Tag Archives: daily thoughts

Penniless Penalties

A recent disconnect of my electric service brought home the penalties of the impoverished. One mislaid bill set off a chain of events that will ultimately cost well over $500, strained relationships and a heap of self-doubt. How do people without means continue to exist in a society that penalizes the penniless?

Third Person Past Perfect

There is a charge for falling below a certain bank balance, there is a charge for withdrawing money from a “foreign” ATM, there is a charge for paying with each credit card, there is a charge for paying with cash, and there is the charge of your time to run here, there and everywhere to pay the exorbitant amount required to restore service. I live in an all-electric house with septic and well. When there is no power, there is no water, toilet, light, stove or refrigerator. Electricity is all important. So I scrambled, I texted, I borrowed internet and cash and ultimately walked 5 miles to get the bill paid and the electricity restored. And then, there was the reconnect fee. Missing the deadline by fifteen minutes meant an additional $47 to have the person return. Another fee, another penalty added to the others already charged. And there is a 10 day grace period before an additional deposit fee is due because the bill was mislaid. Unfortunately, the five-year good payment history is void now. We are starting over.

With an additional $100, there is no charge from the bank. With an additional $350, there is no charge from the power company. With an additional $150 there is no ATM fee, or charge for credit card use. Without the extra funds, how do others cope with emergencies and financial deadlines?

Yesterday, a woman and her children were found sleeping in their car in the parking lot where I work. Their belongings surrounded them, created pillows for the young children asleep in the rear seat. I was grateful a customer notified us of their presence and grateful to know the phone number of the agency most likely to help them. I was saddened to know the panic the mother must have felt to live in her car to hold her family together.

Emergencies occur every day, people suffer loss of job, home, and belongings. That should be penalty enough without  the outrageous fees added. I am grateful to friends and family. We are grateful to have enough, grateful to live in our home and work out arrangements. We are also committed to helping those who have no other resources, live in their car and are penalized for falling behind.

I wish there were others willing to eliminate the penalties for being penniless.

 

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Fiction at 13

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960’s.

Desireeis_paris_burning  I was a reader in transition when I landed in Paris. As a young middle school student, I had been introduced to American authors like O’Henry, Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Esther Forbes. My library card was well-worn from weekly forays into the fictional world of the Young Adult section. When we moved to Paris, there was no longer a willing librarian to recommend new authors or the proper reading material for a young girl. I was on my own, reading newspapers, American magazines and anything I could find written in English. (My French never did allow me to visit the “bibliotheque.”)  During that first summer, I was limited to the books my father brought home from the office, the books circulating among the wives of his colleagues. Since cereal boxes were boring and I needed something more than solitaire to entertain me, I shared the books with my parents. I found more than entertainment, I discovered fascinating history, romance, intrigue and a little known genre called historical fiction. I was addicted.

A recent reference to the Bernadotte family reminded me of those first lonely months in Paris and the book that introduced me to European history. The book, Desiree by Annemarie Selinko, is the story of a young woman in love with Napolean, her adventures in Paris and her later transformation to become Queen of Sweden. Desiree became Queen of Sweden when her husband, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, became King Charles XIV John. They founded the Bernadotte dynasty that produced the modern love story of Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian. A love story for the 21st century. No wonder I was so intrigued. Thirteen years old, a French love story that was “real” for the reader. I was hooked.

The second book that influenced my present and my future was Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. Real history set in the city where I lived. The very buildings I walked past in my Sunday visits to Paris were described in the book, brought to life in details by historical authors. The pockmarks I saw, the landmarks I visited were each described in detail from the days of the Nazi occupation. I lived in the history of the city, ready for the bursts of bombs over Paris, the American troops riding in tanks to liberate the French and the various intertwining histories of the people I met walking along the Seine. How exciting to pass under the very bridge where the Resistance officers traded secrets with the Allies. The book was so descriptive of the moments leading to the liberation, I almost expected to meet Charles De Gaulle en route to a meeting when I turned the corner in the 5th Arrondissement. Living amidst the historical sites, I learned that history and the present intersect on every street corner.

I wasn’t lonely anymore. I was in the middle of history, meeting with Resistance officers, reading telegrams from Berlin. I was living in Paris but each page of the book placed me in the 1940’s rather than the turbulent 1960’s of my present.  I had found a new path, a new way to look into the past and find the present. While my friends at home in the States were talking of “Grotto dances” and “The Rock” I was living amidst the pages of a book, living the history of the ancient city, verifying facts and visiting the buildings with their war plaques and pockmarked facades.

