Friday, January 31, 2014

13 Ways to Help People Who Are Homeless, Especially in Wintertime

13 Ways to Help 
People Who Are Homeless, 
Especially in Wintertime

Starting with the easiest…. 
  • Say a prayer and be ready to put it into action.  BE AWARE!  Be intentional.  Educate yourself. Look for ways to help.
  • Donate to a reputable charitable organization which helps the homeless in your area.  Volunteer your time at a homeless shelter.
  • Find a friend who is already reaching out to the homeless, and ask for practical advice.  Shadow them.
  • Always treat homeless people with respect.  When you meet a homeless person who lives near you, ask and remember his or her  name.  You might see them again.  Ask them how you can pray for them, if that is appropriate. Do not be condescending or treat them like a project. Be very careful about taking recognizable photos of individuals.  They are fellow human beings.  Yes, some of them go there by their own choices, but some are there through sheer bad luck.  Don't be afraid to look them in the eye and shake hands.
  • Get your kids involved.  Ours grew up doing little acts of kindness for strangers, and now most of them are regularly involved in homeless ministry, especially now that one of my adult daughters organizes this for her church.  (It's has been so fun getting on board with what she is doing!  I love this!)
  • Keep nutritious, non-perishable snacks and drinks in your car.  My favorites: protein bars (Nature Valley from Sam's Club), nuts, juice packs, water bottles.  You can hand these out individually when you see someone out with a sign, or you can package them in a brown paper bag with a napkin.  I used to put in little Gospel of John booklets when I could get them for free.  Now I sometimes put in a note of encouragement.
  • Find out where homeless folks congregate in public in your area.  A mile from our home, there is a little spot wedged between a liquor store, a vacant lot, and a bus stop.  I can usually find someone there who needs a little help.  I do not ever go into the homeless camps in the woods since it is way too dangerous.
  • Buy a bag of disposable hot beverage cups with lids, some whole milk, and some hot chocolate mix.  Make a big batch, put six cups in a shoebox, and take to a place where you know you can find someone on a cold or rainy day.  Why whole milk?  Extra calories and fat to keep them full and warm.  Why the shoebox?  It’s easy to hand off so they can pass it around.
  • Keep extra blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, sweaters, jackets, or inexpensive plastic ponchoes in your car.  Package them in plastic bags and have them ready to hand out the window.   Let your friends know that you do this, so they can share what they have.  Cloth tote bags and knap sacks are also helpful.
  • Gather hygiene supplies and package them up in “love bags.”  Give them out at a homeless outreach or donate them to a shelter.  (My son-in-law’s grandmother does this and recruits lots of folks to help.)
  • Buy a bunch of first aid supplies and divvy them up into zip lock baggies to make first aid kits.  I have twice used this as a classroom project, once in a home school co-op and the other time in the private Christian school where I now teach.  Try to include adhesive bandages with antibiotics imbedded in them, individually packaged wet wipes, individually packaged pain reliever, cough drops, etc.
  • Organize a group outreach with your friends, family or fellow church members, perhaps in conjunction with an existing charitable organization.  Try to do this consistently.  It pays to have a regular presence.  Check with local officials to see if you need permits.  My daughter and her husband, with a couple dozen friends, do a monthly meal in the back parking lot of a local motel where many homeless folks live.  They give out clothes and blankets, too.  A lot of people come back each month.
  • Remember beauty.  If you are hosting a meal, get a bouquet of flowers (silk or fresh) to bring for a centerpiece.  Be ready to give them away when you are done.  Get a guitarist or singer to provide a bit of music. 
  • Remember fun for the kids: goodie bags, craft tables, activities, colorful socks, Christmas presents...
  • Make a list of local organizations, with details about what services they offer to the homeless, their hours, phone number, address and web site.  If you are gathering this information on the internet, call the organizations and make sure everything is still accurate. Make a bunch of copies and keep them in your car to hand out.   Give more than one.  Usually, a homeless person has friends who need help, too.  In addition to the organizations which specifically minister to the homeless, include food banks, thrift stores, your state’s public aid agency, job assistance programs, substance abuse programs, mental health clinics, domestic violence shelters, crisis pregnancy center, churches who provide emergency shelter in bad weather, etc.  I created have a list of 25 for my county, especially those within easy walking or bus distance from my target homeless population.  (The list in the blog post linked below needs to be updated, and was for a more general area.) 

