Amaya Rain

Wife. Mother. Crazy woman.

Bad Bedfellows.

The town where I grew up – let’s call it The Town – has always had a bit of a bad reputation. It is a place that is dependent upon oil for nearly its entire economy. So of course, there are tons of transients living in this area so that they can make good money either working offshore or working on oilfield support of one kind or another. A good chunk of these are single men, aged 25-50, probably over 1/3 are Mexican. Then you have the old families – black, white, American Indian – who have lived here for generations. Then there is a large Vietnamese population that showed up in the 1970’s because apparently the environment here is similar to their home, and back then, there were good work opportunities.

Back in the 1970’s, the nearby city – The City – looked down upon this area. The people were rural people, or the transients, and it was the classic “city v. country” type mentality. The County pretty much neglected The Town when it came to, oh, just about anything. We had no real zoning, so you had generational houses right next door to shipyards or heliports. Trailer parks – badly managed ones, at that – sprouted up everywhere. The Vietnamese, bless their hearts, stayed in a three-block square of houses, with several generations living in each home (although I know that was tradition, I really think that part of it had to do with not wanting to be stuck with the other bad housing trends).

In the 80’s, there was The Oil Crash. There was no work. Lots of the transients left, but the locals grew poorer, and their children moved into the unkempt trailer parks. Then oil and shipbuilding picked up… and here we are.

So, finally, The County hired someone to check out the possibility of zoning restrictions in The Town. Of course, the only reason this was done was because many people owned undeveloped property near a new interstate extension that they wanted to  manage according to their own wants (the rest of The County depends on oil/shipbuilding revenue and tourism, pretty much exclusively). Of course, the zoning restrictions were pretty much a hodge-podge of what already existed, other than zoning that prime undeveloped Interstate extension land as commercial. Anywhere in The Town, you can have a business open up right next to a house which is right next to a trailer which is right next to an RV park.

Make things even better, and companies from out of the area are contracting workers to companies In Town, and buying these falling apart trailers, putting 8 guys in one – mostly Mexican, but not all – and calling it a “boarding house.”

Now you have the background.

There is a County Planning and Zoning Commission. Problem is, the County’s council members have decided that P&Z should have no power of their own. At all. Should someone disagree with P&Z’s decision, they can go to the Council and get it overturned (and they usually do). Then, if they don’t anyone’s decision, they can just go ahead and do whatever they want to do, because The Council didn’t bother to give P&Z, or even themselves, any penalties for going against a ruling. No fines, no having to tear it down or move it, no jail time, nothing. They can do nothing.

Recently, a woman tore down a blighted house on her property, and started moving small FEMA-sized RV trailers onto it. The surrounding neighbors protested, P&Z ruled against her, and she was to only leave one RV on the property (personal use) and use the remainder of the property to either build a new house or put a mobile home there. She got mad. Then she put three more RV’s on the property. Now, we’re talking a lot that’s maybe 100×100. And no one can do anything.

So now, that brings us to The Jerk. I’ve known The Jerk and his family my entire life. His brother was almost my godfather. My father was friends with the whole family, and my grandfather and The Jerk’s father owned land together, drank together, and engaged in friendly rivalry their entire lives. Well… The Jerk had some land and decided that it was time that The Town had a nice, quiet subdivision. It consisted really only of one long road, near the local Catholic Church. He sold the land, and people built houses ranging from about $120k to $250k – now, honestly, these are houses that anywhere else would go for $250-$400k, easily. People bought up land, started building, feeling like all their work had been for something. The neighborhood was restricted, therefore no trailers could ever be moved in to decrease property value. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but believe me, this had never been done before in The Town.

So, a couple of years later, what does The Jerk do? He decides that selling the property isn’t generating enough income. So. On his property that backs up this subdivision, he builds an RV park to provide “housing” for the transient workers. Granted, so far, a lot of the folks that he has there seem to be decent guys, they aren’t living with several men to a trailer, and there hasn’t been any increase in crime in that area. This is all good. But the existing RV’s are far enough from the houses (think the distance of a block or so) that there isn’t an issue.

