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I was raised by a mother who took the idea of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ to heart, long before it became a slogan of the green movement. Her recycling involved not only schlepping cans and bottles to the new recycling center but saving egg cartons, shoe boxes, the cardboard from paper towel rolls, and the like to donate to local  preschools for art projects.  Because she didn’t want anything that could be reused, or refashioned into a new use, to go to waste she amassed large collections of materials of all sorts – those waiting for a trip to the recycling center- newspaper, glass bottles, cans, the few plastic containers that were accepted back then; and those waiting for rebirth – old fabric and hand-me-down clothing that could  be made into a quilt, plastic cottage cheese containers that were our ‘Tupperware,’ and old envelopes, the back of which could be used for grocery lists, all of which sat in boxes and paper sacks in the corner of the kitchen.  In addition, coupons, wine bottle corks, string, twisty ties, old keys and paperclips piled up in the junk drawer, and leftover food scraps went into an old plastic gallon ice cream container that sat in the corner of the sink.  Yes, she didn’t just recycle, she composted for use in the garden.

My childhood made me aware that we need to treat both the earth and fellow creatures (people included) with care. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I ended up going into the environmental field.  Being ‘green’ is important to me and I’ve tried to inculcate the same feeling in my children.  While we’ve never been extreme about it, we’ve been conscientious about recycling and have tried to make environmentally conscious decisions. 

But I have to tell you– it’s hard to be green and homeless or alternatively housed.  Now, our homeless friends who live by the celery field do recycle cans – they need the change it provides and can collect garbage bags full and stash them next to their tent – but for the most part if you are living in a tent or sleeping in a car or even living in a travel trailer, it’s not easy to be green.  The RV Park doesn’t have any recycling bins or pick up – just two large trash dumpsters which quickly fill up.  So any recycling we do, we do on our own. Our trailer is very small and we have limited storage space so right now the bathtub is the recycling repository. It’s also the dirty clothes repository, and the full trash bags repository.   With five people we pretty much fill up the tub daily!  (Thankfully the park has showers otherwise we’d be out of luck).  Yes, we could buy 3 or 4 trash cans and keep them outside for our recycling but the park has fairly strict rules about the appearance of the outside area.  We’ve been asked to clean up more than once and that’s just due to the table where the kids play with Legos and Hot Wheels, and skates and scooters scattered about. We also store our shoes and my eBay items in large plastic tubs beneath the trailer.  And if we collected recycling there’s the sorting – no more co-mingled curbside recycling – and bagging, stuffing everything into our car which also already serves as extra storage, and driving to the recycling center which naturally has odd and not terribly convenient hours. 

I’m sorry to admit that I’m not as strict as I used to be about recycling and I feel a twinge of guilt every time I toss out a plastic bottle or tin can (we don’t drink soda so we don’t have the more lucrative aluminum cans of which to dispose) or use a paper plate instead of plastic.  Yes, we use a mix of paper and re-useable place settings.  We have limited room to store and wash dishes and pots and such and hot water uses propane.  Like my mom I used to abhor waste and think of uses for nearly everything that’s left over.  However our storage unit is full to overflowing with things we can’t part with or think we can use some day, and the local preschools seem to prefer to buy art supplies rather than accept my cardboard rolls and wine corks.  So I combat the guilt with the knowledge that at least we inhabit a much smaller footprint on the earth these days- using considerably less electricity, water, and gas- and consuming far, far fewer consumer goods.  On the whole I suspect our new lifestyle is greener – now if I could just convince the park to add a recycling dumpster!

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Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from.
– Jodie Foster

 

I’ve been hearing the phrase, ‘the New Normal’ lately.  Apparently it means that Americans will continue to suffer financially, have high unemployment and slow growth.  

Recently ABCNews.com asked readers how they’re adapting to today’s economic conditions.    The article leads off with:

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the ensuing recession [has] forced Americans to change their lives in ways large and small. It’s a world of “new normals,” with more belt-tightening, less income and, in many cases, a newfound gratitude for the most basic human comforts: family, home and health.

Readers responded with tales of cutting discretionary spending, clipping coupons, foregoing vacations and purchases of big-ticket items, moving in with relatives, and sacrificing to keep businesses afloat and kids in college.   

