Archive | December, 2009

The last 10 years

30 Dec

Well this is most likely my last post of the year as well as for this decade.  Let me just say that back in 1999 when everyone was getting all geeked up about Y2K, if someone had told me the things that were going to happen to me in this last decade, I would have laughed my ass off. Seriously, that is not an exaggeration at all.

Apparently Time magazine has declared this decade that is coming to a close as the worse ever. On a personal note, I have to say the only way to sum up this decade is to say it was the best of times and the worst of times…yeah, that is rather poetic sounding but its the truth.

Let’s see, 10 years ago today, I was living in a snazzy pad in Chicago, the Spousal Unit and I had only been married a couple of years. I was back in school, busting ass to get my BA, working a job I enjoyed part-time with good folks in my life. I lived about a mile away from my folks, like a scene out of that flick Soul Food, we enjoyed Sunday night dinners weekly. The only bummer was that elder boy had just gone to live with his Papa and was earning so many frequent flier miles coming back and forth to Chicago, he could put business men to shame with his miles.

All in all it was a good life, being the naive young American I was looking forward to the 00’s and approaching my 30’s…I thought only good things were headed my way. Ha ha ha….like Americans on 9/12/01, I had no idea what the fuck was headed my way.

Nope, the 00’s turned out to be the decade that I would become a real grown up with real issues. See, in the 90’s I thought I was an adult much like Americans had certain thoughts about ourselves prior to the 00’s. I never thought bad days would darken my personal door but oh did they come. I have seen sickness, death, loss and a level of wariness I never knew was possible. Don’t get me wrong the 00’s weren’t all doom and gloom, 01 was decent after all I finally graduated from college that year. I even managed to have another child and achieve the so-called American dream of home ownership. These are all good things and things I couldn’t imagine not having in my life now but the level of loss and pain I have seen at times has almost threatened my very being…yeah, it’s that deep.

No, if nothing else I would say much like Americans moving forward in this new reality of a busted American dream, that I too can survive and in the midst of the madness possibly even thrive but it has not been easy at all. There is a part of me that wants to say good riddance to the 00’s but the realist in me wonders what is next? Or as I say whenever I look at the caller id box and see that a family member has called me, who died now? (there was a period of time literally when I heard from family, people were calling to tell me yet another relative had died)

So like Time Magazine, I have to say the 00’s personally leaned more towards being the worst of times with a smattering of good. So how about you? How was this last decade for you?

Have a Happy New Years and remember don’t drink and drive, after all New Years is simply amateur drinking night.

Accepting My Limits

29 Dec

This is a rare week that I have off from work, I love the end of the year since with my job it’s time off without me having to use up my vacation time since we are closed. Granted I still have to make sure certain issues are addressed but an hour or so of work every couple of days is still a vacation.

Now that the holidays are done with and I have some time off, I have time to catch my breath and think…no good ever comes from thinking. Anyway, I have had to face the fact that while its been a great money saver to take girl child out of fulltime daycare, fact is it’s really not working for us. There are days I like to pretend I am a stay at home Mom but the fact is my job is pretty damn intense. Yes, my schedule is flexible to some degree but the reality is the last few months I feel stretched….the result is the girl child has learned to play by herself. Big yes to that! The downside is she is an official television junkie.

Now, I have never been anti-tv but I believe in moderation. Problem is when the Spousal Unit and I are thigh high in work that pays the bills, the fact is there is little time to do all that nifty creative stuff I dreamed about back in late summer when I hatched this plan to save money by taking her out of childcare.

Yeah, she goes to preschool three mornings a week, but just as I am hitting my work stride it’s time for the girl to come home and then two hours later I put in appearance at my office. Then there are dance days and then days like today when nothing is going on and the Spousal Unit and I juggle the child and our work. The end result is I look forward to her bed time the way a prisoner looks forward to their release date. All this time together has resulted in a lot of good times as a family but it’s also come at the expense of the quality of our work. My personal work style is rather peculiar and when I am in a grant cycle which I will be in soon, I need a lot of time to work and think.

