The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van November 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 9:38 pm

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van

by Karen Shafer

I had the privilege last month to ride along on the overnight Outreach Van for Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless shelter in New England.  On the van that night were a physician, Dr. James O’Connell, founder and President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and three Pine Street outreach workers.

The van goes out 365 days a year into the city of Boston to minister to those men and women who live on the street and who are either unable or unwilling to enter the shelter system on any particular night.  It carries food — soup, oatmeal, sandwiches, hot chocolate and bottled water —as well as blankets, coats, hats, gloves, underwear and socks.  The workers track each person’s progress and monitor their health conditions and concerns.  In an emergency, an individual can be transported into a shelter.  Perhaps the most important component of what the staff provides is personal contact and compassion.  And they are friends to those who often don’t have many.

The dedicated Pine Street staff, along with medical personnel from BHCHP on some nights, know by name most of the people “sleeping rough”, as well as their personal stories.  These service providers are so respectful of the privacy of each individual that if, on previous nights, the person has requested not to be awakened to receive the van’s services, they do not disturb them if they are sleeping. On this particular night, the temperature was in the forties — chilly, but not life-and-limb threatening.  All of the “regulars” — generally referred to as the “chronically homeless” — know the van staff well, and Dr. O’Connell, whom they call Jim, has in fact been friends to many of them for as long as thirty years.  It was a tremendous privilege to to follow Dr. O’Connell out onto the street as he approached each person, to have the opportunity to be introduced to them, and then to be trusted enough through the currency of his and Pine Street’s long-standing relationships with them to hear some of their stories.

There were people sleeping out who were struggling with serious head trauma, with mental illness, with chronic and acute health conditions, with addiction.  One of the people I remember most clearly and felt particularly drawn to was “Sam,” lying on a cold sidewalk, his wheelchair nearby and his girlfriend on hand to look out for him.  After many years on the street, last year he became afflicted by a permanent disability due to frostbite, but he still doesn’t want to go indoors.

On this night, he was dozing under the awning of a business with a security light shining overhead.  Dr. O’Connell first greeted him, checked on his condition, then returned to the van to secure a blanket and food.  I asked Sam if he could sleep with the brightness of the light overhead.  “Not really,” he said, “I wish I could shoot it out.”  “I’ll go back to the van and get my pea shooter and see if I can take it out for you,” I joked with him, and despite his evident discomfort, he smiled.  The radiance of his personality shone through even the bleakness of his situation.  He was so weak that, when Dr. O’Connell brought him hot soup and a sandwich, he couldn’t sit up to eat them, so the doctor leaned in close, unwrapped the sandwich, and put it in his hand.

I was surprised by the tolerant and even supportive attitude that some downtown Boston businesses have towards their homeless brothers and sisters.  At one of the van’s stops, there were freshly built cardboard shelters in which people were sleeping under the overhang in front of a mattress store.  Astonished that people were allowed by the city to sleep in this location, I was even more amazed when the Pine Street outreach workers informed me that the business owner or other nearby citizens bring fresh boxes each night which the people use to build their shelters in the business doorway. In the morning, a city recycling truck comes to pick them up.  If criminalization of the homeless is a part of street life in the city, I didn’t observe it.  This is The Boston Heart.

There are federal laws regulating the circumstances under which people can be involuntarily committed to care, and Massachusetts interprets those laws with an emphasis on personal liberty and respect for individual rights.  I count this as a very good thing, but sometimes it makes it particularly challenging for medical personnel and service providers to deliver the kind of care people “sleeping rough” need most — when that care involves being inside an institution.  Often, individuals will agree to be hospitalized long enough to deal with an acute health challenge, but will return to the street when the crisis has passed.

This is where Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program sets the standard nationally and internationally for the delivery of medical and support services to the homeless and those living in poverty.  The staff of more than three hundred physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, case managers, dental hygienists, administrative staff, building maintenance, and food service workers brings health care to those who would not otherwise be able to access it — to the street, to domestic violence and emergency shelters, to hospital walk-in clinics, to temporary and permanent supportive housing units, and in their own respite care facility, Barbara McInnis House.  Their doctors are on the teaching faculty of Harvard University, Boston University and Tufts Medical Schools.  It is an extraordinary system and one that is well-coordinated with other service providers throughout the City of Boston and surrounding areas.

Monthly, a group of service providers in Boston — BHCHP medical staff, shelter directors and case workers, police, and others who interface with those living on the street — meet to assess the specific needs of around a hundred homeless individuals needing particular attention, and coordinate their plans on how to help them.  Equally impressive is the fact that at any point in time, Dr. O’Connell and his medical staff can access by email the number of their patients who are in the city’s emergency rooms or have been admitted to its hospitals.

As I rode along with the Pine Street van and observed first hand the functioning of a respectful, organized, efficient system of registering patients and delivering to them direct care on the street — seamlessly carried out in a milieu of kindness, love, generosity and respect — I was in awe.  It is a model of compassion, service and cooperation to which every city should aspire.

Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program:  To request a copy of BHCHP’s newsletter or be added to their mailing list, please contact Carrie Eldridge-Dickson at <>

Pine Street Inn:

Boston Globe:


From Gangs to Gardens September 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:39 pm

Click on the link to see how beautiful these gardens are!

From Gangs to Gardens: How Community Agriculture Transformed Quesada Avenue

Ten years ago, the residents of the crime-ridden neighborhood started planting gardens—and everything changed.

by Katherine Gustafson
posted May 30, 2012

Flowers bloom alongside Quesada Avenue.
Photo by Katherine Gustafson
In 2002, two neighbors armed with spades and seeds changed everything for crime-addled Quesada Avenue in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point area. The street had been ground zero for the area’s drug trade and its attendant violence. But when Annette Smith and Karl Paige began planting flowers on a small section of the trash-filled median strip, Quesada Gardens Initiative was born. Over the course of the next decade, the community-enrichment project profoundly altered the face of this once-blighted neighborhood.
Jeffrey Betcher is the Initiative’s unlikely spokesperson. A gay white man driven to the majority-black area by the high cost of housing elsewhere, he moved into a house on Quesada Avenue in 1998 to find drug dealers selling from his front stoop and addicts sleeping beneath his stairs. He told me about the day that he returned home from work to discover that his neighbor Annette had planted a little corner of his yard.
“Even though there was a throng of people—drug dealers who were carrying guns, pretty scary folks—she had planted flowers on this little strip of dirt by my driveway,” he told me. “I was so moved by that . . . I thought, that’s what life is about. That’s what community development is about. That’s what’s going to change this block faster than any public investment or outside strategy. And in fact it did.”
We too often fail to consider food a social good or to understand that growing, selling, and eating food is by its nature a meaningful social act.
A group of neighbors got together for a barbeque, and Jeffrey—who has a background in community organizing—started a conversation about the positive aspects of living in the neighborhood. What followed was a long-term, consensus-based process that resulted in the creation of a series of gardens on vacant land in the surrounding blocks. On Quesada Avenue, the median strip was transformed into a wonderland of Canary Island date palms, bright flowers, and leafy vegetation. Any neighbor who wants to can organize a new gardening effort, take responsibility for the existing gardens, or put together a public art project.
While Quesada Gardens Initiative is not specifically focused around growing food, it does incorporate a food garden used to teach local children about crops, as well as free-form community garden plots. And the way the project uses gardening as a powerful locus of community engagement and empowerment demonstrates an important truth about the social value of food that we seem to have largely forgotten in this country.

