What Free Lunch Really Means

Subtitle: a story told through experiences

I once worked in a child care center that served several programs for low income families. Some of our kids had parents in prison. Some children were in foster care. A fair number were living in what we called “risky homes” – families where abuse and neglect happened, but not severely enough to remove them from the home.

These children were hungry. On Monday mornings, they dug into their breakfasts like they hadn’t eaten in days – and sometimes that was precisely the case. We planned our Monday morning meal accordingly – often oatmeal, because it was inexpensive, nutritious, and filling.

Fast forward several years to my first teaching job, in which I learned about free and reduced lunch. One indicator of the importance of this program showed on half days – those days that dismissed students before lunch and had meetings and training sessions in the afternoon. Attendance was weak, very weak, on days that the school did not serve lunch.

Fast forward again, same school, same neighborhood, same large number of low-income families. Our school meals program earned a grant to provide Grab and Go lunches on half days. These were essentially bag lunches with a sandwich and fruit and a small juice box or milk. Do you see where I’m going? Half day attendance picked up in a big, big way. Kids who straggled in late would greet me with “Can I still order lunch?”

I learned even more as I became aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, a program for homeless students. When a family becomes eligible for services through McKinney-Vento, one of the first things that happens is automatic free breakfast and lunch. The family doesn’t need to jump through the usual paperwork hoops required to qualify for free or reduced meals. When a family’s housing is insecure, schools make sure that the students in that family have at least two meals a day.

I’m not quoting numbers or dry statistics, my friends. I’m speaking from my own experiences. Now imagine: if this is my experience, in a relatively stable community like Happy Valley, the need that we label “food security” must be even more widespread in inner cities and poor rural areas.

And in Betsy DeVos’ experience? I’ll rephrase that. Betsy DeVos, the completely unqualified Secretary of Education, has no relevant experience. She has no idea how important free and reduced meals can be for families. She has no idea how feeding a child makes it possible for that child to grow, to feel safe, and ultimately, to learn.

Free meals matter. That’s the bottom line.

Why We March – and keep on marching

When they go low, we go high. And that’s why I won’t show you some of the signs from the Women’s March, no matter how clever. I saw plenty held by women my age and older announcing “I can’t believe we’re still protesting this #$@&!” This woman managed to say the same thing without profanity.

‘Nuff said. Or is it?

“Nasty” has become a synonym for strong.

With a piece of poster board and some good paint or markers, these two women made a point that many do not see. We women worked hard to get the right to make decisions about when and whether we’ll bear children. We paid out of our own pockets for birth control for a long, long time.

Many young women don’t know the history. They don’t remember when a woman couldn’t teach school if she became pregnant. Too many women tell stories of how they wore baggier and baggier clothes until they couldn’t hide their growing bellies, at which time they lost their jobs.

I explained in a Facebook thread the very real danger of losing access to birth control and access to health care in general, and the role Planned Parenthood plays in helping young women on both counts. Someone commented – or should I say, shouted? – “Buy your own damn birth control!” Face to face, that person would have looked at me and known I wasn’t one of the young women I mentioned. I am 56, had my last child 25 years ago, and had a hysterectomy three years ago. I am well past my child bearing years. Buy my own? I did, for years, because my health plan didn’t cover it.

This ignorant comment, however, reinforced the need for advocacy. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for women’s rights, especially a women’s rights to control when and whether she will become pregnant.

You can purchase Mary Engelbreit’s print here.

Proceeds from this print, and this print only, will go to Planned Parenthood.

Boycotts – to buy or not to buy?

Chuck’s new job (electrician, fire truck manufacturer) is turning out to be tough on his jeans and tee shirts. Luckily, he wears jeans and tee shirts, not anything more valuable or expensive. But I’m standing in the closet staring at two pair of good Lee relaxed fit jeans that are ripped in the rear, and I don’t sew.

I did what I do: I reached out for help online. My post said “DH (Darling Husband)’s new job is hard on his jeans. Do iron-on patches still exist? I don’t sew.” The responses were mixed, but positive. Sort of.

“Yes, you can buy iron-on patches at WalMart!” I don’t shop WalMart. I haven’t for years. In my state, WalMart encourages their employees to sign up for the state health plan for low income residents. It works because WalMart doesn’t pay enough for their typical worker to buy health insurance through the company, thus saving WalMart the investment in health coverage. Therefore, I’m already subsidizing WalMart through my tax moneys. Shop there? No, thanks. That company doesn’t deserve any more of my money.

