Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Politics of Need

There's the progress we have found
A way to talk around the problem
Building towered foresight
Isn't anything at all..

- R.E.M.
, "Fall On Me" (1986)

Leetsdale, PA - Spending time here in the places where Andrew Carnegie made his greatest mark on American society reminded me again of what Gene Kinsey wrote recently about the nature of philanthropy. I still disagree with the way he tried to use Carnegie's legacy to frame an argument for free market capitalism, but I do see his point about how powerful this type of wealth can be in cumulatively affecting lives.

In the context of the response of community members of this area to Michaela's illness and the hardships it created for her family, I have been able to see this power all too closely. It can be as simple as the loaf of zucchini bread that Leslie's neighbor brought over yesterday, or as complex as organizing a benefit event, which is happening for Michaela's family this Saturday.

This is the nature of the America I grew up in, and grew up from. People give freely of the resources they have for those who do not have, or are in need. The reasons can vary from one's individual faith to how they perceive the community in which they live. It's what neighbors do for neighbors, strangers for strangers, and families do for each other, regardless of how such a family is comprised. Blood may indeed be thicker than water, but no one can survive for long without both.

Shift focus to those who are alone, by choice or not, and find themselves in desperate need of the most fundamental things that most Americans take for granted; shelter, food, clothing. Add children to the mix and the problem becomes all the more disconcerting, along with those who served our country, and for whom we as a nation made a commitment to help in recognition of that service.

All across the country, these people are cared for by a symbiotic collection of human service agencies, who channel the individual, voluntary kindnesses of others, along with seeking out available funds and services from government-based programs, to provide some of these basic needs.

In Grand Junction, recent news events have combined with the current recession and a renewed sense of activism within the community to bring the social and human service infrastructure to a crossroads.

Over the last couple of months I have attempted to observe these agencies and other stakeholders in their efforts at re-focusing, coordinating, and self-governing. I've seen and heard things both promising and disturbing. Even in this short-term, sporadic observation both the tune and the game have changed. Here are some examples:
  • This past May, Grand Valley Peace and Justice began the process of facilitating ideas and gathering stakeholders to forge a new 10-year plan to address homelessness through its Beyond Charity initiative. At the first session, Grand Junction Mayor Teresa Coons was non-committal about the City's involvement, yet by July a City Council subcommittee dedicated to addressing these issues had been established and was having regular meetings. More about this further down.
  • In subsequent Beyond Charity meetings, two distinct schools of thought have emerged as to which one of two core philosophies will shape a new 10-year plan. These are Continuum Of Care (the current model) in which those in need of housing are provided it through different levels, i.e. emergency, transitional, and permanent, as they navigate the necessary assessment, treatment, and other service programs according to their individual needs. Think of this as sort of a 12-step plan for homelessness.
The other philosophy is Housing First, which advocates providing immediate, independent housing to those without it, and work to address the problems inherent to the homelessness afterward. To quote the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle:
Housing First is based on two core convictions: 1. Housing is a basic human right, not a reward for clinical success, and 2. Once the chaos of homelessness is eliminated from a person’s life, clinical and social stabilization occur faster and are more enduring.
In these meetings, one advocate for Housing First that has stepped up and put forward persuasive arguments backed by reports and analysis is John Mok-Lamme, Pastor of Sojourners Christian Fellowship and a former director of the North Avenue homeless shelter. He and his son David gathered information on the successes and failures of Housing First initiatives in various major cities, including a successful ongoing effort in Denver.

One thing that I noticed about those cities that had successes in Housing First programs was the availability of ancillary social service programs, including substance abuse and mental health treatment programs. I owe Colorado West Mental Health a bit of an apology; I have been critical here of their seeming inattention to their role as a stakeholder, but learned as part of these meetings that they are involved and active in the planning process.

That being said, I believe that Housing First has a better chance of succeeding, if only because the essential purpose is more in keeping with recognizing and maintaining the dignity of the individual involved. A critical component for success in Grand Junction remains the availability, on a reliable basis, or treatment, counseling, and other essential services to stabilize those homeless after they are placed in housing.

