Sunday, December 28, 2008

Toss it!

Ladeeeez and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce there is an enormous pile of trash is our microscopic back yard. Why is this reason to celebrate you ask? Because it means we have reduced clutter by 30% in our basement family room. Yes, folks, you couldn't ask for bigger reductions in a retail store. Well, you could go to a 50% off sale, I suppose, but if we reduced THAT much, we wouldn't have any furniture left. So I will continue to appreciate that little bit of Zen I get from looking at a neat desk sans boxes and loads of unidentifiable, dusty crap.

I can locate things on my desk now. And it was even more fun figuring out what I actually had on my desk. Nail polish, dried up dermabrasion cream and sinus tablets. Hairball remedy and a new toothbrush. Dead batteries, stale gum and a half chewed up Star Wars book. GONE. ALL GONE. Let the celebration begin.

If I had to describe the length and breadth of the dust bunnies I found within the crevices of furniture and behind the couches, you would be horrified. So I will leave you with one image. Garfield.

Policy this year: if we don't use it, toss it. If it's broken and we never fixed it, toss it. If it's annoying and on the floor, toss it. If it's too small, too big, too 1980's, too cracked, peeled or oozing....toss it.

"Tossing it" means we can donate or recycle when possible, BTW. Don't think I'm a complete boor.

Do you know I actually cleaned off my kitchen counters? I finally realized that the Pampered Chef round-about thingy that holds utensils is a space hog. I've had it for about five years, and I'm just now understanding this. That probably makes me a little slow, but at least now it's in the trash and all the spatulas, wooden spoons, flippers, pasta graspers, whisks and cheese slicers are in a drawer--which also had to be cleaned out. We had a roll of Micro-crisp paper in the that drawer since I met my husband (8 years ago). Had we ever used it? Why no. Has it been tossed? Why yes.

Part of the problem is we have that "We might need it someday" attitude. We're both frugal. We are anti-waste. We are nervous that what we throw out today we might have to re-purchase at another time and we probably won't have the money to do that. We're usually right about the money part.

But at the rate I'm going, I won't have to collect on my husband's Christmas gift--hiring a cleaner for a day. Since we've all been working at the purge for two days, the place is looking pretty good....or at least better. Besides, we can't afford a cleaner for a day. But that's good in a way. We've all bonded through our family eviction of dirt and useless items. The family that clutter-busts and dusts together stays together.

Or at least they get fewer allergies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Post-Christmas: Still, we have the needy

Dear Friends,

Happy holidays!

The purpose of this letter is to update you on the situation here in Prince William County. Last Sunday Woodbridge Workers Committee volunteers conducted our second bi-weekly food distribution of the winter. During the night, freezing rain fell and distribution began under dangerous conditions. By noon, we distributed over 200 bags of food- enough to last an individual 4 or 5 days. The total cost of last week's distribution alone was over $1,000 and winter has just begun.

The situation for the day laborers in Woodbridge and Manassas is increasingly grim, and hunger has become a major issue. The men face an impossible situation. Because of economic policies such as NAFTA, there is no work for them back home but there is also little or no work to be had in Northern Virginia. Without the work of Woodbridge Workers Committee and Mexicanos Sin Fronteras their situation would be even more desperate. We anticipate that the economic collapse will result in further suffering. Meanwhile the broader immigrant community continues to suffer as a consequence of officially sanctioned anti-immigrant xenophobia.

Our ongoing work with the immigrant community is done entirely by volunteers and the bulk of our budget comes out of our own pockets. The biweekly food distribution costs are rapidly depleting our limited resources.

Please help support for our work.

Send your contributions C/O Woodbridge Workers Committee PO Box K, Woodbridge, VA 22194. Make checks payable to Woodbridge Workers Committee (501c-3 tax deductible).

Thank you in advance for your help in extending the warm hand of welcome and solidarity to these newest, most vulnerable members of our communities.

In Solidarity,

John Steinbach,
Woodbridge Workers Committee
Community Outreach Coordinator

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Return to Bristow

Back from a lovely Christmas at Colonial Beach with the whole family and per usual, I'm not ready to slink into reality yet....because that's what it is, really. Have you ever met anyone who had a great holiday or vacation and just leaped with both feet back into the freezing pool of normal life? If you DO know anyone who can transition with such ease, please do introduce me. I'd be interested to see is s/he is sane.

