i am totally serious

I have been working hard lately. I’ve been writing like a frenzy, and cooking, and raising my kids, and half-raising a few other people’s kids, and sewing, and cleaning up after pets and washing veggies and chopping them and cooking up food and delivering it to people and wiping down the fridge and mending clothes and scrubbing toilets and I haven’t had a cigarette in a few days.

And today I was thinking about the car repairs we need. It’s been five months now since one of our cars threw the crankshaft pulley. We’re a one-car family now (and we spent a couple months as a NO car family because we couldn’t get the other car fixed for a bit). My point is, the next bit of real scratch we get to spare (after groceries rent utilities food food food), it’s going into that car. And that’s fine. Really. That’s how it is.

When I could I’ve squirrelled away little waitress bits of money on fabric for the kids’ clothes and last time I sold a half-decent car I bought my husband a bike (which he uses for his work commute) but the fact is I have no money of my “own”. Kind of ever.

Without any fanfare whatsoever I’m opening up an Etsy shop with some of the custom sewing I’d love to do for a few lucky customers.

I have a specific goal I want to earn toward.

I need about $400 to $500 to buy my kids each a little Netbook, which is the very next thing I’ve decided they need. Then I’ll close the shop and feel grateful and amazed and happy I provided something with my own hands (and my lovely patrons). & after however that goes, I’ll think about my next step.

I’m also accepting donations which is why you’re seeing this annoying sidebar or page or whatever. I’ve been writing for about eight years and I’ve had tons of readers and I’ve helped a lot of people and delivered recipes and gifted tons of content – well over a half million words, and that’s not including answering emails and giving advice and support and comment moderation et al. If there’s anyone reading who feels moved to give, bring it on. But if you’re not particularly interested in supporting a laptop for my kiddos, I totally get it too.

Any amount from large or small to my Paypal account at, or checks or money orders or half-assed hidden cash to 814 1st Street Hoquiam, WA 98550 will receive my eternal thanks and my kids’ thanks too I’d imagine, because I know they are going to love these gifts I’ve formulated in my mind, since one of the amazing benefits of being around my kids so much is I know exactly what they will love more than anything.

And I’m going to tell myself if I don’t make it and can’t earn what I need to do this thing, that it’s no reflection on the quality of my writing or my sewing. I’m going to tell myself this. And you know, this is the hardest part. Truly.

(Photo credit: [Svartisen, Nordland, Norway; between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900] via Flickr’s Commons)

a first purchase of its kind

I mentioned Friday we had our last dryer-free day (Oh my gosh! You are so excited to hear more about the Hogaboom’s laundry machinations!  You know you are!) and this is because:

My brother heard our dryer died a week ago and sent us funds to purchase one.   This was included in a package that also contained two different yardages of fabric (seriously! One my favorite things ever to be gifted me! Yes I am using lots of exclamation marks!!) which I immediately serged, washed, dried, and folded.  It was an amazingly sweet gift on his part and deeply appreciated. I forgive him for making out with almost all my girlfriends while we were growing up (actually, I never really held that against him, the sneaky lothario).

Friday, the crisp check snapping in my hands, I take the kids out on our errand: finding the dryer.  This feels like the type of mission that will either be a resounding success or sap my lifeforce.  I think of Sears and their department of sharky-looking guys in dress shirts and ties trying to get me to sign up for a Sears account and how much I hate that sort of thing.  Shuddering, I decide first to stop at the used appliance store. I like buying things used, so very much, mostly because for various reasons I cringe at the short lifecycle so many Americans make of the things they buy.  So when I see the old-school Maytag (in a sea of Whirlpools and Kenmores) I’m in love instantly.  It doesn’t have fancy settings or anything.  I think there’s one button that says, “You want this shit dry or not?”  Probably an early 80s model, but looks brand-new.  As my kids methodically remove and replace the magnetic price tags on the tidily lined-up appliances the owner lets me use the phone so I can talk to my husband about the purchase.  It turns out the place delivers the “new” dryer to your house and takes the old one in to refurbish (good luck with our well-worn appliance, which came to us very used and very free and died a prolonged death of unimaginable noise and movement!).  I leave the shop just fifteen minutes later with an appointment to be at my house at 3 PM for the switch-out; our laundry routine will resume to a less bothersome one.  (Thank you, Billy.)

