Cash in a time of Covid

Well, this used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, and with Coronavirus I’m assuming that our Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual. (Anyone sitting down to a turkey TV dinner rather than a family gathering?)

Traditionally, today is a day when we’re supposed to think about what we’re grateful for during the past year, but we’re more likely reflecting on what we really miss.

Those face-to-face times when we’re altogether, especially. (Including those casual opportunities to pass along treasures to others, too … as I’ve pondered while culling my bookshelves.)

It’s even having me admit how little cash I’ve used since March, instead putting most of my small purchases “on plastic,” the way, say, most kids have long been doing. For just a cup of coffee?

I’m wondering what else, besides cash, has been a victim of this pandemic.

High on my list would be communal worship, singing together, dancing, concerts and plays, swimming and similar exercise as well as sporting events with live crowds, study groups, parties.

For the record, I’m grateful nobody among my family or friends has come down with Covid and that none of us has been evicted. Also, for one in particular, being furloughed opened the door to an even better position. So the list of positives begins to emerge.

How about you?

One more thing on the plate

Covid caused us to put off last spring’s anticipated yard sale, which was to help us reduce some of our excess possessions. Now we realize if we sell this house before May, when the yard sale seasons begins, we need to choose whether to move our excess items to our daughter’s and have a yard sale there or to take them to Goodwill or the dump instead.

Quite simply, do we feel we’re up for investing the time and effort in preparing and conducting a sale? (As well as the tedious job of cleaning up afterward?) How much do we want to reasonably rake in if we do?

In either case, I don’t want to pack up a bunch of stuff “to get to later,” meaning sometime after hauling it five hours northeast. Or wherever.

Note to self: Energy applied now saves double or triple that amount later.

Did you know nonprofits are a big part of the economy?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Jaya resumes her career in nonprofit enterprises – a field she left in moving to the Yoga Bootcamp from Manhattan.

Running nonprofits turns out to be a management specialty – and they are a major player in the economy, even if you don’t read a lot about them in the business section of the newspaper.

Here are some considerations.

~*~

  1. The nonprofit sector accounts for $65 billion of the U.S. economy – 5.4 percent of the gross national product.
  2. Nonprofits hire a tenth of the workforce – more than national defense, construction, real estate, and space exploration combined.
  3. There are more than 1.2 million public charities and foundations in the country.
  4. Only one-third of the organizations file with the IRS, leaving the rest off of the economic radar.
  5. The 950,000 public charity organizations – ranging across arts, culture, education, health care, and human services – comprise two-thirds of the nonprofits sector.
  6. Most of them are small. Nearly 30 percent of the public service organizations operate at under $100,000 a year. The largest group, 37 percent, runs between $100,000 and $499,999. The largest group, of $10 million or more, is just 5.3 percent of the organizations but doles out 87 percent of the money.
  7. Nearly half of their revenue comes from fees for services and goods – ticket sales, tuition, hospital fees, membership fees, and product sales. Another third comes from government programs and grants. The remainder comes from donations (15 percent) and investment income (5 percent).
  8. Religion is the largest charity category, with a third of the pot, followed by education, 13 percent. Other standouts: Health, at 7.4 percent; arts, culture, and humanities at 4.1 percent; environment or animals, 2 percent.
  9. One in four Americans volunteers time and service to these causes. Their volunteer service, averaging 52 hours a year per person, is valued at $1.5 trillion. They also donate $358 billion in fundraising.
  10. The total assets of public charities in the U.S. comes to $3.7 trillion.

~*~

Do you donate to any nonprofit groups? Do you volunteer? Do you rely on their services?

 

All the renovation going on in town

Followers of this blog have seen the ongoing transformation of my small city’s downtown into a residential mecca.

We’re fortunate to be in a part of the country that has appeal based in part on its proximity to the ocean and mountains as well as the big-city attractions of Boston an hour away, without the crowding and cost of living.