Yes, I'm spoiled. Most of the world doesn't have this kind of luxury because a holiday or a vacation is simply out of the question. So I keep that in the back of my mind as I type and think how my feet are cold but too bad because the socks aren't paired and I'm not ready to tackle more laundry until I've plucked the last bit of holly from my brain. We are lucky to have socks.

I hate to keep hammering that into the blog posts practically every day, but poverty is something never quite out of my mind even when I am out of my mind. Every day, I hear more and more people talk about possibly losing their jobs and how many more people are having to ask for food donations. At a family gathering where everyone has so much materially and otherwise, and when we are in a time of recession, I think it makes sense that we remember those who do not have, not because we wish to drag ourselves down, but because we should think about how we might bring all of us up and out into the holiday light. If we assume the light is extinguished one minute into December 26, then we have wasted our Christmas.

Ours was not wasted. But when I say I am not ready to return, it's not that I wish to be frivolous or uncaring. It seems somehow I can help alleviate the greater problems of the world by doing what I can to help. It seems I can parent and be a loving spouse and serve as a contributing member to the community, but damn if that laundry and housework doesn't get me every time. See? That is the reality I would like to evade.

And because of this rabid anxiety I have about the house, my husband who is gooder than the regular good is getting me....guess what? A house. See, this is my fantasy--to have the whole house clean all at once. I will only get it if a cleaner comes in, so that is what my love has given me (along with two containers of scented powder and cool scrap booking software). This is to be a single cleaning (as we can't afford more) but I am as a grateful as grateful can be. My plan is to do laundry as the cleaner works and try not to cringe when s/he cringes.

My other plan and New Year's promise (note a promise, not a resolution. A promise is much more concrete): to clutter bust. I promise to go through this family room and pitch everything that isn't needed and give away everything that is decent. I also promise to rearrange the family room least once more.

This second bit is a wimpy promise, however. I move the furniture around down here at least twice a year because no matter how many arrangements we try, it's never right. The room is kind of an "L" shape, the bottom part of the "L" housing the fire place. Because of this, we can't get full use out of the bump-out which is townhouse lingo for the 10-x11' extension at the back. I suppose we could put the girls' desk in front of the fireplace, but that would be bad if we actually turned on the fire.

Which is another oddity--it's a gas fireplace controlled by a light switch. I fall all over my tongue whenever I say, "Let's turn on the fire." There's just something inherently wrong with that.

In any event, I'm glad we have a fireplace. And I'm thankful we have stuff that creates clutter because that means we do indeed have stuff. I'm thankful for my Christmas gifts and family and how much laughter we all had that is still with me. There will be plenty of time to fret about the house, and I know there is some relief in sight.

Sighing off for now, the harried kind-of-housewife-but-not-really,


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A Maxine Christmas Story

received via email from Hugh, a dear friend of mine who, more than once, saved my behind!

'Twas the night before Christmas, And all through the house...
Not a creature was stirring Since the cat ate the mouse.

My support hose were hung By the chimney with care.
(I hung them last Christmas And just left them there.)

My dog, Floyd, was nestled All snug in his bed,
After watching the cat rip The presents to shreds.

And I in my long johns And ratty night cap
Had just settled my butt For a long winter's nap.

When out on the lawn There arose such a clatter,
I swore at the window, "What the (blank) is the matter?"

I tore open the window, Not a second to tarry,
All ready to throw The noisemaker a berry.

A bright moon was lighting The new-fallen snow...
And I had a moon of my own Set to show.

Floyd was beside me, Paw pointing the way
Toward eight tiny reindeer Hitched up to a sleigh...

And a little old driver So cheery and quick,
I thought for a moment That I would be sick.

Like a bat out know, His reindeer they came,
And I whistled and shouted And called them some names--

"Hey, Hornhead! Hey, Furface! Hey, Weiner and Turkey!
Yo, Klutzy and Mangy And Venison Jerky!

Stay off of my porch! Get away from my wall!
Now hit the road, hit the road, Hit the road, all!"