A major reason our food system is so damaged—so dominated by corporate interests, rife with unhealthy products, and unbalanced by unequal access—is that we too often fail to consider food a social good or to understand that growing, selling, and eating food is by its nature a meaningful social act. What we eat is far more than a pile of commodities. Not only is food’s essential job to nourish our bodies, but it can also serve as a creator of quality livelihoods, a locus of community engagement and cohesion, and an engine of citizen empowerment and education.
To improve our system, we must realize and act on this fundamental truth. Most of the industrial food corporations do not. Their central motivation is profit, and the highest profit apparently comes from treating food as a product like any other—a plate full of widgets that can be engineered, created, priced, marketed, and exploited.
Luckily, a growing number of people concerned with the origins and impacts of their food are rejecting this materialistic and one-dimensional view of what we eat. Projects and organizations all over the country are putting food back into the social context it has traditionally inhabited.
“The change that we’ve created is not about the garden, it’s about the gardeners.”
For example, companies and cooperatives that supply local food to an area’s population strongly demonstrate that food is central to community cohesion and to local economies. In school garden programs, students learn the complex processes and intense collaboration that go into making what they eat. Projects that help underserved populations like refugees and inner-city residents grow produce help make food once again a central concern of family and community life.
Quesada Gardens Initiative reflects the power of growing things to bring a local community together in a powerful way. Jeffrey made this point as he took me on a tour of the garden plots dotted amongst the houses and stores of the surrounding neighborhood.
Quesada Avenue, the block once known as the most dangerous in the area, has been transformed completely and now serves as a hub of community life. At the top of its hill, Jeffrey showed me the beautifully designed food garden for educating kids. Behind the chain-link fence, stalks of corn stood at attention beside a glowing patch of leafy greens.
At another garden a few blocks away—a patchwork of small plots that had previously been an improvised trash dump—a sandbox and rope swing indicated that the garden was for more than growing food. Kids, in fact, had painted the signs that ringed the garden’s perimeter with such slogans and quotes as “Don’t dump on my garden” and “If you want to change the world, start in your own neighborhood – Harvey Milk.”
Quesada Initiative’s success arises from the project’s appreciation of gardening as the means to an end more profound than a harvest of lettuce and peas. While the plants produced are of course a key motivation for any gardening enterprise, growing food can also—should also—serve other important social purposes, like cultivating a culture of civic engagement and an ethos of community participation.
“The change that we’ve created is not about the garden, it’s about the gardeners,” Jeffrey told me. He stopped to greet a neighbor as we rounded the corner back onto Quesada Avenue. As we continued on our way, he smiled at me with satisfaction.
“We realize we have done something right here,” he said.

Katherine Gustafson wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. Katherine is a freelance writer and editor based in the Washington, DC, area. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, about sustainable food, was published this month by St. Martin’s Press.


Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent September 12, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:42 pm


Boston’s Homeless: A Major Shift September 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:46 pm

Pine St. Inn’s bold move to end chronic homelessness

By Shirley Leung | GLOBE STAFF JULY 16, 2014

Last winter, the Pine Street Inn saw an overcrowding of homeless men trying to escape the extreme cold.

Five years ago, Lyndia Downie had a crazy idea. What if Pine Street Inn, a haven for Boston’s homeless, reinvented itself, turning from an emergency shelter provider to a landlord?

Downie, who runs Pine Street, warned her board it would be a hard-to-stomach decision, one that would involve closing some shelters and shifting those resources to instead buy homes. Today, that change is official: Pine Street Inn now manages more beds in homes than in shelters. Just a decade ago, the ratio was about 30 percent housing to 70 percent shelter beds.

It’s a bold strategy and one the city, which also runs shelters, is accelerating under the Walsh administration. Could Boston be on the verge of solving chronic homelessness?

“I am hoping within a handful of years,” said housing chief Sheila Dillon.

That’s amazing, given that we just went through a deep recession, and signs point to a widening gap between rich and poor in this city, where there will be two Four Seasons but hardly anywhere for the middle class to live.

What Downie saw years ago was buried in a trove of data she scoured: 5 percent of the homeless population took up more than half of the beds at Pine Street on any given night.

The truth is that most people who come through Pine Street are there because of a temporary crisis.

They often just need a place to stay for a few days. But Downie began to imagine what would happen if Pine Street focused on that 5 percent — the people who live on the street for months or years.

Few people thought her idea would work. These street people didn’t want help.

Not true. A year after moving into a Pine Street home — where they also receive counseling — 96 percent of the chronically homeless are still there.

Downie didn’t come up with the idea of “housing first” for the homeless. It actually came from New York. But while it will take more than one good idea to solve New York’s massive problem, Boston stands a fighting chance.

Our city has about 300 chronically homeless, down from about 570 in 2009.

“That’s solvable,” Downie said this week at a former Mission Hill hospice Pine Street has converted into a 18-unit house, one of three dozen the nonprofit owns in Boston and Brookline.

Overall, Pine Street manages nearly 900 permanent beds compared with about 670 emergency beds. And thanks to a recent $20 million capital campaign funded by private donors, it will be able to maintain those properties and buy more.

If not for the Mission Hill house, Paul Sullivan would be in and out of shelters.

He had a drinking problem that left him jobless and homeless. The former insurance administrator is now sober and has lived under the same roof for five years. Sullivan, 61, pays $238 a month in rent, or 30 percent of his Social Security disability income.

He has his own room, and shares a kitchen and bathroom. It feels like a home. “The camaraderie is terrific,” Sullivan said. He does volunteer work and hopes to some day get a part-time paying job.

That’s good for everyone.

The chronically homeless regularly end up in emergency rooms and tax public safety systems; keeping them in long-term housing adds up to an annual savings of $9,500 per person, according to advocacy group Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.

