Thursday, December 22, 2005

nina and the train

I met someone this afternoon, waiting for the train. I don't normally converse much with strangers like that, but these were unusual circumstances what with the transit strike. We started talking to find out whether the train was a bronx shuttle, or one that went further north.

She was the outgoing one, I was slower to respond, just listening to her at first. But then she asked if I taught (I'd mentioned the university), and wanted to know what I taught. I started talking about advocacy around social issues affecting the low income, and she began sharing details about her life.

She had just moved from welfare to social security. No, not age, but physical problems that prevented ongoing work. She was 33, had an 11 year old. Six years ago, she left her abusive husband and found an apartment near Fordham Road. He found her, stalked her, broke in, raped her, beat her, knocked out 8 teeth, broke her jaw, and caused head trauma that still brings on migraines this many years later. After leaving the hospital, she took her son and went to a safe shelter.

But this woman was not bowed, was no longer a victim. She was, from what I could see, intelligent, emotionally strong, and in a healthy relationship with one she called her fiance. Although I hadn't been through what she'd been through, we connected in that kind of poverty level and intellectually higher functioning single mom kind of way. We talked about the decisions we'd made in life, and the parallels. Her dad died of an overdose when she was 11, my dad left when I was a toddler.

She'd gone into one violent relationship after another, I'd seen that in my mom and steered clear of any men actually in my home.

We both had struggled with how to raise sons who would move out of poverty without using that poverty as an excuse to engage in illegal activities to earn money.

We were concerned about raising sons who knew how to treat a woman appropriately after seeing other men abuse women--hers from the father, mine from a babysitter and a grandma.

We talked about the cycle of poverty, and how important decent schools are in turning that around. About the importance of health insurance.

We marveled that despite the fact that poverty and rough lives tend to make one look older, we both looked younger than our years.

It was pretty amazing, really. Especially for someone who is normally as reserved as I am with strangers.

But we talked away, about life. In a way, we knew each other. In some deeper way. Despite being strangers. We didn't even introduce ourselves, share our names, till the very end, as we arrived at my stop and we said goodbye and merry christmas. I even considered, for a moment, giving her my email address. But we left it at 'I'm sure we'll see each other, I'm always on Fordham Road.'

I hope she got to her family alright, and I hope she has a wonderful christmas. She certainly deserves it, after what life has dealt her.

It's funny how we connect with people in life. How we interact. And then we go on our way. Go on living.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


That's what was in my mind those few days
when I took that nose dive

Defies logic, but there it is

I'd worked so hard
Come so far
But I made it
Self supporting
Taking care of the rugrat
Living comfortably
Albeit somewhat simply
Nearly done with school
Embarking soon on a new career
I didn't even care
That I worked two jobs to make it
It IS New York, after all
Everyone works two jobs to make it

Hell...I was making it in New York, for fuck's sake

And then, the shit hit the fan
And then, everything went south
And then, I wasn't making it anymore
And then, I was a failure

I had taken two big steps forward
And then fell
One huge step backward

A series of seemingly random incidents
That added up to...breakdown, crash, collapse

In my mind, I was a failure

And it hit me hard

All I could do was focus on that huge fall backward

I couldn't seem to see
That I was still one big step ahead
Of where I started out

But my mind is clear now
The initial devastation
And hopelessness

And I see the step forward
And that's what I need to focus on

One step forward

One step forward

Friday, December 16, 2005


Is a relative term
A month ago I’d have said 35
was nearing the ice age
today it was a welcome change from
0…10…or even 20.

On the train by the river
It’s early…the mists have yet to clear
The calm, pale grey of the fog
The darker, angrier grey of the water
The tips of the whitecaps
The swirling greys as the mist meets the Hudson
The silhouettes of bare trees, black against the greys
The white of the remaining snow
turning grey and black in the rain
Quickly melting into the landscape
I once thought grey dreary
Lacking in colour
But its beauty is in its simplicity
in its starkness
Embrace the greyness, I have often said
And now I see why
Embrace it for the beauty within

Cheap, black down coat
Weighed down by the rain
For which it was not intended
I could have worn my raincoat
Who knew 35 would be this warm
Unbuttoning my coat
Taking off gloves
Cooling down the body
Yet still chilled when the body heat drops
After the walk

Good morning
From the bodega owner setting up
I’ve walked by his shop every morning this week
He finally speaks
And have a nice weekend
He calls after me
I turn, smile and wave

Remnants of the preparations
In anticipation of the strike that hasn’t yet happened
Police barricades
Stacked by major intersections last night
Gone this morning
Rail link busses at train stations in the Bronx
There last night
Gone this morning

The rugrat cheered her first ever game yesterday
I wanted to be there for her first one
But I was
On the train

Thursday, December 15, 2005

don't get on the train

don’t get on the train
when you’ve had a big-assed schooner of beer
and a quesadilla
and you suffer from motion sickness
can you say queasy
i knew you could

don’t get on the train
when you’ve had a big-assed schooner of beer
and a glass of ice water
and haven’t, as my bio dad would say ‘powdered your nose’
cause the walk home from the station
is mostly uphill
you try walking uphill
when you really, really have to pee
and by the way where else would you pay
7 bucks for a schooner of beer on tap
but in New York City

don’t get on the train
when the conductor is yelling out the door
hurry up, or we’ll leave youse
and yes, he really said youse
well…maybe you’d better get on the train then

litter on the sidewalks
men in orange jumpsuits sweeping it up
city workers
bet they’re really WEP workers
not even getting minimum wage

alarm going off at Jimmy Jazz
a store on Fordham Road
cops are ignoring it completely

impending mta strike tomorrow morning
exactly how does one get to work
when they have no vehicle
and the busses and trains are on strike
and one definitely doesn’t have taxi money

think i'm on my way back up

Monday, December 12, 2005

on the train

Is this the express?
No, it’s the local.

Jumping on at the last minute.


Watching people.

They sit on the outside.
Force others to climb over them.
Face in their newspapers.
Somehow surprised when their shoulder is tapped.
And someone says excuse me.
Oh, sorry.
Like it doesn’t happen every day.

Tickets, please!

Swaying to the motions.

Eyes drooping.

Leather briefcases.
Leather backpacks.


I look down.
Sneakers and sweats.
I’m not walking in 3 inch heels.
I’ll change at work.

I’m alone.
I’m different.
Watching people.
I’m observant.
They’re oblivious.

University Heights.
Doors open in the first four cars only.
Station has been remodeled since February.
Which way do I go?

Bundle up.
Cover ears.
Cover fingers.

The bodegas.
Bins on the sidewalk.
The smell of fresh fruit in winter.
Who knew fruit could smell so crisp and clean.
I want something.

Hustle up, catch that light.
Dodge the cars.

The drugstore.
With the Christmas trees lined up outside.
A deep breath.
Full of pine.
Did I bring my inhaler?

At work.
Eyes drooping.

Twenty five degrees.
But the sun is shining.
The sky is blue.

Mood: Quiet.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

my fav christmas songs

Aren't christmas songs at all. I LOVE Adam Sandler's series of Hanukkah songs. Listening to one on the radio right now.

Okay... This is a song that uhh..
There’s a lot of christmas songs out there and uhh..
Not too many chanukah songs. S
o uhh.. I wrote a song for all those nice little jewish kids who don’t get to hear any chanukah songs.
Here we go...

