Well, hello.  It’s been quite a long time since I have seen your faces.  I’m sorry about that.  I wish I had more to report to you all.  At this writing, J still is out of work, though he is contracting a bit, so we have been out of crisis mode and just in a holding pattern.  I wanted to quickly update, and report that I was asked to give a speech at the Annual Autumn Breakfast for the Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester, Massachusetts this morning.  Since they found me though my blog here, and since so many of you will recognize portions of the speech, I thought this would be an excellent place to stick it.  Better than the junk drawer in the kitchen.  I also wanted to report that I spoke with the director of the food pantry just now, and I’m pleased to report that todays haul was a whopping $12.000.00, which will be matched by an anonymous donor.  Thank you all for hanging in, here and on facebook.  

I had a dream the other night. I was in one of these gorgeous Beacon Hill townhouses that some of us have had the good fortune of being allowed to poke around in. There  was an endless number of floors, a soft neutral palate of beige and cream, lots of light flooding through huge windows of colonial-era wavy glass. It was peaceful and serene and spotless. They say that when you dream of a house, the house represents yourself. I was vaguely aware of this as I tore around the grand spiral staircase in a panic, trying to find my way out before the home owners discovered me, a stow-away. I was someplace where I did not belong, terrified and out of my element, heart pounding and unable to find the exit from a life I did not belong in.

 

I was born and raised in one of the lovely W suburbs west of Boston to two hardworking and over-educated parents. I went to college and grad school and became a social worker. I specialized in the treatment of psychological trauma and devoted my professional life to advocating for the underdogs. My husband is an economic consultant, and had a very well-paying job that allowed me to stay home with our daughter. We thought we were blessed with privilege, opportunity, and security.

 

Our son was born in January of 2010, and my husband took three weeks off to be at home with us. He had been very slow at work, but everyone else was slow too. I remember him being concerned that no one from his office contacted him to say congratulations after the birth. I brushed him off, but intuition is rarely wrong. Three days after he returned to work, they walked into his office and told him that he was being laid off. They read from a script. He was downsized. I could try to describe the crushing fear, the panic, the tentative optimism that one feels. The anger, the sense of betrayal, the feelings of worthlessness. I could try to describe it, but so many already know first-hand.

After the initial shock, we sat down to review our situation, and surprisingly it was pretty good. My husband received a reasonably good severance package. We also had at least 6 months of living expenses in an emergency savings account, unemployment insurance, and no debt. We had been doing everything we were supposed to. We had been very responsible with our money, and we lived modestly. My husband had been working 80 hour weeks for so many years that we decided he could take some time off to enjoy his brand new three week old baby and two year old daughter. In many ways, that was such a happy year for our family and we are so blessed to have had that time together. After awhile, things became increasingly scary. We never would have expected it to be so hard to find work again. A year and a half into this ordeal we had no more savings, no more unemployment benefits. What we did have was a mortgage, two cars that were no longer road-worthy, two kids growing out of their clothing, student loans gathering interest, and a looming heating bill for our almost 200 year old house.

You start to look around and see everything falling apart; doors falling of hinges, all the dinner plates are cracked, drinking out of mason jars because the glasses are broken, it gets harder to find clothes in the closet that aren’t stained and ripped. The little things keep getting bigger and pile on. There seems to be no end in sight. You wonder if you’re going to be Miss Haversham, or Norma Desmond living in your rotting castle dreaming of the past. Sometimes the pressure makes your eyes burn and when you look at your kids you panic. The future seems less bright every day that goes by, and you feel yourself giving up hope. You feel it slipping away, as you look for what an apartment costs per month. If it wasn’t for the kids, this would be easy. If it wasn’t for the birthday parties you are invited to and can’t afford to get presents for and hope no one notices. If it wasn’t for the wedding you have to go to two thousand miles away in 6 more months, 2 more months, next month. Everything becomes a countdown.

