Archive | November, 2009

Schemes to part us from our loot

30 Nov

As further proof that I need to rename this blog old black chick in Maine, I have only recently learned about the Kindle reading device. I had heard about it a while back and knew that it was a reading device but after hearing a few folks recently debate the merits of the Kindle versus the Nook, I figured I would find out what the hype was all about.

Let me state for the record that I am a voracious reader, I love books, I love to read. Never am I reading less than 2-3 books at a time. We as a family are on a first name basis with the library, going at least 2-3 times a week. I admit there was a time when I used to pass by the library instead to spend money at bookstores. Yet in 2007 when our financial tide shifted I was reintroduced to the joys of the library and have been a fan ever since. I will buy a book, but generally only if it’s a very specific book that I will either use as a reference guide or something I really want to own.

Yet as someone who always travels with a book in my bag, I thought maybe it would be great to have less weight in my bag, which is why I was checking out the Kindle. So if I have done my reasearch right, it appears that the starting price is $259 for the basic device, and then I have to start buying something to read on my device. Now I admit the magazine subscription prices seemed reasonable, I love magazine but I canceled almost all my subscriptions instead choosing to borrow them from the library. The few publications I still buy are quarterly so the cost isn’t too bad especially if I find a friend willing to loan me their copy.

What got me though was the cost of New York Times bestsellers, they were going for $9.99, I saw a few for $14.99 but I was told you can find inexpensive stuff to buy as well. Oh really? Once I started adding up how much my reading habit would cost to go Kindle, let’s just say I had a laugh and decided I will be sticking with the local library and the occasional visit to the local booksellers.

I think for folks making a comfy financial existence, who travel a bit and love to read, the Kindle might be a good idea. However for most of us regular Jane and Joe’s, I am not sure its a great idea. From a purely financial standpoint, it’s definitely not a great idea, after all in most places access to the library is free or there is only a very minimal cost to check out items.

No, the Kindle like so many other gadgets that we think we must have, seems to be another scheme to part us from our money.

One in Eight Folks….

29 Nov

One in eight Americans are currently using food stamps to eat. Let me repeat that figure, one in eight Americans are using food stamp benefits, with one in four kids  receiving these benefits. This was the story that caught my attention this morning as I read the NY Times.  To be honest I am not even surprised at that figure, I could have told you that months ago based off my line of work. I talk with the folks at our local food pantry on a regular basis and they have told me that weekly they are swamped with new faces. Faces of folks who use to bring in food or cash who are now on the receiving line.

Those of us in the direct  aid business have noticed the new faces of those seeking help, in many cases the folks we now see look a lot like us. Poverty is a funny thing, we can wax poetically about helping “those” people…yet it’s funny when we start to realize that those people are a lot like us. It can become rather uncomfortable.

Think about it, if one in 8 Americans is dealing with food insecurity to the point of seeking assistance, that means there is a good chance that right now as you read this, there is someone in your inner circle struggling to survive. Oh they may still live in their middle class house and still have the Subaru/Volvo (insert car of choice) and have all the trappings of middle class success. But they may be cutting back on eating so the kids can eat, they are the ones I notice in the store who no longer have full carts and often look pained at the checkout line.

I talk a lot about money and my own mistakes with money so much that I think that there are those in my personal circle who think I am really bad off. Nah, I am in debt but I haven’t faced food insecurity since I was a kid. I may owe Visa, MasterCard and Discover card but thankfully we have not fought over a can of beans. I don’t even say this to be funny it’s just that the way I was raised and the work I do allow me to realize that while being in debt sucks, there is a wide road between being in debt and working to get out of it versus not being able to literally put the food on the table. It’s a distinction I remind the Spousal Unit of often when he gets down about our situation. Yes, I need to be out of debt but it’s a lot worse to be in debt and hungry.

I decided to write this today because the story stayed in my mind as our family went out to breakfast today, I generally prefer to save money by eating in but hey I am human and was simply tired. I thought about how fortunate I felt that I could make that choice. I started to think what could I do other than my professional work to help someone? If I knew someone personally I could help, I would and I will. I ask you dear reader that as we start this season of consumption, perhaps you can look around and see who in your circle needs help. Maybe you can buy one less gift and instead do something for someone else.

