Please Explain: What is a Cheerio doing in my Sugar Pops?

This quote is a funny family story about a family friend having breakfast with us while we were on vacation and finding a different brand of cereal floating in the milk amongst his preferred brand. He asked my mother to explain why, much to the amusement of all of us. OK – maybe you had to be there to get the full comedic effect; but trust me – it was hilarious at the time.

Let me now make the connections to today’s post. We had a snow day today here in the northeast, and my fingers and brain have been itching to get back to my writing. I decided to catch up with some of my blogger friends and came across this gem : Les Miserables and Social Injustice which I highly recommend you read. BTG and I don’t always see eye to eye but we provide and promote a climate that encourages thought, especially thought outside the usual boxes. Love that about him, and many of my other friends in the blogger-verse. As usual, his post got me thinking.

Just yesterday I was at lunch and talking with a co-worker/friend about current events, social issues etc. He comes from a very liberal background, but also has a great deal of common sense which we agreed is in short supply these days. He told me a story about leaving a previous social service job, and why. He used to work for an agency that provided advocacy, outreach, and support to families in crisis. Families would contact the agency with a variety of serious issues ranging from eviction, property theft or damage, home heating issues, social service legal issues like CHINS petitions, DCF interventions etc etc. One family contacted the agency because they had no heat and no money to pay for home heating oil. The agency arranged with a supplier to donate 100 gallons of heating oil to the family. Later on in the heating season, the family, perhaps trying to economise – had to relocate because their pipes froze and the residence was uninhabitable. The agency set them up with a hotel and got pro bono volunteers to clean up the flood and mess, and repair the dwelling. At the staff meeting, my friend brought up his concerns about arranging for the children to get back and forth to their school (they had to relocate to a hotel some distance from their neighborhood), and about reestablishing their routines as quickly as possible. To my friend, this meant arranging with a taxi service to get the family to and from school etc. It also meant perhaps trying to arrange for the family to meet with a financial planner/social worker who could help them create a budget to meet their needs. He was shot down, because what the rest of the team wanted to discuss was getting the mother a washing machine. (?!?) The agency had spent a lot of money and man hours helping the family and other families in similar situations. Another family had their property stolen (TV, air conditioner and the like) My friend brought up the idea of providing all the families with renters insurance. Its relatively cheap – like maybe 150 a year, and would certainly cost less than having to continually pay for replacements. Property theft is a huge issue for folks living in poverty. That idea too was shot down.

I daresay he felt like that cheerio swimming in the bowl with a bunch of sugar pops. The lone grain that’s completely good for you; and yet completely outnumbered by sugary sweet, completely non-nutritious “fluff” that tastes better – but has little health benefit when consumed. Now I’m sure that the folks working at that agency were well-meaning with big hearts. However, it was clear to my friend – and subsequently to me via his tale, that they were not able to, or actually could not, identify the pressing issues that would empower these families to regain control of their lives – rather than merely enabling them. In other words – no common sense. The sugar pops won the day, my cheerio friend quickly realized he was swimming in the wrong cereal bowl, and left his position forthwith. (See, I did relate my material to the title after all!)

One of my biggest peeves is this lack of common sense when it comes to allocating our time, talents, and treasure in terms of social activism, grassroots volunteerism, and implementation of social programs . Believe me when I say that I totally get the gray miserable-ness of poverty life. I understand how people want some happiness and how in the process of reaching for that, unplanned pregnancies may occur. Which is why I am totally for making viable birth control available cheaply to all. We’re human, and better penny wise than pound foolish. It costs less to provide a young lady a pill, or a young man a condom, than it does to support a single parent family on taxpayer dollars.

Now, I’m not poor. Both my husband and I are employed (Thank God!) – but we are living paycheck to paycheck just like millions of other middle class Americans and I know first hand how incredibly difficult it is to find any joy in life when all you are able to do is try and figure out how to get all your bills paid and make your earnings stretch as far as possible. Its horribly depressing to struggle with financial issues. To have to make the choice to pay bills rather than buy your kids Christmas presents. But guess what? That’s what we did. As responsible adults we have an obligation to provide the essentials for our families. If there’s no money left over after that, then that’s just too bad. There, I said it. We are only guaranteed the right to PURSUE happiness, we are not guaranteed happiness itself. So, I put my big girl panties on and I’m dealing with it.

