Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Empty Pantry

My daughter sent me a copy of this letter she sent to the local grocery stores this morning. When I asked for permission to post it on my blog, she said, "I don't see why not. After all, I sent it to strangers. I can't be embarrassed by conditions beyond my control."

So. Here it is:

January 29, 2013
To Whom It May Concern:

First and foremost, I would like to say thank you to your organization for your contributions to our community’s food bank and/or food pantries that serve our families in dire need when facing financial hardship. The old African proverb has it precise; "It takes a village to raise a child."

These are especially trying times for all of us, with the hardest hit being crippled by financial devastation it is challenging to weather the fury of the storm. I believe our local community is strengthened in its resolve because more of us are on the same level…treading water to keep our heads just above its rising levels.

Working families not unlike my own often face the brunt of the financial burden with no additional resources for support. I am a proud working mother in a household of 6, unfortunately the only employed adult in my home; that being said because I make enough to pay rent I do not qualify for any of the food assistance programs that NY State has. I work in the system’s business office for a large healthcare system and have no problem managing my budget responsibly and efficiently. That being said not even I can make $2,400.00 a month pay the rent, 2 car payments, car insurance, electric, cable, gas to get to work, etc. and have anything left to feed my family. With everyone but me laid off work my sole responsibility is to sustain a home for us to live in and a way to keep us from becoming another family completely dependent on social services.

I am telling you this because I believe your organization has made a difference and can continue to do so in our local communities. I make no small business of saying thank you for your help in feeding and caring for those of us that have been struggling. Here is my plight that I challenge your organization to actively consider…almost every food bank, food pantry, local outlet to assist our community are operated during the hours that those of us are at work and cannot benefit from. Those of us that are not seeking a handout but a hand-up are the ones that slip thru the cracks and we are in the most need. Largely the people that are not working and can attend these pantries are also eligible for food stamps and have hundreds of dollars allotted monthly for food from the state program(s).

I challenge your organization to see those of us that take pride in working hard and supporting our families that need our community’s helping hands to take care of us in some of our darkest hours. We are the same families that when thriving support your establishment(s) financially and provide you positive public relations are we not? Take pause and see us now; we need your support. We are not corporations, churches, small businesses, charity organizations and programs, or numbers we are people that are not too proud to say we need your help. "However long the night, the dawn will break." ~ African proverb


Ms. Stella
P.O. Box 28
Pleasant Valley, NY 12569

Friday, January 25, 2013

Empty Pantries

I know a woman who finally reached the point of desperation. She works full time. She supports six people. And she can't feed them so she applied for food stamps.

Yesterday, the social worker informed her she makes $800 a month too much to qualify. Her income is $2400 a month. Her outgo is $3500 a month--not counting groceries and gas to get to work--or any of those other incidentals like toiletries, toilet paper, doctors, dentists, and optometrists.

The social worker very carefully explained how the decision was reached. The state figures on the gross income, before taxes and deductions. Then they subtract your rent. And that's the figure they use. The rest of the bills like utilities and insurance and groceries? Well that's the applicant's problem.

The social worker was polite and as helpful as she was able to be. She offered the woman a list of food pantries.

There's just one problem with food pantries in her area. They're open during the week when she's working. The last time she was able to visit one of them, she received a bag of food that was over a year out of date and moldy. Another food pantry only allows recipients to visit once a month at which time the recipient receives one small bag of food. Funny how the donations to food pantries only happen at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Too bad most folks need to eat the other ten months of the year.

Like much of the middle class, this woman falls through the cracks. She's employed. Therefore, she doesn't qualify for assistance. What's the solution?

I don't know. I worry about my own kids. Three are living on the knife edge of poverty. How will they survive?

This is America. What happened? Maybe the members of our congress--men and women--should live on that edge for two or three months. I wonder what kind of changes would happen then...


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Right Words

All writers have a process they employ when working. After a few stories, I've developed my own. I write until I hit a wall. At that point, I set it aside for a few days and work on something else.

When I go back to that story, I take a day or two to revise or edit it and part of that process is to print it out. A lot of writers never read their stories in actual print on paper but I find I catch things I would never catch on a computer screen. That's just my own personal quirk.

