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Published in Bend Magazine!

Super excited to share my article that’s been published in Bend Magazine. I love this community-oriented publication and am proud to now be a part of it. It’s a super quick read so please take a moment and give it a once over. Tell me what you think!

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Lasts

Did you ever think that the last time you had sex would be the last time you had sex? I asked this of a male friend of mine who hadn’t had been intimate for six years. I knew someone else for whom it’d been eight years, probably nine now. For me, it’d been over two, and I was struggling with that reality. None of us were actively seeking celibacy but it seemed to be the way things played out. The worst part for me was that the last time wasn’t even good. Certainly not what I wanted to have as the last memory for such an important, dear subject. Maybe there’s still hope, but I’m not looking for casual sex. In theory, I want a meaningful relationship in which regular lovemaking is just another way we express our feelings for each other. In reality, I’ve completely lost interest in anything. This, coming from a woman who used to have a sex bucket list. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t found anyone that interests me, the result of more disappointing encounters than exciting ones, or if it has to do with the “change of life” that I’m going through. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. While most of us who are in the midst of a ”dry spell” don’t believe that we’ll never have sex again, what if we don’t? What if our last time was really our last time? 

COVID brought the world as we knew it to a standstill. Dating, going to pubs, and traveling seem like such strange memories of a past long, long ago. It seems like things will never be the same. The last time I had a drink was over a month ago. While it’s less probable that I’ll never have another, I don’t see myself hanging out in bars having a few pints again. Even less so having a glass of wine with friends. Simply, I’ve just lost the desire. Also, memories of the ensuing two-day long, excruciating headaches that now result from only a few glasses of wine have quelled any slight urges I’ve had. I don’t drink liquor and I already drastically cut back on the beer because it makes me feel bloated. And what’s the point of drinking if I’m not going to get a buzz? It just becomes unnecessary calories to my ever-expanding menopausal body. However, if I never have another drink again I’m quite fine with that. Alcohol has been a factor in most of my shameful behaviors, bad decisions, lost time and opportunities, and money wasted. Yet, if I’d known it was to be my last drink, I feel like I should have toasted to it or something. After decades of drunken “good times,” and the regrets that ensued, stopping without so much as a salutation, seems like such an anticlimactic and abrupt end to a rollercoaster relationship. 

One thing I never thought I’d ever see end is traveling. Maybe once life resumes back to normal I’ll take a trip somewhere again, but certainly travel, as I like to do, may be a thing of the past. Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, staying in crowded hostel rooms, greeting strangers with kisses on the cheeks, cooking community dinners where everyone is carefree and you can see smiling, laughing mouths, seem like a distant memory. It’s one of the “lasts that I’ll mourn the most, but I am so forever grateful that I did travel when I did. 

Social media has made the transience of people in our lives much less, well, transient. Through Facebook and Instagram we can stay in touch with most anybody at the click of a button. Photos of them and their life events and access to instant communication keep you close no matter the distance, and give the illusion of more familiarity with them than is real. But, it’s that final “last,” the irreversible one that you have no control over, that sends you reeling with regrets; unassuageable remorse that you didn’t make that call when you last thought about them, that you didn’t let them know how much they meant to you, that you couldn’t swallow your pride enough to mend that fractured relationship, that your last words to each other were your last words to each other, and you have no idea what those were. Despite the age or the miles between, I think most of us believe there always will be one more time: one more conversation, one more visit, one more kiss, one more chance to say goodbye. I suppose we have to, for our sanity’s sake, because we can’t to go through life with a constant cloud of doom enveloping us. 

And that’s how it is. We have to believe tomorrow will arrive exactly as we left it, or maybe even better. We have to believe that there will be one more. To live any other way would render us incapable of loving, of forming close relationships, or moving on because we couldn’t bear to live in such fear of loss. Life without faith in tomorrow would either paralyze us or throw us into complete chaos and hedonism because we’d believe each day may be our last and we’d better live like we’re dying. It would be every person for themselves, and, who cares about anyone else.

What lasts have you experienced? Are you at peace with them or do they create angst in your life? How can you live today so that you won’t be repentant when people you know die or when your end nears? While Carpe Diem and YOLO are great mottos and motivators, if not careful, they can lead to selfish and thoughtless behavior. 