One other need addressed by several in attendance in May was a need for centralized administration of the resources brought to bear to address homelessness by all of the organizations in place in the Grand Valley. Those advocating this claimed that it would also allow for more consistent application of resources in accordance with an agreed-upon set of standards, and facilitate a more diligent and coordinated pursuit of grants and other funding mechanisms.

Most of these organizations are members of the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless, which for several years has seen leadership come from representatives of Grand Valley Catholic Outreach. As new players have entered the realm of advocating for the homeless, there appears to be some stated desire for change in the coalition's leadership, if only to achieve some equity in leadership among those involved, allow for a different leadership perspective, and thus encourage change in the collective manner in which these agencies operate.

Let's face facts; non-profits, like any other organizational structure, have individual agendas, rivalries, and interpersonal dynamics that rival their counterparts in for-profit businesses or government. As the dynamic changes, so must the common voice that speaks for organizations like the Coalition for the Homeless or Bridges Out of Poverty.

Enter the City into the mix, through their subcommittee. Though I've only been able to follow their deliberations through the reporting of Emily Anderson in the Sentinel, there is some rhetoric that presents both promise and concern for me. For example:

The goal of the subcommittee, according to Mayor Teresa Coons, is to separate the presumed majority of homeless people, those down on their luck and seeking support during tough economic times, from those living outdoors long-term or from other parts of the country...Coons said she would like to study how other communities have succeeded in helping various kinds of homeless people.

I wonder what kind of "separation" Mayor Coons has in mind. It's clear to me on the face of the problem that those living in camps by the river have a different set of problems than a single mother with 3 kids going from motel to motel.

City Attorney John Shaver told the council during its retreat (July 24) at Grand Junction Regional Airport. Shaver said some chronically homeless people are offered a bus ticket as a condition of their sentence in lieu of a stay in the crowded Mesa County Jail. “We had a man who wanted to leave but couldn’t get on a bus because of his dog and his bike,” Shaver said. “We figured out a way to ship him and his dog and his bicycle to where he wants to be".

This brings to mind one other idea that I researched several years ago, that being an agency akin to Travelers Aid International, whose mission statement is "to advance and support a network of human service provider organizations committed to assisting individuals and families who are in transition, or crisis, and are disconnected from their support systems."

With seed money from the City, an organization such as this could lend support in the way of services, transportation, clinical intervention, and/or just basic information and assistance to people who are traveling through, and/or become stranded in, Grand Junction.

Providing a visible presence at the Amtrak terminal, Airport, and Greyhound station could be a first step in identifying people in crisis, and assisting them along their way, while providing a first level of human services contact that might be absent from relocation or travel assistance provided on an anecdotal basis by the City.

This is something that I'll be working on as a suggestion to the Council subcommittee, along with my take on how Grand Junction's approach to homelessness should look over the next 10 years:

  • The City should take a leadership role in identifying stakeholders, service providers, and interested citizens, and develop an administrative function within City government to address the area's burgeoning and diverse human services infrastructure with cohesion, unified direction, and effective resource coordination. The Denver model that I've written about in the past seems to be a good place to start.

  • The various organizations need to partner with the City in completing their 10-year plan to address homelessness, while developing consensus on a philosophy and unified approach to service provision, as well as recognition that the homeless want to be able to have a voice that can be heard, and be able to help themselves as well. This has been the rallying cry behind newer faces in this debate, such as Angel Light, Inc. and Housing First! No More Deaths!
  • John Mok-Lamme framed some of the debate going on locally around the homeless issue with something very simple and profound. He said, "The right wants personal responsibility, and the left wants empowerment. They're both trying to get to the same place".

    It's been heartening to see the level of concern and compassion extended by a small suburban community toward Leslie and Gianna, both before and since Michaela's passing. We as citizens of Grand Junction, and a country that prides itself as "One Nation Under God", have a chance to leverage some powerful forces toward making our community a better place for everyone who wants to make a go at living here.

    Best wishes for good fortune and God's grace to everyone involved. Hey, that's you and me.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Michaela At Rest

    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

    even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for the darkness is as light to you;

    For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

    - Psalms 139:11-14

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    A Cacophony of Grief and Hope

    Leetsdale, PA - I arrived here Friday afternoon and found Leslie and Gianna in fairly good spirits, but perhaps a little overwhelmed by the level and amount of telephone calls and in-person visits that were coming from all over the local area and beyond. This continued largely unabated through Monday, until Leslie was able to meet with her pastor and the funeral director to finalize those arrangements.

