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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Monday, November 23, 2009

From There to Here

To quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been!"

It seems as if it were eons ago that we loaded the van, taking it up that major highway, only to have the majority of the exhaust system fall off and hang there. So we went with Plan B, stuffing the stuff in storage until we could get to it. The last pieces will come out on Tuesday, the storage unit paperwork completed, and we will be MOVED.

I sent out the invitations to family to come see the place, ALL the family, got all but four to come. Most brought presents, and they didn't have to do that at all! A certain niece and her intended made scones, the BEST scones on the planet, bakery quality scones.

We have been living life as well, while we ransomed our furniture and belongings with petrol and time. Distance learning has become a way of life. So far, we have been to Legoland Discovery Centre, the Lyric Opera, two plays, a bakery (in the back as well as front), Girl Scout activities (yes, we do Girl Scouts), a group movie date, and the Loop.

I caught Belle just the other day, counting the types of Os in her cereal and recording it on paper to obtain the ratio of sizes of Os. We have charts of how to say polite, civil niceties in three different languages. Baby made her own movie of one cat trying to persuade the older cat to play.

We just got the booklets for "Living My Faith" from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting and Camp Fire. It looks like a good program (I wish more people would read the FAQs instead of assuming the USCCB approves of Planned Parenthood or finances it in some way through Girl Scouts, but that's neither here nor there). As nobody is eligible to be confirmed this year, as we are now in the Archdiocese, we are doing our own religion curriculum, and currently attending Mass of the Week at various parishes in the area, to get a feel for ourselves where it would be best to register.

I know our old diocese is attempting to get Catholics to stay within their parish boundaries, but I think that's going to flop. But the parishes of the Archdiocese aren't much better. One parish actually wanted the girls to wait six months until we had been "members" of that parish that long, based on our payment record, before the girls could attend religious education. Another wanted the girls in their parish school, to the tune of non-parishioner rates for this year, three times what we paid for our former parish school. The religious education departments excepting one seem watered-down, but the excellent rel. ed. program has a school that only concentrates on the basics, the very basics (The fact that a school teaches Spelling should not have to be mentioned in a brochure). As we do not foresee a need to use a parish school that will probably be our parish.

We have a new "social action" activity about which we'll share more in coming weeks. Advent is next week! I know where the time went. I just hope it was well-spent.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mixed Bag- Call It Distance Learning & Not Another One

What would you like first, the good news or not-so-good?

I'm going with not-so-good first. I discovered I am going to be a grandmother again. No, I do not have any married children. No, I am not exploring this further. I am disgusted at my alleged adult child's behavior. I think this baby should be in a married, two-parent home, not being touted as a replacement for the children I adopted. Until and unless I find that my new grandchild and his/ her parent require the basics any Christian must deliver (food, clothing, shelter and the Good News), I can't do anything else without saying that "something not nice." So I will say nothing further. I am making my line in the sand. I know a grandparent or two who has had to do the same thing.

Now that that's off my heart-

It occured to me sometime back that my youngest was not getting the education she needs. Her school was wonderful. Her teacher was top-notch, a veteran of classroom and administration. The student-to-teacher ratio was small, 15:1. The classroom itself was brand, spanking new. Even getting special assignments with more challenge to them, she would come home bored. She actually told me once she could easily succeed in changing the subject in the classroom with a few words, but would be caught about five minutes after the fact. Her standardized test scores are all in the 95-99th percentile. Her report cards are pefect except for conduct, which is almost perfect, but not quite. Those little distractions of the teacher take their toll.

The Mister is a professor, and knows some other professor types who deal in gifted and talented kids. He pointed me to the local university, which has a G&T program during the school year as well as the summer months. OK then!

The Baby's teacher was happy to supply letters of reference for both Baby and her elder sister, Belle. We figured as long as we were checking Baby, we might as well check Belle. We showed up for something called a Torrence Test, which is supposed to measure creativity. Somewhere in the mix of summer swims and trips, we also managed an academic elvaluation through another school.

The basic results are in. Both girls have a good foundation so far. Belle has excellent math skills, good writing habits, but a bit of trouble organizing when she writes. Her mapping and reference skills are off the charts. The Baby was compared to children in her present grade as well as in the grade ahead, and compared very favorably; in fact, she did extremely well. Both girls have better than average age-appropriate manners and behaviors. Both know how to introduce themselves to other children and have no known social awkwardness.

We will be moving next month to another area. We know very little about the schools, Catholic or public. The Mister is not in favor of any public school, period. The Catholic schools have room for one girl at the non-parishioner rate, but not the other. This resulted from The Mister not paying attention when we chose one location, and then deciding he did not like it after all, for a variety of reasons.

Not to worry. The girls will be distance learning, starting next week. We have found a distance learning school that will give them social connections, has a grading service, certificates of completion, and opportunities for other educational experiences in our new area. We will also be utlizing the services of four colleges who have need of elementary school children in various programs. One college even provides sweatshirts with a logo to be worn over white polos and navy trousers.

Baby will be moved a grade ahead of where she would have been, with slightly different books and methods to adapt better to her younger age. Belle will be assigned the grade should have had, but with a grade higher math program.

Home schooling? Perhaps. Better to call it "Distance Learning" as well as remember because of the four colleges, our chances of being "home" during the day are slim-to-none.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The $613 Vacation #2- Fun Center

It seems every community of 2,000 in Illinois has some sort of for-profit center where, for a price, families can engage in various amusements. Our community is no exception; in fact, there are three within a 5-mile radius.

For purposes of convenience as well as tasty vittles, we chose Luigi's. The other two centers offer such amusements as roller skating, bowling, and go-carts. The Mister and I were simply not in the mood to participate in any physical activity that day.

The kids, however, enjoyed arcade games of a wide stripe. Luigi's offers a varied assortment, from Whack-A-Mole to Skeeball. We were able to offer the children the opportunity to place many tokens on their machine keys, over $25 each. This was unprecedented in our family! We have been bribed up to $10, but never $25 each. That's a lot of arcade and video games, 100 attempts.

Frankly, my husband and I went to Luigi's to eat pizza and drink beer in the afternoon. We split a pitcher of MGD. We haven't drunk beer in years, and we haven't drunk anything remotely alcoholic in the afternoon in decades. We were only observed by counselors from the local park district, no doubt jealous that we could imbibe while their duties to their 50 or so charges left them without such an alternative.

Total cost for our weekday afternoon of relaxation: $132.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The $613 Vacation #1- 3D Movie


Three-dimensional movie viewing is not a cheap proposition.

When we see a first-run movie, we try to aim for the first matinee of the day, often only $3.25 to $4 per seat, all ages, depending on which theater. If we go in the morning, it also saves money on snacks. We perhaps spend $30 total for tickets and snacks.

Not so yesterday's first matinee of "Up" in 3D. 2 adults, 2 kids, $32. Yes, I kept the 3D glasses. We paid for them. They work with Crayola 3D chalk. Why should we recycle them, so the theater can rebag them and resell them? Oh no!

The movie itself was visually appealing in any event, and had a wonderful moral. The 3D experience thrilled the kids. This particular auditorium was nicely uncrowded.

Some theaters turn a blind eye to bringing outside snacks, some put up signs prohibiting it. The theater we attended has no qualms, so we stopped at Walgreen's for some low carb goodies as well as "movie size" boxes of candy for about 1/4 the price at the theater. Good to know: Vines do not taste like Twizzlers, and our kids do not like Vines. We also bought at the theater one giant and refillable tub of popcorn and 2 large diet sodas. $15.

The child who did not win the coin toss for the event got to pick our lunch destination. Big surprise, Mikky D's. We know of one nearby that has authentic golden arches built into the structure, but we have never dined there. Upon our arrival, we were treated to a bench with a gen-u-ine plastic Ronald. Made for a couple nice photos. The service at this Clown Shop was less than stellar. It took the crew 15 minutes to figure out that the crew member in charge of cleaning the drink area had removed the iced tea canisters and was deelybopping someplace else, too busy to get that tea out there in the prescribed time. The kids' fries were stale and old, yet were supposedly within specs. Somehow, the big screen TV running Cartoon Network did not make up for so-so food and not even average service.

WE SPENT: $77, including 3D movie tickets ($32), low carb snacks & high carb candy in a store ($12), popcorn & soda pop at the theater ($15), and lunch at The Golden Arches ($18).

THE KIDS LOST: $4 for staging an extreme fight over the remote control at 1930 last night (also sent to bed early).