That’s a big reason why the Patrick administration is also helping to fund Pine Street Inn’s “housing first” initiative, as well as similar efforts around the state, said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for housing and community development.

No one is saying that emergency shelters will disappear, certainly not at Pine Street. But we have a shot at making chronic homelessness a thing of the past.

Related coverage:

• Graduates of Pine Street Inn’s job training celebrate

• Bitter cold drives homeless to shelters

• More young adults call streets of Boston home

• Kevin Cullen: Moving story of a once-homeless veteran

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.


Half the Sky September 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 7:59 pm

A loving family…  what everyone needs!


Homeless in Calais August 28, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:54 pm

Does this look familiar to anyone aware of the situation of homeless people in the U.S.?  How do you feel about the way they are being treated by authorities?

How would you feel about having these people as your neighbors?  Would you feel that they were taking your jobs and benefits?

Food for thought…



Intrepid Heart September 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 11:34 pm

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Intrepid Heart


My cousin Linda was born in 1946 with a serious heart murmur.   “She’ll be lucky to survive a month,’ her doctors told my Aunt Davida and Uncle Kent.  When she not only survived but thrived, the experts shook their heads.  “It will be a miracle if she makes it out of childhood, though,” they said, “and she will never be able live an active life.”


In middle school, she made cheerleader.   Of course she did — she was a gorgeous brunette with long, thick, lustrous hair, a beautiful face, luminous brown eyes, a curvaceous figure, and a calm personality with mischief underneath.  Her heart murmur was still there, but apparently it didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to cheer.


Once she got to high school (where she was cheerleader again), and the crop of pretty freshman girls were reviewed by the senior boys, the drum major and Big Man on Campus, Leonard, asked her for a date on a $5 bet from a buddy.  Leonard and Linda fell in love, but he went off to Germany with the Army, and she went off to college.


She was a cheerleader in college, too.  BaBum, BaBum, BaBum, said her heart — murmur and all — ticking along, as she herself broke boys’ hearts right, left and center.  The Big Man on That Campus fell for her hard, and she married him while Leonard was in Germany.


Time passed.  When Leonard returned from military service and learned that her marriage hadn’t worked out, he proposed, and they got married right away.


“She’ll never be able to have children because of her heart,” the doctors had said all along, so she went ahead then and had three beautiful kids by natural childbirth, a son, Perry, a daughter, Wendy, and second son, Eric.  All are superstars, just like her.  Their family lived the dream — all the kids in sports, good students, their beautiful home the center of action and activity in the neighborhood.  When my family and I came to town, we spent a lot of time at their house, and my daughters were in awe of their older cousins, who always included them in activities like driving out of town to procure fireworks on the Fourth of July and shooting them off in front of the house!


Years went on, and Linda’s mother, my Aunt Davida, developed breast cancer, had a radical mastectomy, and herself beat the odds, living without recurrence for over 30 years.   At some point after her mother’s surgery, Linda called me long distance.  “I’ve never had a mammogram, but I think I’d better have one, don’t you?”  “Yes, I think for sure you should, but I’m not worried at all.  I know they’re not going to find anything,” I said.  “I don’t think so either,” she said.


But they found stage 2 breast cancer that had spread to a few of her lymph nodes.   Her surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation, and she did a lot of research on alternative medicine.  She combined her medical treatment with about 45 vitamin and herb pills per day.  She walked three miles a day throughout her treatment, drank about a gallon of water daily, and did visualizations designed by medical intuitive and mystic, Caroline Myss.  She meditated.  She prayed, and so did I and a lot of other people.


Although the chemotherapy was strong and toxic enough to require a port implant in her chest, she never had a day of fatigue or sickness during her treatment and credited the holistic medicines she took alongside her chemo for her strength and resilience.  One day I drove into our hometown in East Tennessee from Dallas and went looking for her.  She was at the local park, in a pretty bold blonde wig, hoofing it around the track in the heat of the day.  Later she told me that on another day which was supposed to be her worst after a chemo drip, she planted flowers in her yard for eight hours and never felt tired.  She had to be doing something right, because the blood count that usually drops during chemo stayed up and strong to the point that her oncologist, Dr. G., said, “Hmmm, I don’t think I’m poisoning you enough.  Your blood looks too good.”  “Very funny,” she replied.  “Well, I don’t really believe in all this vitamin and herb stuff,” he said, “but whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it.  Another patient on exactly the same regimen as yours is very ill and her numbers are dangerously low.”


Then came the deadly infection.  She went in for a chemotherapy drip, and a nurse administering it failed to wash her hands after touching a bathroom door knob.  A hard-to-identify and treatment-resistant bacterium entered Linda’s  bloodstream.  She was hospitalized, and, to keep from going crazy, continued her walking program in the hospital halls, repeatedly making a loop that she measured out to give her the mileage she needed.  Finally the hospital lab identified the germ:  it was rare — only nineteen people had ever contracted it…  none had ever survived.  To that point, it was 100% fatal.


Undaunted and unafraid, she kept walking the hospital halls and made the hospital her home, decorating her room and settling in, as staff in the hospital lab fought against the ‘bug’ in a petri dish, trying every combination of antibiotics they could think of to kill it.  Five weeks passed:  the germ didn’t die.  But neither did my cousin.  Befriended by a lab technician who visited her in her room, he said, “I’m not giving up until I find something that works.”  He did.  She lived, the first survivor of that germ.


She sailed past her five-year mark cancer free, and her ten-year anniversary was approaching.


One summer we had a business together in a beach mall in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, which was the place on earth that she loved most.  Just as my daughters and I got onto the island, one from college and one from high school, and moved into her condominium with her for the summer, she made a trip to Knoxville for her annual visit to her oncologist Dr. G.  She called me from there.  “Bad news,” she said, “my tumor marker is up, and there are lesions on my femur and ribs.”


She came back to the island, and we discussed it.  “I’m not taking the chemo drugs right now,” she said.  “Dr. G. has given me some time to make up my mind.  I may take them later, but I’m going to try alternatives first.”


She found a kinesiologist in North Carolina, set up an appointment to see him, and drove up there the next week while my girls and I ran the business.  He put her on a strict diet, took her off some of her vitamins and put her on others.  “Ugh,” she said, when she got back, “I have to give up coffee, sugar, and alcohol.”  “I’ll be happy to consume your share of those things for you, especially desserts,” I said helpfully.


