Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's the Disrespect for People that Kills Me

Ok, so we know economically times are hard. They are improving for some, but they are hard for many. It was primarily due to these difficult economic times that we moved our family 1100 miles south. There was a time when things for my family were good, not great, but good. We have never been the people who were interested in big vacations (we mostly camped, much cheaper), we weren't fashion or possession hounds. I will admit to a weakness for techie stuff, but I've never been a first adopter, and I always searched for screachingly great deals. We didn't enroll our kids in overly expensive activities. We did all that, in part, to live in a modest home in a great school district.  We did everything right when we moved there, had about six months' savings in the bank, put as much down on our house as we could afford, we didn't risk. Two extended job losses--one of 10 months, one of almost two years--wiped safety out. In between the two job losses, my husband had essentially a 50% pay cut from before his first job loss. That meant we were NEVER out of the hole. Things still weren't horrific yet. We all wear clothing from thrift shops, the campouts were fewer, we didn't go out to eat unless there was a groupon involved. We started a business to try to make ends meet, and I took on a second job. We didn't qualify by the state of Illinois as "poor" but we didn't have much compared to our neighbors, who weren't rich themselves. Living in that town was hard.

I say all this because of two things. One is this ridiculous clip/article that says if you have a computer and/or air conditioning, you "can't be poor" in the eyes of some politicians. Essentially, he, and those like him who might not say in public but in private agree, is saying that only the basest of existences can be considered "poor" for the government's purposes, and anything above that is a-okay! So if a single mom has a kid and someone gives her a second hand computer her kid does homework on, she can't be poor. If, like my family, we had some good times and were able to purchase computers that are now four years old, we can't be poor. Because we lived in a house where we turned on the a/c when it was reaching 100 degrees, nope, we can't be poor. He's a moron. I could probably feed my kids on what he spends on dry cleaning in a month.

The other reason I say all this is a general sense of disbelief I have after having moved to Louisiana. I registered my kids for school, and the school has been AWESOME, telling us to send them with whatever supplies we had, they'd make up the difference, and they didn't charge us for the "spirit wear" shirts kids can wear on Fridays instead of their polos and khakis (which we still had to buy). I think they're used to people who stay with family members, as there's a significant migrant worker population here with sugar cane harvesting. In any event, when we were back in Illinois, and the unemployment benefits stopped last December, my pitiful salary, made even more pitiful after the deductions for parking pass, health insurance, pension, union dues, simply wasn't enough for four people, two of whom kept insisting on eating and growing. I looked into public aid and found I made too much per year by about 6K, not even small enough to get help with lunch costs through the school, as that threshold was in the low 30s. When we got to Louisiana, I'm filling out all the paperwork, and the threshold for reduced lunch is OVER $44,000! The cost of living is less here, gas is less, granted milk is more, but I know people who are raising kids on a far less than $44K. I've actually been walking around muttering 44,000! at random times during the day. I have issues letting things go.

It amazes me that areas can be SO different and have such a different attitude. When living in that SW burb of Chicago, where many people had great incomes, but there were just as many who didn't, and I inquired about assistance through the schools, all but one person acted annoyed and put out to give me any information. Here, they just said "don't worry about it" and gave me stacks of information. We may be going through a lot of adjustments here, some that have made me bang my head on a desk recently, but there is definitely more of a feel that we're all in this together that I'm really liking.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's a Complex Situation

No Louisiana talk today, branching out to what's going on around us for everyone.

We've got a complex situation going on in our world. The actions of police, police brutality, racism, abuse, racial profiling are all very serious issues that people feel deeply about. For myself? I'm conflicted. I've personally known people pulled over for Driving While Black, thankful it didn't escalate to something far more dangerous. I've known people touched by police officers' overuse of power, and it's devastating. Here, a woman talks about how frightening and demoralizing these situations are. I feel her questioning, her anger, her embarrassment, her outrage, and she's completely justified in all of those emotions. There are police officers who are making decisions that affect people short and long term in devastating ways. Just as there are bad people in EVERY profession, there are bad police officers, but in their situation, the stakes are infinitely higher and far more frightening.

On the other hand, I know police officers too. I've had them in my classes, I call some friends and extended family. I know they have to go into every traffic stop, every domestic situation, every loud party with the expectation that the person they are detaining could have a firearm and is itching to use it. If they don't, they are putting themselves and their partners in infinite danger. Every situation has to be approached with DEFCON 1 seriousness, or danger could ensue. I know even great police officers can't find out information about attacks and shootings in high crime areas due to the inherent mistrust of police bred by media sensationalization of police brutality cases. Even if the cops come from. that. neighborhood. there is distrust from other community members. I know it has to be difficult and stressful to tell a superior officer that maybe someone who has had your back, saved your life, has gone too far in an arrest. When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, there should only be tears that a public servant is gone. This article spells out the sacrifices even the families make. Again, I feel her pain, her longing, the depth of her despair.