We are looking at the possibility of seeing an increase in our income and while I want to save it all, remember I want to get out of debt. I am also thinking 3 days a week back at her former center will save my sanity and ensure that I get my work done so I can stay employed. Mind you my employer is very happy with my efforts at the moment but I know me and know that I am burning out. The thing is elder boy graduates from high school in a few short months and college is the next stop, being a single income family is not in our cards. So one could say I have the best of both worlds, since I have a job I love that is pretty flexible.

But the fact is while I grapple to accept my limitations, I cannot help but feel a tad like a bad Mama for even thinking of sending the girl child back to daycare but I am at the end of my rope. Hey, guess this is what being an adult is all about, accepting your reality and making the best choices you can.

Apparently airport security is a joke

28 Dec

Let’s be honest, the title of this post says it all. After all these years and the changes to how we fly as far as security procedures, turns out the best defense against would be terrorists on a plane is alert passengers. Despite the limitations on how many ounces of liquid we can carry on a plane and having our toes checked, bottom line is a guy can just strap the goods to his person and if he ends up next to a sleeping person he can send himself and all the passengers to a destination that was not on their itinerary for the day.

No, I don’t mean to be making light and I suspect had Umar the alleged suspect been successful my tone would be much somber. It’s just that after all the changes we have made shit still don’t work right. To insult to injury on Sunday’s Flight 253, a passenger had the misfortune of having a bad case of the shits…well in the new world order a bad case of the shits on a plane will have you shitting with some air marshals or flight attendants standing over you. Um….what kind of shit is that?

So I hear some of the new security measures at least on international flights (have no fear you know we will all be dealing with this soon) is in the last hour of a flight you can no longer get up and stroll around or take a shit. No longer can you have any thing on your lap, sorry Charlie no book for you. Time to daydream.

Look, am I the only one reading this shit thinking what is wrong with us? Is this the best we can do? Look, I hate flying and had been planning to fly in the relatively near future and right now that idea is so not appealing to me.  Maybe I will bite the bullet but generally speaking flying is one of those things I only do when there is no choice, so I will keep you posted.

But back to the problem of keeping our skies safe, I have the perfect idea. How about we station a few corn-fed looking former high athletes on flights. The kind of cats you know still like to thump heads for no reason, see a would be terrorist would start acting shady and these cats would pounce first and ask questions later. Yeah, there will be the occasional fuck up…sorta like that poor passenger who had to deal with the FBI because of some loose bowels but by and large since it seems attentive passengers seem to stop would be attackers. Let’s just put more attentive folks on the planes, since I am not sure how making the travel experience even less comfy is going to so anything other than make folks even less inclined to fly.

Anyhoo, its clear we need to go back and work on how to keep folks in planes safe because the current strategy is just not working.

Where’s winter?

27 Dec

Unless you didn’t bother to read the name of this blog or think it’s just a catchy title I made up, you realize I live in Maine. Maine is a place that when people think of it, they think lobsters, Stephen King and really cold weather with lots of snow. In my early years in Maine, when I traveled back home regularly just saying I lived in Maine was a conversation starter, starting with the obvious “There are Black folks in Maine” and “Damn, it must be really cold there”.

Well this spring I will be coming up on 8 years since I moved here and I have to tell you, um…its really much colder in Chicago. Seriously. There are only a handful of days each winter that have me putting on the real winter gear. Most days I am fine in a sweater and light coat and long underwear? Shit, I haven’t worn that since I left Chicago.

In fact it seems like every year that I am here, the winters are getting milder…in fact what prompted this discussion is the fact its 2 days after Christmas and it’s almost 50 degrees with rain. Yes, 50 with rain. Um…I told the kids we would go sledding but alas without snow we aren’t sledding anywhere.

Now there are parts of Maine (way up north or in the mountains) where its cold and they have snow and that seems to happen most years. But down on the coast where I live, it’s as if winter decided to take a permanent break. Now some of ya’ll might be asking what is the big deal. Well the longer I live here and the more in tune with nature I become, long story short we need winter so we can have a good spring and summer. So shit can grow and all that other shit. Frankly the natural order of things is screwed up when winter decides to take a break and I find that a tad scary. Now I know some parts of the country have been getting hammered by winter, hell some places recently got snow that never get snow but hey? What about us?

So winter, do you think you can make a return to Maine. See, I have learned to tolerate you and I would rather have you now and not in say April.

Hope everyone had a good holiday!

