefully last) motorcycle accident was so minor. There will be MRI’s next week on the knee and shoulder, but an initial examination by an orthopedic surgeon indicates nothing obvious or significant. I can’t wait to get back to a normal lifestyle, but I’m well on my way. And for now, I’m learning all about my new normal and taking it in stride. And I’m getting by with a little help from my friends, who are much appreciated.

Thirteen Blackberries

Thirteen Blackberries

Thirteen Blackberries

It’s Thursday morning, 6:32, and I’m standing at the kitchen counter packing my breakfast and lunch so I can head to work. I have a small Tupperware container in front of me with a mix of blackberries and raspberries, their original packaging containing what will be part of Friday’s morning meal. And for the life of me, I can’t remember when or why I started counting the blackberries.

Thirteen blackberries. That’s how many go into the Tupperware container. I don’t count the raspberries. I don’t need to, because for some reason I don’t understand, counting raspberries doesn’t matter. The problem facing me is this – There are only twelve blackberries left for tomorrow’s breakfast. This bothers me greatly. Each morning, I count thirteen blackberries into my breakfast mix. And I already know I only have twelve for Friday. I don’t have time to contemplate tomorrow. First, I have to get through today.

It’s 6:34, and my lunchbox is packed. I’ve gone through four of my five morning rituals, and it’s now time to head into the master bathroom to brush my teeth. Of course, I won’t take off my slippers until after I’m done, because I can no longer brush my teeth while barefoot. I have no idea when this happened either, but it’s now a must, morning and night. My feet must be covered when I brush my teeth, or it doesn’t feel right.

I finally arrive at work. Once in my office, I take the two plastic drink containers and begin the process for filling them with water to drink during the day. A portion of a flavor packet goes into one of the bottles, the remainder of the packet leaning against a pad of hall passes. While I’m waiting for the computer to wake up, I make sure my three pens are there. My main one is a Wonder Woman pen James gave to me. It’s the one I use during meetings, and it doesn’t leave my area. There is a plain black one as a backup (for when I run out of ink in the WW pen), and a yellow highlighter. They are in a specific order next to the laptop, which is finally up and running.

Although I do have some obsessive behaviors at work, I try not to let them show. Most of what gets me through the day revolves around typing and editing – a capital letter fixed here, spacing adjusted there. Everything I type is done so meticulously. I can feel each letter as I click the keyboard, my muscles remembering exactly how to move to create certain words. I take comfort in their memorized patterns.

There has always been an order to my life, patterns I prefer, little things I do that no one else notices which make me feel better. I’ve always known my obsessions were happening, and I’ve always felt as if I could control them. However, lately the compulsion part of my OCD has increased, and I find even if I don’t want to do these things, I can’t seem to stop myself.

I’m a 42 year old, rational, independent adult. I know better, but I can’t feel better.

And so, Friday morning, when I wake for work and start my routines all over again, I’ll take out the last of the blackberries and raspberries. I’ll count the remaining twelve blackberries into the container, and dump the raspberries on top. And I know it won’t feel right, but I will somehow make it through the day. I don’t need thirteen blackberries, even though physically and emotionally, that’s what I want. I’m stronger than my OCD. We fight on a daily basis, and some days, I have to pick my battles. On Friday, I’ll win the blackberry war, and on Monday, we’ll start over.

Martinis and Machetes

The following events took place about eight years ago and are as accurate as remembered. The names have been changed to protect their privacy. While there is a photo from this night, taken in the hospital just before stitches, I felt it best not to share here. Not everyone can handle such sights.

James and I had company over, Bo and Marci, for some wine and cheese. James, of course, opted to “kick it up a notch” with a martini. We were enjoying the beautiful night on our porch, listening to the typical Florida sounds of crickets, owls, and whippoorwills. I don’t really remember who asked about the property behind ours, but James is always willing to trek through the woods, so we each grabbed a bike light, James & Bo taking along machetes, and off we went for a hike. Why machetes? Well, James maintains the trails, so any time he’s out there, he hacks a little (I think it’s more of a macho thing). Although most critters of the night will scamper away at the sound of others, there are wild boar, which can be aggressive. So off we went, lights and machetes, for a hike through the woods.