The elimination of the bottlenecks between us and Interstate 95 ten miles away has also made Dover a more affordable real estate alternative compared to Portsmouth’s bloated high prices – even though I’m still in sticker-shock-land when I see what the purchases and rentals are going for. (Who can afford this?)

I had wondered, too, what the impact of all the new luxury apartments downtown would have on the older apartments. Would rental prices fall as a result? Some of the places were what you might call sketchy. And some, even only a few blocks from our place, are distinctly slummy.

What’s surprising me is the number of older rentals that are undergoing upgrades. Plumbing, windows, drywall, kitchens, flooring, even the wiring. It seems to be happening everywhere, though largely out of sight unless you start knocking on doors.

I’m still nervous about the economy in general, but it seems Dover’s in a good place to bounce back after Covid.

Sustaining the teaching — and the teacher

Until the next-to-the-last chapter of my novel What’s Left, the resident Tibetan Buddhist master, Rinpoche, stays largely in the background.

He’s a stabilizing influence of Cassia’s family, all the same.

As she realizes, in earlier drafts of the novel:

I am impressed by Baba and Tito’s roles — the entire family’s role, in reality — in establishing the Buddhist institute. Our charitable foundation was established as a vehicle to support Baba’s research time as well as the institute and the new Pan Orthodox church — along with college scholarships for family children as well as those of many who’d worked for us. The foundation, then, was another enterprise from Dimitri’s socialist cognizance as it blended with our growing spirituality.

The family’s financial security was especially important in supporting her own parents through some transformative years:

For my parents, it provided enough income for them to pursue their dreams, even before we kids came along. Manoula’s share of the dividends and, I’m inclined to think, a consulting stipend from the company itself also allow Baba to focus on establishing the Tibetan institute here. For the first year, the Tibetan research operates out of their apartment, along with our publishing setup. And then, with Rinpoche in place, the institute settles into a small house more or less in the middle of Mount Olympus, where the guru can live in proximity to selected students the way Baba had.

But over the years, their individual practice wavered. With Barney, for instance, as Rinpoche explained:

More and more, we argued. Your Baba could still converse with him about these matters, but Barney kept quoting another teacher, far more permissive than me. What he allowed, we wouldn’t. But a few years ago, that guru died of complications of his wild lifestyle. It was scandalous.

As for her aunt Pia?

Rinpoche tells me she attended the weekly sessions with Theos Barney and the rest of the family, but her heart remained with the church.

And then Cassia has more pressing matters:

Pain? You say it’s an illusion, not real.

Oh, I’ve had some long discussions with your priest about that! From a Buddhist point of view, pain’s not real the way material things aren’t real. That doesn’t mean they don’t get in the way. You just have to learn to see through them. You can’t refuse to directly examine an obstacle, though, and expect to be liberated from it. You just have to remember what’s beyond it.

The mountain?

There’s no avoiding it.

~*~

In Cassia’s family her father finds much more than a circle of faith. He gives and receives support in everything he values.

How do you support others? Is there one place you feel is especially important? What causes or organizations do you help?

~*~

Tibetan Buddhist double-dorje emblem. To me, it looks almost Greek Orthodox.

~*~

Work! A four-letter word

One of the ideas at work — oops! — in my novel What’s Left, is work itself.

Most of us tend to think of it as menial labor, I suppose, but it doesn’t have to be. In the story, for example, Cassia’s aunt Pia has a way of making every task fun and meaningful. And Cassia and her brothers and cousins all put in hours at the family restaurant from an early age on.

~*~

Her aunt Nita also had some insights on work. Here’s one I cut from the final version of the book — we simply had more on our plate than we could manage:

Day by day Nita worked her column like a line cook … a station chef. And she dared tell me journalism’s not like an assembly-line job?

~*~

The poet Donald Hall once broke labor out into three kids: work, jobs, and chores. Maybe you’ll see how they differ.

Tell me about something you do for the pure joy of doing it, even though other people might think of as, uh, tedious work.

