05 December 2009

I am a phoenix

Okay, so maybe that is a bit of a dramatic title, but it really fits my worldview right now. I'm recovering from a really low point in my life, and I find myself reborn from the ashes. I have started a program about inner work called Be A Beacon. It really came at the right time for me.

We have moved into a much better living situation and are now exploring the opportunities that await us here. We lost our van a month after I blogged about it, so now we only have our little car. It makes traveling interesting, to say the least. We are looking to add a puppy or dog to our family, too. In our new neighborhood there is a family with children close to my own's ages, and they have a very similar parenting philosophy to ours, which is so delightful. It is a real blessing to speak to the mom and have her understand what I am talking about without having to go into lots of background explanation.

I have been putting together a collection of my family's favorite recipes. I thought about converting this to a cooking blog, but I don't think that would really be such a great idea. I have too many other interests and things to talk about.

We found a violin for Moira and she has started lessons at the public school. She started late in the school year so she has been getting private lessons, but she said her teacher thinks she is almost ready to join the rest of the ensemble. I never have to remind her to practice, just to practice things other than Mary Had a Little Lamb. It is her favorite. And Eirik is now going to preschool for speech therapy twice a week and riding the bus. Most days when he comes home again, he is asleep. Poor thing.

I have found a renewed interest in genealogy (shh! don't tell my mother). I discovered it in college, and I got my mom hooked. She has been consistent with it these last 15 years, but it slipped out of my life as quickly as it slipped in, and now it is coming back a bit.

My Geocities website died when Geocities died, and I didn't really care at the time. I still have all my files on my computer, so I didn't really lose anything. I found a new host today, so now I am trying to decide what exactly to do with it. I think I will make it multi-faceted. I will put my traditional astrology course back up, and I think I will put my recipes there, too. Maybe some how-to pages as well, and some documentation of various projects. Any requests?

25 July 2009

Fomenting Dissension to Save Jobs

This was written by my brother who is an inmate in the NH State Prison. He asked my mother to send it to all the major newspapers in the state, so I am sharing it here, too, to help spread the word.

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By Douglas Giddens


Recently the administrative staff at the New Hampshire State Prison, in an attempt to prevent further layoffs, has thrown the prison into chaos. By fomenting dissension and intentionally creating a dangerous and volatile atmosphere, they hope that the increase in violence can be used to support the claim that reducing the number of correctional officers is contrary to the smooth running of the institution and the rehabilitation of its inmates.

During the week of June 15, eighty inmates were moved between units. The three units involved are Medium Custody North (MCN), Medium Custody South (MCS), and Hancock Building (H-Bldg).

MCN and MCS are primarily long-term housing units populated predominately by prisoners who are sentenced to ten or more years, who have stayed disciplinary free.

H-Bldg is a transitional housing unit dominated by prisoners who are new to the prison, transitioning back from a higher classification status, or who have not remained disciplinary free long enough to have earned one of the limited number of beds in MCN or MCS, or those who are participating in a residential treatment program, for which two of H-Bldg’s pods have been reserved.

When prisoners enter NHSP, they live in R+D (Reception and Diagnostics) until they are classified by psychological criteria as Predators, Prey, or Neutral. Predators are those who are more likely to cause physical, mental, or emotional harm on others. Prey are those who are physically, mentally, or emotionally weak and more likely to be subjected to such harm. Neutrals are not seen as being especially predatory or especially susceptible to predators. In school, there were the bullies, the bullied, and those who were neither. This is the same principle.

Once categorized, inmates are placed in appropriate housing units: Predators in MCN, Prey in MCS, and Neutrals in either one, often depending on the nature of their crime or the unit requested by the Neutral.

In H-Bldg, these classified prisoners are placed on specific pods, again based on these same criteria (Echo pod for prey, Foxtrot for predators, and Neutrals on either). Over the previous week, NHSP administration has seen fit to disrupt this equilibrium within the prison community. They have taken 20 prisoners each from MCN and MCS and swapped them with prisoners from the most violent and volatile pod in H-Bldg: Foxtrot.

Those chosen for this move from the long-term communities of MCN and MCS were not necessarily those who were problematic prisoners or disciplinary problems. Although some of these men were not model prisoners, they had not been in enough trouble to be expelled from these units under normal circumstances, and many of those moved were in fact model prisoners; men who had been disciplinary free for many years, who held steady jobs in the prison, and who were respectful to and respected by fellow prisoners and guards alike. Some of those moved didn’t have very much time left in prison and will soon be released. There were also those, however, who are serving long sentences with little hope of ever being released.