We get back in the car; even the pissing rain can’t diminish my spirit. Starting the engine the kids clamor, “Let’s go buy Legos!” (P.S. as long as you keep them fed they can play Legos for hours and hours and hours and won’t want to do anything else).  “What?” I’m trying to squint past the condensation in the car’s back window to pull out – have I mentioned our vehicles are semi-aquatic?  “I don’t have money for Legos.  I only have grocery money today.”  The kids immediately point out the dryer cost less than the check my brother sent: Nels puts up his hands and counts by tens; figures out the difference.  So, my son is five.  And he’s sorted this out.  I’m laughing because it’s awesome my kids are learning money and currency without drills at school; but it’s funny because they already know a financial windfall when they see one and they have my instinct to descend on it like ravenous jackels.  I talk to the kids about the money being a gift intended for household maintenance and in the spirit of the gift we should consider the balance thusly.  And they basically explain to me that it’s a gift, its ours.  To spend on Legos.  The thing is, I will never be a good planner when it comes to this stuff; my heart leapt at the thought of buying my kids a ton of their favorite toys and I swear I would have had this thought had our water bill been late and I owned no working underwear (BTDT).  I am just way too soft on them in some ways and I would buy or make them anything they want within my power , because I love them times one million.  (Boring coda: Ralph and I decide, ultimately, to put the money in a fund for our next home project: we have neither a dining room table, a waterproof car, and only one saucepan when we could use two).

The Hogabooms are moving up in the world: the first-ever dryer we bought with money (instead of bartering with a man in a Trans Am).  Nevermind it came from a charity source.  I’m feeling rather fancy.

as a child Ralph was taught how to siphon gas, maybe that will come in handy

Ralph and Nels on “I’m Not Telling You And I Know Guitar”, the Ultimate Mixxxx.

With our new rent and deposits and my current crazy landlady giving us three utility bills in rapid succession (she hoards bills and then lays them on you) we’re headed toward a near future more financially glum than we’ve had in a while.  My husband had to take out a small payday loan (yeah I know: ick) to pay a couple bills and I’ve entered a family near-no-spending lifestyle (annoying, stressful, and boring!).  Which sucks when it’s cold and hostile out and the best way I usually find to feel better is hot coffee and some minor retail therapy.

I’ve been there before, though, and I don’t mind.  At least I don’t mind today.  We still have food, and heat, and a dwelling, and our health.  I feel fortunate and energized and all the more fiercely in love with my children and husband, who are where I’ve put my heart and work for so very long.  Even so, I can feel the familiar life changes we’re about to have: “I’m almost out of gas” phone calls to Ralph, and the weird sad moping I get when I can’t buy other people gifts, and more putting-expenses-off and bus riding (which we enjoy despite how much it slows our day down, but with the long wait times and the cold weather it is seriously unpleasant right now if you don’t have warm clothes) to help kill time and save gas, and this kind of pinched feeling that can make the days drag.  Speaking of transportation, I have to laugh that my car has some kind of crazy problem and one of its belts screams when I drive.  And I do mean screaming. Very loud.  And it’s something we won’t be fixing any time soon.

I have my good spirits again, though, despite a broke kind of limbo as we eke out the next few days before moving.  Not everyone I know is faring so well.  Today a friend writes me, “I’m not capable of much more than crying all day and sitting around staring at the wall,” and she really means it.  Not two minutes after her admission I hear of another friend is having a horrid time with her husband – drinking too much and fighting.  Ugh.

I’m feeling sad thinking of my friends this morning, sitting at the computer.  From behind me I finally hear Nels stir (I love that my children sleep on little beds we make out in the living room) and I turn to look at him and he’s in the sun, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and I see him every day.  He says, “Good morning,” and smiles.  Then he says, “How are you doing this lovely day?”  He really rolls the “l” on the word “lovely”.

And I think, Yeah. It’s a Lovely Day, isn’t it?

time, part 1

A paycheck represents time spent – for many of us, the best mental and physical hours we have to offer. This time – as converted to currency – then is distributed toward the things you care about. You may find them a pain in the ass, or say you don’t like them, or that they don’t cost very much, or whatever. But numbers don’t lie.

