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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 4

"Did you hear, Mom?" Danny burst into the apartment with his usual banging and clatter. "There have been fights between the professional panhandlers, you know, the ones who hang out at the entrance to parking lots, and the new poor people begging for food."

"No, I haven't heard about that," Susan looked up from the baby blanket she was crocheting for Mrs. Perkins' newest great-grandchild. Her neighbor had to stop needle-work due to arthritis, but was happy to pay Susan for the work. "I guess it's a side-benefit to walking everywhere that we miss seeing things like that."

"Apparently, at the new Walmart one of them pulled a knife out and was threatening the others. The cops had to come and sort it out." He dropped onto the couch with his legs stretched out.

"I imagine the store management don't like it. Anything that makes customers avoid coming will hurt them." Her gaze fell on his ankles which were all too visible below his jeans. "Danny, you've been growing again. New jeans..."

"Actually, what I really need are shoes or I'll have to cut the toes out," he tried to make a joke of it, but wished he could erase the worry lines on her face. "I have an idea about the jeans; since they still fit around the waist, could you take one pair and sew pieces of the legs to the others? I know it will look a bit odd, but I never cared about what I wear."

"I can, but maybe the secondhand store will have something."

"But, Mom, it will still cost money and this way won't cost anything. I'll go see if they have any shoes, okay?"

"Okay, but if there aren't take the bus to Walmart and buy new. It's bad for your feet to be squished up."

Susan switched from yellow to green yarn and considered the future for the new baby. She had been spending more time at the Perkins' apartment when she couldn't find odd jobs and the discussions had naturally turned to the economy. They were afraid lives would get much worse and stay that way for years before slowly recovering. One of the things they regretted was selling the family home when their children had moved away; now they would be unable to help provide shelter as they feared would be needed.


Honestly, Susan missed her childhood home also. Then she thought about living there with her adult sisters and shuddered; maybe this one went in the blessings column. While she pondered this her phone rang. 


"Hello, Susan? This is Penny from the Food Pantry. I have you down as a volunteer for tomorrow morning, but we're completely out of food so I'm shutting us down until we get more donations."

Susan set the phone down distractedly. When she had started volunteering there, the Pantry had been very well stocked with food. To go from that to empty in a few weeks was worrying news.


The next morning she headed to the library to see what she could learn about what had caused the food emergency. It took hours of digging; searching town council minutes, county news and police reports but she figured out possible answers. While the nation was reporting 8% unemployment, her state was 12% and her county was a staggering 15%. Eyes narrowed, she wondered what the real national unemployment would be if someone tallied up all the counties instead of accepting what was released to the public.


Meanwhile, all crime was up but domestic violence topped the list by jumping 30% compared to the same time last year. Suicides and attempts had risen by 60%. "How much worse will this get?" she whispered sadly to herself.


---------------------------------

Danny spotted the police car as he rode his bike through the apartment complex's parking lot and stopped to watch. A woman in uniform was squared off against a family in front of the next building. They were shouting at her but she didn't react until the man poked her. Suddenly her baton was out and the man staggered back wheezing and clutching his belly. The rest of the family rushed to him and the noise level notched up.

"Whoa, she's hot!" Danny grinned to himself. He watched for a few minutes more as the family began hauling belongings out of the apartment and the officer returned to her car.

Inside his own apartment he found a note from his mom that she was babysitting and wouldn't be home until late. He looked around glumly; there just wasn't anything interesting to do. The options were down to homework or going somewhere else. About the only place that didn't cost anything was the library and he had already been in the school library once today. His eyes landed on the shoes he had kicked off. Danny was a lifter at heart, but since the only ones in his size at the secondhand store were running shoes it seemed wrong not to try them out properly. Quickly changing into sweats, he jogged down the stairs and headed out, making sure he went past the cop's car on his way.


It was a few days later when Susan got the call to go clean the now empty apartment where Danny had seen the eviction happening. Unlocking the door, she stepped inside and froze, eyes wide and hand instinctively covering her nose. The room had been trashed.

Backing out, she called the landlord, "Hello, this is Susan. I'm at the vacant apartment; I think you need to see this right away. Well, what I can see from the door: a broken chair leg stuck in the wall and more holes the same size, spray paint on the ceiling and windows and it looks like a bunch of trash bags from a dumpster were emptied out all over the carpet. It smells like rotten food and diapers. Yes, I'll wait for you."

She closed the door to shut away the odors and leaned against the opposite wall, determined not to go back in there without a promise of at least a free month's rent.


-----------------------------

"It's the last time he will delay getting the locks changed, that's for sure." Susan sipped her tea and smiled ruefully at the Perkins couple. "I still don't understand why they did it though. They hadn't paid rent in four months; did they expect to continue to live there for free? I wouldn't be surprised about not cleaning up after themselves, but to vandalize the place? You don't want to know what they did to the bathroom and all the appliances were demolished."