My view of history was forever changed by the realism of my present connected with the living proof of the past. These two book made history come alive, transported me to an age unknown previously and introduced me to a living history I would pursue throughout my life. The authors wrote, described, and set a scene so real that I was allowed to live among the pages of history, right before my teenaged eyes. A history so real that years later, I wondered if I had lived the dream of Desiree, young, in Paris and eager to experience the excitement of a future filled with mystery and romance.

I learned that Paris was not burning nor did young Desiree marry Napoleon but in those months before I started high school, I learned that history is made in each day we live and can be found within the pages of a book. Two books can change a life.

 

 

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Even Young Girls Get The Blues

Shells 6

The familiar sights and sounds of my neighborhood were far away, 3637 miles to be more exact. The games of SPUD and Kick the Can played after dark in the deadend circle of my street were only memories. My new apartment building fronted a busy roadway and there was no neighborhood gang to whistle up for a game of Flashlight Tag. I began to feel the pangs of homesickness, the ailment of the ex-pat tired of being alone.

Relocation is commonplace in 21st century America. Companies transfer employees from East to West, retirees leave hometowns for warmer climes and college students settle in their chosen cities after graduation. Americans love to move.  The agents find houses, locate schools and transportation and with minimal disruption, children enter a new school, parents commute via new routes and the families settle in. Now there is the internet for Skype conversations, cell phones send pictures and messages and email zips a letter across the ocean in less time than it takes to tie a shoe.

I moved before all that. I moved from New Jersey to Paris in 1966, when a letter written on onion skin paper was sent via Airmail and still took a week to get to my friends. I was a new teenager, alone with my family 3637 miles from my friends, school, church and community. I learned about homesickness. I learned about loneliness and I learned about making a fresh start. I later learned the relocation process can be habit-forming but that’s in retrospect.

We left New Jersey after a whirlwind month of dance recitals, house renovations and bon voyage parties. Although  we were dizzy from the anticipation and excitement of leaving a small suburban town for the ancient city of Paris, France, our new life was a blank slate, a grand adventure and a flat-out mystery. “Keep a journal” one friend advised. “Write a letter home every week and tell us all about it” said another. We were determined to stay connected and never thought of the effect time and distance would have on our friendships.

There were daily letters to and from several friends during those first two months. Exciting descriptions of our new city, life in an apartment and the daily challenge of learning a new language filled page after page as I tried to describe my new life. I eagerly awaited my father’s arrival each day with the bundle of mail he brought home from the NATO base where he worked. At first, there were long detailed letters filled with details about parties and boys, summer romances and vacation plans.  I saved them all for that lifeline to my home and friends, my antidote to loneliness. My education about homesickness, loneliness and living abroad had begun.

Homesickness

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A Young American in Paris

St. Germain En Laye

I was awake at dawn, ready to explore my new territory. I dressed in cut-off Bermuda shorts, a sweatshirt and my moccasins, the all American outfit of a thirteen year old. Through the hall, down in the elevator and out through the wrought iron gate to the wide sidewalk. To avoid getting lost, I decided to go around the block. Setting out, I noticed the high fences and walls surrounding the properties along Blvd. Victor Hugo. The streets were cobblestone and the sidewalks wide expanses of slate. Each building was right to the edge of the sidewalk with shutters closed against the morning light. My footsteps echoed as a sauntered past.

I arrived at the top of the hill and saw a small alley with a street sign indicating it was a real street. Narrow, with room for one car, the alley had a red sign with a big white dash in the middle. I had found the first of many international traffic signs. I later learned the red sign meant “one way, do not enter” but at the time it was merely a fascinating change from my former small suburban town. I walked around the block, past walled homes, peeking in the gates at century old buildings with cobblestone courtyards, past wrought iron gates painted black with gold leaf. I saw terra-cotta roofs, sagging forest green shutters and not one person. As I rounded the corner to return home, I met a woman carrying string bags filled with produce and long loaves of bread sticking out the top. Suddenly the sidewalk came alive with people, women sweeping their stone steps, men riding mopeds up the hill and a few girls watching from upstairs windows. Nobody smiled, nodded or acknowledged me in any way as I walked past but there were rapid exchanges in French after I moved along. My ears heard “American” and “fille”, “the American girl,” thanks to my 7th grade French teacher for that little bit of understanding.

