Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Experiencing homelessness

Last Friday, I sat down next to a guy I'll call Phil (even though that's not his real name).   We were both eating breakfast before a stint of serving even more breakfast at the local mission where I volunteer.  I was wearing my apron, hat, and red lanyard -- red signifying "volunteer".  Phil had his apron, hat, and green lanyard -- the color meant he was a resident there who had earned privileges and duties, and working the breakfast shift was apparently one of his duties. 

We struck up a conversation.  Phil asked me a bunch of questions: how long I'd been volunteering, why I volunteered, what I'd learned by doing this.  What did I learn about who homeless people are? he wanted to know.  Was there anything I'd discovered that surprised me?

I told him that my first surprise was the number of kids I'd met.  That kids in class with my own children, who looked like every other kid, were residents in this shelter.  Later, I'd learned how different the stories were of people who wound up here.  There were people who came here to escape something terrible elsewhere, people who had health issues that sidelined their ability to get decent jobs, . . . just so many stories.

Phil nodded his head and started telling me a bit about himself.  "I learned a lot myself", he told me.  "I had this picture of what homeless people are before I came here.  And now I'm a homeless person."

He stopped, and corrected himself. "No, I'm not a homeless person.  I'm currently experiencing homelessness. I am one of the lucky ones; when I'm done here, I have a home to go back to; a wife and a family. "   Phil told me that in the past few years he'd begun having addiction problems.  He tried a couple of different 30-day treatment options, but none of them worked.   Someone referred him here, and he entered the program they have here.

He's learned so much.  He's been surprised and grateful for grace, for warmth, for how much this place addresses the most central of his spiritual needs.   He told me he'd always thought that his job as a man was to provide financially for his family: he was a truck driver and brought home a good salary, and he thought that was his main responsibility, "even though my wife tried to tell me that wasn't enough.   But now I see she was right.  When I go back, I want to make that up to her.  I want to be a husband, and to be a father to my children -- even though they're grown, I want to be there for them." 

He paused, and then he said, "I know this is going to sound bad, sound wrong.  But I believe this addiction was something I needed to go through, to change my life for the better."   I told him I completely understood; there's a kind of a humility we need to learn, and that my husband often says "sometimes to learn humility, I had to be humiliated." 

Before the crush of guests pored in for the 6:45 a.m. breakfast, Phil and I both thanked each other for listening, for sharing.   This conversation has stuck with me all week.  The contrast with my own professional life is stark: right now the college where I work is dealing with budget issues, and coworkers of mine who earn more than Phil might ever have dreamed of are incensed over a potential decrease in our benefits (even as we're promised that our salaries will increase).  There is a place for righteous anger, but the line between righteous anger and entitlement is a thin one.   So I keep returning in my head to the gratitude that Phil has for unmerited grace.   He's grateful to be lifted up and taught by people who have no home, who are down on their luck, and grateful for a community of support.  He's experiencing homelessness, and it's not what he thought it would be.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Miser Family update, color, socks, more color, No Hands version

Life has been rich and full this week in the Miser Family household this week.  Let's start with the big news.  The really, really big news.


My husband put on his socks!  Whoop!

This is the first time he's worn socks since his knee replacement surgery.  See those bent legs?  He's making great progress.  He's still got intermittent pain and having trouble sleeping, so he feels kinda miserable a bunch of the time, but since I'm allowed to be heartless about his feelings, I can be happy that he's walking farther and farther, that his physical therapy keeps helping him flexing more and more, and that he's even taking trains to Tuesday with Toomey protests again.  Plus, he can put on his socks!  Life just gets better and better, peeps.

The week started with a grand Easter, gathering a bunch of my kids like a mother hen gathers a bunch of her chicks, and they dye eggs together.  We had Easter waffles, which are a lot like regular waffles except they're on Easter.  And we had a hunt for white eggs, which we then dyed. 
Eggs in process of being dyed.

Dyed eggs

And then N-son and A-child got down on the floor to color together, which was kind of adorable.

Later in the week, we celebrated being together (or something, we weren't actually quite sure what the celebration was about, but we knew HOW to celebrate whatever it was) with the No Hands Dinner.  You know you're jealous.

What else?  I-daughter took me out to a fabulous performance of Godspell.  The singing was amazing, and the story was all the more poignant with an African American woman cast as Jesus.  

As for me, I finished up my classes for the spring semester.  And either my dog and I are both coming down with leprosy, or else I'm doing a lot of house painting and she stays close to me.  

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  And in socks.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Picking trash, picking friends

There's so much light these days.  It feels like Easter flipped the power switch, or something.  Because even though the daylight had been seeping into earlier and earlier minutes of the morning, all of a sudden this week, Boom:  I wake up for my 6 a.m. morning run, and I can see the bedroom.  I get dressed without turning a lamp on.  I go outside and the birds are riotous with noise, and the sky is pink and yellow and blue, all at the same time.  It's fabulous.
The trees in the morning sun, as seen from my window.
This morning, as we have done three times a week for the past decade, my friend June and I did our little 2.5 mile route through a nearby neighborhood. It's a wealthy area with no sidewalks, but also very little traffic, and the roads are wide and smooth and so a popular place for walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

As we were finishing up, we passed a large can that had a "FREE" sign posted on it.  We rooted through it:  I found a wooden rake and a couple of wooden garden stakes.  June got an edger and a garden claw.   And then June turned to me, looked us both up and down, and said, "You and I were meant to be friends!"