Mrs. Perkins exchanged a knowing look with her husband, "It's one of those quirks of human nature. I was a teacher for thirty years and the way people react and interact can be astonishing. Some people just are civilized, solid all the way through. Others wear a veneer of civilization, shiny and beautiful but the slightest pressure will cause it to crack and fall away. Then there are those who don't even try."

"To be fair," Mr. Perkins interjected. "Most people fall somewhere in between the extremes. Tell her about that one, the girl who looked you up at her class reunion."

"Oh. Oh dear. Poor Menolly." Mrs. Perkins looked flustered. "I was a young teacher and didn't recognize the warning signs at the time she was in my class. So much trouble; acting up in school, partying and drugs, running wild. All the more shocking because she was the minister's daughter. And the truth was he was abusing her at home. All the time he was a monster pretending to be a good man."

"What happened to her?" Susan asked.

"I didn't learn any of this until her 20th class reunion. She wouldn't come back to town until after he died of a heart attack. She runs a program helping runaways get off the street and safe. She took great satisfaction from putting her inheritance into her program and hiring a therapist for the kids."

Mr. Perkins' mind was wandering to the next topic already and he interjected, "Did you hear about the robbery?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "That big grocery store that does the deliveries, the driver got beaten up and the truck was completely emptied. No money, it was all for the food."

His wife tsked and shook her head, "What is the world coming to? Right after that was on the news they showed the mayor giving a speech on how things are looking up and what a great place this is to live."

"I'm not sure there are any great places left," Susan said sadly.

"Don't you believe it, dear. Things are changing, but we can still be happy where we are."


Part 5

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Rule of 3

As in: 3 things go wrong at once.

1. My son's truck won't start. No big deal, I don't need to go anywhere so he can use my car until it's fixed.

2. The water heater is dying. Functions on the faucets but can't keep up with the high flow of the shower. Ordered a replacement. Will attempt to install myself.

3. The oven won't heat. This just happened this evening. Luckily after I made the zucchini bread. It only had a 1 year warranty so the repair will be on me.

On a more cheerful note: cool phenomenon in the wood stove....


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 3

While Susan was picking up her mail from the apartment complex postal area she bumped into a woman swearing into her cell phone. Murmuring apologies, she edged around and was leaving when the other woman disconnected and burst into tears of frustration. "Sorry, sorry," sobbed the stranger. "My sitter just told me they're shutting down. How am I supposed to find a new place by tomorrow? If I miss work..."

"Were you paid up in advance? Don't forget to get a refund before she disappears." Susan had gotten very practical about money and not letting emotion cloud her reactions.

"Oh! You're right. I totally spaced out on that; I'm paid through the end of next week. I'll go tell my husband what's going on and run over there now."

"That's right. First one there is more likely to get the money owed." Susan began walking away, then paused and turned back. "Wait. I know you don't know me, but I'm laid off, so if you need an emergency sitter tomorrow...well, here's my phone number. Call if you get desperate, okay?"

The other woman's eyes had narrowed suspiciously, then she slowly nodded as she took the number. Susan smiled briefly and left. As she entered her building, an elderly neighbor from the second floor was heading for the door, pulling her shopping trolley behind her. "Mrs. Perkins, good morning. Are you going shopping already?"

"Yes, Susan dear. Did you need something?"

"I was hoping to visit; it gets lonely when Danny is in school. May I walk with you?" She didn't mention the worrisome rumors about pedestrians being mugged in the area. A solitary woman in her eighties was too vulnerable for Susan to be comfortable.

Mrs. Perkins' smile brightened, "Why that would be lovely. Are you sure you don't mind the walk in the cold? I'm not very fast anymore. Would you believe I once ran for my school? That wasn't yesterday."

Susan chuckled delightedly; she loved the dry humor behind her neighbor's chatter. On the way back, she insisted on pulling the loaded trolley; the wheels tended to stick in the snow. She accepted a cup of tea and cookie in the Perkins' apartment and settled down to listen to the couple reminisce and argue. Afterwards, on her departure, Mrs. Perkins said, "So, I didn't need a bodyguard after all."

Susan stared at her guiltily, then laughed. "You saw right through me. It makes me feel useful though."

Her friend smiled gently and patted her arm, "I know, dear, and I enjoy your company. Shall I let you know next time before I go?"

"Yes, please." Susan was still chuckling at herself as she mounted the stairs to her floor.

----------------



Somehow the banks managed to open on Tuesday without the feared panic. There was some muttering about shifty deals behind the scenes, but nothing made it out into the media and the public soon went back to complacently expecting everything to carry on as usual.

"What's wrong, Mom?" Danny sat down across from Susan and began peeling an orange.

She frowned at the receipt she was holding, "Food prices keep rising. Almost everything has gone up at least 10% in the last month. Some are up by half!"

"What can we do? Grow our own?"

"Not really. We don't have any of the supplies to start with and our balcony is on the north side of the building. I'm afraid the results wouldn't be worth the investment. No, about all I can do is buy what I can now before the costs rise more. Can you go with me tonight and help carry some home? I'd like to get large bags of flour and rice. Beans are still cheap." She was jotting down a list.