Put on your yarmulke
Here comes chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate chanukah
Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights

When you feel like the only kid in town without a christmas tree
Here’s a list of people who are jewish just like you and me
David lee roth lights the menorah
So do james caan, kirk douglas, and the late dinah shore-ah
Guess who eats together at the carnegie deli
Bowser from sha na na and arthur fonzerelli
Paul newman’s half jewish, goldie hawn’s half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin’ jew
You don’t need deck the halls or jingle bell rock
’cause you can spin a dreidel with captain kirk and mr. spock- both jewish

Put on your yarmulke
It’s time for chanukah
The owner of the seattle supersonicahs
Celebrates chanukah
O.j. simpson, not a jew
But guess who is? hall of famer rod carew- he converted
We got ann landers and her sister dear abby
Harrison ford’s a quarter jewish- not too shabby
Some people think that ebenezer scrooge is
Well he’s not, but guess who is
All three stooges
So many jews are in showbiz
Tom cruise isn’t, but I heard his agent is

Tell your friend veronica
It’s time to celebrate chanukah
I hope I get a harmonicah
Oh this lovely, lovely chanukah
So drink your gin and tonicah
And smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy, happy chanukah

Happy chanukah

Friday, December 02, 2005

memories nudged...of babies and snow

It's funny sometimes the things one remembers from their past. And what triggers that memory.

In a previous post, I wrote about 'strapping' my 3 month old to my front, grabbing bookbag and diaper bag, and heading for the bus. And just now I caught a photo tgirltopping posted of someone mid-slip-and-fall in snow and ice. And suddenly, one particular morning years ago filtered into my consciousness. And I'm not being sad or maudlin here. In retrospect, I have to laugh. I survived, after all.

I remember one winter morning. My first semester at college. I was 30, the rugrat 5 months old. A particularly bad winter morning it was, with lots of very slippery ice. Everything was icy, in fact, except for the deep snow drifts. Walking was perilous at best. 8 AM, weekday morning. I have the rugrat strapped to my front with one of those over one shoulder slings that tend to be used by mothers in third world countries. I swear by those, by the way. They are ideal, and you can carry a kid hands free from infancy to toddlerhood.

So, baby, and two bags. And flat boots on ice with no traction. I slipped and slid the entire 5 blocks to the bus stop from our apartment. Getting more and more exhausted with the effort of staying upright. Because, what if I fell forward? On the baby?

I fell several times, always managing to twist my body so that I fell to one side, or backwards. But once...ah, once. I fell forward. I just couldn't stop myself. I dropped bags as I fell, and tried to double my body up to cushion the impact as much as possible. And, other than a little whine, the rugrat was miraculously fine.

By the time I reached the bus stop, I'd missed the bus. Which meant I'd missed my first class. And I hated missing class. It meant missing lecture, and I was so new that if I missed lecture, I felt completely lost. I was exhausted by the time I climbed on the next bus. And frozen. And as close to tears as I've ever been. Even got teary-eyed, believe it or not. The one who never cries out loud. People got on and off the bus, saw me, and you could tell they saw something in me. Something forlorn and lost. You could see it in the sympathetic glances.

I also remember the major body aches, the bruises that lasted for days. I might as well have been beat, lol! I did indulge in a long, hot bubble bath when I got home later. I remember I used to wonder if it would ever end. The sheer exhaustion. I don't know if I really thought it would. I never looked much to the future. Just hunkered down and dealt with it. Took a sort of one-day-at-a-time approach, and muddled through.

But I made it through that day, and through every day since, successfully. And I have no doubts I'll make it through the rest. It's just so funny what little tidbits of memories come into your mind sometimes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

wind up the skirt

Is not a good thing.
At least not when it's cold and wet.
And you're wearing thigh highs and thong.
But hell.
At least I'm awake now.
I'm in the mood for: cocoa. I need my cocoa and I'm all out. It's gonna be a loooong day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

a poignant editorial, as Congo elects a woman president

From the NY Times today:
Waiting for Their Moment in the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman
Published: November 16, 2005

You can't get to Bukavu, Congo, from Monrovia, Liberia. Like just about everywhere else in Africa, the two places are separated by dense rain forests, interminable wars and impassable dirt roads that don't go anywhere.

Yet they might as well be the same place. "Oh, finally, now I'm home," I thought as I crawled out of the tiny single-engine plane and jumped onto the landing strip of what passes for Bukavu's airport. It was about six months ago, and I was on a reporting trip throughout Africa. It was a weird trip for me because I was there to write about poverty and development, yet everywhere I went, from Accra, Ghana, to Mekele, Ethiopia and Kisumu, Kenya, I kept thinking that none of those places, for all of their endemic poverty or corruption, seemed as bad off as my own home country, Liberia.

Until, that is, I got to Bukavu. After the semidesert of Ethiopia and the savannahs of Kenya, Bukavu was otherworldly lush, with that tropical just-rained smell that often greets me when I go home to Liberia. Leafy, green mountains and valleys surrounded the teeming city, with rich banana trees and tea plantations dotting the countryside: the same luxuriant, verdant landscape we have around Monrovia.

And the same inexplicable sense of abandonment that comes from having a population ravaged by years of pointless civil wars. Thousands upon thousands of young boys troll fetid, trash-strewn streets, with nowhere to go. Downtown buildings, long devoid of any commerce, are marked with holes from rockets, grenades and the various other projectiles common to all of the continent's numerous wars. A few private cars - mufflers dragging, crammed with 10, 15, even 20 people - travel the crater-filled streets, but mostly just the white United Nations SUV's.
What struck me most, though, in Bukavu were the women. As I drove into the city, I passed women I have known all of my life. There were old women - old in Africa means 35 or so - with huge bundles of bamboo sticks on their back. In most cases, the burdens were larger than the backs carrying them as they trudged up one hill after another. There were market women in their colorful dresses - in Liberia we would call them lapas - huddled together on the side of the road selling oranges, hard-boiled eggs and nuts.

There were young women and girls, sitting in front of village huts bathing their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters in rubber buckets. No electricity or running water was anywhere close, but one 10-year old girl had dragged a bucket of dirty creek water up the hill to her house so she could wash her 4-year-old sister.

These were the women I grew up with in Liberia, the women all across Africa - the worst place there is to be a woman - who somehow manage to carry that entire continent on their backs.
In Liberia, when their sons were kidnapped and drugged to fight for rebel factions, and when their husbands came home from brothels and infected them with H.I.V., and when government soldiers invaded their houses and raped them in front of their teenage sons, these were the women who picked themselves up and kept going. They kept selling fish, cassava and kola nuts so they could feed their families. They gave birth to the children of their rapists in the forests and carried the children on their backs as they balanced jugs of water on their heads.
These are the women who went to the polls in Liberia last week. They ignored the threats of the young men who vowed more war if their chosen presidential candidate, a former soccer player named George Weah, didn't win. "No Weah, no peace," the boys yelled, chanting in the streets and around the polling stations.

The women in Liberia, by and large, ignored those boys and made Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67-year-old grandmother, the first woman elected to lead an African country. I wasn't surprised that Mr. Weah immediately said the vote had been rigged, although international observers said it had not been. In the half-century since the Europeans left Africa, its men have proved remarkably adept at self-delusion.

No one can be sure what kind of president Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated banker who was imprisoned by one of the many men who ran Liberia into the ground over the last few decades, will be. There are plenty of African women who have brought us shame, from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in South Africa to Janet Museveni in Uganda. But after 25 years of war, genocide and anarchy, it's a good bet that she will smoke the men who preceded her in running the country. It's not going to be that hard to do; Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is following Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, both butchers of the first degree.

Ever since the voting results started coming in a few days ago, showing what the Liberian women had done, I've been unable to get one image from Bukavu out of my mind. It is of an old woman, in her 30's. It was almost twilight when I saw her, walking up the hill out of the city as I drove in. She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up.

I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too.

hats off to illinois

This is the first few paragraphs of an article, from today's NY Times.
Illinois Law Offers Coverage for Uninsured Children
Published: November 16, 2005

CHICAGO, Nov. 15 - Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed a measure on Tuesday intended to allow all children in Illinois, including those in working-class and middle-class families, to obtain health insurance.