“Try Joann Fabrics or Hobby Lobby.” Joann Fabrics, okay. They’re in the same mini mall with Penzey’s Spices, and I love me an opportunity to shop Penzey’s.

But Hobby Lobby?

Remember the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case? Hobby Lobby brought suit against the Affordable Care Act complaining that the company did not want to pay for coverage that included birth control. They claimed it was a faith-based decision. Let me get this straight: a nationwide corporation, claiming deeply, sincerely held religious beliefs, can apply those beliefs to its employee benefit programs. I haven’t shopped there since the decision.

That leaves me with Joann Fabrics. I certainly hope they actually carry iron-on patches. If not, keeping up my principles might get expensive. I might need to buy a sewing machine and learn to sew.

Warm Weather Wonders

I didn’t grab a jacket or gloves as I left the house. The air was so refreshingly warm! But then I wondered – is this a February thaw, or is this due to global warming?

I planted seeds and put the containers under the grow lights. This much is typical for February. Then I wondered – could I actually put these outside for a few hours? And I thought, this is strange. Very strange.

We went to a neighborhood brewpub for supper and stumbled into live music. Fun! The place left their entrances wide open. When we left, we heard a scooter drive by – in February. And I wondered – is this the new normal?

The aroma of a wood fire was strong in our neighborhood. I know of at least four outdoor fireplaces or fire pits. If this keeps up, we might even start using ours. Oh, dear. Then I looked at the calendar and wondered – What kind of cause and effect relationship is going on here? This odd warming trend just isn’t right.

And that, my friends, is the way it is. We might be enjoying a short thaw and warming trend, but the overall climate changes are nothing to enjoy in the long run.

The Wardrobe of the Rebellion

I bought my Teach Peace sweatshirt last fall. It didn’t seem radical then, but now I wonder whether I should wear it to school or not. I decided yes, I can wear it, because the sentiment is not rebellious. Peace is a valuable, if not exactly realistic, goal.

Nasty Woman gear hit the interwebs after the third debate of the presidential campaign. In the feminist world, the term became synonymous with strong.

Ah, the pink pussy hat! A coworker told me she has one. She leaves it in her car when she gets to school, but she has it. She wears it. She describes it as “cute.” I don’t have one – yet – but the question comes to me: What does it mean to wear this in public? Wearing a pink pussy hat to a rally has a clear meaning: don’t mess with me, celebrity or not. Thousands of women wore them on January 21st, and the world took notice. I predict these hats will stay in style for, oh, at least four years.

The safety pin is still out there, just not as prevalent as it was initially. The trend started in the U.K. and spread via social media to the U.S. after, you know, The Inauguration. The safety pin quietly announces that the wearer is a Safe Person. If someone is being harassed, threatened, and needs help, the victim can reach out to the one with the pin. I see safety pins on Facebook profiles, Twitter hashtags, but few in public. Heck, maybe I don’t travel in the right circles. I know many who consider themselves advocates but don’t wear the pin. This symbol might see a surge in popularity wlong with the surge in deportations.

An old favorite, the Believe There is Good in the World tee shirt, attended the Women’s March in Chicago on my sister-in-law and niece. I wore mine at home – mine being the second I’ve purchased with this slogan because I wore out the first. No matter who leads the free world, I hope many will continue to believe and to Be The Good in the World, too.

The latest on the tee shirt scene is Nevertheless, She Persisted. Senator Elizabeth Warren was “warned, given an explanation; nevertheless, she persisted” to read the now-famous letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing the now-infamous Senator Sessions in his quest to become Attorney General. This slogan has been applied retroactively to Ruby Bridges, Susan B. Anthony, Rosie the Riveter, and more straight up strong women. This one, folks, may last more than four years.

On Election Day in 2012, I slipped my Team Obama tee shirt under a fleece bearing the logo of my employer. Will I do that again? Readers, what are you wearing to the revolution? Your pink cat hats? Teach Peace athletic wear? Something I’ve forgotten? Leave a comment, if you dare.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Off the Web, Off our Minds?

IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is a law that guarantees disabled students a Free Appropriate Public Education. We knew that law inside and out by the time Amigo turned 21 and graduated from both our local public high school and the state school for the blind. Our state department of public instruction (Wisconsin DPI) and the federal department of education both had extensive information on the law.

On Wednesday, a search for information reached this message.

I tried again later. First, I found a page that suggested “Information about the regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that was posted on this site has now been moved to a new location. To access this information and much more, please visit: http://idea.ed.gov.

On the idea dot ed dot gov, I found this message. The servers hosting our idea.ed.gov website are experiencing technical issues. We are working to resolve this issue, please check back later.