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Miser Family update: money dinner, recovery, hvac, and God-things.

The week kicked off with our annual Money Dinner, celebrating tax day.  We broke out the giant table-cloth decorated like a Miser-Family dollar, and the napkins with US currency themes, and our motley collection of coins and bills from around the world.  We dressed in bling (one of our friends gifted me with gold (plastic) dollar-sign necklaces.  The menu featured

  • soft pretzels shaped like dollars and cents ('cause we all could use some dough),
  • Bringing Home the Bacon,
  • Render unto Caesar Salad,
  • the golden eggs (hardboiled), without the goose that laid them, and
  • sausage shaped like coins.
We invited a friend who has a financial company, and asked him for advice.  He says he has two pieces of advice he gives his kids:
  1. earn more than you spend, and 
  2. spend less than you earn.
So, that was the Money Dinner,  which made us feel both rich and full in the Miser Family household.

The rest of the week continued apace.  
  • N-son put in long hours in the kitchen and warehouse of our local rescue mission.  
  • My husband tossed and turned by night, and went to physical therapy by day.  He seems to be getting slowly better, but oh, so, oh, so slowly.  
  • K-daughter told me she's thinking of going back to school in the fall for HVAC stuff, and I'm trying not to cheer so ferociously that I startle her.  
  • L-daughter tells me that all my days of torturing tutoring her at Othello have paid off when she won "multiple times" at Connect 4 in a restaurant near her.  (I didn't have the heart to tell her that's not my Othello training; J-son whomps me at Connect 4 regularly). 
  • I'm getting close to the end of the semester; I had both of my Calculus classes over to the house to wrap up our lessons on Taylor's series, and we actually had a lot of fun.  It might have helped that they all fell in love with our yellow wiggly dog, who adored my students right back.
  • I-daughter took N-son to see our local production of Godspell, and K-daughter joined in, too. It's so good to see my children developing their own independent theater-going habits.
This evening, my husband is off at the synagogue at a Seder service.  For the first time since his knee surgery, he's in jeans (instead of baggy sweatpants) AND he's out of the house for several hours.  See, I told you he's getting better!   And I'm preparing for Easter -- putting together baskets that have mini-canning jars with colorful lids instead of plastic eggs.   

I wish everyone who celebrates these a wonderful holy weekend.   We're feeling wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

My most expensive trash bill ever

So, apparently, I'm paying $55 per trash can for my garbage pick up these days.

I'm mighty happy about this.  [This is not a humble brag; it's an out-and-out brag, really].

We're paying $220/year, or $55 per quarter, for waste management services; this is a fee imposed by my city.  This amount has risen slowly, slowly over the past few years.   But my household output of trash has dropped somewhat more dramatically (aided in no small part by having fewer people full-time in the household).  And in the way that math works, when you divide a constant(ish) numerator by a smaller denominator, you get a larger quotient.

This morning, we put out our second garbage can of the year. This means that so far this year, we're averaging $55 per trash pick-up, our highest (per can) fee ever.  Score!


One response to this situation might be to suggest that households pay based on their usage, instead of paying a flat fee.  My own opinion is that that would be taxing/penalizing the wrong end of the process.

For example, our city used to have a variety of trash haulers, who charged very different fees.  We also had a bunch of trash spills, with every hauler pointing fingers at everyone else in blame. Since we've gone to the flat rate and one (city) hauler, we have much less waste blowing around in our streets and yards.

The problem of excessive waste is really a by-product of excessive consumption of non-durable goods.  I wish that there were a policy that, for example, our pharmacy were responsible for disposing of (or sanitizing and reusing) pill bottles; that plastic packaging were taxed in accordance with the associated clean-up costs, and that more generally, the clean-up and waste management aspects of every item were folded directly into the purchasing set-up.   I know that's a pipe dream, but focusing on disposal issues at the point of purchase is likely to be much more effective than having people pay for trash at the "end" of use.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Miser Family Update: the good, the bad, the ugly.

What to say about this week in the Miser Family?  It's been rich.  It's been full.  It's been things that rhyme with "rich", too, and not the happy kind of rhyme with "rich".  This is a week that really has had the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So let's start with the good:

Dog walking!  Even though I haven't had a lot of dog-training time lately, we do go regularly to the dog park, and so Prewash is getting better and better at walking slack-leash.  As an example of how good she's getting, here's a series of photos of my 4-year-old granddaughter walking the dog for a quarter of a mile, home from the dog park (when, admittedly, the dog has already gotten to run around like a maniac, so she's extra calm). 