"Beans? Are you trying to kill my social life?" Danny had slumped down in his chair.

Susan raised an eyebrow, "Well, I'm open to suggestions."

He opened his mouth to make a sarcastic comment when his gaze landed on the empty space where the television used to sit, "Never mind. What are you doing today?"

"I'm watching the Calhoun kids this morning. Then I'll go to the library to go online and fill out my unemployment data for the week."

"You know, something about giving up the internet makes it feel like our lives are never going back to normal."

"I..." Susan ran down and shrugged helplessly.

"Yeah." Danny slouched back to his room.

-------------

Susan slowly moved the phone away from her ear and stared at it in disbelief. She could still hear her sister's shrill voice shouting as she calmly ended the call. When it rang again moments later she turned it off.

"What was that?" Danny asked from the door.

"That was Aunt Peggy. She just found out that Aunt Stephanie and her boyfriend moved in with your grandparents and has decided it's my fault."

"Wait. What? We live in a different state. How could you have stopped them?" Danny dropped his backpack and started shedding his coat and hat. 

"Logic isn't Peggy's strength. She won't blame our parents for overindulging Steph, but it has to be someone's fault."

"She's not going to forgive you for hanging up on her."

"Whoops," Susan's unrepentant grin said just how much that wasn't worrying her.

"Can you imagine living with your parents at your age? Yikes!"

Susan's smile faded, "Honestly, that was my backup plan."

Danny looked stunned, "Are we losing the apartment? What are we going to do?"

"No, no. We aren't even behind. I'm just trying to plan ahead."

"How old are you, Mom?"

"Thirty-four. Why?"

"Just under the wire! You could join the army." 

"Really. And what would you be doing while I'm on the fast-track to general?"

Danny chuckled, "I haven't figured that out yet."

"Well, you're doing a good job thinking outside the box, but potential homelessness doesn't feel like the right reason to enter the military."

------------------

The economy continued to stagger along as corporations constricted with pay cuts and hiring freezes. Smaller companies were shutting down entirely. Income and sales tax revenues plummeted, causing state governments to slash the funds to schools and universities. This, combined with falling enrollment, forced the Boards of Regents to halt the normal expansion projects on campuses and impose cutbacks to personnel. 

Each event caused multiple reactions which precipitated even more events, not just in the U.S.A., but globally. From the personal when a job loss meant a foreclosure and the relocation of a family to live with relatives to the corporate where dropped stock dividends left it open to a hostile takeover.

Susan leaned back from the library's computer terminal with a grim smile on her face. The CEO of her former employer had just been forced out of his position. An arrogant man who hated admitting he had ever made a mistake, even to the point of carrying on with damaging policies for years, was not someone she had any sympathy for. 

Continuing her search, she was quickly learning that relocating was unlikely to help her situation. She simply didn't have a skill set that could find a position anywhere.

On the walk home she called her brother. After asking how his wife was responding to the chemotherapy, she brought up her idea, "I've been thinking about going to school. Weighing the pros and cons between going into debt and learning a new career option. I know you always thought I made a mistake by getting married instead of an education."

"Well, you always said Danny was worth anything you gave up. Do you still want to be a nurse?"

"Yes. I can apply now for a spot in this Fall's program and student loans. What do you think? Am I missing anything?"

"I think it's a smart choice for you since it was your dream job and it's likely to get you a job even when times are bad. At least you aren't falling into the lottery trap." Bill was referring to the surge in lottery ticket sales as people pinned their hopes on winning big to fix all their problems. "I heard that's why Stephanie had to move in with the folks; she spent all her money on lottery tickets."

"What! No way, even she wouldn't be that silly."

"She might not be, but her boyfriend is." Bill's wry tone expressed his opinion of that young man.

Part 4

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 2

Susan frowned at another text message from her friend blowing off her request to meet up for coffee. When they had worked together it was normal to see each other at lunch and then go running after work. Now, they hadn't done anything in the six weeks since the big lay offs. Just then, the door banged open as Danny trudged in, "Hey, Mom. What's wrong?"

She looked up, startled, "How could you tell something was wrong?"

"It's the way you're sitting; like there's a heavy weight on the back of your neck."

"Oh, well, I was just thinking about friendships. I knew some of the people at work would forget about me but there were quite a few I thought of as friends and I expected that to continue. Even my supervisor; the only contact I've had from him was when he couldn't find the key to the supply cabinet and he never even asked how I was doing." She spun the phone around listlessly. "Maybe they're all just swamped now that the office is understaffed."

"What does Diane say about it?" Danny looked shocked when his mother brushed away a tear and shook her head. "But she's your best friend! You were her Maid of Honor and, and, you know! All that stuff when her mom died; you helped her with everything!"

Now openly crying, Susan said, "I can't explain it because I don't understand either."

