RebL Books

Book Review: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Book Review: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

When a room of parents at a PTA meeting at a Title 1 school audibly squirmed in response to my assertion that I would drink milk on its sell-by date, the armor I wore in childhood to make my poverty less hurtful clamped down around me. Many children at that school would drink milk on its sell-by date and likely have a parent who knows how to make use of spoiled milk. While my early experiences with poverty remain near the surface, the one type of poverty-related insecurity I didn’t fear is eviction. That’s the focus of Arizona-born Matthew Desmond’s new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City.

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Christmas Giving

Now that we’ve gotten past the food and many of us have exorcised our inner shopping demons, I’d like to provide, as so many others have, alternative thoughts on gift giving at Christmas. My brother-in-law has requested a no spending policy between our families this season and I’m more than pleased to oblige. We did agree that no spending could mean finding our inner craftster, however, I’m unlikely to make this for his kiddos:


This Tampon Angel arrived in my Facebok in box from a most unlikely source. I’m not saying it’s my Senior Warden because if she had wanted folks to know about her inner subversive, surely she would have posted it on her own wall. Then again I told her I wanted to post it post-turkey and with her reply of, “I dare ya!” she cast herself as a provocateur. For this reason, I will allude to the identity of the sender rather than state outright it was the Senior Warden, who would also have you know about the Grace St. Paul Alternative Christmas Fair on December 13th. Last year they had Just Coffee, handmade items, and sales that benefited not-for-profit organizations.

Wise Bread also offers strategies to keep you in budget this year. If you are considering pulling out the plastic, consult this post from Pimp Your Finances. Man Vs. Debt challenges his giving policy — something most of us can afford to reexamine.

Christmas shouldn’t be a drag. I plan to get my kiddos that Shoot ‘Em Up Pet Shop Pokemon Heavy Metal Glitter Goo-gaw. I certainly learned from my own family that getting that one oh so materialistic as to be painfully obscene gift does bring joy to all involved. I also know that the Christmas we had relatively few presents, but ate a huge breakfast and watched black and white footage from my dad’s childhood was one of my favorite Christmases — though I liked the Barbie Dream House too.

How I’m Paying for Christmas

One of the best gifts EVER is my pal’s help fixing up my minivan. The deal was that I would do the work myself and pay a modest fee for his supervision and use of tools plus parts. The way I figure is I saved $700, but the the experience was invaluable.

Problemo uno: My passenger side window fell down and went boom. But Todd-o, the Hubster, the mechanic, and I all propped it up each time it fell because what are friends for if not that? Guess what we used. WAIT! I’ll show you.
See that? Sure you do. That white thing. Yup, just one of the many uses the wife of an archaeologist has for the many horse, cow, bob cat, deer, coyote, and random and sundry other bones junking up the place. That there bone held the winder up all week. It kep out de scoundrels who udderwise would pilfer the fortune in snack foods ground into the carpet and seeping into the seat stitching.

Problemo dos: The rear break pads needed replacing. This was the main event because it required the use of power tools. My son was giggly with excitement and my pal was uber patient. He probably gets giddy with power tools too. I mean, really, what’s not to love? After the zip zip to the lug nuts, it was a bit of a let down when the boy had to rough things up. Even so, he did a right fine job listening to how greater surface area means greater friction means better braking.
That’s the boy in his white soccer uniform. I just laugh at those laundry commercials in which mom bothers to think about grass stains and what not on jerseys. I tell my kids those stains are a badge of honor. I don’t believe it, but that’s what I tell my kids anyway.

I think it is cool that the boy and I rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty. At least I did until, well, check out what my buddy in the background did with his hands and his clothes.
Smarty britches. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

Lessons Learned:
* Proper mechanic attire is a jumpsuit with latex glove accessories.
* Things won’t be perfect. Things will get scratched. Seat heaters will go out.
* That orange mechanic soap hurts. Owie!
* Bones have use beyond yard litter.
* Yes we can, and we did.

Thanks Kurt!