But as pedestrians before My old Buick , they fly
And head for high ground With great fear in their eyes,

So up to my rooftop The fleabags they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys And old Fruitcake - Breath too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
Holes in my new shingles Made by each tiny hoof.

As I reached for my slingshot And a marble as well,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas Tumbled and fell.

He had a huge sack of Cheap junk on his back
And I whispered to Floyd, "Be prepared to attack."

His eyes they were squinting, His toy bag was draggin',
And I felt for a moment Like I'd soon be gaggin'.

He was dressed all in red. With a bell on his hat.
And a belt of black leather To hold back the fat.

A billowing pipe He clenched tight in his smile,
And the smell was like something Had been dead for awhile.

He had a broad face And a little round belly
That shook when I nailed him With a handful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, Well, actually porky,
And I laughed when I tripped him (He looked pretty dorky).

He was like a beached whale Unable to budge.
And he tasted good , too, If the dog was a judge.

I spoke not a word But went straight to my work--
A noogie, a wedgie, A cry of "You jerk!"

Until laying a finger Aside of his nose,
With a loud cry of "Uncle!" Up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to the sleigh And dragged in the toys,
Then he cried to the reindeer, "Get me out of here, Boys!"

And I had to exclaim As a slushball I tossed,
"Happy Christmas to all, And to all a Get Lost!"

But then, as I turned, I saw 'neath the tree
Two gaily wrapped presents-- One for Floyd, one for me.

A big bag of jerky Turned Floyd mighty chipper,
While for me was a pair Of brand-new bunny slippers.

I looked out the window, And hovering there,
Old Santa was winking From his sleigh in midair...

"Merry Christmas, Maxine!" He cried, full of cheer.
"Same to you, Pal!" I answered, "I'll get you next year!"


Merry Christmas! And if you don't celebrate Christmas, have a Merry Holiday Season! Or just have a joyous day!

When there is love, sharing and thankfulness, it can be Christmas every day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pike's Peak

I have Ryan Flaherty to thank for the draft of this poem. I came home from his reading of NOVAS at Bull Run Unitarian, charged with pervasive thoughts. He told me that's not where his images come from, but I derive mine from there. Fascinating, the many roads to poetry. Take yours and thank you, Ryan.

Pike’s Peak
Had the clouds not been there to bar it,
the tip might have gutted the sky, its
ice water entrails snaking into
the drinking supply, inevitable ingestion
of Satan more than we already have. If
you’ve ever seen a clone town, that’s the one we live in.
Walk into a dark house, you may just as well turn in—
except you might notice the children
aren’t yours. We wake to the peak, sleep with its
stabbing, dribble our own sort of snow, nimbus
conversation, edged icicles in
the bathroom, dirty Dixie cup mountain.
Should we use them again?
Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Draft 2 December 22, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Revised Poem from the Battlefield

Got some really good editing advice from Ron at the Writing Circle that meets at Trinity Episcopal.

Here's the revision!

Speaking to Specters

Through your ageless eyes,
I understand your replies
to what you most fear:

trembling from the tip
of the fuse to the cannon's
opening, the rip

in the air of civil
war, tear in the veil of lies:
'there is but one truth.'

You can never know
for sure where the dying go,
leaving us the rot.

Only those mindless
enough not to think are not
distressed at our hot

blood seeping from wounds
to grass, to dirt, to cold stones,
to earth's heart below,

union of bodies
with things we cannot see, and
more we will not know.

Draft 4 Dec. 13. 2008

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Friday, December 19, 2008

Following up on fat

...or should I say weightloss?

Yes, folks, yesterday's appointment was stellar. The nutritionist sent me home with a doable list of changes to make for the next few weeks as I get closer to my lap band. I am once again hopeful that structure, support and prep for surgery is going to get to body back. This is the kind of hope I have needed for a long time, as those of you who struggle with weight know all about.

Here are some things the nutritionist told me I need to do, not only because they are good eating habits but because I will HAVE to do these things once the lap band is installed.

1. Take at least 20 minutes to eat each meal. Most of us know it takes 20 minutes for the body to realize it is full. But when the lap band goes in, it's also important not to overload the reduced tummy size and get food to funnel down as it should.

2. Don't drink during meals, less than thirty minutes before or thirty minutes after. Why? Because when the lap band is in, liquids water down the food and enable it to slip into the main stomach chamber causing you to eat more.

