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.

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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.

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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.

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Alternative Facts

We’ve all heard them. We disregard them, sometimes even laugh a little at the sheer ridiculousness that someone might want us to believe. Here are a few alternative facts that circulate – wherever.

One size fits all.

Easy open package.

Lifetime warranty.

Easy return policy.

Sanctuary cities are hotbeds of crime.

The dog ate my homework.

Wikipedia rocks.

Painless childbirth.

3 million undocumented immigrants voted in 2016.

Contents not included.

He must have misspoken.

Okay, readers, I’ve made my point. Can you think of others? Add comments for me, please.

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Deal? Read the Tags. All the tags.

I’ve been considering putting a few lights in the backyard. I’m not talking about extending power to the garden patch, but just a few stakes with solar-powered lights in them. I would then be able to take out compost after dark without tripping.

I bought an inexpensive wind chime that had such a light in it, and the darn thing never worked. I guess I got what I paid for in that case.

When I saw the tiny (about 6 inches tall) canning jar facsimiles in a specialty store, I thought about getting a few.

Cute. Very cute.

I looked more closely. The adorable little mason jars with solar-powered lights inside were available at a cost of $8 each. Oh, my. That’s a little steep, considering I want several.

111Cuter up close.

Also prominently stamped on the tag: Made in China.

No, thanks. Maybe I can convince my engineer husband to rig something up using mason jars I already own. Chuck, what do you think?

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The O.K. Chorale: Where the Wrapping Remains Green

If you think I’m a green freak (Amigo does), you may be right. But if you think my attitude toward wrapping paper minimizes the colors in the pile under the tree, you’d be wrong. Oh, well, maybe this isn’t the best picture. It illustrates the “before” pile rather well, though.

Gifts and wrapping

In case you think I’m obsessive about it, and you’d be correct, take a look at the second pile. From left to right: recyclable cardboard boxes, broken down; reusable ribbons and wrapping paper; gift bags ready for re-use. The garbage pile was so small, I didn’t bother with getting it into the photo.

Rabbit imitating a tribble on the right

In fact, we forgot to buy tape this year. We were down to the very last role.

A little time organizing, and we’ll be all set for next year. There will be no need to buy wrapping paper. Tape, yes. But no more paper, right family? Right?!

Readers, I’d love to hear more ways to green the holiday season. Please share.

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It’s all in the fortune cookies.

Chuck is a tolerant sort. He knows I have trouble throwing away the fortunes from the cookies that come with Chinese take-out food. When I cleaned out my work desk last spring, I found two (only two!) in my main desk drawer. A few days ago, we ordered Chinese for lunch at work. As we gathered together away from our desks, we shared both the humorous and the thoughtful on the little slips of paper in the cookies.

Mine.

Mine.

I might have more faith in it if there were more than two weeks left in the current year.

2016 has definitely been a roller coaster. The apocalypse of November 8 was a highlight, er, lowlight on the calendar.

Now, to the future. 2017 has the potential to bring to reality all the fears of 2016. The question: how can I resist the negative? Where are the best opportunities for activism, opportunities that will have an impact?

Meanwhile, I’ll settle for a photo of this fortune. I don’t need to keep it any longer. In two weeks, it’ll be history.

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Why a Trump Presidency scares me

The system of checks and balances is gone. With a Republican majority in the House, there’s no way to override bad decisions at the executive level.

Donald Trump’s cabinet is made up of people who will do his bidding, rather than people with experience and knowledge in the necessary fields.

He refuses daily intelligence briefings, saying he is “smart enough.” We teachers call that a “multiple meaning word.” Intelligence in this context means – well, heck, someone who doesn’t know the difference shouldn’t be president.

Russia influenced and intentionally interfered in the election process. In a race as close as this one was, any outside pressure could have changed the end results. The trouble with this issue is that while the CIA has confirmed Russian involvement through hacking and leaking select materials, there is no way to determine exactly how that changed the vote total. It’s just enough to question the legitimacy of the results.

Mr. Trump knows nothing about diplomacy and protocol. He has already angered allies through his thoughtless actions. I can only imagine – and I don’t want to consider – the potential for global disaster due to Trump’s big mouth.

Back to the cabinet. Leaders do not have to know everything. Strong leaders surround themselves with good people, people who will make up for their weaknesses. When a leader surrounds himself with people who owe him favors and people who will never tell that leader “No,” once again, the potential for mistakes gets worse and worse and worse.

Did you notice what I left out? Twitter. Donald’s rude and ridiculous tweets could take up an entire post on their own. I’ll just end on a general note regarding Twitter. Someone as impulsive and thoughtless as Trump does not belong in a position of responsibility. See above: diplomacy. Protocol. Lack of intelligence.

All of the above scare the heck out of me. How about you, readers?

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Depression Cake – another variation

Here’s the original recipe.

Depression Cake
(Named for a historical time period, not the illness)

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups strong coffee
2 cups raisins or currants or chopped dates
½ cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)
Powdered sugar for garnish (or serve with whipped topping)

Preheat oven to 350.
In large saucepan, combine granulated sugar, coffee, raisins, and applesauce. Simmer 10 minutes. In large bowl, blend remaining ingredients, except powdered sugar. Stir raisin mixture into flour mixture. Pour batter into well-greased and floured 13 by 9 pan. Bake at least 30-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped topping.

Adapted from a recipe in a California Raisin cookbook put out at least fifteen years ago.

Here’s how I really made it. The apple preserves are more like a homemade and home canned apple pie filling. I’d made cranberry sauce that morning, so the saucepan had some stuck to its sides, leaving a hint of cranberry flavor.

Depression Cake
(Named for a historical time period, in the hopes that our leaders learn from the past so as not to repeat it)

2 cups granulated sugar
Strong coffee and apple preserves, enough to make 2 cups
1 cups raisins
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.
In large saucepan (still sticky with cranberry sauce), combine granulated sugar, coffee, raisins, and apple preserves. Simmer 10 minutes. In large bowl, blend remaining ingredients. Stir raisin mixture into flour mixture. Pour batter into well-greased and floured 13 by 9 pan. Bake at least 30-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped topping.

Adapted from a recipe I’ve had for years – I never make it the same way twice, but it’s always delicious.

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Progress in healing

Yet another cabinet member has been announced to a fanfare of “Oh, no!” Amigo didn’t remember the name, but he remembered enough to inform me that the new Secretary of Education will be a “billionaire school choice advocate.” I can only take so many of these announcements. They’re bad for my blood pressure. In the interest of my own health, let’s look for some silver linings.

The next time a woman runs for president, she will not have to jump the same hoops that Hillary did. Trailblazers, Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton included, blazed a trail so that others can follow.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We’re bringing mashed potatoes, butternut squash, Packer veggies (peas and corn), and cranberry sauce. Have I forgotten anything? La Petite will bring the wine. The potatoes are in the crock pot as I type. Oh, pies! I bought pies from a local bakery this morning.

The nearby meat market (I love that place) was hopping. In fact, I changed my route to avoid the traffic on their corner as I was on the way to the bakery, another small business I love. I walked in, paused to inhale, and then picked up a box of cookies while I waited for my turn. The problem with shopping at a local bakery is simple; I always come out with more than I planned to buy. Problem? Maybe that’s not a problem. Small Business Saturday is coming up, and I saw two small businesses that were doing well already today.

Amigo has already found Internet radio stations that are playing 100% Christmas music. I’ll make a list, check it twice, and bookmark a few to listen to at work. Now if I can stop myself from singing along…

I predict January will bring another down period. This inauguration will be hard to take. But for now, let’s look at positives. For those who celebrate, enjoy your Thanksgiving.

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