The Grateful Jew

Not long ago I went to a fundraiser to benefit two organizations with similar goals. One organization seeks to help hungry people in Tucson and the other to provide breakfast for young kids in an African school. For my money I got to eat good food, “win” exciting auctions, and sit in good company. All my winnings left me in a quandary. What the heck I should do with my African booty?
So, this here picture shows off purchases from the fundraiser. I have earrings, a rhino letter opener, and a necklace. I also have a yard of each of those fabrics. I can’t tell you how excited I was when after a “quick draw” bid I got the second yard. A contingent of soccer friends who came in support of the cause rather than because they are members of my church where the event was held, were surely embarrassed by my jumping up and down. If they were members, they would have remembered the Price is Right move from when I won a home cooked, gourmet dinner for six at the last raffle (to be served in January!).

Point is, what do I DO with this stuff? Well, actually, I’ve already decided the rhino letter opener is totally Naomi’s. Of course the only “presents with a presence” comment I got was from a Jew. Thanks, Na. Though I’m pretty sure the Jane subscription you got on a birthday some time back was a pretty darn thoughtful gift that you’ll remember always. And may Hannukah Harry bring you many pairs of socks.

But the rest of you lazy bums had better come home from the mall. This is about honoring those who honored you. Good givers can tap into their recipient self. I KNOW there is a taker or two among you. The Internets aren’t as anonymous as you think. I need help. I asked nicely. So, tell me about your memorable gifts and tell me what the H-E-double hockey sticks I should do with two yards of mismatched African cottonish stuff.

Who’s Funding this Reportage?

My plan to blog about my peaceable kingdom must defer to my annoyance at dot gov. They must be kidding me with this report. Why is the focus on revenue for road maintenance? Less traffic means less wear and tear on the road. Less traffic means there’s not so much of a need for road expansion. With costs like those decreasing, the need for revenue decreases. I’ve been trying not to obsess, but I can’t help it. Why take the encouraging news that we could be a less oil/gas dependent country with cleaner air and turn it into crap? Even the Today Show took the baited hook this morning!


(About 2 min 30 sec in)

Having nested next to a busy road where people routinely drove their vehicles right up the curb and into our wall, living with the noise and particulate poisoning, cleaning road grime from inside my home, I think the fewer miles driven are a blessing. Perhaps kids living near highways will have less asthma, attention deficit, and whatever else comes with miserable traffic. You could google innumerable articles on it, but common sense would tell us not to suck on a tailpipe unless death is the goal.

Plus, the oil and gas companies are running a bunch of “you must be a dufus” ads. “You think you don’t own a gas company? You do if you have any sort of financial investments.” In between the lines they say controversial drilling and imported (stolen?) gas will put money in your pocket. Also, are we really supposed to think the warmth created by gas pipelines that attracts caribou is a good thing? I might be convinced that some off shore drilling is needed or even that we need to open up ANWR, but you have to give me a better argument that what I’ve heard so far. Cheap gas isn’t convincing because you get what you pay for.

Lessons on the Homeless


The kids and some friends and I took a trip to the ballpark tonight. The Sidewinders are moving to Reno due to low attendance. On the one hand it’s unfortunate that we are losing this wholesome family opportunity, on the other it’s the low attendance that permits me to give the kids free range in a pubic arena. I could see them at any given time – almost.

They asked if they could ride the kiddie train and I said okay. At one point along the way, they saw “a very nice homeless guy” who said hello to them and gave them the peace sign. The kids hurried to me to ask for a dollar so that they could give it to him.

I can’t say that Jesse and I have been positive role models in terms of our giving. We do have our responsible cash charities that we don’t discuss with the kids. What they do see us do is give food to the beggars on street medians and Jesse will frequently throw MREs to the loiterers at the park. They also have seen us give cash without question to folks on the street. As an aside, Jesse and I went to see Gat Rot the other night, and on the way to the car we gave $5 to a local who promised to “only spend it on weed.”