In putting an extremely positive spin on the new normal, a columnist for the Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon says:

In the new normal, people will think and plan differently for the future.

There is a sense that the worst is over and a kind of pride in surviving the worst of times. There is a satisfaction that comes from emphasis on real needs, simple pleasures and a focus on managing what one can control. People are taking pride in their shopping skills. Shopping at thrift stores is no longer just fun and funky; it just makes more sense, in most cases, than buying new.

I’ve seen family ties that have been strengthened. In times of financial crisis, many families are forced to communicate. Even divorce rates are falling.

These articles made me think of something a friend recently said.  The current recession doesn’t have the visual impact of the Great Depression with the bread lines and hobos or the recession of the 1970s with the endlessly long gas lines.  Sure there seems to be an increase of homeless on street corners with the ubiquitous ‘Anything Helps’ signs, and more foreclosed homes on the market, but to her it appears that most people she knows are just going about their lives.  

Today we see the recession in the statistics on the news – the upward spikes in unemployment, the flat line of growth, the downward curve on the earnings statement from your retirement plan.  Many members of the middle class – particularly those who have been in their homes for years, kept their jobs and aren’t on the doorstep of retirement – have been relatively insulated.  Those people probably are watching their spending, and focusing on ‘simple pleasures and real needs.’  

And even the many, many people who have been more dramatically affected by this recession are responding in ways that aren’t so obvious to people on the outside.  If they clip more coupons or vacation closer to home, or shop the clearance racks, or put the mortgage payment on a credit card, it’s not something their neighbors are likely to notice.  These aren’t images that will illustrate a book on the Great Recession ten years from now.

Our own new normal isn’t nearly so invisible but at the same time a lot of people who ‘know’ us aren’t aware of our desperate circumstances.  Although I haven’t hidden our situation, outwardly, away from the trailer, we still model the old normal.  The kids participate in school events like theater and choir and extracurricular activities like basketball.  Scholarships are invisible. If we don’t purchase the team photos or if they have to share balls or uniforms; their teammates don’t have to know. When the kids go through the cafeteria line no one knows they are getting a free lunch.  Their clothes are clean, and we aren’t the only family by far to be wearing fashions from Target or Kohl’s instead of trendy designer clothing.  We don’t line up at food banks for our food or flash a food stamp card when purchasing groceries.  Digital coupons are invisible and if we use a donated gift card, well, lucky us!  Parents who see me dropping off and picking up the kids or at the PTO meeting assume I’m a stay at home mom (which I am, I guess). 

For the kids’ sake I’m glad we don’t wear our unemployed/alternatively housed state like a neon sign.  I want their lives to be as ‘normal’ as possible.  But like other families who are privately wrestling with the effects of the recession our outward life doesn’t mirror the inward one.  When I’m out in public, even if I’m shopping at a thrift store, I feel like I’m putting on a façade, playing a part.  At home in our trailer I struggle with ways to make it to the end of the month or deal with unexpected expenses (and btw- we really appreciate those of you who provide donations that help me to do that).   The dissonance between the outward and inward lives causes constant stress.  Some days I just want to drop the pretence and wear a t-shirt that pictures a homeless person holding a sign and below the photo says “I’m with him”.

Have I been looking for a job?  Yes!  And I’ve applied for several jobs in my field (environmental permitting) locally.  As well as several jobs in my field that aren’t local (Hawaii), and several jobs that aren’t even in my field but that are local.  I’ve had two interviews.  One job (in my field) went to an entry level person at an extremely low salary and the other job (out of my field) went to someone with more experience.  Most of the resumes and applications I send out disappear into the Ethernet without any response.

 I get a lot of comments suggesting that I really need to just take any old job that I can, so I wanted to address the financial realities of that.  A low paying job, after taxes and deductions are taken out, will not meet even our lowered barebones expenses.  A job paying $15 an hour – which is actually a higher wage than a lot of the ‘any old jobs’ listed these days (most pay around $10-11 an hour) after taxes and deductions (I’m estimating those combined at around 25%) would net around $1800 a month.  That’s what unemployment pays now.  But since I would have to put all 4 children in an afterschool program (and camps during breaks), that expense would increase by $924 a month over the $308 I pay now (and camps would be much more – summer camp for 4 kids runs around $540 a week/$2160 a month).  So I’d have the same income but almost a thousand dollars more in expense just in childcare during the school year. 