The Ugly Side Of Helping Others

23 Dec

Warning this is a vent, hell it’s a rant. While my goal is not to offend, the fact is I need to blow off some steam and for me that generally involves writing, after all its better than the old days when I used to smash things.

In Maine, they have a funny saying I never heard until I moved here…when folks are really busy, they say I am out straight. When I first moved here I was like WTF, does that mean? Now, almost 8 years into my Maine life, I totally get it. So to steal the vernacular of the native folks, I am out straight.

My daytime life involves helping folks when you boil down the fancy language. Yeah, I have a title that seems like animpressive title but at the end of the day, the work I have been doing for a dozen years now really is about helping others. I have worked in a wide array of setting to achieve that goal but no matter if its been a homeless shelter, low income housing or community center. At the end of the day, the work is about trying to affect change in the lives of others who need some help.

Prior to getting into this line of work, I had a brief career in sales. I was an advertising sales rep for a medical journal. Financially, I did quite well…well enough at 22-23 as a young single Mama to afford a condo on Chicago’s lakefront. I suppose had I stayed in that line of work, I would be a lot better off financially. But as I joke, I found God and was lead to do more meaningful work. So it is what it is.

Most days I love my work, I love helping others and I do it for the joy. Because of the way I was raised, I seem to have a knack for relating to folks in all walks of life. I can juggle a family in need and turn around and talk with donors in a way that is meaningful. I guess if I were to analyze my gifts and talents I would say that is a big one, the ability to connect with others. I will never make a gorgeous home though I can cook great food, so I accept that barring a lotto win, my house will probably always look like a college student, but the ability to connect with others…that seems to be where my gifts lay.

Anyhoo, in all my years working with folks there is something about the holidays that seems to bring out the worse in people and to be honest it pisses me off. One of the downsides of the work I do is that pretty much every year where I have been employed since the Spousal Unit and I married a dozen years ago, our personal holidays are disrupted. Years ago in Chicago at the agencies I worked at, homelessness doesn’t stop because it’s a holiday and as low woman on the pole (especially before I got my degree) that meant I had to work on the actual holiday. After a couple of years it went from having to work both Thanksgiving and Christmas to picking one of those days. Last agency I worked at in Chicago, only person who was not included on work holiday duty was the Executive Director.

So you would think now that I work at a place that is closed on the actual holidays life would be easier but no it’s not. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my crazy time of the year, the agency that I work at provides help and programming to many frankly that I am happy to do. But the past few days have brought me face to face with the ugly side.

Look, I know its hard being poor at a time of year when society says consume. Everyone wants the same things for their families, good meals, gifts and good times. Many families in need rely on agencies and programs such as mine to help them, but sometimes folks forget that behind the agency it’s flesh and blood folks running the show. Folks who also have needs, this past Saturday I woke up to a child with a red face, slight fever and runny nose. A child who just wanted to cuddle with Mama and have homemade soup. Problem was on Saturday I had to work, I was running a special program that by the end of the day provided meals and gifts to over 100 kids and their families. Long story short, there was no way I could meet my kid’s needs at that time. To say I felt like an ass would be a understatment. Thankfully the Spousal Unit did the best he could since by the time I got home to say I was spent would be a great understatement though she did get that soup.

Since Saturday I have assisted loads of families in getting their needs met, some with a gift or two and some with the entire holiday including the dinner. Most are appreciative but its been the few that felt the need to yell or pester me that things were not on their time clock, that have me wanting to just snap. Really, I am not a fucking magician and at the moment my kid doesn’t even have a fucking tree and has been consuming way more tv than she should because I am too busy and too tired to function like a normal Mama.

Times like this the gimme gimme consumerist aspect of our society pisses me off, the fact that everyone feels so entitled and gets mad if their expectations are not met exactly the way they want them to be. The fact that people never stop and realize that hey we are all humans…where is the true spirit of the holidays? Where is the kindness? instead people yell and get mad because they cannot get what they want when they want it.

So today I pray I can wrap up work so perhaps I can plan to relax with my own family and thank you for allowing me this time to vent. By the way we did get the tree, the night before last and the only thing we are lacking are the candy canes….I promised the kiddos that candy canes would appear tonight.