And here's where we arrive at the word issue. I read the story aloud and circle every word that doesn't quite convey the meaning I want. A synonym is not an exact match usually. And I'm picky enough that I really try for the exact word I need.  When I'm alert, most pages have a lot of red scribbles. When the pages begin to have only a few marks and circles, it's time to put the manuscript away because I'm missing stuff.

My first pass--the one where I'm actually putting words on the page--is my "get it down while the brain is still working". I use very simple verbs to convey action, knowing that I'll make a second and third pass. So while the character might walk across the field in the first pass, he might stomp across the meadow in the second pass, or depending on how the story comes together, he might race across the weedy pasture in the third pass.

There are any number of authors who have extensive education or are widely read or simply have an affinity and love for words. They are fortunate. As I've aged, I've discovered a loss of vocabulary. It's distressing because I KNOW the word is out there somewhere. But I can't locate it in my muddled brain.

Enter The Synonym Finder from Rodale Press. It's not a thesaurus. It's an enormous book that lists synonyms in a dictionary format. Exactly perfect for me. I already know the meaning for the word I'm seeking.

When I use a particular word in a sentence, that's because it's the best word I could find to convey meaning. How about you? What's your stance on word meaning and use? How do you decide what words to use?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicago Blizzard 1967

It was snowing the morning I left my home to travel to the high school I attended. In that year Chicago schools still had mid-year graduations and this was the January graduation day.

As the choir "secretary" I was expected to join the other choir officers in arranging the seats for the choir performance that evening at the graduation. We didn't have school that day, though the teachers and staff were there for an in-service day.

I lived about thirty minutes away--out of district--but I was permitted to finish out my senior year at the high school where I'd started. So, I left early and walked down to the corner to catch the Chicago Transit bus.

It was snowing hard with big fat flakes, but I wasn't too concerned. The forecast, after all was for "partly cloudy". Everyone expected it to stop snowing very quickly. In any case, I had my overnight case because I had been invited to stay overnight with a friend who lived across the street from the high school.

The bus was slow that morning. When I finally arrived at the school, the maintenance guys were out shoveling the walks. I stomped up the steps and went in, the snow already a dim distraction as my mind moved on to the tasks ahead of me.

It was a busy morning so when my fellow students and I finally dragged our weary bodies up to the choir room, our thoughts turned to lunch. We were full of plans for walking two blocks north to a hotdog stand at the "L" station.

Our choir teacher looked at us like we'd lost our minds. "Have you looked outside?" she demanded.

And then, for the first time that day, we gazed on the snow covered cars down in the parking lot. Over a foot of snow was already covering the ground!

The guys decided they would walk up to the hotdog stand while we girls waited with our teacher. When they came back nearly thirty minutes later, they were carting big bags of food. The owner of the hotdog place was closing his stand. He sent all the leftovers in case we were stuck at the school.

We found that very amusing. For a while. And the snow continued to fall.

It was the second year of integration and many of our students traveled everyday from the far south side of Chicago. Some of the choir members were stuck on the L for hours and never made it to the graduation. Many of the graduating seniors and families never made it. Everyone who did--choir, band, and graduates--made the best of it.

And the snow came down.

After the graduation ceremony, my compatriots escorted me as I struggled through the snow. I should probably mention this was before the time when girls were permitted to wear slacks to school so I was dressed in a skirt and sweater and short snow boots!

Nothing was moving. No buses. No cars. A few people walked down the snow ruts in the middle of the streets.

It was three days before I finally made it home. It was the first time in most memories that schools were closed for weather.

The blizzard of 1967. If you'd like to read more, click on the photo.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Frontier

Back when I was young, there was a strange television show that speculated about exploring new frontiers and "boldly going where no man has gone before."

Heh. That's not a big deal. All you have to do is go to the hospital. That's a really new frontier. As we grow up, we're exposed to various ailments. Influenza, chicken pox, colds and ear aches. Unless we're incredibly unlucky, we won't have to encounter a hospital stay until we reach adulthood. For many women, their first stay is due to child delivery.