Now, he wants to expand. The expansion basically puts RV’s in practically the backyard of these nice houses in a restricted subdivision. What? And the worst part is that he still owns the last several lots on the road… so should he decide to expand out there, he can. He tried telling these people that having a transient RV park next to their houses wouldn’t lower their property values. He also insists that he’ll never have a problem with crime, even though he doesn’t do background checks, there is no fence around the property, and there is no security (oh, should I add that right now, there is one sheriff patrolling the entire Town at any particular time, day or night? Yeah.).

The neighbors are livid. The P&Z voted him down, and when he took it to The Council, they deferred a decision. Thing is, everyone against it went to the meeting – and they’ll have to continue going to all the meetings because The Council can bring the issue back up anytime they want.

So the Jerk is trying to reach a compromise. What kind of compromise? He says he’ll think about building a fence, maybe doing background checks. But inevitably it doesn’t matter, he says, because “business leaders” are on his “side” and he has “supporters” just like P&Z has. Wait, P&Z doesn’t have supporters. P&Z is trying to support what is best for the community.

When I said to him, “Why don’t you invest in trying to build real housing, or try to bring some other business to the area?” Oh no. Can’t do that. Because “we don’t have as much money as people think we have, just land” and “lot height requirements have gone up too much to make that economical” and my favorite, “Well, we’re going to do things like that once The New Road opens up,” (a new road being built through his other property, that The County will LEASE from him) “but that’s the New [Town], we’re talking about the old [Town].” So, the entire town will still be going to hell in a handbasket, because you and local businessmen and local politicians don’t feel like bothering with it. So, it’s easier to just make the rest of The Town even worse than before, rather that helping to build it up so that it’s a safe place for younger families to come to and help build the economy. So, the only new business that will come will be on your other land near the interstate, something that won’t help out Town Citizens, but will be added to the coffers of The County and ultimately the The City, right?

He didn’t answer me.

I’m mad. It’s been a couple of days, and I’m still very, very mad. I keep saying that if I had money (I’m talking lottery-type money), I’d leave this place in a heartbeat. And I probably would… but mainly because I want a lot of acreage, and this area doesn’t have that. But I’d like to think that I’d begin to buy up the blighted property in the area, rebuild or remodel the improvements on the property, and sell it for a reasonable price so that new families – not just companies who cram men into houses – could afford it and be comfortable. Then I’d try to work to build a local economy, trying to fill in the gaps that we have around here. For instance, there aren’t any local farmer’s markets, organic food sources, nice shopping boutiques, hell, there isn’t even a Starbucks (not that I mind that, because I don’t like Starbuck’s business practices, but still, who doesn’t have a Starbucks!)

I need to go. The twins they are a’calling me. I just needed to vent. I look around and see so much potential for The Town, and to know that even people who have lived here their whole lives, watched this town die for a decade because of the lack of diversity, and watched The City and The County take every penny we’ve made and spend it on themselves instead of us, how someone who has seen that could just not only let it keep happening, but be a source of it.

I’m mad. And I just can’t do anything about it.

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February 28, 2007 Posted by | Common Sense, Musings, Politics | Leave a comment

Bellsouth and DirecTV suck.

Oh man. I’m still wired from today. Since we’re keeping the phone number at the new house AT the new house (my grandparents had it since the 50’s, when it was a “subdivision/town 123” type number), but trying to get all of our features moved over there. We have one of those Bellsouth bundles, so our local, long distance, DSL, and cell phone are all on one bill, and DirecTV bills us with a discount as well for the bundle. Should be easy enough, right?

I spent about an hour on the phone with Bellsouth while they set everything up. Then, because the bill was being switched into our names instead of my deceased grandfather’s name, they needed approval from my husband. I tried to three-way call, but got disconnected. The woman said if I got disconnected, to just call back, that all that needed to happen was to get his verbal approval.

So, I called hubby to come home, and we call them back. Between being on hold, the guy trying to figure out what was happening, and approval, we were on the phone another 25 minutes. All is well, right?