We are good people. We work hard and save money and invest in the market. We give to charity and volunteer. We bring casseroles to people when they are sick, or have a baby. We are good tippers. We have never carried debt aside from student loans and mortgage, both of which we watch closely and refinance at low rates. We overpay our bills to get ahead. Our cars both have 130K miles, and we are perfectly ok with that. We don’t have iPads. We own one TV. We haven’t taken a vacation in years. We wear hand-me-downs and clip coupons. All of the clichés about something better around the corner, and windows and doors opening and closing, just sound like cruel, horrid jokes now. We were in the 47% for the first time in our lives.

You wish you could afford to be depressed. You start fantasizing about staying in bed all day and sleeping it off, taking Benadryl so that you can just sleep and sleep until something good falls in your lap. Then, the overwhelming guilt washes through you, reminding you how horrible you are for complaining while you still have a home, and your kids still have food, and you’re here complaining about not having a reliable car when there are children in refugee camps in the Congo. Depression can be so self-indulgent. You go to bed, and have to wake up every day and put the optimistic cheerleader face on again.

This is what it looks like, in slow motion. This is the unraveling.

It doesn’t matter if you went to a good school, come from a good family. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in good financial shape with no debt and never even got swindled by a big bank. You can be sitting there with all your ducks in a row, heat turned all the way up to 68 and before you know it, one little shift in the universe will send you and the people you love most into a tailspin. You will slowly start hurtling towards earth, then faster. And faster. And you will cling to anything you can find. You will feel pinned down, your eyes pryed open, compelled to watch as the ground gets closer and closer. You will be forced every night to lay awake and think about where you can get food, money, and the security you used to just take for granted. You look at your clueless kids and white-knuckle it. You will get really good at doing math in your head on the fly. You will feel yourself being observed and discussed. You know people get uncomfortable when you talk about it, and start to avoid you.

I didnt think about Next Year, or In Ten Years. I could barely think about next week. Everything was uncertain, from retirement plans to what’s-for-dinner. I didn’t know how I was going to stay in my house, how I was going to feed us, how the hell I was going to pay for heat this winter, how I was going to pay for the Halloween costumes I just ordered two nights earlier believing that there was a job that was going to start the following week. I could no longer recognize my life. It’s a terrifying place to be for anyone, and there are a lot of us here right now. 


At some point I had to scrape myself off the floor, and start to plan ahead for my family. I have always been an advocate of fresh, healthy, real food, especially for the kids. When we lost our unemployment, eating good food seemed like an impossible dream. I became further depressed by the idea of big wheels of government cheese, and big tubs of government peanut butter on the dinner table. It took a lot of courage for me to come to the Open Door for help. I was terrified about what the experience would be like, about how people would look at me, what kind of food I would get. I was scared of appearing ungrateful or greedy. I was scared of being judged for being poor, or worse- not poor enough. Obviously, none of those things happened.

 

I received our first pickup at the food pantry and was just so overwhelmed by the experience. Thirty-three pounds of food! We got a chicken for roasting and stock, some fresh pollock fillets, cans of tomatoes, dry beans, bags of rice, organic lentils, some fresh sourdough bread , sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, pears, beets, lettuce from local farms, milk and eggs. Amazing. Fresh, healthy food given to us with a smile, with respect, and with compassion.

That food got us though several weeks with some stretching. It was a desperately needed bandage for us at a particularly dark and needy time. One less thing to worry about, which is no small gift when you’re in a place of constant worry. It was a bit of light shining through a crack. I had been kicked around for so long and had come to expect the poor treatment, shame, judgment, and harsh words that had characterized many of our interactions during this period. The staff at Open Door made it so easy for me to do this terrible and necessary thing. They welcomed me with a smile and open arms and casual chit chat. I will never forget their kindness, because seeking that help was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. What a valuable resource for our community, particularly right now when so many families are struggling more than they ever expected to. 

