Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gonna Need Some Help With This Year's Christmas For Homeless Youth!

Let’s talk about this year’s Christmas for the homeless youth here in Phoenix. When I did last year’s Christmas, it actually blossomed into a Christmas Day dinner/event not just for the youth, but for anyone who had no place (or no money) for that special day. I don’t mind if it turns into that again, by the way. For those of you who were there, you know it went beautifully.

I do need to do some things a little bit differently this year, though. The most important thing is that this year I cannot do it alone financially. Last year I funded the entire event (with the exception of some last-minute donated items) out of my own pocket. I did not even ask for “helpers” until a couple of days before Christmas, and I never asked anyone for any money. Now don’t get me wrong – I would not go back and change a thing. But this year I can’t do it by myself.

The details for this year’s event are still sketchy, but one thing is for sure: There will be one! LOL! I don’t know if we’ll be able to use the same church facility again, but I am in discussions with them. They are having some financial problems of their own, though, and some of their kitchen appliances (primarily the refrigerators) are not working, although they are in the process of trying to get all that fixed. In any case, I can’t be guaranteed the availability of that same space we used last year. Thus, I’d either have to hold the event at my home (unlikely because my home would also need certain repairs before I could accommodate a crowd), or I may have to rent a place.

Another thing that will most likely be quite different this year is that I will need more hands (“helpers”) and probably one main right-hand-person, because I may not be able to attend the actual event myself on Christmas Day. I can do all the work just as before, I can get everything set up, etc., but I may not be able to be physically present on Christmas. In that case, I will need a stand-in to take over and run the show.

Anyway, there’s just an awful lot that’s still up in the air. It’s all being hashed out, and something will get put together. But for the time being, I have to start asking (earlier this year) for help with this thing. I’m going to need volunteers, and I’m going to need some funds. If you’d like to volunteer, contact me either here through my blog or on Facebook ( is my booth fan page). If you were involved last year, you probably have my e-mail address and can contact me that way (I would post it here, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea?) or by phone if you still have my number. Okay, I don’t care how you contact me, just get ahold of me! LOL!

If you’d like to contribute funds, I have set up a “chipin” page where you can “chip in”. Here is the link for that page: Sorry – I had no idea it was going to create a link that long when I set up the page. Ha ha. This is my first time using chipin, so if you run into any problems, please let me know. I’m just learning about this myself, so it’s a new thing for me.

So that’s where we are right now, still in the planning stages, but needing to start getting some money together for this thing. I hate asking for money, by the way, so I am a terrible fundraiser. But I really want to do this again for the young people out there, so I’m biting the proverbial bullet. That being said, if any of you who were there last year – and know just how great this was – would like to help spread the word, I would really appreciate it. I realize a lot of people don’t “know me from Adam”, as they say, so your help and endorsements on this could really make a difference.

Once I have a list of people who want to be involved, I will plan a lunch or something where we can all get together and talk. I think it would be really nice if this year – unlike last year – we all got to know each other in advance and could talk about what each of us has to offer and/or can do. I will keep you all posted on that!

Thanks for reading, thanks for helping, and I look forward to lots of fun this season!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Man Cave

My house is becoming a “man cave”. Kayla (one of my “strays” who lived with us for years) moved out and got her own place a couple of years ago. She still comes over pretty regularly and of course she’s still part of the family, but she’s growing up and has her own life. Then my daughter moved out last month. The last of the feminine influence around here – aside from me – was lost. I have only boys now.

I come home to football gear (and the special aroma that goes with it), guitars and video games strewn around the living room. I have to argue over the TV, fighting for my right to watch “Top Chef” or “Flipping Out” instead of the continuous stream of sports and skateboarding that’s become the background noise in my house. Frankly, even when I do win the battle and get to watch one of my own TV shows, it isn’t the same having to watch them alone. There’s no one here who cares much to share my fascination with Paula Deen or wants to watch a chick flick with me.

There is a picture on the wall by my front door that is slightly off-center from where it should be. Kayla hung it there. I need to move it over about half an inch, but I can’t seem to get the motivation to bother since no one really cares about the pictures on my walls. I want someone to say, “Oh yes, that looks really cute right there!” when I find a new little vintage knick-knack from a yard sale (I love old grandma-looking stuff). The boys don’t care. If it were up to them, I’d hang Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix posters all over the living room. Arrrrgghh!