In this country of supposed wealth the fact that so many of our fellow citizens are struggling with basic needs such as food is wrong. We need to do something, what are your thoughts? Clearly what we need are jobs so that folks can get back to work yet that clearly is not happening at a rate fast enough to help folks, so instead we need to help our fellow-man/woman/child.

People confuse me or maybe I am getting old

27 Nov

People tease me about my constant discussion of getting old, my oldest and dearest friend in the universe is fond of telling me, we are not old. Yet like many folks, getting old doesn’t bother me and on some level I totally embrace it. See, for many of us getting old means not making the same foolish mistakes we made when we were young and dumb. I see it as obtaining a certain level of wisdom by the virtue of the fact that we have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

Which brings me to today’s post Thanksgiving rant. First up what the fuck is wrong with people? So a couple of wanna be reality stars thought it would be a groovy idea to crash President Obama’s first state dinner. Um….what is it about reality tv that makes folks lose their ever-loving minds? Now looking at the couple in question, they seem old enough to know right from wrong so clearly they missed the get wisdom as you get older bit. First we had balloon boy’s crazy parents and now this! Really, we need to pass some common sense drinks or joints out to folks, cuz some ideas are really bad and never need to leave the privacy of your thoughts.

Which brings me to the next point, what the fuck is up with the Secret Service ? Yeah, I heard…the O- man and his peeps were never in any danger. Um, considering that Obama gets ways more threats than any other president including his predecessor, might we want to take the security of the first Black President very seriously. The fact that this couple of wanna be reality stars were able to roll up to the party and even take pictures with ole crazy Joe Biden is scary.

Hello!!!! The enemies might be thinking right now, hey let’s look for some idiots we can promise a reality show with if they can do XYZ. I know that sounds crazy but look, Al Qaeda doesn’t need to go far to recruit they can just look for the next dumb ass America who wants fame and fortune. Shit, look what Richard Heene and his wife did, I am sure if they had realized how quickly they  were going to be found out, poor Falcon might have really been in that balloon.  By the way, if you do crash a party at the White House and are successful, maybe putting the pictures up on Facebook is a bad idea. since if I understand correctly this couple was found out after they posted pics on Facebook.

Nah…people are stupid and they confuse me.

Next up, the lure of Black Friday shopping. When I was a kid, I don’t recall anyone getting up at midnight or 2 am to go shopping after  Thanksgiving. Call me crazy but it’s 9 am and my ass it still stuffed and the idea of going some place after eating a feast is something I have a hard time grasping. An old childhood friend mentioned she was going to be up at 4:30 am to shop today. I wished her good luck. Only way I could imagine getting up that early is if I were getting paid to shop, even then I might say no.

So if one of my readers can share with me what makes shopping today so great, I would love to know why so that I can expand my brain and attempt to be a tad less judgemental. As for me, I am doing some cooking and going to view some pretty trees this evening.

As you can see, I survived yet another holiday with minimal tears and down moments. Have a great weekend!

The return of the blahs

24 Nov

There a few things that I can always depend on as long as I live…I am going to be Black until I die (unless I get some of Sammy Sosa’s skin rejuvenation treatments), that I will owe the IRS money and that come holiday season I can expect to get hit with a dose of the blahs.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. Growing up with eccentric hippy like parents who thought poverty was noble, they pretty much did everything to ensure that my only sibling and I would become huge consumers by being very anti-consumption themselves. I have joked over the time I have blogged that one thing you could count on with my folks is that if you asked for a specific item, you could  expect not to get it.

Both the former Spousal Unit and the current Spousal Unit have gone out of their ways to make holidays a brighter event for me. Despite the issues I had with the ex, I will say he and his family really helped me to not see holidays as weeks of torture but as  a joyous occasion. The current Spousal Unit took it even further, truly getting me to learn to like the holidays.

Well in 2003 that all came to a crashing halt when Momma Bear, my beloved Mama was battling cancer and while she was still assumed to be recovering from chemo and radiation, Thanksgiving of 2003 it appeared we had so much to be thankful for as we all and that included her physicians thought she was good to go. Ha, ha, ha, fate intervened and on Christmas Day we got the shock of our lives…that bastard cancer had spread to her brain and it was downhill.