I believe it’s best to live a life of purpose, one that makes a difference in the lives of others. Lead by example. Speak kindly. Laugh often. Be at one with nature. Do all things from a place of love so you do not meet the end with more regrets than necessary. Be a gift that keeps on giving, but in a Kodak moment kind of way, not in the herpes kind of way. Leave the world a better place than when you came into it and let your legacy be all the lives you’ve touched. Because there will be a tomorrow. If not for you, then for others. And they deserve to be able to live their best life, not spend it cleaning up after or choking in the aftermath, of yours. 

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Why I’ll Never Be Vegan

I was raised eating meat. Forced to eat it even though I mostly didn’t like it. Not because my mom was a bad cook, in fact, just the opposite. I just never liked meat, even as a small child.

OK, bacon is tasty, but honestly, who doesn’t like bacon? And my mom’s Italian Beef was awesome, but mostly because of the loaf bread it lay on that was soaked with the savory gravy. When we had a roast, I only wanted the end piece; it was small and had all the seasoning on it. It’s the same reason I liked the skinny ribs. She tried to make things palatable so I’d eat them, like putting applesauce on pork chops. But other things, like ham, I just refused to eat. Poultry was more palatable for me but I never desired or craved it. I was a super picky eater and didn’t like eggs or most vegetables outside of corn and some raw vegetables so I understand my mother’s need to want to make me eat something. It was the 70’s. She was a single mom raising four kids. Vegetables came in a can (ewww) and vegetarianism was one of those things associated with hippies, along with drugs and free sex, or at least that was the perception, and my parents weren’t having any of that! 

As an adult, I learned that I didn’t have to eat meat. WOW! How liberating that was, despite being so restricting. It was 1989 and I was in Austria, a very meat-centric country. When lived in California it was super easy to be vegetarian, but then I moved back to the East coast where people considered me a freak for not being a carnivore. Some people actually used that word, too. I’ll never understand why some people get so offended by what I choose to eat or not eat. It has zero bearing on them. I’ve come to realize that they’re probably the same people that feel the need to control who other people sleep with, pray to, or what women do with their bodies. Clearly, they have so little going in their own lives that they feel the need to opine and deride the lifestyles and choices of others.

If they weren’t negatively judging me, they made covert apologies for eating meat by explaining how little meat they actually ate. To be honest, I didn’t care. I wasn’t judging them. I didn’t eat meat because I didn’t like it. “I’m not a PETA freak,” I’d explain. I did care about the health effects of eating a lot of fatty foods like sausages and loads of red meat, but I tried to keep it in perspective. I’d say to folks that suddenly seemed to feel self-conscious about their eating habits upon learning I was a vegetarian, “I’m not sleeping with you so it doesn’t matter to me.” 

When I first declared myself a vegetarian, I didn’t know anything about it and still didn’t like a lot of vegetables. My diet consisted of a lot of pasta and pb&j…and HoHos. I’d unwittingly become what my coworker dubbed as, “a carbotarian.” It was true, a revelation, and I vowed to start eating things that I didn’t like that were good for me. Like beans, mushrooms, and most vegetables. Now I love them and eat them willingly and often. I’ve always liked fish and crustaceans so I continued to eat them. Being pescatarian made things a little easier in states where vegetarianism was still considered one of those “left coast” things. Awareness about the overfishing of blue crabs, the horrible process of gathering shrimp (plus they’re high in cholesterol), the much lowered nutritional value of any farm-raised seafood, and the cruelty of cooking lobsters, caused me to pretty much quit eating seafood. I still eat finned fish, just not very often.

With that said, between my ever-increasing awareness of the negative factors and impact of raising and eating animals, and the fact that I’m now gluten-sensitive and lactose intolerant, I’m well on my way to being vegan. But, I’ll never be fully vegan, and here’s why. 

6. I don’t like extremes or extremists of any sort.

5. Despite my lactose intolerance, I love cheese, butter and ice cream, and things made with them. Therefore, I want to preserve my right to suffer the consequences so I can enjoy their tastiness.

4. It’s incredibly difficult to be vegan 100% of the time. I just don’t have that much energy to put into figuring out what I am going to eat. Plus, I love sushi.

