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Candle in a Withered Tree
By Kathy Hare

"On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me," a candle in a withered tree.

"On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me," two late-payment notices, and a candle in a withered tree.

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me," the third foreclosure warning, two late-payment notices, and a candle in a withered tree.

"On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me," four bill collectors knocking, the third foreclosure warning, two late-payment notices, and a candle in a withered tree.

          I could go on, but I will spare you. Last year at this time I cautioned readers not to "charge Christmas" because economic experts warned 2008 wasn't going to be a good year. Man, what an understatement that was! This year I'm at a loss as far as giving financial advice. My natural instinct is to tell everyone to hunker down because 2009 and 2010 probably are going to be worse than 2008. Sorry folks, but all the bankers know the foreclosure rates for those years are expected to be much higher than 2008, that's why they are holding on tight to any funds they have.

          But my anger over the Big Three auto executives' private jet flights to Washington D.C., AIG's partying, and an endless list of big payoffs to the fools that caused this economic meltdown, makes me want to tell everyone to spend, spend, spend, whether you have it or not. That's right - spend! Just save enough space on the credit card for a first class ticket to the nation's capital, because Congress isn't bailing out anyone who hasn't demonstrated the ability to spend recklessly.

          Ok, so realistically we all know the bailout isn't going to help the average person. In fact, it dramatically increases the nation's deficit, passing the responsibility for the debt on to a yet unborn generation. Hey, they can't vote - so who cares! As for today's Joe Plumbers, and Sally Wal-Marters, we don't have the political clout to compete with the amount of money the Big Three gave to Democratic candidates, or the funds Big Oil provided to the Republicans. Heck, we don't even count when it comes to local government!

          On November 13, four of our esteemed county commissioners approved the sketch plan for Sterling Ranch, a 1,444 acre residential development north of Woodmen Road and east of Vollmer Road. Morley-Bentley Investments' promise of 5,500 new houses represents big property tax revenues, so the commissioners had no problem overlooking the lack of infrastructure necessary for the project. Paintbrush Hills and Woodmen Hills Metropolitan Districts are the wastewater providers. The combined metro districts use an out-dated aerated lagoon system. According to the 2003 Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments 208 Plan, the treatment facility was slated to be replaced by a modern wastewater treatment plant near Falcon, or it could hook up to Cherokee Metro District's new facility which is yet to be completed. Currently, no plans are in the works for either option.

           As for its water supply, well that's a wee bit iffy. Visions of Claremont Ranch should have been dancing in the commissioners heads. Claremont Ranch was the first "water-less development" approved by the commissioners. They seem unable to ask and demand answers to important questions. Instead, the board continues to approve developments, the size of small towns, for the sake of income. Until eastern El Paso County has a modern waste-water treatment facility, and an ample water supply, the commissioners' actions may be creating a situation the entire county will have to pay for in the future.

          Ah, but back to this Christmas season.

          I can only tell readers what my family did during our own personal "dirt poor" years. We became creative. When the price of a Fisher-Price Fun Box was too high for our meager budget, my husband rescued a small switch panel from an electronic trash pile. I remembered looking at the contraption and feeling sorry for my kids; it wasn't brightly colored, and it certainly didn't have all the bells and whistles the Fun Box did. Well that was a stupid reaction, because that discarded piece of junk, with its rows of toggle switches, gauges, and a wheel they could twirl for hours on end, provided far more years of fun than an infant's toy ever could. When my younger siblings came to visit, the box - with the addition of a string and tin can - became a dispatcher's unit, "One Adam 12, one Adam 12;" you get the idea. It was also a nifty radio station, and the wheel was easily converted into an imaginary radar screen for would-be air traffic controllers.

          Fortunately, our income increased after my husband left the service and found employment in the private sector. But we were both disheartened by all the Christmas advertisements that increased our children's "I want" lists. So we decided to buck the spending frenzy and started our own family tradition by taking trips during their winter break. We packed the car with sleeping bags and a tent and headed south to New Mexico or Arizona. Oh, they still got a few gifts, but the entire hullabaloo associated with the Christmas season disintegrated.

          My children are quick to bring up the blistery winter when the tent blew down at 2 a.m., and one Christmas when we ate dinner at the Sonic, because it was the only restaurant open. But they also have wonderful memories of hiking in the desert, and numerous Christmas nights spent watching a sky bedazzled with stars while keeping warm around the camp fire.

          Gas prices have dropped from July's high of $4.11 a gallon down to around $1.80, so maybe it's something your family should consider. If you already own cross-country skis, you only have to drive to a near-by national forest for a memorable trip.

          That's why I gave the person in my abbreviated version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" the candle in a withered tree. You see, all you need for a great Christmas is a source of light and bit of firewood for heat. Your children will supply the imagination.

          So I'll end this column with the same advice I gave last year. Christmas, Chanukah, or even the Solstice isn't about expensive gifts; it's about spending time with your family.

          Happy Holidays!

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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