It is 7:45 in the morning, and I just discovered that I successfully put a child’s Pull-Up (overnight diaper, basically) into the washing machine last night and ran the load. All the clothes are now covered with granules of water absorbent gel from inside the used Pull-up. It’s decision time: should I put the clothes back in the washer and run it again? Or put the clothes into the dryer and hope the gel doesn’t melt to all the clothes and the inside of the dryer? Did I mention that I now live at my in-law’s home and it is THEIR dryer we’re discussing?? This is too difficult a decision for 7:45 in the morning.
My dear friend Erica suggested I read Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson, and since I value her opinion, I gladly picked it up. I started reading it on an afternoon when my three kids were being cared for by their grandparents, and I had some alone-time. I got a piece of cake from a tasty bakery and sat down with my dessert and a good cup of coffee.
Not long into the book, I could hardly enjoy one more bite of my cake nor sip my coffee without thinking about the impact my actions were having on the world at large. It kinda felt like I was eating cardboard rather than decadent three-layer chocolate bliss. And my coffee tasted like brewed guilt diluted with half and half of ignorance, rather than the nicest java.
Julie Clawson is kind enough to remind us all through the first chapter of her book, “Don’t panic” which I appreciated even as my snack cemented in my throat. She calmly and matter-of-factly details how many of the choices we make in our everyday lives have significant impact on the world at large. And I mean significant. We’re talking about slave labor, strip mining, long-term repercussions significant. But she also describes how difficult it can be to find alternatives that are mindful of both the environment and the workforce that is employed to deliver certain goods to local stores (one example Clawson used was trying to find a bra that was made with organic cotton AND produced using Fair Trade standards — much more difficult than she thought it would be).
I had to return the book to my pal, but some of the chapters that I remember include: cocoa, coffee, gasoline, debt, clothing and food, and there were probably at least six more chapters. Each of these included practical steps a regular person could take to change the kind of impact she makes.
Even though she told me not to panic, it was overwhelming to even consider reading the entire book through in one sitting. I read it bit by bit. There were way too many things that I should do but would mean a financial investment or complete change of routine, which, as the mother of three kids six and under, I just didn’t feel up to doing. Yes, I am that lazy. So I picked ONE thing to change, and I’ve done it, and it’s an everyday sort of thing.
A luxury that I enjoy is coffee. I’ve stopped buying it at coffee shops very often (is anyone else experiencing sticker shock at paying $4 for a medium latte??), and mostly brew it at home now. Because of this, I know about coffee, I like coffee, and I now like to drink it knowing that my financial investment in a specific company is not rewarding the inhumane or unethical treatment of the people doing the dirty work of producing it for me. Because of Everyday Justice, I’ve started buying Fair Trade coffee whenever I can, sometimes holding off on buying coffee if the store doesn’t offer Fair Trade, and from local companies if I can find it. One that has been pretty easy to find is City Kid Java http://www.citykidjava.com/, a company based in Minneapolis and an offshoot of Urban Ventures. If you haven’t heard about Urban Ventures, it is an amazing non-profit that has committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in their Twin Cities community. http://www.urbanventures.org/ I’ve since discovered that my church has started brewing City Kid Java too! Aside from that specific brand, I was also able to find Fair Trade coffee at Costco, Cub and Byerly’s, and it’s never been über expensive compared to the other brands.
It may not seem like an important change, but if you knew how much coffee I drink, you might realize that it is a bigger impact than you thought. And it was easy to do – it really only involved taking a step to the next two feet of the coffee shelf at the store, in addition to becoming aware of the issues that surround coffee production. Thank you, thank you. Okay, please hold your applause. Settle down now. Really though, I’m such a pathetic, typical American (not at all like you, Gentle Reader); I’m all for making a difference, especially if the work necessary to make that happen is only lifting my arm to the left rather than to the right. Whew! Tough stuff.