National experts on health care said the new law, which will offer discounts on premiums for those who qualify, was the broadest plan to insure children by any state.

Political leaders in other states, the experts said, are certain to be watching whether Illinois succeeds in expanding coverage to its 250,000 children who are now uninsured, about half of whom are not from the poorest families but from families earning more than $40,000 a year.
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, said he hoped that the move would lead the way for a nation that needs to face a growing problem of middle-income families who cannot afford insurance premiums.

"It's about time that the middle class get some help and the working class get some help," he said in an interview. "Our kids come first, and what's the most important thing for kids? That they're safe and healthy."

Within hours of the signing on the Southwest Side of Chicago, residents submitted contact information to enroll online, though the benefits do not begin until July. By the end of the day, hundreds of people had written in, Mr. Blagojevich's office said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


A recent blog about chicken and dumplings made me think about why it's been so long since I made it. And I think part of it has to do with what I call 'poor food.'

Poor food is the food we used to have to eat when the kids and I were really poor. Things like mac and cheese, and those Ramen noodles. For the most part, I don't cook or eat things anymore that I associate with the poor years. Cause that was when we ate what we had, like it or not, and were grateful to have it.

Chicken and dumplings is one of those poor foods for me. I think I was the queen of making a 2 or 3 pound fryer into meals for two for a work/school week.

Day 1: Roast chicken and potatoes, always a fav
Day 2: A chicken casserole with anything available thrown in
Day 3 and 4: Chicken soup, again with anything available thrown in
Day 5: Boiling the last of the chicken off the bones for chicken and dumplings, cause we saved our second fav for last

So, it's a reminder of rougher, tougher years. And yeah, of course I used to cook--I had to. But even the act of cooking itself became a reminder of those rougher, tougher years. And I walked away from it as soon as I could financially swing it.

But now, here I am. Cooking again. And largely out of necessity. And cooking old favorites, that remind me of the past. Who'd've thought?

Friday, November 11, 2005

shiny happy people holding hands

I like that song. It's been going through my mind all day.

A good day, despite some challenges.

I've turned over a new leaf.

No more moody.

ok, we all know moody ain't going away.

But she's gone today.

I took a vacation day, and went to the library to work on the dissertation.

It's still a challenge. I can't seem to stay focused for more than a few minutes, and I'm constantly trying to bring myself back. I think I'm just too burned out. But there's nothing I can do about that. I just have to keep coming back at it, over and over again, till it's done.

I'm taking care of my food addiction. I went shopping, and I didn't even get a pizza. I bought things to cook, like real food. Tonight I made fettucini, salad, and garlic bread. Ok, I didn't make the bread, I bought it buttered and garlicked. But I put it in the broiler. And I bought the lettuce in a bag already cut up. But I chopped tomatoes to go on top. And I put the butter, cream, and shredded parmesan on the pasta for the fettucini. But I used margarine, skim milk, and grated low fat parmesan instead. But it was good. Even the rugrat raved. Of course, that might have been raving over the novelty of me cooking. And we ate fruit for dessert!

I have no candy, soda, or munchies in the house.

I'm going to cook on weekends from now on.

I have to go back to the library all day tomorrow, too. I'm just too far behind not to.

But I'll be home to cook dinner. The rugrat wants stuffing. Too many thanksgiving tv commercials. So I'll make chicken and stuffing. And she wants mashed potatoes. I told her sure, if she helps chop the papas.

No date this weekend. Which sucks. But I'll live.

Mood: Pretty content for once!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

whoa baby what a ride

I knew this morning would be rough at our house, cause of the nearly all-nighter homework fiasco. But I didn't know just how hard it would be.

The rugrat doesn't function well with no sleep. So I had a hard time even getting her out of bed. She balked, but eventually got up.

Then she started whining about being so sick, and feeling like she was going throw up. But I still didn't give in. I repeatedly reminded her that she created the situation and now has to deal with it.

Things escalated rapidly, in her attempt to get out of going to school so she could go back to bed and sleep. I told her that if she stayed home, it would be unexcused, and there would be consequences for skipping. Like not seeing her boyfriend for a long time.

In the end, she was sobbing uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face, nearly incoherent as she kept saying she felt like she was going to be sick. I'm not sure I've ever been through such a heavy scene with her.

But I didn't give in. And then she got angry. Said she would walk to school, that she didn't need a ride, I should just leave. And, oh yeah, she hates me. Really, really, really hates me.

Ok, so the comment about walking to school was a give away that she wasn't as sick as she'd said. If she really felt like throwing up, she would've taken the ride, no matter how mad she was.
And the command for me to go ahead and leave was a give away. It meant she intended to wait for me to leave, then go back to bed. So I told her I'd be calling school to be sure she was there for all her classes. Now that really pissed her off.

So, I pretended to leave and waited in the car outside around the corner, to be sure she really left for school. I watched her, following slowly, till she was about halfway there. Yes, she saw me, but she refused to acknowledge me. That's fine. At least I'm fairly certain she made it to school.

So, I may come home today and find she's packed her things and run away.

Or she found a gun and I won't make it through the night.

I have absolutely no idea what I'll find tonight.

I just know I am completely emotionally drained. And I don't know how much longer I can do this.

I'm in the mood for: inner peace.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I'm trying to remember

what it was like when I was young enough to choose looks over intelligence. And think I'd made the best choice. It's been so long, that it's hard to connect with my rugrat on that. Her choice: dumb guy, good looks. And probably good sex, although I'm trying REALLY hard not to think about that.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

they looked way too young to be there

Popped into the local taco bell at lunch, and the four employees were all clearly teens. As in high school age. And here it was, middle of the day. As in school time.

Could have been in a school-to-work program, working some days and in classes others. Or work during the day, and class at night. But somehow, I did't get that impression. And it saddened me to see kids with so few options. I should note that the local high school is one of the worst academically, and most dangerous, in the city.

Then I walked back onto campus, and wound up strolling behind a group of freshmen girls. god they're young. And childish. And immature. And mean, and cruel, and nasty toward others. I wasn't impressed at all.

And it struck me that those hard working high school kids would be serving these mean spirited, spoiled college kids for the next four years.

And it struck me that a college education is often wasted on the wealthy and unworthy.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Thunderbolt and lightning

very, very fright'ning me.

It's thundering and lightening outside. I've always been afraid. Mostly of the thunder. The loud noise. Loud noises, and the dark. When I'm alone.

And here I am. Alone. It's dark outside. And it's loud.

And I wish I had somebody to hold me till it passed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

how low can you go?

So, I was talking with someone on the phone tonight, and somehow the conversation rolled around to things like disposable diapers. Very expensive, and let's not get me started on the impact to the environment.

But when I told him I'd used cloth diapers with both my kids, he was really surprised. Didn't occur to him that anyone did anymore. Didn't occur to him that people couldn't afford pampers. And I really blew him away when I told him that often, I didn't even have change for the laundromat, and I'd have to soak and wash them in the tub, and hang them up to dry. Never liked doing that. They never seemed quite as clean, and they always came out stiff as a board and chafed their delicate baby butts.

(OK, caveat here. Often, the really poor are forced to use disposables because they don't have access to the means to wash cloth ones on a regular basis. Especially when homeless. Won't speculate here on how they obtain said disposables.)

Then, somehow, the talk got around to the expense of feminine hygiene products, and how manufacturers really have us by the proverbial balls, cause we need the product and therefore have to pay whatever they charge. But when I informed him that really poor people can't afford that particular luxury, he was shocked beyond anything. What did they do, he asked. Well, I went to an extremely cheap second hand store, bought up old towels, and made my own 'pads' by sewing layers together. I washed them and reused them. He couldn't decide whether to be totally grossed out, or very impressed with my ingenuity.