Friday, June 19, 2009

The $613 Vacation- It Can Be Done Cheaper

We did NOT figure these activities into that $613 orginally planned for our local theme park, Three Circles Over Hades:
  • The Fourth of July weekend. It's a separate issue in our family budget.
  • A possible trip to visit extended family, again a separate budget issue.
  • Fees for Camp Brainiac, sponsored by one of our local universities.
Having viewed the content of some of the places I will be mentioning in this summer's blog, I can see where some people might think we are loaded. We are not. We are in our fifties, and because of our assumption of the role of parents for our grandchildren, decided to work until the kids were well along the path to adulthood or we drop dead, whichever comes first. Please take the following into consideration as you consider what you read:
  • My husband is eligible on occasion for a senior discount. He makes no bones about using such a discount. Regretfully, I must pry a senior discount out of businesses. Despite the grays on my head, I look too young.
  • We use coupons when it makes sense. This is not always the case. Liverland is a not popular tourist destination for children. Buying food that is not on your diet simply because you have a coupon can cause you more money in the long run.
  • We are not afraid to ask for discounts when planning a vacation day. We call ahead. You would be surprised at how many there are, and that do not involve senior status. One of those is the fact that we are both certified teachers in Illinois. The fact that we are certified substitutes makes no difference. Another good discount is the one we receive for being residents of our town. All the business can do is say no. Ask.

There are a variety of free and cheap things to do in any area of the United States and Canada. Consider looking on your community's web site, the web site of very nearby communities, and those communities within a short driving distance from yours:
  • Off-peak movies that cost between $1 and $2 admission per person, all seats. Yes, it is either on a day when most people don't go to the movies, and/ or at a time that most people don't go to the movies. Yes, you probably have seen some of the movies already, as have the kids. Don't discount the discount! This is especially true if your residence is less than spacious and/ or not air-conditioned. A trip to the movies, to sit in a darkened theater, is always an adventure for a child. Odds are good the popcorn and goodies will be discounted, as well.
  • Concerts in the park. Many communities still have a local band or orchestra. The price is usually free. Bring a blanket and a snack, along with something to keep away the bugs.
  • The old-fashioned picnic. This is not the summer affair planned by your union, church, employer, or squadron. It does not require a grill, pony rides, a raffle or door prizes. Pack a lunch, a ball, and a blanket. Drive, take the bus, or walk to a spot that has some quiet, green grass, and a place to spread out that blanket. Eat lunch. Play ball. Walk around the place. Go home. You would be surprised the number of kids who have not been on this type of picnic. That's sad.
  • Local festivals. Communities plan these as a way to bring goodwill and tourist dollars. There are often free activities or those that cost very little. Kid crafts. Guess the number of objects in the jar. Food samples. Fireworks. Giveaways from businesses.
  • Park district. It's a little late to sign the kiddos up for day camp, as those places usually go the minute they are open, thanks to parents who need to earn a living. However, some park districts offer swimming, play parks, playgrounds, and other amusements for the local populace.

We, the Mister and I, have been given a gift of some really solid blocks of summer time, days when we have nothing to do but be together as a family. We consider these blocks of time blessings, and look to utilize them to the fullest. Give your schedule a once-over, and see if you can clear some time for yourself and the kids in your life.

The $613 Vacation- Getting To Yes

Perhaps clarification is in order. When I say we are not headed to the nearest theme park, I mean just that, no theme park, Dante-themed or otherwise.

We fully intend to spend the money we budgeted for the theme park. We just don't intend to spend it at the theme park.

It took a family meeting that bordered on sales pitch for some of the snazzier clients I have had, and a better Dog 'n Pony Show, to eliminate Three Circles Over Hades.

The kids love the Internet. It is something we only let them use once or twice a week, or to work on school projects, with a fully running net nanny. I loaded a doc which featured linked logos and photographs in text boxes (easily moved about the page). The links included URLs for local tourist places, movies, sports events not involving baseball, and museums.

I then got out a dry marker and the white board. "Kids, how much does it cost to go to Three Circles Over Hades?" I inquired.

The eldest thought of an answer. "Nothing. We get our tickets free at school." Aha! Just the answer I wanted. They were amazed that yes indeed, the old folks needed money to enter Hades, and then there was all that money for other things. I tallied it all up right there. It was an astounding $507.

The eldest was now spokesperson. "But what about our money for chores, and our behavior bucks?"

We don't give this set of kids an allowance, in the sense that they receive a set amount of family cash simply for existence. They have a chore chart. Some things, such as bed making and washing oneself out of the bathtub, are gratis. Other chores, from folding laundry to taking out garbage, come with a price tag. No workie, no money, and it better be done with a civil attitude or no money anyway, but the Mister and I still get the work done. 10 percent of this income is given to charity, 50 percent is saved in a savings account, and the rest the child can use to his or her choice.

The second source of child income in our household is behavior bucks. Call it Negative Motivation. Call it Incentive Behavior. The Mister and I are over 50. We don't want to mess with physical restrictions, corporal punishments, and all the parenting angles younger people seem to have energy to perform, unless it is absolutely necessary; very often, it is not.

The premise is simple. Every month, we do something together as a family. An amount of money is set aside in the family budget every month. How the children behave determines what happens when it is time for the monthly family activity on which said money is spent. Some months, the family activity can be as rich as the movies with popcorn and restaurant lunch. There are also months where the family activity is Pay Per View rated G, or even just board games.

The kids used to have mason jars, which into each was deposited toy money bearing the value of the set amount per child. Tell a lie to get out of work? One behavior buck lost, and a talk on lies. Most childish misbehaviors lose a buck. Fighting of any form within the friendly confines of the house earns the loss of a whopping 2 behavior bucks, and going to one's room for the rest of the day. Needless to say, the rooms are no entertainment centers, and lack TVs, computers, Wii and even books barring the Bible and prayer books.

However, the behavior bucks were not portable, and sometimes the old gal forgot. The "bucks" are now values on a punch ticket. It is extremely pleasurable to grunt in public, "I'm gonna punch your ticket" and have younger parents look aghast, only for me to whip out the hole puncher and the tickets.

Taking into account behavior bucks earned for April through August meant we raised the stakes to $613 (we really did plan to go to Hades, and it was the children's idea to save the behavior bucks).

While I sold all the wonderful places we could go, I could see the girl child's eyes light. I know she is the one who hates Three Circles Over Hades the most. She is very bright, and was calculating in her head just how much $613 could buy of a summer.

It was the eldest who was yet unsold. "But I worked hard to earn that pass!" Did you really, Pet? A quick tally of the old dry marker showed that indeed, the eldest was also involved with earning a good grade in Reading, a coupon for an individual pan pizza, and a ticket to the minor league ball park, all at the same time, by reading 30 minutes an evening. Hardly the effort imagined.

It was at that point I urged them to the computers. They clicked the links of their choices, and were transported to some 12, count 'em, twelve places and activities within the greater Chicago metropolitan area. They were all in.

I have yet to figure out what we will do with the Hades passes. They are allegedly nontransferable, and the kids' names are on the back. Perhaps I'll stick them in their baby books (advantage of being Grandma AND Mom- You latch onto the baby books early). As long as we adults do not have to swelter in Hades, I will be satisfied.

The $613 Vacation - Why

$613. It doesn't sound like much. It really isn't much. But it's how much we have for a local vacation activities this year.

During the school year, our kids earn a day pass from the local theme park, Three Circles Over Hades. They do this by reading for 6 hours. It is not a strenuous proposition, considering the eldest is supposed to read 30 minutes a day as part of homework. They also earn a coupon for an individual pan pizza from a leading pizza chain, based on their individual teacher's requirements. They also earn a pass to the local minor league baseball team's "INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL HERE" Night. For making As and Bs or the equivalent, there is the major baseball league's INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL HERE" day, with the child's name flashed upon the Jumbotron.

The problem is not children earning something by studious actions. The problem is the sad fact that while the child earns a pass, the parent does not.

Take the pizza chain. The kid gets an individual pizza. The kid does not get a drink, not even a small one. Water is no longer free. The coupon states the child must order in the restaurant, no take-outs, no drive-thrus. This means at least one parent must accompany the child. Any other child who earns a pizza certificate also gets an individual pan pizza- no drink. Who is going to sit there and watch the children who earned this consume it, while dining himself? What started out as "It's absolutely free" becomes "That'll be $32.78 plus tip".