Anyway, I believe – in my practical mind – that social assistance is supposed to help provide the essentials to struggling individuals and families. The essentials is the key concept here. The cheerios, if you will – NOT the sugar pops. And,we must keep in mind at all times that if we don’t hold people accountable then it becomes our responsibility as well when the system gets abused and our generosity gets taken advantage of. The current state of the welfare system has little direct oversight. We’ve managed to automate much of the processes and procedures. For example, when I was briefly on unemployment in the mid-eighties I had to actually report to a person in the unemployment office and provide them documentation of my job search efforts in order to receive my benefit check. I had to actually go to this office once a week. No phone calls, no computers. Face to face with the caseworker. These days its a matter of logging in on a computer and typing in whatever information you feel like. On the surface, this makes sense and would appear to save money. However, it’s hard to lie to someone’s face. Much easier to be less than truthful on an impersonal website. Now I’m not saying everyone is lying – I’m only saying that the system makes it easier to do so – and there are individuals who will lie to get what they want (human nature being what it is and all).

EBT cards are another example of a well meaning procedure/process/benefit that is incredibly easy to abuse. I’ve seen it firsthand and written about it previously so I won’t bore you with a recap but I can tell you it absolutely FROSTS me to see my hard earned tax dollars wasted in this fashion. I’m sorry you don’t have enough of your own money to get that lap-dance buddy, but you CAN’T (shouldn’t) spend your EBT benefits in the strip clubs, or getting a tat, or a manicure, or buying booze, or purchasing non-nutritious food. “Life is not fair”, I tell my girls all the time, so “Get used to it!” Here’s my cheerio (common sense) fix: 1.You should not be able to use your EBT card to get cash. 2. If they can set up EBT cards to reject alcohol and tobacco purchases it is certainly worth the effort to set them up to reject junk food and soda. These are not essentials, they are luxuries. We are not doing anyone any favors by enabling them to purchase non-essentials. And I really don’t want to have to pay more via your medicaid health insurance for your kid to get their cavities filled because you won’t set limits and give them nutritious food instead of those push pops you got for the “buy one get two” special at the Stop and Shop….. Grrrrrr!

No positive or empowering lessons learned – not in any way, shape, or form. We are not assisting anyone in differentiating between “want” and “need”. This is a crucial life lesson that absolutely has to be learned in order for anyone to be successful in life. Looking the other way and allowing the luxuries just because we feel sorry for folks is not actually empowering them at all. My co-worker friend had another great example about this: He was doing a home visit and saw that the family had a rather large HD LED or plasma TV on their wall. He asked about it, and was told that it was rented – paid for with the welfare benefits the family was getting. Here again is a great example of waste – and lack of prioritization. This family had all sorts of legal financial and other problems and yet felt the need to spend taxpayer dollars on the luxury of an HD television. (that was actually costing the taxpayers more than if they had paid for it outright because they were renting it) Sugar Pops. Dumb Sugar Pops.

People need to understand that a welfare check is not actually their money. They need to be accountable for how it is spent. It is a misnomer to refer to this type of benefit as an entitlement. It is not. They didn’t pay into the system, or work for it. They are not “entitled” to it. Veterans are entitled to benefits because of their service to our country. Retirees are entitled to their social security checks because they have paid into the system throughout their working lives. Laid off workers are entitled to unemployment benefits because they have worked. Our society has seen fit to provide charity to those in need. “Assistance Benefits” would be a much better phrase to accurately describe what is being provided. Now if you want to reform the welfare system and require “work for wages” then by all means, feel free to refer to it as an entitlement in that case. We need people working in the system to prioritize using a common sense approach, with a mission statement of “empowerment, not enablement” – and the mindset that goes with that.

But what do I know, I’m a cheerio swimming in a bowl full of sugar pops….

cheeriossugar pops

Help! Advice Needed.

Awhile ago I talked about creating a coffee table book of my photographs to sell, and donate the profit to charity.  With folks on the eastern seaboard homeless and still shivering in the dark because of Hurricane Sandy, and also my wish to raise funds for breast cancer treatment and research – I think now is the time to do so. I knit and crochet, can sing in the shower, but other than my photos, really don’t have much to offer in the way of marketable talent that would be of benefit to others.  Hence my “big idea”…

However, other than to create the book online using one of the many lovely sites that do this sort of thing, I am completely clueless how I should set things up so that people can view and place orders for the book, and send payment. I am willing to donate 10 dollars  from every book sold to either the Red Cross or Susan G Komen ( buyer to let me know their preference). I will add the ten dollars to (the cost of the book, plus tax, shipping etc – and will not charge anything for my time whatsoever – so the total cost would include the donation).  I assume I will have to set up an online payment service like paypal. I will create a page on the blog to feature the book, and link to a payment service.  ( I think that would be the way to do it, not sure) I would also be willing to sell my photographs individually if there is enough interest, and donate the profit to the aforementioned organizations.

