Saturday, January 12, 2019

When City Council fails to listen to their constituents.

Today I'm sharing the statement from the petitioners who were trying to repeal a new Community Improvement District (CID) because I think it's important to know what happens when City Council fails to listen to their constituents.

I have outlined in two different blog posts an experience I had with my City Council Representatives, Councilman Scott Taylor (6th District At-Large) and Kevin McManus (6th District) as the leader of a prominent neighborhood with over 3,300 homes, easily one of the largest associations in the entire City. We are organized and passionate about our community, yet these two councilmen completely failed to work with us on this situation.

Part 1- https://angielile.blogspot.com/2018/12/single-owner-cids-equal-taxation.html

Part 2- https://angielile.blogspot.com/2018/12/waldonians-deserve-better-than-current.html 

Now for the continuation of the story (below) which is what happened with the petition (not successful) and why it is so important to have a city council who listens to us and actually wants to work with us before passing an ordinance even when we are trying to get them to slow down.

Once an ordinance is in place, it takes many people working together night and day to get 3,417 signatures minimum to repeal it.

Compare that to the fact that all Councilman Taylor needed to do was to hold this off of the meeting agenda when we asked him to in order to have a community meeting.

And because he didn't, several petitioners spent days over the course of the holiday season when they would rather be home and cozy spending time with loved ones.

This is completely un-called for and I for one will NOT be voting for him for Mayor because it is clear to me that he has no intention of ever listening to me or anyone else unless they have deep pockets and carry the title of "Developer".

Following is the statement from petitioners:

A new Community Improvement District (also known as a CID) was passed by Kansas City Council with 10 votes in favor and will increase sales tax by 1% for 20 years (to be automatically renewed for 20 years for a total of 40 years) to pay for improvements to the area.

While most residents in Waldo want to see the property improve, many take strong objection to being asked to foot the bill and a petition initiative was launched to try and repeal ordinance 180916 (also known as the Wornall Village CID).

The Wornall Village CID Petitioners spent many days working to collect signatures for our referendum petition.  Our efforts were primarily to bring more transparency to the new taxing district, which is layered on top of another CID, without the knowledge or vote of the people who shop there.  

Unfortunately, due to cold weather conditions and the holidays, there were simply not enough signatures to meet the threshold by the required deadline (January 13, 2019) to repeal the ordinance and put it to a vote.

Even though we were disappointed in the overall outcome, we believe that there was enough interest generated to move forward with an effort to try to reform the way CIDs are created throughout the whole city and would urge our City Council to take action to create a new ordinance to address these glaring issues:
  1. There currently is no limit to how many CIDs can be installed in one area.
  2. There is no minimum requirement for how many property owners should be in charge of a CID.
  3. There is no accountability for property owners who allow their property to become blighted in order to qualify for a CID.
  4. Since this is a sales tax, there should also be a public notice placed outside the area for a minimum of 30 days to allow for people to learn about the tax.
  5. There should also be at least one public meeting that is hosted by the council person who is sponsoring the ordinance with plenty of notice for all people who live around the proposed district to plan to attend.
  6. There should be a vote by the property owners who surround the proposed district, similar to what has to be done with a transportation district.
We are currently researching which CIDs currently are not reporting their annual financial budget as required by the State of Missouri, and will be reporting those to the appropriate people and asking our City Council to hold these CIDs accountable for their lack of communication.

The bottom line is that we will not turn a blind eye to future CIDs and will do everything in our power to make sure more restrictions are put in place to protect the voters.

Please make sure you remember these CIDs when deciding whether to vote for the Mayor’s new sales tax this April.

We would like to thank everyone who signed and would like to invite you to pay attention to the efforts put forth by the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform and the work that they are doing which is in alignment to this issue.http://kctifwatch.org


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Waldonians deserve better than the current Wornall Village CID plan.

I used to be that person, who voted for and paid many tax increases that came up because (a) I could afford it and (b) it was going to a cause that I believed in. I still believe in certain tax increases (property tax for libraries and schools for example) because I believe those services help disadvantaged people and because there is public input and oversight on how they spend the funds they receive. For me it's the equivalent of each of us pitching in to create better living conditions for everyone.

I’ve been in the role of “neighborhood leader” or “neighborhood advocate” for quite some time now and as such I have been fortunate to meet and work closely with people who shape the future of our neighborhood. However, I’m starting to become a lot more skeptical, as I learn more and more about how these development deals are put together, about who benefits and who is impacted.