Danny sank into a chair and looked helplessly at her. This was beyond him. In desperation, he grabbed his mom's phone and dialed a number.

"Hey! How's my favorite sister?" 

"Uncle Bill? This is Danny. Um, could you talk to Mom, please?" He handed the phone over and retreated to the living room where he could keep an eye on the situation but felt more comfortable with a little distance between them.

It took some time for Bill to coax the full story out, but when Susan finally wound down he began to speak, "This is going to sound strange, but it reminds me of when Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her oncologist warned her it would happen, but she didn't believe him; who expects the worst from their best friends? The doctor called it a twisted form of survivor's guilt. Some people can't deal with the reminder of their own mortality and reject and blame the victim. 

"I suspect that's what's happening to you. Your friends can't bear the thought that they could be in your position through no fault of their own so they push you away. It sucks, but it's their weakness showing, not yours. Remember, I was your friend long before you met any of them and nothing's going to change that. Understand?"

Susan took a ragged breath, "I understand. You might have to remind me a few more times."

"Always. Night, sis."
-------------
Susan staggered into the apartment, dripping sweat and fighting the urge to fall flat on the floor. Instead, she began her post-run stretching routine; fully aware of how much pain she would be in later if she didn't. Forcing herself to get out and run this morning had been one of the hardest things she had done in a long time. Why was the best relief for her depression an activity that was almost impossible to start while depressed? "A cosmic practical joke," she muttered to herself.

A quick shower and she was back to her daily check of the online help-wanted postings. In her inbox she found a reply to an application she had filled out over a month before. "Please, please, please...Yes! An interview!" There were two days before her appointment, but she decided not to leave anything to chance. First, she mapped the route to the office building and located the nearest free parking. Then, she pulled out her interview outfit, tried it on, checking for stains and ironed it carefully. Finally, she went to the company's website and began reading up on them.

Knowing Danny was always later on a lifting day, Susan decided to cook his favorite spaghetti to celebrate her good news. When he finally arrived home, she popped out of the kitchen waving a spoon, took one look and dropped the spoon on the floor. "What? Why?"

Dropping his backpack on the floor, Danny ran his hands over the short bristle of hair covering his scalp. "Well, I didn't really mean to, but you know Dave's sister? Tracy? She wants to be a hair stylist and she kept begging to practice on me. And finally I said yes because it was free; except, she messed up a few times. Each time it got worse until the clippers were the only option left. What do you think?"

"I think it's kind of nice to see your eyes again."
--------------
The weeks turned to months as Susan and Danny found ways to scrape by. She continued her job search and went on interviews but wasn't offered a position. Making a deal with her landlord gave her a discount on the rent in exchange for cleaning and painting empty apartments. When it was time to pay for the tags and registration on the car, she realized she hadn't budgeted for that and the decision was made to sell it, providing her with a little cash to tuck away for emergencies.

Through it all, Susan's brother was a source of strength, emotional support and good sense. One conversation she found very valuable in helping her keep it together...

"I wanted to talk to you about Danny," Bill's voice was calm.

"What about him? He's doing great." Susan wondered where this was coming from.

"That's my point. Who's the family expert on teenage boys?"

"You because you were one?" she rolled her eyes.

"Of course. Danny is doing great and has been all along, but he's still a sixteen-year-old who has never had this much responsibility before. No, don't interrupt. Let me finish. Eventually, he will act out; it may be at work or school or home or even with his friends, but it will happen. The reason I'm telling you this is because you are under extreme pressure also and when he snaps you have to be the adult and not overreact."

That was it; just a simple warning that she remembered when Danny's grades dropped and he had a fight with his best friend. Her calm attitude and willingness to look for solutions led to him turning to her when he needed help studying. He also apologized to Dave and they were able to cheerfully compare black eye to fat lip battle scars.

Meanwhile, the economy tottered along on the edge of disaster. December proved to be the worst holiday shopping season in modern times. Even those who habitually overspent on gifts weren't buying or travelling. This pinch was felt by supporting industries as two minor and one major airline declared bankruptcy. The big delivery services faced cut hours instead of the normal December overtime and even Amazon implemented layoffs. In January, the ripple effect hit the banks hard.

It was a Friday afternoon when the debit cards stopped working. Danny's boss had hung a hand-written sign by the cash register saying "Credit cards or cash only" by the time Danny showed up for his shift.

"What's with the sign?" he asked a co-worker as he pulled on an apron and hair net.

"Something wonky with the debit cards. They only work if 'credit' is selected. If you take a phone order make sure you warn them. You know we never took checks, right?"

"Weird." Danny shrugged it off. He didn't even have a bank account, usually cashing his weekly check at the register. He kept enough money to pay for his reduced lunches at school and gave the rest to his mom. One of the perks of working for a busy pizza branch was there was almost always a mistake or two on the orders and they got to eat those for free. Sometimes he wished he could work every evening for that, but practically, he knew his mom was right about his schoolwork. And, secretly, he thought he might actually get sick of pizza!