If anyone:

1) has done something like this before – let me know what else I need to be doing
2)  would like to be part of this and contribute a photo or two
3)  thinks this is a stupid idea for whatever reason
4)  knows how to set up online payment services
5)  can recommend a good photo site to make the book

LET ME KNOW.  I’m kinda in the dark right now – not being a business person I am,as I said before, clueless.  You folks have seen my photography and I also hope will be honest enough to let me know whether or not this would be a complete waste of time from an artistic standpoint. (is my stuff good enough to generate enough interest?) Looking forward to hearing from you! Thanks!


Gratitude Gives Back Project

Coffee table book

Coffee table book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve mentioned before about wanting to create some kind of coffee table book of my photos as Christmas gifts for family and friends.  I started that project last evening. But – there are thoughts of another project growing in my mind lately ( I just realized I sound like Galadriel there, Hahahaha), and I need some feedback. Here’s what I’m thinking, for those who are interested  and/or interested in participating –

Gratitude Gives Back Project:

Let’s a few of us collaborate on a photography book. is the service I currently use, but there are plenty of websites that allow folks to submit and share photos and work on projects together. We submit our favorites to the site and pick those we want to have in say, a 20-30 page book including a picture of the photographer(s) and a short bio.  Then, we take orders, and donate an agreed upon percentage or amount to a charity of our choice.  the website will ship the book directly to the customer.  We could pick one charity, or we could each have our own one or two and rotate months through the  year (so depending on what month someone orders the book that’s where the donation would go).  It’s a rough idea-in-progress at the moment; BUT if you like it, and/or want to jump on board – please let me know.

Poetry would be cool to include also!

No Good Deeds. Or, How I Learned the Hard Way about Boundaries, and Lost Causes…

I’ve been posting recently about love and gratitude, grief, loss, and friendship. Its been cathartic, and apparently well received if I’m to judge by the feedback I’m getting. So first of all, thank you for reading what I have to say. Its really important to love, be grateful, and to share happy and sad times with those who mean the most to us. We’re human- its what we do. I also feel its important to share with others that we may not know so well. I’ve always had the philosophy that if I’ve got it to share I’ll share it. Unfortunately that philosophy came back to bite me in the ass. So I have difficult things to write about at the moment, not pleasant in the least – but things that need to be said. If only so I can get them off my chest and “on paper” so to speak. Names are changed for privacy.

Over a year ago a friend of my daughter’s needed a place to stay for couple of months. We had a semi-finished room in the basement with a futon and cable hookup – and we’d known the kid for over a year . My daughter’s friends are very nice, mature kids and he was no exception at that time – so we said yes. He didn’t have a job right then, but we could see he was actively looking and he said he would contribute for rent as soon as he was on his feet. He soon got a part time job and was also helping out with things around the house. All seemed well. “Joe” was quiet, helpful and unobtrusive. On the surface. There was a whole lot boiling underneath that we had no clue about. Stuff we found out about later that had we known at the time…. you get the picture I’m sure.

Things went OK for a month or so, then one day in early November my daughter called me on my way home from work – frantic. She’d smelled something funky in the basement and when she went downstairs saw the room door open. On the table was a small scale, a calculation sheet, and other drug associated paraphenalia. He wasn’ t at the house at that time but had quite obviously been firing up a blunt or two in complete disregard for our homes rules and the safety of our family. He showed up at the house shortly after she made this discovery and admitted he was dealing and smoking weed, and doing E. He was also obviously high and was ranting on and on about how everyone’s in boxes, boxes are bad, Jesus is coming, head north to avoid the apocalypse etc etc. And how he was here to ‘Save” us. She was justifiably scared. Her boyfriend had arrived and I suggested that they leave the house immediately and call the police if need be. ‘Joe’ left on his bike just then however. My husband and I arrived home. ‘Joe’ came back and asked to speak to me, I listened for all of a few seconds – that’s all it took for me to realize he was in serious trouble and possibly suffering from drug induced psychosis. I had 911 two thirds of the way dialed – just so you know – but he took off again when I told him I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. We went downstairs, gathered his things and put them in the driveway. I locked myself in my room that night after double locking all the doors and windows – because his parting comment to my daughter was a sad shake of the head and a “Mom can’t be saved.” I’ve watched waayy too many Lifetime Television Movies to be comfortable with that statement. There were no further incidents then, Thank God. He came back and picked up his stuff the next day. We thought that was the end of it, and breathed a sigh of relief. Lesson learned. Charity begins at home. Don’t take on other people’s problems – ever.