A Few Cautions… 
  • Don’t ever give out your full name or your phone number or your address.
  • Don’t go to unsafe places, or even anywhere when it is not in full daylight and other people are around.
  • Don’t give out cash.  There are so many scammers out there!  (OK, I do make rare exceptions if I am pretty sure someone is on the up and up.)
  • Don’t have strangers stay in your home.  I know of folks who have gotten robbed and murdered while trying to help someone out this way.  Instead, point them to a local shelter.  Be extremely careful about even offering to give someone a ride there.  
  • Be very alert.  If you sense any danger, get away.  Some homeless folks are also mentally ill or under the influence.  That does not mean they are always dangerous, but they could be.

Lots more ideas at these great web pages!

My other blog posts on homelessness...

This blog post has been one list after another.  Let me add a more personal note.  The hot chocolate run was this morning.  I had bought the cups ahead of time because I knew I wanted to do this sometime soon.   I took a chance that I'd be able to find someone out there, because they aren't always there and it's pouring.  Today they were, standing under the overhang at the liquor store, enough cold men for all six cups.  I also gave them a bag of protein bars and some Cutie oranges, which are really easy to peel and not messy to eat. I went back a little later with the rain ponchos and the "Where to Go for Help" information pages.  I stood and talked for several minutes with one man, who said he'd already been to the outreach dinner just before Thanksgiving.  He was so thankful (understatement!) that I had taken the time to come and find them, and called the other guys over to give them their hot drinks. They were all grateful, too.  It was such a little thing to me, such a big thing to them.  Yes, I have a hot chocolate stain on my sweater, but as the guy said when he took my box, "You wear it well!"

Please know that I am not sharing these things to boast about what a good person I am.  That is SO not my heart.  I take that risk of people thinking that. My point is to raise awareness, give practical ideas, and spur you to intentional action.  What are you going to do?  Any other ideas for us? Leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sweet Grandma, Dorothy Ransom Hess (In Memoriam)

Dorothy Ransom Hess
November 1914 - January 2014

My beautiful Grandma Hess passed away in her sleep early this morning at the age of 99.  She was such a sweet and lovely person, inside and out. I have only the very happiest of memories with her. I know she is having a wonderful reunion in Heaven with loved ones who have gone on before. Just a few days ago, she was imagining that she was with her brothers and sister, and also that she was baking cinnamon rolls and pies. :-)

October 2012
along with my mother Mary, my daughter Mary,
my two grandsons and myself
Several memories come to mind right away...
  • She kept a drawer of toys at her house in Pennsylvania so we grandchildren could play when we visited. Unfortunately, we always lived hundreds or even thousands of miles away until I was almost a teenager.
  • There was always something good to eat at her house. She and Grandpa were both excellent cooks and so good with showing hospitality. She loved ice cream and all kinds of other desserts, and often ate them before dinner. See My Grandma's Cracker Cookie Bars and My Scrapple Experiment
  • She sent lots of letters and cards.  I especially remember the ones with cute little animals on them. There were also postcards from their world travels.  She and Grandpa were so adventurous! 
  • She was very good keeping up with photo albums.  There is a huge pile of them.  She also kept journals of what happened each day, though never much about her feelings.
  • She is the only person who ever called me Ginny Lynn past the time when I got to kindergarten and found out my name was really Virginia.  And she got away with it.
  • She made colorful afghans for each of my children.
  • She played the organ and piano beautifully.  She knew and loved lots of old hymns.  See Love Lifted MeIt Is Well with My Soul and Sweet Hour of Prayer.
  • The last few times I saw her, she didn't always remember who I was, but she sure was glad to see me anyway!  I am so glad that I have been able to travel to Maryland several times in recent years to see her.  See Visiting Great Grandmother
  • She and Grandpa were faithfully married for almost 76 years, until he passed away in 2010.  See Diamonds in Our Family Tree and 75 Years and Counting: Celebrating the Marriage of Henry and Dorothy Hess
  • Grandpa and Grandma are survived by four of their six children.  David died as a baby, and my mother passed away last summer. They also have 13 grandchildren (I am in the very middle) and I lost track of how many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren they have.  Her children called them Mother and Daddy.
After the more recent photos below, I am including some memories that Grandma Hess wrote about her own younger years. There are plenty of vintage photos to go with them, so keep scrolling down!

