Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America I just finished reading this book last week. It's been on my To Read list forever, and summer has finally given me the time to dig in.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a journalist who undertakes the life the working poor for a year, taking on jobs such as waitress, sales clerk, and housekeeper for minimum wage. Some of the conditions she endures, especially in terms of housing, are appalling and often unsafe, underscoring the plight of so many trying to eek out a living in this country.
Her goal was to seek out employment in a different city each month, along with a place to stay. She had her own car, but no credit cards or, for the most part, any kind of support network in each of the cities. She actually allowed herself a small amount of start up cash, but beyond that, only relied on the wages she earned. Most places she ended up having to work two jobs to try and reach her goal of earning enough to be able to rent something more than a per-night or per-week hotel room. Considerations such as gas and travel distance to the job, as well as lack of refrigeration for groceries all played a part in both where she could work and where she could live. Commute time is, for most of us, a factor to consider, but it doesn't generally make the difference between whether or not there is enough left over after gas to afford groceries..
All of this, of course, she did unencumbered by children, or aging parents, or other dependent extended family members. She also, fortunately, did this without a major automobile breakdown or a medical catastrophe, which for many of the families existing at this level of the economic scale, makes the difference between barely making it and absolute disaster for the family. She also, she admits, did it knowing that she had an out--a fall-back plan in her real life should things become unbearable.
So what did I learn from this? Not much, honestly, but I don't mean this in a derogatory way. I only mean that Ehrenreich puts a face to what I know goes on around us daily, in our communities. We hear often that the working poor or the unemployed aren't trying hard enough, aren't working hard enough, are on drugs, are choosing to have children because they can get money from the government, or are making poor moral choices. In other words, it serves them right. Is that true of some people? Sure--of course it is. But this certainly doesn't apply to the societal class as a whole. Why do we rail at stereotypes when it come to race, or gender, but still accept stereotypes when it comes to class?
Ehrenreich doesn't offer much in the way of solutions, although she was instrumental in helping to raise minimum wage after the book was published. I'm not sure that was her intention in writing the book, actually. If anything, she highlighted the need for safe and affordable housing for the individuals and families, and how the shortage of that housing near the places where the minimum wage jobs are found contributes to the cycle of poverty that can seem an impossibility to escape.
Given the recent economic perils our country is facing, given the housing crisis and the ever-rising unemployment rate, the subject has become relevant again, and to people who might not have taken notice of it when the book was initially published. What is to be done about it remains to be seen.
We’ve been absolutely inundated with family visitors for the past two weeks. I love having everyone here, but it has definitely limited my writing and reading of blogs of late. Today, just so you think I haven’t gone away, I’ll post a little survey I’ve done. I promise I’ll be back on track with more regular posting and commenting within the next few days. I’ve missed seeing what’s been going on with all of you!
1. What time did you get up this morning? 10:00 (but I didn’t go to sleep until around 4).
2. How do you like your steak? Medium-well works for me! I don’t need to see my dinner bleeding.
3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? I just got home from seeing “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” with Doug.
4. What is your favorite TV show? I have several, but So You Think You Can Dance tops my list right now, especially the episodes where Debbie Allen is the guest judge. I could do without Mary Murphy, though.
5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? I’m not well-traveled enough to answer that question definitively. I think I’d have to spend some time out in the world before I came to that conclusion. Is that an option in this question? Travel extensively before I settle down? If money was no object….
6. What did you have for breakfast? I’m not so much a breakfast person.
7. What is your favorite cuisine? Italian or Chinese
8. What foods do you dislike? Pancakes, waffles (especially with maple syrup), biscuits and white gravy. See? Not a breakfast person at all.
9. Favorite Place to Eat? DiCicco’s in downtown Clovis.
10. Favorite dressing? The Bleu Cheese-Ranch dressing at DiCicco’s.
11. What kind of vehicle do you drive? Soccer-mom mini-van.
12. What are your favorite clothes? It totally depends on my mood or the situation.
13. Where would you visit if you had the chance? Australia, Italy, Greece.
14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full? Definitely half-full, almost always.
15. Where would you want to retire? I’m sure I wouldn’t complain if my retirement home was in Hawaii.
16. Favorite time of day? Dusk/sunset, especially when there’s a little breeze at my back.
17. Where were you born? Midwest City, Oklahoma
18. What is your favorite sport to watch? Swimming and gymnastics. Baseball/softball and soccer, when my kids are involved.
19. Bird watcher? Honestly, I have very little use for birds. I find them to be, in general, utterly uninteresting.
20. Are you a morning person or a night person? I am most certainly a nocturnal person. It’s too bad my career doesn’t really make allowances for people who function better at night.
21. Do you have any pets? I have an amazingly sweet kitty named Kelly.
22. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share? Wouldn’t that be nice? No, not at this time.
23. What did you want to be when you were little? I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was about three, although at the time, I figured I’d teach little kids. When I was in 4th grade, I wanted to know if it was possible to be both a teacher and a nurse simultaneously. Once I realized there would be needles involved in a career as a nurse, I gave up that dream and just focused on the life of a teacher.