The propaganda being spread by prison staff is contradictory and confusing. The answers given by some staff members differ greatly from those of others. Some say the idea was to move troublesome prisoners from earned units, but many among those moved were model prisoners. Some say it was to move short-term prisoners from long-term housing units, but many among those moved had little hope of ever being released. Some say that it was long-term, non-problematic prisoners to “teach the new young inmates how to do time”, but the variety of moved prisoners shows the fallacy of this reasoning. Some ranking prison officials suggest that the goal of all of this is to unify the prison so that there are no “good” units and no “bad” units, so that all live in relative harmony. This idea, however, is contrary to all psychological patterning and has been attempted before by this prison with disastrous results.

The fact is that the moves were arbitrary. Model prisoners were whimsically moved for no better reason than that the Unit Managers felt like it. The whole idea behind these moves is to mix the predators with the prey and incite violence in an effort to justify the necessity of having so many unnecessary guards.

Before these moves, the most problematic prisoners were consolidated on Foxtrot where correctional personnel were able to keep a close eye on them. This arrangement, keeping these men under close supervision, allowed officers to prevent many problems and intervene quickly when necessary. Since the moves, these most problematic prisoners have been distributed throughout the prison population and, without the needed supervision, they have been allowed free rein to extort, abuse, and steal.

The first week alone saw more thefts and assaults than were perpetrated in the last six months in these units. The results speak for themselves; one prisoner who has had only one disciplinary infraction in 5 ½ years, and that 3 yrs ago, who is unlikely ever to be released, cut his wrists. He was found with massive blood loss over three hours later and was rushed to the hospital. Another prisoner was reassigned to Foxtrot where it was well know that he had enemies. Another man was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of gang members. These are only a few of many such incidents and, in addition, the prisoners were refused communication with mental health professionals who could have helped to ease this transition.

Are the prison administrators such sadists that they would knowingly and willingly endanger the lives and safety of so many men? Are those charged with the safety of these prisoners so desperate to prevent layoffs that they would sacrifice so many lives to achieve this goal? Do we really want such ruthless and inhumane people in charge of the safety of our state prison population?

24 March 2009

Mmmm... Gardens

Well, we are forgetting about moving for now. It is very hard to find a place large enough for a family of 7 that falls in our price range of 1200+ utilities, AND that will accept Section 8 rental assistance. Most people's reasoning for not accepting Section 8 is that it won't pass the safety inspection. Why are they renting it out if they know it isn't safe? The one place that I was certain would pass (it had just been repainted - the biggest failure in the places we looked at) just flat out refused to consider it. I cried for a couple of days after that one. The house was perfect for us - 3-4 bedrooms, 1 1/4 bathrooms, full basement with W/D hookups and an area that was begging to be filled with shelves for food storage, a fenced in backyard, a formal dining room to fit our monstrous table, and still within easy biking distance of downtown on a dead end road. So yes, I cried. We have since given up on moving out of the project for now. They have also pushed back the start of construction here, so now instead of March 1, they are *hoping* to start by June 1st. The up side is that most of the people we truly don't get along with have either left or are on their way out. Having obnoxious neighbors is one thing, but believing they are dealing drugs in another matter entirely. I don't know why no one has been arrested over there yet, but I have been assured that they are being evicted and they agreed to it in court, so they can't change their minds now.

All this leads up to this post. Since I am staying here, I can plan my garden for here. I got my seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds (on Sharon's recommendation) yesterday and have been planning and replanning my garden. I now have a schedule for my starts and plantings that I don't suspect I will change anymore. I had done a nice schedule based on our frost date and how long before that each plant is supposed to be started indoors. Then I saw Matt mention that he had done some planting based on moon phase, so I decided that I needed to schedule mine all over again. Now it all laid out on the little generic calendar I printed out for this purpose based on moon phase. That means I fudged a little on my frost date, but I dont' think that will be a significant issue. For example, one of my plants says to start indoors 5-7 weeks before the danger of frost has passed. The last frost date in my area happens to fall almost on the new moon in May, which is perfect for putting plants in the garden. Since I am not sure if the moon phase applies to starting seeds or putting them in the ground or both, I opted to start them inside 4 weeks before and and put them out on the new moon. The other option was direct seeding after frost. My first plants will be started this Friday. I panicked for a little while yesterday because I couldn't find the peas and lettuce seeds I had saved from last year. I hope they are viable, since I have never saved seed before. But I want to start my lettuce on Friday and I couldn't find the seeds! I searched everywhere I could imagine I might have put them. At the end of the day I found them packed up in a box labeled "Gardening stuff". Imagine that. :)

Since I can't put much in the ground for two more months, I am sure my layout will still be changed up before then. But soon I will have little greenies growing in my house. Hopefully the cats will not try to eat them. Yay!

14 January 2009

About cars

Crunchy Chicken posted today about whether higher gas prices are a good or bad thing.