All this to say, holidays leave me now with a permanent sense of dread, if I could fast forward to New Years Day I would but with kids and my work I have everyone and their Mama reminding me of the holidays. Go to the office and I have folks driving me mad with holiday issues, go home and the kidlet is geeked up about Christmas…it’s enough to make a gal want to curl into fetal ball and pull the covers over her head.

However despite the blahs that seem to be making me a rather unpleasant person to be around, I am thankful for dear local friends who invite us over for Thanksgiving. Last year they invited us and it was truly the best turkey day I have had in years, we have also been invited over again this year and are looking forward to another great holiday with them.

I had been holding out hope for a family reunion this Thanksgiving but neither of the last two members of my family of origin were able to fly up here which I suspect is another reason for the current blahs.

Anyhoo, I suspect I will be light in posting this week as I attempt to be among the living since despite my desires to hide under the bed , it seems no one will give me enough privacy to make that happen. Instead I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving and advise you to be careful if Black Friday shopping is your thing. I would hate to end up writing about you…let’s just hope no one gets stomped to death this week.

Staying financially sane during the holidays

23 Nov

Well it’s that time of year, at the end of the week prime shopping season officially kicks off with the masses tearing the doors off stores on Black Friday. Let’s just hope that no one gets stomped to death this year as the masses go off in search of the biggest and cheapest tv their money can buy!

Now, for those of us struggling to stay the course and not give into the God of consumption, I wonder what you have planned? See, I set a holiday budget and was excited about it until it dawned on me that the amount I had budgeted really was too much money. See, with elder boy living out in the Midwest and his flying in for both Thanksgiving and Christmas that already sets me back a bit before we even think about things like the gifts and the food.

I have to confess, I have issues around holidays and have a tendency to over-shop in part because I often felt deprived as a kid. Yet as  I try to reevaluate my relationship to money, its starting to dawn on me that my kids have never been deprived in the ways that I was as a kid and instead my behavior has just done a great job of creating consumption behavior in both my kids. I am not mad at them though, they have merely been the recipients of my past issues but as I told the Spousal Unit, no more.

So now I am looking at ways to retool the holidays so that there is less emphasis on the gift aspect and more emphasis on the spirit of the holidays. So dear reader, I want to hear from you…what do you during the holidays? Do you buy the kidlets a boatload of gifts or do you only give 1-2 highly wanted items? Or do you bypass gift giving all together?

My goal this year is to stay below the budget I set and ideally use that extra cash to fund our mid winter trips we have planned. So hit me with your holiday shopping ideas for not breaking the bank and I especially want to hear from you if you have teens or young adults. One area I really struggle with is now that elder boy is almost an adult, it seems like gifts are so much more costly. My son is a bit of a clothes horse and the stores he likes are not terribly cheap, of course he now has his own car so that too is costly. With this also being the beginning of college application season, I am trying to balance the real need for me to assist his father in paying for these costs with my desire to not just give practical gifts. (college application money, gas money, etc)

So as you can see any and all advice would be greatly appreciated.

How to stay poor

20 Nov

Snark alert….I am working on day two of minimal sleep. My old friend insomnia has decided to visit again, despite my use of melatonin and herbal tea in the evening. So I am letting you know ahead of time I am in a bitchy mood, and lately these are some of the thoughts floating around in my head.

I have spent most of my of my professional life working with people living with financial scarcity, also known as living in poverty. Now most days I feel deeply for the folks I work with, even now I still remember clients I worked with over a decade ago. Most folks I meet are decent folks dealing with fucked up circumstances but I have to be honest and say about 15% of the folks I deal with are knuckleheads. No, I really mean that. People who just need to be hit by a cosmic two by four. This post is for them.

Why is my life so hard? Why am I poor? Why won’t people help me?  Notice a pattern? It sounds like a fucking wine fest, all we need is the cheese to go with all that damn whine? Look, the best way to stop being poor is to make decisions that would help change your life for the better.

Number one thing you can do, stop making babies! Kids are a blessing but if your housing situation is precarious, you are not quite sure how you are even going to eat say next week…then this really maybe a bad time to have a baby. At the very least when you have a baby, you want to know you can handle the essentials. Which brings me to another point around kids, why have so many? Seriously, they get real fucking expensive as they get older. Um…its hard to dress a teenage boy with clothes at the thrift store. Kids really do cost money, yes babies can be cheap but teens are not.