The minor ballgame produces the same problem of the parental ticket, plus interest in the game. A child under the age of 10 has a rough way to go to sit for an entire nine-inning game. Baseball in itself is no longer the key interest. Between every single man at bat, it seems, there is a number called from the scorecard. T-shirts are shot out of canons into the audience. People, adults and kids, are called down to run the bases. What could have been an enjoyable Saturday afternoon winds into a four hour pile of ads, gimmicks, and giveaways. Combined with parking, the extra ticket and food purchases, it is a waste of a good afternoon. The only difference between the minor league and major league park is things are more expensive at the major league park, and the major league team's park is in an area where people should not go without an armed escort.

But the absolute worst of the inducements earned by young students is Three Circles Over Hades (like that Dante theme). A child's day pass currently runs $35 or so. Not so an adult day pass, which runs $35 before July 11, and for the rest of the season cost $55. Two adults, as in two parents, cost $110, unless a couple can meet the stringent requirements to qualify for something cheaper. The parental jobs usually take precedence over Three Circles.

There is no point in not buying the keys to successfully maneuvering Three Circles Over Hades, the front parking pass and the line jumper pass. Unless one wishes to re-enact Moses' trip through the Sinai with some very crabby substitute Hebrews, get the parking pass. The lot is hotter than any desert, and twice as humid from the engines of the cars as well as the spots of blacktop (Watch your head for the seagulls, who think they are skimming water). Just to park the family bus cost $15, so go ahead and ante up the additional $10 to park as closely to the gate as possible. The line jumper pass will mean you still have to wait behind the other line jumpers, but not nearly as long as those who decided the option to wait was a waste of money or simply wouldn't do anything. $156, please, paid by the number in one's party.

One can dine on one's own cuisine in the Three Circles' spacious and blistering parking lot. Some people bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the hot asphalt and burning gravel. It's against the rules to bring food and beverage from the outside world into Three Circles. Ticket holders are wanded and frisked, so even chewing gum is suspect. Expect to pay 3-4 times the cost of the restaurants just outside the Three Circles' gates. Do not expect children to be content to simply have a drink out of the water fountain, not that most parents would allow them to use the water fountain. The buffet of boxed mashed potatoes, smoked butt passing as ham, dry chicken, lettuce, and postage stamp cake pieces starts at $18 per person, drinks extra. There is a drink canister that can be refilled for $1.50. The canister cost $15.

We will not discuss the souvenirs, except to mention they took everything the kids earned in allowance as well as budgeted "fun" money.

But the real reason for not going to Three Circles Over Hades is the sad fact that these children we have do not like amusement park rides. They shudder at the mere mention of the names of certain roller coasters. They refuse to even consider the "tea cup" style rides. Last year, the eldest barely met the height requirements to enter the area really designed for kids under six. We spent over $350 to sit in what amounted to preschooler paradise for three hours, then eat lousy food and buy expensive gedunk and junk. We also rode one real ride each, and drove the faux antique track cars. It was hot, sticky, and filled with adults also on their last nerve.

This year, two children will be too tall to stay in the safety of the shaded airplanes and elephants. They are not short in any event, and seem to have acquired a tall gene from someplace. We are feeling way too old and way too impatient to attempt it this year. Hades will have to do without us.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Other Ideas, the trash, and shopping for a place.

Greetings, and it's been awhile!

1.) We are seriously considering home education for next year. The "lovely parish" we considered last year is not necessarily so lovely. I volunteered for a parish event early, to see what people were like and also to give the kids an opportunity to meet other people. I was honestly asked by a person in an official capacity if I was familiar with the Rosary. No, I am not kidding. Yes, somebody listed in the bulletin in the little "staff" box said this. I don't think my reply of, "Well, as a cradle Catholic of 50+ years, I hope so, especially since I have prayed at least a decade almost every day of my life" was too dismissive. There is no room in the other Catholic school up there, and if this is the religious education in this parish, we have serious concerns. I hope the matter is cleared up, but in the meantime, I now have the task of checking out home school groups up North.

2.) Live someplace longer than two years, and clutter will be there. We have been in this house 9 years, and had people moving in and out. Yesterday, I dumped some six Rubbermaid buckets of trash. I'm renting a professional dolly tomorrow to get some of the big boxes out of here and into storage, so I can actually think (I need space to think). "Clean House" move over! It's time for Clean Grandma.

3.) We need to be out of here by August, or start paying rent. The Mister is dragging his heels. Nothing suits him except this house, which has already been sold. I asked him if it was OK to simply pick a place, and have him go to work one fine morning, then drive home to the new place. After some hemming and hawing, he's not adverse to it. This might be the way to go.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

We spent the afternoon at my parents', where an egg hunt was held for the benefit of the children. We are planning a trip to Vegas on the proceeds of those plastic eggs (just kidding).

Several of the children's classmates were received into the Church, so we went to the Easter Vigil. I am glad we went, although some folks around here need to learn the difference between the Easter Vigil and the Easter Virgil.

Packing is proceeding slowly and thoughfully.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Catchn' Up

We have oh-so-busy around here the past month, that we have done absolutely NOTHING about the blog!!!!

  • We are moving to another county; at least, we think we are moving to another county. This has involved school and parish visits, because I am simply not up to the task of home educating these children. One parish with what I consider the best match to the children's present school, as well as possibly being the finest school in the Collar County area, insisted we HAD to live within the parish boundaries in order to use their tuition payment system, not merely be parishioners who show up and offer stewardship. Well, a house similar to the one in which we currently reside within that parish cost 150% of the current value of our present abode. We kept looking, and found what we think is a good match. Only time will tell. The principal taught and was administrator for my lovely nieces, now grown into well-educated and well-adjusted adults.
  • We have to finish up life here. I have completed many a move via Uncle Sam and PCS orders. I am older now, and I have no intention of rushing things. As most of our furniture is second-hand (but in good shape), I feel no great attachment to it. I am seriously considering having a giant garage sale a couple days before we move, and only moving things that are extremely useful (the refrigerator, as the buyers will be doing a complete tear-down of the interior), things that have sentimental value, and things that took us a long time to find (the beds!). We also have an amazing amount of preschool toys we no longer need, yet the children fervently claim they direly need these things they have not touched for over two years.
  • We have to find a place to live. Admittedly, we have until July 1st, but still, it would be nice to know exactly where we will go.
  • The First Communion parents meeting was last night. All suggestions for order were rejected. So the 27 first communicants will be crammed up front in our small parish church while their parents and other relatives forget they are in God's House and behave much in the manner of a picnic or zoo than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The location of the post-Mass party has been selected and hopefully will be able to be reserved. I have it on the authority of the parish office manager that the time for the First Communion Mass will not change for the fourth time this year.
  • When we adopted the children, we gave up one car to afford it. The time has come to find another car.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facts & Figures & A Grain Of Salt

North Americans, we live in a land of big numbers! The population of the United States is approximately 306,000,000. Canada boasts an approximate residency of 33,200,000. Mexico fills its land mass with about 110,000,000 people.

It is no surprise, then, when somebody tells us that 3,000,000 or so people have a disease, or a condition, or are doing something, we panic. Three million is a lot of people, after all! I certainly wouldn't want to invite 3 million of my nearest and dearest friends to supper some evening, unless perhaps I was using my suburb and two neighboring suburbs to build the table.

Let's put numbers in perspective. As many as it might be, 3 million residents in the US and 3 million residents in Mexico and 3 million residents in Canada might be people, but we are talking apples and oranges as far as comparisons.

Three million Americans (because calling them "United Statians" is klutzy) means devoting space to approximately 1% of the population, just 600,000 short. On the other hand, three million Mexicans (living in Mexico, this is not about illegal immigration) would mean a little less than 3% of the population. When Canadians talk about 3 million people, they are serious, because the population of Canada is NINE times less than the United States, and the percentage comes out to about 9%.

What's this got to do with the price of Tea in Beijing?

The Media reports facts and figures thrown at the average person at an alarming rate. Our respective governments are quick to quote figures, especially when they wants its citizenry to support or not support an action or a bill, again in a rapid fire fashion. All that information can create anxiety, even depression that perhaps the world is going to Hell in a hand basket, and very quickly, too.

I once conducted a totally unscientific experiment. I first listened to two hours of Fox News in the background of my home, and recorded my impressions. I take a conservative to libertarian approach to life, so a lot of Fox's content does not cause me angst. However, the constant bing-bang of factoids, or doom and gloom, did have an effect on my mood.

The next day, I listened to two hours of CNN as my white noise. Here, the angst became apparent within ten minutes of the listening period.

The third day, I listened to Fox in one room and CNN in the other as I wandered the house, doing my usual. The angst was reduced, and I think I brought new meaning to the term Fair and Balanced. I still got agitated, and I still became depressed.it was only on the fourth day, when I left Style in one room and Watercolor Jazz in the other, that I achieved a calming effect.