    The response from the local community to Michaela's passing has been extraordinary and humbling. To this end I will defer to the following links for those wishing to know more of Michaela and what is being done for her family:

    • Leslie has maintained a page for Michaela on the CarePages website, which is sponsored in part by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The site requires a free registration to view Michaela's page. Clicking here will take you to the correct place to register, sign in, and view Leslie's entries and photos from over the years.

    • Michaela's obituary has been published online in the Beaver County / Allegheny Times, and is available by clicking here. Visitation will be tomorrow, with funeral services and burial on Thursday. Thursday's Sewickley Herald is also expected to have a story about Michaela.

    • The community of Leetsdale is coming together to assist Leslie and Gianna, this time with a Celebration of Life benefit for Michaela's care fund. A Facebook page has been created for the event with additional details.


    Even though my life here has taken the bulk of my recent time and attention, I received word yesterday about the passing of Chris Bryson, a Grand Junction firefighter who had waged a courageous battle with Leukemia for several years. I worked with Chris' wife Meredith at the Grand Junction 9-1-1 center.

    I saw Chris most recently at Cabela's, where he worked for a time at the gun counter. We spoke during the training sessions before the store opened, and he shared some interesting things with me on how he was coping with the treatments, the travel, and the other rituals, both small and large, of life with cancer. His disposition seemed strong, and I felt better for having spent time with him. My thoughts and prayers go out to Chris' family, friends, and co-workers.

    More visitors and things to do. Have a good rest of your week.

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    I Am Not There

    Michaela Aleasha Russo

    November 15, 2001 - July 15, 2010

    Do not stand at my grave and weep,
    I am not there, I do not sleep.

    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the softly falling snow.
    I am the gentle showers of rain,
    I am the fields of ripening grain.

    I am in the morning hush,
    I am in the graceful rush
    Of beautiful birds in circling flight.
    I am the starshine of the night.

    I am in the flowers that bloom,
    I am in a quiet room.
    I am in the birds that sing,
    I am in each lovely thing.

    Do not stand at my grave and cry,
    I am not there -- I do not die.

    - Mary Elizabeth Frye (1932)

    Michaela Russo

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    What Did You Buy Online?

    At the beginning of this month the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) filed suit against the State of Colorado over HB 1193, which requires online retailers from other states to notify customers in Colorado of their obligation to pay sales and/or use tax on the items they've purchased. The law took effect this past March.  

    The law additionally requires these retailers to remind their Colorado customers - by first class mail - of what they've purchased, and how much they may owe in sales taxes. They're additionally required to provide this same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue. 
    This week I received a postcard from Newsweek's circulation department advising me of this very thing. 

    Early versions of the bill, subsequently amended before eventually being signed by Gov. Ritter, targeted the in-state affiliates of large online retailers like Amazon, treating those online affiliates as if Amazon had a physical presence, like a store, in the state. Despite the changes, Amazon responded by ending their relationship with all Colorado affiliates within a week of the law taking effect.

    The most comprehensive analysis of this suit, and what lies beneath it, appeared this week in The Colorado Statesman. The Statesman's Marianne Goodland explored the issue from several different perspectives and through the eyes of some varied sources, and came up with a picture that suggested some duplicity in the DMA's motives for filing this suit, citing consumer privacy, when they oppose proposed regulations protecting consumer privacy being debated at the federal level.

    Still, the potential for the violation of consumer privacy concerning online purchases warrants further examination by the courts. Several other states are considering laws based on the Colorado model, so getting this settled from both a privacy and revenue standpoint seems like a good idea.

    The consumer privacy arguments that appear to drive much of the DMA's case reminded me of a case that the ACLU of Colorado fought and won in 2002. In that case, Denver's Tattered Cover Bookstore successfully defended itself against a subpoena from the North Metro Drug Task Force requesting book purchase records for a certain individual.

    There are obvious differences here; the subject of a criminal investigation vs. every Colorado taxpayer, for one. Since the world's largest online merchant, and one of the world's largest booksellers, is a key player here, one can see the potential concerns regarding what the Colorado Department of Revenue gets from them about the books you buy from Amazon or any other online retailer.