Number two, choice of mate. I swear but white/black/latino, I have seen women make the worse choices when it comes to mates. May I delicately suggest that if he has no job or resources when you were dating, sexing or whatever you did before you became an official unit. What makes you think he will change when the babies come? I have seen women lament the fact that their loves did not provide but damn, you had a road map…. there were signs and you chose to ignore them.

Number three, not working. It is great if you can be a stay at home parent but generally that requires that someone else in the family is working to provide the cash to keep the family going. Now I have had way too many women tell me but I can only get a minimum wage paying job and after childcare I won’t make any money, what’s the point? The point is you get experience. I hate to break it to you but no one is going to hire you for a professional good paying gig with no experience. It ain’t happening. First job I had in my field, back before I went back to school, paid minimum wage, and I had to work the worst shift. Yet I really wanted to work at this agency so I did it, in less than a year I was promoted to a full-time salaried position, it was still a low-level position but it was light years away from the initial position. My point is you have to start somewhere and you generally have to prove yourself.

Number four, wasting money on dumb shit. Check this out but if you liveon a fixed income of government assistance, I don’t mean to be a bitch but you should not be spending what money you have on trinkets like iPhones and big ass televisions. I have had clients over the year, one almost 10 years ago so I don’t feel bad about sharing the story. He was living in the shelter that I was working at and he had a job and was trying to get back on his feet. Well for Christmas he wanted to buy his kid an American Girl Doll. Those things were an easy hundred bucks back then…and I am sorry but if your home is a shelter with 39 other people, maybe it is not the time to buy your kid a pricey doll.

Hell, this is a common issue with the folks I work with and as a person who grew up with little I really understand the mindset but if you want to not be poor, ya gotta change your mind. In my area we commonly deal with folks who spend the bill money on lil Timmy’s birthday and now they need help with the lights. Taking your bill or grocery money to spend on non-essential shit is just bad.

I am going to stop now since I know I am cranky but the point of this post is the fact that some folks stay poor and in bad financial shape is no mystery. You make bad choices and bad shit happen, it’s really that simple.

What’s the rush?

19 Nov

I’m a strange bird and I accept that. At this point in life, I am knocking on 40’s door sooner rather than later and its safe to say I am set in my ways. I have a confession to make, I really don’t like flying. I will fly if I have to and have in the past but generally speaking, it’s just not my cup of tea. Over the years, I worked through my fear of flying to the point that gone are the days when I need to stop at the bar before I hit the plane. No longer do I need to be tanked up to tolerate a flight, instead I get on and sit so somber I am sure the folks near me wonder whose side I am on. (sorry bad joke, but I admit I get in my seat, pop in my ear buds, close my eyes and make no conversation at all)

So as I start making preparations to visit family in a few months, I realized that I would prefer to take the train (Amtrak) rather than flying to get home to Chicago. Now it’s a 22 hour train ride and I planned on getting a room on the train, so that way I can have some peace and quiet. Bring the netbook, mp3 player (no IPod for Mama…just a lil MP3 player) some books and kick back and relax. Now I admit I tend to enjoy train travel, especially the more scenic routes out west. I also have enjoyed the fact that in past train adventures and I have taken many, that train travel forces you to surrender and live in the moment. As a train rider, it’s a lot more laid back than taking a plane, after all you never know exactly when you are going to arrive at your destination, once I leave my room, it forces a level of interaction that you don’t get on a plane. If you choose to eat in the dining car, you are sitting at a table with strangers which seems strange but I have met some of the most fascinating folks that way.

Anyhoo, I ended up discussing my dislike of flying with a few folks and everyone who I talked to with the exception of maybe 1-2 folks said, they could not stand to take the train even if they hated to fly because they wanted to get to their destination. Now there is nothing wrong with that but as Americans we spend so little time relaxing, in some ways I feel the folks I encountered are examples of how Americans by and large don’t relax. We spend a lot of money on activities and devices that are supposed to help us relax, but for many of us the idea of spending almost a day doing nothing while we travel to our fun place is unimaginable.