Plus if I took a temporary job paying $15 an hour I would reset the amount of unemployment for which I am eligible (currently I’m eligible for the maximum amount) and if I had to file again would not in any way be able to support my family. 

So why not retool for a new career?  Aside from the fact that the idea of starting over again at my age is daunting, if I want to train for another career I would have to give up our only income (unemployment) while training, which combined with the fees for attending classes and the possible additional childcare expenses, makes it impossible.  Despite all the ads from trade schools proclaiming a plethora of jobs in their fields it’s entirely possible that I could retrain and not find a job as other factors come into play when looking for employment.  As I’ve mentioned before (and as is documented in this economy across the country) things like age and credit score are considered by employers. 

An article about middle-aged job seekers competing with teenagers, interviewed a 57-year old job seeking ex-freighter captain at a job fair in Irvine, reporting that:

Seasoned workers have been especially hard-hit as the economy sheds job because with their experience comes a bigger salary.
“What’s happening is companies have laid off massive numbers of workers; typically what happens is they lay off the most expensive workers first,” said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University in Orange.
That ends affecting youths as well, because the newly jobless “try to find jobs in other sectors for much less pay,” Adibi said.
That was clear Saturday as Yang waited for an interview as a retail store greeter, a relatively lucrative job fair opening, thanks to its $13-an-hour wage.

The article went on to say, that unlike his youthful competitors Yang at least had savings to fall back on.

Another article sent a dire warning to job seekers- “sweat the small stuff because hiring managers are knocking candidates out of the running for the smallest mistake.”

The irony is that there are so many middle-aged, middle class professionals out of work that they’ve created a little niche market for entrepreneurs.  For instance there are websites that cater to the middle-aged  job seeker – some of which, judging from comments (e.g., “I’ve signed up at retiredbrains.com and all I get are email postings for casinos or the Army”)  appear to be more of a benefit to their creators than to the job seeker who visits them.  And there’s a new movie that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival – “Company Men” directed by John Wells that deals with this subject. 

In the case of “Company Men,” the three main characters played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are laid off from a conglomerate and lose their comfortable boardrooms-and-golf existence.

Opening with a scene of Affleck’s character smugly enjoying a pre-work golf game at the country club just before he finds out he’s fired, the film follows all three as they are forced to re-evaluate their careers and lives, stripped of jobs that provided not only a paycheck but confidence and self worth. 

Add another factor- poor credit score- which affects job seekers who have had to deal with foreclosure into the competitive market and you begin to understand why your applications disappear into the Ethernet without response.

“In today’s job market, the expectation is that employers can afford to be extremely selective about candidates,” says Bob Schoenbaum, principal of KeyStone Search, an executive recruiting firm in Minneapolis. “While credit might not be the most important factor in a hiring decision, bad credit can be a tipping point between one candidate and others competing for the job.”

Obviously remaining on unemployment indefinitely is not an option – it runs out eventually – and it’s clearly not a healthy situation.  It’s hell on one’s self-esteem.  Towards the end of the school year I intend to start searching farther afield for a job – but will try and stay in the warmer climes as we will probably have to maintain our trailer home for some time and frankly because I hate the cold!  But that won’t change my age or credit score.  Over the next few months I’ll continue to explore the idea of moving to China to teach English. Perhaps after a year of that the economy will be better here and there would be more development, and thus more jobs in my field. I do think that would have its own stresses (not the least of which is that the kids are not enthusiastic about it).  And I’ll continue to write.  And in the dark predawn hours I’ll reflect on the truth of Anonymous’ comment that social security survivor benefits are more than unemployment and wonder if the kids would be better off without me. But I won’t be applying for retail or other low paying jobs.

The past few years it was “Woman on the Verge”.  But this really speaks to me these days.

If, as George Bernard Shaw was purported to have said, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven” what is an unhappy family?

It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating.  Becoming homeless has a severe negative effect on families. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless:  “It disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members.”  Lest you think this sort of strong language only applies to impoverished, uneducated, substance abusing families headed by young single moms who were victims of domestic abuse (in other words the stereotypical homeless families), let me assure you it does not.  While being educated, mature and relatively healthy, undoubtedly helps a parent deal with the difficulties of becoming homeless, those characteristics alone are not enough to counteract the stress and strain on the family. 