3. I see nothing wrong with consuming Kerry Gold butter, or other similar products procured from grass-fed, free-range animals.

2. While I do support a lot of the principles of vegans and PETA members, and am grateful for them raising awareness of their causes, I don’t agree when they try to alter the natural habits of animals because they don’t align with theirs. Chickens should not be only grain-fed. In nature, chickens will eat insects, which is part of the balance of life. In addition, I am 1000% against forcing dogs to be vegetarian. It’s not natural for them. If you don’t want to eat meat, fine, but don’t impose your views on your domestic pets. Get a parakeet or a hamster if you feel that strongly about it.

  1. Sugar vs. Honey. This is my #1 reason why I will never be vegan and cannot support them 100%. I will never understand why vegans think that it’s better to plow thousands of acres of land to grow fields of sugar cane, and build sugar mills that produce toxic fumes and waste that is then dumped into our air and oceans. Red tide in Florida is caused by this. It kills all forms of sea life by the thousands which can be found washed ashore on miles upon miles of beaches. It also makes the air difficult to breathe without choking. It has killed off 93% of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Not to mention that sugar causes cancer and all sorts of ailments. Big sugar denies this and has the money and resources to squash attempts to prove it. Yet another reason to boycott sugar. So a few bees are killed in the process of gathering honey, so what? They only live for 60 days anyhow. If it means that fields of flowers and flowering trees have to be planted so bees can pollinate and do their thing, I think it’s a much better option. Without bees the planet is dead anyhow.

I’ve been a pescatarian for more than half my life. Vegetarian and vegan options have become relatively mainstream and I’m grateful for that. No, I haven’t been 100% true to it all this time. I still eat bacon once in a blue moon, when the opportunity presents itself. And there were those times in the early 90s when I was living in London when, once the pubs closed, the only food options were a yummy gyro or an expensive, sit-down, Indian meal. Then there were those Spicy Chicken Sandwiches from Wendys that I craved when I was pregnant. When traveling I’ll taste unusual things, like a bite of a camel burger, as long as they aren’t at odds with my moral feelings about eating them (such as dog, horse, cephalopods, or whale). I have yet to try anything that will sway me away from my pescatarian diet. My point is, while it’s all very good to have an awareness that goes beyond yourself, to the welfare of animals and the planet as a whole, sometimes you have to think outside of the box created by extremism. The middle road is the most balanced.

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Is Your Stimulus Check Really Stimulating?

I’m not a spender. Growing up wearing hand me downs, being afraid to ask my mother for money, and having spent the majority of my life not being able to “keep up with the Jones’s” made me frugal. Having expensive taste without the income to support it taught me to save for what I really wanted instead of wasting my money and settling for a cheaper, more disposable substitute. Age and travel altered my priorities. I prefer the freedom that comes with having good credit and no debt. Nowadays I rarely buy anything new as I realize there’s no value in it. New cars lose a large percentage of their value the minute you drive them off the lot. Same is true with furniture, jewelry, and clothing. I enjoy window shopping, finding deals at thrift stores or on Craigslist/FB Marketplace where I’ve bought these items in like-new condition for a fraction of the cost they’d be new or at an antique store. Sometimes I’ll even do a trade.

When my roommates brother recently made millions from a Bitcoin investment and gave him $1,000 “just because,” my roommate didn’t know what to buy. Like me, he has everything he needs and is in a position to buy whatever he wants. He asked me what I’d do if someone gave me $1000. I said I’d get my hair done and buy the mirror at the thrift store I’ve been eyeing even though, at $50, I think it’s overpriced. Maybe get a mani and pedi, too. The rest I’d save until I found something that I really wanted. Or maybe I’d take a trip; I’ve been dying to ski Whistler. But probably not. 