The big clue in this is my group of subjects- ONE, UNO, EINS, UNE. This was just little old me. I didn't even have a control group.

I'm not saying we should live in a Care Bears world, where cookies rain from the sky and everybody is happy. I'm not saying the world does not have its problems, because it does. I'm not even saying we shouldn't listen to the news of whatever stripe we choose.

But we need to pay attention to what we hear. The young ones are just as guilty of this as the middle aged and the seniors. We don't pay attention to what we hear and read. We don't analyze. We don't cogitate. We hear, and we react. Too often our reaction is fear.

Long before I completed the military's journalism course, and some time before I explored high school journalism with 3,999 of my closest friends and fellow inmates, Sister Mary Christine advised our fourth grade class of the four Ws and one H. They are:
  • WHO. Just who said or did this?
  • WHAT? What exactly was said or done?
  • WHEN? Was it yesterday? Last week? In the 3rd century BC?
  • WHERE? In Canada? Mexico? Bahrain? Iraq? China? The United Center?
  • HOW? With a crowbar? With a doctor? Through a straw? Using a needle?

We were told that WHY was not sufficiently impartial, and all news reports had to be impartial. If colored our news with why, then we had an editorial.

I urge you to apply those four Ws and one H every time you hear what is presented to you as fact. Perhaps it is fact, but perhaps it is also distorted fact. I challenge you to restore that distorted fact to its original shape. Put it in context. Ask yourself a fifth W, WHY, as in, "Why would somebody want me to believe what they are telling me, why would the teller distort my perception?"

As an added bonus, I am giving you a link to a calculator that not only translates easily percentages into whole numbers, but clarifies ratios into percentages.

To give you some practice, I'll link you with some news articles and factoids, and see if you can tell me why things are not as they might appear, or we are being led to appear.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PART III: Fear & Intimidation, Stopping The Bully Cycle

Are you subject to a bully cycle? I feel for you, and I know, really know, how you feel. You are torn at letting this adult brat fend for himself or herself, loving the adult who was once and will always be your child, while trying to do what you can for the grandchildren.

Would you like to get out of this cycle? Really? Are you sure you don’t feed on the whole thing? There are some psychological advantages to the bully cycle. You get to play Hero when the adult kid claims to need something. You get to somehow “make it up” to him or her, for whatever you think you lacked in the past. You get to share a secret with the grandkids, which is Mom or Dad really can’t get his or her act together, but Grandma or Grandpa will always be there, checkbook and credit cards in hand, creating another generation of grabby, grubbing bullies. You can play “Ain’t It Awful?” and “Aren’t We Saints?” with your spouse. So, be sure you really, truly want to work toward the two-pronged goal of getting this adult person up off their fanny and into responsibility or that you are ready to 1.) Make good on your threat to remove the grandchildren from the custody of the adult child; and 2.) Make good on your threat not to participate in any more bully cycles.

You have to admit there’s a problem. If you cannot, then there is no point in trying to effect change. And yes, there IS a problem, a big one. It is not going to go away if you ignore it. It will simply be ignored, and you will spend possibly your entire life playing Step-N-Fetch-It to ungrateful adult babies, who will only miss your money when you’re gone.

If there is a problem, there must be a solution. Ah, there is- but one size does not fit all in this case. Your problem is unique, of course. How you approach its solution is based on your resources, skills and wherewithal.

Go read the books I recommended! Most public libraries have them. eBay, Amazon, half.com all carry them at one time or another. Get the voice versions if reading gives you angst or hurts your eyes. Then, when you have absorbed these books, develop your strategy to stop the bully cycle.

It comes back to our basic questions:

  • Are you absolutely sure you want custody of your grandchildren, perhaps even adopting them, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for court orders, for visitation schedules, for grade school, for high school, for all the stuff that child rearing involves?

  • Are you ready, if necessary, to turn your back on your adult child for the sake of your grandchildren?

  • Are you willing to butt your nose in where others might tell you the matter is none of your business?

  • Are you willing to seek out support resources?

  • Are you willing to pick your battles, collecting evidence as unobtrusively as possible, against the day you might have to use it; and then using it for the sake of the grandchildren?

PART II: Fear & Intimidation, or The Bully Cycle

I know a woman, in her early 70s, who has three children. Her daughter is an all-star person, just well-rounded and can take care of herself. Her two sons? Well, they are boys, boys in their 40s. They have never had to grow up. One has a spare mother, his wife, who takes care of everything. The other continues on the cycle of doing as he pleases, then running to Mama when Life hits him upside the head. Mama feels guilty, because after all, she raised him and somehow it must be her fault the Man Child is behaving in this fashion. Mama and Papa are retired and on limited means, yet the Man Child feels no compunction about sticking his hand out when Life smacks him upside the head. It should come as no surprise to you that the only help they receive is from their daughter and her children. It should also come as no surprise to you that Mama has left her estate when she passes to the Poor Boys who cannot fend for themselves.

I was a personal guilt sponge from the get-go. My adult daughter knew it. I felt badly about the time I devoted to her younger brother, a child with very special needs. I felt badly because I’d been divorced, and part of her childhood was spent as I raised both children as a single parent. She could lie her head off, and I would run with the checkbook. If she made it sound as if the children were going to suffer, I ran that much faster.

One of her biggest lies to get money out of us, the one that I should have caught but didn’t, was when her little baby girl was about six months old and they lived out of state, the baby, the adult daughter, and my erstwhile ex-son-in-law. I was called and told that the baby-sitter was blackmailing them. If they did not give her $200, the baby-sitter would report them to child protective services, even though she had no basis for doing so.

I am not a fan of our local child protective services, DCFS. I had encounters with them and my special needs son. DCFS did not train actual social workers in the 1980s and 1990s. I don't know if they do, now. Anybody with a bachelor degree who could take the state civil service test could be plopped on the list to work for DCFS as a case worker. DCFS seemed, at the time, to make a project of harassing people with common sense and big problems, while ignoring children who were molested, being tortured, lived in neglectful situations, or were raising themselves while their parent drugged and/ or drank. This colored my view of any child protection agency in any state.

We didn’t say, “Well, here’s a plane ticket. Bring the baby here until this is finished.” We didn’t say, “Well, call her bluff and submit to the investigation.” We didn’t say, “Ask to live on base, where there is a day care center” as they were both in the military. We didn’t say, “Give us this woman’s number and let her tell us that to our face.” No. Despite evidence to the contrary, despite how far-fetched the whole thing sounded, we believed them, believed her.

I do wonder every so often if they actually used it to pay a bill, or went out on the town, with or without a baby-sitter. But we believed more and more stupid things to come out of their mouths, eventually having them owe us some $3,000 or so.

We were stupid for over five years before we woke up and realized that our little baby was over 18 years old, and needed to stop blaming us for her mistakes. Furthermore, she needed to stop using her children as pawns to get us to do things.

“If you don’t get me a car, I won’t be able to get a job, and I won’t be able to support these kids.” We got her a car. We got her 3 cars. She screwed them all up by not performing simple maintenance, and used them to ditch work.

“I need clothes to get a decent job. If you don’t help me, I won’t be able to support the kids.” We got her clothes. Nice clothes. Clothes from real stores, and not thrift shops. And she did get a job at a respectable law firm. At the firm, she wore old jeans, nasty stretch pants, gym shoes with holes in the toes, and surfed the Internet day in and day out. Pity they didn’t appreciate all the work she alleged she did. They canned her after 90 days, and replaced her with a young woman who knew how to dress and knew how to work.

“My house is too much for me to clean.”

“You’ve got the money.”

“You forget, you gave the Boy everything.”

“I got sent to college when I was 17.”

“I was just taking a shower when the children cut each other’s hair with kiddy scissors. They can just go to school that way. I’m not paying to fix it.”

“If you don’t stop it and do what I want, I won’t let you see the kids again.”

“If you don’t stop it and do what I want, I am going to kill the kids and then myself.” This one was followed by locking herself in the house. It was our wake-up call.

This was punctuated with behaviors from her Ex. Ex and his child bride forged checks off his our adult daughter’s old marital joint account. Ex wanted visitation, but didn’t want to follow his regular schedule. Ex stopped paying child support. Ex allowed himself to be discharged from the service, then re-enlisted, removing any reference to our grandchildren, his children, from his service record. Ex seemed to enjoy creating drama in her life, and therefore drama in ours.

We got volunteered as visitation supervisors, without our knowledge.

