Archive for June, 2009


Take a “Bird Talk” Walk

June 10, 2009Birdfeeder 2007-07

Take a “Bird Talk” Walk

In addition to my container garden which is right outside my back door, I also have a bird feeding area. I love watching the different birds who come to my feeders – goldfinches, a downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse (I wonder what the plural is…titmice?), chickadees, sparrows, starlings, purple finches, brown-headed cowbirds, mourning doves, cardinals, mockingbirds.

When I first put out my feeders, I knew many of the birds but not all of them. It was fun, and therapeutic, looking through my bird book trying to identify birds that I didn’t know. (Click here to learn more about the therapeutic benefits of Bird Feeding and Watching) What made it even more fun was that another friend of mine had also set up bird feeders in her yard.

We would call each other and talk about what kind of birds we saw, the kinds of seed we put out, how to tell the difference between a starling and a grackle, how to attract woodpeckers, etc. We’d look up information about different birds in books or on the internet and share interesting facts we learned.

Birdhouse 2007-11For example, did you know that starlings are not native to the United States? In the 1890s some Shakespeare enthusiasts decided to introduce all species of birds which appeared in Shakespeare’s works. One-hundred starlings were released in New York. Anyone who recognizes a starling can attest how well they have thrived here in the US.

This hobby has created a multitude of therapeutic activities for us. We also put up a couple of nesting boxes which have doors you can open to look inside and watch the birds as they build their nest and lay their eggs. I use the nesting boxes to encourage me to go outside and walk around my yard and explore. My physical and occupational therapists have helped me figure out where best to place outdoor chairs so that I have places to rest.walk in park

This year I’m expanding on the therapeutic benefits of my bird watching hobby to include learning to identify bird songs when I am outside. (Click here to learn more about the therapeutic benefits of taking a “Bird Talk” Walk) The next time you’re outside, take a few minutes to listen to bird songs. If you live in a place congested with noise pollution, go to a park with a friend or family member to listen to the birds. Listening to the various songs can be uplifting, and learning which birds are singing is a great way to exercise your brain cells!

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

Last photo is the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription:
© Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008-2009

Other photos are the property of Angela Cramer, © Angela Cramer, 2008-2009


Container Gardening Therapy – Bringing Color to Dark Spaces

June 6, 2009Kirby & Chia in Flower Garden04 2008 May

Container Gardening Therapy – Bringing Color to Dark Spaces

My life has been in such chaos and uncertainty, it has been very difficult for me to figure out what to do. A few months ago, my heart just wasn’t into doing container gardens this year. With the possibility of losing my home looming overhead, I thought “Why should I put all that time into this project, only to lose my home?”

As the weather warmed and the sun came out and weeds decorated my planters, I said, “Well, why not? I can always pack up the containers. I have at least one friend who would enjoy my plants.”

There’s something magical that happens inside when I throw a few seeds in some dirt, add a little water and sunshine, sit back and watch these barren containers spring forth with green leaves and stems and anxiously await to see what flowers and colors will emerge! Even Kirby and Chia like wandering through and on top of the pots, catching bugs, pulling up stray grass bunches and even eating treasures like fallen cherry tomatoes.

This year I decided not to plant a container vegetable garden, other than herbs and tomato plants. The return on potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers in containers last year was dismal. Definitely not worth all the effort.

I bought a 4-pack of tomatoes to plant, one for my upside down tomato plant and the extras for large pots. Apparently, I have occasional problems with counting….it turns out I bought a 9-pack of tomatoes. So, you can expect more recipes from me using tomatoes, and my neighbors and friends can expect tomato care packages!

For those of you who would like to try a project, I would highly recommend planting a Caterpillar Nursery/Butterfly Garden.  (Click here for more information.) This is very easy and a lot of fun.

garden01For your entertainment, I thought you might enjoy some pictures I received in an email entitled: “When to Chop Off Your Green Thumbs” or “What Kind of Fertilizer Are They Using?”


© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009




Suggestions to My State Legislators

June 5, 2009computer, woman3

Suggestions to My State Legislators

Being the victim of such unfair practices, makes it easier to be passionate about an issue and wanting to see change. Even though I may not benefit from changes, it is worthwhile knowing that other people will not be treated like I was.

The problem becomes figuring out what can I do to start to bring about change? My individual letters to my state legislators are not likely to do much, unless more people like myself step forward.

I have met about 5 other individuals who have been affected by these state retirement systems. Some are scared to join with me to voice their opinions, afraid of retaliation.

Another approach I tried was to call some union leaders at a school to make them aware of the injustices. All they were interested in were the negotiations for the current year’s salaries. Their thinking was much like a teenager’s – “Something like that won’t happen to me, so I’m not going to worry about it.”

So for now, all I know to do, is to write down some suggestions of changes that need to be made and present them to whoever will listen. Right now, that will be my state legislators. Perhaps I’ll learn some new things which will help me figure out what to do next.