Gift giving

22 Dec

I grew up in a family where no one went overboard on gifts…seriously, on your birthday the best you could and still can expect from my Pops is that he will wish you a happy birthday. To this day I have only had 2 birthday parties, one at 8 because I was getting a sibling and the little bugger’s date of expected arrival was rather close to my birthday. So my Mom felt bad and said I could have a birthday party but no more than a few kids, then my brother arrived 4 days later. The next birthday party was at 19, when my ex-husband and mother in law felt bad that I had been deprived of birthday festivities and decided to throw me a party. By the way I was very pregnant, my son was born less than 2 weeks later.

As for Christmas, well I learned early on that Santa never brought anything I wanted. To be honest Santa pissed me off since most of what I got sucked as far as gifts and I only got a few. I know this sounds petty but its something that has lived with me all my life. I often think the deprivation I dealt with as a kid for years drove my compulsion to overspend up until a few years ago. On some level I was trying to recreate my childhood by giving myself things. Well, that is pretty much over since the greatest gift I can give myself these days is financially stability.

However I admit that I do like getting gifts and I enjoy giving gifts, it makes me happy to bring joy to someone and I love when I receive a well thought out gift. That said, I have noticed a growing trend towards giving donations in someone’s name instead of an actual gift. I gotta be honest, on one level I think this is a great idea but I also think it can create some hard feelings.

We Americans love our shit, really…we love consuming. Why else do we lose our collective minds during the holidays, granted my circle of folks I give to is small.  Once you are outside my inner circle any gift you are likely to receive from me is more apt to be a hand-made treat, mostly in the form of baked goods.

The thing with giving a donation in someone else’s name is that unless said person is one of these higher thinking folks, on some level people tend to feel cheated. “Hey Jane, instead of a gift I decided to make a gift to the ABC Non-profit in your name”…Um, ok. The thing is to give on this level you might almost want to discuss it with the person beforehand. If you think I am talking shit, NPR last week had a piece on this growing trend and it turns out most folks really do not like the idea of this.

On some level unless the organization is closely aligned to the person’s values, I think in a way you end up looking like you are shoving your beliefs down a person’s throat. Personally as someone who works for very little in the non-profit sector while I recognize the value of these gifts and generally they are doing a great deal of good, at the same time, I am not sure a donation as a gift is a great idea.

Now obviously as I strive not to spend a great deal, I am down with meaningful gifts and even ones that don’t cost money. Frankly I would be tickled pink if a friend said here is a coupon for 1 Saturday night of babysitting services, a gift like that is thoughtful and provided the giver was someone I trusted with my kid, an evening sans kid would indeed be a gift. Giving experiences is also nice…museum passes, gift certificate to a massage therapist. Hell, I doubt there are many people who wouldn’t like a nice massage. (I know…not everyone but I suspect a good deal would).

So while it may feel good to feed our conscience when giving a gift, call me old-fashioned but I think you have to think of how the gift will be received. Look, a donation to the local animal shelter is nice but if you are me, I’d say thanks but secretly think, that didn’t seem like a gift at all.

Anyway just a random Tuesday ramble…I suspect I will be heading to my holiday schedule soon since the boy child is home. So posting may be sporadic until the first of the year. Happy Holidays!

Potlucks and Race

20 Dec

With the holiday season underway and financial times tough for many folks, everyone is looking for a way to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank. One of the suggestions that seems to come up often for planning a get together is to make it a potluck style meal. Now obviously the benefits of taking this route are easy to see, no one person gets slammed with the cost of  feeding a gaggle of folks.

I must admit that prior to moving to Maine, the only time I ever encountered a potluck was in the work place. I worked at a few places where my coworkers loved having a potluck lunch…I always thought they were nice but really can’t say I ever went to a potluck style gathering at someone’s house. I never hosted one. Generally anytime I hosted a gathering, I put together the meal and told folks to just bring the drinks.

Yet moving to Maine I have encountered potlucks in pretty much every part of my life. We have them at church, friends have them, even work related gatherings are often potlucks. I have to say that potlucks have allowed me to try foods I would never think about making on my own, some of which have become favorites…cocktail weiners being a big one.

But I have to admit I have often wondered is something as simple as a potluck, a cultural difference? See, among my Black friends even in Maine, very few host potlucks. To be honest, I only know one Black person that will host a potluck and even then she still provides most of the meal with the idea that others will provide the dessert.