We were on this bully cycle for years, from 1998 through October 2005. It took watching, observing, gathering evidence, before we could feel comfortable just packing up the kids and saying, “Enough. Get your act together, or we’ll keep them.”

We wanted her to step up and take responsibility. She owed us money, over $5,000. We had to force her to visit her children. And we still had to deal with bullying, to a lesser extent.

“I have no way to go to work, and you expect me to work. There’s no bus at 5 AM.”

“I need a storage locker, because my roommate and I had this awful fight, and I had to call the police, and she kicked me out, and St. Vincent de Paul paid for me to stay in a motel for a week…”

“I’m going in the Air Force as an officer, and all I need…”

“I’m going in the Navy, and all I need…”

“I’m really going in the Army. They gave me a free membership at the Y to work off the extra pounds. I need to transfer guardianship to you. I’ll make you out an allotment for child support. I’ll sign an agreement with you on that, along with a promissory note for the money I owe you.” She then disappeared for a couple months, only to resurface with the lie, “I decided the Army was not going to give me what I needed.” I know she flunked the urine test. I found out. Yes, I invaded her privacy. No, I will not tell who told me. Ever.

Laughing Boy, the Ex, was not much better. He had a new life, and three more new kids (he now has four). When our attorney approached him about relinquishing his rights, his wife's concern was that her rival, my daughter, was dead and there would be Social Security if they took the children. Alas and alack, my daughter is quite alive, and so Ex hastily signed the papers.

The bully cycle was less intense after we took the children. It really slowed down after the adoption. It did not stop. Her last attempt to bully and blackmail came about 4 months ago. She announced she planned on getting married, and that she wanted to do it correctly. To our mind, “correctly” meant she planned on taking her sorry fanny over to her local parish and consulting the priest about a defect-of-form decree of nullity, followed by intensive marriage preparation and counsel with the priest. Funny. Her view of “correctly” apparently meant that we would take her and her intended out to dinner to meet him at our expense, pay for a “real” wedding, and eventually turn custody of our younger children back over to her. Needless to say, we do not speak, email or anything else at this point.

PART I: Whose Fault Is It? Fear & Intimidation

DISCLAIMER (Once again): I am not a therapist. I am not a lawyer, attorney or barrister (I am a notary). As accomplished and unique my skill-set, I am not those occupations. I am a mother who at one time was my younger children's grandmother.

Charney Herst wrote a very good book, For Mothers Of Difficult Daughters. I recommend anybody with difficult adult children, no matter the gender, get it, read it, and then reread it. I would then recommend reinforcing the book by getting the CD or tape version. I bought it in 2000, just as my adult daughter started giving me fits and hassles. Gradually, I applied Dr. Herst's ideas to my situation.

I also recommend the highly acclaimed Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I finally recommend God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! by Greg Popcak.

Why all the reading material? If you are a grandparent in the situation where you think your grandchild or grandchildren is in real danger from from your adult child, the grandchildren's parent, then you better know whereof you speak.

Dr. Herst brings her own experience to the party, a teenage daughter who planted marijuana in Dr. Herst's flower beds, and was taken to court. "Mother, get your act together," the judge intoned from the bench. Why? Dr. Herst hadn't planted the weed. She again mentions a group session, where she admitted she had some problems with her daughters. The group turned on her, telling her she "must" have somehow caused her daughters to react through neglect, even though they were the most loved, cared for children in the world.

Drs. Cloud and Townsend mention a couple who came to the office seeking advice on their grown son. The son had hot-and-cold running access to cash, a nice car, and admission to a new college when he blew off the prior, all funded by the Bank of Mom and Dad. The therapist told them flat out that the son had no problems, but they did. They were the ones with the bills, with the responsibility, and the son seemed to live a charmed life. "Would you like me to help you to give him some problems?" the therapist asked the couple. At first, they didn't understand. The therapist was willing to give them the tools to make the young man hoe his own row.

Dr. Popcak, despite gripes about his views on raising children, makes a very valid point in his book. People who are out to give you problems need to be forgiven as the Church teaches forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We don't waltz into confession, tell Jesus through the priest our sins, and expect Jesus, and the Church, to just say it's OK, we all make mistakes. There is a penance, an act, no matter how small, that we perform to show our good intentions. We not only have to say we are sorry. We are expected to prove it. Why not then expect those who have wronged us to prove they have no intention of sinning against us again?

Your adult children who behave in a manner that disrespects you and their children might or might not have what we call in our house F You Syndrome. Yes, they just might be out to get your goat. Yes, they may or may not blame you for whatever little unhappiness has happened in their lives. Yes, they might be resentful of their children, the little people they procreated. And yes, you will feel guilty, as if you caused it. As long as you give into that guilt, without taking steps to stop the cycle, the adult child can manipulate you six ways to Sunday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If girls are children of God, does that mean they are princesses?

We are slowly gearing up for the last little girl in the house to make her First Holy Communion.

I state at this time that I think the Eastern Church has the Latin skinned by a mile in this regard. There is no big white dress or suit for First Communion. There is no argument out of surly teens because, "Maybe I don't want to be confirmed. It's my choice." There is no confusion with Protestant Confirmation and Catholic/ Orthodox Confirmation. The little baby is baptized, confirmed (chrismated) and receives the first of hopefully many Eucharists if not at the exact same service, then within a couple weeks of the rest. All three Sacraments of Initiation neatly packaged for one child, one day, suitable for family photographs! If children are accepted into the Household of Faith through Baptism, then let them be accepted for all three Sacraments, and hang what they know or realize. The Latin Church, particularly in the US, has turned Confirmation from the Sealing of Baptism and the Reception of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit into a Catholic Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Not so in the Eastern Church. The next big sacrament is preparation for Confession, and then those kids don't need a thing except regular religion classes. And no matter the opinion of some Latin directors of religious education, the children of our Eastern brethren do not seem to skip catechism classes because they have already been confirmed and communicated. There are no hoops of years in classes, service projects, and retreats in Byzantium.

I pointed this out to my husband some time ago, when one of the elder children was confusing Confirmation with a Baptist altar call. He did not appreciate my suggestion that we at least explore the possibility of say the Italo-Albanian Church, rooted in Byzantium and still loyal to the Holy Father. He was not amused, stating he doubted we would have any other children. How little he knew.

So here we sit, awaiting the happy occasion of our youngest's first reception of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, in the Easter season, which for Catholics is about eight weeks long. Her First Reconciliation is this Saturday.

I have only walked one little boy through his First Communion. He prepared for Reconciliation by not only examining his conscience, but also memorizing lines from the movie, The Quiet Man. Why? "Because Father is from Ireland, and if he gets too upset with my sins, I'll just talk in a brogue and tell him jokes to calm him down." The only way he was going to show interest was if the Transformers or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also making their First Communions. His interest in clothing was minimal, but did involve the choice of a bright tie that had a pattern similar to stained glass. He chose a similar tie for his Confirmation, same pattern, just longer.

So that leaves my first-hand First Communion experience with two young ladies.

One first received in 1986. The lesson plan was less than stellar, but I managed to make up for it. Girls wore cotton eyelet at the time, and everything for young girls was tea length. She did not desire a veil, and was adamant she would not wear one. She did not want a hat. She did not want a flower wreath. "Just leave my head alone!" I managed to get a very fancy ponytail holder, with a spray of tulle and a flower or two, and get that in her hair.

The second one was influenced by the Age of the Computer as well as Disney movies. I think if animated birds could have flown down and deposited her wreath upon her head, her happiness would have been complete. She designed and wrote each of her invitations to brunch before Mass. I tried something new, taking the kid for portraits before the Big Day, and letting her just be herself. What a concept! She wore her favorite purple glasses to Mass, read her portion of the petition prayers, and then walked around the baptismal pond, which was surrounded by flowers for Easter, sniffing as she went. "I've been wanting to do that all Easter!" she said as she returned to our pew. All her other actions were reverent and heartfelt. The DRE and the child's teacher, personal friends, made sure all the kids were involved, and everybody had a really good idea of the what and why of the Mass and Communion.

I am hoping this last one does not have to endure what I saw last year at the First Communion Mass in our parish. Father does not like the practice of reserved seats. This did not stop people from literally lying across whole pews, forgetting that they spoke English, and saving seats. The din in that little church was more of a family reunion in the park and less of a congregation in a house of worship, let alone a Catholic church. The first communicants were all herded up front, where from the sounds of things, they were not little angels. I wouldn't know. I was crammed in the back. So were the parents of several first communicants. As we have a new second grade teacher for the school, I've suggested perhaps depositing a child in each pew, where he or she would be supervised by parents; two Masses, not necessarily dividing the children by CCD versus School, but perhaps drawing names; and giving parents the opportunity to have their children receive at regular Masses in Easter.

