Demanding Money From A Pauper

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It is a fact that virtually every material thing that exists on this earth is in limited supply. Chief among them is money. Each of us attempts to operate within a budget that is determined by our income and the purchases that we must make. Of course credit allows us to sometimes buy things that we might not be able to afford in a cash only world. Our homes are a perfect example of that kind of thing. Unfortunately many Americans are under water financially due to an inordinate reliance on credit. They are barely able to make minimal monthly payments and fall further and further into debt. Thus it also is with our federal and state governments, but most of us who vote and make demands on the tills often ignore the reality that we can’t just print more money to fulfill our desires, nor does money grow anywhere on trees. We instead insist that each of our favorite causes be funded without concern for the many many expenses that are required to keep all of the various programs running. Like individuals with a penchant for using charge cards to fund their desires, the government is bloated with debt without considering ways in which expenditures might be curtailed to get a handle on the runaway tab.

In a home if things get really bad we have to learn how to trim the budgetary fat. We may cut back on eating out, attempt to lower utility bills by turning out lights and raising the temperature on hot days. We cut off the cable and shop for better deals on food. We try to pay off bills and save more money for the future. If we are dedicated to repairing our budgets we will begin to see results, but we have to be willing to make sacrifices. We realize that we can’t always get what we want when we want it.

For some reason when it comes to both state and federal governments we have our pet projects and insist that there never be changes or reductions in funding even as the danger signals indicate that trouble is on the horizon. We ignore the basic concept that we either need to lower our expenditures or raise taxes if various programs are to remain viable, and we are almost always reluctant to do either of those things. Lawmakers who come up with rational ideas for saving pensions, educational expenditures, Social Security, Medicare and such are generally accused of being mean spirited or even intent on “killing” people. Those who insist that if we all pay our “fair share” we will be able to provide for everyone are thought to covet far too much of our incomes. So we are at an impasse. Things rarely change and the very real problems continue to fester.

A recent episode of Frontline focused on the dire straits of many of the pension plans for public sector workers and teachers. Such programs have often been poorly administered and have made risky investments that further put the many retirement programs in peril. In some states the funds will be gone in a few years and yet there are thousands of individuals who worked for a lifetime expecting to receive a particular income in their later years that now may or may not be there. Efforts by state legislatures to fix the problems by changing a few of the current rules have been met with anger. According to Frontline the money will soon run out in far too many places, but the workers are unwilling to accept ideas that might actually save the programs from going broke and leaving them in the lurch.

I think that all of us who vote need to insist that our lawmakers be honest with us about the state of our governmental budgets. We must accept the fact that we are dangerously headed toward an untenable situation if we do not begin to address the issues surrounding our out of control spending. We will have to both give and take if we are not to suddenly find ourselves so broke that our programs, infrastructures and basic services begin to fray and fall apart. The looming disaster has been on the horizon for many years and we have been unwilling to face the consequences of our avoidance behaviors.

It’s time to educate the public about the unvarnished truth without partisan attempts to wrest control by using our budget as a political football. We have to quit demonizing those who genuinely try to fix these problems. It is in our best interest as a nation to demonstrate a willingness to make the needed sacrifices to insure a more secure future for our country and its people.

At least twenty years ago I took a class on Benefits and Compensation. The professor warned back then that failure to address the glaring budgetary deficits would one day result in chaos. Already there are whole cities and even states that are being crushed by staggering debts and responsibilities that they are unable to provide as promised. It does us no good to make monetary demands from a pauper and yet that is what we continue to do as our government devolves from riches to rags with each passing year in which we do nothing.

As citizens we have the power to demand that our lawmakers serve us and the country. It’s time we become better educated about the state of affairs and open our minds to those who have ideas for fixing the problems. 


God Knows Where I Am

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I have had two passionate causes in my life. One was made by my own choice. The other was forced upon me by circumstance. Both of them have been major forces that weaved through every single day of my adulthood and seemingly defined my purpose here on this earth. One is a popular political football of sorts, often discussed but rarely resolved. The other is almost taboo, the sort of topic carefully whispered about, and almost always entirely misunderstood. Of course I am speaking of both the education of our young people and the almost haphazard way in which we deal with those among us who are mentally ill.