Homelessness frequently breaks up families. Families may be separated as a result of shelter policies which deny access to older boys or fathers. Separations may also be caused by placement of children into foster care when their parents become homeless. In addition, parents may leave their children with relatives and friends in order to save them from the ordeal of homelessness or to permit them to continue attending their regular school. The break-up of families is a well-documented phenomenon: in 56% of the 27 cities surveyed in 2004, homeless families had to break up in order to enter emergency shelters (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004). http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/families.html

I have been proud to have managed to keep my family together during these past 6 months, but with increasing frequency I wonder if it’s really something of which to be proud?  Granted these thoughts occur most often during my 3 AM insomnia period when all seems gloomiest and most hopeless, but they come to me in the daylight as well.  Are the children being irreparably harmed by our situation?  Would they benefit from living with another family or families in a more stable situation? What am I really providing for them and does it make up in any way for all that is denied them now?

Initially I was certain that I would quickly find a new job and things would return to normal.  But as the months of fruitlessly submitting job applications pass by my hopes dim. I cannot believe my lack of progress and suspect my applications are being screened out in the early phase.  I begin to wonder if my age or credit score are playing into employers’ decisions not to even interview me.  It is extremely frustrating as prior to this I have never had a problem securing a new position.  It is also very depressing.

Inasmuch as I try to put on my Pollyanna face in this blog, proclaiming our tiny trailer to be sufficient, I am sure no one really believes that I think it can meet the needs of a family of 5 indefinitely. Living in this small space on a paltry, inadequate income (unemployment) is unbelievably difficult and has affected our health and outlook on life.  We are irritable, and pessimistic.  I don’t know how much longer I can continue in this situation and I feel certain it would be better for the children if we didn’t.  Too bad the options are so limited.

Vampires are all the rage these days on-screen and in novels.  Not being a teenaged girl I don’t see the attraction and my own personal  experience with a bloodsucker is considerably less romantic.  I’m talking about my bank (of course) – which actually belongs to that supposedly more benign form of money lender- a credit union.  For months I’ve been stymied in my banking and dealing with bills for services that I no longer use and have repeatedly tried to cancel (the newspaper for one).  While I try to watch my meager budget carefully I’m often blindsided by some long ago authorized charge suddenly hitting my account.  When that happens – as it did recently for the newspaper bill (which I’ve now canceled 3 times) and my account is down to the few dollars I have left after budgeted expenses, the credit union dings my account $25.  Over this past holiday weekend that started a free fall as other checks hit and new $25 dollar fees were added.  It completely sucked up the check I had deposited on Friday (but on which there was a hold for 3 days) to cover expected costs.  Arrgggh! It’s impossible to get ahead here.  This is my life- being dragged facedown over gravel.

California is the land of vanity plates.  If I had one it would say HNDBSKT.

Our house in the mountain state from which we relocated had 5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, and a finished basement.  I had replaced the old beige carpet in the living/dining room with a very nice bamboo floor.  We had a two-car garage and a decent sized backyard with a garden and room for a trampoline.  We were within walking distance to the kids’ elementary school. We had fun decorating and enjoyed the room and privacy it afforded us.  It was a nice house and a real step up from our 3-bedroom condo in California.  Just the way the American dream is supposed to play out.  Work hard and move up.  We were all pretty thrilled when we moved in – the house closed on my birthday making it the most expensive birthday present I’d ever bought myself!

And it kept being expensive – beyond the mortgage and property tax and insurance, I mean.  Furnishing a house that size costs money, heating and cooling and humidifying the house in a state that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter cost money, keeping up the yard and dealing with things that needed upgrading or replacing cost money.  And cleaning it, shoveling snow and cutting the grass took time!

And there were the neighbors.  How many people live in a house they love surrounded by neighbors that they can’t love?  We unfortunately lived next to an older couple who did not like children or animals and across the street from people who were well versed in every city ordinance (permitted length of grass, number of hours snow could remain unshoveled on the sidewalk before they could call the city and have it shoveled for you at your expense, etc.). We endured a barrage of notices from the city as our neighbors endeavored to teach us the ropes of living in that “best place to live” beginning two days after we moved in with a notice telling us that empty, flattened moving boxes could only be stored on our driveway for 24 hours! 