See, for me I see train travel as a transition tool. It allows me the time needed to get rid of one set of baggage and swap it out for another. As a wife, Mama and worker, its rare to get almost a complete day when I am not needed in any capacity, where I just surrender to the rhythms around me and allow them to guide me.

So I ask why are we all in such a rush?

No one has a perfect life

18 Nov

There are some days when I have to take a step back from reading the blogs, especially the Mommy/family/crafty ones. At times you can read these blogs and you see the lovely pictures and the fabulous ideas and then you look at your own life and wonder why it’s not nearly as upbeat and fantastic as those Mamas who are always doing amazing things with their kids. I especially love the ones where Mama has kids who are perfectly content to help out in the kitchen and with other mundane tasks and I swear, I read those on the days when my own girl is working my nerves.

However a funny thing happened recently and once again, I was reminded that no one has a perfect life. Those same kids I see pictures of happily making crafts and looking so adorably put together, probably have minutes when their mothers wants to run and hide. Those families we see in public, that are so well put together driving their happy Volvo’s and Subaru’s probably have bad moments as well too.

I was struck by that reality last night as I stayed up late to catch the local news and heard this sad story about a couple in a town near me. It seems the husband was distraught over the upcoming end of his marriage and decided to not only end his life but the life of his wife. On the news, many folks including the roofer who did my roof (Maine is a very small state, it’s not six degrees of separation here but more like three) stated that the husband was a lovely man. This was a couple especially the husband who was active in the community, seemed like a real decent guy.

Only problem is real decent guys while they may take their own lives and I know firsthand as I lost a dear friend years ago to suicide. But taking your partner’s life pretty much in my opinion takes you out of the decent guy category. I have been through a divorce and it was painful for all involved but at the end of the day both the ex and I had to let go and move on. I suspect there were times when the ex Spousal Unit probably did think about killing me, yet we all have less than pleasant thoughts at time and for most of us we know such actions are not the answer and create more harm than good. So while at the worse moments we may entertain really bad thoughts, for reasonably mentally healthy folks, we know when to let em go too!

While my heart goes out to the families of these two, I am reminded once again that no one and I mean no one has a perfect life. We all have our crosses to bear or to say this is a less Christian manner, we all have shit to put up with. For some of us we grapple with financial issues, for some health issues and for others maybe relationships are the area that give us the most trouble.

Problem is we are living in a time and place where we are even less apt to share our burdens with one another and sometimes we snap. Like a pot on the stove too long, we boil over and in some cases without support or resources we choose the wrong way to handle our stresses. In the case of this couple, the husband truly chose the wrong solution to the problem.

I think back on my dear friend who took his own life, he had been a cop and was always the strong one. Yet he had suffered a great loss in the months before he chose to take his own life and instead of reaching out he put on a brave face. In the end though he cracked, and it was only after his death that all of us left behind realized that there had been signs that all was not well.  Yet like so many of us we are all too caught up in our lives to really pay attention and read the signs.

So I wish I could think of an upbeat way to end this post, but I will say that it serves as a cautionary reminder that no one has a perfect life. I am actually convinced there might be greater value in living a life where you get raggedy and share the real you versus a life where we strive to only show perfection. The price of perfection or at least appearing perfect can come with a high price tag.

A bad mama

16 Nov

With the rise of the mommy blogger, it’s not unusual to run across women on the web who are mothers who jokingly call themselves bad Mamas. Hell, I have my days and lately they are often where I feel like a bad Mama. Why you may ask? I sometime feel guilty because I work. Regular readers may recall that a few months ago, the Spousal Unit and I made the decision to pull the girl child out of full-time daycare in our quest to save money. We are fortunate that our jobs provide a great deal of flexibility and girl child is finally at an age where we can work with her underfoot.

The past couple of weeks, it’s been rough around here as we dealt with the flu yet still had work that needed to be done.  From now until Christmas I will be pretty busy as the agency I run does a lot to help folks out and with the economy in shambles, there are a lot of folks in need. Just today I was on the computer doing some work and the girl child walked over and told me I was not playing with her…um, yeah I knew that. Of course when she has those moments it pulls at my heart but at the same time, if I cease to get my work done we as a family will have greater issues. This is the shit I tell myself in those moments when I am dealing with emails that have to be addressed and calls that must be returned.  However at the same time we are spending far more quality time together overall and while it’s a struggle and I feel the guilt when I joke about being a bad Mama, I know that is not the case at all. Yet like many women, its something to say.