This past winter, my husband started working again, on a consulting contract, more or less in his field. While it was an enormous sigh of relief, and some regular dependable income, the job still pays about half of his previous salary, and provides no health insurance or benefits. He has been interviewing for permanent positions, but nothing has worked out in our favor so far. We are out of crisis mode, thankfully, but still fighting the war. Our son who was born just before his layoff is going to be three years old in January. It has been a long fezzle. We may still need help from the Open Door again at some point. I never thought that I was someone who would need to seek out help feeding my family. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.  The Open Door is not just there for people who live in abject, lifelong poverty. It’s for people in transition, who might feel like they don’t recognize their life right now. Many of us wake up one day to find ourselves living in a stranger’s house, desperately seeking a way back to familiar surroundings.

Happy New Year.  I’m hoping that 2012 is going to kick 2011 in its skinny ass.  It seems that we are far from the only people we know who were glad to see the year come to an end; it’s been hard for a lot of our friends, family, and people in our community.  The job search has been on hold though the holidays.  No one seems to check their email and that’s just fine.  We needed a little break to just not think about things for a week.  Starting tomorrow, everything is back to business as usual, so J will be cracking down, following up with a bunch of contacts he made before Christmas.  I’m working on a few new products for Great Marsh Artisan Skincare, and filling orders left and right.  I’m really looking forward to my daughter being back in school so we can get back to our routine around here.

This is a strange time of year for me.  I have always felt New Years Eve is a very bittersweet holiday, moving ever further into history, propelling towards the end of things, leaving behind family and friends who have died, entombed in the past.  I think about them.  This year, one of my best friends is staying back in 2011 without me.  As the first anniversary of his death approaches, on his birthday in early February, I’m finding the inevitable turning inwards.  I think about him, his family, clutch on to those memories I have of us together that fade more and more each day.  I know that soon they will all be vapor, and I’ll only have his name etched into my brain.

I’m not a religious person.  I’m a mediocre atheist who came by it honestly via a childhood of questioning in the Unitarian Universalist church and a degree in religious studies.  I have flirted with other faith traditions outside of Judeo-Christianity, and found something of value in them all but could not ever make that final leap of faith in believing in a theistic god.  I sometimes wish that I could, but despite 36 years of trying, I’ve settled into  the place where I am, still attending a UU church near my home, and trying to answer my daughters increasingly metaphysical questions in a comforting, affirming, but nonspecific way so that she can find her own path of faith.  My heart is full of love, and I know yours is, too.  That’s really all I need at this point in my life.

Nevertheless, after the holidays are over, in the time of the longest nights, the deadest of nature laying in wait, having faith if not in a divine presence then at least a faith that there is a light in the darkness, I use the time to look deep within.  I use the time to cleanse and detox and renew.  I read, I try to eat very clean, simple foods, I move slower and feel myself firmly rooted to home, family, place.  I roast things.  I braise.  I sleep.

Don’t think that the tone of this post means that I’ve gone all woo on you.  I still swear like a truck driver and scream at the kids that I’ll sell them to the Gypsies if I have to break up one more damn fist fight.  Today I started a Whole30 to get back into the swing of things.  I’ve eaten a lot of sugar and even some grains over the holiday season and am up 11 pounds from my lowest weight.  (I felt badly until J told me that he is up 18.)  One of the things I love most about ancestral eating is how simple and streamlined it is.  I never, ever feel that I’m deprived, but rather feel like I’m giving my body exactly what it needs.  I have fallen out of that a bit, so I’m starting the year with a month of clean eating.  After my first Whole30 breakfast of two sunny side up eggs, three strips of (sugar-free, nitrite/nitrate-free, antibiotic-free, uncured blah blah blah) bacon and two sweet potato pecan puffs, I felt amazing.  I never know why I get tempted by non-paleo food; it makes me feel like shit.  It tastes like medium density fiberboard.  It is never, ever worth it.  So, I’m detoxing, resetting, tightening up, cleaning out, thinking about health, nourishment, relationships, life, and nutrition.