When  she went for her check back with Dr. G. in a few weeks, he couldn’t figure it out.  “I don’t get it,” he said, “your tumor marker is down.”  She went in for a bone biopsy, and the radiologist turned out to be an old boyfriend.  “Would you have this biopsy if you were me?” she asked, and added, “off the record.”  “It could cause a fracture,” he said, “and, if you see a horse, you call it a horse.”  “Meaning?” she asked.  “I think it’s malignancy,” he said.  She left without the biopsy.


She was strict about the diet, and went back to the North Carolina kinesiologist for homeopathic injections, which she said were painful.  Her tumor marker stayed down, and later, on the next scan, many of the bone lesions seemed inexplicably to have receded.


After that summer, our communication was scattered but consistent.  Letters, pictures, phone calls, visits to Knoxville when my father and stepmother died and for her mother’s funeral.


Several years ago, she reported that her tumor marker was up again and she was taking a mild chemotherapy drug for a sort of maintenance but it was not making her ill.  Then she stopped reporting on her health, and for some reason I stopped asking.  In my mind, things had just stayed right there — a mild maintenance treatment was keeping her illness at bay.  I made an alliance with denial and silence, and she did not intrude upon it with bad news.


Last week I was in Knoxville and called her as soon as I got to town.  I had family business to transact and went about it for a few days, then called again and left a message several days before I was to leave.  “Let’s have lunch or dinner and catch up,” I said on the voice mail.  When she didn’t respond, I told my out-of-state daughters by phone, “I hope she just didn’t get the message and it’s not that she’s sick or something.”


Every day that week I ate lunch at restaurants where she and I had always eaten together.   They were close to my hotel and were in the neighborhood where Linda, Leonard and the kids had always lived.  One of the restaurants is owned by a chef who went to culinary school  and had roomed with their son, Perry, also a chef.  I spoke with him about the family.  “Tell the whole crew hello,” he said.   I drove by the houses where my family and I had visited Linda’s family so many times and thought a lot about what good times we’d had there.


Finally, I hadn’t heard from her and had to leave town without seeing her.  As I pulled out of Knoxville, I felt somehow unfinished, but it was time to get on the road, and I thought, “When you grow up somewhere, you are never finished with that place.”  I drove back toward Dallas, stopping in Memphis to stay with a friend.


At bedtime my first night in Memphis, I got a message from Wendy.  “Karen, I received the message you left for mom.  Sorry to inform you that Mom passed away this evening at home surrounded by family.  I’ll let you know funeral arrangements once they’re made.  The cancer had spread all over her body, and it was finally in her liver.  Call me tomorrow, and I can give you more details.  We love you, Wendy”




Who of us hasn’t had loved ones die of this illness?  Both my mother and stepmother died of it, and I sat with them during their passing.  But here are some particular things Wendy and Leonard shared with me by phone over the past two days:


A month ago, Wendy tells me, Dr. G., Linda’s oncologist of 22 years, came into the room where she waited for test results.  He was wiping tears from his eyes.  “The chemotherapy isn’t working on the disease in your liver,” he told her.  “The treatment is going to kill you before the cancer does, and we should stop it.”  They did.


“There were a couple of funny things,” Leonard said.  “During the past two weeks when she wasn’t able to get up, I’d go in to check on her while she was sleeping.  One day she woke up, looked up at me and said, ‘Every time I open my eyes, you’re standing there staring at me.  Why is that?’”


“Then, a few days before she died, she woke up and asked me pointedly, ‘Am I dead yet?’”


Her wicked humor didn’t abate.


“Over the years,” Wendy said, “they’ve written mom off so many times and said, ‘OK, this is it.’  ‘Go to hell,’ she’d tell them.’”  Wendy and I laughed at this, because there’s no anecdote more typical of Linda’s fighting spirit.




I find that I am angry alongside my tremendous sadness.  I know anger is a stage of grief, but it feels more personal than something that is merely part of a predictable pattern — these things always do.  I’m looking for the victory in this outcome, and I’m having difficulty finding it.  Victory is something we’ve all come to expect of Linda, and, though her battle is victorious beyond measure, I so wanted her not to suffer as she did and to be well.


But Grace… there is Grace all through it…  in the fact that I took this trip to Knoxville unexpectedly early, and it was a trip I’d been putting off for a while.  Circumstances beyond my control compelled the timing of the trip —  I’d been planning to go two weeks later.  My older daughter said to me on the phone after we got the news of Linda’s death, “The timing is just very strange.  I’ve got to figure it out.  But one thing we know for sure:  a lesson in this is ‘If not now, when?


All last week, after calling Linda and not getting a reply, while I spent part of every day in the suburb where we’d gone to high school, where her family had lived, in places we’d always gone together…  she was in my thoughts almost all the time.  I kept wondering if she was in town and thought, “Well, maybe she’s in Hilton Head,” but in fact, all week long, I was five minutes from where she lay dying.  If I had known, I would have been by her side.  Leonard said to me after, “Karen, I think it’s good for your own sake that you weren’t.”


Then last night, I got a note from a good friend here in Dallas, and there was something in it, esoteric and inexplicable as it sounds, that I hadn’t been able to put together, but that pierced my heart as the truth:  the note said,  “maybe somehow she wanted you nearby even if the words were unspoken between you.”







Love Extravagantly August 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 9:52 pm

Thursday, August 30, 2012


For my cousin, Linda Stone:  mentor, protector, role model and friend

March 22, 1946 ~~ August 28, 2012


Dixie Chicks

“Bitter End”


The words that you said
They still ring in my head
Don’t you know
We say goodbye
With a tear in our eye
Oh, where’d you go

It’s alright you can sleep tonight
Knowing you’ll always live on in a song

Farewell to old friends
Let’s raise a glass to the bitter end
Farewell to old friends
Will you be the same when we see you again

Remember the days
When we’d laugh as you played
Who would have known
The [illness] would come and just take you away
Oh, where’d you go

It’s not alright
I can’t sleep tonight
Knowing you should have played on
On and on

Farewell to old friends
Let’s raise a glass to the bitter end
Farewell to old friends
Will you forgive me when I see you again

Farewell to old friends
Let’s raise a glass to the bitter end
Farewell to old friends
We’ll still be here when you come round again


Hugh Laurie May Have the Answer to America’s Political Conundrum… July 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:46 pm

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Hugh Laurie May Have the Answer to America’s Political Conundrum…

Most Americans may know Hugh Laurie as Dr. House, but I’ve never watched ‘House’ as I tend to imagine / fear that I have / will get diseases when I hear them discussed in detail.


