Posted in about me, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Poor people are still people

When The Tall Daddy and I split up, I moved out in January and was in a really bad position financially until August, after I had gotten one or two paychecks.

The following is something I wrote at the time. I have edited it slightly, just to take out or clarify references to things that readers here wouldn’t necessarily know about, to take out names, etc. All of the rest is the same.

My intro to this at that time was that this is long and it’s not actually about me. Still true.


Due to general disorganization and being overwhelmed by life, I just sorted receipts for March and entered them into my budgeting software last night.

It was ugly.

Without getting into detail, I will just say that there was a significant difference between incoming and outgoing.

I just started subbing early in the month and only got paid for 1.5 days, so that will improve next month. Paychecks from the college will continue. [I was an adjunct at one of the local community colleges. Was supposed to teach two classes, but only one had enough students to run.]

I applied to sub in early January, but because of many things out of my control (length of hiring process, waiting for an orientation day, etc.), I couldn’t start until mid-March.

I applied to countless other jobs—generally what I’d consider “grunt work” because crappy work is better than no work—but was “overqualified” and not hired.

I am working on other income—a big health-related online class, private lessons, other opportunities that are currently behind the scenes—but they are not panning out yet.

In my budget deficit, there was just under $300 in IKEA pieces (so nice to have the computer off the floor, among other things) and around $25 in eating out. I have been thoughtful but not extremely so in my grocery shopping; that will change.

If you take out those extras and factor in more money that I am likely to earn as a result of consistent subbing, I might come close to breaking even in April. And these jobs are paying me more than minimum wage.

I’d need to work 32 hours per week at minimum wage to make what I make in three days of subbing. And another 20 hours per week to make what I am at the college. 52 hours per week to maybe make ends meet, as long as I had no extra expenses. Like an extra tank of gas. Or an oil change. Or a doctor’s appointment. Or any of the not-monthly payments that need to be made. Or an electric bill that includes air conditioning.

“Heat, what is your point?”

My point is this:

I have some savings to fall back on.
I have a degree. (Two of them, actually.)
I have a network of people who have helped me to get the work that I have and have been sending me other jobs I could apply for when they see them.
I had a lot of donations from friends, outfitting this apartment when I first moved.
I have an ex who is helpful, with sharing parenting time and cost. (Actually, he has taken on the bulk of both.)
I have a reliable car that is fuel efficient and paid off.

Despite all of that, it still sucks. And it’s still hard. And I’m still spinning my wheels and falling behind.

I know that if nothing else, I’ll have a teaching job in August, and my financial worries will be more or less gone. (Other stressors that are eating away at me will remain, but those aren’t necessarily relevant to this rant.) I just need to make it to August. (Or earlier, if I can find a job that isn’t teaching…which is my preference right now.)

I see first hand right now how easy it is for a single mom (or dad, but it’s usually moms) to fall into public assistance. (The majority of people on welfare are single moms.)

What if I had no savings?
What if I had no degree?
What if I had no transportation?
What if I had no free child care?
What if I had no other person contributing (significantly!) to the expenses of a toddler?
What if I had no friends to help?

It is easy to blame and judge, but I think the reality is that we judge because somewhere in the back of our heads, we know how close we really are to that being us. And it is scary.

I also am reasonably sure that I would qualify for some sort of assistance right now, and that pride prevents me from even looking into it. [I did end up on food stamps and state-run health insurance not long after I wrote this.] I assume that most who are standing in line, waiting to be questioned, talked down to, ridiculed, are human like I am, and feel shame and embarrassment in being there.

Choose empathy. You never know people’s story.


Posted in about me, ebb & flow, gratitude, meandering, mindset

See yourself through someone else’s eyes

The other day, I wrote about contributing to my school community. Another great thing happened in that little piece of the day.

I’ve been struggling with many of my classes.

Without getting into too many details, my classes are not your typical elementary band classes, because that approach hasn’t worked with the populations I teach.

“Your classroom is like a petri dish for beginning band innovation,” The Tall Daddy summarized.

But we’ve been in a long stretch of it not working. Or sometimes just not working the way I want it to.