Oddly enough, I’m also doing the same with my “beauty” (used loosely) routine.  I was wearing more makeup than usual over the holidays, out of my normal habits, even using shampoo with dimethecone, SLH, fragrance, PARFUM!!  Shame spiral.  I’m now back to using only Dr. Bronners when I have to, Aubrey Organics on the head and cleansing my face with straight olive oil, lavender and tea tree essential oils.  I’m using coconut oil in my hair and to moisturize my skin, as well as my Lavender Honey Hard Lotion and Rosehip Hydrating Serum.  That is it.  I feel softer and cleaner already.

So, meditating on life, health, cleanliness, simplicity, and quiet.  That is 2012 so far.  I hope that I can manifest some goodness our way on the job front.  God (or, as my UU minister calls it, “a universal force of love that always bends towards Justice,”) knows that we need some good news so I’m working on willing it for us all.

What’s in a Cow?.

Here is another post that I wrote for my collective blog over at Highbrow Paleo.  Jamie and I had a chance to buy half a cow, and we jumped on it.  We have been struggling with the food thing, feeling incredibly guilty for buying CAFO meat, but at the same time not willing to return to eating a grain-based diet that made us sick.  It was a difficult choice, but when this steer fell into our lap, so to speak, we took it.  We now have two chest freezers in the basement full of beef, and a small store of other meat (venison, pastured pork, pastured turkey, chicken feet).

The holidays have been hard, but we are focusing on our blessings and not on Stuff, as one should at this time of year anyway.  The kids have been having fun decorating the house, and cutting down our Christmas tree.  We have had some family Christmas parties and the obligatory cookie baking, gingerbread house decorating and amaryllis tending.  It has all been a lot of excitement for the little ones and while It would be wonderful to jet down to Manhattan and take them to the Nutcracker and skating at Rockefeller Center, we don’t feel deprived one bit.

The job search is on hold this week and next while many people are on vacation, so that has been almost relaxing.  Before the world shut down for the holiday, there were some good connections made at some good companies, so we are hopeful (as always, but more than we have been in a long time) that something will work out as soon as business opens again in 2012.  We have been able to focus on our own small but growing business which exceeded our expectations for the holiday.  We are nowhere near able to save the family farm selling calendula balms, but I’m proud of how far we have come in such a short amount of time.  Thankful.

We are reminded every day how amazing, generous, loving, warm, sweet, kind, hilarious and wonderful our friends are.  The people that take five minutes out of their day to shoot over a quick email to check in are like gold to me.  I have so much love for my friends, who are more family than family.

We are warm(ish), fairly healthy, and we have some incredible, healthy, compassionate food on our table.  I don’t want anything else for the moment.

Thank you for reading, and all sorts of healthy love, and granted wishes for the winter holidays and the new year.

I keep feeling that I’ve hit the end of the line.  It gets to a point when you just have no more resources within yourself left to draw on.  So many jobs that he’s perfect for, so many interviews that have been nailed.  So many weeks checking email and messages waiting for that offer to come and the anticipation that you swore you wouldn’t give in to after so many rejections, only to have it all dashed again.  So much time wasted.  Hours and hours of work that go into the résumé, the cover letter, the thank-you notes, the phone interviews, the commute into the interview, the gas and train fare, the dry cleaning bills, the networking, the printer ink…  and with one terse email, it’s all been for nothing and you dont have anything else to move on to.  And they don’t give you an explanation or feedback or anything, and they don’t owe you, and they even now are in a position of power over you so you can’t ask for even that one little thing; where did it go wrong?  How do we start this whole process all over again?

And now we are coming into the holiday season, and we know that there is no way he is going to be working before Christmas, and companies are on hold essentially until the New Year, and every résumé you send out is even more likely to languish in some HR hell hole.  But my kids are starting to notice that something is dreadfully wrong with mama and dada, and I don’t know what to tell them anymore.

It’s torture.  It’s torture.  I’m not overstating this.  My adrenal glands are frazzled.  This is torture.

RePost: Letter From A Liberal To A Young Marine (That 53% Guy).

Post #1 (What a Dumb Title).