3. Cut down on caffeine in the morning. This is a toughie. Does it count that I had two inches less of my usual large cup of coffee this morning? I hope so. I've already given up other caffeine but this one is going to be difficult.

4. Schedule visits to the kitchen. The only time I should be there is to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

5. Eat three meals a day, breakfast being the most important. Do not eat between meals. This was difficult yesterday, but I'm going to work on it so I don't graze all day long.

6. Don't travel with the telephone from upstairs to downstairs. I've developed and returned to the bad habit of eating whenever I'm chatting with friends. I don't know why. I think it's like social drinking or smoking. Not good. The nutritionist suggested putting a phone with cord on my "office" phone. I wanted to do it, but then thought I need my caller ID and the ability to leave the room when it gets noisy down here. So I have taped a note on my phone: "This phone does not leave downstairs." I am thinking this will help to remind me. Besides, maybe I can do laundry more when I am on the phone instead of going up to nibble.

7. Exercise three times a week. Schedule it. This means using the gym mebership with my kids more for swimming. It's good exercise for them, and we don't waste money with a membership we don't use enough. Substitute the kinds of exercise I do if I find I can't get to it. I enjoy exercise. But once again, structure is my nemesis. And if the end of the week comes without my having exercised, do it all in one day. That will be a deterrent in and of itself, inspiring me to exercise. Three hours of exercise in one day? Yikes! My name is not Madonna.

8. Eat protein at every meal. This will help with hunger control and preparing for the surgery. In order for the doctor to do the surgery, the liver must be shrunken. So I am starting now.

9. Lose 10-15 pounds pre-surgery. This tells the doctor you are committed. If you stick to the plan for a few weeks or a couple of months (I am looking at two months), he knows the band will help you stick to it for life. Once the band is in, eating will be even further reduced, making the weighloss consistent. I can do this. I have support, structure, reasonable goals and motivation. I like to exercise, I love vegetables, and I can deal with protein through powder if need be. (Seafood is also good.)

There are other things I am going to have to do which I will learn in a nutrition class. And there are support groups which I plan to attend so I can listen to other people who have had bariatric surgery. The nutritionist said those who do best are those who attend the support groups. Frankly, I wish they were weekly instead of monthly. Maybe I can join another group besides this one--perhaps even online. I will have to research that.

I feel less bloated after even one day. My eating has been so bad, I figure I can lose the required 10-15 pounds quite easily by following this plan.

What is good is I can remind myself that this is not an option. This is no Weight Watcher's diet that feels temporary or not really mandatory. Finally, I am getting to treat this as a medical condition, a preparation for surgery, a serious physical alteration, much like getting my tubes tied. This is permanent. And it's doctor's orders. I don't mess with doctors' orders.

I know the Weight Watcher's people will say their diet is permanent as well, but it's too easy to slip off the wagon and gain all the weight back with their plan. I know because I've been that route. People who opt for bariatric surgery have tried everything in the world without success.

It's such a relief to have a plan even during the holidays. And it's a reasonable plan--I can do it wherever I am. I don't have to buy expensive, pre-made food. I don't have to get weighed in front of a room full of people. I don't have to pay a gazillion dollars (just co-pays). And I don't have to worry it won't work. Amazing. What a Christmas gift!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fat, Fabric and Crafts

Yesterday, someone asked me what I write in the mornings. I had to stop and think about it. Outside of emails and other professional writing, I blog. Why? To get the meandering thoughts out, of course.

They roam around all night long asking absurd questions when I've happened to wake up from a stiff neck requiring a position change. Sometimes these thoughts seem brilliant at the time. But when I fully awake, they either don't make sense or sound stupid by morning's light. I'm glad I don't blog in my sleep.

Sometimes I blog in the evenings, but not typically. My brain stops adequately functioning after a certain time. It's called saturation. Reading, writing and other obligations fry me until all I have left is Word Whomp or at the moment, trite novels. The funny thing about Word Whomp is I don't seem to win any more in the morning than I do in the evening. I can't alphabetize that fast. The timer makes me nervous. Those are my excuses. I'm sticking to them.