Those who know me well and those who read my posts understand that I have devoted myself to helping students and their teachers to find quality classrooms and educational standards that include learning how to think critically and how to lead meaningful lives. While there are still great problems with schools and universities that include both methodologies and financial considerations, I am far from alone is voicing both my concerns and my ideas for approaching them. Teachers, professors, parents, and the students themselves are quite vocal about their expectations for preparing each generation for the future. As such education is a subject that quite often finds its way into political discourse. There is much debate over financing and structuring of our public school system, and such discussions while slow to cause actual changes still manage to keep a modicum of attention on one of the most important issues in our country.

On the other hand, mental illness and how we deal with it is a kind of orphan. It is one of those exceedingly uncomfortable subjects that make us squirm even at the mere mention. Furthermore it is maddeningly misunderstood by those who have been fortunate enough not to experience its crushing effects. It is a disease with physical origins that are not as easy to see as a case of diabetes or a heart attack. The science around it is still in its infancy compared to other medical issues. There are few massive institutions like the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that are dedicated to unlocking the secrets to combating mental illness. The funding for those who choose to enter the world of psychology or psychiatry is generally well below that of other medical fields, and, speaking of fields, we never see athletes donning a color to promote support and awareness of those individuals and their family members who fight relentlessly and alone to care for loved ones ravaged by mental illness. It is all too easy to believe that nobody is particularly concerned about those who endure diseases like chronic depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other forms of mind numbing illness. Instead we look away from those that we all too often blithely categorize as “crazy.” In fact, I am certain that I lost many of my potential readers in the first paragraph of this blog as soon as I mentioned mental illness.

I have not secreted the fact that my dear mother had bipolar disorder nor that me and my brothers became her lifelong caretakers in an odyssey that lasted from 1969 until her death in 2011. It was often a frustrating journey punctuated by a seeming lack of concern by a society that all too many times shunned our mother when she was most in need of support. A lack of doctors, hospitals, finances and most of all understanding complicated our search for a kind and compassionate resolution to her needs and ours. Along the way we encountered dedicated professionals who were as troubled as we were like Dr. Thomas Brandon and Dr. Jary Lesser, but we also found many who had been so chewed up alive by the laws and the lack of funding that they had become far too cynical to be of help. We learned who the people were that we could trust, and realized that their numbers were far fewer than we had hoped.

On this past Sunday I received a text from my youngest daughter insisting that I watch a documentary on Netflix called, God Knows Where I Am. Without revealing any spoilers she simply said that it was sad but quite good, so I decided to end what had been a glorious day spent with my grandsons by viewing the film. I soon learned that it was the story of a woman who was found dead inside a vacant farmhouse, seemingly the victim of starvation. Amazingly she had filled several spiral notebooks with daily descriptions of her strange saga including a final declaration that included her name, Social Security number, and designation of where she wished to be buried. What investigators ultimately found is that the victim, Linda Bishop, was from a middle class family that had been filled with love and delightful experiences. Linda was well educated and possessed a personality that garnered her many friends. She married, had a daughter whom she adored, and eventually divorced. The rest of the tale devolves into a brutally heartbreaking saga of her crushing fall into mental illness and the ways in which our current system of dealing with cases such as hers totally failed both Linda and her family.

As I watched the film I found myself feeling as though it was my own mother’s story and that of me and my brothers. I was able to relate to every segment of the unfolding tragedy. My stomach clinched into the old familiar knot that often plagued me whenever my mom was particularly sick. I have been to all of the same dark places that Linda Bishop’s loved ones have been. I know from my own experiences how much truth lies in this documentary, and I hope beyond hope that enough people will watch it and embrace it so that a kind of revolution will begin aimed at fixing a very broken system that too often leaves everyone concerned in a state of abject fear and dejection.

My brothers and I were lucky enough to keep my mother from the kind of harm that overcame Linda Bishop, but it was a battle that we waged virtually every single day, and mostly alone. It was a fight not just for her life but our own. I know that we made many mistakes, but ultimately we slew the dragon of ignorance and lack of concern that made every step of the way more difficult that it need have been. I will speak out for those who have mental illnesses and for their families until I draw my last breath. I will never quite understand why it is not yet one of the most important causes in our world, but I will not let the lack of interest stand in my way of bringing awareness. For now I simply implore everyone to watch God Knows Where I Am. Surely it will tear at your heart.


