Saturday, November 15, 2014

Butt Kicked. Slimmed Down. Ready to Roll.

The past 6 weeks of life in a slimmed-down motorhome have, in some ways, kicked my butt. In other ways, I’m delighted. I’ve learned a lot…


Space matters. Less space means less stuff and wiser decisions about what goes and what must be given away or gotten rid of, tougher decisions than I thought. I’ve also needed to spend time figuring out the jigsaw puzzle of space in a cabinet—how to not waste an inch. Phew.

Being slimmer makes travel nicer—no more worries about squeezing through construction barriers or navigating thick traffic, well, at least not the oversized concerns I had. Weird to be able to park without going through angst about where I might fit. 
Tillie the Turtle,
my original--larger--motorhome

Now that I’ve gotten sort of organized—to the point of even getting my simple decor stuck on my limited wall space—I’ve got to say I’m happy that I’ve downsized. It goes beyond my ability to bypass gas stations and my marvel at filling up for $60-70.

TillieToo has pushed from my comfort level into a different space, with my awareness of how much I have (beyond what I need to survive). It’s a perfect opportunity for me to ramp up my gratitude.

We’re heading towards our national obsession with distorting holidays originally designed as times to to be kind and grateful—Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

No matter our religious persuasion (or lack thereof), we can take a few moments to absorb the reality that lots of people in our country and beyond are doing without even the basics. 

No matter our financial standing (or lack thereof), we can do something, at least consider with compassion the plight of millions in our country and the world who lack a safe place to sleep, food to eat, or access to medical care. If we’re able to do more than be aware and kind, even better!

I’m looking forward to the unknown challenges ahead. My nomadic lifestyle gives me opportunities for “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” that I take as a personal challenge, even when my comfort is a tad less than I’d like it to be.
Thanks to my Mom, Ellie, whose passing in May 2013 made this phase of my journey possible. You’re laughing, me driving a Mercedes. Well, I’m laughing, too. I get to zoom past gas stations!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Weird, Wonderful Disconnect

Internet, ubiquitous, except when it’s not. 

Little Tillie2 (rt)
After a hectic surge of preparing to disconnect from Tillie, my home-motorhome of 9 years, anticipating with some anxiety the acquisition of TillieToo, my new motorhome of smaller dimensions, and preparing for 2 talks and delivering 1 (one sabotaged by weather travel reality), I was ready for a new normal. 

Instead, I landed in a place where I’ll have very limited internet for a week, at a time I think I need it most.

My anxiety when not able to access internet in my travels has been off the charts. Now I don’t have phone or internet. 

The offsetting factor, being with a friend and her sister and their dogs in a peaceful, beautiful haven in the New Mexico mountains. 

Internet access is possible, but requires deliberate action as opposed to grabbing a device and hopping into the swirl.

My only news is what I absorb from the frenzied flow of TV news that gets turned on once in a while. My dismay at the choice of stories is only matched by listening to the blaring TV political ads and the warning-ladened pharmaceutical ads.

My world is different for a week, a change of pace that makes me appreciate what I take for granted. It’s hard, as hard as these kind of things can be in the scope of real world crises. I catch myself thinking more. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s what we’re created to do. 

My friend commented about her fear that we will soon hit the wall when the techno-gurus run out of answers and solutions for the swarms of tech terrorism that seems to be out of control. I wish I could present a counter argument. 

In the meantime, I’ll clean my hard drive, a task that doesn’t happen when I’m so easily distracted by realtime online action. I’ll make time for hikes and talking with people. I’ll tweak the crammed storage in Tillie2, preparing for my first travel companion, Pat LaMarche, on our ambitious Babes of Wrath trip to Montana, Homeless On the Range


Life, ubiquitous, when you let it be.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Loss, Presence and Presents

While I’m not a packrat in general, you could probably accuse me of being a wall-pack rat. 

I can remember my bedroom when I was 12 or so, every possible inch covered with posters of Dr. Kildare/Richard Chamberlin and Peanuts characters. My decorative trait stuck with me.
So it’s no surprise that Tillie, my motorhome for the past 9 years, has been decorated inside and out to make a statement. Outside, my HEAR US presence—the blatant reminder that over 1.7 million kids are homeless in the US. Inside, well, a more personal statement to/about me, the (mostly) lone occupant. 

I'm in the process of further downsizing, with Tillie2 being readied for my next round of travel. And I'm selling Tillie, hopefully soon, to be ready for my new, more concise, fuel-efficient wheels due to arrive by the end of August. So strip the walls I must...but not without plenty of reflection. 