This is a tough one for us. Our "family car" is a 94 Chevy Astro van that we bought used 10 years ago. It gets about 20 mpg in the summer. At that time we planned on having a big family and would be needing the room. That indeed happened. We have 5 kids, so the 8 seats in the van definitely get utilized. At one point, we had 3 kids in car seats, though we are down to 2 now. We also have a 180-mile round trip every other week for visitations with my oldest daughter who lives with her father. This was murder on the pocketbook.

Last year we used our tax refund to pay cash for a used 99 Mazda Protegé. The gas mileage (when it is only being used for the trip to get my daughter) is around 35 mpg in the summer. Winter is harder on the gas mileage since we have to leave vehicles to warm up (especially the van) before we go anywhere or else the cars complain.

The Mazda only has 5 seats. It won't fit our whole family, so if we go anywhere as a family, we have to take the van. The van is going through some trials right now (over 200k miles on it), and we are trying to decide if we should keep putting money into it and hope it lasts as long as we can afford gas, or if we should replace it. But with what shall we replace it? Financing a $20k hybrid car is completely out of the realm of the most remote possibility. I suggested an old station wagon, the kind that has the extra back seat that flips up and faces backwards, but I haven't seen one of those in, well, probably decades. My husband suggested a small pickup truck. Yes, it would mean we have to take both vehicles to go somewhere as a family, but really, we don't make long distance trips as a family very often. He also said that when gasoline is prohibitively high, we can pull the engine out and convert it into a horse- or ox-drawn cart. I don't know how plausible that is, but it is intriguing. We shall await the prognosis on the van right now.

31 December 2008

Christmas at our house

We had a lovely Christmas this year. Our apartment is so small that we don't have room for a Christmas tree this year, so we got some poster board and I outlined a tree, then the kids colored it in. We hung it on the wall and taped some ornaments to it and it is lovely. It comes down today and will be put away in case we need it another year. We hung ornaments from the ceiling and strung lights around the walls at the ceiling, so our living room looked quite festive. Cait is spending Christmas vacation with us this year, part of a new agreement that now eliminates our being on the road on Christmas Day every year for the 4-hour round trip between houses. This is the first time since Terry started working this job that I have had both my husband and my daughter home on Christmas morning. He works on Christmas on odd-numbered years and doesn't get home until after 2, and on those years Cait would spend Christmas morning with us, but go back to her dad's at noon. So this was an exciting year for me.

We even invited my mother over to spend the night Christmas Eve so she could be there first thing in the morning when the kids wanted to open their presents. By the time dinner at 2 rolled around, though, I think we all had had enough of each other. She left shortly after dinner to go visit my brother in Concord, and Terry and I heaved a sigh of relief. But the kids enjoyed her being there the whole time.

We tried to keep Christmas simpler this year. I hand knit something for everyone, and we got them socks and underwear (which they desperately needed), Terry got them each a DVD, and in their stockings were a couple of candy canes, a new cocoa mug with some cocoa mix and a few hair ties. We also got each child one specific present: Cait got needle nose pliers for making jewelry, Moira got a sketchbook that she has been asking for for weeks, Lauren got a stuffed animal since we accidentally culled too many of their dolls, Rowan got a Magna-Doodle since she is always drawing and uses far more paper than I am comfortable with, and Eirik got a rocking horse. My mom gave them each an article of clothing and a book or two. Cait also made presents for everyone, too. Overall, they got what they needed and something they wanted. Next year, though, I want to spread the purchase of such items out over a longer period of time. Did you know that socks and underwear for 5 kids costs $72! One package of each for each one. Egads!

We didn't overdo on confections, primarily due to our new diet, but I am making some decadent chocolate and coconut bars for tonight as New Year's Eve. We also get to get some of our baking fix by hosting our church's coffee hour this Sunday. Overall, it was a good holiday.

Making progress

I see it has been over two weeks since I last posted anything here. Terry has an appointment for Monday for a physical and to go over the results of lab work he had done this past Monday. We have done a lot of reading about diabetes and insulin and blood sugar and are adjusting to a new diet. After doing some quick caluclations, we realized that he was consuming somewhere around 1000g carbs each day, 750 from soda alone. The USDA recommends 300g per day, and I know that is way higher than it needs to be. He is reading The Schwarzbein Principle right now, and we have read Eat Fat, Lose Fat and some articles by Dr. Mercola and Dr. Rosedale. We are awaiting Life Without Bread through interlibrary loan so it is next on the list. After just this short amount of time with no soda and cutting way back on carbs, his knee has mostly stopped bothering him and he isn't so grumpy. Other symptoms have dramatically reduced as well. I have high hopes. We do however have to buy him some new clothes. These last several months he has lost so much weight that his jeans are now 4" to big in the waist and his shirts are hanging on him. He just got these clothes last February and they fit him perfectly then. So now we just wait for his doctor visit and he wants to get a glucometer.