July 2013, with my mother (the last time they saw each other)

Summer 2013, with six of my children at her nursing home

She loved to page through photo albums,
remembering those who had gone on before

October 2012 with my grandson

2010, trying to figure out my iPod!
2009 at their 75th anniversary party
Henry, Dorothy, and all five of their children

2008, recovering from hip surgery


Many many years ago, I asked my grandmother to write down some of her memories from growing up and starting a family. What you see below is an excerpt. The full text is at Tribute to My Grandfather, Henry Edward Hess, Sr
Memories from Dorothy Ransom Hess

I was born in a small town called Dorranceton, Pennsylvania, later merged with Kingston. I went to Kingston schools. The first five grades I walked about three blocks to school. Then it was six blocks until I was through eighth grade, then further to walk to high school. When I was around five years old, my father decided to buy a farm, too, and bought one right across the dirt road from the Hess farm. 

So you see, [Henry and I] grew up as neighbors. We only stayed at the farm from May until October and then would go down to our city home. That was until the big stock market crash in 1929. Then my father sold our city place and we lived in the country one. My father was a contractor and built hundreds of homes in the Wyoming Valley. Imagine, in those days he sold homes for $500 and automobiles cost about $500. He was also one of the first to own an automobile in the area. The houses of course didn't have plumbing nor electricity at the beginning. Like out in the country, we used oil lamps and candles and gas lanterns until our fathers bought Delco light plants for our electricity. 

Ransom home in Demunds
Our first radio caused lots of excitement. We had to use our ear phones so only one could listen at a time until we finally got a speaker to set up on top the radio. You didn't just plug in your radio at first, you had batteries working it. Folks would brag that they heard Chicago last night, or New York.

When I was fourteen I invited Henry to a Valentine Party and they played kissing games. We said we'd all invite boys. So I invited Henry. And he'd never been to a party with kissing games. He drove the Cadillac down, and all the kids were saying, "Who has that big Cadillac?" He was 16. He kissed me and some of the others too. We played Post Office and Spin the Bottle. It was all the rage about then. After that he asked me for a date. From then on if there was anything going on at school Henry and Elizabeth and I would all go together.

Wedding Day
Wedding Day
June 24, 1934

When we first got married we had an apartment over the Ransom garage. We had a nice sized living room and a small kitchen and a bedroom, and we built a big porch across the back. There was an outside toilet, or we used a pail. It wasn't really winterized but we had a heating stove up there.  Our daughter Barbara was on the way when we had the apartment. My mother wasn't well and Mother Hess got sick, and I guess that first winter we went over and stayed with Mother Hess and Henry's brother George in the big Hess house. She died that spring.  Henry's older sister Amelia and her husband Sam were in the Hess big home, and we had George come live with us in the little Hess house down by the road.  There were two Ransom houses and two Hess houses.

One of your Grandfather's first jobs was in an ice plant. Before they learned how to manufacture ice, men cut ice from lakes and ponds and stored it in an ice house where they packed the ice in sawdust to keep it from melting. Then men would truck it from house to house and sell you maybe fifty pounds for your refrigerator and it would keep things cool for a few days. We were married over ten years before we bought an electric refrigerator. After the refrigeration business died down, your grandfather learned how to sell life insurance and that remained until retirement.

While still in the ice business, the war, World War II, came along and your grandfather served in the Navy. He was a Machinist Mate second class. He didn't have to fight. He was on a repair ship to keep refrigeration units working. He was gone for almost two years. They were a long two years for me for we had five children and I was expecting the sixth. 

While he was away in 1944, David George was born in the back of my brother Willis' car with his cord around his neck.  All I could remember was taking the blanket and saying "Here Louise, wrap him up in a blanket." Willis came later and said, "Dorothy, we buried the baby on top of Mother Hess." They wouldn't take a whole grave for a baby. I never wanted to go to the cemetery to see. I heard Henry telling somebody that when we die and are buried he wanted something about David too.  I was in the hospital a week and I don't even remember being in the hospital.

Then along came TV. Our neighbors bought a TV set and graciously let our children and the neighbor children to come in Friday night and sit on the floor and watch a certain family program, like "I Remember Mama" or some such show. It was a great Friday night thrill. After a year or two they wanted to buy a better set so offered their set to Grandpa Hess for a reasonable price and we became TV owners.

Organist at First United Methodist in Dallas, Pennsylvania

1960's or 1970's

Now we are into the Computer Age. What fantastic changes every day. We just can't keep up with what they are doing. Look at your children, as young as they are, having their own web site and we don't even know what all that means. 

I love you so much, Grandma!
I miss you.

Yours always,
Ginny Lynn

Summer 2012

Monday, January 13, 2014

Impressions of EPCOT (Or, What I Learn About Myself)

On Saturday, I had the privilege of spending at day at Disney's EPCOT theme park here in Orlando.  My sister Barb was in town with her husband Dave and three (teen/adult) kids for a multi-park Disney vacation.  Thanks to free tickets from one of my daughters (a Disney photographer), five of my own family were able to enjoy this time with them. 