I am hoping for the latter. My darling is an Italian-American Child of God, at least one-quarter anyway, and an Italian princess needs a venue and an entourage. The posse she has: Her living grandfather and grandmother, my parents, would come from the ends of the earth to attend their last granddaughter's First Communion. Her godparents will be abroad, but will be sending an emissary, one of their children. At least one of my sisters will attend Mass, and everybody will want to go to the party after Mass. The venue, well that's tricky. The Mister prefers that we entertain in a restaurant or club for such events. If we have to go with the parish's group Mass, we will be entertaining our guests at one of a national china of campy Italian eateries, several towns away from ours. If we can just bring her to any weekend Mass in the Easter season, we will opt for the early morning and offer breakfast or brunch at one of the many pancake houses.

Our baby would prefer to receive with the whole group, but at the earliest possible Mass in the parish on Sunday morning. Why? "Nobody is paying any attention to God! This is about God, and all they care about is their clothes and what they're getting (for presents)!" The other reason is, "They could be done, change clothes, and go have fun. Instead, everybody has to stay all dressed up, all day!" This was when she asked if we could rent a trampoline for First Communion.

She already has her dress, very simple, name-brand close out on last year's dresses. She was planning on staying simple in the veil department, as well. "A too poufy veil means you can't concentrate on God!" What she described sounded as if it was a cross between a mantilla and a head rag.

This was before we took a walk through Hobby Lobby.

For you parents, grandparents, godparents contemplating the First Communion of a little girl this year or any other year, there's no need to spend $30 upwards for a simple veil. Hobby stores, fabric stores, and "big box" stores all carry a premade veil, ready for a headpiece, $8-10. A simple flower wreath runs about $6 to make. If you can't use a glue gun, find a relative who can. Many bridal headpieces fit little girl heads. If the veils aren't with the First Communion and Easter dresses, try the Wedding Department, next to the Cake Decoration Department.

It was at Hobby Lobby that we found the Tiara. Her simple dress has one ornament, a bow with a circular rhinestone clasp at the neck. Floral wreaths did not seem a good match. A simple headband in satin didn't work with the child's high forehead. The big, bling headpieces did not seem right for her or the occasion.

She dug it out of the corner of a shelf. "This is the one."

As a child, I heard the story of a female saint, I can't remember who, that was asked by her priestly uncle to attend her First Communion not with her class, not in finery, but in her normal dress at the earliest morning Mass. She did so.

While I am sure her sanctity was rewarded, I remember at the time being angry with the uncle in the story. Who did he think he was? Life is short, and childhood is even shorter. If I was his sibling, I would have verbally been up and down his fine idea, butting his nose into the family's business.

I am pleased our baby is taking her duty to God seriously. I am pleased she is considering a vocation, what she calls "the sister lifestyle." However, I highly doubt God wants to deprive this child, who has already been deprived as an infant and toddler, of a princess tiara.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We Are Sorry.

We have had the flu. it was not pretty. We are feeling better.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enabling Grandparents: Case In Point

Jane recently raised the topic of enabling grandparents, who allow the adult children to behave in their irresponsible fashions, who are allowed to treat their parents much in the same way they would treat a combo ATM/ slave, who either abuse or ignore their children to the point where the grandparents are raising them, but Mama or Daddy call the tune.

I think one of the biggest cases of enabling an adult child has been the case of the octuplets born in the LA area to a single woman, never married, who already has six children:


To quote the AP writer, Raquel Maria Dillon,

"Nadya Suleman wanted to have children since she was a teenager, 'but luckily she couldn't,' her mother said.
"'Instead of becoming a kindergarten teacher or something, she started having them, but not the normal way,' her mother said.
"Her daughter's obsession with children caused Angela Suleman considerable stress, so she sought help from a psychologist, who told her to order her daughter out of the house.
"'Maybe she wouldn't have had so many kids then, but she is a grown woman,' Angela Suleman said. 'I feel responsible and I didn't want to throw her out.'"

I love babies, don't get me wrong. I do not think any of these children, however they were conceived, should have been aborted through selective reduction.

Miss Nadya is not married. She has a degree in child and adolescent development and was studying for a Master of Arts in counseling (as if that wouldn't scare you about going to a counselor). I don't know if this is very marketable. The father is a sperm donor, and whoever he is, he's allegedly the father of ALL fourteen.

But Mama was told to tell her to leave by an expert. Mama didn't have the heart. Mama felt responsible. So Miss Nadya, unmarried and a participant in the Kaiser Permanente health plan, now has 14 children. I would bet you dollars to donuts that Nadya is expecting Mama to help out with all 14.

Mama told Nadya that "I won't be there" when Nadya gets out of the hospital. So, Mama is moving out, but Nadya and the brood get to stay. Grandpa Suleman is going to Iraq to earn more money to support this bunch. Nobody expects this young woman to actually do what is necessary to raise her children.

If this young woman isn't the poster child for enabling adult progeny, I don't know who is. Let's see if we can analyze the situation and ourselves learn from it.

NEXT: Fear and Intimidation

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What in Great Harry Indeed!!!

This is one of those off-topic times.

I participated for four years on a set of message boards through an apostolate aimed at dispensing correct Catholic information. The apostolate has been in existence for about 11 years. It's all up-to-date info, supports the Magisterium, loyal to the Pope. However, their loyalty to their membership base leaves something to be desired:


I am a friend of KC's who knows she speaks the truth, first-hand. I've been at this particular site for four years, no problems, regular contributions when I could afford it. All of the sudden, BAM! People are being banned like flies. Other members can't tell that they are banned, because they are not labeling the bans as they used to do. The people who have been banned are simply unreachable, and from their end, these banned ones can't log on. People who ask questions about the bannings are told they shouldn't ask questions out in the open or else they are going to be banned. You'd think the Governor of Illinois was running the boards. ;-)

This apostolate also sends out constant solicitation letters, so they were really not too bright to tick off their members. I did notice their biannual appeal for funds to distribute Catholic literature at World Youth Day in Australia was no different than their appeal for WYD when it was held in Canada: The apostolate "suddenly" realized that Protestants and secular humanists would attend WYD and attack the Catholic faith of these young people, handing out tracts and the like to lead them astray. The apostolate needed "urgent" contributions to produce copies of their Catholic tracts, which would assist the youth in staying on the right course. Now, the next WYD is announced at the end of the last WYD. How could this apostolate not know there would be anti-Catholic influences there and plan accordingly?

But OK, aside from hokey advertising, the message boards do provide clear answers to a lot of life's questions from a Catholic perspective. Some of that comes from the apostolate's own apologists. But a lot of it comes from people out in the real world, including a deacon with a doctorate in canon law, a very well-versed director of religious education, and trained catechists.

People have come in and been brought back to the Church by being urged to go to confession. People have had their marriage situations corrected and convalidated to canon law. People have realized that they are indeed OK to receive the Eucharist, after being misinformed that they were somehow too sinful to do so. Need I even doubt that babies have been saved from abortion? Despite the good efforts of those apologists, it's the people who have been with the message boards since its inception, those members who have experience in these matters.

It's an apostolate, which means they can run things as they see fit. However:

1.) I am beginning to wonder if all they want is ca$h, contribution$.
2.) I wonder if they want a younger followership, and less of the "old coots" around to serve up their curmudgeonly wisdom.
3.) I wonder why these moderators favor the anal ramblings of 16 year olds, who should really be in another section of the boards, over people who have either life experience or the actual credentials to say otherwise.
4.) And I never got the guys under 40 who are out to staple a piece of lace on their wives' heads, call it "obedience" and claim this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote that women should have their heads covered in church (small c).

I am going through the effort to resign from this particular site. I've cleaned out my mailbox and given folks my personal email address, as well as the other Catholic site to which I will move my contact and participation. I've been told three different ways to resign, and have done them all.