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Photo by Lukas on

The conversation was with a young man in his early twenties. He remarked that he was struggling with the act of “adulting.” I told him that if that was the case then he is rather normal. In fact, it’s not all that unusual for even a senior citizen to sometimes long to run away from adult responsibilities.

I just celebrated my fiftieth wedding anniversary. I was not quite twenty when I walked down the aisle on my brother’s arm. I made a number of pledges on that day that I soon enough found were easier to voice than to actually follow. Before my first anniversary my mother had a nervous breakdown. I attempted to lay all responsibility for her care at the feet of my aunts and uncles, but they were as befuddled by her illness as I was. They passed the torch back to me. I found that not even the pastor of my church was willing to assist me, so I took a deep breath and accepted the challenge of finding care for her. In the process I was transformed from a shy naive childlike young girl into someone able to argue for my mother’s cause and ultimately for my own. I found strength that I did not know was there, and I was all the better for my baptism by fire.

In the meantime my husband was struggling with being a full blown adult in his own right. He was not yet fully ready to become the hard working person that would ultimately emerge. He was in graduate school and often stayed out late with his buddies. He was unhappy with his classes and the arc of his future. He found himself feeling confused and wanting to just chuck it all. It was when he saw me struggling to accept and meet the challenge of my mother’s care that he rose up to support me, a habit that would become his forever crusade.

Often it is in meeting the trials and tribulations that befall us that we find our inner selves. All humans suffer in one way or another. We are beset with problems that force us to make choices about how we will live. That is when “adulting” often feels the most painful, but it is also the moment when we have the most potential to find out who we really are.

Throughout my life of almost seventy years I have encountered difficulties from which I wanted to flee. Most of the time running away was not an option. I sometimes initially reacted by screaming or crying in frustration. I literally begged God to take away the pain I was feeling.  I vented the anxiety that I was experiencing, but over and over again faced whatever demon was attempting to bring me to my knees. On most occasions I made I through with a sense that I had made all of the right choices. In others I knew that I had made terrible mistakes. Even then I learned that there are few decisions, no matter how poorly conceived, that cannot be corrected.

None of us are perfect or capable of always demonstrating maturity. We become tired or frightened and “lose it” as the saying goes. I’ve had moments as a mom, a wife., or a teacher when I’ve done or said things that later embarrassed me. Most of the time this resulted because I had simply had enough of stresses that seemed to pile up higher than I was able to stand. Our coping mechanisms are wired to only take so much before we blow a gasket. As long as our explosive moments don’t become habit, we are actually entitled to a loss of control now and again. Nonetheless, if our comments or actions have hurt someone, we are obligated to reach for our adult sides and fix the damage.

When I was in high school one of my teachers cautioned us to have as much fun as possible while we were still young. He advised us to sow our wild oats in our youth rather than waiting until we were middle aged. He pointed out that there was nothing quite as pathetic as a forty year old suddenly going through a second childhood. He spoke of individuals who eschewed their parental or marital responsibilities simply because they felt entitled to more “fun” than the day to day grind was allowing them. He painted a picture of how pathetic such people might be. We had visions of a balding guy riding around in a red convertible with a blonde woman young enough to be his daughter while his long suffering wife and kids were left behind. I have to admit that it was indeed a disgusting image.

I would not want anyone to have to deal with the difficulties that I faced at a very young age. There are other ways of slowly but surely becoming a responsible adult than having to face tragedies. My advice is to enjoy the freedom of youth as much as possible while also building a foundation that will ultimately support a strong sense of responsibility. The early twenties are a time for exploring and even making mistakes and learning from them. It’s when we begin to understand ourselves and the world around us, and when we develop the skills that will lead us through even the toughest trials. At the same time it can be one of the most enjoyable and liberating eras of our lives. In the end, if we have kept a balance between having a good time and building meaningful skills and relationships “adulting” will almost naturally come to pass.

An Encyclopedia of Knowledge

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Discovering something brand new is quite exhilarating, and with the Internet it is far easier to do ever before. There was a time when a family set of encyclopedias often formed the basis of new learning, and many a curious person spent large amounts of time scanning the pages of those glorious collections of facts and ideas. Even the old volumes that were somewhat outdated still offered a cornucopia of information about the world in a time when the only other alternative for vicarious exploring was the library. Many a child lucky enough to live in a house with a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica held a world of excitement from “A to Z” at the fingertips.