My husband keeps a rather complicated, and rather awesome, family financial spreadsheet. Today he sent me an email which included information on the check he’d be bringing home tomorrow. Keep in mind this is a breakdown for one pay period (out of essentially two for the month) so is a bit lopsided (I’ll explain more in a bit):

%’s of this pay period’s income:

25% Housing
19% Food
16% Clothing shoppinz
15% Bills
5% Transportation
5% Debt
15% Everything Else

Equivalent days of work (12 in pay period):
3 Housing
2 Food
2 Clothing shoppinz
2 Bills
1/2 Transportation
1/2 Debt
2 Everything Else

A few notes: We are paying all of our housing expenses with this check. This means next period we will allocate 0% to rent (our total Housing expenses are about 12.3% of Ralph’s take-home income). This pay period we are allocating money to clothing, rather than to savings (our Savings model is 25%). Ralph still hasn’t figured how to work clothing into the regular expenses – and thus we have some catching up to do (although I do find myself wishing society would sanction Nels’ preferred dress code of tightie-whities and… no wait, that’s it, nothing else).

“Everything Else” includes things like buying gifts for friends, going out to the movies, the odd bill that must be paid immediately (like today’s vet bill for our new kitty), a meal out that my food allowance doesn’t cover, a relatively irregular expense like fabric for me to sew or bike tires or chicken coop supplies and feed, an impromptu trip to Olympia or movie rental or what-have-you. I like our Everything Else fund. It’s what keeps our life impromptu and rather enjoyable, most of the time.

My husband is awesome for not only working so diligently – and doing a good job at his profession – but for coming up with our financial system, for reducing our debt (largely medical bills we ignored while trying to buy groceries, while living in PT), giving us a road map so that our money is an asset we have choice regarding – rather than something there’s never enough of – and reducing our instances of utility shut-off* and other equally unpleasant experiences to ZERO.

He works hard for the money. So hard for it, honey.

* I find myself embarrassed by my use of and defense of the phrase “white trash” – which I have deliberately exorcised from my vocabulary and my world view. I am a work in progress.

"Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something."

Last night I told my husband I was so hurt about something I simply didn’t want to discuss it anymore. Somehow our roles had become reversed: he wanted to talk, talk, talk it out, and I didn’t. This wasn’t because I didn’t have the verbiage to offer. In fact I felt like we’d discussed the subject much over the last year – at least. I was done. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I didn’t know what he was going to do. But I’d said my piece, I’d heard his, and I simply needed a break.

The issue? Clothing. My clothing. Currently, at this juncture in my life, my largest frustration. For weeks as this chewed on me more and more I’d felt shallow for my little obsession. But a few days ago I came to the realization: food, shelter, clothing. Basic needs. I think even the cavemen with their depleted frontal lobes had that shit down tight.

Now my family, we have food. We have shelter. My husband hustles at his job in large part pursuing these things; food and housing are our largest expenses as a one-income family of four (39.5% of our take-home pay). Our clothing allowance in our spending plan is currently at 0%, modeled to come out of an “everything else” fund (that would include road trips, fundraising efforts for our childrens preschool, technology for the house, late-night runs for cough syrup or flea medicine, gifts for friends and family, you name it).

I am responsible for the acquisition of, laundering, care for, and inventory of my family’s clothing. At any given point I can tell you how many pair of shoes the members of my family have, what I’ve set aside for consignment earnings, what items are going to the Salvation Army for donation. I mend, I grift, I sew (when I’m not cleaning, cooking, or writing). I have begged and borrowed to supply my children with good winter coats and shoes. I spend a significant portion of my daily chores laying out the wool socks by the fire and folding every t-shirt of my husband’s to its proper place and making sure my kids don’t leave their coats out in the wild.

You can predict where this is going, right? Because as it turns out the lack of formal acknowledgment of the fiscal burden of clothing coupled with the de facto assignation to myself of the practical elements has left me: dead last out of four, wearing holey jeans, my husband’s socks, and (this is the worst, the absolute most demeaning) broken, cheap bras that work so ill my breasts actually ache.

This month it started raining in earnest.

And then a few days ago my husband, beneficiary of a small financial windfall, tells me he is going to buy himself a guitar.