So owning a home was a mixed blessing but it was also meant to be an asset that would provide for us if necessary.  I expected the kids would grow up there and at some point inherit it. The first wasn’t meant to be as the health (heart/lung) issues my son had been born with turned out to be antithetical to life in the mountains.  The latter was stolen from us.  Because our “renter” refused to pay rent and it just wasn’t possible for me to pay a total of $4100 a month in mortgage there and rent here, we lost our dream house to the bank and our rented house later in the summer when I was laid off as part of an ‘overhead reduction.’

We spent 2 months being homeless– really homeless. Thankfully I had some money saved and lots of Priority Club points so instead of sleeping in our car we alternated between living out of tents at the local state parks and the Holiday Inn while waiting for my severance pay to come in.  Those were 2 very difficult months and looking back on it I’m surprised we survived as well as we did.  During that time I searched for a job but also scoured the web and newspaper for a travel trailer and was amazingly lucky to find one I could afford with a little help from friends.  There were plenty of cheap old trailers to be had but the sticking point was the age of the trailer – the local RV parks required your rig to be less than 10 or 12 years old to maintain appearances. 

Our rig is a Fleetwood Dakota 2004, 26-foot travel trailer.  It has a half-slide, a queen bed, a sofa and dinette that make into a bed, a small (counter-less) kitchen, and a bathroom.  It has heat (propane) and AC, lights and even a small ‘entertainment center’ consisting of a radio and cd player.  The kitchen has a small refrigerator and smaller freezer, a microwave and a stove and oven (which we have not been able to use as it sets off the propane leak alarm when I try it).  I complain about it but only about the size and lack of storage facilities.   Beyond that I like it. 

I like the autonomy it affords us, I like the privacy and security (compared to the tents), I like knowing that there’s no landlord’s vagaries to contend with. While the lack of storage space is an on-going hassle, cleaning is easy and quick. It’s so much more affordable than a house (especially here).  We pay for our space (some utilities included) and we live and let live.  If the neighbors or neighborhood becomes too problematic we can hook up and move on.  Come this summer, if I still haven’t found a job, and we have money for gas, we may very well do just that- go explore some of the country.  And in the meantime my new American dream isn’t a buying a house, or even getting into an apartment – it’s a larger travel trailer – say a 30-foot with a full slide-out, extra storage and bunk beds for the kids! Um, and maybe room for one more cat!

Then I’ll say “Our house, is a very, very, very fine house…”

O world, how apt the poor are to be proud.
William Shakespeare

Programs for children who are homeless or in otherwise straightened circumstances are, in my experience, more accessible and benevolent than those available to adults.  The children are not shamed or made to prove their worthiness.  Oftentimes word of mouth is enough to ‘enroll’ a child in a program.  It was through that method that my kids were given a back to school shopping trip to Target in September and invited to a Christmas party complete with a visit from Santa and gifts in the past month.  Once a week an advocate from the school district meets privately with the kids and asks how things are going for them- is there anything they need? School supplies are replenished without question and certificates for free haircuts appear in their folders. Free school lunches were available with the filing of a simple form and there is nothing that singles the kids out as a recipient when they go through the cafeteria line.   I am grateful that the children have these services available but even more grateful for the light touch with which they are administered. 

What a world of difference between those programs and the public ‘assistance’ programs available to adults.  Asking for help is hard enough when you’ve worked your entire life and have not only singlehandedly supported your family but have been able to lend a hand to others in need.  It’s made even more difficult when the programs set up to provide assistance treat the petitioner like a criminal, a liar, or an incompetent idiot.  You want food stamps or help with medical insurance?  Be prepared to have a mug shot and fingerprints taken and to provide reams of data that normally you would have held as personal and private information- bring your birth certificates, insurance policies (life, medical, burial), utility bills, mortgage statement, car registration, title of ownership (what on earth does that have to do with medi-Cal?), pay stubs, child support, stocks and bonds, bank and credit union statements, retirement plan statements, in short just about everything except the results of your last gynecological exam and if they could think of a reason I’d bet they’d demand that too.

Want transitional housing after losing your home?  Be prepared to have to sign up for mandatory savings program and life skills classes (classes in budgeting, parenting and housing searches), and for your family to be under the scrutiny of a ‘mentor’.  Oh, and leave your animals, wine and friends of the opposite gender at the door- they aren’t allowed in. 