Of course those old collections of Wikipedia like information have gone the way of the dinosaurs making it less and less necessary for young children to learn how to spell “encyclopedia” from Disney character, Jiminy Cricket. The Internet has taken the place of those rows of volumes that grandly announced that certain homes were purveyors and supporters of knowledge, and the extravagant investment in companies like Britannica or Compton or World Book was physical proof of dedication to learning.

There were often installment plans for encyclopedias back in the day. Patrons would purchase one volume at a time on a monthly payment plan. Each beautifully bound book would arrive along with a bill. My own father being consumed with a devotion to knowledge, books, and libraries had signed on for a set of Compton encyclopedias that were of dubious age by the time my brothers and I had learned to read. Nonetheless, most of the historical information was sound, and they became a kind of centerpiece in our family library that was lovingly stored in bookcases that lined our hallway. When my dad died, purchasing books became a luxury replaced by regular visits to the library. The encyclopedias became cracked and the pages began to rot. At some point my mother must have decided to divest herself of them because I don’t know what eventually happened to them.

Now the Worldwide Web is my go to source of quick research. As with the old books that I used, I have to be a bit wary of what I see, and I must check data against multiple sites. I find that there is always at least one address that contains quite accurate and up to date facts. It’s like living inside the great library that once graced Alexandria. I can lounge in my pajamas and munch on my breakfast while traveling through a virtual universe. Nothing is beyond my scope, and I revel in the excitement of it all.

I often think of my father and how intrigued he might have been by the technology that makes it so easy and affordable to discover faraway worlds and cultures. A good laptop provides more data at a far lower price than even the best encyclopedia. I can almost picture my dad surfing from one topic to another and enjoying all of the latest innovations with the same glee that he demonstrated for his prized books. He was a futurist who enjoyed reading about travels to the moon in an era in which such thoughts seemed to be the purview of dreamers. He had a wanderlust that he satisfied with his vacations and subscriptions to The National Geographic Society. He devoured literature and history, and never seemed to be able to find enough reading material to satisfy his voracious appetite. Having so much available with a few strokes of his fingers on a keyboard would have no doubt made him as giddy as a child on Christmas day.

Like my father I am perennially searching for interesting new ideas, and my trusty laptop is one of my most valued possessions. It takes me to places both sought out and unexpected. Each day I find that I am surprised by the new learning that it brings my way. I am admittedly as addicted to its power to transport me as my dad was to the books and the libraries that satisfied his academic thirst.

A good example of how the Internet sates my curiosity occurred recently when I was reading an article and an image popped up in a corner of my screen that distracted me for its color. As soon as I had finished the essay I clicked on the photo. It was the first in a series of slides about human towers. It seems that each year in Catalonia thousands of people converge to enjoy the tradition of watching organized groups take turns building a “castell.” These castles  are formed by creating a foundational base called a “pinya” upon which two additional bases are built before people then climb as high as nine to twelve feet into the air to form a tower of humans. Each group wears white pants and a solid colored shirt of a single color. Around their waists are sashes that also serve as a means of climbing. The process involves arranging the strongest and sturdiest of the members on the bottom level and then slowly moving upward until the lightest and most acrobatic form the summit. Then the process is reversed, all in a smooth flowing and systematic manner.

The photos that I saw were stunning in their beauty and so tickled my curiosity that I did additional research and learned about the history and terminology of this traditional event. I became quite intrigued by the difficulty of creating this human work of art, and wondered why I had never before heard of it. I suppose that next I will find some videos that show the process from start to finish.

We often complain that all of the technology that surrounds us is taking too much of our time or invading our privacy. We don’t stop to realize just how wonderful it has been in helping us to quickly and conveniently learn about the world in which we live. While the Internet has the power to drive us apart, it also might be the very thing that ultimately brings us together. We now have the capacity to see how true it is that we humans are amazing and to understand how much alike in our dreams we really are. Those dusty encyclopedias were once our bridges to understanding, but the new peddlers of information found at the stroke of a few keys are far more glorious.   

A Young Entrepreneur

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Young people make me smile, give me hope. They are doing incredible things that we don’t often hear about. Instead we are fed a constant diet of bad news about kids who are shooters, youngsters who do drugs, kids who have problems with laziness and a lack of concern about anything. The fact is that those stories are the exception rather than the rule. Today’s youngsters are as amazing as they ever were, maybe even more so.