For some of you, this could be gardening or cabinetry or decorating cakes or arranging flowers or, well, you get the drift. For others it might be an art or sport or public service.

Is it something you also get paid to do? Or could you?

~*~

 

One way to get inside the publishing scene

As I revised my novel What’s Left, I compressed the details regarding her mother’s book-publishing venture. Here’s how it stood in an early draft:

As her dream of establishing a small-press also takes shape, the family council decides not to include it outright among our Five-Spokes enterprises but rather to extend a ten-year microloan to allow her to retain full control of its success or failure. Her game plan anticipates a modest start, essentially continuing the annual calendar and the greeting cards featuring local photographs by Baba, as well as the release of the first volume of Nita’s collected columns. These are things Baba can shepherd along while Manoula finishes her degree. From there, a cookbook would be a no-brainer in the lineup, something Barney can begin putting together immediately. We know he’ll be fussy and irritable, miss deadlines, do the whole prima donna bit. Besides, he’s not a writer, so there will be extensive editing and revision. After that, Baba can worry about the photos. He says shooting food’s a specialty all to itself. You can bet, though, the results will be worth it. And all that’s before Manoula gets to anything like poetry or fiction. 

~*~

This is so far from the snippy colloquial vibe the novel has since taken. Think of it more as a memo to the author in conceiving a plausible pathway to independent business success for Cassia’s mother. Or possibly just an old dream of my own, way back when, along with memories of a few difficult collaborators.

One struggle in shaping What’s Left was the matter of determining just how much of her family’s business side to include. Passages like this one ran the danger of turning the story into a case study for marketing or investment classes, rather than focusing on Cassia’s yearning for emotional healing.

Was I right in deleting the passage as too much “insider” insight for the novel? Or does it add to your understanding of Cassia, her mother, and her family? Do you ever dream of doing something the way her mother does?

~*~

In the family, Cassia may have had food like Spanakorizo, a common Greek dish prepared with spinach and rice and flavored with herbs such as dill and/or fennel. Photo by Katerina Strak via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

Considering bang for the buck in restaurants

We don’t dine out all that often, but when we do, we want to get our money’s worth. It’s not that we’re afraid of the bill, but rather that we eat well at home and expect something that can at least match that standard.

On one hand, we’ve come to admire inexpensive menu items done precisely right. French fries or cole slaw can be especially telling, as can an amazing vanilla, as in ice cream or gelato. Freshness also is crucial, and attentive service is always a plus. That sort of thing.

Steak or lobster aren’t hard to cook, so we don’t expect to be impressed there. Scallops, on the other hand, can be tricky. And then we get to selections that require technique. That’s where we really pay attention.

What does irk us is pretentious, pricy dishes that seriously miss the mark. The stories we can tell!

Our biggest test is what we call the Oh Wow factor. You know, one bite and you’re amazed. It’s not always at the fanciest restaurants, either, so it’s not a matter of cost. Some of our favorite examples have come in storefront operations in the sleaziest parts of a town – the kind where you want to keep an eye on your car at lunchtime. Some have even been takeout only or a food truck.

I have to admit we’re more critical as the menu price escalates, but if they deliver with mastery and attention to detail, we pay gladly – and then some. Best of all, in our positive experiences, the great cooks in my family come away inspired, and I look forward to all that will follow.

What delights you the most when dining out?

Roads not taken on the way to earning a living

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia ponders her father’s career. In an earlier draft, she noted:

At the least, he might take a position on a magazine or major metropolitan daily, based on the portfolio he’s amassed.

Even so, about the time he moves in with her family:

He replies honestly. He’s living hand-to-mouth as it is, thanks to his full-time professional calling.

~*~

I’ve known more than a few people with great talent and great potential. Somewhere, though, they failed to leap the gap. I could point to big changes in society that increased the distance, but even so, I mourn that we’ve lost much.

Step back and look at your situation now. In the movie version, where would you find glamour? And what would come across as funky? Give it a title, if you will, as part of your pitch. Let’s live fully, where we are!

~*~

Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!