We started out, James taking out smaller branches as we moved. It’s about a mile of a trail, but opens up toward the end, getting swampy if it’s rained too much. We talked as we walked, and several times we heard something scurry off into the woods, but never got a look at whatever was out there with us. We came to the end of our trail, by the canal, and turned to head back.

The trail now was quite open, with very little trees directly around us, just an open grassy area. We’d spread out a little, Bo & Marci leading the way. They were heading a little to the right of where we needed to be to get back. James was behind me, heading more to the left. As we entered the wooded area again, I stopped to see where we all were. James had turned off his light and was making “spooky” noises. I could hear Bo & Marci laughing up ahead. I turned off my own light, deciding to really get them all. I stepped off the trail to the left, stood perfectly still between two trees, and waited. James would be coming up and probably wouldn’t see me. I could get behind him and scare them all pretty good. I was trying to stifle a laugh at the thought when “WHACK!” I grabbed my nose and cried out. I remember asking James, “What’d you do? Break my nose?” He turned on his light and simply replied, “Yeah, I think I did.” That is about all he remembers. Shock and alcohol make for a lousy memory.

Bo & Marci came back down the trail to us. Marci started talking a mile a minute, and all I could catch were words like “stitches…” “blood…” “emergency room…” At this point I was starting to put things together and realize I’d actually been hit with the machete. Bo wasted no time, grabbing me and starting to run. Finally, he put me down and let me walk the last bit to the house. I took off my sweater and was trying to use it to catch all the blood. I stood around watching them a moment, moving around the house, and said, trying to help, “I just need someone to take me to the emergency room.” No one really made any move in an outdoor direction. I thought maybe if I actually got into the car someone would volunteer to drive. I walked into the garage and sat in the passenger side of my car. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to see it, but I had to look. I took a deep breath and pulled down the mirrored visor. There was a huge gash across my nose, from the top left down, just ending over my lip. It was quite wide and I could see some white under all the blood. I put the visor back and relocated my hand to hold up my nose – I suddenly became scared it was going to fall off!

I looked over to the driver’s seat. No one was there yet and the garage door was still down. I walked back inside and Bo plopped a towel with ice over my nose. “I just need someone to take me to the emergency room.” I said again. “We’re working on that,” was the general answer. I just didn’t get it. Finally, Marci grabbed my hand and off the two of us went, leaving the guys behind to figure out the rest.

When we got to the emergency room, they were pretty quick to get me into the back. Marci was kind enough to go with me – I have no idea how she handled the look of my face. They asked questions and I answered. The doctor took a look at my face and listened to my story. He didn’t seem impressed. He explained he had another patient and that he’d be back soon, but I was going to need stitches (go figure). Marci and I talked, both more out of nervousness than anything. We couldn’t figure out where the guys were, and we were starting to get worried. Bo finally showed first, sans James. When asked, he wasn’t sure why James was taking so long to come to the hospital.

Finally James showed up, wearing leathers & carrying his motorcycle helmet. I didn’t think I could ride the motorcycle home, and he smiled, for the first time. Apparently, he couldn’t find my car keys. I explained they were (logically) in my lunch box inside the cabinet next to the stove. And why hadn’t he thought to look there… He left again (no kiss goodbye?) to get the car and returned at the same time as when the sheriff showed up. I think it was about this time Bo and Marci decided they’d had enough and went home.

Standard operating procedure (in case this ever happens to anyone else) requires the perpetrator to be arrested for a “cooling off” period. Like any domestic abuser will be calmer AFTER they have spent the night in jail. But anyway, they listened to my story, then listened to James, and very thankfully, did not arrest him. Sometimes it pays to know people…

Eleven stitches later (3 internal and 8 external), we went home. It was about 2 in the morning, and James pretty much passed out. I, however, sat up thinking of all the “what ifs…” What if it was a little higher, and I’d lost my eye(s)… What if it was a little lower, around the mouth… Or what if it were even lower, say the neck area… I didn’t sleep that night.

I was admitted into a study for facial lacerations, scarring, and healing. They took photos weekly during my recovery. For the next several months, it looked like I got too much sun. I was “grounded” by the doctors due to the depth of the cut. No physical activities for six weeks, absolutely no sunlight, stay out of the heat, and I was forbidden to sweat. Keep in mind, this was April in Florida.