Over the years, Waldo has risen up against corporate takeover by the likes of Walmart because they were not good stewards to the disadvantaged and forced them to work 3 part time jobs with no health insurance, just to get by. Residents stood with small business owners to say that Walmart would not be a good fit for Waldo.

 As a business owner, I have served on the Waldo Area Business Association board for several years and have gotten to know many of the people that own the small businesses in Waldo. These are people who want to see our neighborhood improve, our residents happy, and our diversity grow. This board of people (that you can meet any time you are out and about) are also the “steering committee” for lack of a better word, for the Waldo CID and the two boards work very well together on everything from security to neighborhood support to beautification.

The Waldo CID, which stretches from 85th street along Wornall Road to Gregory and then along Gregory to Oak, charges a ½ cent sales tax at all of the businesses within the district. You can read more about them here- https://www.waldokc.org/business-association/waldo-cid/

This ½ cent sales tax pays for the security car and personnel with a public number you can call whenever you need help, a cleaning crew to pick up trash in the public right-of-way in the district and to help get graffiti cleaned up, and neighborhood events like the Waldo Fall Festival and other things like the store-front improvement grant (money to business owner to help pay for beautification projects) and the paint program to help business owners pay for painting their business (we’re hoping to see some cool murals coming soon). This CID and the board that runs it are always at our public events and easy to reach. These are the types of people I trust to handle tax-payer funds.

What I oppose is a 1% sales tax collected by property owners (and their lawyers and bankers) that I had never met face to face until yesterday when I attended the West Waldo Neighborhood Association Meeting.  Property owners (and their lawyers and bankers), who rarely got involved in what the rest of the Waldo Area Business Association was up to, are now authorized to collect a 1% sales tax and tax payers will most likely never even know and they certainly won’t know what the money is being used for.

We’ll see improvements to the area, sure, and maybe they’ll even maintain the property now, we can hope. But beyond that, beyond the $6-$8 million that we’ll be paying for these improvements, we’ll never know. And let’s talk about those improvements too because we won't have a say in how much they contract the work for, the quality of the materials or whether they hire a family friend at above-market-rates and even if we do find out later that they did, there would be nothing to stop them from it because there are no rules or oversight for single-owner CIDs.

The Tutera Group is asking you to take them at their word that they will “do the right thing” but there are no promises being made and no ramifications for misuse.

Read Nicole Galloway's report on the Ward Parkway CID- https://app.auditor.mo.gov/Repository/Press/2017147778472.pdf?_ga=2.207034003.1672246123.1544981177-1044869885.1543511937

I have to stop here for just a minute because I wanted to give a shout out to Amy Stock, the President of the West Waldo Neighborhood Association who put the meeting together. I’m grateful that she did and that our neighborhood association was able to broadcast that meeting to our neighbors. It is hard to be where this group is right now, trying to organize interested people to help advocate for their neighborhood on issues just like this one. They need more people to help, to jump in and form a real board of vested residents and no matter where you are at on this issue, if you live within their boundary, I really hope you will get involved!

The meeting was well attended and heated at times because many residents feel like they are being put over a barrel: Pay for the improvements or never see the improvements. That doesn’t seem like a fair ask and many people are rightfully upset.

From my perspective, this project is part of a much larger discussion and that is at what point do we draw the line? The rapid-fire set up of this CID proves that council is moving much too fast and not following up on the information that is given. It was shown several times through this process that the developer and property owners were telling a lot of different stories.

 Since many people couldn’t make it to the meeting, and because there are already conflicting reports about the discussion, I’ll place an audio recording that I took right here so you can listen for yourself. I would recommend downloading it to play with your audio player so you can skip around.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_CyD9vxP-pQlL-laFjySYrO5pI-7okKh/view?usp=sharing

At about 42 minutes in there is a lot of talk about how the CID will serve to pay the loan and potentially the entire project over the course of the 20 years,with a 6%-7% estimated profit margin and when they talked about whether it would end once the loan was paid off, I specifically asked him if he could guarantee that it would end in 20 years or less and he said “No”.

I have protested a few projects at City Hall before and I happen to know that our elected officials are regular people who are capable of making mistakes. Their job is to seem like they are in control, but many of them rely on office staff and attorneys to work out the finer details.

Citizens have gotten used to trusting elected officials in power and blindly assume that they are protected from bad deals like this when in truth, many of the “i”s are not dotted and the “t”s are not crossed and we are the ones left holding the bag.