I’m involved in another blogging project.  We are a small, super secret, super awesome group of other paleo-ish nerds who are far smarter and more clever than I.  This is a collective blog that will cover a wide variety of topics from nutrition and biochemistry, to recipes, philosophy, frugality, gardening, exercise physiology, book reviews, food politics, homesteading, disease, medicine, hunting, sustainability, and hilarity.  For my readers who came to A Slim Winter through Paul Jaminet’s blog, Perfect Health Diet, this will be right up your alley.  I hope that you will follow along with us.

We just got our final unemployment check.  $600 that is going to have to last for………ever.  We also just had to turn on our heat.  J had an interview, but he has had a lot of interviews.  It went really well, but they all go really well.  We are sitting around, waiting but we are always waiting.  I applied for a job answering the phone and taking orders at a local pizza place.  They needed someone who speaks English.  I didn’t get the job.  Seasonal help at a local department store chain restocking at night is the next step.  I hope they will consider someone with a Master’s degree.

Baby, it’s cold outside.  It’s also depressing outside, so sometimes one just needs to self-medicate*.  I think this calls for my favorite winter drink, a hot toddy.

Get a huge and well insulated mug that will stay nice and hot for long enough to sip the whole thing down.  Put about a tablespoon of honey in the bottom, toss in a slice of lemon and about an ounce of dark rum (or, whiskey if you’re so inclined).  Brew a cuppa tea.  I particularly love the Ginger Tea made by Yogi, though I think it may have been dumbed down lately.  It used to be much stronger.  Sometimes I will add an additional slice of fresh ginger to the water to strong it up.  When your tea is ready, top off your big giant mug.  Enjoy it, because it will make you warm and happy, something I cherish a lot more these days then I used to.

 

*No, I’m not advocating that you drink your worries away.  Your worries will still be there after your toddy is long gone.  And, please don’t drink and drive.  Really.  This is something you should enjoy in the relative comfort of your own home.  Driving drunk is about one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts, so don’t fucking do it.

Things have got a bit heavy around here.  Sorry about that.  It’s all just a reflection of the ebb and flow of this little struggle, I suppose.  Some days we are crazy optimistic, and other days are just pure self-pity.  It’s all necessary.  The days I listen to the news, read about the Occupations and hear the dismal economic reports are pretty depressing.  Yesterday was bad; the commentators on an NPR show about the economy all were just muttering, “The caller is right.  We are all doomed.” That did not bring a ray of sunshine into my life.

I got our first pickup at the food pantry and was just so overwhelmed with the help.  Thirty-three pounds of food for my family!  We got a chicken, some fresh pollack fillets, cans of tomatoes, dry beans, bags of rice, organic lentils, some fresh sourdough bread for the kids, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, pears, beets, lettuce from local farms, milk and eggs.  Amazing.  Please, if you need help feeding your family, head to your local food pantry. If you don’t have a hard time feeding your family then please consider donating to one.  We all need help sometimes, and even those of us who struggle need healthy food.

I had an “interview” with a local pizza place to answer the phone and take orders, under the table.  Is it weird that I’m excited about it?  Considering my Plan A was holiday help at the Macy’s half an hour away before this fell into my lap, then it’s no surprise.  I’m really hoping that he hires me.  I think it would be a good symbiotic relationship and would help so much until J gets some work.  It’s been a long time since I walked into a place and just said, “Listen, I need some money for food and heat.  I can do whatever you need me to do, and I can lift a hundred pounds.”  I can dead lift a lot more than that, but didn’t want to show off, you know.  Didn’t want to intimidate the guy, right?