Now I gotta be honest, I have asked some of my inner circle their thoughts on why don’t Black folks embrace the potluck as a cheap way to entertain and to be honest, I am not gonna post the replies since frankly they are insulting and not logical. After all lack of hygiene knows no racial boundaries and yes there are plenty of white folks who consider their pets family members but Black folks like animals too and might get a stray hair into the chili as well.

So I ask you dear reader, is a potluck a symbol of a racial and cultural difference? Or is it just a regional difference?

I love the idea of entertaining yet rarely do it because of the cost and most certainly am thinking that potlucks might be a way to entertain without breaking the bank. Yet as a Black woman, I am strangely curiously about why potlucks are not as popular with Black folks as they are with White folks.

See, this is what happens when you are stuck home with a sick child and snow…your mind goes all over the place!

When not to be frugal

18 Dec

This is the type of post you write and you feel a tad hypocritical about sharing, but I am an open book in many instances especially when it comes to my finances. I look at this way, while there are some who would never share as much as I do about my financial life, I hope that by sharing maybe someone will learn something and not make the crazy mistakes I have made in the past.

I realize that for some of my readers much of what I write and share may seem like common sense but let me tell you there a whole lot of folks who when it comes to their finances are fucking clueless. I know, I used to be one of those people. How else can you explain folks in the past few years who made maybe 50-60G’s tops and bought half a million dollar homes? They believed those folks offering the mortgages and never did any research, once upon a time you had to be credit worthy to buy a house so even though folks knew they weren’t when those folks said they were, they bought it. Now many of those folks are losing their homes. Truth is I would have been one of them had it not been for some serious blessings that rained down upon us.

But I am not talking houses, I am talking about my car situation. Yesterday, the Spousal Unit and I bit the bullet and got financing and bought a late-model SUV…people who know me personally know this is a huge deal for us. First off, for years I have referred to SUV’s as FUV’s…fuck you vehicles. Reason being, a large portion of folks I have observed driving them drive like assholes. I know not nice but oh well. In some way I just had a mental block against them.

So how did a person who goes from striving to live cheaply decide to buy a car that is a lot more money and most certainly not as light on gas as our previous car? Well, we had discussed the fact that if our options for a car came down to financing one that we needed to get something that truly met our needs. It was one thing to pay cash for a clunker and live with the fact that it wasn’t quite what we needed, it was another thing to commit to payments and still have a car that required us to rent trucks and vans from time to time.

See, my son elder boy is 6’3 and in our past 2 cars he has been very uncomfortable, with the addition of girl child it’s been even tighter than before. It also does not help that periodically I shop for my job and end up in a pinch scraping rides because our car was too small. Then there is the fact that the Spousal Unit observed that with my car phobia I am much more relaxed in large cars. I hate being enclosed and anytime I am in a larger car, its much nicer so the Man has been hoping this means I will think about driving more and making him drive less. Of course there is the matter that I have no idea how to park my land yacht but I will figure it out.

Point of this is, we decided that while being frugal was important it was also important to look at the whole picture and the whole picture means a car that truly fits our needs. While older paid for cars are great, it also helps if the owner is someone who knows how to work on them…sadly neither I nor the man have that skill. So we went for the car that will fit our needs and while gas consumption is a concern we are fortunate that our day to day lives don’t require a great deal of driving. After all, my job is a mile away from the house and the Spousal Unit’s office is in our house and we are still a one car family.

Sometimes cheapest does not always equal best and as I strive to live within my means, I am learning it’s still a work in progress. There are times when the cheapest option is not the best and the most frugal option may require spending a tad more cash…sort of like shoes. I find that when I buy a good quality pair of shoes, say a pair of Dansko’s the initial outlay of cash hurts but $100-130 on a pair of shoes that can last at least 6-7 years turns out to be a good deal.

A long day

15 Dec

Readers, the past 24 hours have tested me as the kids used to say big time…as I told someone right now I feel like I am dancing with the devil and that bitch is winning the contest. So what has BGIM so up in arms? Well if you read me on the regular, you know I strive to live within my means and that meant buying a car with cold hard cash a few days ago.