This book is one that you can pick up, read a chapter, then go around thinking about that chapter for weeks, or even longer. You don’t need to chuck your old life and implement all the suggestions she makes, but I would bet that if you read Everyday Justice you won’t be able to go away from it without at least wanting to do something different in your everyday decisions. In a way, it is a big pat on the back, because the book acknowledges the significance of the individual and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others just by buying gas from a different station or trying out the local Salvation Army store for certain items (note: once you start looking at thrift shops for things you need or want, it might become an addicting challenge). In any case, it is good to know some of backstory about the items we use everyday, and if nothing else, this book is informative and you’ll go away more knowledgable than you started off, which, in my opinion, Dear Reader, is nearly always a good thing. I highly recommend Julia Clawson’s Everyday Justice and I’d love to hear your reactions if you get a chance to read it.
If you want to check her out, here is an interview she did and I think it is pretty current.
Don’t waste your valuable brain cells or time on a book called Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton
Last summer I got all excited because on a radio news program they featured a local author who had published a new work of fiction. The hook on her line was that the book was a choose-your-own-adventure story. But hers had hundreds of potential outcomes and twists. It sounded really ambitious.
When I was young I loved reading choose-your-own-adventure books. They all must have come as a set because the books all looked the same — title arched across the top, big illustration in the center, the author’s name (which I can’t remember) on the bottom, same number of pages, paperback, easily fit in your hand. They were maddening because some of the choices made you end up in jail or eaten by a giant squid, even if you went back and tried to change the choices you made. Great stuff for a voracious young reader.
Please allow me to take this opportunity to caution you against Heather McElhatton’s Pretty Little Mistakes. Within the first chapters, there is a gratuitous amount of low behavior and crass language, and the choices made within the chapters go from bad to worse. I thought it must just be the choice I made in the previous chapter that would throw me into such a terrible story situation, so I went back and made the other choice offered to me, and still ended up reading about promiscuous behavior, illegal drug use, and avant-guard art that featured sculptures of genitalia set on fire. No, I’m not kidding. And I only read for about five minutes! In addition, many of the chapters are one page long, which makes the emphasis squarely on the plot, rather than the character. It moves things along, certainly, but doesn’t ever establish a reason to care why any of these things happen.
I was so disappointed. McEllhatton has such a creative mind and it is amazing that she could come up with so many twists and turns in this novel. The cover claims that it has 150 endings! But the choices she details are ones that end up in brokenness, twisted relationships, murder and ultimately the author’s own wasted talent.
Now, I know, Dear Reader, that some of you are like me, and when I warn you off about this book, you will find yourself sorely tempted to check it out. But please, if you must, find it at the library and do not use one penny of your income to support this book.
There are folks who say the worst of the housing market is over, and then there are people who strongly disagree. I’d like to offer a brief tutorial of the terms and confusion I’ve learned about through the process of trying to sell and buy a home currently.
#1. Underwater: This is used interchangably with “upside-down” and means that you owe more on your mortage than you are able to sell your house for. With the decline of the housing market, this term refers to A LOT of houses.
#2. Short Sales: These basically suck. The seller wants/needs to sell the house, but is probably upside-down or underwater on the mortage (see #1). The seller has talked to the bank about their situation, a situation which is usually one that makes paying the mortage difficult if not impossible. Sometimes you have to stop paying the mortage in order to get someone at the bank to talk to you, and many times you have to already have an offer to show the bank before they will discuss the possibility of a short sale. Once you bring the bank into the mix, they have a say about what kind of offer you as a seller can entertain. And they are pretty picky about the offers, even rejecting perfectly reasonable offers, trying to hold out for more money.
As a buyer, you can make an offer on a short sale, hear nothing for three to four months, and then get your offer turned down after all that waiting.
#3. Foreclosure: This is when the seller has stopped making payments on a house, and the bank is starting the procedures to take over the ownership of the house. It can be a long process to get to this point, with a short sale process beforehand, a mandatory six month redemption period, sheriff’s sale, and eviction notices. Once the house finally goes back to the bank, they usually take it off the market for one month, then relist it at a price they determine to be most likely to sell the place based on the comprable houses around it.