Anyway, onward and upward.  I’ve taken a close look lately at our daily expenses.  One of the things that we go through a lot of are toiletries and cleaning products.  In the past, I had been skeptical of drugstore cosmetics because of the long lists of thing of who-knows-what so I changed over (almost exclusively) to the “all-natural” brands.  Part of this switch meant making my own.  Elias was born with some coin eczema and since it was january and the heat was on, it was itchy and inflamed and irritated.  None of the usual stuff from the store worked, so I made my own and it cleared right up.  That was what led me to my little company, Great Marsh Artisan Skincare.  I made salves, balms and oils by hand.  I’m just starting out, but I have a lot of fun doing it.  It’s not going to save the family farm by any means, but we are carried in a few stores and have some pretty loyal customers with wonderful feedback.  So, I keep at it.  My plan is to soon introduce some new products soon, too.  A lot of the toiletries that I use on myself and my family are DIY, but there’s some things you just need to have someone else make for you.  I’m always looking to keep quality and simplicity high and cost low, so here are some of the ways that I do that.

Soap.  I stopped using it, for the most part.  It dries your skin out and I rarely get that dirty.  If my hands are nasty from digging in the dirt or cooking, I wash up with some hot water and scrub with some salt and olive oil.  In the shower, I used to use Dr. Bronners castile soap (you know, on the dirty bits) at fifty-three cents per ounce, but to save money I have switched to Dr. Woods at twenty cents per ounce.  Castile soap is castile soap.  I use it to clean the house, wash up the kiddos and in the shower for those times when soap might be required.

I have tricky hair.  My husband and the kids use the castile soap without a problem, but I have very curly, colored, fine, dry hair.  I have tried to do the “no poo” method that so many people rave about without great results.  I was greasy and my hair felt like straw.  It just wasn’t for me unfortunately because I think the principles are awesome.  I think everyone should give it a go for 30 days and see what happens.  If you’re one of the few people for whom it doesn’t work out, then consider using Aubrey Organics.  Their ingredients list is flawless and there are about a million formulations for any hair type.  Currently I’m using the Blue Chamomile Hydrating shampoo with the Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner.  Vitacost has the best prices.

To tame my hair down from Jimi Hendrix to more Robert Plant, I just use some coconut oil.  TINY amount of coconut oil just on the ends.  I get a 54 ounce container of organic, unrefined coconut oil for only forty-three cents per ounce.  Very cheap, and we use it for everything.  It’s my primary cooking oil and my primary body-care ingredient.  I put a bit in a container or mason jar up in the bathroom and use the rest down in the kitchen. Coconut oil has a myriad of uses, if you didn’t know so it’s a great thing to have around the house. I use it for an all-over moisturizer for myself and the kids, and yes I do put it on my face.  It’s fine.  It also has a natural SPF of 15 (though you didn’t hear it from me) and its the only thing I used all summer at the beach and didn’t burn.  It also makes a great deodorant when you mix it up with some cornstarch and baking soda.  I have some tough pits, and this stuff works just as well as Secret Clinical Strength without the potential Alzheimer’s disease down the road!  Or whatever.  I still don’t like putting something on my body when I don’t know WTF it is.

Another deodorant that I love is the Thai Crystal.  The DIY doesn’t work long term for me because I get a weird rash.  I’m the only freak with this issue though, so I still swear by it for everyone else on the planet, but for me I have to break it up by using the Thai Crystal most days.  People, this thing costs $5.25 and it lasts for three to five years.  What is the problem?  Go buy one.

For the kiddos skin, I use my own Lavender Honey Hard Lotion or some olive oil infused with chickweed, plantain and Calendula.  I find that, as with most things, simple is best.  The fewer products, the fewer ingredients, the fewer steps to processing, the better the results, the better for your health and for the planet.

I don’t really know what else is needed.  I wear some mascarra, eyeliner and sometimes concealer that I get from the drugstore.  I shave my legs with coconut oil, exfoliate with a dry brush. I do dye my hair at home every couple of months with the regular commercial dye, whatever happens to be on sale.  I’m not perfect and I keep a few “luxuries” in my back pocket, though my definition of “luxuries” as certainly changed in the past couple of years.  But oh, how I miss bi-monthly, 90-minute massages!