Overall, it looks pretty good, and I consider myself pretty lucky. James finally recovered mentally and emotionally. He’s felt pretty bad about it, and for the first week, couldn’t look at me without painfully looking away, mumbling an apology.

I used to tease him that he needed new stories – I’d heard them all. They ended differently, but usually started the same. He’d get together with the guys and someone would say, “this one night, we were out drinking…” Well, he finally has a new story. I never thought it would end with “I hit my girlfriend in the face with a machete.”

Just Smile

I grew up in DeLand, a very small town in Volusia County, Florida. It’s probably best described as quaint and was recently one of many small towns selected for an award as such. As a young adult, I enjoyed walking through downtown, exploring the shops and frequently running into someone I knew. Once, I even rescued a lost giraffe, but that’s another story for another day. Small towns make for interesting tales…

A recent shopping experience jolted me back to a memory as a young adult wandering around DeLand. I had been shopping and was crossing the street to get to the local bookstore. I was wearing a dark blue dress and I was in a good mood, actually happy, though I don’t now remember why. An older man, whom I didn’t know, was crossing the street as well and I judged we would cross paths right about the middle of the intersection. I was smiling, and nodded with a “hello” as we passed. He stopped and took my hands as we reached one another, saying to me, “You have a beautiful smile. Don’t ever stop.” He let my hands go and continued walking away. I stood in the intersection surprised and watched him a moment before continuing my day.

Goofing off & having fun!

Goofing off & having fun!

Last week, I went shopping at the local Publix. It had been an annoying day and I found I was further frustrated with the idiots of the general population as I tried to shop quickly and get home. I was stopped at the bakery, unable to move because of the conversation between two people (oblivious to their surroundings) and an unsupervised child wandering around carrying a frozen pizza. I contained my frustration and finally, when the sea of people parted, made my way to get two croissants. As I zeroed in on my target, an older man walked past me and said, “just smile.” I stopped and I was instantly taken back to the moment I crossed the street many years ago. I got the croissants and turned, seeing the man making his way toward the ice cream. I caught up with him and put my hand on his shoulder as I walked past him. “Thanks for the reminder.” I gave him a smile and made my way to complete my shopping.

Always remember to smile. If nothing else, it makes people wonder what you’re up to.

As Snow Falls – Elle Klass

One of my more recent reads was an interesting book titled As Snow Falls written by Elle Klass. I know Elle through social media as a fellow author and decided to try something new. I didn’t read about it, just downloaded it and dove in. I wasn’t disappointed!

As Snow Falls, Elle Klass

As Snow Falls, Elle Klass

The opening threw me a little and for the first portion of the book, I was a tad confused, yet still completely engrossed. You are reading about one woman’s entire life, birth through death, and everything contained within her life. Some of the beginning scenes are written such that you’re almost reading from an infant’s point of view. As she grows and matures, the writing settles into that of a young woman full of sass and somewhat lost in the world. I loved how the writing changed to match the woman’s point in life.

The writing aside, the story is captivating. The mood is set almost melancholy and this theme seems to resound through the book, even during happier times within her life. Although you are reading about her life from her perspective, there are a few surprises, especially as her life begins to come to a close. I found myself hurrying my reading as I neared the end – I couldn’t wait to learn all of her life secrets. All the while, you are catching glimpses of an old woman, rocking in her chair, as the snow falls outside her cabin. Although you can piece together who the old woman is, it’s not until the very few pages that the entire book comes together into a perfectly beautiful ending.

Closing the book with tears streaming down my face, I felt fulfilled. I don’t wish to give away any spoilers here, but one would be lucky to live such a full life. Ladies, only jump into this story when you’re ready. This book isn’t for just casual, everyday reading. I assure you, once you’ve started, you will find yourself whisked away into a different time and place, a new perspective slowly creeping into your own life.

My Two Cents on Minimum Wage

I remember progressing through high school and into college, working several minimum wage jobs to make my way. Although those jobs helped me in the short-term, I never dreamed I would actually spend my life earning minimum wage – I would complete college and enter my chosen career (education), where I would earn a “real” salary. I had no dreams of attempting to support myself on a minimum wage job, even by moving up the food chain.