Dear State Lawmakers,

While I’m afraid it may be too late to help me, I write this in the hopes of seeing changes for people with disabilities who are battling the state retirement systems (SERS, STRS, PERS) right now…and those who will be fighting long after, unless changes are made now. I’ve been told by several lawyers that our state’s retirement systems are allowed to get away with unfair practices because they have written so much power to themselves in their bylaws. It is not fair for organizations to give so much power to themselves that they are legally able to hurt those people whom we entrust the education and future of our children….and there is no recourse.

If changes that protect school & public workers’ rights cannot be made, then I suggest that these organizations disband the disability portion and leave it to social security. The federal government program is more reasonable than this state’s retirement programs. Besides this, these retirement systems collect money for disability, then have the power to unfairly deny their members and pass off the cost to the federal government when we have to apply for SSI, Medicare and other services which these retirement systems should be providing.

Please consider the following:

#1. School/public employees are forced to pay into state retirement systems instead of social security. When a disability occurs after employment has ended, the former employee cannot apply for benefits. People paying into social security can apply for disability benefits anytime. So why don’t the state retirement systems run their disability benefits the same way?

(Click here to read more)

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

Clipart is the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription:
© Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008-2009


Personal Letter to My State Legislators

June 4, 2009government

Personal Letter to My State Legislators

Although I have signed various petitions, I have never written a letter to my state legislators. I don’t think I ever understood clearly about the functions of senators & congressmen who have offices in Washington and those who have offices at the state capitol.

Now I’m starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The legislators who have offices in Washington, DC can help you with problems related to federal programs & organizations. The ones whose offices are at the state capitol can help you with state programs & organizations. Since much of my difficulties have arisen because of the school employees retirement system (SERS) which is a state retirement system, I need to write to the state legislators instead of the federal legislators.

Here is the letter I sent regarding my personal experiences with SERS. I also sent a letter making suggestions which will appear on my next post.

computer, woman4—————————–

Dear State Legislator,

I sent you an email a few days ago regarding changes which I believe need to be made regarding the state retirement systems. This email includes my personal experiences with SERS which led to me write to you in the first place.

My doctors tell me that I have a closed head injury including brain stem dysfunction, problems with circulation to my brain, a type of migraine which causes stroke-like symptoms, tremor, problems with walking and balance, depression and anxiety and it all started in July of 2004. That’s when I was rear-ended by a truck and my car was totaled. I went to Urgent Care and was told there was nothing broken and my problems were most likely due to whiplash. I continued to be in a lot of pain, have headaches, nausea, memory problems, etc. which continued to get worse.

To make matters worse, I had just lost my job due to millions in school budget cuts and I needed to find work. Still thinking that my problems were just soft tissue damage and that I would be as good as new with a little help, I went to a chiropractor who assured me he could help me with my pain. Never did he tell me of the risk of stroke associated with neck adjustment, or the symptoms of stroke. I faithfully received treatment from him.

Unfortunately, my problems then got worse – I couldn’t talk without stuttering, I had a hard time following conversations and remembering what I had said, I had difficulty walking, could barely sit up for 15 minutes at a time; walking 15 feet from my couch to the kitchen and back wore me out.

I went to see some real doctors and a couple of them thought I had a brain injury from the car accident, as well as migraine, torn rotator cuff, cervical and sacro-lumbar sprain. I tried Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies so that I could hurry up, get better and get on with finding a job. Though I qualified for reduced medical costs, these costs quickly became a few thousand dollars.

I found a lawyer who was experienced with brain injury cases. While the judgment was in my favor, the insurance company lawyers worked hard to minimize my symptoms and the award was not enough to cover legal expenses; I received nothing and was left with trying to pay off about $130,000 worth of medical expenses.

My experience with SERS (State Employees Retirement System) has been the same as the lawsuit in that they have bullied me and worked tirelessly to pay me as little as possible.

To support myself right after the accident, I went through my savings, and borrowed against some annuities I owned. I was told I did not qualify for disability pension through Social security because my money was being paid into the state retirement systems for about 15 years as mandated by state law.

Finally in April 2005, I learned that I might be able to apply for disability benefits with SERS since I was still paying into SERS at the time of my accident.  I turned in my application by June 2005. Over the next 4 months, they sent me to 3 doctors whom they hired to examine me.

In March 2006 they sent me a letter denying me disability pay, saying there was nothing wrong with me.  I appealed their decision, by submitting additional findings from my doctors. They were not very prompt in getting me an answer.

But, eight months later, at the end of Oct 2006, I received a letter from them saying..oops, I am disabled but not from the accident so they didn’t have to pay me any back pay because according to them the accident didn’t cause my problems. For some reason their board determined I had first become incapacitated on Sept 1, 2006.  When I called them asking about this, they told me that this was their decision and there was nothing I could do about it. My advocate and I called numerous bar associations trying to find a lawyer who dealt with SERS cases on a contingency basis, but could find none.

(Click here to read more)

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

Clipart is the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription:
© Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008-2009

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June 2009
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