Across an open field, . . .
 . . . down the sidewalk, . . . 
. . . and along a neighbor's fence.  
Visit from J-son!   His foster mom was in the neighborhood running errands, so J-son popped in for a little while on Tuesday evening.  He's looking good.  He's talking like . . . well, like a grown-up who knows his stuff.  He saw my husband's leg and said, "whoa!  That's some edema there!"  Because apparently if you study sports therapy you know words like "edema", and also how to properly use canes and walkers.  He's looking forward to his summer job.  

Two shows!  On Wednesday, K-daughter and two of my friends went to see Once at our local theater.  It was a great musical!   And then on Thursday, I-daughter took me to see a local musical theater group performing 70's Smash Hits.  That, too, was awesome.  (As we left the theater, one of the ushers thanked me for jumping up and dancing.  Glad to oblige!)

All of this means I got to catch up a bit with my daughters.  K-daughter got to gush about how A-child is super well-behaved at a restaurant (and made a huge contrast with a same-aged friend who was the opposite of well-behaved for an extraordinarily long time at the same event).  I-daughter got to regale me with tales of knitting and square-dancing trips she's been taking.  Her life is such a good one for her; it's good for a mother's soul to see her children grow up so well.

That's a lot of "good", isn't it?

The "bad", as you might guess from the people hardly mentioned above, includes a really slow, still painful knee surgery recovery.  My husband has been having a lot of trouble getting any sleep at all.  That's apparently a "Thing" with knee replacements, but it's still incredibly hard.  We are seeing progress, and we're glad that eventually the hard times will be behind us (we keep getting reassurances to that effect).  But right now we have a minor pharmacy that we update with new drugs every couple of days or so, because the old ones keep not being quite powerful or effective enough.

We also got to welcome N-son back into the home with open arms and a few heartfelt lectures.   He's taking a three-week break from his school.  'Nuff said about that.  We've arranged for him to stay occupied in the kitchen of our local rescue mission while he's in town, and I continue to be so grateful for the amazing community I live in who help me to parent my children into their adulthoods.

And that's it for the bad.  

Ready for the ugly, anyone?   How about a picture or two of 30 staples, just about to be removed from my husband's flesh?   Here goes:

The blue ink was to help the surgeon;
it hasn't washed off yet.
You're welcome.

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures (sometimes a little more wealthy than we'd like!).  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Miser Family update: many colors edition

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.  Here in our neck of the Miser-ville farm fields, the April showers are bringing April flowers.  It's good to see the daffodils burst out, fast upon the heels of the crocuses, elbowing for space with the violets. 

The week began with an amazingly snarfulously decorated birthday party (Dr. Seuss-themed).  If you ever wonder who provided the oomph of enthusiasm behind our family's themed special dinners, look no further than the oomphabulous K-daughter.  Check it out:

Pink Ink Yink Drink, and Sneetch treats . . .
Lorax snack and Hop-on-Popcorn, . . . 
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and Cat hats . . . 
Not to mention, the Cat in the Hat reading the Lorax
to the the birthday girls (Thing 1 and Thing 2) and their friends.
Miser Mom can "oooooh".  Can you?

My own week filled up with a Calculus Exam (office hours beforehand, the exam itself, then grading, then consoling/counseling the students who didn't do as well as they'd have liked).  That's a week's worth of effort right there.  But I also learned --- and I think this is so cool -- to replace a screen in a screen window.  Here I am, more than a half-century old, and I've never done it before.  The salesperson at the hardware store told me it was easy to do, and so I did a quick you-tube search, and sure enough it *is* relatively easy!  Go figure!  So now I've replaced two screens that were busted by my kids, and once I buy a bit more screen I'll replace two screens that were busted by my dogs. 

I also went to the grocery store this week. 

That sentence there is fairly momentous, because I think it's been quite a while since I've been in the kind of grocery store that sells food in commercial packaging, and also because what I bought was breakfast cereal in commercial packaging.  I bought this stuff for my husband who is still recovering from his knee surgery. 
Ooh-la-la! Show us some leg!

This is what my guy looked like two Thursdays ago, in the hospital, right after he'd had his leg ripped open, his bones sawed apart, a new titanium knee hammered into place, and his flesh stapled back together.  His bike buddy came by and took this photo of my guy in this darling off-the-shoulder gown.

Now, a week-ish later my husband looks somewhat different.  He's wearing a bathrobe instead of a hospital gown, for one thing.  For another, now that the bruises are spreading, his leg looks like the handiwork of a drunk-yet-enthusiastic tattoo artist with a penchant for modern art.   And finally, he's not quite so smiley. 

His leg is still fairly swollen, which in turn means his flexibility is behind where the PT guy would like it to be.  He's also having trouble sleeping at night.   That's the bad news.  The good news is that the long-term prognosis is good.  (When my husband begged the nurses to admit him to a rehab center to get round-the-clock care, they told him he's in much too good shape for that).  The PT guy showed me how to help with stretching exercises (so I'm allowed to pull my husband's leg!).  We're grateful for ice packs and for pharmacies. 

My sons haven't given me any exciting updates, so I assume they're doing fine.  Prewash the Dog is celebrating the warm weather by decorating the house in dog hair.  I'm trying to get her to promise not to put her feet through the new screen windows, once I get those fixed. 

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.