12 December 2008

Health care and poverty

I find that I have to post an update to my last post, to clarify our situation. I have gotten three responses so far, one was an offer of financial help to get treatment, one was encouragement to find a way to get help, and the third sounded like a scolding for not valuing my husband's life enough.

After receiving the offer of a check from my friend in Europe, I was in tears from her generosity. I started calling around to find out what the total cost would be. When I called the local clinic/hospital's billing office for prices, she told me that they have multiple programs to help those without insurance. The first is a 30% uninsured discount. Secondly, they will work with you to come up with an affordable 0% interest payment plan. Thirdly, she sent me paperwork for up to a 100% income-based discount. She told me there was no need to let finances get in the way of getting help.

But I still have another reason for hesitating to go to doctors. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. The medical system in the United States is so broken due to corruption. I truly believe that the privatization of health care should be considered a crime against humanity. No one should ever be forced to choose between going to the doctor for a major illness like this and getting warm boots and snow pants for their children for the winter. Or, if it is expensive enough, food to feed their kids. The question is not, "How much is your husband's life worth?", but, "Why is anyone allowed to put a price on human life like insurance companies and drug companies are?"

The medical system has fought against diabetes since the dawn of written history. Anthropologists use diabetes as a marker of civilization. It should therefore be obvious that going to the doctor will not take care of the diabetes. So why go to the doctor then? I do not believe in going to the doctor for treatment of disease. Doctors cannot cure. Doctors can diagnose and can monitor diseases, but they cannot cure them. Healing is done by the body, not by drugs. The only way to truly cure any disease is through proper nutrition (which varies widely depending on whom you talk to) and a careful, deliberate lifestyle. I am willing to go to the doctor for injuries, diagnoses and monitoring, but I will not take their drugs.

Back to the comment though about valuing my husband's life. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that most people do not truly understand what it is like to live in poverty. To ever wonder where they will get groceries to feed their children next week. To be homeless. Remarkably, I was homeless when I first met the commenter nearly 20 years ago. Perhaps he didn't realize I was homeless. Most people have never worried about not having enough money for gas to visit their little girl who lives with her father nearly 100 miles away. These aren't the worries of the average US citizen. But we live these questions a few times a year every year. It is no fun having to call up your daughter to say, "I'm sorry, honey, but I can't come get you this weekend because we have to replace the tires on the car and then I won't be able to get gas, and I don't want us stuck on the side of the road when we run out."

Poverty is alive and well in the United States but most are blind to it. Poverty is what makes us have to choose whether or not we can afford to go to the hospital for a diagnosis of a potentially-fatal disease. It isn't free will, it isn't apathy, it isn't that I don't love my husband with every ounce of my being and don't know how I could live without him. It is that it is a long and complicated and therefore expensive process, one that could very well require surgery (for ancient knee injuries that make it impossible for him to do much physical activity), and that means time lost from work, which means reduced income, which could mean that we have to ask those hard questions again. Doctor or food? What kind of a choice is that? One driven by poverty.

So why don't I get a job? Again, this is a complicated question. At first blush it would seem the answer. First, we have several small children. Daycare costs alone for 4 children, 2 not yet old enough for school, would completely consume all of my potential income and more. A friend and I recently discussed how it might be possible for his wife to stay home with their baby. His baby is about 6 months old or so and he told me that daycare for her is $500 per month. That is one child. Now multiply that by 3 (full time for the two younger, part time for the two older) and that equals $1500 per month. That is more than I can hope to bring home in a paycheck, and is only a little less than my husband brings home. Sure, we could apply for state-funded child care, but that would be an extra $1500 or so burden on the state. Currently, we receive almost $600 in state aid as food stamps. Do you, the taxpayer, really want to replace that with $1500 that the state can't afford since it can't balance its budget?

Secondly, my child support payment would go from $50 per month to about 25% of my take home pay. When I was working full time (which was until 5 years ago) I paid nearly $100 per week in child support. So that brings the cost of my working up to about $1900 per month. Still can't afford it.

Thirdly, when I was working full time, our family life suffered terribly. The children were always cranky about having to go to a sitter, I was angry at society for not paying my husband a living wage and therefore requiring me to work when I wanted nothing more than to stay home with my children and be a mother. To keep the daycare costs down (though not completely eliminated) my husband and I worked separate shifts. That is hell on a marriage. We nearly got divorced. So quality of life is another cost of working away from home, though one that defies a price tag.

We have a plan of action now, one that we worked out after the encouragement from my friends cleared my head so I could think more strategically. I am not letting him go without a fight. Never doubt that.