For years, though, I’ve loved the inimitable Mr. Laurie as Bertie Wooster — in the PBS series, Jeeves and Wooster — a social satire taken from the books by P.G. Wodehouse skewering the British upper classes by showing the brilliant Jeeves, Bertie’s valet (played by Stephen Fry) consistently using the old grey matter in a manner infinitely more brilliant than his wealthy, idle employer.


In those Jeeves and Wooster scenes where Bertie plays the piano adeptly, one realizes that Hugh Laurie is playing the instrument rather than faking it and is a musician as well as a great comic actor.  In the following YouTube video, he sings with his real-life band and seems to solve some of those pesky, gut-wrenching dilemmas that cause the Obamas and Romneys of the world to go at each other hammer and tongs.  Take a look…



The Art of Procrastinating June 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 1:15 pm

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“The Art of Procrastinating”

from the book, The Art of Doing Nothing, by Veronique Vienne with photographs by Erica Lennard

“When confronted with a flat surface — stone, ice, or glass — water always meanders….  One of the most plentiful compounds on earth, water is also the single largest constituent of our bodies.  The world is 70 percent water — and so are we.  It should come as no surprise, then, that human beings tend to dillydally as soon as they are in a pressure-free environment.  For us, as for most living organisms in nature, the path of least resistance is a succession of languid curves.

Procrastination is innate.  It is an invisible force that drives rivers into serpentine patterns, undersater currents into sinuous pathe, jet streams into winding courses — and you and me into a rambling mode.

What purpose these convolutions serve, no one knows….  To be sure, there are, for people at least, definite advantages to meandering.

For one thing, it takes you places you would otherwise have missed.  It also gets you to do things that are long overdue.  Instead of paying bills, for example, you decide to organize your sock drawer.  Rather than fix the garage door, you give the new puppy a bath..  How about working on your novel?  First you want to strip the waxy buildup off the kitchen floor.  Maybe procrastinating is nature’s way of tidying up messes and cleaning up corners.

Too bad most of us postpone goofing off until Saturday or Sunday.  In doing so, we ut pressure on the weekend.  Procrastinating on  schedule creates yet another form of obligation.  So try to waste time on the spur of the moment, on a Wednesday or a Thursday.  Later — much later — when you get the hand of it, you’ll be able to show off and fritter time away on a Monday.

Also, begin your procrastinating practice at home.  Learn to vagabond between four walls before you venture outdoors.  And because decelerating involves quite a lot of zigzagging and bounding up and down, be sure to wear athletic shoes in order to get enough traction.”


Saucy March 3, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 8:22 pm

Saturday, March 3, 2012



Growing up, I would have been called an ‘animal person’ —  I was always rescuing ‘critters.’  As a sixteen year old driving along a highway in East Tennessee where I lived, and coming across a dog that had just been hit by a car and was struggling on the side of the road, I pulled over, scooped the blood-covered creature up in my arms, holding him against my chest and my tan car coat as I shifted gears with one hand and steered my VW Beetle with my knees — unsafe on sooo many levels — then drove him straight to my country vet a few miles away.  It was not the first time I’d done this.


Doc Butler was not like the ‘city vets’ I’ve come to know — there was not an exorbitant fee for each turn of his hand.  Instead, he took in the poor dog, broken and bleeding, and began the process of nursing him back to health — a process which took months — with the words I’d heard a number of times before, “Uh, I’ll send you a bill,” which he never did.


A decade later, when my kids came along, I had a fairly unexpected and sudden shift in priorities.  My pets, and there were still always several, experienced a severe downgrade.  My then-husband and I cared for them, but I’d have to admit Steve was the one administering the lion’s share of the devotion and attention.


If ‘overdoing it’ was a sort of style of life for me, I at this point shifted the focus of that intense concern to my children, and subsequently my grandchildren — and I’m not at all sure my kids would say this level of scrutiny was always to their advantage.  (‘Lighten up’ should perhaps have been my frequent mantra to good effect.)


After nearly six decades of pet care, having No Pets has, for me, become a priority.  And I’m almost there, with the exception of Lila, my elderly female black cat, who, on this past Thursday night, along with her friend — the Younger Man, Stinky, who lives across the street (don’t worry — it’s playful and platonic), raced into my open patio door and unceremoniously deposited a flapping, injured bird under my chair just as I sat down for dinner.  (Goodbye, hot meal.)


Over the years, a number of cat-caught birds have entered this household, and in the late eighties our family even successfully raised and released a fledgling Blue Jay, who used to walk along the back of our German Shepherd and sit on my shoulder as I stood in the kitchen cooking dinner.  (Never mind the hygiene issues.)


But Lila has not been much of a bird-catcher, and I was surprised by her little gift.  Maybe the bird-catching game had been inspired by Stinky (I know, blame the boyfriend), or perhaps Lila and Stinky were caught up in the ‘moment’, as couples sometimes are.  As I corralled Lila and put her in the garage, Stinky strolled in and made his leisurely way upstairs — I guess to see if there were any beds available for a nap — and while he was out of the way, I was able to scoop up the bird in a towel and close it off in an adjacent room, then get all the cats outside.


I rested the little feathered guy in my lap wrapped in the towel, and he was calm.  I slowly unwrapped him, and he looked in great shape and was even rather feisty, so I made him an ‘apartment’ in a box for the night.  I looked him up in the bird book and discovered that he’s a Cedar Waxwing — such a beautiful little creature.


Yesterday, he was still fit and lively, and my granddaughter, Cora (a true nature lover) came over to see him.  She took him out of his box, promptly naming him Saucy.  He gave her a good strong peck on the finger, then fluttered out of her hands and onto the rug, hopping across the floor and perching on my foot.  Who could resist that kind of devotion, even if it was accidental?


Meanwhile Cora improved his accommodations, adding some leaves to his box and searching the yard for berries he might like, but none are out yet, so we tried some blueberries from the ‘fridge.  I made plans to take Saucy to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hutchins, Texas today with my friend Sandy riding along (she and her husband, Oliver, are the truest of animal lovers) and with Cora in charge of Saucy.  I checked on the bird early this morning, and he was in great shape.


When it was time to leave for Hutchins, I thought the Bird Apartment seemed awfully quiet.  When I opened it to move Saucy to his travel box, sure enough, he was completely still, lying on his side, his handsome black mask unable to disguise that his eyes no longer held life.  I picked him up and turned him over to find that his belly had a wound from the cats’ teeth which had probably caused a bacterial infection that had killed him.  I phoned the nice woman at Rogers Center, and she confirmed that was most likely the case.


I felt surprisingly sad, despite the idea that I tell myself I don’t get attached to animals the way I used to.  After a while, I started to try to think of the upside, what lessons might be held in the brief encounter with this small, exquisite creature.