24. What is your best childhood memory? Oh, goodness--it’s nearly impossible to choose just ONE as a favorite, so I’ll just share one. Perhaps driving all day and night with my parents on our annual Christmas Oklahoma trip--sleeping bags stretched out in the back of the station wagon, looking up at the stars at night as we tried to fall asleep.
25. Are you a cat or dog person? In general, I consider myself more of a dog person.
26. Are you married? I’ve been married for two years now to the guy who lets me be my best me.
27. Always wear your seat belt? Every time.
28. Been in a car accident? I’ve only been in one pretty serious car accident. Thank goodness I was the only one in the car.
29. Any pet peeves? I have a few, I guess. Poor spelling/grammar/punctuation posted at places of business would probably be high on the list.
30. Favorite Pizza Toppings? My favorite is ham, mushroom, and olives.
31. Favorite Flower? Roses.
32. Favorite ice cream? World Class Chocolate
33. Favorite fast food restaurant? Panda Express
34. How many times did you fail your driver's test? That question presumes failure, no?
35. From whom did you get your last email? I got an email of a Facebook notification.
36. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? Target
37. Do anything spontaneous lately? Sure!
38. Like your job? I love many aspects of my job.
39. Broccoli? Steamed. Yum!
40. What was your favorite vacation? Without a doubt, Cancun. It was magical.
41. Last person you went out to dinner with? My hubby.
42. What are you listening to right now? I’m listening to Doug. We’re chatting while we’re clicking on our computers.
43. What is your favorite color? Blue
44. How many tattoos do you have? I have none. I’m needle-phobic.
45. How many are you tagging for this quiz? I guess I’ll know when I stop typing names.: )
46. What time did you finish this quiz? 1:10 a.m.
47. Coffee Drinker? Diet Pepsi is my ‘coffee’ of choice most of the time. The only coffee I drink is either bottled Mocha Frappuccino or coffee ice cream.
We have been fully immersed in the world of Harry Potter. Since the newest installment premieres at midnight Wednesday morning, Doug and I decided to have a Harry Potter marathon this past weekend, and we finished up today with The Order of the Phoenix. Every single one of the movies has at least one moment that makes me cry, and I fully expect the same from the upcoming film.
Although my daughter is going to be one of the teens standing in line for the midnight showing, Doug and I will not be joining her. She's going with a big group of her high school friends, but he and I have decided we'll make a date night of it once the hype dies down a little (if we can hold out that long). We've tried so see as many of the HP movies as possible together, so it's an outing that we are really looking forward to. It'll also give me an opportunity to preview the movie for my two little ones, who are both also looking forward to seeing it. However, Nicholas especially is a bit skittish, so it helps to be able to forewarn him of potentially scary scenes. As long as he's sitting by me and can put his head on my shoulder, he's fine.
Though Harry Potter has a huge fan base, there are also a lot of detractors. There are those who say that J K Rowlings is too simplistic, or too predictable. There are those who would argue that as an author, she caters to the elementary school-kid reading palate, and that she doesn't even do that all that well. In our household, though, the books appealed to both adults, the avid reader teenager, and the reluctant reader pre-teen. As a matter of fact, I credit the series as one of the main reasons that my reluctant reader has now become the kid who can't put down the book--any book. He encountered Harry Potter at just the right time in his development--it peaked his interest and made him realize the worlds that could be opened up to him through reading. How could you not endorse that kind of influence? Harry Potter was the first book and movie series that had such a broad appeal that it became a common language--a familiar world--to all of us in our home.
Looking at everyone's 4th of July celebration pictures made me reminisce a little about some of our 4th of Julys past. One of my favorite Independence Day memories could have turned out very badly, but luckily just provided us with lots of laughs.
Several years ago, we were spending the holiday with some very good friends of ours, our 'adopted' Nana and Poppa. They have a big piece of land out in the country, so several of us were gathered out there to put on a fireworks spectacle for all of the little kids (and lots of us big kids, too). As part of our 'pre-show,' we broke out the sparklers. I love sparklers, and the kids are always mesmerized by them. Brianna was about 7 years old, and had gotten to join in the sparkler fun the previous year, so she was looking forward to holding her very own sparkler again this year. Nicholas, who was four at the time, was a little more unpredictable, so I wasn't too thrilled about letting him hold his own, even though he was dying to give it a try just like his big sis.
Nicholas' dad intervened on his behalf. "C'mon, we can let him give it a try, right? I'll stand right next to him and make sure he doesn't drop it or anything." Nicholas was beside himself, dancing on his tippy-toes and waving his hands in giddy anticipation. "PLEASE, MOMMY!!!"
I caved. Gave in to my better judgment. Sure, let's give our boy with the attention span of a gnat a stick of fire. Great idea. We gave him a quick run down of the rules: Stand still. Don't put the fire near anyone else. Don't drop it. Wave it gently in front of you. Don't poke your sister with it. (Yeah, I know this is the same as 'Don't put the fire near anyone else,' but you and I both know that siblings need their own separate rules. Somehow, if you don't specify, kids don't know that siblings fall into the same category as everyone else.)