And is it any wonder? I mean just talk to the people getting off of the bus and you'll find that many people are struggling to get by, working full-time or several part-time jobs and don't have time to follow an ordinance through the various meetings and processes to advocate for themselves at City Hall, yet they are the ones being asked to increase their grocery bill.

I’ve written in my last blog post at how many mistakes were made along the way and this is just ONE CID in Waldo. - https://angielile.blogspot.com/2018/12/single-owner-cids-equal-taxation.html

Hundreds of CIDs are being formed across Missouri and even more across the Nation. When do we stop?



I can’t be who I am and not say something or do everything in my power to let people know that their money is going in to a dark hole and if you believe that we have a personal responsibility to know what our money is being used for, then you might agree that others who will be affected by these taxing districts will not even know (a) why their bill is going up and (b) how to find a better alternative.

I mean, we are talking about driving a certain population away from our special shopping districts after all. Even if the 1% tax doesn’t affect WIC or other government aid, many disadvantaged people are hovering right above the national poverty line who don’t qualify and will most certainly feel the pain of adding 1% more to their bill. I personally don’t want to be complicit in taxation without representation. Waldonians deserve better than the current plan.

If you are a Kansas City Missouri voter and believe that voters should get to choose whether to pay a 1% tax to a private company for 20+ years with no oversight, please help us get this issue on the ballot and come sign our petition.

We’ll be at the Waldo Public Library today from 1pm to 4pm and tomorrow (December 17th) from 5pm to 8pm. We also need helpers to collect signatures with multiple events being planned, please email info@wornallvillagecidpetition.com to join the team.

We have 30 days and need as many people as possible.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Single Owner CIDs Taxation without Representation

One might argue that any special taxing district violates our right to vote on sales tax increases but in the case of single-owner Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), tax payers must pay for the blight caused by poor property management and they won’t ever get a say in the matter.

From a commercial real estate developer’s perspective, it’s a smart business model. Save on your maintenance costs to allow your property to become run-down and for lack of a better word (and because it’s their favorite word), blighted, and stop renewing leases to drive your tenants away so that you qualify even higher on the “blight meter”, ignore glaring (and basic) maintenance such as pruning weeds and painting and plan the biggest, most awesome grocery store in the neighborhood with tax payers’ money as your collateral.

It’s a win-win because banks will loan you the capital to improve the property (oh and maybe we’ll put a banker on the CID board because everyone trusts a banker, right?) once City Hall agrees to let you charge a 1% sales tax specifically to cover your loan payments.

Since there are no laws to prohibit single-owner CIDs and no one has ever been able to successfully convince our city council that they should re-think this strategy, new ones are popping up all over town.

Pretty soon, overlapping CIDs will cover the entire neighborhood and voters will either be completely unaware of why prices seem higher over time and if they do know, they feel helpless because they seem to have no way to vote “no” on these tax increases.

Or do they? I recently found myself once again at odds with our City Councilman (and Mayoral candidate) Scott Taylor and City Councilman Kevin McManus for their sponsorship of a petition for a single-owner CID at 85th and Wornall Road (named the Wornall Village CID).

The full proposal (including the evidence of blight created by lack of maintenance) can be found here- https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WhKXvAewFy31XOmejeHr4YAs7eY2QWza/view

For our council it seemed like business as usual and that CIDs are the best tool ever. Never mind that the Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway conducted an intense study recently and found that CIDs are at risk for severe mismanagement.

Not only that, but so many CIDs are being created in Missouri that the Department of Revenue can’t keep up with processing them all (causing an un-named cost on our resources).



You can read the study for yourself right here- https://www.auditor.mo.gov/content/auditor-galloway-urges-reform-cid-laws-after-discovering-pattern-self-dealing-and-lack 

State law allows sales taxes to be imposed without voter approval. During the year ending December 31, 2017, 314 CIDs received sales tax revenue totaling approximately $57 million. 

Many people know me for my involvement in the Waldo neighborhood. I’m just now stepping down from a 2-year term as the President of the Waldo Tower Neighborhood Association and I’m joining the Waldo Area Business Association’s Advisory board after serving on the WABA board for 11 years as a business owner. I support the Waldo CID because it is a true district of business owners who must all agree and vote on how funds are spent.

Last year, we viewed a short presentation on a renovation being planned in the run-down strip mall at 85th and Wornall (on the west side). Many of us were pretty excited to hear that the owner had finally figured out what to do with it since the property had been seriously declining over the years (even before I moved in around 2002).