His final, people just don't really understand poverty unless they've been there themselves.

How low can you go?

As low as you need to, to survive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I read this somewhere online: "If I could come back as anything it would be as your tears, how could I want more than to be concieved (sic) in your heart, born in your eyes, live On (sic) your cheeks, and die at your lips."

Gag me now with a spoon, please. I despise smarmy sentamentalism like this and fail to see it's redeeming value. Hell, does it even have any redeeming value?

It's like the lyrics to the whitney houston song, "my love is your love"

"And I’m homeless on the street
And I’m sleepin’ in grand central station
It’s okay if you’re sleepin’ with me"

REALLY??? We could be homeless, but it'd be ok cause we're together??? Yep, I'm sure there's a homeless couple sleepin' there right now, and they turn to each other before nodding off and say "it's okay, love, cause were sleepin' together." Yeah. Right. NOT!!!

I just don't get it.

I'm in the mood to: throw up.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hey--I'm the COOL mom!!!

There I was, spending my Friday night chauffering my daughter and her friends around.

When I picked her up late that night, and dropped her friends off, I asked her: just why in the hell do you always call me? Can't the other parents drive sometimes?

Cause you're the cool mom, she says. My friends all like you, and think you're cute and you dress nice. They think you're cool cause you go to clubs in the city (if they only knew **wicked giggle**).

And you don't yell at us for what we did. And you understand boy shit. And you don't embarrass me too much. Whooo hooo! I don't embarrass her too much! And I'm the COOL MOM!!!

Ummmmm...unless the other parents don't wanna drive, and she's just sucking up???

No...couldn't be. Could it??

I'm in the mood for: chocolate cheesecake. Unfortunately, I only packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and iced tea for lunch.

Friday, October 14, 2005

102…adding to my list…mt st helens

Number 102: I was in Spokane when Mt. St. Helens blew.

May 18, 1980. The family was headed out to the local air force base for the annual air show. Bright, sunny day. Blue skies. Only the wispiest of white clouds blew across the sky.

On the highway near the base entrance, military personnel were stopping traffic and turning it away. Over a loudspeaker, someone was telling us the air show had been cancelled due to the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s. We didn’t believe it at first. After all, doomsayers had been predicting an imminent eruption for years, and nothing. But as we turned around to head back home, something caught our eyes. Way out, on the horizon, at the end of those beautiful blue skies, we saw it. A line across the sky. And past that line, the sky turned black as night.

We watched that black line get closer and closer as we drove home. But we managed to get safely home and in the house before that black line engulfed the skies over Spokane, turning day into night. Much like an eclipse.

Then, slowly, the sky began to lighten somewhat, to a paler grey color, like the skies on a morning just before a winter snow. And then we saw it. Light grey powder, falling from the sky. We stood at the large picture window in the living room and watched in awe.

It was deathly quiet outside. No one out, no car sounds, animals, nothing. So quiet, we could actually hear the powder falling. Could hear it fall through the air and touch the ground. How incredible. It fell for a couple of hours. We settled in, went back to ‘normal’ household activity, and glanced out the window occasionally. We saw a few neighbors gather the courage to creep outside and put their hand in the air. The way you do when checking to see how hard it’s raining. Only they were catching the ashes in their hands. And feeling it. I got up the courage to go outside with a baby juice jar and fill it with the ash. As a memento. Sort of an ‘I was there’ thing.

Eventually, the ash stopped falling, and the sun came back out. And the world ventured forth to survey the results. The ash had the consistency of baby powder, or flour. And the same ability to resist water. Making it extremely difficult for the earth to absorb. The ash also, when disturbed, would immediately rise in the air, like a dust cloud, settling in cracks, coming in through windows and doors, getting into car engines. Getting into your lungs.

The city closed down. The mayor encouraged everyone to stay indoors, while the city planners tried to determine the health risk of breathing in the ash. And how to get rid of said ash. People who did venture forth, generally did so with surgical masks. Those with breathing problems flooded the hospitals for treatment from the effects of the ash clouds. My son, 6 months old at the time, developed an ear infection, and I was forced to take him out to the doctor and the pharmacy. Out into empty streets, filled with ash.

Along the way, we encountered numerous irate residents of neighborhoods trying to keep the ash dust clouds down. They certainly didn’t appreciate a car driving through and stirring it back up again. Fist after fist raised in anger at the back of my departing car. On one street, the neighbors blocked the street so I couldn’t pass through – blocked it physically, with their bodies. How could I drive through that? I wanted to scream at them, fuck you, my baby’s sick, and he’s more important than your fucking dust cloud. But I didn’t. I turned the corner, and found another street.

Over the years and moves, that baby juice bottle of ash that I’d preserved as a memento disappeared. Don’t know where, or how. Eventually, the earth took back most of the ash. Although for easily ten years after the eruption, if you drove on the highways after a rain, you could see the whitish grey marks on the concrete from the ash coming back up from the ground.

(photo credit)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

101...adding to my list of 100 things about me

This is one I should have included in my 100 things about me.

Fact: I loooooove old books. I mean books printed over a hundred years ago. I can't afford anything older than mid 1800's, and nothing really popular, but I've managed to pick up a few on ebay. Just the feeling of opening these books, and imagining how many others' hands, through 150 years, have held the book. How many have read it. It's an amazing feeling.

The highlights of my small collection:

*Shakespeare's Poems and Sonnets, printed in 1896
*The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, printed in 1885
*The Woman's Manual of Parliamentary Law by Harriette Shattuck, printed in 1895 (the *original price listed in the text was 75 cents)
*a pocket version of Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables, printed in 1925
*a pocket version of the complete poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, printed in 1871
*Vanity Fair, printed in 1885
*a set of Longfellow's poetical works, printed in 1882

And my prized possession, a Christmas gift from my son, who had it shipped from the UK. From 'off Mill Pond,' Cornwall, to be exact. The owner valued the set at 100 pounds, and shipping was 59 pounds. I even kept the shipping label:

A large (imperial quarto), soft cover 45 volume set of Virtue's Imperial Shakspere, edited by Charles Knight. Each installment contains one beautiful steel engraving (I'll try to take a photo of one if I can). They were printed at the time of Knight's death, which I believe was mid-1860's. Most of the volumes were never read, as the folded top pages were never sliced open for reading. The original price listed on each installment is 2 shillings. Just think. It was printed in London in 1865-ish, purchased by someone in Cornwall, handed down in a family, probably sitting on a library shelf for years, and's mine!

I'm in the mood: to read. For pleasure. Not for dissertations, or classes, or work. Just for the sheer pleasure of it!