That was the case for me. I was nineteen and greener than an Irish shamrock. I didn't know much, except the doctors and nurses all knew more than I did. That lasted about two days. After nearly dying from a kidney infection, I quickly learned to speak up.

Hospitals are alien adventures beyond any you can imagine. Strange people invade your privacy, stick tubes where no tubes should ever be inserted, inquire about your private, personal voiding habits, take your blood day and night, wake you up to inquire if you're sleeping, and feed you things you would never think to eat any other time in your life and generally treat you like you have all the intelligence of a sea slug.

Over the years, I've had occasion to spend a night or two in the hospital and during that time, I've formulated my own set of rules.

1) Ask. Ask a lot of questions. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Why can't I (go to the bathroom, take a shower, have something to drink)? The more you ask, the better informed you'll be.

2) You have the right to say no. Wow, what a liberating idea that was. The first time I said no, my doctor showed up very quickly to have a chat with me. After a bit of discussion, he agreed.

3) If something is uncomfortable, speak up. Ask why it hurts. Ask for a pain killer. Ask for an adjustment. 

4) Keep a pad of paper and pen by the bed. If you can't do it yourself, ask your doctor or nurse to jot down the important points from each visit--especially if you're on heavy duty painkillers.

5) Absolutely understand that there will be a point in your life when someone else will have to wipe your butt. We all get there someday. Some of us do so sooner rather than later. Get over it.

6) Understand your doctors and nurses are not gods and goddesses. They're overworked, exhausted, and likely underpaid folks dealing with substances and body fluids that you and I wouldn't touch on a bet. Patients generally stink from stress, sweat, meds, leaky body fluids, and illness. Be happy the docs and nurses are available.

7) Thank you and please are the three most important words you can say. Use them lavishly.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Medical Coverage

At the moment, there's a hot debate in our country over medical coverage. Socialized medicine? Mandatory coverage? Do your own thing?

My son is in the hospital at this moment with a catastrophic illness. He nearly died. I've been thinking a lot about the problem for the last few days.

There's a push to concentrate on preventative care. I understand that. But I suspect that could be dealt with on an ongoing basis if hospital coverage, lab tests, and pharmaceuticals were eliminated from the equation. I'm not saying it would be EASY.

In my own case, a hefty proportion of each office visit bill is comprised of necessary blood tests and the occasional EKG. Then, there is the drug store on my office shelf. And God forbid I have to go back into the hospital. With careful budgeting, I could pay my office visit. But that other stuff? That sends the cost up into the stratosphere.

I wonder...what if instead of the "preventative care", the subsidies were aimed at the lab tests and hospital cost? And what if the Congress imposed a limit on the drug cost and subsidized the research portion? Isn't that what pharmaceutical companies are always harping on? How the cost of our drugs pays for research?

WHY are lab costs so expensive? If you have the whiz-bang machine already, exactly what are the labs charging the patient for?

See...I'm wondering where the expenses are coming from. What part of it is really the patient's responsibility? If the lab has had that whiz-bang machine for ten years, surely they've made enough money to pay for that sucker? So, do they then have the right to keep on charging stratospheric fees, just because? It reminds me of toll roads that charge us to use crappy roads. And bridge tolls we pay for bridges that are falling down.

Does anyone really know what we're paying for?

On another note, I want to thank my daughter-in-law for braving snowy, icy roads to drive my son to a decent hospital an hour and a half from their home. I'm soooo grateful for her courage and determination.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Midnight Call

When the phone rings at midnight, you know it's not going to be good news. Never. That's one of the parenting rules. It takes effect the first time your child is away from home overnight--whether they're six or sixteen or twenty six.

And this rule is in effect for the rest of your life.

Some people think their parenting days will be over when their kids leave home. Not so. It's just a different set of responsibilities with new restrictions.

1) You can't fix anything. Very, very hard rule to follow. Your children are past the age when you can kiss it and make it better. No...pretty much the best you can do now is listen and pray. And hurt on their behalf.