This was my take back then, of course, and watching the recent Facebook debates, I began to doubt my opinion formed years ago while working at Wendy’s. In order to form a current opinion on this topic, I had to decide how to research this. Since I worked a minimum wage job back in the early 90’s, I figured I would start there. Let’s visit 1990, when I worked for minimum wage at a local fast food joint. I enjoyed opening, hated closing, and one evening a week, dressed as Wendy herself to entertain kids. I know there is a picture somewhere of that, but this is all beside the point. Let’s get to the numbers!

In 1990, the established minimum wage for the United States was $3.80. This is found at multiple sites, but I used the Dept of Labor (http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/chart.htm). Each state then sets its own minimum wage, but may not set it lower than the federal standard. I honestly do not remember exactly what my pay was back in 1990, but we know it wasn’t lower than $3.80 and as I progressed (completed more training and took on additional responsibilities), I know I earned a few cents per hour more pending positive evaluations.

My goal upon graduation from college was to start my career as a teacher. In 1990, the United State’s average starting salary for a teacher was $21,542. Again, most states, and really the districts in each state, set the starting salaries for their areas. Since we’re looking at the minimum wage for the US (not individual states), I chose the teacher starting salary for the whole United States as well. This info came from the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d99/d99t080.asp).

Fast forward a bit to the year 2012. The federal government has set minimum wage at $7.25 (which was initially set at that rate in 2009) and no state is allowed to set a lower starting wage. The United States average for teacher starting salaries school year 2012/2013 is $36,141. This number came from the National Education Association (http://www.nea.org/home/2012-2013-average-starting-teacher-salary.html). Let’s crunch some numbers. Minimum wage increased from $3.80 to $7.25 between 1990 and 2012. This is an increase of 90.79%. Starting salaries for teachers increased from $21,542 in 1990 to $36,141 in 2012, an increase of 67.77%.

Another option I considered as I was leaving high school was joining the military. Surprised? Yeah, that’s a fun little fact most people don’t know about me. The military being a government agency, I found what I consider reliable records for all forms of military pay through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (http://www.dfas.mil/militarymembers/payentitlements/militarypaytables.html). This was actually WAY more information than I wanted, but it was good data. I compared salaries from January 1990 to January 2012 for a few categories, each of them at the two years or less. I chose the two years or less because we’re consider minimum wage comparison here, not experienced wages. I selected the categories O-8, O-1 and E-1. Each category showed an increase over 100%, 103.88%, 103.89% and 105.94%, respectively.

OK, so what about other professions? I began searching for starting salaries for other careers – accounting, law enforcement, fire fighters, nursing, attorneys, physical therapists… While I could locate valid resources for current trends, getting reliable historical data from 1990 wasn’t as forthcoming. I tried the Department of Labor, the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a few career specific sites. Although I’m not completely sold on the validity of the sites I found, I thought I would use what little information I could. So, for kicks and giggles, let’s take a look at those numbers.

At www.postsecondary.org, I found a reference chart from 1995 with details about starting salaries for engineering, accounting, business administration, and liberal arts. You can find the chart here – http://www.postsecondary.org/last12/401095Salary.pdf. Using their information, I calculated their starting salaries for 1990 at $37,000, $31,750, $28,500, and $26,000, respectively.Now, moving to more recent times…

The field of engineering in 2012 was incredibly varied and salaries match this trend. In 1990, although this profession was just branching out, it wasn’t nearly as diverse as it is today. Digging deeper and narrowing the field down, I was able to find a reference showing engineers with less than one year experience earning $55,000. Compared to the 1990 data, this shows an increase of 48.65%. This data is from American Society of Mechanical Engineers, from this article – https://www.asme.org/career-education/articles/early-career-engineers/engineering-salaries-on-the-rise. While researching salaries for accounting, I found a reference to an average starting salary for engineers at $61,872. This figure would show a larger increase at 67.22%. In looking at overall increases for starting salaries, I’m more inclined to believe this number. That reference (which was used for the accounting & business administration reference as well) is found here – http://www.accountingweb.com/topic/education-careers/2011-accounting-graduates-earning-average-salaries-50000.