Monday, October 10, 2005

100 things about me

1. I’m the middle child. I have two brothers.
2. I have three fathers.
3. I’ve never been married.
4. I had my first child at 19. I had my second (and last) child at 30.
5. So when my youngest hits 18, I’ll have been a single mom for 29 years.
6. I was in two video documentaries, one about service-learning, one about welfare reform.
7. I loooooove old books. I mean books printed over a hundred years ago
8. My only international travel (other than Canada and Tijuana) is to Ecuador.
9. I presented at a conference in Ecuador.
10. I can’t wait to be single with no dependents, so I can travel internationally.
11. I’ve met Hilary Clinton.
12. And Sen. Paul Wellstone, before we lost him in a plane crash.
13. I’ve met Peter Edelman, husband to Marian Wright Edelman.
14. I’ve met Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed: On not getting by in America.
15. I’ve testified before a Senate committee.
16. I’ve talked on the phone with Sen. Chuck Schumer.
17. I’ve talked with several NYS senators and congress persons.
18. I’ve spoken before media, at a podium full of microphones, in front of the US Capital Building.
19. I’ve done press conferences at the capital building in Albany.
20. Eating vegetables is a hard limit.
21. Cutting my hair is a hard limit.
22. My hair has been grey since my mid-20’s.
23. I was a blonde in my late teens/early 20’s.
24. I lost my virginity at age 12 (not in a good way).
25. I had my first orgasm in my mid-20s.
26. I hate to cook, except for special occasions.
27. My favorite food is pizza.
28. Ditto whoppers and onion rings.
29. Ditto chocolate.
30. Ditto Mexican food, especially carne asada.
31. My favorite beer is Corona (even though it’s the bottom of the line in Mexico) with lime.
32. I once had to go without food to feed my son, and weighed less than 100 pounds at 5’5”.
33. Because of #32, the emergency room doc labeled me officially “undernourished.”
34. I’ve had pleurisy. I’ve had viral encephalitis.
35. I’ve had two c-sections.
36. I have a major body issue because of the c-section scars and stretch marks.
37. I started college when I was 30; my daughter was 3 months, my son 11 years.
38. I got my bachelor’s degree in three years.
39. I’m terrified of not finishing my dissertation.
40. I’m terrified of finishing my dissertation and then not finding a job.
41. I have $150,000 in student loan debt that I’ll never be able to pay back.
42. I have no self-control when it comes to spending; I’ll pay the bills, but spend what’s left, leaving nothing in savings.
43. I only just started a retirement account last fall through work.
44. I’ve filed bankruptcy twice in my life, due to medical expenses.
45. I’ve gone from weighing 100 pounds at 18, to 160 when pregnant at 19, back to 110 till my mid-30’s, ballooned to 212, and have lost much of it over this last year.
46. I still have 25 pounds to lose.
47. I need major dental work and can't afford it.
48. I am an agnostic.
49. Due to #35, I'd love to have a tummy tuck.
50. And laser eye surgery, just cause I can't see. My left eye is -9.0, right is -10.5.
51. Despite wearing contac lenses (one toric), I still have to wear reading glasses.
52. I do NOT IM.
53. In my poorer days, I’ve been a janitor, a motel maid, a sales clerk, worked in a fast food joint.
54. I lean strongly toward democratic socialism.
55. I despise SUV's and Hummers. And anything that uses up our fossil fuels at great rates.
56. I've been trying for years to write a memoir of my life during the welfare/poverty years.
57. Worked graveyard in a 24 hour gas/mart for two weekends, and never came back.
58. I love Mexican bailes.
59. I was a madrina (godmother) for a quinceanera.
60. I like mariachi music. And cumbias.
61. And irish folk music.
62. And most traditional music from around the world.
63. I’ve never slept through the night, as long as I can remember.
64. I have a seriously deviated septum, and can’t breathe well through my nose.
65. Which means being gagged would be a serious challenge.
66. I absolutely swoon over bondage/restraints.
67. And blindfolds.
68. I love really old books. I have a few from the late 1800's, but the really old ones I can't afford.
69. I make very poor choices when I drink.
70. My waist used to be so tiny I used bandannas for belts.
71. I’m a size 12 now, down from an 18W; I’d be happier in a 10; ecstatic in an 8.
72. I wear black and dark grey nail polish on my toes.
73. I’m a major US history freak.
74. Since having viral encephalitis, I suffer from severe motion sickness.
75. I’ve never lived with anyone in my adult life (cept the rug rats).
76. I’ve never spent the entire night/actually slept with a man.
77. I'm really, really, really not ready to become a grandma; my son and his wife have strict orders not to procreate just yet.
78. I’m absolutely terrified of flying, and do so only when I really have to.
79. I’m afraid of intimacy.
80. And yet I crave intimacy.
81. I love scents, and am always burning candles or incense.
82. I hate overpowering scents, though, and can even have an asthmatic reaction to too much scent.
83. I don’t cry.
84. I laugh when I’m in pain.
85. I love physical pain -- the good kind.
86. I could never choose a favorite movie, song, music group, music genre; I like so many.
87. I’ve been so drunk that I can’t remember anything that happened (a very long time ago).
88. I’ve driven drunk (again, a very long time ago).
89. I smoked pot throughout jr. high and high school.
90. I was a speed freak my junior year of high school.
91. I love psychological thrillers, but I can always figure out who did it very early in the movie.
92. I hate blood and guts horror movies.
93. I discovered a few months ago, at the swing club, that there really is such a thing as too big. For me, anyway.
94. I love feeling things physically.
95. I hate most holidays, except for the fact that I don’t have to go to work.
96. I’m afraid of the dark and sleep with a light on somewhere.
97. I am so not a morning person.
98. Root beer. Not coke, pepsi, 7 up, sprite. Root beer.
99. I’m a shoe and clothes horse.
100. I love to go for long drives, windows open, wind in my hair, and turn the cd player up as loud as possible.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

now when the hell did that happen?

I just got called "ma'am" by the security guard at work. A twenty something. It's been happening a lot lately. Just when the did I go from being "miss" to being "ma'am"? It makes me feel old beyond my years. Sort of like how I'd feel if someone had a reason to call me "grandma." **major fucking shudders**

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Have you ever?

Have you ever been sitting in the movie theatre, paid $10, have your popcorn and soda in hand, another $10, and then the Jimmy Fund (for cancer research) commercial rolls, and the staff walk around the theatre with their plastic donation containers, and you pretend not to see? Cause you’ve already spent $20, and you’re not willing to fork out another one?

I can’t help myself. If I have any change in my handbag at all, it goes into the donation container. I mean, if I’ve already spent 20 bucks, what’s another 50 cents, another buck?

Have you ever been in a grocery store, and the woman with the unruly kids at the head of the line is holding things up cause her EBT card (food stamps) doesn’t have enough funds on it to cover her groceries? So she has to eliminate things one item at a time from her cart, till she hits the magic number and the EBT card goes through? And everyone in the line, including you, is visibly fuming because she’s holding things up and you’re all in a hurry?

I was in a store one night a few months ago, and a man with two small children was in line. He’d tried his EBT card, not enough funds. Ditto his debit card. A mere $13 bucks separated him and his kids from a meal that night (and no doubt the rest of the week). I wasn’t impatient (don’t tend to get that way—much more fun to people watch while I’m waiting). But I was right behind him in line, so I couldn’t help but see everything that was happening. He wasn’t extravagant—milk, pasta, potatoes, bread. I stood, looking at the few items, staring at them, and it dawned on me. That was me, 20 years ago. I stood in line, bought the same staples, ran out of food stamps at the end of the month, started watering down the milk to make it last. As I stood there, staring at the food, sneaking glimpses at the family still futilely trying to swipe the ebt and debit cards, I caught the cashier’s eye and whispered ‘put it on my bill.’ She looked at me in disbelief, but I nodded and said ‘do it.’ At this point the family hadn’t heard anything, and when the cashier started to bag their items, they looked at her in confusion. She said, ‘someone took care of it for you.’ And she nodded at me. I really wish she hadn’t done that. I’d wanted to remain as anonymous as possible, but there it was. So I endured the thank you’s from people who don’t deserve to live that way, was thankful that I was there to help, and went on my way.

Have you ever been asked to donate food to a food pantry, and you go to your cupboards and pick out all the canned foods that your family hasn’t/won’t ever touch, and give those? Cause after all, they’re hungry people, and they should be happy with whatever you give them, shouldn’t they? And, you can get that damned okra and sauerkraut out of your cupboard and make room for more of what your family likes, right?