    Amazon has gone as far as to litigate over this in other states. The ACLU of North Carolina joined them in a suit against that state, which is demanding the names and addresses of customers and what books they purchased. The ACLU chapter there believes that the state is going too far, and I'm inclined to agree.

    To try to understand this better, and perhaps elicit a more informed comparison between this suit and the Tattered Cover case, I contacted the ACLU of Colorado requesting comment. Communications Director Erik Maulbetsch replied via e-mail that "i
    t just isn’t a priority for the legal (department) to get into now."

    Not a great response or approach by our state chapter at this point, but at least I got a reply. Ms. Goodland at the Statesman couldn't even get a phone call returned.

    The free ride that consumers who purchase online have largely enjoyed with regard to sales tax may be coming to an end, as states that levy sales tax are seeing budgetary problems. The legal maneuvering required to accomplish this can be daunting, due to constitutional issues regarding interstate commerce and other things.

    Some states, Colorado included, are treading a slippery slope between a citizen's right to privacy and their budgetary needs. The upcoming court battle in Colorado will likely prove interesting, and I'll try to follow it as I can.

    Have a good rest of the week.

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    An Important Week for Homeless Issues

    It was a weekend paved with the best of intentions to organize several topics and write about them, but work and my son crashing his car this past Thursday (he's fine, we'll see about the car) prevented a lot of this from happening. Here we are as another week begins, and it feels full of possibilities on a number of fronts. Here's just one:

    The week ahead will provide a number of opportunities to participate with and/or observe those charged with oversight in government, or of one of the numerous organizations assisting homeless individuals, as they continue to work together to address the problem of homelessness across the Grand Junction metropolitan area.

    Before dismissing this as just talk with a nebulous level of commitment or action, remember what was going on a year ago. The City of Grand Junction had just been rebuffed in an attempt to criminalize panhandling and solicitation. Many battle lines that lay hidden to many in the community were starting to become a focal point for scrutiny and comment.

    Fast forward through an effort by the City to reach out to homeless advocates and service providers to craft legislation that, while flawed, addressed the safety issues associated with panhandling in medians, both real and perceived. Factor in a difficult winter by Grand Junction standards, and the emergence of groups and individuals displaying a commitment to bring attention to, and address, issues pertaining to homelessness in ways not previously seen.

    Enter this spring and summer, and what was the potential for more discontent between the homeless and advocacy groups, government, and law enforcement has instead become an opportunity for real progress in improving the manner and availability of services for homeless individuals and families.

    The revelations concerning police misconduct toward homeless individuals that continue to emerge, and the leadership displayed by Grand Junction's police chief in addressing them, are but just one of the developments that is injecting new people, ideas, and solutions into the ongoing struggle to address the needs of these populations.

    I have some more ideas about this that I'm writing about in more detail, but in the meantime here are at least three opportunities this week to observe, and in some cases sit in on, the process:

    City Council Committee on Homeless and Transient Issues
    Tuesday, July 13, 12:00 PM, Grand Junction City Hall

    When I contacted City administration to obtain the date and time of this apparently nascent committee's meeting, it was stated rather pointedly that while this meeting is open to the public, the committee will be taking no public testimony. Still, I'm thinking that the presence of a significant number of interested citizens can serve as a reminder to Council of the level of community interest in what at least one level of government thinks about the issue.

    The City's current Mayor, Teresa Coons, has long been an ally of the social service and non-profit infrastructure that addresses homelessness here. That's a start, but it will be interesting to see how the remainder of Council interacts with each other and their constituents on these issues.

    Beyond Charity Work Session
    Wednesday, July 14, 9:30 AM, Homeward Bound Shelter (2853 North Ave.)

    This is a continuation of the work sessions that began last week in response to the brainstorming session held in late May. I attended both, and began to see players new and old looking at where we were in addressing homeless issues nearly 10 years ago, through the eyes of a planning document that can be read here.

    Other things that I saw last week included the positioning of certain groups in the room around what appear to be two core philosophies in dealing with those in need of housing: Continuum of Care, around which many federal funding programs have been built, and Housing First, a comparatively new philosophy that seeks to remove the bureaucratic and psychological stigmas surrounding the provision of housing to those who need it. I'll have more to say about this in the near future.