First, I was glad that at least Saucy had died in a peaceful place rather than in the midst of Cat Games involving Tooth and Claw.  (I have to admit, though, that when Lila came up to me a couple of times today, rubbing against my leg for reassurance while I was sitting outside writing this, the best I could offer her was to say, “I hate cats.”)


I realized also that sadness over Saucy had allowed me to let down a little and become aware that I was also sad that my daughter, son-in-law, and two of my grandchildren had returned to New England after a wonderful two week stay in my house, and that I miss them living here in Dallas.  And that my nephew, Drew, has just this week flown off to Italy for a few years there with the Air Force, an exciting adventure but a also big change for his parents and extended family.


As with most sad things (though maybe not all), there were some other gifts that Saucy brought with him:


1)  A reminder that life is fragile and impermanent (as if we need reminding!)


2)  The ability to now instantly recognize the Cedar Waxwing after finding it in my bird book, Birds of Texas Field Guide, by Stan Tekiela.  I’ve learned that it doesn’t nest in Texas but migrates here for food, and that it gets its mask after its first year, so Saucy was at least a year old.  I’m aware for the first time of its utter loveliness and will always look for it now in the tops of tall trees.


3)  The knowledge that a wounded though lively Cedar Waxwing probably won’t eat blueberries from the ‘fridge, even if they’re organic.


4)  A reminder that I need to bell my cat.


5)  A reminder that, even though It is fragile and impermanent, Life is Beautiful.




Life or Death on a Tuesday May 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 12:11 am

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Warning that this story contains graphic content

Life or Death on a Tuesday


This afternoon, I was driving home from a meeting.  One of my daughters and her young children had gone with me, and we were in separate cars on a side street near a freeway, their car about a block ahead of mine.  ‘Road Rage Remedy’ on 101.1 FM was broadcasting something Baroque, my favorite, when just in front of me on the street ahead lay a young woman.  Her head and neck were cradled by the curb, and the rest of her body was in the street, her legs, as they say, akimbo.  People suddenly coming upon her were driving around her.  I could see blood on the bottom of her face and in the area of her neck.  The instant I saw her just in front of my car in the road was one of those surreal moments, a juxtaposition of events which made so little sense that it almost seemed normal.  But this was no commonplace situation, at least not in the world most of us inhabit.


I stopped my car in the right lane of the three-lane road about ten feet from her and turned on my emergency flashers to warn the traffic behind me.  Looking down the street, I saw a group of about eight young men talking to one another, pointing in her direction, but not approaching.  In retrospect, time then slid into a kind of slo-mo.  There seemed to be two or three people between me, the woman, and the group of men, but, oddly, no one was close to her.  Yet there was a lot of traffic on the street.  It was very strange, like one of those scenes you hear about but can’t believe happen, where people stand by and look on while someone is perishing.


As I stepped up to the woman lying in the street and walked around to the side of her which was away from me to search for the source of the blood, I was stunned to see a gaping gash at the base of her neck which reached from just in front of her ear almost to her windpipe in the front.  The wound must have been three inches long and was so deep I couldn’t see the bottom of it, and from it blood pulsed in spurts with each beat of her heart.  Calling 911 as I looked, trying to describe our location, I thought that an artery had been cut.


Meanwhile, people began to approach her and try to help, but I can’t remember how many — four or five — or what they looked like.  Just behind me, in the middle lane of the road, a family in an SUV paused in the traffic and asked what was needed.  “We need something — a cloth of some sort — to stop the flow of blood,” I told them.  “I’m afraid she’s going to bleed to death.”  Already, her blood had flowed down the side of her neck, onto the pavement, and was inching its way down the hill along the gutter for a distance of two or three feet.


Understanding me instantly, and without hesitating, the mother on the passenger side of the SUV sitting in the middle of rush hour traffic grabbed a sweater of thick velour from beside her and put it in my hands.  I turned back to the prostrate young woman and pressed the wad of velour against the wound on her neck, remembering a primary rule of first aid — stop the bleeding with direct pressure when there is no other option, and don’t worry about germs.


I had gotten through to 911, given them our location, and they were calling me back, wanting to know if I’d seen what happened.  I heard someone nearby say that the woman had been stabbed.  I told 911 that I’d only come upon the scene after the fact.  Looking back, I must have come upon it immediately after, which might explain the inaction of some of the people nearby.


Someone else had brought a sweater to press against the wound now, alongside the velour one I was holding to her neck.  As I knelt over her, suddenly there appeared kneeling at her head an EMT with ‘Dallas Fire Rescue’ on his shirt.  He was so calm and kind.  I couldn’t believe he had arrived so quickly, and I thought that someone else must have called 911 before me.  I thanked him for coming so fast.  He gently pulled the velour jacket away from the wound to look at it, then pressed it back, and asked the woman if she could tell if she had breathed blood into her own lungs, apologizing that he had to ask her to speak.  She murmured something softly — I couldn’t tell if it was coherent, and the EMT was unable to understand her.  But her eyes, which haunt me still, were staring up at the sky in a sort of uncomprehending disbelief, and I felt that she was hovering somewhere between life and death.


At that moment, a fire truck pulled up behind my car to our right, and an ambulance arrived coming up the wrong side of the boulevard to our left.  Calmly, purposefully, a number of uniformed men surrounded the woman.  I walked away to give room and asked the driver of the fire truck whether I needed to move my car.  “You’re fine there,” he said.  “I can’t believe you got here so quickly,” I said again, “Thank you so much.”


I stood by my car as the medical team bent over the woman, stabilizing her for the move into the ambulance.  I remember a moment when I noticed her beautiful long, black, wavy hair lying against the pavement under her back, and was struck by the strange combination of the orderliness of her tidy hair contrasting with the blood spattered across her chest and face.  The EMTs lifted her onto a board, then onto a stretcher.  I got into my car, and waited as they rolled her to the back of the ambulance and loaded her in, turned around and drove away.


“She’s somebody’s daughter,” I thought, feeling oddly numb and detached.  Though I knew I was shaken up, I couldn’t feel it yet.  I thought of her clean bermuda shorts and t-shirt — ordinary, everyday clothing for a not-at-all ordinary day.  The gaping wound in her neck danced in front of my eyes in the profoundest detail, as time after time I watched her life’s blood flow out of her body and onto the street.


I called each of my children as I drove away, and we talked it through — I needed to debrief, I guess.  One of them asked, “Will you be able to sleep tonight?”  “It’s her eyes more than her injuries that will haunt me,” I told her.  “It was as if suddenly her life had come to a standstill, and she simply couldn’t make sense of it at all.”  “In shock,” she said.