Well ladies (Mamas) let me tell you who a real bad Mama is…that would be one Antoinette Nicole Davis, the mother of the now deceased Shaniya Davis who looked to be adorable five-year old. In case you are not familiar with this case little Shaniya was reported missing last week. See after little Shaniya was reported missing and before her body was found, Mama was charged with offering her child for sex, or the official charge is human trafficking and child abuse.

Can I just say upon reading the charges, my blood ran cold. What kind of woman, a mother no less could offer an innocent child for such purposes? There are things that I cannot grasp and this case is one of them. I saw the pictures of Shaniya and she reminded me of my own girl…as a mother even in the worst days when my child is making me lose my mind, the idea of doing anything that could harm her would never ever cross my mind. I look at my children and see the best we can offer in this world, pure innocence

So to hear that a mother would do anything so vile is just outside my realm of understanding in fact I can’t even say that I want to understand it!  However when I am having a bad day, I will not be so quick to call myself a bad mother and I encourage you, if you are a mother and having a bad day to do the same.

Sadly we live in a world where there really are bad mothers and in this case, it appears to be Antoinette Nicole Davis. May little Shaniya find peace in the next life with unconditional love, as the one person in this world who ought to have been that safe harbor, may have done her harm.

 

I spent some cash…

16 Nov

I guess since I been talking money lately, I might as well keep it up. Actually I have a confession to make, I spent some money this weekend. It was an unplanned purchase but one that I have been thinking about for a while. I bought a netbook. See, my laptop that I have been using for the past several years has been acting wonky, my internal wi-fi connection died well over a year ago, so the only way to access the internet is to plug-in at home. Which in some ways defeats the purpose of me owning a laptop since as someone whose job keeps me on the go, having a laptop that I need to keep at home just sucks. Granted that is not the reason I bought another one or was thinking of one, no, my system has just been getting slower and slower combined with the fact that sometimes I can’t even turn it on. This happened a while back on a day I had a grant deadline, it was not pretty at all. It cost me $100 and a visit to the computer repair shop to get it working again…no, it’s been time for a while to get a reliable computer. Yet in trying not to spend, I have been putting it off.

So yesterday found me at the Verizon wireless shop where the plan had been to get the Spousal Unit his free phone upgrade but they were having quite a sale, where after the rebate the cost of my new netbook is less than $100. Yes, I know it will require yet another  data plan, but this is where my also being self-employed in addition to my day job is a good thing since my cell plans are actually business expenses for me…so its all good.

I guess I felt like sharing this because in my last post, a commenter made a comment to the effect that living a life of frugality is not always a good thing. Yes, that’s true but when we are saving money and being intentional about our money, it gives us freedom. The freedom to buy a computer when we really need it and there is a great deal to be had. See, when I was living and spending and really not thinking about the long-term plans for money then I could not make such purchases. Hence why I ended up on a deadline with a dying computer that had all my work on it.

Make no mistake, I am not living a spartan life, yes we drive a beater but just the other day when I was griping about our car, the Spousal Unit reminded me that it’s all ours. We owe no one money on this car which makes it beautiful, I have to say I agree. Yes, we want a newer car but unless our car either dies outright or doesn’t pass inspection next month, then we need to keep on trucking with it.

When we are frugal and forgo the daily drink or other small items that threaten our financial stability with the slow leaks, we are trading short-term pleasures which really mean little for overall financial security. Don’t get me wrong, I am human and when I hear about friends who have the latest and hottest toys (I-phones, snazzy footwear…lawd, I love gorgeous footwear) I do have a twinge. Hell, I envy buddies who hire cleaning ladies! On the other hand, striving to get financially free is what feels good to me at this time. Besides cleaning my house is a workout since with 10 rooms, it takes a lot to clean it up, so when I do clean, not only am I saving money but I am getting in a workout!

So for those who are following my journey with money, no I am not completely depriving myself but as I love to say its all about balance and sometimes I even spend some money.