Now I have $1,400 coming to me as a stimulus check. Honestly though, it’s not really that much money. It certainly wouldn’t even cover one month of my rent if I didn’t have roommates. But I do, fortunately, as well as a job. So, what am I going to do with my money? After seeing firsthand how the community here supports one another, I know I’m NOT going to spend it on Amazon or at any chain stores. (If you haven’t read it yet, please check out my article https://wordsworthywriting.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/community-in-action/ ) Helping these billion dollar companies make more money while local businesses struggle only makes the rich richer and does nothing to help thy neighbor. As much as I’d like to save it all for a rainy day, I won’t. Aside from paying down my credit card, I am going to use most of it for its intended purpose: to stimulate the local economy. I’ve scheduled a long needed haircut, have plans for a manicure and pedicure, and may see an acupuncturist or masseuse or someone who can help me with the constant pain in my neck and shoulders. I subscribed to a local magazine, of which 25% went to a local environmental non-profit. I’m also going to subscribe to the NYT as I believe quality journalism should be supported. I’m going to fill my gas tank. At almost $3.00 a gallon, when I don’t even need a vehicle to get around town, that’s a big deal for me. At least in Oregon that actually does help the economy. We pay a premium for gas here because we aren’t allowed to pump it ourselves. The extra money pays the wages of the jobs created by having pump attendants, and I’m happy to contribute. All of this will equal half of the check.

Since I don’t attend religious services, I’ve decided to ‘tithe’ a portion of this money on food for another homeless person we will be housing at the end of the month. I might also splurge and get a fly fishing lesson. It’s a beautiful, tranquil activity that I’ve fantasized learning since I saw A River Runs Through It, a feeling which was recently revived upon reading the book. Although, as ungraceful as I am, I’m not sure it will have the poetic elegance as portrayed by Brad Pitt or Norman Maclean. Maybe I’ll just support the local art community. 

That makes at least eight local individuals, organizations, and businesses that will benefit from my conscious spending. I realize my small spending is a drop in the bucket, but if everyone in the community contributes a drop, soon the cup will runneth over. Why wouldn’t I want to help them? They’ve shared all their talents and risked everything to have a business that contributes to making my life more comfortable and attractive. They forego the riches of capitalism to take care of our mountains and rivers and the rising homeless population. They are my neighbors. I see them at the local coffee shops and at the parks with their children. If you don’t need your stimulus check, how are you going to spend it? How can you help your community through conscious spending?

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If Variety is Good Why is Diversity Bad?

Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes. It must be true. It’s why some people cheat on their partners, or why people get excited with new and fresh styles in all classifications of the arts. It’s why the arrival of yellow and purple carrots created quite a stir of delight in kitchens around the world. We seek it in our diets, fashion, and lives. Could you imagine if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life? What if there was only one type of cheese, or everyone wore the exact same style of clothing? Variety is a completely natural occurrence as can be seen throughout nature. There isn’t only one kind of bird or tree. Heck, there are 12,000 types of grass! Variety is something we yearn for when we’re in a rut and something we actively seek to keep from getting in a rut. The degree to which we embrace diversity and change reflects our level of emotional maturity.

If variety is so good, then why are so many people so afraid of diversity and change? In the ’60s, some kids that grew out their hair and dressed like the Beatles would get beat up at school. In the ’70s, the term “hippie,” which by definition, was a long-haired unconventionally dressed young person that advocated a nonviolent ethic, was spat out like a dirty word. The punk rockers of the ’80s who dyed their hair “outrageous colors” or styled them in spiky mohawks, were teased and ridiculed. Why? Why are we so threatened by someone looking, thinking, behaving differently from us? Nowadays, we look back on those eras with nostalgia, as well as the understanding that those rebels and trendsetters paved the way for the more liberal and accepting America we know today. Yet we still have a long way to go. Here, in the 21st century, taxpayers have to waste money to have laws passed that create natural hairstyles as a protected class. Why was this even a thing? Why are people so insecure and full of hatred that they feel the need to control how someone wears their hair???

