Texas has been facing two separate threats to our trees.  The pine bark beetle and drought.  As a result, we had a third threat, fire, which destroyed an unbelievable amount of acreage.  

Tomorrow, a local tree service is coming to my house to take down the first of 4 loblolly pines we lost to the pine beetles and drought.  These trees were on the property when my family moved in in June, 1957.  The one that's coming down tomorrow was the smallest of the 4.  That first summer, I climbed that tree, with my grandfather's help, and I fell off the lowest limb, which was probably about 6' off the ground.  I landed on my back.

"DeeDee, DeeDee, I think I'm dead!"  I cried.

"I don't think so, honey.  You just knocked the wind out  of yourself."

"How do you know?"

"You're talking.  Can't talk if you're dead."  In September, my grandfather died.  He was wrong though.  He still talks to me.  

Every time I put my hands in the dirt, I hear him.  He was a gardener, and the reason I love gerbera daisies,  redbud trees,  and digging in the dirt.  I'm amazed at how much he passed to me during the 4.5 years we both occupied this planet.

He also taught me to recognize whipporwills,  bob white quail, mourning doves....by sight and sound.  When I joined the Brownies, my bird watching badge was the first one I got.  I walked into the backyard the other day and scared up a covey of doves.It reminded me of what this neighborhood was like when we moved in -- acres of pine forests in which we played and cycled (when the dirt was hard).  We got our eggs and milk from guys who lived within a few blocks.  The farmer next door to my elementary school had tomatoes and corn and other crops, sold from a table in front of his house.  A rooster woke us in the morning, his cry drifting in through our open windows. from the coop at the north end of my block.

Today, my husband went to IKEA to pick up the 6 loblolly pines I reserved in their Trees for Houston promotion.  My plan is to make a Texas Wildscape  in the part of the yard where the old trees are coming down and the new trees will be going in.  I would like to put in buffalograss, but the homeowner's deed restrictions specify St. Augustine, that water hogging grass.  At least for the front yard...I'll have to check and see if I can buffalograss the backyard.  God knew what He was doing when he planted the things we now call "native species."  The deed restrictions are outdated.  After all, they once prohibited the sale of a house in this n
 
 
The other thing that happened yesterday was that I got a call from the SSI office regarding my (forced) application for financial assistance.  I say forced because when I was hospitalized in May, I awoke on the 19th, after having arrived about 5 pm, being admitted at about 6:45 pm, lain in the "holding area" of the county hospital until about 4 am and then put in a 5 bed ward, to find a cheery young woman telling me that I had to apply for SSDI before they could honor Gold Card Status and pay the bills for me.    So we filled out the forms to the best of my groggy, lacking all the back up documents for the application, condition.

The way this works is that they submit the apllication for RSDI (Retirement, survivors, Disability Income).  This is what the old Social Security for retirees, dependent (minor) survivors of a deceased person and the disabled used to apply for, all rolled into one.  I already knew I would be rejected because when I applied in the mid-1990s for Disability due to my lupus, I was denied on the grounds that as an educated person I should be able to work.  Sure, and when you find an employer who likes employees who miss random numbers of days when the pain and fatigue are simply overwhelming, and who sometimes gets up feeling good but within a few hours starts nodding off at their desk without the help of heroin or other illegal drugs (or even legal soporifics for that matter), let me know.  I haven't worked since, so now, although I worked from age 15 to 40-something, sometimes 2-3 jobs, I no longer have enough qualifying quarters within the past 10 years (DUH!), so they again declined SSDI.  I SHOULD have gotten it before.

After about 10 minutes of questions, the woman told me she was terminating the interview because I was ineligible.  Why?  I have more than $2000 in my savings, checking, CD's, and IRA and my husband's 401K.  Why didn't they ask that question firs,t I wonder?  Could have saved us both the time, and the taxpayer money.  Second, I don't work, my husband (age 49) started his third year of unemployment just after Labor Day. without much interest, even for part-time work (7 offers in the three years, all within the 2nd & this new third year.  I have more than $2000 because I inherited about $10,000 from my mother's insurance policies, and the estate was only recently settled.  Oh he was offered a temp job last week -- 1.5 hours one way from our house, and about an hour's worth of the pay at the job per day in gas required to get there (no bus service available which would get him there without several hours of travel each way and a long walk from the stop to the job site). 

What is the purpose of making me spend all of that money when I may need it to live on next year.  Rebuilding a life would be a lot easier if I got  a little help NOW despite that money,, instead of waiting until I have no assets.  If I spend it, and my husband doesn't ever get another job making enough to support us and get him to a job, I'll need help until I die paying for medical expenses, care-taking while he's at work, and part of our normal expenses, since $10 an hour (much less than he was making before) will not cover the basic expenses in Houston.  My husband's prior salary barely did, when you figure in the cost of clothing, gasoline, maintenance on the car my brother lets us use, medicines, food, etc. etc.  In fact, a home health care worker for 4 hours a day would eat up his entire take home.  The guy across the street has MS, and he has someone who comes in to help him, and his wife told me his entire income of about $40,000 a year barely covers that, his health insurance and medications.  Do the math.