I’ve felt frustrated, demoralized, cranky, ineffective, drained. There have been bits and pieces that I’ve been excited about, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I am free to experiment, but mostly, work is not the highlight of my day. (There was a time when it was.)

So the other day, an outside observer came in, silently hung out for a while, and left.

But before she left, she wrote me a card. Photo of the text is above.

“I could feel a sense of love and excitement for music.”

It’s there. Someone saw it.

I have wondered more and more lately: if my teaching situation was different, would I get my mojo back? Or am I just burned out?

It’s still there.

Thank you, random outside observer, for taking the time to write that note to me before you took off. It gave me more than you know.

(That’s part of why writing cards to people is a great habit.)

On the receiving end, when someone pays you a compliment, believe them. Take a moment and see yourself the way they see you, no asterisks.

I could have read the card and said to myself, “Well, she doesn’t really know me and didn’t even see me teaching band today. If she was here more often, she would know that that’s not true.”

Instead, I accepted the compliment, took it as validation, and on I went. (But the card is still on my desk.)

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

And, of course, take a moment to pay a compliment. You never know how much it might mean to someone.


Posted in cancer, education, know better do better, parenting, physical health

If it’s carcinogenic, why is it for sale?

I wrote the other day about how I believe it’s prudent to be mindful about what we purchase, use, eat, drink because of negative health implications. It’s easy to be overwhelmed because there are so many carcinogens (and that says nothing of all of the crap that’s causing other adverse effects.)

So if we know there are problems with all of these things, how are they so widespread?

The short answer has two parts: 1- profits; 2- no oversight.

The FDA has rules about most foods (meat, eggs, dairy are largely under the jurisdiction of the USDA), but not about much else that’s useful to us in a direct-consumer context.

From the cosmetics page of FDA’s website: “Cosmetics are not subject to FDA premarket approval. It is the firm’s responsibility to ensure that its cosmetic products and ingredients are safe and properly labeled, in full compliance with the law.”

If you’re trying to avoid phthalates (like I do), sometimes they’re on labels, but “the regulations do not require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient declaration if phthalates are present in a fragrance. Also, because the FPLA does not apply to products used exclusively by professionals–for example, in salons–the requirement for an ingredient declaration does not apply to these products.” (source)

(I do my best avoid everything with general categories as an ingredient, including fragrance, natural or artificial colors, natural or artificial flavors. There are long lists of all of the things that word/phrase can include, and none of those lists is all things I’m comfortable with.)

From the dietary supplements page of FDA’s website: “FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”

Household cleaners are marginally regulated by the EPA and are required to list ingredients that are potentially harmful or active disinfectants. According to Scientific American:

“The government only requires companies to list ‘chemicals of known concern’ on their labels. The key word here is ‘known’,” she says. “The fact is that the government has no idea whether most of the chemicals used in everyday cleaning products are safe because it doesn’t test them, and it doesn’t require manufacturers to test them either.”

She adds that the EPA, under the terms of 1976’s Toxic Substances Control Act, “can’t require chemical companies to prove the safety of their products unless the agency itself can show that the product poses a health risk—which the EPA does not have the resources to do since, according to one estimate, it receives some two thousand new applications for approval every year.” She cites a recent study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group, which found that the EPA approved most applications within three weeks even though more than half provided no information on toxicity whatsoever.

So basically, companies can use anything not already known as unsafe, whether it’s known to be safe or not.

We’ve already seen how difficult it is to get something that is GRAS (generally regarded as safe) to be taken out of food and other products when they’re shown to be not safe. (see: cigarettes, BPA, glyphosate, flame retardants, and on and on…)

Testing for these things—when it’s done—is typically done in high doses over the short term. So adverse affects are seen in quantities much higher than our consumption. We’re told that this is evidence of their safety.

The problem is, there’s no testing for consistent, long-term, low-dose exposure. There’s no testing for how these things react to each other, or how we react to all of them together.

There is, however, an explosion of cancer, of neurological disorders, of hormonal disruptions. (I need to write about hormones one of these days…) Correlation isn’t causation, but some causation has been shown, but it doesn’t apply to us because the quantities needed for those effects are higher than what we consume… And here we are again.

