Thursday, January 29, 2015

Helping the Homeless

I am not impulsively generous.  Sad but true.  Being married to an accountant for almost 34 years has trained me to be mindful of charitable giving – when, to whom, and how much. 

So I've never rolled down my window and handed money to a homeless person holding a cardboard sign.  My cynicism (he’s not really homeless; he’ll work this corner, rake in a few bucks, go home and change his clothes and go to the bar) and paranoia (what if he pulls a knife on me and steals my car?) have conspired to keep me inside my car with doors locked and windows tightly closed.

We give to both The Road Home and the Utah Food Bank.  The Road Home provides emergency shelter and a variety of programs that help individuals and families step out of homelessness & back into our community.  The Utah Food Bank’s mission statement is simple:  Fighting Hunger Statewide.  We are confident that our donations to these two organizations are being wisely used to fight homelessness and hunger.  Most advocates for the homeless advise us to give to non-profits who provide services rather than directly to the people on the streets.

But the day before yesterday I observed an interaction that got me thinking.  I was second from the light on the freeway off-ramp.  An older man, bearded, wearing an old coat and a stocking cap, stood on the corner of the intersection, holding his cardboard sign in front of his torso.  I didn’t notice whether or not he was wearing gloves.  His eyes were blue. 

The large black Dodge truck ahead of me rolled down his window and called to him.  The man walked to the window and was handed a flat Styrofoam box.  It looked like a fast-food breakfast meal.  He took the box back to the corner.  His mouth moved and hands gestured a “thank you” and a “God bless you.” 

Then, before opening the box, he looked up to the sky and closed his eyes.  A few seconds later, he took a bite of the food inside the box.  I saw him smile.

The man may have been an exceptional actor. (Oops.  I try to keep the cynic in me contained.)  But what I saw – or thought I saw – was genuine gratitude and a genuine nod to the Giver of all things.  I blinked back a tear.  As I drove around the corner, I thought about the kindness and generosity of the owner of that big black truck.

No, I’m not impulsively generous.  But maybe, just once, I should be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting Past January without Guilt

No, this isn't about failed New Year’s Resolutions.  It’s about deadlines – something that most retirees, me included – strive to avoid.  But it seems that the end-of-January deadlines have bit me ever since I retired.

First deadline – my Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification requires about 25 hours of continuing education every year.  I know – I’m retired.  Why am I maintaining this certification?  Two reasons:  1) to keep my mind active, and 2) to keep my options open.  Until we are completely out of debt I want to be able to keep my job skills relevant.  But back to the deadline. 

Every year I start with the resolve of doing one online webinar a week.  This would get my 25 hours in well before we leave for camp.  Of course, inevitably something comes up and I head for camp missing several hours of training.  No worries, I think.  When I get home from camp I’ll just pick it up and have the training done by the end of October.  Of course, inevitably something comes up; say for example, the holidays.  And once again I find myself scrambling for those last few hours – in January.  This year I finished on January 9 – a new record and well ahead of the deadline.

But wait – there’s another deadline.  My husband and I volunteer for VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance).  This service is sponsored by the Community Action Program and the IRS, and provides free income tax preparation for low-income individuals and families.  This year we’re starting on January 27.  And guess who hasn't passed her annual certification test yet? 

So I am now officially letting go of my self-imposed guilt for not blogging once a week in January (or any other month, for that matter).  I’ll be back after I pass the VITA test.  Talk to you then!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Clutter Behind Closed Doors

Happy New Year!  I decided a long time ago to forego making New Year’s resolutions and instead set New Year’s goals.  We’re thinking of downsizing.  Not this year; probably not next year, but within the next five years.  It’s time to get rid of things we no longer use.  My good friend and fellow blogger Adrian, of Adrian’s Crazy Life, frequently writes about ways to reduce clutter in your home.  I’m tweaking a couple of her strategies in dealing with my unique clutter problem.

I have CBCD – clutter behind closed doors.  It’s a particularly insidious brand of clutter because it’s not visibly annoying and thereby clawing at my inner sense of neatness.  No, it’s safely tucked away in one of the many cupboards and closets that a larger home tends to feature.  Out of sight – out of mind.

Twenty years ago, when we moved to this home, I had every intention of getting rid of stuff I no longer used before we moved.  Sadly, that didn’t happen.  I brought a lot of stuff here that I should have thrown out then – and shoved it in a cupboard.  Not going to do that again.

Here are my rules to getting rid of CBCD:

Rule #1.  Attack each instance of CBCD with the knowledge that the stuff is never going to be used – or worn – or displayed again.  It’s either going into a garbage can, a recycle bin, or a box headed to the thrift shop.

Rule #2.  Exceptions to Rule #1 will be made only when a) items are not mine to deal with, or b) the items will be better utilized in a different location.  I’ll write more about what I’ll call storage optimizing in my next post.

Rule #3.  Items with sentimental value will be photographed before the application of Rule #1.  (Thanks to my good friend Sue for this rule.)

I started a few days ago.  So far I’m doing pretty well.  I cleared out three stacks of paperwork from former jobs.  I laughed out loud when I found a cost reduction proposal I had prepared back in 1984.  My boss at the time was Fraser Bullock, and had told me I’d hit a home run with the proposal.  I should have taken it to show him back in 2002 when he was second in command (and Mitt Romney’s right hand man) for the Salt Lake City Olympics.  He’d have hired me on the spot.  Or not.

I smiled as I reviewed the “farewell” cards I received from my co-workers at Hill Air Force Base when I left to join Wells Fargo.  I can still put several of those names to faces, and their messages were still touching.  But thinking of my military co-workers reminded me to stay on mission.  Adding a new rule:

Rule #4.  If you must read something, read it once.  Then apply Rule #1.

I’m looking forward to a new year filled with empty cupboards!  Happy New Year!