We began to hear things at that point. How ‘Joe’ had blown a full ride scholarship (complete with job, room and board) to a prestigious local college by setting off a stink bomb in the college’s chem lab with some friends – and had been expelled. I also found an AIM account on our computer with the alias “I Can Kill Everyone.”, and strange, violent music uploads as well. It was rumored that ‘Joe’ was wandering around town, crashing on friends couches for a night or two and continuing to rant and rave. One night in early December the police showed up at my door, asked if we knew ‘Joe’ as this had been his last known address. Apparently he’d deliberately walked out into traffic and gotten hit by a car and was in serious condition at the regional trauma center. I stated to the officer that we’d kicked him out a month before. He kinda laughed and said he knew why – as he was holding the kids knapsack with all his “stuff’ in it. Did I know any next of kin or anyone to contact? Nope. Thanks for your time Mrs E. Thanks for stopping by Officer.

However, his former youth group leader found out and reached out to him. She became quite involved, would call me occasionally – and she tried to get him to stay in the hospital and be mentally evaluated once his condition improved. He left AMA with a severely bum knee – still ranting and raving. There was one hell of a blizzard the day after Christmas that year. ‘Joe’ was spending that night on a friends couch. His friend’s father woke in the middle of the night to smoke and flickering light in his living room. ‘Joe’ set himself on fire deliberately – 3rd degree burns over 40% of his body (upper half). According to the father, he never made a sound – either then, on the way to the hospital or even when they Lifestar-ed him to the Burn Unit in Bridgewater CT. I heard this from his former youth group leader. He was put into a medically induced coma for over4 months while they debrided and grafted. She wanted me to go see him, but I chose not to. Then he got transferred to a rehab in the Boston area.

Social Services set him up with a place to live, benefits, visiting nurse care etc and he refused to accept it because it was in the Boston area and he wanted to move back here. So, MA being the bleeding heart blue state that it is, MA transfers all these benefits for him back to this area. He’s refused it all, -preferring to ooze and stink all over his friend’s furniture or sleep in the woods. He showed up here just after Christmas this year, 4 am, looking for a place to stay out of the pouring rain. Scaring the you-know-what out of my husband and me. You see, I’d noticed that our garage interior light was on before I went to bed, but I didn’t want to go out in the rain and shut it off. My husband unequivocally states that he shut the lights out when he left the garage. I think ‘Joe’ waited in there until he saw lights in the kitchen (husband gets up early for work) and then he came to the back door. We gave him a bottle of water but had to open it for him, an old bicycle, and told him not to come back. He hasn’t – and I fully expect to hear that they’ve found him someplace dead of an overdose or of exposure. It would be a blessing at this point, certainly.

I’m not writing this as a “Don’t do Drugs” horror story (although this one would do nicely as such I think). But in my/our haste to be helpful to someone, be kind and Christian to another person, we unknowingly put ourselves in an incredible amount of danger. And to top it all off, we are now getting collection calls about his forfeited student aid because we’re listed as last known address. And I’m still angry. Angry at myself mostly – for being stupid enough to think that I could make a difference and help someone else. I’ve realized I’ve got all I can do just to keep myself afloat and my family on course. No Good Deeds go Unpunished. We’re paying for ours – with sleepless nights and jumpiness at noises in the dark outside, with dealing with nasty collections agencies who seem to think I’m lying when I say I don’t know or care where this kid is. We’ve lost the secure feeling we used to have. I said before that Charity begins at home. I’m living by that motto now. I ain’t Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’. Lesson well and truly learned. Don’t be like me. Obviously, I do much better at rescuing stray animals. I’ll be leaving the stray humans to someone else.