Thursday, December 29, 2011

Firetruck Santa vs TABOR

My childhood friend, Sam, recently posted a blog entry that filled me with nostalgia. In our hometown of Chicago Ridge, Santa Claus came by every year on a firetruck. He'd honk the impossibly loud firetruck horn and go up and down the streets throughout our town of about 10,000 and hand all of us kids paper bags filled with treats like ice cream candy.

Our town actually did a lot of wonderful things not unlike "Firetruck Santa." Over the Fourth of July every year, they held "Ridge Kid's Day" at the park across the street from my house. It was completely free, and kids got to get their faces painted, sing karaoke, play games for prizes, go to a petting zoo, and even ride animals like horses, llamas, and elephants. As I wrote that, I realized that I actually have a photo of the event saved onto my computer. Here is a photo of my sister and me in the summer of 1992:

At that same park, the annual "Ridge Fest" takes place. It is a traveling carnival that has all sorts of rides (like Tilt-a-Whirl!), carnival food, and carnival games. The whole town gets excited for the event, and it brings in people from all around the Southside. In the summer, the city also blocks off streets for annual summer block parties. Firefighters will even go to people's block parties and open the fire hydrants for kids to play in. Every winter, the park district held an annual "Daddy-Daughter Date Night." My sister and I loved getting dressed up every year to go out for a special night of dinner and dancing. All our school friends would be there with their dads, too.

Anyway, it got me thinking how sad it is that we don't have a lot of that here in the Denver Metro area. I blame a lot of politics. Most communities around here don't want to pay taxes, and with low tax rates come few social benefits. For example, in my parents' neighborhood, they don't even plow. Same with my in-law's neighborhood. I just drove down my parents' street yesterday. It's a giant sheet of ice, and it hasn't snowed since last Thursday.

I remember one time, one of my mom's neighbors wanted to get everyone in the community to contribute to a fund to hire a plow. My mom told me about it, and I responded with, "You mean, like taxes?" But you can't say the T word around here. It just won't fly.

In our state, there's no tax on food at the grocery store. None. Not even on pop or potato chips. Our state sales tax is 2.9%. Every city has its own tax, and they vary immensely. In my mom's city, where they don't plow (read: can't afford to plow), the city tax rate is 2.5%. One kid slipped on the sidewalks to school (the public sidewalks aren't shoveled) and broke his arm two winters ago. In my in-law's city, they don't even charge a sales tax, and they live in a fairly wealthy town! Compare that to where I lived in Chicago which has a sales tax rate of 9.25%. At least they could afford plows!

Our cities and state can't really afford much of anything. Our state colleges and universities are charging outrageous tuition fees (CU-Boulder, a public university, charges up to $14,000 a year for an undergraduate degree for in-state residents, and, no, that does not include the $11,000 room and board students are required to pay for two years). We have state parks and penitentiaries closing. Libraries are closing for one or more days a week, and some are closing their doors permanently. Cities that can afford a budget for plowing only plow major streets, and, even then, they frequently run out of money before the winter is over and have to stop plowing or ask for emergency funds from the federal government.

So, why don't our state representatives and senators do something? They can't. You see, our state has a law in place called TABOR. According to this law, there can be no tax increases unless there is a ballot measure on it and gets approval by voters. So, the people we elect to represent us and do what is best for our cities are unable to.

Our K-12 schools had to take huge cuts this year (hundreds of millions of dollars), and someone proposed a temporary tax increase of 0.1% to help put money into our schools. For those of you who hate math, 0.1% tax rate is the equivalent of one cent on a $10 purchase. One, single penny. It failed miserably.

I think of the little niceties I got to enjoy as a child in the Chicago area (Firetruck Santa!), and I'm sad we don't get anything like that here because people are afraid of the word tax. We can't fund our schools or our libraries or our parks, but at least we don't have to pay an extra few pennies on our cases of soda pop.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joanna is All Smiles

This makes the lack of sleep, the leaking breasts, and the cleaning of poopy blow-outs entirely worth it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

We spent Christmas Day with Andrew's family, and Andrew's brother and sister-in-law made it into town from Utah to join us. Oliver got a little spoiled, but we still had an enjoyable and relaxing time with family.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve 2011

We spent Christmas Eve with my family. My brother, sister, and sister-in-law drove in from the Midwest for the holiday, and I want to post our photos for posterity. Oliver really enjoyed the dogs (especially Winston), and Jo shared some smiles and looked stunning in her pink dress. Oliver's favorite toy of the night was his Barrel of Monkeys from my parents.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

Would the holidays be complete without some gingerbread cookie decorating with the kids? I don't think so!

Oliver loves baking and using the mixer, but I could not fathom making dough, letting it refrigerate, rolling it out, and decorating a million cookies with a two year-old. So, I took the kids out to the grocery store for refrigerated dough. I had the choice between a giant package of Pillsbury or a smaller package of all-natural cookies by Immaculate Baking Company. They were the same price, but I didn't want to be overloaded with cookies anyway. I went with the natural cookie dough. As a bonus, it came with a packet of decorating sugar, which we sprinkled on the icing later.

I worried the cookies wouldn't work because they were pre-formed into drop cookies for easy baking. I just took the lot of them and mashed them together into a ball for rolling. It wasn't a problem at all! Here's my helper rolling out the dough. Take note that my other helper is snoozing in the chair behind him:

Then came the fun part: the cookie cutters! We picked these up from Hobby Lobby yesterday. Their Christmas stuff was on sale for 50% off, so we bought a package of two gingerbread men cutters for $2.

Oliver thought the cookie cutter part was OK. He does it a lot with Play-Doh, so it's kind of lost its luster. As I punched out most of the cookies, Oliver stole little tastes.

The cookies swelled a lot during baking, and their shapes were pretty unrecognizable. I've had that happen with rolled cookies before, but it might have happened with the refrigerated dough because they were made to be drop cookies. No matter! I went back over them with the cookie cutters. It worked like a charm!

Once the cookies were cool, Oliver and I got busy decorating. I took the shortcut again and bought pre-made icing in a decorating bag. It was a little pricey at $3, but, sometimes, it's worth it to pay for conveniences. This was one of those times!

Oliver paused to sample a cookie:

The bag was difficult for him to squeeze, so I squirted a small amount into a bowl for him to use to decorate.

Decorating with one hand and eating a cookie with another:

Back to the squeeze bag:

Oliver decided to sample the icing, too. No wonder this kid wouldn't nap again today! I'm pretty sure 80% of his diet today was sugar.

Our finished cookies:

I have to take a moment to rave about these cookies. Their flavor was out of this world. I could taste the molasses. They really, truly tasted homemade. I don't think we would have made a better finished product if we went through the effort of making them ourselves. I decided they were good enough for gifts! We made tags for four of them to give to each of Oliver's grandparents. I let Oliver color the tags. He's pretty good at that stuff.

The final product:

Parents of toddlers, if you have loads of patience and deal well with messes, I highly recommend taking a few hours for some cookie makin' and bakin'. We had loads of fun!