I recently had a fabulous conversation with a boy who is still in middle school. He is writing a book and he keeps his story is a little writing desk that he carries around in case he has a burst of inspiration. He’s ready to pull out a sheet of paper and a pen at a moment’s notice. He’s also learning French and gets a kick out of responding to me with the lovely kind of phrases and pronunciations that make that language so beautiful to hear. Recently he revealed that he is already an entrepreneur and has been since about the age of six.

He started by saving money from gifts, little jobs and so forth so that he might purchase a used vending machine from one of his relatives. He cleaned and refurbished the used machine with his parents and got permission to place it in a children’s gym. He spoke of the process of filling it each week with candies that he purchases from a local grocery store. He told me rather happily that he was so successful in that initial venture that he was able to purchase an additional machine and find a home for it in a dance studio. He’s close to having enough profit to get another one as well, and he hopes to one day have a fleet of machines, but explained that keeping them filled and in working order takes time and focus. He’s quite earnest when he speaks of his business and his future plans.

We talked about the importance of mathematics in keeping his machines profitable. He has to figure the unit costs of the items that he purchases and price his candy so that he continues to accrue both customers and profits. One of his most successful ventures has been placing boxes of pencils inside a school office that he sells for fifty cents each. Not only do the students now have a source of writing instruments, but he also does exceedingly well in terms of making money with very little effort. Still he must keep records and a careful accounting of each transaction. As we spoke of each aspect of being an entrepreneur I found myself conversing with him as an equal rather than someone who is still quite young. He is already learning about the responsibilities that come with being an adult.

Children never cease to inspire me. Most of them are truly working as hard as anyone with a job. They rise from sleep early and often stay busy with studies and other activities until late at night. Even their weekends are rarely their own. One of my grandsons told me about an English project that he completed on a Saturday that took him over six hours. The need to work so long did not arise from procrastinating for the assignment was given only the day before and was due the very next Monday morning. Of course he had homework in all of his other classes as well, so on a typical weekend he will spend twelve hour days engaged in school related assignments and activities. During the academic year it is rare for him to have anything even remotely resembling a holiday. The same is true of most of the young folk that I know. They are constantly blowing and going and preparing for the future.

Another young man with whom I am acquainted has designed a treehouse that he hopes to one day build in his yard. He does odd jobs for people so that he to fund the cost of all of the materials that he will need. He’s only in the sixth grade, but his blueprint is thought out very well, and he has loads of ideas as to how to earn the cash that he will need in order to make his dream come true. He has partnered with a friend in the hopes of speeding the process through a joint effort.

One of the cardinal sins of our society today is to generalize the flaws of a few to the many. We have groups ranting about privileged white men as though every male with pale skin is a horrid creature. We all too often hear the word “immigrant” being voiced to impugn anyone from a foreign country. There is a currently bad habit of implying that all democrats or republicans are of a certain disposition. So too do some seem to believe that anyone under the age of forty is probably highly sensitive, lacking in knowledge or common sense, inclined toward laziness. My experience has taught me that none of these caricatures is universally true, and to proclaim them as though they are settled science is absurd.

Sadly there are even persons who should know better who have fallen for stereotyping various groups. Sometimes those people are even teachers who complain to their students about laziness even though they well know that most of their pupils are genuinely working quite hard. There is nothing more deflating that being accused or ridiculed or lectured about some perceived sin that is not true.

I’m sure that every adult has at one time or another been submitted to a generalized complaint that had no basis in reality. It is frustrating and maddening to have to endure such treatment, and mostly it is unfair. I recall numerous times as a student when I sat in a group and received a generic tongue lashing about something of which I had absolutely no guilt. The teacher found it easier to fuss at everyone rather than taking the time to quietly address the actual perpetrators of the crimes. Their ridiculous treatment literally backfired as I found ways to tune them out, and since I was one of the good ones I can only imagine what the kids who had caused the problems were actually thinking.

We would do well as a society to spend more time recognizing the majority of young people who are striving to be their very best. They need to hear our praise for their efforts. Continual negativity that assumes that they are all alike just because they belong to a particular group is destructive to all of us. It’s time that we insist that anyone who does such things be challenged to change. It’s a tactic that neither inspires nor fixes problems. Celebrating our uniqueness and our positive efforts, on the other hand, has been proven time and again to enrich our world.