What do I have to do today? Oh yeah. Go for a nutritional assessment to prepare for bariatric surgery. This is one of those appointments where they tell you, "You don't eat right." To which I respond, "I know." If I ate right, would I be having bariatric surgery?

I've been dreading this appointment but looking forward to it at the same time. I need someone to help me get structure into my eating routines. I am quite sure I will feel better once I do that, weight loss or no. Lately, I have been all over the place, floating in a sea of calories, lost amongst the clouds of unhealthy living, a full participant in the culture of American Obesity. Hey, at least I'm amongst friends. But that doesn't help my knees any.

The holidays really should not be an excuse for bad eating or weight gain. I mean, let's look at it. What do we have? Thanksgiving. One day. Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Two days. New Year's Even. One day. Maybe leftovers from any of those days. Let's add two more days. And that equals.....six days, scattered over a few weeks. Can we really justify gaining weight in six days? It seems a couple of weeks of healthy eating would counteract the excesses of the few holidays.

For most people, I think it's more that the holidays push us off the wagon or give us an excuse to pig out. It's really a lame excuse. I understand the wagon thing, however. Over-eating, compulsive eating and bad eating are diseases and addictions. Changing those behaviors is like trying to quit smoking. Except there's no chewing gum in the world that will take the place of a satisfying nibble for whatever reason. The lap band is going to help me take care of this nasty habit. I can't over-eat and I can't nibble because I'll barf. If you knew how much I hate barfing, you will understand why this will be an effective, albeit radical, deterrent.

I worry that I can't change at this point in my life or that I can change but only for a short period of time or that I can change but will put all the weight back on as I did this last time. I have to remind myself that this time isn't last time, that I had trauma that pushed me back into bad eating habits, that things are different now, that this is years later and I don't need the constant physical and emotional reminder of negativity being assaulted caused me. I deserve better and I deserve to give my family the better, more lively part of me. I deserve a long life. I have much too much to do to be slowed down by any of this.

Besides. I kept my "skinny" clothes. They are taking up an awful lot of room in my closet, sitting in trash bags at the back, pushing the "fat" clothes on hangers into the center of the space, leaving us barely room to move in there. I know I will be back into those clothes in less than a year once the stupid insurance company approves of this surgery. Their process is unfathomable.

I've already given up diet soda for this thing. Once you get your stomach banned (no worse than having your tubes tied), you can't let the fizz in there for obvious reasons. I wonder if I DID have soda if I would float up to the ceiling like Charlie did in Willie Wonka. That might be fun in certain cases, but since I have ceiling fans, I wouldn't try it. Might as well stay off the soda. I don't really miss it anyway.

They want you to give up coffee as well, but I can't. I need my morning brew to jump start my day. My brain works better in the morning, but not until I wake up. Without coffee, I think I would doom the rest of my day with headaches and sleepiness. I already have enough daytime sleepiness. I don't need to add to it.

I want to do some scrap booking today. I've neglected the larger book a bit this year because my printer doesn't seem to be spitting out true-to-pic colors. The colors on my screen look wonderful, but the printer isn't translating them. This makes for a disappointing scrapbook. A scrapbook is only as good as the pictures in them, really. I got a new desktop publishing program I want to try out. Maybe that will help.

I'm also working on a scrapbook of my dear husband's life. I have his baby pictures through his high school years until now. I meant to finish it this year and somehow got distracted. I can't imagine why.

I DID make quite a few Christmas cards, however, and even got some off to the Walter Reed patients. And I DID finish a little quilt this year. I have a one-quilt-per-year quota I set for myself even though I'm not very good at it. This year, I took it easy on myself. I did a half-stitch-half-fabric glue piece. I was happier with the results because the glue made the hard parts more manageable.

Cloth is often my nemesis since it slips around on the machine. It's like I don't have the dexterity or something. I also don't have patience. Real quilters take their time with intricate stitches and exact measurements. I can't stand sitting still long enough to get those stitches done. And if I do it a little at a time, it will never get done. Besides, I hate to measure. I used to skip the ironing as well, but since I got myself this little craft iron, I found I used it. The results were much better.

Dear daughters are off to school so I should get started if I want to accomplish anything before I go to my "fat" visit.

Soon I will be calling them my "weight loss visits." Yippeee! That will be a real Christmas present for me and my family. I can't weight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why NOT a Flat Tax?