2) You have to accept the fact that's all they want or expect from you because they're adults. They want someone to love them enough to let them work things out for themselves.

So when the phone rings at midnight, you listen. You say, "I love you." And when you both disconnect, you go to bed and worry and wish (just a little) that they were young enough for you to kiss them and make it better.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why I Write

In this day and age with the current climate in publishing one might ask why I continue to write. Because I can. Because I love creating new characters and new worlds with new critters. Because I enjoy orchestrating new story lines.

See? It's all easy.

Once you eliminate the necessity to make a living at it, you're free to do whatever you want. And then, if someone actually PAYS you for your work...BONUS!

It took me quite a while to edge past that expectation of a money return. Oh, I would like to make a lot of royalties, but so many readers are looking for stories other than the type I write. As long as there are a few out there who enjoy my books, I'll keep muddling through. Sometime in the future, about a hundred years down the road, I'll be required reading.

Until then, like a mad scientist, I'll continue to create characters that dance to my whims.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Vagaries of sharing a project with the Hunk

See that picture? That's what the conversation at our house looks like when we're "discussing" our current joint project. Let me back up a bit...

Over the last, oh, six or seven years I've puttered about on a crochet project for a bed cover. I now have five strips fourteen inches by sixty inches. They are simple crocheted strips with blocks of color. The original point was to use up all my bits and pieces of yarn.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. The hunk announced he was going to make a new bed cover for our bed. In a rash moment I mentioned my crochet strips that were still waiting to be something useful. Ah-hah! It would seem to be a marriage made in heaven. Sew the strips together, add a border and voilá!


The hunk was envisioning something far grander. My five pitiful strips weren't nearly enough. We needed to crochet at least five or six more. And my OCD spouse detected myriad faults in the strips I'd already crochets--faults that had to be remedied.

He decided he would crochet a WIDE strip to place in the center and put my crazy-block strips on each side. So he did. Oh, noes! We crochet at very different gauge! His strip was far too short. What to do?

Huh. After some loud negotiations, we compromised with the decision to turn his strip sideways and use it as the border at the top. Of course, he's going to have to add about three feet to it, but...

Well. I estimate we'll finish the new bedcovering around April. In time to pack it away for the summer. If you hear shouting, we've stumbled across a new problem. But I'm sure we'll enjoy the new cover--next winter!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


It is traditional to ponder life, make resolutions, assess our progress and set new goals on the first day of each new year. This past year has been a tumultuous year on many levels--personal and public. My pondering has pinpointed a new-to-me danger...the toxic acquaintance.

This individual is very pleasant on the surface until you express any opinion that differs from theirs. Then wham-o. Instantly it's made crystal clear that isn't permitted.

Silly me. I thought all those folks espousing "co-existence" actually believed that. Not so.

I'm relatively easygoing. It's all right with me if you are gay, have purple eyes and hair, and worship trees. I don't care if you only eat vegetables--or if you hunt animals for food. If you choose to never read or like to watch unreality TV or prefer to spend your weekends playing war with paint balls, that's okay with me, too. 

None of the above means I will give up my own beliefs. I believe in long term heterosexual relationships (otherwise know as marriage), I'm a WASP of long standing, and I worship God. I don't own a gun, but I believe I have the right to own one. I don't own a machete, either, but apparently no one cares whether or not I want to.

During this past year I encountered a ton of folks who only tolerated those who espoused beliefs in common with them. And they pulled no punches in bullying those who did not share their beliefs. I'm not a very confrontational individual. Except for the most heinous crimes, I will not climb on a soapbox to rant. But neither will I tolerate the cyber-bullying currently so rampant on the social media networks.

So if you're one of the bullies, I'll be unfriending you as soon as I can. You've revealed your true colors and you're no friend of anyone--except other bullies.

The same goes for those individuals who choose to use obscenities and vulgarities instead of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs, and prepositions. That's sheer laziness, my fellow writers. Unless you've just encountered a dead person or met up with someone beating someone/something, there are a host of other appropriate words to use.

I wish you one and all a prosperous and wonderful year. Trust me. We'll both be happier if we don't spend it together.