Now, I want to be very careful here. My husband has the right to his guitar. First of all, this is his money. Secondly, he is a songwriter, a good one. His artistic endeavors are as important as, well I don’t know as clothing, but they’re damned important. It isn’t that he’s buying a guitar, or the rain is setting in, or that when it comes to clothes (and clothes alone) at this point I carry a huge crazy-person backlog and a skewed perception of poverty. It’s my fault, entirely, for letting the backlog reach this point. But the guitar: that point where the codependent machinations of intimate relationships threaten to overcome my more logical, Buddhist spiritual mindset. I find myself at first reeling in the grips of the former: the fact he could even think to buy a guitar when I don’t own a coat without holes! I am wearing shoes I bought when last pregnant – approximately one hundred thousand million years ago! A mental picture: I’m outside, kicking the hell out of my car’s passenger-side radial, and shouting, “F*cking, stupid, asinine, selfish a*%hole!”

But, I am incorrect. And I don’t allow myself more than a few tortured mental moments imagining my husband as this monster. And I don’t kid myself: the situation is, in large part, my own fault (he is left on his own to figure out his responsibility). And if he’s reading this and decides not to buy the guitar, after what we’ve discussed since on the subject, I will punch him directly in the nuts.

I typically don’t find the need to justify our financial sacrifices for the life we want to live. And I am not a clothing princess (as I type this I’m ill-attired in my husband’s pants, a pair of panties from Ross’ bargain bin, and a free t-shirt). The point is, my values are not being expressed in my clothing. This trap is entirely of my own making. I can speak of the tell-tale numbers of our financial plan all I like, but the truth is up until now I myself have been out of alignment.

What, then, is my proposed plan? After our conversation resumed last night (and this morning), my husband and I have a plan to recommit financial resources to the family’s clothes. I feel defeated by the lag of what I need (raingear, for instance, for bike-riding the kids about in the rainforest in which we live. I still feel stung at my husband’s lack of practical support coupled with what has felt like an expectation of impossible frugality. And most baffling I feel – and this is the laughable part – I will betray my own self and find myself, months or years hence, as starved, frustrated, out of sync.

Ask me in a couple months when I have a modicum of waterproofing, at least one sweater, and a pair of shoes that don’t leak. Perhaps my perspective will have cleared and the real and true will have emerged, leaving the parts of the martyr (a role I do not play well) left behind.

Our clothes are too much a part of us for most of us to ever be entirely indifferent to their condition: it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body, or even of the soul. – Quentin Bell

listen up, listen up, listen up, voices scatter

Early this morning our daughter woke us with crying in her sleep. This interrupted a dream I was having; a dream that we’d moved to a new house. The house was nice, but larger than our current house. We had no furniture. Everything was just a little threadbare but it was a good home. We were sitting in our bare living room wondering what we were going to do next.

Then this morning I got up, made my daughter’s breakfast, lunch, and got her to school, fed my son breakfast and began to clean my kitchen. I scrubbed and scrubbed the eighteen layers of paint on the walls and cupboards. I wondered if my family was losing ground. For the first time I wondered if we were headed towards, not away from, poverty. I thought about how we aren’t gaining any of the material items of the American Dream in our lives. At all. We aren’t putting money toward equity. We have no college fund for our children. We are paying off on a family vehicle that is fast deteriorating and the one that’s paid isn’t any better off. We have no financial assets whatsoever besides my husband’s kernel of retirement and social security. I don’t think I’d be thinking about our lives in this way this except I’d listened to an excellent program on our local indie radio recently. I’d heard that families were saving less and owing more; they were working more in two incomes but hating it. I’d heard it was near-impossible to survive on one.

I am grateful not to be one of the “two income trap” families referred to in the radio program. This primarily means our lives have non-material assets instead of quantifiable ones. We live and thrive in creativity, something I wouldn’t have guessed would be such a large part of family life. We help others and give to the community of our time – a lot of our time. We have a warm home that we enjoy and feel secure in. We have excellent health insurance that we don’t use because we have excellent health. We are feeding, raising, clothing, and loving our children about 89% right (this is a lot, lot of work). We don’t have credit cards. We are OK walking or biking where we need to go. We have family nearby that we see often. We are adventurous, purposeful, and try not to be wasteful. We take good care of and treasure the things we do own. Even if I have dreams that hurt, or moments that break my heart, I want to always maintain perspective on what I do have.