These two might be outdated, I thought. The first site references the year 2004, after all., the year of major updates to special education law. The links could be 12 years old.

I found an archived report from the 25th anniversary of IDEA.

I found a text file with a copy of the law as it was updated in 2004. Maybe I should bookmark that one.

I found an intact reference to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The link on the Department of Education page has a red box announcing “Disclaimer!” and leads not to an official page, but this one. It’s sponsored by a group called the Center for Parent Information and Resources. I’d have to look more closely at the organization before trusting their information.

I then found a pdf document 159 pages long with the same information in Major Legalese as the earlier bookmark.

Every other search I made landed on the tech diff statement.

This follows censorship (yes, censorship) of other government informational pages such as information about human causes of climate change. Some of Wisconsin’s “official” web sites have also pulled information that doesn’t jive with our governor’s narrow mind or that of his sponsors.

What’s going on? I’m not sure I want to know.

I know this much, though. We, the people, in order to maintain a flawed but functioning republic, will continue our quest for information. We’ll continue seeking information, and we’ll continue providing information. We’ll also continue verifying and confirming statements. For example: just because Ms. Conway makes a statement on camera three times doesn’t make it true (RIP, Bowling Green massacre victims). 

In this case, out of sight (or out of website) doesn’t mean out of mind.

The Book Club – Dystopian or Apocalyptic?

It’s not an annotated bibliography, but a short plot summary for each should do.

Phoenix Rising, by Karen Hesse. Nuclear meltdown in a nearby power plant puts a whole community at risk of fallout contamination. Told from the perspective of a teen girl, this story will both touch and frighten readers. Masks, Geiger counters, and other protective gear become everyday items. When her family takes in a boy with radiation sickness, the girl starts to see the disaster with new eyes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll like the books even more. By telling the stories in first person, Collins helps readers understand Katniss’ point of view and how and why she becomes the reluctant role model for the revolution.

1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale would have to be on the high school or college list. The more recently published Cyberstorm could join those. If you’re really brave, try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Are you with me so far? Required reading for facing a Trump presidency will show the frightening ways that life imitates art.

I asked some of my friends on social media for suggestions.

Animal Farm becomes more relevant as Russia leans more toward its Soviet Union past. We the Living by Ayn Rand; One Second After. by William R. Forstchen. Brave New World, of course. They listed A Clockwork Orange – shudder.

Why the book list, people might ask. Why? Well, folks, I suggest that reading a few of these, followed by some serious thought and observations, might open some eyes. More than that, analysis of many of these plots has the potential to open minds.

Friends, family, readers, can you suggest other titles?

A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu

It was a warm summer night, back in August of 1974. My friends and I were performing in a solo recital at music camp. A handful of us had performed in past years, so it felt more like a friendly get-together than a scholarship competition. During the other students’ performances, we sat on a small porch behind the back entrance to the gymnasium stage. And we talked, quietly, on this warm summer night.

“Really, who cares what happens tonight in this little recital of ours?” a pianist friend stated softly. “The president is resigning tonight. He might be quitting the White House right now.” We nodded. We were just young teenagers, all of us, but we knew this was big. We had seen bits and pieces of the Watergate scandal as it unfolded, and whatever our level of understanding of the whole mess, we knew that our tiny little recital was meaningless in comparison to the real world beyond.

Decades later, I can look back at that night in a different way. Maybe we should have been impressed at how quiet it was; no coup, no riots, just a warm August night and a gym full of young musicians. In Washington, D.C. the power was moving smoothly from Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford, and the country would go on.

Decades later I also know that the transfer of power wasn’t happening that night as we took our turns playing for the audience and the judges. Gerald Ford was sworn in the next day around noon after Nixon formally resigned. The previous evening, while my friends and I sat backstage, the President had made the speech announcing his impending resignation. “By taking this action,” he told the country, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”

I can’t help but see parallels to Watergate in the rocky start to the current administration. Wiretapping then, hacker invasions of email now. Firing the special prosecutor; firing the attorney general. Nixon wasn’t fond of journalists, either, including the two investigative reporters from the Washington Post. Many of Nixon’s lies were those of omission, not the outright falsehoods that masquerade as alternative facts today, but the atmosphere is the same: truth optional.

Decades ago, we young teenagers didn’t feel worried. We knew it was a night for the history books, but we also knew that our concerts and our lives would go on as usual. When school started, our history teachers might ask “Where were you when…?” and we would answer that it was pretty much an ordinary night at music camp. No fireworks, no danger, just a solo recital in a college gym.

Somehow, I can’t muster up that same sense of calm today.