I know what I need to do. Well, one thing I need to do, anyway (I’m sure there are a lot more things). I need to get baking. Baking relieves stress for me, and at the same time it makes me feel all domestic and “mom-ish”. I like it, and it’s one thing the boys can appreciate. What boy doesn’t like to wolf down cookies? Right? I’m just waiting for the temperatures here in Phoenix to drop at least below 100 degrees, though. I can’t afford to heat up the house by using the oven.

Ah, well. I will get over this, or I will find myself a new “stray” who is a girl, or I will just adapt. I’ve always adapted, but sometimes I do it kicking and screaming. Ha ha. This might be one of those times.

But hey – At least I have help here who can move heavy stuff and do yard work, right? Right. Well, maybe not so much without a lot of nagging (I hate nagging). Typical guys they are. Gotta love ‘em, but gotta kick ‘em in the pants. Guess I just need to get my kickin’ boots on and my oven mits at the same time, and I’ll feel back to my old self. If nothing else, I am at least determined to get a nice back yard out of this!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coming Soon: Shoe Drive For Homeless Youth

Last year I did a Christmas Day “event” for homeless youth who had nowhere to spend their holiday, and it went beautifully. If you haven’t known me that long, you can read about it here:

Well, plans are still in the works for what to do this year (I know, I know, time is running short and I’d better get moving on it), but there is one thing I would really like to get started on right away. Last year I asked many of the youth (as many as I could get in contact with in advance of the event) what they would like for Christmas. While there were a few variations, the overwhelmingly most asked-for item was shoes. It makes sense when you think about it. A young person who spends their days and nights on the streets does a lot of walking, and they go through a lot of shoes, which are hard for them to come by. I’ve seen them wearing shoes held together with duct tape, and I’ve been there at the Tumbleweed Drop-In House (it’s like a homeless shelter for youth, but open daytime only) when donation boxes came in that included shoes. The boxes didn’t even make it five feet inside the door before those kids were all over them. Shoes get them excited, and they are in constant need of them.

So this year I would like to do a shoe drive. I’d like to have as many pairs of shoes as possible available when I do whatever I decide to do (it’s still up in the air as far as where and how we’ll be doing this year’s function, but I will post more about that later) this Christmas. I plan on asking around for people to donate shoes (used shoes are just fine as long as they’re still functional – these kids are not picky), and also I would like to have somewhat of a fund set up so that we can purchase shoes if needed. For instance, last year there was a particularly large young man who had really big feet, and we had no shoes in his size, so we had to take him to a couple of different stores before we actually found what he needed. Between now and Christmas, my kids and I will be hitting the thrift stores and yard sales for good used shoes, and I am a really good shopper, so I’m sure I can grab up quite a few at low prices. If any of the rest of you out there would like to do the same, it would really be appreciated!

For now, I am just kind of putting this info “out there” so anyone who is interested can perhaps start to keep this in mind, set aside any good shoes you might have been ready to drop of at the Goodwill, etc. If you are local here in Phoenix, I will probably be setting up drop-off locations at my home and also at the church where I work. If you live out of state and would like to be involved in this shoe drive or in this year’s Christmas function, please just keep me in mind and drop me a note when you have a minute. That way I can get in touch with you as ideas are hashed out and we’ve come up with ways for you to be a part of it all.

Thanks for reading, and please do follow my blog if you’re interested in helping homeless and at-risk youth. I will have lots of ideas and things to do that I’ll keep you all updated on as the holidays approach!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Summer From Hell (A bit of a rant) - or - "What I Did With My Summer Vacation"

I last posted her over a month ago on August 10th, and at that time I was sort of putting out “feelers” to see if perhaps there would be other moms out there who would like to join me in my adventures. Some of you contacted me, and I either replied saying I’d get back with you later or I did not reply at all. For that I apologize. Even though I’d had the idea for a while of reaching out to other moms, the middle of this last August was not, I now realize in retrospect, the right time to do it. Little did I know at the time – although I probably should have – that I was about to step right into the center of a “perfect storm” of crises that would just about crush me (and would take some time for recovery before I could embark on any new endeavors).