We gave him the sparkler. Bree was under the supervision of Nana, so I knew she was alright. Five or six of us were with Nicholas, watching the fascination and wonder on his face as he reached out to grab his lit sparkler. He waved it back and forth slowly, watching the lingering trail of smoke it left behind. He turned his head to see if Dad was watching him, but as he turned, his sparkler hand raised up a little too high. "Nicholas! Don't hold it over your head!" I said, voice raised a bit. "Over my head?" he said, and quickly obliged. (Nicholas has a habit of only hearing the last pieces of sentences. He thought I was making a request.) Suddenly, his sparkler sparked, and the little embers landed on his fair hair. My boy was on fire! Actually, only a little bit of his hair was on fire, but still. In the blink of an eye, suddenly the boy had five adults literally beating him about the head, while some other hand reached out to steal the sparkler from his tightly closed fist.
The poor kid was only slightly singed, and it happened before he had any idea what had occurred. He hadn't felt the fire at all; all he knew was that someone took away his sparkler, and all the big people hit him without any warning. Not only that, but his mean mom wouldn't let him have any more sparklers for the rest of the night. He couldn't even enjoy any of the big fireworks, because he couldn't figure out why everyone had inexplicably turned on him. It was probably his least favorite 4th of July ever.
The bonus is, it's probably Bree's favorite. Every year she likes to retell the story: "Remember the time when Brother set himself on fire...?" Since I know it turns out well in the end, it's really a pretty funny story. Except maybe not for Nicholas--I think he might still harbor some latent resentment. It'll probably come up in some future session with his psychiatrist when he's thirty.
What a whirlwind of friends and family we have had over the past several days! On Thursday, our very good friends (our sisters and brothers of the heart) both came in to town to celebrate the Fourth of July. Cheryl and Gary came into town with little Morgan from Vegas, and Carrie and David came with little Miss Freya from Oakland. Since Cheryl hadn't been in town in months, she organized a little 'girls' night out' with lots of old friends, so I stopped by there for just a little bit. Then they all decided to head out to a night club, which I wasn't quite feeling up to, so I headed back home.
Luckily, the evening wasn't over for us. David and Carrie had put Freya down for bedtime at David's mom's house, and they were up for a little socializing. We all went to our buddy Jim's house for some drinks and karaoke. (Much more my speed than a nightclub.) My daughter was sweet enough to volunteer her babysitting services for her younger siblings so that all of us old friends could really spend some time getting reacquainted. We laughed, sang loudly (and sometimes badly), and had a fabulous time til the wee hours.
Friday was a more kid-friendly, family-fun day. Carrie invited us to go to her parents' house for the afternoon so that my kids and Freya could spend a little time together. They also have a pool, and since ours is still only a pool in theory rather than in practice, we all thought it was the perfect place to spend the afternoon. After lots of chatting, darts, swimming, and bubbles, we got invited to stay for a tri-tip bar-b-que and a little pre-Fourth of July fireworks.
Believe it or not, that same night, we picked up my niece Delaney to spend the night with us. Her parents are my ex's family, and they came into town for a family visit over there. However, since all of her cousins were with me and she was the only kid over at Uncle Bill's, she wanted to hang out with us. She's one of the coolest ten-year-olds I know (in addition to my own daughter and my other awesome niece), so we had a kids' sleepover at our place. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned! Wait--there's even more! My sister got to town Saturday morning. We all hung out with the kids and had a pretty low-key morning, and then it was time to take the kids (and my niece) over to their dad's house--they had a big bar-b-que in store and had plans for a baseball game later that night. They also had a houseful of out-of-town family, so I had the opportunity to visit with some of my former in-laws, including the newest member of their family. I'm very fortunate in that I am still on great terms with my ex and his family, so they were excited to introduce me, Aunt Donna, to baby Aunika. What a precious and beautiful baby she is!
After the kids were settled in at their dad's, Doug and my sister and I all went over to Jim's house to have our own 4th of July bar-b-que. All four of us went to high school together, so this is a most comfortable and familiar foursome. We love each other and are never at a loss for conversation. Later, just before dusk and prime-time fireworks hour, we all jumped in the car and headed for the Krepp household. Mom and Dad Krepp are our extra adopted parents. There we met up again with David (their son) and his family, and Cheryl (their daughter) and her family, and all of their extended family. Both Freya and Morgan were there, so we all got to watch the little tiny ones gaze in amazement at the fireworks before they hit their IT'STIMETOGOTOBEDNOW time. The rest of us stayed up incredibly late swimming in the black-bottom pool and staring up at the stars, listening to music. What a night! If you made it this far, I promise there won't be a quiz on names and relationships. Suffice it to say that our weekend was full and pretty amazing. We got to spend time with so many of the people we adore, and believe it or not, we never once felt torn between our varied visitors, nor overburdened with obligation, as can sometimes happen. And as Cheryl, Gary, and Morgan headed back to Vegas, and David, Carrie and Freya headed back to Oakland, and Lisa headed back to Corona on Sunday, Doug and I sat together in our quiet house and realized we had not had such a great weekend in a very long time.