Perhaps the image I turned to most was this—a photo I had taken of a hot air balloon with a quote that has continued to remind me that what I’m doing makes sense despite moments of despair. 
It is simple. We are where we should be, doing what we should be doing, otherwise we’d be somewhere else doing something else…. (anonymous) 
Yup, I needed reminders like that. I’ve spent these last years doing what even I thought was crazy—chronicling the dreadful (and growing) reality of family and youth homelessness in America, the country that used to inspire nations to want to be like the U.S.

But I digress…this is a personal blog, not one for my societal rants. 

Here's a clip (CLICK here 3-min video) of my inside mementos that kept me company because some of you might be curious (and because I won't be able to display them in Tillie2). But let me comment on just a few of the images and items....

In my first not-knowing-what-the-hell-I-was-doing year, 2005-06, I interviewed 75 kids from across the country. I asked them to share what it was like to not have a home, and what school meant to them.  

A 7-year-old girl named Lacey had plenty to say. Trouble was, fledgling filmmaker that I was, I didn't have the wherewithal to keep the camera pointed in the right direction and rolling. I did get lucky, and for anyone who’s seen My Own Four Walls, my documentary, you can recall her saying “I have to make new friends,” and her unmistakably sad sigh. 

Lacey gave me her heart, well, just half of it. It’s a rubbery thing probably out of a vending machine. It says “Best” and the other half, which she kept, says “Friend.” She's 16 now. Wonder what her life has been like?

The other part of this task that got to me was pulling down the photos in my bedroom. Head shots of special people were clothes pinned to a draped string on 3 sides of the room. Family. Friends. Personal. 

As I unclipped and dusted each one, I held that person in my heart. Some—my Mom, Dad, and sis Patty, along with Aunt Catherine and cousin Christi—have died. Some are struggling with heavy stuff. Some are doing OK. I felt connected with spirits of all, dead and alive.

My life has been pretty soft compared to many people I know. My heart has been dinged by loss enough so I can at least, I hope, relate to—or at least bear witness to—the vast sadnesses of my houseless, disenfranchised sisters and brothers along my path. 

I’m gearing up for Tillie2 and my next unknown route. I’ve learned lots more than I can express in these past years of incredible experiences and travel. I’ve been loved much more than I (sometimes) think I deserve. I’ve grown from a nomad to a pilgrim. 
To journey without being changed, is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journeying is to be a pilgrim.  Mark Nepo 
One thing I’ve figured out—I don’t know what’s ahead. But I do know it will be interesting, and worthwhile. So, please travel along with me…if you can stand doing Facebook you’ll get the daily update (and more, which you can pass over or not). 

Your presence is important…to me and to those whose hope is desperately attached to the possibility that our nation, our communities, ourselves, will move toward the ideal that everyone needs a place to call home. 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tillie: Tithe Your Way to Good Karma--Buy Me!

You may know me as Tillie TheTurtle, Diane’s alter ego on Facebook. 

I’m here to let you know what’s behind my being “retired” and what you might consider doing to help this happen so my transition is good for all involved.  


No, I’m not sick/dying. I’ve got lots of life left in me, as Mike, my “doctor”/mechanic will attest. True, I’ve aged in the past 183,000 miles, but nothing major…a few scrapes and blemishes, idiosyncrasies that come with aging, but I can still roll with the best of ‘em! 

Take a look at these photos to see what I mean. 

And no, Diane isn’t giving up her life on the road, her incredible, unique and effective HEAR US Inc. mission to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth. She’s found a younger, more svelte companion for her journey. I can’t blame her. She’s got places to go and things to do, and my, um, “holiness” has been slightly problematic, as has my voracious appetite.  

She likes going where it’s cold,
and I don’t keep her warm.
I have to admit that I didn’t keep her warm in those brutal winter days because of my porous nature. And she’s figured out, thanks to my tutelage, that “less is more” when it comes to stuff. She’ll be OK, and will be able to continue traveling cross-country to create awareness of and compassion toward homeless kids.

“Tillie2” will be slimmer, smaller and won’t eat as much. Yeah, I know she’ll miss me and my abundant storage, my creature comforts, and my (now stripped) visual presence.

So, now that they’ve removed the blatant reminders that kids are homeless, signs that grabbed the attention of passing travelers, my boss needs to sell me. But she’s figured out a way to do this that will help homeless families. 

And we both know that I’m a Karma Queen—every moment of my existence has been to do good. We figure that counts for a bunch. 

To make this purchase even more enticing, Diane will tithe 10% of my purchase price to either your/her favorite homeless family shelter. Here’s the link to the basic info you’ll need to know. 
Yup. The buyer and Diane will agree on a purchase price. The buyer writes a check for 10% of the agreed-upon price and donates it to a program sheltering homeless families (she knows some excellent ones if the buyer doesn’t), and Diane will deduct that donation from the final purchase price. Tithing and good karma plus you get me, a 27’ motorhome that will give you lots of great camping experiences!
My replacement, Tillie2, is getting readied and will be available at the end of August, in time to get prepped and ready for September travel. The way time flies we don’t have much time. Diane has a place to temporarily stay once she lets me go, so my new owner can acquire me any time before that.