I’ve been on the receiving end of this one. And I bought into the concept myself as a teen growing up. The idea that hungry people should be happy with what we give them. But that negates them. Allows us to see them not as a human being, but as one of the masses of ‘hungry’ for whom we are not responsible. Whom we don’t have to consider too closely. At the end of the month, when food stamps run out, hungry families try the local food pantry. You can go to the better run ones that are associated with a regional food bank, and they have good solid basic foodstuffs. But because demand is greater than supply, families are limited in how often they can visit these pantries. So they seek small, locally owned food pantries, for example in small, community churches. That’s where I encountered the okra and sauerkraut. And all the other little cans of food that people like to rid themselves of by donating to them to the hungry. We gagged down lots of disgusting donated foods, because yes, we were hungry. People will even donate canned food that is way beyond the expiration date. I found myself once with a can of spaghetti sauce, opened it, and the rancid smell permeated my little apartment immediately. Two years past the expiration date. What were the donors thinking anyway? Took weeks to get that smell out of the apt., and sometimes, in a damp rain, it’d come back a little.

Have you ever walked right by a homeless person on the street, or walked by their little ‘space’ on the sidewalk? The little pile of cardboard, papers, and if they’re lucky, shopping cart of odds and ends? And either not seen them at all, or plugged your nose because the smell emanating from their space was foul?

When I first moved to NY, I was directing a community based learning program at a university. We also did one-time volunteer projects throughout the year that students coordinated and participated in. One such opportunity was run through a program called the Midnight Run (run by a former homeless man). Basically, people outside of the city prepare sack lunches, hot soup, and coffee, and pull together donations of blankets, socks, clean used clothing appropriate to the season, and drive into the city at midnight. Because midnight is when you find homeless people on the streets. They tend to ‘hide’ during the day, make themselves invisible to the non-homeless (and the cops). But they are visible at night. We went in the middle of winter, during a cold snap that was so bitter that very few homeless would venture out of their ‘space,’ even for hot soup and coffee. We had opportunities to talk with individuals while they ate and picked out clothing. Not surprisingly, intelligent, articulate, witty, friendly, humorous. Human beings. Real people. Have you ever looked closely at the hands of a homeless person? Or their eyes? Because that’s where you can see what life has done to them. In the deep, deep lines and wrinkles around the eyes in their weather-beaten face. In the rough, callused hands, blistered from the cold air, and in the dirt around and under the fingernails that no amount of soap can completely erase. I can honestly say I’ve never walked by without noticing since.

So the next time you’re at the theatre, in line at a grocery store, asked to donate food, or walk past a homeless person, think for a minute about what you can do. Don’t save it for holiday time when you’re feeling magnanimous. Do it today.

Monday, July 18, 2005

NY Medicaid program under fire...

...and for good reason--fraud. Not fraud by the client/recipient, but fraud by unethical providers. And it sucks.

We have 4.2 million people--children and adults--who are income eligible, receiving Medicaid right now. But there are thousands more who are income eligible and on wait lists, with no medical. And, standard services are now being cut to save money. New York's program is the most costly in the nation, at $44.5 billion annually, while covering only 20% of the population. California, on the other hand, covers 55% of the population, for less than NY spends.


Why? Because of people like this (from the NY Times):

-- Dentists like Dr. Dolly Rosen, who within 12 months somehow built the state's biggest Medicaid dental practice out of a Brooklyn storefront, where she claimed to have performed as many as 991 procedures a day in 2003.

--School officials around the state have enrolled tens of thousands of low-income students in speech therapy without the required evaluation, garnering more than $1 billion in questionable Medicaid payments for their districts. One Buffalo school official sent 4,434 students into speech therapy in a single day without talking to them or reviewing their records, according to federal investigators.

--Nursing home operators have received substantial salaries and profits from Medicaid payments, while keeping staffing levels below the national average. One operator took in $1.5 million in salary and profit in the same year he was fined for neglecting the home's residents.

--Medicaid has even drawn several criminal rings that duped the program into paying for an expensive muscle-building drug intended for AIDS patients that was then diverted to bodybuilders, at a cost of tens of millions. A single doctor in Brooklyn prescribed $11.5 million worth of the drug, the vast majority of it after the state said it had tightened rules for covering the drug. The Times concludes by stating: New York's Medicaid program, once a beacon of the Great Society era, has become so huge, so complex and so lightly policed that it is easily exploited. Though the program is a vital resource for 4.2 million poor people who rely on it for their health care, a yearlong investigation by The Times found that the program has been misspending billions of dollars annually because of fraud, waste and profiteering. A computer analysis of several million records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Law revealed numerous indications of fraud and abuse that the state had never looked into.


I simply seethe with anger when greedy, unsconcionable people steal from government programs, leaving the poor who actually need the program sitting in the cold. Yes, I take things like this very personally. I've dealt with extremely serious illnesses in the past--things like viral encephalitis and pleurisy--because I couldn't get medical care. Something that could have been treated by a quick doc appt and meds if caught early became life-threatening illnesses because I was on a Medicaid wait list. When I get really, truly angry, I want to hurt someone -- bad. Lock me in a room with some of these thieves, and just see if I don't wreak a little vengeance on behalf of all those who were desperately ill and couldn't get medical treatment. GGGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It's raining in New York...

..and all the roads pointing home are flooded. Whenever it rains even semi-heavy, there’s just nowhere for the water to go in the Bronx and lower Westchester. (And from what I hear, in Long Island, but that’s not home for me.)

So, literally a half million people, and me, are all on the road, trying to get out of the Bronx. Looking for a way to get home. Some alternate route that won’t end up in a river of rain at some point. So we’re all sitting in our cars, in traffic, waiting for the car in front of us to move. Slowly inching our way forward, our bumper nearly on top of the one in front of us.

I almost never get caught in traffic jams. Funny when you think about it. It’s New York, after all, capital of traffic jams. But I am extremely lucky in my current job. My commute is only about 25 minutes one way. Hell, I used to have a job that required that I drive up to Albany twice a week. Five hour round trip, twice a week. I will never complain about a 25 minute commute. Or the lack of traffic jams on my route.

But really, I don’t mind waiting in traffic. I have air conditioning in the car (first car I ever owned that had air). I have a cd player with mucho cd’s (ditto). I just kick back, turn on something good, and either mellow out, or rock out, depending on my mood. But here’s the problem. Not everyone can wait so patiently. They think they are more important than the rest of us waiting. They think their time is more valuable. So they sneak around the lines, and cut in as far up the line as they can. Not just one, but dozens. Making the wait even longer for those of us waiting patiently.

That’s normally when I lose it. That’s usually when Dr. Mood becomes Mistress Jekyll. Do not fucking cut in front of me when I’ve been waiting patiently for an hour. My car becomes a massive weapon, and damn it, I’ll use it if I have to. I don't give damn how big your fucking car is. But you will not cut in front of me. You like that nice car of yours? Well, then, back off jack, ‘cause I’ll bump it. I will.

Not surprisingly, that’s also when I cease to like myself. I am not a good person when I lose it. Doesn’t matter if I only lose it in a traffic jam. I’m not a nice person when it’s gone. It just exhausts me. By the time I get home, you could wring me out. You know, it takes about a thousand times more effort and energy to be angry than it does to be cool. But it takes even more energy to try to keep that anger under control.

I tried to stay cool, but, as my 25 minute commute stretched into an hour, an hour and a half, nearly two hours…I was so close. But really, really tried to keep cool. And I mostly did. I did ‘flip off’ a couple of people. Yelled at one. But I was mostly cool. When I was finally close to home, I did what any normal person would do. Treated myself.