This is what it looks like, in slow motion.  This is the unravelling.  This is the end of a families dreams for the future, for its aspirations and for its plans.  This is the beginning and the end right here.  Don’t let your guard down, don’t ever think you are safe, that your future is all set.  Don’t plan to pay for your kids college, to travel when you retire.  Don’t plan to stay healthy, and don’t expect to take care of yourself when you get sick.  Don’t expect to have a roof over your head.  If you already have one, don’t expect it to stay.  For the love of god, don’t ever expect any sort of security or dignity.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how badly you want to work, how many letters you have after your name.

It doesn’t matter if you went to a good school, come from a good family.  It doesn’t even matter if you’re in good financial shape with no debt and never even got swindled by a crappy mortgage high interest rate cards.  You can be sitting there with all your ducks in a row, heat turned all the way up to 68 and before you know it, one little shift in the universe will send you and the people you love most into a tail spin.  You will slowly start hurtling towards earth, faster.  And faster.  And you will cling to anything you can find, even as you stop being able to feel.  Anything.

Don’t think a handshake means anything to anyone anymore.  Don’t ever think that someones promises hold any weight.  Don’t expect that your hard work will ever pay off.  And don’t think you can run.  You will be pinned down, forced to live through it.  You will be forced every night to lay awake and think about where you can get food, money, security.  You will get really good at doing math in your head on the fly, and you will also learn that people are selfish by nature and largely don’t really care about you or your kids.  You will feel yourself being observed and discussed.  You will find yourself marked as Other, so that people who are just like you used to be don’t have to feel what you’re feeling.  The betrayal, the promises that you stupidly believed in.  The phone will stop ringing soon.  You know people get uncomfortable when you talk about it.  You know people stop caring, lose sympathy.  Your friends will start dropping like flies.

I don’t think about Next Year, or In Ten Years.  I can barely think about next week.  I don’t know anything anymore.  I don’t know how I’m going to stay in my house, how I’m going to feed us, how the hell I’m going to pay for heat this winter, how I’m going to pay for the Halloween costumes I just ordered two nights ago thinking that there was a job that was going to start this week.  Silly me, apparently deciding terms of employment and negotiating a salary and shaking hands is meaningless.

We are good people.  We work hard and save money and invest in the market.  We give to charity and volunteer.  We bring casseroles to people when they are sick, or have a baby.  We are good tippers.  We have never carried debt aside from student loans and mortgage, both of which we watch closely and refinance at low rates.  We overpay our bills to get ahead.  Our cars both have 130K miles and are 8 years old, and we are perfectly ok with that.  We don’t have iPads.  We own one TV.  We haven’t taken a vacation in years.  We wear hand me downs and clip coupons.  I don’t know what we did to deserve this.  I don’t know how many more times I can handle my daughter asking me if I’m crying because I’m mad at her.  All of the clichés about something better around the corner, and windows and doors opening and closing, just sound like cruel, horrid jokes now so please spare me that.  We are the 99%.  We are also the 47% for the first time in our lives.

So, here is your front row ticket.  Now you can observe from a safe distance what it looks like when a family falls apart.  Enjoy the show.

Me, In a Rainbow, So I Won't Be Sad

I read this, and I’m filled with a seething, red hot rage.  It’s nothing new, and there are a million graphs and charts and articles  and commentary out there saying the same thing.  The rich are bending all of us over while they swill champagne.  My husband is willing to take a 50% pay cut just for a job that will keep the lights on, but still his recruiters shrug their shoulders and ask if he wants to relocate to Baton Rouge.  I am desperate to work, but with childcare costing us $2,000.00 per month and me being *gasp* a lowly social worker, it’s not feasible.

Last week while cleaning out the coat closet, I found one of the pay stubs from my last job:  $1,180 for two weeks of work.  You know what I did?  I was a Master’s level clinician with a certificate in the Advanced Treatment of Psychological Trauma providing free psychotherapy and crisis intervention to adolescents and adults who had experienced violent sexual trauma.  I saw grown men who had been raped by their priests, children who were currently being raped by a parent, husbands of women who had been raped by their employer, teenagers who were raped by a teacher.  The work is difficult and heart-wrenching and goddamn it I did good work that is needed, and I happily did it for pennies.  I worked on behalf of people who have no advocate.  I held hands in court rooms, clinics, and emergency rooms.  I loved my work.