I've opened a "Once Upon A Catholic Site" Yahoo group, and am debating a Facebook or Twitter group. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More About Me

I get more email than comments, which is fine by me. But the questions make me think I'm not communicating in the best way about myself and my family. So, here goes:

  • No, we are not broke. Thank you for asking me, and thank you for offering money. We don't need it, but it's very sweet of you to offer. I have been broke. I have lived in what amounted to Section 8 housing for about 6 months with the people who are now my adult children, when they were under aged children. I have had food stamps and used a food pantry prior to my grandchildren moving in with us, a long time ago, back in the late 1980s. I used the human resources system when my grandchildren came to live with us FOR THEM because I did not want to be broke. Their parents were not paying child support, and the children qualified for what they received. As I've told people earlier, legally grandparents are not obligated to pay the expenses of their grandchildren unless they adopt the grandchildren, and well then the grandkids are the kids. But no, presently, my family is not broke.
  • So yes, to those two people who felt the need to ask, I do have time to sit on my rear end and write in my blog, as if that is anybody's business. I don't watch a great deal of TV, which frees me up to do lots of things.
  • I know how to do research. That's where I find a lot of my information. I research on the Internet. Yes, I also know how to research in books, film and other media in a library setting. The Internet and the very large local library do not have the same information. I have even performed research professionally, in such places as no less than the National Archives.
  • I don't like to divulge a lot of information about my kids, even the adult one who caused so much trouble. I only released the photos of her bathroom to show her that I mean business. It seems she now regrets her decision to terminate her parental rights, after four years. She has to know that I will still do whatever it takes for the grandchildren. She is a legal adult and allegedly able to take care of herself.
  • I can't give specific information for every circumstance and every state. The closest I came was the food stamps entry. I will do an entry on school lunches in a few days.. That will be pretty universal. But specifics by states- no can do. You need to learn to do your own research. Mine is just a starting point.
  • I don't think there's anything wrong in the instance of people who owe others money and attempt to take advantage of others, with mailing these people their things and being generous with the rocks in the yard, and the cologne accidentally spilling on the contents of the package, or cat feces accidentally ending up in the box. Perhaps it is not Christian, perhaps it is. It is a definite instruction to the ignorant, one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If it does not bear wrongs patiently, perhaps living in a finite world, patience has an end limit.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tax Returns, Grandparents & Yes, Now I Am An Expert

I have a different disclaimer for this entry. Instead of my usual spiel about not being a lawyer or a social worker, just a grandparent raising grandchildren, I instead will say: While I am a trained tax preparer, please realize that any advice offered in this entry is not tailored to your individual circumstances. For more information, consult the IRS or a local individual trained in tax preparation, or your tax software.

Awhile back, my dearly departed aunt (DDA) and I decided to take tax preparation classes at a chain tax preparation company. My DDA worked many years at the IRS, and was interested to see what it was like on the other side. I was sick of being confused by Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax, known as the Bible of the Tax Code. For a ridiculous entry fee, we had seasoned tax preparation specialists teach us just how the returns worked, what was legal to ask, what was not unless volunteered, and so much more.

So, this is not just information I've researched. This is stuff I know! Tax prep is a nerdish hobby I will admit. Yes, I am the first on the block to support the flat tax as well as the fair tax when either comes up. I still love preparing income tax returns, on my own, for selected clients or as a volunteer.

Here are my tips for grandparents raising grandchildren and other relatives who might have a spare set of related kids in the house:

1.) Get the kids' social security numbers. You will need them in order to claim the kids on your 1040 or 1040A. Look on old paperwork left behind. Go to the social security office. Check out department of human services paperwork. Ask the school. Give the IRS no cause to reject your return.

2.) File as soon as possible. Don't wait, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that often, but not always, if your adult child beats you to claiming the kids, the IRS is going to want to know why you are claiming them as well. At best, this will hold up your return; at worst, the IRS will not give you the return amount you filed, and ask a lot of questions. Save yourself the aggravation. If you are waiting on a W-2, simply go look at your last paycheck statement or stub. All your information is there. If you're using tax software and filing electronically, the IRS doesn't want to see your W-2. In any event, the IRS receives a copy of your W-2 from your employer along with all the copies you send them. Besides, the sooner you file, the sooner you get your cash.

3.) If the kids lived with you more than either of their parents in 2008, claim them as dependents, but file as quickly as possible. The IRS might be an agency of the United States government, but the IRS operates under very different rules and regs. Single tax payers are only allowed to claim $8,950 in standard deduction if under 65 this year, and $10,300 if over 65. A person with kids to raise is known as a Head of Household, and claims $11,500 if under 65, and $12,850 if over 65. If you aren't married, it makes sense to be one of those heads of households.
How? If the child or children lived with you more than one-half of the year, meaning 6 months and one day; and you provided more than half of the child or children's support (not including assistance from the department of human services, food stamps, TANF and the like); then you are allowed to take the child or children as your dependents. You're the one raising these kids. Even if you are married, claim the children as dependents and claim them early. Let your adult child go through the nonsense of explaining to the IRS why you are claiming them.
Some preparers will disagree with me. Let them write their own blog.

4.) Don't forget the EIC credit, child care expense credit, and the child tax credit. IF you earned money this year through work (earned income); and IF have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $33, 995 if single (head of household, qualified widow or widower) with 1 qualifying child, or $36,995 if you are married with 1 qualifying child; and IF the qualifying child is your child, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, or a descendant of any of them such as a grandchild or niece; and IF the child is under 19, a full time student under 24, or disabled as of 2008; THEN you may claim an Earned Income Credit, or EIC. If you have a second qualifying child, the AGI amount increases to $38,646 and $41,646 if married filing jointly. The government really, really wants you to claim an EIC if you qualify. They spend millions of dollars advertising that the EIC exists. An EIC credit can be quite substantial, thousands of dollars you will receive even if you didn't pay that much in federal withholding from your paychecks.
Working and paying for day care or after school care? Look into the child care expense credit? Make under $75,000 if in single mode, or $110,000 if married filing jointly? Is the child in your care under 17 and in the US legally? See if you qualify for the child tax credit. More than 3 children in your care? Try the additional child tax credit. If you don't qualify even after you completed the forms, at least you tried.

5.) If you are smart enough to have an email account and surf the Internet, and you don't believe the Nigerian government has exiled an official who wants to share his wealth with you, get tax software. File electronically if you are not barred from doing so. I'll let you in on a secret. The tax preparation chains work on commission. For every piece of paper the preparer generates, real paper or digital paper, you pay a fee. It doesn't matter if the the piece of paper is included in the return transmitted or mailed to the IRS or not. Worksheet generated? You pay for it. Form generated? You pay for it. And the preparer gets a percentage of your total tax prep bill.
If you have no trouble putting mouse to icon, and have a steady stream of email daily, you should have no trouble completing a relatively uncomplicated return, whether with purchased software or on the web through a site. It really doesn't matter which company or software or site.
A very few people cannot file electronically. If you are one of these people, make sure you print your entire return. Make yourself a copy. Separate your W-2s down the perforated lines, so you have a copy. If you have any documents that need to be included with the 1040 or 1040A, be sure to make copies for yourself. Mail the completed 1040 with its attending documentation via return receipt requested mail (the green post card that comes back when the IRS has received your packed envelope).

6.) If you don't feel confident with the computer and you don't have a complicated return, then try preparing your own or having somebody in the house who can read at the sixth grade level complete it for you. Teens can be really helpful when it comes to computers. It would be excellent practice for them to learn to complete a tax return online. The two of you could even sit down with a pencil, a handheld calculator, and fill out the return by hand.

7.) If you are bad with computers, and are mathematically challenged, or have a complicated return, either go to a paid tax preparer or one of free tax preparation centers offered by the IRS, churches, and civic groups. Usually, a complicated return means you generate money during the year, either by work or investments (congratulations by the way). It could mean you had a bad accident, or have gone through the mill in so many ways. In any event, if this is you, go ahead and use a good tax preparer, or even an accountant or tax attorney.
Not so wealthy but in a complicated situation? Find a tax clinic, tax payer assistance program, or preparer volunteers. Start at no less than the IRS itself. If you are a member of a church, check there (even if you aren't a member, most churches who have the program open their doors to anybody who qualifies). Check out AARP.Almost every civic group and a few private concerns have volunteers who would like nothing better than to assist you in filing your return.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food Stamps (EBT CARD)- If You Got Em, Use Em

I am for smaller government and more self-determination, but as a once divorced mother, I have a soft spot in my heart and head for anything that feeds people who are having a rough time feeding themselves, and more importantly, their children.

That is not to say I don't have criticism of the program.

Contrary to the image, food stamps are not made of food and they are not stamps. Food Stamps are rather a government allotment on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card similar to a credit or debit card, used solely to purchase food. Nothing else can be purchased with them, certainly not cigarettes and alcohol, also no soap, dish detergent, clothes detergent, cold remedies, pain relievers, or toilet paper. One can, if one is of the notion, purchase food plants or seeds and dirt to attempt to grow food. One may not purchase already made food such as that served in a restaurant, unless one is homeless, a senior or disabled. Only certain restaurants, soup kitchen and meal delivery programs are included. One can purchase deli meat and other delights from behind the deli counter which resides in most major grocery stores.