My mom is at the new place, waiting on the DirecTV guy to move our service today (as the owner, she wanted to make sure they placed everything according to her wishes). She gets a call there – Bellsouth wants to verify approval of new local and long distance service at “new number” for [enter grandpa’s name here]. Mom says, “oh no. I mean, yeah, we approve the change, all of that is correct, but it’s supposed to be under THEIR name, not my father’s.”

You guessed it. They cancelled the order completely. I called them back, and we had to do it ALL OVER AGAIN… this time it only took 45 minutes, as I made them transfer me directly to a supervisor. So, I’m frustrated.

Then, DirecTV guy never shows up. Turns out that an hour before the end of the appointment time, he tried to call to confirm. I’m sorry, but when I make an appointment, and someone takes the time to be there or take off of work to be there, then someone better damn well show up. Yeah, well… even though we verified my cell phone number as a contact number TWICE during the call for the move, they didn’t bother putting it on the work order. So since he didn’t get an answer, he left town.

Then the woman told me that they’ll reschedule me – for nearly 2 weeks from now, when someone will be in my area again.

Oh no. I tried being nice. Then I got firm. Then I yelled. Then I cursed. And miraculously, and appointment this Friday opened up.

Then I called DirecTV themselves (the other b.s. was dealing with the technicians office) and spoke with someone, and proceeded to ream him out, and got the date moved to Wednesday.

I’d have been nice if anyone would have been honest with me. First they say he called to get directions (house is clearly marked, on a well-known road, not in a rural setting), then they said he called to confirm the appointment. Then they tried getting him on the phone at 4pm (end of appointment time, that’s when I called them), and NO ONE – for the FIFTY MINUTES I was on the phone with various departments – could get him on the line. Then miraculously, an 1.5 hours later, he’s 1.5 hours away, just getting the message, and can’t come back.

And DirecTV has already taken $50 from me as a “non-refundable deposit” for the installation, and because we’re moving, they are requiring another 1 year commitment, which we already agreed to, and for which there is a cancellation fee if we tell them to stick the whole thing up their a$$. And learning all of this, I spent approximately 2 hours on the phone with them today.

Don’t even get me started on the local politics I had to deal with today. I’ll post about that tomorrow, because that made me livid as well.

You know, some days, people really are out to get you. It’s not paranoia if it’s really happening. I’ll update Thursday and let you know if everything has gone smoothly – as Wednesday both DirecTV gets installed and Bellsouth gets transferred. No one has common sense, or common courtesy, anymore, do they? Is my time not as valuable as anyone else’s?

February 27, 2007 Posted by | Bad Day, Common Sense, Moving | 3 Comments

Get ready.

So, as a cruel joke of the universe, someone on Organized Home decided to post today about hurricane preparedness ala the pantry. Cruel, cruel women. Here I am stressing about grocery shopping, and now they have me thinking about preparedness as well. I mean, it’s okay, because the shopping I intend to do also involves a good bit of emergency preparedness, but still. Cruel Joke.

So, as someone who grew up in the midst of hurricane country, I have had a game plan for several years. Some of it is what I learned growing up, some what I learned not to do growing up, some is experience after coming through Hurricane Andrew (check your history books), and some is just sheer paranoia about being prepared for a family of 5, when we used to be a family of two.

Store what you eat, and eat what you store.

There is no more important rule than this. I detest tuna. Everyone hates tuna except my husband, who isn’t allowed to eat it when I’m around. So why would I keep some in my pantry? Because some list says I should have some, along with beef jerky, tinned chicken, sardines… someone shoot me. Because I’d much prefer hanging out in the neighbors’ yards eating up their dandelions than eating that junk.