Here's the deal: if we don't get some more revenue into this county, we're going to have to reduce our standard of living.

The BOCS doesn't want to increase taxes. This is noble. But they don't want to save our services either. This is neither noble nor wise.

When more services are cut, we know what happens: the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the homeless and the hungry are the first to suffer. These people end up on the streets, in the welfare system, or dead. I'm not exaggerating.

The wealthy don't suffer, the upper-middle classes don't suffer, and neither do the politicians. So it's easy for the BOCS to say, "Hey, we aren't going to raise taxes."

There is no reason why the BOCS can't raise taxes $10.00 per month for every tax payer. There is no reason why they can't assess a flat tax increase that wouldn't put the middle or working classes on the streets. And there is no reason why those who earn over $150,000 can't contribute, say, $20.00 a month more to the common welfare of this county.

I am not saying the BOCS shouldn't trim down the government budget or investigate fraud and waste. But leaving our service providers with a skeleton crew isn't an option.

It is inexcusable that the BOCS is not considering other taxing options when they have the authority to find creative solutions.

I, for one, expect better leadership than this.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Plight of the Homeless Poor

The colder it is, the closer we get to Christmas, the closer we get to January and February when we can usually expect even more intemperate weather, the more I think about the homeless and the poor. I look around me and ponder how lucky my children and I am, how I barely escaped that life myself, and how a stable, loving family is truly a blessing that many people don't have.

I've been looking at some scary stats about the homeless. According to Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development 2008 Report, last year 80,000 people were turned away from homeless shelters and support services just in Virginia because the shelters were full.

And make no mistake. As any case worker will tell you, shelters aren't full of loafers. They are full of families, most with working parents who can't make ends meet, especially in this economy.

At least one-third of the homeless are mentally ill. Most of the mentally ill homeless have schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.

Some have PTSD, such as veterans, especially those who served in Viet Nam. About 45% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, "...the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America." Almost one quarter of the homeless are veterans, certainly a national scandal.

If you know anything about bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, you know first of all that these are biological brain diseases. You know, second of all, that the diseases can be treated medically. And you know third of all that people who suffer from these diseases are not always psychotic. Unmedicated especially, they tend to have episodes, but that doesn't mean they are always irrational.

People with with these two disorders aren't necessarily violent. Though a small percentage do hear voices that might "advise" them to hurt themselves or others, they generally are not dangers to society. In fact, the mentally ill are more easily victims of discrimination and crime than perpetrators. Most often, those with personality disorders, which cannot be treated medically, are perpetrators of violence. We see these violent individuals in the jails and not long on the streets because they get caught and can't be treated among other reasons. We also see them in high security psychiatric hospitals or prisons.

Others on the streets have addiction problems which coincide with mental illness. "Psychiatric symptoms are common among individuals with an addiction, and some of these individuals have both a substance use and a psychiatric disorder." As a disease, addiction is degenerative and lifelong.

Knowing this, why do we continue to have so many harmless mentally ill people on the streets?

Some people, when they are in their high or psychotic states, refuse help. Unless they are committed, they can't be forced into treatment. Committing someone is serious and most health care providers are reticent to do so for good reason. However, there are other options such as halfway and supervised homes that would not be so offensive to some mentally ill. There are not enough of these.

Outside of there not being enough long-term treatment centers and homes for these people, our culture doesn't tolerate anyone who can't maintain a job. This system might work for the able-bodied who are capable of getting a job with high enough income to support themselves and their children. The system obviously doesn't work for the working poor or the mentally ill who can't sustain an income, who work sporadically or who are inconsistent.

Some of the homeless are "invisible." They live in cars. They "crash" at friends' houses for the night and go out during the day, posing as "normal people." They might go to emergency rooms complaining of illness so they will have a bed and shelter for the night. They might even get themselves arrested purposefully.

The homeless might live on credit for awhile so they can feed their families and provide adequate clothing while each night, they look for a place to stay. They might use their credit cards to check into cheap motels, and as we know, some even live in motels long-term because they can't save up enough money to pay first and last month's rent on a lease. The motels don't save them money, but they save the homeless from the elements.