Well long story short, that lovely Volvo turned out to be a death trap. No, I didn’t get it independently inspected in part because the state of Maine requires that cars have to have an recent inspection sticker (other words its got to be road worthy and safe before you sell it if you are a dealer) and this car did indeed have a recent (45 days) inspection sticker.  So how did I discover it was a death trap? Well I smelled gas, lots of gas so much a car parked near me at the drug store was looking at me like are you trying to blow us up?

So I told the Spousal Unit to take the car to the shop where our mechanic said basically the loveliness of the car was an illusion. He told us go collect our cash back right away, he didn’t even want to attempt to fix it, just take it back. Thankfully the dealer who sold us the car gave us our cash back without too much complaint…though I admit I was getting ready to get gutter with him. I am feeling thankful that aside from the couple hundred I spent to get the car registered and pay the excise tax that all money was returned but it’s been a rough day to say the least.

It’s funny because a buddy told me they had this issue a few years ago and the dealer refused to give em their money back, so they were stuck with an unsafe vehicle as their only car for two years. I couldn’t help wondering the role class played as my buddy is younger, low income and has a lot of kids. On the other hand the Spousal Unit and I are college educated and had gone to an upscale community to buy our death trap…made me sad to think about folks who truly struggle financially and how they can be taken advantage of. Mind you before I even called this man, I had looked up the law and knew my rights, thankfully he didn’t make me put on my legal hat either.

So on the one hand while I am happy as hell it was a sobering thought that even a fucked up situation is so much worse if you lack means but as I am tired I don’t have the energy to properly explore that subject.

Well my next stop is probably a dealer selling a fairly new car, after much discussion this is looking like an area where I may have to spend more money to get a reliable ride. Neither I nor the man are car people, and if there is one thing I learned from my Pops who always drove old cars, in order to coast a whip that is older it helps if you can do some repairs yourself. We lack those skills and the idea of seeing our mechanic any more than we do now is just not a great idea…so sometimes spending money is unavoidable.

Here is hoping your Tuesday is better than mine.

How Low Could you Go?

14 Dec

I know, I know…you are probably tired of hearing me talk about money. Well considering it’s the season when most of us lose our heads in the quest to give the best gifts we can (or cannot) afford I figure you can never talk enough about money.

I have been reading this blog almost since it’s inception, I think I mentioned here once before. Basically it’s about a family that lives off $1000 a month! Yes, you read that correctly a thousand dollars a month. Long story short, it’s a married couple with 3 small kids, they live here in Maine and actually seem to do ok. Ok at least as defined by the blogger.

I must admit that while I strive to reduce debt and be frugal that there is no way I could live off that little, hell I couldn’t do it as a single Mama almost 17 years ago. That said, while there are a lot of choices this family makes that I couldn’t see doing personally, I have to admire their desire to live within their means…even when they don’t have much.

This weekend, while I was happy to have solved the car problem without going into debt, I must admit I was having a bit of a pity party. See, I busted my ass to get my bonus from work. If you read this and you know me personally, you know the work I do and at times how grueling it is. I love it but at the same time it leaves me drained. This organization has never given the director a bonus…so you know a sista was grinding away to get that extra cheddar. (translation, I worked hard as hell to convince them to give me a bonus).  Now I had not planned anything specific other than to visit family with that cash, I had planned on there being some cash left over for Mama to have some fun. Fun? Oh yeah, simple shit I no longer do like getting nails done and actually a trip to get my hair done since the fro has gone crazy. Well all that is history at this point thanks to the car situation.

Now I know I should be grateful that we were able to resolve the car problem yet human nature being what it is, I was feeling pissy yesterday and realized what a hypocrite I can be at times. Hell, I was just telling my sibling the other day you have to focus on what you have and not what others have….great advice, even better if I were to heed it myself. Truthfully I do a great deal of the time, but this weekend was not one of those times.

This morning though as I made the rounds to blogs I read while I feed my coffee habit, I was once again struck with how some folks are seemingly able to make do on so little and appear to be content. So I wondered again, what would it take for me to be one of those folks? I don’t have the answer yet but I am thinking about it and when I figure it out I will be sure to share, in the mean time I ask you, could you live on a thousand bucks a month and be content? If so, why? If not, why?