As far as children’s products go … there are rules, but the rules don’t stop products from hitting the shelves—they just instigate recalls. Which are mostly voluntary. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) oversees children’s products, among other things. But here’s the catch: the CPSC starts to look into a potential problem with a product after consumers or companies report issues. The whole chain is reactive.

And so, carcinogenic crap is everywhere. Because there aren’t safeguards in place at a systemic level. Which is why the burden is left on us to know what to look for, to read labels, and so on.

My opinion (if you didn’t already know it) is that it’s flat-out wrong. Getting products on the shelves quickly isn’t more important than consumer safety, in my opinion … but I’m not the one (or one of the ones) in charge.

I could rant for a long time about profits, about conflicts of interest, about lobbying… maybe another day.


Posted in about me, gratitude, motivation

Making a contribution

This post started as just a Facebook post and flowed very earnestly. It reached a length and depth where I decided to make it a blog post. I was very excited to post it until I got near the end, at which point it felt like useless prattling on. I decided that the feeling was instigated by fear—because there’s a lot of vulnerability in this post—and not because it actually was dull. To help me strengthen my self-assessment abilities, would you give me feedback? Yes, it was interesting and thank you for sharing it, or no, your sudden realization that this wasn’t interesting to a reader was correct. (Yes, that answer will sting, but if it’s honest and it’s kind, then it’s useful. I’m asking to assess, not fishing for compliments.) Thanks!

One of my “things” is wanting (needing?) to feel like a part of a group. While this is a human thing—we are social animals—in me, it’s also rooted in being the black sheep of my family, of being consistently and explicitly labeled as “other” for my formative years.

Being a traveling teacher makes it really difficult to have a work family. (For those unfamiliar, a traveling teacher has their assignment broken up onto multiple campuses. We might be at different schools on different days, we might go from school to school within the same day. Depends on the position and how the schedules are designed. My schedule now has me on each campus for an hour every day.)

I don’t see most colleagues regularly and almost never for more than a few minutes at a time. Depending on schedule, I might not have lunch at anyone else’s lunch time. (Or I might have lunch at a campus where everyone eats in their room.) Being somewhat socially anxious doesn’t help.

So the people around me have work family (their team or the campus at large or whomever) and I pop in and out. This is definitely a part of my life where social media reinforces my “other” status.

(As an aside, I remember the first time a coworker came into my room not because they needed something but just to say hello. It was in 2006. And the first people I hung out with outside of school. Same job. I was full time on that campus, not traveling. That school and the one I’m about to write about are the only two—out of 14 in my career—where a colleague popped in and started a conversation not about work.)

Having the same home school for the past five years helps. I go to teacher work days with the same people every year. I know who most of the people on campus are, and they know who I am. (Well … I know at least half. I’m not so good with classified—they’re not at our meetings. And some teachers I recognize but don’t know who they are…)

Having a home school with friendly people helps a little. While there have been other jobs where I’ve felt more “at home” on campus, that was more a result of the schedule than the people, and I’m grateful to be welcomed into the “family” at my home school, even if I’m the kid who is only there every other weekend and two weeks in the summer.

Also as a traveler, it’s difficult to be able to do things on campus beyond basic job responsibilities. When I didn’t travel, I spent one or more years as team lead, mentor teacher, testing coordinator, member of the school improvement committee, member of the school’s community council.

(What’s the point of all this, Heat?)

My home school is going through the process of applying to be an A+ school. Because my principal knows I’m a strong writer and am reliable, I was invited to do editing, to help ensure the voice of the application was consistent, even with multiple people contributing their writing. My writing ego was stroked (hat tip to the principal for her solid move there) and I was able to contribute to my campus. Opportunities like that help me to feel more like I’m part of the whole.

Today was one of two days that we were observed as part of the application.

Today happened to be a day in the rotation that I was teaching hip hop. We just added it in January to see if it works with the grade level (I’ve only taught it to slightly older kids before) and with our kids and with the schedule and on and on. It’s an experiment.

The class is small but we’re having a good time, learning a lot. Reading, writing, listening, talking. Lots of thinking/opinion questions. Some great conversations. Periodic temperature check with the kids indicates they both enjoy it and think it should be offered again in the future.