As of now it’s 11:30 and I haven’t yet had a shower. An hour ago I finished deep cleaning the kitchen and I’m currently working on a handful of Christmas CDs for friends. Nels hangs out, decorating and re-decorating our tinsel tree while wearing Sophie’s swimsuit and demanding his favorite song (currently Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her”). I’m sitting here wondering why I want a smoke; it’s been since Amore’s last visit months ago. Luckily it’s easy to stave off the craving; remembering my son last summer pawing at my smokes really turns me off. I guess I do need a bad habit though; ideas, anyone?

omg sweet sweet internet

Since late last night our internet connection has been down. I have always known that email, IM, and blogging keeps me from focussing on other household duties but this morning really proved it. By 11 AM I had roused, fed, and dressed each child, taken Sophie to school via bike, done two loads of laundry, made beds, finished the dishes and cleaned the refrigerator, made homemade pizza sauce for tonight’s dinner and brownies for dessert, and finished the machine-sewing for Nels’ latest pair of pants (there’s a story to these pants I will sew-blog later). The efficiency and pleasantness of the morning is almost enough to make me forgo Inter-Tron during my morning hours. Almost.

One reason I am a badass is that I biked Sophie to school in not only rain but gale-force winds (with the help of The Stills on iPod – thanks J. for the suggestion!). I suspect this will be my life for a while until I can figure out how to come up with $793 for my van and it’s fubar’d fuel pump. P.S. I just got the estimate yesterday by phone and tried to hold off telling Ralph who’s having mental and emotional problems with the realities of our financial situation. It’s too bad we couldn’t be down to one car during the lovely summer months we just spent.

Due to the storm I wasn’t feeling as excited about my normal modes of getting around (biking, walking, bussing). So this morning I’d called to ask my mom if she’d give Nels and I a ride to the library (my current locale as I type here). She was headed to a funeral today – my lifelong next-door neighbor died last week. So I asked for my dad and he agreed to pick us up.

My father is an intelligent, laconic, grumpy person who likes to rudely tease his three nuclear family members in some sort of twisted way to relate to them (example, “Got a job yet?” in a snotty tone to my brother who is currently living below poverty-level – albeit in a nice home with at least one month’s rent paid – while he searches for one and daily grows more anxious and sad). I have decided to choose to believe my father loves me, because his behavior towards me could / does indicate a lack of respect – often. I love him and will always love him. And yes, he can be helpful. When he took me out to my van last Friday he assited me in trying to get a jump and evaluating the problem to be needing a tow, or not (it did. Shit. P.S. I surmised fuel pump and was correct as it turns out. Perhaps I should try to hone my auto-psychic skills to make a quick buck). After we left my van to drive into town he not-so-helpfully treated me to a deriding monologue about how this van is a piece of shit and has been giving us problems from Day 1. When it comes to looking for advice and guidance this kind of meanness / weirdness really clouds my judgment at whether to look to him for assistance and mentorship, or not.

So today when he dropped me off as I packed my son out of the van he abruptly grunted, “What are you doing?” (which meant, “Dear daughter, I am concerned at how you will get home in the storm. Would you like me to pick you up and take you back home when you’re done?“). I said, “I’m just going to use their computer and pick up a hold.” He said, “You’re not coming over later?” I said, “No… I’ve got to get home and do some chores.” He said, “I could drive you back,” in his patented half-offer, half-belligerant delivery that is so uniquely Dave Fisher. I told him we’d bus home, I thanked him, and said I’d see him at 5 when they came over for dinner.

I love my father and that’s one of the major, and I mean major reasons we moved here – to be near my family while my father was facing the last days – or months, or years; whatever his cancer affords him – of his life. But sometimes he and my mother tire me out. His grumpiness, and even more so her excuses for it (for her own personal settling and to encourage my brother and I to settle for it as well). I still love them both and more than ever. I don’t feel victimized by them in any way; I am fully aware that I can bring my desire for different behavior to them at any time, and I have in the past. I am proud of Ralph and I for giving them the kindness of moving my family close to them. I am glad for their help, strings-attached as it sometimes seems. Today, I was glad for a trip to the library out of the wind and rain. That, and the bus-fare I stole out of their van for the trip back home.