After closing, he waited the normal five minutes for the bus to his street. If the sidewalks were clear he preferred to ride his bike, but that didn't happen often in the winter. At least his school-issued bus pass got him home for free. For the short ride he always sat near the front. Tonight, he heard arguments behind him, "I'm telling you I can't transfer any money! The bank's entire website is shut down." 

"Well, I don't have any cash. What the **** are we supposed to eat? You should use a different bank. That one sucks."

"ALL the banks are offline. Haven't you been listening? It's all over Twitter."

"So why wasn't it on the News? You can't believe everything you read."

"Well, duh. They keep it off the News, but they can't stop people from talking."

The couple was still bickering as they disembarked. Danny watched them through the window and wished they had stayed on longer so he could hear more. As soon as he got home, he asked his mom if she knew anything about it. 

"Yes, Bill called and warned me that there were problems but he didn't know how bad it would get. He was worried that we might not be able to get our money out again." Her eyes danced in amusement at the irony. She had closed her bank account months ago when the fees started to add up because she no longer had direct deposits going in. She paid bills using money orders now. "He was going to call the rest of the family to give them the warning also."

"Why wouldn't everyone just get their money out on Monday when the banks open?" Danny was confused, not seeing the possibilities.

"That's the one thing the banks don't want to happen. It's also why this doesn't make sense. If everyone tries to get their money at once the banks will be in big trouble because they don't keep that much cash. I wish I knew what will happen next. Something must be very wrong for all the banks to do this at the same time."

Monday morning found Susan checking the local news on her laptop. "Whoa..." she breathed as the anchor read the announcement that the banks would remain closed today due to a 'glitch' in the system. Even he was unable to keep the skepticism off his face.

Morbid curiosity led her to look at what was trending on social media. Unsurprisingly, it was a storm of panic, fury and denial. With a sigh, she shut down the laptop and tried to imagine how she would have reacted before her life was upended. She probably would have felt panic as well; she rarely used cash then and only bought enough groceries for a week at a time. Then a scary thought crossed Susan's mind: what would happen if her landlord couldn't pay the utility bills?

When classes were over that afternoon, Danny met Dave in the school weight room. All of the equipment was older and donated, but any student could use it. Normally, one of the coaches or a senior student kept an eye on things so nobody messed around and got hurt. This time the boys started with their usual jokes about spending all their time on biceps and looking like lop-sided Popeyes; soon, though, they were soberly talking about the bank situation between sets. 

"My parents were talking about it this morning. See, there were supposed to be rules set up back when they bailed the banks out so that wouldn't happen again. Dad thinks the rules didn't work and they're trying to figure a way out without getting the public all riled up again." Dave paused to spot Danny's lifts, then continued, "He thinks the bankers are right to be scared. Some of the guys who got laid off at the same time as him are mad as **** and if they lit off it wouldn't be like one of those stupid riots where they burn their own neighborhoods and steal stuff."

"What would they do?" Danny asked.

"Dunno. They don't really trust Dad because he's black and it's probably better he doesn't know because Mom is so strict about church and stuff she might turn them in."

"Wait, wait, wait." Danny waved his arms, "What's this about you being black? Why didn't you tell me? Why am I the last to find out?"

"Jerk." Dave mock-punched him in the arm. "Listen. I heard them arguing last night. Mom's hours got cut at work and Dad's unemployment runs out in another month. They're talking about us moving in with my grandma."

"But she lives..."

"Yeah, in Wichita." Dave stared glumly back. They had been best friends since their first days at school. 

"Damn."

Part 3

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 1

This isn't going to be a book, just a story I'm jotting down as the mood strikes...

______________________________________________________________

Susan juggled grocery bags and purse while unlocking her apartment door. As she kicked it shut the thumping vibration from her son's room clued her in on his location. "What is it with boys and bass?" she muttered while setting down the bags. A quick knock on his door and the noise level lowered, "Danny, can you bring up the rest of the food from the car?"

At sixteen, her son was a volume eater and she had no choice but to shop the sales. She kept to a tight budget and between her full-time job as a receptionist and selling plasma every weekend she was even managing to save a little for emergencies. Danny had tried an after-school job but his homework suffered and Susan put her foot down; he could work during the summer months but school came first.

The bread machine on the counter began beeping just as her phone trilled in her purse. "Everything at once...hello, Mom. No, I haven't seen the news; I just got home. Uh huh, that's bad. Are you and Dad okay? Good, good. Of course, we would love to come visit you in Arizona, but you know Danny has school. We love you, too. Bye."

"What did Grandma say?" Danny set down the twenty pound bags of potatoes, just missing the carton of eggs she snatched away.

"Something about the stock market taking a nosedive. Could you turn on the news while I finish in here?"

A few minutes later Danny called from the living room, "Mom! Come look at this. I don't understand."

Susan came and sat with him while on the tv a news anchor spoke in a low, dramatic voice, "...record drops in the DOW. Now we have expert economist, Edwin Fitzgerald, to explain how this happened."