Check out my photos on the HEAR US website. (Check out the fine work we’ve been doing, too!) You can contact Diane for more information. If you’re in the northern Illinois area, you can arrange a visit. 


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tillie Retiring (4 Sale); Tillie2 Stepping In

We all need to kick back and take it easy after giving it all we've got. So too with motorhomes.

As you may know, my home/office/vehicle for the past 9 years has been Tillie the Turtle, a 27' Gulfstream motorhome. (I refuse to call it a recreational vehicle, or "RV" because recreation has been sorely lacking.) I've lived in it, mostly solo, the whole time except for a handful of days when I was out of the country or had to fly to a city when Tillie-travel was impossible.

In the soon to be 10 years of HEAR US Inc., I've traversed this country's backroads (whenever possible avoiding interstates) to chronicle the plight and promise of homeless families and youth. That will continue.

I'm not going to use this post to rattle off all that has been accomplished since I first climbed behind the wheel in November 2005. Take a look at the HEAR US website for more on that.

My RV-ing experience prior to Day 1 was ZERO. This was a HUGE leap of faith for me. But it's been a grand ride...one that is going to continue in an exciting way. But now I'm selling Tillie. Here's a link to a PDF flyer with the details.

To be clear, I purchased and maintained Tillie with my own funds. HEAR US paid for my gas for work-related travel, almost 100% of the 183,000+ miles. My mechanic can vouch for the condition of this vehicle. I'm happy to talk to people seriously interested in buying it, and appreciate if you spread the word. I can sell Tillie out from under me because I have a place to stay and keep my stuff temporarily.

So, now what?

My traveling days for HEAR US will continue as long as it makes sense to do what I do, give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth. I've gotten plenty of feedback that the unique mission I've pursued over the past 10 years is extremely important. My passion burns, even deeper.

But I'm downsizing. Yup, my living/working space will be reduced by about 30%. In return for the "lean, mean" look, I'll be doubling gas mileage, in a vehicle created to be as environmentally friendly as possible while still providing the motorhome for me to live/work out of, albeit with considerably less space.

It's a Sprinter van, used by police departments, FedEx, and countless companies as a delivery or service van. It's shorter, thinner, and uses diesel fuel. It also will be better constructed, including the insulation to protect me from extreme temperatures. And I'll have solar panels to bolster my electricity supply.

I'm in the process of prioritizing my belongings, weeding out the excess, and figuring out how to live more efficiently, a challenge I'm ready for (much more so than when I went from my 1,100 sq. ft. townhouse to Tillie, with roughly 150 sq. ft. of living space). And I'm paying for this vehicle, too.

Since the name Tillie has gained some notoriety, I'm just calling the new vehicle Tillie2. I'm beginning the transition process, awaiting delivery of the customized vehicle. I was able to eliminate the features I don't use (knowing what I'm doing after almost 10 years of full-timing), like the furnace, coach AC, propane tank, and awning. I'm getting tinted windows, a better insulated floor, and, well, less living space.

I'll take pics and share them. Just wanted my friends to know what's up and to maybe connect me with a buyer. I'm busy sorting through stuff, giving much away, shuffling through papers to go paperless, and then I'll travel down to Austin, TX to take possession of this new dream mobile sometime mid-August.

Now I know how Dale Evans felt about her horse, Buttermilk. Putting Tillie out to pasture...it's time, old friend....






Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Does HEAR US Do?

A good friend asked a legitimate question: What will HEAR US do with the money you're trying to raise
I looked at our website, as if for the first time. Even though I created it. Hmmm. The mission statement,
The HEAR US mission is to
...give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth...
HEAR US...
produces poignant films and books that are used by educators, social service personnel and other audiences to call attention to the invisible crisis of millions of families with children and young people who struggle without a place to call home;
>addresses audiences at conferences, university and college students, and a variety of gatherings to foster a greater understanding of homelessness;
> facilitates media connections for homeless families/youth, and is quite active on social media, shining a light on the need to repair the torn safety net that leaves millions--babies, toddlers, school kids, teens and young adults, and adults-- on the streets.

This gets at the general idea of what we do. And I have always been reluctant to be specific, for good reason I think.

To better understand, let me explain one thing. HEAR US Inc. (www.hearus.us), a national nonprofit, is a VERY unique nonprofit. I've been part of the nonprofit world (my bio, PDF) since the mid-80s. And I know that mission statements and goals/objectives are part of the landscape of the millions (?) of nonprofits scrambling for support. But, HEAR US is different. How?