As to the 401(K), if we take it out we pay a substantial penalty, and if they raise retirement age in Congress, it's likely neither of us will be alive to collect it, or Social Security we both paid into.  Which means either my older brother will inherit it, which is ok because he's paying all our bills and expenses now, or if he's gone, it will go to charity.  We have discussed this, and our charity of choice is one which helps orphans and foster children who are "aging out" of the system get established in college, careers, and life  (See http://www.cwla.org/programs/fostercare/agingoutresources.htm  for data on the 20,000-25,000 of these kids per year and their problems, and just think about how much help YOU got from your parents during your years from 18 - 25 or so and imagine facing life without that help.)   In this economic climate, these kids face daunting challenges as jobs and contributions are thin on the ground.  Why can't Congress remove the penalty for long-term unemployed, people losing their homes, people like myself who are denied SSDI because we have been disabled but denied and lack the qualifying quarters.

I know WHY it is.  Some people are so afraid SOMEONE might get a penny of THEIR money.  It's still insane policy to force people all the way down the road into abject poverty and then expect them to climb out without any assets to work with.  It would be insane policy to TAX them into it, like Cain's 9-9-9 would as well. 

Tomorrow I have to deal with the county clinic doctor who has been billing FULL PRICE (instead of my Gold Card price I was eligible for as of the date of the visit) until the RSDI/SSI decision came down, and has already turned me over to a collection agency.  Not only did I not have the money to pay full price ($320 for an office visit -- my private rheumatologist doesn't charge me that much for a visit AND the inhouse lab work!)  --  I was reluctant to do so because I was afraid I'd never get back my overpayment.  The Physicians Group refused to even tell me what the Gold Card fee would be or to negotiate for me to pay that amount until this process was settled.  Now that it has been, I wonder what they will come up with as an excuse for not billing me the Gold Card price.  To top it all off, the last correspondence I have seems to say that this clinic, run by the Harris County Hospital District "does not deal with Ben Taub Hospital" (where I was hospitalized) and will not even call them to discuss my eligibility.  All the clinics and the hospitals are run by Harris County Hospital District, so what's that deal?  They told me to call LBJ Hospital (where I have only been once in my life, and not as a patient, but to visit my Little Sister in the 70s when she had her baby there) to "get your records straightened out."  They also seemed to suggest that since I didn't use LBJ, I should be going to another (more distant) clinic.  However, their email was rambling and unclear, so I might have misunderstood them. ;)

So happy days in
 
 
This has been a DAY!  When I say that, you should understand that it was full and somewhat maddening.  It was, however, a gorgeous fall day in Houston!  The cooler weather is simply DIVINE...as in a real gift from God to a city that baked, parched, and nervously watched fires for so long.   As the sun was setting, I was preparing my front planter box for the beets, carrots and green onions I'm planting in it.  Half the box is done..just finishing up the rest.  From the pine across the street came the call of what I'm pretty sure was a Great Horned Owl.  Peace flooded back into my veins, after having been disrupted earlier in the day by two separate events.

The second of these, which I shall discuss first, involved walking out to hear my neighbor telling my husband that the heavy trash he put out today, thinking it would be picked up tomorrow morning, needed to be removed from the curb "or you might get a ticket."  Last month, my husband had put this stuff out, only to discover when the truck came around that last month was the "limbs and yard waste only" heavy trash day.  So he hauled the stuff back inside our yard.  After decades of living across the side street from this neighbor and his wife, I was immediately suspicious that he had already called the city to complain about this trash.  Never have I met a more O-C, anal retentive, appearance means everything, house proud couple in my life.  Mind you, they don't like government interfering in their lives, but they're perfect (just ask them), yet they are the first to call the city government when a neighbor offends their sense of neatness of property.  What I wanted to say to him was "Oh, so you've called them and filed a complaint already, have you?"  I KNOW he has, and that he redeems himself by "looking nice" and "warning" us that we could be ticketed.  It makes him "look nice," he thinks. 

This I know;  they used to regularly call the city and have my widowed mother ticketed when they were first married.  Always, they would "warn" us.  Now heavy trash for our house can be easily seen ONLY by this couple.  The two houses behind mine and his are screened from seeing the "unsightly" pile by a fence on my side of the street and thick plantings on his.    So I know it's he who wants to not look at it.  Granted, someone might drive by and be so enraged that they actually remember to call when they get home, but what are the odds?    After all, the traffic on that street even at rush hour is maybe one car an hour.   This month, I fully admit that we got the wrong Thursday...it's the 4th not the 3rd like we thought.  What else is true, is that we are allowed to put heavy trash on the Friday BEFORE our scheduled pickup...which would be the day after tomorrow.  Did I say "anal?"  What the heck is the big deal about TWO days early?  DID I say "anal?"