Regardless of how Jesse and I enable those meekest of God’s addicted, crazed, poor, or otherwise afflicted children, I cannot condone my babies and their pal approaching a homeless guy, no matter how nice he seems, to give him a dollar. “Then you come with us to give it to him,” suggested my little problem solvers. “Uh, aren’t you guys thirsty? How about you go get some water?” It was $1.75 more than their charitable intention and highlighted my obvious laziness, but also my expertise at diversion.

The kids went on a final train ride to see their homeless pal. The boys waived peace signs; George yelled “HEY, YOU’RE NICE!” Isn’t that almost as good as $1? Plus, the guy was enjoying the game from the other side of the fence for free, so it was a good night for him already. Leaving the park after the game we drove along the fence where the homeless man had been enjoying the game. Disappointed in not seeing the guy, the kids embarked on a discussion during which my son said, “And all he wanted was peace. Homeless people are like that. They just want peace.”

Now for another aside. All this goodwill came from three kids who spent the bulk of their post-homeless guy waiving time engaged in verbal fisticuffs with two other kids at the ballpark.

Consumers Cut Off

When our economy began to tank we saw a downturn in the economies of several other countries who rely on our consumerist behavior to support them. Consequently, we want to rush through a stimulus package that borrows money from China, maybe, to buy Chinese goods. That’s great for us, because we’ve come to expect a certain lifestyle that is slightly beyond our means. What would happen if at the national, state, local, and individual level our credit was cut off because we had a “higher than acceptable risk profile” and we were forced to reevaluate our values versus spending habits?

A banking company in the UK has cut off the 7% of their credit cards with just that sort of spending to payment history. The story reads as though the bank is Big Brother saving consumers from themselves. My feeling is that with the economy trending down these folks will have difficulty making payments and the bank will have to eat it when those people finally go belly-up from their “support of the economy”. This bank is saving it’s ass and maybe the by-product is that 160,000 Brits will have to apply for a card elsewhere or hopefully make better choices.

Would American banks do this to Americans who have been ordered by the president to spend money to the extent that it’s ingrained in our psyche and part of our identity? The mall is a shared American Experience! Even more interestingly, would the U.S. get cut off and therefore have to make more difficult decisions about what we do with taxpayer dollars? Perhaps we have forever status with our creditors. But what if our balance were due and we had to say no to ourselves? My mother-in-law sent me this YouTube video that asks a similar question. Where are American vales? Do we support the mission in Iraq? Do we reinvest in our corporate structure? Do we refocus our funds on children?

Penny Pincher

“She’s so frugal, her pennies will forever show her thumb and finger prints.” My family didn’t make up the phrase, but did oft apply it to me. I thought economy long before I thought green.

About five years ago, I read the Tightwad Gazette and Cheapskate Monthly issue for issue. I was fascinated with tips such as recycling paper coffee filters and even tried it with success. I calculated the cost of everything I did, but mostly purchases of consumer goods. I was on a mission and completely blissful.

These thoughts (d)evolved leaving me now lost in figures relating to my water, gas, and electrical use. I read my bills; I’ve figured my meters; and I compare month to month behavior. As Jesse points out, it’s still about money. For example, I knew we had a gas leak in our water heater, but lived with it until the gas company hiked their rate by 30%. Nevermind how it may have impacted the health and safety of my family.

One of the largest energy users for residential domiciles is the refrigerator. Last week, I pulled mine back from the wall and saw a huge wad of Boris hair mucking things up. Being a good housekeeper, I swept it up, but didn’t think much of it except that it satisfied my fear that someone might someday want to look behind my refrigerator. I mean I knew, but I didn’t really think about it. But guess what! Cleaning refrigerator coils makes a HUGE impact on energy use and there is a right way to do it.

I guess I’m not all that green. At my core I just don’t like waste but do like manipulating the numbers. I do it while driving too. If I’m headed to Oklahoma at 80 mph and it’s 1000 miles away and I’m held up by icy road conditions, how long before I yell at my kids to quit touching each other?