I don't pretend to know what the solution is to this issue, but I know we can't toss up our hands in question and despair. Somehow, we've got to get police officers to serve in ways that respect humanity. We've also got to get community members to respect the job officers do. I wish I knew how to make that happen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Expect to Have a Criminal Record

Those of you who've driven with me know speed limits are merely suggestions, and I rarely listen to those suggestions. Well, karma is about to kick my ass.

I don't know if this was simply a scare tactic used by local police, but my uncle got a speeding ticket not long after moving here two years ago. He, unlike me, is a speed suggestion abiding citizen, but there are a number of places here where speed limits go from a blistering 70, down to 55, down to 35 or even 25 in a flash. He got caught in one of those change ups going 46 in a 35. The officer told him in Louisiana, ELEVEN MILES OVER THE SPEED LIMIT IS A FELONY! A FELONY, my friends. I'm doomed.

Every time I drive anywhere, my accelerator foot twitches, and I feel like I have hives. To paraphrase Sammy Hagar, I can't drive 25!

I give me two months.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


It is apparently a good thing we came to my Uncle Bob's house. Had we not, he'd have probably killed himself ingesting over expired food and medicines. I'll admit, this may be a familial thing, as before Scott, I wouldn't even think of checking dates on things. It wasn't until he sat down to eat some of my homemade spaghetti and realized the parmesan cheese I'd used had an expiration date of six months prior, and of course the apoplectic fit that followed, that I realized I needed to LOOK AT dates prior to cooking. I'm still not the best, but I use my Christmas cookie making time to cull my spice cabinet of outdated baddies, ditto with regular foods when it's food drive time at the kids' schools.

When we arrived, Scott started checking dates in the fridge, and he became sad. Four or five items in a row ended up being significantly expired. One day, while Bob was at work, we held a refrigerator intervention. It sure cleared out space and made things easier to clean, lol. We knew we had to do it while he was gone when Scott pointed out Bob's favorite mustard was expired, and he replied "then I guess I need to eat it FAST." We bought a replacement when next at the grocery store.

Little did I know, the fridge was just the beginning. Megan had an upset stomach, and Bob offered up a remedy, but he actually looked at the box and said I didn't want to know. Oh yes, I did! 2002, people! 2002! That means he'd carried it from his home two years ago in Georgia expired! Gah! I hit the medicines, and we were left with maybe four items. The next oldest was 2008, which means, again, transferred expired. Eek!

Use this PSA to go clear out your fridge and medicine cabinet, and let's see if anyone has anything older.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Changes in Our Habits

Yes, we're going to have to change a number of habits we've had in the north. Some are just a tweak we have to remember, some make me break out in a cold sweat. In no particular order, they are:
  1. Everything moves slower in the south. Not worse, not better, just no sense of urgency we have in the north. This is the thing that makes me go into deep breathing mode. Today, we nearly shut down the ENTIRE grocery store because we asked for a price check on an item that wasn't coming up as on sale. Literally, two people went to investigate, while the line of people behind us grew (no other open lines). They weren't worried, no loud sighs or recriminating looks, but I had to go to my inner happy place to get through.
  2. Everyone assumes you've lived in the south your entire life, even with evidence to the contrary. I've been told to turn at places that haven't been in existence for longer than the kids have been on the planet, informed that there's a particular type of bbq sauce on a hot link (Jack Miller) when asking if it was hot or sweet, and various other things that have the undercurrent of "it's totally obvious, right?"
  3. The streets roll up before dark. The library, the LIBRARY closes at 6pm on weekdays. My kids LIVED at the library. They aren't happy. A few gas stations and the McDonalds and Sonic are open, but that's about it after dark.
  4. Dairy prices are OUTRAGEOUS! Apparently, we aren't close to cows, so there are only a couple kinds of cheese at the deli counter, which are super expensive. Milk? Cheap, store brand, non-organic, I just picked up for $4.25 a gallon. That's the sale price. Considering we use more milk than gas, not good, BUT gas is only $3.19, so that's nice.
  5. NO RECYCLING! This is one thing that makes me feel dirty. I don't know if it's because we're in a teeny tiny town, but there's no recycling program. None. Milk cartons, cereal boxes, cans, they all. go. in. the. garbage. Do you know how difficult it is to undo decades of conditioning? Nearly impossible. My hands tremble when I throw recyclable stuff out. But they pick up garbage twice per week. Riddle me that one, Batman.
I'm sure there will be more later.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rice or Noodles

When we were at the grocery store last, Megan asked if I could pleeeeeaaaaasssseee get one of the packets of noodles I sometimes make, usually when we have chicken. I don't know why, leave me alone about it. I said yes, silly me, thinking "hey, I'm going to a grocery store, where we can BUY food" probably.

