January Round-Up

Here’s my personal favorite posts from the month of January, the ones I really hope people will read if they didn’t get a chance to before.

paris hilton
Paris Hilton – love her or hate her, she takes a good photo 

And most important of all,

  • Monster Assault – a fantastic guest post written by my son about his plans to make the world a better place by dressing as monsters and scaring bad guys.


Annual Reflection

I think most people in the West have an annual period of reflection around Christmas and New Year, thinking of years past and the future. My birthday just passed, comimg at the end of January as it always does. I expected to feel more contemplative than I do.


I am finding I no longer count my life in Januaries, starting from that cold day in Florida thirty-three years ago. Now I count my life in milestones. Ten years since my son was born. Six years next month since my abortion. Eight years of disabling physical pain. Continue reading Annual Reflection

Accidental Harm

“It was an accident!”

Parents everywhere have heard those words at times when they knew full well no accident happened.  The desire to shift blame seems almost instinctual. Siblings blame each other and only-children concoct imaginary friends to take the fall.

Because this tendency is so strong, I skirt around it. I don’t argue with someone else about what they really meant; I can make highly educated guesses based on past behavior or context, but I can’t see into their mind.

Instead I focus on impact and responsibility.  Something can have unintended consequences we didn’t intend, but still be our responsibility. “You may not have meant to hurt me when you jumped on the couch where I’m sitting, but I hurt.”

I think this approach can work with adults sometimes too. If intent isn’t magic, if harm prevention and reduction is the purpose in confronting someone, sometimes intent can be overlooked. “Accident isn’t an excuse” as I tell my child.

That doesn’t mean intent is meaningless.  It means it’s not always the best focus. Sometimes motive matters a lot – but that’s evident after. Someone who hurts me accidentally is less likely to repeat the behavior later.

I believe a proper apology consists of three parts:
1. I’m sorry.
2. I am responsible.
3. I won’t do it again.

I draw a distinction between blame or fault and responsibility.  We can be responsible for harm without malice. Accepting responsibility lets the person I’ve harmed feel better, in a way that swearing I didn’t mean to won’t. 

Sheds for the Homeless

“Activists build tiny home community for the homeless!”
“Tiny Houses for Homeless Help”
“Support My Fundraiser to Build Tiny Homes for Homeless”

tiny homes homeless.gif
There are more empty actual-sized houses than homeless individuals (including families who would share a home) in the United States. We don’t need sheds.

It’s hard to escape this sentiment, that tiny homes – usually defined as single family dwellings under 400 square feet – are either an ideal long-term solution to homelessness, or at least a temporary solution worth pursuing in the face of immediate need. While the tiny homes people lovingly construct for themselves sit pretty close to that 400 SF mark, the “homes” built for homeless people to live in are closer to about 40 SF. They are most often glorified sheds, with no kitchen, no plumbing, no insulation. They do not pass any building codes for human habitation, nor should they. They are not safe.

There are different motivations at work here. There are the do-gooders, the people passionate about helping those less fortunate than themselves, who see an obvious unmet human need when they see someone sleeping on the street, yet at the same time don’t see an obvious unmet human need when they see that same person sleeping in a shed. Overturning entrenched political (dis)interest in solving homelessness seems impossible, but hammering together a few sheds on the weekend feels like something they can really do about the problem.

Then there are the environmentalists, eager to see scrap resources get used rather than go to a dump. Tiny houses, especially when they are for the homeless, use primarily reclaimed materials. At their worst, these types see homeless people as a type of ecological scavenger. Their influence in “feeding” the homeless contributed greatly to the current situation where most of the food “donated” is non-salable waste redirected to homeless people rather than the dump as a type of a human garbage disposal system.

Other people just like the supposed cost-savings of tiny homes. The initial materials costs are often used as a selling point of the concept, with “under $5,000” being reported positively in many stories. Of course, cheap means low-quality, as it always has.  Four foot by ten foot sheds built of “reclaimed” materials may be cheap, but they aren’t real homes. The low price is achieved through volunteer untrained labor, second-hand goods, and a home too small to have guests over, or a dog, or a child. I don’t think many of the people reading this inside homes (rented or owned) would rather live somewhere a fraction of the size and with none of the amenities, built by volunteers rather than trained builders, even though it would cost less.

Few articles mention that at the end of participating in the building of these “homes” (without bathrooms or kitchens) the homeless remain homeless. They do not own these homes; they are “stewards” of them – beholden to certain rules and subject to eviction if the board members (people who live in real actual-sized homes) decide their stewardship is not good enough.  The Madison tiny house community is considered the model of the form. It features 9 tiny “homes” and a large central building for the volunteers workshop, on a 1/3 acre lot that used to be a mechanic’s garage.

Like homeless shelters, tiny homes do not solve the problem of homelessness. Guaranteed minimum income for all (documented or not) and government provided homes for those who cannot obtain their own would actually solve poverty and homelessness. I know people mean well when they devote their hearts and souls and days off work to building sheds for homeless people to live in. They are thinking “This is so much better than living on the street!” They are not comparing it with what they should, living in a real home. If they were, they would see: tiny “homes” are no solution at all.



Pregnant in Public

pregnancy image search
Pregnancy – the magical time in a woman’s life when she becomes a torso.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, written by a woman denied caffeine at a cafe because she was visibly pregnant, has me thinking about pregnancy in public. I remember the shame and embarrassment I felt picking up my husband’s nightly 12-pack of beer in my second and third trimester. The alternative was letting him drive my car, despite the fact that his license had been suspended due to multiple DUIs and he wasn’t covered by my insurance. The lovely family who owned the corner store I went to never said a negative word; I think they knew who the beer was really for. But I at least imagined that every other customer in the store was judging me.  Continue reading Pregnant in Public

Money Tips From Poor Folk (1/2)

I asked my Facebook friends to help me develop a list of money saving tips for middle class people from poor people, in response to all the money saving tips they’ve bestowed upon us over the years. The responses are a mixture of mirthful and morose, quite serious things they’ve actually had to do, and twists on useless advice we’ve all heard before. I’ve selected a few choice quotes for the various categories that emerged, but do read the whole thread here.

Wallet with no money inside
Sell that wallet!

Think of this as a challenge, like the Food Stamps Challenge except actually hard core. Live as if you were poor – put every scrap of money you earn over $10K a year into a long-term bond or trust where you cannot touch it. Follow the advice below. Unlike poor people who get no real benefit, if you undertook this challenge you’d have a large nest egg at the end of it. Yet somehow I imagine that the people most eager to offer “money saving” tips to others wouldn’t be interested in these.
Continue reading Money Tips From Poor Folk (1/2)