My idea of a treat? Tonight it was KFC and Carvels. No cooking for me. No leftovers for me. Only really, really bad for me stuff. And I’m not even going to work out tonight. I don't care how loudly that elliptical calls my name. It can just sit over there in the corner all lonely-like. Instead, I’m going to go get my Carvels chocolate peanut butter sundae, put my feet up, watch the boob tube, and relax. Relax, while it rains in New York.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

and the poor just keep getting poorer

Another piece of the puzzle, again from California (no, they are definitely not the only state proposing cuts, just one of the ones with a very vocal grassroots advocacy organization). If the gov of CA is successful, monthly grants in CA will be reduced to pre-1989 levels. And before anyone suggests that people on welfare are living a life of luxury and leisure, note that the average welfare payment is only 55% of the federal poverty line, and 1996 polices generally require full-time work from the time the youngest child is 1 month old. If the recipient can't find a job, they are forced to do 'volunteer' work for the city/state, not for a salary, but for their welfare grant. They get no benefits, they are exempt from things like harassment policies (i.e. they can be sexually harassed and have no legal recourse), they are not eligible for earned income tax credit, and they don't pay into social security.



Religious Leaders across California urge Arnold to Make Better, Moral Choices (San Francisco and Los Angeles)

Nearly 100 poor, disabled and elderly Californians marched on Governor Arnold Scwarzenegger's offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco this morning, to protest the Governor's proposed budget that targets low-income women and children rather than wealthy Californians to balance the budget deficit. The protestors delivered a statement, titled “A Call to Conscience,” signed by religious leaders from across California that urges the governor to make better, moral choices and reject further cuts to poor families.

In the statement, religious leaders declare, “A budget that asks the poorest among us to sacrifice, without seeking a fair share from those with abundance, is not a moral response to the challenges facing our state.” They go on to urge the “Governor and legislative leaders to reject further cuts to poor families. Instead, we call on our government for leadership in making better, moral choices on behalf of all Californians, through budget and tax policies that give expression to an ethic of justice and compassion.”

Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing harsh cuts in programs that support working women and men enrolled in CalWORKs, their children, and to services for the elderly, sick, and disabled. Under Schwarzenegger’s proposal, the average welfare cash benefits for a family of three in California will be reduced by $47/month from $723/month to $676/month – $18/month less than families received in 1989. The Governor also proposes to eliminate the annual state CalWORKs grant Cost of Living Adjustment forever, resulting in an average loss of $33/month starting in July 2005. Adjusted for inflation, $1 in benefits in 1989 is now only worth .62 cents.

To illustrate what the proposed welfare cuts will mean to their children, parents delivered bags of empty household items – toilet paper, deodorant, soap, shampoo, feminine products, light bulbs – that their families will be unable to afford if the governor cuts their grants by 6.5% and eliminates the annual Cost of Living Adjustment due next month.

According to Leilani Luia, LIFETIME member and mother of three, “Right now, after I pay my rent, I am only left with $14/month. If my CalWORKs grant is reduced by 6.5%, it will push my family and other California families like mine deeper into poverty and possibly into homelessness.” She continued, “I will find myself having to make tough decisions like keeping the lights on or taking my daughter to her much need counseling appointments. My family should not be the target of the governor’s balanced budget.”

Today, the average welfare cash grant is less than 55% of the poverty line. “The Governor wants to slash welfare benefits and eliminate Cost of Living Adjustments,” says LIFETIME Program Director Anita Rees, “even though welfare benefits are $18 lower than they were in 1989, when a gallon of milk only cost a dollar.”

The demonstrations today are part of a series of planned protests at the governor’s district offices across the state; LIFETIME’s next action is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29th in Fresno.


(**not all states have a welfare COLA, in fact very few do. In many states, grants haven't been increased for 10+ years).

welfare reform policies endanger battered women and children

I received this press release via a policy listserv that I'm on. It basically says that as many as 60-85% of women on welfare are battered women seeking aid. Even though welfare policies allow battered women to be exempt from work requirements and lifetime limits while they get the help they need, states (in this study, California) do not provide these women with the necessary waivers for exemption. I can't put the agency's contact info here, but feel free to email me if you would like it. While most people agreed that welfare as a program failed most citizens, the approach taken by Congress in passing the reform Act of 1996 was the wrong direction if we want to keep our poverty level families safe. The '96 policy extensions end on Thursday, June 30 and must be extended or reauthorized by Congress for welfare programs to continue. Pres Bush is promoting, as a part of that reauthorization, to "funnel $1.5 billion into unproven "marriage promotion" schemes" (basically, pressuring single female recipients to marry). Below is the text of the press release.


For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Dramatic New Report Uncovers Abuse of Battered Women in California's Welfare System (Washington, DC)

Today, Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, received messages from battered women with children across the country - on more than 150 "wife beater" tshirts - about the government's failure to protect their families under welfare reform. More than 30 domestic violence survivors and their supporters were there to display the shirts, strung on 200 feet long of laundry lines in front of Dr. Horn's office, to publicize the release of a dramatic new report that details the utter failure of California's welfare system to protect battered women and their in our welfare system.

The report, entitled Family Violence is NOT an Option, was produced by LIFETIME, a California-based community organization of low-income parents pursuing education and training as the means to get their families out of poverty. Among the report's findings was the alarmingly low numbers of mothers who are receiving domestic violence services in the CalWORKs program, California's state welfare program created under welfare reform. While studies show that as high as 83% of CalWORKs mothers are domestic violence victims, in 2004 less than 680 mothers statewide -less than one-fifth of one percent of the state's welfare caseload - received domestic violence waivers in 2004."

These shirts are our way of airing the government's dirty laundry," explained LIFETIME Executive Director Diana Spatz. "Top welfare administrators in the Administration for Children and Families know what's happening to battered women and their children under welfare reform, and they haven't done anything to protect them."The mothers tried to deliver the report directly to Dr. Horn, along with tshirts from battered women and children around the country, after he declined to meet with them to discuss needed protections for battered women with children under TANF reauthorization.

The release of the report is timely, given that TANF is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2005, and House Republicans' plan to funnel $1.5 billion into unproven "marriage promotion" schemes under TANF reauthorization. Domestic violence survivors and welfare advocates fear that this plan will encourage low-income mothers to stay with their abusers. "Marriage is not an option for many parents on welfare, especially survivors of domestic violence. They need counseling, child care, and education, not husbands," said Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Poverty and Welfare Study Director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

By contrast, Congress has never dedicated funding to support battered women with children in the welfare system, despite studies that show that 65% of welfare mothers nationwide are domestic violence victims. As a result, battered women are unable to get the services they need to overcome abuse - and get their families off welfare. "I left my abusive husband and had to get on welfare; I had to ask for help for domestic violence from three different caseworkers. I was outright denied each time," said Leilani Luia, mother of three and LIFETIME member. "First my husband abused me. Now I'm being abused by the welfare department with no way out."

The mothers made several requests to deliver the report to Dr. Horn in person, before police were called in to break up the peaceful - albeit loud -protest. However, the officers with the Department of Homeland Security who responded ended up sympathizing with the protesters, and allowed the mothers to keep their shirts on display. When Dr. Horn refused to meet with the protesters, the officers delivered the report - and shirts - to the Assistant Secretary's office on their behalf.

As Luia explained, "this report shows that welfare reform has failed to protect mothers like me. Family violence is not an option for me and my children - so why can't mothers like me get the services, counseling and protections we need?"

Friday, June 24, 2005

how far is heaven?

Wednesday night on my way to meet a friend for dinner (one I haven't seen for 3 or 4 months), I was listening to my los lonely boys cd (I love a cd player that lets me replay a particular song over and over if I want). I've been very moody lately, up and down, and that's not like me, not at all.

I hit 45 on my last birthday, and that seems to be a time when people question where they are in life and where they want to go.

Well, anyway, although I'm not a spiritual person, this song really said what I was feeling.