Around this same time, I was protesting the creation of a single-owner CID to fix blight at the Intercontinental Hotel on the Plaza. This was a 5-Star Hotel that was in serious need of repair due to lack of maintenance.

 I took issue with the fact that (1) the owners were responsible for the current (blighted) conditions, yet the blight is what is allowing them to set up the CID and (2) the owners and their vendors are on the CID board, overseeing the tax monies being collected and voters do not get a say in how it is spent. All CIDs are set up with a 20-year term and it’s very easy to renew when the term runs out so this is essentially an unlimited supply of funds from unsuspecting tax payers.

I’m positive that if the owners of the property at 85th and Wornall (the Tutera Group) had mentioned that they were going to create a single-owner CID to pay for the extravagant remodel they had planned, I would have said something right then and there. But they never did.

 As a matter of fact, the CID component of their plan was not evident even to the Waldo Area Business Association board members until Mayoral Candidate Scott Taylor shared the news piece about his new project.

 Once that story broke, I began searching through the Clerk communications to find out when this would be discussed at City Hall.

https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/sales-tax-increase-considered-for-84th-and-wornall-shopping-center 

 The CID was named, “Wornall Village CID (first 180889, then subbed as 180916)” and was not communicated very well which is an example of just how often the city fails to communicate issues to important stakeholders with correct information. Changing numbers and lack of communication creates chaos for any stakeholders to track important issues in order to show up for public testimony. 

My first complaint is with the clerk for the email that was sent out on November 27, 2018 to announce the Business Session would discuss the "Wornall Plaza CID".

 http://kansascity.granicus.com/AgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=11122 

 The "Wornall Plaza CID" is the property also known as the Intercontinental Hotel (which, ironically, is also a single-owner CID that I protested last year).

 On November 29, 2018 at 10:30am, after I asked the clerk to communicate to me any meetings planned for the Wornall Village CID, I was put in touch with the City Planner who told me that the communication was a mistake and that they would be discussing the Wornall Village CID, not the Wornall Plaza CID.

 The meeting was at 1:00pm so at this point I was unable to get to it due to late notice and the miscommunication, so I sent an email voicing my concerns to the entire city council. 

My second complaint is that the video and the minutes are still not posted on the city’s website which is unacceptable. I wanted to read the minutes or watch the video to see if my written complaint was included. After waiting several days, on December 4, 2018, I wrote to the clerk to ask about the video.

 I was told that there was some sort of technical error with the audio and that they were trying to fix it and get it posted. At this time, I asked for the minutes. I received the minutes on December 4, 2018 at 10:20 am only to find out that this was approved, my testimony was not included and that it was immediately moved to the PZED committee (the last step for taking public testimony) for December 5, 2018.

Since the minutes are not posted on the city’s website, but were emailed to me by the Clerk, I have posted them online for viewers to read here- https://drive.google.com/open?id=1M44QOh9WuBg6uE38oBK5fnAy6_ujw4Tl 

I went back to the communication from the clerk for the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development committee meeting (which was sent out on December 3, 2018) and found that the ordinance was indeed on the agenda with a new ordinance number.

Sending out the agenda on December 3rd for a meeting that will happen on December 5th and changing the ordinance number and not notifying affected parties means that not many people could make that meeting.

Normally when something is going to this committee, the last place to give public testimony, our councilmen would reach out to us and ask us to come down and testify. We've been asked to testify in favor of Scott Taylor's East Side initiative for example.

If our councilmen thought we were "all in favor" of this CID as Councilman Taylor testified that day in the PZED committee, then why weren't we asked to come and show that support?

This is when I emailed city council again (rather forcefully) and received a call from Scott Taylor’s aide. First, she told me that sometimes when there are lots of emails sent in on an ordinance, they are unable to read each email in to the minutes of that meeting. Of course, this does not explain why objection was never noted.

As a matter of fact, according to the minutes, there were no objections at all that were noted. At the very least there should have been mention of the “multiple” emails that were received if they had too many to read.

 My second complaint was that the new CID would not have any public oversite on spending. The Auditor’s report even pointed to the Ward Parkway Mall CID as an example of misuse that occurs when there is only one business tied up in a CID.

https://martincitytelegraph.com/2018/12/04/proposed-community-improvement-district-for-85th-wornall-gets-vote/ 

The state auditor said (on page 11 of her report) that since there are no state laws to protect the tax payer’s funds and how they are managed, it is up to the municipalities (our City Council) to protect us.