The camera switched to another man who began speaking in a nasal monotone. After about five minutes the anchor interrupted to announce that it had been confirmed that the stock market would not be opening for trade the next day.

"What does it mean, Mom? Does it affect us?"

"I'm not sure; I never could really figure out stocks. Anyway, there's so little in my retirement plan, it won't bother us directly. Indirectly, I'm afraid it could. Last time there was a depression my company used it as an excuse to cut benefits and layoff people. Of course, even when the economy recovered, the benefits didn't come back."

"But you don't even make that much. Why would they bother taking your job away?"

"Oh, honey, it doesn't have to make sense. Last time they laid off the poor guy who made minimum wage for emptying the trash cans. Sometimes it's all about making a show of 'economizing'. If I have to, I look for another job and we try to live as cheaply as possible. This will probably blow over in a few days and I'm worrying for no reason."

Every day that week the news seemed to get worse. Scandals emerged as politicians and financiers attempted to deflect the blame or took the opportunity to point fingers at enemies. The global markets reacted to the trouble and shook. Any measure taken to calm the situation had the opposite effect and panic began to spread.

Susan had suspected Friday would be bad; the company was notorious for layoffs happening at the end of the work week. By early afternoon the unfortunate employees were being escorted out with their boxes of personal effects. The reactions ran the gamut from weeping to angry cursing and by the end of the day Susan was exhausted. Which left her completely unprepared for the ambush by her supervisor. Afterwards, she sat in her car, rubbed away the tears and tried to think sensibly. Digging an envelope out of her purse, she began making a list: apply for unemployment, cancel the cable, switch the car insurance to liability. First, she decided, was returning to the discount store that she avoided because of the rudeness encountered there. "No room for pride in this budget." She snorted with dark humor, "And now I'm talking to myself."

That evening Danny staggered into the apartment with another load of canned food. "Mom, you don't even like canned vegetables, why did you buy so much?"

"There isn't room in the freezer for more frozen and I'm afraid if the economy keeps going down all the cheap stuff will be sold out fast. I won't be able to afford the brand-name foods now."

"You didn't get any snacks or pop." There was a hint of reproach in his voice.

"Sorry, no. I can still do some baking though."

"My friends are going to notice when I stop buying from the vending machines. Do I have to tell them we're broke?"

Susan felt a wave of relief that he was cooperating, even volunteering not to buy snacks when away from home. A teenager could have made the entire situation pure hell. "Why not tell them you're trying out a new healthy eating plan to make your weight lifting more effective?"

"Yeah, that will work. If they bug me for details I can say I'm still figuring it out so I won't get tied down."

On Saturday morning Susan sat down with stacks of receipts, paid bills, her checkbook and a blank notepad. Painstakingly, she tracked down most of her expenses for the last three months. Then, with lips pressed thinly, she started a new page with items that were set amounts. Rent went to the top of the list; they could find something cheaper in a rougher neighborhood, but they were only two months into the annual lease and it would cost more to break it. On the other hand, the only utility not included with the rent was electricity and that was something they could cut back on.

Car insurance was a big one; while she was still pondering that Danny came out of his room, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Hey, Mom. What's all this?"

"I'm trying to figure out a bare-bones budget and what can be cut out. I'll call the insurance agent on Monday and get the car switched to liability only, but Danny..." she trailed off unhappily.

"You need to take me off it, don't you? Damn it, it's not fair! I studied really hard to get my license."

I know and I'm sorry. If I was sure I could find another job right away it would be different."

"This sucks." He slouched down in his chair and chewed on his lip for a few minutes, then something shifted in his expression and he exhaled loudly, "Of course, it would be worse if I already had my own car. Or a girlfriend."

Susan's mouth twisted in a lopsided smile at his gallows humor. "Thank you."

Pushing his hair out of his eyes, he leaned forward, "What else do you have there?"

"I can't nail down the numbers until I hear back from the unemployment people, but it won't be enough to cover everything. I'd like to keep the internet for now, but if it gets too tight we can let it go and use the library. Our cell phones are already pay-as-you-go so that's alright. If you can think of ways to conserve electricity that would help. Probably the big thing right now is health insurance. I won't be able to pay the Cobra rates so after this month we won't have any coverage. We should both get our flu shots."

"Aren't I due to get my eyes checked? Is that covered?"

"Yes, good idea. I'll make an appointment. And no skipping brushing your teeth; the ones you have are all you get for the rest of your life."

"Ha, ha. Do you mind if I go out today? I could take a sandwich or something for lunch, right?"

"Go ahead. I should probably let the family know what's going on." And that was a dismal thought, but Susan was one of those people who would rather get an unpleasant job over with instead of dreading it.

Susan disconnected the call and thumped her head on the table. "Aaargh!" She loved her parents, but that didn't make communication with them easy sometimes. She really could have done without the recap of all her failures or the lecture from her father on being financially independent.