When he went home, I started working on my planter box, and then I got so mad, I went around to the back gate and started struggling with the top mattress on the pile  to get all the stuff inside my fence.    I got the mattress off the pile and down into the ditch (no culvert or driveway here).  When I tried to roll it over to get it up the slope, I folded it and then tried to flip the folded package.  The mattress sprang up and hit me in the face, leaving me flailing around trying not to fall backwards into the ditch.  Please don't ask me why I tried this same thing twice more before giving up.  I think I thought I should be able to make it work!  If I were 28 and not dealing with active lupus, I'm sure I could have!  However, I realized on the third try I was defining "insanity."
So I called my husband's name and "help" our bedroom being at the back of the house.  I figured he could hear me.   From down the street , toward my "behind" neighbor's house, a man answered me. 

"Who are you calling?  What do you need help with?"  I could not see him because of the pecan tree foliage.   

"I was calling my husband to help me with this stuff."  I looked in the direction of the voice, and saw a man who looked like a street person, riding up on a bicycle, a paper bag with a beer can in his hand.

"What's his name?  Where is he?" he asks.  I told him the name and said that he should be inside this back bedroom, pointing as I answered.  I thought perhaps this guy would cycle up there and knock on the window and and tell my husband.

"What are you doing trying to move this stuff, ma'am?  Let me do that for you."  He got off his bike, and grabbed the mattress and WHOOSH inside the fence it went.  Then he spryly stepped back to the pile and grabbed the next item.  By the time he got to the third one, my husband came sauntering out.  Together they moved the rest of the large heavy furniture inside the fence.  I moved the cushions and a lightweight broken chair.  It took maybe 5 minutes from the moment the man had called out to me.  He kept telling me "Don't worry about those, ma'am, you'll wind yourself."

I asked my husband if we still had any of the beers he'd bought for the carpenter my brother had hired to do some work around the house before my mother died last November.  He went inside to get them, and I chatted with this fellow.  He used to live two streets over, but then lost his job.  His mother had died and he had no family, working as a maintenance man in a nearby apartment complex, and odd job man for some other people in the neighborhood.  I asked if he was living rough, and he said he was living at a local motel which he named, and which I know to be cheap and about 4 miles away.  I learned he was 10 years younger than I am, where he went to junior high and high school.  He's of German heritage and grew up here in Houston.  I told him his eyes reminded me of my mother's father, whom I had adored and who died just after we moved to this house in 1957.

My husband came out with two beers for him, and he protested that wasn't necessary.  I told him "We can't drink them, and the guy we bought them for quit drinking, and this is the only thing I've got to thank you with."   Now I know many would think it was wrong of me to give beer to someone who possibly is an alcoholic.  I would think so myself most of the time.   What I have learned however, are two things.  One, each person has the right to their own vices, and you cannot make them choose not to indulge in them.  Second, given the circumstances of his life, those two Guinness dark beers might be one of the few pleasures he has in life.  Maybe I learned something else too.  Some people who don't look so savory and whose lifestyle might be objectionable to others have wonderful hearts and generous souls.  I think I knew that already, but it certainly struck me that my neighbor merely "looked" kind and wasn't, and this stranger opened his heart to help someone without asking any thing in return.

"No need for that," he said

"You were a blessing when I needed one," I said "This is my way of thanking you." 

"And this is your thank you!"  he said, and smiled, lighting up those those pale ice blue eyes with the glow of heaven.  I wonder, might Jesus not return as someone like this?  A down and out person living day to day, or a welfare mother who made "bad choices?"  Or would Jesus come back as someone who looked and lived like my neighbor -- always neat and tidy but trying to control the behaviors of others?  When the Bible talks about "denying Jesus"  could it be talking bout passing by someone like my angel of today as "unsavory?" 

Having taken so much time and space writing this, I will save the other story for another post. Anyway, I'm hongree!  Thanks for reading this.  I'll be interested to see if anyone leaves any comments or fills out the form on my homepage. 
 
 
I'm thinking about hunger in America.  14.5% of a recent surrvey said they had difficulty feeding their family sometimes, and 53% of the people reading the article said they had to budget carefully.  I'm part of the 53%, and I'm growing my own veggies (some of them).  I use coupons and shop around the sales at about 10 different grocery stores.  I sign up for freebies on the net.  I do anything I can on the net -- like the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl -- to help the other people helping feed America.  When my onion sets get here, and there are more coming in the minimum order than I have space to plant, I will give the extras to an Urban Harvest community garden in a part of town which has NO grocery store within  5 miles.  Any surplus harvest my own garden will go to the local food pantry at the Methodist Church where I attended VBS in the 50s & 60s with my neighbor (my own church also participates in this pantry -- although I quit attending church years ago).  I'm also thinking about adding  a page on how to live frugally, wondering how many readers would like to see this.  Please leave a comment if you would!
 
 
I just added a page to discuss SLE.  
 
 
I had a conversation with a young woman about 24 hours ago.  Part of that conversation was discussion of the differences in society regarding women from the time her mother and I were in our teens and today.  I have been disturbed by the misconceptions among many young what the feminism of the 1970s was all about.  As I watch some of the achievements being rolled back by conservatives and reactionaries, I wonder if the younger women have any idea what they are going to end up with.