And don’t expect to be met with sympathy and compassion.  Almost without exception I have found the workers at these programs to be rude and indifferent.  They sit on the other side of the desk avoiding eye contact and recite the program’s requirements in a bored monotone ending with an impatient sigh.  They may well have said the same thing over and over again in the past months but they can be assured that it’s the first time we’ve heard it, so it would be nice if they didn’t act like we were stupid when we have a question or two.  The worker’s attitudes are mirrored in the letters we receive from the programs.  Forget sitting down with someone who asks in a caring way- is there anything you need?  Instead you will receive poorly worded official correspondence that uses demanding and vaguely threatening language: “If you don’t return the requested items by such and such date you will be removed from the program.”  Would it hurt to write and say something along the lines of ‘We noticed that you haven’t returned the requested items and we really don’t want you to lose the benefits for which you are eligible so we are sending this reminder’?

I am sure that there are and have been many people in the system who need the handholding, the life skills classes, the mentor who makes sure they don’t relapse back to the bad habits that sent them out onto the streets.  But times have changed.  Thousands of newly unemployed people are competent, highly educated adults who have worked in professional positions for decades.  We aren’t drug users, victims of domestic abuse, high school dropouts.  Show us some respect.  For that matter how about treating all of the program recipients the way you would like to be treated in similar circumstances?

Just like in the airport security there need to be two or more lines- one for people who need more help and time to get through the process and one for frequent fliers who travel light and know where they are going!

Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.
Kahlil Gibran

Click for post soundtrack – Lean On Me

When faced with stress or adversity, the experts tell us it behooves us to have a ‘strong support network’.   Stress, especially long-term stress, is debilitating.  It causes problems- physical health problems and mental health problems.  Media outlets are full of articles on the recession related mental health crisis – reporting that more people are seeking help from mental health professionals, the rise in prescriptions of anti-depressants, and at the extreme end, individuals beset by helpless feelings committing suicide.  It’s good to have a loving spouse, caring family, supportive friends, or a faith community to turn to when you lose your job or home.  People who do, we are told, are less likely to succumb to depression or lose hope.

Losing first our home and savings, and then my job, has been very stressful.  The first two months of being homeless were an adrenalized stress- I felt hyped up with anxiety and fear while we lived in tents.  I didn’t feel we were safe and my unemployment checks were tied up in a paperwork snafu.  Since acquiring and moving into our trailer my stress has morphed into a more steady and continuous pressure.  The uncertainty of our future weighs on me and after searching steadily for a new job without success, I doubt my ability to greatly influence that future. 

Where is our support network?  Well, it’s largely internet-based and I would characterize it as made of up people who know of me, as opposed to knowing me. And I appreciate every one of our cyberspace supporters! We do have caring family who offer what help they can but they live far from us and are themselves limited by the economy.  Locally what I perceived of as friendships with people from work and church have turned out to be more a matter of ‘club’ membership- and we don’t belong to those clubs anymore.  It appears I have a regrettable tendency to mistake friendly behavior for friendship!  I am a fiercely passionate and loyal friend and unreasonably expect an equivalent commitment from the people I befriend.  A commitment they might not want or find possible to make.  It is I expect, the reason I never married.  Too high expectations.   So now I draw what solace I can from my animals- always loving and sympathetic- and nature, cheap wine, and intermittent contacts with friendly people.  I guess one of the things I miss is feeling like I can be a friend- when people do contact us it’s in the spirit of charity, not because they like us or want to spend time with us.

I have always been a fairly resilient person – perhaps not overly strong or brave but not weak or fearful either.  I try to do what needs to be done.  As a single mom by choice I’m used to relying on myself and I’ve prided myself on my ability to be self-sufficient.  Like my own mother in times of crisis I try to maintain a sense of humor.  Perhaps it’s a bit darker than most people’s but I still find things to laugh about.  But this unrelenting stress has worn down my resiliency and lately I find myself feeling more fragile and less capable. It’s hard to be alone in this. I soldier on, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. But I have no sense of where we are going anymore.

I wish I had someone to lean on.  A shoulder to cry on, a chest to rest against, an embrace in which to find comfort.