But how will you get your protein? At times, my husband likes to eat beef soups, so we keep those on hand. My oldest, and her friends, have this weird obsession with Hormel chili on hot dogs, so we keep extras of chili. We tend to keep Velveeta on hand because we like to have it on hand when we get in the mood to make a chili cheese dip. The list goes on. I do admit, protein sources are lower in quanity in our home, but they are there. And if I keep 4 or 5 cans of coup, 12 cans of Hormel, a couple pounds of Velveeta, and a huge thing of peanut butter from Sam’s Club on hand, we’re not doing too bad. If we ate beans, we’d be definitely set, but none of us do. Notice that all of these need either no cooking, or just a couple of minutes of heat. Oh yeah, as far as that peanut butter, we buy it in the huge things, then just refill a jar as we go. When one tub is finished, we buy another, so there’s always at least one full one and some part of another one on hand at all times.

Most of our veggies are bought fresh or frozen. We really aren’t fans of canned veggies, so, again, we have an issue. However, I buy Niblettes corn by the case at Sam’s, and never, ever run low. We usually have a large can or two of yams, and various veggies that get bought for some reason or another. I generally buy veggies enough for at least a week (usually two) for the family, plus we always have potatoes and onions by the bushel (okay, maybe not that many, but a lot). So without any rationing or changing our buying habits, we have at the very least a week’s worth of fresh vegetables on hand, plus whatever extra is in the pantry, which is probably a good couple of weeks’ worth.

And let’s not forget, tomatoes are veggies and fruit. To that end, I probably have a month’s worth of tomatoes and tomato products on hand at all times.

Speaking of fruits, they are plentiful in this house. All the kids love them. We usually buy enough bananas for a week (just about everyone eats one a day). Then we have various other fresh fruit that keeps for a while – apples, oranges, whatever is in season, really – always around. Add to that numerous forms of canned fruit (we buy fruit canned in natural juices only) and applesauce, and we could survive just on fruit for at least 2 weeks.

Carbs are never in short supply in this house, happily for me, sadly for my waist. At any time, the least we will have in the house is a box of Ritz, a box of saltines, a couple of boxes of graham crackers, 5 pounds of pasta (a minimum of a box/bag of each shape we use regularly), 10 pounds of rice (Southern family, it’s a must), a bag of flour, a bag of corn meal, a canister of old fashioned oats, a box or two of quick/instant oats, a couple of boxes of grits, a box or two of cream of wheat… I think you get the picture.

Now we get to miscellaneous items. Cereal bars, jams, jellies, sugars, relishes/pickles, jarred peppers, convenience foods such as rice or pasta mixes, pudding mixes, jello, dry milk, junk food… the list goes on and on. These rotate in importance so I don’t really count them as part of any emergency meal plan. I do, however, count butter, even though it is refrigerated (more on fridge food later).

A shelf of a pantry is generally devoted to “meals”. For instance, I have a bag of pasta, a couple of cans of Hunt’s Traditional Spaghetti Sauce and a can of tomato paste together on a shelf. That way, if I’m in a hurry, I don’t have to think, it’s all right there, I can grab it and go. If I forget to add an onion, it’s no big deal, because it’s edible on its own. I’ll also keep rice, cream of mushroom soup and lipton onion soup mix together, because I make meatloaf gravy with that, so it’s all together when I want meatloaf. That translates into “I don’t have to think about it” portable meals if we have to evacuate somewhere. Although, with hurricanes, there is a bit more prep time… I’m thinking if there’s a need to evacuate for tonadoes or an environmental issue here (we live near a major waterway, interstate, and railway. Have to think of this stuff).

Baby things! With the twins, I hit hurricane season full tilt. I was unable to breastfeed past 3 months, so when storm time approached, I was terrifed that I wouldn’t be able to feed them if something happened. So we always had at least a month’s worth of formula on hand, in addition to a month’s worth of diapers, disposable bottle liners, etc.

I’ve always kept bottled water on hand. When I belong to a delivery service, I keep several more bottles than I need so that I always have at least a weeks’ worth of drinking water on hand. For a hurricane, cleaning water and such usually comes from filling the bathtub or other containers last minute. There is also always a bottle of bleach nearby that is rotated out every couple of years.