She stared bleakly at the phone and debated putting off the next call; except if she did delay then her mother would do it herself and the results would be worse. "I can do this. I can talk to my perfect big sister without feeling like a disaster. Ha! While I'm at it I can change history so I was the one who never had a pimple or a cavity."

The call went as badly as expected when two people only had a distant childhood in common. Susan made quick work of the next call; it didn't matter what she said because her younger sister was perpetually wrapped up in her own drama. Finally she made the last call to her brother; she had saved him for the comfort and cheer he would give simply by not judging.

The afternoon was spent refreshing her resume and beginning the search for jobs. Unfortunately, receptionists weren't in high demand and she began to wonder what other skills she could honestly list.

It was after 8:00 p.m. before Danny came home. She lifted her eyebrow eloquently at him and waited. "I'm sorry I didn't text, but I wanted to tell you in person." He cleared his throat, "I got a job at the pizza place again. Now, let me explain; I'll only be working the weekends so it won't interfere with school at all. I'm in the back prepping, cooking and cleaning so I won't be dealing with the counter. I know you were worried about robberies before. I also told them I can't drive so they won't ask me to do any deliveries. Are you mad?"

"I wish you had talked it over with me first. There's no reason I can't be doing that kind of job. It shouldn't be your responsibility."

"Actually, there is a reason it has to be me. You know how Dave's dad lost his job a few months ago? Well, he tried taking any job he could but then what he earned came out of his unemployment checks so it didn't help them any."

"Oh, I didn't think of that. How did you get hired back so quickly? I can smell the pizzas."

"Just lucky," Danny said with a tired smile. "Two people didn't show for the afternoon shift and they get really busy. I guess pizza is something people buy no matter what. I'm working from 10:00 to 4:00 tomorrow. Are you going to be okay with this?"

"You know I worry, so how about you try it and see how it goes. And if it's not working out, we try something else."

As the weeks slowly passed, the country seemed to hunker down into a waiting stance, waiting for whatever bad news would come next. Meanwhile, the depressed economy spread its insidious fingers into more companies which cut hours, initiated hiring freezes and laid off more employees. Those employees reacted to the lost disposable income by not shopping which cascaded the problem into the retail sector. College graduates found their job offers being withdrawn and the most basic help wanted ads were flooded with applications.

Susan and Danny settled into their new routine with him busy with school and work and her struggling not to despair as her job search became more frantic. They worked together to cut costs; one of the first discussions on electricity.

"So, this is like brainstorming, right? Just throwing out ideas, even crazy ones?" Danny asked.

"That's right. Anything we can think of is fair game."

"Okay. You take a shower every morning even when you don't have an interview to go to."

"But the water is included in the rent!" Susan protested.

"And then you blow dry your hair."

"Oh. That's right. I do it automatically and never thought of the waste. I can switch to towel-drying. In fact, I don't even need to wash my hair everyday and that would save shampoo." She jotted down some notes before saying, "My turn. I've been reading about vampire electric use. That's machines that are still using power even when turned off, like computers and tvs."

"What? Why would they make stuff do that?" Danny looked dumbfounded.

"It's so things can turn on instantly again. Like a tv has to use some power to know when a remote control is turning it on."

"How do we stop it if powering down doesn't work?"

"Some people plug their electronics into a power strip and turn that off. We can do that with your desktop but I don't want to buy more power strips so the rest will have to be unplugged when we're done with them."

"That's kind of a pain. Is it enough to make it worth the bother?"

"I think we should try. If it doesn't really make a difference on our electric bill we can discuss it again. Anything else?"

"I got an idea from my science class, but we might have to wait until it gets colder outside to try. See, when we cook something and put the leftovers in the fridge it has to work harder to cool them down. So, instead, we put them out on the balcony to cool off first, then move them into the fridge. In fact, when winter is here, we can freeze bottles of water out there and put those in the fridge so it will have to do less to keep at the right temp."

"Wow! I didn't know your science teacher was so practical. That's a great idea."

Danny's expression fell. "We're not the only ones worried about money. Most of the kids in my class have at least one parent out of work."

Susan sighed, "I'm afraid it's not going to get better any time soon. Well, I have a puzzle; how do we hang laundry to dry without any clothesline or racks?"

"Huh. All I can think of is the shower rod and backs of chairs."

"Oh! I know, we can use hangers and put them on the curtain rods."

Danny started laughing, "Can you imagine? I don't think I'll ask any friends over on laundry days."

Susan smiled, relieved that they could end the discussion with mirth.

Part 2

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Firewood

I just finished putting away the load of firewood I ordered. I would have been crippled by back pain trying this a couple years ago. Amazing what a difference losing weight and exercise can make.

Most of the wood was normal looking but a few pieces caught my eye. Isn't the color interesting in these?


We are enjoying some nicer weather again which is very welcome. Sunny and 40s today. Keeping busy!

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Gray Days

This is the sort of day when it's hard to fall out of bed in the morning. When the first sound I hear is the wind moaning and the clouds are turning the daylight gray and grim, it's a chore to leave my warm den of covers and relight the fire that has given up in the night.