 In the absence of a law change, municipalities must provide more critical review of district petition documents to ensure the interests of the public are considered. 

One of the ways for them to protect tax payer interest that was suggested was to have city representatives appointed to the single-owner CID board as a legally authorized representative. 

Imagine my surprise when Scott Taylor’s aide told me that their city attorney was consulted and that it was not possible to appoint their own authorized representative to a single-owner CID.

I later found out that there already is one, called the North Oaks Plaza Shopping Center CID. This is a single-owner CID with 2 city representatives listed as legally authorized representatives. Of course even having citizen oversite didn’t stop this CID from breaking state laws by hiring contractors directly related to the property owner without soliciting bids.

 https://app.auditor.mo.gov/Repository/Press/2017102261139.pdf 

My final request to our city council was to table this off of the PZED agenda until after a community meeting which had already been arranged by the West Waldo Neighborhood for December 15th and I encouraged Councilman Taylor and McManus to attend.

Unfortunately, the issue was NOT tabled from the agenda and even though I was able to get my objections entered in to the discussion, they were downplayed by Councilman Taylor who said that the auditor’s report was mostly about malpractice in St. Louis (which was definitely NOT true) and that overall the Waldo community supported it.

You can watch the discussion here (ordinance 180916)- http://kansascity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=11138 

 I was astounded when Kathryn Shields was the only person to call in to question the timing of this on the agenda with regards to my request to table it until after the meeting and even more taken aback when the developer replied that they had already had plenty of community meetings.

They had meetings but all they talked about was the renovation, not how it was to be paid for by tax payer funds.

My last complaint is that the developer’s attorney was allowed to lie to the committee and say that he had spoken with me! He and I had NEVER spoken up to that point.

Readers can watch the video recording showing he lied to the committee and my phone records show when his first call came in. So I can prove that he lied.

I will say that he did reach out to me the following day, on December 6th, and invited me to the community meeting on the 15th and said that the owners really wanted our support.

However, back in the PZED meeting he said that the Waldo Area Business Association and the Waldo Tower Neighborhood Association supported this project without allowing us to be in the room to either confirm or deny that claim.

Most of us would LOVE to see this area improved. I mean take a look at the codes violations (which is also the City’s responsibility to enforce, is it not?) and you can see that this is not a property owner that is in good community standing.

Dairy Queen Violations:

http://webfusion.kcmo.org/coldfusionapps/ActionCenterRequest/CaseInfo.cfm?CaseID=2018165859 

http://webfusion.kcmo.org/coldfusionapps/ActionCenterRequest/CaseInfo.cfm?CaseID=2017127556 

Home Violations (for the two houses behind the Price Chopper): 

http://webfusion.kcmo.org/coldfusionapps/ActionCenterRequest/ServiceOrderSubmit.cfm?SO_ID=1165142 

http://webfusion.kcmo.org/coldfusionapps/ActionCenterRequest/ServiceOrderSubmit.cfm?SO_ID=1198278 

 The Waldo community was not told about the creation of a CID which basically means that unsuspecting tax payers will pay to fix things up. How does this create incentive for property owners across the metro to take care of their properties? How is this fair to the other business owners who are good stewards and pay for their own maintenance in order to thrive?

 The single-owner CID is essentially REWARDING property owners for poor stewardship and for CREATING blight.

The Waldo Tower Neighborhood had only just been informed about the community meeting to be held on December 15th and had communicated this information to members. They didn’t know that by the time the meeting was to take place, this was already going to move through City Council and it is shameful that Councilman Taylor blatantly denied my request to table this until after that meeting. 

Luckily, I happen to know a few things about what we, as voters, can do about decisions made at City Hall that we don’t agree to, but time was limited. We had 10 days from December 6, 2018 to file a notice of referendum petition with the clerk.

 So, I reached out on social media to people who felt that their voice had not been heard to see if they wanted to take a course of action with me that could potentially stall, if not halt, this CID from being finalized.

The response was fast and furious. I am happy to report that we were able to gather enough signatures (in a very short period of time) to file a notice of referendum petition to temporarily halt the CID from going into effect until we’ve had a chance to really ask voters whether they think it’s fair to reward property owners with unlimited tax dollars to do what they want with a property that they have not been taking care of in the first place.