So today, we got to “show off” for the observers. The class itself wasn’t super-exciting to watch: mostly reading questions and writing answers before we had a conversation about them. But it’s something that’s not offered many places and, as I learned later, one of the students gushed to one of the observers about how awesome the class is some time before class.

Besides me enjoying teaching hip hop in its own right, today it got to be a feather in my school’s cap. I feel good being able to contribute more than “the usual.”


Oh! The post I said I’d share today about carcinogens and their ubiquity and the pieces of that puzzle that are on us but shouldn’t be? I’ll share that one tomorrow. For real this time.

And the curriculum I’m using for the hip hop class is called Fresh Beats by Rob Vagi.


Posted in cancer, know better do better, mindset, motivation, physical health

Cancer prevention

Four years ago, I wrote a post on Facebook about cancer prevention. It’s full of frustration. Wrapped up with the frustration—though not so evident in the writing—is a solid dollop of “I get it.”

A month ago, I lost a good friend to cancer. In the month since then, I’ve learned about three more diagnoses (that I can think of off the top of my head). I just learned about one of those today, and though I know very few details, it doesn’t sound promising.

And so I am reminded why I spend extra money on organic food, why I strive to eat a healthy, plant-based diet (though I could still do much better), why I clean with baking soda and vinegar, why I make my own personal care products, why I spend the money and the time to use and care for glass and stainless steel over plastic for myself and my son, why I make time to exercise, why I keep sharing information about how bad all this shit is for you in hopes that someone will see it and make a small change followed by another and another.

I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want people I know to do it. I don’t want people I don’t know to do it. The answer is in us, my friends. We don’t need to wait for a cure; we need to take care of ourselves.

And so, on my soapbox I say again, why fund research if we’re not going to use the information the research gives us? Take care of your body, people. It’s the only one you get.

All three of the people referenced in the first paragraph are gone.

Who knows how many more people in the years since then have been diagnosed? (And, on a tangent, are crowdsourcing funding for their treatments?! Disgusting. Not that they’re doing it—that it’s necessary.)

It’s easy to say, “Fuck it. Everything causes cancer.” I get it. Because it’s everywhere. There have been moments when I’ve read about another thing that I hadn’t thought about (I’m looking at you, tea bags!) and felt like it’s all futile.

In a funny-not funny way, giving up is letting the terrorists win. (They’re not actually terrorists, but the sentiment is otherwise accurate.)

If we collectively said, “I’m not heating food in plastic,” there would be fewer plastic containers, dishes, microwave-in-bag, etc. And it would be a little bit less “everywhere” and it would be easier to find affordable alternatives.

If we collectively said, “I won’t use products on my body that have ingredients with known adverse health effects,” there would be more products with less garbage in them. And it would be a little bit less “everywhere” and it would be easier to find affordable alternatives.

And on and on.

Prevention is: “You don’t have cancer.”

Early detection is: “You have cancer but as far as we can tell, you haven’t had it for long. Because human brains want to assign order to this, we feel like it’s all in one place just because it’s new but scientifically, cancer can metastasize immediately or take years. You’ll have surgery and/or chemo and/or radiation. Whichever treatment you get, there are horrible immediate side effects, and potential (and likely) lifelong side effects, some of which are debilitating, and some of which make it more likely that you’ll get a different cancer later. But regardless of any of that, we’ll call it a win as long as the cancer we just found responds and doesn’t return. Oh, and all of this will cost at least tens of thousands of dollars, often hundreds of thousands. You’ll lose friends (because people freak out and run away). Depending on the treatment and your age, you might lose your fertility. [And on and on.] But the good news is, you caught it early!”

Which would you prefer?

(Much of the time, early is better than late, because left to its own devices, cancer will certainly spread eventually. But it doesn’t necessarily need time to do that.)

We don’t have all the answers. We don’t have total control over it. But we have more than we’re often willing to admit.

There’s a laundry list of benefits to taking care of yourself. Is this one motivational? Make ONE change. Stick to it. Own it. When it becomes part of your routine, make another. And on and on.

I did it. I’m still doing it, one change at a time. You can, too. (Sometimes there is regression. Life happens. Regroup and carry on, just like with everything else.)

(Tomorrow’s post continues this thread, but with regards to why we are excessively burdened with these decisions.)