The word that comes to mind when I think of what happened to this woman today is: vicious.  If someone inflicted that wound on her on purpose, they did it with the utmost intent to decimate and destroy.


She was pretty, clean-cut, innocent-looking and utterly bewildered when I came upon her.  Again — somebody’s daughter, and, as she looked to be around the age of thirty, quite possibly somebody’s mother.  Where was everyone as she lay utterly alone and crippled there on the border between the street and the sidewalk, between life and death?  How will they feel when they find out?


Driving to Starbucks, I got something hot to drink, turned off my cell phone, and went to sit on a bench by White Rock Lake.  Random thoughts drifted by as I watched a sailboat on the water and a crew of people rowing.  “I remember when Queen Anne’s Lace was considered a weed,” I thought to myself as I watched a patch of it blow in the wind, and Lady Bird Johnson flashed through my mind.  A red-winged blackbird flew past, and I was thrilled to spot it.  What a particularly exquisite afternoon.


A thought uppermost in my mind was that I was overwhelmingly grateful that we live in a country where, with the dialing of three numbers — 911 — heroes can appear out of nowhere and make things better — much, much better — for perfect strangers… with kindness, with calmness, with training, with precision, practicing their art.  Today, it seems like a genuine miracle.  I sometimes find a lot wrong with our culture, but there is a lot that is very right about it, too.


I felt, I feel, the most certain connection to this woman that I encountered today.  I want to find her, go to the hospital and sit by her bedside, hold her hand as she comes back to consciousness, if indeed she does.  Although I will in all likelihood never see her again, she is my Sister.





Post Removed: Please Read Note August 4, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008


From Thich Nhat Hanh:

       ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step


[I am very sorry to report that I have had to remove this post about extreme poverty in other parts of the world because of continued and extremely objectionable spam it has generated coming into the spam blocker of this blog.  Although I never opened it, the tag words themselves were very offensive. You can read the quote that was here in Thich’s book above, under the essay entitled “Flowers and Garbage.”]   KS,  10/11/08

[Also see May 1, March 31, March 11, 2008, or click on ‘Buddhism’ under ‘Categories.’]


Wrestling and Other Conversations May 31, 2008

Saturday, 5/31/08

Last night after the evening meal at the Bridge, I left the dining hall and was wandering around the campus when a couple of guys said hi, and I stopped to talk, sitting down beside them on a low concrete wall by the pavilion.

One man, Cullen, who seems very well-educated, has entered a work-to-housing program at the Bridge.  His friend, Joe, had spent the day putting advertising flyers on houses for $7 an hour.  Joe grew up in a carnival family and said he has worked at the State Fair of Texas since he was a child.  He had seen the football stadium at SMU for the first time that day and couldn’t get over how big and impressive it was.

We sat there talking, with the heat of the day dissipating and a nice breeze cooling things off.  Behind us, the large garage doors of the pavilion were open and the mega ceiling fans whirling.  Though it was still daylight at 8 PM, people were already settling into their cots inside the building for the night, because many of them start off for work at 6 AM or so.  

We were trying to identify a bird that flew onto the roof of the Bridge, and Joe began to talk about how much he liked Blue Jays and how they are sign of good luck.  He said he knows he’s in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood when he sees a Blue Jay, and he’d seen one that day while he was passing out flyers.  

I found out Joe is a celebrity buff.  He once asked a Channel 11 reporter for her autograph, and, of all movie stars, would most like to meet Bruce Willis.  Cullen and I talked about how we couldn’t believe that, at his age, Sly Stallone still did his own stunts in the last Rambo.  “Arthritis, and still running through the woods!” he said.

But Joe was most excited when he was telling us how, years ago, he had met several members of a prominent, high-profile wrestling family and what a thrill this was for him.  He was recounting the various things that had happened to that family in the interim.  Joe’s enthusiasm for everything, from Blue Jays to football stadiums to wrestlers, is contagious, and I found myself mesmerized listening to him, because of the joy which illuminates him when he talks.

Suddenly a woman appeared, standing before us.  “Remember a certain child who was always at those wrestling matches on TV and was wearing a shirt with a flower on it?  That child was me!  I am the cousin [of that wrestling family]!”  “What???  NO WAY!!!” Joe said, and jumped to his feet to hug her.

The woman’s sister came to stand beside her, adding, “And I was usually up in the stands, ‘cause I was too young for a long time to be in the ring.”  One thing led to another and pretty soon they were waxing nostalgic about the glory days of the Sportatorium on Industrial Boulevard, where these women had spent much of their youth — how it had been a significant historical landmark until it burned down, and whether that was arson — and the importance of being able to ‘whup people’s asses.’

On a personal note, as a child, I only ever got ‘whupped’ for cussing.  A foul mouth was pretty much second nature to me, and, since my parents weren’t fond of cursing, they sometimes got fed up with mine and expressed their disapproval through generally mild forms of corporal punishment (and allow me to inform you, it did no good.)  Other than feeling a natural affinity for ‘bad words’, however, I was a sickening sort of Buddhist-leaning, Sunday-school-attending, Presbyterian goody-goody who pontificated to my friends with statements like, “Don’t smush that ant!  Ants are our friends!”

But these women had grown up doing a considerable amount of ass-whupping themselves — from about the age of eleven, in the wrestling ring with their cousins, the pro wrestlers.  They demonstrated to us how they’d stand in the ring gesturing and shouting, “Bring it on!!!”

When Joe found out who they were, it was as though the actresses from the new Sex and the City movie (yes, we’d discussed them, too) had walked onto the Bridge campus.  There was a lot of ‘You’re kidding!’, more congratulatory hugging and a celebration right there on the sidewalk that was somewhere between a family reunion and a red-carpet event.

I ventured that I had been to the Sportatorium only once, for a wrestling match in the ‘70’s with a boyfriend from overseas who idolized American wrestlers.  When I expressed the opinion that night to my boyfriend that some of the ring action looked like it might be fake, he got so upset that he threw a full cup of Coke straight up in the air and showered us and everyone around us with ice and soda, which got stickier and sticker as it dried and as the night wore on.  

So it was with hesitation that, after ten minutes or so of listening to my new friends at the Bridge reminisce about this or that particular wrestling match from the glory days and not wanting to offend anybody’s sensibilities, I gingerly asked them if they thought any of the drama in the ring was planned, after someone gave me the opening, “Boy, wrestling has sure changed a lot since then.”  But the question didn’t offend anyone, and they said, sure, a lot of it was rehearsed, but still unexpected things often happened.  So there you have it, folks…the truth from the source.