 It took us about 4 days to talk to 100 people, most of them living within the area and directly behind it. I am confused as to why it is so hard for the developer or the City Planner to actually speak to these folks?

 During this week of organizing the petition, I’ve heard some pretty upsetting stories from the folks living right behind this property and I think our city council needs to hear them too so I hope you’ll agree and show up at the community meeting on December 15, 2018, 10am at Armour Heights Baptist Church, 7900 Jarboe.

 In the meantime, I’ll be blogging updates here (and on other related issues) and I’ll be sure to post public signing events because we are still collecting signatures.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, but the Mind is Mightier than the Pen.

Sometimes, Moms have to sit down and write a blog just as a way of pinching themselves to see if they are really awake. I mean, sometimes I find myself thinking that I really can't believe my life and the things that happen “to” me. We all absorb a lot of drama dealing with even the everyday mundane things, but how many of us can take the drama and say it happens “for” them instead of “to” them?

For example, I recently took the girls to Target. We were shopping for school supplies and using one of those two-seater carts that the girls were getting way too big for. I kept mentioning this fact as we went through the store along with the usual litany of items such as keep your hands in the cart, don't stand up, sit down, stop talking so mean, please keep your hands to yourself, you don't really need to tie yourself in, etc etc. Oh, is this boring you? Seem pretty routine? Well then how about the drama of me not being able to locate my pen? Yes, I was very determined to find my pen, searching and searching for it while the kids were busying themselves looking at things on the shelves. I could picture it so vividly in my mind, the clear Bic pen with black lettering. Only it wasn't in my purse. After giving up on the pen, the real drama presented itself.

Sophie was reaching out of the cart while standing up and to place something back on a rack that she had previously lifted. As she leaned out, she missed her placement for her hand and swung around to collide with the side of the cart against her rib cage. I could tell that it hit her in such a way that it would most likely bruise, and her face grew bright red as she looked like she was about to wail. Instead, something else happened. She seized up tight and apparently couldn't get any air. She was also not responding to me asking her if she was okay. I continued to escalate my voice as I grew more and more alarmed and her face began to turn a little blue. I decided that perhaps she had choked on something so I tried to turn her around. She was completely limp in my arms and I as I began to run through my mental checklist of what to do, she began to stand on her own and breathe a little.

Well I guess that is when our Target trip really turned into an adventure. As I sat there trying not to faint out into the isle I noticed a small crowd had gathered and people were talking to me trying to see if we were all okay. Target employees came around and asked if we wanted water. I had water and offered it to Sophie who was now looking like she had downed a bunch of cold medicine. Her eyes were glazed, she had no blood in her face and she acted like she was ready to go to sleep. As she sat there swooning in her seat I decided to hit the road.

I called my doctor on the way to the van and they confirmed that a trip to the E.R. was in order. We all took turns in the car saying prayers for Sophie to feel better, for me to get us to the Hospital okay, and for everything to work out fine. Hours later we determined that she had simply knocked the breath out of her lungs which can be quite a shock to someone. They x-rayed her chest and said she would be bruised but just fine.



The woman giving the x-ray remarked on the girls being twins. “I'm a twin!” she exclaimed and suddenly I had a recollection of meeting this woman before. She had been in the hallway outside of an elevator I was on while in the same hospital some 5 ½ years prior, while visiting my twins in the N.I.C.U. I recounted that visit with her and while she didn't remember it, she did not deny that it could have happened. “We both work here and quite frequently are on that floor,” she told me. I suddenly had a strong urge to hug her and felt that everything was going to be just fine.

Mike had come down to the E.R. to help us get back to the car and back home. Sophie began coming around and was really acting a little strange so we talked about what happened so that she knew nothing was her fault and that everything was ultimately okay.

Maggie was the true teacher in the situation. She kept saying that she couldn't believe how many people came to see if Sophie was okay. She kept saying, “just think about how many people at Target love you Sophie!”

It is so very true. We are connected to each other in such deep and meaningful ways that we are not aware of it until we are faced with circumstances beyond our control. There were a lot of people standing around us, wanting to help, each hearing my concerned cries to my daughter and wanting to DO something. That desire, the one to DO something, exists inside each and every one of us even though we teach ourselves to shut it off sometimes. This desire should really be explored within each and every one of us. How much satisfaction would we all receive in our life if we were always DOING something that mattered? What if we were to tap into that innate concern we have for each other and use it when we need it most? At a time when we are tempted to judge or claim that we are owed more than someone else? In my humble opinion, I think that our natural state is the state that those people found themselves in today while feeling that concern for me and our situation. Our natural state is that of caring for our fellow human beings, not for conquering them. Our natural state is that of loving our fellow humans, not of hating them.