Why are some people so afraid of blacks that it creates panic by just laying eyes upon them? Why are hardworking brown skinned people considered freeloaders and given the crappiest of jobs? How can we enjoy the diversity they bring to our lives yet hate the entire race? It’s so hypocritical, and screams of such entitlement and superiority that it’s frightening. From music to fashion to food, foreign people and places have constantly inspired mankind. I couldn’t imagine eating one kind of food my whole life. I love ethnic food, be it Mexican, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, or African. The spices and colors and flavors, oh my! In fact, the most boring food in the world is American. Burgers, dogs, fries, steak…how insipid can it get? I love these talents they share and I embrace the people that bring them. Different cultures bring different perspectives, knowledge, and ideas; that has to be a good thing! Nothing in America is actually “ours” since the only true Americans are the natives. Everyone else came here on the boat, bringing with them ideas, knowledge, and perspectives acquired in foreign lands. In fact, our government and corporations, to this very day, continue to court the best and the brightest from other countries and bring them here to work in the sciences and sports. They are offered citizenship so we can claim them, and their accomplishments, as our own.

Just as there are eggs in a variety of colors from white to green to brown, sometimes even with speckles on them, people come in a variety of colors, sometimes even with freckles on them. And like eggs, inside, we are all exactly alike: we think, we feel, we bleed. So why is it so difficult to accept variety in skin color? Would we feel so threatened if a race of blue people suddenly showed up? I believe most would welcome them because they are different. They’d be cool. And blue is such a pretty color, like the sky or the sea.

Aren’t black and brown pretty colors too? I ask this, and the questions above, because I’m genuinely trying to understand how people can hate the way they do. I’m also hoping that by asking pointed questions, individuals might pause for a moment to reflect on their honest answers. And maybe, just maybe, one person may realize an ugly truth about themself and change their ways. There’s no doubt that systemic racism certainly has played a large part in people’s attitudes. Funding schools based on the taxes collected from residents in an area instead of distributing the money according to the number of students in a school, is a sure fire formula for perpetuating stereotypes and widening the gap between the haves and have nots. Then there are the negative connotations associated as black or dark: black hearts, black sheep, black cats, dark prince, angel of darkness, devils food cake, and in the olden days, blackguard. While the origins of these words really have nothing to do with the color of people’s skin, when everything that is good is white (white knights, white flag, angel food cake, even white lies are considered harmless), the subliminal messages are there, loud and clear. 

Generation after generation, greedy old white men have been in power. They dictated school curriculums, controlled news and media outlets, preached our scriptures, and monopolized the lucrative oil, steel, and railroad (and later, automobile) industries. They had all the money and power and anyone that was different from them was considered a threat, including women. So they mastered the concept of divide and conquer. 

Fortunately, we have recently broken many of the barriers that, for centuries, held people back in this country. We’ve had an African-American president and now we have a female vice president of color; not just black, but Asian as well. What is even crazier is that in the US of A, a country, that is supposed to symbolize freedom, we are so far behind other countries in this regard. We are one of the few developed nations around the globe that has not had a woman as a Head of State. When 87 other countries have had female leaders, how can we really believe we are the leader of the free world? Women were voting in 20 other countries before the US allowed it. The legalization of same-sex marriage was only just passed in 2015, long after countries like South Africa, Uruguay, and extremely Catholic countries like Brazil, Spain, and the Republic of Ireland. Why do we believe it’s our place to judge another for the color of their skin, who they love, pray to, or what they do to their bodies? There are much bigger problems to focus on in this world than sticking your nose into what somebody else does in their private life that has zero effect on you.

In life, where change is the only constant, and variety is the spice of it, it’s time to embrace diversity in its entirety. It’s not going to go away, we can’t live in the past, and trying to fight it only causes hatred and misery. Negative attracts negative. As Ernest Holmes said, “Change your thinking, change your life.” Love is the answer, choose love. At the very least, choose acceptance.