Save me from this prison
Lord help me get away
Cause only you can save me now
From this misery
Cause I’ve been lost in my own place
And I’m getting’ weary
How far is heaven
And I know I need to change
My ways of livin’
How far is heaven, Lord can you tell me

Cause I’ve been locked up way too long
In this crazy world, how far is heaven
I just keep on prayin’ Lord
Just keep on livin’, how far is heaven
Lord can you tell me, how far is heaven
I just got to know how far, how far is heaven
Lord can you tell me Y

ou that's in a higher place
Send me down a blessing
Cause I know there’s a better place
Than this place I’m livin’, how far is heaven
And I just got to have some faith A
nd just keep on giving, how far is heaven
I just wanna know how far


I really have been 'lost in my own place,' and weary is a good word for what I feel sometimes. I think I'm just very overly tired, and need a break. But, vacations become time to do dissertation work, or spring clean the house, etcetera-etcetera-etcetera- (as Yul Brynner says in the King and I!) so I never really get any time to rest. In my adult life, I've had exactly 15 days all by myself, without kids, work, school, housework, or anything else intruding. Five when I was 28 and friends watched my son; five when I finished grad school when I was 35 and a good friend watched the kids; and five more when we scraped up the $ for my daughter to go to volleyball camp last summer. So in a way, I have been 'locked up way too long in this crazy world.' Sometimes I just feel so bone-weary, I think I could sleep for a couple of weeks without waking. But instead, 99% of the time, I put a smile on my face and go on with life. Man, I gotta snap out of this funk I'm in.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Something drew me to your side

Just finished watching the king and I. Gotta love that dance scene. Nothing's hotter than Yul, arm stretched out in front of him, intense look on his face, grabbing her around the waist and whirling her around the floor (well, I have to admit, all the scenes of him pulling back his tunic and putting his hands on his hips are pretty hot--torso shots, mmmmmm). I've never really listened to the lyrics to Shall We Dance before, so I looked them up. I could read a hundred other meanings into these lyrics. Couldn't you?

We've just been introduced,
I do not know you well,
But when the music started S
omething drew me to your side.
So many men and girls,
Are in each others arms-
It made me think we might be Similarly occupied.
Shall we dance?
On a bright cloud of music shall we fly?
Shall we dance?
Shall we then say "goodnight" and mean "goodbye"?
Or perchance,
When the last little star has left the sky,
Shall we still be together
With are arms around each other
And shall you be my new romance?
On the clear understanding
That this kind of thing can happen,
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?

Mentioned to my daughter that this dance scene is second only to the dance scene from the labyrinth, and she said "oh, we haven't seen labyrinth for a long time, let's watch it after this!" So, we are now into another fav. Sarah has just escaped from the oubliette. The goblin king confronts Sarah in the hallway, and there's a camera shot of Hogwart next to Bowie, but since Hogwart's head hits Bowie's waist, we get to see a shot of Bowie from waist to knees in skin tight pants.

damn, I think I bit off a bit more than I can chew

Hee hee. You all thought I meant something else, didn't you!

I just typed up my reference page--all the articles, reports, and books that I'll be reading and referencing in my dissertation. Then I counted them. 73. At this point, I've only read about a dozen of those 73. By the end of the day, I'm supposed to have my study aims, hypotheses, the introduction to my literature review, the outline of my lit review, and the reference page, all done and emailed out to my committee chair and second. It's already 7 pm. This is going to be a veeeery long night...

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Aaaahhhh, air conditioning!

Air conditioners on sale at Costco, just in time for summer. Really cool ones, digital, with remote controls. You can set them for a particular room temperature, and they’ll cool your room just way you want it. They’ll cool up to a 10 x 15 room, and for only $100. I bought three, one for each bedroom, and one for the living room. (Yes, our rooms really are that small—this is NY, after all.) I’ve never bought a big ticket item like this in multiples. Interesting feeling to actually be able to afford it. So I spent Saturday evening installing them in the windows and then ‘shrink wrapping’ the window above the unit with that plastic window insulation to keep the heat out, and the cool air inside. A bit of a job, but then, I’m used to doing things myself -- I’ve lived alone since I was a senior in high school (okay, alone in the sense of no adults; I do have two kids, so I’m never really ‘alone’).

As I’m putting in the new units, I start thinking about what to do with the old conditioners. They still work, just not as effectively, or as energy efficiently (they are 5 or 6 years old). I started wishing there were a donation system for the elderly, much like the used cell phone donation systems that nonprofits sometimes have. I think about the elderly, especially in the city, in walk-ups with no air conditioning, no fan even, and how they survive the heat waves of the city. Well, sometimes don’t survive, as we seem to lose a few every summer to the heat. Even an older air conditioner would be a godsend to someone in that position. I’ll have to do a little research and see what I can come up with.

I am remembering, too, and reminiscing with my daughter, how we used to handle the heat when we were too poor for even a fan. Inside the apartment would be unbearable, but getting out of the place, to outside, was just as unbearable. And we couldn’t really afford to go anywhere. Lakes and beaches were too far away, and I couldn’t afford the gas to get there. And the local pool had an entrance fee that I couldn’t afford. So I’d make a lunch, pack us up and go, of all places, to the local mall. The mall had a small playground for the children, and a place for parents to sit. So I’d bring a good book, my daughter would play, and my son would ‘hang out’ with a friend he’d bring along. We’d spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool comfort of mall air conditioning. We were really lucky to live so close to a public, air conditioned facility.

Now we’re enjoying the cool air of multiple air conditioners, in each room! Who would’ve thought we’d ever get here? I’m finding, though, as I can afford more things, that I can’t forget that there are people everywhere who are where I was financially. I feel almost guilty for enjoying things when others can’t, especially when I remember what it was like for us. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing. I should never forget where I’ve come from, or that others are still there. But right now, at this moment...aaahhhh, air conditioning!

The crying game

Twisted my ankle coming out of the gym Friday after work. Since I’d sprained it about 6 weeks ago, it was still a bit wimpy, and needless to say, it hurt…a lot. I started laughing, which of course caught the attention of my colleague and work-out partner. Her comment:

“Well it can’t hurt that bad if you’re laughing. You’d be crying if it were really bad.”
“Well,” I respond, “if I could cry, I would be.”
“What do you mean, if you could cry; everyone can cry.”
“No, everyone can’t cry…lots of people can’t. I can’t.”

Well, the ‘disagreement’ went on in the same vein, her insisting that everyone can cry, me suggesting that not everyone can or does. Many children learn early in life that crying can get you into trouble—a lot of trouble. The phrase “Stop crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about” isn’t an empty threat. But, we’re in the minority out there; most people just don’t understand us, and don’t take the time to try.

“I know he hurt your feelings. It’s okay to cry, you know.”
“What do you do if you can’t cry?”
“It’s not normal.”
“Maybe it’s a physical problem; have you been to the doctor?”

Of course it’s okay to cry; I don’t need your permission. And it’s not a physical problem, and it’s perfectly normal…for me. I can feel the tears…way down deep inside, in the inner core of my being—they’re definitely there. They just never get to the surface. They sometimes make me feel very sad. No, that’s not the word…melancholy—yes, I like melancholy, I like that word. They sometimes make me feel melancholy.

“How do you feel about…oh, that’s right, you don’t feel, do you?”

Ah, this one hurts every time I hear it. The assumption that because one doesn’t cry, one doesn’t feel. If you don’t cry, then you must be a cold, heartless bitch, right? If anything, I think people who don’t cry actually feel things more. They feel things deeper, and they feel things longer, because they can’t just cry it all up and move on. It stays there, deep down inside.

The people who are close to me have come to understand me, and they do not concerns themselves with whether or not I cry when in physical or emotional pain. The rest—well, maybe one day they’ll understand. And, maybe one day, I’ll actually cry. Stranger things have happened, lol.