Suffering and Compassion May 1, 2008

Suffering and Compassion

       “Compassion is a mind that removes the suffering that is present in the other…We can nurture the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return and therefore does not lead to anxiety and sorrow…. The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the…suffering of others, to put ourselves ‘inside the skin’ of the other.  We ‘go inside’… and witness for ourselves their suffering….  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the object of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us.  Compassion means, literally, ‘to suffer with.’”

       “We have to find ways to nourish and express our compassion.  When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept.  We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.”

                                                                                     ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step  (81-83)


Leadership: Go To the People April 26, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,inspiration,Leadership,Taoism,Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 6:28 pm

“Go to the people.
Live with them.
Learn from them…

Start with what they know;
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders,
When the work is done,
The task accomplished,
The people will say,
We have done this ourselves!”

Lao Tzu (700 B.C.)


The Stewpot Calls for Volunteers, Donations at The Bridge April 22, 2008

Here is an excerpt from the current newsletter of The Stewpot, “In As Much”:

“Dear Friends,

Many of you have stepped forward in the fight against hunger. We ask that you go another round….
No knockout punch will be thrown in this ring. This fight is about endurance. It’s about compassion.

The Stewpot will continue to offer a wide range of social services at its current location. But in the next month we will move our meal service to the city’s new homeless assistance center (The Bridge), allowing us to expand from five meals a week to 21.

We ask that you consider adopting a day or a meal to assist our downtown neighbors. The Stewpot will underwrite 20 percent of the cost not covered by city funding. That means a $1000 donation will adopt a day for your congregation or group. A gift of $400 will cover lunch or dinner, and a gift of $200 will cover breakfast for the estimated meals that will be served each day. [Any amount will be appreciated!]

There are volunteer opportunities as well. Your congregation or group can adopt breakfast or dinner any day of the week at no cost. Lunch is available for volunteer groups to serve on the weekend.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan

To donate:
1. On-line credit card at:
2. Mail payment to: The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201
3. Call: (214) 746-2785, ext. 236, or E-mail Lee Hutchins at
[A percentage of every dollar donated between 3/1/08 and 4/30/08 will be matched by the Feinstein Foundation.]

To volunteer:
Contact Bobbie Taylor at:
Indicate day of the week, Monday through Sunday, and preferred meal times: Breakfasts from 6
— 7:30 a.m., Dinners from 6 — 7:30 p.m., Lunches from 11:30 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. (weekday lunches are already taken)
Please provide: contact person for church group; email and phone of contact person; organization name; address of church, city, state, zip; # volunteers available.


Blogs, Their Wills, and Their Mothers March 18, 2008

Filed under: no technosavvywhatsoever,Random Post,Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 4:44 pm

Just recently, my blog has been unwilling to acknowledge me as its mother. About a week ago, in a matricidal impulse, it banned me from its premises.

Fortunately, through some delicate negotiations and not inconsiderable tech support, I am able once again to be a player (albeit a very minor one) in the Weblog Game.

Who knew blogs had wills of their own? I just hope that, when the time comes, my blog remembers its own mother in its will.



Candace and Patrick February 26, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 9:04 pm

       “For now, we are pilgrims… Do not hurt anyone, in body or in spirit. As far as you are able, help everyone.”

                                                                                                                ~~St. Augustine, The City of God: 14

Journal Archives
Holy Saturday, 3/26/05

It’s a cold night, and raining. When I got up this morning, I looked forward to spending the day curled up on the sofa with a good book, drinking mug after mug of steaming hot tea — it was just the sort of day for it.

It was not to be, however. I had cleaned out my linen closet the previous evening and had come up with a stack of bedspreads I could live without, plus a bag of throw pillows from my daughters’ childhoods which I had been unable to discard because my mother had sewn them. Once a pack-rat decides to part with something, she should get it out of the house as soon as possible.

In the late afternoon, I loaded my car and drove downtown. For weeks I’d been trying to find the ‘Tent City’ under a bridge near downtown where a group of street people had made a stable community. It was there that the Texas Department of Transportation showed up from time to time with bulldozers and dump trucks and scooped up the tents, cardboard shelters and belongings of the residents, depositing them in the city landfill. I decided to look for it once again and take the blankets there.

At an intersection near where I thought the camp might be, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk in front of a row of boarded-up buildings, so I pulled over to ask her for directions. “I’m looking for the homeless camp,” I said out my car window. “I am!” she replied cheerfully, “Me and Patrick have a house we’ve built on this lot,” she said and pointed to a vacant lot next to the buildings, where a set of brick stairs led upward but beyond which there appeared to be nothing. “Do you need any blankets?” I asked her. “Oh, yes! It’s so cold, we could really use them.”

There was something lighthearted in her spirit, and she was nicely dressed, with her hair tidily done. Well-dressed as she was, I wondered if she could really be homeless. “I’m Karen,” I said, and asked, “Is it just you and Patrick?” “I’m Candace! Well, there’s two men that live next to us, have their own place.” She had a look of disdain on her face, didn’t seem to think much of her neighbors. “Will you share this stuff with them?” I asked. “We can use it all,” she said, as I handed her the bedspreads out the window. “I have some small pillows. Do you want them? Some of them are torn, but they’re clean.” “Oh, yes! We’ve built ourselves a house, me and Patrick,” she repeated, “and I can use them to decorate.” I handed her the bag. “Oh, thank you, ma’am, thank you!” She was so enthusiastic, so sweet. We parted company, and I drove away. Little did I know at that time that their house was made of bits of tin, cardboard and peeling plywood.

After I’d driven a couple of blocks, I remembered I’d brought along a bag of Cadbury crisp chocolate Easter eggs, and something prompted me to turn back and offer them to her. I pulled up beside the Stairway Going Nowhere, grabbed the candy, got out of the car and mounted the steps. It was getting dark, and, at the exact moment that I reached the top of the steps and peered out into the gathering gloom, thinking suddenly that this was not the safest part of town to be getting out of my car and roaming around protected only by chocolate, a man rushed at me from the shadows!

In alarm, I turned to bolt, now quite sure I was living in one of those nightmares where your arms and legs flail in slow motion but you don’t actually move. Then Candace appeared beside the man, and I could suddenly breathe again. “This is Patrick!” she said proudly, and I could understand her pride. Patrick was a very nice-looking young man, and quite well-spoken. “Oh, thank you so much, ma’am, for the things you gave us. We can really use them,” he said with genuine warmth. We talked for a few moments, and I returned to my car and drove away, as the wind picked up and a bitter rain set in.

Even then, I felt there was something special in this encounter.

[to be continued]