What people don’t know as much about, or at least I didn’t, is that when a house is a short sale, the bank can begin foreclosure proceedings simultaneously, speeding up the foreclosure process and surprising the seller.
The thing that has come to light in the past year, is that mortgages get sold quicker than umbrellas on a rainy day in November. Half the time, the actual current holder of a mortage can be very unclear and hard to trace. The advice I’ve heard in reaction to this is MAKE THEM (the whoever that wants to foreclose on the property) PROVE THEY HOLD THE MORTGAGE before you leave the property. The lady who lives next door to us right now has had her notices mailed to the wrong addresses and with inaccurate names. If the bank can’t prove they hold the mortage, they can’t legally take action against the owner.
#4. Buy and bail: This is a new-ish phenomenon where someone buys and moves into a different second house, then stops payment on the first house’s mortage. Sounds dicey doesn’t it? Maybe, according to the old paradigm, but things aren’t as tidy anymore, and things that used to seem untenable are actually on the table to consider these days. People are starting to look at their interactions with banks as business deals, rather than issues of honor or reputation. When you remove the stigma of a foreclosure, the embarassement of your community knowing that you couldn’t make the mortage payments, and the ethics of failing to pay back what you borrowed, it is easier to look mearely at the facts on the paper: the housing market stinks like a breeze off a landfill, no one’s house is monetarily what it is actually worth (ie. what it would cost to build the exact same house brand new right now), and why should an individual be required to pay back entirely a loan to a bank that has leeched their bailout money from the taxpayer but then refuses to talk to that same taxpayer? Shouldn’t there be some way for the bank to extend a hand of compromise to a person who wants to come through on their loan re-payment, but the current circumstances in which the United States find’s itself makes it virtually impossible to do so without going into personal bankruptcy?
Why would someone do a short sale as a seller? People want to try and do the “right thing” and pay at least a portion of mortage off in a sale, but can’t afford to take the entire loss. And a short sale affects their credit for a shorter amount of time than a foreclosure does, only 3-4 years rather than 5-7 years.
#5. Contract for Deed: Also called “CD’s”, this is usually done by a seller who owns their house outright, and a buyer who, for whatever reason, is unlikely to qualify for a mortage through a more conventional route. Guess what? The bank doesn’t want this done by people who still hold a mortage, because it puts the bank second in line…or something. Anyway, there is the chance that you can do one, get it registered or certified all legal-like, and it will all be butterflies and rainbows. But there is also the chance that the bank will find out about it, and then they have been known to call in the loan, as in “This loan is due immediately rather than 25 years from now, and you’d better come up with the money by tomorrow or you’ll be tying your shoes with your elbows.”…or something. What are the odds that the bank will have nothing better to do than come after you with all the foreclosures they’re handling? Well, that depends on just how lucky you’re feeling? Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya? (Thank you, Clint Eastwood.)
#6. FHA versus Conventional Loans: Okay, conventional loans right now want you to have like 10% – 20% down and perfect credit. Wow. That’s nice. Who are they talking to? With the way things are going for those poor saps (like me) who are trying to sell a house, who is it that can come into a new deal with 20% down? They sure as heck ain’t getting it from the sale of their other house, unless they’ve been there a long, long time.
That’s where FHA loans are supposed to fill the gap. FHA requirements are less stringent than conventional loans, with a lower credit score required, a smaller amount for a downpayment and lower percentage rates. Why would anyone try to go the other route? Because FHA is usually really picky about the kind of house they will approve for a mortgage. They can decide to say no if a house has a railing that doesn’t meet code, or siding that has some of the paint chipping off.
So what’s a person to do? Well, get yourself a rich, long lost uncle, then have him die and leave you a huge windfall of money. Can’t arrange that? Me neither. Neither can most of America.