Did you know in Louisiana they REALLY like their rice? You may have answered "yes" to that question. Even if you did, you STILL cannot fathom how much they love rice. Love. Rice. Love. Yes, LOVE. There is an entire aisle in a small town Winn-Dixie of RICE. Big bags, little bags, flavored kinds, not flavored kinds. I have never, except when I went to Costco, seen so much rice, and even that was not of the variations of rice this one aisle had. It's insane!

I went to the place where these little noodle packets are, and there they were. ALL RICE! Gumbo rice, Spanish rice, all different types of rice in the packets and in the other brands of boxes too. I found ONE packet of flavored noodles. It's not long and stringy like she normally gets, so I'm sure she'll howl. I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but the package looked like it had been creased and tossed around a lot. There wasn't even a tag for it on the shelf. I'm thinking it's a rogue package that got caught accidentally in a box somewhere and they just put it out for fun.

The same trip, we also bought a 5 lb bag of potatoes. I bet they were wondering what we were going to DO with all of them. I may have to ask for noodle packet care packages soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Adventures in Registration

Our first real goal getting to Louisiana was to get our kids registered in the charter school that served our new area. Louisiana has had, shall we say, "issues" with education in the recent past, not really making the national grade. I didn't want our kids, who had been in a very, very difficult district, to become bored and slack off, especially Brett, so I'd found this charter school that had ONE slot left in the 8th grade, none for 5th, but I was betting if we showed up with both kids, they'd take both. Then we had a dilemma. How to prove residency when we'd arrived only days before, and even if we hadn't, nothing is in our name since we're living with my uncle. The solution? Get Louisiana driver's licenses! Of course, some of that residency stuff may come into play, but we made a plan that if my uncle's information would be needed, we'd contact him. So Monday, we went with the goal of registering ourselves as drivers and our kids as students!

A little back story is necessary for this tale. Prior to leaving Illinois, I had the amazing idea to amass our social security cards, birth certificates, shot records for the kids, transfer papers from their schools into one folder. Yes, I AM a genius! When amassing these documents, I noted ONCE AGAIN that we only had the hospital copy of Scott's birth certificate. I marveled at that 16 years ago when he moved down to Illinois from Wisconsin and he was going for his driver's license there.  I assured him they would want the certified copy his mom had never bothered to follow through on getting. They took the hospital copy. When we got our marriage license, I told him we'd need the certified copy. They took the hospital copy. I was starting to see how people vote "early and often" in Chicago. I again said he might want to get the certified copy before we left. He assured me they'd take the hospital copy.

As a Chicagoan (and then Chicago suburbanite), I'm used to DMV facilities with long, complex lines that are set in stone, even if you've stood in the wrong one for and hour. There is a sea of humanity and every nationality teeming while waiting at Chicago DMV faciliites. There's a separate person JUST to give information and get people in the correct line. What we entered was a small room with about 20 chairs mostly filled, three people waiting on individuals, no separate lines. Unfortunately, we'd brought the kids, so we were settled in for some whining.  Luckily, one of the workers called up everyone who was just doing renewals and banged out a bunch of people. Soon enough, it was our turn. I'm good with my paperwork, all is wonderful! Scott? Not so much. They didn't take the hospital copy (DUH! That felt good.).  I'll fill you in on what's needed to get your information from Cook County when you're outside the state in another posting. Turns out, they didn't need ANY proof of address.  None, zippo, nada! I just TOLD them where we were living, and they TOOK MY WORD for it. I really didn't know what to make of that, so I sat there blankly. With my spanking new driver's license and voter registration--btw, I'm an organ donor too--we set off for the school.

When I registered my kids for school, not only were their birth certificates, social security cards, and immunization records required, we needed two bills with our names and addresses on them, one having to be our property tax bill, and a vial of blood.  Oh, just kidding on that last one, but the registration gal was eyeing up my veins. I thought Louisiana would be no different. They are. We were ALL worried about proving residence, and they basically didn't care. Birth certificates and immunizations were necessary, but again, they didn't even LOOK at my driver's license. How TRUSTING and totally disconcerting. I was right about them taking both kids, whew! The principal is super nice, told us even before we filled out paperwork the kids could get free breakfast and lunch and to get supplies as needed. That was great, because this school has uniforms, granted, only khakis and navy or hunter green polos, but still, it's an expense. Plus, it took me an hour in Walmart to find things that fit, since kids here started August 8th, and everyone had picked everything over.

As most already know, Megan missed her first week of school due to hand, foot, mouth disease her brother lovingly shared with her. They were on the waiting list for the bus, but they are now riding that every day. Brett has found a friend who, thankfully, is a Boy Scout. We're still working on Megan finding both a buddy and a Girl Scout troop.

We're still a work in progress. Next up, I muster up a little outrage at Illinois!