And now for a post on the lighter side.  A ubiquitous New Year’s resolution is to clean up one’s act.  Clear out some of that clutter that has accumulated over the year in closets, garage, and in-boxes.  You know what I’m talking about – all that stuff that teeters on the brink of collapse when you open the closet door to put away the holiday decorations.  Time to simplify your life and lighten your load! 

Although I’ve sworn off New Year’s resolutions and long term plans the urge to purge speaks to me. Clearly there is no room for clutter when you live in a 26-ft trailer with 4 other people, 2 dogs and a cat, and those exact variables are the reason why clutter plagues me. 

Christmas was a delightful haul for the children and an increase in the clutter bane for me.  Each child was presented with a trash bag before gifts were opened and wrapping and boxes were summarily dealt with but that still left all the presents.  My son got Legos.  Lots and lots of Legos. My youngest daughter got Barbies.  Need I say more?

We have minimal interior storage space and in our 4 months at the RV Park we’ve managed to accumulate several large Tupperware style tubs worth of junk/ebay items which are stored under the trailer along with the kids’ skates and scooter.   Having anticipated the additional stuff of Christmas I had mandated a clean out of cubbies and drawers of all old and unwanted toys and outworn clothes the week before but kids being natural hoarders, the clear out didn’t equal the increase.  Even after moving out a foot of books the small bookshelf is overflowing, and the kids’ canvas cubby boxes are full. 

We have one closet for 5 people, located in our small bathroom.  It measures approximately 55-inches high, 40-inches wide and 22-inches deep.  It has a rod at the top from which to hang clothes.  It contains my hanging clothing, two of my daughters’ entire wardrobes, towels, a tub of personal stuff (soap, shampoo, etc) that won’t fit in the tiny medical cabinet, the hair dryer, iron, and guitar.  I’ve tried a number of clutter reducing measures inside this space without finding the superior solution.  These include a hanging canvas organizer, 2 large plastic drawers, and a wire cubby/shelf unit.  Regardless of the method it wasn’t long before the socks and hair dryers and towels started oozing out of their confinement!  

And I think I’ve mentioned before that our bathtub is generally not available for bathing!  It’s usually full of bags of laundry or recycling- both of which accumulate faster than I’m willing to deal with them. 

Our lack of space doesn’t just challenge us and limit my ability to take advantage of all those buy one get one free stock up deals at the grocery store – it stymies the efforts of folks who would like to help us through donations.  Recently a kindly person dropped off 3 trash bags full of out-grown children’s clothing, thinking it would benefit us and we also received a holiday ‘basket’ (large box) full of canned food.  95% of the clothing went to the thrift shop and most of the canned food was dropped off at the homeless shelter!  Sorry folks- we are FULL!

One of my recent home improvement projects dealt with the clutter issue.  For Christmas a friend sent us a “RV Counter-Extension” which, when affixed to the edge of the sink would provide 12-inches of counter space.  I was very excited to receive this as we have no counter at all currently which means dirty dishes sit in the sink and normal appliances like coffee makers and toasters have no place at all.  It took awhile to get this counter extension out of the box because I had to buy an electric drill (on sale at Target over the holidays).  My old electric drill vanished with our renter.  But finally with the drill in hand I approached the project this week.  It didn’t take long to realize that this was one of those home improvement projects that would lead to additional projects.  The surface to which the counter extension was to be affixed turned out to be a very thin piece of plywood and the extension was solid oak!  The solid oak won, pulling the side away from the sink!  It’s back in the box until I figure out how to successfully strengthen the side (currently duct taped back in place)- mind you this area is not particularly accessible since it’s behind the few small kitchen drawers. 

I know the clutter experts are convinced everyone can conquer this demon.  We need to be willing to let go of things, we need to face the psychological issues that mire us in stuff, “You can not always control life, but you can control your clutter!” they say.   According to an article in the Denver Post:

‘Getting organized may have more to do with psychology than piles of possessions, according to professional organizers and the people who hire them. From low self-esteem and an inability to make decisions, psychology shapes a person’s relationship to his or her space and stuff. So the key to more organized lives may lie within the gray matter of the mind.”

Well, that may be true for all of the folks in their 4-bedroom houses with 3-car garages.  But seriously, I think the only answer to our clutter problem lies not in the gray matter of my mind but in – more space!

Box Car Kids

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