Trigger and Loki couldn't wait to rush outside with me to do chores this morning. Funnily enough, they couldn't wait to get back inside as soon as I finished. My cats get restless inside, but love comfort more than adventure in the cold.

The wind chill is 4 F; not even below zero yet, but oh, I'm feeling the winter today.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Winter - Round 1

We were forecast to have a 20% chance for light snow, so naturally we got 3 inches. If this is the trend for the winter we will be snowed in a lot.

The chickens are not pleased and mostly stayed inside where they could complain with dry feet. One of the more annoying reminders of the season is that I have to bring the chickens' water bucket in to thaw out.

The log splitter is in the shop getting repaired and I ordered some more firewood. Here we go!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Possum!

The first hint that there was something wrong was when I found Thunder (gray hen) outside the coop after dark. Upon opening the door I discovered the culprit...an opossum prowling around. This was obviously what ate the chicks and has been cutting into the egg supply lately. We've had this problem before and eventually they start killing chickens.

I am not a brave person and have never shot at a live target before, so I called my dad and begged for help. Lucky for me he was willing and the predator is gone. Sighs of relief all around the flock.


Friday, October 27, 2017

The wind blows...

...And the weather changes. Two days ago it was warm enough to rake leaves without a jacket on and this morning I had to break the ice on the chickens' water and wear a heavy winter coat. At least we avoided the snow that was forecast.

Yesterday I drove up to visit a young friend who has a small flock of chickens. It's fun to see the mixtures of color and appearance that result from my rather random assortment of birds. They already butchered the extra roosters and one of the hens was snatched by a hawk, so it's a quite small bunch left. I could see why she saved the rooster (named Hei Hei) because he is gorgeous. I'll try to post a picture of him if I can get one (forgot to take one myself).



And the sun has gone so it's time for me to go shut up my flock for the night. Goodnight.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Big Updates

This is a post I've been avoiding writing in the misguided hope that if I don't put it out there it isn't real. I got laid off from my job. Twenty years turned into 'bye, we don't need you anymore'. It's hard to face just how much of who I am was tied up in what I did. So, honestly, I'm not dealing with it very well. My exercise and diet have gone out of whack. I might even be just a little grumpier than usual.

Trying to look on the bright side: this type of situation is exactly why getting out of debt is worth the effort. Now I have time to decide what I want to do instead of desperately looking for another crap corporation to work for.

Other stuff...winter is fast approaching. All the roads are heaving dust clouds as the semi-trucks move between fields and grain bins as fast as they can. Even if I felt like cycling, it wouldn't be safe on the roads. The farmer who rents my parents' fields finished harvesting on Saturday. He has us trained to know we have at most two days to glean before he plows them under so I went out Saturday and Sunday to pick up corn. Those bags get heavy when I hauled them back across the fields!


I'm also experimenting with indoor gardening this winter. I set up LED shop lights in the basement. This is how it looks so far:



The kale loves it and I have hopes for the lettuce. I just planted some carrot seeds, more to test their germination rate than in expectation of a harvest because these were saved from carrots my mom let go to seed. 

Anyway, that's how things look currently. I will try to keep posting on a regular basis.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Time Flies

It's been ages since I posted here. Yet life seems to go on much the same: work, chickens, garden, exercise...

This morning I ran two miles on the treadmill - that won't seem like much to most people, but it's a major accomplishment for me. What I'm really enjoying though is cycling. My longest ride was 20 miles.

On the gardening front it continues hot and dry. The lawns are all brown and daily watering is the only thing saving the garden.





I have to admit that I don't miss tilling and hoeing my old ground level garden. It's much easier keeping raised beds weeded and harvesting is more accessible.

In the last picture the pumpkins are spreading out nicely. I plant them for the chickens. I can already imagine the feeding frenzy this fall.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Goodbye May

Time for another update. The good news, my foot injury has healed; I'm still wary of running, but can walk with no problems.

I had been feeling a little burnt out with the weight loss routine so decided to try a planned diet break. I chose a stretch of eight days and ate at maintenance instead of a calorie deficit. I really enjoyed it and now feel refreshed and ready to keep going.

Today was a gorgeous day of sunshine and light winds...perfect for cycling. I did my longest ride yet: 10 miles!

Onward to more adventures!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Still learning

When I reached my mid-goal of losing 100 lbs I was afraid my subconscious would decide that was enough and begin to sabotage my efforts. Happily, I've learned that I can keep on after reaching a milestone as the weight continues to drop at the usual slow pace.

Not so happily, I have experienced my first injury this time around: sprained ligaments in my foot. Extremely painful and it has completely derailed my exercise routine. I will be patient and wait until it has completely healed before any long walks and wait some more before I start running again.

The weather has done an about-face after the heavy snow on Monday. We're looking at a stretch of beautiful, warm and sunny days ahead. Hello, garden!