Oh, and one last thing, just to tie it all together in one neat little package? As I was checking Sophie into the Emergency room, I was handed a folder that contained brochures on the hospital, privacy policy and … you guessed it... a message from the Universe that my prayers are always answered, in the form of a clear Bic pen with black lettering. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Your Soul and Your Backpack

As a Mom, I constantly find myself in the car driving my twin daughters around to various outings. We try to converse in the car, rather than listen to music or watch the DVD player. Of course the kids would love to watch the DVD player even if its just for a trip to the school and back if I let them, but I prefer conversation and so the TV stays off as we drive around.

This weekend, we were driving up to see my Mom for a day-long visit and the kids decided that they wanted a snack. I offered them up a granola bar and Sophie says, “I want chocolate chip” and Maggie says, “I want peanut butter!”. So I reached into the bag beside me while keeping my eyes on the road and said out loud, “Okay, a chocolate chip for Sophie,” and promptly pulled a chocolate chip granola bar out of the bag. I wasn't too surprised, even though there were other flavors of granola bars in the same bag as well as lots of other items that I had packed. I handed the granola bar to Sophie and reached in again, keeping my eyes on the road, while saying out loud, “and a peanut butter for Maggie!” As I pulled my hand out I could see it was indeed a peanut butter granola bar.

Then I said to the girls, “Wow! How did I do that?” knowing that it wasn't all that surprising. This kind of thing happens to us all of the time. Maggie said, “Magic!” and I said, “Well it could certainly seem like magic!” I explained to them that this kind of thing always happens so it doesn't seem like magic as much to me anymore, but to someone else, it may very well seem as though I had performed a really cool trick.

The truth is, anyone can use “magic” if they wanted to. Whether you are looking for a granola bar, or a parking space, we all have the power to “manifest” our wishes. Of course, many of my readers already know this, but many people do not. They don't understand how it works nor could they if they have never tried. To those people, they may be fearful of some of the things a true “magician” could do. They don't understand that we all have this inherent ability to really affect our own reality, we just have to use our backpacks, just like a certain Hispanic girl does each time she needs a hand on her explorations.


And this is exactly how I explained the whole thing to my girls, who were really quite fascinated, as it turned out:

Before we were born, and before we got ourselves into our human bodies, we were just a spirit, a soul, without a body. We were able to go anywhere we wanted to go, just by thinking about it. So driving in the car was not necessary as we could just think about Grandma's house and be there. We could fly, walk through walls, and we didn't ever need to eat granola bars, because we didn't have a tummy that would get rumbly. We could even be at our school and at home at the same exact time, although we never needed to go to school because we already knew everything there was to know about everything.

When we decided to come down into our bodies, there wasn't very much room in there to hold everything that we knew how to do. Our brains are so small that they couldn't hold all of the knowledge and wisdom that we have when we are not in our bodies. So we had to pack them into our backpacks and leave them in the coat closet, just like we do at school. And just like we have to get our lunch and supplies out of our backpacks from time to time in school, the same goes for our soul's backpack.

In school, you simply get up from your seat and go in the closet and reach in to get your stuff. But with your soul, you have to sit down, be very quiet and meditate to get into your backpack. Its really hard to do because there are lots of thoughts that run through our head and get in the way. In order to get through them all you have to try to watch them come and go and just take notes about them. You really have to sit so very still that there are no thoughts going through your mind at all, and then you'll see your backpack. And the more times you look into your backpack, the better you get at using the things inside your backpack.

Of course this was a great way to explain to my children about why we meditate, but there are lots of other benefits to meditating that some might not know about. Those are also great reasons to begin a steady meditation practice, such as the ability to remain calm in situations that might otherwise make you lose your temper, the ability to make wise decisions regarding your life and purpose, health and body improvements, and a wide variety of psychic abilities, although everyone is different. I never would have considered myself psychic even just 5 years ago, but I have been meditating for about 3 years now and I have to admit that sometimes I do just “know” things. I really enjoy using my backpack and I hope you'll try it to!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Who Cares About Oil and Gas Leaking into the Gulf of Mexico?

Who cares about oil and gas leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, ruining the ecosystem and killing millions of animals? Lots of people. And I can also tell you about someone who doesn't.