We have two numbers for comparison when considering accounting, those fresh out of college and those who specifically earned a degree in accounting. Exiting college in 2011, these graduates earned $41,701 and $50,500 respectively. Since I’m in a calculating mood, let’s figure both. Using the $31,750 from 1990, this shows an increase of 31.34% with any degree and an increase of 59.06% if you specialized in accounting.

Moving onto business administration, I expected much higher starting salaries than I found. Since AccountingWeb chose to also highlight starting salaries for business, I continued to use their numbers. They separated this field into business majors and business administration with starting salaries for college graduates at $48,144 and $43,600 respectively. Using our original average of $28,500, we find an increase of 68.93% and 53% for these categories. Keep in mind, the original reference (from 1990) cited specifically business administration (the 53% increase).

As AccountingWeb was targeting more business-related degrees, I had to move on to find current salary data about liberal arts. Knowing what little I do about this field, I expected dismal numbers. I was pleasantly surprised. An article from AOL Jobs (citing the National Association of Colleges and Employers) broke this category down into three segments – Liberal Arts & Sciences/General Study at $43,100; History at $41,900; and Literature/Letters at $40,200. Using the $26,000 figure from 1990, we find impressive increases at 65.77%, 61.15%, and 54.62$%. Not bad! The site I used for the 2012 data is here – http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/02/06/starting-salary-liberal-arts-grads/.

So let’s see what we have, shall we?

Comparison of Starting Salaries for a few Professsions

Comparison of Starting Salaries for a few Professsions

Going back to our data about minimum wage – we start at $3.80, progress to $7.25, and show an increase of 90.79%. Compared to other professions (with the exception of the military), minimum wage has increased significantly more than starting salaries for these degree careers.

Minimum wage increases at irregular intervals and at varying percentages. Using the reference above for minimum wage information, I calculated the increases over five-year intervals.

1980 - 2010 Minimum Wage Chart

1980 – 2010 Minimum Wage Chart

Since this is only looking at income, let’s take a look at cost of living. Some of the arguments I’ve read for increasing minimum wage are due to the rising costs of supporting a family. I found a fascinating chart comparing the years between 1990 and 2008 through www.census.gov. You may access it here – https://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s0683.pdf. Please keep in mind – these numbers are only from 1990 to 2008. The data for 2012 is not yet available, as it will likely be derived from the 2020 census. This means, based on the trends, all the percentages should climb slightly over the next four years, but predicting data with any real accuracy is sketchy.

Let’s sum up those findings on cost of living – Overall, the cost of eating seemed low to me, with an increase of only 50%. Housing showed a higher increase of 96.59%. Health care had one of the highest increases at 101.08%. And entertainment is also up there, showing an increase of 99.37%. While each area is certainly different (apparently the cost of reading has actually declined), combining ALL areas, the cost of living has increased by 77.89%.

So, my take on all of this?

Overall, I found it was very difficult to compare apples to apples. Many reference sites I did find used average salaries, not starting salaries. I attempted to maintain some form of consistency by using starting salaries, which were very difficult to locate, especially for 1990. I felt the data about more current years was much more reliable. I would have liked to research more professions, but the amount of hours just to compile this information was well more than I typically spend for a blog post.

Back in 1990, I knew a minimum wage job would mostly support me, independently, if I chose to live a very meager lifestyle. I knew it would not support me and a family and I knew I wanted a stronger, higher income. I chose to complete college and my current salary is significantly higher than minimum wage, as I have 18 years successful experience in my field.

Reviewing the information I was able to piece together, I hold by my original beliefs. A minimum wage job is not intended to support a family. It wasn’t enough in 1990 and it’s not enough now. But minimum wage has increased in the last 24 years and at a rate higher than the professions I researched, with military being the only exception. In addition, the cost of living has increased by 77.89%, less than the increase of minimum wage and more than the increase of starting salaries of other careers.

I have read where many are pushing for an increase to $15.00 per hour for minimum wage (an increase of 106.9%). Based on the cost of living trend, a comparison of starting salaries from other professions, and the recent history of minimum wage, I do not see any justification for such an extreme increase.

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I'm Diane Bixler, full-time staffing specialist and part-time author.

When I'm not working or writing, I'm enjoying life to the fullest.

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