Some people balk at the idea of rental assistance for the working poor, but it should be noted that rental assistance is cheaper than having people live on the streets or filling shelters. In fact, other things like education, job training and financial consultation are all less expensive than the alternatives. By providing these resources on a temporary basis and monitoring the programs closely (to avoid fraud, mostly), the homeless can return to the mainstream and fully contribute to the economy. Supporting these programs, then, makes not only humanitarian but fiscal sense.

There is great discussion among political parties on how to fund these programs, whether they should be through taxes or private donations. Unfortunately, private donations are also inconsistent and not everyone believes in donating to the poor. The result, of course, is more people end up on the streets and eventually threaten the very economy the wealthy wish to protect. Crime, unemployment and mental illness rise. Ideally, if the more affluent supported shelters and educational programs, the problem would go away. We would have stronger families and a better economy. Since we can't mandate people to be generous, however, private groups are left lobbying for government support. It is a lose-lose situation.

This year in particular, our food pantries are empty. Our shelters are fuller. Our homeless are still homeless. Our hungry are still hungry and our mentally ill are still untreated. Homelessness doesn't respect age, ethnicity, gender or even prior socioeconomic status. It doesn't respect disease or potential. It doesn't respect national service. It doesn't respect education when the educated are unemployed.

With so many people from so many walks of life making up the homeless population, it seems a little empathy would spawn more charity from those who have the most. That charity could go a long way, especially in this season when our country supposedly celebrates the joy of giving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Christmas Lights, Oh Christmas Lights

Okay, I have to tell you. I don't really "get" the whole putting up Christmas lights thing. I mean decorating the outside of the house, that is. Don't get me wrong. I do it. I love lights. I love looking at lights. But when DO we see our own lights?

I mean, think about it. The only time we really get to see our own lights is if we drive up to or away from our house in the dark or semi-darkness.

Now if you're like me and you hate to go out on cold nights, this really limits the times during which you might enjoy your own lights. Sure, I know. It's my own fault. I should drive out and come back more to my house, right? But then what? Should I idle the car in my townhouse parking space and just stare lovingly at my railings, sighing at the beauty of my handiwork? I admit I will do this inside once the tree is decorated. And I admit I do it if I get a room exceptionally tidy. Staring at attractive things, as we know, is one thing human beings never seem to grow tired of. But out in the parking lot? Nah.

I guess some people decorate their homes so they can show off to their neighbors (who also only see the neighborhood lights when they go out). And I guess there are some people who do it because they like to drive around the whole neighborhood and just see all the lights including their own. I've done this. But I've never done it so I can specifically compare my lights to my neighbors'.

In fact, while I love to decorate the outside of my home, I admit that our Christmas decor is old and somewhat worn. The big plastic Santa is out of style. He's been replaced by those blow-up vinyl or fabric wind-thingies that run on generators. And our plastic candy canes are so retro compared to those white wired gizmos--you know, the ones covered with clear lights? The ones that look like reindeer move their heads up and down.

Our Santa used to light up from the inside, but two years ago, he and the candy canes zapped us at the electrical outlet. So we disemboweled all of them. Now they don't light up but we still make them stand guard. We'll probably make them do this for the rest of our lives so they pay for shocking us. Let this be a reminder to people: be careful when using old decorations. They short out after awhile, and it hurts when they do it on YOU!

I think they make Christmas lights disposable now. Every year, I buy new lights and use them. And every next year, they don't work. I 've tried buying different brands, different styles and different colors. I 've tried buying them at different stores. I make sure the lights are good for indoor or outdoor and I read the instructions. I don't bump them, throw them, or step on them. I don't let the dogs lick them or the kids tie each other up with them. The results are always the same, however. So every year about this time, even though I already bought three boxes on sale after Christmas last year to replace the dead ones, I end up having to buy more because I never really do get ahead. See? It's a conspiracy.

We still have to put up our Christmas tree and I think we will do it this weekend. We have enough lights because I already did my replacement buying. When we're done decorating, I can sit and stare at the tree from the comfort of my living room and thank God for everything we have including the enjoyment we get from colored lights.

I'm thankful we have things to be thankful for. It's more than many people can say, and it's more than many people can do even if they have a lot.

Merry Christmas, a little early. Be careful out there hanging those lights.