As I put together this photo post, I am miffed at myself for accidentally deleting more than half of the pictures I took. AARGH! Really!  I know my sister got Photo Pass shots that I haven't seen yet, but I'm known for always wanting some on my own camera.  As it is, the ones I still have are almost all from the United Kingdom and Canada areas in the World Showcase section of the park.  That's what you'll see here.

Anyway, I'm always thinking about something or other wherever I go, and while at EPCOT, I thought about what I'm learning about my family and myself through the things that either appeal to me or aggravate me.

Barb and I in one of our dozens of "sister pics."
One thing I learned:
Disney and Dr. Who (see her t-shirt)
but she loves me even more.
She tells me so very often.
And I love her, too!

What I like in this picture
is the impish amusement
on my face, dimple and all.
It reminds me of my mother.
Barb and I did a lot of
remembering our mother.
She loved to see us have fun.

We decided to take advantage of
our meal discount and eat a large lunch
at the Rose & Crown.
We had to wait until it opened at noon.
I don't like waiting much,
but we found stuff to do,
like getting our picture taken
with Mary Poppins.

While waiting to get in
at the restaurant,
my son and nephew
enjoyed arm wrestling.

Cottage pie, though filling and tasty,
was not nearly as substantial a meal as
the English breakfast burgers and chips that
some of my kids ordered.
That was one minor aggravation since
I had asked the waitress about that
when trying to choose between the two.
One thing I know about myself
is that I like to get the best deal possible
for my money... and I like to eat.
It's a good thing I ordered a side of chips
and that one of my kids shared bites of burger.
lemonade is yummy!
Seven of the 13 cousins
on this branch of the family tree
= good times!
After lunch we split up.
Barb, Dave and I
went to see Off Kilter,
the Canadian Celtic rock band.
I know this about myself:

Family heritage is a huge deal to me,
and that's a huge understatement.
I'm Scottish on my dad's side,
and I love bagpipes and kilts.

Another thing about me:
I love visual details,
even if they are
directly above my head
on a chandelier.
I especially love
historical architecture.

I guess since I love historical architecture,
I'd love living in an abbey! Thing is,
I've never even watched Downton Abbey.
While I love beauty and art,
I'm not much into pop culture.
As I told Barb, I haven't ever watched
Dr. Who or Duck Dynasty either!

What I am into is finding a nice comfy place
to rest my weary feet and head.
It helps that it's pretty, too.
Barb and her husband are outside listening to
a Brit rock band play Beatles songs.
I can hear it fine from here.

I discovered recently that though I love people,
can easily give a speech in front of a big crowd,
work in a classroom with a bunch of kids,
or talk to complete strangers anywhere,
I am also an INTROVERT.
I require solitude every single day,
quiet space for my thoughts and I
to talk to each other.
Even at EPCOT.

You should also know,
if you don't already,
that I love flowers,
especially in variety beds or vintage planters.
And I especially love to enjoy nature
just rambling around slowly.
This is in ironic contrast to the fact
that when I am at theme parks
I also like to cram in as much as I can.
Ambling around drinking in beauty, yes!
Dawdling, no.

Nature lover?
What reminded me of this most
was the Soarin' ride, a simulation of
touring over California on a hang glider.
(We went on it twice.
Barb loves it as much as I do.)

We lived near San Francisco
for many years as children.
Our parents always had the sense
to take us to see the grandeur of creation.
I said to my kids yesterday,
"This was my California childhood.
Mountains, rivers, waterfalls,
wine country, beaches."

I miss Yosemite. I miss my Mommy.

What else did we miss
on the EPCOT photos that got deleted?
Here's what.

This area is where I took
most of my architectural photos.

I got some good ones.
They're gone.  I'm feeling it.

I love that the cultural decor in all of the countries
is classic, clean, simple, tasteful and orderly.
Typical Disney image, of course.

I kept saying, "When I get home, 
I need to to clean and declutter the house!"

That's what I'm doing today.
Ice cream. 
Two of us went off to bring some back
for ourselves and two others.

But it was a long walk. Ice cream drips.
What classic photos
that you will never get to see.

Oh, I love smooth ice cream!
This stuff was heavenly.

With all that chocolate dripping
off my son's ice cream onto my hand,

I just wanted to take some
big licks off of his cone!

He would not have been amused.

Chinese acrobats.
Beauty, grace, humor, and amazing agility.
Those I like. 
What's not to like?
One thing.