But what about the fridge and freezer? Here’s some hints from me:

  • When you know a storm is possibly coming, check out your freezer. I’ve been known to take out small, easily defrosted items like chicken cutlets, thin-cut chops, etc., and go ahead and cook them in the days leading up to the storm. They’ll be the first to defrost and go bad if we lose electricity, so why not eat them first!
  • Rearrange the freezer so that space is maximized, everything is packed together as well as possible. Now is not the time to worry about if you can find your leftover chili a few weeks from now.
  • Fill to 2/3 empty milk jugs or soda bottles with water, and put in the freezer if you have big empty spaces. Otherwise, 2/3 fill sturdy zipper bags with water and stuff them in the in-between spaces. Also, find all those old blue jugs that you put in lunchboxes and such. They defrost at a slower rate than water, and will help keep the temperature down.
  • Turn it on the coldest setting possible. Have someone press your door as tightly as it will seal, and duct tape the thing shut. Do not open it for at least 12 hours, preferably 24, before you think the possiblity of losing power will arrive (which can be up to a day or two before the storm, depending on the feeder bands).
  • Check your refrigerator. Take out your butter (real butter). It won’t go bad on the counter. I promise. Also remove any and all drinks and put them into ice chests. Plan on not opening the fridge until electricity is back on, or until you know that everything in it will be going bad (then you want to clean it out ASAP so it won’t start rotting).
  • You may want to use frozen water jugs in the fridge as well. If you turn it on its coldest settings, move as much as you can to the coldest parts of the fridge, and add these huge blocks of ice, you’re likely to save everything in there.
  • MAYO! For pantry purposes, although I’m usually all about bulk buying, buy small bottles during the summer if you live in a storm-prone area. You have to refrigerate it once it’s open, but until then and for several hours, you’re okay… so you can open one jar, give everyone on your block mayo for their sandwich for lunch and dinner, and still have some left over.

Okay. That was huge. I’m going to bed now, and dream paranoid dreams about price tags coming to get me in the grocery (not that anyone uses price tags anymore in a grocery store)…

February 13, 2007 Posted by | Common Sense, emergency preparation, hurricane preparedness | Leave a comment

Kids in the ‘hood.

 Somewhere between myself and my daughter, the world stopped teaching children common sense.

Not that I’m claiming to have a lot of it, nor am I claiming to have had a huge chunk of it when I was her age. But she and her friends threaten to force me to ram my head through brick. Truly.

We live in this little dead-end, cul-de-sac type of neighborhood. There about 6 houses on our street, almost all with kids or grandkids. There’s a big tree about three-quarters of the way to the main street, which is the cutoff point for all kids to be running, riding bikes, etc.

So the most intelligent thing in the world to do is to put up a bike ramp, put concrete blocks under where you should be catching some air, and have it past the big tree so that you can get some good speed up so you don’t kill yourself. Really, it makes sense in their heads.

As far as the man who turned accidently on our block today? To him, not so much. I’d dare say that the look on his face with a nine-year-old not-small boy on a bike at full speed flying through the air at him was probably a little more than he could handle.

Kids have so much more to deal with today than we did back then. There was a kidnapper-murderer on the loose when I was their age, and our parents just said “don’t go near any vans”. They have so many safety rules and safety words and code names and organic produce and “stay away from peanuts” filling their little heads that somehow there isn’t any room for good old fashioned common sense.

Hey kids! When you decide to do the Jump of Doom, let us always assume that hitting the fence at the end of the street, or even a house, is better than what you will hit if you go the other direction. Let’s assume that putting something in, oh, fabric to jump over may save your tires if you don’t make the jump (shhhhh, don’t mention their heads. You’ll lose them). Let’s assume that when we play with water balloons, throwing them into the faces of the other kids trying to make the Jump of Doom isn’t too polite.

And can someone remind the kid that already broke my daughter’s arm before that it’s still not cool to push folks off of the trampoline. The surgery for the pins hurts just as much at 9 as it did at 7.

[Of course, let’s not discuss when I made “salad” with poison ivy for the boy next door, or threw rocks at his head, or used to try to throw sticks into the spokes of his tires to see how high he could fly. Because, of course, I knew better back then…]

July 8, 2006 Posted by | Common Sense, Other People's Children, Reminiscing | Leave a comment