This summer had already been a rough one at best. My ex-husband had stopped paying child support, my hours at work had been cut in half, finances were tight to the point of snapping, and I needed to come up with the money to send my daughter to her college internship. She’d worked hard to get accepted, and it was a great opportunity that I could not let her miss. The pressure was intense, and I would do whatever it might take to get her there.

Ah, but luck was not on my side, and the summer of 2010 (“a summer that will live in infamy” for our family – lol) was not going to ease up on me for even a moment. If I believed in karma, I might have pondered whether I’d spent a previous life kicking puppies or pinching small children and old ladies.

I held an online rummage sale to raise the funds needed by my daughter for her internship. It tanked. Meanwhile, one by one, all the vehicles in our household broke down. I’d get one repaired and then another would go. We were rotating cars like musical chairs. Our roof succumbed in a rather ugly way to the summer monsoon storms. I was dragged into a family drama regarding the care of my maternal grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. My son was injured playing football, the dryer broke, the washing machine sprang a leak and flooded the house, then the kitchen sink sprang a leak and flooded it again. The cat got sick and died. I kid you not. It seemed to me as though cries of, “Mom… Mom… MOM!” were coming at me fast and furious, from every direction, until they haunted even the few precious hours of fitful sleep that I could eek out for myself.

All the while, as it seemed I was putting out fires left and right, the continuous thread running through the tapestry of my crisis-ridden world was Vashti, a young lady I’d taken under my wing who – at this time of all times fate could choose – required my constant attention.

I had helped Vashti, who at 20 years old was already homeless with two small children, find a place to live in a transitional living program (as much as I would have liked to, there were reasons why I could not take her and her children into my own home). In retrospect I am still not sure I’m happy with having placed her there, but there were – and still are, as far as I can find – no other available options.

The program and its staff proved very difficult to work with, and their demands of her were nearly impossible. The threat of being kicked out and once again homeless loomed almost daily. No sooner would I help her meet one of their requirements than there would be another issue with which they were not satisfied. When I would try to speak with them and make sense of it all, I would get conflicting answers (yes, they want her to get a job but won’t help with childcare, then no, they want her to enroll full-time in school, then no, they don’t want her in school full time because she should be working full time, then she should enroll in school because this is what they want her to do, then no…) until my head would spin. When I would attempt to come to her defense as to why certain things were so difficult, the reply I would get was, “Well, other people in the program are able to do it.” Further probing revealed, however, that others were “able to do it” because they’d come into the program with certain resources that my girl did not have. They could pay their program fees, for instance, because they were receiving child support and/or had jobs (she had neither). They could work and/or job search because they had child care through the state (she is not eligible, and although I’d been led to believe this program would be helping with childcare, that “changed”). To make matters even more difficult, the program’s rules prohibited her from receiving any gifts at all. So, for example, when she needed items for her baby, she was told that that was “her own responsibility” even thought she had not income yet, and I was not allowed to give her anything. Items donated to the program for her baby (the only way that I or anyone else was allowed to give her anything) were, in fact, never passed on to her. Rather, they were found being sold at a fundraiser rummage sale for the program. Ultimately I went to that rummage sale myself, bought back what items I could that had been donated for her, and I “loaned” them to her. It was the best work-around I could come up with to the no-gift rule.

My relationship with the people who run this program became tense early on, which at first I found baffling. I had tried to be as helpful as I could, but I was getting the cold shoulder and being squeezed out of “the loop”. Normally, when I take in a young person and refer them to different social service organizations, I am not only treated with respect but with open arms and a welcoming attitude. They are usually very glad that the young person they’re being presented with has someone else in their life to help. I am used to becoming very friendly with the various social workers, who have always in the past been very open to discussion, suggestions, and exchanging ideas. They appreciate me. Not so with this new place – and they were literally new, having just opened. My girl was, in fact, their very first client (although more did come into the program with the same month). I had years of experience working with troubled young people, and I was watching them do everything wrong while refusing to hear any outside input. It was very frustrating, and I did not understand it. I did eventually hear, though (and from a very reliable source), that the program’s director simply “did not like [me]”. As it turned out, what he did not like was accountability. The program flipped and flopped, changed rules and policies, made mistakes and kept trying to fix them without listening to anyone, all while people on the outside (including me, but not only me) watched and could see the problems coming but could do nothing.