The young ladies seemed like
bobble head dolls,

such a shallow caricature
of their true strength and poise.

It seemed like their
femininity became infantile.

Trying to be deferential,
they looked silly
and lost their real dignity.
Know this:
I will not raise my daughters
as bobble heads.
Lots of other stuff, too.
But never mind that.
So I lost some photos.
I still had a great day.
And one thing you might now about me...

I try to take life as it comes.
Savor the moments.
Don't sweat the small stuff.
Give it to God.
Laugh a lot.
Love much.
Live well.

You can see some of them here: 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Family & Blog Recaps

Dear friends,

This has been the most challenging year of transitions for me and my family, but as I look back, I see so many bright spots, too.  Here they are, by family member.

At the Western Wall
sacred temple site in Jerusalem

Mary and her husband Ryan traveled to Israel with their two little boys this fall and had a splendid adventure.  She continues to work part-time as a writer for a PR firm and he is a police car mechanic.

In Bolivia
Julia and her husband Alex announced that they are expecting their first baby, a son, in May.  They both work for a restaurant equipment company. This summer, they led a church mission trip to Bolivia. They have also led several local outreaches to the homeless. 

Rachel graduated from UCF’s nursing school, summa cum laude with Honors in the Major.  As soon as she passed her licensing exam, she was immediately hired as an RN at Florida Hospital.  She also moved into her first apartment.

Joanna spent a semester abroad at the University of Canberra in Australia, and traveled as much as she could, including to the Great Barrier Reef and New Zealand. She has returned to work as a Disney World photographer, and has been taking all of her brothers and sisters in for free in the past few weeks. She plans to graduate from UCF in December with a degree in Interpersonal Communications.

Lydia graduated from The Regent Academy and is now an art student at Seminole State, where even as a dual enrollment student, she won two awards in the juried art show last spring.  She works for Chick-Fil-A.

Andrew started public high school after being home schooled.  He’s one of only a dozen high school students in our area taking Russian – two credits in one year!  He's over 6 feet tall now.

Micah started attending a private home/classroom hybrid school part-time and is taking several on-line courses.  He’s an excellent photographer, and you’ll see some of his work in posts linked below.

At chorus concert
Naomi is our first child to ever go to public middle school.  She’s especially enjoying chorus class, and her first concert was last month.  She loves to bake and hang out with her friends.

Ben continued in public school and is a talented artist and all around funky kid.  He’s intent on growing his hair out long again (like it is in this summer picture) and mastering PacMan on his vintage Gameboy. 

Melody returned to public school after a year of home schooling. She just got her first pairs of glasses, and is as spunky and cuddly as ever.  She makes up random songs and says, "I'm as cute as a polar bear!"

Thad works as a trust manager for a family member. He enjoys getting out into nature and working out at the Y.

Six kids and I at Luray Caverns in June
Family Travel: We’ve got some globetrotters in the family, but the rest of us did a bit of traveling, too.  After selling our 15 passenger van and buying a mini-van this spring, I drove six of the kids to Maryland for a three week vacation, visiting with family and having all sorts of amazing adventures along the way.  Unfortunately, only a few days after we arrived home, we heard the wrenching news that my sweet mother had passed away unexpectedly from surgical complications after several weeks in the hospital.  I’m glad that my husband and I, all 10 of my kids, a son-in-law and one of my grandsons were able to make it up there for the memorial service.  It was good to see so many relatives again, including my grandmother, who just turned 99.

Virginia (that's me!)  Besides grieving for my mother, I’ve had other life transitions, including turning 50, handling assorted crises, being diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and low thyroid, leaving a home school co-op after several years, scrambling to register five kids in four different schools in a very short period of time, revamping my homemaking strategies, and returning to paid employment after over 26 years of full-time mothering and over 20 years of home schooling.  I'm delighted to say that I love my job teaching language arts, American history, and world geography three days a week at a home/classroom hybrid school.   Yes, it is quite a juggle mothering, running a home, and working as a teacher, but my Christian counselor strongly encouraged me to keep on writing and taking pictures, too!   I’m grateful that blogging is a powerful way to reflect on life, maintain sanity, stay in touch with my family, and hopefully make a difference in the world. 

Many of my fellow bloggers are doing “Best Posts of 2013” recaps, so here’s my shot at it.  I couldn’t pick just 10, so would you settle for 30 that represent my year in prose, poetry, and pictures? At least I categorized them for you… :-) 

Nature Observation


Transitions & Tributes



Hymns & Scriptures


Home & Health




Ministry, Leadership, and Character


Blog Series Started in 2013 

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