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Community In Action

I’ve lived in a lot of states throughout the US; mostly in the suburbs of big cities where most people were all about themselves. Here, it’s 130 miles over the mountains and through the woods to the nearest big city. Until now, never had I experienced living someplace where there was a true sense of community. Not only do the residents consciously support locally owned businesses, but many go out of their way to avoid places and products that are sell-outs, like a local brewery that sold out to AB InBev a few years ago. (I was schooled on that transaction my first week here.) It’s a town where people are kind and supportive. The radio broadcasts information that is of direct importance to us. The local credit union sponsors, among other things, a monthly Pay It Forward award to individuals that help their community. The hospital, the largest employer, is a non-profit. Businesses, small and large, donate to local charities, and there are a lot of them. Due to the massive influx of people, the homeless population is expanding, the women’s shelter is overflowing, and institutions that help people who are struggling to pay their rent and/or utilities, are running out of funds.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to spend my remaining years making the world a better place. I want to make a true impact. A year ago, when I settled in Oregon, I was hoping to get a job in a non-profit. Unfortunately, COVID hit shortly after I arrived and jobs became scarce. Not having a degree in something like education, social work, or psychology, made it even more difficult to find employment in a non-profit. Instead, I settled for a receptionist job in a residential property management firm. Supporting owners, many of whom live out of state, that charge outrageous sums for small apartments so they can pay for their third or fourth house, while the people that actually grew up and work here can’t afford to rent, is not my idea of making a positive contribution to society. So it was a rare chance that came along that gave me just such an opportunity. One of the local non-profits, J Bar J Youth Services reached out to us. They had submitted an application for a kid (19 yo) who had been homeless for a couple years at least. Neighbor Impact was going to pay for all but $100 of their rent for a year. A case worker would continue to work with them over the course of the year to help them get a job, a drivers license, and a vehicle so they could be self sufficient by the end of the year. The kid was getting some Social Security that would pay the remaining rent, utilities and food. Could we help? 

My boss calls me a bleeding heart and tells me I need to blacken it. I respond that it used to be black and it took me a long time to un-blacken it. Despite her snarky-ness, she supported me 100% in my efforts to get the kid housed. Ultimately, it would be up to the owner to approve the application. Without violating fair housing laws, I told him as much as I could. In the end, he wanted me to meet the person and follow my gut. So I did. The kid was shy and polite, and so excited when I showed him the apartment. My report to the owner was positive and he gave his final seal of approval. 

While I’ve done a variety of volunteer work, nothing has filled me with joy like this has. I was so excited to be able to actually use my position to do something impactful. Inspired, I organized a canned food drive for the kid at the small outfit where I work. The generosity of my contributing co-workers was overwhelming. Between six of us, we provided him with enough cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper goods, and food to take care of him for a while. It’s expensive to start from scratch! It didn’t stop there, either. Furnish Hope delivered furniture after he moved in so he wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor and he’d have dishes to eat off. And I have offered to give him some cooking lessons so he isn’t eating junk/fast food all the time.

Too many people feel that homeless people are nothing but eyesores and junkies that need to go away. This was a big learning experience for me and a lesson in compassion about the massive homeless community we have here. Because I’m curious, I asked the case worker a lot of questions and she was happy to share. And the more she shared, the more I cared. Most  of these people have mental health issues. One kid she works with suffered a brain injury in a car accident as a kid and has been homeless, with his family, since he was nine years old. Nine! He’s been on his own since he was 16. He smokes a lot of weed because it helps with the constant pain. We can’t help him but my heart aches for him and his family. There are countless versions of this story. It never before occurred to me that many homeless people have been homeless since childhood. When one starts out in life that way it’s nearly impossible to get out of that situation. They can’t get a job without an address and clean clothes, or with a “criminal” record littered with trespassing violations. Because, when you’re homeless, you wander. When you wander, yes, you’ll probably trespass. She also told me of property management companies slamming doors in her face, hanging up on her, or yelling at her. I guess not everyone here is about solidarity.

I think what brought me the most joy was not just helping someone but that I actually saw the work of an entire community come together to make this happen. I’ve always been cynical of charities, believing that I was just contributing to the million dollar salary of the CEO. And for many national organizations that’s not far from the truth. (You can check the top salaries of a non-profit at https://www.charitywatch.org) So this broke down that wall of skepticism for me. If you really think about it, it probably took the contributions of hundreds. From the those that shopped at local businesses that donated to the charities, to the tireless leg work of the various non-profits, the kindness of the owner, and everyone at my work, each person played a part, whether direct or indirect, in getting this kid off the streets and into a home. Maybe we are all just cogs in a wheel but a wheel can’t turn without cogs. It’s proof that when individuals work together they can create real solutions. It’s treating people with dignity and giving them second chances, life skills, and an opportunity to succeed. So please, spend consciously, donate to local charities, help if you can. Be part of the solution. Thanks to the cogs, and the dedication of a few, there’s now one less homeless kid out there.