Food stamps did indeed used to be stamps. Started in 1939 , families "on relief" or public assistance could purchase food stamps. They came in colors, orange and blue. Orange stamps cost $1, and for every $1 spent on orange stamps, recipients were given 50 cents in blue stamps. Food stamps disappeared in 1943 for a commodity program, and were re-established in 1961. Stamps stopped being a purchase entitlement for low income families, and looked more like coupons, in 1977 . In 1997 , electronic transfer cards became mandatory for all states, to be implemented by 2002 (Such is government). Income limits to receive food stamps have changed over the years (In Illinois, the current limit for a family of four is $297 per month, with food stamps allotment of $220 per month the average). Current maximum benefit for a family of four is $490 a month (That's a lot of food). USDA is trying to call the program SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Program. It isn't working too well. People and some states still call them food stamps.

Food stamps are not the same as WIC. Food stamp entitlement is based on income. Food stamps allow the entitlees to pick and choose among the offerings of the supermarket. WIC is not only based on income, but on a voucher system tailored to pregnant and nursing mothers, and children under 5. One can go to the store and buy any brand of peanut butter with food stamps, or almond butter, or walnut butter, or even just butter. If the WIC voucher mandates peanut butter, there will not only be the amount of jars of peanut butter clearly listed on the voucher, but the brand will be limited to those approved by the Department of Agriculture. That would be the same method for the other offerings of WIC, including but not limited to eggs, milk, grain cereals, cheese, and 100% juice. WIC also involves well baby and child health care arrangements.
Food stamps have more possibilities. In Illinois, it is perfectly all right to purchase the following items with food stamps, although these items might not be healthy in mass quantities:
  • Soda pop.
  • Designer ice cream.
  • Birthday cake, or any rich, large cake (You go, Sara Lee!).
  • Candy or all types.
  • Kool Aid.
  • Those little jugs of flavored water with tons of sugar that masquerade as juice.
  • Potato chips.
  • Pretzels.
  • Gummy bears.
  • Gum.
  • Pork rinds.
I did not say this was a good idea. I just said it could be done.

The nice thing about food stamps everywhere: All food stamp purchases are exempt from sales tax. Good deal! The bad thing about food stamps: No dog or cat food, no laundry detergent, no toilet paper, no dish detergent, opportunity to buy lots of junk food and cause health issues. The nonpurchase of cleaning products can cause some angst among those who are having a very difficult time just getting food. No doubt the money saved on food purchases can be applied to cleanliness. However, silly little luxuries such as lights, a basic phone, and rent can get in the way of cleanliness.

What's this have to do with the retread parent?

The odds are very good your grandchildren already have a department of human services case worker, and are receiving food stamps. If they are receiving food stamps, they might also receive CHP health insurance from your state, and your dear adult child may even receive TANF if there's no child support. Your grandkids have a record in DHS!

So, when you go to DHS, have the case worker run their names, and if you happen to know them, their social security numbers (old tax returns- and we will cover claiming the grandkids in the next entry). If the kids receive nothing from DHS, it was only a brief check of information. If they do, then certain things will happen.

For one, if you have the kids, the adult child will no longer be able to claim the kids as part of his or her food stamp unit. If you qualify for food stamps with the kids in your household, they will become part of your food stamp unit, which is everybody who shares the same kitchen and eats together. Don't be surprised if this is a reality, that you are now eligible for food stamps when you weren't before the kids arrived. You have more mouths to feed on less money. Take the EBT card, and use it wisely, just as you would if you were in the supermarket using cash.

The adult child's TANF will also be diverted to you at this point. You will receive a medical card for the kids the next month. You will get a letter that entitles the school-aged children to free lunch. You will get a paper record with the children's social security numbers, and possibly your adult child number as well.

This will save you a lot of time. When you go to the attorney or advocate, you will have social security numbers. You will not have to sit in the Social Security Office, listening to the horrible video about applying for a social security card over and over again. You will not go to the window, only to be told that you have nothing to establish anything or that you need more documents and come back when you have them.

If you have had the kids for 6 months and 1 day, you qualify to claim them on your income tax this year. You'll need their social security numbers for that. You'll want to get that tax return in ASAP, to beat your adult child to it, for one, as the IRS might question why you both claimed them. You'll also be entitled to an Earned Income Credit if you earned any income.

But most importantly you will, right after approval, have a little more purchasing power when you go to the grocery store. The EBT card that holds your electronic food stamps is just like an ATM card. Angel Food, SHARE and Golden Share all take EBT cards. In some instances, your adult child and/ or the other parent of the children will be held responsible for repaying the food stamps, the TANF and the health insurance. So enjoy your trip to the grocery store, and buy the kids a 6-pack of candy bars, just this once.
If you're unsure about how to apply for food stamps in your state, follow the link:

AL http://www.dhr.state.al.us/page.asp?pageid=159A
K http://www.hss.state.ak.us/dpa/programs/fstamps/howto.html
AZ https://egov.azdes.gov/CMSInternet/common.aspx?menu=108&menuc=162&id=1712A
R http://www.state.ar.us/dhs/dco/OPPD/#Food%20Stamp%20Program
CA http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps/
CO http://stateboard.cdhs.state.co.us/FAP/fs/default.html
CT http://www.ct.gov/dss/cwp/view.asp?a=2353&q=320232
DE http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dss/foodstamps.html
FL http://www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/
GA http://dfcs.dhr.georgia.gov/portal/site/DHR-DFCS/menuitem.5d32235bb09bde9a50c8798dd03036a0/?vgnextoid=024a2b48d9a4ff00VgnVCM100000bf01010aRCRD
HI http://hawaii.gov/dhs/self-sufficiency/benefit/FNS
ID http://www.idahocareline.org/eLibrary/Food%20Stamps.html
IL http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=29721
IN http://www.in.gov/fssa/dfr/3051.htm
IA http://www.dhs.state.ia.us/Consumers/Assistance_Programs/FoodAssistance/index.html
KS http://www.srskansas.org/ISD/ees/food_stamps.htm
KY http://chfs.ky.gov/
LA http://www.dss.state.la.us/departments/ofs/Food_Stamp_Program.html
ME http://maine.gov/dhhs/OIAS/foodstamps/
MD http://www.dhr.state.md.us/how/cashfood/fstamp.htm
MA http://www.mass.gov/%20pageID=eohhs2agencylanding&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Government&L2=Departments+and+Divisions&L3=Department+of+Transitional+Assistance&sid=Eeohhs2MI http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,1607,7-124-5453_5527-21832--,00.html
MN http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/main/idcplg?IdcService=GET_DYNAMIC_CONVERSION&dDocName=id_002555&RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleasedMS http://www.mdhs.state.ms.us/ea_fs.html
MO http://www.dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/
MT http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/programsservices/foodstampprogramoverview.shtml
NE http://www.hhs.state.ne.us/fia/fstamps.htm
NV http://dwss.nv.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=243
NH http://www.dhhs.state.nh.us/DHHS/FOODSTAMPS/FAQs/default.htm
NJ http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dfd/foodstamp.html
NM http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/isd/fs.html
NY http://www.otda.state.ny.us/main/foodstamps/#benefits
AND FOR NEW YORK CITY http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/html/family_independence/foodstamps_and_foodprograms.shtmlNC http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/foodstamp/index.htm
ND http://www.nd.gov/dhs/services/financialhelp/foodstamps.html
OH http://jfs.ohio.gov/ofam/cmandfsa.stm
OK http://www.okdhs.org/programsandservices/food/
OR http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/assistance/foodstamps/foodstamps.shtml
PA http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/ServicesPrograms/FoodStamps/
RI http://www.dhs.state.ri.us/dhs/adults/fsadult.htm
SC http://www.state.sc.us/dss/fi/food/food_stamp.htm
SD http://dss.sd.gov/foodstamps/
TN http://www.tennessee.gov/humanserv/adfam/afs_fsp.htm
TX http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/help/food/foodstamps/index.html
UT http://jobs.utah.gov/opencms/customereducation/services/foodstamps/index.html
VT http://vermontfoodhelp.org/
VA http://www.dss.state.va.us/benefit/foodstamp.html
WA https://fortress.wa.gov/dshs/f2ws03esaapps/onlinecso/Food_Assistance_Program.asp
WV http://www.wvdhhr.org/bcf/family_assistance/fs.asp
WI http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/foodshare/
WY http://dfsweb.state.wy.us/foodstampinfo.html
SNAP program http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/faqs.htm