    Equally interesting in observing the alignment of those in attendance is noting the absence of those whose presence at the table is critical to both consensus and assuring effective service delivery. Colorado West Mental Health, the agency charged with providing the lion's share of mental health and substance abuse services in Mesa County, has not sent a representative to the first two Beyond Charity work sessions. Let's hope that changes this week.

    Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless - Monthly Meeting
    Thursday, July 15, 10:00 AM, Homeward Bound Shelter

    One noteworthy point brought up at the first Beyond Charity session was a need for strong, centralized coordination of service provision by a disparate and varied number of organizations, for whom homelessness occupies a varying degree of priority in their overall mission.

    These organizations attempt to coordinate and communicate their activities through the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless. Their monthly meeting, typically the third Thursday of each month, affords these groups the opportunity to engage in this collaborative activity. I've not been to one of these meetings previously, but I hope to be there later this week.

    As with any gathering of groups such as this, the internal politics that establish administrative control of the organization can at times translate itself to tacit control of how certain issues are framed, prioritized, and debated within the confines of the organization's internal structure. I've heard from more than one source that there are concerns about this within the Coalition membership. It will be interesting to observe it firsthand.

    Before concluding, it's important to also note that the Federal government's focus on homelessness may be intensifying with last month's release of a comprehensive report by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. The Executive Summary is a must-read for anyone even a little bit interested in this issue.

    Also, check out yesterday's edition of the ongoing Washington Post series Five Myths. The problem isn't going away, but it is changing, and our response to it needs to recognize and address those changes to have any chance of effectiveness.

    Finally, as a Pittsburgh native I must recognize fellow blogger Gene Kinsey for his post yesterday about the Sentinel's Sunday Page One story on young professionals entering the non-profit sector. He invoked Andrew Carnegie, whose extraordinary example of philanthropy may be duplicated by such modern-day business icons as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. As a Pittsburgher, I also have to recognize that Carnegie amassed his considerable wealth in ways that would be questionable in today's business and labor environment.

    Gene wanted to frame Carnegie's example as a defense of free market capitalism; I would respond that while it is that vital engine that fuels the private philanthropy and governmental allocations that wind up helping needy populations, its effectiveness is reduced if the manner in which such resources are gathered is irresponsible in relationship to the public good. One need look no further than Wall Street or the Gulf of Mexico to see examples of this.

    Have a great week ahead.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    An Ironic Scheduling Conflict

    Last Friday I received my bi-weekly e-mail from the City of Grand Junction containing a link to the agendas for the following week's City Council meetings and workshops.

    This week's listing included a "special workshop" for City Council tomorrow afternoon at 11:30, with a single, two-word agenda item - "Stadium Discussion". This sounds like a continuation of the workshop conducted two months ago, where Jamie Hamilton, Chairman of the JUCO Committee, outlined his group's need for City assistance in obtaining funds to remodel Suplizio Field. I've written about this already.

    Later that afternoon I received an e-mail from Grand Valley Peace and Justice, inviting me to a work session at the Homeward Bound shelter on North Avenue at Noon tomorrow. The purpose of the workshop is to update the 2001 document Grand Junction's Response to Homelessness, and develop work groups to fashion a 10-year plan using information gleaned from the "Beyond Charity" brainstorming session conducted in May, which I also wrote about.

    I was sort of amused at the coincidental timing of these two gatherings, considering that they each deal with subjects that some in the community consider essential to maintaining Grand Junction's quality of life. I may not agree with some of those perspectives, but considering that Council is committing another afternoon session so soon to discuss the refitting of Suplizio and the salvation of JUCO in GJ for the foreseeable future, I guess it is what it is.

    At the same time, literally, those who commit themselves to helping the varying facets of Grand Junction's homeless community find assistance, shelter, and perhaps a way up and out of their predicament will attempt to marshal their at times disparate resources to find common ground, prioritize the need, and hopefully begin to map a coordinated effort that will be both effective and efficient.

    The Daily Sentinel, which initially did not report on this activity, deserves credit for their story today that showcases the Grand Junction Housing Authority's grant program to help homeless families with security deposits and other fees associated with rental housing. The comments attached to the online version of this story reflect both the best and worst of our community's attitude toward the problem.