And I see my husband struggling to get employment while our life spins down the toilet, and I see these people making millions doing nothing.  N-O-T-H-I-N-G.  They make nothing.  They do nothing.  I’m feeling this on an extremely personal level.  I used to tell myself that my low pay wasn’t a reflection on me, but on my clients value to voters and policymakers.  No one with any power cares about the kinds of people I work with; the poor, the mentally ill, the victims of powerlessness.  This lit a fire in me and kept me going working on their behalf, trying to be the best advocate that I could be.  And here I am, largely unable to practice at the moment and in a state of extraordinary powerlessness myself and the people wielding the power turn a blind eye to our suffering and our struggles.  There is no middle class.  The 1% has achieved their American Dream and the 99% paid for it.

Summarized on Yahoo! Finance from the article at  thinkprogress.org:

#1) The Top 1% Owns 40% of the Nation’s Wealth:

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out the richest 1% of Americans now own 40% of the nation’s wealth. This disparity is much worse than it was in the past, as just 25 years ago the top 1% owned 33%of national wealth.

How much does the bottom 80% own? Only 7%.

#2) The Top 1% Take Home 24% of National Income:

While the richest 1% of Americans take home almost a quarter of national income today, in 1976 they took home just 9% — meaning their share of the national income pool has nearly tripled in roughly three decades.

#3) The Top 1% Own Half of the Country’s Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds: The Institute for Policy Studies illustrates this massive disparity in financial investment ownership, noting that the bottom 50% of Americans own only 0.5% of these investments.

#4) The Top 1% of Americans Have Only 5% of the Nation’s Personal Debt:

Using 2007 figures, sociologist William Domhoff points out that the top 1% have 5% of the nation’s personal debt while the bottom 90% have 73% of total debt.

#5) The Top 1% Are Taking In More off the Nation’s Income Than at Any Other Time Since the 1920s: Not only are the wealthiest 1% of Americans taking home a tremendous portion of the national income, but their share of this income is greater than at any other time since the Great Depression, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates in this chart, using 2007 data.

I’ve been in the first row as a spectator, watching Occupy Wall Street and our local occupations develop.  I so want to be a part of it, but I’m needed at home with the babies right now.  I’m inspired and angry, comforted and reassured.  I feel a deep sense of solidarity with the other 99% down there yelling on my behalf, and on behalf of us all.  The criticism of the protests confounds me; don’t they know that we are all in the 99%?  That this is for your benefit, too?  I met with my financial advisor last week, and he told me that he wanted to get up from his desk and go join them in the loby!  Shocking and a bit scary, considering he has all my money which is still only a fraction of what a CEO would make in a month, but it’s all I have.

I read this amazing article that someone posted on facebook today.  Lindsay talks about how to Occupy Wall Street from home.  She discusses the act of making soup as a revolutionary act, of removing oneself from the industrial food system as one thing that women and mothers can do to free ourselves from the slavery of the corporatocracy.  I also read this article in the New York Times the other day, profiling a woman who found herself in Deep Trouble, and went back to the land in Brooklyn to feed her family.  I feel so inspired when I read these.  I feel that I am reading this today as a woman who has control over nothing, who has been crying all day at the news that another job we thought was ours has fallen though, at the idea of my family on food stamps and wondering what happened to my good karma points?  I have been thinking of my grandmother a lot, a woman who came of age in the Depression in a one room cabin in the Rockies, no electricity or running water.  I think that if women like her could get their families through it, then I can too.  Then I remember the world I live in, which is so different than hers.  How my generation has been cursed with debt beyond even my parents wildest imagination.  What are we going to do?  Who is going to help us?  Will there ever be an end to all of this?  Will we ever be OK?  Lately, I think not.

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