As of this date, by the way, Vashti is still living at this facility. However, her life has become a train wreck with their help, they are now denying that they ever directed her to do certain things (things for which they now don’t want to take responsibility since they turned out to be the wrong steps), and I am currently in the process of helping her try to develop a “plan B” for when this whole thing finally caves in.

So… That was what I was dealing with this summer, all while the house was falling apart and my daughter was trying to get to her internship and all the other crises were circling me like sharks. We did get her to that internship, by the way. Here she is in the registration line for her new apartment at the Disney College Program:

When we got home from taking her there, I had no car (we’d resorted to having someone else drive us). So, the first thing I did was walk to the store. One mile – not a big deal normally, but in 108 degrees it can really put a damper on your mood. I realized then that, although we had succeeded in getting my little “Pookie” off to California, the summer of 2010 was not done with me yet.

Kristen, aka “Pookie”, was my eldest, my firstborn, my foodie friend, my baking buddy, my TV pal, my movie companion, my second in command around the house, my “BFF”. As you other moms out there can surely imagine, I had some emotional adjusting to do once I returned home and her absence in the house became a reality. But there was no time for that. I was faced immediately with a promise I’d made weeks before: I’d promised I would babysit for Vashti so she could go to school. The folks at the transitional living program had insisted that she go to school, with the threat of homelessness once again hanging in the air if she didn’t follow their “plan” for her, even though she still had no resources for childcare.

There I was: My daughter gone and me having had no time to wrap my brain around that, the cat gone as well, stuck all day with no car and a crying baby (something I had not dealt with in fifteen years) who was used to being breast-fed and refused to take a bottle, my house now filled with only boys and quickly becoming a “man cave”… and then the cable modem went out. I had no internet access and no way to communicate with my online customers, which made me a nervous wreck. Well, more of a nervous wreck (lol). It felt as though my entire life had been turned upside down in a matter of weeks, and my world looked nothing like it had just a month before.

I lasted about two weeks before I had a complete meltdown. I quit babysitting, feeling terrible and guilty because I’d made a promise, but having to acknowledge when I could do no more. The day I gave it up, I had reached the point where I was literally shaking all over. I’d dropped off the baby in a borrowed car and come home, and there – bless her heart – was my favorite aunt waiting for me. My state of mind was written all over my face, with the bags under my eyes and my heart – I was sure – visibly pounding through my shirt. She was sitting at my table when I came into the house, and she said, “What is it? Are you okay?” I simply looked at her and said, “Please get me out of here.”

My aunt took me to lunch, even though I could not eat. She talked to me, calmed me down, encouraged me. Oh, just talking to another adult! I had not done so in weeks. Just to have someone listen, just listen, and not need me for anything! That alone, it seemed, was a huge part of what I needed.

My aunt took care of the cable, got me back online so I could contact my customers and answer e-mails, and I felt relieved. After that, I spend two days in bed. It took most of the first day just for me to let go of the stress sufficiently to relax and be able to sleep. The second day, I slept. I thought that was awesome, that I’d been able to crash out for a while, but it turned out I was coming down with the flu. Seriously. I wonder if, in a previous life, I was an axe murderer or something. Or maybe an IRS agent.

The flu, as it turned out, was a good thing. A miserable good thing, but a good thing nonetheless. It forced me into “down time” that I desperately needed, forced me to take care of myself instead of everyone else, forced me to stop over-extending myself, and forced everyone around me to accept it. I am better now, and oh so thankful for that flu.

And that, ladies and gents, is how I spent my summer. So if you e-mailed me and I did not answer, or if I mailed your package out a little late, or if I didn’t return your phone call or forgot to do something I said I’d get done… Now you know why. I apologize if any of that happened, but at least now you know what the heck was going on.

I’m still working on catching up some things, still working on adjusting to my daughter’s being gone, still trying to get my life back in order. But I’m back, and I feel like “me” again for the most part. I’m ready to start making plans for fall (my favorite time of year), ready to embark on some projects, ready to take care of business. I think the final therapeutic thing I needed to do was to write this all out and “vent” it, get it off my chest, tell someone about my rough summer. Now that’s done, and I feel good.

Thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me. It’s good of you to listen. And now we can all, as they say, return to our regularly scheduled programming. :)