    I'll be on North Avenue tomorrow. I hope that the media will continue what appears to be a recent trend of reporting on some aspects of the homeless issue, as well as maintaining a presence with City Council, while they discuss an entirely different "community need". I'm wondering how many of the poison-keyboard-equipped trolls that frequent the Sentinel's comment system will be at the ready when more about a new stadium appears in the paper.

    For me, I will defer to Delta-area blogger Robert Laitres, part of the Bagel Street Irregulars blog at the GJ Free Press website, who summed up the paradoxical behavior of some in our area rather well in a thoughtful post from last week.

    Have a good evening.

    Hillary Calling The Kettle Black?

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to be conducting herself in about as admirable a manner as anyone in the position in recent administrations. She continued to distinguish herself in a speech last Saturday in Krakow, Poland, in which she leveled criticism at many of those nations that identify themselves as democracies, but are taking steps to suppress dissent and activism in their countries. Quoting from her speech:
    "Democracies don't fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together, to advocate and agitate."
    I initially thought that these sentiments were laudable, and if left in their intended context they likely are. However, last week the ACLU updated an existing website, and announced a revived initiative to monitor surveillance activities on U.S. soil directed against those engaged in activism and other lawful protest activities. This surveillance includes infiltration of activist groups by undercover law enforcement personnel.

    Those incidents that have been discovered have been carefully documented in a comprehensive report, and include several reported incidents of domestic political spying in Colorado, including extensive spying on political activity by the Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

    Many of these reported spying activities were facilitated by information gathered and distributed by what are called Fusion Centers - born from a well-intentioned effort to share information between law enforcement agencies across our many levels of government to aid in anti-terrorism efforts, but in practice are becoming an arm for information gathering and distribution on all manner of activities that in any other context would be lawful, private, and protected by the rights imparted to all of us by the Constitution. There are such centers in all 50 states, including Colorado.

    I could go on a lot longer about this, but there are plenty of online resources if you're interested in learning more. When I think of this, I am reminded of the now-famous assertions of a broadcast journalist fully 55 years ago, a reminder that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it:
    "We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."
    Tea Partiers, if you think that you're somehow immune from this type of quasi-clandestine scrutiny, think again..

    The Second Half Begins Busy

    The second half of the year finds me busy with all sorts of things in my Colorado existence that have slipped away from me a little since I had been gone. I've been working every day since my last post, and the pleasant day trip I took with my mother and son. I hope that you enjoyed your holiday weekend doing something other than working. Being a shift worker most of my life, I'm largely unfazed by the concept of working weekends and holidays, so aside from the significance of the 4th of July, it's largely just another weekend for me.

    I  haven't been to Ouray for a number of years, and one significant change that I noted was the extraordinary restoration of the old Beaumont Hotel. It felt like walking into what luxury was in the 19th Century, if it is truly possible to understand something like that with a frame of reference carved from movies and TV. Suffice to say that I was imagining Jim West and Artemus Gordon lounging in style, while chasing down some metaphysical bad guy.

    Ouray is definitely a nice retreat, and being only about 100 miles from GJ it's highly accessible. Along with Gateway and Moab, it's one of several reasons that Grand Junction succeeds as an urban center from which to base oneself for journeys to these special outposts.

    Leslie told me that Michaela thoroughly enjoyed her 4th of July weekend. Leetsdale puts on a fairly elaborate celebration every year, and along with Gianna they had a great time with a carnival, parade, and fireworks. Michaela got to sit on a pony again, which was a thrill for her as she loves horses, and despite being unable to really hold herself up, had a great time.

    The 4th is Leslie's favorite holiday. I missed it again, even if only by a week or so. Hopefully that can be remedied soon.

    The past few days have been kind of frustrating and disorganized; my air conditioning is having problems, and my desktop computer is refusing to fully boot up after being shut off for over a month. You'd think that it would have enjoyed the vacation..

    Despite these challenges, over the last days I've noticed several items that for me seemed very noteworthy, and are worth commenting on and/or following up with. Please bear with me as I collect myself, while trying to get some of my responsibilities taken care of.

    Have a great week.