Yesterday, while driving home from the grocery store, I turned a corner and found myself behind a car that had slowed to almost a complete stop, right next to a Catholic church and school. While I waited for the car to begin moving, I witnessed the driver, an elderly lady in her 60's, hold a plastic grocery bag out her window and begin to shake it until it became dislodged and floated to the ground. It was immediately caught by the wind and blown towards me.

As a spiritually minded person, I was rather surprised that my body decided to react before I could really observe the emotional state that I found myself to be in. I began tooting my horn at her. Not a long drawn out angry horn honk, but a series of short ones. I saw her look into the rear view mirror and see me so I pointed out at the plastic bag which was slowly making its way to the side of the street where the school was at.

I became even more surprised at myself as I proceeded to follow her slowly when she decided to make a break for it. She sped up, but not too much since we were in a school zone, and made an immediate right turn. I turned right also and was fully intending to stop but was even more surprised when I began following her. I knew full well that this was probably crossing a line. I mean what in the world would I do if she stopped? People in this City got shot with guns for harrassing other drivers.

The problem was that I didn't have my kids in the car, and I really wanted to tell this woman that what she was doing, in my humble opinion, was ludicrous. I mean, here we were staring at a man-made disaster of world-wide devastating proportions, and here SHE was just dumping her plastic bag out the window of her car. The very idea of it really started to steam my britches and I really felt that I could lose touch with that loving side of me if I didn't stop the car. I decided to circle back around the block and to go pick up the bag.

The lady in her car was obviously trying to get away, and this told me intuitively that she wouldn't be throwing plastic out of her car any time soon, judging by the way she hurriedly turned the corners to get away. I turned right to go back to the scene of her crime and she went left, probably going completely out of her way. I wish I could say that I resented my actions, but strangely enough, I didn't. I know deep down that I wouldn't have yelled at her, but I also knew that I certainly had it in me to tell her about the giant vortex of trash in the Pacific ocean, which is the size of Texas, and contains plastic just like the kind she threw out her window.


I took a page from Debbie Ford's book, The Shadow Effect (co-written with Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson), and I embraced this little shadow of mine that popped up and took control of the car for a brief time.  I know that this is the part of me that cares so deeply for the planet, our Earth, and that this part of me has always been passionate, for as long as I can remember. I love that part of myself and I intend to use it. Maybe not to chase elderly litter-bugs around the block, but certainly to help raise more awareness. It's not just the oil companies who destroy our Mother Earth, its us too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why is that song stuck in my head?

We've all had that song get stuck in our head from time to time. Usually there is a reason for it, like all those songs you listen to in the car with your kids that are still sounding off in your brain as you drift away to la-la land. So its easy to understand where the song comes from and why it gets stuck in your head.

Recently, however, I have had some interesting things happen for me with regard to "songs in the head". For me, I wake up and there's a song in my head and usually its a song that I have not heard in awhile. I wake up in the morning, and the song is ringing my mind so loudly that I have no choice but to sing along. It always starts with a lyric or two in the middle of the song, but not always. And I usually have to work out some things in my mind to get the song to go away.

Some recent examples are "Glory of Love" by Peter Cetera, "Rocket Man" by Elton John, and "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas.

These songs can last for days, sometimes weeks, before I can get them to stop hijacking my brain waves. Lately, the song in my head is this one from my early college days at Northwest Missouri State (back when I was known as Angie Richardson) although this particular performance is not the one I was a part of. I just found it on YouTube so that you can hear what I have been hearing:



In the past, when these types of songs get stuck, I am usually reminded of something from my past that is tied to that song. I have learned that this is the way my intuition speaks to me sometimes and that there is a reason that I am causing myself to remember these past events. Once it helped me to find a very old school friend of mine and we have both experienced some healing in our feelings over old arguments. I have learned to trust the song that is stuck because I have learned that it is stuck for a reason.

This Godspell song was a song that I enjoyed singing even though there was no way that I would be allowed to sing that part in a real production as a college freshman. But I would practice singing it over and over with a boy I met there and whom I fell in love with and had a drawn out and ultimately destructive relationship with. So I am not really ready to walk where it is leading me and I am hoping that I can work through this without having to reach out to him. Rather I feel that the focus should remain in the feelings that I had while singing this song. Its such a beautiful sounding song. The tones and harmonies that are used really bring a lot of love to my heart.

I hope you feel that too!