It is difficult to not get irritated (or irate) with the whole bank bailout thing the government did, saying that these chumps were too big to fail, then watch as the same banks tighten the screws and pretend the housing market is the same as it was seven years ago. It’s just not the same beast at all. Why should Jenny Ordinary, who needs to move out of her house to a different town for a better job, why should Jenny Ordinary be forced to pay for the completely out-of-her-control housing market that now renders her home a money pit of sorts? Why shouldn’t the bank, who was the one giving out mortages they shouldn’t have been, have to at least negotiate with her and take a portion of the loss? Why be so stubborn, and then act surprised when Jenny files for foreclosure because she can’t find any more funds to pay back the mortage, which she is trying to pay back since she has a sense of honor and duty? Does the bank have a sense of duty or honor? Are you stinkin’ kidding me?
Things have changed and changed radically. People are having to entertain things they never thought they’d have to, making deflating decisions based on a new set of principles, business models, and spreadsheets. And banks are trying to shush these people and convince them that everything is fine and they should just pretend everything is the same as it used to be. But ask anyone who finds out that their home is worth 30% less than it was two years ago, and they’ll tell you that it is a new game, and not a fun one. We aren’t playing Old Maid at your granny’s house here. This is backroom at Vegas, and the stakes are pretty high.
Take a look and see what you think: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/business/economy/26econ.html?_r=1&source=patrick.net
I’m working on a portion of a story that has a broomball team in it. Being set in Minnesota, one would HOPE it would include a broomball team, right? So I would love to get your reaction to some of the names I’m considering. I should give props to my brother, Nate, who came up with some of these (and more) suggestions. Now you tell me which name you’d be proud to wear on your back!
Imagine my surprise when I heard a racket in our room and discovered my parents tiny dog stuck in not one but TWO sticky traps. The traps didn’t catch any mice, but sure looks like they should have!
By the by, notice off to the right, there are at least two other traps along the wall. What you can’t see is that there are two more besides the ones the dog is wearing. Along with that, there is steel wool shoved into the tiny cracks, and it is holding D-Con in place inside the wall. The mice had their chance to get out, but they got cocky and wouldn’t leave. So now it’s ON. This is all out war, folks!
Well, it is official. The so-called buyer who was just waiting to get the financing together will be unable to do so by the official closing date. We’ve been waiting since the end of August for the buyer to get her financing squared away, all the while she’s been living in our house.
This means many things for me and my family. And while I understand that “things are hard all over the world” that is cold comfort when faced with the prospect of going back to square one in a stagnant housing market.
This draws us, Dear Reader, into a complicated conversation about a specific aspect of God. I do not believe a “health and wealth gospel” is a Biblical viewpoint. Buuuuut, it is easy to accidentally hold to a watered down version of it, one that justifies a hope that God will bless me and mine because we follow Him. But I’m look around and I’m not seeing that play out in many of the lives around me, including those who genuinely follow God. So where does this cockamamie idea come from? Elementary school, when all is about fairness and bad stuff only happening to other people? Sports experiences, when many times there is a correlation between energy and time invested and the final outcome (ie. one improves the more one practices the correct things)? Simple business transactions where if I put X amount of money in at such and such rate, the return is a very calculable Y?
I’m going to chew on this a while and get back to you, Dear Reader, but I have a strong feeling that you might have some opinions on the matter. I am curious what your faith heritage taught you about God’s activity in our everyday lives, and the “benefit package” for following Him. Do you think that “prayer of Jabez” idea is Biblical (I know it comes from the Bible, but is it a one time occurence vs. an ongoing Biblical theme)? Why do we expect God to do things our way, and in a timely manner? It is so self-centered, and yet so hard to stop the feeling before it takes place without even realizing it has happened! I will get back to you with any profound revelations I discover. Chime in with your experience – I’d love to hear it.
This is what my Winter Garden ambitions have come to:
I should have known that, when the ground inside the garden was hard in late October (if I remember correctly, it was October though I never really documented it. Maybe that’s an idea for next time?), we weren’t going to make it through the winter season. But it was an experiment, remember? So not all experiments are flying successes, as evidenced by this screaming failure of a winter garden.
Here is an attempt to be bold and share a bit of something I’ve been working on. It might be a tad long for just a quick five-minute web-check. Think of it as something for a nice coffee break when the kids are napping.