Well, pretty well no one does what "we" -- I, the sole employee -- do. Having spent more than the past quarter century working with homeless families, youth and adults, I've heard bazillion times some form of: Homeless kids (families)?? I didn't know we had any! ... Aren't all homeless kids in foster care? ... They just live in big cities, like NYC, Chicago... and so on. HEAR US responds to that significant gap in awareness in a variety of ways.

IMPORTANT (short) HISTORY
I've worked very intensely with schools grappling with the reality of homeless students in their midst since way back in 1990. I've advocated with countless families/youth so they could get into school. I've seen educators' lack of understanding. And I've been deeply involved with successful efforts to change laws to better serve homeless families and youth.

And I chose to toss my life to the wind in 2005 (the year HEAR US was formed) to make sure more people, especially school personnel, would have more awareness of and sensitivity to kids and families in homeless situations. And in the process, to be flexible enough to be involved with relevant advocacy efforts, respond to a local crisis, or lead the charge for an invisible, essential cause.

I sold my townhouse and got rid of most of my stuff, purchased (with my own funds) a small motorhome to serve as my home/office/wheels, and set out to do what I had never done before, make a documentary of kids sharing what their experience of homelessness was like and what school meant to them. That film, My Own Four Walls, is now the best training film ever for schools. (the 4-min trailer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbSgzEQJXs8 )

Because of how things work, I was able to connect with Professor Laura Vazquez, a documentary maker at Northern Illinois University. She and I teamed up to make the feature-length documentary, on the edge: Homeless Families in America,  which has won many film awards and has been shown on PBS.

I've made lots of other short films, too many to mention, that help homeless kids and families. I've given countless presentations from Congress to Cub Scout leaders. I've advocated for families who've contacted me with a problem related to their homelessness that no one else seemed to be able to help with. I've rattled cages of politicians and policymakers. I've "comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable"  by my writing, my social action, and my presence.

TODAY
It's not quite as haphazard as it seems. It's just hard to know how to say what this matching grant of $10,000 will be used. My board will tell you I'm frugal to a fault, so it won't be wasted.

It will keep me doing what I do...being that sometimes lone voice in the wilderness that is focused on making sure homeless kids and families don't get lost in the shuffle. My entire being is dedicated to that. And I "suffer" for taking the unconventional path of not having a well-defined, specific mission statement.

But those who know me know I won't give up doing what I'm doing or let myself be defined by a funder's priorities (when they differ from our mission). To sum up, what the money will do will help me continue to

  • Advocate
  • Chronicle
  • Educate and otherwise 
  • Respond 

to poverty issues as they affect the millions of homeless children and their parents/guardians, and unaccompanied youth who are too often invisible and underserved. That's it! I'm an ACER!

And I'm deeply appreciative of the people who continue to believe in what I do...because it's a mission bigger than me. Without you (that supporter who believes in me), I am nothing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere...Connects Us

Drip, drip, drip from the showerhead that I turned off. I’m far enough away from the damned Dan River, teeming with coal ash untended, but that catastrophe drips from my showerhead.

I feel connected, painfully so at times, to people I don’t know, like the thousands of water-abused Charleston, WV citizens, or the folks downriver from the latest—but not last—enviro-disaster on the border of NC and VA, those poisoned by the wanton release of highly toxic coal ash on the Dan River; or the millions of invisible homeless kids and adults, some of whom I’ve encountered through my HEAR US journeys, many more I’ve not. I could go on and on and on….

What good does it do to connect mentally with the suffering of others?

For me, such connections can lead to my development of empathy, a trait cleverly presented in this short, delightful KarmaTube video.

Such connections keep us, well, connected, rather than isolated and smug. Empathy, much better than sympathy, requires work, as I’m reminded of all too often.

My shower-meditation is one way I exercise my heart. I try to become micro-aware of a few common things in my daily routine and mentally connect with the people responsible—the person in the (likely) sweatshop who sewed my jeans, the farmworker who picked the mangoes I enjoy, the steelworker who processed the stainless steel that became my coffee pot.

The ills of our modern world can topple even the hardiest soul. My work over the years with homeless families, youth, and single adults has, I hope, ground down the nastiest parts of my personality, leaving a coarse, but improving, sense of compassion, or so I’d like to think. Listening. Seeing. Weeping. Laughing. Fuming. Writing. Filming. Photographing. Thinking. Never enough. But if it’s all I can do, I’ll do it.

As I shove off from a working “sabbatical” spent with my wheels parked for most of the past 3 months, I know I’ll be immersed in the equivalent of toxic ash spills. My mettle will be tested. I will massage my empathic abilities. I will aim my outrage at injustice to those who disregard the humanity of the have-nots.

I know we as society can, and must, do better. But that boils down to me. I must do better. With the steady drip, drip, drip of compassion from deep within, I’ll connect with those in my path, doing whatever I can to ease the injustice of poverty. That’s my plan.