I learned from my short walk around the block. The Bermuda shorts and sweatshirts were once again packed away, only to be worn in the comfort of our apartment. Never again would I venture forth without careful attention to my wardrobe. Shorts were not worn by anybody at any time. Sweatshirts were for sports players and not acceptable for young girls, American or not. During the following months, I walked along those same sidewalks on my way to the bus bound for Paris. I met many of those same people I had seen that first morning and after giving a long look at my outfit, I would receive a nod or a smile of greeting. I had been initiated into the world of French appropriateness and had learned a valuable lesson. Clothes were important and first impressions were lasting.

The French dress impeccably when going out and about. Tailored suits, caps and jewelry are seen on young and old, regardless of employment. It is later, when entering a shop and the same woman who was dressed in tailored cashmere now assists from behind the counter, covered by a royal blue smock, the attire of every working Frenchman. I learned that day to be aware of different cultures and traditions. I was no longer a small town American girl, I was now a young American in Paris and I wanted to blend with the nationals. It was an eye-opening experience.

The hanging gardens of St. Germain en Laye

 

 

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Cutting Your Losses or Giving Up

Life is the sum of all your choices.  ~ Albert Camus

Do you follow through regardless of the project’s difficulties or do you know when to say ‘enough is enough’? Do you finish every race regardless of how fast or slow you are? Do you overcome every obstacle vowing to finish or can you accept some projects are best left incomplete?

I am raising children, teaching problem solving and working on personal projects. I tend to be agreeable and accepting and strive to keep everybody happy. And that isn’t always the best thing for me. Selfish or self-preservation? A quitter or a sense of self-worth?

I didn’t want to be considered a quitter, and yet, the project seemed to suck all creativity from my bones. I was paralyzed by the simple tasks and the interpersonal struggle. Complete the tasks and pat my back or let go and move on? It is a matter of perspective and yes, there are personal feelings of self-worth involved. Character issues also, as I was raised to complete the project, regardless of outcome. You signed on so you must finish, disregard all sense of accomplishment or value.

I wonder what lesson is taught when the project consumes the creator yet is finished, completed, and done? My children watch and learn to persevere, to subdue anxiety in favor of checking a project off the list. No longer a creative endeavor, the project becomes a To-Do list entry to be scratched off and put to rest. What if I walked away from the project entirely, would that be teaching the kids to give up?

My dilemma is the emphasis put on walking away. Positive or negative? Walk away and be a quitter or walk away and cut your losses? Either way, a sacrifice, either way, you must face yourself in the mirror. Head held high or hung in shame. A dilemma either way.

What do you think?

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Writing a Wonderful Wednesday

Writers are a lucky bunch. That’s the thought of the week for my writing group. The question for any writer when faced with a blank page is where to go now? Do you want to escape this dreary rain or soak up the sun on some tropical island? Each time a writer sits before a blank page or screen, the possibilities are endless. Mood, scene, character, time, genre, are all open for creation. Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to say? Oh, the possibilities are limitless.

Write yourself a Wonderful Wednesday and add it to the comments below. Aren’t you the lucky bunch?

Lucky Bunch

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The Monday Morning Writing Chain

A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.  ~Charles Peguy

Every Monday morning, the writing prompt arrives at 10:00 AM. Joyce Norman, writer, editor and coach posts the prompt on her Facebook status and the fun begins. Anybody can play, all writers are welcome to add a paragraph or two. The dialogue segues into different dialects, the names change and revert to original and the story unfolds throughout the morning. Each author creates, each author moves the storyline forward and the plot develops over the course of a day and sometimes, a week.

Checking in on Monday morning, you might find a medieval castle stormed by invaders with broadswords, or a meeting in a South Pacific bali hai. The plane taking off with a secret stowaway heading into a hurricane gives broad latitude for the action scene to follow. Each author lends voice to the story, with great creative additions stretching over the page.

Advice from the great writers of past and present is: Write. Write. Write. And write. Practice makes perfect is the best advice for any creative effort. And the Monday Morning Writing Chain is available for anybody to add their idea and move the story forward. Add a character, write a few lines of dialogue, join in the fun. Your practice will be done while you create with other great writers of the day.

Every Monday Morning. 10:00 AM. Add your link to the chain. Let’s see what we can create.

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